amari_z: (ka)
[personal profile] amari_z
Part one of the chapter is here, with headers and series links.

Part two is here.

This is the final part of the chapter. This chapter has been a long time coming in more ways than one. It's a point in the story that I've been planning toward for literally years. I'd love to hear what you think!

She sat down at the table, a look of distaste on her face at the griminess of the place. The man waiting for her seemed indifferent to her displeasure.

She kept her tone brisk, as if her very presence were not some kind of admission. “Well, I’m here, as you so rudely demanded. What is it you want?”

Bors met her eyes. “I want to know what the bloody fuck you’re up to, Guinevere. And why I shouldn’t go straight to Arthur and tell him the truth about you.”

The rapid beat of her heart stuttered, but she kept her expression bland. She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t understand you.”

He leaned across the table, seizing her wrist. “Don't play haughty with me. I know what you did after Arthur died.

She yanked her arm away. “Are you mad? Even if I had done whatever it is you seem to be accusing me of, you would hardly be in a position to know. You died at Camlann, with Arthur and Galahad.”

He sat back, watching her. There was a look in his eyes that she had never thought to take seriously. It had always been far too easy to think him a dimwitted brute. “You believed the story, did you? You were meant to, so you wouldn’t think to keep Vanora and the children from leaving Britain. But who, your majesty, do you think trained Constantine’s men in Brittany?”

She opened her mouth and then shut it, the dread that had settled like a pebble in her stomach revealing itself to be a seed that had blossomed into something poisonous. Damn Merlin to the deepest pit of hell for failing to foresee this, or, worse, knowing and not bothering to warn her.

“My Vanora never did like you. I didn’t really understand it until after Camlann. You fucking traitorous bitch. What game are you playing now?”

Guinevere’s mouth tightened, and she fought down her sheer indignation that he dared to speak to her thus. But there was no point in denials. Nor would she allow him to shame her. “No games. I only want my rightful place, leading my people. Then, I did what I had to do. Ideals and principles are pretty things, but they don’t win battles. Arthur was going to lose and the war needed to end.”

“And so you sold us all out.” He looked at her disgust, but she stared straight back at him. “Then, what’s to guarantee that you won’t decide Arthur isn’t the one you want to back this time?”

She wanted to snarl at him, to leap across the table and— She kept her tone cool but laced it with contempt. “Arthur comes back from the dead—bringing you lot with him—just as it happens I’m reborn to be here at the same time. Even you ought to see that this means something. But, regardless, you don’t have anything to worry about. He isn’t even here.” Adding the last was a calculated risk. When his eyes narrowed, she wondered if she had erred. She went on the attack. “And you, if you know so much, why haven’t you just gone ahead and told Arthur already?”

He looked at her, disgust plain on his face. “Why hurt the man with something he didn’t need to know? But now it looks like I might have to tell him after all.”

Panic fluttered in her throat. “It would be tiresome to rake up old business now, and it would change nothing. Arthur needs me. Merlin himself has said so.”

He stood up. “Merlin?” He snorted. “I’ll decide that for myself. Meanwhile, if I find out you’ve lied about his presence here, I’ll break that scrawny neck of yours and not worry about the rest.”

“You can try,” she hissed to herself as he walked away, but she let him go thinking he had had the final word.


Tristan was there as they entered the house, but, to Gawain’s surprise, Lancelot did not acknowledge his presence. Kay and Gareth disappeared, probably to call Arthur and tell him that they had brought Lancelot home.

Gawain followed Lancelot up the stairs, Tristan ghosting up behind. Gawain hovered near Lancelot, worried he would fall and wishing he dared to help. Gawain still wanted to explain, to argue with Lancelot. But looking at Lancelot now, he was afraid for him. For all his clearly evident exhaustion and pain, there was a blackness brimming in Lancelot’s eyes. If Gawain started something, Lancelot would feel compelled to finish it. Lancelot never backed down from anything, and Gawain has never seen him look so brittle.

As door to Arthur’s room shut behind Lancelot with frightening softness, Gawain looked helplessly at Tristan. "He'll talk to you." It was an undisguised plea.

Tristan merely looked at him without expression before walking away. Gawain could hear the deliberate sound of his footsteps and winced at the fury the soft sound revealed.

He wanted Gaheris desperately. And Galahad. But Galahad was probably off with someone else's charge card wreaking innocent mischief. That was for the best, really. The last thing he needed was to have to deal with Galahad right now.

He stared at the closed door. Arthur would be back soon. Arthur would have to explain. Lancelot would listen to Arthur, surely? They would argue, Lancelot would throw something and yell. He would rail at Arthur and push him away only then to pull him back. That was how it went.

Gawain clung to that thought, but it did not make him feel any better.


Lillian sat at her desk, tapping her pen against the desktop. What was that Amhar up to anyway? The evidence was sparse and well camouflaged, but there were enough clues to suggest a systematic effort to weaken the current government, and those efforts were not coming from her. But why would that cunning bastard be undermining his own party?

Her intercom buzzed and she picked up the headset. “What? Who? Put him through.”

