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a bond renewed
“I guess this takes me out of the running tomorrow,” Gawain was saying with a sigh as I hurried back to his tent, my chest aching from the exertion but I didn’t have time to worry about it at the moment. Percival and Bedivere who were crowded around Gawain’s cot, looked up at me as I hurried in, puffing and frantic.
“What’s wrong, lad?” Gawain asked with a bemused smile. “It’s just a dislocated shoulder. I might not be able to fight tomorrow, but I’ll be all right.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “That’s not it, I know who the black knight is.”
“What do you mean?” Bedivere asked, frowning.
“I had my suspicions so I went to his tent and watched him take off his helmet,” I told them quickly in a hushed voice. “It’s Lancelot.”
That got their attention. Gawain clenched his fists in anger. “Where did he find the gall to come back here? I should have known it was Lancelot. He was the only one I knew who was possibly that good with a lance.”
“He’s obviously up to no good,” I said. “And without Merlin here, we all need to make sure to keep a firm eye on Arthur and especially Guinevere. And most of all, we can’t let him win tomorrow. If he does, I’m sure he’ll try something. He’s back for revenge, and I don’t think he’ll leave this time without Guinevere. He’s failed too many times in the past, he’ll be more dangerous now than ever.”
“Someone needs to tell Arthur,” Bedivere said firmly.
I nodded in agreement, knowing this was one thing I could not keep from him, and though my stomach flipped as I thought about it, I said, “I will do it. As soon as everyone is settled, I’ll go see him before supper.”
Bedivere nodded. “Good. You did well, Mordred. I don’t want to think what would happen if he had gone undetected.”
I didn’t either, and I was terribly glad I had followed my instincts and went to see who the man was. I wasn’t entirely surprised that Lancelot would prove to be so brazen. The thing that worried me most was where he had gotten all the knightly finery. His armor was almost as new and fine as my own which had been a gift from Arthur and Guinevere upon my knighting. I didn’t know where he had acquired it if he was still living out in the forest as an outlaw. It fit too well to be stolen from some unfortunate.
I cast a glance behind my shoulder to the tent flap, not wanting to have to go yet, but knowing there was no reason to prolong it.
“I’ll go speak with Arthur now, I’ll see you later at supper.” I went to retrieve Elith and I rode him back to the castle, slipping into my rooms to change into clean clothes and wash my face before I continued on, giving Arthur enough time to get settled back in the castle.
A knot had formed in my belly at the thought of talking to Arthur again. Shame, mixed with wanting of something that could never be undone now, were battling inside with the need to make sure he and Guinevere were safe; and because I cared deeply for them, despite everything, and probably more so because of it, that won out and I nearly ran to the castle before I lost my nerve.
I knocked on the door to Arthur’s study, thinking he was most likely in there and was rewarded by his call to enter. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open, slipping inside. I instantly bowed and respectfully said, “Sire.”
He looked up at me wearily with a wry expression, but he didn’t bother to correct me again. It made me somewhat sad that he had given up so easily. He was sitting in his window seat with a cup of wine, looking down into the courtyard, but he stood when I entered and went to set the cup on his desk.
“Would you like a drink, Mordred?” he asked, already pouring me one before I could refuse and handing it to me with a kind smile. “You did very well today. It is not every knight who can say that they were only one spot away from winning their first tournament. I think you won yourself many admirers among the young ladies today. As well as the older ones.” His eyes lit with that old merry glint and I couldn’t help but smile back. Oh how I wished the only thing I had to worry about was a multitude of ladies vying for my attention—how I wished I could enjoy it, but I already had too many people I cared for caught up in this already and could not afford the luxury.
Arthur motioned to my person. “You took quite a fall, I hope you are well.”
“Just some bruises,” I told him. “My armor will have to go to the smith’s however.”
“Well, at least we won’t have to hammer you back out again,” he chuckled then seemed to remember something. “Did you wish to speak with me about something, Mordred?”
“Yes,” I said grimly, putting my cup on the desk as well. “There is a grave, pressing matter that I need to discuss with you, my lord. It involves the black knight.”
“Yes, what about him?”
