LITTLE BIRD AND THE HAWK

Chapter 5 - Torture

They rode in silence. Lancelot tried to reassure the obviously terrified woman “Jules, the soldiers you dealt with went south. They will not be at the wall."

I know.

But…

You are still worried.”

Aye.

I offer apologies.

“Do apologise, those damn bastards will not get near you girl!” barked Bors coming alongside, having heard Lancelot’s side of the conversation “I’ll rip their bloody throats out first; they will not even get to look at you, let alone do aught else Birdie!!!!”

Jules jumped when Bors spoke; he was immediately contrite “pax, pax – I keep doing this to you, you poor little wench.” He mumbled.

They all watched as she went to put her hand out to him, it hovered over his arm and she gave one quick pat before snatching it back. Bors grinned as if she’d hugged him. The other knights smiled too; she was coming round to them, and she was a survivor – even though it appeared she didn’t want to be.

Do I scare you?

- She waved the tablet in Bors’ face.

“Nay you do not, why would you? But bloody glad I am Arthur made me learn to read and write; otherwise you and me would be having problems about now, would we not?” He grinned.

Yes.

This is one good thing I learnt.

- Then-

You all are very good to me, why?

Bors looked confused. “I do not understand what you mean, Birdie?”

Why are you all good to me?

He looked at the other knights “Help us out, boys? She wants to why we are good to her.”

Gawain rode slowly forward “In the beginning we felt sorry for you; after that we were mad at what had happened to you. We do not like women, anyone, being treated as you have. Now we like you; you are tough – like us.” He smiled.

She snorted -

I am NOT tough.

“She does not think she is tough! Dagonet, tell her what you told us.” Gawain called.

“I told them you should be dead. By rights your injuries should have killed you; you certainly should not be recovering as quickly as you are.”

I am a quick healer.

-She shrugged -

I have learnt to deal with much over the years.

It is not so bad - I have had worse.

Lancelot read it out loud from over her shoulder.

She had a placid, accepting look on her face; a small smile danced as if amused they would think she was tough for what she obviously considered a small thing – the others were horrified; those three lines conveyed so much more than the mere words said.

They all dropped back, deep in thought.

Arthur rode forward; “Jules? Do you hate me?” He had finally put a voice to the thought that had been plaguing him since first he'd laid eyes on her.

She looked surprised -

Nay, nay, Arthur - indeed why would I?

You scare me I admit that; not you exactly – but who you are and what you stand for.

But I do not hate you.

I do not hate anyone.

“I do not believe you!” Lancelot had been reading over her shoulder once more.

“What? What do you not believe?” Galahad was curious; Lancelot told him. “I have to agree with Lancelot. I would hate them; to the last fibre of my being, I would hate them” his voice was bitter.

Arthur however, looked thoughtful “Explain….”

She sighed deeply -

I learnt hate is a negative emotion.

It eats you up from the inside out.

It does nothing constructive - it does not affect those you hate.

They do not care.

- She patted down the wax crefully and started again; Lancelot reading out loud over her shoulder for the other knights to hear -

I learnt that it only breeds the need for revenge and retribution.

You cannot always have either, so you fester in your need.

Eventually you only succeed in destroying yourself, those you hate never know.

They live on, uncaring.

Worst of all? They win.

“You are wise beyond your years Jules. Those are words we could all live by.” Arthur spoke. The others rode in silence, mulling it over.

She waved the tablet before him -

I did not say all that - I was told it.

“By whom?” Lancelot asked.

She sighed -

Someone close to me.

Where I was kept.

“Where are they now?” Galahad asked, eager to see if there was someone they could fetch for her.

Dead.

“Who killed them?” Lancelot again.

My owner.

He thought it would be fun to make me watch.

He had him disembowelled before me.

Arthur swallowed deeply “why?”

My punishment for caring for them.

For hoping.

“Hoping?”

Aye, hoping I would die soon; before I hated.

He wanted to make me hate.

I nearly did - the one he killed meant much to me.

“Who was it?”

My father.

Lancelot had been reading all this out, almost being her interpreter now for when she couldn’t let them all see the tablet, his voice getting thicker with emotion. The last was whispered. Gawain and Bors at the back didn’t hear him.

Who? I did not hear you!” Bors called out.

“HER BLOODY FATHER; THE BASTARDS GUTTED HER BLOODY FATHER RIGHT BEFORE HER – DO YOU HEAR ME NOW?!!”

She flinched at the anger he radiated; he spurred his horse and galloped from them.

I have angered him.

I am sorry.

I talk too much.

- She showed it to Arthur; he went to speak, but his throat was constricted. He shook his head.

“What she say?” Gawain this time.

