Artemisia jerked to a sitting position, snapping fully awake as Accius brought their horse to a halt. After hardly sleeping a wink last night her to have been dozing off on the saddle all morning, however as Accius and the others now stopped at the edge of a high hillock a few hours later to have a look of the view opening beneath them at the bottom of the large valley that spread behind the surrounding woods and fields she now awoke to see their destination. The grand estate of Marius Honorius residing at the base of the mountains that rose just behind the manor, the house and the magnificent gardens by the yard both enclosed by a high wall that separated it from the edging arable lands and the residents of the slaves. Green pastures leading up to the estate from where the forest ended.
After eyeing at the Roman styled manor for a moment more Arthur drove his horse to gallop down the trail that led to the bottom, in no time their steeds carrying them all the way to the end of it and they headed for the plains to make their immediate way towards the gates of the estate. As Artemisia's gaze wandered about the terrain when they neared the manor her spotting the people working at the fields and the others lingering a bit farther away around the estate to notice them, all abandoning their tasks at hand to race over to the gates to see the unexpected comers. More people running from the direction of the settlements of the servants as Arthur and his company crossed the valley and rode along the road over to the house, the gates that just a moment ago had been open for the servants to come and go as they pleased on their errands now closing as the Roman soldiers posted on the wall and outside the estate saw them approaching. The knights coming to an abrupt halt as the gates were shut in front of their noses, one of the guards standing on top of the wall coming over to cast a strict look at Arthur and his men, by the looks of him eyeing at them so suspiciously not recognizing him regardless of Arthur's armor revealing him as Roman.
"Who are you?" he accosted, giving the arrived men one more gauging look until locked gazes with Arthur who then introduced himself, even from so far away Artemisia noticing recognition to finally ease the severity of the soldier's bearing as he took in the knights surrounding the Roman officer while he spoke. Making the connection.
"I'm Arthur Castus, commander of the Sarmatian knights and sent by Bishop Germanus of Rome. Open the gates."
The soldier nodded at one of his fellow guards who then immediately left his post, disappearing from the wall as the soldier told them to wait. The knights giving the people uneasy glances who were currently flocking around them, to have perhaps never laid eyes on warriors like them, or maybe while aware of their reputation as the members of the undefeated infantry of Arthur Castus couldn't believe to be now seeing them standing by their master's gates in flesh. It taking a moment for the entrance to be opened as the soldier had apparently hurried over to the estate to inform of their arrival to their lord, who now accompanied the guards once the gates were unlocked and out walked a group of soldiers. Amongst them Marius Honorious himself who welcomed Arthur and his men with a bright smile.
"It is a wonder you have come!" the man remarked, walking over to the awaiting knights. His eyes skimming over the line of men in immediate recognition upon bringing his hands together as a sign of a prayer answered by the sudden appearance of these men at his doorstep, confronting Arthur politely with his thankful gaze. Unlike his men at first glance well aware of his and his men's merits he as a celebrated citizen of Rome couldn't have remained ignorant about, even while living at the far outskirts of the Empire. "Good Jesus! Arthur and his knights!"
As a welcoming, accommodating gesture Marius attempted to take hold of the reins of Galahad's horse, but the animal backed away, the mounted knight curbing the animal as it winced away from the man whose hand was met with nothing but air. However not letting his abrupt surprise to show on his face the man swiftly turned his focus from grim looking Galahad to Arthur, offering him a commendable nod of reverence. Conducting himself but venerating while faced with the arrived Commander and his men.
"You've fought the Woads…vile creatures."
"Our orders are to evacuate you immediately", Arthur replied curtly, bypassing the pleasantries as faced the lord of the manor. Marius looking at him in confusion, however once his words sank in the man simply shaking his head, most disinclined to the idea.
"But that…that is impossible."
"Which is Alecto?" Arthur asked, stunning the man even further with his disregard to his protest, as Arthur's eyes then left him and begun to scour the faces of the people who'd followed the man from the estate. His gaze then getting drawn up on the wall again once a confident voice begun to speak, his focus finally fixating onto a young lad whom he assumed to be the boy Bishop Germanus had been so anxious to save from the Saxons. Indeed the son of Marius Honorious raising his jaw as confronted the Roman Commander, identifying himself while standing beside his mother, Marius' wife.
"I am Alecto."
"Alecto is my son", Marius accentuated as looked to Arthur, briefly suspicious of why he would be asking about his only son specifically, before resumed his objection to the apparent given order of evacuating them. "And everything we have is here. In the land given to us by the Pope of Rome."
"Well you're about to give it to the Saxons", Lancelot retorted, his matter-of-fact tone and the equally remarkable stare he leveled at the Roman confusing Marius before dismaying him. Marius eyeing at Lancelot in fleeting wonder, until Arthur elaborated his previous statement, his voice as grim that spoke volumes of the seriousness of the situation.
"They're invading. From the north."
"Then Rome will send an army", Marius announced after a curt surprise. Also aware of not only his but especially his son's importance to the Holy Father and therefore Rome, because of which he was certain such a threat these men had arrived to inform him about wouldn't come to be a danger for them. Arthur's significant raise of eyebrows however stunning him and giving evidence to the contrary, his following reply downright shocking the man for a moment.
