The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 1 – The Vision
By Rock Kitaro
PVRIS – Chandelier (Sia Cover)
“It feels like I’m sinking. There’s a swarm of bees in my stomach. The trickle in my ear is nauseating and for some reason these stupid flashes of light blur the lines every time I come close to making something out. Honestly… It’s all beginning to get very aggravating.”
A tempest unleashed hell over the vast turbulent seas. It should have been pitch black, but blinding cracks of lightning stretched as veins for miles. Gale force winds howled like demented ghosts over the abyss. Stone-black waves with white crests moved like snowcapped mountains swaying in restless aim. Torrential rains made visibility poor and the dark clouds appeared to be getting closer and closer as if to smother the earth in her sleep.
It was madness to be caught in such hazard, and yet, there! Cruising down the valley of two massive waves was a single frigate carrying the fate of over seventy souls.
A brave crew of twelve wrestled with the riggings. A bearded captain and his second-mate manned the rudder from the wheel deck. They were approaching the Isle of Man, a massive iceberg of an island responsible for more shipwrecks than serpents or sorcery. Navigating through the veils of heavy rain in the middle of the night should have been next to impossible. Yet, there they were.
Prayers whispered below deck as teeth rattled and toes curled. Deafening blasts of thunder kept everyone wide awake. No one wanted to be asleep should the ship capsize or ram against any number of protruding rocks that breached the surface like siege defenses. Falling overboard or being swept out to sea spelled instant death. It didn’t matter if they held hands or clung to floating chunks of wood. In this deluge, drowning was inevitable.
There was royalty on board, a princess accompanied by three of her maidens. Oddly enough, while the maidens trembled with trepidation, the princess remained poised with a hardened sense of determination. She wasn’t about to let herself drown. Even if the ship did sink, there wasn’t a single doubt in her mind that she’d find some way to survive. It’d make for a good story and maybe even convince her people that she was more than just some dainty little girl.
Out in the main hold, disgruntled soldiers with broad shoulders and thick beards sat with their backs against the wall. They spat and grumbled all sorts of blasphemies, begging for the worst to be over. Cold water leaked through the cracks, extinguishing all hopes of lighting fires. It was so dark that they could barely see the hands before their eyes. Tormented horses neighed as they struggled to break free. Someone needed to calm them down but no one was willing to risk getting crushed.
And there, past the horses, past the sacks of grain, and gold, and shields, and armor…was a single slave, shackled and chained upside down to the ceiling as if he posed a formidable threat to his masters. Every time the ship jerked, his shoulders would bang against the wooden hull, causing him to wince with intense pain but he never screamed. Nor did he cry out for mercy or ask for help. He was so young, but strong and full of pride that he kept buried deep down inside.
This young slave was dressed like a soldier but marked by a patch of mustard brushed across the chest of his tunic. After slamming against the hull once more, the slave finally opened his eyes. His long hair was brown and curly like that of a Saxon. His skin was olive as if he hailed from the Italian peninsula but those eyes… In his eyes she saw a myriad of herbal hues, mostly jade with a burst of auburn.
Water dripped to his face but the young man didn’t blink. He peered through the cracks, slowly hypnotized by rolling clouds that made it seem as if the ship was already submerged. Lightning struck. He saw it and immediately felt the boom of thunder rattling his core, detonating a migraine he tried so desperately to shake.
It was then that hopelessness crept in. Whatever dignity or confidence once engrained in this young man had deteriorated to the point that he could only think of one thing, one person, a single source of bliss that carried him far away from the pain and sadness. As his jaw slacked and the cool air tickled his parched throat, the young man whispered.
Chadwyck Forest was Cornwall’s very own Garden of Eden, flourishing with vibrant fall colors. Slanted rays of light beamed through the canopy of towering elm and oak trees. Drops of glistening moisture trickled from their leaves. It was a sanctuary to woodland creatures galore, all living together in harmony. Blue butterflies flickered in air. And just a stone’s throw away was a majestic herd of deer grazing on rich dewy grass, undaunted by a girl’s presence.
