A PUB, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
The night proprietor of The Stone Griffin looked up from his brown, ale stained bar when the tall, brown haired man entered, but thought nothing of the sword that was peeking out from underneath the long trench coat. He gave a second glance when he saw a second figure in the shadows behind the tall man. It looked like it had a beak and feathers. The large bartender dismissed it as strange blokes from a costume party. A paying customer was a paying customer, after all. Besides, there was the breaking news of the divorce proceedings between Diana and Charles. The commentary was well edited, with a brief synopsis of the Princess's life. As the bartender took the strangers' drink orders, he noticed they had become engrossed in the programme's short biography of Diana.
"What a lovely lady, Griff," Arthur commented to his knight and took a second glance at the full screen shot of Princess Diana, "Oh!" with a quick intake of breath, the King paused, "Griff, she looks just like my Guinevere... well, her hair is shorter, but the resemblance is almost uncanny." Arthur looked around the small, relatively empty pub, "I feel as though I'm being watched...Griff, do you believe in 1500 year old ghosts?"
Griff smiled and shook his head, "Sire, I doubt she has waited all this time just to make you feel uncomfortable in a small pub..." Arthur continued on not hearing his knights words.
"This Lady Diana seems to be just as well appreciated by the people as my lovely Gwen. Guinevere was so beloved, she was the brief bright candle that brought light to the dreariest of winters in Britain." Arthur motioned to the scene of public commentary at the news of the divorce. "This...ability to divorce seems like such an easy way out, if only we had that option..." The King looked up at the television again, "So much pain could have been avoided..."
"Sire, I certainly do not want to pry..." Griff began timidly.
"No, Sir Griff, I know what you are thinking. I loved her. I loved her until the day I was taken from the mortal realm. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. It was supposed to be just an arranged marriage, but she had my heart the moment I saw her run through the woods for a last moment of freedom before she was presented before the court. I always felt like I was caging her, much like I had been caged myself."
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
"I loved him Mary, I truly did."
"Ach, sweetling, I know that. Ye dinnae have to explain yerself to me." The older servant woman continued brushing the Queen's hair, humming to herself. She knew her charge often became lost in memories since the advent of recent events.
"I remember the first time I saw him. The day was so cold, yet the daffodils were just beginning to poke their heads out of the snow. I remember that because I had just explored the woods behind the castle the day before, it had been very warm that day." Guinevere sighed, "But, it was cold the day he and I first met. Mary, I did not want to be married. I did not know him, but I was promised, so I went. I remember the table is what was presented first. That huge round thing that I had traveled with all the way from Cameliard. The table that had been asked for by Arthur for a dowry. That was the only odd thing, I remember, there was no other dowry except my father's pledged loyalty and that huge table."
The former Queen seemed to become lost in thought for a few minutes. Reliving the day that she formally met her husband.
The flourish of trumpets signaling the entrance of Guinevere had just ended. In the brief momentary lull before the Princess entered, Arthur looked over to where Merlin was standing and cocked his head. Merlin frowned; the court knew that he had not approved of Arthur's choice, but the reason for his disapproval was a mystery to them. "I just hope he knows what he is doing," Merlin muttered to himself. And at that moment the Princess Guinevere glided into the great hall looking incredibly nervous.
She smiled up at Arthur shyly, looking for all the world like a living flower just about to blossom. "My Lord and King Arthur?" Arthur nodded. "I am Guinevere, eldest daughter to Leodegrance of Cameliard. My dowry you have received well, I hope. I am pledged in marriage to your hand in order to seal the allegiance of my father to you."
"Lady Guinevere, I am Arthur, High King of Britain. I have well received the Dowry table and I consent to the arrangement of marriage to seal the bond of allegiance," Arthur then switched to his decree voice, "Let it be known that on this day, I, King Arthur, and Lady Guinevere of Cameliard are pledged in marriage. The wedding shall occur tomorrow at sunset." Arthur looked down to where Guinevere was standing and smiled.
Guinevere looked up at her future husband. The white flower noticed the shy smile of the brown-haired man and smiled herself. Both were innocent and nervous, but all fright fled from their minds when their eyes locked. Arthur reached out his hand, "I know this is improper, my lady, but would you care to take a walk with me? Let me show you my castle, introduce you to my domain."
"Thank you, my lord. I would enjoy it." Arthur stepped down from the dais and took Guinevere's hand as court form dictated. The young betrothed couple then strolled throughout the castle, Arthur introduced Guinevere to his fledgling court and toured her around the grounds.
They met for dinner that evening just after sunset, with the assembled court in the great hall. As Guinevere sat in her designated chair for dinner, a great battle scream was heard coming from above the hall. Guinevere looked up sharply at Arthur, more than a little disturbed. Arthur for his part looked fairly expectant. In a few moments the doors of the great hall flew open and two strange creatures entered. One looked much like a winged lion standing upright; the other like an enormous falcon, but with arms separate from its wings. Both were clad in blue robe-like garments. Arthur stood, "My friends of the wood north of Camelot, thank you for arriving tonight. I would like to present my bride-to-be, Lady Guinevere of Cameliard."
Guinevere, somewhat shaken by the creatures' presence, stood, and curtsied as best as she could without giving away how frightened she was. Arthur had told her that afternoon that some strange allies would be joining them for the meal, but she had not been prepared for what she now saw.
"Lady Guinevere, may I present the leaders of the Gargoyle clan that presently live in the North Wood of Camelot. They are friends and allies of ours." Arthur introduced the magnificent looking creatures to his future wife as they sat at the two empty places at the high table near Arthur.
The first one to speak was the female. "Lady Guinevere, we have heard of your father's lands and we bid you welcome to the land of Camelot. Always feel safe within our lands. Know that nothing shall ever come to harm you." Guinevere took the speech from the lovely bird creature well and nodded her acceptance of the offer of protection.