"They have. Us. We will leave as soon as you're packed."
"I refuse to leave", Marius stated, after giving Arthur's men one more incredulous look-over at the astonishment of a mere handful of men to have been sent to secure his family's safe passage to Rome facing their Commander with an adamant expression. His own stern become eyes then moving over to the knights to witness the astonishment they shared with their Commander over his expressed obstinacy, almost all of them regarding the man a mere fool to refuse to leave his property even after learning about the incoming Saxons, insisting on staying at the risk of not only his but his family's lives. Alecto and his mother now arriving behind Marius, unlike the man himself both of them now simply looking at Arthur somewhat hesitant, anxious looks donning their faces which however were quickly replaced with severity…but not actual persistence as the lord's, the suddenly rather vexed appearing Marius then shifting his attention to the people staring at them from the sidelines. Loudly ordering them to go back to work, and as soon as he said so his guards spread out. Beginning to chase the ogling slaves away, some even coercing them to leave the premises quite roughly, Artemisia and the knights watching some of them to be dealt a few swings of the spears' hilts the guards were carrying, where some were simply shoved apart from the formed crowd. The crude manner the people were handled then perfectly mirroring the disposition of the lord governing over them, who'd turned more hostile the minute he'd been told to leave his home for something as trivial as safety.
Marius took a step back then as Arthur suddenly dismounted, the overall stature of the man and the air of authority he possessed perhaps intimidating the lord as the Commander approached him. His knights riding a bit closer once Arthur confronted the reluctant Roman, his voice gaining a more tense edge, in that moment also reflecting perfectly his current state of mind…His already taut mood not improving by the man's insistence on not complying with his given orders, and the repercussions of him not living up to them only further tried his patience.
"If I fail to bring you and your son back, my men can never leave this land", Arthur elaborated, deciding to be honest, although it must've meant little to the man and it was exactly so…Marius simply staring back at him with all the while tenser expression that at the end showed even a bit of anger for Arthur to address him in such way once the Commander was finished, his own countenance but unyielding, consisting of mere austerity that corresponded with Arthur's baleful delivery. "So you are coming with me even if I have to tie you to my horse and drag you all the way to Hadrian's Wall myself…my lord."
The men then exchanged a severe stare, but after simply following the ongoing exchange between the Commander and his uncle Accius then finally slid down from the saddle himself. Striding to view from amongst Arthur's men to join the two, his voice that then broke the ensued silence claiming Marius' attention, and easing the tension that had formed between the two men.
"Uncle, listen to him", Accius urged, passing Galahad as his uncle's eyes dropped down to look behind Arthur and then directly at him. Surprise written all over the man's features until he recognized the young man and identified him as his second youngest nephew, instantly his previously displayed rigidity getting replaced by but a delighted expression. "Commander Castus speaks the truth. The Saxons are nearly here and you need to get to Rome where it is safe."
"Nephew!" Marius greeted, at first bypassing Accius' words as Artemisia now followed the man to leave Arthur's side to hurry over to Accius in overjoyed elation, embracing him warmly with a gale of laugh. As she watched Accius to respond to his merry greeting with equal joy realizing it to have been long since the two had last seen each other, and once they then broke apart for Marius to place familiar hands on the young Legionnaire's soldiers to have a better look at him she smiled. Happy for the young man to be reunited with his father's side of the family again, even if it was under such dire circumstances.
"What are you doing here, so far from Rome?" Marius asked, gauging at Accius thoughtfully after taking in his uniform that peeked under his cloak. "Should you not be at the front with your assigned unit instead of wandering about this barbaric region I call home?"
"I was granted with some leave and decided to come to visit you, uncle. Commander Castus was generous enough to accommodate me to his outpost on the way, from where we then together departed by the request of Bishop Germanus, who informed us of the impending danger and asked us to save you before the invaders could get to you…But it is good to find you are in as good health as ever", Accius replied, studying the man in front of him and finding nothing to have changed about him. Only the passed few years to have further greyed his hair and made him look givenly older, Marius laughing quietly at Accius' response as examined him in turn, to see the evident resemblance he'd grown to share with many of the male members of Honorious clan with pride.
"You've become a man, Accius my boy! It's been years since I last saw you and your brother Argus…Are the two of you proving yourself equally glorious champions for Rome as your father?" Marius inquired then, tapping his nephew on the arm approvingly as once more took in his uniform and sturdy become built that despite of his still a very young age made him look like a man not much different from his older brother. Them looking so similar, only difference in age and presented merits accumulated during the years of service separating the brothers from each other, which Marius came to find once he now gazed at the second born son of his dear brother. Tristan and Dagonet who'd remained at the back of the group upon arrival however now spotting Artemisia's hand to slip once she abruptly gasped when the conversation took a turn to Accius' family, Tristan swiftly dismounting to take hold of the pregnant girl who'd been in danger to fall while attempting to come down from the saddle on her own. This waking Galahad's attention who turned to see briefly dazed Artemisia to cast a taken aback look at Tristan until her focus returned back to the Legionnaire conversing with his uncle, her expression then beyond strange until she cast her shortly fazed eyes down. Her hand not letting go of the saddle she was squeezing, perhaps unbeknownst to her as she continued to listen in to the discussion with the rest of them.
