Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Sixteen-- Revelations

This is probably the longest chapter in this story yet. I hope you all enjoy it. I'll admit I have always loved a good tournament scene. My love of Ivanhoe coming back to me ;-)

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chapter sixteen

I woke the next morning before sunrise and prepared myself for the tournament. I had still not taken on a squire, not wanting to live in close quarters with anyone in my current condition, so I borrowed one of the stable boys who took care of Elith and also helped me into my armor. He left me to go and prepare Elith, and as I was adjusting my sword around my waist there came a knock on the door.
            “Come in,” I called, and the door opened, revealing Gawain, smiling brightly, already dressed in full armor.
            “Ready?” he asked.
            I took up a tankard and drank, thirsty, but too nervous to eat breakfast. “Well enough, I suppose. You?”
            He grinned and shrugged. “I always get the jitters, but, trust me, as soon as you actually get into the field and immerse yourself into the competition, you’ll forget all about that and just look to the end and victory. And no going out in the first round. You have to do me proud or everyone will think I’ve done a horrible job training you. I’ve got a reputation to hold, after all.”
            I laughed, but I really didn’t want to let Gawain down. Especially since he had put up with me in my foul moods for the past few months. He stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder, bending down to look me straight in the eye.
            “Mordred, what’s wrong?” he asked meaningfully. “And don’t pretend nothing is. I know you try to do so, but you’ve been doing so for too long, and I’ll not let you go on like this.”
            “I’m not pretending that it’s nothing,” I told him, more harshly than I had wanted to. “But I’m afraid I cannot say what ails me.”
            He shook his head, folding his arms over his chest adamantly. “This is about your row with Arthur, isn’t it? Well, that was over a month ago, Mordred, I think it’s time to forgive and forget.”
            “It’s not that,” I whispered. “I told you, Gawain, I can’t tell you what it is.”
            He suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. “Mordred, please just unburden yourself! I cannot stand to see you like this anymore, so internally tortured! You are like a brother to me, and whether you like it or not I feel protective of you. If something is wrong I hope that you would at least come to me to ask for advice.”
            “I would always do that, Gawain,” I told him firmly. “But this is one time I cannot. There is nothing you can do, and it would be best to keep things as they are and pretend they are normal. Please, I see you as a brother too, Gawain, and if you do truly love me as one, do not ask me again. I beg it.”
            He looked like he was going to protest, then he shook his head with a sigh, letting go of me. “Are you in some trouble, Mordred?”
            “No,” I said, hating myself for lying to him. “Please, just don’t.”
            “Fine,” he said sternly. “But if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always find me.”
            “I know,” I told him with a genuine smile. “Thank you.”
            “Good luck today,” he said as he made for the door.
            “You too,” I replied.
            Once he was gone, I clenched my hands into fists, wishing I had Morgan la Fay within my grasp so that I could make her pay for everything she had put me through and the pain she had caused not only me but to my friends because I could not tell the truth. I hoped Merlin found her and was in the process of making her sorry at that moment.
            The return of the stable boy drew me from my dark thoughts that were disturbingly increasing as my suffering was prolonged. I forced myself to rid my mind of them, otherwise I would never be able to use my lance that day and I would surely go out in the first round and add another shame to my list. I went to retrieve Elith and headed out to the field where the spectators were already gathering. I took a deep breath and rode off to my tent, planning to throw everything I had into the tournament that day so that I could forget everything else.
It was a few more hours before the tournament would start. I spent the time practicing, running Elith through some simple maneuvers so he would not be too eager later in the lists. As I practiced, I looked around, taking stock of the other knights who I would be competing against that day. Some of them I knew by name, others by their livery, but most were unfamiliar to me. It was then I caught sight of a knight wearing all black and carrying a shield that had no insignia. I frowned, wondering whom it might be. It was not uncommon for a knight, especially a noble, to preform anonymously in a tournament; the problem was in not knowing who you might be up against. I vaguely wondered whether he might be some princeling wanting to escape the fame of his name, and then for some reason, the thought crossed my mind of Arthur doing the same as a young prince. I smiled at the thought, before my heart fell again with the realization that I was in no position to ask him whether he had or not. A part of me suspected—wished—that he had indeed.
