Disclaimer: I own nobody by the characterizations of Bedivere, Lamorak, Percival, and Kay. I would like to obtain the rights to the knights of 'King Arthur', but sadly that would be near impossible.
Rating: PG-13 (some references)
Summary: When searching Sarmatians, what is noted above all is their history of warrior women. I am surprised, and slightly appalled, that they made no mention of this in the movie 'King Arthur', so I did. Happy day!
Please comment on this, tell me how I did!
"We've come for our trade, Sarmatians."
The thought drew tears to Mother's eyes, blackened Father's face, and I stared straight ahead. Still, the duty was there and no sons had been lucky enough to survive the bitter winter. I had grown thin, nearly bones, and the curves of a woman had vanished. If Rome could not have sons, then we would have no food.
I stepped forward, offering myself for my people. "My name is Bedivere," I swallowed hard, the name of my brother, my twin, my best friend, catching in my throat, "I am only fourteen, but I am able."
My mother moved to stop me, but my father held her back. The Romans stared at my father, our chieftain. "Is this true?"
"Yes," my father cleared his rusty throat and lowered his eyes in reverence, "he is a strong lad."
"He looks barely able to stand." The Roman grunted cruelly as I kept my eyes on him at all times, my boldness giving me strength. "You have until midday to say your goodbyes."
The Romans, high on their horses, moved back and I turned to my family's tent, walking in silence as my aunts and uncles stared on, holding their own children. My mother ran after me just as I entered the tent and when I turned back I saw the horror and fear in her eyes. "Why?" My mother gaped in awe and agony. "Why, Barcaide?"
My father stalked into the tent. "Let her go. She will be the beacon for us all."
Bursting into tears, my mother ran into the other side of the tent, weeping as if I was already dead. I forced the sound of her sobs out of my thoughts and went about packing some things for myself, mostly my brother's things. "Girl." A hand went on my shoulder. "Look at your father."
I turned, feel the wind from outside cool the tears on my cheeks as my father took my face in his hands. "If I could, I would go in your place, but our people need me as much as they need you." As he spoke, the tears flowed freer. "Remember where you came from; remember the women who brought glory to our people—the fearful mothers that battled Greeks and Romans alike. They lie within you."
My thoughts went to the mark on my right breast, the practice that had been handed down for centuries, the seared mark of the warrior. I felt my heart swell with pride and smiled. "Thank you, Father."
We embraced, for the first time I remembered, and with that he left me. I looked to where my mother had encased herself, in her part of the tent. At first I wanted to bid my farewell, but I knew, one look into her eyes and I would not be able to leave. Silently, I left the tent. "I'm ready."
"So soon?" The Roman stared at me in confusion. "You do know that this may be the last time you see your people?"
"I do." I replied without fear. "And I've said all that is needed."
Tristan sat silently at my side, his goblet still filled to the brim as a boring speech was led by some bishop who's glory was in the rings and robes he wore—not in his faith. I let my hand stray over, trying to hide a smile and only grimacing painfully as I bit my lip, and then I gently stuck out my finger.
The goblet began to tip and the wine was beginning to spill over until I felt a strong hand encompass my wrist and twist it. I nearly cried out when Tristan released my wrist and sat quietly, the bishop glaring through one open eye at me. Everyone else's head was bent in prayer, as usual, except for Lancelot, who cared less.
I quickly went back to my original position and then became bored. Percival sat to my left, looking out from under his blonde curls. Slowly, he leaned over. "I swear that man loves to hear the sound of his own voice."
"You owe me two gold coins for this." I reminded him of the bet beforehand. "It'll be nightfall by the time we leave this place."
A flick came to my ear and I instantly fell silent, the man on my right giving me a strong musing scowl. "Amen."
The finale of the prayer was followed by a few relieved sighs. Tristan sat up then, raising his brow and glancing at me as he took a sip of his drink. "Next time I catch you doing that, I'll cut your hand off, Bedivere."
"You'd find far too much pleasure in that, Tristan."
Going back to his drink, Tristan stood and proceeded to seek a new companion. It was time to mingle until the food was ready. When Tristan and I met, we had instantly become enemies. Firstly, I was much younger than him, a good five years, and secondly, he was far too quiet for his own good. Tristan had also been one of the young men there that day, when I was separated from my family and he gave me his canteen out of good will.
