Arthur looked once to the gargoyles and once to the door. Elaine couldn't find the gargoyles here. Quickly, but none too smoothly he opened the door a crack and slipped out, facing a perplexed Elaine.
"Arthur, are you all right?" Elaine asked.
"Fine, but you know how these rooms are, they're chicken coops," Arthur explained.
"Really? My room's rather spacious," Elaine gave Arthur a questioning glance.
"I'm hungry. You?" Arthur didn't give her the chance to ask more questions.
"I guess I can eat," Elaine shrugged. Whatever he was hiding, she'd leave him be. Goodness knows, how many secrets she kept.
Arthur managed to get them down the hall and halfway down the stairs, before an ominous double roar echoed through the castle. Elaine looked around,trying to locate such hair-raising roar. Arthur looked around, mimicking Elaine's confusion.
"What do you suppose that is?" he asked.
"No idea," Elaine replied, "Maybe a dragon."
"What?" Arthur was surprised by the answer.
"Well it sounds more exciting than a passing freighter. Which is what more likely. Speaking of dragons and knights, you'll never guess what I found, Lancelot's journal."
"What?" The second surprise of the evening.
"Yeah, it's amazing. In my room there's an old chest at the foot of the bed. On a hunch, I opened it and there was a diary with an iris embossed on the cover. It was written in a strange hand, so I guess it must be Lancelot's."
"A white iris? Can I see it?" Arthur was intrigued by the idea of another journal. His book had a lily on it, but Lancelot used the iris was his device.
"After dinner." Elaine smiled teasingly, "After dinner."
The two hurried through a simple fare of leek soup and roast beef. Elaine looked fetching in her brown dress. She certainly wasn't another face in the crowd. Dark brown tresses framed a lovely face. Arthur stopped staring, concentrating on his food.
Elaine noticed Arthur eyes on her, but didn't react beyond a slight smile she hid by taking another spoonful of soup. Her mirth quickly evaporated when she looked up. In the doorway to the dining room, a large figure hung in the shadows. He only stayed span of three heartbeats, then retreated down the hall. Elaine's gaze remained fixed on the hallway.
"Elaine are your all right?" Arthur asked. He followed her gaze, but only saw the entranceway.
"Oh, it's nothing. Just stared off into space." Elaine quickly explained.
Dinner done, they placed their bowls and plates on the kitchen board. Then, Elaine led him to her room and the book laying on top of the hope chest.
"I took a look at it, but it's written in some ancient script, probably Latin." Elaine handed Arthur the book.
"You wouldn't happen to know . . ." Elaine began.
"This journal chronicles my life and service in Camelot," Arthur read without any trouble, "Whilst a herald or a bard might embellish my tales. I write them with my hand to speak of how they truly occurred."
This was a similar beginning to the journal he found. There was no doubt this was Lancelot's book. But why two journals?
"A man who speaks Latin," Elaine smiled, "I'm impressed. Wonder what other surprises I should learn about?"
Arthur felt incredibly self-conscious at the moment. Elaine's smile was warm and friendly, but her eyes sparkled with a bit more than friendship.
"Would you be kind enough to read a little of it?" Elaine asked.
Arthur flipped through the pages. This one seemed to pick up a few years
after Lancelot achieved knighthood. Arthur came to a familiar part. The
quest Lancelot took a couple of months before Pentecost.
Sir Lancelot and Sir Lionel rode out from Camelot in the hours before dawn. Only the gargoyles and the sentries at the portcullis noticed their departure. Lancelot told everyone that they were going in search of adventure, but Lionel suspected more.
As they rode the north road, Lionel noticed Lancelot's long face and hunched over posture. It all pointed to the same conclusion, a broken heart. He has seen other knights nursing broken hearts before. The distant look in their face. The detached manner they viewed the world, like it was happening to someone else.
Lionel didn't know who Lancelot was pining for, but it must've been
a hard love. They left before receiving leave from their king or best wishes
from Queen Guinevere. All Lionel could do, is be with him until he got
over her. And the best way to forget is with an adventure. He just hoped
they'd find something soon.
The morning was bright and midday became oppressively hot. Wearing their leather armour grew increasingly uncomfortable as the day wore on, but Lancelot showed no signs of slowing down. Lionel's discomfort got the better of him when the sun was at its peak.
"Cuz, hold," he called to Lancelot. They called each other 'cousin', as an endearment.
"The day is hot and we've been riding hard for hours. There's a copse of trees coming up. Let's retire for a short nap?" Lionel suggested.
Lancelot didn't say a word. Lionel didn't even know if Lancelot heard him. But when they reached the copse, Lance turned his steed off the road and dismounted. Lionel did the same, grateful for the break. Lionel broke out his pack for lunch, simple bread and cheese. Lancelot, after tying up his horse, lay under the shade of an apple tree and went right to sleep.
Lionel shook his head. Lancelot got it bad. He was glad he hadn't had his heart broken yet. Lancelot lay on the side of the apple tree farthest from the road. Lionel ate lunch on the near side. He'd just finished and about to lay down for a nap himself, when the thundering of hooves caught his attention. Lionel looked to Lancelot, who hadn't stirred. They were deep enough in the forest, that the trees muted the sound.
'Must be exhausted,' Lionel thought. Curiosity compelled the young knight to untie his mount and return to the road.
He was about ten yards away when three knights came barreling past him. Their steeds running at full gallop. Lionel continued approaching the road, when another knight flew past in pursuit of the first three. Intrigued, Lionel followed the chase. A little further, the road sloped downward, giving Lionel full vantage as he saw the fourth knight run down and overtake the first three. First, he knocked each off their mount, and then he turned around and engaged each. The battles, if you can call them that, were decidedly one sided, with the fourth knight defeating each with a blow to the back of their heads. Lionel was impressed by the fourth knigth's fighting skill. He rode into the dell to acknowledge him.
"Hail and well met, good knight," Lionel greeted the victor. The knight was tying up the last of the vanquished and slinging them across their horses. He looked up at the approaching Lionel, but didn't say anything.
"What is your name sir, so I may acknowledge your victory? That was an impressive display of skill," Lionel went on, not noticing the knight tightening his grip on his sword.
"I am called Sir Turquine," the knight said in a low gravelly voice. Without warning or another word, he launched an attack on Sir Lionel.
"Wait, sir knight," Lionel backed up his horse a step, "I mean you no ill."
That didn't matter to Turquine. He charged around Lionel and smacked
the horse hard on the rump with the flat of his sword. The horse reared
up in pain, throwing Lionel. A bit stunned, Lionel got up, but he was in
no condition to fight. Turquine approached the dazed knight and clouted
him behind the ear knocking him out like the previous three. Turquine returned
with four prizes back to his castle, while Lancelot slept on.
"Not a good start for our hero," Elaine commented.
"Lancelot was the greatest knight," Arthur defended, "He proved that with the healing of Sir Urre."
"Sir Urre, a knight from Bohemia. He was cursed with injuries that wouldn't heal. Only the touch by the greatest knight could lift the curse. Every knight in the Round Table touched him, but it wasn't until Lancelot laid a hand on him, that his wounds seal themselves and he recovered."
"You're an Arthurian scholar, as well?"
"Something like that," Arthur smiled wrily.
Idly, Elaine looked to her watch, "Blast, I have get to work."
Arthur closed the book, while Elaine gathered a few brushes and photographs of her assignments, then hurried out the room. Arthur walked with her down the hall.
"I'm sorry to have kept you from your own work," Elaine apologized, "Perhaps you can read more from the journal later. Say around dawn?"
"I'd love to," Arthur replied. He blinked in surprise when he realized how much he looked forward to that. Arthur looked at the journal, then handed it back to Elaine.
"Keep it, for now." Elaine caressed Arthur's hand warmly, "I can't read Latin, it'll do me little good. Until dawn."
With that Elaine continued down the hall where her workshop and paintings awaited. Before she entered the converted bedroom, she turned back and looked at Arthur one more time. The king smiled despite himself. Elaine disappeared into her workshop. Arthur gave the journal another look, running his hand over the iris inlaid, then returned to his room.
