Artemisia shot upright at the sound of abrupt scuffle. Or at least something she assumed as such taken the ensuing distinct grunts of men after she heard something to be dragged across the ground, everything to have been utterly quiet to that moment as she assumed to have been the only one awake. Robbed of any thought of sleep as the cramps had begun at some point during her already uneasy rest, and she'd been enduring it for the past hour or two. Massaging her belly once the spasms had started to turn more frequent with distinctly shorter pauses in between, first suffering only one within half an hour until new ones kept on coming within a five minute span or so. Despite of her foggy, melancholy mind mainly wandering around the virulent incident with Accius her full attention now getting drawn to the noise of men brawling not far from where she was. Artemisia straightening with difficulty as she turned her head to the direction of the ongoing commotion, her palm staying on the crown of her belly as she then came to recognize the voice groaning in anger to belong to Dagonet.
She shuffled towards the wagon's edge as listened to the dull noise of fists colliding with muscle, her peering out of the wagon to watch the snow drizzle down in the pale morning light as instant bad feeling crept over her, until the sound of the little boy crying out in protest alerted her and she exited the wagon. Her this time ignoring the draining spasms as cradled her midriff, taking support from the wagon once she cast her eyes to the direction where Dagonet had been sleeping with him. Indeed to see how the knight was currently engaged in a tussle with Marius' guards, who'd apparently sneaked upon him during his sleep, however despite of his efforts to fight back barehanded the disadvantaged man only then getting pummeled by the soldiers as he tried to defend himself. The guards soon seizing him while Marius appeared, causing the girl to stiffen in horror once he grabbed the child and quickly produced a knife once Dagonet managed to dispose of one of his captors and continued to ward off his second attacker. Finally managing to strike him until with a loud growl of ire he bend down to snag a dagger out of his boot, preparing to attack the other soldiers closing in on him, just as Marius leveled his own blade on the boy's throat once the others also woken by the ruckus now hurried to the scene. Artemisia watching in terror as the man hauled the boy to the other side of the campsite, his wife and son climbing out of his private carriage to see him proceed to threaten Dagonet with his hostage. Bringing his resistance to an end.
"I have the boy!" Marius announced. Spiteful smile on his lips as he gripped to the struggling boy, him looking straight at scowling Dagonet once a few of his men grouped behind him. Artemisia's panicked eyes shifting from the captured boy to the knight and next scoured the clearing to find the rest of his seemingly missing comrades, not seeing them or their Commander, until they finally darted back to Marius. The man now glaring back at the Sarmatian knight, who despite of being outnumbered still refused to put down his weapon, Artemisia casting a clueless look behind her instead. Searching the wagon for something to use, perhaps something to throw at that despicable man who was daring to threaten the life of an innocent child now that Arthur and most of his men seemed to have left the camp, perhaps to scout out the area and therefore were unable to intervene with the man's plan, finding however nothing. Fulcinia and Alecto looking at Marius in outrage, while he paid no heed to the horrified stares he gained from his family, him then only beckoning to surrounded Dagonet.
Artemisia gasped as Fulcinia flung herself at her husband, crying out in protest of her own and tried to free the boy from Marius' hold, however only ending up thrown back by the man and the girl followed her to fall at her son's feet, while Marius repeated his command. Artemisia taking a startled step forward as the soldiers then moved in on Dagonet, Marius squeezing the boy's jaw as pressed the blade closer to his neck, until everyone were frozen to their places by the sudden arrow that flew through the air. Piercing Marius, surprised murmur erupting from amongst the shaken people watching the incident to unfold as everyone then turned to gaze towards the edge of the forest. To see how Guinevere was striding across the camp with an armed bow in her hands, prepared to fire at the subdued man again, but shocked Marius could but cast a dismayed look up to the approaching Woad woman until keeled over. The boy breaking free of him and ran off, closer to Artemisia and Dagonet who told him to stay put as drew his sword, to drive back the agitated guards now pointing their weapons all around them. The girl rushing forth and pulled the jittery boy farther away from the wounded man and his equally stupefied soldiers, who then turned to stare at their master laying in his wife's arms until their jumpy gazes settled back to Guinevere and Dagonet. The boy grabbing to Artemisia and pressed against her as the Woad woman next aimed her bow at the petrified soldiers, the girl raising the boy's jaw to see had a mark been left on his skin until simply wrapped an arm around him at the missing sight of drawn blood. Raising her eyes to peer to the direction Guinevere had appeared, to see Arthur follow close behind her along with Lancelot. The latter strutting over to her casually, his twin blades resting on his shoulders while his grim eyes now shifted from the dying Roman over to her…Or to her bruised fingers gripping around the bow to be exact, him flashing her a mischievous smile.
"Your hands seem to be better."
Guinevere granted him but a passing glance as an answer before the sound of horses cantering reached their ears and Artemisia saw Galahad and Gawain ride out of the woods as well. Drawing their own weapons just as Guinevere released a warning shot at the feet of Marius' men once they tried to use the distraction caused by the knights' arrival to attack, Bors' bellowing scream next bringing the last of their will to fight to an end once he appeared right behind them. Charging over to them as brandished his heavy axe, calling out his Commander's name to intimidate them, to make it clear how unwise fighting would be now that their lord was as good as dead. The knight fixating his grisly eyes to the trepid soldiers as towered over them, visibly causing them to cower at the face of his sullen mien. The guards flinching away from his steed as Bors brought the animal close to pester them, to drive them to surrender.
"Do we have a problem?"
"You have a choice. You help or you die", Arthur spoke up, leveling his own weapon towards the now overrun Roman soldiers, who at first simply scowled back at him. Leering at the surrounding Sarmatians warily until after exchanging a few dithering glances with his subordinates the Commander of Marius' guards ordered them to put down their swords. Once the men refused however the man casting a nervous look at Arthur and repeated himself. Artemisia watching Dagonet to support the man's command with a spurring shout of his own, and one by one the rest of the soldiers finally relinquished their blades.
