I can only be sorry that it has taken ages for me to offer you an update. There's no excuses, I just haven't felt like committing to other writing projects since summer after focusing on bringing my 2nd POTC series to an end. So now that I'm free to write other stuff, this chapter came to be during one of my recent day offs. It may not be much, but it's something.
Regardless, I'm more than grateful to all of you wonderful people who've stumbled upon this story to read it, and marked it to favorites as well as started to follow it. Perhaps it won't take quite as long for me this time to update this...Let's hope so!
Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
Accius marched along the corridors of Arthur's residence, his head filled with caustic thoughts of his lover and the moment from before between them that had driven him to leave their given quarters…Simply to get away from her and her ever so aggravating prudity he'd already thought to have managed to do away with during the months they'd been together. Starting from the very first time he'd slept with her and taken care of her innocence long ago…Which should've been enough to turn her less reserved whenever she'd been with him after that, and her continuous demur to his needs started to irritate him. Even if she used the child as the excuse to abstain from the level of intimacy that he'd craved ever since first laying with her, he was starting to get enough of her always dismissing his desires over her own he'd more than well respected during her pregnancy by not touching her like he'd ached since being told about the existence of the child he by no means had expected...nor wanted. But of course when things had taken such unexpected as well as bothersome turn, there was nothing he could do now. He'd decided to leave behind a glorious military career to stay with this girl, and why wouldn't he? She was with his child after all. So although he didn't see himself quite prepared to take upon a family at his age, like both his training and upbringing had taught him, he had his responsibilities to live up to. Even if they came at a price of relinquishing so much more than he'd first thought while suggesting to run away with Artemisia…which quite honestly he'd started to have seconds thoughts about the longer they'd been traveling across the Roman Empire.
Accius' peeved ponders were cut as he happened to stride by a pair of closed doors behind he then could hear voices, several ones conversing before another set of doors were opened somewhere and the voice of a man that then broke the ensued silence woke the young soldier's attention, causing him to come to an interested halt. After recognizing the arrogant diction of the Bishop him thinking the better of exiting the recidence upon hearing Arthur to respond to the Holy Man, and instead stepped over to the doors and opened them slightly ajar, just enough to be able to spy on the starting conversation between the British Commander and the Bishop, while Arthur's knights along with Germanus' assistant were mostly left to listen from the sidelines…Like him.
"Arthur and his knights have served with courage to maintain the honor of Rome's Empire on this last outpost of our glory…Rome is most indebted to you noble knights…" Bishop Germanus complimented, Accius' lips curving up into an amused smile as there couldn't have been more pretentious look on the clergyman's face as he said that. To at least him it being obvious the man to not care less about Arthur or his men's achieved feats during their fifteen years of so far service, his words merely coated with assumed gratitude and reverance, as in all honestly to the Bishop the few Sarmatians currently occupying the round table were but pagans…As bad as the Woads that had been close to claim his life today, and equally outside of his prayers. But to evidence otherwise the Holy man now allowed his eyes to roam about the men in his presence in a supposed venerating manner as his assistant was offering chalices to the rather impassive looking knights, flattering smile rising on his lips that however neither did't seem to persuade the men to believe in his sincerity as he continued remarkably. "…To your final days as servants to the Empire."
"Day. Not days", one of the knights and most suspicious appearing one of them cut in briskly, whom Accius believed to be called Lancelot, as much as he cared to know the names of these heathens. Looking up from his received chalice at the briefly taken aback Bishop, who was then swift to flash the Sarmatian man a concurring smile which however died almost instantly as he continued to circle the unorthodoxly round table and the people sitting by it. Accius' eyes visiting on the tense faces of the knights until the Bishop arrived by Arthur's side and gestured the men to sit down after him, once more ending the silence.
"The Pope's taken a personal interest in you. He inquires after each of you, and is curious to know if your knights have converted to the word of Our Savior, or…?"
"They retain the religion of their forefathers. I have never questioned that", Arthur replied diplomatically, visibly but only briefly so disappointing the Bishop upon interrupting him, and Accius had a similar reaction to the Roman Commander's words as the clergyman by casting a disdainful look at the knights. The Bishop as always naturally not sharing his mind of the matter and simply continued to conduct himself but politely, his true stand in the matter however still filtering through his civilized delivery.
"Of course, of course…They are pagans, hm?...For our part, the Church has deemed such beliefs innocence, but you, Arthur, your path to God is through…Pelagius? I saw his image in your room."
Accius gasped, that particular name of course ringing a familiar bell as he'd been still back at Rome when it had been on everyone's lips even long before when it had eventually gained a contemptuous and reprehensible reputation which upon endorsement by anyone after the Church had risen against the individual tied to it would lead to great suspicion and castigation…espacially amongst the Romans. And this great, respected and commended Roman Commander was following this traitor's teachings? Suddenly Accius didn't feel at all that comfortable by making the decision of joining this man and his knights in order to come to stay with them…But what he was to overhear later on changed his mind about that and proved it to have been perhaps indeed God's plan to have sent him to this particular place.
"He took my father's place for me. His teachings on free will and equality have been a great influence", Arthur elaborated, not indeed seeming to share the Bishop's dismal outlook of the man, simply looking up to him and all the nonesense he'd just spout out to look up to. Which was highly unseemly for a Roman Commander. "I look forward to our reunion in Rome."
