LITTLE BIRD AND THE HAWK

Chapter 16 - Final Confrontation

She left Dag to sleep after telling the others she thought he would be alright. They were all subdued and so she went to seek out Arthur.

“What is wrong? Why is everyone so upset; it is not just about Dag, is it?”

“The Saxons are here.”

“I see - well, if there is to be a battle I will fight too; I would rather be out there helping those I care for. I would willingly die to ensure those I love survive.”

“They all wish to leave.” He sighed.

“They will not; they will not leave you…”

“They will not fight for a cause no longer their own, or for a Roman commander; I would not ask it of them”.

She slapped his face, and then kissed his cheek “Never, never say that again. They will not fight for those things, true; but they will fight for you. They will fight for their leader, their friend and the man they consider a brother. They would die for you Arthur, remember that!”

“But their minds are made up; Lancelot’s the most.”

“Then you do not know them or understand them as well as you think; they would never let you face the Saxons alone.”

Sighing, she went to leave; his voice made her turn “It is as I suspected….”

“What is?”

“Your voice is as wise as your tablet was…..” He smiled at her “and your hand as hard as your lips are soft!” he rubbed his cheek ruefully as she walked off grinning.

I will fight with you Arthur; come what may, I will fight with you…” she called out to him over her shoulder.

+++++++++++++

She found Lancelot looking out over the battlements “so you are going?”

He nodded, silently.

“Why lie?”

He looked at her “I am not, I will die in battle Jules, of that I am certain; but, as I told Arthur once, I want it to be at least one of my own choosing. I simply do not choose this one.”

She turned him to face her, hugged him and kissed his cheek; he dragged her to him hugging her tightly “come with me….” He whispered urgently “come with us….”

She shook her head “I cannot, this is my home now – my land. I have been here longer than I was ever in Sarmatia. What have I got to return to? All I knew and loved are dead; my old tribe would not want me now. The lands are still controlled by Rome; at least here I can be free.”

He nodded sadly; she tweaked his chin to make him look her in the eye “You will not die on any battlefield while I have breath in my body, Lancelot. You are all my life, you knights; I would sacrifice my own before I saw any of you perish.

But you - you are special to me; you and Dag. I do not know why, but you are. Dag is so like Tris in some ways, though he makes me laugh too.

But you……” she sighed and shook her head “you tug at my heart so hard, and make me sad Lancelot – because you always seem so sad; and lonely, and I hate that for you. You love wrongly, are passionate and brutal and yet I love you like you were my own blood.

I could no more imagine you no longer in my life, than I could imagine the sun not rising on the morrow. There is a depth to you that only I see, and that is sad; it is sad you pretend to be something you are not. You could be happy if you let yourself; maybe you could try……one day.”

He crushed her to him ”never leave us Jules; just never leave us. I do not know what we would do without you; I do not know what I would do.”

She hugged him back “would I let my brother wander without his sister; for you are all brothers to me Lance – my tribe now. You are my favourite of them all; the tears I shed today for Dag are but a puddle to the tears I would shed for you if aught harm befell you.”

Bors watched from a distance, she was a wise woman; had let him down gently and he had accepted her offer. Mayhap she had twigged more than they thought, or mayhap she was just as soft on the inside as he was. He grinned, probably the latter for he knew she had a heart as big as the wall itself.

Tristan walked up and surveyed the scene in front of him “Jealous?” asked Bors, sobering. Wondering what the scout would do…

“Nay, I trust her.”

“Good, you should - she loves you more than aught else.”

“I know. I was lucky to find her; if it had been Lancelot…”

“Nay mate; you and she would still have found each other, trust me.”

The scout smiled and went to walk away.

“Tristan?”

“Aye?” he neither stopped nor turned.

“She is staying; she intends to fight on the morrow.”

His step paused for a brief moment, before continuing “Then so do I.”

“Thought as much; it seems we all will then! Good, I hate missing out on a bloody battle!” he looked down on Gawain who had been wrestling Galahad.

His voice floated up “well, I beat you two out of three – so we stay!” They walked off laughing.

If Arthur had seen he would have known Jules had been right all along; they would not let him fight alone.

++++++++++++++

A while later there was a scream from the room that Germanius occupied, having been unceremoniously evicted from Arthur’s rooms.

He staggered out into the compound, shrieking in pain; he then started cursing Arthur and the knights saying he would have them all put to death for harbouring a murderess. Everyone came running.

