The Knights with No Lords
Chapter: Break Out
By Rock Kitaro
Gawain didn’t leave the banquet to go lay down as he said he would. Instead, he trudged out of the palace and got lost in the nightlife of Tintagel’s nefarious underground. With gloomy thoughts and a defeated drag, Gawain would eventually find himself drawn to the boisterous laughter of a man too full of himself to let anxiety ever enter his cognitive.
The “Slewellen Chest” was one of the most popular rough and tumble taverns in all of Tintagel. All of the sell swords, thieves, and drunkards frequented this massive two-story pub. Cigar smoke and discombobulated revelry filled the air and spilled out into the streets. Arm-wrestling and card games took up the center tables while discreet plots and conspiracy theories permeated along the timber walls.
The tavern was packed on both tiers, a rabble of activity. Playful wenches in tight bust-pressing bodices made themselves familiar. Somehow, they managed to balance trays of foamed topped brews, roasted fish, and salted pretzels while spinning on their heels, swaying their hips and dancing to the jaunty tunes.
A few sailors tried reaching up their skirts but they were quickly made examples of. The retired Sir Brackish yanked them up by their necks and sent them flying out the nearest windows. That being said, the Slewellen Chest had a storeroom full of spare windows. Every time glass shattered, everyone raised their mugs and gave a unified cheer before guzzling down the rest of its contents. It was a fun tradition.
Sir Brackish owned the bar and ran it alongside his remarkable wife, Slewellen. Short and stout with possibly the largest breasts in all of Britannia, Slewellen was indeed remarkable. All seven of her daughters were blessed with similar assets and Sir Brackish wasn’t shy about using them to draw wayward travelers to his establishment. Two ladies were stationed outside, dancing under the protection of four bearded swordsmen. The other five happily helped their mother tend to the guests and staff. Their charm, the way they interacted with visitors as if all were part of the family. Thus, Sir Brackish was one of the most famous men in all of Tintagel. If something were to happen to him or his daughters, an army of criminals would rise from the shadows and rally to his side.
The antler decorations were spectacular. Spirited fiddle and flute musicians played on a stage near the grand fireplace as the baker’s wife sang her song about sailors and pirates. Flickering candles and burning torches made the tavern a star that could be seen from the highest towers.
With a ceiling reaching up to forty feet, all of the walls were adorned by an eclectic array of swords, spears, and shields from around the world. The centerpiece was on the largest wall just above the fireplace. It was seven-foot replica of Duke Gorlois’s shield, bearing his image imposed over the black Cornish flag of gold coins. Surrounding it was the mounted heads all sorts of wild beasts, but regardless of the excess, all eyes were drawn to the shield the moment they entered the tavern.
Seventeen-year-old Gawain plodded into the tavern and was immediately greeted by dagger-like stares from the closest tables. The Lothian pin on his chest revealed he was royalty. That coupled with his youthful appearance and careless swag made the cutthroats ripe with animosity. Prince or not, the Slewellen Chest was no man’s land. Gawain was aware. Deep down, he was actually thirsting for a fight.
The grind of chairs being pushed put him on edge. Gawain turned to see a large potbellied mercenary approaching with three others, all ugly as sin. They looked strong. He could see the scars through their hairy forearms and they were already putrid with fatty sweat. Still…Gawain was thirsting for a fight.
“OYE! He’s with us,” shouted Barxy.
Everyone turned to the largest table closest to the fire. Pellinore and his five men, the Brood of Black Bloods had occupied this table. Kanish, Barxy, Jeremy, Dantry, and Balto, all decked in black armor with the aura of wolves ready to hunt. Pellinore was the only one smiling. He had one of Brackish’s daughters on his lap. She was a vibrant with orange hair, playing with Pellinore’s red scarf as she stared at the cool vertical scar over his left eye.
“He don’ belong ‘ere,” grumbled a Celtic warrior with a red beard.
“Anyone touches him…Do I even need to say?” Pellinore warned as he chuckled and leaned in to nibble on the lady’s neck.
