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When Paths Cross Again

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“D’Artagnan, my friend, what is the matter?”

D’Artagnan looked up from where he was glaring at his miserable breakfast to the concerned face of Aramis. They were sitting at one of the wooden tables in the Garrison, in the bright morning sunlight that seemed to be mocking d’Artagnan’s mood, waiting for Athos and Porthos to arrive.

“What makes you think anything’s the matter?” D’Artagnan decided to deny, despite knowing that he wasn’t fooling anyone at the moment. He had enough self-awareness to know that his sullen expression was obvious and out of character, but he was half hoping that his friend would leave it be.

Aramis just raised an unimpressed eyebrow, “Who, exactly, were you trying to convince there, d’Art?”

D’Artagnan rolled his eyes at the nickname, “I thought you had finally stopped calling me that.”

Aramis grinned brightly, “Of course not, mi hermano (my brother), it suits you too well. It’s so cute. But don’t think you’ve distracted me with your frankly pitiful attempt at misdirection,” Aramis looked at D’Artagnan meaningfully.

D’Artagnan sighed, relenting, “I don’t know what to do, Aramis. Constance… I thought– no, I know that we were in love, but apparently that wasn’t enough for her. It… It doesn’t make sense, I know, for me to still feel this way – she rejected me! And for a loveless marriage and Bonacieux’s money! She didn’t even consider our feelings a factor! But I can’t help it!” D’Artagnan pushed away his porridge, folded his arms and buried his face in them, his words slightly muffled as he continued, his anger gone and only devastation remaining, “I have everything that I ever wanted, but without Constance to share in my victory, it feels…”

“Superficial?” Aramis finished for him.

D’Artagnan rotated his head so his right ear was resting on his folded arms while he looked up at Aramis, who was still listening. Unsure of what to say, d’Artagnan went with something that wouldn’t leave him vulnerable.

“I was going to say ‘hollow’, but yeah, that works.”

He hadn’t meant to go that in depth with his feelings. Frankly, he hadn’t expected the other man to listen that long, and he was suddenly self-conscious, half expecting Aramis to start teasing him. It wasn’t that d’Artagnan didn’t trust him, it was just that he thought that the notorious lover of Paris’ women wouldn’t understand. D’Artagnan truly held the highest opinion of the men he served with and believed them to be the most honourable men he’d ever met. He also didn’t begrudge Aramis his tendency to make love with any and all women he could, regardless of their marital state or how much trouble he would be in if he were ever caught, because he knew that he was always respectful, never asked for more of a lover than what they were willing to give, and was always honest with his intentions and how much he was willing to give. He would charm his lovers, yes, but not beguile with false promises of futures that would never occur, meaning that all his lovers knew what they were getting into ahead of the deed, something which d’Artagnan admired him for.

No, d’Artagnan’s scepticism of Aramis’ ability to understand was not a criticism of the latter’s character, just uncertainty of whether Aramis would know what he meant despite the differences in their situations. After all, there was a difference between liking and showing respect to a partner, and dedicating part of your soul to one, and d’Artagnan had never heard Aramis talk about anyone like that. Though, to be fair, neither he nor Porthos and Athos talked much about their pasts, all of them having an agreement that they did not matter and held no bearing on who they were now, something that d’Artagnan did his best to respect despite his - often burning - curiosity to know more about the men who had adopted him into their brotherhood.

In fact, despite Athos’ secretive nature, Aramis was actually the one of the group that he knew the least about, his insight into the marksman’s past not extending further back than the fact that he was one of the first musketeers commissioned, a few close-call stories centred around his sexual exploits (just the parts after, when he’d had to escape before being discovered by returning husbands), and the massacre at Savoy three years previously. So, he had no way of knowing whether or not Aramis had felt something like what he felt for Constance in his past. And if he hadn’t, then d’Artagnan seriously doubted whether he felt those kinds of emotions for anyone currently.

So d’Artagnan was happy to be surprised when, after glancing at him wryly as if reading his scepticism, Aramis showed that he did, in fact, understand what he was feeling.

“This is because there is a difference between love and being in love. You, mi amigo (my friend), are a creature of passion, so I expect that both states are familiar to you, even if you don’t understand the difference,” Aramis said.

D’Artagnan figured that he had more to say, but that he wanted to reach his point through conversation. Eager to try and unearth any bit of wisdom he could, d’Artagnan decided to follow along, “I think I’ve heard something like this before. Being ‘in love’ means feeling romantic love, while feeling just love is unlimited to lovers, family and friends?”

Aramis smiled at him, obviously pleased that he had answered, “I’ve heard that too. Perhaps that is true, but it is not what I believe.” Aramis shifted his gaze, so he was looking into the distance, at what must have been a different time, when he continued. D’Artagnan didn’t notice himself sitting up in anticipation and interest, “I think that love, like all emotions, cannot truly be defined, only experienced.” He glanced at d’Artagnan briefly, “Emotions don’t listen to reason, or logic, and they don’t make sense. They aren’t something that you should feel ashamed of, either, as they are far beyond your control. You can’t control what you feel, only how much you let it control you.” Aramis looked away again, “No, I don’t think love is bound to any rules, and it can be different from person to person. The type of love you feel doesn’t influence its intensity, either. Romantic love isn’t necessarily stronger than fraternal love, despite what most of the stories say.”

D’Artagnan was stunned, for a moment, at the level of thought that Aramis must have put into the subject. This spoke of a lot of time – and, probably, reason - to ponder such things, and it made him wonder, once more, at the older man’s past. The philosophy that Aramis had shared wasn’t one that d’Artagnan had heard or even thought about before and would probably be considered scandalous by some. But he couldn’t deny that it felt… right. Honest.

He cleared his throat, “So, what is the difference?”

Aramis glanced at him questioningly.

“Between love and being in love?” He elaborated.

Aramis chuckled, “I am no authority on the subject, d’Artagnan. I can only tell you what I believe. Love is… subjective.”

D’Artagnan frowned, not having heard the term in this context before, “What do you mean?”

“I mean that it is all in how you experience it. There is no single, ‘true’ definition. My truth is not your truth, and vice versa. But personally, I believe that loving is caring, caring about and just feeling, but when you’re in love, a part of your soul stays with whoever or whatever you’re in love with. In my experience, d’Artagnan, being in love… that can die. But it can’t be rescinded. Only your heart can determine who or what you love; your head has no say in the matter.”

“Love can die, but it can’t be rescinded,” d’Artagnan repeated thoughtfully in a murmur before his attention was drawn back to Aramis.

“But, like I said, that’s just my truth – at the moment. People’s truths can change. But you will have to find your own truth, d’Artagnan. I’d recommend you start with the difference between love and being in love, and then,” he patted his shoulder comfortingly, “figure out what it is you feel for Constance. Trust me, your heart will only know what to do once you’ve answered those questions.”