Arthur nodded to Jols who immediately hurried to gather the weapons. Everyone now shifting their focus back to Bors who brought his horse around, to watch Tristan gallop to sight along the path that led to the clearing. A group of men racing after him, who'd volunteered to join the knight for his scouting mission, and by the looks of them they seemed to have encountered something during their time away from the camp. Artemisia frowning anxiously once she heard the following words exchanged between the two knights, which informed her the Saxons to have after all caught up with them.
"How many did you kill?" Bors inquired, Tristan riding past him after locking stern gazes with his brawny companion.
"Not bad start for the day", Bors chuckled, breaking into a glum laughter while fretful Artemisia followed Tristan to go over to Arthur. Her terror then only increasing as she saw him drop a crossbow to his Commander's feet, his tense delivery not making the girl feel any easier anymore than what he then said did.
"Armor piercing. They're close, we have no time."
Artemisia hissed as a new contraction caused her to lean against the wagon. Her closing her eyes briefly as the following exchange at first between Tristan and Arthur and the Commander's following commands to move out fell on deaf ears to her as she struggled to keep her composure. Once she exhaled sharply and pressed a hand against her midriff the boy casting her a quizzical look, a moan leaving her lips as there was no escaping the pain the spasm put her under. Galahad who was supposed to help his comrades to pack up their camp taking notice of her once she sent the boy away before she wiped some welled up beads of sweat from her forehead, but just as he was about to go over to her, to help her back in the wagon he saw how her suddenly incredulous eyes circled amongst the people present in the camp. Artemisia straightening as she searched all the faces she came upon, passing Fulcinia and Alecto who were trailing after the guards who were carrying Marius' body over to his carriage, until finally with a confounded frown the girl's eyes fixated to the tree Accius' horse had been previously tied to. Finding it to have disappeared, along with the lad, and now that she thought of it she found it strange that she hadn't seen him at all during the previous incident…Therefore Artemisia only blinking in bewilderment as she then also discovered his belongings to have vanished from outside his uncle's wagon, leaving her confused.
Galahad let his eyes round the clearing as well, but once he in turn saw the horse the Legionnaire had used to be nowhere in sight he instantly knew what had happened. Unlike Artemisia who now left the wagon's side, once more bypassing the spams as trudged forward, in search of the lad, until her attention was drawn to Galahad who walked forth to meet her. Stopping at her expected question.
"Have you seen Accius?"
Galahad said nothing as only let out a low sigh. His silence and somber expression naturally soon giving the answer to Artemisia, but although she then didn't need to be told what had become of her lover she only stared back at Galahad blankly for a moment. In disbelief, aghast by the truth his lack of a corroborative answer was advocating to and she stressed her words once she then continued. Not believing it, even one more glance directed at the currently vacant side of the wagon of the Honorious family proved otherwise.
"Where is he?"
Artemisia'a whole face fell at the sound of that. Even it then made perfect sense after the foul altercation she'd had with Accius her still finding it but shocking that he had actually left during the night…Left her, without as much as saying so. For at that moment she would've rather experienced the pain of hearing him say to forsake her than have him slip away on the sly, which hurt much more. A look of distress equivalent to her last night's anguish passing her eyes until they next dropped, her countenance riddled with unspeakable sorrow as she wrapped her arms around her frame. Failing to come in terms with the truth of him leaving her, as well as holding back the tears that still welled up, on the brink of spilling as a look of misery settled upon her features. After laying witness to this expected shift in her mood Galahad finding himself acting without realizing it and closed her into a loose embrace as her shoulders then slackened and for a moment she seemed like faltering. However not, as she then simply stood there, sustained by the knight's comfort, although she didn't cry after all. Simply stood there in his arms in silence, which somehow was even worse to him than having her bawl her eyes out over the apparent loss of the dastardly boy who'd abandoned her. Him having hard time himself to believe the lad to have actually taken off, even if it wasn't in fact all that surprising taken the manner of a cur he ultimately had proven to be last night, but to think he had also ran from his family…It only angering him further, but Galahad strove not to show his sentiments much now that his hold was the sole source of solace for Artemisia, the call of his name however soon claiming his attention. Him spotting Gawain who was waving at him, telling him to hurry.
Galahad gave his companion a nod until separated from Artemisia and went to pick up the crossbow Tristan had dropped until returned to the girl, turning her around and walking her over to the wagon, but while doing so didn't miss the way she seemed to be now constantly gripping to her midriff in evident pain that she wasn't this time around able to conceal from outer eyes…Least of all his. The young man casting her a worried look, knowing what this shift in not only her mental state most likely meant, but having no other choice but to let it slide for the time being he helped Artemisia to climb back into the wagon. After she settled back to the same spot she'd previously laid him handing the bow to her, casting a remarkable nod at the quiver of arrows he'd spotted amongst the reserves as Artemisia instead forgot about her melancholy for a moment to look at him quizzically.
"Should you need it."
The gravity of his words was enough to tell Artemisia what he was referring to, and frankly she was then more thankful than horrified of his gesture as the reality dawned on her once again. Since she knew how to handle such a weapon indeed feeling calmer to have some means of protecting herself now that the Saxons had drawn so near and the unannounced departure of Accius had left on her own devices, but even she did then nod in understanding she wasn't any more comfortable of using it…For even if she had some experience in hunting, taking a human life was a whole other matter, even if her survival would come to depend on it later on. Should they fail to evade the Saxons and would be forced to engage them…Just as Galahad seemed to believe by giving that bow to her.
