A/N: This chapter is short but sweet (well depending on your definition of sweet!)
Chapter 5 – Homecoming
It was the middle of the night, when Lancelot was awoken by the sounds of a woman screaming for help. Rubbing the sleep from his weary dark eyes, he ran to the window of his small room above the tavern, to see what the commotion was all about.
Romans! There were three of them, dressed in the unmistakable bright red and gold armor of the Roman Empire. And they were crowded around one poor young woman, cowering helplessly on the ground. They must be stragglers, Lancelot decided; soldiers who were stationed far north and making their way south, back to their homeland. Their intent was quite evident, as they stood menacingly over the young lady, who cried again for mercy. Lancelot hurriedly dressed in his dark leather armor and quickly ran down the stairs to the foul scene outside.
When he arrived, a small crowd of townspeople had already congregated, and one of the soldiers was already atop the sobbing woman, ripping at her dress. Three against one. The odds were not in Lancelot's favor; he could not be foolhardy and expect to slay all three battle-hardened Roman soldiers without perilously endangering his own life. But there was no way on this earth Lancelot would allow these revolting creatures to rape this poor defenseless woman.
Keeping his blades sheathed, Lancelot confidently sauntered up to the two men who were keeping everyone at bay with their sharp swords drawn.
"Don't come any closer," one of them shouted, "or you will end up like this one." He pointed to a dead body on the ground next to them. The poor soul had undoubtedly tried to aid the woman, and for his courage, had lost his life by the gruesome strike of a Roman broadsword.
Lancelot laughed and continued his stride, "I am just coming to join in the fun."
The two Romans looked at him curiously, and the one on the ground stopped what he was doing and regarded Lancelot for a moment.
"Makes no difference to me," he said with a shrug and a nod to the two other soldiers. This one was obviously the leader of the group, which was why he was first in having his way with the woman.
"Fine," said the soldier who had addressed him previously. "But you'll have to wait your turn. We were here first."
"Of course," Lancelot replied.
And that is when the two Romans made their final and most fatal mistake and turned their backs to watch their commander forcing himself upon the helpless young lady. For when they heard the sharp sing of steel against scabbard, the next instant they were both death on the ground, each with a blade lodged in their back.
The Roman commander did not hear the grunts of his men as they were slain, nor the sounds of their bodies falling to the dirt, for the shrieks of the woman underneath him drowned out all sound. Lancelot reached down, roughly grabbed the man by his neck, and sent him flying off his victim.
"Get up!" He growled at the visibly shaken Roman.
The commander reached for his sword, and pulling up his trousers to cover himself, he stood to face the dark knight.
"But I thought ..." He stuttered in confusion.
"You thought wrong!"
The Roman squinted, looking carefully at Lancelot. "You're one of those Sarmatian bastards aren't you? I always hated the whole disgusting lot of you! Bunch of dogs you are. Good for first-wave infantry."
Two can play at this game.
"That's not what your whore of a mother told me." Lancelot smirked as the Roman's face turned scarlet at the insult.
With a roar, the commander lunged at the dark knight, but Lancelot was ready and easily parried the blow. The clash of metal against metal produced a unique shriek that was grating to most ears, but the sharp sound was like music to Lancelot and aided in spurring him on. The Roman and his practiced broadsword were no match for Lancelot's ruthless double bladed attack, and the black knight had soon disarmed his adversary and moved in for his final sweeping strike.
The dirt was imbued crimson with the pooling blood of the three fallen Romans, and Lancelot had once again been the unwilling yet indomitable arbiter of justice. With a final glance to ensure the assaulted young lady was now safe and being tended to by the other women of the town, Lancelot wearily headed back inside, desperately wishing to resume his interrupted slumber.
Guinevere was thoroughly enjoying taking her aggression out in large chunks on her sparring partner. With a deadly sharp Woad axe in each hand, she hacked and slashed into the wooden dummy, sending splinters raining down onto the dirt floor of the stables. She would have preferred a live partner, but was not in any mood for company. The wooden figure would have to suffice. Guinevere was angry, angrier than she could ever recall being. Each fluid movement of her arms, the thump of the metal striking wood, the raging heat coursing through her body; it felt good. The anger felt good. It was passionate and heated and sensual. She kept up the continual motion, a light sheen of sweat covering her entire body, her short dress flailing about her as she replayed the previous night over and over again in her mind.