"Careful", she heard Tristan tell her before letting her go, Artemisia avoiding looking at him aside for a fleeting glance given his way when she then observed Accius to nod at his uncle with a smile. Most poised as the knights had probably even seen him and therefore conducting himself but haughtily to their eye…Like a true Roman.
"Argus is verily following our father's footsteps. His feats have already earned him the favor of the imperial family and aided him in strengthening our family's position through a highly befitting choice in wife."
"Ah, so Argus has found himself a worthy companion? I wonder is the girl truly deserving of him?"
Accius smirked at his uncle's amused tone, something about what the two were now talking about sounding very displeasing to the hearkening knights. "There couldn't be a more commendable match for my brother than Celaena. Her virtues do not end only in divine beauty gifted by the gods."
"Senator Octavius' daughter? My, my, it truly pleases me to hear that. But I would've greatly hoped to be present at your brother's grand nuptials…How come you never sent a word of the celebration for us to attend?"
"I'm afraid it was a rather unexpected affair, and we thought it best not to bother you as much as have you travel all the way to Rome in such a short amount of time…Argus planned on visiting you as soon as he was able along with his wife to redress our rudeness in the matter, but after the withdrawal of our forces from Britain and the Emperor's current focus to other campaigns his time has been mainly committed in living up to his new position as the commander of his cohort."
"Well, all is well. I am but pleased to hear him to be doing his filial duty in maintaining the Honorious family name…And I trust you are not far behind in doing the same, Accius?"
"Yes uncle. I shall do my best to achieve what my brother has henceforth relinquished and will make it so that his previous feats shall be mine to claim in the near future."
"Says the man who deserted the army to get here", Bors stated quietly, only for the knights closest to him to hear, and managed to get a quiet chuckle out of them. Them then watching the Roman lord to indeed look at his nephew with notable stature, nodding contentedly.
"That's my boy. Rome is proud to have you. You two honor your parents as much as the Empire…and me."
Accius bowed his head in gratitude, the men sharing another smile as Marius' wife then came forth with Alecto. The knights following the young Legionnaire to exchange courteous greetings with them as well, until Arthur brought the family reunion to an end by facing the lady of the house. Speaking up after getting fully ignored by the lord of the estate.
"Lady, my knights are hungry. They need proper sustenance to be ready to leave once you are prepared to depart", he informed, nodding towards his still expecting, mounted men as locked gazes with the woman. Marius' wife assuming a stoic expression as let go of Accius' arms, placing her palms this time around onto her husband's who soon turned to give her an approving glance after staring at Arthur in masked indignation. Marius urging the woman to follow Arthur's request, and the woman then excused herself with a nod and left her son and husband with the arrived knights. Marius eyeing at the men a moment more in silence, exchanging tense gazes with those who happened to meet his eyes until turned his focus back to Accius. His earnest features again brightened by a warm smile, and he turned his back to Arthur with not a single indication of inviting him and his men inside.
"Come my boy, we shall discuss about this predicament more later. But now we eat, and you shall tell me how things are back in Rome!" he said, placing an arm behind Accius' back to lead him towards the open gates until beckoned to Alecto, ordering him to follow. Artemisia observing them to leave and took a confused pace forward as saw Accius not to direct a single look to her way. The Legionnaire following his uncle through the gates as she then took off after them, not reaching farther than a couple of meters before she watched the doors to be closed by the signal of Accius' uncle. Her having not time to raise her voice to call after the young man as she as well as the rest of the entourage was locked out, left to stand there in the drizzle that had commenced not long after their eventual arrival. Alecto, who'd decided against returning inside giving her a curious look as saw her try to reach the gates, noticing her gaze trailing after his just arrived elder cousin.
Galahad looked down at baffled Artemisia to see her dismay, and feeling the same way the knight turned his focus back to the gates as well. Not comprehending why had the young man just accompanied his uncle inside while leaving her behind…however robbed of more time to think on it Bors' voice then cutting through his train of thought. Galahad's gaze now rising to severe Arthur who was instead faced by spoken Bors, him urging his Commander to follow him and the others who were already making their way away from the shut gates. As the last to do so Galahad sighing as turned his steed around, about to go after his comrades until couldn't help but look at Artemisia again who was still staring at the gates. Her current expression not telling the man of what she was exactly thinking, but he could tell she was as stunned as he'd been by the Legionnaire's decision to leave her outside. After letting her wallow in her ponders him then jumping down from the saddle, placing a hand on her arm to claim her attention until nodded at the animal by his side remarkably. Artemisia however surprising him by shaking her head and shifting from under his touch, while her eyes that had a hint of that same emotion he'd seen in them last night were now cast to the ground.
"No thank you. I can manage, so you should join your comrades."
Galahad frowned after her as she then left, regardless of how strenuous walking seemed to be for her, her waddling along herself towards the settlements of the slaves despite of his offer of a ride. With a new, deeper sigh Galahad however complying as she after all was free to do as she desired, there being no use in him trying to insist his kindness on her when she'd so directly rejected it. Still feeling conflicted about it nevertheless and wondering did her such behavior have anything to do about him finding out her secret Galahad taking his horse's reins and walking it to where his fellow knights had bound their steeds. While he was occupied tying up his own the others casting wondering glances at Artemisia as well, who'd seated herself beside the fence that went around the few cottages built there.