Other worries then consumed her fretting over the probable confrontation as she was engulfed by another surge of pain that claimed all her awareness, therefore perhaps even giving a welcome distraction to her wallowing in her general anguish. An audible exclamation escaping her lips as she removed the bow from her lap, her fingers resuming their earlier massaging of her stomach in futile attempt to rid herself of the spasms that nonetheless continued to plague her no matter how she tried to wish the pain away…Despite of the utmost inappropriate timing and her long harbored dread, her however knowing this to be it…The child to be due at any moment now.
Artemisia was startled as Fulcinia suddenly appeared. Alerted by Galahad who'd apparently asked her to join the girl, despite of the fact that the woman had just lost her husband. Witnessed his death, which was why Artemisia cast her a compassionate look as she settled next to her after taking in her clear signs of approaching labor. Claiming her hand as the girl spoke amongst a pair of audible gasps, in the end only grateful that despite of her evident, personal loss the woman had still decided to bypass her mourning in favor of her tribulations. Soon enough Alecto climbing inside the wagon as well, to have also left his father's body to lay unattended in his own carriage to continue his journey with his mother.
"Never be sorry for becoming a mother. It is a miracle only us women can experience…Even if quite wearing at times", Fulcinia spoke, giving Artemisia's belly a remarkable look as she at first mistook her meaning, the girl leveling a kind look at the amused older woman.
"I meant your husband."
"It was his time…And he will be fairly judged by his actions. We shall leave his further fate to the gods", Fulcinia replied. Only casting her woeful eyes downward for a brief instant until offered a new smile to Artemisia, far more in peace with her husband's passing than the girl would've expected, but when she then gave it a thought it wasn't all that surprising taken the way how the man had been…and what had been the circumstances that had led to his death. So in agreement with her words Artemisia didn't say a word, only to be reminded of her own concerns by the gentle palm Fulcinia placed onto her stomach. Her following remark laced with regret, even if it wasn't her intention.
"I am sorry as well…I tried to change his mind."
As their talk turned to Accius Artemisia gasped but quickly dropped her own gaze, voluntarily avoiding to witness that look of pity that had mellowed the older woman's features and made her seem even more ruthful than she already felt. Artemisia only letting out a shuddery sigh as kept her eyes closed, not to cry, while tried to stop herself from mulling over the lad and his painfully distinct absence…Along with the aching pain that had began to nestle into her chest pretty much since the beginning of their journey to Honorius manor, for after their last night's quarrel and his revealed flight from the camp she'd began to understand their relationship to have not been as genuine as she'd always assumed it to be…For it to be utterly destroyed by an act of malice that was not even of her doing, and yet the boy she'd imagined to have grown to love and whom she'd believed to love her in equal measure had blamed her for it, using his brother's crime as a tool to accuse her…Even instead of supporting her, directing his anger to the person he trusted and who'd betrayed him, he himself had turned his back to her…Blaming her for everything. Her and the bastard child of his brother she was about to give birth to, only because he refused to accept someone of his blood to have deceived him…
In so doing he'd forgot all of his promises to care for her, to protect her, as if any of those nights of intimacy mostly inflicted by him nor words of endearment he'd so eagerly spoken didn't anymore exist, all because Galahad had been right about him…Because the lad she'd abandoned her whole life for wasn't but a scoundrel who was as cruel as his brother, as lowly and disingenuous as his whole family…And with an aching heart Artemisia now so much wished that she'd believed the warnings of not only Galahad's but the very doubts of her own whenever she'd found her terms with Accius to have grown more and more distant. Now everything the knight had said about him making sense to her, and she did then blame herself as well for not seeing it until it was glaringly obvious by the lad rejecting her and everything they'd come to have and share…For refusing to see it, even though her dismissal had resulted in her only having her heart broken by the one whom she had believed to mean all of those vows of affection…Even she should've known long ago him to be simply lying, to have used those sweet words to only get his way with her…Him to have perhaps never cared for her in any other way aside for the sole thing that had also attracted his brother, in fact that alone making the two brothers frighteningly more identical from what Artemisia had previously perceived.
"That's right, love. Breathe."
Despite of Fulcinia's advice Artemisia was finding it hard to keep her breathing even whenever a new spasm made it challenging, wearing her down by the hour as their journey continued and the weather had taken a turn for worse…Powerful snowsquall shaking the tarpaulin of the wagon as the company kept lumbering through the amassing snow, the piling up drifts small at first but after hours of walking their pass was becoming harder and harder to follow, slowing them down. Not all that long after departing their previous campsite the echoes of drums to have began to emanate from behind them, bouncing off of the mountains they were passing, indicating the Saxons to be right behind them. All the while Artemisia drawing closer and closer to labour with each passing contraction, the endless pain and spasming leaving her somewhat lightheaded at times. Making it difficult to focus on Fulcinia's encouraging words, the woman trying to soothe her with some distracting conversation while held the girl's hand, giving it a calming rub whenever she went through another painful cramp…However failing. Artemisia was far too anxious and beside herself to calm down, even for a moment.
Like everyone else she could hear the ominous drumming even in the howling wind and the fear of getting abruptly ambushed by the Saxons hence had resulted in her remaining on high alert at all times despite of her growing discomfort, the girl never letting go of the crossbow regardless of Fulcinia's questioning of it. Even the woman didn't know where she could've gotten hold of it nor found her handling such a weapon all that wise Fulcinia to have let it go, if it made Artemisia feel safer having nothing against her having it…As long as she wouldn't be foolish enough to try to use it. She was in no condition to fight, much less to leave this wagon. It would only be a few hours at most until the baby would be born, she knew it by just looking at the girl.
"Breath Artemisia. Just keep breathing", Fulcinia murmured gently, Artemisia releasing one more strained, prolonged breath between her pursed lips until she let out an annoyed sigh. Sounding a bit too harsh as she replied, trying to find a more comfortable position to sit in, although at that point there was no pose that could've made her feel less malaise.
