Departure

Author’s Note – a tie-in to my Dux Britanniarum campaign, this is an excerpt from one of the series of in-character pieces on my blog.

I watch her, not saying a word, as she kneels by his body, touches a hand to his cheek, then to the great rent in his mail where a spear took him. She wipes a hand across her face in a gesture she thinks I don’t see, then, carefully, she unfastens the symbol of the Christ-God that she gave him from round his neck, fastens it with bloodied fingers round her own, and stands.

I open my mouth to say something comforting, but she forestalls it with a look from those dark eyes. His blood on her fingers has left a mark where she rubbed her face, a mark that shows a track of moisture through it. The eyes, though, glitter with something more than tears. For a moment, I think she’s going to just go, but then she turns, a swirl of night-dark hair across her shoulders. Her voice is quiet, brittle. “Warriors don’t weep.” All she says, turning, shoulders set, without another look back, and walking away.

She’s not there when we build his pyre. Not there to speak words for the God he at least honoured for her sake. Out of respect to her, and to him, and to the Christ-God, we let one of the locals offer a prayer in Latin, before Beornwulf, Aelfric and I set torches to the stacked wood, and step back.

She’s not there when we sit around, late into the night, raising horns and mugs of ale and mead to the stories and memory of a brat-turned-man who would have, one day, made a fine Cyning. And husband. And she’s wrong. Warriors do, when we lose one of our own. And that, Ecgwine had become.

She’s not there in the morning. Neither is one of our few horses.

Aelfric’s voice at my shoulder, as I’m considering the empty stall, makes me start. “Lavinia’s gone?”

I just nod.

“Surprised?”

It’s an odd question, one that breaks me out of my thoughts. I frown. “Yes. No. I’m not sure.”

He nods, shrugs a touch, cloak wrapped around him against the oncoming winter. “Me neither.” A pause, then, quietly. “We need to send word to Ecgfrith.”

I nod, glumly. “He’s not going to take that well.” The Cyning’s only son is dead. And he’ll likely blame us, whom he entrusted with his care and training.

Aelfric nods. “No, he’s not.” He sighs, long and thoughtful. “I could send you.”

I knew this was coming. “You need me here. And besides…” There are folks at Ecgfrith’s hall across the sea with whom I have… how to say this…? ‘history’, and Aelfric knows it. But it would give the old King someone to rail at.

To my surprise, he acquiesces. “You’re probably right.” He exhales, thoughtfully. “I’ll send Beornwulf.”

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