Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Voices Beneath: Chapter Ten-- Knight

Here's the next chapter! And on a note, this isn't exactly how one was made a knight, but then, the Arthurian era was before the actual era of chivalry so it might have been less formal, and for the sake of the story, and it's length, this is just going to have to do it, otherwise it might risk dragging.

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chapter ten

I tried to forget. I tried to immerse myself into my knightly training and forget the fact that I had been cursed, destined to kill Arthur in one way or another whether I wanted to or not, but it did not work. No matter what I did, it was always at the edge of my thoughts, and the darkness clouded over me at night, so that I hardly slept, afraid of the nightmares that would come should I let myself slip into slumber. I didn’t know what scared me the most about it: Killing Arthur against my will without being able to stop myself, or actually wanting to do so. I think I came to the conclusion that whatever circumstances could possibly have brought me to wish for his death scared me the most.
            Gawain got irritated with me. He could tell I was struggling with something, and I believe he thought it had to do with Lancelot escaping. On several occasions, I wished to tell him everything if only for someone to unburden myself on, but I didn’t know how he would take it. I had come to love Gawain as an older brother, and I thought he felt much the same about me, but there was also something about him that was so black and white, I didn’t want to force him into feeling like he should have to make a decision to pity me or serve Arthur so I kept my mouth shut.
            On the other hand, I was nearly positive that Merlin knew, or at least sensed something was wrong even if he weren’t sure of the particulars, but did I want to confide in him? I still wasn’t entirely sure about Merlin, and already knew that he would not hesitate to kill me should I look at Arthur the wrong way. I couldn’t blame him for that, but it scared me all the same.
            Finally, Gawain had had enough of me one day while we were in the lists, and he stabbed his sword down between the two of us.
            “Do you want this, Mordred? Do you want to be a knight? Because you’re going to have to work a lot harder if that’s what you want.”
            I was ashamed and vowed to indeed work harder. “I am sorry, Gawain, truly. I have not been sleeping well and I think it’s wearing on me.”
            He sighed and gripped my shoulders tightly. “I believe in you, Mordred, and what’s more, Arthur believes in you. He genuinely wants to see you become a knight worthy of his greatest. That’s why I’m mad at you. I just don’t feel you’re working hard enough. I want him to be proud of you too, and I couldn’t stand to see you disappointed in yourself either, as I know you will be if you don’t apply yourself and forget whatever is knocking around in that thick head of yours.”
            “I will work harder, Gawain. I promise.” And I did. I fought and fought every day with Gawain and the other knights until I was too exhausted to dream when I fell into bed. I forced the thoughts away, the only thing permeating my mind the coming knighting, and Arthur’s approval.
The day came so soon, I was hardly ready for it, but I stood looking at the shining new suit of armor that Gawain and I had picked up from the blacksmith the day before with apprehension as it stood in one corner of my room. Gawain, dressed in his best for the occasion, came in to help me ready myself, acting as my squire today. He gripped my shoulders and shook me slightly, grinning.
            “Don’t look so worried,” he said with a fond tug of my hair. “You have prepared and practiced so much I don’t think there’s any way Arthur will not knight you today.”
            “I know,” I told him, forcing a smile. I clapped a hand to his forearm. “I just want to thank you, Gawain, for all you have done for me since I arrived. You’ve been a brother to me where I never had one, and I will never forget your friendship to a frightened boy who hardly knew his way around a sword.”
            Gawain laughed and mussed my hair fondly. “Well, that’s my job. Now come on, let’s get you into your metal or we’ll be late.”
            I stood awkwardly as he cinched the armor into place, decided it was almost more complicating to figure out how to hold your arms while someone else was putting armor on you than it was to figure out how it went on someone else. I supposed I would have to get used to it when I had my own squire. Despite what I had led Gawain to believe, I was not worried about the tests I would have to perform in front of all the knights as well as Arthur and Guinevere that day; I had indeed practiced enough to be confident that I could pass them all without much trouble. What worried me was the last test in which I would fight Arthur himself. Ever since Lady Morgan had cursed me, I had tried to avoid sparring with Arthur as much as possible; at least with anything more dangerous than staves. I had no idea how the curse would manifest itself; whether it would simply move me against my will and kill Arthur—and slaying the king in front of everyone on the day of my knighting wasn’t a very good place to start my knighthood. I only hoped that if anything happened I would somehow be able to find a way around the curse and keep from killing Arthur.
            Gawain finally finished and handed me my helmet. I sighed as I tucked it into the crook of my arm. “Well, I guess this is it.”
            “Come on,” Gawain said, giving me a slight shove in the direction of the door and we headed together to the field on horseback. The tilting would be first, which was good because it would be against a weighted target, and Elith and I had been practicing that way since we started and both of us had become masters.