Her eyes opened in a misty haze. A single tear rolled down her cheek as the rage tightened in her heart. Here she was, sitting in the middle of a lush, beautiful forest while he was out there bound and chained, headlong for destruction.
“Morgan, you look sad,” Bark whimpered with a voice that sounded like a mixture of grinding sticks.
Bark the tree giant sat in front of Morgan like a dutiful student eagerly awaiting her lessons. He was simple in mind but kind at heart, a rarity amongst the giants. His aging exterior was made up of actual bark similar to that of the beech trees. With sad hollow eyes, Bark inched closer but was afraid to get too close.
Brooding in a damp pink dress, Morgan just sat there on the edge of a moss-covered rock, contemplating with a single hand massaging her forehead. Her long black hair had curled from mounting sweat even though there was a cool breeze. She never wore sandals, but opted for brown leather boots that were laced halfway up to her knees.
At seventeen, Morgan was shorter than most girls her age. Not terribly short but it was something she always envied, oblivious that she’d hit a growth spurt in the coming years. Her snow-white complexion was smooth, devoid of any freckles or blemishes aside from a few scars faded from childhood mischief. She didn’t have a slender frame, but was curvy with a prominent bust, hourglass hips, and thighs fit from climbing.
Snaked around her right hand was an exquisite bracelet of teardrop rubies. It were supposedly a harmless gift from her late father. It came as a shock, however, when at fifteen she harnessed its magic and burned down a tent in front of a thousand spectators. It was confirmed. Morgan was indeed different. As if she didn’t feel like an outcast already.
A gust caused the trees to shiver and sent goose bumps down her legs. Morgan’s eyebrows furrowed from confusion to frustration.
“Is it real?” she murmured.
“Is what real?” Bark asked.
Self-doubt was the enemy. It was her mother’s voice in her head questioning the vision, her sister’s cynicism belittling her abilities. Morgan rose up and stood on the rock as if it was her platform and all the creatures of the forest were waiting to hear her divine judgment. Bark smiled as he too stood, all fifteen feet of his crackling frame.
She thrust out her ruby jeweled hand as if to catch a falling apple. At once, a black kite swooped down from the branches and latched to her fingertips. Bark watched in awe as Morgan brought the bird closer to her lips and whispered the following:
“Gaheris. Agravain. Come to Tintagel and do not delay. I promise, this time we will liberate your brother. Or so help me my name is not Morgan le Fay.”
With that, the black kite flew off and vanished in a ray of light. She didn’t show it, but Morgan was full of excitement. She jumped down off the and took off in a full sprint, dashing through the thick of the forest, leaping over fallen logs and skipping across shallow streams with ease. The foxes and robins tried to keep up but Morgan’s pace was excelled by a sense of urgency.
Her horse grazed just beyond the edge of the forest. It was a bulky gray-and-white spackled Percheron named Vebby. Morgan’s owned her for years and as soon as she learned how to cast dominion spells on animals, she possessed Vebby. If anyone tried to steal or ride it, Vebby would buck and thrash about like a frightened beast. Sir Juro learned this the hard way when he “commandeered it” for jousting and was sent flying through the king’s table. Morgan rolled with laughter that day.
When Morgan emerged from the bushes, Vebby was drinking from a small water hole, ignoring the group of naughty children throwing stones at it. They scurried off as soon as they saw Morgan and ran home ready to lodge some complaint. Morgan paid them no mind. Gripping the reins, she slung herself over the saddle and immediately set off across the moor. Her destination was the capital of Cornwall, a legendary city called Tintagel.