"You saw that? The minute the little shit gets to his family he leaves her behind like a mangy rat", Bors stated in disdain, but quite frankly not surprising anyone by saying so…Not even Galahad in all honesty, his attention in the end shifting back to Artemisia who despite of her efforts to appear unbothered seemed but dispirited while sitting there now…Her arms once more wrapped around her belly as if she was sheltering the child from something that currently plagued her mind, making her this uneasy and clueless…downright sad to his eye.
"He came to his uncle's door with a bastard child in tow, Bors…He probably took this chance to explain her presence to him before having them all welcome her to the family", Lancelot responded, earning a doubtful scoff from Gawain, although not either anything in Lancelot's voice had indicated him to fully believe in what he'd said.
"So you're defending him now? He didn't as much as look at her when he left…or told her to wait for him until he'd come fetch her."
"That sure isn't the way I'd treat a mother of my child…bastard or not", Lancelot mused, everyone giving him silent looks of wordless agreement until their eyes also visited Artemisia again. Bors then breaking into a tantalizing grin as faced the handsomest of Arthur's knights.
"Look who's saying something noteworthy for a change."
"Sir, you're famous! You're Arthur, aren't you?"
The knights turned their heads to level a quizzical look at their Commander then, alerted by the inquiry of one of the men working for the Honorious estate who'd previously arrived to behold their meeting with his lord and who now had hurried to catch up with Arthur. The knights following how he proceeded to introduce himself to their Commander who instead was marching towards a small number of cottages some distance away, at the sidelines of the settlement…next to one the men then noticing an old, battered, and visibly starved man to have been tied. His arms bound to a wooden frame to which his unconscious form was hanging from, fully unaware of the approaching Roman Commander who was walking towards him with his drawn sword in his hand. The people beginning to gather once more as now also Artemisia took notice of him and raised her head, to follow him to close the distance between himself and the bound elderly man. The words of the one following him falling on deaf ears, as then some of the other men of the estate also turned their sights on the knights, approaching them.
"Are you from Rome?" one asked from Bors, the burly man narrowing his eyes at him and he was driven back by the knight's ominous, grumpy tone. The question not flattering at all to the man who hated almost nothing more than the Empire that had enslaved his people.
"From hell", he told him, the man giving him a slightly alarmed look back before Bors was the first to push past him and the formed cluster of men in front of them to approach his Commander. The rest of the knights following suite as they then heard Arthur speak, his voice but outraged. Several sighs erupting from the lips of the knights as they also saw the tied up man, already aware of what was to take place once they soon witnessed Arthur's aggravation the explanation to that man's state created once it was given to him.
"Who is this man?"
"He's our village elder", the same man who'd followed him replied, running to get to Arthur's side once he then stopped. To gaze at the helpless, battered man who seemed to have hung out here in the cold for hours…for days even, wearing barely any clothing.
"What is this punishment for?" Arthur accosted, pointing at the binds with his sword until turned to face the man who'd identified himself as Ganish, his so hard eyes at first startling the man when they looked into his and he flinched as Arthur continued with an impatient snap, but quickly recovered. Looking at the elderly man himself, in pity. "Answer me!"
"He defied our master Marius. Most of the food we grow is sent out by sea to be sold. He asked that we keep a little more for ourselves, that's all", Ganish explained, in disbelief Artemisia standing and walking over to the group of people currently surrounding Arthur and the bound old man. Her mind instantly flashing back to times she'd often seen men like him shackled at the town's square next to her temple back at Rome. Slaves and beggars punished severely for something as little as speaking a word against their masters or infringing the rich by merely existing…But when she now saw this man and witnessed what had been done to him for simply looking after the welfare of his village, she couldn't believe the cruelty of it…especially when the one who'd commanded it was Accius' uncle. What she then heard Ganish say proving exactly what was natural in Rome…that the weak had no business standing against those with even an ounce more power than them, having but to withstand their repression.
"My ass has been snapping at the grass, for I'm so hungry! You're from Rome. Is it true that Marius is a spokesman for God? And that it's a sin to defy him?"
Artemisia looked at the spoken man incredulously, the sheer unfairness of such statement that Accius' uncle had apparently used to scare his slaves from revolting saddening her, for she had been fortunate enough to have been born free and to not to have been forced to live as someone's property with nothing to her name, even she was one of the underprivileged. Her glancing at the poor people around her in pity as Arthur then replied, nothing in either his voice or mien signaling of him even partly agreeing to such absurdity Marius had had the villagers believe as truth to control them. Making it clear that he was in absolute disagreement with this kind of injustice. Alecto, who so far had remained at the sidelines now walking forth himself, coming to stand by Artemisia's side as locked fleeting gazes with the Roman Commander. Lastly also the boy's attention shifting to the poor man his father had ordered tied to that post several days past, unlike his father then seeing the wisdom in Arthur's following words...even if they cravenly clashed not only with the principles of his father's but also the beliefs of Rome itself, Arthur having no qualms about speaking what he knew to be true in his heart then, even if the son of the man he was so openly slandering was standing right behind him.
