Title: Love calls you home
Rating: PG (Series rating: R)
Character/s: Elena, Arthur, Mordred, George, knights, OCs, (and Merlin).
Summary: How Elena escaped, and how she returned, and how King Arthur's life was saved by a mysterious sorcerer.
Warnings: Violence, blood, animal violence (Series warning: angst, issues of rape).
Word Count: 2002
Prompt: #44 Silence
Author's Notes: I wrote several beginnings for this chapter without finding my stride, until I got the idea to change the perspective from Merlin's to Elena's. See bottom of page for spell translation.
You can find the rest of this series on AO3, or here at Camelot Drabble.
Elena feels the tension in Adro’s body spike a split second before King Arthur cuts the vine. Instinct makes her tighten her grip on the reins and squeeze her legs around Adro’s flanks, just in time before he shoves upwards, all his power unleashed.
Mordred has no such instinct and falls from his own horse, while Caradoc clings like Elena. George, already dismounted, takes Fire’s hooves to the chest. Arthur goes down with Bruta’s bulk on top of him.
It feels like the world has slowed down, until Adro’s forelegs hit the ground again, nearly dislodging Elena. She bites down and tastes blood. Her mind is blank, she can’t think for fear, but she hangs on, even when Adro begins to kick his hind legs, tossing like a bull to throw her off. There’s an energy in the air that feels strangely familiar to her, a potent presence of something all-encompassing and ancient.
Adro’s eyes are white, not his own. Across the clearing, Caradoc’s stallion is in the same state. Fire is disappearing in between the trees, running like she’s gone mad. Only Lindale remains, standing unnaturally still in the snow next to Grim and Ulv, watching dispassionately as Bruta goes for Arthur’s throat.
Mordred crawls to his feet, pulls up his mail hood and draws his sword. Adro rears again, as Mordred makes his way drunkenly towards the King. Elena refuses to be thrown. Once they come back down, she draws her hunting knife, and with a silent apology to her beloved stallion, she drives the knife into his hindquarters.
Adro screams and bounds forward. The last thing Elena sees is Mordred swinging his sword at Grim. Elena clings to Adro’s mane while he gallops through the snow, blinded by pain. Slowly, she finds a balance, clinging with her legs so she can recapture the reins. Then she reaches back and yanks out the knife.
Adro comes to an abrupt halt, and this finally throws Elena form his back. She lands in a hollow full of snow, listening to the profound quiet beneath the sound of her own and Adro’s laboured breathing. Her heart is racing and the blood-stained knife is still in her hand.
She sits up slowly, careful not to scare Adro, but getting him away from the clearing seemed to have worked; his eyes are his own again, brown and kind, though full of a fear that Elena also feels.
“What happened to you, darling?” She begins to crawl towards him. “What happened back there?”
His ears lie flat and his eyes are rolling in his skull, so she puts the knife down and holds her hands up, speaks soothingly to him. She finds the reins in the snow and use his warm body to pull herself to her feet. She pets his sweaty neck and continues to speak calmly.
“I have to leave you here, do you understand? I must go back. King Arthur is in danger still.”
Adro is bleeding, but the wound is not deep; he will recover. She ties the reins to a branch, takes his head in her hands and strokes his muzzle.
“I’ll come back for you,” she repeats, leaning her forehead against his for a moment.
Then she picks up the knife and runs back towards the glade, following Adro’s hoof prints. It’s slow and heavy going, plodding through snow that is knee-deep in places, and stumbling over hidden roots, but Elena does not heed her own burning lungs or aching legs. She thinks of King Arthur, of loyal Mordred and poor George.
Little Galahad flashes through her mind, but he would want his mummy to be brave, to fight for the Kingdom that her child will no doubt grow up to love as much as she does. He will forgive her if she loses her life to this. Not that she intends to. She clutches the knife tighter and pushes on.
Finally, she sees the mistletoe-trees in the distance, and a strange blue light shining in between them.
She hears Arthur shouting, and her heart soars with hope. The final distance feels like a mile, but at last she stumbles into the clearing. George and Caradoc are unconscious, the horses are all gone, Grim is dead and Ulv is just collapsing, his guts spilling out through his opened stomach. Mordred has a knife in his hand but Bruta has his teeth around Mordred’s forearm. The knight beats his other hand sluggishly against the dog’s nose, but he is weeping with exhaustion, and has no strength left.
Elena stumbles forward, sees Mordred’s sword lying abandoned in the snow, drops her knife and retrieves it. Bruta doesn’t notice her coming, completely focused on Mordred. Elena heaves the blade over her head with a cry, and stabs it into Bruta’s neck.
The dog yelps, a high and panicked sound, and thrashes wildly, before collapsing, dead, onto Mordred’s body.
Elena falls to her knees. Her hair is escaping from its ties, and falling across her face. The acrid tang of blood is in her mouth and in her nostrils. Her lungs are on fire and her thighs are viciously cramping.
Mordred weeps quietly, breath hitching and tears sliding down his temples.
Elena hardly knows how she manages to get back to her feet, to roll Bruta off of Mordred, to cross the clearing to get to Arthur, and find him breathing, but impossible to wake. She will remember it in flashes, later, see George’s eyes fluttering open before his face crumples in nausea, feel Caradoc’s immense weight as he leans on her in order to find his feet. She will not remember going back for Adro, but will remember the ride that follows, as she alone rides back to where they left the larger hunting party, and then follows their tracks until she catches up with them.
Dagonet takes one look at her and sends the three knights in the party to the King’s aid.
The women and remaining men are sent ahead back to Camelot, but Elena refuses to join them.
Lord Lionel rides to her side and places a hand on her elbow. “Your Majesty, you need a physician. The knights will take care of King Arthur.”
