amari_z: (reflection)
[personal profile] amari_z
Title: Ties that Break

Warnings: Slash and some violence

Series: Part of the AU that began with Resurrection. The series (with links) is Resurrection, Tools of the Trade, Slave to Fashion, Trouble in the Making, Out on the Town, Weapons of Choice, Myths, Legends and Lies, Lessons in Deportment, Ties to Bind, The Shopping Expedition, Dangerous Games, Rude Awakenings, All Things Mortal, In Twilight's Kingdom, Rumors of War and this one. To make sense, the stories should be read in order.

Notes: Whew! At last. Thanks to all of you who have been waiting so patiently, and especially to [livejournal.com profile] darklyscarlett and [livejournal.com profile] sasha_b for pre-reading.






The way of love is not
a subtle argument.
The door there
is devastation.

~Rumi



Bors gulped down another mouthful of his beer, swiped at the corners of his mouth and glanced again toward the back of the pub where his date had disappeared. Some things never did change. Women always did take a mysteriously long time taking a piss.

Bors finished his beer and showed his appreciation in a satisfied belch. For the second time since his date had left the table, he signaled the serving girl for another. He was on edge and distracted, and, although he had decided not to postpone this date yet again, he was feeling dubious about the prospects here. What had Gareth's woman been thinking of? Up until now, Bors had thought that Sarah Jane was a sensible sort. Gareth, in his Gareth-like way, always seemed to pick that type, but perhaps Gareth was just as confused by this time's women as Bors.

The idea had come to him while watching that show on the telly, the one with the yellow-skinned, four-fingered family. It seemed more than coincidence that he had just been telling Dag about his plans to try this thing called speed dating—he had gotten an advert in the post—when the show had featured the very thing. Bors had watched, feeling rather smug about how well he was understanding this time, when the character running the service, after being asked if she had met her husband through speed dating, had responded disdainfully, "I met my husband through friends like a normal person." He had been deflated, but only for a moment.

He did not know all that many modern people—and certainly none he would call "friend"—but in a stroke of his usual brilliance, he had thought of asking Gareth's woman to introduce him to one of her lady friends. He was not having any luck trying to find a woman on his own. It seemed such things were complicated in this time. He had gotten himself his Vanora with a pinch to her arse and by telling her that he hoped all their girl bastards looked like her (the boys would take after him, of course, and they had—ridiculous suggestions by certain parties aside).

But there was no telling with these modern women. They were strange creatures. Pay them a compliment and get an indignant response. Ask them if they were good breeders and receive a frosty look, or even a slap—and not the fun kind. (And really, what kind of man seriously considering a woman would not ask that, Bors wanted to know. The silly chits should appreciate that he looking for a long-term arrangement.)

He had not asked that much of Sarah Jane (it was not as if he had insisted on a redhead), but Bors had to wonder where she had dug up this particular woman. The woman was pretty enough, he supposed, in a blonde, scrawny kind of way, but she had looked him up and down in a way that reminded Bors of uppity Romans, and she kept sniffing as if she smelled something foul. She also had asked him if he were really related to Gareth several times. Of course, he was not, technically, but her tone implied that such a thing was impossible, and he found that annoying.

Well, perhaps it was no wonder Sarah Jane had seemed so reluctant about the whole thing (he had to remind her about it more than a few times before she had finally handed over her friend's mobile number just before the nasty business with Lancelot’s shooting). Probably, the poor woman just did not know many good women. Women were odd in their friendships. He would not have fancied any of his Vanora's lady friends either, after all. An odd, disapproving lot of harridans, they had been. He scowled at the memory. Come to think of it, some of them had that same irritating tendency to sniff around him too. Perhaps some women were just allergic to a real man.

Bors stuffed another handful of crisps into his mouth, unmindful of the crumbs that fell on his shirtfront, joining those already sprinkled there. He wiped his greasy hand on his trousers and fished in his pocket. He flipped opened his mobile and once more dialed the number he had swiped off Arthur’s contacts. He got voicemail again, and cursed, but did not leave another message. He was shoving his mobile back into his pocket and another bunch of crisps into his mouth when it began to ring.

"Gareth?" he mumbled through his mouthful. Luckily, he swallowed then, so he did not choke when he roared, "What! What do you mean gone?" He barely let Gareth start his explanation before he interrupted. "Where the bloody fuck was Dinaden? Never mind." He calmed and began to chuckle. "It's nothing. Did you expect him to stay put there, given half a chance? He'll turn up when he's had his fun, he's probably—" He was interrupted with unusual force, and, surprised, he listened, and then he began to scowl. "The bishop’s hairless balls, Gareth! How did—? Right. Arthur? No? Okay, I'm on my way."