She had been at it for hours - her fingers were numb from her tight grip on the axes, her arms were aching from the harsh blows she relentlessly delivered, her heart was racing from the heated battle that raged within her. She imagined Lancelot's head atop the dummy and with a hissing snarl struck what would be a deadly blow to any human's head; but all she succeeded in doing was firmly lodging one axe into an enormous gash in the timber.
"Glad you didn't ask me to be your sparring partner."
Guinevere turned to see Bors regarding her with a smug grin.
"What do you want?" She asked impatiently, utterly annoyed at his intrusion.
"Me? Nothing. Though Arthur wishes to speak with you," he replied.
With a heavy sigh Guinevere tossed the remaining axe to the ground and stormed off in a huff.
When Lancelot awoke the next morning, he was not prepared for the greeting that awaited him outside. It seemed the entire village had congregated in the street, and an enormous cheer rose when they caught sight of the dark knight exiting the tavern.
Men, women and children were crowding around him, announcing him a great hero, a savior for his courageous deed last night. The young lady he had saved had her arms wrapped around him in a tight embrace, praising him for defending her honor. The children were calling him the greatest of Arthur's knights, the best swordsmen in the land. The men were slapping him on the back, proclaiming Sir Lancelot the mightiest of heroes.
It was a strangle feeling for Lancelot – receiving this whole-hearted appreciation and respect that the people of this little town were showering upon him. It was a bit overwhelming, yet Lancelot had to admit that part of him quite enjoyed the feeling. He was not use to such admiration, and could only recall a handful of times in his life when he had ever felt anything remotely similar. Knights did their duty, not expecting nor receiving any thanks in return. Lancelot tried to recall the last time anyone had ever thanked him for anything.
He had been flitting in and out of consciousness for weeks, and they were still unsure of whether he would survive or not. There was something cool and soothing on his forehead, and he opened his eyes finding himself in a foreign room. Though his brain was still hot with fever, he knew these chambers were not his own.
"Lancelot." A soft voice called to him, and he wearily turned his head to see who had spoken.
"Guinevere." His throat was parched but he managed to breathe her name.
She smiled at him with tears in her red and swollen eyes; she had obviously been crying recently. It was her hand that pressed the cold cloth to his forehead.
"Where am I?" He uttered in confusion.
"In my chamber," she replied.
He tried to sit up but was stopped by a sharp ache in his chest, and he cried out at the pain.
"Stay still Lancelot. You are still gravely weak, please don't try to move. Your wound must heal."
"How long have I been here?"
"It has been almost one moon since the battle, and you have been here ever since."
He closed his eyes again and could faintly remember times he has awoken and heard her voice. But he had always thought it was but a dream. Now he knew it was no dream.
He turned to gaze at her beauty. Why was she here, caring for him? Why had she been here, tending to him this whole time? His dark brown eyes locked with hers, and he thought he saw something, half-hidden, or half-exposed perhaps. Something beyond words, something beyond thoughts, something only he was meant to understand.
"You saved me," was all she managed to say.
"Indeed I did, my lady."
"Why did you save me?"
He wanted to laugh but the pain in his chest prevented him from doing so.
"Shouldn't you be saying thank you, and not questioning me?"
She laughed at this. He must indeed be feeling better if his sarcastic wit was back.
"Thank you, my dearest Lancelot, my protector, my champion," and she reached down and placed the softest of kisses on his lips.
He had not been expecting that. "Thank you my fair lady, for if I had known I would receive such a thanks I would have saved you a thousand times by now."
She watched as her champion closed his eyes and fell into a peaceful slumber, a smile painted on his lips as bright as her own.
"You wished to speak with me?" Guinevere stood in the doorway of Arthur's chambers.
"Yes." He smiled at her, "how is everything?" He motioned for her to enter, and shut the door behind her to ensure their privacy.
"Fine," she replied nonchalantly, gazing about his chambers.
"I've been thinking. Today is the third day Lancelot had been gone. Perhaps you were right?"
