artwork by WLOP
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 11: Paramour
By Rock Kitaro
Gawain looked like a new man, no longer in the rags of servitude. Cleanly shaven, his long curly brown hair was pulled back in what could almost be considered a top knot. He was now wearing the same Lothian attire as his brothers; clean black pants, slick brown boots, and a green and silver tunic that was draped over a soothing beige cotton shirt. All of which was all held together by a thick black belt that holstered his katana.
The Lothian sigil was that of an alert silver stag mounted over a green shield. Being that Gawain was now the heir apparent, a small golden pin of a majestic stag was clasped over his heart. It was the ornamental signet indicating his sovereign status.
In truth, Gawain felt weighed down by this newfound fame but he never showed it. Gaheris and Agravain felt invincible following his lead. He was everything they wanted in an older brother; tall, strong, a natural born leader. It was also a relief. Neither wanted the ball and chain of having to rule an entire kingdom. They knew it was Gawain’s destiny. Shouldering soul-crushing responsibility was Gawain’s forte.
In the East Ward, along the open field near the king’s stables, Constantine was touring Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain and Debra through the impressive military district. He showed them the command center, the armory, the open training halls, and the jousting lanes. Everywhere they went, soldiers twice their age paused their practice to salute the newly made prince. Ever so humble, Gawain would nod, wave, and urge them to continue at ease.
The group approached a station of blacksmiths forging new weapons under a black awning. It was a magnetic sight to see heat sizzling steel cooled in pools of water. Sparks flew as the smiths hammered away. Their clanging was loud and relentless, but somehow they could always hear when horsemen were approaching.
Gawain turned and saw a group of lancers on horseback. These were the same bullies Agravain and Gaheris fought with before they ran off with Morgan. Their leader was the twenty-year-old named Kersey. They were laughing about some obese baker they just passed when they spotted the Lothian princes. Quickly, the lancers dismounted and fell to their knees. Constantine was shocked. He and Debra had been bullied by these lads more than anyone.
“Sir! I apologize for our rude behavior. We have no excuse. Please forgive us,” Kersey said, keeping his eyes to the cobblestone.
Gawain raised his hands, clearly confused.
Gaheris explained. “This lot called themselves trying to insult us for being adopted. Aggie showed them what’s what.”
“Well, it seems they’ve repented,” Gawain noted.
“As well they should. After the thrashing I gave them.” Agravain boasted as he walked over and scraped the bottom of his boot off on Kersey’s shoulder.
“Agravain!” Gawain said as he snatched him up by the collar.
Stunned, Agravain aggressively swiped at Gawain’s arm but missed. Gawain let go just in time.
“Please get up. All of you. Rise.” Gawain said as he personally wiped off Kersey’s shoulder.
“Gawain. What are you doing?” Gaheris questioned.
“It takes a strong man to acknowledge his mistake. This behavior is unbecoming!” Gawain scolded Agravain.
“Please, sir. Pay it no never mind,” Kersey insisted.
“Wait!” Agravain said as he grabbed Kersey’s head and thumbed down on his lips. His front teeth were missing. Agravain erupted with laughter.
“Oh my god! That is so funny! He’s toothless!” Agravain taunted.
“Serves him right. He’s been tormenting us for years. Haven’t you Kersey?” Constantine said, joining in.
Kersey and his fellow lancers said nothing but kept their heads lowered in shame. Gawain observed how callous his brothers were and gradually it made his temper blaze. It wasn’t until Agravain started calling him “Toothless Kersey” that Gawain finally let his brothers see the penetrating glare of his hawk eyes. Agravain stopped laughing.
Gaheris calmly emptied his pipe. “Keep in mind, dear brother. You were not here to receive the offense taken. It’s easy for you to sit back and forgive so quickly. I cannot.”
“He’s right, my prince.” Debra added. “Last spring, Kersey and his friends chased me from the granaries. It gave me such a fright that I fell in a puddle of mud and sullied the dress my mother bought for my birthday. She’s been saving for years to get me that dress and in one fell swoop it was ruined.”
“She’s right, milord,” Kersey acknowledged. “Our actions…we were humbled by your brothers. I swear from this day till my last that you’ll never see such odious behavior from us again.”
Gawain crossed his arms and deliberated. Suddenly, he smiled and said, “Are you going to the ball, Kersey?”
“The thing is, I have no idea how to dance. I was wondering if you and your friends could teach me?” Gawain said with a cheerful chuckle.
“You don’t know how to dance? But it’s simple.” Kersey said, finally cracking a smile.
“Then, show me. Come!” Gawain said as he ushered the lancers.
“Gawain, what are you doing?” Agravain said with lingering animosity.
“Let’s go. All of us,” Gawain beckoned. “I’m sure Gaheris can show us a few moves too. Isn’t that right, Mr. Flower Boy?”
Gaheris, Agravain, and Constantine exchanged glances of begrudging vexation. Warmed by Gawain’s optimism, Debra shook off the past and put her arms around Constantine and Agravain. “Forget about it. Besides, we can’t let Toothless Kersey have all the fun.” She told them.
