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Days That Are No More (The Dying Gaul)

Title: Days That Are No More
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Slash
Warning: Character death
Fandom: The Dying Gaul (Sculpture)


Written for Yuletide 2010.
For those on my f-list familiar with the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling, the lovely Yuletide story written for me "Reclaimed Treasure" by Diana Williams can be found here: http://archiveofourown.org/collections/yuletide2010/works/141573. Please don't hesitate to leave a review or kudos for the author should you decide to check it out.


The battle cries, the clang of metal on metal sound distant to my ears now and my vision narrows until all I can see is a blur of movement and color. My hand goes to my side, the gash there still bleeding me like a wounded boar, not as heavy as the torrent it was, but enough. Pain lances through my body, making me shudder, but it is nothing. I have had worse, and I know I could push past it and continue to fight if the bleeding would cease. I held the wound closed with one hand as long as I could. Throwing down my shield and fighting with only my sword, I brought down the Greek who stabbed me, and three others before I fell. My blood, no longer content to be bound within my failing body rushes free and I no longer try to stay it, my hand slipping down to brace against my thigh. My head droops and I struggle to lift it; extending my leg and pushing my torso up with my arm I struggle to rise. I fail.

My gaze falls upon my broken sword - and his horn. It was when I stooped to pick it up, when I began looking for him on the battlefield, that the Greek opened my side with his sword. I draw a ragged breath and with the last of my strength I look to where he lies. His shield covers one leg, his sword is gone, probably taken by another warrior, and the other half of his horn is trampled in the dirt next to his hand. I remember when I gifted him with the trumpet, which he carried into battle so many times since. Never had it sounded a note of retreat and such it was today. It was he who called the charge and our company continues to fight even as Carnon lies dead and I hasten to join him. My eyes slide closed once more and I no longer try to force them open, drifting instead into the past. . .

*******


Carnon is standing beside the trunk of a yew tree with his arms crossed over his chest, a little smile on his face, as he watches me hack ineffectually at one of the branches with my skinning knife. His hair is the flame of an autumn oak, his eyes as blue as a cloudless summer sky. He is slightly taller and broader than I, though we are the same age. He is the best hunter in the town, a natural leader. We are rivals in all things, but in striving to best him I push myself to be better, to surpass my limits.

“Whatever you are trying to do, Anyon, it is not working."

“I’m going to craft a bow,” I pant, wiping sweat from my brow. “If the goddess will let me,” I add, striking again at the thick green branch.

“You cannot cut a branch that big with a blade that small,” he laughs.

Eventually I give up and throw myself on the ground, stabbing my knife angrily into the grass. “What do you know about it?”

“I know the branch you want is more like that. . .” he points out a thinner, suppler one higher up, “and that when a branch is this green you must use a hatchet or a saw.”

He plops down beside me and puts his arm around my shoulder, giving me a good natured thump upon my chest with his other hand. “Don’t worry, tomorrow we will come back and cut that branch and we will craft your bow together.”

My body warms to his touch and it is in this moment, in my ninth autumn, that I realize I love him.

*******


We are running, pelting over the field to the river. Carnon is just about to catch me but I put on a burst of speed and reach the shore before him. I laugh and pull his neck into the crook of my arm, giving him a shake. “I win! You owe me two spearheads!”

The next thing I know he has twisted from my grasp and lifted me over his head. He tosses me in the cold river and I come up sputtering from the shock, unable to do more than keep my head above water as I am swept away. It is almost a mile before I am able to make my way to the shore downstream. Cursing, I trudge from the river, praying to the river goddess to send fish to bite him next time he goes for a swim.

Carnon does not like to lose.

*******


I try not to fidget as I await my turn within the sacred circle. Today we are to be men at last and receive our golden torcs. There are thirteen boys this year, a sacred number, and the augury has foretold long life and happiness for all those consecrated on this day. I crane my neck, trying to see over the heads of the priests as the chanting begins.

“Are you nervous?” I ask.

“Of course not,” he says. “Do you realize what this means? Now we can join the campaign against the Greek host that would conquer and enslave us.”

“Yes,” I say without enthusiasm.

He looks at me curiously, studying my face. “What is wrong?”

I hesitate, then lower my voice so the others will not hear. “Suppose I cry out when the torc is placed about my neck? The metal is so hot and there is only the wet wool to protect me. If I disgrace myself it will disgrace my family too and I will not be counted a warrior and I will live my life in shame.” The words come out in a panicked rush.

He laughs so loudly our mentor glares him into silence. He drops his voice to reply. “This is what I like about you, Anyon. Always you concentrate on one step of the path ahead while I think of nothing but the end of the journey.”

*******


Carnon is drinking at the feast, wine and the juices of the spit boar running from his fiery mustache. The Chieftain himself awarded him the choicest and largest portion of the boar as reward for his ferocity in battle. Tuthual, his cousin, watches Carnon with lust in his eyes, as he has been doing for months now. Jealousy overwhelms me and I down another bowl of mead, fuming. I know that Carnon has many lovers, yet none have my heart but him.

After the feast, Tuthual is standing almost upon him as they talk, his hand on Carnon’s shoulder, a wolfish smile on his face. I stagger drunkenly over and shove Tuthual, almost knocking him down.

“Get away from him, swine,” I snap. Carnon needs no simpering bootlicker seeking his favor.”