            Gawain and Bedivere found me as I was standing outside my tent with Elith’s reins looped around my arm and likely a miserable expression on my face.
            “Come on, young Sir Mordred,” Bedivere said with a grin. “No need to feel so nervous! You’ve quite exceeded all our expectations, I assure you. Now let’s see if you can perform as well in tourney as you do on the training field.”
            I smiled back. “Very well, Sir Bedivere, I accept your challenge.” I mounted up and rode with them to join the other Camelot knights.
            Arthur and Guinevere were coming on the scene now, to the cheer of the spectators. They climbed into the royal box, her hand resting delicately in Arthur’s, and once he had seated her, he nodded to the heralds and a fanfare trumpeted through the arena, quieting the people, but only for just a few moments. It was then that we filed into the field in the center of the stands, and the crowd cheered wildly again. The knights of Camelot went first, the tourney being held in our kingdom, and I rode beside Gawain and the others as we trotted our horses into the arena, and paid homage to our king and queen. Next came the knights of the other kingdoms until the place was so full it appeared that no more could fit in. The crowd seemed to be determined to scream themselves hoarse, but I felt a sudden thrum of excitement pulse through my body; the first thing I had felt besides pain in a long time and I was instantly glad that I had been able to be a part of this, for it was doing me quite a bit of good.
            I looked over to my left to grin at Gawain but then I caught sight of the black knight just over his shoulder and I frowned upon seeing him. There was something about the man that seemed familiar but I could not place it at the moment. I had little time to think of it, however, for we were supposed to be getting off the field in anticipation for the jousting to start.
            The tourney would last two days. The jousting would be today, and the next day we would hold the one-on-one fights with preferred weapons. I had entered in both, so even if I did not earn a winning spot that day in the joust, I would have another chance to prove myself tomorrow, and the best part of it was that I would not be forced to kill any of my opponents against my will. Arthur would be safely incarcerated in his box. As much as I knew it annoyed him, I was eternally glad Guinevere had insisted.
            My name was far down the list so I had a chance to watch the other knights compete, taking stock of the guests and their abilities in case I would have to face them. One in particular I watched was the black knight. I still had the unexplainable urge to rip off his helmet and see who he really was. Watching him joust, I could tell just from the way he sat his horse that he was an expert and also that he was very aware of that fact. He jousted with the ease one can only possess when completely comfortable with a thing; as if it is only second nature like breathing. His lance never wavered and his horse obeyed his every command without being signaled. I envied and feared the man at the same time. I both yearned to go against him and wished to have nothing to do with him.
            Finally it came my turn to joust, and Gawain, who had been standing next to me after his own bout where he had completely finished his opponent with one pass, clapped me on the shoulder and bid me good luck.
            I took my position at one end of the fence, feeling Elith tense under me in anticipation. A squire handed me my lance and I took it up before closing the visor of my helmet. I looked down the field to my opponent, seeing a man dressed in a green tabard with a black dragon on the front. We waited for the signal, and once the herald dropped the flag, our horses sped down the fence without urging. I leveled my lance at my opponent and when we collided we simultaneously caught the other in the shield. His lance shattered and I was thrown back, but managed to keep my seat. Elith got me safely to the other side and I had my squire replace my lance in case it was cracked. I glanced down at my shield and saw a dent in it, but not so bad I would have to replace it yet. I would do so if I had another match.
            I turned back around and again waited for the signal. This time, the horses were already moving before the flag hit the ground, and I made sure to readjust my lance this time, and with a satisfying crunch of impact, I hit my opponent in the shoulder guard and sent him tumbling from the saddle. I turned to raise my lance to the king and queen and saw Guinevere cheering, and Arthur with a proud look on his face, clapping his hands. The action both warmed my chest and made me ache. I was glad to be wearing the helmet so I could not properly meet his eyes.
            Three more bouts ended the first round with Percival obliterating his opponent’s chances of moving to the next round almost instantly.
            We were all given a break to retire to our tents and eat or see to injuries of any sort. I left Elith with a stable boy, patting him and slipping him a treat before I left to tell him how proud I was. Another squire waited in my tent for me and he helped me off with my armor and I had him rub out my shield shoulder as I had a quick refreshment.
