LITTLE BIRD AND THE HAWK

Chapter 2 - First Encounters

Tristan entered the wagon; saw her trying to fold herself into the corner, to make herself as small as possible – her arms up to protect herself.

It was then he saw all the scars on her arms; knowing immediately they were defence wounds. He had to swallow hard to keep his anger under control.

Very gently, he touched her foot. “I have to speak to you….” she scooted forward as soon as she realised it was him, burying herself in his lap – finally relaxing. He sighed; this was going to be harder than he first thought.

Tristan spoke as he held her “I am a scout. It means that I have to ride ahead most of the time to ensure the way is safe for all of us; it means I have to leave you.” She clung to him, suddenly trembling; but made no other movement.

“I will stay tonight, but tomorrow you will ride with the other knights.” She shook her head at this, fear widening her eyes. But he nodded “aye - they are Sarmatian also; you will be safe.”

Again a shake of the head, she held a finger up – pointing at him with the other hand. “One? Oh, Arthur; he is only part Roman, it is hard to explain – but he is a good man. Do you trust me?” She nodded “well, I trust him…”

She sighed, resting her head on his shoulder she nodded slowly. “You will do as I ask?” She nodded reluctantly again, though he could tell she was still worried.

“I will speak to the others, sleep now.” She lay down obediently on the blankets and pelts on the floor, but he could tell her eyes were still wide with fear.

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

“She will stay with you all tomorrow; I said I would watch her tonight.” He told the others when he reached the fire.

“She is still silent – cannot communicate?” Galahad asked.

“Nay, she can communicate but not speak. Hand movements and the like.”

“Can we aid her?” Asked Gawain.

“I doubt it; whatever it is that has happened she will have to deal with it before she can speak.”

“Well, she’ll suit you then Tristan – a silent friend for our silent scout!” Laughed Lancelot.

“I find no humour in it Lancelot.” The scout looked levelly at his brother knight.

“I know - I know…..it is an awful thing that has happened to her. But you must admit you don’t like to speak, and as she can’t she will be a good friend for you.” He smiled sheepishly.

“I am going to sleep.” Tristan rose abruptly from the fire, taking some food for him and the girl.

“Lancelot, one day that sense of humour of yours will get your throat cut.” sighed Arthur rising to follow the scout.

“Tristan….” without thinking he put his head through the curtain of the wagon; the girl immediately panicked and began to try and get out. It hurt him deeply to see what effect his mere presence had on her…

Tristan once again gathered her to him as he soothed her, rolling his eyes at Arthur.

“Pax, pax” the larger roman put his hands up to show her meant her no harm.

Tristan followed him outside “You must approach her carefully, Arthur. She is frightened out of her mind.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes “What did you want?”

“We need to get her some clothes Tristan. I will see if the men have any spare breeches and shirts they can spare her.”

Again he was back very quickly with a pair of Lancelot’s trousers and one of Gawain’s shirts. Tristan took them and handed them to the girl, she dipped her head in thanks.

Tristan left with Arthur “was there aught else?”

“Naught that can’t wait until the morrow, old friend; and I am sorry for being so thoughtless."

The scout nodded and turned back to the wagon.

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

When he entered he could see she was trying to dress herself and having trouble. There was dried blood on her, but it was her back that still made him catch his breath. The cloak had stuck to the more fresh and sticky blood there, and she was tentatively trying to peal it away where it had dried and stuck to the wounds.

“Let me aid you with that.” he kept his voice level, despite the horror he felt. He had seen much in his life, particularly since being forced into the service of Rome, but this was beyond any of that.

She flinched as his fingers touched her bare shoulder. He leant close to her ear “I will do naught to harm you” he whispered. She nodded; but he could still feel her beginning to tremble, despite the knowledge that she trusted him and him alone.

“We will have to bathe these to loosen the cloak.” He came back with a bowl of warm water and a cloth and began to wet the cloak to loosen it from her.

Eventually he had released it – using a dry edge to dab the excess water from her skin. He knew she was hurting, but she never moved. It was then he saw the strange bruises on her neck and shoulders; almost like a mouth print.