"Ah…Well, Rome awaits your arrival with great anticipation. You are a hero", Bishop Germanus stated dismissively, something about his face telling others he had his reasons for not commenting on Arthur's previous remark, but they were clear only to eavesdropping Accius. The Bishop's voice now gaining without a doubt rehersed bemoaning tone as it continued, Acciuss folding his arms as he watched his assistant to walk over to him to place a singular case on the table by his side, as nothing the clergyman then said came as a surprise to the young man since these news were but old to him by now. "In Rome you will live out your days in honor and wealth…Alas…Alas we are all but players in an ever-changing world. Barbarians from every corner are almost at Rome's door. Because of this, Rome and the Holy Father have decided to remove ourselves from indefensible outposts, such as Britan."
Upon following the Bishop to rise to open the case, Arthur's knights as well abandoned their drinks and seats, all of their eyes latched onto the case that next opened to reveal six scrolls…Undoubtedly papers appointed to each of the present knights to ensure their promised freedom as the practice had been since first forcibly enlisting the sons of their tribe for fifteen years of military service to Rome before releasing them. No one saying anything as the Bishop kept on talking, although Arthur and his men had been somewhat taken aback by his previous words, which however would no longer be of their concern. Or so they thought, as something told Accius that this sly individual currently addressing them wasn't the one to fully take his word for...Especially considering the following, more sinister turn the discussion took, which also surprised Accius, who hadn't heard a word about this particular threat in his weeks of traveling across the Empire. It also posing quite a problem to his plans that had led him here in the first place.
"What will become of Britain is not our concern anymore. I suppose the Saxons will claim it soon."
"Saxons?" Arthur asked, in equal confusion to Acciuss and the young soldier frowned at the sound of Bishop Germanus' revelation. The man in question now casting his serious turned eyes over to the rest of the men also staring back at him more earnestly.
"Yes. In the North a massive Saxon incursion has begun."
"The Saxons only claim what they kill", Lancelot stated incredulously, one of his comrades finishing the sentence for him with a tense mien.
"And only kill everything."
"So you would just leave the land to the Woads. And I risked my life for nothing", the youngest of the knights remarked, one who sat beside the lastly spoken Sarmatian, and couldn't hold back the distaste in his voice. Causing Accius to level a narrowed look at the young man, as his acrid comment didn't increase his tolerance over him at all. Accius to have come to dislike him the minute the knight had been so avidly ready to make an immediate pass at his woman who was with child no less…It to have not been but innocent the way he'd had his hands all over her the minute she'd sat with him mounted on his horse, as she was always too nice of a girl to refuse a hand that stretched out to help her…Literally. Making her vulnerable to the advances of any man who set their sights on her, like that presumptuous scamp now questioning the decisions of Rome that still hold undeniable hold over him too until he would receive that scroll in his hand.
The Bishop let out another dismissive humm as now raised the opened case, showing the scrolls to the six knights. "Gentlemen, your discharge papers with safe conduct throughout the Roman Empire. But first, I must have a word with your Commander."
The knights flashed a puzzled look at Athur before their wondering eyes returned back to the Bishop in bafflement, who quirked his thick eyebrows remarkably as his voice turned a tad sharper. The man sitting back down.
"We have no secrets", Arthur contested as he gestured towards his brothers in arms, everyone exchanging glances within the room, until after a curt silence had been brought to an end by the loud slam of the case that had been shut by the clearly this time around aggravated Bishop Lancelot straightened his posture. Facing his fellow knights before emptying his chalice from the leftover wine.
"Come. Let's leave Roman business to Romans."
Accius couldn't hold back a flicker of irritation at the jab that had been distinctly aimed at the Bishop as well as everyone born with Roman blood, aside for their Commander this knight as well as his comrades undoubtedly viewed as one of them pagans after so many years of serving the Empire side by side. Accius' slight glower boring into the handsome faced man before he oversaw the rest of the six Sarmatians to start to move towards the exit, the tall knight landing a calming hand on the robust one's shoulder as his notably angered eyes still stayed on the Bishop, till the knight called Bors who finally left his spot at the table and headed towards the doors with a disparaging half smirk. The minute the doors shut behind the last two of the exited knights Bishop Germanus facing stoic faced Arthur with a new, quite meanignful smile, raising Accius' interest yet again and during the course of their following exchange, indeed making him grateful him and Atremisia to have ended in middle of that ambush earlier today.
"Rome has issued a final order for your and your men."
"Final order?" Arthur repeated, surprised and a bit confused, but mostly astounded as his eyes stared deep into the Bishop's. To have partly known to suspect something like this upon hearing the man request his men to leave the room, this explaining perfectly why…The Bishop wouldn't want the pagans to argue about their usage in yet another excursion of Rome on the eve of their long awaited and many times over earned freedom.
"You are to travel North to rescue the family of Marius Honorius, and return, in particular, with Marius' son, Alecto. Alecto is the Pope's favorite godchild and pupil. It is his destiny to become a Bishop, perhaps even Pope one day."
"On this day you would ask this of my men…On this day", Arthur said tensely, outraged, everything about him insinuating that he wasn't as inclined to bend to the Bishop's nor Rome's orders as he should've been. Challenging them with his disagreeing tone.
"They have risked their lives for years for a cause of not their own. And now, on the day they are to be liberated, you send them on a mission which is far more dangerous than any other they have undertaken…You tell me, Bishop, how do I go to my men and tell them that instead of freedom I offer them death?"
