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Care and Valor

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It was about twenty minutes (thirty? an hour? two? time was not working properly) into the battle at Agincourt when I finally realized what was going on. Maybe it was the exhilaration that kept me from seeing it at first—the rush of finally fighting in a real battle. Or maybe it’s just the fact that you don’t realize what war really is until you’re right in the middle of it.

For a while I ignored it, the tightening in my chest and spinning in my head. But at some point the nameless French turned from video game avatars into real people, people who I was attacking and killing. But I kept going, even as the world started to blur around me.

I retreated, feeling my back stam against the trunk of a tree. My damn synesthesia turned the shouts and clangs into streaks of color across my vision. The noises and the colors and the blood and the cries and the—

No. I couldn’t have a panic attack. Not now. Not now.

I shut my eyes, put my hands over my ears, breathed in, out, in, out. Colors flashed across my eyelids. But there was no sensory organ I could cover to drown out my thoughts.

Gower. I’d stood beside him as King Henry told us about Crispin’s Day. He’d smiled at me. I’d grinned back. And now… and now he could be anywhere.

My mind reeled. He could be dead. He could have been murdered by the French and I’d never know and I’d never have be able to save him—

I opened my eyes, took a deep, shaky breath. Scanned the landscape. I cursed my vision for not working properly.

There. Sitting on the ground, in the thick of the battle, clutching his shoulder. Not dead—but injured.

I sprang up, tuning out the sudden relapse of dizziness. In seconds I was pushing through crowds of fighting soldiers. I couldn’t even tell if they were English or French; we were all so bloody and mudstained.

Gower saw me, giving me a questioning look. I didn’t offer any explanation—simply scooped him up in my arms and ran. Fortunately for me, Gower was light and relatively scrawny. I thanked my past self for having the foresight to practice lifting heavy objects.

I ran until I came to the bushes, away from the battle. The shouts and cries were more muted here. Gower was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him. My arms screamed in indignation, and I finally dropped Gower at the foot of a large oak tree, crouching down to peer anxiously at him. We were obscured by the bushes, so I doubted any soldiers would see us, if we stayed low.

“Fluellen, what the hell are you doing??” Gower’s words suddenly registered in my brain. I finally regained the capacity to speak.

Rydych yn brifo ac —I mean—I mean—you’re… you’re hurt.”

He glanced at his shoulder, sitting upright against the tree. His uniform was torn open, and a gash was oozing blood. “It’s a scratch.”

“Look you, that is not a ‘scratch’! That is an injury! A bad one!”

“It isn’t very deep—”

“It’s bleeding!”

“Fluellen.” Gower’s voice softened. “There are so many people in this battle who have worse injuries than I do. Look, I can still use my arm. It’s okay. I can go back.”

“No you cannot!” My voice cracked. I felt hot tears rushing down my face. “Nothing about this is okay!”

“That’s just how war—”

“What if you die??” I could feel myself shaking. What with the colors and the blur across my vision, I could hardly see Gower’s distressed expression.

“Fluellen—oh, Fluellen….” He opened his mouth, paused, started again. “I know you don’t want me to say this, but… people die in wars. That’s what happens.”

I didn’t know what to say—and not just because I was, at the moment, physically incapable of speech. Gower took my hands in his, gently squeezed them. The action was soothing, but not altogether comforting. I took a deep, shuddering breath, tried to fix my eyes on Gower’s face.

“Llywelyn.” The sound of my name—my real name, not the Anglicized version—warmed me slightly. “Tell me what I can do to help you.”

I inhaled again, focused my mind on forming English words. “Don’t go back. Stay. Promise me you won’t go back.”

He looked me in the eyes. “I won’t.”

I nodded, wiped my eyes with my dirty sleeve. My heart was still racing, but my breathing had become more regular. After a second, I spoke again. “I joined this war because I love tactics and commanding people and using my knowledge to help. And… it has always sort of been like a video game. No one is actually getting hurt. But, look you, that’s not true. And I have been in battles, but not big ones, and never… never with someone I care so much about.”

Gower didn’t speak for a long time, his eyes wandering to the distant battle. Then he focused back on me. “For me… that gives me something worth fighting for.”

I almost smiled. I knew I was crying again, but I was beyond caring.

“So, what do you say?” he asked, the hint of a smile on his lips.

“I love you, Gower,” I breathed. It was the only thing I could think of to say, something I had been waiting to say for much too long. How ironic was it, that, at the moment when I was almost incapable of speech, I managed to say the thing I’d been afraid to vocalize?

“Oh, Llywelyn….” Gower’s voice was soft, but so, so kind….

I couldn’t bear to hear him talk anymore. So I cupped his face in my dirty hands and pressed my lips against his.

And when I pulled away I could almost see clearly again. Gower’s face was glowing with a radiant smile.

“Thank you,” he said.

I couldn’t speak, but I’m sure the grin on my face said it all.

Gower slowly stood, watching his shoulder as he moved it up and down. The gash was still bleeding, but not as badly as before.

“May I go back?” he asked.

“I think that would be alright,” I responded.

He grinned, gave me a quick kiss, then pushed through the bushes and back into the battle.

I took a deep breath, and followed.