... And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.
Mad World - Gary Jules
Studying the creature which graced his arm, brown feathers and piercing amber eyes, Tristan wondered not for the first time what it would be like to have the expanse of the entire sky as a roaming ground. His horse fidgeted beneath him nervously; the resounding war drums that echoed through the hills were making all creatures, man and beast alike, skittish. He laid a soothing hand on the neck of his mount while murmuring softly to his hawk; around him his comrades were attempting to calm their own animals. When all the horses had fallen still beneath the touches of their riders, a poignant silence fell broken only by the steady thrum of the Saxon drums.
Glances were exchanged then amongst the five of them, and their number was a grim reminder of what they had left behind. Dagonet had fallen, laid even now within the cemetery on Badon Hill, his freedom exchanged for the lives of the other knights. It was Lancelot who finally smiled sadly and shook his head, and the others realized then that they couldn't leave this place, that integrity, honor and most of all friendship demanded they return to Arthur's side to face the oncoming Saxon horde. Bors sighed resignedly, his eyes on Vanora and his eleven children clustered behind her; Gawain raised his head to the sky and closed his eyes, as if praying to the god that wasn't his own for strength to do what he must do. Galahad began to smile and then laugh, a sound bittersweet, and Lancelot merely shook his head again.
Alone even in their midst, Tristan turned his contemplative gaze from his comrades to his hawk. "Hey," he clucked quietly, "You're free."
With a sudden upthrust of his arm he let fly the bird, and as it spiralled slowly higher the eyes of the five followed. Their eyes met again, and as one a silent decision was made.
Today held yet another battle, but it would be the battle of their choosing.
It was different this time, the chaos of battle all around him, but Tristan didn't stop to ponder what made the subtle changes. Instead he moved as he always did, with a grace both deadly and animalistic, cutting a swath through the Saxon army with precise, skilled movements of his curved sabre. He lost himself in the deathly dance, in this sweet commotion that made him feel he was the whole man, the complete man he was ultimately meant to be. He couldn't see the other knights, and the small, unfamiliar pang that settled within him at the realization they may already be dead was disconcerting. He would miss them in his own way, he knew, and at that moment he turned from the Saxon he had just slain to meet the eyes of another.
This man, he knew instinctively, was the leader of the Saxons. Everything about him bespoke power and authority; he towered over most others in the writhing field, long thick hair and beard blowing slightly in the smoke filled breeze. He held in his hand an enormous, wicked looking two headed axe, and he wielded it with ease. He noticed Tristan's stare and smiled chillingly. It was a challenge, and Tristan did not hesitate.
This was the battle of his choosing.
They met each other with the clarion ring of steel on steel; the Saxon leader had discarded his axe for a broadsword. He met Tristan's swift, nimble movements with a brutish refinement of his own. They parried for minutes or seconds, neither was sure, and when Tristan felt suddenly a searing pain along the length of his forearm he hissed and staggered back.
The Saxon leader was appraising him with cold eyes. Tristan met his stare with his own depthless, uncaring gaze.
They began the dance again.
It was his thigh which the Saxon next struck, slipping with a deftness that belied his large frame past Tristan's guard to slice from knee to hip. Crippled, Tristan spun away, breathing fast. He dropped his sword abruptly; his hands were shaking too much to grasp it anymore. The Saxon's lips curled into a triumphant sneer.
"Yea, yea, we're all going to die someday …"
Tristan's eyes flicked skyward, and for an instant he thought he could see against the smoke the outline of a soaring bird. The Saxon kicked Tristan's sword closer, clearly inviting the knight to continue this hopeless fight.
Straightening, smiling unseen his crooked smile, Tristan complied.
Today he would join the hawk; today he would learn what it was to be free.