He snapped the mobile shut and let out a few pungent words. He waved over the waitress and threw some notes onto the table. "Sweetheart, do me a favor, will you? Tell the lass I was with that there's been an emergency and I had to go."

"The one that was climbing out of the loo window?"

"What?"

He was pretty sure the bit of girl rolled her eyes at him. "Sure thing. I'll tell her if I see her."

~


Guinevere watched the passing scenery, refusing to acknowledge the trembling that persisted in her limbs or the way her heart was beating too quickly. She did not want to admit that her meeting with Lancelot had effected her so. She was sure, at least, that neither her face nor her voice had given her away before him.

She had stood up to leave. She had said her parting words. What weakness had driven her to turn around and speak as she reached the door?

In the privacy of the backseat of her car, she bit her lip. She had miscalculated, believing that the years that had passed would dull her reaction. Or perhaps it was more that she had chosen not to remember how he had made her feel.

He had been wounded and weak, skin too pale, bones too sharp, wearing that ridiculous knitted cap, but his eyes . . . . How had she forgotten how badly those eyes shook her? She should have had every advantage. She was strong and healthy, she was older than he in both this time and the other, with the memories of years ruling by Arthur’s side, and she had the tactical advantages of surprise and superior knowledge. But under that piercing gaze, it all seemed to be stripped away, and she had been an adolescent girl again.

From nearly the moment she had been freed from that underground prison, she had known he was dangerous, dangerous in a way that Arthur could never be. She should have been relieved that Arthur, not he, was the man she had to win over. But, although he had been of no use to her, she had not been able to help engaging him when she should have been expending all her energy on Arthur. If he had ever given her the barest indication that she could succeed with him, she might have cast aside her machinations and the interests of her people. To be loved by such a man—

Guinevere shook her head. Those were the foolish fancies of the girl she had been, weren’t they? But then what, when she had already done what she had come to do, had made her pause at the door and speak?

”You don’t think that he loves you, do you?”

She knew she had struck true when his eyes flickered. She felt a stab of intense satisfaction.

But his reaction was fleeting. He said nothing for a moment, merely watching her so that she wondered if she had revealed more than she meant to.

“Is that important to you, then?” He sounded nothing if not amused.


She had whirled around and left then, flustered, and stymied in how to respond. It had not been the dramatic, masterful exit she had planned. Damn it, why had she turned back?

Guinevere shook her head. But it had been important to her, back then. She had been young and beautiful and much sought after. She had wanted Arthur’s love and devotion, to be the center of his life. She had expected it. She had found anything less unacceptable. But she had been forced to live with less.

Lancelot, though— Guinevere had no doubt that Arthur loved Lancelot. Yet that pause before Lancelot had answered had confirmed her suspicions. She consoled herself that this was information that would be useful to her.

When she felt herself calm enough, she pulled out her mobile. There were a number of missed calls and messages, but she ignored them for now, and dialed.

“It’s done,” she said.

~


Arthur walked the aisles of the bookshop, breathing in the tranquil order. He had a peripheral awareness of the lurking figures of Dagonet and Geriant, but he ignored them and the niggling irritation their presence caused. He refused to think about how they were likely armed with more than just the occasional piece of sharpened silverware. He needed to deal with that, but he could not do so until he spoke to Lancelot. He would do that this evening. He had been putting off speaking to Lancelot about too many things, and now there was no more time. The thought made his stomach twist, and he pushed it away. He had come here for a bit of peace in which to order his mind before he had to give his speech at the hotel across the street. He would think about what exactly he would say to Lancelot later.

Even after a year in this time, the banality of the written word still awed Arthur. Shops crammed with more books than a person could read in a lifetime, many on astoundingly frivolous topics; libraries in every city, where anyone could come in and take as many books as they wished home; pages and pages of news, printed and discarded as waste each day.

In his time, the written word had been a fragile treasure. Vellum and papyrus were precious and a scribe's skill was the product of years of careful training. Each and every text had been the outcome of hours of laborious copying across years of transmission, and only as reliable as the weary human hand and dimming eye of each scribe it had passed through.

