Ill Made Knight: Part One
Story Idea by Jeffrey High
Written by Rahsaan Footman
The departing sun left the sky flushed with hues of red, purple, and orange. The colors painted the clouds in the darkening sky as well as the fog rolling in. For a brief moment, the coast was covered in a blanket of misty magenta and citrine clouds. The castle perched on the promontory, an island on this colorful sea.
"Joyous," Arthur sighed, his back to his companions coming out of their day long slumber. His mind on other things than their awakening roars.
"Amazing!" Griff, took in the vista in growing evening.
Cavall barked agreement. The sun's glow faded below the horizon along with its vibrant colors. The subtle paleness of the rising moon soon took its place. They took in the scene a few more minutes, then Arthur got up and headed toward the castle.
"You know, your Majesty, I had my doubts about coming here," Griff remarked.
"Don't worry, Griff," Arthur replied easily, "A few days here won't spoil our search. And I've been meaning to pay my respects to a good friend and a great knight."
"Lancelot du Lac," Griff spoke with awe. "It still amazes me you knew them, lived with them."
"And of all of them only I've survived," Arthur said to himself sadly.
"You say something, Your Majesty?"
"Nothing." Arthur quickly covered. "I guess looking back fifteen hundred years is a bit much. But coming from that time, I don't see it that way."
They traveled just above the beach as swirling mist rolled off the sea. Soon, they were engulfed in a world of white, but Arthur's footsteps never slowed as he marched across the sand.
"This was Lancelot's home?" Griff asked.
"Yes, once this was Joyous Garde." Arthur explained. "It truly lived up to its name. Aside from Camelot, it was the most beautiful castle in all of Britain. I guess it was Fate's way to make up for the home he lost.
"Lancelot's life began with the end of his given name, Galahad, son of King Ban and Queen Elaine of Benwick. While still an infant, his father's greatest rival, King Claudas laid siege to Benwick Castle and on this fateful night, the castle fell."
Elaine carried her son close to her as she ran through the tunnel. The infant heard his mother's heart pounding, felt her hot breath on his head. He didn't know what was going on, but knew he didn't like it. The child wailed into the night as she ran for her life. Elaine took the castle's hidden passage into the forest.
She and her husband had gone over the plan a hundred times. Should the castle fall, take the secret tunnel and wait by the lake on the far side of the forest. From there, they'd escape to her brother-in-law land. Then to Arthur of Britain for aid. Elaine had lost sight of her husband in the fire, but she kept to the plan: Get to the lake!
She half-stumbled, half-ran through the brambles and thickets. She prayed to all the powers-that-be that she not fall, then prayed for her husband's safety. Elaine hoped he was waiting for her by the lake. The forest was dark and frightening. Looming branches denied the moon's light, but its reflection off the lake served as a beacon for her. The moon shimmered serenely on the lake's smooth surface, a sanctuary of calm amid a world turned upside down.
Elaine pitched out of the forest, sliding down the slope to the water's edge. "Safety!" Her mind screamed to her pounding heart. She didn't have to run anymore. She spent several minutes catching her breath, then calming her child. When Galahad settled down, Elaine looked around. Behind her, a reddish glow rose above the trees. Benwick Castle burning to the ground. 'Ban will be heartbroken.' Elaine thought, 'Husband!'
Elaine quickly looked back and forth along the shore. "Ban!" she dared a shout. No answer. "Ban!" she shouted again. Still no answer.
Her heart began to sink, fearing the worst for her husband. She wanted to search for him, but what of little Galahad? She could not take him back through the forest. Elaine made a hard choice. She hid her son in the rushes of lilies and reeds near the water. She hated to leave her son alone, but she couldn't leave without Ban either. The sooner she found him, the sooner they could all flee to safety. Elaine plunged back into the forest.
On the lake, a ripple marred its immaculate surface. The ripple spread out from the center of the lake, lapping gently against the shore. More ripples followed as a figure emerged from the water. A woman wearing a garment that glowed the same argent sheen as the moon. She stood gracefully on the water. She was the Lady of the Lake. Eyes wide and blue, she took in the night, focusing on the rushes where the child lay. Elegantly, she walked across the water's surface toward him.
She bent into the rushes, picking the child up. Her gown of white samite rustled in whispers with every movement. "Such a child has much promise within him." She cradled the babe close to her.
"But that promise will not be fulfilled, if you die here tonight." The Lady took the child across the lake where he'd be safe from burning castles, vengeful warlords, and nights of terror like these. The infant tugged on her silvery hair playfully. Lily smiled. Her heart went out to this young one, this mortal. She could provide safety and a life that no other could. Beneath the lake, he'd grow strong. Lily claimed the child as her own.
Elaine couldn't see the forest through her tears. The horrible image flashed in her mind every time she blinked. Her husband lying dead in a copse near the escape tunnel's exit, his open eyes staring balefully at their burning castle.
His heart must have burst, seeing the destruction of his ancestral home. Elaine felt like dying herself. The only thing that kept her going was her child. She sprinted through the forest to get him. She emerged from the dark woods, skidding to a halt at the sight before her. A woman with silver hair was taking her child away, walking across the lake! That last part didn't register in her mind. All she knew was that someone was stealing her child. Elaine charged into the water, screaming insensibly at the woman.
Lily continued, deaf to the woman's cries. When she reached the center of the lake, she turned around and looked straight into Elaine's eye. The elf maid stared right through Elaine's heart. Elaine stopped thrashing in the water, petrified. Lily's gaze slid to the infant, then returned to his mother.
"You will go on," Lily said in her musical voice. "Forget this night and the terror you've seen. Know that, I will take care of your son as if he were my own. But for know you must forget."
Elaine was held enthralled as she watched the Lady take her son below the surface. When Lily and little Galahad vanished beneath the lake, the enchantment broke. Elaine didn't know why she was in the water. She swam out of the lake, looking at the fading red glow of the fire.
Her home was gone. Her family gone as well. There was nothing for her. Numb from shock, unable to do much else, Elaine followed the plan. She would travel to King Bors, her brother in-law, then go to Camelot. It's what Ban would've wanted. As she left the lakeside, tears streamed down her face.
Twelve Years after the fall of Benwick.
A beggar approached the lake near the ruins of Benwick Castle. It's been a long journey for him. He rested by the shore, dipping cupped hands into the waters for a drink. The reeds and the lilies rustled from a strong gust. The gale created whitecaps on the lake. The beggar held onto his hood to keep it from blowing off. Looking up, he saw a most peculiar sight.
Two figures emerged from the lake. He watched them walk atop the water. He was on his feet by the time the newcomers reached shore. One was a woman, he knew well enough, but the other was a lad he'd never seen before. The beautiful woman gave the beggar an imperious gesture to stay. He did, but more out of curiosity, than obeying a command.
"I greet you, Merlin," said Lily, the Lady of the Lake, seeing through his disguise. The man in question pulled back his hood, revealing the craggy face of the magician. He looked to the boy, noticing a fire in his blue eyes.
"Who's the boy?" Merlin didn't bother with etiquette one gives their betters, like 'lady' or 'madam'. Lily frowned at the rudeness.
"This is my son, Lancelot." Lily stroked the boy's curly hair. "He wants to become a knight."
"I'm very happy for you," Merlin replied with light sarcasm. "Whose son is he really?"
Lily turned to the young man. "Lancelot, could you pick some berries for our guest?"
