Chapter 7: Trossachs

Chapter 7- The Trossachs

The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 7 – The Trossachs
By Rock Kitaro

Racing for their lives, Gawain, Isolde, and the Hibernians scraped through wet leafy branches. A flood of furious Picts chased Isolde’s group through the wet woodlands of the Trossach. Three minutes felt like an hour. Isolde rode at the forefront with Gawain and Sir Ewangish right behind her. Five knights assisted from the rear but one of them was fading out from blood loss to an arrow wound.

King Drest’s four elite warriors in blue chalky paint were leading the charge and they were closing in. If Isolde had hesitated in deciding which path to take, the Picts would’ve overwhelmed them in less than ten seconds. It wasn’t until Gawain narrowly dodged his third low hanging vine that he realized Isolde had no idea where she was going. She was slowing down with doubt sinking in.

“YAH!” Gawain yelled as he spurred with intense fervor.

Gawain quickly sped up and took the lead. He wasn’t familiar with the Trossach woodlands but he was calm and collected, wise enough to follow the flow of water to avoid getting stuck at the dead end from some rising ground. The terrain fluctuated with gorges, steep hills, and drop-off cliffs. Rising tree roots could snag a horse’s hoof at any moment and the shallow ponds were actually veiled sinkholes. Dense vegetation made visibility poor. He could barely see beyond the sharp turns. Gawain knew it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out.

He spotted a glimmer of sunshine and followed the light. Within seconds, Gawain’s company emerged from the thick woods and into a clearing. It was a vast open meadow in the middle of the forest, an oasis of rich green grass and sunflowers.

Halfway across the meadow, another force came charging out of the tree line at full speed. These six newcomers were all suited in black armor with their leader wearing a flashy red scarf flowing from his neck. Gripped with fear, Gawain pulled on his reins for an abrupt stop. Princess Isolde and Ewangish struggled to do the same.

Pellinore raised his helmet visor and examined Gawain with the same bloodthirsty stare from the day they first met. They locked eyes for less than a second but time slowed as they gradually began to recognize each other. Pellinore was so impressive. His long serrated claymore was drawn and ready to carve into flesh. It wasn’t until Gawain noticed the pink vertical scar over Pellinore’s left eye that he was certain.

“Pellinore?!” Gawain shouted.

“HA! Found him!” Pellinore slurreed with a thick wad of spit.

“Help us! Picts!” Gawain begged, pointing over his shoulders.

Pellinore looked and was instantly mesmerized by the boldness in Isolde’s sky blue eyes. The sweat glistening over her golden visage made Pellinore a zealous fiend.

“Come on, boys! Let’s play!”

With that, the Brood of the Black Bloods stormed the Picts head on.

“You know this rabble?” Sir Ewangish asked.

“I believe so,” Gawain said, breathing hard but smiling with relief.

“Away!” the princess ordered.

Pellinore gripped his claymore with both hands as he charged between two of the blue elite warriors. Sweeping in a straight line, from left to right, Pellinore sliced through the pair with a powerful swing. The disemboweled bodies of his victims fell from their horses and Pellinore was just getting started.

Kanish, Balto, Jeremy, Dantry, and Barxy followed Pellinore to corral the Picts in an all-out melee. It was brutal. The six mercenaries fought like a well-oiled machine. Balto would wound a man and Kanish would follow up for the kill. Barxy was a bear the way he leapt from his horse to drag two soldiers down.

Jeremy and Dantry followed Pellinore into the thick of the forest. The Picts were losing men at a rapid pace and broke from a clustered group to spread out. Pellinore dismounted and gave chase.

Like a wolf on the prowl, he leaped over tree roots and stumps without skipping a beat. His intense gaze remained focused on the prey. And when Pellinore closed in, he threw everything he had into each swing, severing through sword, armor, flesh and bone. Jeremy and Dantry merely followed to put Pellinore’s victims out of their misery.