Jules walked across the compound; unsheathing her swords as she stalked purposefully towards him “You should not have said that; none threatens my family and lives!” she called.

Two swords entered his stomach, a quick flick made a larger opening and then they were twisted and pulled out sideways; disembowelling him in less than 30 seconds. She beheaded him and then stabbed him through the chest.

“My family, my ancestors, this is the last to defile our name; this is the last to bring shame to me and the tribe of the Iazyges. His blood will cleanse my shame; and you can now pass through the veil and mists to the other side, and await me until it is my time to join you.”

Arthur approached her “Your ancestors are appeased now?”

“Aye…”

“Of course explaining his absence will be a problem.” He smiled ruefully.

“My Lord?” Horton approached “my new master and I feel that the Bishop and his father became so frightened that they did not wait for the caravan, and tried to leave under the cover of darkness. They were seen being intercepted by the Saxons; we tried to go to their aid, but to no avail and saw them die at the hands of our enemy.” He dipped his head.

“Umm….my....thanks.” Arthur was surprised.

Jules patted Horton’s arm and he raised his head and smiled “You have suffered much my lady; no one sees point to making it more.”

Alecto approached Jules “I am not the weak child you think, nor will I become the monster you suspect. I wish to do right, and I think this was just such a case.”

Jules dipped her head “My thanks, for though I care naught what happens to me – I did fear for my knights.”

“You are a revelation to me, and I think it a shame you will not be travelling to Rome with us. You could do great things there with me as your Patron.”

“Thank you, but my place is here with my family.”

“I understand….but…” he placed a parchment into her hand “If you should ever change your mind, this will give you and yours safe passage to me and grant you access to me in person.”

She smiled, accepting the paper “all I ask is you prove me wrong Alecto, that is all.”

“I will; I most certainly will.”

Jols wandered over “You know, you did not have to go to all that trouble….”

“Why not?”

“He screamed because I was cauterising the wound; what a baby, do you remember Arthur when I had to cauterise Percival’s hand when he lost those three fingers, and how he never made a sound? Well that coward screamed like a little girl!

Still, I used an old hoof iron for the horses and silly me, I forgot to wash it; so it was covered in horse muck and the Goddess only knows what else - it would most definitely have infected it……” he walked away grinning “Still, women are always so bloody impatient.”

Jules ran over and hugged him “Jols you are a demon!”

“Nay, but I am loyal to my knights and their ladies; and whilst I never read the books, Gawain and Galahad told me of their content” He kissed her hand “My lady; I suppose I better get the rubbish cleaned up!” he smiled indicating the corpse.

Alecto walked over and gave her the last two books “I do not feel the need to keep these now, I am sure you wish to dispose of them?” She nodded and thanked him; walking to the meeting room, she found Lucan there.

She threw the books into the fire and stood watching them burn.

“Why did you do that?”

“I had no need of them now.”

“Were they important?”

“Nay, they just held old demons - nightmares I have now let go.” She watched them fall to ash, the smoke rising up the chimney. “I am free now.”

Suddenly the little boy looked “You are talking!”

“Aye and Dagonet will live…”

Lucan’s face lit up “He will?!”

She knelt in front of him “Did no one tell you little man?”

“Nay, nay, none came for me – he will live, you are sure?”

“Aye that I am - let us go……”

“I will take the little scamp” Lancelot entered the room. “Tristan is keen to speak with you; he has not seen you properly since we returned.”

He moved aside to take Lucan to see Dagonet, she could hear their voices drifting up the corridor, and then Tristan was there.

He swept her into his arms and marched silently to their room. Kicking open the door as they entered and then booting it closed behind him.

He stood her on her feet “Well?” He looked expectantly at her.

“I love you; have I told you? I love you Tristan!! It feels so good to say it! At last! To shout it - I LOVE YOU TRISTAN!!” he kissed her to shut her up, but the kiss soon deepened.

“I plan to fight tomorrow Tristan” she sighed, finally breaking the kiss “I cannot let Arthur fight alone.”

“Then so will I; for I cannot let either of you face the Saxons unaided by me.”

“What if we get separated on the battlefield? How will I know if you are safe?”

“My hawk will never leave me so long as I live.” He smiled before adding “You will not need your hawk now to protect you…..” She stopped him with another kiss.