Galahad rode forward and read it out.

Gawain trotted down the line, “Nay, nay you did not.” He went to pat her arm, and then changed his mind; choosing to smile instead. “He is upset about what happened. But it is good to talk, it helps us understand you.

Lancelot, well he is a bit of ladies man admittedly; charming, humorous, good looking. But underneath it all he has got a heart as a big as the fort itself. He is a big soft lump really; does not show it over often, but he is.

Nasty on the battlefield, mind, wields those two swords like a demon. But off it he is as soft as freshly risen dough when he feels a wrong has been done to an innocent; or some vulnerable weakling, like a child say, needs protecting.

He has a soft spot for you, we all do. So when we hear, when he hears, what you suffered he gets in a rage. Plus he hates Rome and the Church something fierce, so this is not helping him. But he is not angry at you.”

Tristan appeared then. Arthur rode forward “Did you hear?”

“I heard what Lancelot shouted; I was on my way back to report the road ahead is clear, I saw him and he told me the rest - he wishes to take point for a while, sent me back with his apologies.”

“It is understood and forgiven; it is trying for all of us – her most of all. Go to her.”

Tristan nodded and let his horse fall in beside Jules. Her face lit up, and she patted his arm in pleasure. The other knights all smiled.

“Hello. Why are you riding?” He spoke gently to her, but glared accusingly at Dagonet.

“Do not blame me Tristan – blame her and Arthur. She wanted to and he let her.”

“It is not right Juliana….”

She waved the tablet to shut him up and then wrote -

Jules or Little Bird, or even

- She glanced at Bors -

Birdie.

NOT Juliana - never again, Juliana.

Galahad was still reading it out. Bors grinned, “I think she likes me now!” he mumbled loudly to Dagonet.

Tristan sighed “Aye, agreed. So Jules…..why are you riding?”

She urged her horse forward, so they left Galahad behind. She explained to him what she had told Arthur.

“That will not help; they may respect you for doing this – but they will want to aid you. As will I; you making a swift recovery wipes out none of the evil done against you.”

My decision.

My wrong to right.

NO ONE else’s.

You do not understand how you will be made to suffer.

“And what of you?”

I do not matter.

I -

He butted in, putting his hand over the tablet, forcing her to look at him. “You do matter, to all of us. We care….”

She sighed -

As do I.

About all of you.

No one else will be made to suffer on my account.

- She paused, then -

If it ever comes to it, you could help me.

But the deed must be mine Tristan - it must.

“We will see?”

We are going to the wall?

- She tried to change the subject -

To a roman fort?

“Aye, but we will let no ill befall you.”

I fare well.

Lancelot says the soldiers that - hurt me went south.

“That is right. Rome appears to be withdrawing from Briton.”

Good.

Let them return to their country and butcher their own people.

The bitterness she clearly felt was in every word.

“Do you hate them?”

They had dropped back to the rest of the group. “She does not.” Arthur offered, and explained what she had told him.

Tristan mulled it over “I see what you say. It is a constructive attitude.”

She smiled -

My father was a very wise man.

- She stopped and her hand trembled -

I loved him dearly.

But he is with me still - in here.

- She pointed to her heart.

He thought she would cry, the emotion was there; but when he looked at her face, her eyes were dry.

“Have you ever cried?”

About what?

“The deaths of your babies, your father, your treatment, the pain; any of it?”

My first baby.

“But naught else?”

Nay, what good would it serve?

“Who was the last they killed?”

My father.

“Before that?”

Please Tristan -

“Before that?”

Tristan - please - I -

Before that?” He pressed the point.

Galahad had begun to read it out again, since they had dropped back into the group – the other knights began to protest he was being cruel; even Arthur questioned his actions. But the scout ignored them.

“Before that?”

My last baby.

The day before my father.

“Did you speak again?”

She rode silently for a moment -

The day after my father, I woke without my voice.

At last it all became clear – to see your fourth child then your father die, and as he did too, you should grieve. Cry, scream, rage, but at most she merely cried out for her child, for her father’s death – but no grief. After her father, she had just shut down.

This was almost a nervous reaction to the extreme feelings she must have felt; to witness that butchery and not be able to prevent it or avenge it must have been terrible.

Hence the fact she could scream out in her dreams, but not when awake. Either way, it explained much.

“I see.”

The other knights exchanged looks, a glimmer of understanding beginning to dawn on all of them.

They rode on until dark; Tristan and Jules in companionable silence, the other knights chatting amongst themselves.

When they decided to camp for the night, Lancelot had ridden back to tell them of a good place to stop. They set camp, and Jules slid gratefully from the saddle.

She looked drained, and the knights knew what it had cost her to ride that distance.

