Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Twenty-- The Return of Merlin

A bit longer chapter this time. Hope you all enjoy =)

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chapter twenty
the return of merlin

In the months following the execution of Lancelot, things more of less fell back into their normal pattern. I was not as dour as I had been, and Arthur and I had, for the most part, repaired the bond that had been lost when I had foolishly thought to push him away. There was still just the nagging worry I felt about Lancelot’s words in the prison. But I tried to shove them aside, telling myself that Lancelot had only been angry for being caught and by myself of all people. Talking proud as most prisoners are wont to try and prove their usefulness before anyone makes a firm command to send them to the gallows.
            Everyone seemed to put up my previous bout of depression to Lancelot’s multiple escapes, and I did nothing to dissuade them of that thought, in fact, I began to tell myself that as well, and in all truth, it might very well have been part of my problem. In any case, I was doing my best to keep up my spirits now that he had finally been brought to justice.
            But something else begun to bother me, as the months passed, and that was that we had heard nothing at all from Merlin. No messages, no word of any kind; not even any gossip coming in from neighboring kingdoms. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that he had dropped off the face of the earth. I knew Arthur was worried and nearly beside himself, though he didn’t let it show, having to keep up appearances as king. I myself was even more worried, for I knew what Merlin had been going to do, and I would forever feel responsible if he had somehow met his demise on my account. I did trust him, and I knew he was more powerful than Morgan la Fay, but I still worried, for I had no idea what knowledge she had garnered in the past year and a half, and had never really known the full extent of her powers before that. I considered telling Arthur on several occasions where Merlin had gone, but decided there was no real point in it. He wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, and I was still reluctant to tell Arthur about my connection with Lady Morgan. Not now when things were starting to get better. I know I was a coward about it, and I would pay for it later, I can assure you, but right then, I had had enough grief. But I was still worried for Merlin’s safety.
            It was now nearly four months since Merlin had disappeared. Small rebellions had started cropping up as they will no matter how good and just a ruler one has. They were all easy to quell. The other knights thought nothing of them, seeing them as normal occurrences, but I had other fears. Perhaps it was my paranoia that made me think so, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether Lady Morgan was behind it, either directly or indirectly. Lancelot’s words still haunted me, and these few acts of rebellion, as small and harmless as they might seem, only pointed to something bigger in my mind. Whether Arthur thought there was more to it too, he never said, but I sometimes wondered, to the point of asking him myself, whether he ever thought much of his sister, and whether he knew where she was or what she was doing.
            And then one day we were having our monthly meeting of the Round Table, talking over what had been accomplished in the kingdom over the past few weeks and what we hoped to achieve in the next. Arthur was just discussing the trade for that year’s harvest when there was a hail and cry out in the courtyard and we all were up and rushing out to see what the commotion was. I stopped short on the steps, my hand automatically on the hilt of my sword, but I rushed forward with a cry as I saw the lone rider who was approaching, responsible for all the outcry.
            “Merlin?!” Arthur cried, on my heels as I came to a stop beside Merlin’s horse and took the reigns. I feared he would fall for he seemed in very poor condition indeed. He slumped in the saddle, his clothing torn and bloodstained. He seemed even thinner and paler than usual, if that were possible.
            “Thank you, Mordred,” Merlin said wearily as he slid from the saddle, his legs nearly giving way under him. Arthur and I leapt to steady him and he accepted Arthur’s shoulder to lean on without protest, clearly showing the condition he was in.
            “Merlin, by the saints, where have you been?” Arthur cried, half angry, half worried. “You leave without warning and stay away for months and then come back like this?”
            “Easy, sire,” Merlin sighed with a slight chuckle. “There’ll be time for that later. Right now can I p-please sit d-down before I…” His eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the ground before Arthur could catch him again. The king knelt with a horrified look at his friend and Gawain instantly was at his side, reaching down to pull Merlin over his shoulder.
            “Take him to his rooms,” Arthur commanded. “Someone see to his horse. Mordred.” I pulled my shocked gaze away from Merlin to look into Arthur’s worried face.
            “Sire?” I asked.