D’Artagnan was quiet for a moment. He had gotten a lot more out of this conversation than he had thought he would. He had never thought of Aramis as a wise man concerning matters of the heart… or really anything to do with human emotions. He was passionate, yes, but too impulsive, wild and reckless - like fire. Too untethered and emotional and far more likely to ignore his common sense if his heart determined a different path. But then again, d’Artagnan supposed, there must be something to be said for the kind of wisdom that can only come from people who lived and loved as freely and honestly as Aramis did. He knew that if he was having this conversation with either Athos or Porthos, he would have gotten a very different answer, which would be justified considering what he knew of their pasts – Athos’ especially. Still…

“Hey, Aramis,” d’Artagnan found himself once again with the marksman’s attention. In his musing he hadn’t noticed the older man get up, probably to go get breakfast or find the others, “have you ever…?”

Aramis raised an amused brow when d’Artagnan trailed off, “Have I ever what, d’Art?”

D’Artagnan huffed, but was too curious, now, to risk being distracted by objecting to the return of the nickname, “Have you ever been in love?”

Aramis paused then, his eyes growing distant and his lips curling into a small, soft – and slightly sad – smile, “Yes. A few times, in fact.”

D’Artagnan’s interest was definitely piqued, but he knew that if Aramis had wanted to elaborate on that then he would have, and he respected the other man too much to try and pry. Perhaps he would find out more another time.

“Aramis,” he waited until he had the marksman’s undivided attention again. “Thanks.”

Aramis just smiled, “Tu, mi amigo, son un hermano de mi corazón (You, my friend, are a brother of my heart),” he said, which confused d’Artagnan, since the only Spanish he recognised was ‘mi amigo’ and ‘hermano’, which meant ‘my friend’ and ‘brother’, respectively. They were common endearments that Aramis used for him, Porthos and Athos. He had only begun calling him that after the incident with Vadim, when it became clear that he would be sticking around. D’Artagnan had asked Porthos about it, who had told him that it was a sign of trust and that it meant that Aramis had claimed him as a brother in arms and soul and that he better be alright with that, because he wasn’t going to be able to shake him off anytime soon. D’Artagnan had felt truly honoured at the time, to receive such a gesture of faith and trust – he still was, in fact, especially now with what he knew Marsac had done to him, even if Aramis had forgiven him.

Aramis gave an amused laugh and continued before d’Artagnan could ask what he had said, “You are very welcome, d’Art. I’m just glad that you actually seem to have taken what I said on board. Porthos still doesn’t believe me about the answer to ‘my secret for getting women’, as he said.”

D’Artagnan raised an eyebrow, “What was your answer to that? Devilish good looks and charm?”

Aramis shook his head, his trademark mischievous grin alight on his face, “Trust me, it’s a lot funnier when you ask Porthos about that. I’m pretty sure he was planning on selling my ‘secrets’ to poor sods who don’t know any better, like recruits and Red Guards.”

D’Artagnan snorted, “I wouldn’t put it past Porthos - or you for that matter.”

Aramis put his hand on his chest and made an offended face – one that would have been a lot more convincing if he wasn’t still grinning, “I would never, d’Artagnan! Me, take advantage of the poor, innocent, baby recruits?!”

D’Artagnan joined him in laughter at the way Aramis carefully didn’t mention the Red Guard in his declaration of innocence, because, honestly, the image that created was too funny to not laugh. D’Artagnan was happy to note that the sunny morning of what promised to be a beautiful day was no longer mocking his mood but was rather reflecting it. He would need time to think about his situation regarding Constance, since none of this changed his feelings, but he did feel a little more knowledgeable and a little more hopeful.

Even so, as he waited with Aramis for their other two friends to arrive and their day to begin, d’Artagnan decided that his commission wasn’t hollow or superficial. Because, regardless of his relationship with Constance (despite his feelings for her, even after what she had said to him and done to his emotions), he still had three brothers.

Ones who, he suspected, would be a lot harder to shake.

 

~0~0~0~0~0~

 

Gwaine sniggered for the third time in under a minute.

Oh, he loved it when Arthur was late to breakfast. Not because it meant that he had more time to talk with Merlin or because it made it a lot easier to steal his king’s food (although they were both excellent reasons and certainly played a part in it).

No, the main reason that Gwaine loved the days that Arthur was late in joining his new wife in the morning in their chambers, was that Gwen – beautiful, devious, fantastic Gwen – seemed to take that as permission to share some of Arthur’s more embarrassing stories, from when he was younger, with Merlin joining in whenever he knew extra details (although he hardly needed a reason to tell mortifying stories about the king of Camelot). It was always so much fun to reference these stories later in the day and retell them to the rest of their friends while Arthur tried – and failed – to look anything other than stupendously embarrassed.

Oh, Gwaine was more than aware that he was being used as a tool by Gwen, to keep Arthur on his toes and limit the number of days that he was late in the mornings, but he loved it.

Especially when he got to hear stories like today, about the time, early in their courtship, Arthur had told Gwen that he would cook her a meal in her house, and had sent Merlin to bring a dinner back from the castle kitchens, not thinking about the fact that Gwen had just delivered a very similar meal to the Lady Morgana not half an hour previously. Oh yes, Gwaine was going to have fun bringing that one up later today.

“Gwaine, what are you doing in here?” Came Arthur’s annoyed voice as he entered the room. Gwaine was glad that Gwen had just finished telling the story, and that she and Merlin were both adept at keeping a straight face. He didn’t want to give Arthur any warning before retelling the story during the afternoon training.

“Just keeping two of my best friends company while they wait for the arrival of this other guy I know, so they can eat breakfast together,” Gwaine was also very glad that acting suspiciously merry was not out of character for him, as he couldn’t contain his grin, even if he tried, at the mental image he had of Arthur trying to come up with a feasible explanation for why the roast he had ‘cooked’ for Gwen was near identical to what was being served at the castle that evening.

“And stealing said breakfast, no doubt,” the king of Camelot said matter-of-factly.

Gwaine didn’t bother denying it, he just pouted over-exaggeratedly, “Well, it’s not like all of us can so easily get food out of Mary’s kitchen.”

It was true too. That place was a whole kingdom within a kingdom, with a strict queen who must have recruited the cutlery to act as her spies, because Gwaine could honestly not understand how Mary always seemed to know that he was there. While drafting his plan to steal some of her mince pies, Gwaine had taken note of how all his friends managed to get food out of the formidable castle kitchen.

Arthur was easy, he just sent Merlin to get him food, and while Gwen could do the same now, Gwaine had noticed that if she had the time and opportunity, she would make her own food. Probably something she found comforting, and a way to ground herself when she needed to (what? Just because he acted oblivious, didn’t mean he actually was). Gaius never actually seemed to eat outside of his own quarters where he cooked his own food, mostly stew (which was actually pretty good, from what Gwaine had tried the times he’d had dinner with him and Merlin). Aside from that, Merlin tended to be given food whenever he went into the kitchens, due to his skinny frame and the fact that he was so well liked. He didn’t even need to ask, especially after… Well… No need to go into that right now.