"I tell you now…Marius is not of God. And you, all of you, were free from your first breath!"
Arthur's such declaration even shocked Artemisia. Her to have before heard men question the norms and common conviction of Rome while deeming them fallacious, but she had never witnessed anyone to outright defy them so openly. Her then coming to admire this man simply due to his just expressed courage of going against Rome by only saying what he believed was right, the power and stress the Commander put in his words causing them to linger in the wind as everyone listened to him speak mesmerized. Without realizing it that remark alone encouraging them to for the first time question their inferiority in the eyes of their master, Rome, even if for just a moment while they now behold the famous Roman Commander with their own eyes. Them leaving a lasting impact in Alecto as well, who then followed in shared sense of astonishment with Artemisia as Arthur cut the chains that had kept the elderly man trapped to the frame of wood. Him collapsing to the ground on his side, Arthur beckoning towards him with his blade as turned to face the taken aback villagers.
"Help this man. Help him!"
Swiftly a few people hurried over to come aid the old man, Arthur following him to be carried within one of the cottages until his focus returned back to the people around him who were still listening to him. As if waiting for him to speak, which he did. Obliged to inform them of the approaching threat, finding them beyond worthy to be warned about the invading Saxons.
"Now hear me. A vast and terrible army is coming this way. They will show no mercy, spear no one. Those of you who are able should gather your things and begin to move south towards the Hadrian's Wall. Those unable, shall come with us."
Arthur's men were flabbergasted by this announcement, regardless of knowing their Commander and his possession of a compassionate heart such promise however but bewildering them. Them to have hardly come to agree with taking a pregnant woman and the Legionnaire with them, only to hear their Commander now to be prepared to have a whole crowd of civilians with them while they would be making their escape from the approaching Saxons. However as it hardly was surprising to hear Arthur say so, taken he'd never been the kind of man to leave behind a single man, woman or a child in need no matter how disastrous the consequences, the knights simply either rolled their eyes or bit back their protests. Even more so complying with his decision after seeing the hopeful faces of the villagers who'd been frightened by the news of the invading Saxons bearing down on them and their homes.
"You, serve me now, and get these people ready", Arthur ordered then. Facing Ganish who instantly nodded in compliance. Despite of Marius' guards watching their every move from a small distance away following Arthur's command and begun to urge his fellow villagers to start to prepare. Advising them to gather food and water for the journey, Arthur not giving Marius' guards a single look of acknowledgement despite of them staring at him with hard, despising eyes once he walked past them. Artemisia turning to look after the Commander, discovering herself to revere him much more than she already had before, realizing then why had his knights come to trust him so…Despite of him being a Roman like Marius.
"You came here with my cousin?"
Artemisia blinked as Alecto's voice cut through her reverie, her facing the boy in surprise of him to have arrived to such conclusion, but once he then took a look at her and his slightly widening eyes settled onto her huge midriff in instant understanding she returned his stare but uneasily. Alecto's question then sounding more like a statement, as then one look of hers directed down at her baby belly gave him the answer. The boy turning in turn baffled as he saw Artemisia to glance away meekly until she nodded, visibly more ashamed now of the fact to be carrying a child conceived out of wedlock, when what she'd heard Lancelot say earlier about her and Accius surfaced in her mind…Therefore her realizing it to have not been at all strange for Accius to have entered the house without her, for had he introduced her to his uncle and his family before telling them about the child she was expecting which in fact was but a bastard since she was not yet wed to him, there then would've been a chance them to never accept her or the baby…Because even if Accius wouldn't have been born into such a honorable family, it would nevertheless still be difficult to take in someone of such questionable background such as her for any family. For that reason her to have feared how matters would be settled with Accius' uncle once he'd told him about the child, but since he'd promised to take care of everything she decided to trust him like she'd done so far. Remembering she wasn't alone, which is why she then matched Alecto's perceptive remark with a shy smile.
"I'll ask father to allow you inside the house. It's safer there", Alecto promised her, the concerning thought of nearing Saxons causing the boy to think it best to bring his cousin's apparent lover inside instead of leaving her out here, vulnerable to a possible surprise attack. His kind offer indeed causing her then to think him and Accius to be in fact related, but she refused. Very much like when Galahad had previously offered to help her being content the way she was, wishing to respect Accius' made decision to let his family know about her first before allowing them to meet her.
"Thank you, but you don't need to…I'll wait until Accius comes for me."
"Are you certain?"
"Alecto! Your father has need of you!" Marius' wife abruptly called out, Artemisia and Alecto both turning to see her to have exited the manor and to be now standing at the outskirts of the village. Eyeing at his son surrounded by Arthur's knights a bit nervously after noticing the elderly man to have been freed by them, until her eyes fixated only to her son. The woman waving at him to come to her, Artemisia nodding at the boy to go with her as he cast her a dithering look. Her instead directing her slow steps towards the spot where Galahad and the rest of his comrades had settled, despite of her initial desire to keep her distance from them now that they'd finally arrived to their destination feeling herself however calmer if she stayed close to them…at least as long as it would take Accius to come for her. For she had already gotten used to having them around, and undoubtedly the safest she was with them.