She moved slightly to pull the shirt over her head and he caught a glimpse of her breasts. The shock and sickness he felt, made him want to gag. “I will return soon.” He said calmly; she nodded once more, unaware of what he had seen.

As he strode from the wagon his eyes were blazing. Galahad was stood not too far away “What is it? Is she well?” He stepped back at the icy rage in his friend’s eyes.

“Leave me be, Galahad.” He ground out.

“What’s wrong with her? Is she sickening?” Lancelot came over, sorry for what he said before and wondering what on earth had happened to upset the normally controlled scout so.

“She has teeth marks on her breasts; to the point where whoever did it drew blood. Her back is also very bad, far worse than we have had cause to suffer.” He shut his eyes and tried to regain control.

The other knights looked on horrified “teeth marks?” reiterated Lancelot, his face showing his horrified shock.

“Aye, if I could track them I would…..” Tristan took a deep breath.

Arthur touched his shoulder, “I am ashamed at this moment to consider myself Roman.” He sighed “Does she fare well?”

“She does not know I have seen." He levelled his gaze at his commander "they are so bad they will scar Arthur.”

“I offer apologies….”

“You did not do it; but…I am shamed at this moment you belong to Rome.” He turned and went back to the wagon.

Inside she had dressed and settled down to sleep; but as soon as he came back in, she came to him and took his hand. She put it to her cheek and looked deep into his eyes, he could feel her gratitude “It is naught….” He shook his head.

She nodded instead, patting his hand; he knew she was disagreeing. He settled her, but she would not let him go. In the end he slept with her cuddled against him; his hand in hers and her holding his shirt as if for comfort.

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

He woke at dawn, and as he carefully went to extricate himself her eyes flew open. For a moment blind terror filled them, then she began to get her bearings and her breathing started to return to normal.

She stared up at him, a question in her eyes. “I have to go now; you will be safe.” She nodded, and he could tell she was unconvinced.

“I will send Dagonet into you soon. Remember Dagonet, the large knight who aided you?” She nodded. “I need to leave….” As he reached the steps of the wagon he felt a hand grasp his arm, he looked round and felt her lips touch his hand.

It was the smallest of gestures, but the gratitude in that small act caused his throat to hitch. He turned to look at her; her whole face looked puffy and bruised. He saw the purple bruising and swelling round her eyes causing them to close to slits.

“Can you see aught?”

She nodded slowly. He could tell she was in pain; but no tears fell, nor even filled her eyes. To be that used to pain he could only wonder at.

“Tristan, Arthur wants…… Oh to the Goddess! How fare you, lady?!” Galahad rushed forward, horror written all over his face as he saw her injuries in the cold light of day. Juliana almost fell over trying to go backwards.

The young knight ran into Tristan’s outstretched arm. “What; what is it?!" He pushed at his older friend's arm, still blocking his way "have you seen her?!”

“Aye. And you have nearly scared her half to death.”

Me?! What did I do?”

“Naught except appear to lunge at her.”

“So? I would not hurt her.”

She does not know that….”

“Oh…..forgiveness please, my lady…I was just so shocked.”

Tristan ignored the apology offered shame-facedly to the battered woman behind him; he turned to the wagon “How fare you? The pup did not mean to scare you.”

Her face appeared again and she nodded very slowly almost as if she were afraid if she moved her head too much, too fast it would topple from her shoulders.

Galahad tried his best to school his features into the passive mask of his friend, ignoring the mild jibe at his expense - Tristan hadn't called him pup for many a summer - knowing it was for the poor woman's reassurance.

But he was sad to see the shame creep across her face when she saw the horror cross his own.

“I…..I am ashamed if you are afeared because of I.” he said softly. She pulled her mouth into some semblance of a smile, but it never reached her eyes.

Tristan pushed him away “Come, what does Arthur want?”

“He wishes to speak with you and the girl” his Commander’s voice came behind him. Arthur tried to keep the shock off his face and his voice unconcerned, and fairly succeeded.

