artwork by WLOP for his creative series.
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 18 – Generations
By Rock Kitaro
As the threat of light rain continued well into the morning, production for the upcoming wedding was well underway. The ceremony was to be held in the monastery, but decorations and arrangements for the reception also required coordination and construction. It was tradition for a tournament to follow the wedding and considering several of Queen Iseult’s knights signed up, Sir Cador knew he had to be careful with the match assignments.
Constantine was always by his father’s side. Sir Cador exerted supreme authority over the wedding plans and any error would be met by the backhand of his gauntlet. Constantine was truly in awe. The way everyone skirted around Sir Cador like a tiger on a chain, Constantine couldn’t help but admire his father.
In the Northern Ward, Tristan and Isolde strolled through the bustling district of tradesmen and vendors peddling their products. Almost everyone stopped and stared, utterly awestruck by their presence. It was as if the two were birthed from a romantic painting, a dream, a divine scene of a shining knight and a beautiful princess, both with shimmering blonde hair and heavenly faces that surpassed mere mortals.
One by one, skilled artisans and shop owners offered them food, wine, and crafts but the couple respectfully declined. Instead, Tristan spared a moment to help a carpenter hoist a beam up for a new roof. Isolde helped a farmer’s wife carry a basket of eggs from one cart to another. Once they finished their volunteerism, Tristan and Isolde rejoined and continued on their way to the palace.
Queen Iseult was waiting. On the great limestone steps of the main palace, the queen was accompanied by twelve choice men, all sharp and dashing. Sir Maven entertained her with a dazzling sword dance. He spun and twirled his blade so fast that it whistled with each spin. Everyone knew the techniques were useless in combat, but it was still spectacular to see.
The princess arrived, laughing and leaning into Tristan’s arm. The queen was not pleased. With a skeptic gaze, she watched as Iseult pranced up the steps and curtseyed.
“Good morrow, mother!”
“Good morrow, my dove.”
Tristan’s brooding heart had softened from before. At least now he could bring himself to look in the queen’s eyes without cringing.
“Bow before the queen!” Sir Maven shouted.
Tristan merely squinted and curled his lips into a half grin, half snarl.
“Insolent!” Maven slurred as he lunged forward with his sword.
Maven’s blade poked into Tristan’s chest but Tristan didn’t flinch. Isolde smirked, standing so close to her mother.
“Care to explain that blotch just above the derriere?” Iseult asked her.
Isolde pulled on her white dress to see the grass stain smudged by her hip.
“Oh! I fell,” Isolde answered, confident that it explained everything.
“Amazing.” The queen remarked. “This one hasn’t said a single word. Isolde’s father was the silent type. So laconic, plain, and dull. Like a cauldron of lukewarm water.”
“Oh! Trust me, once you get Tristan talking you’ll be hard pressed to find a moment of silence,” Isolde chuckled.
A page came running from the portico of the palace and kneeled before Tristan.
“Sir! The king requests your presence. He’s awaits in his private gardens. The orchards!”
The page continued with, “And milord, have you seen Lady Morgana? The duchess has the entire castellany out searching for her. I’m afraid she’s run off.”
“Of course she has,” Tristan scoffed, winking Isolde’s way.
Tristan departed. Isuelt observed how intensely her daughter watched the lion with that smirk of admiration. It was troublesome, to say the least.
Moments later, Iseult and Isolde were leading their retinue through an arcade on the second floor of the palace. They were high up, overlooking a busy plaza of merchants bartering their finest goods directly to the royal staff. After walking a considerable distance in awkward silence, Queen Iseult finally asked, “Will he be a problem for you and your betrothed?”
Isolde chuckled at the thought. Her light blue gaze wandered into the plaza and settled on a cart of ripe strawberries.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Isolde.
“I see. So you’ve tried.”
“Can you blame me? Never before have I ever felt so foolish, and yet I can’t help but marvel. Tristan and Gawain, they’re so full of loyalty and honor! I can’t believe such men exists,” Isolde gushed.
“Neither can I,” said the queen.
Isolde laughed off her mother’s cynicism but that laughter was cut short when she locked eyes with the man selling the strawberries in the plaza. The merchant had just finished with a customer when and he looked up and smiled at the princess. Isolde recognized him. The merchant was a Hibernian posing as local, one of Morholt’s warriors who had come ashore in the middle of the night. The warriors had randomly murdered merchants and stole their occupations to blend in.
Shocked, Isolde turned and stared at her mother. The queen knew exactly what she was thinking and silently warned her not to ask questions.
“You’re taking too long. Your enemies won’t permit you time to build confidence on the battlefield,” King Mark chuckled.
“Yes but we’re not on the battlefield, your highness. Gawain is stronger with his fists and Agravain’s skill with the sword makes me feel like I’m the youngest. I won’t allow myself to fall short in a contest of archery,” Gaheris declared.
