The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 21 – Betrayal
By Rock Kitaro
Dawn came with an air of tension. The overcast of a storm lingered and a malevolent gale howled through the streets. The most aggressive manhunt the country’s ever seen was underway as desensitized soldiers scoured the city in search for the traitorous Tristan and Isolde.
The king’s retainers in the neighboring lands of Devonshire, Dorset, and Somerset were put on high alert. Tristan and Isolde were to be considered an enemy of the state. Their capture and return was paramount, an issue of life and death, peace and war.
Pellinore wasn’t a vassal of Tintagel. He didn’t owe the country or King Mark anything. Yet, he immediately set out to Sewellen’s Chest and scrounged up all the ruffians who owed him money. They raided brothels and gaming dens, kicking in doors and overturning beds looking for the star-crossed lovers. Anyone who gave them trouble was rewarded with Pellinore’s boot up their ass.
Behind the closed doors of a chapel, Queen Iseult was all fire and brimstone as she barraged King Mark with the burden of blame and betrayal. She threatened to wage the bloodiest war the world had ever seen if she didn’t get her daughter back. King Mark did his best to assure her he was doing everything that could be done. He also reminded her that the betrayal struck both ways.
The bodies of Sir Ioness, Sir Ewangish, and Sir Cador were cleaned, fully clothed, and resting in the finest caskets worthy of their valor. The Duchess Igraine wept over Sir Cador’s casket, her last living cousin. A red-faced Constantine wept bitterly but stood dignified as his father would have wanted. Sir Cador raised Constantine to be a good man. His harsh discipline and relentless reproof was evident. It’s in light of these tragic and significant losses, King Mark had no choice but to disregard his affections for Tristan. This was treason. If found, Tristan would not be spared capital punishment.
Inside the main citadel, strife prevailed as the lords and generals engaged in fiery debates about what was to be done. Over 200 men of authority convened in the King Mark’s court. Fingers were pointed. Accusations slurred. A revolt was on the rise with many fearing Tristan would rally men who were more loyal to him than the crown.
Gawain, Gaheris, and Agravain sat quietly at a table on the outskirts of the throne room. They were forbidden from aiding in the search, a point made clear following a stern lecture from their adoptive father King Lot. This of course came after Queen Morgaus noticed the deep grudge, the paint painted in Gaheris’s squinty-eyed scowl.
The brothers were armed with their weapons, breastplates and shoulder pads. Gawain’s burning gaze was fixed in place as he replayed every interaction he witnessed between Tristan and Isolde, trying to make sense of things, wondering what they could have possibly been thinking. Tristan was the most levelheaded man Gawain knew. He wouldn’t have let himself commit treason so easily. Something must have happened. It’s the only way. But what?
Gaheris and Agravain watched with disgust as the older men bickered. Meanwhile, the Hibernians showed a considerable amount of restraint. Gathered near the exit, sixteen Hibernian knights huddled around Algayre and Sir Maven. Gaheris and Agravain noticed their eerie silence. It wasn’t just silence. It was confidence. No matter how impressive their fighting ability was, the Hibernians were still severely out numbered. So why on earth were they so confident?
Algayre’s black beetle eyes watched Gawain. He could tell Gawain was hard at work solving riddles in his head. So badly, the warlock Algayre wanted to crack it open and let all the secrets come spilling out.
“I DARE YOU TO SAY THAT AGAIN!” shouted Bruno.
“Are you not Tristan’s closest friend? How can we trust you?” Sir Blajan shouted.
Bruno promptly replied by knocking Sir Blajan on his back. A skirmish broke out between Bruno’s clique and Blajan’s. The elderly Sir Ekner hobbled in and struggled to regain order but his voice was drown out in the ruckus. Meanwhile, the Hibernians chuckled at the sight. Their smug attitudes made Agravain squint with displeasure.
“Enough with this sitting around crap!” Agravain said as he propped up from his seat and started for the exit.
Gawain and Gaheris didn’t protest. They followed. And in a mental conversations that only brothers could have, all three came to the conclusion, “we have to find Tristan.”
Just as the light from the opening doors touched Gawain’s face, a long slender hand grabbed him by the collar.