Next to speak was the larger leonine male gargoyle. "Lady Guinevere, as allies to King Arthur and night guard to his castle of Camelot, our clan would be honored if you would consider allowing us to participate as honor guard at your wedding tomorrow eve."
Guinevere smiled and swallowed whatever lingering fears she had in her mind. She was Arthur's wife and her duty was to be the proper lady to grace his court. She had heard of Gargoyles, but they had been driven out of her father's kingdom long ago, so she had never formed an opinion. "I accept your kind and gracious offer." Guinevere gave a sidelong look to her soon-to-be husband, knowing she did the correct thing, but still wondering just the same. Arthur saw her glance over, caught her eye with his and winked his appreciation at her.
The rest of the meal was uneventful. Guinevere, still feeling painfully shy, did not talk much during it, but absorbed all she could of the conversations around her. After the meal, Guinevere bade the Gargoyles good night as the leonine male took his post as night guard and the birdlike female glided her way to the clan to tell them the news.
Mary broke the silence with a question, "Was the wedding beautiful? I love marriages meself, I have two girls of me own married off."
"Mary, the wedding was exquisite, I felt like a treasured goddess through the entire day..."
The day was filled with the arrival of many of the lords and ladies from neighboring lands.
Guinevere was kept in her chambers with her ladies in waiting. The dress was a magnificent pure white fine linen, with a veil and trailing skirt of lace done in one the most intricate Celtic patterns she had ever seen. She was bathed and finely scented with rare herbs and scents from the Celtic lands that she came from. The bouquet that she held consisted of a few rare winter roses, the first few daffodils and crocuses that had poked their heads above the frozen earth and bloomed, and wisps of baby's breath. The wildflower pattern was repeated in her headpiece, with more wisps of baby's breath blending the lace into the ivy cords.
The young King was dressed by his valet in the finest royal blue velvet breeches with a royal purple velvet tunic with silver Celtic wire braid as trim. He wore his best black boots, shined to a high polish.
The court and the invited nobility assembled in the formal gardens in the castle courtyard around sunset. The many torches lining the pathway in the middle of the gardens were lit and the musicians began playing the ancient Celtic wedding strains as the gargoyle honor guard landed and took its places lining the pathway. The Bishop took his place under the silk canopy festooned with wildflowers and silver Celtic piecework. As the musicians modulated to a royal announce Arthur stepped into the garden. He took his place and awaited the arrival of his bride.
Guinevere entered a few minutes later, a vision of loveliness. The murmured reaction from the court was one of approval and wonderment at the beauty of the bride. The music changed to a traditional wedding march and she began to walk down the aisle followed by her ladies in waiting. The vision of loveliness kept walking forward towards her husband, metting under the silk canopy. The service was performed in Latin, a language foreign to Guinevere.
After the service concluded and before their hands were unfasted, Arthur raised their hands together and proclaimed to the assembled court, "Your Queen, High Queen Guinevere of Britain." As they were unbound, the gargoyles moved to either side of the royal couple. Arthur walked back down the aisle with Guinevere on his arm and the honor guard escorted them into the palace.
A PUB, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
"I was never happier than that night, Griff. She was so beautiful. She was my flower, my Celtic rose. I knew the marriage was my duty, but our love was my joy." Arthur sighed.
"But, Sire, did Merlin not tell you of the possible troubles ahead?" Griff could never understand why the most trusted advisor had left Arthur so alone.
Arthur lifted his eyebrow, "What? Griff, did you not know? I would think the legend would be clear on that point. Merlin disappeared before he could give warning..."
A few weeks after the wedding, Queen Guinevere was walking by the great hall when she heard panic in her husband's voice.
"Not there?! Not there?! Kay, he said a week! It has been three! How could Nimue steal him away like that? Did he simply lose track of time?" Arthur's voice dwindled as the shock left his voice. Guinevere stopped outside the hall, surprised at the extreme emotions in her new husband's voice. Filled with concern, she crossed the threshold into the room.
Meekly she spoke, "Arthur? Merlin is gone? Oh, my love, I only met him for a short time at the wedding, but my heart grieves for you." She walked towards him with her arms outstretched. "Please, remember that there are always others here that support you, unconditionally." Arthur moved as a dead man towards the Welsh beauty and allowed himself to be enfolded in the white arms of his love.
Arthur and Guinevere then moved softly out of the Table Room together as the King went to mourn the loss of his tutor and best friend.
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
"When I first saw Lancelot du Lac, I did not think he would prove himself to Arthur's standards. I was there when he was first presented and I was not impressed. Arthur, as always, reserved judgment until the trial period was completed. Of course, Sir Lancelot did prove himself in time, and was admitted to the Round Table." Guinevere looked up from her embroidery, "He soon became Arthur's most trusted knight, proving himself more than worthy of his position many times over."
Mary began humming an old popular court tune as she rocked back and forth with her darning. She knew better than to press the Queen for details. She would talk as the memories rose unbidden to the surface. Poor thing, she lived almost entirely in her mind since Arthur died.
"Arthur would frequently be called away to mediate between vassals. When it was not required for me to travel with him, he would leave Lancelot to look after me. It made sense, truly, that the most trusted knight would have leave to be companion to the Queen."
The late May sky was crystal blue with a few small pure white clouds drifting lazily overhead. The field of grass was soft and green with a higher carpet of wildflowers. The most trusted knight of Arthur's Table and friend of the King walked through the field carrying the large basket stuffed with food. The Queen followed behind him picking the odd bluebell and sunflower. Lancelot du Lac found a flat area underneath a large oak at the edge of the field and spread out a thick blanket. He set down the basket and motioned for the Queen to take her place on the blanket first. She fluffed out her simple green dress as she folded down to a reclining position.
"Why must he go this time, Sir Lancelot? He has been gone so many times these last few months. Does he not realize how much I miss him when he is gone?" Guinevere sighed while absent-mindedly picking at wild flowers near her.