"I am breathing!" she snapped. Instantly another wail slipping out of her and she bent forward, taking in the ache of her back, which wasn't at all lessened by Alecto whom Fulcinia had ordered to rub it. In grown frustration Artemisia shaking the boy's hand away, once more being able to focus on but to the spasms that continued without a moment's peace. Naturally understanding her trials Fulcinia simply smiled at the girl as beckoned Alecto to move away from her, taking over his role of rubbing her back in large, comforting circles, while he went over to the small opening where the tarpaulin had been raised. After a while of lulling in her aches and pains Artemisia picking up the voices of the boy and Arthur, talking.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"My father lost his way. He used to say the Church is there to help us stay on our path…It didn't help those he made suffer."
Suddenly her mind cleared from her toils Artemisia turned her sights onto the teenage boy, not but a couple of years younger than Accius, hearing his grim remark causing her to cast a rueful look at Alecto. Despite of his mother showing a more courageous and acceptive front when it came to her husband's death him to have however lost a father…Which surely had affected him more profoundly, no matter what kind of a man Alecto viewed his father as during his final moments. That in spite of his contempt and perhaps even anger for the man, he still mourned for him as a lost parent.
"The path he chose was beyond from the reach of the Church, Alecto", Arthur replied in a heartening manner. However as Artemisia continued to listen in to their exchange and laid witness to Alecto's defeated, dreary become demeanor she realized him not to bring the lad much comfort, and was quick to see why.
"But not of Rome. What my father believed, so Rome believes", Alecto demured, his doubtless response taking the Commander aback as he eyed at the boy…Lost to his such firm belief of his just spoken words that fully contradicted with his own views.
"What, that some men are born to be slaves?" Arthur questioned, stunned as to hear Alecto speak like his late father would've, hence doubtful shaking his head. "No, that isn't true."
This particular comment played into Artemisia's own disbelief and she sighed, in grave disagreement. Figuring it to have been a long while since Arthur had last been to Rome if he indeed seemed to be this ignorant to the Empire's outlooks despite of to have served Rome and the Church his whole life…Nonetheless with those previous skeptical and therefore clueless words the man proving to be much more blind to the Rome he had helped to create partially through his own actions, the true nature of the rule he'd so loyally bowed down to however much more perfidious than he'd come to understand…What had happened back at the Honorious estate being but a taste of all the atrocities Rome and especially the Church had allowed and even instigated throughout the Empire, and had done so for years, especially at the very heart of it…So much evil taking root and spawning from the renowned capitol, a place Artemisia had been partially glad to have left, but which this Roman Commander appeared to remember so fondly…When now it had become but a symbol of Rome's oppression and cruelty to the outer colonies such as Britain, all suffocating under the Emperor and the Church's ruthless rule. For after living under the very yoke of Rome Artemisia knew what kind of a false statement it was to call the reigning Emperor gracious, yet alone the Church that served but itself…Trampling the common people it ever vowed to endorse.
"It is so! He told me so", Alecto said, a hint of confusion visible on his mien as he was equally surprised by the Commander's refusal to take his words as truth. Indeed Arthur's following response signaling him to be utterly clueless what had become of Rome during the past years, his voice but firm as he spoke.
"Pelagius, a man as close to me as many, is there now, teaching that all men are free. Equal…And that each of us have the right to choose his own destiny."
Artemisia cringed. Of course recognizing the name, as it had been the talk of the town at a certain time around a year past…A day of many when a public execution had taken place, and even their head Vestals had been summoned to lay witness to the hanging of a man whom the Church had labeled as a heretic due to his much disputed lectures of social justice, teachings which while wildly spread amongst the townspeople Bishop Germanus had labeled as a direct onslaught against Rome and the Emperor himself, Artemisia still remembering the grotesque image of the man left suspended at the center of the city square, birds picking on his maimed body until three days later when his corpse had finally been taken down… The Church's warning of any other free speakers with equally precarious opinions to keep quiet made more than clear. Artemisia to have been barely able to eat for days herself after that terrible incident…which as said hadn't been the only one.
"Teach, how? They killed Pelagius a year past. Germanus and the others were damned by his teachings…They had him excommunicated and killed", Alecto revealed. Although to have not been present to witness it to have heard so from his father, the silence that ensued only causing Artemisia to wonder the depth of Arthur's shock as the man couldn't bring himself to reply once it was then indeed exposed how wrong he'd been…How unaware he'd been about Rome's true disposition now shown to him by these horrible tidings, but in which his men had believed in all these years. In that single passing moment it dawning on him that everything he'd believed in, along with his beloved mentor…was gone. If his ideal Rome had ever even exited to begin with…
Alecto as well as Artemisia then came to share his sentiments, after a moment of thought and considering Arthur's previous remarks the boy's expression turning downright woeful as he continued…His voice but despondent that matched with Arthur's arising despair, despite of his but somber words.
"The Rome you talk of doesn't exist…except in your dreams."
The clatter of the hooves of Arthur's horse ceased as the man probably brought the animal to a stunned stop, stupefied by Alecto's announcement as the boy then dropped the curtain. Silence descending until it was but a moment later broken by Artemisia's new agonized moan, bit by bit these spasms starting to irritate her more than frighten her, as she only wanted to be rid of the pain. Grown tired by them, like at a time equally dismal to this wishing this baby gone so that she wouldn't have to endure this torment, nor even to be here. Part of her thinking that should she have only told the truth before leaving Rome at least she would still be there and not traveling through wintry wilderness on the run for murderous barbarians…Although it couldn't be known if her sister Vestals wouldn't have reported her and she wouldn't have ended up living in squalor, or perhaps killed before this child would've even had time to grow. While such thoughts crossed her mind as she was once again overwhelmed by her own despair, she couldn't help but wonder if it was just better for her to give in…For as of last night there was nothing left for her to truly care about.