The big scary men stepped aside and cleared a path. Gawain started to pass when suddenly he turned and smacked the taste out of red-bearded Celtic. The Celtic fell back and dragged with him the contents of a table full of drinks. Everyone laughed and applauded as the prince approached Pellinore’s table with the authority of a man well beyond his years.
“That idiot is the captain of the Hollow Fang. His boys will come looking to fix this,” Kanish warned.
“Good!” Gawain said as he plopped down in a chair.
“Hear, hear!” Jeremy shouted.
“HA! And here I thought this one was all pomp and piety,” Dantry slurred.
“Nah. He’s got plenty of Spartan in ‘em when certain toes are stepped on,” said Pellinore.
“Judging from that mug of his, I’m willing to bet there’s a lover’s quarrel, no doubt,” Kanish smirked.
Gawain didn’t answer. He just sat there with hooded eyes staring into the fire. Barxy, Jeremy, Balto and Dantry continued their card game while the inquisitive Kanish continued to make inquiries.
“Coming from the banquet?” he asked.
Gawain cringed and nodded. “Nothing makes a lick of sense anymore. You should have seen it. Everyone was getting along. It was as if peace was manufactured and the engineers held hidden blades to those with the blueprints. Morgan was the master of ceremonies. She gave some kind of motivational speech! I couldn’t believe it. I swear I thought I was hallucinating. And Tristan was…Pellinore, Tristan was giddy.”
“Giddy?” Pellinore doubted with a raised brow.
“I know! Sounds utterly insane. Doesn’t it?”
“Aye, it does. Maybelle! Come bring the lad some ale!” Pellinore shouted.
“No thanks. I don’t partake,” Gawain declined.
“Poppycock!” Barxy snapped.
“My prince, if you’re with us you’re gonna have to turn that frown upside down. Maybelle’s brown sugar ale should do the trick,” Jeremy assured him.
Gawain grumbled, “Oh, what the hell. On with it then.”
“ON WITH IT THEN!” Pellinore shouted.
“ON WITH IT!” the boys shouted, all pounding their mugs and fists on the table.
While Pellinore resumed burying his face in breasts, Kanish reflected on Gawain’s assessment. The prince drank and every time his cup was half full, Barxy would lean over and top it off. By the fourth refill, a miserable Gawain was slouching over, propping his elbows on the table and wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. He peered through his curly bangs and noticed Kanish was still staring.
“I’m not crazy,” Gawain mumbled.
“Never said you were, my prince,” Kanish said with that laid back smirk of his.
“You think I’ll lose myself to the drink and become like the rest of this riffraff,” Gawain asked.
“You want to know what I think?” Kanish asked.
“For fuck’s sake, just tell the boy!” Pellinore yelled.
“Milord, the prince and I are talking. You’d do well to listen yourself. Seeing as you’d be in the same boat if I stole your lady from you,” said Kanish.
“Let me tell ya,” Pellinore slurred. “You try and steal this valkyrie from me, you better run and hide yourself well!”
“Yes, that’s my point. Young Gawain. You are the heir of Lothian and Orkney. You need only lift a finger and a host of swords would set upon your enemies. Yet, here you sit as if you’re rotting in chains in some backwater dungeon. It’s odd, no?” Kanish noted.
Pellinore nodded. Everyone at the table was paying attention. Gawain, however, kept drinking. That was until Pellinore reached over and palmed the top of his mug.
“Remove your hand, sir,” Gawain warned.
“Or what? You’ll strike me?” Pellinore grinned.
Gawain’s fierce gaze was locked on Pellinore like a snake poised to strike.
“Hit him, Gawain!” said Barxy.
“Knock that scar off of his face!” Jeremy hissed.
“Go head. Strangle him with that stupid red scarf,” Balto urged.
“HEY!” Pellinore shouted. “This scarf is not stupid. You jackals have no sense of taste! That’s what that is!”
