The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 3 – The Violent Orphans
By Rock Kitaro
SIMS – Crows (Agravain and Gaheris’s theme)
It wasn’t the first time Morgan was laughed out of a room, but still, it was getting old. The blatant disrespect for authority was no longer cute and she knew it. For two days, Morgan kept to the darkest towers where no one could find her. The cackle of Tristan’s laughter haunted her. She couldn’t shake the sight of his cold blue eyes staring down at her wherever she went. It was maddening.
In the depths of her despair, she wrote poems and limericks, scribbling down all the harm she wished upon him. She made a list of all the times the lion had foiled her plans and designed a punishment for each incident.
For hours, she stared at the ceiling from the stone cold floor and fantasized about beasts feeding on his carcass. She dreamt about his lengthy crucifixion. She smirked wondering how loud he’d scream if he had to burn at the stake. Such thoughts were therapeutic. It seemed to be the only way to pacify the screaming Furies chained within the depths of her heart.
For two nights, Morgan sulked in the shadows of the royal banquet hall. It was here that the Council of Gold Clovers held their lavish feasts, joking and laughing as if they weren’t just at each other’s throats mere moments earlier. Musicians played their fiddles and flutes. Squires dazzled their maidens. Wine drizzled from beards and wives dined on gossip.
The tables were arranged in a U-shaped formation with the king’s platform raised directly in the center. King Mark, Duchess Igraine and house royalty lauded Tristan for his bravery. Morgan watched it all with her back against the wall, glaring with torchlight blazing from her eyes. Their laughter made her sick. Their smiles made her snarl. She remembered a hundred dirty old men laughing at her, how Tristan called her insolent and mistempered.
She crossed her arms and grumbled, “You want mistempered? I’ll give you mistempered.”
While everyone was asleep, Morgan confined herself to one of the storage closets. Her tiny book of spells and potions were written with coded languages and symbols, made legible only to those trained in the arts of Lake Avalon. For hours, Morgan would grind crystals and brew concoctions in a black cauldron. She poured these shiny potions into small milky glass vials, tiny enough to fit into the pockets of dagger sleeves she planned to strap over her shoulder like a bandolier. If the men weren’t willing to save Gawain, Morgan was prepared to do it herself.
The third night…
It was the third night since Morgan was humiliated in front of the Council of Gold Clovers. It’s been three days since she saw the vision of Gawain chained in a ship. It was the final night of feasting, after which, the lords were scheduled to depart in the morning and return to their domains.
Again, Morgan stationed herself in the solace of the shadows. Then the giant doors of the banquet hall opened. The herald announced a new visitor. No one was paying attention. The music and revelry was so loud that no one heard.
“From the Kingdom of Lothian and Orkney, I give you Duke Tiburne and his companions, Gaheris and Agravain!” announced the herald.
A smile slowly surfaced for the first time in so long that Morgan’s cheeks began to hurt. The loud crash of shattered wood got everyone’s attention. King Mark’s longtime herald was a large man, well over three hundred pounds. And yet, a fourteen-year-old pup of a lad was now standing over him, having just broken a chair across the herald’s back.
“That’s not how you say my name, you idiot. It’s Agra-vain. I’d commit it to memory if I were you.”
“Vain, you say? You have it right!” Jonah of Mon scolded.
Agravain looked the baron up and down before walking on, as if he didn’t have time to address every shit stain he happened to come across. Gaheris was older than Agravain by a year but it didn’t make much of a difference in terms of strength or stature. The hall fell silent as the teenagers advanced with the swagger of a champion. Duke Tiburne and their three accompanying soldiers seemed completely eclipsed by the fire of their undaunted charisma.
Everyone could tell Agravain and Gaheris were brothers by their skin tone and facial structure. However, Agravain had straighter hair that came down on all sides in a bowl cut. His angry brown eyes had sharp angled brows that made it seem as if he was in a constant state of contention. Two Roman broadswords were crossed and strapped to his back. These were his trade tools and he never went anywhere without them.
The fifteen-year-old Gaheris was taller by a mere inch, reaching the height of five-foot-ten. He had softer hazel eyes with long pretty lashes. His brown locks were curly like that of a sheep’s wool. And while his little brother appeared resentful at all times, Gaheris was always smirking as if he found everything so adorable.
The moment Gaheris showed his face, almost all of the young maidens suddenly lost interest in the suitors vying for their affections. His beauty was magnetizing, an exotic prize every girl wanted. Of course, this didn’t sit well with the boys. A low murmur rumbled amongst them, something along the lines of “who the hell is this?”