In the first months here, he had devoured the reading material provided to him. There had literally been whole continents to learn about, and everything had been strange and new. It had taken him months to realize that, while so much had been gained, nearly as much had been lost.

He paused in the history section, his eyes sweeping over the shelves. There were books on the "ancient" world here, studies by men (and women) who had made careers out of fabricating meals from the crumbs left behind. Sprinkled amid them were other books. Seutonius. Tacitus. Seneca. Livy. Pliny. Cicero. So few were preserved, and so little of even of them.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember it. Even in his own relative chronology, thirty-two years had passed since he had last stood in Trajan's library in Rome. Still, he could picture it. The vast, high-ceilinged room with its alcoves filled with scrolls. There had been preserved words stretching back over nearly a millennium, from the earliest days of the City down to the Christian thinkers of Arthur's own day. And that had only been the Latin room. The Greek was equal if not greater in size, with writings going back to the truly ancient days of Homer and Hesiod. He could almost hear the measured steps of learned men and the faint rustle of papyrus. He could almost smell the faintly musty smell, almost feel Pelagius's hand coming to rest on his shoulder.

He opened his eyes and contemplated the few shelves before him. The current age had built its foundations on the partly bits of the ruins of the great edifices that had once existed. Most knowledge had been lost so irretrievably in the period that had followed Arthur's life that these modern people could barely begin to glimpse a hint of the scope of what had once been. It made them believe that they had invented the world for their own. It made them proud. Arrogant. Their achievements were impressive, their technology miraculous, but their ignorance of what had been built before they walked the earth was staggering. And, like the Romans before them, they did not believe the sun could set on their age.

The days he had first grasped the enormous scope of what had passed, those days had been the lowest point for him. It had all seemed pointless. What had been the purpose of all he had ever fought and bled and lost for, if not for the preservation of knowledge, of civilization? What was the true evil of the Saxons, the Goths, the Huns, the Vandals, of all the rapacious barbarians? They had just been men, after all. Ignorant men who committed horrific acts of murder, rape and destruction, but whose true threat was to this precious thing—the preservation of the fruits of human memory, the culmination of millennia of endeavor, as men strove for the divine, by whatever name they called it and wherever they looked for it. His life had been spent trying to preserve this thing, whose fragility had once been so unthinkable to Rome. What use had it all been? The work of his life, to which he had sacrificed all? All for nothing, merely a brief flicker of the light in the face of approaching darkness. Christianity itself might have survived the dark, but the cost had been high. The works of so many brilliant minds seeking after truth had been destroyed and erased in the name of orthodoxy. Religion had been perverted into the tool of oppression and control, the justification for ignorance, the source of fear. It had become something unrecognizable to him, a student of Pelagius, who had taught that it was through free will and choice that mankind could find its salvation.

And so, he had wondered, what use would he be now, in this time, which was not even his own? This world was built by the descendants of the invaders, who, not monsters, but only men, after all, had come to learn the value of the civilization that their fathers had so violently destroyed. But it had come far too late to the world that had once been—to Arthur's world.

So, he had despaired, but then he had fought that despair. Why? Habit, perhaps. He knew no other way but to hope and to try. And by then, too many had come to believe in him yet again, and then the knights had been reborn. And he had refused to give up on seeing Lancelot.

His hand paused over a two-volume set of Plutarch's Lives. He checked his watch. He had a few minutes. He flipped through the table of contents in both volumes, frowning, and then replaced the books, not finding the Life he was looking for. Had they truly lost the life of Scipio Africanus? In all history, Africanus, pagan as he had been, was among the men Arthur admired most. The man whose brilliance had saved Rome, a general who had learned his craft from defeat, a man of upright honor and learning. He had been blessed even in the greatness of his enemies, pitting his genius against Hannibal Barca in war and against Cato in peace. A singular man born in what history would reveal to be a golden age. Not for Africanus the dark chaos, the futile fight, of the decline.

Arthur pushed down his anger, reminding himself that there was no one to blame for these losses.

He heard a throat being cleared nearby, and turned to find Mark, Ms. Delaney's second, hovering at a respectful distance. "Mr. Castus," he said, sounding apologetic, "it's time to go." Arthur nodded. He was aware of Geriant just out of sight beyond where Mark stood, and Dagonet's presence somewhere behind. He cast a last glance at the shelves, where the books, which he had come to for comfort, now seemed merely pitiable.