"Yes, mama." The boy stepped off the water and into the forest. When he was out of earshot, Lily rounded on Merlin.
"None dare speak to me so rudely," Lily warned. "Don't test my patience."
Merlin simply nodded. An uncomfortable silence passed between them. The Lady of the Lake spoke first.
"To answer to your question, Lancelot is son to the late King Ban and Queen Elaine."
"Not so." Merlin corrected her. "Queen Elaine came to Camelot. She told us of the fall of Benwick. We grieved for her lost, especially for her child. The child doesn't belong to you."
"That is why I summoned you here," Lily sighed. "Walk with me."
They walked along the shore, an odd couple. Merlin walked on land while Lily on water.
"My *son* desires to become a knight. It's all he talks about, fighting monsters and having songs sung of him. I've tried steering him from this, but I've always known his destiny lay in knighthood.
"You and King Arthur have created a great kingdom in Britain. The Knights of the Round Table live with honor. They are the best of your mother's kind. Lancelot can be the best of the best. Will you take him to Arthur? Make sure he has a chance to become a knight and lives up to his promise?"
While Merlin thought this over, Lancelot returned with two handfuls of berries. Merlin took his measure of Lancelot. He looked in his eyes and peered at his soul. He saw what the Lady of the Lake saw: that spark of greatness that lies within everyone. His spark laid closer to the surface than most.
"All right," Merlin agreed without hesitation. "I'll guide him to Camelot." Lancelot's face beamed with joy. He was so happy, he didn't notice his foster-mother's crestfallen expression.
The three ate dinner at the bottom of the lake, in brightly-lit caverns below. Their meal consisted of fish, apples, and berries. Lancelot pressed Merlin about court life. What it was like living with knights. What did they do? What did they eat? How do they fight monsters? How can they stand being kissed by all those ladies? Lily rescued Merlin from the inquisitive youth, sending him to bed early. He promised to be ready bright and early tomorrow.
Merlin rested on a bench, pushing his empty plate away from him. Lily came to sit opposite him. She peered at Merlin for a long while. Merlin noticed her scrutiny and looked up. He cast her a questioning look.
"What do you see for my son?" she asked solemnly.
"I don't take you meaning?" Merlin feigned ignorance.
"I know you have foresight." Lily pointed out. "What will you do when it comes to pass? Will you hurt my Lancelot if his future threatens the King?"
Merlin understood what she was talking about: prophecy. Things Lancelot was fated to do; some great, some not so great. But never had he interfered directly. He'd warn, advise, but never more than that, unlike Lily and her kind. A thought occurred to him, two actually. The first was that Lily cared deeply about Lancelot, more than the capricious whim associated with the third race. She might even love this boy. Second, a way to see that Lancelot achieve his life without outside intervention.
"I suggest a bargain. I promise, on my honor, not to interfere with Lancelot's life, if you do the same." Merlin offered.
"You ask too much." Lily sprang to her feet in outrage. "You ask me to abandon my boy."
"I'm asking you to let him be who he is meant to be." Merlin argued. "If you claim any sort of love for him, let him go. Let him live."
The words had a profound effect on Lily. She sat back down thinking about them for a long time. "You have a deal, Merlin." She answered. She got up, retiring to her own chambers. In the dark, she quietly cried.
Next morning, Lancelot eagerly ate breakfast and was ready to depart before either his mother or Merlin was up. Lily was extremely quiet as she walked with Lancelot through their home one last time.
"Lancelot, will you promise me something?" Lily asked.
"Anything, mama." Lancelot replied quickly.
"Don't forget me?" Lily asked.
"How can I?" Lancelot looked up not understanding. "You're my mama."
Lily hugged her boy fiercely. "I love you so, Lancelot. I want you to take this."
She took a ring off her hand. It was a simple ring with pale blue gem in its center. "Take this with you and think of me when you wear it."
"I will, mama." Lancelot promised. He hugged his foster mother one more time, then hurried to join Merlin. When they were ready, they rose out of the water.
The first thing Lancelot noticed was the shore wasn't the same as he knew it. Willows lined the lakeside instead of pines he grew up with. The reeds were absent, as where the white lilies he always associated with his home. Even the sun was different, muted by clouds and fog. This wasn't the lake by Benwick.
"Where are we?" Lancelot breathed. Merlin looked around, gaining his bearings.
"Southern Britain, by my reckoning. Come, we have a long distance to travel."
Merlin spoke no more of how they came to Britain. Obviously magic and a secret he would never share. They traveled far that day. Merlin covered miles without getting winded. Lancelot, so eager to reach Camelot, kept up with the older man, but his legs were sore by evening. Merlin wisely stopped their hike at the bottom of a rise. The sun was setting behind them.
Lancelot was tired and hungry, but he didn't complain. All he asked was, "How far is Camelot?"
"We are already there." Merlin pointed to the rise. Lancelot stood up surprised. Merlin grinned.
Lancelot climbed the hillside with flagging zeal. He was tired, but he couldn't stop now. He had to see it. Coming over the crest of the hill, he saw a dream come to life. He saw Camelot.
On a hill on the opposite side of the valley gleamed the castle. Alabaster spires shined in crimson-gold from the last rays of sunlight. Arches and spans connected towers with halls stories above the ground. The rest of the castle was concealed behind the high walls and battlements. But all this only whetted Lancelot's appetite to see more. For now, he savored this sight. He sat on the hillcrest, sunset washing the castle in color. Lancelot studied every detail of Camelot, hoping this sight could last forever.
"It is lovely isn't it?" an unfamiliar voice commented. "And I'm charged with protecting it. Declare yourself, young sir."
"Lancelot Du Lac." He kept his gaze fixed on the castle. Reluctantly, he turned to the stranger, nearly jumping out of his skin when he saw it was a monster.
Lancelot stumbled backwards, reaching for a branch to fight this creature. The monster stood one and again the height of a man. Wings covered its body like a gray feathered cloak. The monster's head that of a gyrfalcon. Wide eyes glowed slightly in the growing night.
"Lancelot Du Lac." the distinctly feminine voice repeated. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Lancelot got over his surprise and remembered why he came to Camelot, to fight monsters. His face changed from pure wonder to tightly held rage.
"Prepare to met your master, demonspawn." Lancelot made ready to charge.
"Lancelot!" Merlin shouted sternly, catching the boy's attention. "It wouldn't do to attack the king's guard, your first night here."
"The king's what?" Lancelot stared at the magician, then the gargoyle.
"The king's guard," the gyrfalcon gargoyle confirmed. "Our clan helps defend Camelot's walls. It is good to see you again, Merlin. Shall I announce your arrival?"
"If you would be so kind," Merlin nodded.
In a flurry of gray feathers, the gargoyle took off, flying across the valley to Camelot. Lancelot didn't know what to make of all this, but he had the distinct feeling that he made a mistake. He felt blood rushing up his neck as he flushed with embarrassment.
"Come along, lad." Merlin motioned the boy to follow him down the road. They were almost to the lowlands when Merlin spoke again. "Your mother told me you wanted to be a knight so that you might fight monsters. I hope you'll learn in your training to distinguish between friend and foe as well. Gargoyles are definitely friends."
"I'm sorry," Lancelot offered. "I promise I'll apologize to her the next time I see her."
"Very good," Merlin smiled. "You've learned the first lesson on the road to knighthood: humility. You made a mistake and you owned up to it. It takes a strong man; to know when he is wrong."