I colored slightly. “I assure you, I only meant what was best for everyone, but I felt inclined to follow him back to his tent and I…I watched him take off his helmet.”
“Mordred, that’s not very chivalrous of you,” Arthur said disapprovingly, acting very much as my father again.
“Well, I’m glad I did it, chivalrous or not, because it turns out that he is actually Lancelot,” I said quickly.
That got Arthur’s attention. He just stared at me for a few minutes. “Lancelot.”
I nodded. “I’m afraid so, my lord. I was suspicious during the joust. I knew Gawain had once told me that Lancelot was the only other knight who could beat him in jousting. When the black knight unseated Gawain, I knew I had to at least find out.”
Arthur was silent a moment, then he squeezed my shoulder gently as he made his way to the door. “You did well, Mordred, though in future, I would like you to show a little more respect for your comrades. I must go notify the guard.”
“My lord, if I may,” I said, stopping him. “I do not think he will try anything tonight. Whatever he has planned it will be after the hand-to-hand fights tomorrow. We all know what he wants. He wants Guinevere out of spite now, and revenge on you and I. We need to make it so that I fight him tomorrow. I’ve fought him before, and I know he is not the best swordsman; not nearly as good as he is at jousting. I have trained hard since the last time we met, do you not think I would have a chance against him?”
Arthur had his hand in his hair, carding it worriedly. “Mordred, it’s not about your ability, it’s about his determination. You know he’ll kill you given half the chance. He obviously tried his best today, and would have succeeded if your armor had not been so well crafted. I don’t know if I can let you take this risk.”
I felt genuine anger then, for my own pride. “Would you be so reserved if it had been Gawain or Bedivere who asked you?” I couldn’t help but say. “You have fought me yourself and said that I was a fine swordsman; do you not think I could defeat Lancelot?”
“It’s not that,” he replied.
“Then let me do it!” I pleaded, stepping closer to him. “I was the one who let him escape three times, it is on my honor to stop him now with everything I have. If you won’t let me do it then at least give me a reason!”
He reached out and gripped me by the shoulders shaking me as he shouted, “Because you are my son and I don’t want to lose you!”
The outburst shocked us both and he just stood there, staring at me with his hands still gripped around my shoulders. I slowly took his forearms and pulled his hands from me, knowing that I was completely obliterating every wall of protection I had built up over the past few months, but I decided I didn’t care either.
“Sire,” I began and then corrected myself, adding more softly, “Father.” Arthur’s face was so full of mixed feelings I could hardly look at it. “Do you forget that I care about you and Guinevere as well? You and the knights are my family. I never had any before I came here, and I would die a thousand times in the most painful ways to protect you all and be happy I was allowed to sacrifice so much. Regrettably, I only have one life to give, but if I give it and take Lancelot with me, then so be it. However I do not think it will come to that. He likely still wants to believe I am just a naïve boy who knows nothing about swordplay, but he will be mistaken. Please let me do this one thing. I need to do this.”
He took a deep breath and finally nodded. “Very well, Mordred. I believe in your ability to do this, though it goes against my paternal instinct as well as my natural stubbornness for you to fight my battles for me.”
“This has always been my battle,” I said firmly, and was not sorry for it. “And you forget that while I might be your son, I am also your knight, and that entails that I must fight for you and die for you if the need arises. And I would think of it as nothing but an honor.”
He reached out with a sad smile and clapped a hand on the back of my neck. “You have grown much since you came here, Mordred. I am so proud of you, my son.” And then for the first time in months, I allowed him to pull me into an embrace. It was awkward at first for I was surprised and we were, both of us, still shedding our past hurts, but I leaned into him arms after a moment, letting go of everything I had promised myself I wouldn’t do. I might have gone back on every promise I made myself for my own good, but I left him happy. I knew I had probably opened the way for more heartache in the future, but at that moment I didn’t care a bit. I felt better than I had since I ran away, and I actually found myself smiling involuntarily as I walked back to the barracks. I knew I was going to win the fight tomorrow, and this time, I was going to get rid Lancelot once and for all. Merlin had been right. Love always won out over hate in the end and made you the stronger man.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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