The land was a fluctuating peninsula of grassy hills, scenic beaches and breathtaking cliffs dropping off into the ocean. Fishermen brought in the bounty of the sea. Miners pulled iron, copper, and tin from profitable quarries. Women tended to the pastures with herds of goats, hens, and sheep. Everyone worked hard. None were without calluses or considerable strength in their backs.
In a dark world where nearly every other kingdom was plagued by death and destruction, Cornwall was an oasis of stability. You could see it on people’s faces. There was laughter and smiles. Children still had both parents. Homes and fences were without dark ash or smoldering soot from fires. Farmers could till the fields without fear of raids or ambushes. Merchants could sell their goods without plunder. Under King Mark’s protection, there was prosperity in the land of Dumnonia.
Perhaps the only thing people feared was spontaneous calamity, such as an unruly teenager galloping at full speed through the congested marketplace.
Constantine was leading six soldiers out for patrol when he heard Morgan kicking up a racket. The bearded sixteen-year-old squire had clashed with Morgan before and it was never a pleasant experience. The duty of leading a patrol was usually assigned to a knight but Constantine was the son of Sir Cador, the Lord Chamberlain. He was being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps.
As Morgan raced by, a baker’s wife ended up crashing with a pitcher of milk trying to get out of her way. Shopkeepers rushed to her side as Constantine’s cheeks burned in fury. He ordered his men to go on without him.
Morgan looked over her shoulders and saw Constantine in hot pursuit.
“Not now!” she yelled over the sound of beating hooves.
“YOU SLOW DOWN!” Constantine slurred with spit flying from his lips.
Morgan smirked. “You heard him. Slow down!”
Constantine’s horse slowed down and gradually came to a complete stop in front of impressionable toddlers. They giggled to see the flustered Constantine cursing up a storm. He thrashed about, spurring into the stubborn steed but to no avail. Even Morgan seemed shocked that it worked. She erupted with laughter and needless to say, she did not slow down.
Instead, she continued on the road to Tintagel and soon, soft light beamed on her from the castle walls. The closer she got, the more the castle seemed to grow like a mountain rising from the ocean. Tintagel Castle was one of the oldest, largest, and most impressive fortresses in all of Britannia, strategically founded on highlands with a mighty naval force guarding her eastern seafront. To date, Tintagel has never been conquered, her walls, never breached. Tintagel truly was the stuff of dreams. Children aspired to see it. Knights were honored to defend it.
The castle was built with gray stone, polished and given the glisten of marble. Her range of towers and spires were sharp and cylinder like stalagmites reaching so high that a few got lost in the clouds. Black and gold banners flew from every pinnacle like ribbons in the wind. A labyrinth of footbridges, buttresses, and tunnels connected the various halls and palaces. Archers were posted on the ramparts and there were sentry guards with captains manning every checkpoint in and out of the castle.
Morgan approached a familiar gate over one of the viaducts in the Western Ward. There was less traffic here and she’s known the captain ever since she was a child. She entered the yard outside the banquet hall where busy cooks were already clanging pots and pans. The smell of sweet honey attracted a group of negligent guards. They were startled when they heard the hard gallop, but relaxed when they saw it was just Morgan.
Morgan scowled and quickly dismounted in the middle of the courtyard. Even when she was happy, Morgan always looked pissed, as if there was no satisfaction that could ever be found in the world. This was her default expression, a combination of pouty lips and an angry stare with deep alluring eyes that could either entrance or strangle you from across the room. In fact, most people believed she just might one day be capable of such a feat. That’s because she had the purple eyes of a natural born enchantress. They appeared brown from afar, but upon closer examination the sapphire glare from her feline stare would unnerve the gentry.
“To the stables, Vebby!” she snapped.
Vebby trotted out of the courtyard and straight to the stables as commanded. Morgan stomped towards the guards ready to unleash one of her fiery tirades before another voice chimed, “No, Morgan! Leave them be.”
