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Primus Amor Revocatus

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Primus Amor Revocatus

Ywain sat at his usual spot at the tavern and grabbed the freshly baked loaf from the bowl Vanora had left on the table for him to share with Lamorak. With a heavy sigh, he tore the loaf in half, handing a large portion over to Rak who was attacking his stew like someone who'd forgotten what actual food tasted like. Ywain absently shredded his share of the bread as his thoughts drifted to a small problem which was currently preying on his mind ... or more accurately, a certain problem which was roughly well over six feet tall in height and went by the name of Dagonet.

Before he knew it, Ywain found himself staring blindly at a large heap of crumbs and shaking his head in disbelief that he'd managed to deprive himself of a fair part of his repast, he gave a disgusted snort. The discontented sound was enough to briefly distract the famished warrior from his meal. The younger man abruptly raised his head to watch his friend curiously.

"Wha's up ?" he mumbled, as he chewed on a large, yet tenderly cooked chunk of lamb.

"Well- "

Rak raised a hand in a gesture of silence and shook his head before Ywain could continue further, "Nay, don't tell me, Yws ... let me guess, it's to do with Dag, aye ?"

Nodding slowly, Ywain's concerned dark eyes met Lamorak's mildly interested gaze. He replied with a sarcastic drawl, "How could you tell ?"

The titan smirked, ripped off a chunk of bread and tossed it into his maw and chewed pensively. "When isn't it ? Only your friends are able to get you so distracted ... After all, it's not like you to waste a decent meal ..." Rak glanced slyly at the Healer's flat abdomen and then at the mound of crumbs on the his plate. It was a look Ywain didn't miss and he immediately scowled and returned the glare.

"Don't start, Rak ... Just don't ..." the slight herbalist warned his dark-haired kinsman who struggled to keep a straight face. "I'm not in the mood to listen to you take the piss right now- "

Lamorak slowly shook his head and raised a placating hand. "Weren't taking the piss, Yws ... Just saying it's strange to see you play with your food rather than eating it, 's all ... Didn't mean no harm, brother ..."

The Siraci reached for his tankard of ale and took a deep pull from it, before pausing to wipe the foam away from his lips with the back of his hand. "Aye, I know ... It's just- "

"Just that you've got something, or rather someone, on your mind ..." Lamorak prompted, while reaching across the table for the clay ewer to top up his own tankard to the brim before tearing off a chunk of bread to mop up some of the stew which clung to the sides of his wooden bowl. Sharp, clear, steel grey orbs studied Ywain intently.

"Reckon you could say that ... Would you say that Dag's been acting oddly of late ?" Ywain asked curiously, knowing that not much went past the astute Iazyges' notice.

Lamorak shrugged his broad shoulders and pondered the question. For once carefully deliberating how to reply without incurring the attractive, Healer's wrath. "Well, since when do any of us come to think of it, act normally ? It's not as if we're allowed to lead a normal, happy life, is it ? No matter how badly we long for it ... Then again, he has been out of sorts over the past week or so. Had a face on him like a smacked arse ... He's definitely not his usual self."

Ywain dragged a weary hand down his face and sighed. Lamorak's candid, yet unusually tactful observation had confirmed what he feared. Something was clearly bothering his fellow Healer and upsetting him greatly. And unfortunately, it appeared that he, Ywain, would have to try and sort out this particular crock of shit that had left the normally, level-headed, gentle-natured Roxolani in a strop which could've easily put the Whelp to shame.

"Shit !" he muttered, wishing for the umpteenth time that week that he didn't have to be the one to have to sort Dagonet's head out; struggling to comprehend how he always managed to be the one that ended up with the dirty work. "You're right. Something's bothering him. He's been acting like he's got a wild hair up his arse for days ... down one moment, then up, then back down again ... Looks like I'll have to talk to him."

Lamorak met Ywain's gaze knowingly and murmured nonchalantly, "Think it might have something to do with Arthur and the delay in the release papers coming through ? Rumour has it Dag means to leave once he's has them ... That he has no intention to remain at a place he loathes ... To be constantly reminded of Tristan's cheating ... Can't say I blame him for wanting to bugger off and start anew somewhere else ..."