“Administrator, what is it?” She listened impatiently, and then with growing anger. As if she needed this right now. “I see. You did the right thing to call me. How long ago was this? What do you mean you don’t know? No, just tell me the last time anyone saw him. That was over three hours ago! What kind of operation are you running over there?” She cut off his stammering explanations. “Never mind. Listen carefully, this is what you’re going to do. You’re going to make sure not one word about this leaks out. I don’t care if you have to lock up your staff. If I hear even a rumor suggesting that Mr. Banson is not currently recovering under the solicitous care of your hospital, I’ll make sure that the only job you can find in healthcare involves washing out bedpans. Do you understand? Good. I’ll be in touch.”

She was already busily planning how to spin this. It would not be difficult, so long as it was kept contained, but it was a nuisance. For a moment, it crossed her mind that perhaps Lancelot had been taken from the hospital, but she dismissed that thought after a bare moment of consideration. Arthur’s men were on guard. That insufferable man had no doubt simply taken off to vex everyone.

A press release tomorrow, saying that Mr. Banson had left the hospital to recuperate elsewhere, location undisclosed for the wounded man’s privacy. That would do. She hit the speaker button and began to stab out Arthur’s mobile number on her keypad, but her intercom sounded.

“What?” she demanded.

“Ms. Nesbith-Jones for you. She says it is urgent.”

“Fine, put her through.” She waited for the click over. “Hello, Ginevra, I’m a bit busy at the moment—”

“This won’t take long. Lillian, I need you to move up the date of the announcement of the engagement.”

“It’s already scheduled for next week. How much earlier could it be?”

“It must be made tomorrow.”

Lillian’s eyes narrowed, and she picked up her pen, twirling it between her fingers. What was going on here? Did this have anything to do with Lancelot breaking out of the hospital? “I’m afraid that’s quite impossible. We already have a full schedule for tomorrow. And I’ve heard nothing about this from Arthur.”

“You needn’t concern yourself with Arthur. Fit it in or bump something off.” The imperiousness was showing, and Lillian grit her teeth.

“Unfortunately, Gigi dear, I don’t work for you,” Lillian said sweetly. “I will be speaking to Arthur. Good day.” She hit the disconnect button, and thought for a moment. This haste had to mean something. If only she could figure out exactly what. Arthur’s reaction would provide her with more clues.

She began to dial his number again, this time with significantly less irritation.


Tor hunkered protectively over his bowl of ice cream and kept a wary eye on Percival. Galahad was still upstairs with Owein and Yvain, but Owein had gotten annoyed with the sounds emitting from Tor’s stomach and told him to get lost or he would strangle him silent with one of the many wires snaking around the corners of their room. Galahad had not protested so Tor had slunk off, not completely reluctantly, to the kitchen.

But no one had invited Percival. Tor glowered across the table at him, yet refrained from saying anything, although that pig was eating the last of the strawberry ice cream. It was Tor’s goal right now to be unobtrusive and not attract any notice, and even he knew that his arguments with Percival tended to escalate into screaming and loud crashes. The last thing he needed was to provide a convenient escape valve for the tension that seemed to be crackling in the very air of the house.

“What’s the matter with that twit Galahad anyway?” Percival asked.

Tor nearly choked on his huge mouthful of ice cream. “Nothing!” he mumbled indignantly. He swallowed and glared. “And don’t call him a twit!” It was one thing for Tor to wonder about Galahad, but he would punch Percival in his stupid mouth.

Percival merely shrugged. “There sure is something wrong with him. With everyone. They’re all acting weird.”

“Like zombies?” Tor asked, eyes widening.

“What? No, you freak. Like they’re crazy. Whispering and glaring and walking out of rooms when someone else comes in. If this is what they were like later, I’m glad I didn’t hang around to see it.”

Tor sputtered (luckily he had not refilled his mouth with ice cream). “Shut up!” was the only retort he came up with. It was not as if Percival had anything to act all superior about. Percival had not chosen to die. Percival had died because he had been too stupid to keep himself alive. Dying early meant not understanding half of what was happening. It was like being a child listening to adult conversations. Tor was sure that if he had managed to stay alive longer, he would understand what was wrong with Galahad right now. Percival really was stupid.

Percival had gone back to his ice cream, but he seemed more interested in stirring the melting piles around his bowl than in putting the stuff in his mouth. Tor found his own bowlful suddenly less appetizing, but he stubbornly shoved another heaping spoon in his mouth.

Tor was beginning to feel sick when Galahad entered the kitchen. He stopped a few steps from Tor’s chair.

“I’m leaving. Probably for a while.” Galahad looked Tor straight in the eye, his tone serious. “Do you want to come?”

Tor understood, but he did not hesitate. “Yes.” He stood, ready to go with Galahad, but then froze as he saw Gaheris appear in the doorway.

Gaheris was scowling ferociously, but, when he caught sight of Galahad, he looked relieved. “There the fuck you are! Where have you been? Never mind. Gawain’s been looking for you, you little shit.” He seized Galahad’s arm as though to drag him bodily from the room. “Come on.”

Galahad yanked his arm free, and Tor felt a sudden chill. “No.” Galahad’s voice was clear and decisive. There was no hint of the usual sulky petulance.

Gaheris stared at him in surprise, his dark hair falling over his eyes. It did nothing to hide the ire in them. “What do you mean, ‘no’?” Tor found himself backed against the counter as he unconsciously edged away from the irritation radiating off Gaheris in what seemed to Tor to be visible black waves.