Gaheris released. His arrow whistled before striking the dead center of a bull’s eye fifty meters away. At once, sixteen gorgeous spectators with long flowing hair rose from their chairs and applauded from the elevated stone walkway. The guards grimaced with envy.
King Mark and Gaheris were standing with their backs facing the reflection pool in this breathtaking garden of glittering daffodils. It was one of the highest outdoor venues in the castle, so close to the clouds. These enchanted daffodils maintained their vibrant yellow hues year-round regardless of the weather.
There was also an orchard of apple trees up on the second tier on the far side of the garden. These were the king’s prized possessions. He planted them when he was just a boy.
The kings’ two terriers were gnawing on lamb bones while three stewards stood waiting to serve the king sweet biscuits and wine. The sixteen female spectators were the daughters of noblemen who somehow knew where Gaheris was going to be. Sir Ioness’s twin daughters Dawn and Fawn, were among them, and surprisingly, no one appeared jealous to compete for his affections.
“That’s some bow. Did you fasten the string yourself?” King Mark asked before firing his own arrow. He missed his mark inches shy right.
Gaheris averted to hide his amusement and answered, “I did fasten the string myself but neither the bow nor the arrow dictates accuracy, your highness. Aim small, miss small. Aim big and you risk catastrophe. I don’t just see the center of the bull’s eye, but in my mind I cast the illusion of a tiny red dot and place it where I want my arrow to strike. Behold! The apple from the tree there yonder. The one shaking on its last withering thread.”
King Mark strained his eyes and could barely make out any one singular apple amongst the red orbs of green branches. The tree Gaheris targeted was over a hundred yards away with a residential tower just beyond it.
“Gaheris, don’t. You might miss!” the king warned.
The supremely confident Gaheris smirked and released. The apple dropped from its branch. His arrow pierced through the wind, seeking out the falling apple and pinning it to the base of the tree. The ladies let out all sorts of high-pitched sounds as they jumped from their seats and clapped like hummingbirds.
King Mark wrung his hands around his bow and grumbled, “What part of don’t…Oh, what’s the point?”
“You called for me?”
The King and Gaheris looked over their shoulders to see Tristan approaching.
“Ah! Yes. Ladies and gentlemen, may we have the garden?” King Mark requested.
Everyone did as the king commanded. When Gaheris picked up his quiver to depart, King Mark told him he could stay. Gaheris couldn’t tell if the king was joking or not until King Mark said in a sadistic tone, “Keep practicing, son. Until your fingers bleed.”
While an uneasy Gaheris prepared his bow, King Mark took Tristan by the arm and led him to a smooth brick bench by the reflection pool. Then, the king fetched the silver cups of wine that the steward’s left behind. As the king poured, Tristan watched Gaheris’s superb archery and shook his head with disbelief.
“Buzzards guts, man. How is it that all three of you excel at everything?” Tristan complained.
“Hmm…I seem to recall someone wrestling an ogre to death. Was that you or was I having a nightmare? I have those sometimes. They’re awful,” said Gaheris.
“Here ya are, my boy! On the house!” King Mark said with cheer as he handed Tristan a goblet and gave him hard pats on the leg until it stung.
Tristan almost choked on his drink, puzzled to see King Mark so delighted.
“How are you, son? I know we haven’t seen eye to eye these past few days, but I want you to know your concerns haven’t fallen on deaf ears.”
“My king…” Tristan began.
“Son, please. Call me Mark. We’re alone. There’s no one of importance around,” Mark insisted, throwing a smirking glance Gaheris’s way.
“It is I who should apologize to you,” said Tristan. “For being so pigheaded and blinded by my desire to seek vengeance. I’ve come to acknowledge the great vision you have drawn for this kingdom. You were right. Making peace with the Hibernians and putting to bed all this useless resentment is what’s best for everyone.”
Mark nodded, “Do you really mean all that?”
“Now why on earth do you always ask me that when I so plainly state –”
Mark laughed, “Forgive me. My apologies. Truly. I am surrounded by sycophants and placating nobles all vying to win favor. I confess, sometimes it’s difficult to tell that which is genuine.”
“When have I ever lied to you?”
“So filial. Not all lies come with the air of deception. Sometimes it arrives on the heels of an innocent mistake. For instance, if you ask me if there’s more wine in this pitcher and I tell you no, believing that it is in fact empty, it does not make me a liar if it turns out I am wrong. Only that I am mistaken.”
Tristan stared in earnest. He could tell the king wanted to ask him something that was likely cause offense. With that stern stone-cold disposition for which he was famous, Tristan waited.
King Mark took a deep breath and began. “They say the experienced should fear the strength of youth. What say you?”