Guinevere stopped her shifting and looked at him quizzically.
Arthur continued, "Perhaps I should send the knights out looking for him. What are your thoughts on the matter? I know how concerned you are with his disappearance."
Guinevere could not quell the bitter laugh that rose into her throat. "If he can run off without a word to his beloved knights, then he is no knight himself, and does not deserve the time wasted looking for him."
Arthur raised both eyebrows at Guinevere's unexpected outburst. She was a fiery one, this he knew well; she had a fearsome temper, but Arthur could not fathom as to where this sudden hostile attitude of hers had come from.
He seemed unable to fashion a response, so she continued, "The knights say he ran off with some woman."
Arthur had to laugh at this statement. Never in a hundred years could he believe Lancelot would just up and take off with some woman, "Guinevere, that notion is laughable. Lancelot would never do such a thing."
"And how would you know Arthur!" She had really done it now, but was unable to contain herself.
Arthur decided to ignore her snarl and instead approached the situation logically. "Lancelot has not spoken of any woman to me, let alone hinted that he was thinking of running off with one."
Gods, his composure is insufferable! Doesn't he ever get angry about anything?
"So, you have not seen him with any women then? Galahad seemed insistent that he had company just the other night."
The wench at the tavern the other night? Arthur thought to himself, why on earth would Lancelot run off with her?
"Well he did leave with a young lady from the tavern," he conceded.
"So, you saw him leaving with her then?" Guinevere challenged.
Why in damnation is she so concerned about who Lancelot brings to his bed?
"Yes, I saw them leaving together, but I am quite certain he would not have run off with her Guinevere. He seemed upset last I spoke to him, but mentioned no specific reason and I did not push him to tell me."
"Fine. Go after him. Don't go after him. It's really all the same to me. If you will excuse me now." She promptly nodded to him, and rushed out of the room before Arthur could even open his mouth to say another word.
Women, Arthur mused to himself, shaking his head.
Lancelot turned to find Bedivere and another young boy reenacting the fight from last night. Bedivere played the part of Lancelot and wielded two short blades made of wood, while his companion acted as the Roman with one long wooden broadsword.
"Didn't I tell you, you shouldn't be fighting?" He shook his head at the children.
"But I want to be a knight! Just like you Lancelot." Bedivere insisted.
With a sigh, Lancelot shook his head again, frowning at the child. Children, so innocent. They have no idea of what being a knight means.
He stood and watched the boys, though he really should have been preparing his horse for the journey. When he was of the same age as Bedivere, Lancelot would engage in similar mock battles with other young Sarmatian boys. But he had all too quickly learned the gruesome reality of battle, at all too young an age. Lancelot could not begrudge Bedivere his youthful enthusiasm, for he had been just like him when he was a boy.
"No, no! You are holding your blades all wrong."
Lancelot walked over to the boys, and proceeded to teach them both the proper grip. Before he had realized, the midday sun was beating down upon them, for he had lost track of time, having spent the entire morning instructing the boys on combat tactics and sword wielding.
"I must go now. You both keep practicing and remember what I taught you." He regarded the youngsters with a smile and made way to retrieve his mare.
"Do you have to return to the castle now Lancelot?" Bedivere asked as Lancelot returned with Beornwyn.
Lancelot had been so selfishly absorbed with his own self-pity of late he realized. He was needed, not here in this town proper, but back at the castle, with Arthur and Guinevere. In his self-loathing of the past days, he had pushed aside his duty for his own egotistical reasons. If anything were to happen to them, to any of them, he would never be able to forgive himself. What am I doing? He harshly chided himself. It is time to return home. Home. He knew not when he had begun thinking of the castle as his home. But he could deny the truth no longer.
"Yes, Bedivere. I must return to the castle now."
Lancelot mounted his faithful steed, and with a final wink to his new young friend, galloped out of the town and made way for home.
It took all day, and a better part of the evening, to return to the castle. Lancelot stopped outside the huge wooden gate and gazed upwards at the emerging stars. He wondered if Merlin was right - if all their fates were written up there in the black depths. Perhaps, he reflected. Leaning down low, he stroked Beorwyn's flank, and whispered, "well, let us see, shall we," before calling for the guards to open the gate.