Here, we’re introduced to the prestigious King Mark of Tintagel. Morgan interrupts his annual conference, begging the king to send an emissary north to rescue Gawain. While King Mark is sympathetic, there’s one person who stands in Morgan’s way.
23-year-old Tristan is the Champion of Cornwall, the strongest fighter in the kingdom and an unspoken big brother to the youngsters. In Tristan’s own words, “I’ll not risk the lives of my men based on the whims of a mistempered brat playing at alchemy!”
Of course, Tristan should have known better. As if Morgan’s about to accept “no” for an answer.
Chapter 2 – The Lion of Dumnonia
by Rock Kitaro
“Aria” by Susumu Hirasawa –
“YOU, SIR, ARE A COWARD!”
“I DARE YOU TO SAY THAT AGAIN!”
“EVERYONE SIT DOWN! NOW!”
“YOU CAN’T REASON WITH THESE MEN! THEY’RE NO BETTER THAN ANTS WITHOUT A CAUSE!”
“I GOT YOUR CAUSE!”
All class and decorum went out the window hours ago. Spit flew from beards and bugling eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their skulls. Ambassadors from over thirty volatile kingdoms had convened at Tintagel Castle. It was the final week of August. For eight years, this “Council of Gold Clovers” congregated in an annual attempt to resolve differences with diplomacy. With the honorable King Mark presiding, the initiative was supposed to spark hope for a greater future.
However, as of late, the council had turned into nothing less than a competition of who could talk the loudest. Empty words and false promises were passed out like playing cards in a pub. Their resolutions were always unrealistic and there was a running joke that the only reason why people kept coming back was to gorge themselves on the food.
The throne room was large enough to shelter an army of 2,000, yet for some reason it felt congested. Over 150 disgruntled knights, barons, and chancellors had broken from their assigned tables and were now separated in conspiring huddles as if anarchy was in the works.
The day started with everyone dressed in their second-best suits, but by noon, they all looked like sweaty peasants from having stripped off their outer garments. Collars and capes of all colors were discarded like dismantled decorations. Spilt wine lined cracks of the floor. Daggers were driven through tables. It was as if a tornado had ripped through the room and the look on King Mark’s face was priceless.
Mark, the King of Tintagel, just sat there on his gold throne with his head held up by his fists. The black banners hanging above his dais displayed the sigil of fifteen gold coins in an upside-down triangle.
Four knights in full metal armor stood behind the king with their hands resting on the pommel of massive swords. Sixteen servants waited in the wings, ready to tend to the king’s every need. Unfortunately, what the king really needed was some sense of civility, not these animals looking to exert their dominance.
In spite of his position and the veneration bestowed upon him, King Mark’s appearance was far from impressive. He was nearing fifty, shorter than most with a potbelly, bristly hair, and a thick black beard that concealed whether he was smiling or not. Perhaps King Mark’s most endearing feature was his sympathetic gray eyes. He was relatively soft-spoken and hardly yelled, even on the battlefield.
To his left was an empty chair reserved for his wife. However, the queen passed away decades ago and King Mark had yet to remarry. The chair to his right was occupied by the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Cador, a no-nonsense taskmaster. Cador was also Duchess Igraine’s cousin by blood and a strict but doting father to the sixteen-year-old Constantine.
The bickering was unbecoming but everyone knew the topic of discussion would produce such reactions. The main grievance on the tip of everyone’s tongue was the ceaseless terror by the Hibernians.
Unlike Britannia, which was fractious and split with a myriad of formidable warlords, Hibernia was a singular powerhouse of unified clans just beyond the Celtic Sea. It was home to some of the deadliest warriors the world has ever seen. She was a seafaring nation, ruled by a matriarch whose fame and reputation was almost revered and worshiped as the pharaohs of old.
Her name was Iseult, Queen of Hibernia. She benefited from the division and strife amongst the British, fighting for the kingdoms that paid the most. In her web of lies, Iseult orchestrated a number of political murders and framed rival generals, effectively pitting them against each other like pawns on a chessboard. The blood money was steady revenue that made Queen Iseult one of the wealthiest women in the world. She’d promise loyalty and discretion but at heart, the Hibernians were loyal only to Hibernia.
During Iseult’s near thirty-year reign, Cornwall has remained Hibernia’s main rival. Back in the day, King Mark had some powerful allies on his side. Big names like High King Uther, Duke Gorlois, King Leodegrance and even the sorcerer Merlin. But due to a series of unfortunate events, Duke Gorlois was murdered, Uther died, Merlin parted ways, and Leodegrance had to defend own kingdom against legions from an usurping King Vortigern.
Hoping to capitalize on the chaos, Queen Iseult launched a massive siege upon Tintagel Castle. King Mark prevailed in his defense but it cost him dearly. Two thirds of his army was devastated and thousands of villagers loss their homes in the crossfire.
That was nearly sixteen years ago. Queen Iseult’s hatred never faded. Systematically, she’d send hunters across the sea to kidnap sons and daughters from indiscriminate villages. They were brought back to Hibernia and forced to slave labor.
Bereaved parents fell to their hands and knees begging the courts to do something, anything to bring back their children. It was a reoccurring nightmare. To date, all sixteen rescue attempts were crushed at sea. The one vessel that managed to reach Hibernia’s shores fell prey to a massacre that was so barbaric it was omitted from the scrolls.
Thus, the Council of Gold Clovers debated. They argued. They pointed fingers and accused one another of cowardice.
“Are your knights not brave enough?”
“Where’s your courage?”
“Where were you when my daughter was swept off in the night!?”
“I dare you to say that again!”
“You sir, have no class!”
“To hell with you and your antiquated, highborn sensibilities!”
“Let’s see your tongue wag after I’ve split it with my ax!”
“I have five arrows thirsting for your blood!”
“Don’t tempt me!”
“LET’S HAVE IT!”
It was all the same with no end in sight. Duke Guinea slammed his fist on the table every time he felt someone was “missing the point.” The loud bang caused Sir Cador’s shoulders to jerk forward like a pit bull on a leash. King Mark would notice and smirk. The mild amusement was about the only perk King Mark derived from the meetings.
An unexpected knock began to crawl over the overlapping conversations. Initially, no one heard it but its persistence began to annoy the competing speakers. The double doors croaked open.
To the king, Morgan was a sight for sore eyes. As soon as he spotted her in that cotton pink dress he was immediately filled with joy. The cluster of old men glowered down at her as she weaved her way to the throne. She wanted to present herself as a young lady should, humble and modest. But no matter what, she couldn’t stop herself grimacing at the nauseating stench of wine and sweat.