Arthur rang the bell one more time. He looked about the area, in particular, skyward. He spied Griff carrying Cavall over the castle wall. They would find a good place to hide. The sallyport door in the side of the castle wall opened. A tall, dour man stood before him. His hair was dusty brown and his face the down side of middle-age, the lines and crags in his features made him look older.
He took one look at Arthur and sniffed in an overbearing fashion, "I'm sorry, sir, we are closed. Come back tomorrow during regular visiting hours."
"Pardon, sir," Arthur held the door from closing in his face, "But I'm expected. I'm Mr. Jones, research assistant to Professor Lennox MacDuff. I'm here to study the tapestries."
"Yes," Arthur felt a growing dislike for the man. "This is a castle. You do have tapestries?"
"This is a castle and we do have many tapestries, but you are late." The man ushered Arthur in.
"Someone was supposed to call to let you know I wouldn't be arriving until after dark." Arthur hedged the truth. The caretaker sighed in great suffering at being put out like this.
"Very well, come in. Your room is this way." The caretaker led. "I am Mr. Xavier Daniels. These are the rules. While here, you are a guest. Understand there's a difference between 'guest' and 'tourist'. Guests are expected to help with the running of the castle. You won't be asked to clean the latrines or guide the tours, but if there's some dusting to do, you do it. If the cook needs an extra hand, you're it. If the garden needs pruning, you grab some shears. Understand?"
"Yes . . ." Arthur got that word in edgewise.
"You are responsible for your own room and laundry," the caretaker continued to prattle. "There's no housekeeping. Breakfast is at eight sharp, ends at 8:45. Dinner's at 12:30, ends at 1:15. Tea's at 4:00, ends at 4:15 and supper starts promptly at 6 ending at 7. You are not permitted to bring any food into the castle. If you miss any of the meals, there's a concession stand outside on the grounds during the visiting hours.
"If you need anything off exhibit, come to me and I'll arrange for you to study it after hours. If you need it longer, don't ask. For extended study you have to talk to the owners and that can be weeks. Better get your work done at night."
"Won't be a problem. I prefer to work nights," Arthur managed.
The caretaker merely sniffed again. He pointed to the door at the end of a long hallway. Arthur entered expecting anything except this. The room was spartan. A cot, not a bed, was pushed up against the left wall. A dresser and a desk lined against the right. Only one window opened the wall in the back. Arthur entered the cubbyhole of a room, dropped his travel bag, and looked around. The caretaker, feeling his job was done, closed the door behind him.
Arthur turned on the light before being plunged into darkness. The king shook his head at such rude behavior. He searched through his pack, withdrawing a candle. Lighting it, he set the candle on the windowsill. In a few minutes, Griff swooped by. He struggled getting himself through the small window. Cavall climbed in close behind. After a look around, Griff couldn't say much about the accommodations.
"What? Were the dungeons all booked up?" the gargoyle summed up his opinion of the room.
"This is nothing. You should have seen the barracks the pages had to endure in Camelot." Arthur brushed off the poor conditions with a laugh. "I think Lancelot was the only one who never complained. The other pages were sons of nobility, demanding feather beds and down pillows, but not Lancelot. Every bit of training, he accepted as a deep honor."
One year later
Lancelot stirred as light entered the small dorm room. He had to hurry; Sergeant Avery didn't tolerate tardiness. A hurried jaunt down to the courtyard well to fill his washbasin began Lancelot's morning routine. He washed his face and hair there, then ran up to the wardrobe room. Pages and squires wore the king's livery, properly mended and taken care of. Lancelot pulled on his tunic and tugged on his hose. By the time the sun gained another inch in height, Lancelot was dressed and assembled with the other bleary-eyed pages on the training grounds.
Sgt. Avery looked at the group of ten adolescents with disapproval. He always wore that look. It was rumored he grimaced even in his sleep. Today, the root of sour mood was a dress inspection by the King. The King would be assigning pages to knights soon, so every page was on his best behavior. A page served under a knight and his squire. In time, he became that squire and then a knight.
Avery ran his hand through his stringy brown hair, then his thumb and forefinger on either side of his bushy mustache. He walked up and down row of pages, adjusting the posture of one, barking at another to pay attention. Avery had been especially hard on Lancelot. At least that was the boy's opinion. Even at his worst, Avery offered encouragement to someone who sorely needed it. Lancelot didn't even rate a chance smile or a nod of approval. He wondered about this when he was nudged in the ribs, by Lionel, another page. Lancelot followed Lionel's gaze, spotting the throng of people appearing at the far side of the field. Surrounded by courtiers, King Arthur entered the training grounds.
The pages stood even more at attention in the presence of their liege. Arthur separated from the finely dressed courtiers, joining Avery on the inspection.
"The more of them there are, the more I want to get away from them." Arthur referred to the courtiers waiting outside the training ground.
"One of the hidden costs of royalty." Avery replied.
"True on that score. Who do we have here?" Arthur joined the sergeant inspecting the young pages. He came to the end of the row, staring critically at Lancelot. He looked the boy up and down, then walked to the weapons lining the grounds.
"Care to spar?" Arthur tossed young Lancelot a staff. Lancelot caught it. "It'd be an honor, Your Majesty."
They faced off in the center of the training grounds. At first, Lancelot yielded to the king. It seemed treasonous to attack his liege. But Arthur would have none of that.
"Come now." Arthur teased, going for a strong swing at Lancelot's shoulder. "I could get more of a workout chopping kindling. Be yourself, fight as you would any man."
Lancelot still shied away. Arthur pressed the advantage, clouting him on the right ear. Lancelot clutched his stinging ear and played more aggressively. Arthur almost regretted waking this sleeping dragon. Lancelot fought with a strength beyond his slight form. Lancelot was a quick study; ten minutes of staff play and Lancelot knew Arthur's style, making it a part of his own. Lancelot jabbed Arthur in the rib.
"Good shot," Arthur conceded, rubbing his left side. It'd leave a nasty bruise later.
"Good enough for a knight?" Lancelot asked.
"Oh ho, you want to be a knight," Arthur resumed the play.
"I'd defeat all your enemies for you." Lancelot ducked a high swing.
"Being a knight is more than just beating any foe that comes." Arthur deflected Lancelot's blow.
"Tell me," Lancelot returned, whirling the other end into Arthur's favored side.
"A knight serves the side of right, not just the liege of the land. To take up the cause not for personal gain, but because it's right. It's easy to be noble and valorous when everything goes right. The test of a knight is to be righteous when everything goes wrong."
Lancelot went for an opening. Arthur closed the opening with a twist of his staff, disarming Lancelot. Both staves in his left hand, he offered his right to Lancelot. "Well played. You have the promise of becoming a great knight.
"You've done well training them, Avery. You're to be commended." With that, Arthur left, reluctantly joining the courtiers. Lancelot stared after the king until he disappeared inside the castle. Arthur said he had promise to be a great knight. Avery brought him back to reality with a strong smack on the back. Lancelot returned to his place in line.
The man-at-arm set them to jousting. The boys all gave a broad smile; horse training was exciting. They tilted against the quintain, then jousted against each other. It made them feel like real knights. Lancelot carried Arthur's praise in his heart. He performed better against the quintain than anyone, avoiding the blows from behind. Lancelot didn't notice the dark, slantwise glance the other boys were cutting him. Jealously was working in their hearts.