Isolde, Gawain, Ewangish and the four Hiberian knights continued south through the Trossachs. The woods were so dense. A web of slender but sturdy trees combed through their group and caused them to fan out. The enemy was coming from every direction and soon, the princess found herself surrounded with no ally in sight.

Suddenly, three wild-haired Picts came pouncing from the trees. They startled Isolde’s horse, causing it to rear up high in the air. She screamed and nearly had a heart attack, hanging on for dear life. The Picts groped and clawed at her cape, latching on to pull her down. Then, a flash of gold came dashing by.

Tristan, with his blond hair and rippling muscles came charging out of the bushes. He shattered a log over one savage. The remaining two jumped on his back, but Trisan easily hurled one to the ground and rammed his back against a boulder to crush the other.

Isolde’s horse was still bucking with fright when Tristan hurried over and grabbed the reins. He didn’t whisper or click his tongue to calm it down. He simply glared into the horse’s eyes with the snarl of someone who wasn’t opposed to adding horse meat to the menu. The horse calmed down.

More Picts were coming. Gawain couldn’t believe what was happening. He quickly recognized Tristan but they were still outnumbered. Gawain wasn’t a cavalryman. He wasn’t trained for fighting on horseback. As his horse galloped at a steady pace, Gawain swung a leg his horse’s mane and dismounted in stride.

Sprinted toward a group of six club-wielding Picts, Gawain slid on the wet soil to evade a high swing and counter with his own. He was now in the center of five angry clubbers and Gawain was utterly spectacular. His speed and lightning quick reflexes were uncanny. Armed with just a katana, Gawain severed extended limps and sliced at the legs carrying the most weight. It wasn’t his intention to kill, but to maim and continue on. His superior swordplay was on full display as Gawain ended up subduing this group of five in less than thirty seconds.

With his dismembered enemies writhing in the muddy soil, Gawain looked for Isolde. It was mayhem. Sir Ewangish and the four Hibernian knights were clanging swords with another group. Tristan was nowhere in sight and if it wasn’t for a screaming Isolde, Gawain would’ve never found her.

With Tristan off fighting, Isolde’s horse got startled again and took her for a wild ride. To make matters worse, one of the blue elite warriors was closing in with a battle ax twirling in hand.

Gawain sprinted as fast he could along the high ridge. His path was parallel to Isolde and the pursuing blue warrior. She was exhausted in tears when she looked over her shoulder to see the reaching blue warrior.

“HUP!” Gawain grunted.

The young man pulled off an impressive feat. He leaped off the ridge and flipped in midair to hook onto the warrior’s arms, yanking him clean off of the horse. As Gawain and the warrior hit the ground, Gaheris emerged from the woods to snatch up Isolde’s reins and whisper sweet soft commands into the horse’s ear.

Gawain was mildly concussed from the brutal landing, as was the blue warrior. They regained composure at the same time. Both reached for their weapons. The warrior picked up his ax and raised it high. Gawain drew his katana and lunged for his throat. It was a contest of speed. The fastest would emerge the victor. Then, something unexpected happened.

As the blue warrior had his ax raised for a vertical chop, Agravain came darting from a bush and sliced the back of his hamstring quicker than a pit viper. The warrior cried out in pain and Gawain ended it by shoving the katana through his gaping mouth. Gawain did a dazzling spin as he yanked out his katana and let his enemy fall face-first in the mud.

Almost in unison, Gawain and Agravain turned and beheld. Posted high up in a tree blind, another person was watching. Morgan’s heart was about to burst as she could no longer contain her smile. Men were screaming for help. Shrieks of pain and the clamor of banging shields filled the air but nothing could have prevented the brothers from embracing each other in open arms. With Isolde’s horse under control, an emotional Gaheris came over and joined the affection. It was a joyous occasion and nothing could stop Gawain from gushing.