“I will always need my hawk; for love, for protection and for just being him. I love you Tristan; with all my heart, body and soul I am yours. You were the one who brought me out of the dark dungeon in my mind and showed me the sun. Showed me I could be loved by a good man with a wonderful heart; a man so loving that he would accept me no matter what.”

“It is because you are who you are, that I love and accept you Jules.”

“What? I did naught.”

“You struggled to survive. You trusted me when I gave you no reason to; you accepted much on my word alone.” He kissed her “Have I told you how much I love you?”

“All the time, and now I can tell you too…..but Tristan?”

“What?”

“I would rather you show me” she smiled “when you love me like that, you show me the Heavens….” She whispered.

His kisses deepened and they sank to the bed, his arms tight about her “I love you Jules, I always will. Trust me, never leave me……” he groaned against the bare skin of her neck as he tugged her shirt off.

They loved each other long into the night; both revelling in the fact she could talk to him of her love now, murmur her pleasure and release - and both shutting out the coming battle, the thought that this might be their last night together.

+++++++++++

Arthur was pleased and honoured when the next morning the caravan rolled out without his knights; his brothers.

Jules smirked as they saddled up to ride to meet the Saxons with their allies, the Woads. “Told you they would not let you fight alone!”

“Are you always right?”

“She is a woman is she not?” laughed Lancelot “when are they ever wrong?”

She thumped him “you are going to die before you even meet the bloody enemy!”

The dark knight merely laughed.

“Alright?” Tristan asked her.

“Aye, born in a saddle, sword in hand – ready to battle for family and land; well you are my family, knights - and this is now my land” she smiled.

“RRRROOOOUUUUSSSSSSS!!!” They all yelled, including Jules, together galloping down the hill.

The battle was fierce and it was going well for them; but she was concerned about the knights. Jules had been fighting whilst trying to keep an eye on all of them.

She saw Gawain get hurt; though he got up and continued fighting, then she saw Tristan square up to the Saxon leader. “NAY! Tristan, NAY!” But he could not hear her over the fighting.

She ran to him hacking heads and limbs as she went; finally reaching him as the Saxon ran his arm through, she threw a dagger hitting him in the shoulder causing him to let go of Tristan who crawled away; Arthur had already been on his way forward and came to the leader “He will die by my sword Jules - go.”

She was going to go to Tristan; but then saw the other Saxon – the one from the ice, the one who hurt Dag – about to fire a crossbow at Lancelot. She ran with all her might, but saw him aim; Tristan’s words came to her from the camp that morning when Marius was killed ‘they are armour piercing…’

“LANCELOT…...........LANCELOT!!! She screamed in panic; he swung round and saw the Saxon, moving almost too slowly to the side. Guinevere was trying to get there too; but Jules was nearer, she pulled her other dagger from her boot and threw it with all her might - it hit the Saxon in the throat, he gasped and let loose the bolt as he fell to his knees. It hit Lancelot in the shoulder, knocking him backwards.

“LANCELOT!!!” she screamed, running to through the warring men “nay, nay, nay, nay - for once Goddess please; please, I beg of thee, do not let me fail….” She took the Saxon’s head without even stopping, and then she reached Lancelot.

He was lying on his back “What took you so long little bird?”

“How fare you?!”

His eyes burned at her for a moment, then he grinned “I will not be twirling blades for a while….”

She hugged him as tightly as she dared, her heart in her throat “I could kill you – how can you jest?!”

He bent his head into her neck for a brief moment of affection, before jesting “oh well, typical wench – save me, only to kill me yourself!”

He laughed, relieved to be alive and knowing it was she that had saved him; but she could see he was in great pain.

“Come, come….we must find the others….” She helped him to his feet and they staggered away to find Tristan and the other knights.

“I told you I would not let you die on a battlefield whilst there was breath in my body!” she grinned.

“True, and as always you keep to your word; but could you not have saved me before that bastard stuck me with this?!” He grinned pointing to the bolt in his shoulder as they staggered on.

“Lancelot! You are impossible!”

Guinevere watched them go, the large dark knight leaning heavily on the small woman who supported him. Their eyes alight with affection; his a different love to hers but one he would keep secret for always.

The Woad knew she had lost him; he would always care for her, but he would never act on it. No more than he would with Jules.

She sighed; but there was Arthur, she did love him – mayhap more than the passing attraction she felt for Lancelot; and it was all turned out as Merlin had said.