Ywain worried his lower lip and shrugged. "Dunno ... could be. Dagonet actually said that ? Gods ! He must still be pretty pissed off then."

The fiery, troublemaker shrugged once more, "That's what I heard ... Maybe you should have a word with Bors ? After all, they're family. If anyone would know what's going on, it'll be him ... or failing that, Van ..."

Carding slim, restless fingers through his cropped hair, Ywain snorted, "The way things are going, I may have to do that. Dag's fucking mood swings are distracting ... Dunno where I am half the time with him lately. Or if I'm going to be dealing with a moody, stubborn, bugger or one that's as giddy and excitable as a love-sick maid."

It was Lamorak's turn to snort, before covering up his amusement with a slight cough. He hurriedly raised his tankard to conceal the smirk on his ruggedly attractive countenance and muttered, "A wench would be far easier to deal with right now. Lesser of two evils 'n' all ..."

"Heard that," Ywain growled, glaring pointedly at the strapping knight sat across from him.

"Sorry," came the drawled reply from a man who looked far from repentant. Ywain had been about to make a snarky retort, then on seeing the subject of their conversation stalk into the tavern, a large dark grey deerhound close at his heels, merely rolled his eyes in response as he waited for Dagonet to make his way to their table.

A very sullen looking Dagonet flung himself down in an empty chair and glowered darkly at both of the Sarmatians, silently daring them to make a comment. Lamorak, for once, did not rise to the bait; he merely raised an eyebrow and exchanged a meaningful look with Ywain. The elder wasn't one to shy away from a problem and immediately took up the challenge.

"You going to tell me what the fuck's wrong with you, Dag ? You've had a face on you over the past few days like the one "Rat Boy" had the last time he thought he'd got the pox- " Ywain's blunt remark caused Lamorak to snigger at the memory of Lancelot's recent panicked visit to the valetudinarium. "Rat Boy" was the Brethren's latest and favourite insult of choice for their not-so-esteemed and unloved S-I-C.

"There's naught wrong with me ... just want folk to mind their own fucking business, 's all ..." Dagonet growled as he reached over for the ewer and sloppily poured some ale into a clean tankard, not caring that the golden liquid spilled over his calloused fingers.

"Bollocks ! That's a crock of shit and you damn well know it," Ywain leaned across the table and hissed at him. "Your head's been all over the place this last week ... Do you realize that you've been a really miserable git ... a right moody bastard ? Folk will begin to believe you're turning into the Whelp if you're not careful."

Dagonet narrowed his eyes, his lips thinned in anger. He glared at Ywain as he debated how to reply to what he'd been accused of, his hand tightly clenching around the tankard's handle, causing the knuckles to turn white with strain.

"Talk to me, Dag, for mercy's sake ... Just tell me what the bloody hell's going on," Ywain softly pleaded. "This just isn't you and it's starting to worry me. Have you 'n' Bors fallen out or something ?"

Pale-faced, Dagonet bowed his head in attempt to avoid his friend's scrutiny as well as the mild interest in Lamorak's eyes. Ywain's questioning and pleas made him light-headed, the words buzzed around relentlessly, making his head spin. He slowly raised his head and reluctantly met Ywain's gaze with pained, soulful silver eyes.

"Please, Ywain ... not now. Just ... just drop it, aye ? I'm begging you, just let it go ..." he murmured softly. "It's nothing, I swear ..."

As soon as a mutinous expression graced Dagonet lean, rugged features, Ywain sighed in defeat. He knew that look only too well - had seen it all too often on the faces of his brethren when they were reluctant to talk - and that it would be easier getting blood out of a stone than to get the guarded Roxolani to admit what was upsetting him so badly. "Fine ..." he replied in resignation, knowing this time he was beaten. "You win. I'll drop it ... for now. Just because I agreed to what you want, doesn't mean I've given up or forgotten mind. I'll find out what happened somehow, Dagonet ... one way or another. Whether you like it or not ..." He glanced briefly at Lamorak, who'd remained unusually quiet during the exchange between both men and saw the impetuous dark-haired knight imperceptibly dip his head in encouragement, before rising to his feet and quietly announcing he was going to take a piss.