Elena shakes her head and pulls Adro and herself out of his reach.
“I will go with Dagonet.”
Even the hunting master looks at her with a frown like he wants to protest, but he has no authority to deny her.
“I am unharmed,” she insists. “Merely shaken. We were attacked with magic: you need me.”
Always, they expect her to simply bow her head and leave the work to the men. All except Arthur. He understands.
Elena takes off after the knights, and Dagonet has no choice but to follow.
When they near the glade, Elena cautions the men to dismount. One of the knights, Sir Sagramore, remains behind with the horses. Only Dagonet brings his horse into the glade, walking close by her head and speaking gently to her.
Caradoc is crouched by Mordred, cradling the boy’s head in his big hands. George sits with Arthur’s head in his lap, sobbing as he tries ineffectually to dab away the blood welling from Arthur’s shoulder.
Arthur has still not stirred, and Mordred has followed his King into oblivion.
Dagonet’s horse remains calm, though the smell of blood makes it jittery. It seems that the magic in this place is satisfied with the damage it has done. Dagonet leaves his horse and goes to kneel at Arthur’s side. “Courage now, boy,” he says to George.
Sir Pellam and Sir Dinadan go to Mordred, and Elena runs back to tell Sir Sagramore that he can bring the horses.
Sir Dinadan is the strongest of them, so he will ride with Arthur. They lift the King gently, mindful of his injuries, and the knight cradles him carefully to his chest. Mordred is given to Sir Sagramore, and George rides behind Sir Pellam. Dagonet gives up his horse to Lord Caradoc, and Elena has Adro, who limps a bit but does not complain.
The journey back to Camelot must go slowly. Arthur’s visible injuries are severe, and he may have internal injuries as well, judging by the bruises along his side. Mordred hurt his head when he fell from his horse. Jostled by trotting or galloping horses, these injuries could turn deadly.
By the time they find the main trail again, dusk has come. The ride that was so pleasant one way, becomes long, tiring and anxious on the return.
Elena hungers for the warmth of Camelot's halls, and for Galahad silky hair against her cheek, his little body safe in her arms.
Before their eyes, the road grows dimmer and dimmer.
They’ve ridden for about an hour when, without warning, a mighty wind descends and whips the powdery snow into the air, encasing the riders in a white whirlwind. The horses neigh fearfully and dance in place, refusing to move forward.
“What is this infernal storm?” Sir Dinadan cries.
“Nothing natural,” answers Dagonet, his voice almost disappearing on the wind. “There is sorcery at work.”
He is right. Once again, Elena can feel the thrum of ancient power, coming closer and growing stronger. She pulls her cloak closer around herself. More evil? Hasn't magic done enough damage today?
Then, ahead on the road, a horse appears, with a cloaked rider.
Dagonet, Lord Caradoc and Sir Sagramore draw their swords and place themselves in front of the knights carrying the injured.
“Who goes there?” Lord Caradoc asks.
“It's the sorcerer,” Elena says. It’s incredible. So much power contained in a single body. It feels as great, if not greater than the power of the clearing. She squints through the whirling snow, tries to get a better idea of this remarkable person, but he is wearing a cloak so long and shapeless that nothing can be told about him.
“What do you want?” Lord Caradoc tries again.
The sorcerer stretches a hand towards them, and calls out in a strange and terrible voice.
“Tóbregdan slæpe, mín Cyning. Þín ándaga ne cumen. Nan folma déoren cunnan þín breguróf ríce ábréoðan.”
Arthur stirs, chest rising with a deep breath as if he is being pulled towards the sorcerer. Perhaps it is only Elena's imagination, but some colour seems to return to his cheeks.
“Se déaþscúa beligeeþ þu, ond hit biþ bresne, ac ic béo mára.”
Arthur's eyelashes flutter. He moans.
“The King is waking!” Sir Dinadan cries.
“Fram heortean, ácíege ic þu.”
Arthur's draws a sharp breath. The wind grows weaker, the snow does not rise so high, and Elena can see more clearly through it. She wonders at the cloak the sorcerer is wearing, how thin it is, how blue. What manner of tailor would make such a thing?
“Tóbregdan slæpe, ond hálige!”
Again, Arthur's eyelashes flutter, stronger this time.
The sorcerer's hand falls. In a voice so low Elena nearly doesn't hear it, he completes the spell.
“Heorcne to mec, Arthur. Hit biþ ne bealucræft, ac bróðorlufu ácíege þu heorþe.”
For a moment, the sorcerer lingers, before he abruptly pulls his horse around and gallops away. The wind dies, the snow flutters to the ground. Elena longs to pursue the stranger, but Adro isn’t up for it.
“It's a miracle,” Sir Dinadan whispers. He has pulled aside Arthur's torn vest and shirt, which no longer stick to his skin. The wound, before a mass of torn flesh and blood, is now a mix of scarring and small remaining lacerations. “He is all but healed.”
“We are not safe yet,” Dagonet cautions. “Do not trust to sorcery. We must get them to Gaius.”
“And Sir Mordred was not affected,” Sir Sagramore adds. “Why didn’t the sorcerer heal them both?”
They look at each other, doubt creeping in to replace their joy.
With the wind gone, and night falling, their path winds through a silent world, until at last, the city of Camelot welcomes them home with hundreds of lit candles.
Spell translation (aka What it would have said if I understood Old English grammar):
Wake, my King! Your time has not yet come. No paw of beast can destroy your mighty reign.
The shadow of death lies upon you, and it is strong, but I am stronger.
From my heart I call you.
Wake now, and be healed!
Listen to me, Arthur. It is not magic, but love that calls you home.