I didn't say one last word of farewell to my former knights, nor did I look back at Lancelot once. It was meant only half to punish him, but more to punish myself.
It is my fault.
I don't know how long I rode till I could see out of the corner of my eye the first Woads darting through the trees around me. They drove me closer into the forest. Closer to Merlin.
When he finally emerged from the darkness of the trees around us, I could read in his face that he already knew. His sad eyes wandered to the concealed body behind me on the horse, and he gestured towards his men to take it down. To take *her* away from me. Other hands reached for me, seized me, and pulled me from the horse.
Guinevere's body was brought before Merlin and laid onto the ground. Again, her broken eyes stared at me accusingly, when the face was revealed.
Angry shouts came from the now gathered crowd and I was forced to my knees, hands pulled back and bound tightly. And still Merlin did not speak to me.
"It's my fault," I said, my voice dull with pain. "I am so.. so sorry. Instead of bringing your people peace, I only brought more death. You may judge over me as you wish."
My eyes cast to the ground before me, I didn't notice that Merlin had moved. Gently, his hand lifted my chin, his knowing eyes boring into mine. The sadness in them wrung a sob from my throat. - Guinevere had been a symbol, yes. A peace-offering, to unite this land with the half-briton, who had fought against his own people half of his life. But she had also been Merlin's daughter.
He must hate me. He must hate me as I hated him for the death of my mother.
"I cannot protect you anymore, Arthur Castus." His voice sounded coarse and broken. The voice of an old man. "I know it wasn't you, who killed her," he said, stopping me with a wave of his hand, when I opened my mouth to speak. "I *know* it wasn't you." He repeated. "But you came back to suffer for it, and so you shall. My people demand it. The pact between us is broken. "
Lightly, his hand caressed my cheek. "This is not the future I have foreseen..." With these words he turned and walked away, supported on his staff, as if any strength was drawn from him.
I thought I could bear everything that they would do to me. Pain meant nothing to me and I wasn't afraid to die. I longed for death. Now, that I had lost everything. But death didn't come, and the pain seemed to last forever.
They had stripped me to the waist and bound me tightly, so I was hanging from my wrists between two strong trees, arms outstretched and hurting. My wrists were already sore, because the ropes bit sharply into the skin, abrading it, and I just couldn't stop struggling against the bonds, testing them again and again from time to time.
I am sure I screamed, when they forced small, polished stakes of wood through the skin and flesh of my chest, piercing it and stretching the wound, pouring something onto it to make the blood flow freely. But the memory of this is already blurring, because the pain of here and now is too present, too demanding.
Death will be a mercy, when it comes.
My throat is sore and I would cry with relief if only the tiniest drop of water hit my tongue right now.
Warm blood is still trickling down my chest, dripping onto the ground, gathering there. My blood. I am shivering, my skin ice-cold by now and my head swimming from the bloodloss.
My life is leaving me, but not fast enough. Too much time left to think.
I turn my gaze towards the dark clouded sky, my lips trying to form words, but I don't dare to pray.
Minutes later, it begins to rain.