"It is their duty to embrace death, as it has been for the past fifteen years they have followed the Roman rule that is the sole thing guaranteeing their freedom", Accius pointed out out of the blue, now that the talk had gained a personal interest to him and turned to his own family him knowing to have to make his presence known to the men, especially when Arthur seemed not all that keen in paying heed to what Rome asked of him. What rectitude asked of him. Accius swinging the doors fully open and walking over to the taken aback pair as his grim eyes solely focused on Arthur. "As well as it is yours to follow the commands given you. You are a soldier of Rome and accountable to that rule alone, more than you are to your suborninates. And if they are men of honor and least of what they were before being molded into soldiers of utmost integrity by the years serving the Empire with such high regard and no reason for blame they now undoubtedly are thanks to your commendable leadership, neither them should have any doubts about agreeing to follow their Commander to such mission. Every soldier's life is shadowed by death, and those recoiling from it are not fit to serve anyone but their own cowardice, yet alone the Empire or the Holy Church."
"What insolence…How dare you barge in unsummoned!" The Bishop snapped, notably more surprised than Arthur, who was simply eyeing at Accius half curiously half tensely due to his previous remarks concerning his knights and their supposed allegiance to Rome that should've come naturally to them after the mentioned years of service…Where the truth was that none of Arthur's knights loved Rome as much as this young man and the Bishop did…and although Arthur had Roman blood in him, neither he shared such adoration to the Empire nor its leaders.
"Forgive me, Bishop Germanus, but I could not help interrupting, since these walls seems to be made of paper that cannot hold matters a secret that involve me as well personally", Accius replied with a swift bow given to the Bishop, his attention returning back to wondering Arthur who now leveled a questionable look at him.
"Who are you, young man?"
"Accius Honorius, son of Aurelius Honorius, and nephew of Marius Honorius…The man you have been just tasked to save. Along with my dearest aunt and cousin, Alecto."
"You are the son of the great Roman General Aurelius Honorious?" Bishop Germanus questioned, rising as his momentarily exasperated expression turned into a delighted smile upon recognizing the name which Accius returned, accepting the Bishop's hand in greeting before bend down to kiss his ring briefly. Nodding.
"Yes. I'm but a humble Legionnaire myself, but hope to one day achieve similar greatness as my father has in the service of Rome and the Emperor…if not greater."
"If you're anything like I know your father to be, there's no doubt about you not being able to live up to his legacy…He is after all the Emperor's most trusted adviser and most of all…family to him?"
"Indeed. My family had not enjoyed such success and prosperity it now possesses had it not been Emperor Honorius' generosity to commemorate his blood….Which is why I have to insist Commander Castus to rethink his stand in this matter", Accius responded, lastly turning towards Arthur as leant against the table, looking deep into his eyes sternly. In a way like any Roman would, who thought too highly of himself and their position amongst their peers whom they viewed much lesser than themselves for a reason or another, whether it was about religious views or political standpoints….In this young man's case it being the revealed blood tie to the acting Emperor, but regardless of his self-important attitude and overall air about him, Arthur knew he was nothing but a deserter from the army. Why else would the man have hid his armor under a cloak and behaved so reserved aroud him and his men earlier that day? But it had been his weapons, indeed distinct conduct of a Roman military upbringing and his way of handling himself in battle that had betrayed him almost instantly. Revealing to Arthur what kind of a man he really was the moment he'd agreed to allow the lad and his companion to join them on their way back to the outpost.
"It is very humbling to meet the youngest of General Aurelius Honorius' sons…Your reputation precedes you, as it should, when you continue to impress us with your achievements for this Empire", Bishop Germanus remarked with a slight laugh, his visage turning curious then. "And your brother, Argus? I hear he was rewarded with a position of a Primus Pilus for his deeds in the battle against the Visigoths of France."
"At Rome, my Lord Bishop. He found himself a wife not but a few months ago and is currently busy settling to change his sword for married life."
"Truly? How becoming of a young man set to move up in the world…How wonderful indeed…And you are to follow his example soon, no doubt?"
Slightly annoyed that the conversation had taken such a casual turn after the arrival of the young Legionnaire, Arthur now took notice of the gasp Accius wasn't able to deter when the Bishop had brought up his intentions of settling down himself. Arthur's thoughts immediately reeling back to the young woman who'd accompanied the lad upon first coming upon them, and whom Arthur was sure to have been left with a child by no other than this man in question. Although they'd been told to have traveled across the Empire together, Accius' reaction caused Arthur to doubt the validity of both the young man's following words and character.
"Undoubtedly. Once the right woman comes to my path, there shall be no question about it that I too may see myself tempted to exchange military feats to joys of marriage", Accius replied, returning the Bishop's smile who laughed at the young man's comment, until also finally facing Arthur again. As if suddenly remembering him to be as well present in the room.
"I highly support of what accensus Accius just enlightened us of…If your men are truly the knights of legend, perhaps some will survive. If it is God's will, since it is as said, inescapable part of a soldier's life to readily perhaps give their lives for their Commander and their mission…No matter the cause that would've sent them down such path and finally to their gods, if necessary."
"My men have spent fifteen years of their lives in the service of Rome", Arthur answered, not any more inclined to give under the expectations laid on him and his knights, because of this and his highly opposing behavior Accius raising his chin at the man in indignation. "And now when they have fulfilled their duty and have been promised freedom, I couldn't take it away from them as a compensation of their sacrifice."
