artwork from WLOP and his series “Ghostblade”
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 10 – The Eldest Daughter
By Rock Kitaro
In the weeks following the disappearance of Morgan, Gaharis, and Agravain, the mood at Tintagel had soured immensely. King Mark, in particular, felt an enormous sense of responsibility since no one had reported their absence for days after the Council of Gold Clovers left to return to their respective domains.
Sir Cador, the Lord Chamberlain, dispatched his own son to lead the search party, but Constantine’s failure to produce results in the first few weeks cast dread over the city. Making matters worse was the fact that Tristan had also disappeared. King Mark was convinced that Tristan was with Morgan and the princes, but his personal assurance wasn’t enough to satisfy an unforgiving mother.
For nearly four weeks, the maids, masons, stewards, and guards walked with stiffness in their shoulders. Everyone performed his or her duties to the utmost perfection for fear of maximum reprisal. Even the elderly Sir Ekner was on edge as he presided over the training halls in the Western Ward. Tintagel’s devoted knights practiced with due diligence as prognostications of pending battles were on the tips of everyone’s tongue.
The castle’s labyrinth of corridors were devoid of laughter or glee. Melancholy and foreboding anxiety spread like a contagious disease. Even the sun itself stayed hidden behind a blanketed overcast of dark clouds, sending only an easterly wind to howl through the alleys.
There was no talk of sport or recreation. All hunts and banquets were cancelled. The musicians kept to the abbeys, and on the king’s orders, all choirs were forbidden from raising their heavenly voices. Taverns closed early. Ale was outlawed. Duels were suspended and no one could ride horses faster than a trot.
Most citizens thought King Mark’s decrees were unfounded, unreasonable, and unjust. However, the royal court knew and understood the king’s logic. It was more so a precaution than a sign of despair. That’s because Tintagel had guests. If there’s one thing King Mark feared more than an invasion from King Vortigern…it was the combined wrath of the Duchess Igraine and her eldest daughter, Queen Morgaus.
Morgaus was the eldest daughter of Igraine and the late Duke Gorlois. She was married to King Lot of Lothian and more importantly, she was the adoptive mother of Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain.
The twenty-nine-year-old Morgaus was much like her youngest sister Morgana in appearance, blessed with bold eyes and rich brown hair. Morgaus was strong, ready and able to perform manual labor if she needed to. She loved dressing in purple fabrics. Her favorite ensemble consisted of a purple dress with a black leather bodice strapped around her ribcage. Her shoulders would be draped by warm fur. Even her gold crown donned an exquisite arrangement of smooth sapphire stones.
Growing up in Tintagel, Morgaus was popular due to her warm personal affection to both the rich and the poor, the guests and the staff. She was praised for her beauty, but Morgaus beat back vanity and conquered her own conceit. She was humble at every turn, often volunteering in the neighboring villages to oversee building projects such as schools and nurseries.
Like Elaine, Morgaus was always smiling, always optimistic despite the constant flow of tumultuous news that poured in from the violent world around them. She rarely complained or overstepped her bounds. Even when she felt she was being mistreated, she’d simply remember the less fortunate and take it with a grain of salt.
However…this was also what made her so scary. Everyone in Tintagel knew it.
Morgaus had lines that should never be crossed. All of those lines related to the safety and security of her boys.
Years ago, Gaheris and Agravain were kidnapped during their first mission to the Roman Emperor Lucius. Queen Morgaus suspected the guards had betrayed them. Without any evidence, she had them arrested. They were tortured and forced to swallow hot boiling lead until one of them spoke up. The problem was, she was right. The guards had indeed taken a bribe to give up their route. Since then, Morgaus’s every intuition was treated as a matter of fact. This made her a very scary individual.
In her relentless pursuit to get her boys back, Morgaus coaxed King Lot into making a pact with a famous sorcerer named Kaidan. Fire and brimstone literally rained down on Emperor Lucius’s northern armies. When Kaidan brought the boys back and demanded payment, Morgaus reminded him that he was her subject and threatened to cut off his hand if he ever held it out again expecting compensation so brazenly. It was the first time Kaidan ever cancelled a debt and news of the incident spread.
