Although sired by King Arthur, fate damns Lin to wear the slave collar of her half-brother Modred. Robbed of identity,she clings to dignity until freedom restores her birthright.
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I had no idea what hour it was. The sun had set a lifetime ago and thick clouds obscured any moonlight. Battle weary and with heavy hearts, we picked our way from the river in the dark, our joyless task compleated. My four companions formed an escort around me. They knew what I thought of protocol, but I fell in step with the men simply because I was of no heart to argue. The only sounds were the lapping water behind us and our boots crunching the earth.
Odd, such stillness after the mayhem of battle.
When we reached the supply wagons and cooking fires, Dafydd hurried ahead without a word and disappeared into the crowd of soldiers and servants awaiting our return. I noticed immediately that an unnatural hush hung over the entire encampment, like a pall. I saw none of the usual camaraderie or back-slapping, heard none of the light-hearted banter normally present after victory. But my father's men were a special breed, cut from finer fabric. To a man, they snapped smartly to the instant I appeared. I acknowledged their salute with an "at ease" and hurried on my way.
Camlann a victory? Camlann was nothing short of internecine. Not Britanni against Saxon this time. We had all been part of the same army mere months ago. Yet this morning we had faced each other in the twilight mist, astride our battle steeds, in full armour, lances couched, anxious for the signals to be given, the battle cries to be sung, and have at each other. Men who had once been friends met as mortal enemies and slaughtered everything that moved in their paths. Who are the victors in civil strife?
Wfft. What had made us so bloodthirsty?
I saw a different question in the eyes of the men through the smoky firelight as we swept past; the man they had expected to see, the one their eyes sought, the one they had waited for, was not among us. We had lost our king as well as the Round Table. Modred, my half-brother, had driven a pike through Britain's heart. And as my father's heir, the duty fell on me to tell them. But not now. Instead, I announced to my companions that I would meet with everyone for reports after I had changed.
Bedwyr barked out orders and the place seemed to come back to life. Of a sort. I trusted him and the others to know what must be done, and do it, as my father had. He would have addressed the men first most likely, but my father was the Pendragon, and I never would come close to being his equal.
I was not the least surprised to see Dafydd lighting the last of my lanterns when I lifted my tent's flap a moment later. He even had water ready so I could wash.
He offered to undo the laces of my armour, but I declined.
"At least let me help you with this." Dafydd grasped the shield still hanging from my shoulder.
Why had I bothered to retrieve it?
I accepted his assistance without a word.
Dafydd regarded me. Impossible to hide my emotions from him. He knew my heart was shattered. I knew he wanted to offer comfort. But if I allowed myself his embrace now, I would crumble.
"Later, Dafydd," I said.
"You do not bear this alone, Noble One."
"I know. Thank you."