Tristan and Pellinore finally throw down to settle an old score. Meanwhile, Gawain comes to terms with his own inner demons and the threat that’s looming beyond the horizon.
You see, on the surface, Prince Gawain is the so-called paragon of virtue, always doing the right thing, embracing responsibility and fending off indulgences. But deep down, Gawain has a gift for manslaughter. He showed a glimpse of it last night. Morgan thinks he’s wearing a mask. So badly, she just wants him to take it all off.
Chapter 13 – Lions and Wolves
By Rock Kitaro
“Sorry for calling you all the way out here. The lads will get mad if they find out about this,” said Pellinore, squatting with the naked blade of his claymore propped up against his shoulder.
“No matter. It’s my duty as the Champion of Cornwall to accept any challenge, anytime,” Tristan grinned with crossed arms resting on his puffed out chest.
“That’s good. That’s good. This pleases me.”
“Just one thing, Pellinore. After I finish beating you to a pulp, you better not blame it on last night’s libation.”
“You bastard. That’s my line.”
Both men were without armor. The golden lion wore a gray shirt with brown slacks. The dark wolf was without his red scarf, wearing a black sleeveless shirt and black pants.
It was a brisk clean day with clear blue skies. The morning sun gleamed like a pearl, not too bright, not too dull. A refreshing wind rustled through their light fabrics. The duelists had convened on an isolated ridge near the coastal cliffs of Treknow with their horses grazing nearby. The grass beneath their boots was soft and slick. Waves crashed against the rocks, erupting with a spray that cooled their heated bodies.
Pellinore’s claymore was four and a half feet long. It was double-edged with one side serrated like a steak knife. He’s had it ever since he was sixteen and not once has it cracked or slipped from his grasp. Tristan’s long sword was a foot shorter but had a longer handle, long enough for four hands to clamp it at once. Tristan didn’t have any special bond with this sword. It was just one that he picked up from the armory as he was riding out for the morning.
The alpha predators circled each other with razor sharp focus. Pellinore made the first move. He sprung forth in a spectacular leap, clutching his sword with both hands for a vertical strike. Tristan sidestepped and countered with a rising sweep. It was blocked and sparks flew. The two crossed blades in a test of strength but it was Pellinore’s heels that scraped back as Tristan pushed forward.
In a snarling chuckle, Pellinore taunted, “I’m not the same whelp from before! Everyday I’ve trained with the thought of beating you.”
Tristan responded with three swooping strikes. Each time Pellinore deflected it, sparks flew. The third strike hit Pellinore so hard that he was sent stumbling back. A laughing Pellinore jumped to his feet and extended in a straightforward lunge. Tristan spun out of the way but it was just a ruse. Halfway through the lunge, Pellinore twirled his blade and swiped at Tristan’s thighs. He drew first blood.
Ignoring the pain, Tristan unleashed another procession of whistle-singing swings. Pellinore blocked each one and when Tristan got too close, Pellinore whacked him with his pommel. Tristan staggered back but kept his guard up as his opponent maintained pressure.
Pellinore was clearly the superior swordsman in terms of skill and technique. He displayed a dazzling array of difficult moves with effortless precision. He punctured and landed cuts all over Tristan’s upper body, shredding his shirt and stinging him like spikes of searing hot metal. Even when it came to defense, Pellinore was better trained. He could telepath Tristan’s trajectory and was quicker on his feet.
The problem was Tristan’s ungodly strength. Each time Pellinore blocked an attack, his arms would rattle and send teeth-clenching vibrations to tense up his back. It was an extreme exertion of energy just to push away and Tristan seemed to have the stamina of a racehorse, pounding, hacking, and grunting with monstrous aggression.
Every time the two crossed blades, Tristan would use brute force to shove Pellinore away like kicking a door off its hinges. Pellinore would fall with the wind knocked out of him but he’d keep coming back. Again and again, he rose and unleashed a relentless barrage until suddenly, Tristan started smiling. It wasn’t to taunt Pellinore, but rather it had been a while since Tristan was able to spar with an opponent of his own standing. He acknowledged that Pellinore had indeed improved and was genuinely impressed.
“You bastard. DON’T THINK YOU’VE WON!” Pellinore screamed.
Five minutes later, three galloping horses approached the highlands of Treknow. It was Princesss Isolde riding with two Cornish knights, her armed escorts. Isolde was kept warm by a gray wool cloak that covered her borrowed blue dress. A bare-chested Tristan was using the rags of his shredded shirt to wrap his shallow wounds. He turned and saw Isolde staring with her blonde hair blowing in the wind.
“What are you doing here?” said Tristan.
“Your king was gracious enough to allow me a ride under escort,” Isolde said as she leaned over and scratched the neck of her mare.
Tristan furrowed his brows with disapproval.
“And you, brave Pellinore? Do you require a physician?” Isolde teased.
An exhausted Pellinore was sprawled on his back with a half-sedated gaze fixated on the blue sky. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a single laceration on his body. But after being tossed about like a rag doll for well over three minutes, his bones were brittle and his organs were on the verge of rupture. He might as well have been thrown from a speeding carriage.
There was, however, a stream of blood gushing from his broken nose. That’s because Tristan knocked him out with a vicious overhand right. Poor Pellinore had only just regained consciousness as the horses arrived.
“Tristan. Listen up,” Pellinore wheezed. “I’mma let you off the hook for today. Okay? You’re free to go.”
Tristan beamed with a bright, unexpected smile. It was probably the funniest thing he’d ever heard and he couldn’t stop snickering. Isolde shook her head with bewildered amusement as she wondered why Tristan found it so funny.
“Did you hear what he said?” Tristan said.
“Yes. We all did. Didn’t we?” Isolde smirked.
Tristan roared in a laugh so hearty that he collapsed to his knees and clutched a handful of soil. Pellinore started to laugh with him, but the pain in his midsection caused him to coil up tight.
Just two miles north, another young man had risen early. Gawain was sitting on a smooth rock slab within a cove on Trebarwith Strand. It was a scenic beach of crashing waves and cawing gulls. Monolithic towers of earthen formations were scattered along the shoreline as turbulent breakers exploded against them. The majestic cliffs surrounded the Y-shaped cove casting cold shadows over Gawain who was stationed in the middle.