“I like that. Toothless Kersey. That’s good.” Agravain chuckled.
The youngsters made their way into the main palace and entered one of Tintagel’s most extravagant attractions. The colonnades of all six floors encircled and overlooked a beautiful garden atrium called the Peridot Oasis. It had bluebirds and rabbits nesting on the grounds. Residents could come inside and escape the bustle of the city’s endless mechanics. Emulating the Pantheon, a giant round oculus in the ceiling opened up to the sky, bringing in fresh air and soft angelic rays of daylight.
Fifteen brick paths fanned through the garden in a serpent like fashion as visitors whiffed in the rich stimulating fragrance of dried spices. The hedges were trimmed and there were exquisite white statues at every turn. All pathways came to the center of the garden where six clean streams of drinkable water flowed through the castle and converged for a fifty-foot waterfall into the ocean below. It was a breathtaking sight. The rush of gushing water could be heard from the corridors the closer people came to the Peridot Oasis.
As Kersey and his lancers laughed with Gawain and described the beauties they expected to see at the dance, it was just by chance that Morgan was on the 5th floor colonnade watching the waterfall with a hollow gaze.
Like Gawain, Morgan adapted a new wardrobe herself. She could no longer tolerate the happy spring hue of her faded pink dress. So she opted for an oversize black fleece cloak after stripping naked that morning. And almost immediately felt like this was the way it should have always been. The sudden sensation that she was now guarded and locked away from prying eyes who sought to judge and deride her…it was a pleasant discovery.
Leaning on the railing with her head propped up by her ruby-jeweled palm, Morgan watched with melancholy as the boys rallied to Gawain. She couldn’t hear what was said over the roaring water, but from the way Kersey kept acting like he was holding an armful of melons, it wasn’t difficult to guess.
She detected strife, particularly with Gaheris. The stunning twin daughters of Sir Ioness, Dawn and Fawn, had joined the group and were trying to engage Gaheris in conversation but the flower boy wasn’t receptive. He gave one-word answers and neglected to ask follow up questions. When they took it upon themselves to provide elaborate details he never wanted, he’d simply flash that dreamy smile and fade back to his own thoughts while appearing as if he was listening to every word.
However, with his gaze kept low, Gaheris would discreetly look over and scrutinize Gawain as if he was hiding something. In his heart of hearts, Gaheris felt a mild sense of betrayal at seeing Gawain make peace with a man who so gravely mocked their family honor. He wondered if it was wise to put so much trust and faith in Gawain so hastily. He was Princess Isolde’s bodyguard after all. What if they converted him? What if he was no longer loyal to the House of Gorlois?
From afar, Morgan wondered what Gawain did to upset him. She smirked, seeing the flower boy so steamed. The pompous Gaheris had been a thorn in her side. To know he was disappointed by his beloved Gawain was satisfying.
“You must be happy. To have your friend back.”
“Elaine, if your wenches are with you, please send them away. I’m not in the mood,” Morgan said without even turning her head to look.
Elaine nodded to her ladies, Annaleise, Giselle, and Fierva. Clicked tongues and appalled gasps rattled out as the ladies stormed off. Elaine and all her heavenly shine nudged against her shadowy sister.
“Why so dark and gloomy? Honestly, did you run this through coal? Where did you get this cloak?”
“Don’t you worry. I like it. Darkness suits me. Tis better this way.”
“I can’t help but worry, Morgana. You were gloomy when he was away and now that he’s back you’re even more lethargic. Sometimes I think you just like being misread; the effort people put into figuring you out can be flattering. I used to be like that. Then I grew up.”
Surprisingly, Morgan didn’t retaliate. That’s mostly because she wasn’t listening. For close to three minutes the sisters stood gazing upon the oasis in silence, and then, Morgan proposed the following question.
“Do you ever feel burdened? Born a woman?”
“Honestly! Where is this coming from?”
Morgan groaned heavily as she nestled into the arm of her fleece and grumbled, “Just answer the question before I bite you.”
“No! I don’t feel burdened. I love being a woman. I like being pampered and fawned by big hairy warlords and gallant knights. I’d rather be spoiled and confined to a palace than hunting and trudging about in the wilderness. Getting all sweaty, never knowing when you have to run or hide. Honestly, it all sounds absolutely horrid. Don’t tell me that’s what you desire?”
Morgan scoffed into the pit of her elbow as she continued leaning on the stone railing. Elaine smiled and whimpered as if she was staring at a puppy that struggled to climb steps. She reached over and combed her fingers through Morgan’s long curly hair.
“Oh, Morgan! Do tell me what’s on your mind. I can’t bear to see you this way.”
Morgan’s purple eyes swept from Elaine to the fountain, then back to Elaine. She really didn’t want to waste her breath but at the same time, she had to admit that she was genuinely touched by Elaine’s concern. Morgan finally stood up straight and stretched her back against the colonnade column. With a heavy sigh, she unloaded.
