Chapter 1 - Finding
Still, only a few more months and they could leave; get their papers and.....well, probably back to Sarmatia. The Gods only kew they had nowhere else to go.
Bors wanted to stay, he knew that, and Dagonet would not leave the one he considered his brother. Arthur was going to Rome, Lancelot….well no one knew with him…probably back to Sarmatia, as was Gawain and Galahad.
It was a shame they were to fracture; he felt closer to them than anyone else, they felt more brothers than friends. They were certainly the only ones he had ever cared about.
A movement caught his eye…his hawk, riding on his arm, wheeled into the sky keening, “You saw it too, huh?” he murmured.
He slowed his horse and nudged it in the direction of the movement. He saw a mound of snow twitching, he dismounted and walked over. It moved again; silently drawing his dagger, he leant down and cautiously brushed the snow off.
He was surprised to see a woman, around the same age as he, with similar tattoos to his. He straightened quickly, surprise in his eyes; looking around, he could see no one else – the tracks around her were leading south and away. She could not have been there that long, else the cold snow would've given her the final sleep of the dead already.
He checked around; the tracks were fairly fresh…they had left in the last hour. Returning to her, he could also see she was closer to death than life. He needed to help her quickly or she'd be beyond saving.
He bent forward again as if to touch her and she opened her eyes. Almost black brown eyes registered him…her mouth opened as if to scream, but no sound came.
She tried to move, but the hypothermia that was so quickly setting in was slowing her down – her mind too slow to send commands to her body to flee quickly enough.
As he cleared more snow off her, ignoring her feeble attempts to escape him, he could see she was quite badly injured. He suspected she'd been left for dead. Her abusers knowing the cold would finish off what they could not be bothered to do.
No Woads or Saxons had done this; she was the victim of Romans. He knew a lot of them were retreating south; Rome was up to something….
She was almost naked, so he draped his cloak round her. There was something strange about her…she hadn’t made a sound despite her obvious distress.
She was also a Sarmatian; and from his part too, judging by the tattoos. He looked at her left shoulder; there was the tattoo he expected to see…a cat’s paw print. So she was of the Iazyges tribe; neighbours to his own.
She was shivering, but the movement was good – it meant she hadn’t completely succumbed to the cold yet; the freezing arms willing you to slumber the sleep of the dead.
She was still feebly struggling, biting, scratching; he tried talking to her – but she was frantic. He gripped her face in his hands bringing it so she had to look at him. “I will not hurt you. You are Sarmatian?”
He spoke in their own tongue, their local dialect…rusty, because it had been so long since he'd used it; trying to prove what he said was true. But she seemed to understand him as she nodded; her eyes wide at meeting a fellow countryman so far from their homeland.
“Then trust me, for so am I.” he pointed to his tattoos. A frozen hand came up and rubbed one as if seeing if it would come off. When it didn’t, she almost relaxed. “What is your name?”
She opened her mouth as if to speak, but again no sound came. “No matter….” He stooped and picked her up “You will come with me.”
Ignoring her terrified look he swung her onto the saddle, making sure the cloak covered her. He rode back to Arthur.
“What have we got here?” asked his commander, with a smile.
She had been placid all the way back, her eyes taking in everything, but she herself not moving at all. On seeing Arthur however, blind terror crossed her face; she panicked and tried to run. Trying to will her frozen body and mind into obeying her need to flee.
Tristan easily caught her up; she only managed a few steps before collapsing. Enveloping her in his arms and picking her up, he muttered nothings to her; calming her as he did all frightened creatures.
Arthur was distressed to see the effect he had had on her. “What did I do?”
“Naught…it was that.” Tristan gestured to his armour “It is Roman.”
“Oh; I see…” and, God help him, he did.
Dagonet went to take her out of his arms, but she would not let go of Tristan – turning her head into his shoulder. The scout sighed “I’ll take her, Dag.”
She would not even relinquish him whilst Dagonet examined her; retaining a tight, bruising grip on his hand. The larger knight could see it must hurt the scout; but the other merely ignored it, his face as passive as ever.
“She is badly hurt…” He told the assembled knights outside the wagon a short while later.
“She has been badly beaten and raped. It is not the first time either…she has injuries that would have killed another, yet she is recovering already.." the large, but gentle, knight took a breath to calm himself as he added quiety "...almost as if her body is used to such treatment.”
Angry glances were exchanged among the knights “I love the way your beloved Rome feels the need to defile all the women of this land, Arthur.“ Ground out Lancelot angrily, as his blazed with rage at his best friend.
“She is Sarmatian. She comes from my area, her tattoos bear that out. The only difference is she has another, like a cat’s paw print on her left shoulder. She is of the Iazyges tribe and I am of the Rhoxolani; we are both situated near the Danube.” Offered Tristan, quietly.
“I know the region; they are fierce fighters. They’re saying is the same as yours is it not Tris; ’Born in a saddle, sword in hand – ready to battle for family and land’?” Gawain spoke at last; his face carefully masked to hide his true thoughts of anger at the casual way Rome treated so many innocents.
“She was a slave; she has a marking on her thigh indicating her number.” Dagonet cleared his throat “she has many scars on her back; she’s been badly beaten in the past, but this time was the most savage. I think she may have tried to escape whilst they were going south.”
“It would make sense; she would think this her best chance to slip away without being caught. A shame it did not work.” agreed Arthur. “Can I see her?”
Dagonet looked doubtful. “I will lose this…” he pointed to his armour “I would not wish to distress the girl further.”
The large knight sighed “It is not only that; she cannot speak, can she Tristan?”
The scout shook his head “Nay, I had wondered when she tried to scream and could not....”
“Injury?” Lancelot spoke.
“Nay, I can find no sign. I think it is shock.”
“Shock? What would shock her to the point of being struck dumb?” Galahad now entered the discussion.
“I don’t know, but something so terrible it has scarred her mentally; judging by her abject fear generally, and of you in particular Arthur – I would say it is something at the hands of Romans.”
“What to do?” Gawain asked.
Dagonet sighed; his frustration at not being more aid to the woman clear "make her comfortable and get her back to the fort as quickly as possible; I can do more for her there." He raked a hand over his short hair "the problem is she is only at ease with Tristan…”
All eyes turned to him. He shook his head “but I scout; even I cannot be in two places at once.” He sighed and looked to the wagon “I will speak with her.”
He went into the darkness within.
“She looked like a frightened little bird didn’t she?” Galahad remarked; the others nodded.
Arthur breathed deeply; it angered him the barbaric lengths roman soldiers would go to for ‘fun’.