“I can’t believe it! Gaheris! Agravain! Tell me I’m not dreaming! Hahaha!” Gawain lauded with tearful eyes.

Gaheris and Agravain were utterly speechless and awestruck by their tall, strong, and handsome older brother. The way they beamed at Gawain, it was like meeting a celebrity for the first time. Morgan was touched. She covered her mouth and giggled with whimpering glee. Morgan was just about to come down from the tree blind when she saw Isolde approaching the brothers on horseback.

Princess Isolde was disheveled with her long honey hair now frizzled like a traumatized cat. She was defeated and humiliated but forced an uneasy smile with soft nod, acknowledging their kindness. Gawain assisted her down.

Morgan’s eyes widened as her cheeks immediately flushed with rage. She scrutinized the way Gawain held onto Isolde’s trembling hands. She cringed when Isolde started sobbing into Gawain’s chest like a frightened child.

Morgan’s heart shriveled as her mind went to that dark place where no one was given the benefit of the doubt. In her prophetic vision, Gawain was a prisoner, a slave held against his will and bound in chains. Was she wrong?

“Princess!!!” Sir Ewangish called as he rode over with two of the four Hibernian knights that fought alongside him. “Are you hurt?” He asked.

“No. But remind me to feed this inbred horse to Gorcus when we get back,” Isolde fumed.

Just then, a faint roar echoed from afar.

“Speak of the devil,” Isolde uttered, almost out of breath.

Gawain gave his brothers a light pound on the chest. “Come on.”

The boys ran off in the direction of the roar while Isolde hesitated. Her knees were wobbly. Her adrenaline, spent. Yet, for some reason she was compelled to follow with Sir Ewangish and the two Hibernian knights right behind her.

Morgan emerged from the shroud of shrubbery and stood near the dead blue warrior. There was a vindictive gleam in her purple glare. For a moment, she thought about riding back to Tintagel on her own. She wondered if Gawain would even care.

“YEAH! COME ON! GET EM!” Pellinore roared.

The thirty-one Picts that came after Isolde and the Hibernians were all dead. The Brood of Black Bloods didn’t lose a single member. Of the Hibernians, they suffered ten casualties and all that were left were the two knights accompanying Sir Ewangish and Isolde. There was just one battle left and Pellinore was taking bets on it.

In the open meadow where Gawain found Pellinore, Tristan was in the middle of an intense match with the monstrous Gorcus. Both were unarmed. What began as a swordfight had turned into a barbaric knuckle bashing brawl. Pellinore and Balto watched from the side, wildly immersed in the spirit of competition as they cheered and screamed.

Sir Ewangish soon realized what was going on and decided to step in. “Gorc-!” He was about to shout.

Isolde stopped him. Gawain noticed. He watched as Isolde ventured further into the meadow with a keen interest in Tristan. Tristan was just a man, an extraordinary man, but a man nonetheless. She watched as he tangled with the goliath who was three feet taller and had a 300lb advantage. But Tristan didn’t back down in the slightest.

Tristan and Gorcus exchanged loud smacking blows that sounded like cows were being pelted by apple size rocks. Neither would go down. Finally, after a brutal exchange of toe-to-toe punches, Tristan ducked under a swing and latched onto Gorcus’s back. Gorcus backpedaled and tried to crush Tristan against an elm tree. The branches of the shook with a shower of browning leaves falling all around them but Tristan didn’t let go. The blonde Achilles wrapped his python arms around Gorcus’s neck and squeezed as hard as he could.

“Oh my god!” whispered an appalled Kanish.

“Yeah, Tristan! Get him! Rub his face in it! Rub…his…face in it!!!” Pellinore screamed as he was about to pop a blood vessel.

Each time Pellinore cheered, Tristan would exert more force and amplify his efforts. Even when Gorcus’s eyes rolled back and he collapsed to his knees, Tristan was still wrenching on the ogre’s neck. And when Gorcus faded and all life expired, Tristan shoved him into the mud like he was nothing more than a festering chunk of flesh.

