Tangible Schizophrenia


Under the Wide Sky Prologue: Travelers

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13. Violence.
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot, implied Arthur/Guinevere, others later.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions from the movie.
Notes: AU. Following real history in that Rome only took a one-time levy of soldiers from Sarmatia, and didn’t continue to draft them into the Roman army. The rest attempts to be true to the period, but not necessarily to the actual historical timeline.
Summary: Arthur goes looking for his father’s heritage and finds it at war.


She was undoubtedly one of the finest women ever to walk the earth. Long dark brown hair the color of rich soil, lithe and shapely body outlined wonderfully by her trousers, and a face like a drinking dream. And better yet, she was slapping a Roman.

Given how many of them were crawling around the place, Lancelot had only expected to be in town for as long as it took to buy supplies and catch the news, but upon seeing that beauty, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to stay long enough to see the outcome.

“Fucking cunt!” roared the Roman—legionary, nothing special, said his unadorned armor. He was a big brute, but slow, and that showed especially well when she deftly sidestepped his blow to let his own momentum send him face-first into the dirt.

The marketplace populace laughed their full, and Lancelot laughed with them. He was still laughing when, while trying to catch her eye to pass along his admiration and maybe-invitation, he saw other soldiers approaching behind her. Their faces were grim and their arms were bent as if reaching to their hips, which quickly sobered Lancelot. He put his hand on the saddle horn and mounted, starting to turn away before the inevitable quarrel grew to encompass him; she was gorgeous, but this wasn’t ground on which he could win, and there were other sheep in the fold that would require less drastic methods to impress them.

It seemed today was the day for strangers, for the first thing Lancelot saw upon redirecting himself was a man, half-a-head taller than nearly everyone else, striding towards the woman. He was broad-shouldered, but built more on the lean lines of a fast horse than on those of a bull, and he had eyes so green Lancelot could see the color even with several yards separating them. His dress was a curious mixture of Roman and Sarmatian and something else, and his face was just as striking as the woman’s had been. Though it had an unusually serious cast to it…

Someday his curiosity was going to be his undoing, Lancelot snorted to himself. He turned his horse back around and watched as the man walked right up to the soldiers attempting to arrest the woman. The stranger said a few things that Lancelot wasn’t near enough to catch, but whatever it was, it made the Roman officer turn white and quickly call off his men. As for the woman, she haughtily shrugged off the soldier holding her arm and prowled to the man’s side, fingering a dagger hilt. He smiled a little, glint of white, and murmured something that made her roll her eyes but back down. Then they disappeared into the staring crowd, which went back about its business slowly, but too quickly for Lancelot to see where the couple were heading.

“Probably back on the boat for civilization,” he chuckled under his breath, finally departing himself. They certainly weren’t natives, and the only foreigners that ever seemed to stay very long in Sarmatia were the occasional suicidal merchant and the Romans. Everyone else dropped in for the seasonal trading congregations and then left as soon as possible, which was as it should be.

Damned Roman bastards and their damned armies—supposedly they were only here to guard against border-crossing raiders, but anyone with eyes could see they were getting ready for another stab at conquering Sarmatia.

Well, they could try. They could, and then it would be seen whether the sons and the grandsons had learned anything from their forefathers’ errors. Because the Romans weren’t going to settle for another half-victory, and the Sarmatians had had their full of condescending foreigners holding swords over their heads. When the war came, it’d be everyone doing everything and anything. It was a surprisingly dark thought.

“And I’m souring my own mind.” Irritated with himself, Lancelot tapped the pace faster and cleared the edge of the town within a few moments. There wasn’t any point in lingering on the Romans until he had to; that was as bad as being defeated by them on the battlefield. He had more pleasant things on which to think, like whether the man or the woman would’ve been more amenable. She had looked to have a good strong arm, but he certainly hadn’t gotten the muscles shifting beneath his clothes from sitting around in taverns…

…and those were hoofbeats behind Lancelot. He checked the sun—well into the afternoon, but not anywhere near evening. “Since when did bandits rise early enough to see the sun set?” he asked, casually glancing over his shoulder.

Three. Two with bows—he’d have to wait for them to get a little closer—and one now pulling his sword free, a serviceable but worn-looking blade. He apparently was acting as leader. “Since your tribe stole five mares and a cousin of mine,” he rasped.

Oh, for…Lancelot tried not to look too annoyed. He obligingly reined to a stop, absently sliding his hand down his thigh and then under to grab the long knife strapped to the saddle there. “It wasn’t me. And I have too many damned cousins to keep track of, so you can’t expect me to know what they’re all up to. Shouldn’t you be discussing this matter with them?”

“When you’re right here?” the other man said. The archers flanking him stretched their bows that last inch needed for shooting. “Seems less trouble to just—”

Lancelot slammed his leg into the side of his horse, sending it into an abrupt wheel, and threw the dagger. He heard it thonk into flesh and then felt a thin burn go flying past his neck: arrow one. Arrow two had gone completely awry, thus leaving him the opening to charge. Which he did, yanking out his sword as he did.