The other knights behind him did not disguise their horror so well “Bloody hell! What did they beat her with Tris, a stone slab?!” Bors cried in disgust. Violence against females and children were the biggest taboo in his code of honour.

“Shut up Bors!” cried Lancelot “Do you want to scare her to death, you oaf?!"

They started remonstrating with each other or, worse, staring at her – Juliana retreated back a little. Tristan angrily rolled his eyes “She will not trust you if you continue to shout and stare!” he growled.

“Knights!” Called Arthur “I think we need to gain a perspective on this so we can help the lady Juliana, agreed?” The knights nodded and backed away; all except Arthur, Dagonet and Tristan.

“I will check her wounds" Dagonet said to the two men with him "but we need her to see us and get used to us Tris; otherwise you will be taking her with you.” Her face appeared at the wagon entrance, nodding.

“Many thanks Dagonet” he muttered under his breath, before speaking to her “you can not go anywhere whilst you are like that.” He gestured to her face and arms, which he noticed, also had bite marks. She gesticulated wildly, getting more and more frustrated that they couldn’t understand her.

Arthur intervened “Tristan is there anyway she can communicate with the rest of us? Can she…umm………..read and write….”

“I doubt…..” He was interrupted by her tapping at his arm, nodding; he shrugged “It would appear she can…”

“I will get her something to write with and on….” Arthur smiled, dipping his head at Juliana.

He returned a few moments later with a waxed tablet and a stylus. She smiled hesitantly and took them slowly out of his hands, her whole body tensed. He could tell it was costing her much to resist the urge to run.

Tristan showed her how to use them, in case she was more used to a slate….

“What is your name?”

Juliana.

“Are you Sarmatian?”

Aye, Iazyges tribe.

“You were right.” Said Arthur as Tristan continued talking.

“Where are you from?”

Sarmatia.

“I mean here….” He smiled.

North of the wall - Roman army camp.

Both men saw her shudder. He took a deep breath “What happened to you? Who hurt you?”

She shook her head, not looking at them.

“I am sorry; I did not mean to push you.”

But she was withdrawing again; then suddenly it looked as if a thought occurred to her -

Please do not ask me again.

“I see, very well; mayhap you will tell us one day. You will learn you are among friends, Juliana.”

She dipped her head and then wrote something else -

Please thank your men for their kindness to me.

“I will, of course; but they are happy to aid where they can….." He paused before adding "Juliana? I am sorry for what the Romans did to you; whatever it was.”

She nodded, but would not meet his eyes and he and Tristan watched the shutters come down once again.

She put the items under her arm and, turning, started crawling back into the wagon. As she did so, the men caught sight of her back through the thin shirt; “Dear God!” said Arthur; unable to disguise his surprise, despite Tristan telling them of it; the others gasped.

She glanced round, spotting them she turned back and scrabbled to pick something up to put round her; she looked so ashamed and Arthur’s heart went out to her.

Gawain stripped his jerkin off, holding it out at arms length he walked very slowly towards Juliana. “Here…take this, your need is greater than mine I think.” He smiled.

She gingerly reached out to take it, exposing her arm. Gawain did his very best not to look shocked at the bloody bites and bruises on her arm, with older scars amongst them.

She was not looking at him and so did not see his face, she dipped her head in thanks; before scuttling back into the wagon.

Tristan called her; she came back to the entrance “Have you anyone? Anyone for you we can find?”

She slowly picked up the utensils and began writing -

Dead – ALL dead.

She held it up for them to see…….putting her other a hand out to Tristan, he gathered her into his arms. Again she did not weep, no tears filled her eyes – but he could sense the grief within her.

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

Juliana was thankful when the one called Arthur brought her something to write with.

When her fellow Sarmatian, Tristan, brought her here she was terrified. She still was truth be told, but she thought that mayhap these men would not hurt her.

She trusted him; the scout. She couldn’t explain why….maybe it was because he was from the Rhoxolani tribe, a neighbour to her own. Maybe it was because he spoke in the old language and even their own local dialect when he first found her; though he had reverted to the Briton language now.

But whatever it was that reassured her it meant she trusted him, and he trusted them – so it only followed that she must also.


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