Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and King Arthur belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Jerry Bruckheimer/Antoine Fuqua/Touchstone Pictures/David Franzoni/lots of other people who aren't me.
I have heard often of what cruel beasts wolves can be. There are those packs that harry the more isolated villages, who hunt the unwary in the deepest winters, when all things starve, dragging down even grown men to fill their shrunken bellies, preying on children when they can get them. There are those wolves who cut swathes through a poor herdsman’s flocks, merciless in their unceasing hunger. I remember the horses my father and I would find, now and then, gutted and stripped of meat, pulled apart by a dozen different mandibles.
Yet I have seen those wolves, those same creatures who, when hunting, put no distinction between young, grown, or old—I have seen how even those wolves love. I have seen he-wolves running through the snow, howling and snapping, to leap on a bull savaging a she-wolf with its horns. I have seen the mothers braving even spears and arrows to go to their young, howling madness to see their babes trampled under the hooves of lancers’ horses.
I have seen how even wolves touch each other, with such vicious affections, nipping at each others’ ears, baring their teeth, their fangs, the males giving their love and the females accepting it in the only way they know how.
I have seen a wolf lie at another wolf’s feet, the throat bared, at the mercy of that cruel, inhuman love.
The night is still and black, rimed with ice. Buffy does not weep. She does not moan. She does not speak at all, but only clutches at my hand as I walk her back to Vanora’s house.
A blade in her flesh, that is nothing to her. In battle, she is made of steel, of stone, relentless and unyielding.
How small she is. How utterly my hand covers hers.
Vanora’s house is quiet. They have all already gone to bed, to where the family sleeps in the loft. Buffy makes her place in a room in the back, where Vanora used to keep her dried foodstuffs. This is a large house by Briton standards, large even to my eyes, when I am used to seeing Roman extravagance. We helped Bors put it up, back when Vanora was big with their first child, and we mocked him, saying he would build his own Coliseum if he could only convince us to carry the stones.
It cannot be warm in that room. This early in the year, it must be cold, must have been bitterly cold when the winter was at its worst. I know there is no hearth in that room, for we only laid the stones for one in the first hall.
I would be angry with Bors, if I did not know Buffy well enough to understand that it would have been she who insisted on using that room.
I take her to the very door. I want to be sure that she goes inside rather than staying out here, where the frost still whitens the air. I would take her to the fort, if I could, where her room still waits, empty and bare, would build her a fire and make her take a cup of something to warm her, but I know she would only refuse, and so I do not ask or try.
Halfway into the door, Buffy hesitates, turns to look at me. Her eyes are large and dark, green as oak leaves are green.
I am standing very close to her.
I can feel her breath on my skin, at the open neck of my shirt, where my cloak has slipped. If I leaned toward her, if I stepped forward, I would be through the door, and she in my arms.
My hands find the edges of the doorway, the fingers gripping painfully. I do not know if this is to bar her way or mine.
Her hands, her small hands…she puts them on my belt, to my waist, and I think that perhaps she is going to pull me into the house with her.
No. She only breathes, a painful exhalation through her mouth, and presses her cheek against me, where my shoulder curves as if created as nothing less than a place for her head to rest.
“I'm so tired,” she whispers, “I'm just so tired...”
I think of what it would be like to lift her up, to bind my arms about her waist and knees. Would she struggle, would she strike me? Would she sigh and put her own arms about my neck? I think of taking her to her room, laying her down—I think of walking out of this house, of walking with her in my grip back to my own rooms, in the fort, uncaring who should see us, to lock my own door and wrap her in the furs and blankets of my own bed, to make her warm and put to her lips the wine on mine—
I think of the wide, empty steppe, of the winter air, of a herd of horses and a handful of tents, of a boy-child with my face and her eyes.
I pull away. Hurt floods her face, as if she were a child I had slapped, but then I take her hands.
“If only you would let me take care of you,” I tell her, and then let her fingers slip through mine. Buffy stares at me, her lips parted. I put a hand over my face, as if I am embarrassed, and am a little surprised to feel how the heat is in my skin.
This time it is I who walk away into the black night, toward the sentry fires of the fort, I who leave her standing, and I can almost hear her turning my words over in her head, wondering what I meant by them, as if I had spoken in a language she did not know.
I can very nearly feel it, how my words fall into her, how they lay on her bruised, staggering heart, like a salve on a wound.