Galahad, however, either could not seem them, or he did not care. His eyes narrowed. “You’ve both been bloody lying to me. You’ve been lying to me about him.” Tor had never seen such anger and hate on Galahad’s face.

Gaheris gave him a sharp look, but then the irritation seemed to overwhelm him. “I don’t really care what’s going through that silly head of yours, and I don’t have any patience for it right now. You’ll talk to Gawain.” He grabbed at Galahad’s arm again, and this time Galahad’s attempt to pull free was ineffective. Gaheris was taller and he was all wiry strength. He shoved Galahad in the direction of the door.

That was it, Tor thought, feeling relieved. It was out of their hands, and whatever was wrong with Galahad, Gaheris would get it out of Galahad and Gawain would fix it. He watched Galahad struggle with no particular concern. He had seen it a thousand times before. They never managed to defy Gaheris directly. It was Gaheris. But then Tor froze in horrified disbelief as he caught sight of the ugly look on Galahad’s face. Panic and instinct had Tor moving before Galahad could reach inside his coat.

The next second was a blur. He found himself panting and staring down at Gaheris on the floor, and then at the base of the blender he held in his hand. His eyes next fell on Percival, still sitting in his chair, spoon poised in his bowl, his mouth hanging open. His reaction suggested that Tor was probably not suffering a delusion. Tor snuck a peek back down at the floor. Yes, Gaheris was really down there.

He tested out the thought: He had smashed Gaheris across the back of the head.

With the blender.

He had hit Gaheris.


Gaheris, who was going to murder him.



When he woke up.

He tore his gaze upward as Galahad spoke, tone brisk, as if he had not been at the point of drawing a gun on his—Gaheris and was not seeing what Tor was seeing. “We’re going to need weapons. I want you to go down to the basement.”

Despite his tone, Galahad was seeing what Tor was; he was staring down at Gaheris as he rubbed at his arm. He had a peculiar look on his face.

“What about him?” Tor’s voice cracked like a boy’s before he got it under control. He put the blender down on the table, carefully coiling up the trailing cord. The prongs of the plug were bent. He must have wrenched it free from the wall outlet. He took a couple deep breaths as he tried not to panic. He almost laughed as he caught sight of the crack running down one side of the blender’s plastic casing. Even in the unlikely event that Gaheris did not kill him, Bruenor surely would.

“I’ll drag him off and stuff him someplace,” Galahad said, eyes fixed on the fallen man. Yes, that was definitely a look of satisfaction.

“What about me?” a voice intruded.

Tor rolled his eyes at Percival. “What about you?”

“Wherever you guys are going, I want to come too.”

Tor’s day was just getting better and better.


“No, we’ve found him. I want him back at the hospital tonight. If all goes well, we won’t have to tell anyone anything.”

Arthur listened, frowning. “I’m sorry, but we’ve reached the house, and I need to deal with this. The date for the announcement is set. I don’t see any reason to change it. If Guinevere asks you about it, tell her to speak to me.” Arthur hung up, and took a deep breath. Its shakiness belied the brisk tone he’d used with Ms. Delaney.

Dagonet and Geriant were not moving from the front of the car, and he felt their eyes on him through the mirrors. They had heard him when he had lost his temper on the phone with Gareth. He ignored them and got. He walked steadily into the house, encountering no one until he climbed the stairs and approached his own door.

Palomides and Gawain were standing there, looking anxious.

“He’s inside,” Palomides, said, “but he won’t answer when I knock.” He thrust a handful of bottles at Arthur. “I got his prescriptions from the hospital. He’s late on his antibiotics. He needs to take those right away. And he’s got to be in a lot of pain.”

Arthur took the bottles.

“You’d better fix this Arthur,” Gawain said. His face was drawn. “He thinks we knew that you were hiding Guinevere.” Gawain stared at him hard and then pushed past him to the stairs. Palomides gave Arthur a last look and followed.


He stood, breathing deep, the blood dripping from the tips of his swords. No threat remained. Tristan, face too blank, nodded to him before looking away, not toward the bodies on the ground, but in the direction they needed to move. But Lancelot looked. His gaze swept over the bodies sprawled around the room, and at last came to rest, unflinching, on the two at his feet. Gaheris and Gareth.

He felt nothing, and turned away.

He started awake as the door opened.


To Arthur's relief, the door was not locked. He had not fancied standing in the hallway trying to convince Lancelot to let him in. Arthur shut the door behind him, and then hesitated for a long while, but no hurtled accusations came, no onslaught of furious words.

There were no lights on in the room, and Lancelot was sitting in the chair by the window. The window was shedding light into the room, a grey of a subdued dusk. That chair belonged on the other side of the room, one of a pair set around a small table, but Lancelot had persisted in displacing it to the narrow space between the bed and window, until eventually Arthur had grown tired of dragging it back to its place and just let it be.

Arthur stepped forward and caught the glimmer of Lancelot’s eyes as they slid over to observe the movement, but then they returned to the window, as though Lancelot had merely been checking a movement caught by the corner of his eye and had dismissed it as no more than the twitch of a branch in the wind or the flight of a moth toward the light.