Feeling both tense and somewhat relieved that the normally very tenacious Sarmatian had made such a concession, Dagonet gave a slight nod of acceptance. A strained, awkward silence fell between them. Something which Rak very quickly discovered on his return to the table and although he was sorely tempted to make some sort of off-hand, teasing remark about it, he wisely decided to keep his trap shut rather than alienate the men he was closest to at the fort and regarded as kith. What Lamorak did though was catch Ywain's eye and cant his head slightly in the direction from where he'd returned from. Shrewd, limpid, brown orbs quickly followed the subtle hint and Ywain gave a grim, faint smile.

Grabbing the almost empty pitcher, Ywain quickly stood up and made his way towards the kitchen and found an equally concerned and weary Bors sat at the table, absently rubbing his nape with a large hand as he poured himself a large tankard full of ale with the other. Their eyes silently met across the room. Both men sighed and Ywain traversed the chamber floor to take up Bors' mute invitation to join him.


A very pensive Bors kicked out the chair opposite his from under the table and then quietly filled up a clean tankard with some ale and pushed it across the rough knotted surface of the table towards the younger Siraci.

"Sit," Bors' deep, gruff voice softly rumbled in invitation, reaching for his own tankard and carelessly filling it up to the brim. "You eaten ?"

Ywain took the seat opposite the fort's ferocious prize fighter and gave a brief nod in response. He carefully studied the older Roxolani's face and saw that the man was as weary as he was and that something was clearly gnawing away at him. Worrying him deeply. Pulling his lower lip between his teeth them slowly releasing it, before soothing it with the tip of his tongue, Ywain carded restless fingers through his thick, cropped hair and briefly pondered how he'd broach the subject he wanted to discuss with Bors.

Fuck it ! He thought and decided the best way to handle the matter would be to just come right out with it. That it would be best for all concerned to avoid any bullshit. He also knew Bors always responded far more favourably to a direct approach ... that he hated any mind games and pussy-footing. Ywain sighed gently and grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns.

"What the bloody hell's going on with your Dag ? I want ... no, I need to know, Bors ..."

To Ywain's stunned disbelief and dismay, he saw the pugilist's massive shoulders slump in defeat before he bowed his head and slowly closed his eyes. Bors appeared conflicted and going by the pained expression on the man's expressive face, it was obvious to the Siraci that his companion knew something. That he was in a dilemma whether to reveal it or not.

"Bors, if you know something you have to tell me. I've never seen Dagonet act so oddly ... it isn't like him. He's usually so laidback and calm. Not like this. He's been a right miserable sod over the past week or so. Except for that phase earlier in the week when he seemed almost euphoric- "

"They've been fucking," a clearly ill at ease Bors muttered, avoiding eye contact with the younger Sarmatian. He hastily grabbed his tankard and took a deep draught of ale to calm his nerves.

"WHAT ? " Ywain slumped back in his chair, wide-eyed with astonishment. "Who ?"

"Ulric's kennel hand, Lucan and Dag. They've been," Bors made a crude gesture of jabbing his right forefinger repeatedly through a circle he'd made with his left thumb and index finger, "y'know ... ? Having it off ... Coupling ... Engaging in the act of being a beast with two backs ... Fucking, Yws ! For the love of gods, don't make me draw you a fucking picture, man ..."

"H-How ? ... When ? But ... Oh, gods ... How did you find out ?" Ywain demanded, stunned and dismayed that his friend had somehow managed to keep something so important from him. He stared intently at Bors, carefully scrutinizing him to make sure he was being genuine. Thankfully, he'd always found Bors easy to read and despite the man's penchant for teasing and crap-stirring, Ywain had come to realize that Bors was unfailingly and brutally honest at all times.

Bors snorted. "We're both adults, Ywain. Men of the world ... I'd say we both have a damn good idea "how" ! As for the "when" ? I happened to catch Dag in the act of sneaking out of the kennels just after dawn at the beginning of the week ..." The stocky warrior fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair beneath the Healer's keen gaze.