Artemisia stopped in middle of her walk as then suddenly felt the child to shift notably, right before a spasm manifested from the bottom of her belly. Her sighing in frustration as closed her eyes tiredly, having not the energy to battle against the cramps again, especially when she thought back how fatigued they'd left her yesterday. This being not the time for her to be under the weather in any way, as if what Arthur had made it seem with his speech to the villagers, it was more than possible that they weren't able to stay at the estate as long as she'd previously hoped…The wishes of them to have enough time to settle down and for her to have the baby here after she and Accius had married with the blessing of his uncle to have now become but wishful thinking, but not letting herself to be any further discouraged Artemisia took in a deep breath. Placing a supporting hand to the side of her stomach, her fingers soon starting to draw the same soothing circles onto it as she continued her walk, stubbornly bypassing the cramps. But after but a few paces she was then met with worried looking Galahad, taken aback by his abrupt appearance after she'd failed to see him arrive upon standing there her eyes closed for so long Artemisia faltering, Galahad steadying her by taking a hold of her arms.
"I'm alright", she told him again before he could ask her, that dismissive statement he'd already heard too many times to believe in when he wasn't blind nor dimwitted not convincing him. Galahad simply tipping disagreeing head at her, nodding to the direction of the estate.
"No, you're not. You should've gone to the manor with the boy where it's warm and more comfortable."
"No. Accius doesn't want me there."
"And why is that? How could he have not wanted you to accompany him? How could he leave you out here all on your own?" Galahad questioned skeptically with a frown, Artemisia's assent of the Legionnaire's negligence of her astounding him more than what he soon heard the girl tell him. Him eyeing at Artemisia in utmost disbelief, although what she said coincided with what the other knights had mentioned before.
"He couldn't. It wasn't possible for him to simply bring me with him and let his family discover my state until he'd had the chance to tell them about me."
"That doesn't make any sense. You're in no condition to be out here in the cold, and he should've considered that."
"He's not a bad man. Not at least as bad as you seem to make of him…And I understand his reasons", Artemisia said. This time around visibly annoyed as she after all had overheard the acrid comments he and his fellow knights had been making about Accius ever since leaving the outpost, as now faced Galahad. Confused as to why he continued to speak ill of the lad she was with, despite of her looking back at him with now rather miffed eyes him not backing down. Matching her stare with equally earnest eyes to have her understand his standpoint…for her to see how clouded by her emotions she continued to be to see beyond the false image she'd build of the Legionnaire.
"You shouldn't. Affection can take us but so far, and is it really love he feels for you if he's that ashamed of you and your child he was also responsible of bringing to the world…even if but seemingly?" he questioned, feeling a sting of regret as he noticed Artemisia to flinch at his words.
"You know nothing of him. How can you belittle him so when you don't know what lies in his heart?" Artemisia demanded, in dismay. Galahad holding back his desire to scoff, and instead only looked back at Artemisia knowingly.
"Perhaps, but I've known enough men like him to tell you not know either…To not so blindly entrust your life to him. Because the one you've come to place your hopes in may not be all that there is, especially when he's been deceived into believing to be the father of the child you carry, which if uncovered you know to not sit at all well with him."
Galahad then sighed as he behold Artemisia's shocked expression that soon enough morphed into doubt and downright fear. Once she then looked but nervous, fazed by his previous warning she was utmost hesitant to place any faith in him giving in to the pregnant girl's insistent belief in the lad's character despite of knowing better. For her following surprise him unclasping his cape and draping it around her, once her eyes gingerly rose to meet his him then locking earnest gazes with her.
"I don't know what happened to you…But if he truly cares for you, you wouldn't be this afraid of telling him the truth about that child."
Artemisia shook her head then, Galahad's previous remark upsetting her and quickly enough she found herself unable to push back the misery it brought up. The same harrowing agony he'd born witness last night taking over her, and wanted she or not she then broke down like back then in front of him…Withstanding the daunting image of the outcome to Galahad's made suggestion enough to not fully succumb to the panic that was beginning to well up, but she couldn't remain calm either as she came to reject the idea adamantly. The same pleading eyes then looking into Galahad's to beg him not to ask that of her…Anything but that, the man once again not helping but wondering why.
"No…No I can never tell him", she whispered, her dropping her gaze then as Galahad looked at her quizzically, trying to understand.
"Doesn't he deserve to know whose child he has agreed to raise as his own?"
"No, you don't understand! It…it would destroy him…" Artemisia said, miserable now, as she then begun to tremble. Her warding off the familiar, nightmarish images of the night she'd been sleeping alone in her room at the temple…Defenseless, helpless…Unwitting of the man who'd slipped inside at the dead of the night and attacked her. Oblivious to the reverie she was currently going through Galahad grasping her arms again to calm her down, Artemisia recalling the horrible events until then bend over due to the horror of the thought Accius finding out what kind of a despicable woman she actually was…and why. "No, I can't…"
"Who was it? Artemisia, who did this to you?" Galahad demanded. Artemisia taking a moment to answer, but after some time he heard her release a desolate breath. Her not exactly knowing why she did then tell him, not even noticing herself to speak until the terrible truth had already been released from her lips. Perhaps the comfort she got from the knight's hands that let her remain pressed against him then causing her to trust in the man enough to let him know what she'd been scared to death Accius to discover in fear of him detesting her for it…Her not knowing the reason why she then stated the name of the man who'd left her pregnant as a tearful whisper, hating herself for it and the horror that then instantly dug its claws into her chest, disgusted by it overwhelming her so.