As the silence lengthened, Arthur realized that he had no idea what to say. He had been braced for Lancelot's reaction. He had not thought to be the one to have to start speaking. What he wanted most of all was to get Lancelot back to the hospital, but he dared not start with that as his opening gambit. Still, he walked over to the dresser and put the pill bottles down with a deliberate click. Lancelot did not react. Arthur noted that the plastic bag from the hospital, which held Lancelot’s bloodied clothes, was still sitting on the dresser top, unopened. He jerked his gaze away and walked toward Lancelot’s chair, but came to a stop at the foot of the bed.

Restraining the urge to clear his throat, Arthur said, hating his own inability to say it straight out, "Gareth said that you had a visitor today—"

Lancelot started speaking before Arthur could finish. To call it an interruption would be to credit it with too much force and purpose. "You never said you had a son."

The air seemed to freeze around Arthur. Of all the things Arthur had thought to hear, this was not one of them.

How had he—?

Had Guinevere—?

Hoping this was a nightmare was futile. There was nothing for it but to answer.

"No, I never said."

Lancelot’s gaze did not turn from the window, nor did his tone change. "Not Guinevere's child."

Now Arthur had to clear his throat to get the word out. "No." Arthur had been trying to prepare himself to explain about Guinevere. But not for this. Never for this. A feeling of unreality gripped him, as if he were in fact lost in a dream.

"I would not have thought you would be one for adultery." The words themselves were biting, but the tone was almost idle.

There was nothing to do but to try to explain. The words came with difficulty, but he made them come. He would not lie. And there was no way to know what exactly Lancelot had been told. "He was already nearly fully grown when I learned of him, a few years after I married Guinevere." Arthur sank down on the edge of the bed and closed his eyes. "His mother was the daughter of a friend of Uther, a young widow. I met her again in Eboracum during that month the knights were posted there." The knights, less Lancelot, who had been left behind badly wounded, to die. He forced the rest out. It was as if, having stumbled, he saw no point in catching himself. "I had promised to marry her, I had planned to ask to be reassigned to the south in the spring."

Lancelot would remember that winter. But what he asked was, "You broke your word?"

Arthur raised the heel of his hands to his closed eyes. His head ached abominably and he realized his stomach was churning as if he might vomit. "No. She died in childbirth. Her sister, she sent me word after the thaw came. She claimed that the child had died as well. But she blamed me for her sister's death, and so she lied and kept the boy herself. I had not even known she was with child until her sister’s message." He had tried to mourn for the loss of that innocent soul and for the woman whose dark, spirited eyes he had thought he could picture, even if he could barely remember her face. But it had been a grief he was not sure he had actually felt, and it had been twisted with guilt over his relief at being set free of the trap in which he had closed himself. Morgan had been right to hate him, even if her reasons had not been quite the correct ones.

"Otherwise you would have given up your command of the cavalry, and have gone." Lancelot’s voice remained cool. That could have been a balm to Arthur’s dread, except Arthur knew that the calm could not be real.

He dropped his hands, so he could look at Lancelot, now little more than a shadow in the chair. "I had given her my pledge." He paused, and then the words tore out of him, and the desperation he had felt so long ago swept back over him. "I had thought to come back and find you dead and already cold in the ground!" But Lancelot had been alive, and Arthur had spent that whole winter putting off telling Lancelot what he had done, as though by not speaking of it he could make it go away. And, in the end, telling Lancelot had not been necessary, so he had said nothing. The appearance of the boy at his court so many years later had been like the cold hand of retribution.

He waited for Lancelot’s fury, but it still did not come. There was no way Lancelot could not remember. That winter, Lancelot, slowly recovering from his wound, had begun at last truly to speak to Arthur, to smile at him. To finally relax in his arms, to let go of the destructive anger, of the need to push Arthur into violence. Yet even as Lancelot had finally begun to open to him, Arthur had been hiding the fact that, come spring, he would be leaving, that he had pledged himself to Anna.

He had never, ever wanted Lancelot to know. But now Lancelot did not even seem surprised, and Arthur had to wonder what he had been told and who had told him. Guinevere would not have known the significance of the timing of Mordred’s birth. He had never spoken of it to her. Or to anyone. And while Gawain, Bors and Galahad might have known enough to piece it together once Mordred had announced himself before Arthur’s court, they would have not have told her of it. And they had not told Lancelot. They had promised him.

He stared at Lancelot’s profile, which seemed as still and stark as stone. As death. Without Lancelot’s anger, Arthur could not begin to know how to defend himself. His fights with Lancelot were always his rationality against Lancelot's passion, each rebounding against the other. Arthur wished Lancelot would look at him.

"For all the trouble your rigid insistence on honesty has always caused," Lancelot said, almost musingly, "who would have guessed you'd be such a great liar?"

Arthur opened his mouth to protest. He did not lie, but Lancelot continued before he could voice it. "And it seems to have become a habit."

He had thought he had wanted Lancelot to look at him, but when the dark eyes turned on him, he felt pierced through. “It does seem to be a pattern with you. You agreed to marry some woman before I was actually dead, and then you bedded Guinevere before I had even finished packing my gear.” Arthur looked at him in shock. Lancelot had known about that night before Badon . . . ? But then his teeth clenched as Lancelot continued, “Both times you miscalculated, but, luckily for you, someone always died to get you out of your little quandaries. Too bad being dead doesn’t seem to mean what it used to.”

