Disclaimer: I own nothing of King Arthur. Except Tristan, who is MINE! (Technically, no, he's not, but among my friends and I...he's mine!! Lancelot, Galahad, and Gawain are also divided up among them.)
The Dead Shall Not Be Forgotten
The sun was sinking low over the hills, bathing everything in a red glow that reflected off the low clouds. The wind had died down; now it was just a slight breeze that tousled Tristan's hair. Riding it was the dust, which coated the sweat-slick bodies of the surviving knights. If any of the Woads had survived, they had long since fled into the trees that had been their cover.
Blue-painted bodies littered the ground, laying here and there in grotesque positions, their dead eyes staring up at him. Tristan sheathed his sword, not bothering to wipe away the blood that stained the blade. Though he usually preferred to attack from a distance with a bow, close combat had been unavoidable. Tristan could feel his blood leaking through the leather under his armor where a Woad had caught him across the ribs. The wound pained him, but it was not serious he knew.
An armored body was not at Tristan's feet, his eyes closed and one hand still loosely gripping the hilt of a sword. Medran, that had been the man's name. He was not the only fallen soldier of Arthur's knights. As a soldier, it was never wise to get close to someone, but after fighting, surviving, and mourning together, it was hard not too. Each man's lack of presence would be felt this day.
Tristan's horse came to him, nuzzling his ear softly, the sound of its hooves muffled by the blood that soaked the grass. Tristan pulled off his metal-covered coat, not caring what Arthur might say, and slung it over the saddle. After the heat of battle and the smothering air of the aftermath, it was good to have it off. He then patted the horse on its cheek and scratched its forelock before once more walking among the carnage.
Off a ways, Bors sat calmly, or so it seemed, wiping the blade of his axe. Not everyone was as calm as he. Galahad stood unmoving, his face straight. But the tenseness of his muscles betrayed him. Gawain put a comforting arm around the young man's shoulders. Dagonet was walking among the fallen, as Tristan was. Standing, with his back to the field, was Arthur. Lancelot approached him, speaking softly, for Tristan could not hear him. Arthur said nothing and Lancelot simply put a hand on his shoulder.
A twig snapped under Tristan's boot; he had reached the edge of the forest where the Woads had ambushed them. He placed one hand on the trunk of a tree and stepped over another body, nameless like the rest. A scratching sound reached Tristan's ears; soft, but he heard it nonetheless. He froze, his hand loosely gripping the hilt of his sword. Was it a surviving blue demon?
Then there was a shrill chirp.
He let go of his sword and walked around the tree, eyes on its base. There it was again, the scratching sound. Tristan brushed several strands of his sweat-soaked hair from his eyes as knelt down. Moving aside the bent arm of a Woad and several leaves, he uncovered a young hawk. It was small, probably still learning to fly. Not far lay its upturned nest, fallen from the branches of the tree by a careless archer. The parents were nowhere in sight.
Amazing, thought Tristan, that on this field of death lives one small bird. He cupped his hands around the bird, attempting to pick it up. It struggled vainly, biting his finger. It broke the skin, but didn't bleed. The fighting spirit of the hawk impressed Tristan. He closed his fingers gently around its heaving body and stood, ignoring the throb of pain from his wound, as the rest of the knights came to him, mounted on their horses.
"Tristan, where is your armor?" Arthur asked as Lancelot handed over the reins of Tristan's horse to the knight. Without waiting for an answer, Arthur continued, "This attack has delayed us. It will be past dark now before we will reach Hadrin's Wall."
Tristan felt the hawkling's wings beat furiously as he transferred the bird to one hand. He grabbed the saddle horn, put one foot in the stirrup, then swung himself onto the back of his horse. The sudden jostle must have frightened the bird, Tristan assumed, and it shrieked again. Bors peered at it closely, leaning slightly over the neck of his horse. "Wot's that?"
"A bird," answered Tristan shortly, barely glancing at Bors out of the corners of his eyes. While still using one hand to hold the hawk, he strapped his armored coat more securely to the saddle, with no intention of putting it on again. Arthur frowned, but said nothing.
Lancelot eyed the bird. "Surely you don't mean to ride with that?"
"I do," Tristan said, taking the reins into his free hand. "I won't leave it to die. Like we'll leave our comrades' bodies."
"We won't leave them," Arthur said sternly. "We may not be able to carry them now, but we will come back for them after we report to Hadrin's Wall. They won't be forgotten." He jerked the reins, pulling his horse around, and added over his shoulder, "As long as the bird does not hamper your riding, you may bring it, Tristan."