The midday practice session passed quickly. Finally, Avery called an end to the practice and set them to chores. At this, some of the more pampered boys gave an audible moan. Chores after jousting meant mucking out the stables. In the late afternoon heat, the stable was the worst place to be.
The boys clustered around Lancelot. They wanted to know everything about his encounter with Arthur. Most hung on his every word, but a trio of pages looked on with a disbelieving and almost disgusted air.
". . . And so I told him I could defeat all his enemies for him," Lancelot related his tale "Then he said there was more to being a knight . . ." The pages were about inquire more, but Avery called them to muster. The pages darted out of the stables, forming a line. Sergeant Avery sounded mad. The squires stood stiffly at attention voice, not wanting to antagonize the Sergeant further. Both Arthur and Sir Gawain were with Avery. All three wore a grim frown as they watched the pages muster.
Gawain spoke in grim tones. "Are you sure you want to do this Arthur?"
"Gawain, these pages will someday be knights. They must learn about war and the only true teacher of that is experience."
"Bringing these pups against the Picts?" Gawain asked.
"What say you, Avery?" Arthur deferred to his man-at-arms. "Do you think these pages are ready?"
The pages didn't know what was going on, but they had a feeling they were being judged. Avery gave his charges one more appraising look, his gaze finally resting on Lancelot. On him, he made the decision.
"You can never be ready for war. But they have learned all I can teach." Hearing this, some of the pages let out a tightly held breath.
Arthur nodded at Avery's acceptance, then spoke louder to get the pages attention, "Tomorrow, you will assemble here before dawn. There you will join the army as we march north to engage the Picts. You will aid the knights and soldiers, but you won't be in the combat. It'll be a long march tomorrow. I suggest you eat early and get lots of rest."
Arthur turned and departed with Gawain as they went over battle plans. Avery turned to the pages. "Come back alive," he said with surprising tenderness. "You may not be in combat, but second to serving your king, survival is your priority. Now go on and get something to eat."
Heedless of Avery's words, the pages ran into the dining hall, cheering and chattering about the chance to see some real action. Avery shook his head sadly. They'd learn soon enough what war was like. A hand touched his arm. Avery looked down to see Lancelot.
"Thank you for all you've taught us," Lancelot offered his hand. Avery smiled, then grasped the upper forearm in a warrior's handshake, the first time Lancelot was ever treated to such a greeting. Then Avery's grimace returned. "Get to the hall," he growled. Lancelot smiled at the mock rebuke.
Lancelot hurried to join his pages. When he was out of sight, Avery grew despondent. "Come back alive," he whispered.
Next morning, Camelot's army marched toward the northern Lands. The pages brought up the rear. It took a good week before the forces reached coastal plains. Spies reported that the Picts waited in the forest beyond the plains. The army stuck camp at the near end of the plain. After a day's rest from the long journey, they'd begin the campaign.
The pages saw none of that rest. The knights had them running here and there, doing errands; tending the horses, inspecting the mail for breaks, polishing helmets and swords, fetching food and water for the knights and soldiers, carrying messages from one tent to the other. And if a page stopped to catch his breath, a squire would shout at him to move his lazy bone.
Late afternoon saw the squires grooming the horses and checking the tack and bridle. It was with irony that the boys looked forward to this task. Back in Camelot, this was menial and beneath them, but on the battlefield, this was an honor.
"How do you think the battle will go?" Lionel, the youngest among the pages, asked Lancelot.
"Hard to say," Lancelot replied. "The Picts are fierce warriors. There's bound to be heavy losses."
"Do you think we'll have to fight?" the eleven-year old asked hopefully.
"Probably not, but if battle comes to us, I'll defend our King against these savages," Lancelot said full of bravado.
"Ha, another idle boast," Agravaine broke into their conversation. "You'd be the first to flee from the Picts."
"No, I wouldn't and it's not a boast," Lancelot defended. "I'd sacrifice my life to defend Britain."
"Deeds not words," Agravaine sneered. "Let's see you back up your boast."
Lancelot wasn't going to be called a coward. The others knew this was a trick, but the chance to say so passed too quickly. Agravaine looked to his two cohorts and smiled wickedly.
"Then prove it. I've heard tell of a haunted castle, Dolorous Garde, along the coast. Evil permeates its walls. Everyone avoids it; even the King calls it a blight. Certainly, it's an evil that should be done away with. An enemy, as-it-were, you can defeat for him. That is if the word of Lancelot isn't so much hot air."
Lionel grabbed Lancelot's arm. Lancelot saw Lionel shake his head. 'It wasn't worth it.' The page said with his eyes, but Lancelot remembered what Arthur said. Time he put that promise to use.
"You're on!" He accepted the challenge.
The soldiers ate and slept early. Arthur and his knights didn't share in that luxury. The scouts returned and the conferred with them in a war council. With everyone either asleep or busy, it was easy for Lancelot to 'borrow' a horse. The other pages watched from their tents as Lancelot left camp. He made the east coast Road by moonrise.
The full moon was at its zenith when Lancelot reached the dreaded castle of Dolorous Garde. The black citadel crouched on the promontory, ready to pounce on the night. Lancelot urged the horse on, but the stallion dithered. He only got a few more yards before the horse refused to go any further. Lancelot dismounted, tied up the horse, and approached the castle on foot.
Dolorous Garde absorbed the gleaming beams of moonlight, giving nothing back. Up close, Lancelot peered at the walls of the castle. Now that he was here, he didn't have the faintest idea how to enter. He went around the perimeter once, then twice, winding up at the front gates again. He tried the sallyport, the door to the side of the main entrance. It gave under his weight. Lancelot stumbled into the castle.
He unsheathed the sword he also 'borrowed', staring into the darkness. Suddenly, torches flared up on either side of the doorway. Similar torches lit up, a few feet away and all along the hallways. This unsettled the young man a second, but he swallowed his fear and proceeded to search for this enemy Agravaine spoke of.
For hours, Lancelot searched the halls and corridors of Dolorous Garde, finding nothing. Aside from the spontaneous lighting of the torches, this place looked deserted.
Lancelot entered the throne room. Torchlight glowed from the walls. The chandelier above cast a stark light that created more shadows than banished. Two thrones sat on a raised dais, a pedestal between them. One was extraordinarily ornate. Gold and silver twined about the arms and feet of the left throne. Precious stones ringed the back of the seat. Their multiple colors glittered in the orange light of the torches. The second throne wasn't nearly so ornate. Only silver filigree trimming the edges. What attracted Lancelot's attention the most was what was on the pedestal.
On the pedestal was a blue-black gemstone, the size of a man's fist. Moonlight came in through a skylight behind the thrones. A single moonbeam landed on the gemstone. The silver light was washed out from the torchlight and candlelight, but on the gem, it radiated with a cool brilliance.
Lancelot needed proof he was here. The gem would end all doubts. He stepped up to the thrones and took the crystal. As soon as he lifted it off the stand, there was a low, whispered moan, followed by a slight sound of metal grinding on metal behind him.
Lancelot turned around. Two suits of armor, flanking the door he entered, began moving toward him. The suits were made of copper.
The red metal showed green splotches from oxidation. The faceguard on the suits was turned up, revealing no one inside.