The carriage came to a scrunching halt in the snow as something ahead caught the knights' attention, after hours of travel them to have finally passed the mountains, and unbeknownst to even to Tristan they'd encountered a frozen lake that stood between them and the road that would eventually take them back to the outpost through the quickest route. Arthur riding past the caravan and took the lead as he and his knights all headed out, going forth to inspect the landscape that awaited them. The men stopping their steeds at the edge of the lake, that indeed seemed solid enough to walk on to the naked eye…But despite of a few truly cold nights winter wasn't fully underway yet and they couldn't know if the ice could carry them, especially when they had this many people with them. Not to mention a few horses, some cattle and the wagons that would all make crossing this lake dangerous.
"Is there no other way?" Arthur asked as faced Tristan, although all of them already knew there wasn't. Them to have followed a path surrounded by mountaintops and impassable ravines for a few miles, and the Saxons had drawn too close for them to have time to go back to search an alternate route, one which none of them had seen on their way here. This cross across the ice being the fastest way to the Hadrian's wall, and turning around would only have them walk right into the forefront of their pursuers.
"No. We have to cross the ice", was Tristan's taut answer. The men exchanging concerned looks as they could hear the ice sing even then, cracking while under no such pressure as people and animals passing over it, but they knew there to be nothing to be done. The Saxons hot on their tail, Arthur therefore dropping from his saddle and beckoned towards the caravan that awaited them to come up with a decision a small distance away.
"Get them all out of the carriages. Tell them to spread out", Arthur instructed Jols, the man following his command and immediately rode off to inform the people to abandon their wagons to continue on foot. The news spreading quickly and not long after the orders carried to Artemisia's ears, her, Alecto and Fulcinia hearing Jols' voice as it shouted for the people to move on without the wagons. The reason for this however lost to them, until the ever increasing noise of the enemy drumming gave them a good idea for it now when they were yet unaware of the lake that they would have to venture over. Fulcinia and Alecto exiting the carriage after swiftly gathering some of their belongings until turned to help Artemisia, the girl groaning inwardly as the labor pains made walking very difficult. Her needing a long moment to find her steps, but with gritted teeth she ambled between Fulcinia and Alecto, moaning all the way. All the while gripping to her weapon that she by no means had left behind, the growing threat of the approaching Saxons keeping her still grounded to the danger at hand, although the commencing childbirth was a sufficient distraction when it soon became close to impossible to keep walking.
As they and the rest of the people at the back of the caravan went after the others Artemisia lost her footing, weariness eating away her vigor and she stumbled, feeling like not being able to go on further. Fulcinia hence making the decision for her once she spotted a couple of carriages to be in fact brought along and pulled towards the lake and she hounded her son to hurry, them escorting the pregnant girl over to the second one as alarmed by Artemisia's worn out groans Guinevere moved aside the tarpaulin. To welcome the girl inside once the woman ushered Artemisia over to her, with a thankful sigh Artemisia not protesting once the carriage reached the outskirts of the lake and she was hauled inside by the young woman. Her breathing now reminding more of agonized huffs as Artemisia leant back, not believing how drained she'd become over such a small walk, but was instantly overwhelmed by it once a new cramp rendered her listless. Guinevere's hand brushing past her forehead to feel the slight temperature that had risen, her exchanging a worried look with Fulcinia.
"Is she well?"
"She will be once we get that baby out of her…Sooner than later I think."
The knights stood in wait for the rest of the people to gather their little effects and join them, after a few minutes the group starting their treacherous walk across the ice, all spread out throughout as Arthur had instructed. However despite of their caution and painstakingly slow steps the ice continuing to wail under their feet, the ominous cracks and that haunting singing of the frozen water stilling their breaths as they ventured forward, until the loudest crackling sounds yet soon forced them to come to a halt once Arthur raised his arm. Horses whinnying in fear while the people dreaded to move, petrified to their spots when visible cracks manifested on the ice, but they were all then more alarmed by the noise that rang out, coming from the pass they'd exited. The sound of the Saxons marching across the very path they'd just taken and their drums booming right behind them giving the people a new reason to stand there in fear when they realized the Saxons to be much closer than they'd thought...Any moment now them emerging from behind the mountainside.
Arthur and the knights made an attempt of pushing on, but by the time they'd reached the center of the lake Arthur suddenly stopped. His knights following suite, and soon enough no words needed to be said for the same thought to cross all of their minds, same realization. Arthur turning around to face his men who shared significant glances with one another, coming to a wordless agreement.
"Knights", Arthur addressed them. Leaving the rest of his unvoiced phrase up to reasoning, and indeed knowing what he was going to say the knights each made a concurring nod just as Guinevere finally also exited the carriage. Lucan jumping down right after her, where Guinevere raised an arm to support Artemisia, as despite of the Woad woman's protests she also decided it to be safer for her to get down, even she felt like barely staying on her feet. Also their attention then getting drawn to the knights once their words were carried over by the wind, heard even under the noise of the beating drums.
"Well, I'm tired of running…And these Saxons are so close behind my ass is hurting", Bors spoke up gruffly. Laughter in his voice as he locked gazes with Arthur whose eyes then shifted to Tristan, the man leveling a resolute look at him.
"Never liked looking over my shoulder anyway."
Artemisia looked at the gathered knights nervously. Forgetting about her discomfort for a moment as she eyed at the men in disbelief, not believing they were actually planning on facing their enemy and her eyes inadvertently trailed over to solemn looking Galahad. Suddenly frightened by the probability of these men staying behind and dying while Gawain and Galahad joined the exchange once their Commander's quizzical eyes landed on them.