Fear flashed over Pellinore’s face as Gawain suddenly jerked forward. Only, Gawain didn’t attack. He erupted with a stream of pink projectile vomit spraying all over Pellinore and his lady. The woman took off screaming before Pellinore grimaced and started vomiting himself. The Brood of the Black Bloods roared with laughter as Gawain toppled over and hit the floor chest first.
“UGH! YOU DISGUSTING BASTARD! I’mma kill you!” Pellinore shouted.
He managed to get two kicks in to Gawain’s ribcage before the boys pulled him back. Gawain’s sweaty cheek stuck him to the stone floor. His sight got blurry and then all went dark. All went silent.
Gawain woke up six hours later. Still night out. Groggy, he pushed up from the floor and looked around to see over seventy drunks strewn about as if there was a brawl and everyone had whipped themselves into exhaustion. Pellinore was now sleeping naked with one of Brackish’s daughters on top of him. Chairs were overturned and ale was spilling from nearly every table.
It was dark, save for the soft ambers dying in the hearth. Gawain patted the dirt off of his tunic and straightened his gold princely pin. His head was throbbing, but more than that, he was embarrassed. He let himself get carried away. As Gawain turned to face the fireplace, his eyes were drawn upward to the magnificent shield bearing Duke Gorlois’s image. His personal savior.
Gawain sat in a chair and stared at it, solemn, deep. He pulled on the katana from his waist and let it slide halfway out its sheath. The sleek steel gleamed as if it was its own source of light. In spite of the countless battles, the foreign blade was still so razor sharp. Just as sharp as the day he first took hold of it. Gawain reflected on that pivotal moment. He was only nine-years-old.
It was on the very same day that the honorable Duke Gorlois convinced Morgaus to adopt Gawain and his little brothers. That night, Duke Gorlois entered his room and found Gawain watching over the sleeping Gaheris and Agravain.
Duke Gorlois told him, “The day I found you, my men surrounded you and your brothers as you traveled alone in the woods. I remember. Severely out numbered and unarmed, you told your brothers to scat up a tree. You picked up a long stick and stood in defiance. I saw it in your eyes. Every man on the field of Mars has some shred of fear in them, myself included. Don’t matter if you’re Leonidas, Merlin, or King Uther himself. But the look in your eyes…there was no fear. No thought. Just a feral instinct to protect your brothers. Most admirable.”
The nine-year-old Gawain stared at the ground. “To tell you the truth, sir, I don’t remember.”
Duke Gorlois smiled, “It’s to be expected. While I don’t regret having my three lovely daughters, I’ve always wanted a stout-hearted son looking after them. To protect them, the way you protected your brothers.”
“If you like, I can protect them,” Gawain said.
“Do you swear it, boy? A man is only as good as his word. So I ask, do you swear to solemnly protect my daughters always and even to the death?” Duke Gorlois asked.
Gawain kneeled with his head bowed low, “I swear it.”
“So naïve. You’re much too young to commit yourself to such a vow, yet you fall on the blade oblivious to your own vanity,” Gorlois scoffed.
“You’re wrong,” Gawain said with a scary glare. “I’ve killed before. If I have to, I’ll kill again.”
Gorlois was taken aback by the gravity of such a revelation. He knew Gawain wasn’t lying, but more importantly, Gawain didn’t seem at all traumatized or racked by guilt of having taken a life. It hurt Gorlois’s heart to see a boy so young, so tainted. At the same time, it was also a relief. The Duke revealed a sword hidden under his cloak and unsheathed the blade. The chime of metal sliding from the wool cloth was alarming. The duke held it up to the snowy window.
“I found this down by the beach. Near a shipwreck with sales and markings I’ve never seen. None of my men wanted it. They say its design is flawed. I disagreed. I want you to prove them wrong, Gawain. I’ll loan you this sword. Understand? It’s mine. It belongs to me until you master it. What say you? Do you accept?”
Gawain stood up with determination. “I accept!”
DOM! DOM! DOM!