"And Rome is more than grateful of their efforts", Bishop Germanus reminded, slightly frustrated now, but didn't press on the matter, for it was Accius who took upon castigating Arthur's reluctance to follow through with Rome's command.
"Sacrifices are to be expected to be made, especially when innocent lives are concerned", he stated, his voice gaining a darker edge as he now approached Arthur, coming to stand between him and the Bishop as the two men confronted one another. Regardless of his aimed constrain Arthur not appearing at all fazed by both his and the Bishop's prompts that however were soon bordering blackmail. "You have been tasked, no…Ordered to take your knights to venture North and save a family that has a close connection to the Emperor himself…You are a Roman, Commander. And as a meritious soldier of years of experience, you are expected to do everything in your power to ensure the safety of my uncle, as well as the survival of a possible future leader of the Holy Church, so upon earning such a reputation for yourselves throughout the years of maintaining that legend that hails you invincible, neither you or your knights have much room to consider what refusal to obey would mean to the remaining six of them. As well as you."
"What our young friend means….Is that your men want to go home", Bishop Germanus cut in, his smile however faltering and eventually fading as he continued to speak. Setting a remarkable hand on the case that withhold the discharge papers of Arthur's men. "And to get home they need to cross the entire breadth of the Roman Empire. Deserters would be hunted down like dogs. Will you defy the Pope, Arthur? Rome? God itself?"
"Everything I've done has been for the Church and for Rome!" Arthur retorted aggravated, leveling a slight scowl to Accius' direction due to the mention of his knights bcoming deserters in the eyes of Rome should he refuse to agree to take them to this mission, when there was one right in this room. The Bishop to have not seen through the young man's pretences, but Arthur knew better. The young man's arrogance and downright hypocricy getting under his skin even more as he next spoke, his expression but grim as he stared back at the Commander.
"Then see to that your loyalty shall not earn cause to be questioned either now…Especially due to a couple of heathens more than glad undoubtedly to get their hands on those papers and run off back to their ungodly living amonsgt their fellow pagans. Which means they have to prove themselves to earn that freedom by abiding by their Commander one last time, if they ever even hope of seeing their homeland again."
"Who are you to dictate what my men are required to do to earn themselves the freedom they have fought for their whole adult lives to regain?" Arthur snapped at Accius, standing in front of him with all his dignity and poise of a soldier notably above this mere deserter of a Legionnaire's station. The young man simply eyeing at him with a blank expression, more annoyed than meek, and even flashed Arthur an amused smile soon after at the face of his visible anger. "Do not mistake a loyal soldier for a fool. They have done more to this Empire in the last fifteen years than you have not even had time to aspire to pursue, so no not question their entitlement for a honorable discharge."
"Any soldier choosing against that loyalty makes himself a fool, Commander. Do not be one of them and doom your men of the same shortsightedness, just because you were too kind of a man to challenge your knights' allegiance. Who knows, perhaps they are far more willing to save my family from the invading Saxons than the man who is once more urged to think the better of their interest as well…"
"Indeed. Would you leave a defenseless Roman boy, destined to lead our Church, at the hands of those bloodthirsty barbarians?" Bishop concurred, his voice rising a couple of octaves as his temper started to flare up as well. Like Accius him starting to have enough of Arthur's further disinclination to simply follow orders, since he indeed was not in a position to bargain over this matter and was expected to definitely not do so. Not any more than the Sarmatian knights long since deprived of their freedom to choose had. "Fulfill this mission and your men will receive their discharge. Their papers will be waiting here the moment they return. You have my word."
It was obvious by the look on Arthur's face that he finally also came to fully ackowledge his inability to rebel against the will of Rome without a exceedingly high price. The man casting his eyes down in defeat and earning a gloating smile from cnsiderably satisfied Accius as the Bishop closed the scrolls under a lid and took the case into his arms, intending to leave the room. But Athur stopped him, the severity written all over his features and tone that addressed the clergyman with a threat of his own, that indicated him not to hold an ounce of trust in his word. His anger resurfacing.
"You think very hard upon that vow, Bishop, for I will hold you to it. Break it, and no Roman legion, papal army, nor God himself will protect you. That is my word."
"And none will save you should you in fact live up to that promise", Accius remarked as turned around so that he was once more standing between the two other men, narrowing his eyes at the in turn grim looking Roman Commander, as he then glanced at the Bishop seeing the man to be eyeing at Arthur truthfully indimidated for a moment before turned on his heels and left the room. Accius taking a step back before smiled at Arthur politely, nodding his head at him. "I trust me and my companion are welcome to travel with you and your knights to my uncle's residence tomorrow?"
"Of course", Arthur replied, his nod barely detectable and neither was his smile, but it hardly mattered as the young man wasn't coy on amusing himself with his irritation over the previous conversation. Giving Arthur one last haughty look through, before followed the Bishop's example by leaving the Roman Commander on his own, as his following intention to seek the entertainment he'd craved to distract him from his own nettlement since leaving his chambers.
Artemisia had ambled about the premises within the outpost for hours. Exploring the vicinity of Arthur's residence, familiarizing herself with the residential areas of the people living within the safety of the Hadrian wall and the surrounding battlements. Meandering about the shops and taverns established for the large number of residents of this outpost, until her walk eventually took her to a particular one Arthur's knights were using to pass their time and to celebrate their dawning freedom. As was expected indulging themselves in drink and company of their comrades as well as the local women like every time they'd been given leave by their Commander , but this time around their had more than reason to simply loiter about and care less about the struggle ridden world around them…since they'd just been rid of it once and for all.