The Lothians wore dark brown cloaks from their necks down to their ankles, covering their attire and concealing their weapons. Having recently disembarked from their ships, they were still half-soaked and dripping with water from the sea. The high-borns grimaced at Agravain’s blatant attitude. The brothers were still only squires after all. The way they strolled as if they owned the room would’ve made any old-timer convulse with rage. Anyone except for the royal family, that is.
There’s a reason for that. Agravain and Gaheris grew up in Tintagel as the adopted sons of Duchess Igraine’s eldest daughter, Queen Morgaus. It was Igraine and Elaine taught the brothers how to read and write. They groomed them, fed them, and bathed them. Those were happy times when all they used to do was laugh and eat cake. Thus, the ladies couldn’t stop smiling as the brothers came and kneeled before King Mark.
“This is an unexpected surprise,” said the king as he dabbed wine from his beard.
“Unexpected indeed!” said Agravain, his voice booming off the walls. “We return from the field of Mars to this? Lukewarm waters? Tintagel feasting on peace while men and women are raped and pillaged in the hills?”
“Agravain, stop. Not this again,” King Mark said massaging his forehead.
“Your highness, how long do you plan to lick the back of Vortigern’s boots? We come from Gaul! Or is it Francia now? Who can keep up? Emperor Lucius made us serve as scouts for three weeks. Thrice, we were ambushed. Yet here you are, so comfortable, so content, so sweet.”
“Enough, Agravain” Sir Cador warned.
“Lord Chamberlain! You of all people should be the one leading the charge. And Tristan! Our mighty, Tristan. The Lion of Dumnonia! Ooh! So scary.”
Tristan was slouching in his chair, tipsy from the drink. “I’ve been fighting goblins,” he chuckled.
“Goblins! Really? And did you charge in to battle on your unicorn? Was there gold at the end of the rainbow? Do tell. What’s next?” Agravain mocked.
The smirk faded from Tristan’s lips. He was tipsy but still a soldier. Tristan wasn’t lying when he said he came back from fighting goblins and more than that, he lost good men in the fray. In a fit of rage, Tristan flipped over his section of the table and sent it rolling off the platform.
“I’ll have your front teeth for that, boy!” Tristan growled with an insane smile.
Agravain matched his intensity as he reached for his swords and hissed, “I’m shaking in my boots.”
A squeak of a giggle cut through the tension. All eyes swept to Morgan who was standing near a wall-mounted torch. She covered her mouth just in time to muffle another burst of snorting laughter and quickly faded back into the shadows.
Tristan was still heated but the fact that he hadn’t yet put hands on Agravain revealed some level of affection. Sir Ekner urged the musicians to continue playing. And as the music resumed, guests returned to their meals and the castellany standing guard gradually lowered their shoulders.
“King Mark! I have something for you,” Gaheris chimed in.
“Even his voice is beautiful!” gushed a maid.
Gaheris inserted himself between Agravain and Tristan and nudged his little brother to step back. Standing before the king, Gaheris presented a beautiful hand-carved bow made from elm wood. It was exquisite with spiral grooves and three inches of curlicue designed at both ends.
“I remember you gave me a bow on my ninth birthday. I practice every day. I’m quite good, actually, and I believe I have you to thank for it.”
King Mark marveled as he accepted the bow with two hands. Gaheris was pleased with the king’s reaction, but noticed Agravain and Tristan were still sizing each other up.
“I hear you’re quite the archer too, Tristan. We should hold games,” Gaheris suggested.
“Nay! I’m much better with the sword,” Tristan sneered.
“What a coincidence. So am I,” Agravain sneered back.
“I don’t mean to be rude, young masters, but why are you here?” Sir Cador finally asked.
“NO! You’re always welcome. Stay as long as you like!” Elaine said, beaming like a happy puppy from her spot at the table.
It warmed Gaheris’s heart to see his aunt and grandmother. He took Agravain by the collar and ushered him over. Igraine and Elaine showered the brothers with hugs and kisses in a mushy display of affection. Even Constantine came over to reunite with his old buddies and complimented their soldierly presence. Constantine was older but they were taller than him, a joke the brother would never let down.
Meanwhile, Duke Tiburne of Lothian approached the king to explain.
“Forgive their manners, your highness. What Agravain says is true. We crossed the channel to deliver our annual tribute to the Roman Emperor but before we could leave, his eminence ordered us to march west into Frankish lands. The fighting was fierce but by the grace of God we managed.”
“We were actually boarding our ships to return home when a bird flew through the window. I know this sounds crazy, but I swear I heard it whisper something to the young masters. Next thing I know, the boys were set on coming here to reunite with their family. Forgive me, my lord. I do hope it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all, Duke Tiburne.” King Mark decreed. “The lords are heading out in the morning so we’ll have plenty of open quarters and soon this place will feel like a crypt. Please, stay as long as you like. We’ll send messengers to Lothian to assure King Lot of your safe return.”