Percival was next to useless in his observations, since he was his usual partner in crime whenever he was planning a heist of the kitchens. This was due to Mary’s innate need to not feed people unless it was a scheduled meal time (especially knights, for some reason) so Percy was in the same boat as him. Elyan, the schemer, tended to use his sister to get food, whether he pleaded with her and appealed to her sense of sibling love, or stole whatever food she had made. Gwaine thought he was pretty lucky that Gwen didn’t tamper with her food just to teach him a lesson – he wouldn’t put it past her – but she seemed to take Elyan’s pestering as a compliment to her cooking (which wasn’t fair because she wouldn’t make Gwaine food no matter how nicely he asked her).

Elyan had also had a pretty good con going where he’d asked Mary to give him some food, so he could surprise Gwen with a nice, family meal. It worked really rather well for a couple of months, since it wasn’t out of character for the ‘low-born’, Round Table Knights to forego the use of servants. Unfortunately, Elyan hadn’t told Merlin what he’d been doing, so at one point their schedules had collided and Mary realised that she had been conned. Elyan hadn’t been brave enough to step back into the kitchens since (smart man) and had instead joined in with Gwaine and Percy’s attempts to steal from the kitchen.

(Before Mary had caught on to the trick, however, Gwaine wasn’t ashamed to admit that he had tried to ‘borrow’ Elyan’s con by claiming to be taking food to Gwen, Arthur and even Merlin. Funnily enough, she had never believed him. ‘Well, you did try to sneak into the kitchens disguised as a serving maid once, so it’s not like she’s ever going to think of you as anything other than suspicious,’ said one of Gwaine’s inner thoughts, which sounded a lot like- No. No need to go into that right now.)

So, despite Elyan’s surprising cunning streak, he was now just as useless as Percy in Gwaine’s research. Just like Leon, who would just wait for the official meal times to eat, because of course he did. (Well, Gwaine did have this one hazy memory of Leon telling him that he had secretly been lying in wait and building up a reputation of only eating the official meals for the past fifteen years so that Mary would never suspect him when he did finally try to steal food from her kitchen, but he had been way drunker than usual at the time, so he wasn’t sure if he imagined that conversation or not. Although, he wouldn’t put it past the older knight to tell him that when it was obvious he was drunk and then laugh from the distance as Gwaine tried to figure out if he had actually said that or not. The guy had a subtle – but admittedly hilarious – sense of humour like that, which Gwaine had found out the hard way. It only made him admire the man more.)

But either way, Leon’s current eating habits were also useless to Gwaine’s plans (even though he was looking forward to seeing his plan come into fruition… if it wasn’t a dream). And Lance’s-

…Damn… It seemed like Gwaine wouldn’t able to avoid going into that, after all.

Damn.

(‘Gwaine, I’ve been dead for five months. You’re allowed to talk about me, let alone think about me. Besides, I’m interested in seeing where this goes.’

Since you’re not real, you’re not supposed to actually get an opinion.

‘I’m hurt, Gwaine. Is this the way you treat the ghosts of all your dead friends?’

You’re not a ghost, you’re a figment of my imagination. A product of my grief. A representation of the fact that I haven’t properly mourned you yet.

‘That is very true and logical. Unfortunately, it won’t make a difference, since you still haven’t dealt with it yet.’

I know. I’ll get to it.

‘Hmm.’

Look, I know I’ve been putting it off-

‘OK, this is probably not the time for a metaphorical argument with yourself. So, either you finish revising your notes for the heist you’ve been planning, or I swear I’m going to start a metaphorical conversation with you about your illogical and misplaced feelings of guilt about my death, which will force you to confront your issues and start to mentally heal and grow as a person.’)

-And Lance’s had just not made sense. At all. He’d just go into the kitchens, approach Mary, and ask her – with no small amount of rather obvious charm – if he could take some of the food. Gwaine didn’t believe this when Lance first told him that all he’d had to do was ask (he’d already tried that approach more than once) until he witnessed it himself from where he was scoping the kitchen from the grate above.

Gwaine figured that it must have been because Lance was honestly just that noble and innocent to the world. Mary must have been able to tell that Lance had had no ulterior motives when talking to her, and that he had been painfully, honestly sincere when he had complimented her beauty, and had taken pity on him. The kid had been the most noble man he had ever met (ironic, considering both their pasts), but while he had proven before that he wasn’t actually such a goody-two-shoes when it came to matters of the law (or pranking) when necessary, he had still been so innocent and no where near sneaky enough to beguile Mary, when not even Gwaine had managed (…right?).”

Gwaine was brought out of his thoughts by Arthur’s voice.

“You mean the castle’s kitchen, Gwaine.”

“Nope, it’s Mary’s kitchen. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lying to themselves.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Gwen agreed, while Merlin nodded. There wasn’t a whole lot Arthur could say to that, since he never went to the kitchens himself, not to mention the fact that he was too scared to disagree with his wife when he was already late to breakfast. He’d learnt his lesson after the time Gwaine had told all the knights about Arthur’s attempts at courting Lady Vivian (courtesy of Merlin and Gwen, of course).

“Sorry I’m late, Guinevere,” Arthur said, apparently deciding that ignoring Gwaine’s presence would make him less annoying. Doubtful.

“It is fine, Arthur. I’m sure you had important business to attend to,” Gwen said easily, as though she hadn’t just been taking the opportunity Arthur’s absence provided to tell embarrassing stories about him to their loudest, most gossip-mongering friend.

“Well, no, it wasn’t that important,” Arthur replied, “Just some administrational stuff that probably could have been handled without me. But then…” Arthur trailed off with a thoughtful frown, gaining the interest of everyone in the room.

“Arthur?” Gwen questioned, just moments before Gwaine could.

“I received a missive from one of the villages at the Nemeth border. Apparently, there have been sightings in a few of them, of a witch who’s been killing low-lives and bandits in the area,” Gwaine frowned at that. He didn’t have much of an opinion on magic aside from it being particularly annoying when someone was trying to kill you with it, but also something he wouldn’t condemn people for having as long it wasn’t being used to commit any crimes that Gwaine would feel compelled to stop. Gwaine believed that people should be condemned for their actions, rather than their method of accomplishing them. In the case of murder, it shouldn’t matter whether you use magic, pay someone else or do it yourself. The issue should be the why, not the how.

And vigilante justice was always a hard one. Gwaine himself had often dealt it out when the situation called for it, before he was given authority along with his red cloak, so he would reserve judgement until he had investigated more. Sometimes it was necessary to take up arms and put a stop to bad people yourself if no one else was willing to do anything.

“She was described as a blonde beauty, with a vendetta, who worked alone,” Arthur continued speaking.

“Not Morgana, then,” Gwaine put in.

“No, and I doubt that it’s anyone we’ve met before. The appearance and attitude together don’t match that of anyone we’ve come across before,” Arthur said thoughtfully.

“What do you want to do?” Merlin asked, looking at Arthur intently.

