Things are starting to look up for Morgan as Pellinore, the fearless leader of a mercenary band has joined the group. Meanwhile, Princess Isolde holds negotiations with the Viking king of a Northern tribe. After confronting King Drest for killing one of her favorite knights, all hell breaks loose. Isolde is attacked.
artwork by Conor Burke
Chapter 6 – Auburn and Sapphire
By Rock Kitaro
That night, a cheerful Morgan finally got a taste of what it was like to be her sister, Elaine. She was surrounded by ten, young, fearsome warriors who would sooner wreak havoc than let any harm come to her. The way they just so happened to run into Pellinore and his band of Black Bloods was nothing short of blind luck. Like the aligning stars, everything was working in her favor.
Seated around a campfire with lively banter, the party filled their stomachs with gamey meat and sterilized pond water. An exhausted Agravain and Gaheris kept nodding off as they leaned against each other. Meanwhile, Morgan continued to throw smirking glances at the strikingly handsome Pellinore as she mended a hole in Gaheris’s cape.
“All right, my prince. Out with it. How do you know this girl?” Kanish asked.
Pellinore smirked as he sharpened his claymore sword with a stone. “The first time I laid eyes on this one, she was but a spoiled little whelp. Mouthy and brash, no shred of discipline or respect.”
Gaheris and Agravain chuckled before Morgan quickly turned and poked their knees with her sewing needle. Gaheris fumed, ready to push her into the fire if Agravain hadn’t returned to resting his head on his shoulder.
“I was sixteen,” Pellinore continued. “Still running with Urien and the Knights of Gore. We were hunting a group of bandits. They attacked a small village and tried to get lost in the woods but once I sink my teeth in I don’t let go. This one was in the woods with Gawain doing God knows what but…I don’t know. There was something about the boy that I took a liking to.”
“Bullocks! You?” Jeremy jeered.
The Brood of Black Bloods expressed their disbelief but Pellinore raised his hands. “Don’t get the wrong idea, boys! I wasn’t all sunshine and warm milk at first. It’s just one of those moments where you have a feeling that there’s something different about a man. You can’t explain it. Some people have it. Others don’t. I tell you, there’s something special about Gawain. And when the boy took up the sword and ruined my flawless face, it was confirmed.”
Agravain suddenly perked up. “Gawain gave you that scar?!”
“He’s your big brother, is he? Well let me tell you, lads like him come in rare stock. At sixteen I was already a freak of nature. I even bested Tristan here in four out of ten matches. Everyone was afraid of me.”
“Still are!” Barxy laughed.
“That’s right! Haha! But your brother Gawain was different. Back then, I confess Morgan got under my skin and stamped on my honor.”
“She embarrassed you?” Gaheris asked.
“Yes, she embarrassed me,” Pellinore clarified. “You have to understand, if Tristan is the lion then I am the wolf. When I really get going, I can’t see straight. The blood under my skin feels like corrosive acid bubbling up like a bloody volcano. I need a release lest I explode and kill everything in sight!”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Tristan scoffed as he drank.
“What did I say, exactly? Do you remember?” Morgan asked.
“Aye, I remember. It was at a tournament. The people were booing me and I did not like that. Not one bit. So I called for an open challenge. I was ready to take on anyone dumb enough to come at me when all the sudden this little minx comes running onto the pitch. She says, and I quote, ‘my nephew Gawain can beat you, you big ugly ass!’” Pellinore recalled.
“Hear, hear!” Kanish shouted.
The Black Bloods and Morgan laughed out loud after Pellinore mimicked her childish voice. Even Tristan had to admit the sight of Pellinore’s lively reenactment was somewhat comical.
