Sacrifice

Jul. 17th, 2007 12:31 am
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Posted as [livejournal.com profile] killalla, June 10, 2007 for the [livejournal.com profile] ioan_ficathon


Title: Sacrifice
Author: killalla
Recipient: ivy03
Fandom: King Arthur
Character: Lancelot
Prompt: The Sarmatian Language
Rating: G


In Greek, they are called cataphracts; and in English, they are called knights. But among their own people, among our people, they have another name. For long ago, our ancestors made a promise to the Emperor Diocletian that in each generation, each family would give its eldest son into the service of Rome, to live and fight and sometimes die in distant lands, far from the steppes at the shore of the Caspian Sea.

My brother was one of those sons, as were five others from our clan. Six sons – Lancelot, Bors, Dagonet, Tristan, Gawain and Galahad - thought to be an auspicious number, were our sacrifice to the Emperor. Sent across the many miles to the furthest corner of the world, a fierce and mountainous land called Britain. There they would spend fifteen years on the borders of the Empire. Of the six, only three would return to us.

I remember that on the day my brother left, my father gave him our finest horse, a stallion, black as the night without stars, whom he said would keep Lancelot safe in battle. And for my part, I gave him a talisman, a lion’s head amulet. It was meant to guide his spirit back to us if he were to be killed in battle. He looked very solemn, and told us not to be afraid, and that he would return to us. We cheered him as he left, charging him to ride to honour and courage as befits a Sarmatian.

The journey took many months, as they rode overland through Gaul and then over the seas to by ship to Britain. Along the way, they encountered many strange sights and strange peoples, but none so strange as their final destination. In Britain all the land is all green, and the grasses grow short. Great trees reach up to the vault of the heavens there, and it rains constantly, not just in the cold season. And the people of Britain are not free to roam, to ride the four winds and follow the herds from place to place as we do. Instead they are tied to the land, farmers and miners and fishermen who build their dwellings of earth and stone. Indeed, they revere the earth so much that they build temples and monuments to it, and so the Emperor Hadrian built them a wall of stone, which divided the country in two.

When they left, the six boys were all good riders and capable archers, as befits any son of the clan. But they knew little of the way of fighting with heavy sword and armour, and so they were placed in the care of a young and untested Roman garrison commander, Abrosianus Aurelianus, called Artorius. He was stern and serious, and very pious, but he proved to be a good man and a strong leader, who could marshal the few resources that they had to great effect. So they pledged themselves to serve him, for his own sake if not for Rome’s. With time and practice they became a fast and deadly troop of heavy armoured cavalry, powerful and feared as a fighting force. Geoffrey, the famous wanderer and storyteller, has told the legends of their many adventures together, of their encounters with wild beasts and their pursuit of mystic quests. Individually and together, they gained a reputation – for courage, for bravery, for wisdom, for charm, for cunning and for loyalty. And so for fifteen years, they defended the wall built by Hadrian from the depredations and incursions of the natives who lived to the north of it. And then, upon the eve of the completion of their service to Rome, an invading force of warlike Saxons required them to make common cause with the natives for the safety and protection of the land and its peoples. A small band of native archers and skirmishers and six cataphracts, with their commander, to turn back an army and preserve the peace of the land.

Of course, they triumphed, but the cost in lives and land was high. The ground before the wall was scorched black with fire, and littered with Saxon dead. Three knights were lost as well, just before and during the great battle. They say that Lancelot was the last to fall. After their victory, there was a ceremony for the dead, and then the Artorius was joined to Guinevere, a native princess, uniting their people to create a nation independent of Roman control and influence. Free from their service to Rome, Gawain and Galahad chose to remain in the land of Britain, as defenders and protectors of the people. In time, they married native women and fathered children. And Geoffrey himself is your cousin, one of the many sons of Vanora and Bors, who like the other two knights, chose to stay and to serve their new King, no longer as Sarmatian cataphracts, but instead as British knights.

Thus it is that only three of the six sons of that generation have returned to Sarmatia – Dagonet, Tristan and Lancelot – who died in battle, in service to their Artorius. Their bodies were not buried in the cold earth of Britain, but were burned on wood pyres as is traditional among our people, so that their souls could be carried back to us on the four winds, to be born again upon the steppes at the shore of the Caspian Sea.

In Greek, they are called cataphracts; and in English they are called knights. But among their own people, among our people, they have another name. We call them the aspapaiti, the horse lords, for there is a legend that their souls return to us in the form of great horses. My brother was one of them, and now my son, so are you. And as I once did for my brother, I give you this talisman, a lion’s head amulet. May it go with you across foreign lands and guide your spirit back to us, in your turn.

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