“This entire court owes me an apology. Especially King Mark and that ghost in a shell, Tristan. If it wasn’t for me, Gawain would still be out there answering to the beck and whim of Iseult and her dogs and we’d never be in a position to bargain with the Hibernians. All of this was made possible by me. ‘You were right, Morgan. Thank you, Morgan.’ I get nothing! Honestly, I am so sick of having to subject myself to all of these stupid men. I swear, Elaine! There’s only so much I can take. I feel it.
“I’m telling you, chained deep within my heart there is a fiery dragon who always furious. She’s screaming. She’s crying out loud! She’s begging to be set free and I’m doing my very best to hold her back but it hurts! It burns! It’s only a matter of time before she breaks the chains and devours my soul. She’ll replace it! She’ll replace my soul. She will replace me with… myself.”
Elaine stared in a complete loss of words. She didn’t know if she should hug her or simply tell her everything would be all right. She had half a mind to bring her down to the clerics.
“Oh, to be young again…”
Elaine and Morgan turned to see Queen Morgaus approaching with a bowl full of dates.
“I remember feeling the same anxiety when father told me I’d be adopting three young boys. They weren’t even babies but toddlers, and Saxons no less. Our father, the honorable Duke Gorlois forced it upon me without my consent and without warning. I was shattered. Remember? But then I laid my eyes on the boys, Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain. Oh how my heart melted.”
“Morgaus, please! If the boys were anything like Pellinore we would’ve found you at the bottom of a tower from having flung yourself from a window,” Morgan doubted.
Elaine chuckled so hard she almost choked on a date.
“Perhaps,” Morgaus replied. “But who knows what the future holds? Why does one peer into prophesies of disaster when you’re surrounded by prosperity?”
“Because love is an illusion. Moreover, it’s not guaranteed that everyone will have it. That’s why love is cruel, extremely cruel. Love is ephemeral. It is the very definition of pain. Ask yourself, what good is love when all it does is wrench at your chest and bring you endless heartache?”
“Because it also brings you bliss, my little raven. Love is a euphoria that makes you light on your feet and uplifted in spirit. It is complete and everlasting happiness in every sense of the phrase.” Morgaus answered.
Morgan rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
“Oh? Did Morgaus win this debate? Yet again?” Elaine chuckled.
Morgan shook her head and gradually, her gaze found its way back to Gawain down by the fountain.
Morgaus leaned closer and whispered with batting lashes, “Yes, love can keep you up at all hours of the moon. It can conjure heat and trepidation that’s usually followed by a stimulating sensation of pleasure that carries you into ecstasy. I’m not lying. That feeling, you’ll never forget it. You’ll long for it worse than castaways thirsting for water in the scorching heat. It’s a catharsis that washes away all doubt and loneliness, forever reminding you that you are indeed a treasure.”
As Morgaus spoke, she continued to inch closer and closer to Morgan. Her voice became softer and softer and once she finished, she gave Morgan a quick lick on the ear. Elaine and Morgaus laughed as Morgan recoiled so hard that the back of her head hit the column.
“Gross! You snake!” Morgan snapped.
“My goodness. I’m sorry!” Morgaus laughed.
“You’re living in a dream world! Both of you!” Morgan said, aggressively wiping her ear as if a gnat had flown into it.
“Yes, yes. The world is cruel and everyone hates you. Sure, Morgan. I can’t tell you what to do. But I see now, you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Morgaus said as she bounced her eyebrows.
“Oh? Has someone captured the heart of our little crow?” Elaine asked.
“Honestly, Elaine. How can you be so dense?” Morgaus teased. “It’s obvious who she’s in love with. But it’s complicated, isn’t it? Traditions and a wicked twist of fate stand in the way Morgan being joined with her paramour. So what will she do, I wonder.”
“I’m not afraid of breaking tradition. I could care less what people think of me.” Morgan insisted.
“Clearly,” Elaine noted, poking at the fleece.
“Unfortunately, my paramour, as you put it, is probably the most pious person I’ve ever met. It’s so damn frustrating it makes my teeth rattle. I swear it would be so much easier if he had but an ounce of villainy in him. A scoundrel like Pellinore,” Morgan mumbled.
Morgaus scoffed. “I don’t know about all that. If good girls fall for the bad guys, to whom do you think the bad girls fall for? Truth be told, I think it’s his shining sense of virtue that you’re drawn to. He is everything that you are not. You can’t explain the valor that dominates his heart and it’s irritating, sure. However, I think a simpleton like Pellinore who you could figure out in a single afternoon would truly drive you to quaff cyanide. Your paramour, his restraint, his strength, the respect he shows others even when he’s shaking with rage…I think you admire all that. You admire those who have what you lack and I think that’s absolutely precious.”
Morgan listened as she watched Gawain captivate those around him. Her heart softened. Morgaus’s words had penetrated her hardened exterior and found all the optimism hidden beneath piles of angst and planned failure.
“Wait!” Elaine exclaimed in her epiphany. “Are you talking about Gawain?”