Finally, Lancelot stirred. He rose from the chair, his movements stiff and devoid of all of their usual fluidity. For a moment, Arthur had forgotten just how ill Lancelot was, but there was no mistaking it now. Arthur could only watch as Lancelot walked over to the dresser and picked up the plastic bag from the hospital. Ms. Delaney had given it to Arthur, and he had meant to go through it and discard the bloody clothes, but he had been unable to bring himself to open the bag.

Lancelot did not hesitate. He tore the plastic open and fished around before removing his blood-stiffened trousers. With some difficulty, he pulled something free from one of the pockets and tossed it at Arthur before dropping the ruined trousers onto the dresser. Arthur found himself holding a crumpled piece of paper, made dark and heavy with the blood that crusted it. He pulled it flat, flinching as brown flakes of blood flew everywhere, dusting his clothes and casting themselves up into the air. It was hard to read, but he recognized it after a moment. It was the timetable that Ms. Delaney had drawn up for Arthur’s engagement and marriage, complete with plans for photo ops and interviews. It was cryptic and contained no names, but with Guinevere’s stunt at the hospital, its meaning would have become obvious enough.

“I found that before I found myself with this.” A negligent gesture toward his chest. “So, tell me, what is your excuse this time? I wasn’t dying or riding off when this was written.”


Lancelot walked toward him. Arthur stood up and resisted the sudden urge to back away. He could not anyway, the bed was behind him.

“I warned you, Arthur.” The tone was implacable, like iron.

Arthur shook his head. “I— Lancelot, I was going to tell you, but there was never a good time—” His defense seemed feeble even to himself.

“And you were going to tell me what, exactly? A hand gestured at the bed behind Arthur, and Arthur realized part of what had been so disconcerting about Lancelot was that he had been so still. Lancelot spoke as much with his hands as his voice. “The bed is certainly big enough for three, Arthur, but, even if she would have been agreeable, why would you think I would be?” The words, now, were light, but the tone was not. “I might have a fondness for married women, Arthur, but what ever gave you the idea I was interested in married men?”

As always, Lancelot paid no attention to the larger picture, fixated only on himself, and what he wanted. Arthur had thought this time . . . . “This is not about you! Marrying Guinevere is part of my duty, it’s for Britain’s future, you must understand—”

Arthur caught the flare of Lancelot’s eyes, but he did not see the blow when it came.


Tor crept down the hallway toward the basement stairs. There was a low rumble of voices coming from the largest sitting room, and he could not help pausing to peer in. No wonder they had managed to avoid everyone. They all seemed to be in here. Even Yvain and Owein had come downstairs. And there was Gawain. He guiltily ducked his head, hoping Gawain would not see him.

Someone pushed past him, and Tor jumped, but then he recognized Dinaden.

“Hey, Dinaden, there you are!” Lionel said in a carrying whisper. “I’d hide if I were you. Kay’s over there, and he’s been looking for you.” Dinaden did not seem to care, Tor noted with no small amount of admiration. But then Dinaden had always been a little crazy. Not as crazy as Tristan, though.

He should have slipped away—Galahad had given him a run down of what he wanted Tor to collect from the basement and now was a good chance to sneak down there while everyone was here—but what he was seeing made him hesitate. Arguments and fights were not uncommon, but the tension here was something different. There was an ugliness in the raised voices, a barely leashed violence.

Agravaine’s voice carried above the rest. Despite the tension in the room, Tor was glad to see Agravaine here. The last thing he needed was another confrontation with Agravaine in the basement.

“If you fools can’t see how you’ve been duped after this—”

“Shut up, Agravaine,” Gareth said, sounding tired. “This is between Arthur and Lancelot. They’ll work it out.”

Tor expected Agravaine to be shouted down as he usually was when he spewed his poison, but, to his surprise, when Ector spoke, it was Gareth he turned on with a venom that Tor found shocking. “Is that right? And what did you all know about this?” He glared at Gareth and then Gawain, Kay and Dagonet. “You lot? Did you think the rest of us were just too thick to pick up on all your secret meetings? You told us to trust Arthur, and we did, because we trusted you. But you’ve been in on it all along, haven’t you? And ordering the rest of us not to tell Lancelot about what little we’d found out about the shooting? Why? Were you even trying to find out the truth? Or did you just already know it?”

“And why did Bors order me not to tell anyone when that woman first came to the hospital and Arthur went with her?” Lionel demanded.

Arguments broke out as different voices began to speak at once, trying to shout each other down. Tor was distressed to see the way the room was divided. Agravaine and his small faction on the far side, but then, those who seemed to be angry on Lancelot’s behalf, or maybe just angry at Arthur—Yvain, Owein, Ector, Uwain, Lucan, Urré, Lionel, Lamorak, Lavaine, Sadok and Safer. On the other side, were Kay, Gawain and Gareth, with Geriant, Marrok, Servause, Pelleas, Uriens and Griflet defending them. Tor had no idea what was going on, and he thought that no one else did either; he could make no sense of the shouted, contradictory accusations. Usually, Kay, Gawain or Gareth would have been able to calm everyone down, but now everything they said just seemed to enrage the knights arrayed against them.