"Aren't you jumping to conclusions, Bors ? After all, Dag could've been with a wench- "

Bors barked a short, humourless laugh. "Our Dag ... with a wench ? Don't make me laugh ... There's not a cat's chance in hell of that ever happening, Ywain. Not after Raven and she was a one off. Ever since I've known my cousin he's shown no interest in chasing skirt ... He's always been attracted to men. Always will be ... And you know as well as I do, that Lucan's not made a good job of hiding his feelings about Dag ever since he arrived here from gods-only-know-where. That he wants Dag badly ... Nay, saw it with my own eyes. Dag was definitely sneaking from Lucan's loft at the kennels- "

"Bu- "

The Roxolani sighed. "No "buts." I know what I saw and what I saw was pretty damning. Dag was quietly shutting the loft door just as I was heading for the stables to check on Ignis' hind leg. Couldn't miss him and he sure as hell couldn't deny where he'd been if I'd chosen to tackle him about it. Dag left clutching his tunic and boots in one hand ... his leathers unlaced and barely covering his arse and he was covered with bites, grazes and fresh bruises ..."

Ywain drew his hand slowly down his face until it covered his chin and groaned, "Fuck !"

"Aye," Bors swallowed another mouthful of ale, then wiped the foam away from his lips with the back of his hand. "You could say that ... considering that's what the pair of them were up to all night ... Come to think about it, Dag did seem pretty uncomfortable in the saddle that day. His arse must've been killing him ! Lucan must've fuc- "

The Siraci hastily cut across, clearly not wanting to hear the rest of that particular observation from Bors. "Aye, well ... that doesn't explain why Dag's been in such a pissy mood over the past two days ... There's more, isn't there ? Something you're not telling me, Bors ... Something you know."

Bors frowned. His good-natured countenance was cloaked with uncertainty and Ywain could see just how torn the older man was. "You're too sharp for your own good, d'ya know that ? Aye, you're right. There's more. Something I'd always sworn to keep to myself, but I can see now that it'll do no good to anyone if I do ..." He paused briefly to sup a little more ale as Ywain eyed him expectantly.

"Listen, Yws, I'm going to trust you and do something I vowed I never would ... Something I thought - believed - that I wouldn't have to do. I'm going to break a confidence that I've kept for nigh on ten years ... an oath I made to Dag and promised faithfully to keep. But I can't help feeling that if I keep my vow, then two people who seem to care for each other will be as miserable as fuck. So, out of respect and 'cause I've a lot of time for you and I firmly believe Lucan could be good for Dag seeing as he's currently making him forget that bloody Aorsi Scout, I'm prepared to tell you what I know."

Ywain leaned forward in his seat, elbows propped on the table top and both hands gently cradling his tankard. Dark eyes gleamed with interest and burning curiosity. He nodded quietly and waited for Bors to begin to talk.

"You've got to understand, Yws, that I'm not happy about betraying Dag's confidence ... his trust in me. But I'm doing this for the greater good ... for his well-being and happiness. Hope you realize that I'm telling you this in confidence. That I trust you implicitly to keep what I tell you to yourself ... There's something you need to know - to understand - about our Dag. Why he's like he is ... Why he acts the way he does. What I'm about to tell you'll give you a rough idea of how his mind works. How he regards himself. And it'll explain why my daft cousin suddenly done "a Whelp" and gone all moody lately ..."

The stocky Roxolani shifted his powerful, bulky frame in an attempt to make himself more comfortable on the hard, unforgiving wooden chair. He leant back, his legs outstretched in front of him; palms connected with his stubby fingers steepled and the index fingers absently tapping against his lips. Closing his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts, Bors sighed deeply before slowly opening them. Eyes as dark as night immediately met equally concerned and anxious identically hued pair and drawing a deep, unsteady breath, Bors slowly began his tale.


"I'm not sure where to start, if I'm honest," Bors gruffly admitted with a rueful grin. "Reckon it's probably best from the beginning, aye ? Means going back ten years though. Dag had just turned nineteen, if I remember rightly ... and we'd both been slaves more or less to fucking Rome for five years. But that's neither here nor there. D'ya remember when we first got here we were assigned a mentor ? A fellow Sarmatian who was to guide us ... to teach us how to fight and more importantly, to survive."