            “You know something of the healing art; could you see to him while we wait for a healer to arrive from the village? I don’t think he would want too many people prodding at him.”
            I felt inclined to put my hand on his arm, he looked so worried about Merlin’s condition, and I fully saw the true brotherly love the two shared. I don’t think I had realized the depth of Arthur’s affection for the sorcerer beforehand. I knew Merlin would have died—and killed—for Arthur, but I began to see that the king would do the same in turn. I had a feeling the two had been shield brothers in their younger years and a force to be reckoned with at that.
            “He’ll be all right, father,” I said quietly so no one else could hear me even though they weren’t listening due to the commotion. “He’s probably just exhausted. Saints know how far he’s ridden to get here. Now come, we’re no use to him out here.”
            Arthur seemed to snap out of his trance and nodded. “Thank you, Mordred. Yes, let’s go.”
            When we arrived at Merlin’s chambers we found that Gawain, Percival, and Bedivere were already there, and sitting at Merlin’s bedside was Guinevere herself, washing his dirty and bruised face gently. She looked up as we came in and Arthur knelt beside her as she reached for his hand.
            “He’s back at least, Arthur,” she said reassuringly. “And he’s suffered worse than this before. His hurts are superficial, I think he is more suffering from exhaustion and starvation than anything.”
            “Thank you, my love,” Arthur told her and kissed her on the temple as she stood from the stool. “Mordred’s going to see to him. Perhaps you could ask the kitchen’s to make some broth.”
            “Of course,” Guinevere said and slipped out of the room.
            I crossed the few steps to Merlin’s bed and helped Arthur undress him, seeing Guinevere was right. He sported a few cuts and many bruises; one might have been infected, but was still nothing a little bit of enchanted poultice wouldn’t heal. I was much more worried about his weakened state and how he managed to develop it. Merlin had no spare flesh as it was, so any captivity or hardship he must have suffered would have taken a heavy toll on his body.
            I tried my best to clean his wounds, but Arthur was fretting so much that I finally had to ask him, as politely as possible, to leave. He stood looking lost for a minute, then finally let out a short, embarrassed laugh and nodded.
            “I’m sorry, Mordred, it’s just we grew up together as brothers and I love him as such. I’ve never seen him in such a state before for all the scrapes we’ve been in. I’m anxious for news of where he has been.”
            “I’ll be finished soon enough, and I’ll let you know as soon as he is awake,” I assured him and Arthur reluctantly stood and left the room.
            “Yes, thank you, Mordred. Let me know of you require anything.”
            I cast a quick glance around the room. “I think I’ll have everything I need here.”
            I had learned quite a bit more about healing herbs from watching Merlin during my convalescence and he had taught me several more healing spells. I seemed to be best at those. Magic had never come completely naturally to me, but Merlin had told me I seemed to have a natural gift of healing and that was why those spells worked better. That had made me feel a bit better; at least I still was a natural healer even if I seemed doomed to hurt everyone I cared about.
            I was just as anxious for Merlin to wake as Arthur was. Perhaps more so, because I knew exactly what he had gone off to do, and wondered how it had fallen apart so that he would come back to us in this state. I quickly mixed up a poultice and said the simple enchantment to stave off ill humors and spread it first on the cut right under Merlin’s ribs that was redder than the others and seemed to have been made by a blade. There was another on his upper arm and another on his thigh that were the same. The rest of his injuries were bruises or scrapes that could have been gained from running through the woods but I had a feeling they were the result of some confrontation as likely were the others. I quickly bandaged him up and pulled a blanket over his thin frame, saying another enchantment of healing. He felt like he might be somewhat fevered, and I put a hand on his forehead, only to find it caught in a viselike grip a moment later. I quickly looked back down and saw Merlin’s eyes open. I started for a moment before I realized that he was lucid, or at least relatively so.
            “Merlin, how are you?” I asked lamely, as he let go of my wrist.
            “How does it look?” he asked with some of his old wry humor. I started to move toward the door, but Merlin caught my wrist again. “Do not tell Arthur I’m awake.”
            “Why?” I asked. “He’s worried about you, you were gone for so long—”
            “Then he can worry a moment more,” Merlin said. “I want to talk to you. Alone.”
            Mixed feelings entered my stomach and made it roil. I clenched my hands together in anticipation. “Did you…Lady Morgan, did you find her?” I hesitated, then pushed on in a rush. “Did you break the curse?”
         