“This is the witch’s doing. You know it to be true,” Algayre hissed.
“I strongly urge you remove your hand,” Gawain growled.
“I will open her neck with my teeth!”
Gawain shoved him into the door. The hard knock got everyone’s attention.
“Over my dead body,” Gawain warned.
“Was hoping you’d say that, street rat.”
Agravain had whipped up one of Algayre’s own daggers and pinned it to the door just inches from Algayre’s thin sideburns.
“Problem?” Agravain asked.
“Oye! None of that! You lads fan out and find Tristan. Go on! Out!” Sir Ekner shouted.
Gaheris pulled Gawain away by his breastplate as Algayre just nodded with a creepy grin.
“That’s right, boy.” Algayre taunted. “Find him. Find him, before I find the girl. And you know what I do to little toys you try keep to yourself.”
“OVER MY DEAD BODY!” Gawain shouted.
Toothless Kersey and five of his lancer friends were passing through when they helped Gaheris pull away an unhinged Gawain.
Agravain stayed where he was, glaring at Algayre. He jerked forward and spit down on Algayre’s boots. Algayre’s bug eyes widened with an insane smile. As Agravain joined the group, Algayre followed until he was just through the doors. He watched the young restless teens as they stormed up the stairs at the end of the hallway, like they were all just a bunch of rabid young cubs who needed to be put down as soon as possible.
“This is Isolde’s fault,” Gaheris grumbled.
The brooding young men were marching across the third floor breezeway toward the battlements. The brisk sea air did very little to cool their veins.
Gaheris continued fuming with, “I should’ve seen it coming. Ever since we pulled you from captivity, Isolde’s had an eye for Tristan.”
“Then Tristan should have resisted,” Agravain argued.
“You don’t know women, little brother. Even King Solomon fell pray to a seductress and he was the wisest man who ever lived,” Gaheris vented.
Gawain noticed how invested Gaheris was. He wanted to say something to dispute the assertion, but Algayre’s accusation was gnawing at him. Algayre seemed to think Morgan had something to do with this. And even though it made sense that magic was involved with Tristan’s unusual behavior, there was still the question of motive. What would Morgan have to gain by starting a conflict of this magnitude?
“I swear if we do go to war over this, I have about five arrows with Isolde’s name on it,” said Gaheris.
“There won’t be a war if Tristan returns and submits himself to the court,” Kersey suggested.
“He killed the Lord Chamberlain, Kersey. You really think he’ll have a change of heart now that’s he’s probably knee deep in that Hibernian—”
“Enough, Gaheris!” Gawain snapped.
“Now tell me, why aren’t you so mad? Don’t tell me you still feel some misguided sense of loyalty to that lying whore.”
Gaheris’s words cut deep. A cringing Gawain shook his head and stared out over the walls toward the sea.
“What I want to know is why haven’t their ships come ashore. You’d think they’d be itching to disembark,” Agravain pointed out.
“That’s because they already have.”
All eyes turned to a morose Constantine approaching with his maiden Debra. Gaheris embraced his best friend in a brotherly hug, telling him how sorry he was for his loss. Even Agravain gave Constantine a pat on the shoulder while everyone else nodded their condolences.
Constantine continued with, “Just before my father was murdered, he ordered me to investigate Clyde’s death. This was Sir Germanitis’s squire just outside the township of Meircolm. Clyde was cut in half by a single blade, a single blow. Seeing as how Tristan was entangled with Isolde, there’s only one other man who possesses such strength. It had to be Morholt. Furthermore, down by the beach you can tell someone tried to cover the tracks of boats coming aground. I haven’t told the king about this yet, but my gut’s telling me the rest of the Hibernians are here, most likely having already assimilated with the locals.”
“In disguise?” Agravain asked.
Constantine crossed his arms in deliberation. “Not so much with our soldiers. Father would’ve noticed. But with the plebs, there’s no telling.”
“Now that you mention it, Morholt has been conveniently missing throughout all this chaos,” said Kersey.
“Queen Iseult…” Gawain grumbled. “This is all her doing. She never had any intention of wedding her daughter off to King Mark. She wants to get us all drunk and merry before moving in for the slaughter.”