I thought him arrogant and he thought me boastful; now look at us. We had been forced to fight against each other, to challenge each other's strength and it was in this that we had become friends. For some reason, I think he always knew the truth, but he was too kind to ever say it or ever want anything in exchange. I'm sure that I certainly wasn't the only female within the ranks.
"Where are you going?"
I looked to Percival. "I'll be back, don't worry old friend."
Suddenly the loud and ever friendly Bors appeared, his bright eyes laughing at me like always. "Still clean shaven," Bors slapped my tender face, "you'll grow out of it boy—some of us men never come of it until our first shave."
"Bors," I rubbed my stinging cheek, "will you never cease to abuse me?"
"Not until you get all that air out of that head of yours." Bors shot back, Dagonet shaking his head.
"Don't listen to him, Bedivere." Dagonet insisted. "He's full of air himself."
I passed by, coming to a familiar face, that of Kay, Arthur's step brother. In silence we stared at each other, his dark eyes reaching my own and my lighter ones staring in return. Lancelot had been the only man I feared, the only man I truly feared, because he knew too much.
Passing by him, I went back to my seat, the air had become stifling and the hot foods being passed round now sickened me. I took my same seat between Tristan and Percivale. "Here," Percival smiled, pressing two gold coins before me, "your payment."
"What for?" Lamorak, on the other side of Percival, asked.
"Nothing, really." I replied, sure my face had gone pale at the sight of the food as I held my stomach.
"What's the matter?"
I turned to see Tristan eating and I knew I could no longer take it. A quick pardon and I moved from the hall, bounding with laughter, to the outer reaches of the hall. I never had a weak stomach and the air outside lessened my pains.
Sitting down, I pressed my back against the building and closed my eyes, the dizzying smells from inside fading away. The soft crunch of boots in the light snowfall harkened me.
"Tristan…" I had nearly gone for my dagger.
Silently, Tristan came to my side and slid down to take his own seat. "You should go back inside and eat," I insisted, "I'll be all right."
For a moment Tristan stared at me, the dark markings on his cheekbones making his eyes lighter. "I wouldn't be much of a friend then, would I?"
I smiled at that. Over the years we had found solace in each other, his silence and my talkative nature. Still, we hardly knew anything about each other and I believe that was better for the both of us.
Why had I risked myself? Why had I risked certain death for my own people's sake? "Were you afraid when the Romans came for you, Tristan?"
Tristan raised his brow, knowing that my rambling was only to keep the underlying problem at bay, but he answered anyway. "Afraid of leaving those I love, yes."
I paused, my tongue feeling heavy as my heart. "I see them sometimes…when I dream." Tristan went on, knowing I wouldn't. "I can hear their voices, their cries, but mostly I see them staring at me…I can't move. They just stand there, looking at me, calling me home."
Swallowing, I let my shoulders slump. "Sometimes, I think, had I the choice, I would have rather died with them."
"Yes, but none of us had that choice." Tristan then looked straight at me, seeing through me as always. "Least of all, you."
Tristan stood and held out his hand. "Come, before Bors eats your supper."
Kay was twice my size, tall and bulky—he might as well as been of Saxon blood. He called for me that night, as most nights, and his wishes were the usual. Payment for my secret. "I can't," I dipped my eyes low, "the moon has not turned."
At that Kay frowned, angry. "You've been saying that for some time now."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"I'm saying that our bargain is to be kept," Kay shot back, "should you want to keep your head on your shoulders."
"I'm not afraid of the Romans—you neither—"
Kay slammed me against the wall, his lips trapping mine while his hand went below. I kicked him and bit his tongue, but he didn't flinch. Suddenly I was on the ground, my left cheekbone throbbing as I coughed. "Try that again wench," Kay snapped, "and you'll wish you never left your mother's womb."
I spit at his feet, my sight becoming fuzzy from his huge fist. "You'll have to do more than that to deter me."
Just then footsteps could be heard down the hall and Kay shot me a threatening look before stalking away. Gathering myself together, I stood. "Bedivere!"
I saw the blood on my hand from my lip and then quickly looked to my left to see Percival and Galahad coming my way. "We're going to the tavern!" Percival called.
"I'll be there in a minute," I promised, "go on without me."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes!" I said hastily, trying to hide my face from Galahad. "Now go!"
Galahad stared at me, but said nothing. He was only a year older than me and he had the look of a man while I still held the wide-eyed, clean look of a boy. The pair ran off and I felt that awful fear creeping over me. What if Kay should tell Arthur? Even worse, what if word got to Rome? I couldn't let that happen.
