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I still slept poorly that night, but I am glad to say it was for a different reason than the one that normally seemed to be keeping me up of late and plaguing my dreams when I did manage to fall asleep. I retired early from the feast, unable to apply myself to having a good time, thinking far too much on the second half of the tourney the next day and what I would do, and how I had to defeat Lancelot or it would only bode ill for everyone. But at the same time I felt light and joyful, happy to once again be on good terms with Arthur. I was willing to start over and re-think everything from the time I ran away and make my life with the curse work. Besides, if fortune was on our side, Merlin would be able to break it. I wondered briefly where the sorcerer was, but didn’t worry for him overmuch. I knew that if anyone could take care of himself, it was Merlin.
The next morning after I woke, Miles came to help me prepare for the day. I wore my lighter armor that consisted of simply a mail tunic and arm guards so that I would be able to move. I wore a tabard with Camelot’s colors on it as I did not yet have my own personal coat of arms. I took up the sword, sadly not the one that Arthur had given me, for it had been stolen by Lancelot’s outlaws, and took a deep breath as I waited for Miles to finish buckling my bracers on.
“Don’t worry, Sir Mordred, I’m sure you’ll do fine,” the boy said with a smile. “I’ve seen you fight and you’re awfully good. I wish I could fight as well as you.”
“One day I’m sure you will,” I told him, smiling back as I sheathed the sword once again and took up my shield to inspect it. “I am just thinking of other things. Of duty. That is certainly something that weighs heavily on one at times, Miles.”
He nodded sagely and then gave me my helm, which I tucked under my arm and started out of the tent. The stands were once again full up, but now the jousting field had been turned into an arena of combat. There was a roped off area in the middle where the knights would face each other using their choice weapon.
Gawain came up to stand beside me. His injured arm had been put into a sling and he watched the knights practicing off to one side of the field with regret.
“I wish I hadn’t hurt myself,” he sighed. “Aye, well, it shall give you a chance, Mordred.” He grinned and I smiled back and that seemed to please him all the more. He put his hand on my shoulder. “I hope you have figured out what’s been bothering you.”
“I will,” I told him firmly. “I’m sorry I’ve been so dark of late, Gawain. It’s not very kind of me.”
“As long as you are willing to admit that,” he replied sternly and then smiled up at the stands. “They’re filling up, it’s time for me to go. Arthur offered me a seat in the box. I’ll be able to see everything from there. Good fortune in the fight, Mordred. I know the fight you wage this day is far more important than for just the sake of proving your knightly manhood to the ladies.”
“Yes,” I replied grimly, clasping his arm.
“Of course,” Gawain added before he left. “One can always accomplish more than one thing at once. You defeat Lancelot and I’m sure you’ll get several beautiful admirers by the end of the day.” He winked.
I grinned back. “The only one I have time for right now in the queen.”
Gawain made a face. “You’ve got to learn to live a little, Mordred. You’re still young.”
“Go find your seat, old man,” I shot back at him and he glowered at me before he grinned, unable to help himself, and went to find his seat. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. At least my bruises from the day before weren’t giving me too much trouble. I had performed an easy healing charm on the poultice I had made last night and when I peeled it off that morning the bruising had been minimal and the pain had been no worse than that of my sore muscles. I felt confident that I would be able to swing a sword well enough that day.
I happened to look across the field and saw Lancelot, still dressed in his black armor and helmeted against anyone’s seeing. I could not see his eyes for certain behind the small slits, but could feel him looking at me, seeming to challenge me. He raised his sword and I saw, with a start, that it was the one he had stolen from me. The one Arthur had given me! That fueled every confidence I had. I would surely beat him now. I would never let him hurt me with that sword, nor would I let him win. Now all I had to do was make sure I was pitted against him at least once. And I knew I would be. Arthur would have seen to it.
Speaking of Arthur, he and Guinevere were coming onto the field now and ascending into the royal box to the cheers of the people. I clapped along with them as I and the others knights filed over to the box and stood beneath to acknowledge the king and queen before the fight. I met Arthur’s eyes and he nodded to me. Guinevere met my eyes as well and I knew Arthur would have told her about Lancelot. She reached into her sleeve and took out a handkerchief, motioning me forward.
“I wish you to fight as my champion today, Sir Mordred,” she said with a sweet smile that made me glow with pride and boyish admiration, even though I was fast becoming a man. I took the silken token, feeling Arthur’s approval without having to look at him, and tucked it into the top of my bracer before I kissed Guinevere’s hand.
“It would be my greatest honor, your majesty,” I told her before I stepped back toward my men.
Percival and Bedivere and the other knights of Camelot grinned at me and clapped me on the back.
“Fighting as the queen’s own champion!” Percival said teasingly. “My my, you really have gotten up in the world, young Mordred.”
“Well, Percy, you must remember that out of all of us, he has been the one who has fought Lancelot three times on the queen’s behalf. He deserves it above us all,” Bedivere said with a proud smile at me.