"Be a pleasure to put an end to this racket…"
"And finally to get a look at the bastards…"
"Here, now", Dagonet stated with a daring smirk. His own expression but determined, none of them expressing any fear over the incoming face-off if they even felt any. Artemisia's anxiety increasing as she behold the men to reach a mutual decision, choosing to fight rather than keeping on running, and Arthur next called out to Jols who ordered a couple of the nearest men to take possession of the knights' horses. While they prepared to take the people to the opposite shore Arthur beckoning Ganish to come over to him.
"I need you to lead the people. The main Saxon army is inland, so if you track the coastline till you're well south of the wall, you'll be safe", Arthur adviced him. Taking the man aback, as despite of his willingness to serve this man he hadn't expected to be put in charge like this, hence hesitating once tasked with Arthur's direct command…But dithering then more over the fact that worried Artemisia; the fact that Arthur and his handful of knights were about to stay behind and fight on their own.
"But you're seven against two hundred!"
"Eight!" Guinevere cut in, walking forth with her bow in hand as left Artemisia and Lucan's side. Surprising Arthur who followed the woman with his astounded gaze as she walked past the pair of men to join the ranks of his knights, likewise showing no fear for the upcoming battle that would definitely claim their lives. "You could use another bow."
"I'd rather stay and fight", Ganish argued. Exchanging a stern look with Arthur who however then allowed his severity to ease a little as he was impressed by this once a serf's courage that even many gifted with a soldier's rank lacked…His following words however not soothing Artemisia's already rampant fears, since they very much mirrored the most likely outcome of their display of resistance.
"You'll get your chance soon enough."
Arthur ordered the Roman soldiers to regard Ganish as their captain, to follow his command until gained an understanding nod from them and sent them on their way. The Commander then refusing Alecto as well who stepped up to him, also prepared to stay and fight with them, but whom Arthur also told to go with the others…To live and relay what he'd laid witness during their journey once he'd reach Rome, soon enough the caravan resuming its course across the slippery ice while Jols was passing out sheafs of arrows for the knights and Guinevere who were all assuming their positions, preparing themselves. Artemisia eyeing at them in fear, her eyes casting an unnerved glance at the yet empty shore, until sent Lucan after Fulcinia and Alecto who'd already taken off along with the others after the boy had waved Dagonet goodbye. Only the pregnant girl remaining, mostly due to the pain that didn't allow her to take another step until she forced herself to move. The girl's gaze fixating onto Galahad who happened to be standing nearest to her, the young knight pausing in middle of trying out his rarely used bow once his eyes settled onto Artemisia who now arrived beside him, the man blinking in surprise as he had already thought her to have left with the rest of the people and yet there she was…Still holding onto the quiver and bow he'd given her, but her free hand was now clasping his arm. Her eyes pleading as they met his, asking him not to stay.
"You will all die", she breathed. One glance given to her telling him her to be worn out by simply standing there, and Galahad cast half incredulous half sorry look over his shoulder. Seeing the others to have already come close reaching the opposite shore while Artemisia's grasp of his sleeve tightened, the plea in her eyes causing the sternness of his own visage to mellow down as he realized her to be scared…over his life. Asking him to leave with her. "You can't stay. There's too many of them, you can't fight them all on your own."
Galahad sighed, dropping his bow as reached out a hand and placed it onto hers. Leveling a calming look at her, his smile although grim still reassuring. "We'll buy you time to flee. The Saxons would've caught up with us either way…Now we can take at least a few of them out and help you get to safety."
"But…" Artemisia argued, her sentence however getting cut as yet another spasm caused her to bend over, to groan. Galahad securing an arm around her shoulders, his features going back to earnest as he realized her needing to get far away from them before it was too late. Him steadying her after helping her to straighten, turning to face her.
"This is not a place you should linger at…There's no time", Galahad told her, glancing down at her stomach, until thought a moment and next flashed the girl a small smile. Pushing a hand under his cloak and soon produced a necklace for her to see, pushing it into her hand. "As long as you have this, I can't die. It's my mother's and you need to return it to me or she'll be very upset with me."
Artemisia looked at Galahad taken aback, but despite of the softness of his smile his face was quick to harden then as he closed her fingers around the necklace and then pushed her past him. Gently shuffling her around him, casting one last look down at the crossbow as motioned for her to head after the rest of the refugees…His hand lingering on her shoulder for a brief instant, to tell her to hurry.
"Go. And keep that bow close."
Artemisia nodded, although her heart couldn't have felt heavier as she began to walk away from the knights. Galahad's pendant practically burning her palm as she squeezed it, her wobbling forward as thought over Galahad's words, but the farther she got the slower she found herself becoming. Lassitude dulling out the surges of pain, but only briefly which still were by then unbearable, the girl being unable to hold in her voice at all as the spasms had grown so strong and so close that once she finally had trudged all the way to the opposite shore without falling through the ice she had to stop. Too agonized to move and a pained outcry escaped her, her having to drop the crossbow as sought support from her knees. Ready to just give in, let her legs give in, in too much pain to actually care for anything else than that overbearing feeling of tearing open as the child was starting to finally force itself out of her. Her legs shaking for the effort standing up required, Artemisia losing herself to hopelessness then as she remained there, not anymore seeing any of the others as her eyes roamed about the forest that loomed right ahead of her…them to have already vanished into the thicket.
However after she'd found the willpower to go on, walking forward with all the while wearier steps Artemisia soon discovered herself to be stopped by a sudden twinge of guilt. Of hesitation once the marching of the Saxons then grew close and the girl turned around to see them to swarm the shore, until first of them ventured out onto the ice. Less cautious as the knights had been once their leader took notice of Arthur and his men standing at the center of the frozen lake, bows at the ready with arrows notched. Artemisia's eyes scanning the terrifying mass of Saxon warriors until her gaze settled onto the lone eight figures laying there in wait of them, defying them. Despite of her just made wordless promise to Galahad Artemisia's fearful expression morphing to a more steadfast then, some perhaps to have called it brave as she slipped the necklace around her neck and gathered her skirts. Pushing past the pain and hardship as plodded forward, while the knights and Guinevere waited for the Saxons to draw closer until they finally stopped, the girl heading for a nearby ridge she'd spotted just above the spot she'd been standing.