My blood had ceased over a week ago, but it was the only thing that kept the hungry Kay from taking me to his chambers. Slowly, like a beaten dog, I went to his chambers.
"What happened there?" Gawain asked drunkenly. "Some girl slap you, Bedivere?"
The men laughed, most with women hanging from their shoulders or kept on their laps. "Very funny." I shot back, looking jovial in return. "I fell off my damn horse."
"What? You already drunk, lad?"
"Might as well be." I shot back, taking the biggest jar of mead I could find, drowning myself in it quickly.
The whole clan shouted in delight, knowing my ability to keep down alcohol. "Drink! Drink! Drink!"
Chants of the men grew louder and louder as I closed my eyes, letting the thick, sour liquid run down my throat until only a trickle came. Everyone cheered and offered me drinks as most went back to wenching, drinking, or singing. Bors had all his little numbers, or as he called them 'bastards' about him, with his preferred woman, Vanora laughing.
I found my seat by Tristan, who was, as usual, throwing knives at whatever targets he found. Galahad was watching with Percival and Lamorak. "Can you teach me how to do that, Tristan?"
"No," Tristan replied, not even glancing at Percival, "you'd hurt yourself."
At that I snickered, feeling the effects of the mead as I leaned over to grab some bread, a knife going past my head. "That looks awful, Bedivere." Galahad commented. "You couldn't have gotten that falling off of a horse—it looks like someone punched you."
"Well they didn't." I retorted. "And had someone punched me, you would have heard the ruckus."
"He's right." Lamorak laughed. "You know Bedivere—Arthur likes to call him the 'mouth and voice of Sarmatia'."
Percival frowned. "I thought that was Bors."
"Well, it was one or the other."
I say Tristan look at my face out of the corner of his eye as I took another shameful drink that slowly washed the pain away.
"We have to go north." Arthur said, looking each of us in the eye in turn. "There have been Saxon raids on Roman homes north of the Hadrian Wall."
"That's why they built the wall." I grumbled to whomever would hear. "So that Romans would stay in and the heathens out."
Tristan shot me a warning glance and Arthur went on. "We've lost so many friends already, pray we lose no more…we ride in a week's time."
All the men groaned in reply and with that Lancelot stood. "We ride for Rome—for Arthur."
We all cheered in reply. "Arthur!"
The congregation disassembled then, but Lancelot caught my arm before Kay. "Arthur needs to speak with you." He said. "There are matters at hand."
I felt cold at that, but nodded in assent. "I will be there."
Before Kay could come towards me, I saw a group of men invade and go drink with him. I went to speak with Arthur.
When I arrived at his side he smiled at me kindly, our friendship always silent, but I, like all the other men, loved and respected him. "Bedivere, won't you go drink a while with the others?"
"You wished to speak with me, Arthur." I replied. "My duty is to you, first."
At that Arthur nodded, not a word filled his head like air in a pack, but he went ahead as I followed obediently. "The bishop has come to me with some concern." Arthur said while I closed the door behind us. "Are my men unruly, Bedivere?"
I stared at my leader, confused. "Must you ask me, Arthur?"
Laughing in reply, Arthur sat down. "Above all, Bedivere, you are most honest. I trust you with my own sword and life."
"Perhaps that is so." I smirked, taking the seat he offered. "But Lancelot is the man you've known longest and best."
Going silent, Arthur did not consider my words, but instead proceeded in his questioning. "You have a light build, Bedivere, lighter than most men, and your face remains untarnished by a man's growth." My hands became sweaty as Arthur continued. "You retain a humble appearance, but you make up for that in your loyalty. Recently, there have been voiced rumors of you…my step brother, the man who's father took me in, has commented on the things I've stated."
That pig. That filthy son of a whore's ass. "Just because I am not like every other man here," I began my defense quickly, my voice rising, "does that mean I can fight any less?"
For a moment Arthur stared at me, his green eyes conveying his worry, but then he nodded in agreement. "You're right…forgive me for any offense, my friend."
"You have every right," my anger faded, "but…might I ask, what is it, exactly, that Kay has been saying?"
"He says that you are a woman." Arthur said, noting my sweaty brow and fidgeting. "But Kay's mouth is larger than his own brain."
I laughed nervously. "If you don't mind me saying, that is truly and understatement."
When Arthur laughed, too, I calmed a bit more. "Go, Bedivere, enjoy your week."
I stood as Arthur did and he came around to greet me, examining my eyes. "Be wary, Bedivere, of those alliances you forge to protect you."
