The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 28 – Gawain vs Algayre
By Rock Kitaro
Two riders carved a trail as they raced across the rolling moors of dying grass. Morgan was riding for her life, dipping and diving, zigzagging in an erratic fashion as she continued west for the shoreline.
Algayre was an avid horseman. The way his steed cleared fallen logs and skipped across shallow streams without so much as a pause was enough to inject fear in any prey. Twice now, he came within arm’s reach of her, lunging out to grab her hair before she dipped into the slope of the fluctuating moors. Algayre was getting agitated but he kept smiling. He knew her death was inevitable. There was only so much ground they could cover.
At last, they entered the Y-shaped valley between steep coastal cliffs to arrive at the sandy beach of Trebarwith Strand. As soon as Vebby’s hooves reached the first wave of the foam-crusted sea, Morgan hurled herself into the shallow water. It was just in time to dodge the decapitating sweep of Algayre’s rapier.
Even though he missed, Algayre was amused. There was nowhere else to go. His prey was trapped. The sea was freezing and the towering cliffs served as barriers. While Morgan struggled to wipe the sand and saltwater from her eyes, Algayre took his time to dismount and clean his long slender blade. Grinning from ear-to-ear, Algayre let the tide roll over his boots as the saliva began to build underneath his tongue.
Then, much to his surprise, Morgan stopped retreating. She turned around and faced him, kneeling in the saltwater that rose up to her hips. Algayre was ready to skin her alive but he noticed her dark purple eyes had turned milky white.
Morgan thrust up her open palms. Five streams of jade colored sea erupted from the waves and materialized into hardened knights with swords and shields. At once, they charged.
The knights fought valiantly but Algayre countered with his own magic. He replicated his image. The knights swung at illusions, carving through a mere image of Algayre before that image dispersed like a popped bag of sand. The real Algayre would sneak up from behind and slice through the knights with either his rapier or the dagger. The battle lasted less than thirty seconds.
When the last knight was no more, the milky look in her eyes faded. Just as Morgan regained her senses, Algayre dashed for her. Impulsively, she extended her ruby palm and blasted him with a surge of furnace hot fire. Algayre stopped, crossed his arms, and closed his eyes. The scorching flames hit an invisible force field that caused the fire to flow around him like a river coursing around a cemented boulder.
Steam from the scorched ocean rose until they were engulfed in a cloud of vapors. The fire flowed in a continuous stream. Morgan was giving it everything she had. She was already fatigued but now it was getting difficult to breath. A migraine throbbed so bad that it muddled her vision. She could barely see the blinding light emanating from her own hand. What she did see was Algayre smiling through his crossed arms. She screamed with rage and dug deep to pull out any hidden reserve still left in the tank, but alas…
The fire stopped. Morgan dropped to her hands with a hard splatter. Fumes rose from her singed hair and fabrics as she gasped for air.
“No words? Pity. I was hoping you’d chide me further. The arousal of gutting the bold in the midst of their foolhardy edicts is unlike any other,” Algayre taunted.
Morgan was drained. She lacked the wherewithal to hit him with some snarky comeback. As if she just finished a marathon, her lungs were compressed, her mouth gaped open, and thick strands of saliva dripped from her lips. The front of her head felt like it was about burst from the pressure.
It was in that moment that she heard the sounds of galloping in the distance. It was faint. Could’ve just been the headache. But in the midst of her shock and exhausted stupor, Morgan peered through her bangs to look up the beach and there he was, Gawain coming to her rescue. She wanted to smile but she couldn’t. Too tired. So deflated.
“Oh ho ho…This is sweet. Such pleasure. Such ecstasy. I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.” Algayre said with the utmost satisfaction.
Algayre was well within distance for a lunge that would’ve killed her once and for all, but he waited. Morgan raised her head with a wincing cringe. She realized what he doing. The way Algayre’s shoulders bounced with anticipation. The way he kept glancing from Gawain to her. Algayre wanted Gawain to get close enough to see the light pass from her eyes. To come so far and be too late. The hopeless misery of being a worthless hero.
When Gawain galloped to within twenty paces, he leaped from his horse and took off in a mad sprint. Algayre was ready. An excited smile stretched across Algayre’s face as he extended his rapier for a plunge aimed at Morgan’s heart. Quickly, Morgan leaned up with an arch in her back and raised a clamshell to shield against her chest. The shell cupped the tip of Algayre’s sword just in time and suddenly, she found the strength to smile. The frown that replaced Algayre’s smirk was rewarding.