Gaheris scoffed, “I bet that’s the real reason why she’s so mad right now. Because her whore of a daughter couldn’t contain herself for just one lousy week.”
“We have to find them!” said Gawain.
Everyone had the same look of solidarity. For the rest of the day, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain, Constantine, Debra, Kersey and five of Kersey’s best lancers spread out and scoured the castle for clues. Gaheris worked his charm on every woman he’d seen Tristan with, including the Lady Elaine.
While Gawain searched the high tiers overlooking the Peridot Oasis, he kept Morgan in the back of his mind. The enchantress had gone inconspicuously missing. As much as he needed to find Tristan and Isolde, he desperately wanted to find Morgan. He knew Algayre wasn’t impulsive enough to kill the Duchess’s daughter without any hard evidence. But knowing Morgan, all Algayre needed to do was lay a blanketed accusation before she’d confess and say something stupid like, “what are you going to do about it?”
The searches produced fruitless results. They checked the training halls Tristan frequented, the remote taverns he drank in, and even tracked down a number of secret prostitutes he’s protected over the years.
As daylight died, Gawain found himself alone on the western ramparts, sitting on a stool near a parapet wall. With crossed arms, he racked his brain for answers. He reflected on the following interactions:
“Do you know what happens when you back a lion into a corner a lion? It attacks.” Sir Ioness whispered with his dying breath.
“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,” Gaheris declared.
“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,” said Sir Ewangish.
“You assume we have nothing better to do than lock you simple people up in chains? Don’t make me laugh. My father was murdered by pirates flying under your Tintagel banners,” Isolde once told Gawain.
Gawain remembered when Isolde said, “Ever since I was sixteen, I started hearing stories about the Lion of Dumnonia. A handsome young man named Tristan, not even a knight, yet besting them all in nearly every tournament. They spoke of his blond hair, just like mine. The gravity of his beautiful blue eyes. I used to dream of what he’d look like and when I saw he defeated Gorcus, oh my gosh…I wanted to ravish him right then and there.”
“We can’t all be saints like ole Tristan here.” Pellinore once said of Tristan.
““I’m no saint. I just believe in proper form is all,” Tristan replied.
“No, Agravain. Should the worst happen and they accompany Iseult to the castle, we will obey the king’s orders and treat them accordingly,” Tristan declared.
“Hmph. Tell me this, sunshine. If you’re so damn loyal, why hasn’t the honorable King Mark made you a knight yet?” Pellinore grumbled.
“Tristan was offered a knighthood. He refused the king. Twice.” Morgan answered.
“Gawain! Did you hear me? I asked about the abbey on St. Michael’s Mount,” Princess Isolde asked when Gawain was riding with the Hibernians to meet the Picts.
“Ah. Yes. I’ve only seen it once as a child when I was first brought to Dumnonia. It’s kind of scary looking if you’re on a vessel in the middle of a stormy night, like a giant black horn protruding from the ocean. There is an abbey on it, a convent of nuns I think. They say it’s a holy mountain protected by angels, which is why it’s never been conquered by any of the clans. I also heard it served as a sanctuary for women seeking asylum,” Gawain explained.
“What kind of women?” Isolde asked.
“The kind with sins only God can forgive.”
“Gawain! There he is!” Kersey shouted.
The lads had reconvened and were seeking Gawain when they spotted him sulking on the ramparts.
“Any luck?” Constantine asked.
Gawain took in a deep breath. There was a storm brewing in his heart where three armies clashed: determination, fear, and instinct. He rose from his stool and stretched out his back. Then, much to everyone’s surprise, Prince Gawain bowed with the palm of his hands placed over his knees. Ever so humbly, he said, “My friends…I’m going to need a favor.”
Fifteen minutes later, Gawain was saddling a horse in the stables. Gaheris, Agravain, Constantine, and Kersey stood by and watched with bottled frustrations. Kersey’s lancers ran in to tell Gawain that the Perranto Gate was clear. He only had five minutes before the guards would return from a distraction.
“This is insanity,” Gaheris complained.
Gawain continued to prepare his horse. “If anything happens, rally to Pellinore. He’s the only one who can defeat Morholt.”
“I can defeat him!” said Agravain.