Arthur found Griff reading the Lily journal. Cavall waiting patiently, lying between the bed and dresser. When the king entered, Griff sprang to his feet, "Your Majesty. We didn't see you when we awoke."
"It was my fault, Griff. You nearly got caught."
Griff nodded understanding, "Cavall and I will find a better hiding place for tomorrow."
"That can wait for a bit," Arthur stroked his beard in thought, "You can read that book?"
"Of course," Griff smiled, "Working in a magic shop, it comes in handy to know several languages, Latin chief among them."
"I have a task for you. He brought out the second journal, the Iris journal. Arthur retold the day's activities. When he finished, Griff looked at the two journals with reverence. Cavall gave a long and open-mouthed yawn with his tongue lapping out. He was proclaiming his lack of interest with his masters.
"Why would Lancelot write two journals?" Griff wondered aloud.
"I don't know. I think one is a continuation of the other," Arthur shrugged, "I want you to look through the books with me. See if they match up."
"And if they don't?" Griff asked.
"Then we needed to determine which is real and which is false," Arthur answered.
Somewhere in the castle the time tolled ten o'clock. Arthur and Griff
both began reading where Arthur left off, with the beginning of Lancelot's
Lancelot slumbered under the apple tree long after Sir Lionel's capture. Later that afternoon, another troop came down the road. Four knights escorting four queens traveled the road northward. They would have passed Lancelot completely except one of the queens, Morgana La Fay, saw a glint of light in the forest. The sun bounced off Lancelot's shield. It caught the attention of one, then all the queens. They halted their ride, dismounting to investigate.
"What do you make of this, 'sisters'?" the Queen of Northgalis deferred to her fellow queens.
"Lancelot," Morgana breathed in whisper, then in a stronger voice, "Obviously a knight of the Round Table of Camelot."
"They grow their knights handsome there?" the Queen of Eastland looked hungrily over the sleeping knight.
"Oh no, you don't," the Queen of the Out Isles asserted, "I claim him as mine."
"A little greedy wouldn't you say, 'sister'?" Northgalis was well aware of the queen's healthy appetite for companionship.
The queens soon fell to arguing over who would claim Lancelot. All that bickering awoke the knight in question. Morgana moved quickly, bringing something out of her pouch.
"Some sand of Morpheus," Morgana sprinkled it over the knight's face. His eyes fluttered briefly in wakefulness then slipped back to sleep. Lancelot taken care of, she whirled on her 'sisters'.
"We nearly lost our prize because you couldn't keep those strident tongues of yours still," Morgana held up her hand forestalling any argument, "If you can't decide, then let him. Let him choose whom he'll serve as paramour. My castle is closest, we'll take him there."
Morgana snapped her fingers. The queen's armored escorts approached
awaiting instruction. They took the sleeping knight, slung him on a horse
and took him back to Queen Morgana's castle.
Elaine focused her eye on the upper left quadrant of a portrait. She picked out a brush and a set of chemicals to do the job. Carefully, she turned back the clock dissolving years of sun and age, returning the vibrant oils and pigments to their original state. Somewhere, Elaine heard the hour toll eleven. She leaned back in her chair, taking off the magnifying goggles. Massaging the bridge of her nose. That's when she noticed . . . something.
She felt more than saw the person enter her room. It was the silence really that caught her attention. The subtle change from a casual stillness to forced quiet of someone working too hard to keep the peace. To her credit, Elaine didn't panic. Her heart began pounding, but she remained seated, her attention trained on her painting.
"I left my husband to be rid of his life. A life where *you* are a necessity."
The man was a shadow, framed in the light of the open door. In deep, measured tones he spoke, "Your husband still worries about your welfare."
"I can take care of myself, thank you," Elaine kept her voice even, but her brushstrokes became fiercer, "I don't need a bodyguard."
"I don't doubt it," the bodyguard agreed, "But the boss disagrees. He wants you safe. So here I am."
"He wants me back, but that's not going to happen," Elaine finally turned around to face the shadowy figure, "As I see it you have two options. You can leave much the way you came, silently and without notice. Or I can call Mr. Daniels, he'll call the authorities and have you escorted out."
"You think I'm afraid of some local heavies," The bodyguard folded his muscular arms across his barrel chest, "I use to be a heavy."
"I know you aren't afraid, but I know how my husband operates; stealthily, under anyone's notice. I don't think the 'boss' wants a news crew or even a police report about you stalking me. So what will it be?"
The shadow passed through the open light of the doorway, disappearing
down the hall. He was gone. Elaine smiled to herself, then returned to
her painting. "I can take good care of myself."
Reality became fluid in Lancelot's magic-induced dreams. Scenes and
images shifted from one to another and he couldn't control it. One moment
he's teaching Guinevere French in Camelot's library, the next he found
himself thrashing in a lake of dark water, pulled beneath the waves. Then
fires leapt from no where engulfing everything, right before Guinevere's
soft voice whispered his name. He turned around and he and she lay on picnic
blanket gazing up at the clouds rolling by. Lancelot turns his head to
catch a glimpse of Guinevere. She looks back with a smile that melted his
A clanking sound intruded on their moment. Lancelot sat up to see a copper knight stride purposefully towards him. Lancelot knew how to defeat them; he played 'hide-and-seek'. Lancelot lost the knight in the tall hedgerows bordering Camelot's gardens. He heard giggling, Guinevere's giggle. He followed the laughter like a siren's song. It led him to the the Round Table room. The table was larger than he recalled, filling the room. On the other side, in a carafe, stood a bright red rose. Lancelot wanted to reach it, but the table wouldn't allow him any room to move. So Lancelot unsheathed his sword and hacked his way across the table. It took an eternity to chop through, but at last he reached the rose. He took in its sweet fragrance and turned around. To his horror, the table didn't lie in splinters, but bodies, his fellow knights of the table lay dead, ripped asunder by his own sword.
That last image stunned Lancelot to wakefulness. He jumped up with a
start, but something held him back. Looking around to gain his bearings,
Lancelot found himself chained in a dungeon cell. He first dismissed it
as a lingering part of his dream, but as his head cleared, the grim facts
remained. He was a prisoner.
"This thing about having him choose one of us," the Queen of the Out Isles twirled her hands, "Why bother with such trvialities as choice?"
"I thought you knew better," Morgana pointed a paring knife from peeling an orange at the Queen, "It's always more satisfying have a man come to you of his own free will. We could enslave his mind with our magics, but soon he'd bore us. Better him choose us than be forced into it."
"What if he doesn't choose?" the Queen of Northgalis brought up, "Camelot men are a stubborn lot. And I've heard tale his heart belongs to another."
"And since when do you care where a man's heart is. As long as his body is in your bedchamber," Morgana retorted, "He'll choose us, because that is the only choice he has. Even death will be denied him. It's us or nothing."
The other three queens nodded in agreement. Letting Lancelot decide would settle the argument over who is the most desirable of the four queens. Only the Queen of the East Lands remained defiant.
"What about you Morgana?" she asked, "You haven't expressed any interest in Lancelot as a lover. What's your stake in this game?"
"A lot higher than just a warm body in my bed," Morgana shot back, then smoothed her angry scowl back to a congenial smile, "Oh, I think Lancelot's an attractive man, but I have a lot more in store for him, a lot more."
The other queens looked to their leader quizzically. Morgana had said
all she was going to on the subject. Morgana bit fiercely into her orange.
She had to make sure Lancelot chose her for the plan forming in her mind
to work. The rest of the meal passed quietly. Each queen planning to make
the knight in the dungeon theirs.
The sun had just set when a young maiden entered Lancelot's cell. She carried a basin full of water in one arm and a tray laden with food on the other. Lancelot remained chained to the wall otherwise he would have rushed to help her, right before he made good an escape.
"Gramercy, young one," Lancelot asked, "Where am I?"
"The dread castle, Chariot," Morgana spoke heralding her own arrival, "My castle. Leave us."
The girl quickly set down her items, hurrying out of the Queen's path. She gave a nod to the three soldiers waiting outside the cell, then shut the cell door. Morgana gave Lancelot an appraising look, then began to casually stroll the prison. Short walk, the walls closed in less than five paces. She placed two torches on either side of the darkening room, then looked back to Lancelot.
