Chapter 13: Wolves

Chapter 13 - Lions and Wolves

The Knights with No Lords
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.

A grainy metallic chime hissed as Gawain scraped a whetstone over the edge of his katana. His jade eagle eyes were fixated on the rolling waves but he wasn’t watching them. Haunted memories pulled him back to that dark place where he was subjected to the horrors of Hibernia.

Upon his abduction, Gawain spent the first year locked away and confined to farm work. The remaining three years were devoted to death and destruction on a savage scale that would make his brothers’ service to the Romans sound like child’s play. Gawain was fourteen when he first found himself fighting alongside Morholt and Algayre against the hordes of nomadic Vikings. Gawain always knew he was gifted with the sword but compared to Morholt and Algayre, he was still a novice. Once he set his mind on the kill or be killed mentality, the adrenaline rush that came from intense melees was addictive. And as much as he told himself that he had no choice, Gawain couldn’t deny that he certainly had a talent for manslaughter.

It was this acknowledgment that troubled him so. It was regret, a chest caving bloodguilt that men like Morholt and Algayre were impervious to. They massacred women and children just to eliminate whole bloodlines. They set fire to woodlands and poisoned water sources all in the name of ruthless campaigns to eliminate the enemy. How could Tintagel possibly stand up against monsters like that?

The grotesque scene of Morholt lopping off horseman and horse with one swing still flashed in his mind. He’ll never forget the abject horror when, at fifteen, Morholt flung him from the ramparts of Oherth Castle into the outstretched claws of the huddled siege below.

Gawain plummeted and broke his right leg. He had to crawl in the mud under a torrential downpour as lightning exposed the writhing bodies squirming all around him. Morholt’s laughter roared louder than the deafening booms of boulders being catapulted against the perimeters walls.

Then there was Algayre, a ghostly apparition of a man who always went overboard in their sparring sessions. Algayre forced Gawain to accompany him on actual witch-hunts all across the countryside. Gawain tensed into a scowl as he remembered.

Hundreds of innocent women were burned at the stake. Scores of children were flung from sheer cliffs. Algayre made Gawain watch as he practiced the art of slitting throats on a line of kneeling captives. It was his way of trying to educate Gawain on the proper application of a dagger.

The saddest case was the demise of Elsiandra. She was a redheaded mage not much younger than Gawain. He tried to hide her but somehow Algayre found out. Algayre beat Gawain to an inch of his life and before Gawain’s eyes closed up from the swelling, he saw Elsiandra buried up to her neck and stoned. It took three rocks before her head…

“Slsss!” Gawain hissed.

He had just cut his finger while sharpening the sword. He put away the whetstone and returned the katana to its sheath. Then, he jumped down from the flat rock. The soft sinking beach sand reached his ankles.

There he stood with a far-off gaze, dressed in his princely attire, pretending not to be what he had been for the past four years. His horse wasn’t too far off, but for the moment he was alone. He could afford to release the mask and breathe uninhibited. It was at that moment that Gawain realized the most frightening thing anyone could ever say to him was, “I know the real you.”

Everyone saw a glimpse of the “real Gawain” last night. Since then, he could barely sleep. Walking around didn’t help much either, because wherever he went, the guards, soldiers, and captains approached to make his acquaintance. It was all so tedious, shaking hands and forcing smiles. Especially when the depths of his heart felt so girdled and smothered with shame. And what was worst…as much as he regretted embarrassing his baby brother in front of the entire castle, he couldn’t get the hypnotic image of Morgan out of his head.

He wanted her so badly it was maddening. He couldn’t think straight, let alone, consider the feelings of others. Even now, just reminiscing about Morgan’s provocative lap dance left a paralyzing effect on him. Like a potent viper, she was. Her venom coursed straight to his heart and it was pain. Beauty is pain. Her eyes, her hair, her lips, every inch of her voluptuous body made him lovesick and such command, the power she had over him was scary. And what lay just beyond the watery horizon was a threat, a viable threat with the capable means to take her away.