“Morgaus is fearsome…”
Yes, when it came to her sons, the fable of a ferocious she-bear protecting her cubs was made true by her existence. There was nothing King Lot could do about it. He resigned to the role of a supporting husband and did his best to placate her. And now… Gaheris and Agravain had gone missing, yet again. The berating Duke Tiburne got was beyond excessive.
In Tintagel’s Southern Ward, faint hymns from a Gregorian chant could be heard in the distance. Everyone became unnerved when it came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a long note.
A light drizzle fell upon the open courtyard that housed the apartments of the clergy. It was a grassy field where timid nuns would stroll through the perimeter cloisters. They took pleasure in the pleasant arrangement of yellow carnations that grew along the hedges of Mytal Bastion.
An eighty-foot construction scaffold of soaking wood was erected at the base of Mytal Bastion. Carpenters and stonemasons were reinforcing the exterior due to concerns about the tower swaying under high winds. Hoping to keep themselves busy, King Mark and King Lot joined in the renovation. They refilled buckets with limestone and mortar before pulling on sturdy ropes to hoist them up to engineers stationed at the top of the scaffold.
The kings were two peas on a pod in terms of their chemistry. Like King Mark, Lot was relatively calm and easy going despite the enormous responsibility of running his formidable kingdom that neighbored the volatile lands of Vortigern. Lot was thirty-five years old; tall and lanky with a light brown beard and kind gray eyes.
Lot was very much regarded as a little brother to King Mark who admired him for his slow-to-anger approach in resolving conflicts. At present, the two whispered jokes amongst themselves to help pass the day. In their heart of hearts, they found the abysmal silence all too funny.
In the midst of one of their snickering jokes, the long wooden creak of an opening door shrieked through the courtyard. Terror silenced the kings at once. Their eyebrows spiked and their jaws dropped. Suddenly, they put more effort in their work, hoisting the ropes with exaggerated expressions and comical grunts. They weren’t fooling anyone.
Queen Morgaus emerged from the shadows of the cloister with two ladies by her side. Light rain fell and became tiny beads upon her long wavy hair. Her glowering eyes settled on the kings. Even when it didn’t call for them to pull on the ropes, they frantically searched for something to do. King Lot pulled himself up to the second tier and pretended to tighten bolts on the scaffold. Mark envied him for being so spry and Lot had to turn away to hide his teasing smirk.
“Think they’re so clever, don’t they?” a voice chimed in.
Morgaus looked over her shoulder to see the silver-haired duchess approaching with her faithful greyhound on a leash.
“He’s avoiding me on purpose. I don’t like that,” Morgaus grumbled.
“Shall we approach and express our discontent?” Igraine said with a solemn smile.
Morgaus didn’t answer. Saying nothing she took the lead in walking across the wet grass, bypassing the hedges and bright yellow flowers. As King Mark was retying a knot that didn’t need to be tied, one of his servants noticed how much he was sweating and immediately ran over to take a knee.
“Milord, you don’t need to that. We can have one of the other men…” the servant began to say before King Mark quickly hissed the man away.
Sensing his king’s anxiety, the elderly Sir Ekner intercepted the group of ladies and bowed with an uneasy chuckle. “My ladies, I assure you everything is being done to find your boys. It won’t be long till they’re home safely. Of that, I am certain.”
Again, Morgaus didn’t respond. Her deep brown eyes landed on Sir Ekner and penetrated his very soul, digging out every dark secret he’s had buried over the decades. His fingers began to jitter. His cheeks began to quiver. Morgaus tilted of her head with an erratic tick if she was about to jab a dagger in his neck at any moment.
“He’s right,” King Mark found the courage to say. “Also, I implore you to keep in mind Tristan is with them. He’s the Lion of Dumnonia. I trust him with my life and this kingdom. Tristan will not fail us.”
“Then why isn’t he a knight?” A new voice chimed in.