"No need keeping you chained up," Morgana snapped her fingers and the manacles magically unlatched. Lancelot massaged his wrists a bit, then made a dash for the door.
"My men have orders to kill you if you emerge from that door," Morgana informed him offhandedly.
"I can fight my way out," Lancelot said with more bravado than conviction.
"Against armored men, perhaps," Morgana moved closer, "But how about magic? I freed you from those chains, I can just as easily slap you back to that wall."
Lancelot was a warrior not a magician. Maybe Morgana was bluffing, but he had no way knowing. Lancelot resigned himself to be the queen's 'guest' a while longer. He plopped himself down and started in on the food before him.
"So you have some sense after all," Morgana smiled smugly, "I guess that's why you are the 'Flower of Chivalry'."
"What is it you want of me, milady," Lancelot spoke with false cordiality.
"Not me," Morgana shook her head, "Rather my sister queens have grand plans for you. They want you for their lover and they are the type you don't refuse."
"I won't betray my heart," Lancelot sprang to his feet. Morgana stared at his physique, muscles sliding with fluid grace underneath his skin. She stopped daydreaming to respond to the knight's words.
"We shall see," Morgana placed a hand on his chest allowing it to slide down his front. Lancelot felt chilled by the touch, but he held his ground. "We shall see. In the meantime, consider yourself a guest in my home."
"Does that mean I have you leave to depart?" Lancelot asked pointedly.
"Nice try, sir knight, but the term 'guest' is different here than in
Camelot. While you are my guest I will not kill you. Your behavior will
decide whether that changes." With that, Morgana La Fay sauntered out of
cell. Lancelot was left to ponder his fate.
"Flower of Chivalry?" Griff looked up from his reading.
"Yes," Arthur explained, "Each knight has a device, an emblem signifying who they are. Most knights choose their family's coat of arms, but since Lancelot didn't know his family, he chose a pure white flower. Over time, Lancelot continually proved himself a goodly knight and a just man. We called him the Flower of Chivalry, the code in its fullest bloom."
Griff was caught up in the memory same as Arthur. Talking about these events put a smile on the king's face and Griff loved the stories.
"Once, Lancelot was riding through the woods and he came across this woman. She was crying because her cat was up a tree. Lancelot took off his armour and sword to climb. Once he was up the tree, that was when this treacherous brigand appeared. This was all a ruse to catch knights off guard then rob them. And he might have succeeded if it were anyone other than Lancelot. Lancelot swung through the branches like a gymnast, coming down hard on the thief. Wham! Treachery couldn't defeat Lancelot."
"As I'm finding out," Griff lifted up the book, "I'm at the point where he's captured by Queen Morgana."
"Hmm, wait till you get to where he helps Sir Kay and dons Kay's armour."
"Why would he do that?" Griff looked perplexed.
"To hide his identity," Arthur stroked his beard, "When you're the best, you can't help attracting fools who think they're better, while at the same time scaring off seasoned knights who know your reputation. Sir Kay's wasn't nearly so stellar.
In fact, he was often the butt of jokes. Riding as Sir Kay, Lancelot found no end of jousts."
"Wasn't Sir Kay upset?"
"Never" Arthur smiled, "Lancelot saved his life and he never took off his helmet when he competed. He lifted Kay's reputation a notch or two. If Kay weren't such a curmudgeon he might've thanked Lancelot for the service."
"Don't say anymore," Griff held up a claw, "You'll ruin the story for me."
"Well hurry up, then?" Arthur laughed. He stood up and stretched, "I'm going to see if I can find the kitchen. Want anything?"
"Definitely," Griff nodded vigorously. Aside from the snacks he managed
to filch, he and Cavall hadn't had a real meal in days. At mention of food,
Cavall sprang to his feet. Arthur petted the dog and bid him to stay. Once
Arthur left, Griff returned to the journal. The following was written in
another pen as an addition.
~ Three fortnights had passed with no word of my whereabouts. Gwen's
worry for my safety grew each day. Arthur's attention was focused not just
on my absence, but the disappearance of at least a dozen knights. There
were tales of a robber knight who upon capturing his foe, stole them to
his castle and beat them with thorn bushes. Gwen took matters of my search
into her own hands. ~
"A word with you, Sir Ector," Guinevere called the knight aside. Sir Ector de Maris joined Guinevere in a study.
"How may I be of service to you, my Queen?" Sir Ector offered.
"I'm not in need of your service, but your cousin may."
"Sir Lionel. He and Sir Lancelot departed weeks ago and no one's heard from them since. And with the news of this robber knight abroad, I fear for their safety."
"Say no more, my queen," Ector held up his hand, "I shall leave at once.
Fear not, milady, I shall return my cousin and your champion in short order."
A month and a half passed slowly for Lancelot in Morgana's home. Every day, he fortified himself with love for the trials he endured at night. Each night, one of the queens came to his cell. They tried seducing him, getting him to choose one of them. They promised him lands, wealth, and a dozen other pleasures, but Lancelot refused them.
The Queen of Eastland used deception. She told him Camelot had forgotten him. Further that Queen Guinevere had chosen another champion. That was impossible to believe. Lancelot knew Guinever's heart. She would never forget him or give her favor to another. Lancelot refused the chestnut-haired queen of Eastland.
The Queen of the Out Isles went for sensual wiles. On her nights, she appeared smelling of rose petals. She brought a meal of honey, fresh bread and milk. The queen took advantage of the torchlight. It reddened her raven hair and flash in her signet eyes. The first night, she came on too strong. Lancelot refused her outright. She toned down her approach her next night, but Lancelot was on his guard ever since.
The Queen of Northgalis' tool of choice was flattery. She played on his ego. Such a fine knight should be a king. Complimenting his every action, she stared in agape awe as he ate or took a deep breath. Certainly refreshing from dodging Out Isles' advances, but by her third visit, Lancelot became immune to the praises. Northgalis wasn't terribly imaginative. The third and fourth time, he heard the same praises, he knew she was false and refused her.
Only Morgana La Fay stood the best chance at swaying Lancelot. She used
to most deadly weapon in her arsenal, companionship. She and Lancelot were
not and would never be friends. But she gave him a respite from the advances
from her friends. On the nights, she came to him, she brought a chessboard
and some wine. They discussed things while they played, mostly Lancelot's
interests, jousting in tournaments, looking for adventure and serving his
king. Morgana made it clear from the beginning, she didn't want Lancelot.
But that she was at the mercy of three women who did. Lancelot suspected
she wasn't a victim, but her treatment of him was preferable. Lancelot
wouldn't betray his love for Guinevere. He would not turn.
He spent the daylight hours drawing her on the walls of his cell. The spent torches provided excellent charcoal sticks. He sketched her face from memory, every feature from love.
"She's quite lovely," the serving girl commented one day, "Is that Queen Guinevere of Camelot?"
Lancelot jumped and looked guilty like he was caught in some great crime. It was the serving girl, Calla. She was the same golden haired lass he met waking here weeks ago. She brought food, water and a change of clothes each day. She had Lancelot's sympathy. How could such a gracious person serve a woman like Morgana.
"Yes," Lancelot answered her question, "And she's gone too long without me to champion her honor."
"I am truly sorry, sir knight."
"Why do you serve her, Calla?" Lancelot asked.
"I do it for my father, King Bagdemagus" she answered, "The King of Northgalis and he are rivals. They would have gone to war, if Morgana hadn't intervened. In return for averting war, I serve as her lady-in-waiting. Morgana kept her part of the bargain, instead of war, my father and Northgalis have taken their dispute to the tourney field. The winner of the tournament takes the spoils as if he won a war. Now, I fear for my father even more."
"Our knights are no match for Northgalis' men. My father sent aid to your Camelot, but none has arrived. By next Tuesday, my father's forces will lose and we will find ourselves under Northgalis rule."
"After my encounters with his wife, I have no love for the land of Northgalis. I wish there was something I could do for you."