The copper knights moved slowly at first, but as their joints grew accustomed to movement again, they sped up to deal with the intruder. Lancelot slipped the gem into his shirt as he held his sword in a two-handed grip. Lancelot launched himself at the copper suits with a 'Yaaaa!' battle cry. He slashed left, then right. The suits didn't slow down. One raised his sword for a slash. Lancelot ducked to the side. He swung his sword, getting the back of his knee. The knight's leg buckled and he went down.
Lancelot then jumped up to chop off the helmet of the other one. Both knights were down.
Lancelot looked at the two knights, feeling satisfied. The suits lay motionless. Lancelot stepped over them about to leave, when he heard that same moan again. The suits of armor pulled themselves back together. They turned toward Lancelot and moved to attack.
Lancelot tried the same attack again, but the knights blocked his cuts. The one on the right sliced his arm. It was a small cut, but it stung like a wasp. Lancelot backed out of the throne room. Outside the room, the hallway ran left and right of the door. Lancelot dashed to his left, the knights in pursuit.
The copper knights didn't run after him. They moved at quick pace, but not running. Lancelot quickly lost them in the corridor. He came to the sallyport door, but it wouldn't open. Locked. Lancelot tried hacking at the door, but it wouldn't budge; it didn't even show a knick from all his slashing. Then Lancelot heard the clanging footsteps of the copper knights. Then he heard it again coming from the opposite direction. From both ends of the hallway, two pairs of copper suits converged on him.
Nowhere to turn, Lancelot charged at the one leading back to the throne room. The copper knights raised their weapons to cut him down. At the last instant, Lancelot dropped to his knees and slid between the two. They hit each other, causing them to fall apart. But Lancelot couldn't savor that victory for he heard the whispered moan again and saw the suit of armor reassemble.
Lancelot fled from the knights, his mind racing. How do you defeat creations such as these? Nothing he did seemed to slow them down, much less destroy them. He was almost back to the throne room when a knight emerged from nowhere. The knight grabbed Lancelot. His momentum helped pull him free, but he lost his balance, falling on his left side. The gemstone jabbed between his ribcage and hip. Lancelot didn't have time to mind the pain. He scrambled to his feet. The crystal fell out of his shirt. In his dash to regain his balance, he kicked the gem across the floor. The dark sapphire bounced off the wall, cracking a bit.
The knight convulsed while Lancelot got to his feet and caught his breath. The copper suit jerked a little longer before completely falling apart. The knight was destroyed, but something clearly happened to it. Lancelot felt the pain in his side. Then looked to the gem. Lancelot made the connection. The gem somehow held power over these 'knights'. The remaining three knights charged into the throne room.
They closed in on Lancelot. Lancelot made a dead run for the crystal. He landed a blow dead on the breastplate of one to topple it and made a clean cut in the shoulder of another. He didn't have a lot of time before they rebuilt, but he wouldn't need that long. He reached the gem. He brought his sword down, shattering the crystal.
Light and wind exploded from the jewel as streamers of argent light swirled around each suit of armor. The copper knights stood frozen in the light. Wind blew hard against Lancelot's face. He felt like he was in a winter storm. Cold air blew out every torch in the castle.
It ended with a sudden silence. The silver streamers vanished and the wind suddenly stopped. In the fading light of the crystal fragments, the copper knight collapsed. Magic no longer sustaining them. They were just lifeless pieces of metal. When the fragments finally faded out, Lancelot started breathing again. It was over. He survived. Now if he could just get out of here.
Small shafts of moonlight through cracks and breaks in the old castle provided only illumination for his escape. It took nearly an hour and a few stubbed toes, but he made it to the sallyport door and there before him was Merlin.
Merlin was astride his horse with the reins of Lancelot's horse firmly in hand. He wore a displeased look on his face. Lancelot wondered why and how Merlin knew he was here. One thing was certain. Merlin wasn't happy.
"You must be extraordinarily brave or extraordinarily foolish." Merlin said as Lancelot mounted his steed. "No one has ever faced the Copper Knights of Dolorous Garde, much less defeat them. I thought you wanted to become a knight."
"I do," Lancelot argued, "That why I came here tonight, to prove myself to my king."
Merlin whirled on the young boy, "You came here tonight on a dare! You did this for your pride, not for your king!"
Merlin didn't say anymore. He started riding back to the camp. Lancelot followed, dwelling on Merlin's words. What Merlin said rang true. He did do this for pride's sake, to show up Agravaine. What bothered Lancelot most was that he went through all that and the victory was hollow. He had nothing to show for it nor did he feel especially valorous. Merlin's words laid bare his actions.
Lancelot woke early the next day. Despite his adventure last night, Lancelot couldn't be late with impending battle today. The sun barely peaked over the trees. The pages assembled for inspection when a scout came riding into the camp. He practically flew off his mount, demanding to see the King.
Whatever news he had was very urgent and drew everyone to the tent, including the soldier in charge of the pages. But he ordered the pages to stay put. The pages obeyed, but talked among themselves.
"So did you do it?" Agravaine turned to Lancelot. "Did you go to the Dolorous?"
"Yes," Lancelot answered.
"Ha, no one who's gone there has ever come back. You're lying," Agravaine sneered.
Lancelot was about to tell him the night's events, to really show him up. Then he saw Merlin pass on his way to the King's tent. Suddenly, the meaning of last night came through to him.
Lancelot looked to Agravaine, "You may be right. I might have spent the night under an oak tree for all you know. But I did go to Dolorous Garde and I did defeat the copper knights within.
"We will become knights soon and knights should trust each other above all else. My word should be enough for you to believe. Do you trust me, fellow knight?"
Agravaine was caught. He'd lose face in front of all the pages if he refused. "I trust you," Agravaine grumbled.
"And I tell you I love my King and will do anything for him. Do you believe me, fellow knight?"
"Yeah, I guess," Agravaine conceded grudgingly.
"Then it doesn't matter if I went to Dolorous Garde or not," Lancelot continued. "Our loyalty to our King isn't in doubt. That's what this was all about."
The other pages nodded in agreement. Agravaine reluctantly agreed with him. The doors to the Great Hall opened. The scout and King Arthur emerged followed by his knights. The pages snapped to attention as the men came by. Merlin approached.
"It's hard to believe," Arthur shook his head.
"I assure you, my lord, every word I speak is true. I passed by this morning and it was like this."
"I don't doubt your word," Arthur reassured the scout. "It's just so incredible."
"News, my lord?" Merlin joined his liege.
"Yes, Merlin," Arthur related. "This scout here has returned with some surprising news. Something incredible has happened just east of here. Will you accompany us?"
"I am at your service," Merlin bowed. "Might I suggest bringing the pages as well."
"The pages?!" one of the knights asked surprised.
"Why not," Arthur nodded. "It's an excellent idea."
Arthur and Merlin left to discuss things further. Solidier stood before his charges. "You heard the king. Get something to eat and be mounted and ready. You have a quarter of an hour." The pages rode in the rear of the column as they headed down the east coast road. The road then veered north along the shoreline. Near noon, the pages and even some of the squires and knights grew edgy. They were approaching the cursed castle. As they came over the rise, the entire column took a collective gasp.
Before them was the former dread castle, Dolorous Garde, only now it was bathed in a rainbow. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues washed the walls, towers and halls in color. The once dark area glowed with every shade and hue. Approaching the castle, the rainbow didn't flee.