Pellinore and the Brood of Black Bloods roared and rooted for Tristan while Sir Ewangish and the two Hibernian knights exchanged awkward glances of uncertainty. Isolde was completely blown away as if she had just witness a titan rising up from the sea with a leviathan on his back. A smile surfaced. She batted her lashes and did nothing to hide her undressing eyes.

Tristan’s body was overheated. He ripped off what was left of his shirt and trudged over. The Hibernians thought about running, but they couldn’t leave their princess behind.

“What do we do?” one of the Hibernians asked.

Tristan’s cold blue eyes gazed past Isolde and the Hibernians to someone standing behind them. “Satisfied?” He asked.

Gawain turned around and there she was. His eyes widened. His heart stopped and his lungs suddenly forgot to draw breath. Numbness rushed through his legs as if warm cement was just injected through his veins. A loud ringing tone chimed in his ears. He couldn’t hear anything else. He couldn’t see anything else except for her.

“Morgan…” he whispered.

Morgan was scowling. They locked eyes for no more than three seconds before she averted her gaze and crossed arms as if something more pressing was on her mind. Gaheris and Agravain were puzzled by her behavior. Both squinted and stiffened their necks with absurdity.

“You’ve got to fucking be kidding me!” Agravian yelled.

“It’s okay,” said Gawain in a shaky tone.

He took six steps across the wet grass and, saying nothing, Gawain simply embraced her in his arms. Morgan closed her heated eyes. They felt each other’s warmth, the humidity embedded in their damp sweaty garments, the air in each other’s lungs, the firmness of her breasts, the padding of his chest. Finally, Morgan reached up and slid her arms around the back of Gawain’s neck. Gawain squeezed tighter, lifting her off of the ground and inhaling deep, taking in her scent and committing it to memory. Then, he planted a soft delicate kiss on the side of Morgan’s neck. Morgan wanted to do the same but she didn’t.

“Are those Hibernian garbs?” Pellinore asked.

Tristan’s eyes perked with high alert as he examined the insignia on one of the knights’ shoulder plates.

“Hertians!” Tristan gasped before reaching out and snatching Isolde by her neck.

The princess was choking but chuckled as if she enjoyed the pain.

“UNHAND HER!” Ewangish shouted with his sword at the ready.

“Eh-ta-ta-ta-ta!” Pellinore taunted as he twirled his claymore and stood between Ewangish and Tristan. Agravain moved to Ewangish’s rear while the other Black Bloods surrounded the two Hibernians knights.

Gawain let Morgan go and almost got lost in her enchanted gaze.

“Sapphire eyes. My Morgan,” Gawain whispered with a beaming smile.

Morgan finally showed some semblance of a smile but it was a sad one, a smile Gawain found perplexing and in need of prying. As happy as he was, it became increasingly difficult to celebrate with Ewangish and Pellinore trading insults and demands. When Gawain turned around, Tristan still had his hands wrapped around Isolde’s throat.

“You do realize I can kill you right now?” Tristan told her.

It was difficult for her to answer. She heard birds chirping and started to cackle at the sound of it.

“What’s with her?” Gaheris asked, examining the pleasure in Isolde’s glossy eyes.

“Brothers. Friends, please,” Gawain spoke up. “I beseech you all to house your anger and allow me to explain. But first, I must insist that you remove your hands from the lady.”

Tristan was reluctant but Gawain’s gallant mannerisms overruled his animalistic instinct. He let go but stayed close. The imprints his hands left on her neck were disturbing but Gawain did his best to exude optimism.

“Thank you, Tristan. Allow me to introduce, this is Princess Isolde, heir to Oherth Castle and the sole daughter of Queen Iseult, the Queen of Hibernia.”

All swords moved and gravitated towards Isolde like planets orbiting the sun. An agitated Gawain massaged the bridge of his nose as he and Ewangish moved to stand between those blades.