Lancelot continued setting out the meal that the castle cooks had prepared. "My Queen, I was not aware that his absences meant so much to you. I am certain that even he is unaware of the brief pain that he causes you." Lancelot looked over to Guinevere, and gave her a comforting smile. "My Queen, eat, please. You always forsake food for worry. It is a simple mission that he is on, a smoothing over of ruffled feathers that only the High king can take care of."
"Oh, Sir Lancelot, you always have my best interests at heart," Guinevere smiled. "What would I do without you? You were even able to keep the servants and court away for just a brief moment today. Thank you. Court life and politics get so tedious at times..." She looked at the knight reclining next to her on the simple blanket. "Why, Lancelot, what are you smiling at? Such a grin." The Queen laughed, "Am I that amusing to your Benwick sensibilities?"
The knight looked startled. "Oh, my Lady, I was just thinking how beaut....er, how tedious court life can be sometimes. Um, here, please have some bread and honey..." Lancelot set to the food without looking up.
Guinevere placed her hand on his arm, "Why, good sir knight, were you about to complement me on my lovely spring dress on such a lovely spring day?" The clouds fluffed their way overhead on the azure sky as Lancelot looked into the hazel eyes of the Lady reclined next to him. Several breathless seconds passed as Lancelot lightly placed his brown hand on the white hand on his arm.
Lancelot broke the spell as he lifted Guinevere's hand. "My Queen, I...I...ahem, I notice you have not eaten anything yet. My Lady, today is a rare opportunity for you to forget your obligations, I suggest you take advantage of it. Please, pretend I am not here, if that will help."
Each pointedly kept away from the another as much as possible for the rest of the warm afternoon. The electricity created at that simple touch was not mentioned for the rest of their time together that day. The bluebells and sunflowers of the field kept their silence.
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
"We never vocalized the growing tension between ourselves. I loved Arthur too much to betray him like that," The Queen looked out the small window in the chamber. "The rumors, of course, were rampant. I was never sure if Arthur knew about them or not..."
Mary looked up, "But sweetling..."
Guinevere continued. "Oh, court life was a funny thing. Like bees in a hive, they were always buzzing about one untrue thing or another. Mordred was the worst though, always in the middle of things. I never knew quite what to make of him. He never quite seemed to fit in at court." Guinevere absently picked at one of the flowers in a nearby vase. "The friendship was what I treasured most. The friendship and the safety of Arthur's love. It was a quiet intensity that always burned as a night light for me."
Lancelot caught the sleeve of the Queen as she ran to hide during a mad mid-May days game of hide and seek. "Queen Guinevere, I must speak with you." The unnoticed knight looked imploringly into the lady's eyes.
Guinevere brushed his face as she ran by, searching for a place to hide. "Later, sir knight. I will be with Arthur in the library after the evening meal. He is continuing my Latin lessons." Her eyes danced. "You should come, we have plans to make if all is to go well." She winked. "Our special allies shall be pleasantly surprised," Guinevere teased.
The loyal knight smiled. "Yes, my Queen," he stood up, "I shall make my way to the library after evening meal." The knight raised his voice, "I believe there is someone over here whom you are looking for?"
The Queen looked up. "You knave!" she exclaimed and ran to the next closest clump of bushes.
Mordred looked up from where he was nearby listening. He knew he had been right. "Those two certainly do seem to be planning something that does not involve Arthur. Why should Lancelot need to meet with Guinevere?" The knight smirked to himself; his rumor mill had just found fresh fodder.
Later that evening, after Arthur had coordinated with the North Wood Clan for the night, he walked into the library to find an impatient wife with a book under one arm. "Oh, Guinevere," Arthur looked crestfallen. "I had promised to give you a lesson tonight did I not? My rose, please forgive me. I would never knowingly forsake you." Arthur took Guinevere into his arms with a passionate kiss. "Is it too late for a quick lesson in Latin?"
Guinevere kept her head buried in Arthur's broad shoulder. "No, my soul, it is not too late, but it can always keep for tomorrow, if it would be easier for you." A moment of comforting, supporting love filled the air between the royal couple. Just then, the library doors creaked open.
"Oh! My Lord, forgive me for intruding" Lancelot stammered at having interrupted one of the rare personal moments of the king and Queen.
"No, Lancelot, my friend. Please, come in. We were just about to quit these chambers. It has been a long day." Arthur replied.
"Actually, my love, I wanted to talk to both of you." Guinevere settled down on one of the large overstuffed chairs in the room. "I have heard that our nighttime allies are about to experience a very special occurrence. Something that only happens once every ten years or so."
Lancelot sat down on the chair nearest him slightly puzzled, "The gargoyles? What could possibly happen to them?"
Arthur nodded at Guinevere, "Guinevere, I think I know what you are talking about. The entire clan is about to gain new members, correct?" Guinevere nodded as he settled into the chair next to Guinevere, "Yes, I think we should help our friends the best way we can, perhaps have a holiday a night or two after the hatching and show off the babies to the court?"
Lancelot interrupted, "Yes, but will the court receive them well?" Arthur looked at his friend confused. "I mean, we three are very friendly towards the Gargoyles. They are valuable allies and brothers in battle and we recognize that. But, my liege, you must recognize that not even all of your knights are amicable to the creatures." Lancelot paused. "We know of Mordred's dislike of the clans, but - though I hate to say this - I have heard of even Kay saying that he only puts up with them because of you." He trailed off as he guiltily looked up at the king and Queen.
"Well, that can't be helped." Arthur sighed and took Guinevere's hand. "I think that if we get permission from the clan leaders to make a fuss, however," Arthur paused and looked at Guinevere, "perhaps we can better illustrate to the court and the commoners that the gargoyles are just like them. The gargoyles do not mean them harm. I wish I could make them understand that."