"I know my father would love to have you on his side. He spoke highly of Camelot, especially you. He calls you the 'Flower of Chivalry'."
Lancelot smiled at the praise, "Thank you. You've been splendid company and a good friend."
"The pleasure is mine, Sir Lancelot," Calla gathered the serving tray and the wash basin, then departed. Lancelot returned to his drawings of his love. Drawing that made him remember:
"Bon jour, Enseignant," Guinevere greeted her teacher, Lancelot. They had the library all to themselves. This was their third lesson together and already Guinevere proved an able student and a quick study. Lancelot smiled as he settled himself in the overstuffed chair opposite her.
"Bon jour, ma etudiente," Lancelot replied to his pupil. It was something they shared, she called him 'Teacher', and he called her 'student'. It was more casual than the 'majesty' and 'sir', made for a relaxed atmosphere.
"Today I thought I'd show you how to love," Lancelot began.
"Excuse me," Guinevere looked shocked and a bit flushed.
"How to say love like when you compliment someone on the way they look," Lancelot explained.
"Oh," Guinevere slapped his arm in a teasing fashion.
Lancelot chuckled a bit, then began his lesson. "Adorer is the politest way to say you love something. You say J'adore for 'I love' like J'adore des montagne, 'I love the mountains'."
"Ja-door", the Queen enunciated the words, "Ja-door dea mon-tannya."
"Now if you wanted to compliment someone's dress you'd say, 'J'adore votre robe."
Queen Guinevere repeated the phrase. Halfway through their lesson, Guinevere looked puzzle.
"I thought amour meant love?" Guinevere asked.
"It is, but you just can't go to amour," Lancelot pulled the chair closer to her, "First, you start with J'adore. J'adore votre yeux... (I love your eyes. They are like sparkling lakes)"
"Then it moves to 'Mon coer voli quand tu sorrire'... (My heart soars when you smile. It's like a thousand sunrises)"
Guinevere leaned closer, closing her eyes as his words washed over her. She didn't understand every word he said but she felt the love in them.
"(... with lips so red they shame the rose and hair like sunshine. You are the most beautiful creature in this world)" He reached up and caressed her cheek. Guinevere turned her head, kissing the hollow of his palm. Lance's heart was pounding like a smithy's forge. She turned, staring intensely back at him. The tension was so thick the air almost hummed from it.
He remembered himself and who he was with. He pulled away, covering his abruptness.
"Like I said J'adore des montagne," his transition smooth as sandpaper, "means 'I love the mountains'."
"J'adore du Lac," Guinevere said softly.
"I love the lake?" Lancelot looked quizzically at her, "That doesn't sound quiet right." "No," the Queen rested her hand on his chest, "I love du Lac. I love you."
One way or another, Lancelot vowed, he'd return to his queen.
Morgana looked on her manipulations with the eye of an artist. Lancelot, Camelot's best knight, was in her dungeon. This didn't insure Camelot's downfall, but it did reduce its effectiveness. King Bagdemagus would soon lose his lands to Northgalis, with a portion going to Morgana for her efforts.
In open conflict, Northgalis didn't have the numbers to defeat Bagdemagus. But in a round of tournaments, Northgalis could defeat Bagdemagus. Word will spread that Camelot failed to help its neighbor, discrediting Arthur's kingdom. Not a bad start, if she did say so herself.
Morgana needed to break Lancelot's will. Once broken, a pliable Lancelot would betray Arthur and Camelot to her. The other queens were unwitting accomplices in this. They thought it great sport to seduce such a handsome knight, winning him as a paramour. They were wearing him down, making it that much easier to crush his spirit. In a few more days, Lancelot would choose her just to be rid of the others and then she'd have him. All in all everything was proceeding well.
"My queen," Calla spoke from the doorway of Morgana's chamber.
"Yes," Morgana responded irritated. She didn't care for this wisp of a girl, "What is it?"
"Begging your lady's pardon, but I found this in the Queen of the Out Isles' room," Calla offered a flask of yellow liquor.
Morgana opened the flask and took a sniff, "Absinthe, so. . ." Then she caught a whiff of something more. She took another scent of the fermented wormwood.
"Poison," Morgana face drew up in a scowl.
"I overheard, the queen saying she's grown bored with the competition. If she can't have Lancelot, then no one shall."
"That pompous cow. I'll have her guts for garters for this. Tell the queens, visitations are cancelled and to meet me in the dining hall immediately! Dismissed!"
Calla left to do her queen's bidding, smiling. She saw a slim hope to
save her father, herself and Lancelot. It was dangerous, but that spark
of greatness that lies within everyone began to the surface in her.
Calla hurried to each queens' chamber, delivering Morgana's message. The three weren't pleased at all by the news. Each stormed out of their rooms, demanding words with Morgana. When she was sure all the queens were arguing with Morgana, Calla went to the kitchen. She gathered fruit, bread and cheese and a sharp knife. She, then, hurried down the dungeon and Lancelot.
"I can help you escape, Sir Lancelot, if you'll grant me a favor," Calla whispered without preamble.
"Anything," Lancelot quickly agreed.
"You must help my father win the tournament," Calla bargained.
"Of course," Lancelot vowed, "On my honor as a knight, I shall help King Bagdemagus."
Satisfied, Calla handed him the knife. "I want you to use this on me. Hold me as your prisoner."
"What?" Lancelot was appalled. A knight never attacked the innocent, especially women. Calla shook her head.
"Just go along. We must get past the guards." Calla persisted.
Lancelot pondered it a moment. Calla didn't have time for this. "You can either remain here with your pride or be free."
Lancelot reluctantly took the knife. Calla turned around, allowing Lancelot to wrap his arm around her neck. Calla gave a scream, which brought the guards in a rush. They were caught up short, when they saw Lancelot with a knife to Calla's throat.
"Save me guards, he has gone mad," Calla yelled.
Lancelot fell into the part, snarling at the henchmen. "I want out! Now!"
"Please, sirs," Calla pleaded, "My father is King Bagdemagus. He'll be greatly distressed if something should happen to me."
The guards knew Calla was royalty, further she was Morgana's handmaid. They couldn't leave her to the likes of this brigand, but they were at a lost as what to do. Lancelot took advantage of their confusion. He ordered them into the cell, locking them in. Upon reaching the steps leading out of the dungeon, they dropped the ruse. Calla led the way to the armory.
Calla picked the locks to the armory, where they found a sword and shield.
Lancelot was impressed that such an unassuming girl could do so much.
"Let's just say I have many skills," Calla responded when Lancelot asked as much, "We haven't much time. About twelve miles out you'll find an abbey. You'll be safe there until my father and I can reach you. Safe journey brave knight."
"You're not coming?" Lancelot asked.
"No, someone has to misdirect Morgana's men. I'll return and tell them you're heading in the opposite direction. Now go!"
Lancelot departed just as the general alarm was sounded.
Arthur slipped into the kitchen unnoticed. Mr. Daniels kept to strict
meal times, but Elaine told him that anyone could sneak into the kitchen.
As long as you clean up your messes and put everything back as you found
it, Daniels wouldn't be the wiser. Arthur made a plate of sandwiches. One
loaded with meats for Cavall. He left the kitchen, but rather than return
straight to his room, he made a detour to Elaine's workshop.
"I thought I told you . . . Oh, Arthur, it's you," Elaine smiled to smooth over the awkwardness. She looked at the stuffed platter, "Those for me?"
"Not all, but I can share," Arthur offered a sandwich to her. Elaine pushed off in her swivel office chair. It wasn't good to eat at her workplace, not with such delicate paintings as these, "Have you read anymore of the journal."
"Yes, I have," Arthur admitted, "It's the second part of a journal of Lancelot's life. I found the first one yesterday."
"You did. Why didn't you tell me?" Elaine was more surprised than angry.
"I didn't know if it was authentic. But both seem to follow a line of events. They both came from the same source."
"Wow! What if it were true. We could pen a research paper on it. I'm sure Oxford or Cambridge would be interested in acquiring them. How can we prove they're for real?"
"I'm no expert," Arthur explained, "But they're consistent with events mentioned by other chroniclers."
"Think we should tell the news?" Elaine asked.