Arthur sighed, “Investigate. Treat it like any other vigilante issue.” Arthur paused then, looking like he was readying himself before continuing carefully, “The magic is less of an issue, so I won’t blame you if she manages to escape you, just make sure that the vigilantism stops.”

Gwaine looked around to see his smile mirrored on Gwen and Merlin’s faces at what Arthur was – and wasn’t – saying. Arthur apparently noticed them too, although he seemed a bit surprised by their instant, obvious approval.

“What?” He asked eventually.

Gwaine exchanged glances with his other friends before smiling wider and responding, “Nothing. I’m just glad to see you have a good grasp on what your priorities with this should be.”

There was a pause, before Arthur very carefully asked, “Really? You really think so?”

“Yes,” Gwaine stressed his affirmative to show how serious he was.

“Absolutely,” Merlin put in, his pride obvious.

“I definitely do, and,” Gwen smiled reassuringly and gripped her husband’s hands, “I also know that we aren’t the only ones who would agree.”

Arthur looked at them all for a moment longer before nodding to himself, as if deciding something, “I’m glad. I have been thinking for a while now that the crimes that are committed should be more relevant than how they are committed.”

“So, who’ll be going on this mission?” Gwaine asked, while blatantly stealing one of Arthur’s sausages, which the king didn’t seem to notice.

“Round Table Knights,” Arthur answered immediately, before pausing for a moment, as if contemplating something. Eventually he began nodding to himself again, “And me and Merlin.”

This caused some raised eye brows from the other occupants of the room. It wasn’t often that Arthur, as king of Camelot, went out on long distance missions anymore. And when he did, it was usually for something a whole lot more important than one vigilante. Generally, Arthur left Camelot’s internal affairs up to his knights’ judgement and focused on the bigger picture and international relations. Seeing the doubt on their faces, Arthur held up his hands placatingly and began to explain.

“Since we’re going to be trying a different order of priorities, I want to be there to judge first-hand how they seem to work. I trust everyone that’s going completely,” he reassured, “but, this is just something…” he sighed.

Gwaine nodded in understanding and Gwen said, “It’s just something you have to do yourself. It’s OK, Arthur, we understand that. But are you sure it’s wise for you to leave Camelot? Especially to the Nemeth border, since it’s the furthest away?”

Arthur nodded in certainty, “Actually, I’ve been thinking about finding an excuse to travel that far away for a while now. I think it would be a good way for you to get some experience on the throne as a ruler in your own right. I won’t always be around, Guinevere, and I want to know that you will be familiar with what it’s like to run the kingdom now, rather than when we are in dire straights due to a war or something and I’m leading an army and too far away to be of any help. It’ll also be a good way for the people to get used to having you as their queen. Not to mention the council and the lords.”

“That’s actually a surprisingly good point, Princess,” Gwaine said after a moment. Arthur rolled his eyes, but otherwise ignored him, focusing on Gwen instead.

“Thank you for the trust you are showing me, Arthur, but are you sure? Isn’t two weeks too soon to leave me entirely responsible for the nation?” Gwen said, clearly unsure.

Arthur nodded again, “There is no one I trust more for this than you, Guinevere. I know that you’re ready, and I think the sooner you get some experience, the better.”

“I- Thank you, Arthur. I won’t fail you.” Gwaine was impressed by how well Gwen managed to keep her composure, when it was obvious how much her husband’s faith in her had moved her.

“I know you won’t. You’ll be better at ruling than me by the time we get back.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Merlin added with a bright smile, “Gwen’s already better than you at pretty much everything else! The smartest decision Arthur ever made was marrying you. Besides, you’ll have Gaius to talk to if you need any advice.”

Gwaine laughed as Arthur huffed and rolled his eyes again. It was a wonder they didn’t get stuck in their sockets at this rate. It was made even more amusing because he knew that Merlin’s comment would most likely have warranted the king throwing something at him, had it not been made to reassure Gwen (and if Gwen hadn’t been there to witness the act and realise that she had actually married a giant man-child). But, either way, he was probably right, and Gwaine was kind of disappointed to miss Gwen’s first time ruling without Arthur. He knew that she would be a brilliant queen, and he wished he could see the faces of the councilmen when they inevitably tried to give the ‘weak, low-born queen’ the run-around.

Oh well, at least he’d be able to witness Arthur’s first attempt at bringing justice to a sorcerer for something other than the magic. It seemed like there would be some progress involved for everyone in the next couple of weeks.

Chapter Text

Aramis raised his eyebrows at Porthos and Athos’ sullen expressions as they entered the Garrison and made their way over to where he and d’Art were seated. It was looking like he’d have to cheer up all his brothers today.

“Dare I ask?” he said as they both sat down heavily across from him and d’Artagnan.

“No,” was Porthos’ immediate reply.

“It would probably be best not to,” Athos said at the same time.

D’Artagnan normally would have eagerly began probing for more information, but it appeared that the young man’s desire for information about his mentor’s lives was as low as his spirits.

Well, this sombre mood would not do.

“I don’t know what happened to you, my friends, but I had an excellent night,” Aramis said cheerfully to distract the others from their own thoughts. He contemplated for a moment before adding, “And a truly lovely morning.”

“Then how come you were here so early?” D’Artagnan asked him. Aramis stifled a grin at his success.

“Unfortunately, my morning’s activities were interrupted.”

“Husband?” Came the vague questioning voices of all three of his brothers.

“Close. It was the fiancé. I had to make a swift and skilful exit when he arrived.”

Athos looked at him, long-sufferingly, “Please tell me that your ‘swift and skilful exit’ did not involve you dangling out her window.” Well, at least he hadn’t asked him if he had been caught. Still…

“Oh Athos, ye of little faith. No, there was a servant’s door that I was able to sneak out of.”

“…Servant’s door?” Porthos eventually questioned, obviously worrying that if the woman was able to afford a servant’s quarters, that Aramis had gotten himself caught in a high-stakes love triangle with a woman of stature. Again.

“Please tell me you didn’t sleep with the soon to be married, Mademoiselle Burdette,” Athos sounded like he wouldn’t believe him if he told him ‘no’.

“You mean Camille?” Aramis smirked at the pained groan the three let out at that, before deciding to put their minds at ease. More or less. “No, I was with another fantastic woman with whom I have only recently been acquainted, by the name of Abalicia. But that is all I will say on the matter, gentlemen.”

Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan all moaned exaggeratedly, but despite their theatrics, Aramis could tell that they weren’t focused on their own problems for the moment. Mission accomplished, as fair as Aramis was concerned, and he let himself feel satisfied while he and his last living brothers broke their fast.

It was about fifteen minutes later that Treville appeared from the city, striding through the yard and barely pausing to deliver a terse, “You four – my office,” before continuing on his path to the aforementioned destination. Aramis, Porthos, Athos and d’Artagnan didn’t hesitate, immediately following their captain up to his office, their mindsets slipping into the soldiers they were at the obvious urgency in Treville’s demeanour.