The angelic Elaine approached in a white gown with her convoy of ladies-in-waiting. Mark knew this was an ambush and glanced up to see if Lot was coming down to help. King Lot was lying on his back with two nails clinched between his teeth as he hammered a piece of wood that did absolutely nothing.
“I have offered him knighthood,” King Mark explained. “The boy is unsure of himself. Tis not right to force such a burden upon him.”
“You’re right!” Morgaus boomed. “You’re absolutely right. A good man would willingly accept the responsibility of his own volition. Not shy away from it. Further leading me to question his judgment and this senseless acclaim by which you bestow him.”
“That’s…that’s an unfair thing to say,” Mark said with a shudder.
“IS IT!?” Morgaus shouted. “Unfair, say you? Was it unfair when my father thrust three sons upon my charge? Was it unfair when my long list of suitors suddenly lost interest because of it? Did you hear him, mother? He calls me unfair? I rebuke you, your highness! I rebuke you! LOT! What say you? Do you think I’m being unfair? Or unreasonable!? SPEAK!”
Still on his back, Lot turned to the nearest worker and reached out his sweaty palm. “Joffrey, do hand me that clamp won’t you.”
“JOFFREY! Touch that clamp and by sacred oath I pluck out your eyes with it!” Morgaus wanred.
The keep’s wooden doors croaked open. A messenger raced into the courtyard and dropped to one knee. Sir Ekner approached to receive the messenger but Morgaus shoved him out of the way.
“What news?” Morgaus asked.
King Mark hurried over. “Now, milady. It is customary for Sir Ekner or Sir Cador to hear the news first. They hear it, then they relay the message to-”
“WHAT NEWS!?” Morgaus screamed.
“Word from Constantine. We’ve found them! The prince’s, milady. Tristan and Morgan are with them. Also, several others. In particular, one they called Gawain.”
Morgaus gasped with shock and relief. She clutched her chest and would’ve fallen if her ladies weren’t there to catch her. As delighted as she was, a resounding “THANK GOD!” from King Lot caused her to scowl at him once more.
Duchess Igraine and King Mark asked the messenger to repeat the news, particularly the part about Gawain. Once the messenger assured them, a wave of joy washed over the entire courtyard.
“This is a most marvelous occasion! Bring this man something sweet to drink. Mycroff! Dyness! Spread the word. Prosperity has come to Tintagel! To celebrate this momentous occasion, I am throwing a great jubilee in the Hall of Roses. All of Tintagel is invited for a night of music and dancing. Bring the treasurer! No expense will be spared! On only two days notice I’ll make this a night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives!”
King Mark’s declaration was received well. Even the nuns applauded. Elaine and her ladies-in-waiting giggled with excitement as they immediately let their every thought be consumed by what to wear. Duchess Igraine, however, couldn’t help but squint at King Mark. She felt it was a backhanded slap at the grim atmosphere caused by her and her daughters. What the Duchess Igraine heard was, “let’s have a party to make up for these long horrible weeks of intolerable suffering caused by the worrisome women.”
Lot dropped down from the scaffold and wrapped Morgaus in an affectionate hug. “At last! Our family will be complete,” Lot said with a soft kiss.
Morgaus, still upset by her husband’s neglect, couldn’t help but smile with rosy cheeks. The idea of having Gawain back after four long years was still sinking in. A small part of her didn’t want to believe it. If the report was false, the disappointment would have likely sent her into a bout of depression. And when the messenger whispered something discreetly into Sir Ekner’s ear, Morgaus had even more cause to be dubious.
Sir Ekner relayed the whispers to King Mark and King Mark became pensive.
“What is it, my liege?” Lot asked.
Mark scratched his black beard with a heavy heart. He said, “Apparently, the vagrant Pellinore is accompanying them. That’s not the problem. I’ve known him since he was a pup. I can handle Pellinore. But it seems they also have the daughter of Queen Iseult in their charge. The Princess of Hibernia has been taken prisoner and they’re coming here.”
“Sire! We should call off the jubilee,” Sir Ekner suggested.
