|War Epilogue: Elegy
Author: Guede Mazaka
Looking fond and foolish about it, Bors ruefully rubbed his cheek. “Hey, love.”
“You missed Seven’s first walk, you great lump.” A red-haired, generously-curved woman that could only be Vanora stood with hands on hips and glared at Bors. She stayed stiff even as he chuckled and caught her about the waist, pulling her close. Only when he started nibbling on her neck did she finally give in to the relieved smile making her mouth twitch.
All around them, a pack of children ranging from the newborn cradled on Vanora’s back to the stout seven- or eight-year-old peeking from her skirts stared curiously at Dagonet. He knelt down so he was eye-to-eye with one little girl that had her mother’s looks and her father’s pugnacious chin.
“You’re taller than Daddy,” she accused, poking her doll at him.
“Yeah, Dag’s a big one.” Bors smacked Vanora on the cheek and clasped Dagonet’s shoulder. He shared a look with Vanora, who at first seemed a bit wary, but then she saw something that reassured her and smiled down. “He’s been upriver—doesn’t know this garrison. Mind if we bring ‘m to dinner?”
Vanora sighed and cuffed Bors, but her expression was indulgent. “Might as well—earth and sky know that I cook for an army anyway. I think there’s room for him.”
The girl, meanwhile, had progressed to fingering the studs of Dagonet’s jerkin. He let her continue to explore as he picked her up and followed the rambunctious mob that was Bors and Vanora’s family. As they wove their way through the garrison, a woman with a long yellow plait and a pleasant-looking face put down her water-jar to smile at Dagonet. He blinked, momentarily unsure, and she laughed a little.
This time, he wasn’t rude. He smiled back, and still smiling, he followed his friend.
* * *
There were fingers petting Galahad’s bare back. Normally he wouldn’t mind, but he was fresh from the bathhouse and full of decent food, and he didn’t want to be distracted from his goal of falling asleep as quickly as possible. He batted at the hand, but it merely moved to wander beneath the sheets over his hips. Maybe he should’ve gone to bed dressed after all, though all of his clothes were stiff with dried blood and he hadn’t had the energy to clean them. Mopping-up of the river campaign had taken two fucking weeks, and they’d been so short-handed that he hadn’t gotten any more sleep than before the Woad rebellion had been crushed.
“Stop that,” Galahad grumbled, chewing on the pillow. He tried to press his legs together and squirm away from the now-decidedly teasing fingers. “Too damned tired.”
“Never thought I’d see the day where you said that,” Gawain laughed, nuzzling the back of Galahad’s neck. He smelled different. Nicer. Not…bloody and dirty.
And he sounded much less tense; Galahad grudgingly rolled over and pulled the other man in, wrapping himself around Gawain before those hands could get any more of his attention. He did allow himself to be tugged into a long, deep, unhurried kiss, since they finally had their own room again and could lock the door. Then Galahad tucked his head beneath Gawain’s chin, letting Gawain stroke all he wanted, but not really reacting. It was too comfortable how they were, and if Galahad managed to keep hold this way, then there would be no knees poking him awake in the middle of the night.
“Strange things happen during war. Now shut up and let me sleep. Can fuck me tomorrow morning.” Galahad closed his eyes and listened to Gawain’s breathing slow.
Just when he thought Gawain had drifted off, the other man pressed his lips to the top of Galahad’s head. “Tomorrow,” Gawain murmured, making it sound like a vow.
* * *
Tristan sat cross-legged on the mound, feeling the moisture of the freshly-overturned earth gradually soak through his clothing. His hawk had long since tired, so he’d left her behind in the barracks and hurriedly departed the over-large room. Curiously enough, she hadn’t protested his exit, unlike on previous days.
“From those whom you made your sons,” Geraint whispered. Then he leaned forward and spilled the cup of wine over the top of Owein’s sword so the fragrant stuff sluiced and sprayed all about, flicking a few drops Tristan’s way. “To a better hunt.”
“To a better tale.” When all the wine had been drunk by the earth, Tristan got up and stood by the other man. Behind them were the few other members left of their troop, each murmuring their own message.
After a few moments, they began to drift away, all except for Geraint and Tristan. The other man still looked apprehensive enough, but he didn’t flinch from Tristan’s gaze.
“They’ll take either of us as the new head.” Geraint was absently fingering that dark brown lock of hair, as he usually did when nervous. He made a slight gesture with his hands. “Do you…”
“No. You can have it. I’ve…asked to transfer to Gawain—he’s handling Perceval’s old troop.” Tristan allowed a bit of wolf-grin to show.
