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Excerpt from Hawk of May

I beat it out of line with my shield, turning my horse and allowing his weight to join mine behind the spear as I thrust at Agravain's side. Again, he fell; again his horse ran on, this time into the circle of warriors where it was caught.

Agravain rose to his feet. He was no longer scowling, but staring in total bewilderment, like a man who has seen the sun rising in the west. The madness was still on me, and I did not wish to speak, so I sat silent and unmoving, spear ready, and waited.

Agravain went and got his horse, remounted, leveled his spear. I rode to the opposite end of the circle and nodded.

He came at me immediately this time, at a full gallop. I hurled my spear, blunt end first, as he came, and rode on drawing Caledvwlch.

The spear hit his throat and glanced off, though he would surely have a bruise to show for it; had I thrown it tip first he would be dead. He almost fell as it hit him, but recovered in time, keeping his spear straight. His thrust as we drew even would have struck me through the ribs to the right of my shield, had it touched me--but I hacked at the shaft with Caledvwlch, and it snapped. Time froze, and I lifted the sword before Agravain's horse could complete another step. The light was burning in the blade, and I was filled with a strength which hardly seemed to be my own. The world looked as though it had been etched on bright steel. I let all the force fall into my arm as I struck Agravain with the flat of the sword blade. He fell into the grass. There was a massive silence.

My head cleared a little and I sheathed the sword. Still Agravain lay motionless. The rest of the madness departed from me, and I dismounted hastily. "Agravain?" He did not move. I ran over to him. By the Light, how hard had I hit him? "Agravain?"

He shook his head groggily, then climbed to his knees, holding his arm where I had struck it. He stared at me. His face was white, beaded with sweat. He climbed slowly to his feet, still staring.

"Dear God," he said, very slowly, each word falling into the ring of silence that was the watchers. "What have you become?"

"I said that you underestimated your brother." Bedwyr walked forward, still calm and unshaken. "I think that you will find a place with Arthur, Gwalchmai ap Lot."

"But the sword!" said Cei. "Didn't you see his sword? It was burning. He..."

"The sword?" asked another. "Didn't you see his eyes?"

Light! I thought desperately. Now they do believe that I am a witch.

"He has beaten Agravain of Orcade in fair combat, do any of you question that?" asked Bedwyr sharply.

"I question it," said Cei immediately. "That was not fair combat. No ordinary mortal being could have..."

"It was a fair fight," said Agravain. The warriors at once stopped glaring at me and stared at him instead. "It was a very fair fight, and long overdue. Gwalchmai is no witch, I swear the oath of my people to that. If any of you think otherwise, I am willing to fight again today. My brother is a warrior. God! By the sun, I have never fought anyone so good!"

"It was an accident," I began, still bewildered.

"It was not. You are better than I, and we both know that now."

"One fall might have been an accident," Bedwyr stated. "Three times constitutes proof. You are very good, Gwalchmai. Perhaps better than I."

"That is absurd. You are the finest horseman in the Family," objected Cei.

Bedwyr only smiled.

Cei shook his head violently. "Nothing of this makes sense. Swords cannot burn like firebrands. His story is impossible; but if it is true, where does that leave us? He is a sorcerer..."

"I said, nothing more about that!" Agravain snapped, "Whatever he was in the past, my brother is a warrior now."

"How can I be?" I broke in. "I could never fight. You know that, Agravain. You must remember how I was in the Boys' House, how I could not throw a spear straight..." Agravain rubbed his throat where my spear had caught it, but I plunged on, "Everyone knew that I was no warrior. Father was disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself, so much that I was willing to give myself up to the Darkness from sheer anger and the pain of failing. How can I be a warrior?"

"You say that you laid open Aldwulf's face with that?" Agravain began to point at Caledvwlch with the arm I had struck, then winced and clasped it again.

"I...yes, but..."

"And you killed those Saxons when you escaped from Din []?"

"Yes, but Agravain..."