"It was…it was…Argus. It was Argus."
During the following hours Galahad eyed at Artemisia from time to time, not discovering any change in her melancholic bearing. No one, least of all Accius, to have come to collect her to take her inside the manor despite of her own beliefs and Alecto's given word, her to have sat there looking like that ever since finally confessing to how her baby had come to be to Galahad. And neither he had gotten over the revelation of the Legionnaire's older brother to have seemingly assaulted her back in Rome…Becoming the sole reason why she'd guarded this secret with all she had, knowing how Accius idolized his brother, who was not only his blood but a celebrated, highly esteemed Roman soldier. Her to have dreaded her lover to find out of her to have been spoiled by Argus…leaving her with a child she'd lied to be his brother's.
Anger flared hot in Galahad as he thought about the bastard. Now understanding much better his younger brother's character while aware of Argus to have laid hands on Artemisia for nothing but mere lust, her to have not had to specify what had happened for him to fill in the blanks well enough to assume what must have led to the poor girl's current pitiable state. Hence proving like any Romans the brothers to be both inclined to frolicking with women despite of it not being their right or place, regardless of these women being willing or not to give themselves to them…And while Galahad now regarded Accius' duplicitous way of going behind Artemisia's back to spend a night with some insignificant trollop instead of remaining faithful to the girl he'd promised to marry, he didn't agree to Artemisia's wish to still keep the truth from him for not to offend him…But as he then came to recall the jealousy the young man had always displayed whenever he'd caught him to even look at Artemisia the wrong way, he instantly realized it to be more than possible for the Legionnaire to be but enraged instead of distressed should she tell him the child to be his brother's instead of his. Galahad fathoming then why she'd wanted to hide the truth for so long at all cost, and still would, for she didn't want to hurt him…Or herself by thinking about the assault, preferring to believe Accius to be the father instead of his brute of a brother who'd forced himself on her…and in so doing forced her to leave the only place she'd had left of resembling home…Like Galahad had once been.
"What are you daydreaming about again?"
Galahad gasped out of his broody ponders and he looked over to his comrades. To see them all to be eyeing at him curiously, where only Gawain seemed to have an inkling of his thoughts as many times he did. The question he'd just made needing not to be said for him to already know what was pestering the young knight, and Galahad only shook his head as gazed away…However as heedless as he wanted to appear to avoid any more unwanted questions he couldn't stop himself from soon enough gazing over to Artemisia's direction again, which gave the other knights a good enough answer.
"I realize there has been no other women to treat your inner cravings with, but she hardly is even one yet", Lancelot remarked, tipping a significant head towards the pregnant girl before measured Galahad for a moment, after all realizing long before hearing the young man's reply the reason to his sudden murkiness not to lie in something as simple as pent up needs. "So unlike the Roman shouldn't you dedicate your reveries to someone much more worthy of your admiration? Otherwise girls with yet to be born babies would seem like a very odd fixation to develop...Even for a man deprived of a real woman's company for months."
"I've been telling him that…but I suppose heart wants what it wants, or rather the other equally sentient part does", Gawain said, obviously as a tease, and indeed the knights chuckled some more at that after laughing at Lancelot's allusive words since not only them had taken notice of the way Galahad had been paying a rather lot attention to the girl lately. Galahad simply angling his jaw, the least amused by his fellow knights' daring banter.
"It's not that."
"Then what is it? You've never been this particular gloomy, is it over a woman or not", Gawain told him bemused, staring at his blood brother in utter bafflement. "I nor any of us have ever seen you this occupied by anything other than mere desire to stay alive."
"For the duration of the journey she's been acting strangely around that Legionnaire…and now I know why", Galahad revealed, partly not even realizing to be talking then as once again begun to mull over everything he'd just been told by Artemisia, had she meant to tell him or not…But she had, and it made him feel terrible…Wanted he or not. Pitying her far more than he would've thought for after all he did not know her…Just enough to admit to hold great compassion over her fate, which was the kind he wouldn't wish for any young girl such as her…and yet which wasn't at all uncommon in a cruel, unfair world such as theirs.
"She has?" Lancelot questioned, exchanging a skeptical look with Dagonet, until in turn glanced at Artemisia in disbelief. For he as well as the others had been there to witness her little private moments with the Legionnaire, which would've suggested everything to be more than well between them.
"Don't tell me you haven't noticed?" Gawain said, leveling a remarkable look at Lancelot who faced him.
"It's not like I have paid particular attention to her…but I haven't had to to find something to be indeed off between them", Lancelot admitted, also to have been able to pick up the few occasions that the girl's relationship to the young Roman had seemed more than it appeared…Him to have been lying should he have claimed not to have spent a thought or two in trying to figure it out himself as the weeks had went on.