Her voice filled the court like lyrics from a song. A pair of white doves flew from a windowsill. An insulted Morgan whipped her sights up to the second tier walkway above the arcade. And there, the Lady Elaine was gleaming over the railing with a playful smirk. She stood accompanied by three of her fair maidens or “ladies-in-waiting,” Annaleise, Giselle, and Fierva. All of them were gorgeous in their white gowns with gold trimmings but paled in comparison to the nineteen-year-old Elaine.
The guards quickly dispersed and returned to their posts. Elaine’s light-hearted chuckle only intensified Morgan’s ire. She barged into the banquet hall with the boom of shoved doors. The noise was followed up with crashing silverware. Elaine couldn’t help but giggle.
“Oh dear. Now I’ve done it.”
“You sound quite pleased, milady.” Said Annaleise.
“I can’t help it. She is my baby sister, after all. And I have pretty good idea where she’s going.”
“Again…You sound quite pleased.” Annaleise grumbled.
Elaine smiled full of good cheer as her ladies followed her down the spacious hallway towards the main palace. Everything about Elaine exuded elegance and delicate sensibilities. Everyone she passed bowed in admiration. There was an air of celebrity about her by which people couldn’t help but stand in awe.
There was a shiny bounce in her beautiful blonde hair as the sunlight kissed and caressed her shoulders. Her deep brown eyes were pure and innocent, full of care and compassion. There was always an arch in her back. She never slouched and when she walked, her posture was so perfect that she could balance a book on her head. This was the Lady Elaine. This was the sister Morgan was constantly being compared to.
“Must we tolerate her barking yet again?” Annaleise sighed.
“I heard she’s been stealing again.” Giselle added. “The guards say she’s been conjuring all manner of spells in the dead of the night. They say her door shakes with bright green lights flooding into halls.”
“Don’t gossip!” Fierva scolded. “Just rumors.”
Elaine shook her head with a helpless smile. “You know, I really don’t think you ladies give her enough credit. Imagine how dull this place would be without her devilry. Tristan’s always a bore and we haven’t had a holiday in months.”
“I don’t mind the tranquility, milady. In fact, it’d be easier to digest the scriptures. An endeavor by which we should all set our hearts,” Fierva asserted.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Elaine said, not really caring one way or the other.
After two soft knocks, Elaine and her ladies let themselves into the private quarters of the Duchess Igraine. The royal bedchamber was wide, spacious, and warm with a crackling fire burning in the hearth. It was a gallery playing host to all the trappings you’d expect from a lady who was once one of the most sought after ladies on earth. Ornaments, trinkets, and souvenirs were sent from around the world and the Duchess Igraine was too good-natured to simply discard them.
The duchess’s blonde hair was now silver and even though she was nearing sixty, Igraine was blessed with the visage of a woman still in her thirties. Like fine wine, they say. As expected, she was found sitting next to the window by the long velvet curtains. A greyhound slept soundly on the train of her blue gown.
Two nuns whose names were long since forgotten regaled the duchess with the latest gossip of the day. They were always whispering discreetly in case someone was eavesdropping. At present, an embarrassed duchess cupped her mouth to conceal a snorkeling laugh but it only piqued Elaine’s curiosity.
“Oooh! Tell me, mother! What news?” Elaine begged as she came skipping across the room.
“No,” Igraine said, smirking as if Elaine couldn’t see her reflection in the window.
“Awww! Tell me!”
“No. It’s naughty,” Igraine insisted.
“Naughty things? From nuns?” Elaine squinted.
“Shocker!” Annaleise whispered. Elaine and Giselle snickered into each other’s arms while Fierva remained stern.
“Anyways…I do believe we shall be expecting our lovely Morgana!” Elaine chirped.
“Morgan’s coming here?”
“Yes. Have you not seen her since she returned?” Elaine asked.
“I have not. I warrant she still harbors resentment for my sending her away in the first place,” Igraine sighed.
“Mustn’t despair, milady. I hear Morgan still resents the nurse who took away her swaddling cloth!” Annaleise joked.
