Chapter Twelve: Inescapable

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            “Mordred! I’m so sorry, I did not realize you had lost the grip on your sword. I must have gotten carried away with my blow. Are you well?”

            I looked dazedly as the bloody spot spreading across my left side, and the pain began to register slowly. Arthur lowered me down into a sitting position as Gawain and the others hurried over. The big, blond man crouched down next to me and started to unbuckle my belt to see to my wound.

            “After all the training I gave you, Mordred,” Gawain said with mock disappointment. “You go and drop your sword.”

            “My hand sweated on the hilt,” I said, wincing slightly as Gawain lifted my tunic to reveal to cut across my ribs. It was painful, but not deep and he bound a handkerchief in place to help stop the bleeding. “I should have worn my gloves.”

            “Yes, you should have,” Arthur admonished as he bent over Gawain, looking as if he wanted to take over the job himself, but probably decided it was best to keep his distance.

            “Come on,” Gawain said, hauling me to my feet. “Let’s get you back. I don’t want to see you on the lists for at least three days.”

            I had no problem with that, though I would miss the exercise, and the fact that it was the one thing that helped to take my mind away from my troubles. Now the fear had renewed, and I once again felt myself spiraling down into the depths of despair.

            When Gawain had left me after making sure I was taken care of, Arthur sought me out, the worry he had hid in front of the others clearly on his face.

            “Are you all right, Mordred?” he asked, putting a hand on my face, and making me wish to sink into his arms and bury my face in his shoulder, though I feared what I might do to him against my will in such close proximities. So I pulled away, pretending to have the need to sit down, and it wasn’t a complete lie, because the wound did smart.

            “I never meant to hurt you,” Arthur added with a pained expression.

            “It was an accident, my lord,” I replied. “We’re always giving each other knocks.”

            He seemed to relax a bit but smiled sadly. “You know you may call me father when we’re alone,” he said softly.

            I nodded. “If you wish, my lord.”

            He looked pained, but turned to leave, albeit a bit reluctantly. “I will leave you to your rest. Next time I shall be more careful. As should you.”

            “Yes, I should,” I said, but not in reference to my wound.

***

I didn’t tell Merlin about this incident, I didn’t see him again for three days, and that was only a fleeting glance as he crossed the yards with some errand in town, likely to pick up something for one of his spells. I was going to practice my jousting that day. My side still wasn’t healed quite enough for the full body movements of swordplay, but I knew I could handle a bit of tilting and Elith needed to keep his practice up as well as I did. I saddled him up and rode out to the tiltyard, with my light armor and shield in case one of the other knights wanted to practice against me.

            The challenge I received was not a welcome one, however.

            I’ll admit shamefully, that my heart sunk where it had once rose, to see Arthur among his knights, training in a sort of impromptu melee. I tried to make my way over to the tilt unnoticed, but Arthur caught sight of me and rode his horse over to me with a greeting and a smile on his face.

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