Tristan didn’t answer. He appeared belligerent, still waiting. This behavior was always a source of strife between Tristan and the king. Tristan was as a son to him, raised by him. Tristan was over twenty years his junior and yet it was in moments like this where it felt the roles were reversed. That Tristan was the lord and King Mark was his inferior. Thus, even King Mark was starting to feel the tension scathing up his neck.
The king began with, “I received word that Princess Isolde accompanied you on the hunt this morning.”
“For the love of God!” Tristan grunted he as stood up and paced around.
“I go back to the day she first arrived. She was with you, attached to you.”
“So she wouldn’t run!”
“I have heard rumors that she’s secretly in love with you. Always has been.”
“I never took you for a man who bends to every whisper.”
“On this, I’d be foolish not to,” said King Mark. “On pain of death, I will not marry this woman if your heart longs for her. I swear it.”
“My heart? My king, we both know I don’t have a heart. There’s nothing behind this chest save for an eternal blaze. It erupts in battle, flares in the face of my enemies, and its forever stoked by fear. I’ve never known the concept of love or romance. Only honor and performing one’s duty!”
“My boy. Where do you think that honor comes from? It isn’t from some deep seeded desire to slaughter your enemies. I can tell you that right now. Tristan, my golden Tristan, your strength, your honor comes from God. He’s blessed you with perhaps the greatest heart ever bestowed upon all of Britannia.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Yes you do. You said it yourself. The fire in your chest is stoked by fear. Tell me, what fear is greater than losing the ones you love?” Mark told him.
Gaheris was preparing his bow when he slacked and contemplated King Mark’s words. A streak of lightning struck the oceans five miles off shore. The rumble of thunder traveled fast. Cool tiny drops of rain began to fall in a barely perceptible sprinkle. Even so, Tristan, Gaheris, and King Mark remained still in the middle of the garden, taking in a moment of silence.
“I think I understand your hesitation about becoming a knight,” King Mark said, prompting Tristan to look up from the grass.
King Mark continued, “That honor you speak of. Your soul is conflicted as ever. The uncertainty of self and how long you’ll be able to contain that fire within, you’re afraid of breaking your vows. I think this is admirable. Most admirable! Every young man rushes to knighthood never truly comprehending what it means to devote their minds, heart and soul to the service of one’s lord. But you do. You always have.”
Mark smirked, “In my eyes you’re already a knight. Sir Tristan. Yes. It has a good ring to it. Sir Tristan, Sir Gaheris, Sir Gawain, Sir Agravain. Sir Constantine, Sir Pellinore, Sir Bruno. The Knights of Dumnonia. No. Not yet. Right now, all of you are free. You’re the knights with no lords. Hahaha! Run free young stallions. Run free and wreak havoc! Hahaha!”
Mark laughed with great cheer. “One day you will all be kings. I see it. The way you conduct yourselves. You run towards chaos, not from it. You grin in the face of death, daring her to send her worst. And it’s not just the youth in you, it’s inherent. King Lot and I only acquired such spine when our backs were against the wall. But you lads…I truly believe I’m the luckiest king in the entire world. No castle on earth has bred more future legends. I believe it.”
“One day, a time will come when all of you unite under one banner, one flag. It might be Tintagel. It might be Vortigern’s. But it will be one king, a king of your making. And when you heroes assemble, you must depend on one another to uphold the code of honor. To carry yourself with dignity. To protect the weak and defend the innocent. To uproot all wickedness and dispel evil from your very hearts. For generations, fathers have passed this dying wish on to their sons and their son’s sons. But with your generation, I have no doubt that this dream will come true. Your generation will be the greatest of all. The Knights With No Lords. Ha! Considered yourself knighted, boy. Whether you like it or not.”
Tristan was overwhelmed. Whatever reservations he had immediately dissipated as he dropped to his knees and bowed.
“I promise to remember these words, from this day till my last,” Tristan said in an emotional tremble.
“Then, arise Sir Tristan. I’m missing my sword and we still need the priests, but for now I think a reputed prince should suffice.”
Gaheris put a hand over his heart, and bowed. “I, Gaheris, son of King Lot and Queen Morgaus and second to the throne of Lothian and Orkney bear witness.”
Tristan stood up and faced his king. They hugged and embraced as father and son. Gaheris watched with admiration, honored to witness such a significant event. And, of course, he couldn’t wait to brag to his brothers about it.
By the time the sun set, the clouds unleashed a heavy downpour upon the entire castle. Morgan was soaked from head to toe when she returned to her quarters. Elaine was reading a book as the Duchess Igraine’s stroked the thin fur of her resting greyhound.
“There she is!” Annaleise gasped.