She took a deep breath, then so be it – she would marry the man who would be king and she would be happy….the fates had decided for her. She would abide by their choice.

+++++++++++

They found Tristan; Jules lowered Lancelot beside the scout. “Oh my Tristan; Gods you look rough!” She looked up at the sky in obvious relief “oh thank the Goddess; she has not left!”

“Who has not left?” said Gawain peering up and not seeing anything.

“His hawk – she will not leave him while he still lives; he told me that.”

“You remember all I say?” Tristan groaned opening his eyes.

“Tristan, oh Tristan; you frightened me; what is it with you bloody men and trying scare me to death?” She thumped him; he groaned, then she smothered him in kisses.

“She a contrary little bird, is she not?” grinned Bors coming up “Smacking you one minute and slobbering all over you the next.”

Tristan stared at her, his face passive as always, but the love radiated out of his eyes. “I care not….”

She leant over him, her eyes locking with his ”I love you….I really do love you.”

Arthur arrived and saw the pain for a moment in Lancelot’s eyes “Are you alright…you look sad.” he murmured.

Lancelot smiled “I will fare better soon enough, but I plan to find me one just like her.” He nodded at Jules.

“Ah….I thought you liked Guinevere?”

“Aye, and she loves you.” he smiled at the pleasure in Arthur’s eyes “Nay I am happy to find a copy of Jules; of course that will mean staying here.”

Jules heard only the very last part and launched herself at him knocking him over “Mind my shoulder, you bloody harpy!” he groaned with a grin; hugging her back.

“Pax, pax, brother.” she grinned in delight at him.

Galahad came over “He wants one just like you….”

“Well, there is a new girl at the tavern called Rozhanitsa, she is apparently an Aorsi. She is so like my sister it is quite strange, if it was not for the fact she was born before my sister died I would say she is a reincarnation – Van introduced us!”

She laughed “with all the Romans gone, I can come to the tavern now -I will introduce you to her, Lance.”

He smirked; mayhap staying would not be so bad…..

++++++++++

They all staggered to their feet and helped each other down the hill. Arthur wandered behind as they started laughing and joking with each other, his face full of pride at those before him…..

“She never hit me!” Lancelot’s voice.

“She loves me….” Tristan’s placid tone.

“Right, so - for me to know a woman loves me she has to beat me up? I do not know that I will bother with love!” Gawain laughed.

“Van is always battering me, and she says she loves me…..” Bors voice floated back amid much laughter.

“I want to fall in love; I do not care if she hits me!” Galahad said.

“Wimp!” laughed Gawain shoving him; he shoved back and they both fell over. Gawain groaning as his bad arm hit the dirt.

Jules picked him up, and shoved Galahad over again herself “Galahad! That was not very nice was it? Poor Gawain! How fare you Gawain?”

Arthur watched as Gawain pulled a pained face whilst Jules hugged him, sticking his tongue out at Galahad over her shoulder.

“You bloody bastard!” the youngest knight moaned at the injustice.

“Galahad; be nice!” Jules admonished, separating them by standing in the middle.

“Aye, be nice Gal! I'm injured....” Gawain smirked.

Arthur laughed out loud - they were such little beggars those two; always had been, maybe he should warn her.

He watched Tristan move painfully over to her and drape his good arm over her shoulder “Come here woman, and keep your man company…” he heard him growl good-naturedly.

She almost burrowed into him; her love and devotion as apparent as his. Clucking her worry at his arm, whilst he ignored it; keen to just hold her, have her near him again. Knowing that she had saved him now as he had saved her….

Arthur sighed.

“What is it?” Guinevere made him jump.

“I would like that kind of love, would not you?” he pointed at Tristan and Jules, walking back towards the fort arms round each other and sharing deep looks.

“Of course, who would not?” she paused “We could be that happy.”

He looked surprised “We could?”

“Do you love me Arthur?”

“Aye; but….I thought…..” he did not finish.

“That I loved Lancelot? Nay, I like him” She stared at the knight whose retreating form was laughing at Jules whilst Bors held him up “and always will as a friend – even had a passing attraction to him I admit freely; but it is you I love.”

He held out his arms and she walked into them; sighing contentedly she hugged him closer. She felt at home now, and knew this was where she belonged.

He looked down at her and then at the knights; Jules’ voice floated up to him “Let us go and see Dag! We can get patched up at the same time.”

Followed by Bors “He is going to be so pissed he missed this!”

They all laughed….


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