Guinevere looked at her husband with compassion in her eyes. "Arthur, the hatching, if I have heard correctly, will not occur for another month or so. I have some ideas on presenting them. Let me work with the clan. I think the co-leaders especially understand the human-gargoyle problem. I have a feeling we can work something out to our advantage."
Arthur nodded and smiled at his beloved wife. "My love, I know you will accomplish this to the best of your ability. I don't know why I haven't thought of this before... you really are probably the best to pull this off. Beloved by my knights, the court, the commoners, and the gargoyles were just telling me how highly they regard you."
Lancelot smiled at his friends. "My Queen, if there is anything I can do to facilitate this plan, please do not hesitate to use me."
"Yes, Sir Lancelot, I shall certainly have need of your services."
Arthur looked approvingly at Lancelot, "I would help, but I am so busy these days... Lancelot you will be a good aid in my stead."
A few moments of friendly silence passed as they basked in the warmth of the fire on the cool May night. Lancelot began to get up. "My king, my Queen, I shall take my leave of you now. I leave you to your letters, my Queen." The knight bowed to the lord and lady and quietly took his leave of the warm room and the couple therein.
A week later found Guinevere and Lancelot alone in the same area of the library awaiting the leaders of the clan. "Lancelot, I must disagree with you. If they agree, I think one of the best things we can do is to have them be known as the Camelot Clan. They are the chief night guardians. Most of them no longer live in the woods; they rest here by day, and we are beginning to supply more of them from the larders here." She stepped closer to the knight unaware that the large door was opening. "I do hope that they are amicable to that idea. Surely the logic of that is obvious?"
Lancelot, a little heady with the closeness of the Queen, was saved from answering as the leaders of the gargoyle clan walked in and asked, "Amicable to which idea, Queen Guinevere?"
"Ah, well," Guinevere motioned to the chairs so they could be comfortable. The two humans and two gargoyles sat down simultaneously. "I have been concerned of late with the poor relations that humans and gargoyles seem to have. So, knowing that the clan has moved into the castle I was wondering if you would be open to the idea of being called the Camelot Clan instead of the North Woods Clan?" She looked up from her hands in her lap expectantly. "If not, I completely understand, but I think it might be best for all concerned if we seem more united..." She trailed off, feeling a little intimidated under the penetrating gaze of the massive leonine male.
The birdlike leader spoke up. "Queen Guinevere, I agree with you. I also think it is high time the gargoyles tried to be more accepted by humans. I shall bring this up in the elders' council, and I will make them see reason." The leonine second sitting next to her quickly glared at her with agitation in his eyes. The female continued, "Surely though, that was not the only reason you called this meeting?" She looked back and forth from one set of human eyes to another searching for an answer.
Lancelot spoke up. "Indeed, my lady, it is not. We have heard that the eggs in your rookery are due to hatch soon," he looked over to Guinevere, "and would like to help your relations with the court by presenting the hatchlings..." He looked back over to the two Gargoyles. "Of course, this is entirely dependent on what the clan thinks and we are not trying to force anything on you."
Guinevere continued, "When I first came here to Camelot, I was more than a little apprehensive, I had never seen Gargoyles before. I had heard rumors that the High King was trying to incorporate a clan into his court. I must confess something, the day I arrived, before I was introduced to Arthur, I went wandering in the woods north of the castle. I thought I had not gone very deep into the woods, but the next thing I knew, I stumbled across statuary on the edge of a cliff." The Queen paused, obviously apprehensive about continuing. Lancelot rose from his seat and walked behind Guinevere's chair placing his hands on the backrest with his fingertips on her shoulders, trying to give her support if she needed it. Guinevere placed her right hand over his left and looked up, grateful for the contact. Both gargoyles made interested noises, telling her to continue.
"After a few minutes of wondering what such well carved statues were doing out here, I realized that they must be gargoyles. My attention was drawn to the few younger looking figures, and as soon as I saw them, I knew I had nothing to fear from the gargoyles." Guinevere smiled at the two seated across from her. "My hope is that once others get to experience the wonder of a small gargoyle, they will begin to think of you in better terms."
"Queen Guinevere," began the birdlike leader, "I see the logic in your reasoning, and believe that you may be onto something. Our hatchlings are our future and our pride and joy in more ways than one it seems." She looked over to the leonine male. "Brother? Will you help me argue this before the council? The Dragon knows there are some hidebound elders among our clan." She looked back at Guinevere and Lancelot. "Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, would you be willing to discuss this with the clan? Some may need some more persuasion than I." She smiled as though reciting a private joke.
The knight and the Queen both made agreeable noises as the gargoyles rose from the chairs. "We must go and inform our clan of this discussion," the large leonine male said bowing to the Queen. "We will be informing you, Queen Guinevere."
"Yes, I look forward in working with you," the female said impatiently. "Hopefully this will begin to usher in a new era of cooperation between our species." She smiled at Guinevere as the two uncaped their wings and began to walk down the hall talking in hushed tones.
"Well," began Lancelot, "I thought that went very well. I, as well, look...forward in working with you, my Queen." Lancelot and Guinevere still had not let go of each other's hand throughout the conversation. Both were loath to forgo the physical electricity encompassed with a simple touch.
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
"Lancelot and I were just happy to be in each other's company. It was unspoken, the passion that we felt between us. The plans for introducing the new members of the clan at court gave us an excuse to spend time together and he really was helpful in instrumenting them." Guinevere moved her hands restlessly. "The electricity of his touch always stole my breath away. It was always the first time..." The Queen picked up the nameless cat that roamed the convent, "I could have stayed forever in his arms."
"Lass, dinnae trouble yerself with times that are past.
What's done is done. Fretting over things done and consequences lived does
nae help the future." Mary began rocking in the chair again. She
knew that whatever she said now would not be heard; it was more for her comfort than the Queen's.
A PUB, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
"Sire, please, there is no use in regretting what is long past." Griff started to attempt to console his king, with little luck.