            I reconvened with Gawain, Bedivere and Percival as we awaited our turns in the second bout.
            “You did well, Mordred,” Bedivere said with a nod and a smile. “Very well for your first turnery. I think you have a good chance of getting to the final rounds.”
            “I don’t know if I want to,” I joked with a grin. “That would surely mean I would have to face one of you, and I know I couldn’t stand a chance then.”
            “One of these days, Mordred,” Percival said with a hearty laugh and a clap on the back. I felt good, I realized, standing here with them, not worrying about anything else but actual knightly matters. Not having to worry about Arthur was giving me a certain amount of freedom as well. I found I could actually enjoy myself.
            In the next bout, I was pitted against a knight of Mercia who I had watched before, and found to be an expert. The first pass, I just barely managed to catch his lance on my shield, but the already damaged boss almost completely caved in with the force of the blow and my arm was left numb as I reconvened at the end of the fence, quickly shaking my arm out as I accepted another shield from my squire. I was glad then that Elith and I were so intuned to the other’s senses for I could easily steer him with my knees even though my left hand was so numb and tingling that I could hardly grasp the reins.
            The second pass, both our lances shattered and I was nearly thrown off Elith’s back for a second time. Once I claimed a new lance from my squire, I was determined to beat this knight, and I charged headlong at him, leveling my lance straight at his chest. At the moment of impact, I turned my face away but felt the give of a man leaving his saddle and when I opened my eyes again, I saw he was lying winded on the ground and I raised my lance in victory, this time taking my helmet off to the pleasure of the crowd. Guinevere and Arthur waved to me, cheering with the rest and I felt such pride wash through me. I went back to my fellow knights and earned cheers from them as well, but as they were congratulating me, I looked over Gawain’s shoulder and happened to see the black knight watching us. I didn’t like that at all, and especially didn’t care for the fact that he never removed his helmet. I popped back to my tent for a moment to get a drink but I would have to be back soon for the next round.
            It went down the line until there was only six knights left. Myself, Gawain, Bedivere, the black knight and two others. Percival and all of Arthur’s other knights had gotten weeded out in the last round.
            I felt some apprehension when I saw I would be facing the black knight. I had watched him over and over and he seemed flawless, almost always taking his opponent out on the first pass. But I trusted the training I had received from Gawain and the others, and I also trusted Elith, and he was the key to my success. He whickered at my shoulder as if to assure me we could win this and I patted him fondly, watching as Gawain took his place against his opponent.
            Gawain won his bout but Bedivere was knocked off on the final pass to the great cries and protests from the crowd. That meant it was now my turn. I looked across the field to the black knight and knew he was looking at me as well though I could not see his eyes. I closed my helmet pointedly and reached out to accept my lance and shield.
            Elith pawed the ground, anticipating the joust, and perhaps feeling that this one would be more of a challenge than the last. I gripped my lance tightly and watched as the herald readied to drop the flag.
            The instant he did, the black knight shot forward and Elith started running with a leap, trying to make up for lost time. I was startled myself as his alacrity, and in an amateur mistake, I was barely ready with my lance lowered when we met at the fence. The tip of my lance only grazed the black knight’s shoulder, and in that instant, I knew I was lost. His lance hit me square in the chest and I didn’t even try to stay on Elith’s back, tumbling backward and rolling several feet before I came to a stop on my face, choking on the dirt. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move. I was floundering in the dust until someone gripped me by the shoulder and hauled me over and I saw Gawain and Percival crouching over me. I gasped in a breath, and found my chest restricted.
            “Get him up, his armor is crushed!” Gawain said and he and Percival hauled me into a sitting position and tore at the clasps on my armor, loosening it. When it came off after the brief struggle, I could finally take a deep breath, and after I had gotten my wind back, I gripped Gawain’s forearm as he pulled me to my feet, keeping an arm firmly around my shoulders so that I didn’t fall. I looked over at Percival who held my ruined breastplate and saw the entire front caved in with the force of the blow.
            “You were lucky you didn’t break every rib,” Gawain said as he pulled me off the field after motioning up to the royal box that I was all right. I saw Arthur and Guinevere leaning over the edge to better see, while the rest of the crowd cheered the black knight’s victory. I looked back at him once, and saw the slotted eyes of his helmet gazing back at me. I did not mind losing, that wasn’t the problem. But I wanted to see this man’s face; I needed to. 

