Knights Without A King
Part Five-Knights Without A King
Melodias was a troublesome old bore. Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying such things about the man, considering that he is my father, but it would still be true. Melodias was old, troublesome, boring, and had a house full of bastard sons he expected to fill the ranks of his army. Melodias was feeling slightly ambitious as of late, since he heard of the death of Uther Pendragon, and now it seemed that the land of Lyonesse was not enough to satisfy him. Melodias thought himself fit to rule a much larger kingdom.
I sighed and shook my head in dismay. Being one of Melodias’s bastards, and being fourteen years of age, it seemed the time had come for me to enroll in my father’s army and fight to the death to defend a claim he had no right making. It was unappealing, and Melodias had no other plan of action other than to lead a large force to London and demand the crown. Perhaps we would meet up with the other five armies marching there for the same purpose and have ourselves a wonderful time pointlessly slaughtering each other.
I wanted to leave this place. Melodias was a doddering old fool, and becoming quite irrational in his old age. There was a very good chance he would not notice my absence from his army. After all, with his poor eyesight, the man could not tell one bastard from the other nowadays. My mother was not here with me. My father claims that she was a wicked woman, a damned creature, and that he had driven her away to save both our immortal souls. Of course, I knew this to be false. My mother was Elizabeth, the Lady of the Lake, and under the protection of Vivianne of Avalon. Dinadin had found this out from his father, who, despite being a Christian, still held a great deal of respect for the Old Ways and the holy island. Melodias had chased my mother away because he was afraid of the priests who frowned on the practice of the Old Ways, but always seemed to turn the other way when my father’s lechery became more and more pronounced.
I could go to my mother, and spend my days with her at the Lake. However, though my heart longed to see her, I could not imagine staying there very long. Useless as he may be, Melodias had done one good thing when it came to his bastards. He made them into fighters, into warriors who were raised to believe in protecting their king and their land. However, Melodias did not do a very good job in raising his bastards to see him as their king, and Lyonesse as their land. Many of my brothers had the same wish that I had, to leave this land and never return. We had the training, the ability, and the courage to earn a knighthood from any court in all of Britain, but there seemed to be no court worthy of defending. When Uther was alive, there might have been such a court, but now with his death, the lesser kings fell into petty squabbles over who had command over what lands. Cornwall, left without a Duke or army to protect it, had quickly fallen under the domain of King Ban of Benwick. London itself was unclaimed, but there were plenty of lords and kings fighting to make it their own. There was chaos in the land, and hardly much nobility left among the kings.
No, I could not serve any lesser king, nor could I spend my days wasting by the shores of the Lake. Perhaps I should take Dinadin up on his offer and travel the countryside, spreading truth and justice as we went. Of course, that would work only if Dinadin could behave himself and not engage in any of his tricks again. The boy was a rascal, and was likely going to get himself killed if he did not refrain from making mischief for the older boys. He got himself whipped for his last stunt, and nearly had his head taken off by Segwardes for meddling with his bow and arrow.
There was the other option, the one that the other boys only whispered about so Melodias would not hear of it. A chance had been offered to them, by Merlin no less, to join the ranks of an elite brotherhood. A band of knights truly devoted to the ideals of chivalry and justice, and not bound to a lesser king who would only use them to meet his own selfish ends. The wizard had spoken of many things, whispered a great many promises into the ears of many of Melodias’s bastards. The knighthood was forming already, at this very minute, and the training had begun with Sir Ector of the Forest Sauvage.
I wanted to go with him; I wanted to be a part of that brotherhood he spoke of. I felt almost as if it were my destiny to follow Merlin back to Ector. When Merlin spoke of this band of future knights and the glory that they would receive, I believed him completely. Perhaps he had bewitched me to think so, but I doubted that very much. It would not have taken many extravagant promises to lure any of the bastards from Melodias’s court. Merlin knew that we had no real prospects for our future, other than a quick death at the hands of some other king’s army. Melodias would march us out to London as soon as he deemed his army ready, and that time would come very quickly.
I will not join those of my brothers who marched out for our father. I simply would not die for a father who cared nothing for my life, a father who had raised me for the sole purpose of serving him so that if I might die, his own life would be stretched for a little while longer. Melodias was not a man I would raise a sword for, not a man I would even sweat for. He was old, senile, and vain, and I could not imagine him surviving in this world for much longer.
Tomorrow will be the day that I head out, most likely with Dinadin and Segwardes with me, if I can keep them from killing each other. We will ride first to Glastonbury, and then to the Lake to see my mother. I do not know how long we would stay there, but when the time was right, we will ride out north to meet with Ector and our destiny. My father would get his wish, and I will become a knight.
Just not his knight.
“Emerys . . .”
“I’m cold,” I mumbled into my cloak. “Why am I so cold?”