"I trusted them. Oh, Griff, I gave her my heart, I gave him my friendship. I gave them both my faith. I knew we loved each other, as much as a man and woman could, I suppose."
"Sire, once again, I do not want to pry, but if you loved each other..."
Arthur cut him off as the pain of too many years came rushing unbidden to the surface. "Then why did she betray me with Lancelot? Why did I let her break my heart? I can only give you one answer, Griff. I loved Gwen too much. I loved her not enough. I did not love her the way she loved me." Griff could tell Arthur was becoming quite maudlin with drink and memories. "I honestly do not know, Griff. I wish I could ask her after all these years."
Guinevere stood looking out the window in the library, it was a cold grey March day outside, a day of brooding and being alone. She had asked him to meet her here, in secret: an out of the way corner in the increasingly large collection of books. They had spent so much time together recently, she could no longer keep her torment solely in her mind. She had to tell him.
Lancelot stole up silently behind the Queen, and slid his handsdown her enfolded arms. He buried his face in her neck and hair. "Gwen, mon chere, what is wrong? You seem so out of sorts on this cloudy day." The knight smiled in a feeble attempt to cheer her up. "Are some of those clouds fogging up your mind again?"
Guinevere moved her hands over his and tightened the embrace of the two. "Lancelot, I, well, I am so lost. I know not what to do. I love Arthur so deeply, he is my soul, my foundation. And I..." she paused, "Lancelot, you know my feelings for you. I am so torn, I can feel my heart ripping apart." She turned to face him and placed her hands on his chest as he kept his around her. "I could never betray Arthur. I could never betray you. How can I continue knowing that possibility exists?" The Queen sighed, "Am I lost already?"
Lancelot held the lady of his desires and looked out the window behind her into the pouring rain that had just started. "My Queen, I do not wish to cause your heart more pain. I also respect Arthur too much to want to drive a wedge between you. Mayhap it would be better if I take my leave of the court for a while." The knight released Guinevere as she began to back up next to the window and the fading light.
"Away? And this separation will help the situation how? Sir knight, I fail to understand your reasoning for such a idea. In fact the rumor mongers will probably become worse if you do leave." The anger in her hazel eyes was evident to the Benwick knight, and he loved her even more for it.
"My Queen, do not forbid me to go. Remember your country and your king. I will not be the catalyst for the downfall of Arthur. I cannot reconcile my passion for you and my duty to the crown. Please, let me go, let me suffer in silence. I shall leave at dawn." Lancelot swiftly moved away from Guinevere and walked out of the room, bravely trying to hold back the torrent of emotions wracking his body.
Guinevere leaned against the grey stone wall next to the window, as silent tears began to trickle down her white cheeks. As the agony of her heart pain began to overwhelm her she slid down the wall and curled up with her back to the wall, still silently crying. She let her emotions wash over her for what seemed like an eternity until the oppressive silence of the library was broken by the squeaking of the hinges on the large library windows across the room from where the Queen was slumped. Guinevere started. She could not be caught on the floor crying; it would not be right. Then she realized that the windows had opened from the outside. The Queen slid further into the early evening shadows, hoping that the gargoyle coming in would not stay long.
The Gargoyle was a small one, the rebellious youngster that
had been causing trouble lately. She was white and bore a striking
resemblance to the mythical unicorn. Guinevere's small success
working with the clan during the most recent hatching had made her very friendly with the clan; she occasionally even spent some time with the female co-leader of the clan. Recently, the female clan leader had told her about one of the unicorn-like youngsters that would sneak off just after sunset to hide from patrol and the elders.
The little one was quiet as a mouse as she moved from the window and took in the library, commenting to herself, "Hmpf, humans never come here after dark. Do they not remember these books after they eat?"
Guinevere smiled. She had also often felt the same way. Reading
was one of the few enjoyments through which she could escape from
everyone. She treasured her books and loved the
Camelot. It was one of the few outside of the monasteries, and the largest at that.
The little white gargoyle was walking around the stacks now, looking over the books very carefully. She finally laid a clawed hand on one of Guinevere's favorites. Guinevere, for her own part, was surprised. She had thought that gargoyles did not know how to read, but there, in front of her was one of them, reading. She silently picked herself up off the floor and moved out of the shadows, no longer afraid.
"That is one of my favorites, you know. I'm glad someone else can appreciate it," The Queen said, smiling.
The white creature looked up startled, "I...I...I did not know anyone was here..." The youngster took in who was in the grey dress and her eyes widened even more. "Queen Guinevere! I do apologize, I come in here often to escape the clan...I should go...patrol may not be so bad tonight..."
Guinevere grinned, "Oh young one, no one understands you do they? They tell you one thing, but your heart says another...It is I who should apologize for interrupting you. I know I hate being distracted when I read."
"How...how do you know...? I do not want to protect. I am not good at it, or at gliding or hunting. But I am the only one in my clutch who has learned how to read. I feel as though my abilities would be better served in other capacities, but I fear the elders would not see it that way..." The youngster looked up at the Queen imploringly.
Guinevere sat down at the large table next to the gargoyle. "Sweetling, have you spoken to your elders? Have there ever been any other gargoyles like you that protected in ways other than the traditional? It is not unheard of in human families." The gargoyle stared at Guinevere, as if she was hearing sense for the first time. "Perhaps, the elders want to talk to you because of this..." Guinevere broke off. The white horned girl was noticing the tear tracks on her cheeks. She put a hand over Guinevere's arm as the Queen tried to turn away.
"Queen Guinevere, you have been crying. Whatever for? What could the wife of king Arthur possibly be crying about?" The Gargoyle looked perplexed as she tried to comfort the Queen with a hug.
"I must speak to somebody," the Queen said cryptically, "Can
I trust you? I can not talk to anyone else." The
pain began to well up again and the tears were very
near the surface as she looked up with bright eyes to
scan the gargoyle face for sympathy, "I am so alone."
