The grass was long, the sky was wide, and his gait was long and supple. It felt good to be running. His legs were strong, eating the distance like maggots eating a corpse, slain in battle, and left to rot on the field. Hoofs hit the dirt. Grass stroked his flanks.
He ran. Ran and ran and kept running.
He didn’t feel the cold, didn’t hear the screams, didn’t smell the blood, didn’t taste the water. There was only endless grass, reaching as far as the eye could see. The sky was wide and blue, the wind in his mane cool instead of freezing.
There was blood in his nose.
He ran towards freedom and home. Or maybe the running was freedom itself, maybe the grass was his home. It was hard to remember. It felt like home.
Something hit his chest.
There were other horses now, running beside him. They were familiar, in how they moved, smelled and breathed. They were family and he'd missed them. It was good to no longer be alone in the grass. With them, he could run here forever.
“Dagonet! Stay with me!"
People were screaming his name.
The fields disappeared and the smell of blood was back. Dagonet frowned. He preferred the fields and horses. It was good to run. Good to be free. He blinked and the sky was no longer blue. White and grays, nothing else to see. He choked on water, or blood, or both. Bleed enough times in your lifetime, and all water started tasting like blood anyway.
It’s why Bors preferred wine.
“Dagonet, stay with me! Stay with me, Dagonet!”
He should have known, really. No one else was as loud and yelled his name in that particular way. He wanted to ask him to come with him, run like horses and be free, forget this forsaken land that wasn't theirs, go back home. But Bors had his kids and Vanora. Bors liked this place.
It was good to see him one last time. Dagonet was dying. He was at peace with that. Bors yet lived. Bors would make sure Lucian would live. Vanora would look after both of them. Dagonet could die.
The hoofs still pounded, an endless drone that reverberated in Dagonet’s head. Bors’ voice kept droning as well. A silly tale he usually told his kids, about the things he’d get up to back home when he was a kid himself. He must’ve slept, because Dagonet was sure he’d heard this part before, something about letting the goats loose and trying to ride them like horses.
Dagonet snorted but ended up coughing so hard Bors had to adjust his hold on him.
“What use is it to be so tall, huh,” Bors grunted. “All that weight to get back to the Wall.”
Dagonet was still freezing, still couldn’t feel his hands or legs. Nothing but the pounding of the horses’ hoofs in his head, and Bors’ breathing in his ear. He was colder than he’d ever been, except for that one spot where Bors breath caressed his skin on each exhale.
“I’ll get your big body back to Vanora and she’ll get you warm again. I’ll just pile my kids on you. Just keep breathing," Bors said, voice raw with emotion.
Bors' arms were bracing him so Dagonet wouldn't slip off the saddle. All around him was the smell of leather, horse, sweat, and blood. It smelled like Bors. It smelled like home.
Someone slapped his face. "Stay with me," Bors ordered him.
Dagonet must've slipped conscious again. He let his head rest on Bors' shoulder.
Bors grunted under his weight. "Last time we shared a horse, you rode on the back and held me," Bors said. "But I brought you here, so now I'm bringing you back. You stay alive!"
Dagonet closed his eyes again and listened to Bors breath, his voice, his heart. If he wanted him to live, Dagonet would live.
The horses ran, Saxon drums on their heels, and Dagonet kept breathing.
Dagonet couldn’t hear the horses. The creaking of the wheels was deafening, as were the voices of the kids. Bors had insisted Dagonet be cared for in Vanora’s wagon, which meant Vanora’s kids, which always meant mayhem, chaos, and loudness. Really, there was no doubt the kids were Bors’.
Lucian had pushed himself in the wagon as well and was wiping his brow with a cool cloth.
Dagonet was no longer cold. Dagonet burned.
Vanora had managed to drive away the cold well enough, but she couldn’t chase the shivers that followed, nor the fever. His wounds had been cleaned and bandaged, there was nothing more she could do now. It was up to Dagonet, but all he could do was rattle his teeth and shiver.
He couldn’t hear the horses’ hooves, but he heard the cry, Arthur’s last hurrah, Bors' shouts of “Rus”. His entire body ached, and yet, Dagonet wanted to fight. It felt wrong, to leave the land they’d fought and bled for. It felt wrong, to leave his fellow knights.