Then, Tor’s attention was caught by the oddity of a quiet conversation amid the yelling. Dag, Bedivere, Tristan and Palomides were standing nearby and engaged in an intense conversation.

Tor’s mouth dropped open as he heard what Dagonet was saying. He had a sudden vivid vision of being on the roof with Galahad, pretending to line up a shot. Everything else forgotten, Tor took a step closer and demanded, “Did you say that the gun the shooter used was the same type as our sniper rifles?”


Lancelot could not help the agonized sound that escaped him as lunged forward and caught at Arthur’s shoulder. He managed to stop Arthur’s head from striking the floor, but went down himself.

Pain seemed a great black bird flying at him, its feathers darkening his vision, its wings beating in his ears, its beak and claws tearing through his flesh.

He might have blacked out. When he could think again, he realized he was collapsed over Arthur’s chest, and that the punch he had thrown had somehow managed to knock the other man out cold. The pain had burned out the incandescent fury that Arthur’s words had invoked. He controlled the absurd urge to laugh, as he realized, on top of everything else, his hand ached. The lying bastard had not even had the courtesy to fall backwards onto the bed.

He tried to sit up, but his arms shook, and he gave up for the moment. He forced himself to feel at his bandages, but did not detect the dampness of new blood. Good, he had not torn anything open. It hurt bad enough for it. His head was resting on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur was breathing regularly. Lancelot could not have hit him that hard.

Lancelot closed his eyes, and for a moment let himself be lulled by it: the warmth of Arthur’s body, the sound of his heart, the smell of his skin. For a moment, Lancelot had the strange feeling of tears in his eyes, but that had to be the ache in his head. He ground his forehead against Arthur’s shirt and then with a snarl, forced himself to sit up.

He looked down at Arthur for a long time. This was the face he would have said he knew better than any other. Until today, he would have said this was the man he knew better than any other. But he had not remotely imagined the full scope of Arthur’s betrayal. Everything had been built on deception, and he had never even suspected it.

Anger lent him the strength to drag himself to his to his feet, using the edge of the bed for support.

It did not help to think that now, knowing the truth, he could see just how Arthur would have done as he did, how he would have explained it to himself. The thought just made him sick.

He had once believed, at that moment when he had turned back to Badon to face the Saxons beside Arthur, that this was the man he would do anything for, but it seemed that, like a lot of other things, was not true.

Because had he not also once believed, at that horrific moment when he had first felt the hot spray of a human’s lifeblood on his skin, that he would do anything for his fellow Sarmatians? But . . . . No. Even then, that had only been true so long as they had been loyal. For had that moment not defined that very thing?

Through the pain in his head, the screaming in his chest, and the tremble in his limbs, Lancelot felt something lighten. He had clung to these ties even through death, but what had they ever done but bind him?

He was free. Whatever it had cost him, in love, in trust, in friendship, for the first time ever, he could be truly free.


Dagonet turned to look at Tor in surprise, but he answered. “Yes. The gun that shot Lancelot was the exact same make as the sniper rifles we use.”

It was probably because he had just been reminded of his run in with Agravaine on the day of the shooting, but something had jolted free in Tor’s mind. “I saw Agravaine in the basement the day Lancelot was shot,” Tor blurted. It seemed horrible, incredible, but— “He had one of the sniper rifles. I thought at first that he was trying to sneak it out, but he was putting it back.”

Dag’s face usually looked calm, but now it went completely still. “We did not have any training that day,” he said slowly.

There was a low growling sound and a flash of movement at the corner of Tor’s eye, but when he looked around, no one was there.

Tristan was already across the room, and Agravaine was on the ground, his mouth bloody.

“Tristan!” Gareth bellowed. A number of the knights, tempers already on the verge of explosion, surged forward eagerly. Meligaunt yelled and raised a fist. But in a movement as smooth and graceful as the one he had once used to draw his sword, Tristan had a gun out, cocked and pointed at Agravaine’s head. Agravaine, caught in the midst of a lunge to his feet, froze on his knees.

The whole room seemed to go still. The stillness, however, was an illusion, for hands were uncertainly edging for weapons concealed in clothes. They had never drawn weapons on one another before.

“Tristan!” Kay this time. “Put that away! Now!

Tristan ignored them all, concentrating solely on his prey. “What did you do?” he hissed at Agravaine.

Despite the gun grinding into the side of his head, Agravaine sneered up at Tristan, blood dripping from his mouth. “Have you finally lost your mind, you low-born, slinking cur? What are you talking about?”

Kay, who had been at the other side of the room, was pushing his way toward the pair, but it was Dinaden who appeared out of nowhere to grab at Tristan’s arm. He managed to get the gun pointed at the floor without it going off. Tor was not sure if that was because Dinaden had been that fast or if Tristan had just permitted it. The entire room seemed to release a breath. “Tristan.” Dinaden’s hands were still restraining Tristan, but his voice was soft. “What are you doing?”

Tristan looked at Dinaden and then murmured something to him so quietly that Tor doubted that anyone but Dinaden and maybe Agravaine could hear. Dinaden’s eyes went cold, and he let go of Tristan. Before Tor could even tense, Dinaden’s foot caught Agravaine viciously in the chest, sending him to the floor again. “You were trying to kill Arthur, weren’t you?” Dinaden said, quietly, but his words carried. “Lancelot just got in your way. You bloody stupid piece of shit.”

