A tale of High Noon Over Camelot
Most nights they’d sleep in the saddle.
They’d slow long enough for Lance to post outriders, then – if the rust storms would let them – they’d keep moving, let the nags roll on beneath them. It was a long road Galahad was leading them, and they had so little time left.
Less time still if they ran out of water. Arthur wouldn’t have them go the way of Gawain’s convoy. If they were caught out, it was all over. For the town too, like as not.
So they didn’t stop to bury Bedivere, or to mourn Tristen when he finally bled out, still on his bike.
Even Ector, weathered and wise and old as the wastes – Ector who’d been with him from the very beginning. When the dust from the trail had choked her lungs and she couldn’t ride any more, he’d helped the old-timer prop herself up against one of the ancient Pylons. Loaded her shotgun, pressed it into her leathery hands – hands that long ago had first taught him to work a pistol – and left her there.
Left her to the ghouls they never saw but knew must be following, not far behind.
Later, Kay had tried to console him. Their mother would never have been content to stay behind, not while there was hope, he’d said. He was looking dead at Galahad as he said it. Arthur had grunted something in reply and spurred his bike on to join Gwen and Lance. Regrets were one thing, but guilt was a luxury he’d left behind long before he ever came to Camelot.
Ector had taught him that. She’d never been one for miracles and visions, whatever Kay imagined. But faith can take many forms, and all of them kill us in the end.
He slept fitfully those nights on the road, and dreamed the old dreams. The ones that had troubled him all his life, shaping him by degrees from boy to bandit to lawman to – what would he be, come the end of this trail, now he’d thrown in with old man Galahad? A zealot? Somewhere, Lavinia Stone was laughing.
The night’s heat would mix with the fumes and the dull throb from that lucky rifle shot that had clipped him a few days’ ride clockwise, making him half delirious with thirst and pain. And then he’d see it, clearer than ever before. The tower beyond all imagining that was Camelot but not Camelot, and the man who bore his name but was not him. Was nothing like him.
The golden age had never come, not to his Camelot. Just the same old fear and death, blood and whiskey. But at least, for a time, he’d been their protector.
That time was drawing to a close. He’d mark its passing day by day, with every shot he fired from Excalibur. Twenty-eight rounds left now, in the whole world. He kept them in a pouch about his neck and mourned every kill as though he’d lost a brother.
Arthur had fired the ancient railgun more these few weeks than he’d done this past decade. He’d led his fair share of raids and posses in that time, but mostly the ghouls knew better than to walk into Camelot in force, and often as not the small-time drifters would stop their trouble at his approach, flanked by Guinevere and Lancelot, Excalibur holstered at his side and death in his gaze.
Sometimes he’d catch himself musing that it was more about that gunbelt and the way you wear it, the promise you make your enemies with your eyes as you face them down. It was that that kept them safe, not a balanced gun, a fast hand or a sure aim.
He knew it was why Lancelot hadn’t been able to kill them both the day they met, a lifetime ago. Why they hadn’t killed him either. Mostly. He’d recounted this theory to the other two once, in his cups. Gwen laughed, told him he was an old man and a fool. Lance had just smiled, and closed up early. He knew the value of a symbol.
“…worth ten of the sword!” – the strange words and hundreds like them would flash white hot across his mind, snapping him from reverie, making sleep impossible.
In those burning instants, he’d feel the weight of it all, and know it was true. The golden age that never came; the city that stood at the dawn of a world instead of in its dying embers. And beyond – to a myriad of Camelots and a thousand thousand Arthurs, unfathomable worlds apart, each different, each fighting the same hopeless battle.
He’d feel the burden of that task pressing down until it felt like it’d crush his chest, and he’d wake every day gasping for breath, feeling older than he ever had, older even than Ector.
And as he screamed inwardly, Galahad would meet his gaze with those crazed eyes of his and grin, and Arthur would know again that whatever had spoken to Galahad was moving him too.