Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Six-- Pride

Here's a shorter chapter this week, but I hope you all enjoy it anyway! (Don't be afraid to comment either, by the way. I'd like to get some feedback =)

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chapter six

To my shame, Lancelot seemed to have slipped past all the guards and gotten clean away. I felt depressed at this, and hated myself for letting him go, though Guinevere insisted that it had not been my fault, and she had not thought of keeping him around either. In any case, Arthur would be home that evening, and once he was back, he would decide how to sort out the problem with Lancelot.
            I stayed with the queen all that day, anxiously hoping that news would come of Lancelot’s capture, but no word came, and all we could do was wait for Arthur.
            He came riding back with Gawain and the others, laughing and happy, with their kills slung over saddles and the hounds yapping at the horses’ heels. It seemed they had had a productive hunt. Both Guinevere and I went to meet the hunting party and Arthur greeted his wife with a fond kiss.
            “Ah, my dear Guinevere, I trust young Mordred has taken good care of you in my absence?” He then looked in my direction with a wide smile.
            “He looked after me very well indeed,” Guinevere said and Arthur caught the serious tone of her voice.
            “Guinevere, is everything all right?” he asked.
            “My lord,” I stepped in. “Lancelot forced his way into the castle last night to get to Queen Guinevere. I was forced to fight him off, and I am sorry to say he escaped.”
            Arthur’s countenance went from worried to angry, his blue eyes flashing as cold as ice. “That man has finished his days as one of my knights. Fear not, Mordred, we will find him and kill him. Gawain, Bedivere! Rest and eat then we’re off again. We have another hunting to do. Merlin, you stay with Guinevere, please.”
            The sorcerer nodded and took the queen back into the castle.
            “My lord,” I called as Arthur strode off. “Please take me with you. It was I who allowed him to escape.”
            He turned to me, looking me up and down before he nodded. “Very well, don your armor and saddle your horse. I think you have earned the right.” He was about to go off again when he turned around and faced me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You did well, Mordred. I will remember this when it comes time to consider you for the knighthood.”
            My heart glowed, but there was no time to muse on that further, I had let the knave escape, and I would help get him back if I could.
            We rode out and paired off, riding all through the town and the surrounding forest. I was with Gawain and he coaxed the story out of me as we hunted, embarrassing me with his praise.
            “Only a month in Camelot and already you have fought for the honor of the queen,” he said with a grin, reaching over to punch me in the arm. I yelped, doubling over and he watched in concern as I bit my lip, embarrassed at my impulsive outburst.
            “You were wounded?” Gawain asked. “How sore is it?”
            “It is little more than a scratch,” I told him, still swallowing the pain, but trying to laugh it off. “The queen saw to it herself last night and said it would heal well.”
            “Let me know if you get tired, and I mean that,” Gawain said sternly. “No false bravery. Wounds like that can trick you, and I don’t want you overworking yourself and getting a fever.”
            “That’s something coming from you,” I jested, causing him to laugh. “I never thought I’d hear the words ‘don’t overwork yourself’ come out of your mouth.”
            “Cheeky little blighter,” he chuckled.
            We rode for hours, until it got dark and then we met up in a place Arthur had chosen before we parted, but none had found anything that told of where Lancelot and his two companions might have gone. I was exhausted by then, saddle weary, and, though I wouldn’t tell Gawain, my wound was aching and I could feel a slight stickiness of blood that had seeped through my bandage.
            “We can’t see anything more tonight, sire,” Sir Bedivere said kindly. “I think it best to resume the hunt tomorrow; perhaps we can ask around the town first and see if anyone might have seen him, or has any knowledge of where he went. He might even have gone to ground somewhere, waiting for the opportunity to run when no one was looking.”
            “No one was looking last night,” I said off-hand, thinking back to how I couldn’t seem to find a guard ready at hand.
            “What do you mean, Mordred?” Arthur asked me, his voice sounding as tired as I felt.
            “I don’t know if it means anything, my lord,” I said self-consciously. “But last night when I had to fight off Lancelot, it took me a while to track down a guard to explain what had happened. There didn’t seem to be any around.”
            Arthur was silent, then he turned to the others. “Very well, it sounds like I have some inquiries to make. Let us head homeward.”