"Not quite. I think there maybe other journals around. How about tomorrow after breakfast, we look for them?"
"I'd like that," Elaine smiled warmly, running her finger through her hair, "Tomorrow then, if it isn't today already. What time is it?"
Arthur looked around for a clock when the hour tolled one. "One o'clock," stating the obvious.
"Lunch time's over then," Elaine patted Arthur on the arm, the last pat lingering on his forearm.
Arthur left Elaine's workshop. As he turned a corner he ran into a walking mountain. Arthur quickly recovered without spilling the sandwiches. Arthur looked up and up and up. The man was a good six foot eight, if not more. He wore a black suit with a solid black tie. His face was granite, chiseled in a perpetual grimace.
"My apologies, sir," Arthur made amends.
"Mark, is that you?" the man looked surprised.
"Mark? No, you have me mistaken for someone else. I'm Arthur."
"No, Jones." Arthur peered at the man.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else." The tall man departed.
When the king turned up the stairs, the giant pulled out a cellular phone.
"Shannon here, run a profile on Arthur Jones."
Sir Ector de Maris took in the English countryside. In some ways, it was similar to his native France, but the differences were there, subtle, but there. Like, the way the hills rolled or the outcropping of boulders amidst the greenery set this land apart. His search for his cousin and Lancelot bared little fruit. He decided a change in tactics was in order. He knew Lancelot and Lionel. They'd go wherever the action is.
"Fair fellow," Sir Ector greeted a forester on the road, "Might you know where an enterprising knight can find some adventure?"
"I don't know about adventure, but there is certainly a challenge," the forester answered after a moment's thought.
"Down this road a mile, you'll find a manor house, nestled in the oxbow of a river. To the left, you'll find a ford to water your horse and a copper basin beneath a tree. Strike it three times and the lord of the manor will face you in battle. I've worked these woods for many a year and yet hear tale of the lord losing."
"Sounds like the trouble my friends might get into," Ector spoke to himself, "Grace and mercy be upon you and my thanks." Sir Ector rode on.
The woodsman's directions were flawless. Sir Ector came across the manor and turned his horse to the ford. He found the tree, surprised by what he saw. Shields of dozens of knights hung from every branch and bough. Some, he recognized, like Sir Lionel and the other missing knights. Sir Ector hastily struck the copper bowl with the butt of his spear three times and waited for a response.
Ector was watering his horse when the drawbridge lowered, spanning across the river. Mounted on a mighty charger, the lord of the manor presented himself. Ector lead his horse away from the water to the bridge.
"Declare yourself," the knight demanded of Ector.
"Sir Ector de Maris," he shouted back, "And you?"
"I am Sir Turquine. I give you an hour to prepare yourself for battle."
"I don't need an hour," Ector unsheathed his sword, "Once I defeat you, you will tell me what you've done with our knights, Sir Lionel and Sir Lancelot in particular."
Turquine turned his massive horse around, admitting Ector and his steed into the manor proper. A manor isn't like a castle with thick walls with baileys between them. This house was a rectangular enclosure with the courtyard being one vast jousting arena, complete with a raised middle bar. Turquine rode to the far end, where he waited for Ector. When his armour was strapped on and lance set, Sir Ector waved he was ready.
The two charged full tilt at each other. Their blows rang off their shields, forces deflected. The combatants reached the end of the middle bar and turned to charge again. Each withstood two more encounters like the first. The fourth charge was where things change.
Ector charged but instead of aiming at the center of the shield, he intentionally aimed high right off-center. His lance glanced of the shield and caught Sir Turquine in the shoulder. Turquine was nearly unseated by the blow, but he hung on. Turquine gave a nod of his helmeted head acknowledging the blow as good. Right before he exacted revenge. On the next charge, Turquine didn't connect with the shield, he swung his lance sideways, clouting Ector in the head, knocking him from his steed.
Ector lifted himself from the dirt, unsheathing his sword to face him hand to hand. In tournaments, both knights were on foot, keeping things fair. But this wasn't a tourney as Ector soon realized as Turquine came galloping towards him. Turquine ran him down before clouting him in the left shoulder, repaying Ector for the hit he scored against the robber knight. Ector tumbled to the ground vanquished. Turquine turned his horse around, then dismounted.
"You fought well, Sir Ector, but you are not the One who can defeat. In ninety-eight battles, no one has scored as you have. I grant you this choice. Serve as my liege man and I shall spare you."
"What?" Ector looked disbelieving.
"Disavow yourself from the Round Table, serving none but me."
"Never! My allegiance will always lie with Arthur of Camelot."
"Very well," Turquine dismounted and stripped Ector of his armour.
He bound Ector's arms behind his back, dragging him and his steed from the field. Turquine took them, first, to where he stabled Ector's horse along with a herd of others, the mounts of the fallen knights.
"Why do you do this?" Ector asked.
"I am a collector," Turquine explained, dragging Ector in tow, "I collect knights. I know much about you Sir Ector de Maris, son of King Bors. I've traced the bloodline of every knight both in Britain and on the Continent.
"That trick you used in battle, hitting me in the shoulder. That's a move, only the house of Ban knows, proof of your kinship. With you in my dungeon, my collection of your house is complete."
Ector demanded to know more, but they reached the dungeon. He dungeon was a large sunken room twenty feet below the door. Knights were chained to the walls, but Turquine ran out of shackles long ago. The rest simply wandered around the prison. Their faces and limbs red from thorn welts. Turquine tossed Ector in and shut the door. Ector landed on a pile of used straw cushioning his fall.
Ector got up and looked around. He looked up at the door. There was no way to reach it. Ector looked around taking the situation in, when he saw a knot of fellows he recognized.
"Lionel," he cheered as he joined his cousin and the other Round Table knights, "Blamor! Bleoberis!"
"Ector," Lionel gave his cousin a quick hug, "We heard the battle. Are you hurt?"
"Nothing, I can't sleep off," Ector brushed off his injuries, "I must say our host is a strange one."
"I'll say," Sir Blamor agreed, "Collecting us knights like I would with ladies favor."
"He's searching for someone," Lionel spoke up, "The battles I've seen, he looks at the knight, says 'You're not the one' and sends them down here."
"Where is Sir Lancelot?" Ector asked, "I find it hard to believe that this rouge could defeat him."
"Lancelot isn't with us," Lionel admitted sheepishly, "I got waylaid by Turquine, but he hadn't discovered Lancelot."
"Then there's still hope," Ector breathed a sigh of relief, "There's
Lancelot reached the abbey towards sunset. The priest admitted him, including him in the daily life of the church. They just finished evening prayer, when Lady Calla and King Bagdemagus arrived. Bagdemagus was grateful for his help. He explained his predicament, which followed Calla's own explanation. Bagdemagus was clearly overmatched by the King of Northgalis. He was in sore need of help.
"I will do everything in my power," Lancelot vowed, "Your daughter displayed remarkable skill and courage delivering me from the four queens. I can do no less to return the favor. For now, only you, Calla and I must know I'm coming. The advantage of surprise is ours, lets use it."
"What do you have planned, Sir Lancelot?" Calla asked.
"Your majesty, send three knights here on the morrow. Each must carry a plain white shield, no coats nor devices."
"Understood, sir knight," King Bagdemagus nodded, "I'll also have armour for you sent with one of them."
"During the melee', we four knights will ride out on the field. We'll strike Northgalis' men, tipping the scales in your favor and leave when victory is in sight. No one will ever know who we are."
"Inspired," Northgalis nodded, "I'll tell my men not to engage you 'mysterious' knights."
"Once victory is achieved, your kingdom will be safe?"
"Yes," Bagdemagus stroked his beard, "I'll easily parlay a peace with him, that will prevent further trouble like this."
Lancelot smiled with anticipation, "We have much to do in the next two days. I suggest we retire."
The royal family departed. Calla returning to Morgana's castle. King Bagdemagus leaving for his own castle. Sunday night drew to a close. On Monday, three knights arrived before the call to mass. One of them presented, Lancelot with a white shield and armour.