"Some of us were lucky as to who we were granted as a mentor, others not so much. Well, Dag was one of the fortunate ones. He ended up with Tor. Now, Tor was a Iazyges, like Rak and one of the more respected and popular of the knights. I remember everyone liked the man and would've given their eye teeth to have been his charge, but for some reason Tor was drawn to our Dag. Saw something he could work with. Something he could nurture. In many ways they were like kindred spirits, being similar in nature and sharing the same interests. Dag's always been a bright lad, even as a nipper. Quiet, always eager and willing to learn. And Tor appreciated that, especially considering the way the rest of us used to piss about and drive our own tutors mad." Bors smirked at the memory and was pleased to see a faint grin of appreciation tug at Ywain's lips.

"Y'know Dag's one of the few of us able to read 'n' write, don't you ?" Bors remarked softly. Ywain silently nodded, recalling the many times he'd caught the younger Roxolani with his nose in some tome about healing. "Well, Tor taught him that. Encouraged Dag's love of learning ... He could see Dagonet was never meant to be a warrior. A killer. It's not in my cousin's nature to cause harm or to steal another's life ... but those Romans bastards never gave us a choice in the matter, did they ? Being forced to kill, to maim, cause suffering and pain, well ... Tor saw how all of that was slowly killing Dag, how it tore into his soul ... that Dag needed some sort of outlet or distraction to balance things. When all's said and done, you could say Tor was the one responsible for getting Dag interested in healing and is the reason why Dag eventually became one of the fort's finest healers ..."

Pausing briefly, Bors took another pull from his tankard. His dark eyes held a faraway look and were tinged with sorrow.

"So," Ywain ventured, stretching a brawny arm across the table towards the bread basket and tearing a chunk from one of Van's freshly baked loaves. "So, Tor ... What was he really like ? I take it you liked him ... that you were close ?" He popped a piece of bread into his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully.

Bors nodded. "Aye, you're right, Ywain. I liked him. A lot. He became more than a mentor to us ... we saw and loved him as an older, wiser brother. Saw him as kin. As we did Ector. Tor was a good man ... a fine one. Fair, honest and honourable. Quiet, loyal and kind-hearted, admittedly, but possessing of a shrewd and quick mind and a dry sense of humour; like most Iazyges, he was a calculating and brilliant tactician and ferocious and deadly in battle and more importantly, one you could trust as well as rely on to watch your back at all times."

"Sounds like a paragon," Ywain murmured, tearing off another piece of bread and absently toying with it.

"Aye, that he was ... and that's why we all loved him," Bors replied sadly. "Not that he didn't possess any faults. Like the rest of us, he was far from perfect. He could be reserved and cold, until he got to know you; he had a temper, mind ... could be harsh and sarcastic and did not tolerate arse-lickers and fools gladly. Maybe that's why he found our "Rat Boy" so irksome ... Fuck ! Tor would've downright hated Rat, if he were still with us. Would've considered him a grave insult to their tribe ..." The Roxolani smiled sadly at the thought.

Ywain smirked over his tankard, "Think I'd've liked the man for that alone."

"You surprize me, Yws. You really do," Bors grinned, knowing full well that the Iazyges S-I-C was far from being the younger man's favourite person at the fort. That Ywain and - if Bors were being honest - most of the Sarmatian contingency, loathed Lancelot with a passion.

The Siraci returned Bors' grin, both united by common ground. Their intense dislike of their not-so-esteemed S-I-C. The slight, quick-witted knight gradually sobered, sensing there was more to come from the Roxolani. More to be revealed ... and not all of it, going by the flicker of anguish which crossed Bors' face and the fading light in his eyes, good.

"What did he look like ?"

"Tor ?" Bors briefly worried his lower lip as he recalled the man he'd regarded as a brother. "Tall. Shorter than Rak, but taller than the Scout. Lean, yet well-built and he moved like a big cat. You could never hear him coming. He was all about stealth, grace and power and I'd never seen his like on the battle-field to this day. Every motion seemed relaxed, yet in a sword fight he could move like lightning and with deadly precision ... if you thought Tristan was good, he had nothing on Tor. There's just no comparison ..." Bors re-distributed his bulk in his chair once more and continued to reflect. "Tor reminded me of a predator. Sleek. Dangerous ... and beautiful with striking grey eyes and long dark hair. Black as a raven's wing it was ... He was a handsome man. I didn't see it at the time, but now ? No wonder Da- " Bors' voice tailed away and he suddenly fell silent.

