The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 25 – The Greatest Escape
By Rock Kitaro
The bells from St. Gabriel’s Abbey could be heard for miles. Shrouded in her dark cloak, Morgan le Fay stood alone on the second floor cloister overlooking the courtyard of Angel’s Square. No one forced her to be there. She couldn’t even recall how she got there. Yet, there she was, devoid of any triumph or emotion. Just staring out with an empty gaze. Her sapphire eyes settled on nothing and everything at the same time.
Over 2,000 men and women filled Angel’s Square. A cold wind blew from the north, rustling leaves and making it difficult for one not to squint. Children were prohibited. Armed guards were stationed at every exit with archers posted on high. Everyone wore dark garbs or black mourning gowns. It was a tragic scene with so many weeping and sobbing before the ritual began. It was contagious and spread quickly. Even the most hardened men fought back tears with stern frowns and clenched jaws.
Off to the side were the stands designated for special guests. King Lot, Queen Morgaus, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain, and Debra were seated in the front row. Sir Ioness’s daughters, Dawn and Fawn were behind them.
The royal platform was behind the crowd on the far end of Angel’s Square opposite to the scaffold. It was a dais elevated five feet up and protected by a perimeter of iron clad soldiers. Seated from left to right were Algayre, Princess Isolde, Queen Iseult, King Mark, the Duchess Igraine, and the Lady Elaine. The chair next to Elaine was vacant. It was reserved for Morgan, a void Gawain couldn’t help but notice.
Morholt the Destroyer was waiting outside the walls of Angel’s Square, in front of the church massive main entrance. A thick velvety cloak covered his grotesque bulging muscles. Four of his deadliest cutthroats stood by his side as a horse-driven carriage entered the yard. Tristan had arrived.
The guards had cleaned him up. His blond stringy hair was washed and he was now wearing a familiar attire of tan britches, brown boots, and the light blue shirt he was always so fond of. He was no longer wrapped in chains, just a sturdy length of rope binding his hands behind his back.
As Tristan stepped down from the carriage, a chuckle that sounded like grinding walnuts emanated from Morholt’s throat. Tristan knew he was there but couldn’t bring himself to look at the man who killed his parents. He simply submitted himself to the dungeon master and was escorted through a path of red berry hedges leading to the stage of his demise.
The crowd erupted with grief and groans to see their hero so pale and despondent. Isolde nearly slid out of her chair, whimpering like a tortured hound as a suffocating lump formed in her throat. It was torture. Her legs grew numb with a sweltering heat tingling around her knees rushing down her calves.
Queen Iseult clawed at her daughter’s sleeve to keep her seated. The princess whispered and begged to leave but Iseult forced her to stay. The queen’s patience had dried up. She grew weary of Tintagel and each passing second only ate at her thin veil of civility like a corrosive acid. The sooner Tristan was dead, the better.
Morgan’s guilt was creeping in. She didn’t think it would, but watching the outpour of sheer misery, she couldn’t believe it. The huddled mass swayed to and fro with outstretched hands like a tumultuous tide inching closer to reach out and touch their favorite son. The keening became so loud that it drowned out the bells. Their faces. The tears. The agony, as if Tristan was truly loved on a personal level by each and every soul in the courtyard, it was too much. Morgan finally closed her eyes and the flood of tears broke free to roll down her cheeks.
“So this is what it feels like to be Judas. So wretched,” Morgan sniveled as her hands gripped at her face.
Isolde was the worst. She screamed like a woman being skinned alive.
“AHHHHHH!!!!” she screamed.
Her high-pitched shrill screeched through the courtyard. Gawain’s eyes shot open at the sight. Algayre tried to hold on to her shoulders but Isolde convulsed and dropped to her knees on the dais. Gawain and his brothers exchanged awkward glances. She just kept screaming, over and over again, but the queen would not be moved.
Gawain hardened his heart. His brothers did the same. All three wore the masks of soldiers, determined to conceal their sorrow. They ignored the incessant screams and pleas for mercy to focus on the event at hand. Tristan was nearing the steps of the scaffold.