He had known of many of the lost texts. Had read some of them. He wished he had the type of memory that would allow him to recall the exact words of what he had read, but he did not. Some things, once lost, could not be rebuilt again.

~


Tor's day had gone from the middling misery of shopping (only middling, he judged, because there had been prospect of treats at the end), to pretty bad misery. But not extreme misery because it was not raining or snowing, and no one was trying to kill them (that he knew of). Still, the misery level was a lot worse than shopping, even with Galahad making him carry all the bags.

He was bored. And hungry. He concentrated on those things. But the truth was that he was usually hungry and often bored, and dwelling on those things did not distract him. The real problem, what he was trying to avoid thinking about, was that Galahad was being kind of strange.

They were lying in the bushes, across from what Tor had eventually realized was the place they had seen on that huge, brilliant telly before Galahad had gotten all weird. Those people on the screen, though, were not here now, as Tor had pointed out more than once.

Galahad was ignoring him. And even when Tor, in desperation (and boredom), had begun to flick tiny pebbles at his head, Tor had barely gotten a look of irritation. At a loss, Tor had spent the last half hour surreptitiously eying Galahad for signs of impending zombie-hood. That would at least explain it. Since they were literally dead and still walking around, it was not impossible for them to turn into zombies like in the movies. But, as far as Tor could tell, Galahad was not exhibiting any of the classic symptoms (no grey skin, no monotonous moaning, no shuffling steps, no desire to eat people's brains), so, probably not a zombie. Yet. Which was good, he guessed, but it left him with no explanation for Galahad's weird scariness.

Tor repressed the urge to squirm, and let out a loud sigh, but not too loud, because there were men in uniforms all over.

When this too received no reaction, Tor eyed the gun that Galahad had pulled out when they had taken up this position and contemplated calling Gawain. The problem was that he had forgotten to charge his mobile again, and he was not sure how to get away from Galahad to find one of those mobiles stuck in public boxes without risking Galahad disappearing. He was worried that Galahad, if he took into his head to go somewhere else, would not care whether Tor were with him or not. On the way here, Tor had almost lost Galahad in the crowds a bunch of times, until he had finally latched onto the back of Galahad's coat. (This had not provoked the indignation that Tor had half hoped for. It had gotten no reaction at all, even though Tor knew his sweaty, clenching hand was wrinkling Galahad's fancy coat.)

Tor sighed again, his eyes lingering on the gun under Galahad’s hand. They were all supposed to carry them since the shooting, but since their shopping trip had not exactly been authorized, Tor had reckoned that they would be doubly in trouble if they brought weapons along. He had thought that Galahad had left his gun at home as well, but he had been wrong.

Tor was wondering if he should tell Galahad he had to take a piss (he really did—he had drunk four Tizers before they had left the house) and then use the chance to call Gawain as well, when Galahad finally stirred for the first time since they had taken up this position. "Let's go." He did not say anything else, but Tor was grateful to be addressed at all.

Galahad began to crawl back through the bushes, unmindful of the dirt smearing on his coat and trousers, the scuffing of his shoes, or the twigs tangling in his hair. Tor was glad to go, but this sight did not leave him feeling reassured. Come to think of it, in the movies, the zombies' clothes always somehow turned into rags once they got zombified.

~


Galehaut had fled blindly from the hospital, uncaring where his feet took him. If he could walk fast enough, maybe he could outrun his thoughts, and leave the sick feeling in his stomach behind.

There had been no satisfaction in telling Lancelot what Arthur had done. His own insistence on the noble sentiment that Lancelot deserved to know the truth had been revealed to be a far uglier thing.

He came to a halt and looked around. He did not recognize the small park where he had ended up. He took a seat on a nearby bench and closed his eyes. He tried to imagine what Lancelot would do now, but he just did not know. As capable as Lancelot was of intense loyalty, that was balanced by an equal ability for implacable enmity.

As much as he had wanted to, pressing Lancelot for any kind of reaction would have been futile. The cold, closed off look on Lancelot’s face . . . . Galehaut was familiar with it, but it had never been directed at him before. Except, he realized, that one time, when he had dared to ask Lancelot about Balin and Lot.

He had nearly forgotten. From the sixty-three boys who had been taken by the Romans from Sarmatia, only thirty-nine had still been alive by the time Arthur had taken command of the cavalry and had his table built. The early casualty rate had been high. The journey alone had claimed many lives, as had sickness, and then the early battles, where, however skilled they were on their horses, the “knights” had been little more than raw, frightened, steppe-bred boys, with no idea how to fight in this country where the enemy and their forests, swamps and fog had all been equally terrifying. And then there had been Balin and Lot, who had died near the end of their journey to Britain.

