Dedicated to Dea Liberty, whose writing made me think about the knight's reaction to a death.
The Woads retreat. It is another victory in this, the tenth year of their interminable servitude out in the boonies so far that Rome can't even wipe their arses for them, poor things. The breathing is labored, then settles to occasional huffs and coughs as men wipe the worst of the mud and bone and blood and battle from their eyes and mouths and weapons. They won, that's all any of them need to know.
Arthur, ever the leader, standing in his stirrups and trying to survey the grumbling and filthy knights around him, starts the inventory of names and wounds. "Arthur, clean."
Curled hair, a smirk, brown eyes catch his and a red sword is raised for a moment. "Lancelot, arm, shallow."
Twin axes and a roar of, "Dagonet, clean and ready for some ale!"
A hawk's cry. "Tristan, right thigh, mild and needs a bit of attention."
"Gawain, a new scar for the ladies to admire."
"Bors, a right thump to the head, but nothing real."
The men report, one by one. Arthur is counting in his head; eight, nine, ten, eleven. He blinks, and his victorious grin drops. Everyone else has been counting, too. Eleven isn't enough. "Senkt?"
All other tasks are dropped. They spread out, nudging the bodies around them with their feet, trying to wake any that have only been knocked down but not killed. A few groans, and curses in Samartian, Latin, and Celtic as Woads are roused and take off in a shambling run with only vaguely life-threatening injuries.
After five minutes of tense silence, someone yells, "Here!" They all start toward him, but the quieter words reach them even with their armor clanking. "Senkt, dead, three arrows, sword." And then the silence returns, but it's not tense any more; they've all been here too many times.
There is a rule, among the knights. Their first day, Arthur had told them that there would be no other rules but one, so he expected this single rule to be followed to the letter at all costs. Never, ever die. No man has the right (or the desire) to disobey. Senkt has committed the ultimate sin of the Knights of the Round Table; he has failed in battle and lost his life.
Luckily for him, Artorius Castus takes a lesson from his God and forgives all. But the knights are not Christian. They won't let him off the hook for cheating them, for stealing his freedom five years before it was due, rubbing it in their faces that they won't have what he has for so very, very long.
Senkt hasn't been the first, and he won't be the last, but he will be remembered as the one who left his brothers behind to fight for their lives more desperately than ever before.
You do not disobey Arthur's only rule. After all, how hard can one rule be to stick to?