"Above all, Bedivere, you are most honest."
I woke with a start, sweat beading down my face. The talk with Arthur still fresh in my mind, the hate for Sir Kay still pounding in my heart…I threw a feather pillow off the bed and the sound of glass smashing followed.
Furiously, I threw my head back into the remaining pillow.
The week was nearly at an end when Arthur called for us. The left side of my face had just begun to calm now, when a fight between Kay and myself had broken out in front of all the men to see. He had nearly ripped my shirt open when he grabbed me, but Tristan had thwarted him.
Gawain, Bors, and Dagonet had to hold Kay at bay while I stood. My jaw still felt funny, Kay had a black eye from Lancelot, in turn Lancelot had a bandaged fist, and now there was no turning back—I had been bullied by the huge knight for the last time. When I thwarted Kay's attempts at dishonoring me, he became a savage.
But the talk was not about the tavern brawl, but because of Kay's ambitions to have me pay. After a brief admonishing, Arthur allowed Bishop Augustus to speak. "There is word that a traitor is among these ranks." Augustus said making each man speechless, as well as Arthur. "This is something intolerable, absolute blasphemy and he—or rather she—must be eradicated before word reaches Rome. It would be shameful, embarrassing, so I suggest that any man that knows anything come forward. Especially the perpetrator."
I tried to stand, but I felt a hand grasp my arm while Arthur looked to me. Kay didn't even move, he was watching me the whole time with those searing eyes while the bishop scowled at all of us. Kay stood then, a sadistic grin crossing his lips. "I say that each man in question be ordered to strip where all can see."
The bishop was about to comply when Arthur stood, appalled by the notion. "These men are good men, sir," Arthur began, "and I will have no one dishonor them in privacy or public."
Lancelot took a deep drink. "I assure you that each man here can vouch for his own loins."
Arthur ignored his friend's comment and went on. "I will speak with each man on his own tonight."
"I order a witness." Kay stated. "I want this fair, Arthur."
"Fine." Arthur agreed, then looked to the bishop. "Bishop Augustus, I invite you to the private council."
"Run away," Percival whispered harshly, "tonight, if you ask, I will go with you."
"If they'd find us, they'd surely kill the two of us."
Percival stared at me, he knew it as well, and backed away. Tristan's grip never left my arm and when Arthur and the bishop retired to speak alone, he looked to me. "Arthur will see that no harm comes to you."
In order the men were called, from the right side of Arthur round. I was not last, but I was far from first and the fear was killing me. Tristan slapped my knee before leaving. "Don't do anything stupid." I commanded him.
With a wink, Tristan stalked off and disappeared into the chambers, the other men whispering. I felt a presence behind me. Percival and Lamorak stood up first, facing Kay before me.
"Why don't you let a man face his own fights?"
I stood, turning to Kay, about to say something to spark his rage, when my name was called. "Bedivere."
Tristan came out, a smirk on his face, Arthur sweating furiously behind him. Gods above, what had Tristan gone and done?
When I entered the bishop was in an awful state of anger, and he glared at me. "Let's make this quick, boy."
"Bedivere, are you a lady?"
I tried to hide my smile at Arthur's strangely sarcastic tone. "No."
"You may go." Arthur said, but then the Bishop stopped me.
"Why haven't you a beard yet, son?"
"My father never grew one." I shrugged in reply, letting the words calmly come from my mouth. "I find it much easier to take care of, don't you?"
At that the bishop gave me leave and when I entered the room, all the knights waiting patiently and silently, cheered at my lone arrival. I laughed, men rushing me and rubbing my hair around. Kay was absolutely furious.
I jerked at the sound of the door opening—I had kept it open. When I turned from the prayers to my own gods, I saw Arthur. "May I come in, Bedivere?"
"Of course." I replied, quickly standing and making arrangements to better suit my leader.
Arthur grabbed my arm, his thicker, broader hands encircling my own, thinner wrists. "Don't fuss, sit."
The door closed behind him and I reluctantly sat on my cot as Arthur pulled up a chair. I knew what was coming. "I am going to discharge you…on false reports of being wounded."
"It's all I can do save you, Bed—" Arthur stopped himself and looked away, my heart breaking, "it's all I can do."
"No, Arthur, I beg of you!" I knelt before him, taking his hands in mine. "What will I do? How have I any knowledge of womanhood? All I know is warfare and—this is my life, Arthur. Don't you see? I'd die without these men; a slow, painful death. Ten years ago I was only fourteen years old, looking at my family, their faces staring back into mine. I had survived that bitter winter—I needed to give them a chance, too."