“Yes, and I won’t be able to fight if you keep embarrassing me,” I told them, ducking my head as I felt my cheeks redden slightly, but I was so happy that I couldn’t let it bother me.
Now came the hard part, waiting for my turn to fight. I had checked the lineup, and noticed there were five fights before I got my first one, and that was not with Lancelot. I was a bit worried about being pitted up against someone with the chance of going out before I even got to Lancelot, but as soon as I started the fight, I realized this must have been a purposeful plant on someone’s part, for the knight I was up against was not nearly as experienced as myself, and it only took me around two minutes to finish him completely. Then I just sat back and watched Percival and Bedivere fight their rounds, and then Lancelot fight one where he came out victor and then it was down to the second round in which I would face Lancelot for the first, and hopefully, the final time.
I had thought long and hard on whether I should kill him in the fight. I wanted to, for all he had said and done, I wanted to end him where he stood, but I also knew that I had to show some restraint, and, as I was now a knight, mercy and compassion. I had not spoken to Arthur on the matter, but I knew he and Guinevere both would want to see Lancelot punished formally, by the law, and not by some young knight’s hand.
I stepped into the ring with confidence and stood opposite Lancelot. We saluted each other in the proper way, but I wanted him to know I knew his game. I stepped closer as we turned to salute Arthur and Guinevere and whispered into his helmet.
“I will not let you kill me with that sword, Lancelot,” I said simply. “It is not yours to wield.”
“I’m done with you, boy,” he growled back and we went to take our places.
It was instantly apparent to the crowd that this fight was different. Lancelot lunged at me without preamble, and our clash was like that befitting a battle. It was fast and vicious and the crowd was hushed as they watched us. I think they somehow knew this was a fight to the death, or at least to some end, because we fought more violently than we should have in a tournament.
Lancelot was a good fighter, he always had been, but the joust was his specialty, and I had been training non-stop since I had recovered from my injuries and I had a deadly determination behind my blows, knowing that I was not about to let him get the best of me again. Not this time.
We fought until we were panting, and my bruised chest and abused muscles from the day before ached, but I kept on, striking hard and receiving blows both on my sword and shield. Lancelot was getting frantic, and I knew he was tiring. He was going to try something desperate in a moment, and I was going to be ready for him.
And then he did. He lunged forward, far overstepping in his desperation to reach me and run me through and I was able to easily side-step the blow and grab his sword arm by the wrist, throwing him to the ground behind me where he fell, winded. The crowd gasped, some calling out foul play, but they hushed as I turned back around to face my enemy, taking my helmet off, and reveling in the feeling of the cool air running through the sweaty locks. Lancelot had lost the sword in his fall, and I stepped on his chest so that he couldn’t move. I dropped the sword I had been using and picked up my old one, pressing it against his throat.
“Yield,” I told him as he struggled.
He growled and I reached over and jerked him to his knees, holding my sword across his neck and turned him toward the crowd as I tore the helmet from his head. There were gasps of shock and anger as the black knight was revealed for who he really was. I looked up at Arthur.
“My lord, I present to you the traitor Lancelot, disgraced knight of Camelot. He has yielded to me, and his life is in my hands. Tell me what you wish done.”
Arthur stood up and raised a hand to quiet the people. He had a grim look of duty on his face and he said in determination, “Lancelot will pay for his crimes as he should. He shall die on the gallows tomorrow at dawn without trial. His crimes are well known and there is no reason to prolong what should have been done from the beginning.” He turned away and took Guinevere’s hand in his and escorted her from the box. It seemed that the tournament was over.
I hauled Lancelot to his feet and he sneered at me.
“You think you’re clever, well, you have not escaped Lady Morgan la Fay’s clutches yet, boy. She will find you, she sent me to give you that message. If I’m to die, I want to do so by leaving you as uncomfortable as possible.”
“She does not control me,” I told him firmly. “She has no hold on me any more. Nor do I fear her.”
Lancelot laughed. “Oh, you naïve boy. You have no idea what is even going on. I almost pity you.”
He pressed my sword to his throat again. “You are the one in need of pity now, Lancelot.”
He laughed, sneering in my face, as if daring me to cut his throat. “We’ll see if you still think so when you can’t stop yourself from plunging the sword into your beloved Arthur’s heart.”
I had the sudden urge to slam the hilt of the sword into his face, but Percival and Bedivere came forward to help me escort Lancelot to the prisons. They tied his hands behind him and jerked him away. He looked over his shoulder at me and smirked again.
“Remember, Mordred, this isn’t anywhere near over yet.”
Gawain had come up beside me and as I shook in anger and hatred and fear all together, he turned to me with a frown. “What did he mean by that, Mordred?” he asked worriedly.
“I wish I knew,” I replied through gritted teeth and went off to find Arthur.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West