Character/s: Arthur, Uther, random knights
Summary: Uther finally lets Arthur lead a mission, but it's not what he expected.
Warnings: death of several druids
Word Count: 984
Prompt: #176, 18
Author's Notes: Um, enjoy! :)
Being in that little hollow with the waving flags had brought it all back—the memory he thought he’d buried long ago. The horror, the disgust and the regret. Regret most of all. He thought about it all the way home and while the knights were decompressing in the armory. It’s what kept him awake long into that night, causing him to fall asleep at his desk.
Arthur was eighteen years old when his father deemed him worthy enough to lead his knights on a mission. “After all, they will be your knights soon enough and you must get used to the weight of command.”
Naturally the Prince was thrilled that his father trusted him at last. He’d been on other missions and patrols, but he hadn’t led them. He waited patiently for his father to explain what the mission would be and made sure to pay close attention. It would not do to disappoint his father and fail the mission because he hadn’t listened.
“I’ve been informed that a camp of druids has settled near Camelot and has hidden there for quite some time. No doubt there are sorcerers among them.” He put a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Teach them a lesson, Arthur. Take no prisoners.” His direction being given, he turned and walked back to his throne to sit. “You will depart tomorrow at first light.”
Arthur nodded and bowed. “Yes sire. Thank you. I won’t disappoint you.”
Uther nodded back. “I have every faith in you. You are dismissed.”
Arthur left, determined to impress his father. He wanted these druids punished and Arthur would make sure that they were. But the idea of hurting women and children didn’t agree with him. Perhaps he could order his men to spare them? The men wouldn’t know the King hadn’t ordered otherwise. His conscience soothed, he went to recruit his force for the mission.
In the morning, the Prince surveyed the dozen knights before him. They were all solid, experienced men he’d trained with since he was very young. “All right, you know what we’re to accomplish today. Let’s do it and come home. Mount up!”
The knights mounted their horses and followed Arthur out of Camelot into the woods. He led them off the road after a few minutes, in the direction the scout had relayed to him. As they neared the camp in a little protected hollow, he signaled his men to dismount and encircle him so he could give orders. “Spare the women and children, but otherwise you are to take no prisoners. Clear?”
“Yes sire,” they answered as one.
Arthur led the men toward the camp, each one moving as stealthily as possible. The element of surprise would ensure a quick victory. His heart began beating faster; the desire to prove himself to his father and these men drove him onward. As soon as they reached the border of the camp, he signaled them to ready their crossbows.
He gave the signal to fire and the scene erupted into absolute chaos. Screams rang through the air as bolts hit their targets. Arthur drew his sword and moved into the camp with the rest of his men. His head swiveled this way and that, watching unarmed men fall to bolt and sword alike. Fire soon escaped its boundaries and caught on the colorful tents. Footsteps ran toward him and away. Some of the men of the camp attempted to fight back but were struck down.
In the next minute, he watched in horror as one of his men ran a sword through a woman crouched over her child. Her scream and the child’s answering cry rang in his ears and he froze—he’d ordered them to leave them alone! Why? Why would they ignore his order?
The world’s motion seemed to slow as he saw his men kill not only the men, but women and children. Not every man did, but those that did showed no mercy. He watched as a knight picked up a child and shoved him head first into the well that stood to his right. These were the finest knights in the land? They’d sworn to defend the innocent and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves! He was horrified that men such as these would act with such brutality. Was this how his father punished those who harbored those with magic? Magic was evil, sure, but how could they be sure anyone here had magic?
With a sick feeling in his stomach, he continued to watch the slaughter. By the time there were only men in red capes standing, Arthur had broken out of his stupor. He walked around, surveying the damage. The fires were at risk of spreading to the forest, so he ordered the men to fetch water from the well to quench them. After a few grumbles the knights gathered what buckets they could find and completed the task.
Besides the numerous dead, all structures were collapsed. Food, animals and possessions were scattered. But the worst was the silence. Where there was once vibrant life, death and destruction reigned. But he knew what needed to be done.
He stopped them from dousing the last fire and ordered the men to gather the bodies to burn. They looked at him oddly—didn’t they usually take care of the dead like this? Or were they cruelly left to rot? The guilt eating away at him told him it was the right decision, and he didn’t exclude himself from the work.
The images from the raid haunted his nights and days for years. Gradually they faded. But he never forgot the lessons he’d learned from the experience and made sure those under his command didn’t either. The humanity he learned there motivated him to offer himself to the druid boy. The peace the boy found spread to him as well—he could forgive himself at last.