“Like it was yesterday, I remember. I can still see the boy half scared out of his mind. He was shaking, I tell you! Once I shouted, ‘ARE YOU OR ARE YOU NOT OF GORLOIS’S BLOOD!’ Oh it lit a fire in him! Twas like the fear melted away and in its place was the unflinching eyes of a hawk. That was Gawain. The boy had an exotic blade, foreign but deceptively sturdy. And I swear to you, I didn’t go easy on him. All of Tintagel was watching. They were laughing at me thanks to the girl. If crippling the boy was the price of their silence, I was ready to make pay!
“He tried to employ some bait and run tactic. I don’t know. It was silly. He was running all over the place like a damned jackrabbit. Extremely frustrating! I struck his armor, knocking him to the ground with each blow. I know it had to hurt like hell. The boy was only nine for craps sake. But somehow he managed to get back up. Then, it came to a point where we both extended for a full on straight-forward lunge. He didn’t have snowball’s chance in hell, but something happened! I can’t make this up. All the sudden my armor felt like it tripled in weight if just for an instance. I glanced down to see if my foot was caught on something and when I looked up, all I saw was the glint from Gawain’s sword slicing up my left eye.”
“OH!!!” The Black Bloods gushed in unison.
“Armor tripled in weight, huh,” Tristan said as he turned and cast his suspicion on Morgan.
Morgan bounced a single brow as if to say, “You’ve got no proof.”
“Anyway. After that, I learned not to underestimate the youth. Particularly the House of Gorlois. I always imagined Gawain would grow up to become king.”
Morgan was pleased to hear him say that.
“King of what?” Tristan asked.
“King of anything,” Pellinore answered. “In fact, if Gawain decided to take Cornwall, I might just help him do it.”
“You’re trying to goad me, Pellinore. I won’t fall for it.”
“What’s the matter, Tristan? Come to think of it, shouldn’t you be a knight by now? What’s the old man thinking? Doesn’t he trust you? I mean, you are the Champion of Cornwall. Whatever the hell that means.”
Tristan threw the rest of his water out into the fire causing a sizzle of steam that matched his brewing contempt. “You’re about to cross some lines, Pellinore. Don’t make me murder you in your sleep.”
“Wouldn’t be the first to try.”
“So, Kanish, is it?” Gaheris interrupted with an annoyed sigh. “What brought you to Pellinore’s employment?”
Kanish smirked, picking up on Gaheris’s diplomacy. “My prince Pellinore is not my employer. We are but six men who crave independence from this wretched world of betrayal and sunder.”
“Hear, hear!” Jeremy, Balto, Barxy, and Dantry all said in unison.
Kanish explained, “Two years ago some villains calling themselves knights entered my home, killed my wife, and raped her corpse. I caught them in the act and set the cabin ablaze with everyone inside. A mob was after my head when I ran into Balto and Pellinore. They helped me escape and I’ve been indebted to them ever since.”
“Why the Brood of Black Bloods? Who thought of such a horrid name?” Morgan asked.
“That’s a tragic story, Kanish. I’m sorry for causing you to remember,” Gaheris said as Morgan rolled her eyes.
“I came up with the name!” Pellinore said, answering Morgan’s question with pride. “It’s because metal runs through my veins turning my blood thick and black.”
“Yes. I love the significance, darling. It’s the name that’s ghastly. Why not simply, Black Bloods? Drop the ‘brood’ part. No one’s going to remember that. People will mock you behind your back,” Morgan predicted.
“And by ‘people’ she means just her,” Gaheris quipped, causing a round of laughter.
Oddly enough, Pellinore took Morgan’s criticism to heart. It hurt his feelings and the sadness was transparent. He caught Tristan staring and manned up quickly.
“When this is all over, you and me, we’ll settle the score,” Pellinore snarled.
“Challenge accepted,” Tristan grumbled.
“Alright, Spartans. We should get some rest. We’re close to the Picts and we’re bound to run into Gawain any day now,” Morgan said.
“And you’re certain of this?” Kanish asked.
Morgan smirked, “Don’t worry. A little bird told me.”
Agravain was already asleep in Gaheris’s lap.