In the dead of the night, a resounding bell wakes the castle. A massacre has taken place. Blood and bodies are strewn about. And when everyone finds out that the killer is one of their own…all bets are off. Peace talks go out the window and everyone’s calling for war.
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 20 – Break Out
By Rock Kitaro
Gawain didn’t leave the banquet to go lay down as he said he would. Instead, he trudged out of the palace and got lost in the nightlife of Tintagel’s nefarious underground. With gloomy thoughts and a defeated drag, Gawain would eventually find himself drawn to the boisterous laughter of a man too full of himself to let anxiety ever enter his cognitive.
The “Slewellen Chest” was one of the most popular rough and tumble taverns in all of Tintagel. All of the sell swords, thieves, and drunkards frequented this massive two-story pub. Cigar smoke and discombobulated revelry filled the air and spilled out into the streets. Arm-wrestling and card games took up the center tables while discreet plots and conspiracy theories permeated along the timber walls.
The tavern was packed on both tiers, a rabble of activity. Playful wenches in tight bust-pressing bodices made themselves familiar. Somehow, they managed to balance trays of foamed topped brews, roasted fish, and salted pretzels while spinning on their heels, swaying their hips and dancing to the jaunty tunes.
A few sailors tried reaching up their skirts but they were quickly made examples of. The retired Sir Brackish yanked them up by their necks and sent them flying out the nearest windows. That being said, the Slewellen Chest had a storeroom full of spare windows. Every time glass shattered, everyone raised their mugs and gave a unified cheer before guzzling down the rest of its contents. It was a fun tradition.
Sir Brackish owned the bar and ran it alongside his remarkable wife, Slewellen. Short and stout with possibly the largest breasts in all of Britannia, Slewellen was indeed remarkable. All seven of her daughters were blessed with similar assets and Sir Brackish wasn’t shy about using them to draw wayward travelers to his establishment. Two ladies were stationed outside, dancing under the protection of four bearded swordsmen. The other five happily helped their mother tend to the guests and staff. Their charm, the way they interacted with visitors as if all were part of the family. Thus, Sir Brackish was one of the most famous men in all of Tintagel. If something were to happen to him or his daughters, an army of criminals would rise from the shadows and rally to his side.
The antler decorations were spectacular. Spirited fiddle and flute musicians played on a stage near the grand fireplace as the baker’s wife sang her song about sailors and pirates. Flickering candles and burning torches made the tavern a star that could be seen from the highest towers.
With a ceiling reaching up to forty feet, all of the walls were adorned by an eclectic array of swords, spears, and shields from around the world. The centerpiece was on the largest wall just above the fireplace. It was seven-foot replica of Duke Gorlois’s shield, bearing his image imposed over the black Cornish flag of gold coins. Surrounding it was the mounted heads all sorts of wild beasts, but regardless of the excess, all eyes were drawn to the shield the moment they entered the tavern.
Seventeen-year-old Gawain plodded into the tavern and was immediately greeted by dagger-like stares from the closest tables. The Lothian pin on his chest revealed he was royalty. That coupled with his youthful appearance and careless swag made the cutthroats ripe with animosity. Prince or not, the Slewellen Chest was no man’s land. Gawain was aware. Deep down, he was actually thirsting for a fight.
The grind of chairs being pushed put him on edge. Gawain turned to see a large potbellied mercenary approaching with three others, all ugly as sin. They looked strong. He could see the scars through their hairy forearms and they were already putrid with fatty sweat. Still…Gawain was thirsting for a fight.
“OYE! He’s with us,” shouted Barxy.
Everyone turned to the largest table closest to the fire. Pellinore and his five men, the Brood of Black Bloods had occupied this table. Kanish, Barxy, Jeremy, Dantry, and Balto, all decked in black armor with the aura of wolves ready to hunt. Pellinore was the only one smiling. He had one of Brackish’s daughters on his lap. She was a vibrant with orange hair, playing with Pellinore’s red scarf as she stared at the cool vertical scar over his left eye.
“He don’ belong ‘ere,” grumbled a Celtic warrior with a red beard.
“Anyone touches him…Do I even need to say?” Pellinore warned as he chuckled and leaned in to nibble on the lady’s neck.
The big scary men stepped aside and cleared a path. Gawain started to pass when suddenly he turned and smacked the taste out of red-bearded Celtic. The Celtic fell back and dragged with him the contents of a table full of drinks. Everyone laughed and applauded as the prince approached Pellinore’s table with the authority of a man well beyond his years.
