|Humanity Epilogue: Trust
Author: Guede Mazaka
Peeling bandages off a half-healed wound hurt. And for some reason, Gawain’s bright idea for dealing with that was to poke Galahad. “Stop moving. You’re only making it worse.”
“But—ow!—the way you’re—ow! Hey!—fussing with it is--ow.” Galahad dug his fingers into his knees and gritted his teeth. “I’m beginning to think you’re dragging this out.”
“Because you’re an idiot and you are moving too much.” Tristan wasn’t even watching them, so Galahad had no idea how the man could tell. He was sitting on Gawain’s bed, busy stirring up some stinking salve in a legionary helmet he just happened to have.
Okay, it did make Galahad feel a little better to know that out there, some infantryman was getting punished for losing an essential piece of his kit. But it didn’t make him any more confident in that shit Tristan wanted to use on him.
Which of course was why Galahad hadn’t even twitched when Gawain had dabbed on the first bits. “It smells. I’ll have to hide around the manure piles to keep anyone from noticing.”
“Seems like your kind of company anyway,” Tristan muttered.
Short, reproachful silence. It was nice how Gawain could do that.
“After we get you done, you can help me pull the stitches out of Tristan’s side. You did half of them anyway…and you really need to learn how to sew straight.” Gawain finished with the salve that he’d scooped up and leaned back so Galahad thought he was done. But then a hand pulled Galahad back by his other shoulder, and more of the reeking stuff was slathered on.
To be truthful, it was cool and soothing. But it wasn’t as if Galahad was going to admit that. “The needle goes in straight. I don’t know what the thread does.”
A sigh came from behind him, and beside him was an amused snort.
“Never mind.” It sounded as if Gawain was starting to have a headache. “We’ll just never let you near a cut on the face.”
* * *
The spoon and knife were rough-made things, sturdy and simple without any embellishment. They’d been well-used by someone before Dagonet so he could feel faint finger furrows in the handle, and wrapping them together was a short braid of dark brown hair. He reached into his jerkin and pulled up the other hairs he’d taken. After untying the braid, he carefully folded the hairs into it and redid it. Then he slipped it into his saddlebag.
When he arrived at Vanora’s, he brought the spoon and knife with him as well as his old set. She greeted him with a smacking kiss on the cheek and asked him to set the table; while he did that, he quietly slipped his old pair into the mix of her silverware so one less child would have to share.
“Dag!” Something small and well-padded rammed into his calves.
He turned around and swooped the little girl from the floor in one smooth motion, smiling. She laughed and reached for his head, so he pulled her to him and let her explore.
* * *
Boots thudded across the ground and stopped by Arthur. “You’re spending more and more time here.”
“I’m burying more knights.” Arthur murmured a last prayer for Urien before he stood up and brushed off his knees. Beside him, Lancelot looked as if he wanted to comment more and comment sharply, but Arthur glanced at him and Lancelot let it go.
Till they were on the way back into the garrison. Then the words cracked from his tongue like a whip in the air. “You realize they won’t give a damn how much you pray for them? They never believed in your God—they won’t now because they’re dead and they’re not here. The only reason you do it is for yourself.”
Lancelot opened his mouth, but all he let out was a frustrated exhale. They continued on for several yards before he spoke again, low and tired. “There is always another battle, Arthur. But for once, can you stop watching for it and pay attention to what happens in between?”
“If I stopped watching, and it suddenly jumped to now, then who would give warning?” It wasn’t that Arthur wanted to do it; on the contrary, he desired rest as much as anyone else. But he wanted to make certain that it came to those who deserved it, and that meant taking on the responsibilities that no one else wanted.
He wanted to be sure that they’d never be caught off-guard again.
“I would. I already do—I watch the battles in your eyes and they never stop coming.” When Lancelot laid his fingers on Arthur’s arm, the touch was light as a snowflake landing, but it was more than enough to bring them to a halt. He moved to stand in front of Arthur, gaze earnest and desperate. And he was never either.
Arthur cupped Lancelot’s face in his hands and pressed their cheeks together. “I never would have wished that on you.”
“It’s not a matter of wishing. Just…stop. Stop.” Fingertips grazed Arthur’s temple, slid to the corner of his mouth and rested there.
They breathed. After a moment, Arthur leaned back to let Lancelot see into his eyes.
“There. That wasn’t hard, was it?” The other man tried to smile and only managed half of it. He lifted his hands to Arthur’s and held them for the space of a heartbeat before pulling them down and stepping back. “But I can’t do that every time.”
“I know.” Better than the verses in the Bible.
Lancelot stood watching him for another second. Then he quietly turned to let Arthur go on and fell in by Arthur’s side. They walked the rest of the way in silence, and Arthur folded away every moment of it for safekeeping.