Tristan & Isolde…a match made in heaven. News of their wedding spreads but sadly, it’s a bit premature.
artwork by WLOP for his creative series
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 15 – Crush
By Rock Kitaro
“Yes. Is it truly so surprising?” Isolde chuckled. “Political marriages date back for centuries. You’ll probably be bound to one yourself someday. To keep the hounds at bay, the belligerents in line, a show of unity in which both factions have a vested interest for the sake of diplomacy. A preemptive strike to conflicts without the common side effect of bloodshed and mayhem. It’s ideal, really.”
It was a hazy day. The same as before, except it was getting colder as autumn said goodbye. Gawain and Princess Isolde were alone on the breezeway three stories up in the Western Ward. From their position they could see the training grounds below. There were more soldiers than usual. Apparently everyone had the same idea, to shake off their anxieties through the burn of rigorous exercise.
While Constantine and Gaheris practiced their archery, Pellinore and the Black Bloods displayed an unusual amount of goodwill as they volunteered to help train the more inexperienced soldiers in close-quarter combat. Over 300 men had separated into groups of eight and took turns in freestyle sparring sessions. The Black Bloods watched and pointed out flaws. Pellinore was the loudest. He yanked older men and screamed in their ears.
This went on for some time…until Agravain grew weary of his spit-flying insults.
Agravain charged Pellinore, determined to even the score from their last bout. Everyone stopped what they were doing and cheered them on. Even Toothless Kersey and the lancers took a break and brought their horses over. Pellinore was taking it easy on the fourteen-year-old at first, but more and more, Agravain gave him no choice but to clutch his claymore with both hands. It was amazing, like a choreographed dance of aggressive swings and silver flashes. Agravain was smirking. A flustered Pellinore was beginning to sweat.
“Like a damn jackrabbit!” grunted Pellinore. He was about to say more but Agravain was on him.
Isolde giggled before she realized Gawain was barely watching. His eyes were on the match but his sights were on the future.
“Yes?” Isolde said as she leaned into his shoulder.
“You say ideal but that would suggest…I dunno. I suppose you’re right. I just, I guess I never dreamed we’d reach a point where our houses could ever be joined as one.”
Isolde picked up on his skepticism and reacted with a twitch. “Because we devils are so treacherous and evil?”
“Forgive me but I do recall being enslaved and abused for a number of years. And that’s putting it lightly.”
“Yes and why do you think that is? You assume we have nothing better to do than lock you simple people up in chains? Don’t make me laugh. My father was murdered by pirates flying under your Tintagel banners. They sacked his ship and killed him and my uncle. I’ll never forget the sight of crows picking at their bodies. It was your people who forced my mother to take slaves and engage in wholesale annihilation. Or did you think our clans stayed loyal out of the goodness of their hearts, that they’d follow a woman into battle out of respect for my father or silly things like oaths and honor! No, Gawain. A ruthless show of force was necessary to keep my mother’s kingdom from falling apart. And yes! We’ve turned a profit by pitting warlord against warlord. But it’s more so to keep them occupied. If they’re too busy defending their own, they won’t think of invading ours.” Isolde declared with tears glossing over.
“I never knew,” Gawain uttered.
“Well of course you wouldn’t, my handsome little crow. Algayre and Morholt are vile creatures, sure. But you shouldn’t judge us by our worst. I bet they think we drink from the blood of goats and pass our children through fire out of sacrifice to some pagan god. You’ve sheltered with us for years. You of all people should know that we’re not so different, our houses. One could even argue that we’re equal but opposites. It’s all this blood for blood that needs to cease. Otherwise, we’re stuck on a perpetuating cycle, doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers for generations to come.”
Gawain smirked. “Who knew you gave so much thought.”
“We are heirs to the throne, you and I. The legacy of our kingdoms rests on our shoulders. Down there, they will never know what it’s like to make difficult decisions for the betterment of an entire nation of men, women, and children, to govern. They are free to live for the here and now while we are forced to sacrifice the present for a more prosperous future. A wise man once taught me that.”
“Merlin the Magician, back when I was a little child and too stupid to remember which dress to put on. For some reason, I never forgot those words,” Isolde said as she gazed off in the distance.
Pellinore and Agravain were still going at it. It was good to see everyone in good spirits. Gawain stood up to stretch out his back. He started smirking at the next subject he wanted to broach.
“So a marriage then. Given your history, I do wonder how well you’ll get along with Tristan.”
Isolde smirked and batted her long eyelashes. “You girl!”
“What?!” Gawain chuckled.
“If you want to know, just ask. I’m not Morgan. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me,” Isolde assured him.
“Alright, fine. Do you want to marry Tristan?”
Isolde’s blue eyes widened with excitement as she stood up and arched her back against a stone pillar. And as she inhaled through the nose, moaning at the thought, she suddenly erupted with joyous laughter.
“He’s all I ever wanted!”