He didn’t answer me. I heard some shuffling and then felt some more cloth wrapped around me. I murmured a thank you in reply, not having the energy to open my eyes and thank him properly. I didn’t know why I felt so tired all of a sudden, but I couldn’t even lift my head if I tried. It was like all my vitality was being sucked right out of my body, and I couldn’t find a way to stop it.
“Just hold on Willow-mine,” I heard Emerys whisper. “It’ll be okay. All of this will pass shortly, it will just take time.”
“Why do I feel like this?” I asked softly.
“Because you are being tested, though you don’t know it,” he answered. “Avalon is measuring you, seeing if you are fit to lay a foot on the holy island?”
There was another pause. “You’ll find out when you next wake up,” he promised. “Rest now. Regardless of what happens next, our journey will become increasingly more difficult. Rest while you can.”
“Now that’s comforting . . .”
Maybe it was spite that drove me to it. After all, I had been the only boy around before those three showed up, and perhaps I had gotten to be a little spoiled, as Vivianne proclaimed me to be. Whatever the reason, I was going now and leaving behind the only home I have ever known.
Mother was upset that I was leaving, and so was Eleanore. They were sad, but accepting of the fact that I had to leave. I was thirteen years of age now, and if I did not start my training now, my dreams of knighthood might forever be wasted. They understood, and they even wished me well. It was Morgan who was angry.
“You are just going so that you can fight with Tristan,” she accused me as I prepared my horse. I did not answer her, because we both knew it was true in a sense. I was very competitive with Tristan, from the first time he ever wandered down to our home. He was Mother’s true son, and everyone adored him.
“What is the matter?” I asked her. “Are you worried that I will hurt your precious Tristan?”
“Why are you like this?” she demanded, brown eyes flashing with anger. “You said from the first time that we met that you would always protect me, because we were to be brother and sister from then on. You said you would let no one harm me, not with action or with words. And yet now you are the one to abuse me so heartlessly. I love Tristan no greater than I love you. You are both brothers to me-“
“And yet you prefer him,” I muttered darkly. “You run up to meet him when he comes to visit. You fawn over him when he displays his talents. And when he leaves, you are ever so saddened by it.”
“He is like a brother-“
“He is not,” I interrupted her. “He is not like a brother to you. Face it, dear Morgan, you are in love with the strapping young lad. It is an awfully foolish thing to be in love at twelve. You hardly know what love is.”
“And at thirteen you find all the answers, is that so?” she snapped at me. “And so what if I am a little enamored of Tristan? Why does it bother you so? He has done nothing inappropriate. He is a perfect gentleman, and he sees me as nothing more than a child.”
“You will not a child forever,” I replied. “And what happens if, when you come of age, he decides to take you as his wife? Will you run off with him then, leave all of us here to worry after you and miss you? Will you just neglect the duty Lady Vivianne has put upon you? You are to be the next Lady of the Lake! You have no time for foolish romances and affairs. And you have no idea how boys Tristan’s age think. He will take advantage of your emotions-”
“He will not!” Morgan shouted. “You are just jealous that Tristan is a knight-“
“I will be a better knight than him,” I vowed.
“And you run to Merlin to make all your dreams come true.”
“Ah, at last the truth comes out. Tell me, dear Morgan, why does it bother you that I will join Merlin’s band of knights when it does not bother you than Tristan has already done so?”
“Tristan does not know everything,” she answered. “He does not know what Merlin is truly like. You know, I told you everything, and you swore that you would always protect me from him. And now you run off to join him, forgetting what havoc that damned wizard has caused-“
“And are you forgetting what havoc you caused?”
She fell silent and stared at me with wounded eyes. I should not have pressed on, but I did. I never knew when to stop talking, especially when I was angry. And lately, with Morgan, I was always angry.
“The only reason Merlin had to make this brotherhood was to train people to stop the bloodshed you caused,” I told her. “You made a mess of matters when you killed Uther, Morgan, and now someone has to put things right.”
“Is that how you truly feel?” she asked in a low voice. “That this whole mess was all my doing? Have you felt this way always, oh dear brother Lancelot? Even when you used to teach me to slay dragons and called me Morgan of the Fairies, did you always see me as a horrible murderer?”
“Fine, go on your way then,” she practically spat at me. “Run off to your knights, dragons, and damsels. Go save the world from the crimes of the wicked Morgan Le Fay and become the greatest knight anyone has ever known. But never venture to come here and call me sister again, Lancelot Du Lac. Whatever love there was between us is gone for good.”
She turned on her heel and left in a rage. I shouted after her, but she would not heed me. She spoke not a word to me after, not even when I was finally ready to set off. I pleaded through her door for a while, and then felt my own anger rise. Morgan was a stubborn girl, and if she wished to act so childishly about this, then she could. Let her simmer with rage for some weeks. I would not be able to return to the Lake for little over a year. Her anger would fade by then and she would welcome me back as she did Tristan.
After all, I was her beloved Lancelot. She could not stay angry with me forever.