The arch of light remained stationary as the column neared Dolorous Garde. The gate was open, invitingly. Arthur and the others dismounted in a courtyard bathed in citrine. Arthur looked to his mentor in bewilderment.
"What do you make of this, old friend?" he asked.
"The evil that once dwelled here is gone," Merlin said uneasily. He was terribly uncomfortable in this place. Even though what evil here was gone, the wizard's eyes still darted from place to place.
"Did you have anything to do with this?" Arthur asked.
"Not me, sir, but I might ask a page who shows great promise," Merlin grinned.
The pages dismounted, staring in mouth-agape awe. The boys were dazzled by all the color. It was a peculiar sensation being inside a rainbow. They were behind fifty knights, squires and soldiers, so they had a bit of freedom in back. One of the pages wandered to the edge of the orange, where yellow began. He picked a rock, thinking it gold, but when he brought it to show his fellows, it turned to orange.
"Send up the page Lancelot." the shout made its way to the rear of the column. The pages looked to their friend with forebodeness. Lancelot carried a bewildered look himself as he walked the length of the column to come before the king.
Arthur looked sternly at the boy. "It is my understanding that you were here last night."
Lancelot hung his head. "Yes, sir. It shames me to admit that I was here on a dare. I thought I was doing it for your glory, but it was for my own."
"Tell me, page, what is it that you did here?"
"I came here last night to rid this place of evil. I nearly lost my life. Suits of copper armor attacked me. I escaped when I shattered the crystal in the throne room."
Arthur studied the boy for a second, "Hmm. You're right Merlin. And the rules on this sort of thing are very clear."
Lancelot looked up with fear. He was going to be dismissed. He'd never get a chance to be a knight. He wanted to throw himself on the king's mercy, promise him he'd never to do something so rash. But begging wasn't becoming a knight. Lancelot lowered his head and awaited punishment.
"Rules of engagement are clear: The one who vanquishes the defenses of a castle becomes lord of that castle. Lancelot Du Lac, this is your castle now."
Lancelot looked up and saw Merlin nod slightly then smile. Lancelot then turned to Arthur who grinned widely. The king turned to face his men.
"Hear me," Arthur raised his voice. "Lancelot Du Lac has faced the perils of this place and vanquished them. This promising young squire is now lord of Dolorous Garde."
"Joyous." Lancelot blurted out, smiling with inspiration.
"Joyous Garde." Lancelot smiled. "Dolorous Garde died last night with it's evil. This is a new place and it should bear a new name. Seeing the place touched with such radiance, I'm filled with a sense of joy. Call it Joyous Garde."
"Very well, young squire." Arthur raised his voice to the men, "Lancelot is now lord of *Joyous* Garde."
"Do you mean it, sir?" Lancelot asked.
"Absolutely, you have earned the promotion and the keep. Congratulations."
The men cheered his success, chanting his name. The crowd was getting a good head of steam when another scout came riding.
"They're gone! The Picts are gone!" he shouted the news.
This took everyone by surprise. In the midst of the chaos, Arthur looked to Merlin for an explanation.
"It's this castle, sir," Merlin answered. "The Picts have always associated this place with great evil. Seeing one of our men destroy that evil must have impressed them greatly. The Pictish armies have withdrawn. This land is ours uncontested.
Arthur looked to Lancelot again. "The rules on this are clear as well. For meritorious conduct on the field of battle . . ."
"But I didn't fight the Picts, your Highness," Lancelot brought up.
"You averted a battle. Which is a far greater good than any accomplished with sword and mace. My knights, hear me! Lancelot has not only vanquished the evil here at Joyous Garde, he has also driven the Picts away. Such action shall be rewarded. Upon returning to Camelot, Lancelot shall be knighted."
The crowds greeted this news with a mighty roar. A roar that dissolved back into chanting Lancelot's name. The boy in question could only smile. It was much to take in.
"And Joyous Garde is this place?" Griff asked.
Arthur nodded, "Well, it's been fifteen centuries. That castle crumbled to ruins long ago. But from my research, Bamburgh was built over it."
"Remarkable," Griff commented before turning to stone. Arthur turned to the small window, spotting the sun peek out over the gray sea. Dawn had arrived. His reminiscing kept Griff here longer than he should.
"No better place than here." Arthur talked to the statues. "At least until tonight. I'll keep the door locked. No one will bother you. Until tonight."
Arthur sat back on his bed. He talked all night and traveled most of yesterday. He should be exhausted, but talking about Lancelot brought back many good memories. Right now, he felt like exploring the halls of this castle, comparing it to what he knew of Joyous Garde.
Arthur wandered the corridors of Bamburgh Castle. The main passages were ornate with the trappings of gentry life. Gold leaf adorned the capitals of the columns in the main halls. Friezes of carved wood or marble hung over the entryways of the larger ballrooms and studies. Portraits of various family members graced the walls and, tapestries added color to the larger ballrooms. Glass cases held articles of importance; swords, silver sets, golden chalices, and other antiques smaller than a breadbox. The candlelight mixed with the predawn gloom, illuminating the rooms in rose and pale yellow.
The king left the passageways, down the less decorated corridors. He heard whispered mumbling to his right. Looking in, he saw a large open room that must have been a guest bedroom at one time. Now the room served as a workshop. The sole source of illumination was a desk lamp at the far end.
Curious, Arthur entered. He stepped lightly as a warrior does. Moving in silence. Approaching, Arthur saw a lithe form hunched over a desk. The nearer he got the clearer her voice became.
"Curious. Incredibly curious," she mumbled.
"What might that be?" Arthur asked. The woman jumped in her chair, whirling around on him. Arthur saw huge eyes, too large for her head. He jumped back, reaching for Excalibur, but instinct told him to stay his hand. Taking a second look, Arthur saw the woman take off a pair of glasses fitted with strong magnifying lenses. Her eyes were normal size, a lovely shade of brown. She flashed him an angry look.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack. Who are you?" she demanded.
"My apologies, lady," Arthur gave a slight bow, "I'm Arthur Jones, medieval scholar. I'm here studying tapestries."
"There are no medieval tapestries in this castle. Everything here's less than 300 years old," she looked at him with growing suspicion.
"Of course, but I'm doing a paper with Lennox MacDuff on the evolution of tapestry-making techniques. I'm studying Bamburgh's tapestries as a reference point." Arthur explained so quickly and smoothly, he started believing it himself.
The woman gave him a measuring look, then nodded, accepting his story. "I'm Elaine D . . ." She paused where her last name would come in, quickly covering, "Just call me Elaine. I was commissioned by the Restoration Society to touch up the paintings."
"Pleased to meet your acquaintance, Elaine," Arthur smiled. "What was so interesting?" He nodded to the painting she was working on.
"Oh, this," Elaine turned in her swivel chair back to the painting. "I was retouching this oil portrait." Seeing his blank look, Elaine explained. "Paints fade and pigments dissolve. Every century, they need to be repainted or they'll fade away completely. Well I was about to start on this one when I felt this."
Elaine put on surgical gloves. She lightly ran her finger across the lower half of the painting. Her other hand felt behind the canvas. Finally, she found it. "Here!" She lifted the back to touch the front. Arthur began seeing what she saw, a rectangular outline hidden in the painting.
"Very interesting." Arthur peered closely.
"Any idea what it is?" Elaine asked.
"No, but there's one way to find out." Arthur picked up a sharp paint spatula.