The white gargoyle met Guinevere's bright eyes with confusion in her own. "I do not understand. Alone? You cannot be alone; you have Arthur and his love, you have all those court people that surround you, every knight of the Round Table that would die for you... how can you be alone?"
Guinevere stood up, "Can I trust you? I know I can, I just need someone to listen and not judge me."
"Of course. I would be honored to be a friend and confidante if you so need."
"Thank you. I love Arthur. We are each other's foundations, we are each other's souls. We are best friends and lovers, partners in the true sense of the word. I know we complete each other and through our completeness, we complete the country. But, oh, young one, what can I do when my mind says one thing, and my heart says another. I have an attraction for Lancelot du Lac, and it is a shared bond. How do I halve my heart for both?" The Queen looked at the white gargoyle. "I have to choose and I cannot. I must reconcile my love, my friendship, and my passion and I am torn. I cannot choose whom to love more and whom to love less. I love them both, but in different ways..." The Queen broke off, visibly shaken. The youngster could tell that she was probably the first person that Guinevere had confessed this to.
"Queen Guinevere, I can only tell you that sometimes, we must go through Hell and back to find happiness. Sometimes, the heart must endure unbearable burdens in order to find comfort. Sometimes, we must be cast out to find home. Sometimes we must face our elders, our family and take whatever is to be sentenced, for without the good there is no bad, and without the dark there is no light." The unicorn gargoyle and Guinevere embraced each other for comfort, each drawing strength from the other to face what must come next.
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
Guinevere looked up from her embroidery, "I heard later what happened to the young gargoyle that gave me comfort for so brief a time. She was sent by her clan to a well known mage of some sort, and I heard she was doing very well, training to become a mage as well. Evidently it was not unheard of her people to have magicks in them. The welfare of my heart, however was not doing well. I knew I was going to have to choose. I had a dream the night before of fire and stone walls and a person ripped in two."
Mary walked over and poked at the small fire on the hearth. Despite this, the room continued to grow colder. Guinevere went on unheeded of the cold, "Oh, Lancelot, why did you have to return? Why come back and destroy my love and my life?"
After Lancelot walked back to his chamber in the castle to pack, his torrent of emotions finally broke his defenses down. The knight fell on his knees beside his bed and finally vocalized his anguish. The thick blanket had never heard such a loud wail before. "Why? Why did I fall in love with her? How could I betray my King like that? Why can I not control my heart? She is his, but I feel she should be mine. No, no, it was folly to ever come here, I must leave, I can get permission from Arthur to become a knight errant under the King's banner. Yes, walk away from the anguish here and never look back. Leave her? Can I forget her?" Lancelot began pacing around his room, trying desperately to control the situation.
"I cannot forget my heart. I cannot forget that which consumes me. I cannot leave her... but I must." Lancelot kept pacing for a great while, unresolved in what to do. Finally, he made a decision and was determined to stick to it. He strode out of his room, woke up his page, and ordered the boy to make ready his horse for journey. The boy groggily picked up the bags and bedroll and confusedly wandered down to the stables.
Lancelot then went for a last tour of the castle that had been his home for several wonderful years. He paused just outside the library door, he knew which book was her favorite, perhaps they would not miss just one small tome. Just as he stepped over the threshold he heard sniffling, Lancelot paused. He peered into the gloom, the fire had not been lit that evening. "Hello?" he questioned the darkness. "Who is there? Man or gargoyle?"
The darkness answered him with a hopeful lilt. "Lancelot? Are you returned so soon?"
"Guinevere? Mon chere? My love? Why are you in this darkness alone?" Lancelot began moving towards the oddly shaped shadows barely seen with clouded moonlight to help.
"My knight," Guinevere sniffled, "I cannot choose. My mind wants all of my heart and my soul wants all of my heart. Help me."
"My Queen, my love." Lancelot found her in the darkness of the room and pulled her into his arms. "I can only help you by leaving. I cannot stay in a situation I am unable to control. I did not expect to find you here, now." The knight looked into the watery moonlight in Guinevere's eyes, "I must leave tonight. I have packed and everything is ready. I must go." They searched each other's faces for a hint of denial, a notification that this was not the right thing to do. But they each knew the truth; to keep the country well, Lancelot must leave.
Lancelot leaned down and Guinevere reached up as their lips met in a passionate kiss that said everything they could not say out loud. The kiss lasted an eternity as they stood in the washed out moonlight of the window, unaware that they were seen by the one person they were sacrificing for.
Arthur had been restless that night. After meeting with the gargoyles he roamed the battlements, somehow sensing that not all was well in his kingdom. He went back to the royal chambers to read in front of the fire on the cool night. Guinevere was not back yet from her French lesson. Arthur had been told by Lancelot that Guinevere was almost flawless in her language skills. Arthur thought that perhaps she had decided to stay and read some of the new volumes in the library. A few hours passed, however, and Arthur knew Guinevere never lost track of time that easily. He went in search of his wife.
The King looked in several places first, just in case she had other business that could not wait till morning. Near the great hall, Arthur almost collided with Mordred. "Ah, Mordred," the innocent King began, "Have you seen Guinevere? She has not yet come to bed and it is getting late."
"Sire, I believe her meeting ran late. I would go look in the library if I were you." Mordred's voice was dripping with derision.
"Thank you, Mordred. I appreciate the help."
"No problem, Sire."
As Arthur approached, he heard muffled voices, but not distinct enough to hear what they were saying. Then, as he crossed the threshold, he saw a sight he was totally unprepared for.
A PUB, SOMEWHERE IN BRITISH ISLES
"I saw it with my own two eyes, Griff. My most trusted knight, my best friend and my Lady, my Love. I cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt. I was more lost and alone than when Merlin disappeared. Sickened that I had been betrayed, that my trust had been betrayed, I backed out as quietly as I could and ran. I wandered the entire castle that night. I went mad. I remember I saw Lancelot ride off on his horse soon after I left them. I believe I assumed he was riding off in shame. For hours I was distraught, realizing that all those whispered rumors I had tried to ignore were true... Oh, Griff, does she haunt me now? Will she ever forgive me?" Arthur paused in his anguish. he seemed abnormally close to tears. Griff was becoming alarmed.