“That idiot is the captain of the Hollow Fang. His boys will come looking to fix this,” Kanish warned.
“Good!” Gawain said as he plopped down in a chair.
“Hear, hear!” Jeremy shouted.
“HA! And here I thought this one was all pomp and piety,” Dantry slurred.
“Nah. He’s got plenty of Spartan in ‘em when certain toes are stepped on,” said Pellinore.
“Judging from that mug of his, I’m willing to bet there’s a lover’s quarrel, no doubt,” Kanish smirked.
Gawain didn’t answer. He just sat there with hooded eyes staring into the fire. Barxy, Jeremy, Balto and Dantry continued their card game while the inquisitive Kanish continued to make inquiries.
“Coming from the banquet?” he asked.
Gawain cringed and nodded. “Nothing makes a lick of sense anymore. You should have seen it. Everyone was getting along. It was as if peace was manufactured and the engineers held hidden blades to those with the blueprints. Morgan was the master of ceremonies. She gave some kind of motivational speech! I couldn’t believe it. I swear I thought I was hallucinating. And Tristan was…Pellinore, Tristan was giddy.”
“Giddy?” Pellinore doubted with a raised brow.
“I know! Sounds utterly insane. Doesn’t it?”
“Aye, it does. Maybelle! Come bring the lad some ale!” Pellinore shouted.
“No thanks. I don’t partake,” Gawain declined.
“Poppycock!” Barxy snapped.
“My prince, if you’re with us you’re gonna have to turn that frown upside down. Maybelle’s brown sugar ale should do the trick,” Jeremy assured him.
Gawain grumbled, “Oh, what the hell. On with it then.”
“ON WITH IT THEN!” Pellinore shouted.
“ON WITH IT!” the boys shouted, all pounding their mugs and fists on the table.
While Pellinore resumed burying his face in breasts, Kanish reflected on Gawain’s assessment. The prince drank and every time his cup was half full, Barxy would lean over and top it off. By the fourth refill, a miserable Gawain was slouching over, propping his elbows on the table and wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. He peered through his curly bangs and noticed Kanish was still staring.
“I’m not crazy,” Gawain mumbled.
“Never said you were, my prince,” Kanish said with that laid back smirk of his.
“You think I’ll lose myself to the drink and become like the rest of this riffraff,” Gawain asked.
“You want to know what I think?” Kanish asked.
“For fuck’s sake, just tell the boy!” Pellinore yelled.
“Milord, the prince and I are talking. You’d do well to listen yourself. Seeing as you’d be in the same boat if I stole your lady from you,” said Kanish.
“Let me tell ya,” Pellinore slurred. “You try and steal this valkyrie from me, you better run and hide yourself well!”
“Yes, that’s my point. Young Gawain. You are the heir of Lothian and Orkney. You need only lift a finger and a host of swords would set upon your enemies. Yet, here you sit as if you’re rotting in chains in some backwater dungeon. It’s odd, no?” Kanish noted.
Pellinore nodded. Everyone at the table was paying attention. Gawain, however, kept drinking. That was until Pellinore reached over and palmed the top of his mug.
“Remove your hand, sir,” Gawain warned.
“Or what? You’ll strike me?” Pellinore grinned.
Gawain’s fierce gaze was locked on Pellinore like a snake poised to strike.
“Hit him, Gawain!” said Barxy.
“Knock that scar off of his face!” Jeremy hissed.
“Go head. Strangle him with that stupid red scarf,” Balto urged.
“HEY!” Pellinore shouted. “This scarf is not stupid. You jackals have no sense of taste! That’s what that is!”
Fear flashed over Pellinore’s face as Gawain suddenly jerked forward. Only, Gawain didn’t attack. He erupted with a stream of pink projectile vomit spraying all over Pellinore and his lady. The woman took off screaming before Pellinore grimaced and started vomiting himself. The Brood of the Black Bloods roared with laughter as Gawain toppled over and hit the floor chest first.
“UGH! YOU DISGUSTING BASTARD! I’mma kill you!” Pellinore shouted.
He managed to get two kicks in to Gawain’s ribcage before the boys pulled him back. Gawain’s sweaty cheek stuck him to the stone floor. His sight got blurry and then all went dark. All went silent.