Pellinore was waiting. He and his Brood of Black Bloods were all decked in polished black armor. When Tristan approached, Pellinore simply shook his head and squinted with disgust.
“Buzzards guts man,” Pellinore grumbled.
“Pleasure as always, Pellinore,” Tristan said with a hopeless smirk.
As Morgan struggled to pull herself together, embarrassment compelled her to glance around to see if anyone had caught her crying. There…at the end of the hallway where soft light beamed into the dark corridor, Morgan spotted three priests who piqued her suspicion. These priests were all tall and imposing with trim beards and an air of soldierly might. They were holding unfurled scrolls up to their chests as if they were engaged in some religious debate, but Morgan noticed that not one of them looked down at their scrolls. Not once. She saw their lips moving, but she couldn’t hear.
After an exchange of whispers, the three priests nodded in solidarity and started off down the hall, passing a corner that pulled them out of Morgan’s sight. Intuition compelled her to follow.
Underneath the maple trees, Tristan acknowledged his executioner. The elderly Sir Ekner declined the tradition of wearing a black mask. He wanted Tristan to see him. He wanted Tristan to know that he would be sorely missed and forever cherished as long as he lived. Indeed, Tristan was glad Ekner was the one wielding the ax.
Then, Tristan turned to Constantine. Dressed in full honor guard, the bearded sixteen-year-old was wielding a large double-edge sword. Tristan’s blue eyes conveyed the shame and condolence he harbored for killing Constantine’s father. To everyone’s surprise, Constantine dropped the sword and embraced Tristan in a brotherly hug. I was a touching display and the crowd swooned with sympathy.
“TRISTAN!” Isolde screamed at the top of her lungs.
A grimacing King Mark closed his eyes. So badly he wanted to call the whole thing off. If Constantine, the squire who had lost his father could forgive Tristan, surely a king who lost his chamberlain could do the same. However, Queen Iseult was pounding on her armrest. Her fury boiled like a volcano about to erupt. Ignoring his own heartache, King Mark raised an open palm.
“SILEEEENCE!” blared Ekner from the scaffold.
The clamor came to a halt. Silence prevailed. Constantine released Tristan and stepped back to retrieve the heavy sword.
“Does the condemned have any last words?” King Mark asked with a tremor in his voice.
Tristan took a moment to appreciate the hazy sky. Overcast made the sun a dim pearl floating within a bed of thin cotton. Tristan’s blue eyes grazed over the people, the exquisite stone cloisters, the Gothic abbey, and even the gold statue of St. Gabriel holding the crucifix up to the heavens. His eyes then swept over the royal guests, stopping at Gawain to give a nod of respect. And finally he landed on Isolde, a puddled mess of sweat and tears.
Tristan reached out to her. She reached out to him. He said…
“My angel…My sweet relentless angel. I’m no poet. In truth, I’ve never grasped the idea of affection through words. I never understood the concept of love until I met you. I’ve been told what love is. I’ve been told that I have it. But it was you who convinced me that love exists. It was you who showed me. Isolde! Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry, for it is I who have been granted mercy. The brevity of our time together…”
He paused. The tears trickled. Tristan’s voice started to shake as he cringed and averted his gaze. Mustering the courage, he returned his sights to her and said…
“Forgive me! Forgive me for being so selfish. Here I am about to make my greatest escape. And yet, I selfishly ask that you endure. You must continue living in this wretched world. I beg of you, my most coveted Isolde. Cherish each day as if it is your last. I beg of thee, survive me and find some semblance of peace and happiness.”
“There is no peace without you!” Isolde screamed.
“You will find it, my love! You must! I believe in you.”
“Don’t go!” Isolde screamed.
“ENOUGH! OFF WITH HIS HEAD! DO IT, NOW!” Queen Iseult erupted.
With a heavy heart, King Mark gave the signal to begin. Tristan nodded as he crumbled like a broken man over the chopping block. He didn’t need to be given proper procedures. No one touched him. With resignation, Tristan kneeled and planted his chest over the flat smooth surface of the wood.