Queen Iseult was coming. Morholt the Destroyer was coming. Algayre was coming. Impulsively, Gawain dashed forward and executed a lightning-fast quickdraw of his katana in a one-handed sweep. The speed of his technique created a straight line that carved through the foamy surf. With the sleek blade held out and fully extended, Gawain eyes traced the edge of the horizon just beyond the point of his blade.

The sound of a wet gallop broke his concentration.

“Gawain!” came an unwelcomed voice.

Gawain was hesitant to turn and face her. He squinted over his shoulder and saw Isolde riding with Pellinore, Tristan, and two guards. The morning sun had risen so that it was now directly behind her. He could barely make out her smile but it didn’t matter. At the moment, Gawain wanted nothing to do with her.

“Oh Gawain…” Isolde gushed. “Forgive me. I like to play. I play too much.”

Gawain sighed as everyone took a moment to admire the beauty of God’s magnificent sea. It was such a gorgeous day and a soothing warmth began to beat back the frigid air. Gawain wasn’t ready to go back, but he sheathed his sword and approached the horses anyway.

Isolde did appear apologetic but Gawain knew she could feign remorse like a master thespian. Then, Gawain noticed Pellinore’s busted nose. He saw the blotches of red soaked rags sprinkled over Tristan’s chest.

“What happened to you?” Gawain asked.

“Had to straighten some things out,” said Tristan.

“Yeah we’re all sorted,” Pellinore quickly added.

Gawain shook his head with a hopeless smirk.

The group rode across the grassy moor in a lackadaisical trot, no rush, no hurry. Isolde was persistent with her mea culpa. Her glow was mesmerizing and her smile was precious. After a while, Gawain nodded and accepted her apology. When Pellinore asked what exactly happened, Gawain recycled the same response he was given when he asked about their duel.

The silence of brooding men began to wear on Isolde. She craved conversation, so she picked on the only man she knew.

“Are you still so worried?” she asked.

Gawain’s heart skipped a beat. Thankfully, Pellinore and Tristan assumed she was talking about Agravain and not Morgan.

“Don’t feel bad, Gawain. If I had a little brother like that I’d slap him silly until I exorcized every ounce of stupid from him,” Pellinore said.

“He’ll thank you in the end. Trust me. Pups like that needs to be kept on a short leash less they stray asunder,” Tristan added.

“Indeed. Open reproof is better than concealed love,” said Isolde.

“Yes. I suppose you’re right. However, I’m more concerned with what will happen when your mother arrives.”

“We’ll be ready,” Tristan said.

“You’ll be ready? For Morholt? That’s cute.” Isolde mused. “Remember that ogre you killed? His name was Gorcus. Morholt trained Gorcus. He was as a son to him. Better men than you have claimed to be ready for Morholt. The cities he’s razed to the ground, Morholt bore them no ill will, like a dark harvester reaping wheat from the fields. But when he finds out that the up-and-coming Tristan of Tintagel defeated his protégé, I’m not sure ready is a word any man would use. Unless, he was completely demented.”

“Morholt the Destroyer. Psh. We’ll see how much he’s destroying with my sword up his ass,” Pellinore scoffed.

“Lads. She’s right,” said Gawain. “Morholt and the one called Algayre are the worst. And if you think the rest of the Hibernians are mere middling swordsmen, you’d be setting yourself up for failure. The queen selects only choice men to serve in her army. It’s a representation of her prestige. If the army loses, she takes it as a personal slap to the face. You don’t slap Queen Iseult and expect to live. She has no stomach for humiliation. Her every solution more or less involves complete obliteration. If we’re not careful, if we don’t take this seriously, everything we know and love can go up in flames in an instant.”

Isolde was impressed by his assessment. The thought of going up against such nightmares stoked Pellinore’s imagination. And while Tristan appeared as catatonic as a breathing corpse, he was only barely containing his rage. Morholt was the man who killed his parents during a village raid so many years ago. He wasn’t about to let fear enter his heart.