"King Bagdemagus, apologizes," the knight reported, "We couldn't find a complete suit. This was scavenged from last tournament."
The suit of armour was a mix-match of pieces. The breastplate was a flat slab of iron with several dents in it. The left gauntlet had spiked knuckles, while the right had a bronze armguard in the shape of a tiny shield. The wool leggings were dyed black, a contrast to the torso padding, a sun-dried yellow.
The whole suit was a puzzle of bronze, iron, steel made from pieces of a dozen suits. Another knight wouldn't wear such a hodgepodge, but Lancelot accepted it with a grin.
"This will work out perfectly," Lancelot smiled.
Tuesday morning saw a beehive of activity. Tourneys were always great sport for the entire countryside. Minstrel and bards spun tales upon tales of valorous knights and fair maidens. Heralds horned in on their business, promoting their particular knight, often with embellished stories. Jugglers and jesters kept the children entertained, while husbands stood around the beer barrel swapping jokes and wives gathered near the pavilions, clucking over the latest gossip. The knights themselves, rode high in the saddle, wearing a dignified air.
This tourney was divided into two parts, sports and the melee'. The sports, filling the morning hours, were individual contests; archery, hawking, and jousting. Falconry and hawking drew the nobles, while archery drew the peasants. Jousting drew everyone and Lancelot got a chance to see his competition in action.
He and the other three knights spied the tournament from the forest ridge above the fairgrounds. They were too far to see faces, but they could make out the devices on the knights.
"Trouble," he said more to himself than the others.
"What is it, Sir Lancelot?" one of the young men asked.
Lancelot pointed to the shields on the far-left end of the field, Northgalis' side. "The shield with the wolf on it is Sir Mador de la Porte's device. That ram's head is Sir Gahalantine and that one . . ."
"The one with the black dragon?"
"That's Sir Mordred's," Lancelot answered grimly, "Each formidable knights,
be careful should you engage them."
The afternoon melee' was the most anticipated event of the tourney. Jousting had rules to ensure knights didn't get hurt, forms of fair play and just conduct on the field. The melee', however, still had a chance for blood. Your side mustered as many men together and charged the other side that mustered as many as they could. It was a formalize brawl. And here was where Bagdemagus suffered. In a joust, if a knight fell, he could declare himself vanquished. A humiliating experience, but the knight didn't suffer physically and he could come back to joust another day. In the melee', upwards of a hundred men are mixing it up. Lots of blood, from broken noses and minor cuts.
Anything can happen in the brawl; a knife in the thigh, horses rearing up to knock men down. Nothing fatal, but such acts by Northgalis laid up doznes of Badgemagus' men. This showed when Bagdemagus called the muster, barely four score men. Northgalis mustered nearly twice that.
Three blasts of a horn signaled the start of the melee'. The two forces ranged themselves along the breadth of the open fairgrounds. With the next sound of the horn, the two groups began walking towards the center of the field. A couple strides in, the insults started. Each side shouted slanders about their foe's questionable manhood and animal parentage. Both sides increased to a brisk walk and the insults grew fiercer. Talk started about using theirs skulls as spittoons and the rest of their bodies as a chamberpot. A hundred paces from each other, the mounted soldiers began their charge and the foot soldiers made a run for their foes. Insults now drowned out by war cries and shouting. The melee' was joined.
The combatants carried billyclubs and staffs, but no maces or swords. Nothing metal or with a blade and nothing thicker than your wrist. The point wasn't to kill. But that didn't stop them from trying. The rumble broke into three groups. The foot soldiers in the middle and the knights flanking either side. The strategy was to use your horses to push the infantry into the other side.
Both Northgalis and Bagdemagus countered, placing their mounted men between their foot soldiers and the enemies' mounts. In the melee', strength of numbers count and Bagdemagus forces were overmatched from the beginning. The knights gave ground early. The ground pounders were knocked over by wave after wave of Northgalis men. Within fifteen minutes, there were cries from the men to call 'no contest'. Lancelot and his three men couldn't have chosen a better time to make their arrival. All eyes were on the struggle in front of the pavilion, not the forest beyond. Four knights sporting four white shields seemed to appear out of nowhere. The knights quickly engaged the Northgalis knights closest to them. They didn't know what hit them. One moment, they felt victory close in their grasp. The next, they were lying on the backs, unhorsed.
Pressure off that flank, Bagdemagus' knights and soldiers began spilling over that side and engaging Northgalis. Lancelot ordered two of the knights to circle around Bagdemagus forces and engage the other flank. Lance and the remaining knight would circle the other way. Lancelot and the knight spurred their chargers on, but three imposing knights, Sir Mador, Sir Gahalantine and Sir Mordred blocked their path.
"Run around them and aid the others," Lancelot ordered, "I'll handle these knights."
"No!" the white shield argued, "My place is at your side."
"Your place is to follow orders!" Lancelot roared, "Go! Now!"
The knight did as he was told, continuing around the knights to aid the flank. Lancelot stared at the three knights through his lowered visor. With the battle raging around them, the four combatants sized each other.
"You may dress poor, sir," Mador shouted over the din, "but you are a shrewd fighter. Now you must test yourself against us."
Lance and Mador rode hard against each other. With only blunt spears and small shields, this looked to be a futile joust. When they reached each other, Lancelot stuck out his right arm. He clothesline the knight unhorsing him with a blow.
Next, Lancelot faced Sir Gahalantine. They charged, but instead of clotheslining him, Lancelot just punched Gahalantine crushing his noseguard into his face. Blood spurted from the broken nose and Gahalantine blacked out shortly after. Not from the nosebleed, but from the sight of his own blood. Lancelot was turning his mount to face his final foe, when a spear buffeted him from behind. Mordred wasn't going to wait to engage Lancelot. He took full advantage of the surprise. Instinctively, Lancelot leaned to the side to avoid the next blow. He came around and blocked the next round of Mordred's blows.
Mordred's fighting style was aggressive, but filled with flaws. But Lancelot never got the advantage to use them. Mordred pressed the attack with incredible strength. With each blow, their staves creaked as if they'd break. Lancelot and Mordred both tried pushing the other off their mounts, but only succeeded in pushing the horses through their riders. What decided this contest wasn't strength, but craft. Lancelot reached around Mordred and smacked the horse's rump hard. The steed reared up, tossing a startled Mordred.
He landed on his back, knocked into a swoon. Northgalis' men, seeing their most formidable knights defeated, began to waver. That was all that was needed for the tide of battle to shift. The other white shields freed the flanks for Bagdemagus' troops. Now the forces from Northgalis found themselves hung by their own strategy. They were about to close the lid on this trap when the horn was sounded, two long blasts, the call of reclamation. The King of Northgalis yielded, calling 'no contest'.
It took a second for the news to sink into the combatants. Bagdemagus had won! There were ragged cheers that soon found strength in the victors. Lancelot gestured to the white shield knights. They made for the forest at a gallop. The foot troops cheered and waved at the white shields as they departed. In the stands, Bagdemagus turned to his rival, the King of Northgalis.
"Ready to discuss a peace we can both live with?"
King Bagdemagus and his retinue met up with an unarmored Lancelot at the abbey; together they traveled toward the king's castle. Bagdemagus was positively glowing. Not only did Northgalis agree to a truce, but also agreed to some concessions Bagdemagus always wanted. "You've created quite a name for yourself," Bagdemagus smiled at Lancelot, "Everyone's talking about the 'ill-made knight' who defeated three knights in a row. There's even talk that the knight may be a ghost. A champion of those vanquished, come to exact revenge."
"People will come up with the most outrageous things," Lancelot negligently waved it off, "As long as no one suspect me, I'm content. Your daughter returned to Morgana?"
"Aye, but I've dispatched a couple of knights to escort her home," King Bagdemagus answered, "Since I'm safe there's no need for her to stay in that witch's service."
"Good, I didn't want her role in my escape discovered. Her courage shouldn't be punished by Morgana or those other three."
"No fear of that, Sir Lancelot. By tomorrow night, she'll be safely home."
"Please give my regards to her," Lancelot asked of Bagdemagus.
"You're not staying the night?" the king was shocked, "We're having a feast in your honor."
