by Sasjah Miller

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"The hawk is flown daily to bring it into fitness and is then introduced to wild quarry, this is called "entering". This is the stage at which the training can be considered as complete and the sport of falconry begins."

What is Falconry

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We have won. For now. The field is littered with bodies, dead, still moving, moaning fitfully, lying still forever. The blood has turned the earth to mud, the horses slipping and gliding on the muddy underground, probably wondering why the noise has stopped and if this means they will be fed and watered soon.

I'm exhausted, coming down from the height of battle rage, its furies leaving my body drained and hurting. The first real fight and I've survived. Sleep now. And ale. But Artorius walks towards me over the field, stepping over the bodies of the dead, skirting around the smoking fires we lit to confuse the enemy, his sword still in his hand. I grin at him and he grins back, white teeth bared in a blood covered face, two wolves celebrating a successful hunt.

"Tristan, my friend," he says as he clasps my shoulder, "your first battle and you've survived. As have I and all our friends, God be praised. It seems his Grace has surrounded us today and kept us all from harm. But don't tell Lancelot I said that," he adds, grinning even wider, then turning to his serious leader self once more. "However, there is one more thing that needs to be done. There's a copse over there at the edge of the field. I suspect archers are still hiding in the bushes. I don't want to be surprised by them when we retreat that way. Care for a little after game?"

"Need you ask?" I say, and reach for my bow, weariness forgotten almost instantly. I shoulder my bow and point upwards, letting the sky guide my aim. I pull back the string and release it, lazily sending the arrow on its way. It lands with a soft thud in the copse. An agonized cry follows that is suddenly stopped short.

"That's one, but there's probably more," he says. "Come on, let's roast them out."

He runs towards the copse, and I follow, my sword banging against my legs, the bow dangling from my shoulder, my fatigue gone. We reach the little circle of trees and bushes and with our swords drawn, we enter the darkness of the trees, the foliage obscuring our view instantly.

This is madness, I know it is, but it is madness I can understand and I feel anticipation coursing through me, heightening my senses instantly. I hear him rustle somewhere beside me, sneaking through the copse until we meet up again at the other side, having only encountered the one dead Woad. My arrow, which I recover, is still sticking firmly in his throat. Waste not want not. I walk up to Artorius, panting slightly, it's been a pretty heavy fight after all, and a fair run to follow, and sheathe my sword, slightly disappointed.

"Danger's gone, Artorius. Nothing left for us here to do,"

He practically breathes the next words.

"There's lots to do for us here."

And then he lifts his eyes; in the dark of the wood they are as dark as the shadows around us and he looks at me. Sees me. He sees right into the place that no man ever can ever go and in that instant I am lost forever.


His name a benediction on my lips, as I move closer, crouching, ignoring the protesting muscles in my arms and the bruises on my ribs, drawn in by the fire in his eyes even if I don't know if it's passion or the reflection of the pyres of the battlefield nearby. He swallows, probably only now realizing what he has just unleashed, looks aside to see if anyone can see us (I know this is not because he does not want us to be seen together, he just wants to share his affections among his knights on an equal basis) and then his single mindedness resurfaces and he reaches for me, pulls me close and kisses me. Hard.

My eyes are closed and I hear a bird rustle in the branches nearby, the sound somehow telling me that this is a one time thing, his unconscious way of binding me to him forever. But I'm not complaining: no one has touched me since we made the crossing to Britannia and the soft fleshed, mewling pleasure girls in Germania and Frisia were nothing to my liking. This man, though, this man is different. He knows what it is to be a warrior, to be courting Death, to be flirting with her like the wily lady that she is. Death who is only coming for you when you need her least, playfully withholding her graces from you when you are lying on the battlefield, bleeding, maimed beyond healing, your life's breath bubbling up bloody on your lips. He knows. And he knows what keeps the dogs of night at bay.

I don't think I love him. Love is a feeling that was stolen from me the moment they took me away from my home. The closest feeling to it is the thing I feel for my Lady and maybe for my horse. Humans are there to be used: killed or fucked. I've just killed many, but fucked none lately. It's about time.

Our coupling is brief, feverish, with a dead Woad looking on. Which is quite unnerving, actually, but neither of us wants to disentangle himself from the other and move away to where we don't have to see his accusing eyes before we have found our release. I come, forcefully, in Artorius' hand and I grant him the same courtesy before we hasten to rearrange our clothes because we hear Lancelot's light, rhythmic footfall coming our way, followed by Bors's heavier steps, coming to see if we have landed ourselves in more trouble than we can handle.

I get up quickly and reach for Artorius' hand. He grabs my wrist and pulls himself up, handing me my bow and quiver before he starts dusting the last of the leaves and moss from his armor. He grins as he sees me watching him and idly flicks a strand of moss from my tunic.

"Better get yourself cleaned up, Tristan, can't have Lancelot and Bors consider what we have been doing here, don't you think? They just might want to join in and I want to keep you for myself just a little longer."

And then he walks out of the copse, hailing Lancelot and Bors with a wave of his hand, leaving me hot and shivering all over again.


The End