It was a little past midday when Pellinore, Tristan, Gawain, and Isolde arrived at the stables in the East Ward. Stable boys immediately ran to retrieve the horses. Agravain and Gaheris had nothing better to do so they decided to join Constantine’s patrol unit. Agravain took off riding the moment he saw Gawain. The Brood of the Black Bloods were waiting. They threw down their drinks approached in uproar.

“Sir! Where were you?”

“What happened to your face!?”

“You can’t keep doing whatever you damn well please, damnit!”

“Fools. They thought you had ridden off for the next castle without telling us again,” the unflappable Kanish explained.

“Don’t worry!” said Pellinore. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ve made up my mind to stay and see what these Hibernians are all about.”

“Decided that all on your own, did you?” Tristan said, grinding his teeth.

“I’m famished! Let’s go get some grub, boys!” Pellinore ordered.

“From now on you pay for your own meals!” Tristan barked.

“I HAVE COIN!” Pellinore shouted.

“Damned dirty vagrant!” Tristan shouted back.

Gawain stood by Gaheris’s horse as the patrol unit watched the ceaseless bickering. Everyone wore the same confused expression. Gaheris quipped, “Lover’s quarrel?”

“Possibly,” Gawain smirked.

Looking up at Gaheris, Gawain asked, “How is he?”

“He is Agravain, as you know. You should to talk to him. He won’t seek you out. You’ll need to go to him.”

Gawain nodded.

“We should be off. Care to join us?” Constantine invited.

Before Gawain could answer, Perry, a Lothian steward approached and dropped to one knee. “My prince. Queen Morgaus requests your presence.”

Gaheris smirked and trotted off with the rest of Constantine’s patrol.

Before Perry departed, Gawain stopped him and asked, “Have you seen, Morgan?”

“No my, liege. Shall I look for her?”

“No no. It’s all right. Thank you,” Gawain said with a hint of dismay.

In the following days, Gawain would spend every spare moment searching for Morgan. As elusive as she was, the main problem was that Gawain didn’t have much time to spare. Tintagel readied her defenses. Infantry, cavalry, and battle-hardened knights poured in from the kingdoms of the Council of Gold Clovers alliance.

No one knew if Queen Iseult was coming to parlay or lay waste so King Mark prepared for the worst. Countermeasures for an impending siege were mounted around the perimeter. Ships were stocked with enough artillery to match any naval power in the world. Grains were stored. Sentry guards defended freshwater sources around the clock.

Villagers were put on high alert with Sir Ekner providing evacuation plans. The Lord Chamberlain, Sir Cador gave explicit orders that everyone was to be on their best behavior if the Hibernians came under the auspices of diplomacy. He didn’t want to give Queen Iseult any excuse to retaliate with violence. Thus, drunkenness and disorderly conduct would not be tolerated and anyone who couldn’t hold their tongues would be flogged.

During this time, King Lot taught Gawain the history of Lothian and Orkney. Lot embraced Gawain as his eldest son and future heir, inundating him with knowledge of their Lothian bloodline and his duties to protect the realm. Their pacts with foreign powers, their tributes to a tyrannical Roman Empire, all of it was overwhelming but Gawain was determined to shoulder the burden.

Meanwhile, his little brother Gaheris found himself involved in a nasty little love triangle. Everyone knew he’d be tangled in it sooner or later. Sure enough it was with the twin daughters of Sir Ioness, Dawn and Fawn. In Gaheris’s defense, they were identical but the damage was done and Ioness was demanding his head on a spike. Clearly, Sir Ioness underestimated Gaheris’s mother.

