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After that, my life seemed simply to consist of existing. I felt very little, for the only way I had to cope with the pain of my curse was to push everything aside. Arthur and I had estranged ourselves from each other by unspoken consent and except for on occasions where I had to speak with him for my knightly duties—in which we were always both very formal with or without company—I did not have any private discussions with him like I had in the past that we had both taken such joy out of nor did he ask me to spar with him any more. I was grateful for this, as I knew what would happen if I fought him again, but the sparring practice we had had together had always been the thing I most looked forward to in the past, and I missed it greatly.
It was approaching the summer when the yearly tournament was held, and I gladly threw myself into rigorous training with the others knights so I would be able to compete. I knew Gawain knew something was wrong with me, but thankfully he didn’t ask, though I had a feeling he wanted to on more than one occasion. I tried to keep a light overtone with the other knights but it was hard. And once more I cursed Morgan la Fay for destroying everything I loved most. If she was truly out for revenge, she was doing a very good job of it.
As the date of the tournament neared I was on my way back from practicing; hot and ready to wash off before supper. I watched the workers setting up the tournament stands, far more seats than the last local tournament I had witnessed when Lancelot had tried to take Guinevere…the day I had been cursed. I shook my head to stop thinking about that. Gawain had told me that knights from all the neighboring kingdoms were known to come to the tournament and only the best competed. I was proud to be part of that group for I had excelled in my martial arts from dedicating so much time to them. I would have been happier about the achievement if I had more reason to celebrate.
It was then I met Merlin coming back from the village with a parcel tucked into the crook of his arm. I hailed him and he nodded, motioning for me to wait. He hurried up to me and I stopped to speak with him, petting Elith’s neck.
“Mordred, I was hoping to catch you,” Merlin said. “I’m afraid I’ll be leaving for a while.”
“Leaving?” I asked, suddenly paying much more attention to Merlin than I was to my other problems. “Why? Where are you going?”
Merlin cast a look around as if afraid someone might overhear, then he leaned close and said, “I’m going to pay Morgan a visit. I may be able to…persuade her to lift your curse, and if that doesn’t work, well. The only other way to rid you of it is either to kill you or kill her. And, honestly, Mordred, the more I think about it, the more I assume you may not even be able to be killed. I think the curse also puts you under a protective spell of some sort. When I had to stop you with magic that one time, it took great effort to pass through the tangle that was covering you.”
I gave him a smile full of dark wit. “I’m glad to know you would still consider killing me if I harmed Arthur. I like to have friends like you, Merlin.”
“Mordred,” he said and his voice was pained. “I can’t see you suffer anymore. Nor can Arthur. He’s beating himself up because he thinks it’s all his fault and he wonders what he could have possibly done to make you angry at him for so long.” My stomach twisted. “I know why you did what you did, but I fear it will affect his reign as well as his attitude if this goes on for too much longer.”
“I wish nothing more than to let him know the truth,” I told him and he sighed impatiently.
“Yes, Mordred, I know, that is why I am going to do everything I can to help you. I’m leaving in the morning.” He began to turn away, but I called him back.
“Merlin,” I said. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done without you helping me get through this.”
A small smile appeared on his lips. “It is my pleasure, young knight. Now, if I don’t see you before then, which seems very likely indeed, I wish you good luck in the tournament.”
“Thank you,” I said again and watched him stride away before I continued on my way to the stables.
I sincerely hoped that Merlin would be able to help me, and I would lie if I said I cared a whit whether Morgan lived or died as horrible as that sounded. But I had the tourney to prepare for, and did so more readily now that I knew there might still be hope for the breaking of the curse.