Morgan’s moody deposition did nothing to scare off the occupants of her room. They peppered her with questions of concern but Morgan kept silent and let them whisk away her wet cloak. Only the duchess stayed where she was with the dog, examining her youngest daughter to penetrate that hardened veneer. Morgan noticed, but was more worried about the way Elaine handled her black cloak. Elaine hung it up to dry by the hearth of the crackling fire, grimacing at its smell and joking about its unsightly appearance.
Once Morgan was dressed, the Duchess Igraine bade her to come sit with her on the bed. Elaine joined them to brush the moisture out of Morgan’s long dark hair as Igraine hooked her arms around Morgan’s hips, giving her a quick peck on the cheek as she knew it annoyed Morgan to no end.
Two knocks came from the door. Morgan looked up in anticipation. Fierva answered and gave curtsey before stepping aside. There stood the fiery eyed fourteen-year-old Agravain in his green and silver Lothian tunic, the two broadswords crossed and sheathed on his back.
“Mother, I haven’t eaten all day. Can you bring me a bowl of porridge? The one with cinnamon. I like cinnamon,” Morgan asked with puppy eyes.
“Oh, don’t worry! I’ll go get it,” said a ditsy Giselle.
“Actually, could you all go? I need a moment with my nephew. Please,” Morgan asked politely.
The ladies begrudgingly obliged, but not before Igraine and Elaine showered Agravain with affectionate kisses as per usual. Once everyone and the dog were gone, Agravain closed the door and approached where Morgan was sitting. Morgan patted a spot on the bed next to her, but Agravain preferred to stand, walking towards the window of beating rain.
“You know my brother’s worried sick about you? Where have you been all day?” Agravain scolded.
Morgan smirked. “I saw you. When I left this morning, I saw you and Gawain sleeping outside my door. I was touched. Truly.”
“Crappy way of showing it.”
“Aggie, please. Have you ever known me to be the affectionate type?”
“Why’d you send for me?”
“Because I need you to do something for me. Only you can do it. You’re the only one I trust.”
Agravain turned from the window to see if Morgan was sincere. She appeared so.
Morgan then rose and walked over to her black cloak toasting by the fire. Inside one of its many hidden pockets was a message in a tiny bottle. She approached Agravain, took his hand and placed the bottle in his palm before curling his fingers around it.
“Listen to me very carefully. Very carefully, listen. What I am about to ask you, you must never tell a soul. Even if it crosses your mind years later when you’re older, you must promise to keep this a secret. I need you to deliver this bottle to Tristan tonight. You must deliver it into his hands and you must do it without being seen by anyone else.”
Agravain seemed lost in her purple eyes, hypnotized by the depths. Suddenly a witty smile surfaced. “You know its Sir Tristan now? He was knighted. Gaheris has been bragging about it all afternoon because he was the only witness. God I hate him.”
Morgan snapped her fingers. “I need you to focus, Agravain!”
“Relax. I heard you,” Agravain said as he started for the door. “Deliver this unto Tristan’s hand and do it without being seen. Got it.”
“I need this done tonight, Aggie!”
“I shall do it!” Agravain said upon exiting.
Morgan leaned into the hallway and shouted, “Don’t you even want to know why?”
“I don’t care!” Agravain said as he continued in stride.
That night, the Duchess Igraine chose to sleep in Morgan’s bed again. Elaine and her ladies were with them, making it a slumber party of sorts, much to Morgan’s chagrin. Morgan had her back turn to them, keeping to her side of the bed. A single lit candle was settled next to her pillow as Morgan held a small leather-bound notebook close to her chest.
This notebook contained a list of spells from her lessons at Lake Avalon. Some spells were simple and easy to remember. Some were tongue twisters in which syllables barely made a sound. In order for the spell to work, Morgan would have to say the incantations without botching an enunciation. She’d need to say it in a rhythm and if she messed up, it could pose dire consequences.
While the rain continued to batter and rattle the windows, Morgan used the droning sounds to mask the whispers of her breath. Almost all of the spells were written in an old Celtic language. The one she now practiced was an archaic Spell of Velocity, aptly named after the legendary knight, Sir Vellasse. It was a lengthy spell, full of long vowels that carried into difficult lisps on the S’s. And even though she hadn’t master it, she could feel the cells in her skin beginning to heat up.
The Spell of Velocity was said to enhance the speed and metabolism of its user for a full sixty seconds. A person’s mental acuity would sharpen to the lightning fast impulse of a barracuda, so fast that they could outrun arrows. This was what Morgan was hoping for.
Morgan’s vision of the past wounded her deeply. Her seething soul demanded severe reparations. She had no idea how obsessed she was, but she was obsessed. Sweat built up in her curled bangs and dripped into her unblinking eyes but she didn’t react to the saline sting. She just kept mouthing the words over and over again, determined to memorize it. Because with what she had in mind, Morgan knew her life might very well depend on it.