Their vitriolic tirades could be heard down the halls as the throne room shook with echoing oratory. It was nothing short of an epic theater the way the shorter Morgaus pointed daggers at the gigantic Ioness. The knight literally threatened to strangle the queen in front of everyone in the entire royal court, putting Lot in an awkward position. In the end, Gaheris was ordered to room with Agravain and Gawain during the rest of his stay at Tintagel. Ioness apologized for his threats and Morgaus promised she wouldn’t seek retribution for said offenses.

Perhaps a ray of light through these troublesome squabbles was the Lady Elaine. She surprised everyone by taking the initiative to familiarize herself with the infirmary and dole out medical assignments to her ladies. Should the war come to pass, she and her ladies were prepared to nurse the wounded as they have done in the past.

The duel between Tristan and Pellinore made little to no improvement in their relationship. They came to blows on two more occasions. The first was when Tristan’s friend Bruno accused a member of the Black Bloods of trying to steal his breastplate. Jeremy claimed he was just trying it on out of admiration but Bruno wasn’t convinced. One slapped the other. A fight broke out and Tristan and Pellinore locked horns.

The second altercation was a bit more comical. In one of the great halls of the main citadel, Tristan was tutoring a group of children in the art of combat as he always did on Thursday mornings. In barged Pellinore with a hefty stag stretched over his shoulders. It was most impressive. The children couldn’t help but marvel, both at the stag and the sharp looking swordsman decked in shiny black armor.

Tristan was seething. Not only was his session interrupted, but he had warned Pellinore time and time again that he was only allowed to hunt wild boar. Deer was reserved strictly for the king’s hunting parties.

Pellinore played a part for the children and made fun of Tristan for being such a stickler to the rules. Who knew Pellinore had such a way with children? They loved him. As the big boys crashed tables in another bare-knuckle brawl, the children cheered for Pellinore instead of their hometown hero. Even the guards secretly rooted for Pellinore. It wasn’t that they disliked Tristan, but for once they just wanted Tristan to know what it feels like to lose.

One afternoon in Tintagel’s Garden of Blooms, Gawain was still searching for Morgan when he happened upon Agravain in the middle of practice. The Garden of Blooms was private garden of glittering petunias, spectacularly grown on the elevated tiers of the palace and surrounded by towering rock spires that flew the black ribbon banners.

A row of ravens had gathered on the awning to watch, as did a large audience of spectators who instantly forgot where they were going as soon as they caught a glance of Agravain’s dazzling dual-sword style. The way he twirled his swords and pulled off the most acrobatic aerial maneuvers, it was as if Agravain was blessed with the ability to float in midair every time his feet left the grass.

Among the spectators were Constantine, Debra, Gaheris, and the beautiful twins. Dawn and Fawn still clung to Gaheris’s arms despite the scandals that reeled high society. There was also another observer who, true to form, kept to the shadows.

Morgan watched from one of the towers four stories up. She was dressed almost entirely in black: a modest black dress, black boots, and a warm black cloak with the hood covering her dark hair. As she leaned against the stone window, she held her enchanted red rubies close to her heart, caressing them like one petting the back of a kitten.

She festered in silence, indulging the idea of burning down the palace, starting with Isolde’s quarters. Then, her heart fluttered. Gawain had entered the gardens. She tugged at her hood and recoiled from the window.

The tall seventeen-year-old exuded princely authority as the sun reflected in his jade green eyes. Agravain didn’t see him entering, but guessed it was him by the way people started bowing for no apparent reason. Agravain didn’t stop practicing. Instead, he increased his efforts. His blade whistled with each swing. His steps, his dashes, and spins were crisp, sudden, and swift.

Gawain couldn’t have been any prouder as he gushed, “He’s amazing,”

“This is all he does back home. Can’t take him away from it,” said Gaheris.

Gawain noticed the twins latched on Gaheris’s arm. They were shy. In unison, Dawn and Fawn smiled and hid behind Gaheris like bunnies scurrying from a hawk. Gaheris shook his head, silently begging Gawain not to make inquiries. Gawain and Constantine couldn’t help but giggle.

