|Wolfskin Side-Story: Guardianship
Author: Guede Mazaka
Those hands of Bors could mash men's skulls even without having that weighty kukri in them, and yet when he held his daughter's hands and helped her take her first steps, he did so with all the delicacy of a glassblower working his frail white-hot magic. The incongruity of their lives never ceased to amaze Arthur.
Leaning beside him, Dagonet wore a faint close-lipped smile that grew teeth only when the girl toddled right into his massive knee. It was a far cry from his wolf-smile, which took even Lancelot aback.
Kind and gentle, Dagonet leaned over and murmured some nonsense to her that adults would never hear, then turned her about and sent her back to Bors, who was squatting and cooing from a few feet away. In the doorway across the alley, Vanora could be seen bustling about the makings of a fine dinner. Another baby was bundled into the crook of her arm, and a few more gamboled underfoot.
"I'm surprised he asked me to stand for..." Arthur couldn't remember getting a name. Embarrassed, he vaguely waved at the girl, who was now lording it over her cringing father. "I thought he would've asked you, since you watch over Vanora when he's in the field."
"You got the surgeon for Vanora. She would've had a far worse time if you hadn't." Dagonet's smile had shrunk again, but traces of it were still clearly present. "Besides, I already stand for all the others."
As he tried and failed to get an accurate count of the various children running about, Arthur felt his appreciation for Dagonet's stolidity go up several notches. "Quite the task."
Nodding, Dagonet folded his arms over his chest and retreated into silence once more. That had always been his way for as long as Arthur had known him, though in the beginning he had volunteered a little information. It was basically the same story as all the rest: accidental changing around twelve, thrown out by his family and consequently left to learn survival on his own till he'd wandered near enough to the Roman outpost for Arthur to find him. Dagonet had dropped a few cryptic hints that suggested some of his family had tried to help him and had been punished for it, but more knights had always been coming in and needed training or aid, and Arthur had never quite got around to following up on Dagonet's story. By then, the man had formed such a strong friendship with Bors that Arthur had felt relatively safe in leaving those two to watch each other's backs.
By then, Lancelot had shown up and consequently managed to eat up a good deal of Arthur's time. That brat and his ability to upset Arthur's life not only astounded but frustrated and infuriated and...well, somehow wormed deep inside and made itself indispensable.
"It's not your custom, is it? I don't ever remember coming across something like the Roman tradition of in loco parentis when we were in Sarmatia." Arthur was speaking in an awkward, artificial tone. He knew he was, he knew it was because he was caught between several uncomfortable feelings at once, and he knew it was coming out on Dagonet. Hopefully, the other man would forgive him. It was difficult to tell because Dagonet was, if anything, even less readable than Tristan. At least with Tristan, Arthur could always try the oblique approach through Gawain and Galahad. The only possible indirect route to Dagonet was Bors, and Bors was less than observant when it came to subtlety, so it was impossible to pump him for information.
Dagonet, however, was answering in a calm, level voice that did much to reassure Arthur. "No. There's nothing really like it. But we're not really like other Sarmatians." He shrugged. "It's a good idea."
"Yes, it is. Rome's lasted a long time through such ideas." Arthur pushed away from the wall and clapped Bors on the shoulder. "A fine girl. When she's grown, you'll have trouble keeping the men away from her skirts."
"As long as Lancelot stays away, I think I can handle any young snots that come this way." Grinning so every chip and gap in his teeth showed, Bors lifted his daughter and returned the gesture. "You'll not stay for dinner?"
The smells wafting from Vanora's kitchen were tempting, but Lancelot was expecting him in the stables. A tinge regretful, Arthur shook his head. "No, but thank you. Enjoy yourselves."
"We do. You should as well." Dagonet solemnly inclined his head and stepped inside, leaving a puzzled Bors to shrug.
"It's just him," Bors said, faintly apologetic.
Arthur waved away the excuses. "It's all right. We've known each other too long for me to need any explanations."
Known each other long enough to know when things needed to be said and when things didn't, Arthur thought as he walked off. He could press Dagonet, and the man would most likely tell him what his curiosity wanted to know-but was that necessary?
Not when Arthur had made a point about not judging by past actions, but by present ones. He already knew everything he needed to about Dagonet.
Lancelot was waiting at the stable doors, restless as always. No matter how deeply Arthur dove into the other man, he never seemed to know enough. The hunger for more gnawed at him sometimes, like now when he'd just come from the contentment of Bors' bountiful family.
But then Lancelot saw him and turned, grin white in the falling dark, and Arthur forgot what he'd been thinking on.