“I’m more worried about her witchcraft. Honestly, is no one else concerned?” Giselle stressed.
“Yes! I heard she turns peasants into frogs and frogs into peasants!” Annaliese laughed.
Fierva gave a sharp snap of her fingers. It was ridiculously loud, like someone spiking a rock across the stone slab flooring.
“It’s not proper to spread rumors!” Fierva scolded.
“I was only joking. Goodness!” Annaliese gawked, rolling of her eyes.
Without warning, Morgan barged in and came to stand directly in the center of the room under the iron chandelier. Her fiery gaze bounced from lady to lady, all who were suddenly gripped in silence. They were even afraid to make eye contact, all except Fierva that is. The taller maiden wasn’t too timid to cross arms and frown at Morgan for storming in unannounced. It goes without saying that the two have had words and it was always a spectacle to behold.
“Something vexes thee?” Elaine chimed.
“I need to speak with the king!” Morgan demanded.
“The king is in council, my dear,” said Duchess Igraine. “Ambassadors from across the lands have gathered to discuss state affairs. This is a very important time. You know this. He is not to be disturbed without just cause.”
“I have just cause! It’s important!”
“NO! No shouting!” Fierva scolded. “You will conduct yourself, young lady, or so help me I will beat you with the same broom you flew in on!”
Morgan was about two seconds away from biting off Fierva’s finger. Elaine and Giselle gripped at each other, struggling to contain themselves while Annaleise had already grabbed a pillow to muffle her laughter.
“Morgan. Come here, sweet kitten,” Igraine said ever so softly.
Morgan trudged over. As soon as she was within reach, Elaine rubbed her cute button nose. Morgan swiped at Elaine’s hand but was reluctant to look her mother in the eye.
“Tell me, child. What’s so urgent that you need bother the king?” Igraine asked as she plucked at the blades of grass clinging to Morgan’s dress.
Morgan was reluctant. She knew how it sounded in her head, which meant it sounded even more ludicrous out loud. Not to mention, she’d been down this road before.
“I’ve missed you,” Igraine said, hugging Morgan’s hips. “Talk to me, darling.”
“Mother, it’s Gawain. He’s back. He’s come back to Britannia. I know it sounds crazy but I saw him on a ship. A slave ship! I promise you, I’m not lying. He’s come back. It’s time. We must venture out and rescue him. We must!”
The duchess was distressed by the news. She wanted to believe Morgan but the pain of disappointment was far greater. She nodded with sincerity as she massaged Morgan’s damp hands and smiled in silence for the better part of a minute. Morgan finally widened her eyes and whisked her hands free. Elaine, Giselle, and Annaleise quickly averted and started crackling with laughter.
“Did you hear what I just said!? This is Gawain we’re talking about! He’s here! He’s come back! I saw him!” Morgan barked.
“NO SHOUTING!” Fierva snapped.
“WHY DON’T YOU GO SOMEWHERE AND PEEL CABBAGE YOU HEINOUS BOVINE OF A NAG!!!” Morgan exploded.
“Morgana!” Igraine rebuked as the ladies held back Fierva.
A ruckus of laughter and threats filled the air before Morgan dropped to her knees and threw herself into her mother’s arms. The emotion was overwhelming and she could feel Morgan’s breath steaming against her thigh.
“Mother! What’s the point of sending me to Lake Avalon if not to refine my abilities? I had a vision. Okay? This is what I saw! I’m not lying. Please believe me!”
“Yes darling and forgive me but how many times have to come raving with visions of Gawain? He’s my grandson. I love him too. He’ll return to us after ten years as promised.”
“No, he won’t! They’ll kill him! When his ten years are up, they’ll kill him just like they did Goddrey and Runtus! Please! Please mother! Please! I’m begging you! Grant me an audience with the king. Just five minutes. That’s all I need. THAT’S ALL I NEED!”