Agravian heard the giggling and assumed it was at his expense. He and Gawain shared a room but the awkward silence persisted. Gawain had already apologized but it wasn’t enough. And now when Agravain was the star of his own show, outshining Gaheris for once, here comes Gawain with his magnetic charm and all the prestige that followed.

Agravain’s eyes blazed with contempt. A wave of suspense washed over his audience as he paused the practice and marched over with a clenched a broadsword in each hand. He pointed at Gawain and told him, “If you ever put your hands on me again, swift steel will see you split from neck to navel!”

“Big talk, Aggie. Sounds like a whole lot of flifferflam.” Gaheris sneered.

Just as Gawain was about to rebuke Gaheris for prodding, a flash of light froze them in place. It happened so fast. Agravain covered ten feet in a single dash, spinning in stride for an amazing overhand sweep. He stopped his sword just inches from Gawain face.

Awestruck, Gawain staggered back, flailing his arms, and spilling into the bushes. The sheer terror stretched across his face was so exaggerated and dramatic that all who saw erupted with laughter. It was slapstick comedy at its finest. Gaheris couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not.

Gawain chuckled as a knight lent him a hand. As soon as he was upright, Gawain gave his little brother a round of applause. The crowd joined him.

“Good thing he’s on our side, eh!” Gawain shouted.

“YAY!!!” cheered the men.

At last, Agravain was touched, humbled by Gawain’s concession. He didn’t laugh or let Gawain see him smile but he did smile. Then, Gawain surprised him by taking off in a full sprint across the garden, patting his brother on the back as he ran by.

“Where are you going?” Agravain asked.

“Keep practicing! We’ll talk soon!” Gawain shouted.

Gawain was like a squirrel the way he weaved around stone columns and dashed up the spiral staircases. A group of nuns gasped as they stepped aside. He apologized but didn’t slow down for a second, not even when he heard the Duchess Igraine calling his name. Igraine’s greyhound got spooked and started chasing Gawain down the 3rd floor corridor. The dog abandoned its pursuit when Gawain jumped over a banister and leapt to the balcony on the 4th floor. Igraine watched in awe, giving her spirited grandson a mild ovation.

After a two-minute hustle, Gawain found himself up on the 4th floor corridor of the west wing near the royal staterooms. He had spotted Morgan staring down at him. As he investigated the window where she once stood, he took a whiff and smelled her scent of wild berries, confirming his sighting.

A shadow wiped by at the end of the hallway. Gawain saw the shadow darting up the stairwell. Daylight flashed as a door quickly opened and closed. Gawain pursued.

The top of the stairwell opened up to blue skies and a breezeway that led to a connecting tower. It was one of the highest levels in the castles where clouds could be seen as a soft moving river flowing around the alleys below. Freezing winds proliferated his curly hair as he squinted to see further down the walkway bridge.

Again, he saw a glimpse of the shadow. The door at the other end of the breezeway just closed. Gawain went streamline in another mad dash, confusing the guards posted at both ends. Upon whipping the door open, Gawain was yanked inside by a sudden burst of force. Gawain tumbled down the spiral staircase until he reached the bottom.

It was quiet here. This entrance hall contained no windows, only two burning torches that revealed black fuliginous walls leaking with trails of age-old rainwater. It was a lobby to a labyrinth of creepy corridors designed to confuse and frighten visitors. All paths led to and from the dungeons, home to ghosts and demented apparitions that prayed on the weak and timid.

Gawain winced with pain as he picked himself up and looked around. His eyes gradually adjusted to the limited torchlight that barely touched the massive darkness dominating the room. When he saw her, he wasn’t sure it was she. A hood covered her face as she stood beneath one of the torches.

“Morgan…Morgan what are you…”

“STAY THERE!” Morgan shouted. “Don’t come any closer.”

“Show your face!”

“Certainly. Just as soon you show me yours.”

“Morgana. What are you talking about?”