Upon entering his office, Treville immediately moved to a drawer near his desk, swiftly searching through it until, with a rustle of parchment, he had pulled a map of France onto his desk. Aramis gazed at the section of the map that Treville’s eyes landed on, but he still noticed d’Artagnan, the last to enter the room, close the door and make his way over beside him.

Not one to beat around the bush, Treville began explaining what he needed as soon as he saw the four of them were positioned around the map, “About a half-day South of Dijon there’s a small village; just over thirty people.”

Athos nodded, “I know it.”

“Well, it was just raided by a group of bandits,” Treville announced, and Aramis felt his eyes darken at the knowledge – not even a hint of his earlier merriment present, despite his generally light nature. “About twenty-large, according to the report I just received, but no real skill. They killed the heads of the village; the priest, the doctor and any influential people that may have been able to rally the village. It’s not as bad as it could have been, though.”

“Meaning that they’re likely going to come again,” Aramis uttered, finishing the thought, “Try and milk the village for as long as they can.”

Treville nodded his agreement, “Half the regiment is West, dealing with the Comte’s treason and the rest are going to be needed tomorrow when the King meets with his sister, the Queen of England.”

“Meaning you can only spare us,” d’Art concluded.

Treville paused, clearly unhappy with the situation but unable to do anything else, “I understand that this will be a difficult mission, and normally I would send a full contingent. If you would prefer, we could hold off going until we have more men available.”

“But by then who knows how many people could be killed,” Aramis finished, dragging a hand across his face. It seemed that no matter how far he travelled, or how much time passed, he was never able to escape this particular story. “I’m in.”

“Me too,” Porthos responded immediately.

“And me,” d’Art threw in.

“As am I,” Athos didn’t hesitate to add, but Aramis caught the glance that his friend shot him. It seemed that he had noticed that his mood was more solemn than usual. He tried to offer a reassuring smile, but the way that Athos’ slight frown deepened told him he had been unsuccessful in that regard.

“Well then, I suppose you lot better get going,” Treville, to his credit, did not look at all surprised by how quickly they had accepted the mission as he looked at them over the map, his hands braced apart on the desk. There had been a reason that the four of them were chosen for the task, after all. “Just… be careful.”

Aramis didn’t waste another moment after the dismissal, simply nodding once to the captain, before turning and striding out the door, the others following behind him as he made his way to the stables. It seemed as though they would have quite the journey ahead of them.

 

~0~0~0~0~0~

 

Percival had awoken this morning to the warmth of the sun on his face and sounds of birds singing washing over him. He had then had a rather filling breakfast, courtesy of the castle kitchens, before taking a leisurely stroll around the grounds. These all compiled to ensure that he was in a pleasant, peaceful mood.

Which was why, when he came across a glum-faced Elyan at the entrance to the left wing of the castle, Percival was so curious about the difference in their attitudes.

“Elyan,” he said, greeting the smith with a minute nod.

The man gave a sigh, “Percival. You look cheerful.”

Percival hummed in agreement, “I had a nice morning. What’s wrong with you?”

Elyan sighed again, “It’s Flower. I went to take her out for a ride today, but she wouldn’t go, no matter how hard I tried. I think she might be sick; she’s been doing this for a week now.”

Flower was the name of Elyan’s preferred horse. She was a slightly lighter brown colour than most of the others and she had a very tolerant temperament. She was patient and quite sweet, as horses go, and loved going out, which was why her sudden and recent refusal to do so had come as such a surprise. Percival could understand how Elyan felt, as fond as he was of his own horse, Picket.

“You should get someone to see her,” Percival advised.

“Yeah, I’m planning to tomorrow. I really hope that whatever’s wrong with her can be fixed.”

Percival nodded again in sympathetic agreement, and the two knights began walking together in the castle. They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, each man thinking their own thoughts about the day ahead. This was not an uncommon occurrence, as the Round Table Knights were all very close. After all they’d been through together, it would have been difficult to not be. Especially after… After…

Lancelot.

After he’d walked through the veil.

Percival’s thoughts turned melancholic. He would have said that suddenly the sunshine didn’t seem so bright, or the morning so beautiful, but he had taken what Leon had said in the tavern after Lancelot’s service to heart.

 

They were just about the only people in Jacques’ tavern, The Hen’s Peck, with the rest of Camelot’s citizens still reeling from the Dorocha and instead choosing to stay in with their loved ones. Everyone had lost someone, but it was only those who had lost everyone who wanted to be alone right now. Those poor souls had made their way to the taverns as soon as they had reopened after the Dorocha had disappeared as suddenly as they had come, just hoping that they would be able to forget what they had lost in a deluge of alcohol. They sat alone in the darker corners of the tavern, nursing bottles of amber liquid. Some of them hadn’t left for the three days the tavern had reopened, but Suzette – who had taken over the business since her father, Jacques, had been killed in the attacks – hadn’t had the heart to kick them out.

In a few days, Percival knew, things would be different. Life would go on, and people would come to terms with what had happened. More people would come to the taverns, reaching out to one another. And while the mood would be sombre, there would also be hope as people moved past the tragedy. Soon after that, everything would return to normal. The taverns would once again be a jovial place that people came to celebrate at or relax after a hard day’s work, rather than a place to mourn or forget. Soon, it would be as though the Dorocha had never come, except in the memories of all who had lost people to them.

But for now, Percival, Gwaine, Merlin, Arthur, Leon, Elyan and Gwen sat together in The Hen’s Peck and mourned the loss of a friend and brother to them all. They had put Lancelot’s spirit to rest with the finest service they could manage, but, to them – those left behind, the job was no where near finished. The lack of a body to bury might have played a part in it, or perhaps it was some residual sense of denial of the fact that Lancelot wouldn’t reappear by their side with a bright smile and clear laugh.

It had been Arthur’s idea, after the service, for them all to go to the tavern and drink together. Everyone had been subdued, though none wanted to be alone at the moment. Gaius had refused, saying that he had a lot of work he should get done in the wake of the crisis, but he had made Merlin go when the younger man had quietly tried volunteer to help. Gwaine had stared blankly, for a frightening amount of time before he too agreed. It had seemed that the normally outgoing, social rogue preferred to grieve on his own.

All the same, he had accompanied them when they went to the tavern – Lance’s favourite, if Percival remembered correctly. Lance hadn’t gone to taverns as often as the rest of them, and when he did he generally didn’t stay for very long. Percival had asked him about that once, but the man had just smiled and said that it was a combination of spending so much of his childhood in similar places and having better things to do anyway. He had never figured out what that mischievous twinkle in his friend’s eye had meant when he said that last bit.

And now he never would.

After a few rounds of drinks, Percival and the others toasted the memory of their fallen comrade. They talked sadly, but fondly, of all of the aspects of the man that had made him so noble. Arthur, Merlin, Gwen and Leon all recounted the story of Lancelot’s first appearance in Camelot, including how each of them had met him, and how he had gone on to beat Arthur in single combat – a truly impressive feat, considering he was completely self-taught – while also lying about his identity as a noble, which had caused Gwaine to snort in wry humour for some reason, and how he had killed a griffin with one blow.