Galehaut did not know what had actually happened; he only knew the stories whispered among the other knights. It was true that the two older boys had been shunned by the other Sarmatian conscripts because they came from a much-despised and xenophobic northern tribe and spoke a dialect so thick that they were barely comprehensible. The Romans, for once acting with discernable sense, had paired the two boys together for the journey. With their obsessive love of order, the Romans had organized their Sarmatian conscripts by dividing all the boys into pairs, and then grouped them into companies of six. Balin and Lot had belonged to the company including Lancelot and Tristan, as well as Galahad and Tor.

The Roman’s scheme, however, had not just been the product of excessive organization. It also served a purpose. It had left the Sarmatians responsible for one another in ways that placed pressure on the boys to conform, since any misconduct would result not only in severe consequences to the individual but also punishments that would ripple out to one’s partner, to one’s company, and then to the larger group. A few demonstrations after minor infractions early in their journey, had shown the remarkable efficacy of the system.

The worst infraction was desertion. They had been warned. Death to one’s company, harsh punishment to the entire group. The punishments they had received for small things like questioning orders (often just a result a of failure of language rather than any attempt at insolence), or failing to pack up the camp with proper alacrity had been bad enough. No one had even dared to dream of deserting. No one except Balin and Lot.

According to the rumors, it was Tristan who found them out as they were making their escape from camp one night. Tristan had fetched Lancelot and the two of them had confronted Balin and Lot. No one had known if the confrontation had merely escalated from an attempt to convince the two to come back or if it had been an ambush from the beginning. The end result had been the same.

Galehaut had seen this next part himself. Still covered in the other boys’ blood, Lancelot had spent a half hour with the commander of their escort. Miraculously, Lancelot had walked away unmarked, except for the hard look in his eyes that had never been there before. What Lancelot had said to the Roman, no one knew. It might have helped that they were only a day away from Bononia, and being turned over to the Romans sent from Britain to take charge of them.

Galehaut had barely known Lancelot then, but later, when he had asked about it, Lancelot had refused to answer. Lancelot would go unreadable at any mention of Balin or Lot, and, certainly, the talkative, inquisitive boy that Galehaut vaguely remembered from their journey had borne little resemblance to the boy with whom Galehaut had shared a room in the barracks. It had also been because of what happened outside Bononia that the other Sarmatians had begun to both fear and respect Lancelot.

His thoughts were going down morbid paths. He sighed and pulled out his mobile. He would find his way back to the house eventually, but he could do this much. He owed Agravaine a warning and an apology.

“It’s Galehaut. I—“

He frowned, listening, and then a jolt of fear-led adrenaline went through him. But of course Lancelot had disappeared. The urge to go after him was strong, but, this time, Galehaut knew he would not be welcome.

“No, I don’t know where he would have gone. You must tell the others not to look for him. He’ll show up when he’s good and ready, and if someone tries to drag him back before then—“ He listened. “No, I know he should still be in the hospital! Fine. Just tell them.” He hung up and stared at his mobile, wondering if he should bother calling Gareth or Kay or someone to warn them off, but then they never listened to him anyway.

He rubbed his hand over his face and tried to think of what he should do now. He had told Agravaine that Lancelot would come back when he was ready, but Galehaut was not so sure.

~


He stripped the second weapon with practiced efficiency. The tools had changed, but the routines had not. The familiar ritual was soothing, and he was grateful for anything that kept his hands busy. Still, he would have preferred his swords to these guns, or even the facsimiles of his swords that had been made for him. But both were lost to him now.

The room was barren and cold, with nothing to soften the hard, grey concrete of the floor and walls. There was the metal table where he sat and a cot in the corner. There were no windows, but he pushed that thought away, and with it the ancient panic, with habitual contempt. There was also a small television set in another corner, but it was silent. He had turned it off when it had become clear that the only thing to be seen was the continuous loop of coverage about yesterday's bombing. He was heartily sick of it.

He picked up the oily rag, but paused as his eyes rested on his hands. They looked skeletal: too long, too thin, only skin stretched tight over bone. He shrugged the sight off and continued with his task. He was nearly finished reassembling the second weapon when the sound of footsteps in the corridor had him putting it down and reaching for its twin, already cleaned and loaded. He withdrew his hand as he recognized the quick, decisive steps and the near silent ones that accompanied them.