"No wonder what ?" Ywain prompted out of curiosity, yet Bors wouldn't be swayed and merely shook his head sadly.

"You still want to know what happened ?" Bors watched Ywain nod in response. " 'Appen you would 'n' all ... I doubt I'll ever forget that day, for as long as I live. It was late autumn and the weather had held. We were on our way back from patrol. Me, Dag, Safir, Ector, Tor and Pelleas ... About a mile before reaching the fort, we were suddenly ambushed by Woads. I remember it as if it were yesterday ... We were tired, hungry, longing for a bath and a change of clothing, yet in good spirits. Pelleas and Saf led us, bickering over which one of them would end up with the most coin and the comeliest wench by the end of the night. Ector and I were close behind and Dag and Tor were on point. None of us expected an attack so close to the garrison and because of it, we were sadly lax ... Fuck ! It came right out of nowhere, without warning and we were clearly outnumbered, although Pelleas, Saf and Ector picked off a fair amount of the buggers with their arrows. Yet still ... still those blue bastards somehow managed to cut Dag off from the rest of us and pulled him off his horse and the only one close enough to help him was Tor. And Tor ... Tor, goddess love him, was having none of it. Wouldn't leave our Dag alone to fend for himself."

By now, Ywain could see how the memory still affected Bors. The loud-mouthed, fearless warrior was clearly attempting to compose himself as he dragged a large, trembling hand down his face and bit his lip. "I-If you'd only had a chance to see him, Yws. Tor fought like a man possessed that day. Cut a swathe through those damn pack rats, leaving naught but a bloody trail of blood and corpses in his wake. It was a terrible thing to witness yet ... yet a thing of beauty as well. And he did it for my cousin. For Dag. Then again, knowing Tor, he'd have done the same for any of us that day ... Whether it was an old Iazyges creed not to leave your brethren cornered and outnumbered or not, I'm buggered if I know, but ... but if it hadn't been for Tor, Dag would have been lost to us that day. For good. And for him to act the way he did, so swiftly, selflessly and bravely, I'll always be grateful ..."

"What happened ?" It was Ywain's turn to shift in his chair and take a pull from his tankard.

"Well, the rest of us were still some distance away ... I remember when it happened. It was so sudden, yet ... yet in my mind's eye, it felt like time moved at a snail's pace, y'know ? Both Dag and Tor were clearly flagging by then. They were fucking shattered, even though they'd somehow managed to get things seemingly in hand. Like I said, what happened next was such a blur ... Tor's sword arm was hit by an arrow, leaving him defenceless and he was unable to wield his weapon. Then, Dag went to defend him ... I saw a Woad sneak up on Dag and the bastard had somehow got Tor's fucking sword ! Next thing Dag gave a roar of pain and fell to the ground clutching the left side of his face. Blood was seeping through his fingers, drenching his tunic and brigandine. Tor naturally went on the offensive, despite being unable to fight properly. Poor bastard never stood a chance. Damn Woad severed his left hamstring, before skewering him in the gut. Would've finished Dag off too, if it hadn't been for Pelleas' skill with a bow ... By the time the rest of us had killed or got rid of the remaining Woads and reached the pair of them, it was too fucking late ..."

Bors inhaled raggedly and turned the half-empty tankard around with aimless repetition in his hands. "Dag had managed to crawl over to Tor and was cradling him in his arms. It was a godsdamn fucking mess, Yws. Tor bled out ... I'd never seen two people drenched in so much fucking blood and I can't forget the sight of Tor's eyes staring sightlessly towards the blue sky nor the state Dag was in. He was fucking inconsolable and despite his own injuries, which were severe, would not be parted from Tor. He fought like a wild animal as Saf, Ector and Pelleas tried to separate them. At the time, the rest of us took his extreme reaction to be one of devastation for the loss of his mentor ... his brother. It was only a couple of weeks later I discovered how Dag really felt ... what he was truly feeling ..."