However, as Artemisia arrived to the square that edged this tavern in question, the knights as well as the other people currently served there had silenced to listen to the beautiful singing of a woman. The same woman Artemisia had seen earlier that day and learned to be a lover of one of the knights, the most scarier looking Bors', and who was currently clutching to their youngest child as she sang to the surrounding crowd with that heavenly voice of hers. Everyone's eyes remaining riveted to her as she cradled her baby, gentle smile on her lips as she sang of home to where she and the others present where to return as Artemisia understood it. Like others as well finding herself unable to resist the temptation and found herself coming to a halt to some distance away from the tables of the establishment around everyone else had gathered to listen to Vanora. The song Artemisia could tell her to have sang many times for these men having a clear meaning to the knights in partuclar, as Artemisia's curious eyes scanned the faces of those she knew by looks she watched some of them to close their eyes. Possibly blissful looks on their mien while overjoyed smiles rose on their lips that spoke of heartfelt adoration they felt for the land depicted in the song…Their home, which they were soon free to venture back to, as Artemisia had learned during the ride over to the outpost…and through those sung words she could feel the longing it as well as the Sarmatians it spoke to harbored in their core…For her great surprise and despite of the quintessential fear these men had stricken in her the moment of meeting them and seeing them fight without restraint or much sense of remorse over the lives they'd taken, her symphatizing with them…Since she if anyone knew what it felt like to be unable to go home.
Artemisia flinched for fright as totally unexpectedly she saw Arthur arrive, his attention as well fixating strictly to the singing woman and his positively over the moon knights currently enjoying their life to the fullest. As Artemisia curtly examined the Roman Commander's profile, her being able to tell that he didn't after all share his men's elation, and that his expression was somewhat downcast instead upon now witnessing his knights and their merriment. It causing his heart to sink due to the news he in the end had been duty ound to come to inform his men about, but as he now watched his long time comrades looking so jouoys and free of any grievance other than the running out of drink and food, he didn't find it in himself to do bestow such inquity on them. But just as Arthur was about to give in to his lost courage, to turn around and walk away as if he never had been there, Vanora's singing came to an end and Artemisia saw Arthur's right-hand man to look up to notice his Lord. Calling out to him, making the rest aware of his presence, which Artemisia reckoned to me most unfortunate to Arthur she'd been able to tell to wish to sneak off without getting detected. The man very reluctantly paying heed to the several voices now shouting his name in joy, Artemisia observing how he faced his knights and leisurely walked towards them once all six left the tavern grounds to receive their Commander.
"Arthur! You're not completely Roman yet, right?" Galahad, the young knight who'd offered to share his horse for Artemisia to ride on asked as Jols, Arthur's squire handed the man a chalice filled with wine to join it for a toast with his men. Arthur's expression however not changing at all from mere grim as he returned his knights stares, silent. Bors striding forth from amongst his comrades and raising an arm for Arthur as a sign of comradery, shouting something Artemisia couldn't understand, but remembered to have heard the man to utter during the battle with the Woads. Arthur not saying anything and his eyes had been cast down as his knights gathered now in front of him, after a long silence him finally finding the resolve to say the words that after all couldn't be withhold from these fine men whose bravery and loyalty he was once more to trust in…Even if he knew what he was about to ask was too much.
"Knights", he started, silence descending amongst the clientel of the tavern as well as the nearby Legionnaires, as all waited for Arthur to speak. The anticipation however turning into dismay as the Commander continued. "Brothers in arms…Your courage has been tested beyond all limits. But I must ask you now for one further trial."
Not all payed enough heed to Arthur's serious voice to realize what he was saying was indeed grave, simply gesturing him to down his wine as the rest of them simply kept on eating and drinking themselves, not understanding the true nature behind Arthur's words. Them dealing a far greater blow just because of that as the truth finally came out, causing all smiles to fade from the men's lips and their gaiety turned into absolute bewilderment at the sound of Arthur's following remark.
"We must leave on a final mission for Rome before our freedom can be granted. Above the Wall, far in the North, there is a Roman family in need of rescue. They are trapped by Saxons. Our orders are to secure their safety."
The fleeting laugh of the knights had ended and mere disbelief was written all over their faces now as they stared back at their Commander, stunned for him to say something so ridiculous and at the same time outrageous. Gawain waving a dismissive hand at his annoucement as turned away, Galahad shaking his head at Arthur in utmost puzzlement where Bors shot the man a indifferent look. His voice but adamant, stern and eqully unheeding.
"Let the Romans take care of their own."
"Above the Wall is Woad territory", Gawain stated the obvious, causing Arthur's suggestion to sound even further insane, and also he made it clear by letting his incredulity reflect upon his voice. Galahad what else but sharing their sentiments and signifying that with his own voiced out disagreement, where the other three men remained quiet.
"Our duty to Rome, if it was ever a duty, is done. Our pact with Rome is done", Galahad remarked, his years harbored contempt over the mentioned requirement to serve those who'd oppressed their people for decades and enslaved their children to forced service only emphasized by the amount of alcohol he'd ingested, and his expression was downright angry as his eyes lastly latched onto deadpan Arthur. The level of acrimony Artemisia could hear from the young man's delivery causing her compassion to resurface again, even more so when she overheard the rest of the ongoing exchange.