"I thank you, your majesty, but I need to find my companion, Sir Lionel and find out why he left me to the mercy of those four queens. Further, I've been imprisoned for months. I'm sure Camelot must think me dead after so long."
"I understand, sir knight. I wish you might change you mind, but it is your decision. Tell King Arthur, that he has a fast ally in King Bagdemagus. Good Luck."
Lancelot turned his mount off the road and cut through the forest, leaving
Bagdemagus and his people in the last amber rays of sunlight. Lancelot
thought about his alter ego, the ill-made knight. It might be useful to
make some appearances as him. Just to keep the myth going, avenger of the
vanquished. Something about being someone else appealed to him. It felt
Midmorning the next day, Lancelot reached the grove of trees he and Lionel slept under nearly two months ago. Any trace of their presence had long since vanished. Lancelot was at lost over what to do next. He could go back to Camelot, but the thought of seeing Guinevere again brought up pain he wasn't ready to face. He sat by the roadside, his mount nibbling on the sparse grass between trees, when he heard whistling as a forester coming down the road.
The woodsman greeted the knight as he passed. Lancelot half-hearted acknowledged the forester, then a thought occurred to him.
"Your pardon, sir," Lancelot got to his feet, "Might you know where I may find an adventure?"
"Is that all you knights look for, tourneys and adventure?" The forester slowed to a stop.
"You mean you've been asked before?"
"Oh yeah, last week, I got a knight looking for a challenge to test his mettle. I give them directions to a manor house and he never come back."
"Truly," Lancelot became intensely interested, "Where might I find this place?"
"So you too can vanish. I feel guilty enough for the knights I've lead to their doom. I don't want to add your death to that."
"There's no reason to feel so," Lancelot clapped the man on the shoulder,
"Those knights choose their own path. You had nothing to do with whatever
fate they met. Please tell me?"
Lancelot banged on the basin three times with his spear. He banged it so hard the bottom fell out. The forester told him to wait about an hour before getting a response, but ringing of the basin hadn't died away before the drawbridge lowered across the river.
"I am Sir Turquine," the robber knight spoke in a booming voice, "Declare yourself!"
"Sir Lancelot du Lac," Lance answered.
"The knight with no house or lineage, hmm," Turquine recalled what he knew of the knight.
Lancelot was impressed by his knowledge, but didn't show it. "I've come to see the knights captured here, released. For your sake, no harm has befallen them."
"Face me in combat, before you demand anything," Turquine returned. He then turned his steed and lead the way to the jousting courtyard.
In the dungeon below, the ringing of the basin drew everyone's attention. Those not shackled to the wall scrambled to the small half-circle grates lining the upper wall. The Camelot men could only see Turquine riding to the far end of the middlebar. They didn't know who the challenger was.
Both were ready and charged. Spears connected with the shield's center. Lancelot reached the opposite end of the jousting grounds. Lionel recognized him, "Salvation! It's Lancelot! He's come to set us free!"
Lancelot charged Turquine again. Their spears met center shield once again. The third pass, Lancelot tried a trick he saw Sir Ector de Maris use. He aimed off center, hoping to pin Turquine's shoulder in the glance. Turquine was prepared, he knocked the lance clear from his body, thus avoiding the pin. They charged time and time again until the fifth pass. On the fifth charge, their spears broke and their horses stopped from sheer exhaustion. Lancelot and Turquine dismounted to go at each other on foot.
"Truly, Sir Lancelot you've lasted longer than any other knight whose opposed me," Turquine commented as they approached each other, "Victory over you will be a fitting tribute for my hundredth win."
"You haven't claimed victory yet," Lancelot said as he took off his linkmail cowl, giving Turquine his first glimpse of his combatant.
"King Ban?" Turquine took a step back stunned, "But that's impossible."
Lancelot was about to stop to ask what he was talking about, but thought it could be a trap. The two knights pulled their swords and set to. The swordplay was exhausting. The knights in the dungeon could partically feel each blow as they rang out across the courtyard. Both Turquine and Lancelot were evenly matched, both in skill and in strength. The fight ranged all over the jousting yard. In the midst of battle, Lancelot dropped his sword. Rather than press the advantage, Turquine allowed Lancelot to recover his weapon. Lancelot did so and the resumed the lengthy combat. After the third hour of battle, both agreed to a small rest.
"You fight well and have an honorable soul," Lancelot complimented Turquine, "Why do you do this? You'd be better suited as a knight errant."
"I'm a collector," Turquine replied, "I can afford to be honorable acquiring new possessions."
"These are people," Lancelot argued, "not things. You can't lock them up like jewels in a casket."
"Anything you can take by force is a possession, my naïve foe," Turquine explained, "The lives and hopes of these knights are a valuable possession. And all of them are mine."
"NO!" Lancelot stood up, "I will end your collecting here and now."
Turquine levered himself to stand, breaktime was over. The two faced off, saluted and resumed battle. Swords rang again as blows met blocks. Turquine feinted. Lancelot parried. There was renewed ferocity in Lancelot's attack. Turquine defended himself well enough, but a small voice told him that he was tiring. If he didn't defeat Lancelot soon, he might lose. Sir Turquine squashed that voice, raising his sword. Lancelot would be his one-hundredth victory.
It was easier imagined than executed. Turquine was losing ground to the Camelot knight. From the dungeon below the knights were cheering their would-be savior. Lancelot could taste victory as he cornered the robber knight. That was where he made a mistake, he underestimated his enemy. A cornered creature whether it is stag, boar, dragon or man becomes extremely dangerous. With no where left to go, Turquine lashed out with a ferocity that surprised Lancelot. Lancelot brought down a blow. Turquine raised his sword, blocking and regaining the advantage, slapping Lancelot's sword aside. This left Lancelot open. Turquine socked him in his mail-covered midsection and backhanded him with his sword arm. Lancelot recovered just before Turquine's sword came down to behead him.
Now Lancelot felt the losing end of battle. Turquine never let up. Missing his head, Turquine kicked out Lancelot's leg. The Round Table knight buckled with a yelp of pain. Lancelot rolled in the dirt avoiding the chop of Turquine's blade. Lancelot continued rolling, under the middlebar. Turquine had to duck under the jousting bar, giving Lancelot a chance to get on his feet. Turquine marched toward the knight, rage filled his every step. Lancelot tried an upward cut. Turquine blocked the cut and gave a left cross connecting with Lancelot's jaw. Now Lancelot was backed into a corner, his back against the dungeon wall. Turquine slowly approached, savoring this moment of victory.
"Don't give up," a voice whispered at Lancelot's feet. It sounded like Lionel. Lancelot looked down and saw Lionel, along with Ector, Bleoberis, Blamor and several other compatriots in the dungeon. Hope gleamed in their eyes, hope that he could deliver them from this prison.
"Don't yield," Ector de Maris added, "I know you can beat him."
The others nodded, murmuring similar words of encouragement. Lancelot was bolstered by their confidence in him. If he didn't rescue them, who would? Lancelot couldn't fail his brothers in arms. He wouldn't! Turquine was upon him. Lancelot faced him calmly. His entire being centered on one goal, freedom. Turquine made for the killing stroke, but Lancelot wasn't there. Lance tucked and rolled, springing to his feet behind Turquine. Turquine spun around, letting fly his fist. Lancelot easily blocked the punch . . . and the second one. Lancelot smacked him a couple of times across the face. This enraged Turquine, but this time the rage worked against him.
Anger drove Turquine to chop wildly, wasting energy. This exhausted Turquine. Lancelot kept dodging blows and needling his opponent. Lancelot remained in control, yielding ground when Turquine would stumble from the momentum. Attacking to keep Turquine off balance. After half an hour, Lancelot and Turquine were back at the prison wall. The final maneuver was such a blur, that neither fighter or the knights watching comprehended what happened.
Turquine's wild slicing seemed to be working. He was beating Lancelot down. Lancelot blocked the blows with his sword, but the force of each drove him to his knees. Turquine raised his sword for a blow that would shatter Lance's sword and split his skull. In a move half inspired swordsmanship, half desperation, Lancelot jabbed his sword up, sliding between Turquine's ribs. Lancelot looked up wondering where was the next blow. He stared up at a vanquished man.
