It was dark in the forest and the horse was having trouble finding its way through the paths between the trees. Every so often, there would be another blockade – more arrows stuck in the trees, more dwindling fires – and the horse would protest with a whinny and changed course. Fog seeped in, and the darkness slowly took over everything, claiming sight, claiming trees, taking everything in its path. It was too dark to find a proper way, and through it all, someone was screaming.
Galahad struggled on his horse to find the noise, find out who was in such deep pain that they would scream in such terrible agony. His head swirled with the deep scream that pervaded through the darkest of nights. It was blinding him with a deep and dark terror that he could not name, were his life depending on it. His horse leaned backwards, sending Galahad toppling off, now completely lost in the black.
And the desperate wailing of pain remained.
Galahad looked down to see why he hadn't stood up yet from his fall. He could see nothing but one metre around him. It was enough of a distance to see that his hands were completely covered in blood. He frowned, raising his blood-covered hands to his eyes and searched around him for what he had killed. The blood was deep, crimson-staining his hands and his tunic as well. He hadn't remembered killing anything. He only remembered the darkness.
Then, as his hands dropped to the gaping wounds in both his stomach and leg, he realized.
He was screaming.
Galahad opened his eyes widely as he awoke, a sharp shock of cold washing over him. He let out a quiet, keening cry that someone must have heard because suddenly there were shadows surrounding him. The memories of the past few days quickly came swimming back to him as he sat up, breathing laboriously in pain, his face drenched with sweat. He bit down hard on his lip, drawing blood as his hands moved to check the two wounds on his body – the more severe in the middle of his chest and the more 'superficial' on his thigh, it hurt quite a bit more than simply superficially, however – and brought his hands back up to see blood.
"Did I miss the funeral?" he managed to grit out through his teeth, breathing quickly as someone took a needle to him. It appeared as though he had woken in the middle of his patching, a lovely sense of timing Galahad couldn't manage to shake. His body had a sudden spasm with a new onset of pain that went coursing through him, making his limbs twitch.
"No," an undistinguishable voice responded to him as the needle threaded in and out of the wound on his stomach. Galahad turned slightly in an attempt to lessen the pain, but too many hands to count in his fevered state were on him, binding him down and holding him there. "We bury Percival in two days. You'll have plenty of time to recover before you can be broken emotionally," it was Lancelot speaking to him, sounding bitter and caustic.
"Galahad, be still," that was Tristan hissing at him. "Unless you want a needle and thread embedded in your body for life."
"Better than this pain," Galahad spat out, tiny specks of blood mixing with his saliva and dribbling on his chin with his words. He coughed out hoarsely, tasting the bitter tang of blood, seemingly staining his mouth and tongue permanently. He gave a desolate moan and laid on his back, wincing as Tristan continued to jab him, each stitch seemingly crueler than it need be. "Where's Gawain?" Galahad asked miserably. "He always does my stitchings and he's far better at it than this sadist."
And the needle drove in harder. His pain was most certainly clouding Galahad's better judgment that was screaming at him to keep his mouth shut. Galahad gave out another cry, catching the roll of Lancelot's eyes in a strange passing moment of lucidity. After that moment though, Lancelot grasped Galahad's hand and held it still as Galahad squeezed hard with every flicker of pain that shot through his body.
"I've not done this since Vanora's fifth," Lancelot commented mildly, drawing quiet laughs from everyone, Galahad included, which only resulted in more blood spit up and a terrible cough shaking his body. "You're a might less angrier than she was," Lancelot confided quietly. Galahad supposed Bors was not around, or else Lancelot might have been hauled away and disciplined for speaking as such.
Galahad gave a yelp as Tristan closed off the stitches.
"More noisy, though," Lancelot added under his breath. Galahad squeezed his hand as hard as he could. "Ow," Lancelot said evenly, his face betraying no pain. Galahad felt his world seem to settle faster now, no longer spinning or darkening.
Tristan gave Galahad's chest a light pat. "I think you'll live," he said quietly. "There's still the knife wound in your thigh, but it's shallow. If you want Gawain to stitch it up, you'll have to wait a few weeks. He went with Arthur and the others to chase down the traitorous Roman bastards. I begged to go with them, but my ankle is too sprained to ride, according to Arthur at least. He forcibly stopped me from getting on the horse."
"A secret attack on us while we slept," Lancelot harrumphed. "The last thing I had ever expected to find in my bed was an angry Roman."
Galahad suffered the pain as a result of looking Tristan's way and smirking – a smirk that was returned with enthusiasm and savvy comprehension. "We've heard differently," Galahad coughed out. He was awaiting a snappy reply, but instead of hearing anything, Galahad succumbed to darkness once more as he blacked out. This time, he was rewarded with an utterly dreamless sleep rather than the plague of nightmares like before.
He woke to find himself alone.
Everything – every last memory – of the past three days had slowly caught up to him in his slow waking. They were memories he wasn't sure he wanted to come back. Three days ago, he and Gawain had been in a great argument, debating the finer points of their friendship using the crudest language they could and certainly not the politest manner of arguing. Galahad had been nursing some bruises when the attack had occurred.
Perhaps, in the past, Galahad had greatly underestimated the anger of scorned Romans. He had woken in the apex of chaos, finding that his wrists and ankles had been secured to the bed with coarse rope. He had panicked and flailed about in a desperate attempt to free himself. He had been one of the few that hadn't woken with the noise and his body would pay the price.