“Tell me something, Gawain. Just how many masks do you wear? Son. Brother. Slave. Friend. Prince. Aristocrat. It’s difficult to keep track. You do it with such grace, such skill. I hate that. Makes me wonder. To smile in the face of your enemies without so much as a hint of spite, how could I possibly trust someone like that?”

Gawain sighed. “Morgan, the portrait you’re trying to paint is not a pretty one. I should resent you for that but I don’t. Because I know you. I’d like to think you know me.”

Morgan abruptly removed her hood and dashed forward, leaning in, peering as if she just spotted the truth hiding behind his innocent eyes. Her black hair shimmered under the dancing light.

She smirked and said, “No matter. Soon the whore will be gone and there’ll be no reason to kill her myself.”

“Don’t say that! She didn’t kiss me. She tried but I turned away just in time.”

“It doesn’t matter! She tried to! Don’t you see? She did it to hurt me. She tried to hurt me!”

“You’re wrong! I spoke to her! She said it was done in jest, not malice.”

“And you believe her? How can you be so stupid?!”

“I’m not stupid! It’s just that I’ve known her a lot longer than a month!”

“And what, you’re saying I should get to know her?”

“Yes, damn it!”

“Come on, darlin. You know that’s not going to happen. I barely know you.”

“You keep saying that, Morgan. Quite frankly, it’s starting to test my last nerve.”

“Tell me, then. What exactly happened between you two? Hmm? Something had to happen, right? I want to know…I want to know HOW THAT CONTEMPTABLE SKANK EARNED THE UNQUESTIONING LOYALTY OF THE OH-SO HONORABLE GAWAIN!”

“Avast!” Gawain barked as he stepped out of the corner Morgan literally backed him into.

He wiped her spit off of his cheek and stood flustered more so than angry. Morgan observed him. Gawain wasn’t giving her the answers she asked for. Why was it taking so long for him to reply? All of this caused Morgan’s eyes to widen with horror.

“Oh no,” she whispered. “It’s true. You love her don’t you?”

“NO!”

“THEN TALK TO ME!”

Gawain faded back as if he was just hit by heat wave. He didn’t enjoy being so thoroughly rattled by her piercing scream. It put him on edge and instinctively, one hand slid over to rest on the hilt of his katana. There was a quiver in his cheek and indignation brewed with each bated breath. He massaged his face, trying to stay calm. However, the mere audacity blazing from her sapphire eyes almost made Gawain want to forget they were ever childhood friends.

“Morgana. You mean the world to me. Truly, you do. In my heart there is a void. There’s only room for one person and that’s you. However, if you continue to persist with these absurd accusations…you’re breaking my heart. Because I tell you, you’re accusations are a revelation, a clear confession, an exposed indication that you see me as a villain. You speak of masks and trust. I say you’re the biggest hypocrite I’ve ever met!”

An unyielding Morgan and Gawain stared into each other’s eyes, their passions ignited. His scent was upon her. Their sweat glistened in the light. Finally, she grabbed the collar of his green tunic and pulled him close.

“You say I mean the world to you, prove it. Let’s rid ourselves of these masks. Take off everything and I promise I’ll do more than just fill that void in your heart. I’ll reach in deep and pull out the real Gawain. You’ll never need to wear a mask again.”

The heat was palpable. She was ready for him. This was all he ever wanted. And just as he leaned in to kiss her, a wooden door croaked open. Morgan bit her lower lip as her eyes flared with intense frustration. Gawain tried to calm her but Morgan aggressively shoved his arms away.

Hurried footsteps came running down the spiral staircase and into the vestibule. It was the Lothian steward, Perry. He came, kneeled, and struggled to catch his breath.

“What news?” Gawain barked.

“The Hibernians! Three ships. Sir Cador has called for assembly and King Lot requested you by his side.”

Peril gripped at Gawain’s already shriveled heart. He turned to Morgan but Morgan was no longer there.

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