"Aye. Especially the last few days", Bors said, in agreement, his following remark only supported by the way Artemisia had been so readily abandoned by the Legionnaire after their arrival to his uncle's estate. "I'm telling ye…The Roman isn't any more smitten with her than I would be to my horse and has dragged her all the way here to simply attend to his loins until he finds himself a suitable replacement...Or until the little bundle of sin makes it appearance."
"She's not to blame for it", Galahad answered tersely, suddenly irritated by his companions remarks which some truly neared the regrettable truth, and the ensued flared up annoyance in his voice indeed then earned the undiverted attention of Arthur's knights. Them all staring at Galahad quizzically, in wait of him to finish whatever he'd been in mind of saying before stopping himself with another hesitant look cast up to Artemisia.
"Indeed not I assume…But tell us then, Galahad…What is it you found about her that makes you this afflicted over her relation to the Roman?" Gawain asked then, Galahad finding himself momentarily dazed by the so far concealed truth then as he raised his dithering eyes up to the pregnant girl again, not indeed knowing should he answer to Gawain's latest inquiry. For what they wanted to know was something something she'd agonized over letting anyone know for a very long time, the recollection of her teary, frantic reaction of him demanding the same truth out of her then causing his heart to squeeze for guilt as he broke into a deep sigh. Closing his eyes, damning himself to have ever coerced her to tell something that horrible to him to satisfy his own curiosity.
"The baby she's carrying…is not his", Galahad reveled, taking the present knights aback, as although they'd all had taken notice of the oddities concerning the relationship of the young couple, they still had assumed them as mere soon to be parents on the run…However now proven wrong by what Galahad had told them, it even shocking some of the knights who could've sworn to see how enamored the girl was of Accius…Making it hard for them to believe someone else to be the father of her child when even the Legionnaire seemed to think so.
"What? You're saying the brat she's forever stuck with is not the Roman's?" Bors questioned in honest surprise, until an amused grin spread on his lips and he slapped his knee knowingly. The man letting out a bark of a laugh, but the grim, silencing look Galahad then leveled at him caused his mirth to die down and he hold back the words of ridicule that had been about to leave his lips. The way Galahad had looked at him tipping the men off of him indeed knowing something distressing, and enticed by this the knights now leant closer to their younger companion. Gawain most curious out of them all, once he could see the way whatever Galahad had discovered was troubling him…greatly.
"Galahad, what is it that you know?"
"The baby she's having isn't the Roman's...But his brother's. His brother raped her", Galahad informed them, his voice lowering at the end in pity and his gaze was shortly stuck to his joint hands that then squeezed around each other more tightly as long as it took for the anger of his such said words to wear off and he realized what he was doing. Him trying to calm himself with another long sigh as straightened, placing his unclenched fingers on his own knees, while the knights mulled over the told truth until exchanged a few stares. Them all soon enough returning back to Galahad after visiting the girl in question.
"Well, that explains…some things", Lancelot mused, looking at Artemisia shortly from the corner of his eyes as indeed what Galahad had revealed made sense concerning the way the girl had many times behaved…Fearing them and any other men who'd come near her aside for Accius, who'd been the only one she'd been fully comfortable around with ever since they'd come upon him and his fellow knights near the outpost.
"She pegged me not to tell him. She practically vouched for me to keep her secret", Galahad said. Partially only thinking out loud, but then the anger set foot in him again. Turning into plain disgust when he givenly was led to think about the swine who was to thank for Artemisia's trauma…and the misery caused by it. "…But the fact that she's afraid to tell him simply over fear of hurting him…That she would blame herself for causing him pain when it was she who was hurt by someone so important to the man she loves…it sickens me."
"It is regrettable…But not anything which wouldn't have happened to any other girl before", Lancelot stated, although compassionate over Artemisia not displaying much of his pity on his mien then as only looked at Galahad dismissively. Seeing him frown at his attempt to tell him to let it go.
"So you're saying what happened to her is but trivial? That it is something of no significance I shouldn't be bothered by?
"To you, yes. There's nothing we can do about it. It has already happened, and it is none of our business…as lamentable as it is for her. For no matter how upset you may become over her fate it will not wish away that child."
Lancelot was right by saying so, and as Galahad then relinquished his welled up hatred and hold the elder knight's gaze he could tell him to in fact feel the same way about this as did he…All of them men having similar looks on their faces as they then briefly met Galahad's gaze until they all then went silent. As said by Lancelot the matter of Artemisia and the secret surrounding the identity of her baby's real father having nothing to do with them, and therefore there was nothing else to be said about it. Galahad then nodding in agreement, as naturally he knew this, although it didn't make him feel any easier. Despite of now indeed telling himself to forget about it finding himself unable, too kindhearted for his own good to simply cast aside the girl's withheld torment to fully forget the way she had looked earlier…when she'd showed a part of herself to him she'd guarded strictly even from the lad she had decided to built a life with….It to have not left only her shaken, but for Galahad's bewilderment, him as well.
"It is as Lancelot says…So pay no heed to it, Galahad", Gawain spoke then, catching Galahad's attention as then came to stand beside him. Proceeding to divert it over to the slaves who'd begun to crowd the terrain near the estate with a beckon of his hand, busy packing their belongings and other provisions to a number of few carts as instructed by Ganish after the news of the invading Saxons had been broken to them. "Come. Let us prepare ourselves for the departure."