Tristan, who was used to riding one-handed with a sword, snapped the reins against the horse's flesh and followed Arthur, in line with the other knights. They were silent; they knew as well as Tristan. They would not come back for the fallen. As soon as they arrived at Hadrin's Wall, they would be given a new mission, with no time in between to return and collect the bodies. The dead would be forgotten.
"Hey," Tristan said softly, raising his arm so the hawk was eye- level. He ran one hand down the glossy feathers on the bird's back. "You're free now."
He watched the hawk spread its wings, flapping gently, beating against the wind to rise above the trees. Tristan kept his gaze on his faithful hawk until it was hidden from sight. Then he sighed and buckled on the breastplate. He would survive this battle as he had others, but a feeling made him free his only friend. After this fight, he too would be free. No...he was free now. He wasn't fighting for Rome now, not this time. Then what was he fighting for?
The hawk wasn't his only friend, Tristan amended. He watched silently the other knights as they adjusted their own armor. After fifteen years of service, they were as close as brothers, he knew them so well. Now they were free. They were going to fight this fight for Arthur, not Rome. They were fighting for their friend, as Tristan would. Dagonet would have fought as well, Tristan thought with a sad smile, a simple twitch of his lips.
Off in the distance, the shriek of a hawk pierced the air.
Tristan's knees buckled. He tumbled to the ground, hand grasping his side. Blood leaked through his fingers and dripped onto the ground. His sword lay beyond his reach in the grass.
"Pick it up."
The Saxon towered over him, glaring down at him in disgust. Tristan had no intention of humoring this man, but as his thumb brushed over the throwing knives in his breastplate, a plan came to his mind. The Saxon wore no armor, it could work. Of course it could.
Careful to keep his hand out of sight of Cerdic, Tristan crawled on his knees to his sword. His fingers wrapped around the hilt at the same time as he heard a click. The dagger slid into his waiting hand.
Tristan dredged up the last of his strength, swinging the curved blade at Cerdic's chest. The Saxon parried, locking both swords at the hilt. Tristan stabbed upward simultaneously with the dagger. Cerdic knocked it away with the back of his hand. Tristan watched it hit the ground in despair. Taking advantage of the knight's distraction, the Saxon freed his sword and attacked once more.
Tristan collapsed on the ground, his face in the dirt. It hadn't worked. Now the death he had always evaded had finally caught up with him. Fingers twined in his hair, pulling his head back and dragging his body from the ground. It was premonition of his own doom that had made him free the hawk. Tristan just hadn't realized it then. He did now.
A shrill shriek, a hawk's shriek, echoed above him. At first, he thought it was maybe a trick on his ears, triggered by the memory of the bird. But no, he realized, it had been real. He blinked, restoring his dimming vision. He saw the smoke-filled sky; the Saxon was still pulling his head back. And circling it was his hawk.
It had not forgotten him.
Tristan felt himself being shoved away by the Saxon. He staggered, his knees buckling. Then he fell to the ground, Cerdic's blade ripping through his chest, and his eyes closed for the final time.
Gawain looked up as he supported an injured Galahad across the field when a shout from Bors reached his ears. The big man was kneeling by a body near one of the smoldering fires. Tristan's body, with a familiar brown-feathered hawk perched on his chest.
Galahad shook his head, gently pushed Gawain from him, and began to limp toward Bors. Gawain hurried after, running past his friend to kneel by Tristan. The dead knight's head was thrown back, blood leaking from his mouth. The hawk ruffled its feathers at Gawain, as though warning him away.
Bors smiled softly, a twitch of his lips. He put a hand on the bird, something he had never done before, and stroked it. It merely looked at him with one amber eye. Bors sighed and said softly, "There's nothing ye can do now, bird. He's gone."
The hawk snapped at his finger and Bors drew his hand away. Then it cast its gaze over Tristan's still face. Bors continued, "But he's safe now. We're his friends too, bird, like you were. I'll see he's taken care of for ye."
The hawk switched its eyes back to Bors, then slowly flapped its wings, leaving Tristan's chest to hover slightly in the air above. Bors smiled grimly, sadly, as he lifted the fallen knight onto his shoulders. "This time, the dead shall not be forgotten."
Oh, I love Tristan! I almost cried when he died (I never cry at movies, so this is as close as I come). I hope I got him in character. Please review for me! (Hope no one got confused by the changing scenes.)