The Saxons fired a few arrows, to test their range, which indeed lacked. Their arrows dropping down and sliding the rest of the way to the knights along the ice, where at the command of Arthur they fired some arrows of their own. Their bows superior to theirs and a few of the Saxons fell to the ground wounded, this driving the Saxon Commander to lead his men into an attack. The man drawing his sword as his second in command ordered their men to move out, the Saxons beginning their march across the ice that was quick to creak under their brisk steps, and as the ice shook and wailed under their enemy's boots an idea suddenly dawned to Arthur and not soon after his companions as they saw the ice continue to break under the advancing Saxons that seemed oblivious to this fact. Gaining ground fast, and they all then drew their bows. Releasing a volley of arrows onto the Saxons, who finally began to notice their precarious footing once Arthur ordered Guinevere and his knights to aim for their flanks…To keep them from scattering.
Artemisia huffed as she waded up the slippery slope that led to the ridge, her not knowing what was going down there as kept on walking as fast as her feet could carry her. Despite of her hurrying to get to the ridge on time it feeling like an eternity as she climbed up that hill, her shoes slipping on small rocks and frozen ground as the sound of ice breaking then rose above the agonized outcries of men. Indicating that she had not much time, and Artemisia pushed herself to the limit as she made the rest of the way up to the ridge. Out of breath, ready to collapse, but she refused to give under the pain and exhaustion, forcing her feet to carry her to the ridge's edge, to get a vantage point of the events occurring down at the lake and what she then saw worried her. Despite of Arthur and the others firing endless arrows at the Saxons their ranks not diminishing much as they kept on marching forth, finally drawing too near for the girl's liking and with a strained bemoan she sat herself down. Dropping the quiver to the ground next to her before raised the crossbow, arming it. Even determination was leading the movements of her fingers as regardless of the excruciating labor pains she prepared to support Arthur and his knights, other kind of anxiety still budding in her heart as she tried the weapon in her hands. Finding it far heavier than she'd assumed, Artemisia not knowing would either her range or accuracy be enough to be of any real help…Not to mention had she just doomed herself to die by going against Galahad's wishes and staying, either way her knowing the knight not to like about it whether they would even live to address it.
But at last, the ice began to fail under the Saxons. Startled the enemy beginning to cluster even closer together, to escape the massive cracks that had appeared right under their feet along with the arrows that kept on raining on them. The Saxon Commander struggling to keep his men in control, for them to remain in the formation, shouting out orders in rage once a few of the warriors tried to slip away from the obvious danger their leader by then had simply decided to disregard in favor of getting to Arthur and his men. Them indeed coming far too near of them, and alarmed Artemisia tried to align her bow, failing however as the shaking of her arms and the pain made it hard to aim, and with a frustrated outcry she slumped down. The girl's fist striking the ground in anger, understanding that should she do nothing the chances of the knights and Guinevere dying were greater, and if she didn't found it in herself to help them they certainly would get killed. The ice in the end holding, not breaking completely and allowed the Saxons to soon engage with Arthur and his companions. All the while Artemisia would simply remain up there simply watching them all to get slaughtered…until it would be her turn.
"It's not going to break!" Arthur exclaimed. Commanding his companions to pull back as rushed to his feet after inspecting the cracks in the ice. Him and his knights putting aside their bows, preparing to engage at the behest of Arthur's warning. "Prepare for combat!"
Galahad narrowed his eyes at the advancing row of Saxons, cursing their luck that the ice had after all held instead of sending these barbarians to their watery grave. However a surprising arrow abruptly sinking into a crack in the ice a few meters away from the Saxons claiming his and his companions' attention, and as the young knight allowed his focus to falter just enough to trace the trajectory of the fired, mysterious arrow his eyes locked onto Artemisia. Galahad sending the girl a horrified but soon also a somewhat impressed look as he watched her to balance the crossbow in her arms, clearly struggling to keep it in line with the target she was aiming at, but after a couple of more failed shots Galahad actually saw her manage to shoot and kill a Saxon who'd broken free of their ranks…Not a clean hit, but enough to bring the man down, Galahad however having no time to continue to cast shocked looks at the foolish girl as his attention was drawn back to the soon commencing battle when the Saxons released a war cry. Dagonet then surprising them all by letting out a bellowing shout of his own, snatching his axe from the ice and charged forth, running towards the equally taken aback Saxons before any of his fellow knights could stop him.
Bors' voice reached Artemisia's ears as he screamed after Dagonet, her bow dropping after she'd fired her previous arrow, once again not hitting on anything that would've made much of a difference. The Saxons to have not however realized where the shots were coming from and therefore she remained safe from any rogue arrows heading her way, as she watched in alarm Dagonet to rush to his death her ignoring the cramps as hurried to arm her bow, a little too late however as did the rest of the knights whom Arthur immediately ordered to cover for Dagonet. The Saxon archers running forth and taking aim as the knight finally stopped and with a bear like growl that even Artemisia could hear the man delved his axe into the ice, his companions arrows laying waste to the frontline of the Saxons and taking down a couple of the archers, while Artemisia aimed her own arrow at one of the crossbow wielding Saxons who prepared to shoot Dagonet. Hitting his arm, the arrow changing direction once the man's grasp of his weapon slipped and he accidentally wounded one of his comrades.