The reverberating tolls of giant bells shook Gawain from his reflection. He stood puzzled at first, but soon dread washed over. Those were the bells of war. His heart nearly skipped a beat when he saw Pellinore was wide-awake and staring back him. At once, Gawain raced for the exit. Pellinore and the Black Bloods hustled to collect their clothes and follow.
Blood-curdling screams and deranged cries for help drew Gawain and Pellinore to the front doors of the royal palace. Horror gripped the young men as crippled soldiers staggered about in darkness, groaning in pain with blood leaking from their dented armor. The gilded palace and all its splendor now felt like a haunted house lorded by erratic ghosts as confusion spread rampant.
Everyone was running and pointing with fright. Demented wails echoed from nearly every corridor. Trembling stewards hurried to ignite lamps and wall torches. One even dropped his lamp and accidentally set himself on fire on the 2nd floor terrace. The castle guards slurred and bickered over contradicting orders. It wasn’t until Gawain and Pellinore saw a knight being carried down the staircase with a big gaping gash on his face that they realized a battle had taken place. Not just any battle. A massacre.
Everyone suspected Hibernian treachery and drew their swords. Gawain and Pellinore led the Black Bloods down the main hall, running as fast as they could on slick marble flooring. The loudest commotion came from the Hall of White Doves. This was the lobby that led to the royal apartments.
Gawain and Pellinore arrived and likened it to a natural disaster. Over twenty dead bodies were littered about in this once beautiful sanctuary. There was blood everywhere, puddles of it, sprays of it, and stains of it smeared on almost every piece of furniture. Broken chairs were overturned and tables were smashed with half broken men thrown between them. With each step they took, Gawain and Pellinore felt the thin layer of pooling fluids beneath their boots.
Keening wives and daughters embraced the dead screaming for mercy, screaming for justice. Gawain’s eyes scanned the room as his heart raced, his mind jumping to the worst-case scenario. Then, just twenty paces to his left, two teenage girls were huddled near a window with a shredded body in their arms. Gaheris was with them.
“NO!” Gawain shouted as he and the Black Bloods dashed over.
Gaheris’s was drenched in blood, his curly hair clumped with it. Trails of tears ran down his quivering cheeks. He stared up at his big brother with vengeful fire in his eyes. The injured man was Sir Ioness. The girls were his devastated twin daughters, Dawn and Fawn.
Gawain crouched to examine the wounded knight. Sir Ioness was wearing a silver breastplate but his chest was completely torn open as if a bear had mauled him. Somehow he was still alive, barely breathing.
“Sir. What happened?” Gawain asked.
Ioness’s teary eyes struggled to find Gawain. Then, with his dying breath, he whispered, “Do you know what happens when you back a lion into a corner? It attacks.”
“FATHER NO!!!” Fawn and Dawn screamed.
Gaheris balled his fist and scowled, “Tristan did this.”
“Bullocks! I don’t believe it,” Pellinore said.
“I don’t give a damn what you believe, Pellinore! I saw him, clear as day! That son of a bitch tried to kill me! If Sir Ioness hadn’t stepped in when he did, this would have been me. Gawain, I’m going to kill them. I swear it. I’m gonna shoot three arrows and lodge it deep in his rotten guts!” Gaheris shouted, shaking with tearful rage.
“Bar the exits! State of emergency! No one in or out of the capital!”
The order came from Sir Ekner. He was standing on the third floor walkway overlooking the lobby, having heard Gaheris’s declaration.
A grimacing Pellinore still refused to believe it. He forged on with his men, running towards other screams, against the current of fleeing soldiers. A gathering had assembled outside Princess Isolde’s chambers. Guards tried to stop him but Pellinore shoved everyone aside and came barging in.
There, Pellinore found the Duchess Igraine weeping on her knees, her white gown ruined by stains of red. King Mark was festering as he glared out the windows. Queen Morgaus was crying in King Lot’s arms. Nine knights in full armor were kneeling with their heads bowed as they awaited further orders. And as Pellinore came to stand in the center of the room, his eyes were drawn to a grotesque scene of violence that put even his own savagery to shame. The honorable Sir Cador was pinned to the wall with the entire length of a long sword driven through his sternum. His mouth and bulging eyes were wide open.