“No, no. We should have more than enough time to celebrate and prepare for the Hibernians immediately following. Our country needs this. I don’t want Iseult to see us broken and despondent. Tell only the captains, the barons, and the first knights but no one else. I mean it, Ekner,” King Mark commanded.
Sir Ekner bowed and immediately ventured off to convene his war council. The Duchess Igraine approached the solemn circle of Lot, Mark, and Morgaus. Her faithful greyhound was right behind her and sat down by her side.
“This is a good thing,” said the Duchess Igraine. “With Isolde in our possession, maybe we can put an end to these nasty abductions.”
“I know it,” Mark uttered.
“I’d rather not be one to deflate such optimism, but I’m not as sanguine to the effects of pacts or treaties. The emerald queen will do whatever it takes to get her daughter back, but once she’s safe and sound, I have no doubt she’ll send the destroyer Morholt to do what he does best,” King Lot said with Morgaus rubbing his back.
King Mark would continue to ponder this conundrum in silence. However, no matter how dire the near future may be, Mark was determined to restore the morale of his kingdom. With Gawain back and no other foreseeable disasters pending, King Mark was looking forward to a celebration unlike any other.
The next morning…
As if the sun had heard the good news, it was out in full shine with a clear blue sky. The castle’s glossy stone walls appeared golden under her rays. A warm wind swept through the city as citizens opened their windows just in time to hear the church bells toll. The massive twenty-foot doors of the Northern Gate opened and in rode the triumphant party of Tristan, Isolde, Bruno, Pellinore, the Black Bloods, Constantine, Morgan, Gaheris, Agravain, and Gawain. The city welcomed them with a shower of pink petals and gold painted confetti.
Morgan rode Vebby just behind the men in black armor when she glanced over her shoulders and saw Gawain staring up at the colossal towers. She wondered how he was taking it all in, having been away for four years. Constantine was pointing out all of his favorite spots to Gawain, telling him about the gardens and the best halls to train in. And while Gawain was smiling and nodding along, he was completely overwhelmed.
Gawain didn’t remember Tintagel being so grand, so large and elaborate with its artistic designs and ambitious architecture. Compared to Oherth Castle in Hibernia, Tintagel was a mountain range of a city. It was so beautiful, sacred. Black and gold banners flew over every business, building, and spire. Men, women, and children of all ages were cheering as they lined the streets, leaned from their windows, and smiled from the ledges. They gazed at Gawain with such wonder as if he was Perseus himself.
The noises, so many faces, so many details, the splashes of gold, blue, with the shower of pink, all of it flooded his senses. Like a baby trying to hold up its head, Gawain staggered in a stupefied gaze. And just as the convoy reached the giant steps of the portico, Gawain fell from his horse.
“OH!!!” groaned from the audience as Gaheris and Agravain leapt from their stallions to aid their brother. Everyone dismounted as a streak of purple flashed down the steps. Morgaus dropped to her knees on the loose gravel and threw herself to Gawain’s side. His head was bruised but his long curly locks concealed it.
“Gawain! Gawain, my darling. Are you alright?” Morgaus cried.
Gawain sat up with a far-off look. As the clarity returned and Morgaus became familiar, a smile surfaced. From the smile, came a chuckle. Soon everyone was laughing along with him. Whimpering with joy and relief, Morgaus embraced him tight. Gaheris and Agravain were beaming as they continued to kneel and pat their clumsy big brother on the back.
Through the laughter and applause, the high-pitch babble of a baby penetrated their affectionate huddle. When Morgaus loosened her grip, her face was wet with tears. She looked up and saw King Lot walking down the steps with their son. Morgaus rose and received the two-year-old toddler.
“Gawain. I’d like you to meet your baby brother, Gareth,” Morgaus said.
“Ha! So this is he!” Gawain gushed.
“My God! You even sound so different,” Morgaus whimpered as she covered her mouth and chuckled with tearful glee.
“I know! That’s what I said!” Agravain noted.