"Every knight here has laid his life on the line for you. For you. And isntead of freedom you want more blood? Our blood? You think more of Roman blood than you do of ours?" Bors demanded, pointing at Arthur bitterly, his own ire starting to rise the longer the knights were given time to come in terms with this apparent new mission Rome had decided to send them to instead of setting them free as agreed on at the end of their service. The fact that the man who'd stood by their side and knew how important this day was to the six of them had actually agreed to it insulting them, Artemisia not helping but frowning in pity as she saw those defeated looks on the men's faces now. Especially Galahad, whose head sunk then, in indescribable disappointment and vexation as Bors' voice echoed in the air loud and outraged.
"Bors! These are our orders", Arthur replied simply, bringing an end to Bors' tirade for the man's further dismay, him indeed then only gazing away as his Commander continued. "We leave at first light, and when we return your freedom will be waiting for you. A freedom we can embrace with honor."
"I am a free man! I will choose my own fate!" Bors exclaimed, twirling around, and his voice reflected actual pain when he said those words he for the past couple of hours had believed in from the bottom of his heart. Voicing out the throught of each of his comrades, actual tears in his eyes as he faced his Commander who not only him felt to have betrayed them by having the nerve to request something like this of them on the night they'd been supposed to earn their freedom. Tristan however choosing to simply resign to the situation without any lashing out or displays of his inner dissatisfaction, simply tipping an impasisve head at Bors before bringing a slice of an apple to his lips. His response infuriating Galahad.
"Yeah yeah, we're all going to die someday. If it's a death from a Saxon hand that frightens you, stay home."
"Listen, if you're so eager to die, you can die right now!" Galahad retorted in anger, vaulting towards Tristan in his ire, but the hands of his comrades stopped their youngest fellow knight to start an actual fisticuffs, who always became quite hot blooded while inebriated. Lancelot stepping between them as Galahad's fuming eyes were now in turn directed to Arthur. "I've got something to live for!"
"The Romans have broken their word", Dagonet, the most level-headed out of the six and the only one of them who hadn't let his emotions take over his reason stated, and earned the attention of his comrades. Leveling soothing gazes at the others before confronted Arthur as well, most understanding of them all. "We have the word of Arthur. That is good enough. I'll prepare."
Dagonet was the first to head for their quarters, him coming to only a brief halt by pacing Bors to urge him to follow. The burly man flashing an annoyed glare at his friend upon hearing him ask whether he was after all going to join his comrades on this misison or not.
"Of course I'm coming! Can't let you go on your own! You'll all get killed! I'm just saying what you're all thinking!" the man growled, him turning to stare after Dagonet and Tristan who both were now walking away from the square, his temper however fading as a quick expression of actual concern visited his moment ago so enraged features, and Artemisia heard him mumble something about his lover when he brushed past her. So quickly that she had to practically jump out of the way for not to get trampled by the exasperated Sarmatian man, her eyes then returning back to the four others still standing in middle of the square as Arthur inquired of Gawain's stand in the matter. The knight simply finishing his drink after a heavy sigh, clearly not happy to say the words that next left his lips, but like so many times before felt indeed dutybound to agree to Arthur's request. Also realizing that their Commander had no choice but to do as Rome expected of him…Of them.
"I'm with you. Galahad as well", Gawain promised, his statement however not making the youngest knight happy, as although Gawain knew him inside out and was convinced he would join his comrades as well, Galahad couldn't help but leer at his friend upon hearing that. After watching Gawain to as well walk away from Arthur him eventually breaking into another incredulous laughter, searching the ground with his eyes before looked up to his Commander in frustration. Emptying the remaining contents of his jug of wine at his feet and throwing it lastly to the ground before it was his turn to stalk off, so agitated he however was because of this unforseen development of the evening, that he accidentally almost followed Bors' suite in running Artemisia over by accident during his intention to catch up with his closest brother in arms. All anger vanishing from his face the moment his arms automatically shot forth to take hold of the pregnant woman, by the time she'd already distanced herself from the young man with a couple of steps, her eyes wide for surprise. Somewhat surprised briefly, as it took a moment for Galahad to actually recognize the girl who looked trememdously different her hair open like that and dressed in different clothes from those pure white robes she'd been wearing, him eyeing back at her and her blue dress for a moment until tilted an apologetic head at Artemisia. Her simply casting her eyes down meekly as stepped out of the way, leveling a brief look up to him.
"No, I…I'm sorry. I didn't see you there", Galahad replied, trying to keep his evident signs of intoxication at bay as had noticed his state to clearly unsettle the girl, who hadn't been surrounded by such behavior much in her so far sheltered life mostly spend within the walls of the Vestal temple. For a moment him forgetting all about what had happened just a moment ago, focusing his eyes to Artemisia. After a brief sweep performed over the vicinity finding her to by herself, not any sign of that pompous young Legionnaire anywhere. "You're here alone?"
"Accius needed fresh air, so I've been walking around in search of him…Have you seen him?" Artemisia asked, hopefully, as indeed had spent ages in trying to locate him from any of the taverns since remembering him to have mentioned to need something to eat. But just as Galahad was about to tell the truth, that he in fact had not seen a single glimpse of the young man since they all had retired to their own quarters after their arrival earlier that day, sudden movement far behind the girl woke his attention and he looked up. Only to see the very same blonde haired Legionnaire to exit from one of the horse stalls edging the passageway leading towards the main recidence, his hands busying themselves to secure his hurriedly put on clothes after separating from the waist of a red haired girl Galahad saw follow right behind him. The young knight blinking in astonishment as he took in the hay that covered each of them, and saw the smiles they were giving one another before the Legionnaire gave one more lustful look at the girl's half exposed, large bosom before the pair of them walked over to the nearest table of the tavern to claim the young man a pint from one of the patrons already sitting by the table. Just as Artemisia took notice of Galahad's stare and frowned at him, about to turn around herself to witness the cause to Galahad's dismay.
