This was not a war he'd wanted to go to, nor was it a battle he thought wise to ignite so far from home. Still, Kay had gone, some twisted sense of loyalty to Arthur as his foster-brother rather than his King driving him to head the Cavalry line.
He had been the one to open the pleas to wait, to have more foreknowledge before charging in blind. Arthur, for all his wisdom, believed himself to be untouchable, believed Camelot to be under his protection and, by extension, also untouchable.
There was nothing, nothing to be done save to keep swinging. He had forwent his shield, the process of trying to wrangle it and his horse too tedious to have even considered.
His horse had been cut from under him, her death a horrid one, legs flailing and teeth gnashing against the grip of the reaper as if her tenacity could keep her life in her body.
He fought on, horseless and shieldless, still worth ten men despite the lack. He dared not pick up a shield of one of the fallen, unable to remember whose heraldry was on their side and whose was not.
He remembered nothing beyond absolute necessity in the heat of battle – memory was a hindrance. He hadn't gotten to the top of his foster-brother's command through sentiment, and he hadn't kept control of his magics and bloodlust through feeling. Discipline, he knew, was all he had left on his side on the field.
Somewhere, hopefully somewhere far away from where the Cavalry had already taken heavy losses, he knew Bedivere was leading the foot soldiers in their own charge. Galahad, too, lead another flank against the charging soldiers whose names and faces their peers would forget long before history even thought of the war.
Kay had never asked to lead the Cavalry, never wanted to be in charge of so many men who were going to die before him despite being so much younger, but when Arthur had asked him to do so, he hadn't refused his foster-brother's request.
The battle flooded his senses until it became a part of him.
The smells of blood and of steel and of fire and of human waste the dying loosed in their armor became one single smell: the smell of a battle whose tide could yet go either way.
The sounds of shouts and of screams and of metal clashing against metal faded into nothing, his focus on staying alive while not affording those who dared charge him the same privilege.
He tasted blood, either a bite from his own teeth to his tongue or cheek or a tooth knocked out by a blow he didn't remember receiving.
His sight was limited to a narrow field through his helmet, but he knew to take it off would be a risk he needed not take.
Feeling, though, that was not limited to battle. He felt fire course through his veins, begging to be loosed into the masses, pleading with what little was left of his senses to end the battle, end the war, to show the world – to show Arthur – what he was capable of, what strength his aging frame had left in it that no normal man could match with weapon or word.
He had no sense of time, nor day nor hunger nor exhaustion nor any other trivial, human need as man after man fell by his blade. The same could not be said of what was left of the Calvary, men whose deeds would never have the chance to rival his own falling, leaving he and he alone to hold the Cavalry line.
Somewhere, an awareness of both flanks of foot soldiers rushing in to fill the gaps, to keep the War back from the King, safe in his war tent, ready to strike down any and all who dared to keep fighting.
It was indeed a battle they were likely under-prepared for, one the King had not collected enough intelligence on, had not heeded warnings the enemy was younger, more well-supplied, had pressed on to meet them further afield despite cautions to stay back and gather what they could. Hubris was going to be the end of them, and yet, there was still the ban on magic, the King's unwillingness to let the world know what secrets Camelot harbored in her walls taking precedence over the safety of those who were laying down their lives for him.
If the world knew about Kay, it was only a matter of time before it knew about Merlin, and in turn the sins of the King who was supposed to be the eternal savior of the very land they were staining with blood as if it would not remember long after they were gone from memory. Kay would, later, rage against his King's willingness to sacrifice anyone but himself.
The foot soldiers nearly surrounded them, too far from Bedivere and Galahad to hear each marshal's please to stay back from Kay, to give him five men's width to fight. Bedivere, unbeknownst to Kay, made the impulse decision to cut across the field and act as a barrier between his men and his partner, an attempt to minimize any losses from one of their own.
Kay was not aware of the change in pattern until Bedivere was dead at his feet, cut down at the neck, his attention more on Kay than the battle itself.
Shock, then anger, then a silent plea to be wrong refused almost as soon as he made it, Bedivere's shield arm extended and his crest visible to all. The fire in his veins coursed hotter, threatened to burn him from the inside out as the anger turned to fury, his previous misgiving about going to battle here and now turning it into a righteous fury.
The costs of magic, he knew, were grave indeed, but that was not a care he had anymore, for he had nothing left to spend his cares on.
He did not know how he stripped himself of his armor, how he avoided melting the metal into his skin as he let it loose, let it burn everything in front of him, let it seek and destroy as it wished. Damn Arthur and damn his secrets and damn his faith in that enchanter – Kay would see justice, see an end to this before it had the ability to become a true War, would see Bedivere avenged no matter the costs incurred.
There was nothing left to sense, nothing left within him as his fired burned out, the enemy slaughtered or fled. He was a shell, little more than skin and embers. He fell, his form nearly crossing his partner's, the magic having burned his very soul from his body.
The war was won and Camelot was the victor, as she always was, but at what cost? Oh, at what cost indeed?
There would be no victory feasts, no parades, no valor lauded over cups of the sweetest wines, only mourning, only sharp questions from Knights who did not take kindly to having had such heavy secrets kept from them, who demanded to know what else they did not know, what else they should know before those secrets, too, destroyed one of their own again.
There were no answers to be trusted, and despite the peace Camelot herself began to crumble in the absence of her steward.