“Ugh! Damn that Queen Isuelt! She’s stolen four years from me. It’s not fair. That’s not fair, Lot! That’s what you’d call unfair!” Morgaus yelled as she whipped her sights on her husband.
The tall and bashful King Lot approached Gawain and extended his hand, “Gawain. I’ve heard a great deal about you. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this day. Long time. A very long time.”
Gawain bowed low before the king. He rose and said, “And I am in awe of you, sir. In my absence you’ve cherished my little brothers and protected my mother. I owe you a great deal and if there’s anything I can do to repay your kindness, I’ll do it.”
“There is something you can do, actually. I’d like it very much if you considered yourself my oldest son. Heir to my throne. Heir to the Kingdom of Lothian and Orkney!” Lot shouted for all to hear.
As soon the declaration was made, King Lot’s twenty knights and thirty servants dropped to one knee and bowed with respect. Gawain was in complete astonishment. He turned to his brothers. Both were amused and showed surprising restraint by not laughing at Gawain’s bewildered expressions.
“Your grace! I don’t…I don’t know what to say,” Gawain muttered.
“Don’t say anything now. There’s so much to discuss,” Lot told him with a pat on the back.
“Indeed. Such as, what am I to do with you?” King Mark said as he approached Princess Isolde.
The princess’s wrists were still bound and tethered to Tristan’s clutches. Isolde fearlessly grinned at King Mark and said, “It’s been awhile, your highness. Say, a decade? Give or take a few years? You’ve gotten old. That belly wasn’t there before.”
“I don’t think all this is necessary,” Mark said, referring to her restraints.
“I beg to differ,” Tristan said, making a gesture well-received by King Mark that she couldn’t be trusted.
“Indeed! This one is feisty like you don’t know what!” Pellinore said, chiming in.
“Oh look. It’s Pellinore. How nice.” King Mark groaned.
“That’s what I said.” Constantine said as he stood next to his father, Sir Cador.
“I hear you were of some assistance. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Within reason, that is.” King Mark offered.
“That means not long,” Tristan clarified.
“Relax! The salty sea air brings unwanted memories. Puts me on edge, you see. Besides, I go where I’m needed and I stay where I’m wanted. Ain’t that right, boys!” Pellinore shouted, receiving an agreeing cheer from his comrades.
“Whatever!” Elaine said as she cut past Pellinore en route to Gawain.
“Elaine! My, my, my! You look just as delicious as the day we first met,” Pellinore said.
“Elaine? Is this who you named your daughter after?” Princess Isolde gawked.
“AH! You have a daughter!?” Elaine laughed.
“He has two daughters. And a son. Percival, is it not?” Gaheris casually noted as he began lighting his pipe.
Elaine and her ladies burst out with laughter. “Bastards beget bastards!” they jeered.
“Oye! I’ll have your mouth rinsed with sand for that!” Pellinore shouted, deeply embarrassed as the crowd within earshot began mocking him.
“Come on, lads. I need a drink.”
“Better keep an eye on him,” Isolde said.
“YOU SHUT UP!” Pellinore bellowed, all wide-eyed and incensed.
“Enough! To the dungeon with you,” Tristan said as he nudged Isolde along.
“No. She’ll stay in the palace under guard,” said King Mark.
“What?!” Tristan hissed in outrage.
“When your mother comes, I trust you’ll convey our generous hospitality.” King Mark suggested.
“Indeed, I will,” Isolde said smirking in the face of Tristan.
“Good! She’ll also be our guest at tomorrow’s jubilee,” King Mark added.
“Sire! Honestly!” Tristan protested.
“I’ll be honored, your grace.” Isolde said, snickering in her curtsey.
As the witty banter and reunions continued, no one seemed to notice that Morgan had slipped into the crowd and disappeared. She saw her elder sister Morgaus embracing Gawain. She heard King Lot intending to make Gawain a prince over a kingdom so many miles away. She watched as King Mark extended every underserved kindness to the enemy.