He couldn’t hear the hooves, but he could hear the horses whinnying. That wasn’t the fever talking. He knew the horses. Fallen brothers in arms, come back to guide them.
“They’re going to fight,” Vanora said into the dim light of the wagon.
“He’s going to fight,” Dagonet whispered back.
Her hand was cool when she touched his forehead, but her fingers grasping his hand gripped so tight his hand seemed to burn.
Maybe Dagonet understood why Bors had put him in this wagon. So his mourners would find comfort in each other.
"You must fight, Dagonet," Vanora said. "Fight to stay alive, so he can come back to us."
Her lips were soft when she pressed them to his hand. She'd never kissed him before.
The horses ran away and Dagonet couldn’t follow. But he fought nonetheless.
The grass reached up til his thighs and while he wasn’t running, it was good to be outside. The sun warmed his back while he watched over the kids, playing in the field. Lucian was with them, galloping and laughing, while the three eldest of Bors’ brood chased him with wooden swords.
He finally broke away and made his way uphill where Dagonet was sitting.
“We’re playing horses and knights,” Lucian explained, in between heaving breaths. “I’m a horse, but they have to catch me first.”
Dagonet grinned. Bors’ kids had barely made it to the top when Lucian darted off again, whinnying while he ran downhill, leaving the others winded by Dagonet's side. The boy was fast. Fast and smart.
Dagonet felt the hoofbeat in the earth under his hands more than he heard it. He’d been waiting for it. These days he was always waiting for the horses to return, never running with them. Except for in his dreams, where he either ran with the horses or fought with Arthur’s knights. Either way, he was free.
Sitting here in the sun, watching the kids, not worrying about the Romans, Woads or Saxons was freedom too, he supposed. But what use was freedom when he couldn’t move freely?
The horses ran and Dagonet didn’t turn around to watch them come, even when the kids stopped their game and ran for the gate, to welcome home the knights.
The sun was low in the sky when he felt another hoofbeat, this time approaching the hill. He didn’t need to look around to know who it was.
“Brought us some wine,” Bors said while he sat down beside him. “Let’s drink ourselves into the night, huh?”
Dagonet didn’t respond but drank deeply when Bors handed him the jug. The wine chased the chill of the evening, as did Bors, who was sitting close, arms brushing Dagonet's with every drink.
When the last color had left the sky, Bors sang of home, voice low and deep. They were far away, the plains of Sarmatia. Dagonet would never make it back there, body too broken to travel that far.
The horses would run without him.
But the earth was good here, the grass green and bountiful. Dagonet’s people, Lucian, Vanora and her children, his fellow knights. Bors. They were all here, so maybe, Sarmatia wasn't home for Dagonet any longer.
Arthur had told him he was a knight of the round table as long as he lived.
Maybe he still had reasons to live for. Even if he could run no longer.
The kids were all sleeping. Even Lucian, who was often plagued by nightmares and would wait as long as possible to sleep, was knocked out in a bed, surrounded by other kids.
Dagonet was warm and comfortable by the fire. He liked watching Vanora and Bors manage their unwieldy brood. They both became a little softer in these evenings spent with only family. Still loud and crass and boisterous, but softer none the less.
He felt blessed he was included.
But now the kids were put to bed, so it was time to seek his own quarters. Move his aching body to his own room, his own cold bed. He was tempted to stay here, in the warmth of the fire and his friends' company.
"I should go," he said.
Bors and Vanora shared a look. Dagonet knew them both well, intimately even, and yet he had no idea what that look meant.
Vanora sighed and rolled her eyes. She stood up, kissed Bors on the lips and made her way to where Dagonet was still sitting by the fire.
She kissed him.
"If you want to, you can stay," she said and left for the bedroom.
Bors snorted. "That works." He held out his hand, to pull Dagonet up from his seat. His fingers were warm around Dagonet's arm, strong and sure. Bors' other hand made it to his neck, grasp familiar. Bors pulled their foreheads together like they'd done many times before.
"You should stay," Bors said, his voice for once not booming.
He let go and stepped back, leaving Dagonet a little unsteady. "Stay. With me, and Vanora."
Bors left Dagonet standing there and followed Vanora into their bedroom.
Dagonet was alone in the quiet room. The only thing he could hear was the soft crackling of the fire, and the hard hoofbeat of his heart, hammering in his ears.
He couldn't run. But he followed them into their bedroom.