With an angry grunt, Algayre thrust harder. Morgan wasn’t about to entrust her life to a crustacean, so she moved out of the way just as the sword broke through the shell. Algayre managed to swipe at Morgan’s shoulder but his blade hit her shoulder guard, and by now, he had someone else to worry about.
Gawain said nothing. No punch lines. No threats. Releasing years of pent up rage, Gawain flew at Algayre in a series of relentless strikes. Each swing from his katana pierced through the salty sea air and sent a whistle that could be heard over the crashing waves. Algayre deflected each blow and countered with his own barrage, charging Gawain with both dagger and rapier.
Their sword fight was intense and tenacious. Their feet splashed in perpetual motion. It was like two wolves caught in a fierce power struggle, bearing their fangs with bristled hair and feral aggression.
Morgan hurried as fast as she could to get up to dry sand. Once she reached the beyond the tide, she again fell to her hands and her knees. Part of her wanted to keep going, and yet, she couldn’t leave him. She looked over her shoulder and saw the two locked in crossed blades. Algayre was smiling again.
“It’s been a long time coming, boy! Isolde’s no longer here to protect you,” Algayre hissed.
Gawain responded by gripping his katana and shoving him back. Algayre started using his magic again. When they first engaged, Gawain’s barrage was so continuous that Algayre didn’t have a chance to summon it. But in that brief three seconds of locking blades, Algayre’s body replicated into five. All five charged Gawain at once.
Gawain cut down two with ease. When his blade passed through the third, Algayre smashed him with the hilt of his rapier, leaving a deep gash near his left eye. As Gawain staggered back, he delivered a hellacious backswing to cut through a fourth illusion. And in that moment, Algayre plunged his dagger into Gawain’s stomach.
Gawain gawked with intense pain as he keeled over and felt nothing but boiling heat spreading from his abdomen. Innate fury refused to let him fall. With a hard step, Gawain made a horizontal left-to-right sweep aimed at Algayre’s neck. Algayre easily ducked and moved in to punch at that gaping hole near Gawain’s pelvis.
Gawain slid back and dropped to one knee in shallow water. The pain was unbearable. The fluids in his mouth became salty and warm. It made him want to vomit but he didn’t. With a quiver in his cheek, Gawain looked up and saw Algayre coming.
“YAH!” Gawain shouted for another charge.
Algayre grabbed his swinging arm in midair, but Gawain dropped his sword to catch it with his free hand. Just as Algayre figured out what happened, Gawain’s katana came slicing in an upward sweep, carving through Algayre’s ribs and out through his shoulder. Only, it wasn’t Algayre. Again, he used his magic to replicate just in time.
The real Algayre lunged for Gawain’s chest and drove through his sternum. Gawain was shocked and paralyzed in place. Algayre palmed Gawain’s face and shoved him back. Still, Gawain did not fall. Clutching his sword, Gawain staggered and hunched over as blood sprinkled from his wounds.
“That’s too bad. You could’ve made something of yourself. Now, look at you,” Algayre chuckled.
Gawain convulsed with his vehement glare. He was teetering on the verge of collapse and insanity. He refused to die. For the life of him, Algayre couldn’t understand why.
“All this trouble! Ineffectual martyrdom! For what? Do you have any idea what this witch has done? She poisoned Tristan to make him fall in love with Isolde. She confessed! This is all her doing! Don’t you see? It was she who made thy princess run mad! Our houses will never forget. This grudge will send thousands to their graves. The world has turned to shite and its all her fault! Yet, here you are.”
“Yet, here I am,” Gawain wheezed.
“In vain, your efforts are. You know what I’m going to do to her. You know there’s no stopping me.”
Gawain grunted from a sharp pain tearing at his insides. He winced and ground his teeth, glaring through the grainy sand clumped through his curly bangs.
“Thousands to their graves…what a load of crap. As if you give a damn. So what if it’s all her fault? So what if she ruined Tristan and Isolde? I don’t care if she murdered your mother and all your siblings. She could’ve drown all your children in a well and I’d still be by her side.”