“One day in the place and he’s already risking his life for it – despite being banished for some bullshit rule,” Gwaine said afterwards. “Sounds just like him.”

Gwen smiled softly, “Yes, it definitely was.”

There was a moment of quiet as everyone reminisced about their own memories of Lancelot’s bravery, compassion and selflessness.

“The world is going to feel a lot colder without him in it,” Elyan said eventually.

“No.”

Everyone looked to Leon at his immediate and firm denial, but his gaze was distant, as if recalling some distant memory. After a moment he began shaking his head as he spoke again, “No, it’ll be warmer. Sir Lancelot was a brother to everyone here. He was the one who embodied the concept of nobility the most. Lance fought against injustice and protected those innocents who couldn’t defend themselves. He was a fierce warrior, and he was also kind, compassionate, brave and selfless. He was a knight in spirit, I believe, long before he ever set foot in Camelot. He was never too busy to help out his friends, or even just the regular people who needed a hand-”

“Or advice,” Merlin said.

“Or hope,” Arthur put in.

“Or a chance,” Gwaine added, still unusually subdued, but paying attention.

Leon nodded at them, “Or even a second chance. He watched out for all of us, whether times were difficult or not, and in the end, he sacrificed himself for us and for the whole of Camelot. He gave his life to save the living, and I think that he’s still watching over us, like a ray of sunlight on a rainy day. And that’s why the days will be warmer. Because, even though he’s moved on, Lancelot’s spirit will stay in our hearts and our minds and in the very air itself. He’s our…”

“Guardian angel,” Percival spoke then, recalling conversations he’d had with Lancelot before. Particularly, his faith in God and his avid belief that guardian angels were watching over them. Percival hadn’t known what he had thought about that at the time, but now – after Leon’s words – he thought that he might have been right.

After a long moment where they all thought about what had been said, Merlin huffed a chuckle, though it was still tinged with grief.

“You know, I wouldn’t put it past Lancelot to try and charm the sun into shining, wherever he is.”

They all cracked a smile at that.

“I don’t know about that, Merlin. He was too noble and innocent. Half the ladies in court were in love with him and he never even knew it. Poor man, not noticing all those admirers.” Gwaine shook his head in mock sadness, and causing their smiles to widen as they thought about the long, wistful stares that Lance was always so oblivious to.

“He’d probably succeed with the sun, without even realising it,” Elyan said wryly.

Merlin shook his head in what looked like amused denial, for some reason, but before he could say anything Suzette appeared with another armful of mugs, just in time to hear add her own comment in her beautiful, Frankish accent.

“I have no doubt that he could charm all the celestial bodies in the heavens. He was very handsome and charming,” she sighed, her sadness obvious. Suzette had looked devastated for a few minutes after they had appeared in her tavern and she had discovered that Lance had been the one to sacrifice himself to close the veil. But she had soon wrestled her emotions under control, showing a fortitude that Percival admired, before retreating to get them drinks. “He was a good man, que Dieu repose son âme (may God rest his soul). This round is on the house,” she added, sufficiently distracting them before they could ask what she had said.

Suzette’s sorrow wasn’t surprising. From what Percival had seen of her interactions with Lancelot, they had been on friendly terms. She would always seem to light up whenever he entered the tavern, and sometimes they would disappear together for a while. Lance had explained, once, that she had been teaching him about some of the finer points of Frankish culture. Lance was always eager to learn about different places in the world, so Percival wasn’t surprised. He also knew that Lance spoke more than one language, and he suspected that the other man was also of Spanish blood.

Suzette was a rather petite woman with smooth, pale skin, crisply handsome features and blonde hair that fell in natural ringlets. She was considered a great beauty by many of the townspeople, but it was her insistent attitude that allowed her to run a tavern that was mostly visited by men. In some ways, she also reminded Percival of his late wife.

“You don’t have to do that, ma’am,” Arthur said immediately. But Suzette would not be so easily deterred.

“Suzette, please, Your Majesty. And, yes, I do. I could not sleep at night if I did not do something for Sir Lancelot’s friends. Not after such a good man sacrificed himself to save us all and get rid of those diables (devils).”

Arthur was obviously not expecting to be contradicted and looked quite taken aback. He opened his mouth again, but Suzette beat him to it.

“Please, Your Majesty, allow me to do this for my friend, and now saviour, since I will never have the chance to thank him himself in this life.”

“I- Of course, ma- Suzette. If that’s what you want. And please, call me Arthur.”

She smiled at him, before moving off again, and Lancelot’s friends spent the rest of the evening together, mourning their fallen comrade, friend and brother.

 

But, in the five months since his death, Percival still found that he had questions. Questions that kept him from sleeping at night.

He still wasn’t sure who Lance had sacrificed himself for, and it was that confusion that often plagued him. It didn’t really matter, but at the same time, it did. Had it been for Arthur? For Gwen? For Merlin? For the other knights? Had it been for all of them, including all of those in the kingdom? All the people still living? Percival didn’t know, and not knowing made it all the harder for him to come to terms with his first friend’s death.

But in a way, he did know.

Percival knew Lancelot; knew the type of man he was. He was the rare sort of person who you would find in the muddiest, most despairing and hopeless places around, simply because he knew that that was where he could do the most good. And he’d do it happily, with a smile, just because it was right, and he wanted to protect people.

Percival still remembered the first time he had met Lance.

 

The nameless border-village was overrun by ten of Cenred’s men. The village itself had an abnormally large number of crops growing, so rather than killing the villagers and burning everything to the ground, as had happened to Percival’s family in his own village, they had effectively taken the entire town hostage so as to profit from the abundance of crops and meat. Percival had heard of this when a frantic-looking man had driven his empty wagon into the village Percival had been in at the time, announcing that the town he had been going to buy some sheep from had been overrun.

It had only been a week since Percival himself had run from the fields he was working in back to his burning village and had come across the charred, unrecognisable corpses of his wife, daughter and young son as their hut blazed. He, and the other men returning too late to protect their homes and families, did what they could to drive off the attackers, but they had mostly already left by that point. Percival, in his grief-fuelled rage, had managed to kill one of the remaining soldiers who bore Cenred’s colours, armed with a scythe.

The fires had eventually been put out, and whoever was left in the village gathered together and cried. Soon, they would begin to rebuild and try to move on so that they could survive. But Percival wouldn’t stay. He had a mission.

A mission that he would be able to begin here, by liberating the people of the border-village.

Percival knew that the odds were against him. His large bulk and sheer strength could only provide so much of an advantage against ten other men, especially trained soldiers with armour and higher quality weapons than what were available to Percival. He also knew that he would most likely die here, but he found that that didn’t matter so much to him as long as he was able to give this village a chance for survival.