"Sire, I think you have had enough... I do not wish to hear more if it pains you so." The gargoyle tried to remove the ale mug from Arthur's grasp.
"Griff, do you not see? We were destined to know of this lovely, unfortunate princess, she wanted me to remember. I cannot forget what we had nor what I did." Arthur seemed to regret a great misdeed done, and much to Griff's chagrin he wanted to know the whole story.
A CONVENT, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES
EARLY 6TH CENT.
"I had no idea, Mary. And nothing I could have done would have changed what happened." Guinevere stood up from her chair, and began pacing, "I wish, I wish I could take that kiss back. I wish I had not stayed in the library. But it all happened, and like that gargoyle said to me, sometimes we must go through Hell to find happiness." The older woman nodded, noticing the her uneasiness. She wondered if the Queen would continue. "Is this home? I wish I knew...At least I feel safe here." Guinevere sighed as she paused for a moment.
"Ach, dearie, home is where ye are and where ye feel most comfortable. Perhaps this is where ye may make the most of yer abilities." Mary tried to offer words of calm to the agitated Queen.
"I think I chose to come here, but only after Arthur's judgment. I always felt as though it pained him more to sentence me than it would pain me to carry out that sentence."
Guinevere slowly walked back to her chambers after Lancelot left the library. She fingered her lips, wondering if the kiss had actually happened. When she reached the royal chambers, the Queen thought it odd that Arthur was not there. A fleeting thought ran through her head that perhaps he saw, but then she tried to rationalize with the fact that he was often called away during the night because of problems with the gargoyles. Guinevere readied for bed, hoping that she could Arthur would be back soon. She needed to assuage her guilt with his presence.
Arthur never went back to the royal chamber that night. He knew he could not face Guinevere with what he saw. Arthur agonized greatly that night and eventually caught a fitful few hours of sleep in a page's chair in the great hall. When he woke, he could still not reconcile what he saw last night with his love for Guinevere. Arthur spent all day pointedly keeping his mind solely on business of the country and avoided Guinevere. Around mid day, after the rumor reached back to Arthur that Lancelot had fled the kingdom because of Guinevere, Arthur ordered Gawain to find Lancelot and bring him back as expediently as possible.
Guinevere for her part knew that something was wrong when Arthur did not come to bed that night. In her heart she knew he had seen, but she kept making excuses. After she heard of Arthur's order to bring back Lancelot, she knew. The Queen was distraught, she knew that the law allowed Arthur to sentence her to death if he so chose. She hoped to plead her case to him before it came to that.
The King and Queen ate the evening meal in different chambers, neither one wanting to force the issue with the other. After the meal, Guinevere stayed in the royal chambers, busying herself with minor tasks to keep her mind and her heart off the confrontation ahead. Arthur went to the knights' practice ground to work off the fury that was still in his heart. He ran sword arm exercises until he hurt beyond belief, and then still pushed himself with imaginary battle partners. After a while Arthur felt as though he could face Guinevere. He had worked out the anger from his mind, and felt detachment from his heart.
Guinevere looked from her embroidery up as the door to the royal chambers opened and Arthur walked in. "Guinevere," Arthur nodded his greeting, "I... I... I came in here knowing what to say. Now, I do not. I am at a loss, my wife. My heart has been ripped from its place in my chest, and I feel as though it has been stepped on. I know not why I feel so betrayed...Gwen..." Arthur's voice began to waver with emotion. "My Love, my rose, with my friend, my knight! I could no longer ignore the rumors... I wish I could have, but I cannot... Gwen... this is destroying me..." Arthur dropped to one knee as Guinevere stood up in a small move to comfort her husband. He clutched her skirt and looked up into her eyes. "My soul, what do I do? What can I do? Please, my Queen, do you still love me?"
Guinevere looked into the imploring eyes of her husband, and was at a loss for words. She knelt down and they enfolded themselves into each other, sharing a brief moment of tragic, unburdened love. "Arthur," she softly began, "I... we... you were not meant to be hurt. That is why Lancelot left, my love. Neither of us could handle the pain that this caused... Arthur, I love you. You are my soul. You have given me strength so many times. But my heart was being torn in half... I love Lancelot..." Arthur abruptly stood up and turned away. Guinevere caught at his tunic. "Please understand, it was to save you pain, not cause more..."
"Guinevere..." Arthur's voice shook with emotion. "Gwen..."
"Arthur, let me leave. I can run to a convent far from here, I can banish myself, I give up all rights to your love. Please..."
Arthur looked down at his wife with eyes that had seen too many horrors to ever be consoled. "Guinevere, I must sentence you. I cannot be betrayed. I cannot have my trust broken like that. The law is clear. I must sentence you." Arthur lifted Guinevere's head with a couple of fingers under her chin, and looked deep into her bottomless, ever changing hazel eyes. "Guinevere, I love you."
The Queen despondently sank back onto the floor as Arthur left the room. He returned with two Round Table knights and bid them to follow Guinevere to a guest chamber and not let her leave until he sent for her. Guinevere stood and walked out of the royal chamber with her head high.
The following day, as the law demanded it, at high noon, Guinevere was brought before the King to be sentenced. Law dictated that only the High King could sentence the aristocracy in trials of wrong doing. The punishment for adultery was death.
The King looked down at the fair young Queen brought before him, "Guinevere, Queen of Camelot, you have been charged with relations with another man other than your husband. We have evidence engraved into our heart of your unfaithfulness. We find no recourse but to punish you according to Law." Guinevere looked up trying to find a spark of remorse in the King's eyes, but he did not even look at her. "Therefore, we give the just sentence of death by burning at the stake. May God have pity on your soul."