"What is it?"
"Nothing", Galahad stated, flashing the girl a reassuring smile as raised a fast hand to touch Artemisia's forearm to stop her from seeing her lover with the scantily clad girl currently clutching to him in a fit of giggles as the young man's arm draped around her. Running out of words to actually respond to the question that was displayed on Artemisia's face then, but to save himself from even coming up with a suitable answer his eyes then fell to take in the bulge of her huge midriff. Even slightly gentle smile rising to his lips then as he nodded at her stomach on a whim, halfly not even knowing why he was acting so upon this time lifting a tentative hand towards it before locked gazes with wondering Artemisia.
But puzzled by the knight's question Artemisia simply stared back at Galahad for a while until took notice of his hands that hovered just by her torso, arriving to a conclusion her then blinking unsurely until made a slight, confused nod. Her smile but shy and curious as she indeed allowed Galahad to place his palms against her belly, just in time to feel the wriggling of the child soon to be born, that had commenced not that long ago again after notable amount of time of absence.
"He's a very restless child", she stated quietly, looking down at Galahad's fingers that moved just slightly to take in the baby's movements, until she was partly taken over by embarrassment. Not being really sure why she had let this stranger to do what not even Accius had been willing to do much as the baby's future father, yet alone knowing why had Galahad wanted to feel her stomach. The answer to that however coming soon enough as Galahad now let out a concurring snort, raising his eyebrows.
"Lively one, definitely. It will be a handful once its finally out and about."
Artemisia released a sound that reminded of a laugh, but it also was not. Her shadow of a smile giving room to a strange expression which the young knight couldn't quite understand but which kind he'd previously seen the girl to display. After marveling at the feel of the baby to move about right under his palms, him eyeing at the mother questionably. Taking upon something he'd just heard her say.
"You hope it will be a boy?"
"Accius does. There's been but sons in his family for the past decades, so…Where myself I don't quite…I haven't given it much…It's just so overwhelming to even think…"
"That the baby is coming?"
Artemisia let out a deep sigh before locked gazes with Galahad who seemed to understand exactly how she was feeling, which was curious, as she wasn't all that certain neither what she was or was supposed to feel at the present. Her however not needing to voice out these ponders for the man to read it from that curt stare that lasted between them, until the girl simply gazed at her stomach again, indeed overwhelmed. Galahad however then once more absorbing into his own musings and soon discovered himself to be smiling from ear to ear, perhaps looking like a fool, but he was too drunk to even care how he must've come off to others probably watching him with this girl he'd met but today. It still somehow not feeling at all odd for him to be behaving so towards her, as he was now feeling her midriff as granted by the girl herself and could map out the exact position of the baby growing inside her, the experience filling him with sentiments he had never before felt in his life. Perhaps the very uniqueness of the situation making the act of touching her so familiarily more miraculous than inapproriate.
"It's astounding…Beautiful and breathtaking", he found himself murmur in awe, naturally speaking of Artemisia's pregnancy, but since the girl couldn't see into his mind and know what exactly he had meant by those words she simply blinked at him with slightly heated cheeks. Somewhat captivated by him however as eyed at him but puzzled.
"All of this, as you said. I've…never felt a child before like this. Neither hold one", Galahad replied, surprising Artemisia, who however then came to have doubts about the young knight's following remark. "It's simply miraculous."
"Is it truly? Then why am I but scared of it all and fail to see the miracle this child supposedly is?" Artemisia stated, somewhat quietly and hesitant, and her tone caused Galahad to wonder as he now measured the considerably more disheartened girl from before. Him thinking a moment until he pulled his hands back, to now land them briefly on both of the girl's forearms to claim her attention. In his mind going back to the distant time in the past when he'd first became one of Arthur's knights.
"I remember the day of my first battle. I was barely a man, but fourteen at the time, and scared stiff of that what I'd long known to have been waiting at my future, and it was the fear of something atrocious I also knew I was about to commit…But what you have ahead of you…is something that is natural and therefore beautiful. Something only you have been bestowed a chance to do. To turn this world a better place with that bundle of joy you're so terrified of. Just in much more rightful and wonderful way than us with our swords that take lives….Not give birth to them like you will to this child inside you."
Everyhting Galahad had just said had come straight from heart, and somehow Artemisia knew it as she eyed at this man in front of her. A man he knew not, but who still was offering her such an enlightening outlook of her situation, and which caused her compassion to arise yet again once she next saw the shadow that crossed Galahad's face when his hands once more resumed their touch of her baby belly. His features now appearing a tad grim as he spoke, not looking at her.
"Aren't you afraid of me? Most girls like you would be after seeing a bunch of savage men slaughter people without constraint right in front of them, drenched in their blood."
Artemisia couldn't deny that she hadn't had her reservations about him and his comrades, but right at that moment when she thought about the kindness he'd showed her so far despite of the fact tat they were mere stangers, she discovered herself less afraid than she perhaps should've been for her own good. With a fleeting frown her now noticing to slide her own fingers over the glum Galahad's momentarily, in turn gaining his surprised attention as she replied, sincere herself.