He wasn’t entirely sure if he was looking for death because he wanted to die, or if it was born out of some sense of guilt for surviving when his wife and children hadn’t. Whatever the reason, he wanted to leave this world for a cause greater than his personal vengeance. He wanted his death to mean something to someone.

Percival kept that thought in his mind as he crept through the trees towards the captured village, reassuring himself that he was doing the right thing for himself, his family and for the people in the village.

There wasn’t much hope for him to enter the village undetected. Despite the savage nature of Cenred’s men, Percival knew that they weren’t stupid enough to not have a guard set up when they knew that witnesses (like the one that had informed Percival) had escaped. It didn’t help that the village was in the centre of a clear, open area, with no cover for one to hide in, aside from the huts themselves or the trees ringing the edge. But sneaking in through the trees would be too risky due to the think nature of the bushes – there was too high a chance of Percival giving himself away by making too much noise if he went that route.

However, luck appeared to be on Percival’s side, as although he was correct in his assumptions about the guard, they only had one patrolling at a time - and he was lacklustre at best. This gave him the opportunity to sneak his way across the open ground once he was sure the coast was clear and conceal himself against the shadowed wall of a hut, fingering the sword he had taken from the man he had killed and looking into the centre of the village as he did so.

Percival was able to make out the forms of eight men dressed as soldiers of Essetir standing and jeering at a few people who must have been villagers. He watched, his anger compiling, as a young man, whose frantic hand gestures suggested that he was pleading with them for something, was shoved to the ground by one of the soldiers, their raucous laughter grating on his patience.

Percival gripped his sword tighter, rage coursing through him as he continued to watch as the man was beaten down and kicked, another woman crying and struggling against the hold of an older man in an obvious attempt to get to him. He couldn’t keep watching like this. This ended now. One way or another. And Percival would meet his family-

“So, how are we going to do this?”

Percival’s head snapped to the right, his muscles tensing and his hands automatically raising in preparation to attack at the sound of the unfamiliar voice whispering so close to him.

Percival had always considered himself quite an adaptable person, even in the midst of an emergency, and indeed it was not often that he found himself in a state of surprise. But the image of the lithe, young man dressed in a dark coat over a simple, white shirt and a sword held loosely in his hand while he gazed at same spot that had incited so much anger in Percival certainly did that. Surprise him. And it was a sight that he would remember for the rest of his life.

It had been less than a moment, but to Percival it felt a lot longer as his thoughts all stocked at the unexpected visage. Only a few things ended up getting through, one: this man was not wearing Essetir’s colours, two: he was… not attacking him, and three: he seems to be expecting a reply.

And indeed, the man was looking at him curiously, seemingly not put off by Percival’s defensiveness… although that might be explained by the fact that he was just standing there, staring at the stranger without having realised that he had dropped the aggressive stance. Percival realised this, but instead of fixing it he voiced the thought that continued to sing through his mind. It was really the only thing he could do.

“…What?” he whispered back.

“What’s the plan?”

“…” Percival didn’t want to say ‘what’ again, but he thought the other must have been able to read his incredulity in his silence.

But apparently not.

“I mean, I’ve only been here about five minutes, and my plan mostly involved improvising and hoping that surprised them. Then I saw you sneak across and figured that working together would be a good idea, so how do you want to do this?”

Percival continued to stare.

But he eventually found his voice.

“You’re here to rescue the village?” he asked, as that was really the only thing that made sense to him.

The man nodded, before reiterating what he’d said earlier, “Yes, I was by that hut just behind us for about five minutes before I saw you come over here, so I figured I’d join you.”

“…Oh.”

There was an almost awkward silence for a few beats before the man began whispering again.

“…So, I’m guessing that you didn’t see me when you came over and the fact that you chose the hut right next to mine was pure coincidence?”

Percival didn’t respond, but he knew his silence said it all.

“Right, well, I suppose we should come up with a new plan.”

Percival wasn’t entirely sure how it had happened, but about forty seconds later he found himself waiting beside the stranger, for the patrol to come by so they could pick him off. They were then to create a distraction by pushing over a nearby stack of firewood, in the hopes that the sound would cause the soldiers in the middle of the village to split up and investigate, while some remained with the villagers. From there… well, they would just go from there. Surprise was everything, according to his new ally.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get the chance to enact this plan, because the next moment the young man in the middle of the village had a sword levelled in his direction, with the obvious intent to either kill or maim. If he didn’t act now, then the man would most likely die, and Percival couldn’t stand around and watch while more innocents were killed by Cenred’s thugs.

It seemed as though his companion agreed, because he cursed darkly, before glancing at Percival with a dark sort of humour, “Well, I suppose we’re going to have to abandon the plan,” he raised his sword, “Ready?”

Percival just nodded, and the next second, they were charging together to the middle of the village, swords raised and ready to battle for the freedom of a village they had never even been to before.

Percival enjoyed the wide-eyed shock that the eight soldiers displayed as he ran towards them, clearly not having expected a giant such as him to suddenly appear from the shadows. But despite their lack of honour, they were still soldiers and it didn’t take them long to draw their weapons and focus on the immediate threat, leaving the three villagers to grab each other and flee back towards the huts. Percival noticed the terrified but hopeful expression in the woman’s face as she glanced back at them once while she led the beaten young man away from the fight, but then he was lost to the stormy rage and thrilling adrenaline of the fight.

The soldiers clearly weren’t used to fighting someone of his considerable strength, which was something Percival gleefully took advantage of, striking a jarring first blow against the man who’d been threatening the villager, effectively knocking him off balance. A second hit immediately ensured that the man would never get up again, before he turned to his next opponent. He quickly felled that man too, but he had to fend off blows from multiple attackers as well, since he didn’t have any armour.

Beside him, he could here the sound of his ally’s own fight going, the clashing and ringing of metal on metal suggesting a fierceness that wasn’t evident in the other man’s smaller stature. He suspected that the man was used to being underestimated because of that, certainly when he was next to a man of Percival’s size.

The remaining soldiers soon seemed to realise that they would have a lot to contend with in this fight, and their calls for aid were distinguishable from the usual snarls and grunts of battle. They didn’t go unanswered for long, as soon another nine men appeared and joined their comrades. The part of Percival that noticed this felt apprehension as it was clear that there were more than ten perpetrators in the village after all. But the rest of him didn’t care, too caught up in the sweetness of the battle and the roaring rage in his blood. He was intending to die today, and so more enemies meant more monsters he could take with him.

With the new additions to the fight, the other soldiers grew more confident in their attacks, and they soon realised that the best way to combat the superior strength and skill that Percival and his ally were showing would be to take advantage of their greater numbers. It wasn’t long therefore, before Percival found himself in the centre of a ring, thirteen of Cenred’s men surrounding him. There was a slight lull in the fight as the new formation was arranged, and Percival took the time to glare at each and every one of them, his posture wary and weapon raised in preparation for this final attack. He knew he would die here.