"There you are, then." He turned to the others. "He has ruined Flamddwyn's good looks for him and fought against our enemies. Can you question he is fighting for us?"

"We have only his account to rely on for that tale," objected Cei.

"Do you accuse my brother of lying?" asked Agravain, trying to reach for his sword and wincing again.

Cei [stopped], staring at my brother. Then he sighed and shrugged. He plainly thought that I was lying somehow, but he would not fight his friend for it. "I accuse no one," he said. "But I will tell Arthur of this."

Bedwyr nodded. "And I will tell Arthur that I believe Gwalchmai." The two looked at each other for another moment, and then Bedwyr smiled gently. "You merely do not wish to lose that armlet, Cei."

Cei looked confused a moment, then remembered his wager. He grinned shakily, pulled the armlet off, and tossed it to the man who had won it. That man sat his horse looking at it uncertainly, then put it on. Cei clasped Bedwyr's hand, remounted, and turned his horse back to the road. Slowly the others followed, and Bedwyr took his horse and shield from me and went after them.

"Agravain..." I began again.

"Gwalchmai." He rubbed his arm, winced again. "By the sun, I have a bruise here. Bedwyr has forgotten his spear; where is it?"

I picked it up. The rest of the foraging band had started off down the road at a walk; Sion's mare was cropping the grass by the roadside. Agravain caught his horse, gathered the reins up, awkwardly one armed. Just about to mount, he stopped, looked at me again, and caught my arm.

"Gwalchmai, I am sorry," he said.

"I am the one who is sorry, Truly, I did not mean to hit you so hard!"

"I don't mean for this." He had slipped back into Irish from the British of the warband. "Though I am sorry, and should be, that I cried liar on you. But all your life I have been calling you names to provoke you into fighting, and beating you to make myself feel better; and I have pretended to help you with the arts of war while I ruined you for them, pretending, even to myself, that it was generous of me and for your own good.--Do not say anything. I know that it is true. I began to realize it after I was a hostage here, when I was no longer the first-born and leader in everything and when I saw it was hopeless to fight and still wished to. And when they told me that you were dead, and all Britain said, 'There is one witch the less' then I did understand, and wished myself dead as well. I remembered how you looked at me once after a fight, and I knew it was the part of a dog and a devil from Iffern to so humiliate a brother, and I had done it, and gone hunting afterward. Listen, perhaps there is no repayment for it, but I am sorry."

I clasped his shoulders. "My heart, I have said that I was a fool then, and took things over-much to heart. If I had been able to laugh at you...and it is past now. Forget it."

He embraced me. I felt his chest shake, realized he was weeping, realized I was as well. "From this time on, Gwalchmai," he muttered, "it will be different." He released me, looking at me earnestly. "I will boast of you before I boast of myself. From now on there will only be victories."

I could say nothing, and he said again, "Only victories, Gwalchmai. Forget all that I ever said about your skill as a warrior. You will be a great warrior, a man they make songs about." He looked up the road then, and added, "They are slowing the pace for us, but we will still be left behind. Come, help me onto this horse. My arm is still numb."

When the cart was jolting and swaying down the road again, Sion's little mare trotting briskly to catch the others, Agravain fell behind. I understood very well why. He wished to be alone with his thoughts, as I did with mine, and, after such words as had just passed, we would have nothing to say to each other for a time.

I did not know what to think or to feel. I had beaten Agravain, Agravain had repented to me for the past. I had beaten Agravain, he said that I would be a great warrior. There had been a time when that was the focus of my dreams, but I had abandoned those dreams for the Darkness, and I had never thought to see them placed within my grasp. And I wanted to turn the cart around and ride away from Camlann as fast as the horse could gallop.

I looked at the worn leather of the reins, dark with the polish of use, and at my hands curled around the leather. I had sworn those hands to the service of the Light. What had Bedwyr said about the Light? Something about all other lights or goods being known only in it.



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