Throughout all that, there wasn’t a single hint of recognition her way. No one thanked her. No one congratulated her. Even the eldest sister, whom she hadn’t seen since before Gareth’s birth, failed to acknowledge her presence. Gawain was the light, favored by all. She was the darkness, ignored and forgotten. Just like always.
Morgan wandered aimlessly through the palace. The sun’s radiant warmth was annoying. News of the jubilee was excitement that electrified the halls. Maidens whispered about Pellinore and Gaheris’s good looks and almost everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the celebrated Gawain. At every turn there was some talk about the conquering heroes, about their battles with the Picts and how Tristan single-handedly defeated an ogre. Morgan sulked and scowled. She wanted to get away from it all as quickly as possible
For most of the day, Morgan confined herself to her apartment four stories up in the palace. She sprawled across the brown blanket of her bed and stared up at the wax candles of her black iron chandelier. Dusk came. The setting sun she tried to escape had found her and was now pouring through her open windows. As she remained fixated on the candles, a vivid pink light shined through the corner of her eye.
She was still wearing her cotton pink dress. It was filthy with sweat and clung to her body. Languid in her temperament, Morgan’s right ruby-jeweled hand rose up and slung to latch over her left shoulder. Then, digging her nails into the dress, Morgan began ripping the fabric down her torso. She continued to rip until her breasts down to her navel were exposed to the frigid air. She stayed in this catatonic state all night, never closing her eyes, never removing her sights from the black iron-wrought chandelier.
The next morning, just before dawn, Morgan rose from her bed having slumbered without sleeping. With her breasts still exposed, she walked barefoot across the cold stone floor to the dresser where a bent mirror was mounted on the wall. She stared at her own reflection. Dark circles had formed under her eyes, but it made her smirk. She pressed on the cheek just below her left eye to just to see what she’d look like with a tighter face, her eyes more slanted. She wondered what Gawain found appealing in a woman. From there, her thoughts branched out further.
From what she had seen, Gawain had grown up to become the self-sacrificing paragon of virtue she always expected. What she didn’t expect was for Gawain to be so tall and imposing in might and authority. He was the same age as Morgan, but she saw how the older Tristan and Pellinore regarded him as their equals. They even went so far as to seek his approval and heed his counsel. Then there was the matter of his nauseating sense of humility. Gawain wasn’t the type to lust for glory. His prowess was amazing, his speed, incredible. He didn’t brag or boast, nor did he take pride in his praise-worthy accomplishments.
Morgan couldn’t help but wonder about the past four years and consider if she’d changed so much in his eyes. She knew she was a promising young magician, destined to be one of the greatest the world has ever seen. She’s shown them. She’s shown them all. Yet, despite her impossible feats, despite the supernatural abilities and prophetic visions she used not just for her own benefit, but to benefit the people of all Dumnonia, Morgan felt utterly insignificant. It didn’t make sense. Thus, these abysmal thoughts consumed her and dragged her further to despair.
It was a seething heat that swelled in her chest. She didn’t want to call it rage or anger, but she couldn’t deny the incessant screams crying out from within. It was turmoil, an inner conflict she knew no one could possibly understand. Thus, she felt alone.
As tears trickled down her cheek, she began hating herself for caring as much as she did. She ripped off what was left of her pink dress until she was standing completely naked. All that remained were the red jewels wrapped around her right wrist and moisture was accumulated between her skin and the jewels.
Floating ambers of red ashes began to flicker around her like dust kicked up from a burning rug. The enchanted rubies began to glow bright red. As the anger blazed within, a thin ring of fire appeared and encircled her, first swirling around her hips before lowering to burn dark bands into the stone floor. The fire was sweltering but it never scorched her. The discharge was a mild catharsis. As her spirit calmed and clarity came, a new resolution passed.
“This is the way it should be. It’s just you. You can’t depend on anyone else for your happiness so stop! No one cares about you. No one loves you. You’re all you’ll ever have in this world. No man can take you. No man deserves you. Because what you have to offer is priceless,” Morgan told herself as the flames grew brighter.
Then, with the twirl of her finger all went dark.