“Who the hell are these pricks?” One of the soldiers, apparently the leader of the group asked while gesturing with his blade towards them. He didn’t wait for a response though, before asking the same question of them, “Who the hell are you two and what the hell did you think you were trying to do here?”

Percival didn’t answer – it wasn’t really in his nature to – so instead he just glowered as the man sneered at him in contempt and annoyance.

His companion, however, did not appear to have the same reservations.

“We’re just a couple of good Samaritans, and, well, you know how it is. Can’t just stand by and let a heap of brutes take over a perfectly nice village,” came the cheerful voice, drawing the majority of the soldiers’ attention. Percival was perfectly happy to let the other man do the talking while he kept his eyes on their enemies.

“Good Samaritans?” The leader scoffed, “What the hell are you on about?”

“Simple, it means that this village needs help and that’s what we’re here to do,” he replied pleasantly.

The leader shook his head in apparent bewilderment, smiling cruelly, “You won’t be doing much when you’re dead. What a way to waste your life.”

“If it’ll make you feel better, you can always surrender,” he offered.

The man let out a fake laugh, but his eyes flashed in anger at the blasé comment, and it seemed to Percival that he wasn’t enjoying the banter as much as his ally was. He supposed that it must be because he wasn’t able to score a point with him.

“Kill them,” the leader ordered, his eyes flashing and the witty smirk he had been attempting gave way to a snarl belying his rage.

From beside him, Percival heard an exaggerated sigh, “Well, it was worth a try,” he jested to Percival, before he addressed the advancing soldiers once more, “Just remember that we did give you all the chance to surrender!”

And then they were back to back, fighting fluently together against the closing circle of soldiers as though they’d known each other their entire lives.

But even as they did their utmost to fend of the attacks coming in from multiple sides, covering each other’s backs and occasionally finding the opportunity to make a strike of their own, the other man still didn’t stop talking.

“What’s your name?”

Percival didn’t dare take his eyes off the combat in order to send the other man a look, but he could feel the incredulity rolling off him in waves.

“I mean, we’ve been fighting together for the last few minutes in a life-and-death high-stakes battle in order to save a village that neither of us are from, so I think those are grounds for an introduction to take place.”

Since Percival was certain that they were both going to die within the next few minutes, he didn’t see much of a point of learning the other man’s name. But then again, maybe it was because of that that he should. Perhaps the other wanted to be able to die beside a new friend, rather than a complete stranger.

“Percival,” he said simply, before running the soldier he was fighting through as he had been distracted by him speaking for the first time. Huh.

“Percival,” he heard the other man test his name, “I’m honoured to fight beside you, in these seemingly insurmountable odds. I am Lancelot.”

Percival could hear the grin in ‘Lancelot’s’ voice as they conversed over the ringing metal and angry yells of the soldiers. They had each killed two men since the backup had arrived, but the longer they fought the harder it got, since they had no one to cover for them if they faltered. The way the fight was going, they wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer before being overwhelmed. Percival accepted this even as he thought it, but he wanted to be able to take more of them with him when he died.

It seemed that the leader of the soldiers realised that they would tire soon, because he began smirking cockily. Percival felt a rush of hate course through him at the sight, incensed by the fact that he would most likely survive the fight as he was in the most protected position and only came within their range when he had to. It was unlikely that he and Lancelot would survive the barrage of the nine remaining soldiers long enough to kill the leader. Not while the soldiers were able to coordinate their attacks with superior numbers.

But it seemed as though he had grossly underestimated Lancelot’s skill with a sword.

That was the only thought that crossed his conscious mind when, less than a second after his previous revelation, his lithe comrade suddenly flicked his sword, skilfully disarming his current opponent in a masterful move that left both Percival and the soldiers in surprise, which Lancelot took immediate advantage of, gracefully dancing closer to Percival…

…And closer to where the leader had just stepped into the ring in order to take risk-free shot at Percival.

Percival relished the sight of the leader’s face as he paled, eyes widening in plain fear upon realising his mistake. Lancelot’s sword was pushed in and out of his chest before he had a chance to recover.

“We did give him the chance to surrender,” Lancelot reminded them all aloud, not pausing as he turned from his suddenly vulnerable position and continued to fight, but with a new level of skill that made him realise that the other had calculated and waited for the opportunity to take the leader out. The timing involved in such a feat was remarkable and spoke of an extraordinary ability to read a fight and anticipate actions.

Percival could feel the effects of the shock the leader’s unexpected death had on the other soldiers as they lost some of their confidence and fought with uneasy caution. But after a moment, when there were still six of them left, they realised that they still had the advantage of numbers and rallied again.

“Come on,” one of them shouted, taking up the mantle of leader, “Finish them!”

The press of blades increased, and Percival and Lancelot were forced to take a few steps back in their attempts to defend themselves. Percival caught the nick of a blade across his arms, but he could barely feel it as the fight continued.

“Come on!” The new leader yelled again.

“YAAAHHHHH!”

Percival heard the cry, but he only spared a half-moment to glance up. It was enough, however, to take in the sight of eight villagers running towards them, brandishing heavy farming implements and yelling. Leading the charge were the woman and older man from earlier, carrying a pitchfork and a billhook, respectively. Startled, a few of the soldiers were distracted with facing the new, and very unexpected threat, and Percival and Lancelot didn’t waste the chance to kill a couple of them, Lancelot’s merry laughter ringing over the crashes of swords hitting swords and armour as the villagers came to their rescue.

With the new numbers added to the fight, they were able to turn the soldier’s tactics against them. The villagers fought together in a tandem that spoke of years of working together out of necessity to survive. The soldiers soon found themselves caught between the numbers of the angry villagers finally defending their home, and the sheer skill and raw strength that Lancelot and Percival were still displaying. It didn’t take long before the first soldier threw down his sword, not wanting to die over the small village that meant nothing to him, and soon the surrender ripples out until there were five of Cenred’s men huddled together with their arms in the air while the ground was littered with abandoned weapons and the bloody corpses of their comrades.

 

“-ercy? Percy?”

Percival was brought from his memories by the sound of his name being called. Looking at Elyan, he found the other knight looking at him curiously, but he was no longer alone. Percival blinked in slight surprise; when had Gwaine arrived?

“Lost in thought,” Percival offered in explanation and apology to his two friends. Gwaine just nodded in acceptance.

“The Princess has a mission for us,” the roguish knight clearly repeated his statement for his benefit, for which Percival was grateful.

“Any idea what it’s about?” Elyan asked, eyeing Gwaine curiously.

The other gave a signature smirk, but Percival had been acquainted with him long enough to be able to tell that he was happy about whatever was going on, and genuinely excited, “We’re going on a witch hunt which doesn’t actually count as a witch hunt because we’re hunting a witch for something other than witchcraft.”

Following the statement, Percival raised a brow in surprise. Well, that is certainly interesting.

Elyan however, paused in his stride, quirking a confused brow, “Wait? What?”

“Oh yeah, and Merlin and Arthur are coming.”

“What!?”

Very interesting, indeed.