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the death of lancelot
I found Arthur with Guinevere in the study, and I hesitated to enter but Arthur turned and motioned for me to come inside.
“Mordred, may I congratulate you on your victory?” he said with a smile.
“Thank you, my lord,” I replied. “But I hardly think it is really a cause for celebration.”
“No, you’re right,” Arthur said ruefully. “I apologize that your first tournament cannot be celebrated properly. But you understand that it would be a little, off-color, to say the least.”
I nodded. “I understand. And fear not, there shall be other tournaments.” I turned to Guinevere and bowed to her. “I am only thankful I was able to put a stop of Lancelot’s attentions once and for all.”
Guinevere smiled at me. “You truly deserve the honor of being my champion, Mordred. And it was a very just thing you did in not killing Lancelot when you had the chance. He shall see justice, sure enough, but it did not need to be by your hand; though you would have certainly been justified by it. I will sleep better knowing he is not out there causing trouble.”
“As will I, your majesty,” I replied truthfully, already feeling like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Arthur took Guinevere’s hand gently between his. “You should retire, my dear. I have many things to see to with my men.”
“Of course,” Guinevere said and took her leave, leaving Arthur and I alone in the room.
“My lord, I was wondering if you would grant me permission to speak with the prisoner,” I told him after a moment.
Arthur looked at me with a slight frown between his brows. “Why would you want to talk to Lancelot? He will only taunt you, tempt you to anger. It might not be the best idea, Mordred. I would advise against it.”
“Arthur,” I said, getting his attention, though I knew he would have rather I called him father, “I fear he might have more reason for being here than just to steal away your queen. Even Lancelot isn’t so determined that he would try again and again. I think he might be working for someone else, for darker purposes.”
Arthur seemed to ponder this for a moment before he turned back to me. “If he did, why should he tell you? I can have him questioned, of course, but I really think—”
“Arthur—Father,” I added and this time Arthur’s face really did soften as he turned to listen to me. “I think that perhaps, in his want to needle me, he will reveal too much. Just let me speak with him, and see what he has to say. And if I can’t get anything out of him, you can do what you see is best.”
“Very well,” Arthur conceded. “But do not let him get to you, Mordred. You know he will try.”
“I know,” I replied and nodded slightly. “I will see you later.”
I left to go down to the dungeons right away. I had never been down there before, and found them to be not necessarily horrible. It seemed Arthur didn’t even have a terrible place to keep his prisoners. It was not comfortable, but it was not the dripping, rat-filled holes of popular imagination either. Two knights were guarding Lancelot’s cell when I got there and, they looked up with suspicion before they saw who I was.
“The king asked me to question the prisoner,” I said in a commanding tone. “Alone.”
They hesitated. “You can ask his majesty about it if you wish,” I added.
They cast me one last wary look before they went off down the hall after leaving me with the key, and I was left alone with Lancelot’s cell in front of me. I stood there a moment before I put the key into the lock and opened the door, stepping inside.
“Well, well, it seems I have a visitor already, and I’ve only been in here for the better part of half an hour.”
Lancelot was sitting against the wall, his knees drawn up and one ankle chained to the wall so that he could not move more than a few feet in either direction.
“Why did you come here?” I asked him, ignoring his mocking smile. “I know your want of possessing Queen Guinevere did not. You are too smart for that.” I lowered my voice, in case the guards were within hearing distance. “You’re still working under her orders—you said as much earlier. But what do you want? You should know she has already cursed me, is she impatient? Is that it? She must have known as well as you what would happen if you came here again. What I want to know is why you are so devoted to her that you would risk your life willingly. You don’t seem like that kind of man, Lancelot. You’re too selfish for that. So why? You’re to die tomorrow anyway, what does it matter that I know or not?”
Lancelot smiled and gave a short chuckle with no humor in it. He laid his head back on the wall and looked over away from me. “You were once her lackey, Mordred. You should know that loyalty has nothing to do with it. Saints, I just wanted the pain to stop.” For a moment, just one moment, I almost felt sorry for him, knowing his pain as I did, but then he turned back around with a wicked leer on his lips. “Besides, she promised that when Arthur died, I could have Guinevere, as well as the position to be her second in command, and chief advisor when she took the throne.”
“So she offered you power,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “That’s one question answered. Now I just want to know what you were to give her in return?”
Lancelot was silent for a long moment, turned to one side, and then he turned back toward me and gave me a sneer. “You think you’re such an honorable person, Mordred. You think that just because you fight against her power that it somehow redeems you, but I think you know in your heart that this is only going to end one way, and that way is going to be you killing Arthur. No matter how hard you try to stop it, it’s going to happen eventually one way or another, whether you directly influence his demise, or it’s the cause of a bad decision—you will kill him, Mordred, so you may as well get it over with quick and easy before it destroys you. The lies are already doing so, I can see it in your eyes.”
I felt myself tensing and forced myself to be calm. I could not afford to let him catch me off guard. Just like Arthur said. I had to fight him, even if I wanted to protest, hit him again, but without the finesse of swords in our hands. “And what if I tell Arthur about you being in league with Morgan, planning to help her take over the throne and assassinate him. Then it would all be in vain and you will have ruined everything for her. The only good thing about it will be that you’ll be dead so she can’t punish you for it.”
Lancelot chuckled. “You don’t get it, do you, Mordred? If you told Arthur about my alliance with his sister, you would have to explain everything else—all your own dirty little secrets. I could tell him, but I think it would be so much more entertaining to have him suffer when he sees your face as you end his life. The dear boy he thought was his only son.”
Lancelot only smiled and I jerked away from him, angry with myself for losing my temper and knowing I would kill him if I didn’t step back now. He straightened up, still smiling.
“I’m rather sad I will miss all the tragedy of this story,” Lancelot said. “I would have liked to see the outcome. But ah well, it seems it’s not to be.”
It was pointless to say anything else, so I turned on my heel and exited the cell, locking it tight behind me. I leaned against the door a minute, trying to calm my anger and finally pushed off, passing the guards on my way back and letting them get back to their duty.
That night I thought over Lancelot’s words. I knew I should have taken them to heart as it was all likely the talk of a man about to die who wished to leave the one responsible for his fate in misery. But I knew what Lady Morgan was capable of, and so did Lancelot, it seemed, and I only wished there was some way of finding out what she was planning. I hoped that Merlin would come back with something useful. Or with Lady Morgan’s head. Either would be acceptable to me at that moment.
The next morning, everyone gathered out on the field from the tournament the day before, but this time it had been fixed with a gallows, constructed overnight. I stood with the other knights, at attention, but also guarding the king and queen, as Lancelot was escorted out, wearing only his tunic and leggings and his hands tied behind his back. He was brought in front of Arthur as he was condemned and then led up to the gallows platform where he was placed on a stood and a rope fixed around his neck.
I watched with a straight face as the stool was kicked away and Lancelot was left to dangle in the air, his life being choked from him. I didn’t feel relief at his demise, though, as I thought I would. I only felt a dread for what I feared was coming. And even more so for the fact that I didn’t think there was a thing I was going to be abele to do to stop it.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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