Upon hearing this, the exhausted Duke Tiburne fell to his knees and bawled like a child. “Thank you, oh great and merciful king! Thank you so much! For so long I’ve yearned for just one night of undisturbed rest,”
“For the love of God! Get up!” Agravain shouted.
“Aggie…” Gaheris uttered as he helped Tiburne to his feet.
“No! This is embarrassing. Lothians aren’t this weak!” Agravain said.
“You’re a good man, Duke Tiburne. I’ll speak with the king and make sure you never have to go on these voyages again,” Gaheris assured him.
“Oh thank you, young prince! Thank you so much!” Duke Tiburne said with strained tears as the three accompanying Lothian soldiers came to help.
Meanwhile, Igraine and Elaine couldn’t take their hands off of Agravain. They bombarded him with question after question about Morgaus and her regency as queen of Lothian. Sticking to the walls, Morgan moved until she was directly behind their table. She too wanted to hear how her eldest sister was doing. Last they heard, Morgaus was pregnant. Everyone was pleased to hear she had given birth to a healthy baby boy.
“They named the baby, Gareth. I think it’s stupid,” said Agravain.
“Why stupid?” Elaine asked.
“It’s too close to Gaheris. Just wait till Gaheris’s fame precedes him. People will confuse the two.”
“Oh! I see what you mean,” Elaine laughed. “That’s cute. I never knew you were so prudent. Honestly, I was frightened for your life just now. Tristan is too quick to resort to violence. I think he takes his monikers too seriously. The brute.”
Agravain looked over his shoulder. Tristan was still taunting him. Agravain grinned and dared him to come over.
“Boys…” Duchess Igraine uttered. “I think Gareth is a wonderful name. Now he can grow up and follow the path of his handsome older brothers. No one will provoke a man named Gareth. Not while he has fierce specimens like Agravain and Gaheris roaming about.”
“You’re forgetting one,” Morgan added. “There’s still Gawain.”
“Morgan! My god. You’ve grown,” Agravain gushed.
“That is what people do.” Elaine said.
“She looks pretty, I mean,” Agravain blushed.
“Thank you, dear. You look handsome as well,” Morgan said as she leaned over and stole one of Elaine’s grapes.
“Well, not as handsome as Gaheris right?” Agravain snickered.
“Not all of us go for the flower boys, Aggie. Some women like the rough and tumble lot,” said Morgan.
“Which do you prefer?” Elaine asked.
Morgan pressed her lips and answered, “The one who wants me and me alone.” She then snatched the remaining cluster of grapes and walked away.
“Hey, Morgan. Wait!” Agravain called.
“Not here,” Morgan called back as she made her exit.
“I’ll never figure her out,” Elaine mumbled.
Later that night, while most of the kingdom slept, a group of youngsters were still out and about. They were in front of the king’s stables in the Eastern Ward, loitering around a pile of discarded wood that some carpenter was planning to recycle at some point.
A full moon and two burning torches gave light the flattened field. It was more than enough for Agravain to practice his dual-sword style. As his swords whistled with each swing, Constantine introduced a fourteen-year-old kitchen maid named Debra. She was a lovely girl with fair skin, light freckles and soft brown hair. Constantine had taken a liking to Debra, and as such, felt both proud and cautious about introducing her to Gaheris.
Gaheris took hold of Debra’s hand and kissed. “Pleasure.”
Debra blushed and smiled uncontrollably. “You’re too kind, your grace.”
“That one over there is Agravain, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now.” Constantine pointed out.
Agravain merely paused to nod Debra’s way.
“So how far along are you with your apprenticeship?” Gaheris asked.
“Six months,” Constantine answered. “They have me out on patrol with the fourth unit and I’m getting used to giving orders. But I don’t think it’s in my best interest to rest my hopes on becoming a knight so young. Tristan’s still not a knight.”
“That’s because Tristan has no spine! He always does exactly what’s expected of him with no original thought of his own,” Agravain asserted.
“I don’t know about all that. I’ve seen Tristan in combat. There’s a demon in him, let me tell ya. I once got in his way whilst he was sparring with Bruno and the lion came close to chopping off my head.”
“Why would you get in his way?” Agravain asked.
Debra giggled as Constantine threw up his hands. “It was by accident! I’m not insane.”
Gaheris put a pipe to his lips and lit an opiate mixture of dried mint leaves.
“Aren’t you a little too young to be smoking?” Constantine asked.
Gaheris merely smirked, not only at the absurdity of the question but also how much Constantine had turned into a complete square.
“I don’t understand. What’s the difference between a knight and a common soldier?” Debra asked.