As Gawain made his bold assertions, he began to rise up. The pain in his chest and stomach subsided. Algayre stared in astonishment as the gash above Gawain’s left eye mended itself back to an unblemished state.
“I tell you, Algayre. Morgana could burn down half of Tintagel and I’d still stand between her and the men vying for her head. That’s what you are. Just a man. All men bleed. All men die,” said Gawain.
Algayre’s quickly turned and whipped his sights on the beach. Morgan was sitting with her legs crossed, an arch in her back, and her eyes closed. Her hands were raised in front of her chest. Her fingers were intertwined for an enchantment ritual as her lips whispered an incantation that appeared to hiss from all corners of the neighboring cliffs, as if dozens of invisible spirits were whispering the same spell in various tongues.
Gawain’s body was being restored. More than that, he was getting stronger. His sense of vision heightened. It became so sharp and clear that he could see each individual drop of water in the spray from crashing waves. Everything appeared to slow down before his eyes, because his eyes became that of an actual hawk. His flesh became a silky plumage that matched his olive tone. His long brown hair turned into a magnificent crest of feathers resembling that of a golden eagle that fluttered with the wind.
It was Morgan’s her ace-in-the-hole, the velocity spell to enhance Gawain’s speed. Once the incantation was complete, the weakened Morgan let out an depleted whimper and dropped chest first into the sand. Her purple eyes were wide open and set on the impressive creature that was now Prince Gawain of Lothian.
“Morgan!” Gawain shouted, his voice screeching out like a hawk in flight.
Algayre glowered as a wave of uncertainty washed over him. “It’s ten years too soon for you to even think about beating me.”
As he spoke, Algayre’s entire body began to vibrate. When he raised and twirled his sword and dagger, his limbs blurred in motion like a high-speed fan. His body replicated and became six, all with the same high-speed blur.
Gawain spread his feet and crouched down like a coil ready to spring. The bridge of his nose furled as the anger and desire took hold. And just as a massive wave came and crashed against the nearest rock, Gawain launched into air, clutching his sword with both hands and all his might.
He covered thirty feet in a single dash. All six Algayres rushed him at once. They were fast but Gawain was faster. To the naked eye, all one could see were quick crescent flashes of shimmering light. They disappeared and reappeared where geysers of water would burst up from their hard landings.
Each swing from Gawain would discharge a powerful wind blade that split through rock formations and water like carving through cake. Each strike would emit a sonic pop like the crackle from a leather whip. And when he dashed forth, he seemed to glide in midair as if he was sliding on invisible ice.
They ran to and from, zipping up and down the beach and covering great distances in the blink of an eye. After Gawain sliced through four illusions in less than three seconds, Algayre started regenerating replacements automatically. Unfortunately for him, Gawain’s physical body wasn’t the only thing that sped up. His mind processed and discerned reality quicker than a barracuda.
In the middle of this loud, fast, and furious battle where waters were exploded and sprayed in all directions, Gawain noticed something. When the clones of Algayre ran, they didn’t make foot splashes in the water. The realistic details of the illusions were concentrated in their upper bodies but faded to more abstract features as they reached the ankles. There feet were transparent like a mirage of what should have been.
After ripping through one more clone, Gawain focused his hawk eyes on the surface of the water and scanned in a wide sweep. There! Just behind two clones was the real Algayre charging forward with his mouth open, bellowing something of a war cry with his rapier reared back for a deadly lunge.
Faster than a streak of lightning, Gawain dashed in between the two clones and severed Algayre’s right knee. As Algayre flew forward, Gawain spun in a low crouch and sliced upward in a diagonal sweep, carving through layers of flesh and bone. A curved spray of deep red fanned higher than a tree before spilling into the ocean. Algayre’s head was ejected and plunged over sixty feet away.
As Algayre’s flayed body plopped into the rolling tide, Gawain fell to his knees, panting and drenched with sweat. He looked over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t. Algayre was indeed dead.
It wasn’t until that sense of relief kicked in that Gawain began to revert back to his human self. The feathers of his crest reverted to his soaking wet hair. His vision returned to normal. His skin cells became flesh again and thankfully, his wounds remained healed.
He turned his sights to the beach. Morgan was gone. He saw only a glimpse of the black dot that was Morgan riding up over the moor. With a glare of indignation, Gawain took up his sword and trudged on, determined to follow.