Two nurses were tending to another man in the room. It was Sir Ewangish sitting with his back against the wall. He was sliced through the midsection, barely able to keep his innards in. The nurses were also applying pressure to the wound when Pellinore marched over and held a knife up to Ewangish’s throat.
“Who did this?” Pellinore questioned.
“Pellinore!” King Lot shouted, exerting an authority not yet seen from him.
Kanish and the Black Bloods rushed to drag Pellinore back.
“The truth! Tell me who did this!” Pellinore shouted.
Then, Gawain entered the room as if he had just seen a ghost. His unblinking eyes stared at Pellinore, then over to Ewangish. In a slow, smooth and controlled motion, Gawain drew his katana and brought the tip of his blade within inches of Ewangish’s face.
“Gawain! The man is dying!” King Lot shouted.
Gawain didn’t flinch even while Lot was barking an inch from his ear.
“The truth. If you please,” Gawain insisted in a callous whisper.
Sir Ewangish was losing blood. His flesh was cold and his lips were trembling.
He spoke in a strained voice, saying, “My lords. The Lord Chamberlain Sir Cador approached me. He sought my counsel regarding Sir Tristan’s affections towards the princess, Princess Isolde. We suspected something was afoot.”
“Suspected!?” Pellinore snapped.
“Just as I suspected,” Gawain said, stunning King Mark, King Lot, and Queen Morgaus.
“Indeed,” Ewangish continued, wincing in pain. “We posted sentries to guard her room. When I found out Princess Isolde dismissed the guards, I went to Sir Cador. We waited. I knew Tristan to be a dangerous man so we took no chances. We handpicked twenty of our best soldiers. Sir Cador and I arrived just to make inquiries. But when we entered, Tristan set upon us like a wild animal. Not just Tristan, but Princess Isolde as well. It was Isolde who did this to me. Like two angry dragons unleashed from their chains. It was the most frightening thing…”
“WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!?”
King Mark’s eyes widened. Gawain lowered his katana and turned to see an enraged queen entering with Algayre and Sir Maven. Queen Iseult came and stood over Sir Ewangish.
“Is it true? Did Tristan take my daughter?” Iseult asked.
“Yes, my queen.”
“You saw this?” Iseult asked.
“Yes, my queen.”
“And you were powerless to stop them. Useless!” the queen snarled as she reached in and literally ripped out Ewangish’s guts. Lot and Morgaus gawked in horror. Blood slapped against the visors of the kneeling knights but they didn’t flinch. Neither did Gawain or Pellinore.
Slinging the entrails to the floor, Queen Iseult marched over to King Mark. Mark slowly turned from the window to meet her formidable gaze. Then, with a heavy heart he said, “Everyone out.”
The temperature in the Hall of Doves was sweltering as heated tempers reached a boiling point. The women were ushered out of the palace. In the center of the lobby, the dead were positioned in two rows of ten, covered by white linens that blotched with patches of scarlet.
Facing the dead on one side of the lobby were the Hibernians with Sir Maven keeping his warriors at bay. On the other side of the lobby were the Cornish and Lothian knights with King Lot making sure no one moved to strike. Everyone had the same hardened look of gladiators ready for battle.
Gaheris refused to wash off the blood of Sir Ioness. Gawain refused to sheath his katana. Agravain and Pellinore were front and center ready to sink their teeth in and all it took was for someone to make the first move.
Suddenly a newcomer entered the lobby with a torch in hand. Whatever pain or aggression the belligerents felt in their hearts, nothing could compare to what Constantine was about to feel. The bearded sixteen-year-old squire approached with Sir Urlis and Bruno by his side. They heard about Tristan absconding with Isolde and despite King Lot’s insistence to stay in the lobby, Constantine was compelled to find his father.