In an instant Tuthual draws his sword and faces me down. “Then he does not need you, Anyon. You have followed him like a bitch hound for years. The whole clan laughs at your slavish devotion to him. When is the last time you coupled with any other warrior?”

I try to draw my weapon, fumbling to free it in my drunken state. Tuthual lunges, his sword aimed at my heart, and swift as a snake Carnon seizes his wrist and twists sharply. I hear the bone snap and Tuthual cries out, falling to his knees. There is a moment of tense silence, broken only by the sound of Tuthual moaning in pain. His friends, drawn to the sound of our quarrel, help him to his feet and take him to the healers. They give me looks that speak of revenge.

I stare after them defiantly and spit at their heels. Then my eyes seek Carnon’s. His gaze is stormy, his face set in a terrible scowl.

“You disappoint me, Anyon,” he says, and walks away, leaving me standing alone in the night.

A week later Tuthual’s friends give me the beating of my life. Two of my ribs are broken in the attack but I recover fully. Tuthual is never able to wield a sword again.

Carnon and I do not speak for over half a year.

*******


The wolf fur tickles my skin as I roll onto my side to gaze at him. He is propped up on one elbow watching me with his sharp blue eyes. His skin glows golden in the firelight, his red hair looks aflame. He could be Camulos, the war god himself, taking his ease after a battle. I run my fingers over his breast, tracing the scar over his heart, a wound from our first campaign that he wears with pride. The head of this opponent still lies within its chest a few feet away, steeped in fragrant cedar oil.

Carnon’s sacred head inclines to mine, our lips meet, the taste of honeyed mead and roast mutton filling my mouth and nostrils and, beneath it, the scent that is uniquely Carnon. We embrace, our limbs twining, our wrestling becoming more intense and vital, our bodies straining together as our arousal grows. When his touch comes it is as sweet and revelatory as ever sending me to the realm of the gods.

No matter how many times we have been and will be together, it is having him back in my arms after so long an absence that makes this moment unforgettable.

*******


Word has come that we are to go to fight the Greeks in Anatolia on what promises to be a long campaign. As we are gathering our things to go, I take him aside and hand him the cloth wrapped bundle, watching eagerly as he opens it. In secret I have made him a battle horn so that I might surprise him with the gift as a token of good fortune in our war.

When he sees it his eyes widen in delight. “Did you craft this yourself?”

“I did indeed.” Our eyes lock and I swell with pride at his look of admiration. “I have been working with the bronze smith to learn the proper technique. Do you like it?”

“So that is where you have been these past months. I had my fears. . .” He lowers his eyes, refusing to meet my gaze for the first time ever. When he looks up tears glisten there but his voice is steady and strong. “Why, the gods themselves could not have presented me with a gift I will cherish more!”

He lifts the horn to his lips and blows a loud, clear note. I smile broadly at him, inscribing in my memory the way he looks standing before me tall and proud and fierce in his long tunic and trousers, his wild red hair wreathing his head, his golden torc glittering at his neck. This is how I will always see him. This is the moment I will never forget.

“The tone is perfect,” he exclaims. “The Greeks will flee in fear before its mighty cry.”

We walk together with our arms around each other’s shoulders, excited at the battles to come, the victories and the celebrations to follow. Powerful and fearless, we go to meet the enemy.

*******


So many memories of him flood my senses in these last moments, but especially the last, blotting out everything around me. So many moments to remember. Odd how the moments become briefer but more profound: the tilt of his head, the color of his eyes, the warmth and strength of his touch. My hand relaxes; a finger strokes the shattered horn. . .

I open my eyes and I am standing in a wide green meadow. The scent of spring is in the air and a light breeze stirs my hair and mustache. Belenos, the sun god, shines his favor upon me and I breathe deeply and without pain. In the center of the meadow, all alone, stands a large oak tree and I see Carnon standing beneath it, his arms crossed over his chest, beaming me his familiar smile.

“What took you so long?” he says.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I was dreaming, I suppose - caught up in memories.”

“Let us go make new ones,” he says.

We race off across the meadow together laughing in wild joy.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
ignoblebard
Jan. 3rd, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for your review sweetie. I appreciate you doing the preliminary proofing for me as well as your encouraging comments. I'm so glad you like this one. *hugs*
nelyo_russandol
Jan. 3rd, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
I'm amazed at how a few short scenes define Anyon's relationship with Carnon so perfectly, from childhood to death, like a figure or landscape sketched by a few expert brushstrokes. The sculpture is magnificent, and so is the tale you've weaved around it.
ignoblebard
Jan. 3rd, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
What a lovely comment, Russandol. Thanks so much! I've always liked the sculpture so when I saw the chance to write about it I couldn't resist. I'm glad you like what I did with it.
laylasinger
Jan. 5th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
Beautiful! Very moving, and I will second the utterly perfect analogy of the "figure or landscape sketched by a few expert brushstrokes." Couldn't have said it better. And, once again, your first-person storytelling doesn't disappoint, very natural and easy to get immersed in. And I love the Gaul's last line... “I don’t know,” I reply. “I was dreaming, I suppose - caught up in memories.” Beautifully haunting! :)

~ L

ignoblebard
Jan. 8th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for you comments Layla. I'm glad the story came across so well since I tend to cling to my beloved fandom characters. I can't thank you enough for your kindness and encouragement.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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