Finally it came to be the night before the event. Knights from the surrounding kingdoms had been arriving all day and the castle and village was full of the competitors and their followers. The training field where the tourney would be held was filled with brightly colored tents where all the knights had taken up residence. That night there was a great feast in the hall that all the knights were invited to and Arthur looked regal and kingly sitting at the head table with Guinevere in a beautiful sapphire blue dress, looking like an angel. I was still honored with a place at the high table with the others of Arthur’s favorite knights, though I did not sit beside him, and was in fact at the end of the table next to Percival. Percival at least was always amusing, especially at parties and he actually managed to draw several laughs out of me which was something that didn’t happen often in those days. Gawain heard and cast an appreciative look at the big knight.
As the feast waned late that night, the men deciding they should get some rest before the next day, I took my leave, wishing to do the same. I bid goodnight to Percival and Gawain and nodded my departure to Arthur with a respectable “Goodnight, sire.”
He nodded back and I left the hall, finding solace in the quiet corridors where I could sometimes think too much. Tonight, though, my mind was filled with other things. How well would I do on the tournament the next day? Where was Merlin right now, and had he found Morgan yet? Had he been able to persuade her? I began to fear I would not sleep at all that night.
Something caught my eye and I looked to a side corridor to see a cloaked man in squire’s garb disappearing quickly into the shadows. I instinctively put a hand on the hilt of my sword, but then shook my head at my own foolishness. The lad was probably on his way to or from some tryst with a kitchen maid and simply didn’t want to be caught at it. I wished right then that I had such simple problems.
Then I heard another footstep sound behind me and this time I did spin around with my hand clamped firmly on the sword hilt, ready for whoever it might be. I relaxed my position however, when I saw who it was.
Arthur halted when I spun around, seeming almost to hesitate. I quickly released my sword and gave him a half bow. “My lord, I apologize, I am just feeling a little anxious tonight. Nerves for the tourney tomorrow.” I tried to smile, but it was lost just as everything else between us had been.
Arthur smiled back and came toward me. “You have every reason to be. I was a mess before my first tourney,” he stopped, seeming to realize he was again talking to me like I was his son—something that had seemed off limits after our disagreement. He renewed his smile, though it was sadder this time around. “I just wanted to wish you luck. I wish I was competing, but I decided I needed to be a proper king this time. Besides, Guinevere would murder me if I competed without Merlin around.” He chuckled, but I saw a far off, somewhat confused look in his eyes. I suddenly wondered what Merlin had told him when he left. Perhaps nothing at all. It made me feel strange to think that I knew more about Merlin than Arthur who was like his surrogate brother. I had one of the many sudden urges I felt, to pour out my story to him and let the truth be known, but I kept it inside as usual. I smiled my best at him.
“It is likely best, sire,” I said, hoping I said it jokingly. “You are very dear to the queen, and she would hate to lose you. And she’s not the only one.”
For a moment we held each other’s gaze and I saw a flicker of warmth and fatherly affection in Arthur’s eyes before he cleared throat and I looked away, making to part.
“I thank you for the well wishes, my lord,” I told him. “I hope I will be able to prove myself to you as a true knight of Camelot tomorrow.”
“I have no doubt that you will, Mordred,” he said gently, raising a hand as if to touch my shoulder, but putting it back down awkwardly as a second thought, making my heart twist. “Now you had best get some rest so you will be at your finest tomorrow. I am off to do the same.”
I parted with him and made for my bed in the barracks, but on the way back, I got the feeling someone was watching me and I turned quickly, a snarl on my lips to scare whoever it was, half thinking it might be Gawain or Percival playing a trick on me, but I caught sight of a hooded figure slipping away out of sight. At first I thought it might be the same squire I had seen in the castle, but this silhouette was bigger, broader in the shoulders. There was something about it that seemed familiar, however. I didn’t know why I felt so cautious that night. I was not taken to jumping at shadows. I just had a feeling that something wasn’t right. Again I berated myself as I hurried off to my room before I came up with any other crazy theories. After all, it was likely just one of the knights and I was becoming paranoid with my frayed nerves.
But the next day, I was to find out that I had not been entirely wrong.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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