"And that was ...?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, Bors slowly raised his head and steadily looked at Ywain.

"It was grief over the loss of a lover. Not a mentor or a brother, but his best friend and lover. Tor was ten years older than Dag when he passed and although fairly innocent in some ways, Dag had always been mature for his age ... and I think that's what drew Tor to him. They'd always been able to talk to and confide in each other. Gods ! There were times I'd swear the two of them could communicate in a way others couldn't possibly understand. But I only found out by accident the true nature of Dag and Tor's relationship a few weeks later, when Dag went missing."

There was a rough scrape of oak against the stone floor as Bors rose abruptly from his chair and began to pace. "I'd gone to the valetudinarium to check up on Dag one evening and found him gone. The little bugger had done a bunk and I spent some time hunting him down. In the end, I found him at the cemetery, kneeling by Tor's grave, bawling like an infant. Dag was in absolute pieces ... cursing Tor for being so stupid in trying to protect him when he was unable to defend himself; for dying and leaving him to try and cope alone ... that he couldn't live without him and that his life was meaningless now that Tor was dead. Later that night, once I'd dragged Dag back to his quarters and made him swear not to do another runner, he admitted everything. Confessed that they'd been together for two years ... that he'd been seventeen when they'd first lain together and that Tor had been the first person to ever claim him. That they'd loved each other, yet had kept it secret fearing the Romans, if they discovered their relationship, would separate them ... " Bors raised his hand to his mouth and absently gnawed on a piece of torn skin around his thumbnail. "If I'm being honest Ywain, I can't say for certain that Dag got over or will ever get over Tor's death. He was never the same after it happened. Losing his lover, his self-confidence and gaining that godsdamned fucking scar of his in one fell swoop almost broke him ..."

Ywain leant forward, rested his elbows on the table and stretched his legs before crossing them at the ankles. "I can see how that would affect him. What I don't get is why he's acting out now. I want to help him, but if he won't talk then … I need to know, to understand- "

"Listen, Ywain, Dag's not been himself for a long time. That fucking shambles of a relationship with fucking Tristan didn't help matters. It totally fucked Dag up. So much so, that he's either too bloody scared or doesn't know who the hell he can trust anymore. Now, before you say anything, I'm not saying Lucan would ever do anything to hurt Dag. My gut says he wouldn't, that he's a good, kind-hearted lad and there's nothing I'd like to see more than for Dag to be happy again. But I know him only too well, he's scared shitless by those feelings and of having his trust betrayed again … 'n' I can't say I blame the soft bugger after all that's happened ..."

Bors closed his eyes as he recalled the conversation he'd had with Dagonet only a few months ago at the cemetery. Of the heartfelt, anguished words his cousin had uttered. Of how his young kinsman had leant against Tor's grave for support as he'd spoken: "Is it so fucking wrong of me to want what everyone else has ? To love someone of my own and be loved in return ? To have someone to come home to at night or after a rough day ? Someone to confide in ... to laugh with ? Is there something wrong with me ? What have I done in this life or in a past life that's so wrong that I end up losing every single person that I care about ? That I end up losing them to other people or have death steal them away from me ? Am I such a bad person for mercy's sake, that everyone ends up leaving me ?"

Everything about Dagonet's recent behaviour now made sense to Bors and, to an extent, to Ywain. How the Healer's past had affected him. That death and betrayal had made him fearful of love and reluctant to trust. That Dagonet chose to isolate himself than go through the pain of rejection and betrayal or have another loved one killed or die on him.

"That's a load of bollocks, Bors," Ywain stated bluntly. "He is worthy of happiness. Of being loved. He's just too blind to see it, 's all …"

"Well," Bors remarked with an impish gleam in his dark eyes, "then it looks like it's up to the pair of us to help Dag see sense, as well as what's good for him, aye ?"

"Aye ..." Ywain grinned slowly, the expression causing his face to light up with impish glee. "It looks like it's down to us." Then noting that their tankards were almost empty, he reached for the ewer and hastily topped them up. Both men smirked, then toasted their latest partnership in mischief-making, unaware of Dagonet's presence in the shadows and that he'd heard everything which had been said ...