            “Come on Mordred,” Gawain pulled me away. “I’ll get you to your tent before the last bout.” He drug me inside against my protesting and left me in the care of my squire and Percival. I kept my grip of Gawain’s forearm and stopped him as he tried to leave. He looked back with a frown.
            “Be careful, Gawain. There’s something strange about him. I don’t trust his intentions.”
            Gawain smiled, but I knew him too well not the see the unease behind his eyes and that was enough for me to know he also suspected something was wrong. “Don’t worry about me, Mordred. Remember I’ve had far more experience than you.” He hurried out of the tent to prepare for his last joust and I was left with my mouth open, many protests going unsaid.
            I could not shake the feeling that I should know who that black knight was, and I knew that could only bode ill for everyone here.
            “Well, that’s certainly going to hurt for a while,” Percival noted as I pulled my tabard and shirt off to reveal a spreading bruise in the middle of my chest. It was tender to the touch and I hissed as I laid back for the squire to put a poultice on it to take down the swelling. I wished Merlin was there to give me something more effective. I was going to have to fight in the tournament tomorrow as well and with swords instead of lances, so I wanted to be sure my injury wasn’t going to hamper that. I had learned something about enchanting herbs for more potency for Morgan in the good years, and then more from watching Merlin care for my own injuries, but I was too tired to try it at the moment, and decided I would attempt it later after I had eaten.
            “I’ll be fine,” I said after I tentatively searched for any broken ribs and was pleased to find none. I knew I had been lucky; had there been one weak point in my armor, I would likely either be dead or very nearly so at the moment.
            Percival handed me a drink and I took it before motioning him out of the tent. “Go watch Gawain’s bout. I want to know how it goes. I’m fine,” I added with a growl as the large knight hesitated. He then smiled and nodded, but not before ruffling my hair in an annoying fashion, which he did for just that reason.
            “I just want to make sure my little brother’s all right,” he grinned before he skipped out of the tent as I made to playfully throw my cup after him. I allowed the squire to bandage the poultice around my chest and had to admit that it was feeling a bit better. I sat up with a groan and reached for my shirt again.
            “Sir Mordred, should you be getting up?” the boy asked uncertainly.
            I patted his shoulder before I used it to help myself up. “I’ll be fine, Miles, just lend me your shoulder, I wish to see the joust.”
            He helped me from the tent and we went to stand by Percival, just as Gawain and the black knight were readying themselves at the starting points. I watched with anticipation as the herald dropped the flag and the two horses sped forward to meet with a clash in the middle. Both lances caught the shields, but the riders kept their seats. I shook my head. Gawain really was an expert, but the black knight was as well, and I was not going to make any certain bets about who would win at this moment.
            The second pass, Gawain actually managed to knock the black knight back, but he kept his seat and jerked himself upright. I held my breath as they prepared for the last pass, and as the horses ran toward each other, I knew how it was going to end before they met.
            Gawain’s lance glanced off the black knight’s helmet, and for a moment I thought he might knock it off his head, and show everyone who he really was, but he ducked to the side and managed to keep it on as his own lance hammered into Gawain’s right shoulder and threw him from Fenna’s back. He landed with a thud and Percival was already going to assist his friend. I would have too, but Gawain was already stirring, so I knew he was all right, and it was the black knight who was captivating my attention at that moment. Would he remove his helmet now that he had won the day?
            He rode over under the royal box and lifted his lance in salute, almost mockingly, I imagined, to Arthur and Guinevere before he rode off the field and away to the tents. I saw Guinevere’s bemusement and the beginnings of anger on Arthur’s face but I only had one thought in mind and pushed away from Miles as I made my way back to the tents.
            “Where are you going, Sir Mordred, do you not need assistance?” the boy asked worriedly.
            I grabbed a lance to use as a crutch, still a bit wobbly on my feet and shook my head. “I’ll be back in my tent soon enough. Go and see if you can help Sir Gawain.”
            He hesitated, but I was already on my way to the tents, one in particular and it was not my own.
            I could see the black knight ahead and I shadowed him as he made his way back to his tent. He had handed his horse to a squire and then pulled away the flap of a black tent to enter. I hurried up to it and looked around quickly to make sure I would not be seen before I cautiously took ahold of the tent flap and pulled it aside a few inches.
            His back was to me, but he was taking off his helmet that now sported a dent in one temple. The first thing I saw was black hair, and blood matting it from the blow, then he turned and I was faced with his profile, nearly gasping out loud. In my subconscious, I think I had suspected it the entire time, but now all my suspicions were confirmed.

©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West

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  1. I knew it! Old habit of his ;)

    Warrior Poet

    1. He does tend to pop up where he's not wanted


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