"Hold it!" Elaine was scandalized. "You can't cut into a picture. That's vandalism."
"The only way we're going to solve this mystery is to cut this picture open." Arthur argued.
"Mr. Daniels will have our guts for garters if we damage anything." Elaine looked around in case the caretaker in question was about.
"I wasn't going to slash it open." Arthur promised. "Just a small cut at the edge. No one will notice once it's back in its frame."
Elaine considered this, then relented. "All right, but let me do it. You looked like you'd cut yourself shaving, much less handle something with a blade."
Arthur took the umbrage, watching Elaine slide the knife into the canvas edge. Carefully, she cut through the cloth to a sizeable slice. She shook the canvas frame and a number of letters slid out.
Arthur picked up one of the letters. It was addressed "To my Beloved." Inspecting the other eight, they were addressed the same way.
"Love letters?" Elaine looked to Arthur. He shrugged, curious, and opened one. Elaine did the same.
"My dearest." Elaine read aloud, "How I long to see your face again. It is the last thing I see upon sleeping, the first thing I think of upon waking and thoughts of you sustain me through the day . . ."
"Today was a particularly rough day for us," Arthur read from his letter, "We marched all day only to find the army moved on without us . . ."
"Correspondence from a war," Elaine summarized. "My bets on WW2, though it could be WW1."
Arthur scanned down to the bottom of the page, when a sentence caught his eye. ". . . I'm ecstatic about your find. Could it really be a journal from Lancelot Du Lac? To have survived this long, is truly a remarkable find. I must draw this letter to a close. My love is only for you. Love, Richard" He read aloud.
A journal from Lancelot! Those words jolted Arthur to full attention. He wanted to read more, but Mr. Daniels interrupted them. Mr. Daniels, the caretaker of the castle, coughed to make his presence known. He was at the other end of the room and couldn't see the letters.
"Breakfast is served," he announced. Elaine quickly gathered up the letters and put them in the desk drawer. Daniels moved on, Elaine locked the drawer and left. Arthur followed her out of the workshop.
"I'm famished, how about you?" Elaine asked of Arthur. Arthur nodded.
Turning the corner, Elaine whispered to him, "Let's keep this between us, for now."
Arthur nodded again. He had his own reason to keep silent. The Lancelot's journal. If it were true, he wanted to find it. It seemed somehow fitting.
The two joined a group of six other scholars and artists for breakfast in the kitchen dining room. Breakfast was hot porridge, English muffins, coffee, and tea. Arthur and Elaine found a table apart from the others. When they first sat down, Elaine looked around the dining hall searching for someone. Failing to find whomever, she dug into her cereal with gusto.
"You know what I think," Elaine said between bites. "I'm guessing the girl belonged to the family living here. Richard was the love of her life. Something happened during the war, maybe Richard got killed or she found someone else, remarried and hid the letters in the painting."
"It is possible." Arthur admitted.
"I know it sounds like a romance novel, but it so interesting. Who are these people? What happened to them? And what about this journal. I thought Lancelot was just a myth like King Arthur."
Arthur looked up from his breakfast. He debated telling her the truth, but figured she'd never believe him and if she did, it'd only complicate things here. He smiled benignly and asked another question.
"If this journal really exists, where would it be?" he asked. Maybe she had a clue to its whereabouts.
Elaine tapped her spoon against the bowl figuring it out "Difficult to say. It could be anywhere; in another painting, in a hidden panel or a piece of unused furniture. It may not even be in the castle, if it survived. You think it's around still here."
Arthur nodded. "I hope so."
"Maybe there's a clue in the other letters. Let's check it out." Elaine hurried through her meal.
Finishing breakfast, the two returned to the workshop. Elaine put the picture back in its frame. It was part of the main exhibit and had to be back on display, Mr. Daniels' orders. While she was working, Arthur went through the remaining letters.
Piecing it together was difficult. It's like listening to half a conversation, more than half a century old. Finally, Arthur came across a mention, in the seventh letter.
"I regret not joining you for Christmas. I had hoped this conflict would have died down by winter. Thank you for gifting the journal to me. I can hardly wait to read it with you . . . and share other things as well. From the passages you wrote to me, I have no doubt it belonged to Lancelot Du Lac. I remember some mention by your father that your ancestral home was built on the ruins of another castle. It might be Lancelot's home away from Camelot.
"But all this we can figure out when I return. The captain says that the conflict won't last much into July. In the meantime, place it among your dowry. It'll be excellent gift to share on our honeymoon.
Hope to make a speedy return. Love, Richard." "A hope chest," Arthur whispered to himself.
"Come again," Elaine asked.
"There's mention of putting the journal with a dowry. Do girls still keep hope chests?"
"I did, but that was when I was young and romantic," Elaine commented.
Arthur looked at the woman, still young in his opinion, in her late thirties. Of course, after fifteen hundred years, everyone was young to him. But Elaine was an attractive woman with long brown hair and soft cinnamon eyes behind thin wire glasses.
"It might not be here," Elaine thought about it. "I heard that when the family moved, they took a lot of the personal stuff, leaving the antiques and museum piece valuables. But if it were here, it might be in the bedrooms. That's where a hope chest winds up when you get married, at the foot of the bed."
"How many bedrooms are there?"
"About twenty-five," Elaine began despairing, "Some are workshops, others are on the tour and you can't touch anything on exhibit."
"Looks like we'll be doing some searching," Arthur smiled. Elaine tried cracking a smile, but it turned into a yawn. The night's activities were wearing on her.
"You'll have to do it without me. I've got to get some sleep. See you at supper tonight?"
"Certainly." Arthur said out loud. 'And hopefully I'll have the journal by then,' he said to himself. Elaine left the letters out for Arthur. The king pondered the search. So many bedrooms. Best to get started now. They both departed, Arthur to search for the journal; Elaine in search of her bed.
It could have taken the King several days, to go through all the rooms. But fortune was with him. He just turned the corner when he spotted a sight at the end of the hall. The end of the long corridor opened into the master bedroom. Through the double doors, stood an ornate four-poster bed. Gauzy white drapes hung from the four posts, concealing the bed, but not the ornate chest at its foot.
The light from the morning sun fell on the chest like a beacon. Arthur looked around, but Elaine was gone and there was no one else in sight. Arthur stepped into the bedroom and reverently ran his hands over the rosewood chest. He found the latch and discovered no lock.
With one more glance to see if anyone approached, he lifted the chest lid. There atop a quilt and a wedding dress laid a book with a white iris embossed on the cover. Arthur picked up the book and stared at it for a long time, then he quickly tucked the book in his coat, put the room to rights, and departed. Arthur thanked the fates that he found the journal so soon.
There was no doubt in his mind this was Lancelot's. Not only was the white iris his device, but the pages were written in his hand. Arthur quickly stole back to his room and read the first entry, about his life under the lake, his encounter with Merlin. Somewhere between entries, sleep finally caught up with him. In his dreams, Arthur returned to those days of old.
Lancelot spent the entire night at vigil. It was proper for a knight to spend a night in front of the altar to confess his sins and plead for forgiveness. That rite completed, Lancelot waited to be called in by the king, to be knighted.
Lancelot waited in the gardens. The sun climbing high promised a hot afternoon. For now, Lancelot basked in its radiance. His hearing picked up the sound of sniffling. Opening his eyes, he saw a woman crying at the far end of the garden. Sympathetic, Lancelot approached the older woman.