"Perhaps I'm not like those other girls…Good, decent girls who wouldn't either incur themselves to this state before marriage…"
Galahad stared at Artemisia, in honest bafflement of her yet another peculiar remark that spoke of something dispiriting that was bothering her considering the baby. Her words now as well as previously however being direct references to the night the child had been concieved unbeknownst to the knight, who was left but to wonder about what she had exactly spoken about, as he now watched her turn briefly upset. By the distasteful and frightening memory of the night that had also brought forth such musings about the child she was more and more hesitant every day of having, after withstanding the tear inducing recollections Artemisia simply sighing as she looked down at her hands that had been in turn been covered by the knight's. Consolingly, her blinking away any sign of discomfort as she then slid her palms free, just as Galahad took notice of Accius who finally as well pinpointed his lover from his company some distance away from him. Him immediately disregarding any thought of the young woman he'd just before been evidently rolling in the literal hay with as his handsome face was distorted by actual rage, after a curt taken aback glance directed to the young man currently marching straight towards them, Galahad shifting his attention back to Artemisia who was aware of to have perhaps allowed herself to become too worked up by her thoughts again for the knight to perhaps come to question it. But before she could escape her mistake by leaving, Galahad couldn't ward off his curiosity and indeed stopped her intentions with one particular question.
"I…I should probably…"
"What is your name?"
Artemisia was possibly even more stunned by this inquiry for some reason, but recovered from it in less of a time as cast a quizzical look up to the knight who was returning her gaze with such gentle eyes unlike she realized to have never come upon in anyone she'd met. Her actually finding it rather easy to lock gazes with him while still marveling over the fact that a soldier, knight whose life had indeed consisted of endless battles and killings done for Rome could possess such caring eyes, although some time ago she'd been downright terrified to meet any man's eye more than a few fleeting seconds yet alone give her name to them without knowing them properly…But with Galahad she also somehow knew it to be perfectly safe, that the question had been perfectly innocent, and that he had no intentions of using it in anything other than finally giving an actual name to a face. Her therefore being able to bring herself to offer a small smile along with her reply.
"Like the Greek Goddess of the Moon and Hunt?"
"I'm Galahad. Named only after my grandfather, but…It's a fine name."
Galahad smiled, at his previous comment as well as the discovery of this girl to be in fact Greek, although she had seemingly hailed from Rome. Them however having not more time to reflect on the current state of their conversation, as it was now when Accius had finally closed the distance between himself and them. Jerking Artemisia around and indeed starting to speak to her in what Galahad recognized as Greek from a few familiar words he heard slip the young man's lips as he addressed the bemused girl, who was equally fazed by Accius' forceful conduct as well as the abrupt use of her mother tongue as was the Sarmatian knight observing the pair of them from the side. Although he couldn't quite understand what was going on, the young Legionnaire's tone being enough to make Galahad regard his behavior as most unbecoming of him.
"Didn't I tell you to stay away from them, Artemisia? They're pagans, bloodthristy murderers!" Accius stated vehemently, pulling Artemisia closer as leveled a hard look into her eyes that told her her to have disappointed him greatly, his eyes narrowing as he cast a disapproving glance at the knight he'd yet again caught to be in the presence of his woman, which he wasn't the type of man to tolerate and was to make himself clear to her. "What were you doing with him? What are you doing here, you should be in our room?!"
"I'm sorry Accius, I…I was looking for you", Artemisia answered, flinching as Accius tightened his grip of her arms curtly. Galahad simply being able to simply follow as the young man then pulled the girl after himself and started to lead her back towards the house they were lodging in. The knight being able to well disregard the look of utmost distrust he'd gained from the Legionnaire, but he would've been lying if he claimed not to have been bothered deep within him by the way he watched the young man to treat his pregnant lover just now.
"Didn't I say to go just to get something to eat and be right back? What if he would've taken you somewhere and taken advantage of you should I have not come and rescued you from him? You cannot trust these men Artemisia, nor be alone with them", Accius snapped back, causing the girl to frown apologetically until she attempted to place a soothing hand to his cheek, the young man nevertheless avoiding her touch as simply raised his chin casting unsure eyes down as withdrew her hand, it setting onto her stomach again, before she glanced over her shoulder at Galahad who was staring after them.
"I'm sorry, I…He was juist so kind to me before, and I…"
"Enough, just come with me. We're leaving with Arthur and his men at dawn and need to sleep."
"Leaving with them?"
"Rome has ordered Arthur to travel to my uncle's estate to evacuate them from the invading Saxon army approaching from North. So as our heading has now joined with theirs, it is but convenient of us to join them and reach my family under the protection of his knights."
"If what you say is true, shouldn't we rather stay here and allow Arthur to rescue your family and bring them here to safety? If it's true that Saxons have invaded Britan, I don't think it's safe for us to go with them…"
"I will not abandon my family to death. I will go to my uncle's estate, and you are coming with me."
Artemisia could feel knot of terror to form in her gut at the daunting mention of Saxons to be apparently making their way to the very place they'd spent months in reaching, but soon enough she got hersef togther. Like before trusting Accius and his resolve, and if Arthur and his knights were also coming to Honorious estate with them…Their journey would indeed be far less perilous than it would've been just the two of us traveling and possibly coming upon those belligerent barbarians all on their own. Her therefore now making an understanding nod as hooked her hand through Accius' once he slowed down his pace, considerably more calm now.