            We rode swiftly back to the town, and once there, I helped the knights make inquiries into the guards and the knights who had been on duty. We found out that Lancelot’s companions, Arnulf and Raymond, had been the ones on guard duty, so it would have been easy enough for them to let Lancelot slip past, and perhaps even lie to several of the guards that they or someone else was taking over their posting. We were all gathered in Arthur’s solar, and he was sitting back in his chair with one hand pinching the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. Merlin with sitting on the edge of his desk, playing with the flame of one of the candles, making it change shape and float.
            “Could you find him by magic, Merlin?” Arthur asked after a while.
            “You know the way of those things,” Merlin said, not unkindly. “I can find him, but finding out where he is, is another matter entirely. I’m sorry, Arthur.”
            “I don’t think you need to worry too much, my lord,” I spoke up quietly and everyone turned to look at me. “When I fought Lancelot I called him a coward, and he swore to meet me again. I think there is enough hate in him to do so. If I stay here, I believe he will show up eventually.”
            Arthur considered it. “It is possible. He is not a man to give up. After all, he didn’t give up on Guinevere, nor may he ever. You are right, Mordred, it is very likely that he may show up again of his own accord to cause more problems. But it can be assured that he will be dangerous for he knows I will be out for his blood; we must all be on our guard.” He stood up then. “Now please, my friends, get some rest. We can enquire in the town tomorrow, but for now, we have had a very long day.” He turned to me. “Mordred, please stay a moment.”
            I watched the knights leave and soon it was only Arthur, Merlin and I in the room. Arthur turned back to me and offered a tired smile.
            “I just wanted to, again, offer you my deepest gratitude, Mordred. It is assured that I never expected something like that to happen, though had I known, I would have left you in charge of my queen all the same. But I find it a real testament to your character, and the kind of man, and knight you will be one day. I am very proud of you.”
            “Thank you, my lord,” I said, and flushed deeply with pride. I saw Merlin smiling in my direction and for some reason was even more pleased at that. “But I was only doing my duty; just what you asked me.”
            “I think you would have done it anyway, whether I had asked you or not,” Arthur replied, then frowned as he looked me over. “Is that blood?”
            I glanced down at my sleeve and saw that my wound had bled through it. I sighed. “Yes, my lord. I fear the riding aggravated it…”
            “Sit down, I did not know you were wounded,” Arthur insisted, sounding a bit worried. I dutifully sat in his own chair and let him help me off with my tunic so he could see the wound. I tried not to wince as he pulled the blood-crusted bandages off, but they were sticking to the wound and it was a painful experience to my already exhausted body.
            “This is deep,” Arthur observed with a frown, holding my arm gently as he inspected the wound. I noticed a couple of the stitches had torn, which had caused it to start bleeding again. “Thankfully, it’s not inflamed, but we should wash it again just to make sure. Merlin, fetch some strong drink and fresh bandages.”
            Merlin left for the items, and Arthur continued to examine the wound before looking up at me, from where he knelt by my side, putting a hand on my knee.
            “I want you to know, Mordred that I am very proud to be able to call you my son, even if no one else can know. Perhaps some day, they shall. At the very least, I want you to think of me as a father,” he smiled gently. “I know little of being a father, for mine never had much time for me, but know that I will always be there if you need me, Mordred. And if you ever have any grief, come to me. I will always be there to listen.”

            Oh how I wanted to spill out my whole story then, almost to the breaking point with his kind words, coupled by my exhaustion and the pain of my wound, but Merlin reappeared then, and set the items down on the desk. He put a hand on my shoulder as Arthur took up the bottle of liquor and poured it onto a scrap of linen.
            “This will sting,” the sorcerer warned and held me in place as Arthur cleaned out the wound. I clenched my teeth, determined not to make a noise, but still a slight groan escaped me, though I prided myself in the fact that it was manlier than a whimper.
            He finished soon enough, and Merlin reached over me to lay a hand against the wound, speaking several words in the language of sorcerers.
            “That was a guard against infection,” he said as he stepped away. “Can’t have you dropping off on us.”
            Arthur wrapped a clean bandage around my arm, and I was finally released from their care. “Go sleep for the rest of the night, Mordred,” Arthur said kindly, and I could see he was weary himself. “We will start early in the morning. I will need you to help us make inquiries in town.”
            “Of course, my lord. Good night,” I replied as I turned to leave.
            “Sleep well, lad,” Arthur said gently, and I smiled to myself as a warmth spread through me. And this time, I spared not a thought for Morgan la Fay and her plans for me; I simply reveled in the joy of knowing what it felt like to have a father.

©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West

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