"Good mother," Lancelot laid a hand on her shoulder. "What troubles you so?"
The lady looked up to the young man. "You are about to be knighted, are you not?" She pointed to his newly polished armor and finely burnished helmet.
"Yes," Lancelot nodded, his face still showed concerned for the lady.
"I'm sorry, it just that you reminded me of my son and my husband," the woman sniffed. "My husband saw so much promise in our boy. He knew our son would be a knight, no doubt in his mind. Seeing you on the verge of knighthood reminded me of them."
"What happened to them? If I'm not prying," Lancelot asked.
"My husband was King Ban of Benwick. He died during the fall of our castle by King Claudas forces. My son . . ." the lady's eyes grew misty. "I lost my son that night."
"I'm sorry," Lancelot sat next to the woman, comforting her. He felt a connection with this woman and he didn't want to see her sad.
"Where are my manners." The old woman composed herself. "I'm Elaine of Benwick."
"Lancelot Du Lac." He bowed his head to her. "Is there anything I can do to ease your pain?"
Elaine smiled, "You're companionship has helped already. It feels good to talk about them."
Lancelot stood up. "You know, the garden is quite lovely. Might you join me for a stroll?"
Elaine looked up and smiled, "I'd love to." She took his hand and they entered the gardens.
"Tell me about your husband," Lancelot asked "You seem very fond of him."
"Oh, I was. He was a devoted husband and a loving father," Elaine began.
They walked for some time. Elaine going on about Ban and their lives in Benwick. They must have wandered too far into the garden because a page came through calling Lancelot's name. The page caught up with Lancelot and Elaine.
"The king is ready to receive you."
Lancelot was about to leave, but saw the sad, despairing look on Elaine's face. Lancelot turned to the page, "Tell him I'm out."
The page and Elaine looked up startled. "Are you sure that's wise?" the page asked, "To defy the king."
"Quite," Lancelot replied firmly. The page a bit stunned, returned inside. Elaine was about to protest, but Lancelot held up a hand. "That can wait. I am here with you right now. Please continue."
"But your initiation?" Elaine asked.
"We still have a walk in the gardens, do we not?"
At this Elaine smiled, brighten the crinkles in her eyes. She nodded and took his arm as the continued their stroll into the gardens. Passing by the snapdragons, Elaine continued talking about her family.
"I guess I miss my son the most," Elaine bent to smell the flowers. "He was my first. Now I'll never see him grow up, become a knight, and a father himself."
"I miss my mother, too," Lancelot added "I haven't seen her in the longest time. I wish she were here. I'd like to think I've made her proud."
"If it means anything at all, I am proud of you, Lancelot." Elaine smiled up at the young man. Lancelot cracked a wide smile. Impulsively, he gave her a warm hug. Elaine returned the hug. When they finally pulled away, Elaine looked over Lancelot's shoulder. Merlin waited for him, a displeased look on his face.
"Go and become a knight, Lancelot Du Lac," Elaine smiled and patted his face affectionately. Lancelot nodded and hurried over to Merlin. Merlin turned sharply with a swirl of his cloak. Lancelot fell in step beside the advisor.
"Becoming a knight is a mistake for you," Merlin said grimly.
"What?" Lancelot looked up at the magician.
"The page told me you refused a summons from your king. If you plan to do that every time the mood strikes you, then you have no business being a knight. A knight serves his king."
"Lady Elaine needed comfort. Isn't supplying succor to those who need it part of being a knight?" Lancelot argued "I will serve King Arthur with all I have, but a knight serves the cause of good more than any king."
Merlin stopped just before the throne room and looked at Lancelot long enough to unnerve the would-be knight. Merlin smiled, "Then it is right and fitting that you become a knight. You've learned what it is to be a knight."
With that, Merlin opened the double doors to the throne room. Knights and well-wishers flanked the carpeted aisle. King and queen seated on thrones at the far end. Lancelot entered the throne room, striding tall and purposefully toward his liege. When he reached the foot of the dais, he kneeled before all assembled.
"My lord and lady, I present myself to you as I am, just a man. I pledge on my life and my honor to serve you all of my days."
Arthur looked to Guinevere who nodded. They both arose. Arthur stepped forward, Excaliber pointed to the ground.
"Lancelot Du Lac, throughout your time here, you've proven yourself a strong warrior and a capable soldier. For the valor you've displayed on the battlefield, we recognize you, Lancelot Du Lac, as a Knight of the Round Table. By this sword and this hand, I dub you, Sir Lancelot Du Lac."
Arthur returned to the side of his queen. She then took the sword and approached him. Lancelot held his breath, felt the world stand still. The rest of the room seemed to fall away. Only him and this vision of loveliness existed.
"Lancelot," Guinevere began, "During your time here, you've learned what it means to be a knight; humility, honesty, sympathy. You've followed the path of righteousness. For this, you are recognized as a member of the King's honor guard."
She lifted the sword and dubbed him again, "By this sword and by my hand, I dub you Sir Lancelot Du Lac, knight of Camelot's honor guard."
Lancelot remained bowed after the honor was bestowed. Guinevere bent to see if he was all right. A bit teary-eyed, but Lancelot was all right. He smiled at the radiant face. He stood up on his own, nodding a thank you for her help. Now, Arthur stepped forward and made a speech, but Lancelot didn't hear it. His line of sight, instead, was focused downward.
A perfect white iris lay at his feet. It came from Guinevere. He could see the place in her hair from where it fell. Right now, his attention was focused on retrieving it and returning it to such a beautiful lady.
When Arthur finished introducing Lancelot to the court, the crowd started another round clapping. Quite unconsciously, Lancelot's sword slipped from his grasp. It fell with an audible clang, drawing unwanted attention. Embarrassed, he bent down to pick up his sword and the flower. Before he stood up again, he slipped the flower in his armor. The moment of embarrassment passed, Lancelot joined in the festivities.
The revelries went on late into the night. Lancelot spent the night accepting congratulations and well wishes from fellow knights and courtiers. He looked for a chance to speak to Guinevere. Only this late at night did he see a break. Guinevere had just left for the mezzanine for some air. No one was paying close attention to him. He followed her out into the cool night.
"Your Majesty!" he called to her. Guinevere turned around, favoring him with a warm smile.
"You dropped this flower earlier," Lancelot offered the iris. "I wanted to return it."
"That was in the morning. You've kept this flower all day, to return it to me?" Guinevere sounded impressed.
Lancelot nodded. Guinevere took it, then returned it back to Lancelot.
"Keep it, Sir Knight. Keep it as a sign of my favor. Will you be my champion?"
Lancelot looked at her, blinking a couple of times at the honor she was bestowing. Finally, he managed, "It'd be my greatest duty to champion your honor." He kissed her palm.
Guinevere's cheek flushed rosy. She favored Lancelot with another warm smile. "Arise my champion."
A knock on the door woke Arthur with a start. He looked up and remembered where he was. He'd dreamt about Lancelot's knighting. Now, reality sank in. He was in Bamburgh. The knocking on the door persisted. "Arthur, are you in there? It's me, Elaine," the woman spoke through the door. Arthur got his bearings as Elaine continued to knock. "I looked for you at dinner, but you weren't there. Are you alright?" Arthur spotted Griff and Cavall, both unharmed. Then he looked out his small window and saw the setting sun halfway gone. The knocking on the door persisted.
To be Continued . . .