Sir Ekner approached as Tristan was nestling his chin over the rim of the block. Constantine moved to Tristan’s left. On the off chance that Ekner failed to perform a clean cut, Constantine was to finish the job.
A flock of black choughs flew from the golden branches above. The church bells stopped. Even the wind appeared to pause if just for a moment. Everyone held their breaths as Sir Ekner raised his lofty ax, focused on the back of Tristan’s neck. Then, the whistle of pierced air cut through the silence. Only…the whistle didn’t come from the ax. It came from a single arrow.
Ekner stumbled back and dropped the ax with a hard metallic thud. The bolt of an arrow was sticking out of his chest just an inch over his heart.
Tristan raised his chin and looked beyond the faces of shock and horror. There, just in front of the royal platform was Isolde, hell-bent and driven mad. She managed to escape Algayre’s clutches, steal a bow from one of the guards, and fire a single arrow at Sir Ekner. All in the span of five seconds.
By the time Tristan saw her, Isolde was already pulling back on another arrow. Her next target was Constantine.
“ISOLDE NOOOO!” Tristan shouted.
Isolde couldn’t hear him. All she saw was the roar of a wounded lion with veins bulging out of his neck and forehead.
Suddenly, Isolde gasped a hard choking gasp. The arrow slipped from her fingertips but it would never hit Constantine. The princess felt a jolt of burning pain bursting from her side. She dropped to her knees and looked down. An arrow shaft was sticking out of her ribcage.
As confusion washed over, Isolde looked over and saw her killer poised with nerves of steel and cold pleasure. Gaheris was still holding the bow out in front. He wanted the princess to know he just shot her. He wanted to see the look in her eyes when she realized it was he who was sending her to her grave. For Cador, for Constantine, for Cornwall.
Electricity coursed through Gawain’s veins as the floodgates of his worst fears came pouring out. Frozen in terror, Gawain’s eyes bounced from Queen Iseult, to King Mark, and back to Queen Isolde. No one moved a muscle. Everyone was astonished, as if they were fighting to combat the truth revealed by their own eyes.
A thunderous roar exploded from an enraged Tristan. At once, everyone snapped for their trance and realized Isolde was bleeding out on the grass. Panic ensued as Queen Isuelt stormed from the platform and screamed, “KILL EVERYONE!!!”
Immediately, two of the queen’s guards raced for Gaheris with halberds at the extension. Like wolves pouncing from the bushes, Gawain and Agravain jumped from the stands and cut the guards down in less than two strikes. They flanked Gaheris’s side as Gaheris casually pulled another arrow and aimed at Queen Iseult.
“Do it.” Agravain urged.
“Don’t.” Gawain warned
In haste, King Lot ushered Queen Morgaus and the other ladies away from the gallery to safety. The Cornish did the same for Duchess Igaine and Elaine. Five knights rallied to King Mark and surrounded him with broad impenetrable shields. They moved to get him indoors.
A group of the queen’s Hibernian guards were charging the brothers. Agravain drew his second Roman broadsword and twirled both blades at once. Gawain’s hawk eyes honed in on the guards. He yanked off his mourning cloak and raised his katana with both hands in a relaxed grip. The tip of his sword, aimed at the nose of the nearest man.
The rumble of scorching fire and sizzling flesh came from behind. The brothers’ glanced over their shoulders to see the three priests with the scrolls screaming as crimson flames burned them alive. They were Hibernians in disguise, assigned with murdering Lot and his sons. Morgan Le Fay made her entrance as she whipped off her black cloak and revealed the stunning design of her combat-ready attire.
Her black curve-hugging blouse was slashed at the top, flashing her midriff and baring those smooth snow-white shoulders where a metal shoulder-pad was protecting her right clavicle. A black skirt was settled low on her hips, wrapped around her leather pants. Instead of her normal footwear, Morgan was wearing the black leather boots of a sailor that reached up to her knees. Her long black hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. She held up her right hand with Scarlet flames blazing like an oil-drenched torch but she wasn’t burned. Her enchanted red rubies were fastened in place, locked and loaded.
She gave Gawain a nod. Gawain nodded back. Everyone had the same mutual mission. “Lets give ‘em hell!”