They had set about attempting to kill him slowly, digging a sword deep into his chest, extremely slowly. The long wound on his thigh had been inflicted when Galahad had refused to beg for his life. The sword in his chest twisted, plunged and sent blood spilling over. His fingers twitched as they covered the now-stitched wound in recollection of the manner in which the Romans had taken devilish delight in carving him open. Finally, his rescue came through the door, Tristan and Dagonet bursting through and promptly attacking the Romans.
They had untied Galahad and the only words that Galahad recalled hearing were three quiet and slow utterances that sat heavily on his heart.
"Percival is dead."
They had tortured Percival as well, he found out later. They had put hot pokers to his flesh. It was when the door was being knocked down that they ended it all by slitting Percival's throat. And there was no stitching that back up, there was only the cold knowledge that the traitors would not escape with their lives and they would most certainly not escape without knowing the full meaning of pain.
They had clasped him by the side of his head, nails digging in at the skin and yanking at the hair on his head and his beard, spitting on him and hissing about how he was worthless, this 'whelp of the Knights, thinks because he's youngest, he gets all the spoils that we miss out on'. He still had the half-moon marks of their nails on his face to show for their brutal disdain.
The door opened and closed quietly, Tristan limping in the room with an armful of bandages and cloths. He dragged a chair over to the bedside quite noisily, sitting down and grabbing a bowl of water, one hand flat over the breadth of Galahad's chest to keep him from moving.
"It's very lucky that Gawain noticed you weren't with us," Tristan remarked quietly, squeezing the wet cloth atop the bowl before lightly dabbing it over the dirtied wound. "Else there may have been two funerals."
"Yes, good old Gawain," Galahad commented, not able to keep some of the vitriol out of his voice.
"Don't be bitter. Eighteen is too young to die," Tristan reprimanded him. "I know that you and Gawain fought, but he still kept your best interests in mind. Don't wish yourself dead just to give him grief."
"Eighteen was a fine enough age for some of the other knights, why not me?" Galahad challenged childishly.
"Yes, but they'd matured by eighteen," Tristan said, a tight smile playing on his lips. "You still have your ways to go. Why bear this grudge? He merely…"
"He said he didn't know why he put up with me," Galahad interrupted, shifting slightly so that Tristan's hands could maneuver around his stomach better. "And went on speaking ill of our friendship and everything we've shared over the last decade. He thinks that I'm too immature. He thinks that I simply don't understand."
"What does he want you to understand?" Tristan asked distractedly, his gaze focused on the cloth. The dried remnants of blood still stained his bare torso and Tristan's adept hands were working to clean him off, turning attention to him that was regularly not bestowed on him. Usually, Tristan was busy with his training or keeping his hawk alive and well. Actually, most often, Tristan was simply nowhere to be found. This sort of attention was actually rather strange.
"Hmm?" Galahad murmured, losing his train of thought.
"What is it that Gawain thinks you wouldn't understand?" Tristan repeated.
Galahad let out a derisive scoff. "He wouldn't even say."
"And then the attack occurred," Tristan completed the story for him. His hands moved swiftly across the stitches, yet they did not cause Galahad any pain. Rather, there was a slight shiver that ran through him at being so lavished with unasked-for attention. The pads of Tristan's fingertips lightly skirted around the stitches, checking to see if any had torn and seemingly finding them adequate when he relaxed back in the chair – his posture perfect, yet his eye still attentive on Galahad. "If it makes a difference, he seemed quite remorseful right before we went into battle."
Galahad wrinkled his nose. "It helps," he said hesitantly and frowned, something dawning on his mind. "Only slightly though," he added quickly. "How's your ankle? It was sprained, wasn't it?"
"They pushed the dresser down on it," Tristan said mildly, an amused smile flickering on his face. "You haven't noticed that your furniture has mysteriously vanished? It splintered quite badly when I took my sword to it."
"You broke my furniture?" Galahad asked in a small, wounded voice. "I liked that furniture."
"Are you telling me you liked a dresser more than you liked me?" Tristan demanded, propping his bad foot up on the bed beside Galahad's own. "I will be terribly wounded if you don't answer this properly, so think very long and very carefully about how you intend to answer while keeping in mind just how many ways I know how to kill a man."
"I suppose you have better features than the dresser," Galahad admitted with a heavy sigh and a grin on his face. It was beginning to hurt him to speak, but he felt better than he had since long before the fight with Gawain. "After all, you're slightly better to look at."
"Slightly," Tristan harrumphed, shaking his head and brushing aside Galahad's hair lightly where the marks from the Roman's fingernails lay. He shook his head and made chiding noises with his tongue. "Arthur will show no mercy," Tristan promised quietly, relinquishing his hold on Galahad's hair, letting it fall back over his face as he lightly patted Galahad's cheek. "Percival will be avenged. They will pay for making you suffer."
"And your ankle will get its vengeance," Galahad replied with a sleepy yawn. He found that the pain was settling in on him quickly now, dragging him into unwanted sleep. "I'm sorry about making you stay here," he added drowsily, clumsily patting Tristan on the wrist as best he could. "But Gawain is gone and you should know that I regard you as highly as I do him."
And then Galahad fell asleep.