Lillian swept into the room a moment later, Tristan ghosting in behind her. There was no sign of her usual sleek business dress. Her hair was pulled back in a loose horsetail, with escaped strands falling about her face, and instead of her aggressively short-skirted suits and dangerous high heels, she was dressed in slacks, a jumper and sensible, flat shoes. That was why it had taken him a moment to recognize her step. It afforded Lancelot some small amusement to see that her slacks were nevertheless impeccably tailored, and that the wisping hair did nothing to soften her expression.

"Turn on the television," she demanded. Not waiting, she snapped it on herself. The others began to drift in after Tristan, attracted by the noise. Some of them paused in the doorway as they stared at the screen, and had to be pushed aside by the newcomers.

"The bloody bastards," Lionel said, the muttered words inadequate vehicles for the rage and fear in his voice.

Lancelot's gaze barely flickered over to the television screen. From the moment he had recognized Lillian's step, he had known what had happened. And he could not stand to look at the expressionless face visible over the prime minister's shoulder as that puppetman spoke. When he did look, he glanced instead at one of the other faces in the background, alike and yet different from the one he avoided, before his gaze returned to the people gathered in the room.

" . . . assure the people of Britain that this action is only temporary until the state of emergency has passed . . . ."

They were nearly all here now: Galahad, gaze fixed where Lancelot's had been, fists clenched, mouth fixed in snarl; Tor, his wide eyes darting between the screen and Galahad; Percival, hovering behind them; Yvain, looking half finished without Owein; Lavaine, eyes darting between the screen and Lancelot; Urré, mouth tight with fury; Lucan, gaze flat and cold; Lamorak, twisting the edge of his shirt nervously; Safer, chewing his lip as he listened, Uwain; eyes narrowed on the screen; Bedivere, looking as if he were calculating out difficult odds in his head; Bruenor, stunned in disbelief; Sadok, lips twisted in a snarl; Lionel, mouthing something to himself; Ector, brows furrowed like a child struggling to understand; Palomides, face full of sorrow.

It had come to this (something small, starved and beaten, still resisted in disbelief, but he ignored it ruthlessly). Finally, he looked at Tristan, who met his eyes.

So be it.

"They've played their hand. They can come after us openly now." Lillian said quietly as the prime minister ended his speech and the broadcast shifted to the stunned looking, stammering newsman, whose over-white teeth were for once nowhere in evidence. Lillian had come to stand beside his chair.

"And they have Arthur and the others to help them," Tristan said. The rest stirred at his words, rustling like a tree's branches as the winter wind striped the last of its dead, spring-born leaves.

The constant, dull ache in Lancelot's chest flared as he stood. All their eyes fixed on him, the fidgeting stopped and their expressions smoothed. They stood straight, their eyes level and clear.

It was war, and, after all, what else had they been born for?


"This is what you wanted, right?"

Lancelot stirred and the pain uncoiled from his chest, threatening to crush him. He had never

He opened his eyes. It took a while for the darkness to fade from his vision. He met an unfamiliar gaze. The man had twisted around in the driver's seat to look back at him.

The cab driver cleared his throat nervously. "Sorry to wake you, but this is the place, right?

He blinked. The pain in his head made it hard to think. He had fallen asleep. He had been dreaming something . . . . He looked out the window and forced himself to straighten.

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you up to the house?"

He answered by opening the car door. The sudden chill felt like relief to the burning pain, but he knew that it was a deceit. He pulled himself out of the car and was about to shut the door behind him, when the man said, "Good luck to you."

Lancelot looked back at him in surprise and then wariness. "With what?"

The man shrugged, looking embarrassed. "You look like you might need it."

He slammed the car door shut, ignoring the pain the movement caused and the way the sound reverberated through his skull like the crash of thunder. "I don't believe in luck."

~


Agravaine rang off his mobile and looked at the knights in the room. They were gathered around the list of names he had written out.

“I’m supposed to talk to Tor?” Mador asked. “He’s not going to go against Galahad, and you said Gawain—“

“I don’t think he’s here, anyway,” Lovel said.

Agravaine barely controlled the urge to snarl at them. He tried to temper his tone and his words. “I told you, you each just need to approach as many of the knights listed by your name as you can, and tell them what you know. It’s our chance to finally convince some of those who’ve been blindly following Castus that he’s not what they think he is.”