“No! Pellinore!” Gawain warned.
“You got some nerve,” Gaheris scoffed. “Telling us we can’t come with you. Telling us to rally to Pellinore. Commanding us not to engage Morholt.”
“Not to mention the audacity of thinking Tristan won’t just slit your throat the moment you find him,” Constantine added.
Gawain dropped his head with a heavy sigh. “We’ve gone over this. If I come alone, I’d at least have a chance to speak some sense into him. If we all go, it’d be taken as a sign of aggression in which we’d all end up as carrion for the crows.”
“JESUS!” Kersey shouted, choking on his own spit.
At once, all eyes darted to the creepy moving shadow that scared the color out of Kersey. Morgan emerged with a scowl, dressed in her black dress, black boots, and black gown with ruby jewels wrapped around her right wrists. Her black hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail with bangs draped over her left eye.
Gawain glowered as she came to stand within slapping distance.
“We only have three minutes,” Kersey said before cautiously backing away with the rest of his lancers.
Gawain stepped closer and spoke softly. “I know not why you harbor such resentment. I don’t know what to say or do to convince…”
“Speak plainly, dog. Don’t placate me like I’m one of your brothers,” said Morgan.
Gawain threw up his hands and grumbled, “I don’t have time for this.”
He was just about to mount the horse before Morgan yanked him back down. “Coward! Why don’t you tell them the real reason why you feel so compelled to go it alone?”
“Damn it, woman! Here we go again with these veiled accusations! Just tell me! What horrible affliction have I caused?”
“I know what you did. I know why you care so much about her. I saw what you did with her!”
“MORGAN! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?”
“YOU FORNICATED WITH ISOLDE!” Morgan screamed as she came close to clawing at his chin.
All fell deathly silent. Brows were heightened as a wave of shock and awe rippled throughout the stable. An astounded Gawain stood bewildered as if he was just shown how the world was about to end. Gaheris’s jaw dropped. It was perhaps he who felt the deepest sense of betrayal at the moment.
“Gawain, tell me that’s not true,” Gaheris whispered.
Tears welled in Gawain’s eyes as suddenly everything was starting to make sense. And what a heartbreaking revelation it was. As much as he was truly upset, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Slowly, Gawain turned and looked his little brother in the eye. With the utmost sincerity, he said, “Gaheris. I swear it’s not true.”
“LIAR! I saw you. I saw you with her in the stable!”
“Stables? What, like these?” Gawain said, pointing out the stalls filled with beds of hay.
An epiphany paralyzed Morgan in place, like glass being shattered in the back of her head. “No, wait. I saw you. In my vision, I saw you.”
“Oh, Morgan. My dearest Morgana. I’ve never touched Isolde in that way. I’ve never lain with her. She’s never visited me in the night and I’ve certainly never been inside of her. I’m a virgin, Morgan. Chaste and clean,” Gawain said with heartfelt empathy.
“No…the vision. The vision. I saw you,” Morgan whimpered.
“I hate to say it, but it sounds like what you had was a dream, or rather, a nightmare. And for that, I am truly sorry. But you’re wrong about me. And I think the thing that hurts the most is…Honestly, what kind of man do you think I am?”
“Oh you’re good. You’re real good! Prophetic liar! YOU LIE!” Morgan shouted as she rushed for Gawain’s neck and tackled him.
As hay and black hair scraped across his face, Gawain saw the pain in Morgan’s teary eyes. He knew Morgan wasn’t lying, but neither was he. That piercing scream from two nights ago came from the eruption of her fractured heart.
She was choking him, banging his head into the floor, screaming. “LIAR! YOU LIAR! YOU LIAR!” over and over again.
It took five men to separate a possessed Morgan from Gawain. It was Kersey who grabbed Gawain by his armpit and ushered him towards the horse.
“You need to go!” Kersey urged.
Morgan broke free from Constantine and Gaheris. Screaming like a pierced banshee, she reached for Gawain’s horse and only caught the fur end of its tail as Gawain rode off. Morgan gave chase. But by the time she exited the stable, Gawain was over a hundred paces away and halfway to the Perranto Gate.
Morgan screamed at the top her lungs, “YOU LIAR! I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS!”