And Geraint produced his own, appreciating the sentiment. “We are fewer, but not enough for them to forget who we are.” But then he looked solemn again, almost pained. “I am sorry.”
It still hurt enough for Tristan to have to close his eyes. But he opened them soon enough, choosing to look on the graveyard with its ranks of swords and then beyond to the bright bustle of the garrison, to the dark solidity of the wall, to the fringe of treeline menacing over the top of it. As he’d told Gawain, he had business to carry out here, and now for the sake of two others.
“I know.” Tristan stayed a moment longer, then headed back to the stables with Geraint. He had a horse to tend, blades to sharpen and armor to clean. There was work to be done.
* * *
Lancelot gasped and flung his arm over his mouth, biting deep into the muscle to keep from moaning too loudly. His eyes drifted shut, but he willed them to open again so he wouldn’t miss any more of this than he had to. He got little enough of it as it was.
Another slow, straining thrust and Arthur was deep into Lancelot, breath coming now in short pants that pattered like so many teasing fingers over Lancelot’s face. Then Arthur hissed, abruptly dropped to his elbows and pressed his forehead against Lancelot’s chest.
Concerned, Lancelot pried his arm from his mouth and propped up the other man as best he could, trying to keep the strain off Arthur’s still-healing shoulder. He ran a palm gently up Arthur’s back, checking the wounds there, while Arthur struggled to breathe. “Arthur?”
“Give me a—never mind.” And then Arthur was rearing up again to snatch Lancelot’s mouth with his own, devouring Lancelot’s sense, and his hands were pressing Lancelot’s to the bed while he twisted and pushed and rammed all the sound out of Lancelot.
Voiceless, breathless, Lancelot tried to wrap his legs around Arthur’s waist and urge him down, but his bad ankle protested. He winced and inadvertently shoved his hips down at the same that Arthur’s went up—Lancelot’s neck jerked up, slammed his head back into the bed. His knees went slack as cut strings and flopped aside, jarring his ankle again but he could hardly care when Arthur was ravaging him from the inside out. Tongue in mouth, prick in ass, all plunging and scraping till Lancelot was raw and burning and limp with it, being dragged back and forth over the rumpled wet morass of sheets by Arthur’s movements.
He tried to swallow, found himself spitting out an exhale instead that sounded vaguely pleading. Lancelot got an arm up and caught his fingers in Arthur’s hair, pulling the man down so Lancelot could lick the sweat dripping from Arthur’s jaw, acquire some moisture that way. It wasn’t enough to soothe his parched throat, and certainly wasn’t enough to do anything against the scorch rising from his aching, hungry insides up through his head. His knees banged against Arthur’s sides because Lancelot couldn’t even control his legs any more—Arthur winced but turned it into another fierce kiss and drew blood between them.
So Lancelot swiped it away with his tongue, drank it deep until there was none left and he had to drink Arthur’s breath instead. And he drank that, moaning and whimpering and clutching, till even that was gone and nothing was left except an explosive hollowing-out that went through Arthur, shaking him in Lancelot’s arms, into Lancelot because he always took what Arthur did. He had long since lost the taste for anything else.
They slumped into the bed. It took three breaths before Arthur could lift his head, five before he could ease himself out of Lancelot. Twenty before Lancelot could do more than curl over Arthur and trace just-healed scars with lips and fingertips.
But when he rose to dress, Arthur laid a palm flat between Lancelot’s shoulderblades and pushed him back down. Then Arthur got out of bed himself and staggered over to the door, against which they’d just shoved a chair and trusted that everyone would be busy settling back into garrison life.
Lancelot rolled over—winced and cursed his stupid ankle—and watched with growing confusion as Arthur removed the chair and locked the door. “What if someone comes screaming in with news?”
“Then they can shout it through the door.” Arthur paused with hand on latch, then left it bolted and came back to bed. He drew soft fingers down the side of Lancelot’s face, his eyes again filled with that new, strange, sad determination. “If I accomplish anything in this life, it’ll be to see you safe and unhurt.” Then he grinned, but the shadow of that distant leaving still lingered. “Anyway, this’ll save you from the embarrassment of limping back to your room.”
“I think I was a much nicer nurse,” Lancelot grumbled, dragging Arthur back into bed.
It wasn’t the end of the conversation—Arthur’s words and tone and face were too disturbing—but for the moment, Lancelot was willing to let matters lie in favor of savoring what small victories could be won in the midst of the bloody tumult of their lives.
And, he told himself, he would not see Arthur broken by command. If he could accomplish anything during his life, it would be that.