Title: Blood and Ice
Character/s: Gwaine, Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Gwaine just got a promotion.
Word Count: 571
The snow at Rosserham was a churned, crimson slush by the time the winter sun set. Camelot’s knights had fought more than men, and human blood mixed with monster in the ice. Gwaine felt as though he’d been trying to catch his breath for hours. He should have slumped over as soon as the frenzy slowed. His sword arm should have dropped. The hoary salt-smell of the freezing sea should have washed over him.
Yet his strokes never slowed. Even as the other knights fell around him, even as he whirled on their killers, driving his blade ever forward until he had to run, leaping over the moaning dead, to find fresh bodies to eviscerate - he did not hesitate. He kept moving long after all his enemies and allies had stilled. He ran, seeing nothing, until he reached the rimed crag where the last flash of Excalibur had split the gathering clouds.
His ribs felt like they would burst from his chest, while his extremities were curiously numb. Nevertheless, he scaled the northern face of the crag, climbing like a demon. Had he remembered to sheathe his sword? He must have - something metal-cold and weighty was banging against his legs with every stretch and twist. He scrabbled for handholds, digging into the ice with his bootspurs. If not for the two stone of mail on his shoulders, he would have been able to sprint up the hill. As it was, he scratched and scrabbled like an enraged spider, never slowing until he finally reached the top.
It was a tableau that would have done Geoffrey proud: a bloodied Arthur stood poised above his one-time manservant. His blood-etched sword somehow caught the dying light of the sun. Gwaine fancied he could feel the enchantment on the blade, like a heat against his skin. Merlin lay before his king, senseless and alone. Arthur’s eyes were agony, but the blade was moving.
For once, it didn’t occur to Gwaine to say anything. He just leapt forward, gasping in the thin, frigid air, drawing his sword as he went. It was the well-crafted blade of a Knight of Camelot, as fine a weapon as any in the kingdom.
Gwaine turned his head reflexively as the razor remnants of his weapon screamed past his face, still singing with the force of the blow that had shattered them. He felt the warmth of blood on his face, and then the hammer-strike of Arthur’s sword hitting his plate-clad arm. He twisted slightly so that the weapon would skid down his arm rather than bite right through it.
Then he clobbered the King of Camelot.
It was the last of his effort. When Arthur rose once more, Gwaine did not get up. Arthur could have simply finished what he was about. Instead, he looked at his most irreverent knight, almost deferent. His next words were anything but.
“You’re out of line, Gwaine.”
“Only the First Knight of Camelot can-”
“Look around you, princess.” Arthur did, almost despite himself. They were surrounded by the killing fields. Only the crows were stirring now. “By your own decree, I am the First Knight. And the only.”
Arthur closed his eyes. The sword fell from his nerveless hands, striking the stone below with a heavy, implacable finality. “Is this how Albion dies?” he whispered.
“No, mate,” Gwaine ground out. “This is how it begins.”