Galleron was chewing his lip, his handsome features twisted in uncertainty. “Are you sure you’re right though? Would Castus really have done that? He could have gotten shot himself.”

“It was meant to look that way,” Meliagaunt said. “Haven’t you been listening?”

“Do you understand what you should say?” Their tentative nods did not look particularly reassuring, so, irritated, Agravaine repeated it yet again, speaking slowly and using small words. “Everyone has by now heard about the woman who showed up at the hospital on the night Lancelot woke up, and whom Arthur left with.” That loudmouth Lionel was good for something after all. “The woman is called Guinevere. She’s a Woad who Arthur married so he could become king,” he practically spat the word, “and she’s somehow been reborn here. That witch Merlin’s doing, no doubt. She wants to get rid of Lancelot and so arranged to have him shot. She failed, but she’ll keep trying—you’ve heard that she showed up again at the hospital just before Lancelot disappeared.”

“But how do you know that Arthur’s in on it?” Galleron asked. Agravaine wished he could just punch him to shut him up.

“He needs the alliance with her family. D’Augbiny—whose house this is—is her uncle. She’s going to be his heir,” Meligaunt supplied as Agravaine was gritting his teeth.

“That nice old man?” Lovel asked, as though he had not heard this all before. “He’s funny. He asked Marrok if he had ever been a werewolf.”

Galleron was not diverted. “But she could have been acting on her own. Why would Castus want Lancelot dead after he made that Woad try so many times to bring him back?”

Agravaine held onto his temper with both hands. This had always been the flaw in the story. “Look at how it happened. Castus arranged it so that suspicion would not fall on him; his story makes it look like the target was him, not Lancelot.”

“But that’s what Dagonet and Bruenor said too.” Mador this time.

“I’ve told you this before. They’re not to be trusted—Dagonet, Bors, Gareth, Gawain and Kay. They lived for years after we were dead, following Castus. They’ve made some kind of pact with him. How else to explain why they keep on insisting that we should just trust a Roman who’s been perverting nature by defying death? It’s an insult to our Ancestors that our deaths have been subverted by dirty Woad magic for a Roman’s purposes.”

There was silence after that. They were uneasy, but they would do what he said. There was no denying that they had been deprived of their promised place among the honored dead.

After a moment, Mador asked, “What about Lavaine? He’s not on this list. He’ll be first in line to gut Arthur if he hears any of this.”

Agravaine grimaced. “That idiot doesn’t need any provocation. Now get going. And leave the bloody list here!” Why did he have to deal with such fools?

Lovel sheepishly walked back to hand the paper to him. When they had all left, Agravaine sat back on his bed, an excited flutter in his belly that he usually only felt before battle. He pulled out a package of sour gummy worms from his bedside table drawer and stuffed a handful into his mouth. This was working out better than he had hoped. Galehaut might have defied him, but it had turned out for the best. He could see his avenging Ancestors’ hand in how that woman had shown up directly after Galehaut had spoken to Lancelot. With Lancelot’s disappearance and Arthur’s loyal knights preoccupied with tracking him down—there would never be a better chance. He would not be able to convince them all, but if he could bring a few more over to his side . . . .

Lancelot was, as always, the wild card. He could break the knights apart with a few words. And even the knights most loyal to Arthur would be hard pressed to keep defending Arthur if Lancelot denounced him. Agravaine closed his eyes as he chewed, and imagined the scene. He smiled as he indulged himself for a couple minutes, but then made himself stop. No use in counting your herd before the mares foaled. There was still no telling how Lancelot would react.

But Agravaine felt fairly confident. He knew Lancelot as well as anyone. He had lived in close quarters with him through most of their conscription and had watched him carefully. And one thing he was sure of: Lancelot would never abide what he viewed as betrayal.

He stood up and went over to the closet. Kneeling, he sorted though the dirty socks he had deliberately left there. Finding the one he was looking for, he shook the small, disposable mobile phone free. And Tristan and Dinaden thought they were so smart.

He dialed the number he had memorized, and after three rings, a man’s voice answered. Agravaine did not bother with pleasantries. “Things may break down here later today.”

“You have the address of the location?”

Agravaine rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course.” You bloody arrogant son of a whore. He consoled himself as he rang off that, once he dealt with Castus, this man would be next. And if all went well, he would have Lancelot to help him, rather than just his current pack of fools.


Continued here.
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