            I felt a bit lonely as Gawain parted to go sit with the other knights. We were at the tourney field where the public entertainment was held, and I rode Elith up to the box where Arthur and Guinevere sat side by side, Merlin lounging close to Arthur’s chair, his watchful eyes on me. I bowed respectfully.
            “My lord,” I said. “May I fight well this day that you might consider me for a knighthood.”
            Arthur nodded. “Very good, Mordred. Begin when you are ready.”
            I turned and trotted Elith to one side of the tilt where a squire was waiting to hand me lances. I accepted one and took the starting position. I felt Elith ready under me, his muscles tensing as he chewed the bit. I took a deep breath and squeezed my knees and Elith was off in a flash, charging at the target. I smashed it dead center with the lance and we sped out of the way before the weight swung back around to knock me off Elith’s back. We made a turn at the other end of the field and charged back, hitting the target again. There was one last turn to go, and this time when I hit the target, the lance shattered and I grinned despite myself. That had been the first time I had ever shattered a lance on the practice tilt. The knights were shouting encouragement and I slowed Elith, who was rather proud of himself as well, and took off my helmet as I nodded to the knights and to the king and queen.
            I continued with several more tests, fighting with mace and shield against Bedivere and then with staves against Percival. After showing my prowess in both of those, it was finally time for the moment I had been dreading. Arthur rose from his seat as I stood on the field, ready for him. He was dressed in his own armor, shining not quite as brightly as mine for it held several battle scars as did the king who wore it.
            “You do well fighting against the other knights, Mordred; those who will be your shield brothers,” he said, issuing the challenge formally as he accepted his sword from Guinevere who held it ceremoniously across her hands. “Let us see if you can do the same against your king.”
            I stood waiting on the field as Arthur put on his helmet, my sword ready in my hand. We would not fight with shields this time; this was a test of sword on sword, and it would be brutal and merciless. Arthur would ask for no less. I licked my dry lips, glad to be wearing the helmet so that no one could read my expression.
            There was no warning when Arthur struck, he just shouted out, and leapt forward with grace and speed I had rarely seen him exhibit. I only barely blocked his sword in time, feeling like a beginner. But his sudden attack had gotten my blood pumping, and I knew what to expect for the next time. He was on offense for the first few blows, but then I delivered one that put him on defense, and we danced a deadly dance of flashing blades as I fought with every ounce of my training to not let Arthur kill me. The fight was so fierce that I had no time at all to worry about what I might do to Arthur; surely, I would never get a blow past his guard even if I wished to. But eventually, the tide began to turn. I felt a new surge of adrenaline run through me, almost unheard of after I had already fought two previous duels that were certainly no training fights. I felt giddy with the newfound energy, and swung harder and harder, realizing that I was pushing Arthur back. I heard the shouts from the crowd and Gawain crying out encouragement, on his feet, and out of the corner of my eye, I also saw Merlin, gripping the edge of the royal box, intent, I thought then, on the fight, but was soon to realize differently.
            I had almost pushed Arthur off the field and I was determined to end the fight, so I made one last desperate push, and Arthur fell backwards into the dust of the field, my sword, in its momentum, plunged downward toward his chest and a sudden panic rose hot and painful inside me as I realized I wasn’t going to stop it!
            Then it halted inches above Arthur’s chest. I gasped for breath, my whole body ridged, unmoving. The crowd was cheering me, but I felt no elation. I was sweating with fear, trying to figure out why I couldn’t move. Then my arm was wrenched to one side and my fingers forced to release the sword. As it fell with a dull thump in the dust, my body was released from whatever had held me, and I almost fell to my knees, but turned the weakness into a crouch as I reached for Arthur’s hand. He came up, pulling the helmet from his head, revealing a grin in a flushed and sweaty face. He pulled my own helmet off and gripped my shoulder.
            “You did well, Mordred, very well,” he said. “Come. We must finish the ceremony.”
            He led me over to the middle of the field again and motioned for me to kneel, which I did, though I was still dismayed and not entirely sure what had occurred. I felt the blade touching my shoulders and suddenly Arthur was telling me to rise.
            “Rise, Sir Mordred, Knight of Camelot.”

            I got shakily to my feet and the knights cheered me again. Arthur’s hand was on my shoulder, Queen Guinevere was smiling proudly at me, Gawain was grinning and slapping all the other knights on the back, celebrating my victory. But one person was not rejoicing. Merlin was watching me with a calculating stare that filled me with dread. I suddenly realized that what had happened had been no accident and that had it not been for Merlin, I might very well have killed Arthur. I couldn’t breathe. I gasped to get air into my lungs, but they wouldn’t work. I was hyperventilating, blackness crowding my vision, and suddenly I felt myself falling, unable to stop myself.

©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West

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