For a moment, everything seemed to teeter on an edge as horrified eyes fixed on Agravaine, but then Meligaunt yelled, “Liar!” and the balance was lost. The room erupted.

Dinaden who was about to stomp his boot down on Agravaine’s throat, fell back under a tackle by Meligaunt; Lavaine, uncaring that Agravaine was still on the floor, let out an inarticulate scream of pure rage and dived at him, but was intercepted by Galleron, who dropped him with a hard blow and a spray of blood; Yvain and Owein were trying to haul Meligaunt off Dinaden; Galleron had Sadok by the throat; Lavaine felled Mador with a kick to the back of his knees; Meliot was struck in the face with a blow meant for Lovel; Ector fell like a stone when Geriant kneed him in the stomach; Lamorak brought a two fisted blow down on Servause; Marrok took down Uwain with a crack of what had to be bone; Palomides rushed forward to try to pull Marrok off Uwain, and Marrok turned on him with a vicious blow to his gut; Bruenor went down under Lovel, and Bedivere stepped in— It was a mess of struggling bodies and yelling that Tor could not untangle.

Kay and Gareth and Gawain were there trying to pull the combatants apart, but where before they would have succeeded, years of authority having led to automatic, almost ingrained, deference, now trust had been broken. Tor watched in horror as Lucan swung at Kay, Lamorak struck at Gareth, and Lionel rushed at Gawain. When Dagonet tried to intervene, Urré leapt onto his back.

Tristan stood, untouched in the sea of violence, gun still in hand, as if waiting for a clear shot.

Tor shut his eyes tight against it all. He would have preferred zombies.


Lancelot finished dropping some clothes into a duffel bag he had found in the closet. He walked to the bed—stepping over Arthur—and pulled out the gun and the knife from under the side of the mattress where he had slept. He then went over to the dresser and felt around behind one of the drawers until he found the packet of money he had taped there, as well as the second gun. There were clips of ammunition taped behind the drawer below.

He put the collected items down on the dresser top and turned his attention to his bloody trousers. He had been reminded of what else was in the pockets when he had pulled out the paper he had found in Arthur’s desk. He fished out his driver’s license—it would likely do him little good now, but it was worth keeping—and then the business card he had been carrying around with him because he had been oddly reluctant to throw it away. That reluctance made sense now. It was stained, but he could still make out the writing.

Last, he turned his attention to the small bottles Arthur had put down when he had come into the room. He read the labels, opened the bottles with antibiotics and then considered the remaining. He was shaky, nauseous and his head ached. He was not sure how much longer he could stay on his feet. Reluctantly, he took a pill from that bottle as well. He would take half a dose of the pain medication. His throat was like sandpaper, so he went into the bathroom for water. He swallowed down the pills with difficulty, and then glanced up to confront himself in the mirror. He grimaced. Though it hurt, he pulled off Lavaine’s borrowed jacket and the t-shirt he wore under it and then toed off the shoes. He splashed water over his face, although it made him feel dizzy, and for a moment he thought he was going to throw up. When he had steadied himself, he decided to leave on the soft trousers, but he found a new shirt and a warm dark coat. He kept alternating between feeling too hot and too cold, but he was cold now.

He slipped on a pair of his own shoes. He wanted boots, but he did not think he would be able to bend over to put them on. He dropped the boots into the bag instead. They would be better than the flimsy shoes later. The gun from the mattress, which was loaded, went into his coat pocket. The rest of his weapons and pill bottles went into the bag.

He was done, except one more thing. Using the bed for balance, he knelt beside Arthur’s body. He had turned him over to his side when he had bound his feet and hands with a pair of Arthur’s own belts—there was no telling how long he would stay unconscious—and so it was easy enough to find his keys. He took his wallet and mobile phone as well. He emptied the cash from the wallet, left the credit cards, and in a fit of pure spite threw the wallet into the darkness under the bed. The mobile nearly followed, but he paused.

After considering, he made a phone call. When he was done, he deleted the call from the mobile’s memory and slung it across the floor so it disappeared under the dresser. The keys went into his own pocket. He dragged himself to his feet, ignoring the blackness at the edge of his vision. The pain medication was helping, he thought.

He did not look back as he closed the door behind him.

He heard the uproar coming from the main part of the house as he made his way down the stairs, his gaze catching the disdainful eyes of the old man in the portrait over the landing. He had to pass by the sitting room on his way to the garage.


A sudden hush had Tor cautiously opening one eye. Everyone seemed to have stopped, gazes fixed on a point behind Tor. Tor opened his other eye and turned his head. He was relieved to see Lancelot standing in the doorway. Well, mostly relieved. Lancelot was looking half dead, but Lancelot would—had—stop the fighting.

A glance around the room revealed that while he had his eyes closed the wreckage had been swift. No one was unbloodied. Two of the couches were overturned, a table broken, lamps smashed, a wall dented and someone’s foot had gone through the telly. A few of the knights were on the floor, although everyone seemed to still be moving, and at least three limbs were held at impossible angles. Yet it was quiet as they looked at Lancelot, except for the sound of their panting and the crackle of sparks from the broken telly.