Constantine explained. “A knight is a high post of prestige and honor, Debra. He’s expected to serve and defend his lordship to the death. Most soldiers fight their entire lives hoping to rise to such echelon but it’s rare for a commoner to be knighted. They’d have to do something extraordinary like slay a monster or take on fifty men by himself. Most knights are born in power with lands they inherit. Still, they have to suffer through a period of training in which they squire for an existing knight like an apprenticeship.
“I squire for my father. The nepotism has its advantages, I suppose. But it’s also a hindrance. I’m expected to gain experience in battle but so far I’ve only been in one. I’ve never even killed a man. Only severed his finger.”
“That’s okay. I hope you never have kill anyone,” Debra said as she latched onto Constantine’s arm.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Agravain grumbled.
“Who are you squires to?” Debra asked.
It was a heavy question for the brothers. Even Agravain stopped practicing to reflect. After a moment, it was Gaheris who spoke up to say, “Nobody. We’re um…It’s complicated to explain, but the answer is –”
A posse of eight older teenagers were staggering their way. Their leader was a low-born squire and son of a skilled lancer. His name was Kersey. In his hands was a spiked club. All of them were drunk.
“King Mark might not have a problem with you twats talking down to him, but we do. This is Tintagel, you pricks! No one comes flapping their yammer at Tristan and expects to leave with their teeth intact,” Kersey bellowed.
“Tristan sent you? So weak.” Agravain scoffed.
“Tristan don’t need to send us. This is about you coming in and taking a big heaping pile of crap all over our pride!” Kersey growled.
“Then you got it all wrong,” Gaheris said as he calmly smoked his pipe. “We’re Cornish, same as you. Agravain and Tristan go way back. Close as kin, we are.”
“Did he…Did this dainty little flower just call himself Cornish?” Kersey asked with a haughty snarl.
“Kersey. You’re drunk. Go to the barracks and sleep it off,” Constantine warned.
“We know what you are?” Kersey growled in a stupor as he pointed at the brothers.
“You’re Saxons. Barbarians. You’ve got no mommy, no daddy, so the great Duke Gorlois took you in like stray dogs. That don’t make you one of us. It’s just by pure dumb luck that they somehow found themselves a kingdom. Bunch of orphans is all you are. If these be princes, then I wipe my ass with the concept of royalty and whoever else wants it.”
“That’s it!” Agravain huffed as he flung his swords to the dirt.
At once, Agravain launched at Kersey to knock him down with a punch that sent teeth scattering across the grass like dice. The remaining teenagers surrounded Agravain intent on overpowering him with their numbers but they had no idea who they were dealing with.
Even without swords, Agravain was dishing out bone breaking blows, hurling all 140 pounds of his athletic frame behind each and every swing. His amazing footwork allowed him to duck and dodge with ease. Swift as a jackrabbit, he dashed in and out, bashing exposed ribs, cracking jaws, and targeting knees that were just begging to be stomped on.
Constantine was speechless. The way Agravain set upon the older boys, it was like a wolf had broken into a chicken coup.
“Jesus! Shouldn’t we stop him?” Constantine asked.
Gaheris was emptying out his pipe when he decided to look over and assess the situation. “I mean, if you want. Be my guest.”
A minute had passed since Agravain knocked out Kersey. Six others now lay writhing with torn ears, broken arms, and busted noses. Agravain was glossed with sweat, breathing hard as one more lad crept up behind him with a wooden oar. Just as the lad reared back to club him, Gaheris stepped in, grabbed the oar, and slung the lad into the stable walls as if he was yanking dirt from a shovel.
Agravain approached and gave his brother a nod of thanks.
“Are all the lads like this?” Gaheris asked.
“No! I promise this is highly unusual,” Constantine assured them.
“They’re just mad because the girls fancy Gaheris,” Debra explained.
“Ah. That makes sense,” Gaheris said with a nod, prompting Constantine and Agravain to shoot him the stink-eye.
“Boys!” hissed someone from the stable.
Morgan emerged from the horse stables in a light green dress, brown running boots, and a chest strap of dagger slits that housed her glowing potions. She also had a hunting knife down by her waist while her brown hair was covered by a hooded cloak.
“Going somewhere?” Constantine asked.
Morgan raised her hand and blew at a dab of white powder. The dust flew on its own like a thin thread of silk, splitting in midair like prongs on a fork to enter Debra and Constantine’s nostrils at the same time. Morgan hurried over and caught Debra before she collapsed in a deep slumber. Constantine hit the ground with a hard thud.
“You were supposed to catch him!” Morgan whispered as she carefully lay Debra down on the grass.
Gaheris smiled with growing frustration. “What’s all this then?”
He already had a good idea what Morgan had planned. And gradually he was beginnig to hate himself for having come to Tintagel in the first place.