Arthur and the others shot down a few more Saxons as Dagonet successfully continued to hack the ice, for the forthcoming horror of their enemy the already existing cracks indeed then finally beginning to spread and multiply as the Saxon Commander ordered his men to kill him once water seeped through the formed cracks. Artemisia shooting the man a startled glance as amidst reloading her bow she gazed up and saw one of the Saxons at the front take aim, only assuming him to go for Dagonet and rose to her feet to gain a cleaner shot. Quickly raising her weapon and releasing the hastily notched arrow, for her chagrin the arrow not flying straight despite of taking off, but for the dismay of the Saxon however her arrow hitting his weapon. Disturbing his own aim and the arrow he released failed his target, instead of plunging into the knight only crazing his side. Bors' startled call of his name dying at the man's lips once they realized Dagonet to have survived, until another archer emerged from the disoriented rows of Saxons. Artemisia losing perception of the events then as by standing she'd finally revealed her location to the Saxons, a pair of arrows flying her way, and distracted by her spasms Artemisia winced as one of them tore off a small chunk of her elbow upon hitting her. Sending her falling to her side, where she then stayed. Her bow knocked out of her grasp and her concentration now broken all of her focus going to the pain that shook her, crippling her, a new outcry of Dagonet's name however soon breaking through the haze of her labor pains. Indicating the man to have been hit just after he had landed his axe down to the slivering ice, at last fully breaking it. The Saxons footing failing and large floes broke off from the once solid mass, tipping over and dropping some of their adversaries into the frigid waters below.
Artemisia panted. Crawling forward as with laborious breaths tried to get up, this time paying no need to the misplaced crossbow as she fought against the compelling desire to simply lay down and give in to the agony and difficulty to move. The girl this time around screaming as she somehow managed to prop herself to her knees and then upward, her arms gripping tightly to her midriff as she worked through the pain and resumed her steps. Starting to walk, her however only making it a few paces until the strongest contraction yet forced her to crash against a collection of large rocks and it happened…Her feeling how something wet suddenly seeped out of her, and once she dropped her widened eyes down she observed her hem to be utterly drenched, even without knowing what exactly was happening a horrified breath escaping her as she still realized what was to come next and she fell…Her feet no longer carrying her, and although her dread of finally arrived childbirth did then drive her to grovel forward, downward the frosty slope, she soon found no strength to continue. Without knowing what had become of Galahad and the rest of the knights Artemisia stopping her useless squirming that wasn't getting her anywhere, her decision to head back instead of leaving hence dooming her to remain there, and at that moment the girl was too tired, too frightened and privy to the pain to care. Immeasurable time passing as she then stayed there, clutching to the boulder she'd collapsed against while her other hand had strayed to the bulge of her belly, certain that the child wouldn't be allowed to be born now, and actually feeling rather oblivious to this fact Artemisia then closed her eyes. As the frost bit into her limbs and agony coursed through her as an endless cycle, figuring this to be the end anyway…There to be no reason to care.
Artemisia's heart skipped a beat however as she then heard the sound of running footsteps, and despite of her previous apathy it then swelled at the relieving sight of Galahad. Artemisia raising her gaze up to the man as she saw him emerge, the girl giving him an addled look, where the appeared young man led by her earlier, loud outcries of pain only looked upon her in shock. After Arthur had managed to save Dagonet from drowning and they and the rest of them had managed to pull him back to safety once they'd used the last of their arrows to shoot the divided Saxons Galahad to have recalled Artemisia and taken off running, charging over to the ridge he'd spotted her at and midway up the slope discovered her huddled by the side of the hill. One look and Galahad realizing the girl to be unable to walk, but once he'd given her a worried look-over and her gaze had locked with his, his previously but relieved expression had turned only somber as he rushed over. Galahad grabbing Artemisia's arm that had stretched out to reach out to him, in relief of knowing he was alive…that he was there.
"Are you mad?" he accosted, lifting the girl up as leveled a frantic look into her eyes. Frowning at the bloody scrape on her elbow as his hands squeezed her arms. "Why did you stay back? You could've been killed!"
Artemisia said nothing but under that joy of seeing him unhurt, of her joy of him coming for her, there was still something that to Galahad seemed like detachment…Disregard to his just spoken words and their meaning, the possibility of them to have become true, and as he then looked into her eyes she did appear but passive to his concern…Defeated even once she spoke, that hint of a smile she wore as she eyed at him not feeling quite as warm to him but rather empty in fact, like part of a façade as his gaze then drifted downward and he took notice of her wet skirt. With a chagrined sigh realizing her water to have finally broken.
"I just wanted...to make sure you get this back", Artemisia said, while still balanced by Galahad's hands planned to take off his necklace, but got only as far as touching it until Galahad's palm shortly rose to cradle the side of her neck and she winced. This time truly screaming as the pain of a spasm pierced her midriff and she could no longer bear it, before she lost her footing however Galahad scooping her into his arms.
"Idiotic reason to put your life at risk", Galahad replied eventually, his tone notably chiding as it addressed the girl. The young man's indignation over her stupid recklessness however lessening as he felt Artemisia to gladly nestle against his chest once she was enveloped into the sudden safety of his embrace…A feeling she hadn't known to miss since the last Accius had hold her like this…The last the knight had hold her like this, hence in her pain induced haze her next speaking before thinking, taking the knight aback.
"Not foolish to me…I miss my mother, and have nothing to remember her by...So I guess you must miss yours if you've kept her with you all this time while apart…Like me", she told him. Wistfully now, and although her delivery had once more displayed actual emotion her words caused his already worry worn heart to lurch. Galahad gazing at the weary girl in his arms until they reached the bottom of the ridge and they were greeted with a sight of the knights along with Arthur and Guinevere gathered around unconscious Dagonet…Galahad halting in shock once his eyes fixated onto their injured comrade who despite of living just a moment ago apparently had just drawn his final breath, while he'd been away fetching the girl, guilt and sorrow instantly washing over him and leaving him deaf to any other aside for Bors' voice as he pleaded with his closest comrade to stay strong. To not give in, even it was already too late…Their brother in arms to have died. Fighting like a true Sarmatian.