Turquine's sword slipped from his grasp clattering on the ground. He wore a stunned expression, like the wind had been knocked out of him. He dropped to his knees and clutched at his side. The wound was deep, not instantly fatal, but mortal. Turquine pulled his hand from his side and saw it covered in blood.
"I guess this will teach me to go against a son of Ban," Turquine noted with grim humor.
Lancelot looked at Turquine puzzled, "What?"
"King Ban of Benwick," Turquine began wheezing, "You are his son. I saw it in you face when you took off your cowl. . . and again in the way you fought. I guess it is true; the greatest knights do come from that line. (Wheeze) You are the one. The one who can defeat me."
Turquine death was unsettling. His eyes remained open, but you could see the change. One moment, his eyes moved and flickered with life, the next they stared vacantly at Lancelot. As a knight and solider, death is a companion to the trade. That didn't mean it was easier to accept. And this was true of Turquine's passing. Lancelot moved on to the dungeon to free the captured knights.
Knights eagerly climbed a rope ladder to freedom. They each heartily thanked and blessed Lancelot, their savior. It was a joyful reunion for the Camelot knights and Lancelot, especially with such unexpected news.
"We're related," Lionel announced, "Bleoris, Blamor and myself, we're from King Bors' house. Bors and Ban were brothers."
"So at the very least, we're cousins," Lionel added, "Looks like I can call you cuz and really mean it."
"And you and I are even closer," Ector smiled, "Ban was my father too. We're brothers after a fashion."
"You mean, I have a family?" Lancelot looked at the four knights.
Then as it began to sink in, he began to weep, "I have a family."
It was answer to an unspoken prayer, a heartfelt yearning. To find people
who he had a connection to, a family. They talked deep into the night about
the family, Lancelot never knew, but was now apart of. And Lancelot felt
Their return to Camelot was filled with fanfare and accolades. The missing knights entered the gates of Camelot behind Lancelot du Lac. Ladies threw down flowers and kerchiefs from the heights. The knights went straight away to the Round Table and presented themselves to their king. After each told of their run-in with the robber knight Sir Turquine and their delivery by Sir Lancelot, Arthur dismissed them to join their family and friends. Finally, he sent for Lancelot. The knight entered humble as ever. Arthur always admired that about the knight. For Lancelot, service was its own reward.
"Well Lancelot, I've heard many glowing things from the other knights," Arthur began.
"I did what I did to free my 'brothers'," Lancelot replied.
"And cousins and nephews," Arthur added, "Sir Ector told me how you and the other knights are related. I'm very happy for you."
"Thank you, your majesty," Lancelot bowed his head, "Shall you hear my report."
"No, save it for your feast tonight. It'll make great telling. For now rest. You've had a trying time. But first, I thinkg the Queen wishes to see you. Inspite of my assurances, she feared you'd disappeared. I reassured her that nothing could harm the great Lancelot, but she needs to see you for herself."
Lancelot practically ran down the hallways. He was eager to see Guinevere. He turned the corner and crashed into Sir Agravaine. The knights picked themselves up. Agravaine was about to rip into the knight, then he recognizes the man.
"Lancelot?" Agravaine replied with mock surprise, "I heard you've returned triumphant yet again. You must be flush from such a victory. Going to see your sweetheart?"
"I'm going to see Queen Guinevere. If you'll excuse me," Lancelot sidestepped
the knight. Lancelot didn't think any more of it, but Sir Agravaine eyed
the departing knight with suspicion.
Guinevere bid entrance to the knock on her door, but didn't llok to see who entered. Lancelot stepped lightly. She stood next to the open window bathed in sunshine. The knight's heart flew up to his throat. Guinevere turned, seeing Lancelot, she ran toward him overjoyed. She embraced him warmly and held him for several long moments before realizing he wasn't returning the embrace.
"I think I understand why you left," Guinevere began, "Our feelings have grown beyond friendship. I feel so much for you and it's wrong."
"Is it?" Lancelot argued, "Oh, Gwen, I thought time away might resolve my feelings for you. But they've only grown stronger. How can what we fell be wrong?"
Lancelot sat in the windowsill. Guinevere joined him sitting opposite him on the sill. Lancelot smiled at the radiant beauty before him, but his face quickly became troubled. "I've tried to imagine if I'd never knew you. If I never felt this love . . ."
"We could live our whole lives through," Guinevere shook her head, "But it'd be half as real. I can't see my life without you in it in some way."
"But fear and hate are so strong," Lancelot replied, "Still my heart tells me we are right."
"My heart tells me our love is so beautiful," Guinevere placed a hand on Lancelot's, "Somehow it'd make the whole world right."
"But if I never knew you," Lancelot, looking down on her hand, spoke with quiet frustration.
"Our lives would be empty as the sky, never knowing why. I'd be lost forever, if I never knew you."
Guinevere leaned over and kissed Lancelot on the cheek. The knight closed
his eyes, wishing the affection could be more. He then noticed the length
of the kiss. Her lips remained on his cheek. Lancelot turned his head so
his lips could met hers. When they touched, Guinevere's eyes snapped open.
She pushed herself away. With a face that wished it could be more, she
left her chambers.
>From the courtyard below, Mordred spied the exchange. Lancelot hung
his head and left the queen's chamber. This was far more than courtly intrigue.
This information could topple kingdoms or build them with him at its head.
Now all he needed was an opportunity to use it.
Griff looked up from the journal to take a bite of his sandwich. Cavall waited expectantly. Even though Griff said 'no' and made it plain the dog wasn't getting any more meat, the gargoyle beast waited patiently for a share of Griff's meal.
Griff got a little misty-eyed over Lancelot's reunion. He imagined it was the same way Una felt after his return after fifty years. Griff shared the sentiment. Every time he held her, it felt like home. Griff looked over the book, still a ways to go. He then looked out the wall and noticed the lightening tint to the sky.
Griff scarfed down the last bite sandwich, crushing Cavall's hope for a snack. The gargoyle closed the book and placed it on the bed. Arthur left to explore the halls and do some superficial tapestry work, to keep up appearances.
Griff needed to find a good hiding place for dawn. The castle's roof seemed ideal, but it was hard to tell who might be up there during the day. Griff and Cavall made the tight squeeze through the small window. Reaching the roof, Griff looked out on the graying sky. The sea was lead gray, but he made out the spit of white sandy beach below. Griff half considered sleeping in a cave by the beach, but that evening he saw a number of tourists on the shore. That was the last thing they needed, being found out by a bunch of tourists. He heard how rough things were in New York for Goliath and his clan. His own clan had mixed feelings about revealing themselves.
Griff wasn't going to be the one to force the issue. Griff carried Cavall over to the main building in the middle of the courtyard. Arthur said that many of the rooms in the square tower were empty or used as workshops. Griff and Cavall scaled the walls hoping to find an empty room to spend the day. Griff was looking through the windows when he received a pleasant surprise.
There was Arthur and he was with someone, a brown hair woman. She was
laughing, probably at one of Arthur's jokes. Arthur said he met someone,
but he didn't give much details. Griff didn't think it was that important.
But the way she patted his thigh and laughed so heartily seemed like more
than passing familiarity. Dawn was fast approaching. He'd ask Arthur about
it tonight. One floor above them, Griff found an empty attic room. Empty,
save stacks of boxes and crates. The gargoyles made it inside, just as
dawn turned them stone.
Elaine wiped the tear from her eye, she'd laughed so hard. Arthur tried to regain his composure but one look at Elaine and they both busted out laughing again. Arthur looked up and saw that sunrise had come and gone. He hoped Griff and Cavall found a good place to roost. Elaine looked at her watch.
"Breakfast time," she got up and stretched, "I'm afraid we didn't get much work done this night."
"No, we didn't," Arthur smiled.
The stillness of the moment was just right. On an impulse, Elaine stepped up to the man and kissed him. It was quite a shock to the king, but he didn't pull away.
That was how her bodyguard found them. His grimace deepening into a
To be concluded . . .