   Merlin held up a hand with a sigh. “I’m afraid it’s not all that simple, Mordred. But the fast answer is no. I wasn’t able to break the curse.” He seemed so exhausted I almost hated to make him tell me this now, but he seemed so determined, I doubted he would stop even if he was on the verge of passing out again. I felt the disappointment at his words, but was not really surprised. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. “I did find Morgan though. I fought her.” He shook his head. “We fought for a day and a night until she finally tried a foul trick and trapped me. I should have seen it coming, but I had expected more crafty subterfuge, not a simple trap. That shouldn’t be an excuse, but there you have it. I was forced into a cave and she closed it up, putting some sort of spell on it so that I couldn’t work magic. Where she learned that…well, I suppose now it hardly matters. I was trapped there for two months—it took me two to find her in the first place—and in that time I lived off of the meager trickle of water and the few cave fish that were in there while I worked on pulling apart her spell and trying to find a way around it. I finally found a gap and was able to break free. I still don’t know how I made it back here. It’s all rather a blur.” He closed his eyes and I suddenly realized that he was probably thirsty. I poured a glass of water and propped him against my shoulder so he could drink. Once he had sipped some, he pushed it aside. “She’s planning a war, Mordred,” he said grimly. “She’d been gathering men for months and she’s nearly ready. It is only a matter of weeks before she marches upon Camelot.”
            “Will you tell Arthur?” I asked him.
            Merlin nodded. “He needs to know. And for the record, he will only know that that is the information I went to gather.” He gave me a small, sad smile. “I really am sorry I wasn’t able to get her to release you of the curse, Mordred. I fear she is not done with you. She thinks you have some part to play in this yet. Saints preserve you, boy.”
            I felt chilled by his words, but tried not to show it. Merlin reached out a gripped my knee with surprising strength for his condition.
            “I don’t know how this thing will start, Mordred. She refused to tell me no matter how I hounded her for the information, but you, and especially you, need to be on your watch day and night. If anything out of the ordinary happens, to you or anyone around you, tell me immediately, no exceptions.” He sighed and shook his head. “I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to save you from this, Mordred. You have a power inside you that I don’t think you realize, and it’s battling forces between good and evil, and it’s up to you to determine which one is going to win in the end. Just remember what I told you before. And don’t take up a sword around Arthur until we can get this all sorted out.”
            I tried not to let his words frighten me, and indeed, I had expected them for so long, they hardly impacted me the way they might once have. But I didn’t like the idea of being a pawn of Morgan’s. Just like Lancelot. I knew I couldn’t stand it if I did hurt to my friends because I couldn’t control this power Merlin said was in me—whatever it might be.
            Merlin settled back against the pillows and offered me a weary smile. “But there’s other business to attend to. I think I’m ready to subject myself to my dear friend’s tiring administrations. You can go fetch him now.”
            I left to find Arthur after making sure Merlin was as comfortable as possible and afterward I retreated to my own quarters and just sat to think for a while. But after realizing how much of that there was to do, I cast all my thoughts aside, and went to fetch Elith, needing to go for a ride to clear my mind. I had a feeling I would be doing much more thinking in the days to come.

©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Nineteen-- The Death of Lancelot

Lots more foreboding in this chapter! Enjoy!

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chapter nineteen
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.”
   
         I slammed him against the wall, my hands on his throat, heart pounding heavily against my ribs. I was too angry to hold back another minute. I leaned close and hissed at him dangerously. “You listen to me, Lancelot, and I’ll only say this once. I will die before I kill Arthur. If I have to end my own life first, then so be it. Morgan la Fay has no hold over me, and she will be dead before she can do anything about it.”
            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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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Eighteen-- Sword Point

Mordred finally faces off with Lancelot again! Enjoy!

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chapter eighteen
sword point

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 na├»ve 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