The path ahead of me is dark. I may not survive this time.
In one of the wagons, a small boy huddled close to Alecto's mother. He was a brave child to have survived Marius' death pits and the attempt made on his life not too long later. Saving Lucan had tugged more heartstrings than Dagonet had thought it would, and it made him wonder what being a father felt like. His best friend, Bors, had made him an honorary uncle, but it wasn't the same as fatherhood. Once and long ago, he thought it could happen, but he couldn't bring himself to sire a child when it was entirely possible he'd never return. But for a little while, he'd had the privilege of taking care of Lucan, as if the boy were his son.
I should have loved to be his father. Dear boy, brave boy.
Facing the wagon, Dagonet lifted his hand in farewell as it passed. He summoned a smile that he hoped would give the boy some comfort. But Lucan did not smile in return. His little face was drawn and set in a stunned expression, and his eyes held little hope within. Such a dear, sweet lad. His little hand came up to return the farewell. The wagons kept their lumbering pace. Soon, they would be gone and the skirmish would begin. At least Dagonet could take comfort in the fact that Lucan would survive again. That he would live to see tomorrow, and possibly live to see a ripe old age.
My fate is not to live, but to die. I must ensure their safety.
A sudden clarity of mind descended upon him, and he knew what he had to do. He knew he would not live beyond this day. There were stories of men who saw their life pass before their eyes if they thought they were going to die. But that didn't happen for him. He had lived his life to the fullest, fought and bled in service to Arthur, though even that was not so bad as the rest of them thought it was. Dagonet had long ago discovered he enjoyed the rush of battle. No one knew it but himself, not even Bors knew. And now, the time had come for his final battle, and he made ready, focusing on the Saxons as they came onward.
Time seemed to speed up. Arrows flew through the air, whistling in their flight. Saxons fell dead or dying, and the rest clustered as Arthur wanted them to. The eight kept firing; hoping the ice would give. Yet, though it groaned and cracked beneath the concentrated weight of heavily armored Saxons, the ice refused to split. Arthur's plan, while sound, was not working as it should, and the Saxons continued their march.
"It's not going to break. Back. Fall Back! Prepare for combat," Arthur ordered.
Unless the ice breaks, they will die. I know now what I must do to save them.
Dagonet laid down his broadsword and picked up his ax, hefted its familiar weight, and rushed out further with a mighty battle cry. He ignored Bors' call; he ignored all else except breaking the ice. The Saxon leader called for his archers, and Dagonet knew they had armor-piercing weapons. But it did not matter. Lifting his ax high overhead, he let out another yell as he hacked at the ice. Longbow arrows littered the air, while crossbow bolts shot past him, some coming too close for comfort. Yet, he ignored it all, cleaving the ice so it would break. Another heave, and finally the ice shattered around his feet. It was enough to send fissures speeding toward the Saxons. Dagonet heaved his ax again for good measure.
If I am to die, I will make sure to take some of them with me.
Suddenly, pain intruded on his body and he fell from the impact of two bolts. He knew he was a dead man. Behind him, Bors screamed his name. Summoning what strength he had left in him, Dagonet got up again and sent his ax into the ice. The fissures widened. Water surged up to divide the ice and made it impossible to find steady purchase. And then, he fell into the hole he'd that was at his feet.
The water should have been cold, but he didn't feel it.
His armor should have sent him to the bottom of the lake, but he never met it.
Someone pulled him out of the water. Someone saved him.
It was Arthur.
I did it for you, my liege. I did it for the knights who will remain. I did it for Lucan.
"Pull back! Arthur!" That was Lancelot, but he sounded much farther away now. Miles away. Dagonet drifted on a sea of pain. Light was fading fast. He could still hear the ice as it broke loudly, and he could hear the death cries of Saxons as they fell into ice cold death.
Good. A frozen death is more than they deserve.
"Help us!" That was Bors. It felt good to know his best friend was beside him. Bors held on from the right. Arthur was on his left side. He would not die alone. Two more pairs of hands grabbed him, but he knew not who they were. It didn't matter, really.
"Dagonet! Stay with me."
I wish I could, Bors.
"Dagonet! Stay with me!"
I must go. Do not grieve long for me, my friend. Live your life as I cannot live mine.
Darkness fell upon him. The time had come. No more fighting, no more battles. No more laughter, no more companionship. No more. His friends and he were supposed to have been freed of their fifteen-year service to Rome before this mission was set upon them. Now, he was free. Free to soar upon the wind like Tristan's hawk. Free to run over the plains of Sarmatia – of home – like a wild stallion. There was a legend among his people that fallen knights returned to life as great horses. It would be good to feel the ground beneath his hooves, the wind whipping through his mane and tail.
With his final breath, Dagonet gave his spirit to the gods to do with as They willed.
We shall meet again, Lucan. I promise.