Arthur stared at me, but lowered his eyes. "Don't do this, please."
"Look at me, Arthur," I commanded, "one last battle, that is all I ask, and I will go. I will leave everything I know and love behind—for your sake. I only ask for one more battle."
With that said, Arthur gave a burdened sigh, contemplating my bargain and then raising his head, placing a hand on my cheek. "One last battle."
"Thank you, oh thank you my lord," I pressed my face to his hands and kissed them over and over, "oh Arthur, thank you."
Kay had fallen ill. He would not see the battle and so Arthur had more reason to take me. "Had I known what Kay was doing to you," Lancelot glanced at me, "I'd have killed him myself—all of us would have. He boats of his triumphs of you now."
I stared at Lancelot, shame reddening my face. "You would do that for me?"
"I would do anything for those I love." Lancelot replied. "Most of all you, Bedivere."
"You are not ashamed of me, then?"
"Never." He said. "How could I be ashamed of you? You saved my life once, Bedivere, took up Arthur's sword and saved the both of us. I thought you yourself would die, due to how small you are, but I was wrong."
"You don't admit to that very often."
Lancelot laughed and knuckled my head. "You're still one of my brothers, Bedivere, no matter what that damn bishop says."
We all rode silently; I stayed near Tristan and Percival, as usual. Percival and I joked, with a new heaviness in our laughs, but Tristan said nothing. I saw a hawk overhead, flying, and Tristan, lifting his own eyes, smiled at the sight. "There must be a nest nearby." Lamorak commented.
"You know," I said, Tristan's horse coming closer while Percival and Galahad began to race, "my mother once said that the restless spirits of great men may become our hoofed companions, but those women who were great grew wings."
Tristan turned to me. "Were you frightened when the Romans came for you?"
"No," I said, gazing into his dark eyes, "because I knew it had to be done."
At that Tristan nodded. "Then that makes you braver than any man here."
An arrow came whizzing by, striking with deadly aim. Lamorak gasped, holding his heart and crying out. Percival cried out for his brother, the horses became startled, and I saw the small legion of blonde haired warriors up ahead. Tristan glanced at me and then brought out his own bow. "Look to the skies for me, Tristan."
He looked at me, alarmed. "What?"
Quickly, without the least bit of fear, I leaned over and kissed Tristan's cheek. "The skies."
I squeezed my steed's sides and forced him ahead, past Arthur. "What's he doing?" Gawain cried.
Bors bellowed. "You're daft!"
My horse galloped beneath me, our breathing matched, and my hair flowed freely as we went together, toward the ambush. I reached for my sword, I felt the searing heat of pain in my right shoulder and I nearly lost my blade. Not this time, I told myself, no—these men were my brothers and if I had to leave them, I would leave them fighting for them.
Managing to raise my sword, I cut down one of enemies, their shock showing more than my own pain. I felt the slicing of another arrow, followed by the sharp cut of a blade to my ribcage. Not with just one—I had to do more. I owed Arthur more.
I gazed right into the eyes of a Saxon, his blue eyes meeting my own, his sword through my chest. Warm blood spread quickly, but my own sword met his neck. The sword remained through my middle as I raised my sword one last time, my horse throwing himself back.
With the Saxon's attention on me, the men had an advantage. I saw blue, my strength went and I hit the ground, the sword landing at my side, and my horse pawing for air below me. Two more arrows, to make sure I would die. I coughed, gasping for air, my whole body going numb and then…I saw the charge of men behind me and a shadow cover me. My ancestors called me home from above.
Bedivere was buried, like every other knight, his own sword to mark his meager grave—Lamorak buried nearby, soon followed by Percival and Kay from sickness. Tristan returned as often as he could, not to be reminded of her death, but to assure her that her life was not one wasted.
This trip was different, as Tristan approached the grave, a young hawk landed deftly on the sword. Perched there, the bird squawked at him, beckoning him. At first, Tristan went still and silent, but then he moved forward.
Patiently, the hawk waited as Tristan approached slowly. Whistling softly, the hawk observed Tristan and flinched when he put out his hand. Spreading its wings the hawk went to the air and Tristan was sure he'd seen the last of it until it landed softly on his shoulder.
"Welcome back," Tristan smiled, gently caressing the brown feathers of the bird, "old friend."