She sat at the fire, instead of instantly retreating to the wagon; and though she could not eat with them, she could only sip milk as her mouth hurt too much to chew, she sat with them and that meant much to the men that had taken her into their inner circle.

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

Later that evening, she retired to the wagon; leaving the men to talk about the day’s events.

Lancelot, however, sat staring moodily into the fire. Tristan sat next to him, after ensuring that Jules had settled alright.

“How fares she?” asked the dark knight without looking up.

“Better…" The scout paused before adding "I think you all bolstered her well this day.”

“How can we truly aid her Tristan? Apart from tracking the animal that did this to her and doing all what Bors suggested, what can we do to genuinely aid her?” He sounded desperate; desperate to settle a debt that could never be put square.

“Let her ‘talk’, it will help her to truly comprehend all that has befallen her.”

“And the good of that?”

“She may yet speak again.”

“But yet she may not.”

“True.” The scout shrugged “But whatever happens she is amongst friends now.”

Lancelot looked at him then “Aye, that she is.”

“Then that is much more than she had two days ago.”

They all sat there mulling it over in silence.

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

An hour later an ear-splitting scream rent the air; Tristan was already up and moving.

“NAY, NAY! PLEASE I BEG YOU – I BEG YOU DO NOT DO THAT TO ME AGAIN” She screamed again “PLEASE, I BEG YOU; IT HURTS ME….…IT HURTS SO MUCH!!!”

Another scream rent the air as Tristan leapt into the wagon “PLEASE, OH PLEASE LEAVE HIM BE! DO IT THEN, DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH ME….ONLY SPARE HIM. I WILL NOT HATE - I WILL NOT, I WILL NOT!! HE WOULD NOT WISH IT SO; I WILL NOT BETRAY HIM…I CANNOT!! WHY DO YOU LAUGH?! WHY?!”

The other knights stood rooted to the spot in horror. Their minds wondering what butchery and brutality had caused her to beg to be spared only to put herself in harms way to save another, probably her father.

Lancelot ground his boot into the dirt as another scream rent the air “This is madness….!” He growled in angry frustration.

“There is naught we can do” muttered Arthur.

“DO YOU NOT THINK I KNOW THAT?!”

“Hush, hush!” said Dagonet “How can you expect Tristan to calm her with us shouting out here?”

Lancelot nodded abruptly, taking a deep breath to calm his temper. “If I ever find out who did this…..” he hissed.

“You will be in the queue behind me” Arthur’s voice broke in softly.

“You would kill your own countrymen, your fellow believers?” asked Lancelot in disbelief.

“Aye, because they would be naught to me; and I would know I would be consigning a demon to hell and naught more.” He was quiet, but a creeping rage ran through his voice.

Lancelot walked to him “I hate Rome and I hate the Church!”

“I know, brother, I know” Arthur sighed deeply, as he clapped him on the shoulder “at times like this so do I.”

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

As he entered the wagon Tristan saw Jules crouched once again in the corner, rocking back and forth; her knees tight to her chest, arms around them – seeming to do her best to fold herself into a small ball. She screamed and raged, pleaded and begged; but it was her screams of pain at some remembered torture, that was to her at this moment so real, that tugged at the heart the most.

He had a suspicion who she would sacrifice herself so willingly for only moments after begging to be spared; indeed her words spoke for themselves. He tried his best to calm her; but she would have none of it, locked as she was in the horror of her mind. He had to admit this was by far much worse than the first nightmare.

“Please, please let me die – let me DIE!!! I WANT TO DIE!!” She screamed “I AM IN HELL!!!!!” DO NOT MOCK ME, DO NOT LAUGH; JUST.LET.ME.DIE!” He heard the audible gasps outside.

Once again Tristan tried to again soothe her; once again he seemed to only cause her more distress. She tried to move away, shaking her head at him. Her eyes though open and staring at him; were not seeing him he knew, but another - someone who delighted in torture; who delighted in all sorts of butchery against her.

“Little bird - little bird will you not come to your hawk? Let me help you. Please little bird, let your hawk help you; will I not always be here for you, my little bird?” he murmured in that sing-song voice he usually reserved for sick and frightened animals.

Gradually she calmed down; though the rocking continued, he finally managed to put his hand on her foot. She looked down, then up - her eyes connected with his, he saw the moment she recognised him as friend and not foe; though he could see the terror still held her fast in its grip.

Jules finally crawled over to him. She was trembling so much it was pitiful to see but he, and those outside, heard it - her final spoken words that night as she curled into a ball in Tristan's lap; her eyes staring unseeing into the darkness…..

“Forgive me father..…please forgive me…..I failed you….I could not save you…I failed you.”


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