Guinevere was then taken back to her gaurded chamber, given a few books, and a simple, older serving woman. She was able to glean from the guards that Arthur was loathe to carry out the sentence and was making excuses to put off the event. At one point she heard that he wanted to delay until Lancelot du Lac was found and brought before the King for a trial. Possibly, in order to throw Guinevere's painful death in his face to wrangle a confession before the court.
A fortnight after the sentencing, Gawain returned to King Arthur's court. He instantly received an audience with the King. "Sire, I roamed as far as I could, and Lancelot was nowhere to be found. I questioned, I tracked what I could, but the knave has escaped, I know not where."
The High King of Britain nodded, "Well done, sir knight. If we cannot find Lancelot du Lac, perhaps news of Guinevere's death will bring him to us." Arthur switched to his decree voice, "Let it be known that Guinevere, former High Queen of Britain, will be burned at the stake as her sentence is carried out tomorrow at midday."
The news flew back to Guinevere in her chamber, the Queen took the decree in stride. "Yes, I knew it would probably come to this. In order to get both, one must be sacrificed. I learned much from listening to Arthur go over battle plans in his sleep." She seemed oddly at peace with herself and her fate.
A few hours later during the thick of the night, Guinevere and her maidservant were awoken by a knock on the door of the chamber. Guinevere went to open the door and found that not only was the guard for the night asleep but Lancelot stood in front of her. "My lady, we only have a few minutes before we are discovered. You must come with me."
"Lancelot? Wha...oh, yes, of course, I shall hurry."
The maidservant and Guinevere rolled necessities into a blanket wrap and walked out the door with the knight. "I was able to get my page and his friends to aid our escape, they are keeping the sentries busy..." Lancelot whispered to Guinevere as they made their way through the empty dark castle, "I heard of your sentencing, I could not bear to live with the burden of being involved with your death... shhh." They pressed up close against the keep walls as Mordred walked passed. He looked around, sensing something was off in the vicinity, but not being able to pinpoint his uneasiness walked on unaware of the fugitives so near him.
The silent three made their way through the dark castle, miraculously not attracting the attention of the few gargoyles on patrol that night. They finally exited the keep and were almost across the middle courtyard when a young knight appeared out of nowhere. Lancelot assumed his friend Gareth was just sleepwalking, as was so often in the past, and just kept on going. Gareth, however, was wide awake and about to go on patrol when he saw Lancelot and Guinevere. "Lancelot! Hold!"
Lancelot looked around in panic, slightly confused, then perceived Gareth's drawn sword. "Gareth, my friend, please do not stop us! This is a mission of mercy."
"I am sorry, Lancelot, but you have been branded an outlaw by the King. I will bring you to justice. How right you should be slinking around in the dark!" He began to rush the former pride of the Round Table.
Lancelot had quickly drawn his sword, not wanting to fight, but willing to defend himself and his charges. The swords firmly met with a sharp metal sound that could be heard all over the silent courtyard. Gareth, was never Lancelot's equal in straight combat, and while Lancelot was defensively trying to knock the sword from Gareth's hands misjudged a thrust and ran his sword through Gareth. The young knight fell off the sword, looking at Lancelot with horror in his eyes.
Lancelot looked at his sword in revulsion of his accidental deed. "My God, Guinevere... Gareth, my friend... dead, by my own hand..." The knight fell to his knees.
"Lancelot, get up." The Queen plucked at his shoulder, "Lancelot, if you are going to rescue me, do so now. Before the alarm is raised and someone wonders what the noises were about," Guinevere knelt down to look him in the eye and block his sight line of the body. "Lancelot, I know Gareth was a good friend, but we must go NOW. Grieve later, my knight."
Lancelot shook his head to clear the shock and nodded to his love. Together they rose to their feet and looked across the yard. There was a small door in the outer wall that was opened after the drawbridge was raised for the night. Lancelot and Guinevere, encountered no more resistance, and slipped quietly out like fugitives. Lancelot led the Queen to three horses hidden behind a grove of trees some distance from the castle.
"Sir knight, I thank you wholeheartedly for the rescue from my impending fate, and I know not what you may have planned..." Lancelot began to interrupt. "No, please, hear me out on this. I would like you to accompany me and my servant woman to the convent near Amesbury." Lancelot knew then that the relationship had changed, that Guinevere was already beginning to withdraw in on herself.
A PUB, SOMEWHERE IN THE BRITISH ISLES, AUG. 1996
Arthur gazed into the coconut casing of the last mixed drink they had been served, "As far as I know, Griff, Lancelot stole her away to a convent and she lived out her days in solitude. Alone. I wonder what she thought of me in the end? Did she ever hear of the Round Table's defeat at Camlann? Did she ever hear the news of my removal from the mortal world?" Arthur sighed and looked into Griff's sorrowed eyes, "I can only wish her soul a good rest. I hope my love was happy with heaven because I know that was where she went."
Griff glanced out the window and gave a start of alarm, "Sire. Arthur," Griff tried to shake the King out of his reverie, "The sun is almost risen, I must find some place to sleep..." Griff began to get up as the bartender, who had finished his delayed closing duties, walked over to the pair. "Sir," Griff began, unsure of the large man's reaction.
"You're one of them gargoyles aren't you?"
Griff looked startled, "Why yes, in fact I need to..."
"You'll be needin my rooftop, if I remember my legends good enough. You're more than welcome to it, lad. The door is just over there. Just take the stairs up a couple of flights." As the bartender pointed to one of the far walls, Griff stood and then paused. "Oh, your buddy here? Don't you worry, I'll put him in one of me best rooms for the day."
"Thank you, sir. We are in your debt." Griff ran for the stairs to the roof as the bartender hoisted Arthur onto his feet and began to help him walk to the stairs leading to the rooms above. The television, which had not yet been turned off for the night, was heard to question, "What do you mean? A European or an African swallow?"