He ran it so close that his and the archer’s stirrup leathers scraped each other, ducking the man’s sword, and then whirled to come up the other side before the man could turn to face him. The blade went into a shocked face, turned it to gory red, and was pulled out by the horse’s momentum as it kept going forward. That put Lancelot’s back to the other two, which was always a bad idea. So he hooked a leg over the saddle horn and twisted around to throw his other sword, which neatly cleaved the second archer’s skull just as he was letting off another arrow—it grazed over the rump of Lancelot’s horse, spooking it.

“Damn it—not now—” He yanked at the reins, trying to swing its head around, and then he registered the high whistle of a sword swinging too damned near. Lancelot didn’t have the room to duck completely, so he’d have to take a blow on the shoulder—

--or not. His stallion stopped bucking just as the third man, an arrowpoint sticking from his eye, toppled from his horse. The body fell in a welter of blood and spasming limbs, splattering the legs of Lancelot’s horse, and the contrary creature inquisitively poked its muzzle at it.

“Oh, now you’re not scared,” Lancelot muttered, dragging it around to face whoever he now needed to thank. “I am never borrowing a horse from Galahad again. Flighty master, flighty…”

“So you can fight,” called the woman from the marketplace, now mounted atop a magnificent charger. Her smile was wide and challenging, and not exactly in a pleasant way. She also had a longsword in hand; there was a bow on her saddle, but it was firmly strapped down. Two heavily-laden packhorses trailed behind her.

Not her, but Lancelot wasn’t about to irritate her even more by looking away. At least, not until he got his other sword back. He carefully trotted his stallion over to the other two corpses and leaned down to rip free his second blade. “I can. You seemed to have the situation well in hand before, and I hate to interrupt a woman when she’s—”

“About to be publicly assaulted?” The accent in her voice was marked, but pretty to listen to if one ignored the way its words cracked about the ears.

Well, if she was always going to be so touchy, especially to a man she’d just met, she was certainly off the list of possibilities. Life was short and Lancelot didn’t see any reason to make it worse than it already could be. “Then I’m doubly obliged to your selfless generosity…”

“Guinevere.” She rode a little closer so he could watch her assess him, as if he were a beast for sale. And then she grinned mockingly when he started to bridle. But instead of fraying his temper any further, she simply waved a hand over her shoulder. “Not my selfless generosity. I would’ve left you, like you left me.”

“If one is to leave another, I believe they have to have arrived together in the first place,” Lancelot snapped. He wiped off his swords with quick, rough movements and then resheathed them before he saw at what she was gesturing.

Her companion, riding towards them on one of the best pieces of horseflesh Lancelot had ever seen. He had a bow in his right hand, and he’d unwrapped his cloak enough for Lancelot to see that not only that, but the armor beneath was Roman as well. Lancelot bit down on his tongue and wrapped his hands around the reins, trying to fight the rising burn of humiliation and fury.

“He’s not.” When he looked over, Guinevere had a secret half-smile on her face. Her eyebrow made a delicate arch over it, adding to the sense of teasing. “Not a drop of Roman blood in him. Though he was born a citizen of that city.”

“Very reassuring.” In truth, it was, and surprisingly so, but Lancelot wasn’t about to let her know that. “If your friend has any sense, he’ll wear something else besides a Roman cuirass when touring the countryside. It’s not a welcome sight.”

“Nor to me,” she quietly admitted, something old and red flitting over her face. Then it cleared and she was all jeering again. “But it does speed up how long it takes for our passes to be cleared by the local army. A retired general’s still a general.”

And that slewed Lancelot around to look hard at her, and not at the not-Roman Roman nearly upon them. “General?”

“She’s exaggerating. I was a cavalry commander,” said the man, throwing a lowering glance at Guinevere. She ducked her head in the appropriate shamefaced demeanor, but somehow Lancelot doubted its veracity. But he didn’t have time to think on it, because the man was riding up with steady gaze on him. Coming from those eyes—such an unusual color in this land—it was unnerving. “Are you all right?”

“Well enough. Cavalry, then. With the Romans.” Up close, the man looked even better, but Lancelot was a little too busy being wary to really notice. Much. Well, he should’ve been too busy, but…once in a while, Gawain would lose his temper long enough to categorize all of Lancelot’s failings, and once in a great while, Lancelot would acknowledge that Gawain was mostly accurate. Especially about that one.

Guinevere was looking back and forth between them, and she seemed to find something incredibly amusing. It irked Lancelot, because usually he was the one in that position. “He might as well have been general, if they’d ever gotten around to making it official. He was running Britain, more or less.”

The man flinched and muttered something to Guinevere, which made her sulk a bit. Then he slowly turned to Lancelot, cautious and…oddly guilty, though his gaze didn’t drop like another man’s would. “I fought for the Romans, yes. My grandfather and father both did—they turned it into a family tradition.”

And Lancelot had to stare, because they had been speaking one of the polygot trade languages before, but just now the man had spoken in Lancelot’s tongue, with a perfect accent. “You’re…you’re from the knights that were sent to Britain.”

“I’m Arthur,” the man said by way of affirmative. He reached over and touched a long bundle on the back of one of the packhorses. “I’ve come to bury my father’s ashes with his people, not to make war.”


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