“Gawain, what are you doing? These people kidnapped you. They forced you into slavery. Don’t tell me you’re willing to die for them,” Morgan said as she stood next to the brooding Tristan.

Gawain had to choose his words wisely. He was aware of the violent history between the two kingdoms. What he didn’t know was what had happened in the past four years. His brothers, Tristan, and even Morgan all appeared so different. If he himself had changed so much over the years, Gawain knew it would’ve been foolish to assume that they had not.

“You’re right,” Gawain began. “You’re absolutely correct, Morgan. No man can dare dispute the despicable actions of the dastardly Hibernians. Every man here has the right to skewer their bodies and leave them for the birds of the field. However, as I said, this is the Princess of Hibernia. The princess! It is my prudent advice that we bring her back to Cornwall and give King Mark a bargaining chip by which we can negotiate terms of a treaty.”

“A treaty!?” Tristan scoffed.

“NO! KILL HER!” Morgan barked.

Spurred by her fervor, Agravain impulsively thrust his sword towards Isolde’s thigh. Gawain surprised everyone with his lightning quick reflexes. His hand whipped out and gripped the blade. Agravain gasped. He instinctively pulled back and ended up slicing into Gawain’s palm.

“Oh my god! I’m sorry!” Agravain said, throwing down his swords.

“Aggie…” Gaheris hissed with annoyance.

The brothers hurried to treat the bleeding hand while Gawain ignored the stinging pain and showed his mettle by staying focused on the subject. “Morgan. We need her alive.”

“We don’t need these boys alive,” Pellinore grinned, referring to Ewangish and the two Hibernian knights.

“We should send them back to Oherth Castle. Listen to me, Pellinore. Their ships are anchored offshore in the Firth of Clyde. Sending them back in one piece will be taken as a gesture of goodwill. Sir Ewangish can deliver our best intentions and relay that you and your comrades helped us escape from the villainous King Drest. This is paramount, I assure you. Better to extend an olive branch than to have the mad dog Morholt unleashed to siege Tintagel for months on end,” Gawain explained.

“What’s that to me?” Pellinore grunted.

“You won’t get paid if we’re waging war,” Tristan answered. “Gawain’s right. This is just what Vortigern’s waiting for. Once our kingdoms have torn each other apart, he’d dispatch his legions to come and pick off the stragglers.”

“You can’t be serious,” Morgan scoffed. “You’ve just fallen for an age-old trick. I’m not sure how they poisoned Gawain’s mind, but we can’t let it infect us all!”

“Morgana!?” Gawain snapped with frustration setting in.

“Age old trick, she says,” Tristan grumbled. “Remind me, how did you manage to get away outside the Serapine Gate?”

“That was magic! Not a trick. Please don’t confuse the two,” Morgan sassed.

Tristan ignored Morgan and returned to Isolde with a more professional approach. “Forgive my boorish manners, your grace. From this point on, you must consider yourself under my charge. Your men will return to your ships and tell your queen that they can find the princess held safely in the towers of Tintagel. If you understand my words and swear on your honor to relay the message, you men are free to go.”

“I’m only saying. You don’t need all three of them to deliver your stupid message,” Pellinore pointed out.

“Go now before this fool lashes out!” Tristan barked.

Ewangish nodded, “Rest assured. We will return, milady.”

Pellinore chomped his jaws at an already rattled Ewangish before the three Hibernians hurried off. Gaheris finished wrapping Gawain’s cut hand with a strip from his tunic. Kanish took the liberty of disarming Isolde and binding her wrists behind her back.

Morgan didn’t like the way Isolde was smiling at Tristan. She didn’t like the way Gawain was so concerned about Isolde’s safety. This was supposed to be her victory, the fruit of her hard-fought campaign. However, her triumph felt tarnished. She’d have to share her heroic rescue with the capture of an insolent princess whose beauty and boldness seemed to surpass her own.

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