“This is interesting,” Lancelot said into the silence. He did not look particularly interested. He glanced over at Tristan, who was still holding his gun. “If you were thinking of shooting everyone, why not just get on with it? They’re making a din fit to wake the senseless.” His mouth quirked with a humor that Tor found frightening.

Lancelot turned as if to go.

“Lancelot!” it was Gawain. There was blood running down his face, from what looked like a gash in his scalp.

“Agravaine was the one who shot you!” Lavaine yelled. He continued despite the voices raised in protest, “He wanted to kill Arthur.”

As Lancelot turned back, the room hushed again, this time on a collective indrawn breath. Lancelot looked at Agravaine. “Did you? You didn’t do a very good job.”

Into the shocked silence, Agravaine, bruised and battered, blurted, “I didn’t—”

“He—” Dinaden began.

“I don’t really care.” Lancelot interrupted.

“What do you mean, you don’t—!“ Gawain.

“He shot you!” Lavaine. He was one of the more bloody among those still standing, but he had lost nothing in vehemence.

“No, you stupid fool! It was all Arthur’s fault!” Meligaunt snarled, turning on him.

“This has gotten out of control! You have to do something, Lancelot!” Gareth, whose nose looked like it might be broken.

But Lancelot’s eyes had fixed on Gawain. Tor saw Gawain blanch beneath the blood on his face, and something in Lancelot’s face seemed to harden even further. Without moving his gaze, Lancelot answered Gareth.

“No. I don’t.”

His black gaze swept over them all then, as remorseless and pitiless as fire.

“What are we supposed to do, Lancelot?” It was Lionel, who was wiping the blood from his mouth as he spoke, and who seemed oblivious to the stunned silence.

“Whatever you please.” Lancelot turned and walked away.


Tristan had rushed from the house, but he had been delayed by the need to gather a few things. He felt his throat tighten as he found Arthur’s car gone. He looked around, and a flash of light through the tall hedges that walled the property off from the street had him running.

He had calmed by the time he knocked on the driver’s side window of Arthur’s car. Lancelot had parked on the street some distance to the left of the driveway. Lancelot looked at him through the glass, but seemed neither surprised nor pleased to see him. Tristan tried the door when Lancelot did not move, and found it unlocked. He had thought that Lancelot had stopped here to wait for him, but now he was not so sure.

He met Lancelot eyes, and realized with a jolt that whether or not Lancelot had been waiting here for him, his acceptance was not assured. “I didn’t know.” The words came hard. He always knew. He was supposed to know. That was his function. “Nothing beyond the paper you showed me.”

Lancelot was watching him. “And the other?”

“What other?”

“The son?”

Tristan’s confusion must have been obvious, and the sharpness of Lancelot’s stare faded. After a moment of silence, during which Lancelot stared over Tristan’s shoulder, Lancelot said, “You can come if you have money.”

“Shove over.” Tristan felt relieved that he had been believed, but what had he missed?

Lancelot’s gaze returned to him, but Tristan held his ground and merely looked back until Lancelot nodded. Watching him move was painful. Rather than trying to shift himself to the passenger seat, he got out of the car and circled around to the other side. Tristan sat down in driver’s seat. He ran his hands over the steering wheel. He had never had an opportunity to drive Arthur’s fancy car before.

Lancelot had just shut his door when a car roared out of the driveway, turning right in a screech of tires. Where was that hothead Galahad going? And Tor and Percival with him. Odd. Galahad had been notably absent earlier. As had Gaheris. And Bors.

Lancelot did not seem interested in the car, and Tristan wondered why they were still sitting here. “I know a place we can go,” he offered. It was awkward to prompt Lancelot.

“I already have a place.”

Tristan considered. For the first time in many years, he felt disconcerted by Lancelot and uncertain of what Lancelot wanted. It was obvious that there was far more going on here than Tristan was aware. For all Tristan knew, Lancelot had killed Arthur before coming downstairs. But he doubted it. A score like that was not so easily settled. And, besides, the only blood Tristan could smell on Lancelot was his own.

“Why didn’t you want me to kill Agravaine?” he asked instead.

Lancelot’s eyes were on the road. He did not answer, but Tristan knew he had not been mistaken. The signal when Lancelot had spoken to him earlier had been clear.

“I’ve never known you to run away before,” he tried again, deliberately provoking, after the silence had lengthened. He needed Lancelot to talk.

Even as Tristan spoke, headlights again appeared at the end of the driveway, the light flaring in Lancelot’s eyes before the car turned right.

“Who said anything about running away?”


Endnotes: The show that Bors refers to back at the start of the installment is of course The Simpsons (for some reason, Bors thinks Homer is a fine fellow). It's from episode 376, where Marge does indeed go speed dating at her sisters’ insistence after she loses her memory.
Host: Welcome to speed dating, you exciting lonely people. Every five minutes I'm going to blow this horn and each man will move one table to his left.
Speed dater: Excuse me, is this how you meet your husband?
Host: No, I met him through friends like a normal person. Now speed date!

Arondight is the name of Lancelot’s sword in some of the legends.

Bononia is the late Roman name for Boulogne-sur-Mer (originally called Gesoriacum), located in northern France. Claudius apparently launched his invasion of Britain from it, and it was the major Roman port for passage to Britain.
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