Friday, May 18, 2007

541. Adventure of the Treacherous Pict

Adventure! I have so been looking forward to this. I have no gripe with doing my duty, of course, and I will every be grateful to the Countess Clina for making me a knight. I would have been content to spend my life as Sir Clydno’s dutiful squire. Dutiful, that’s what he said. “Evan,” he told me, “there has never been a squire more dutiful than you.” How proud I was at that, to serve the good knight who took me from that miserable life and gave me opportunity to serve.
And of course, even more proud to have received word that the Lady Clina would knight me! Me, a Saxon! “You are more than a handsome young man,” she told me, “and my uncle, the good Sir Clydno says you are as well mannered as you are huge. We have a need of knights, and I think you are as worthy as any and more worthy than most. I heard of your efforts to save my dear uncle, and of the mighty wound you took in that fight, so I deem you more than worthy to serve me and the good King Arthur.”
I have heard it was the king himself who sent the armor for me. I’ve heard he is anxious to have us young Saxons in his kingdom, to serve where our fathers fought against him. And I, for one, am proud to do so! I spit on the sneers of those of my countrymen who scowl at me. What fools. They would rather toil as peasants and wallow in their hatred than to sit astride a great horse in armor.
Well, atop a horse anyway. Though the king—or someone, whomever—donated my armor the cost of a horse seems too much. Nonetheless, I have been more than content with my little war pony, though my feet would drag upon the ground if I stretched them. He’s served me well, and knows his way through the hills and moors like no charger or destrier could. Besides, with my two-handed weapon expertise I’ll have to dismount in a melee anyway. If I’d know I would some day sit astride a knight’s saddle I would have trained with shield. But it is too late to regret now.
So after a year of service at the castle, my lady agreed to let me seek adventure. I immediately set off northward, hot upon the trail of my good Sir Clydno. He had been sent there on a mission by the great king himself! I was eager to serve by his side and to prove myself before his eyes.
I joined in a party going the same way. It was led by none other than the great Count Mortimer, out of his castle on some distant mission he did not speak of. But he was pressing on northwards, and when I overheard his conversation one night over dinner I was concerned, for it seemed he was seeking his missing heir!
After weeks of travel we reached Gorre, where King Bagdemagus was holding a tournament. I was more than overjoyed to find Sir Clydno there, but quickly my joy fell to worry. My teacher, my master, was sorely wounded and in a deep, deep melancholy. He did not even wish to speak of it at first, and I learned form his companions that he had taken a challenge form a great Pictish warrior and, though fighting for the good name and reputation of out King Arthur, Clydno was bested. Nearly slain! Worse yet, he took ill afterwards. Some said it was poison, and he was saved only by the graces of an old hag he had been kind to by the roadside. Surely that poison had infected his humors, inciting his melancholy. After some prodding he confessed to me that he felt himself to be a total failure—that he was torn between taking up the cloth or throwing away the finger that had never brought him a moment of luck in his life.
I was incensed to see what depths he had been cast into! I’d never seen a Pict, but when I learned of the wrong doing that would cause my master, the good knight, to such thoughts a dark ember of hatred grew in my heart. I vowed to avenge my master, or to die trying!
I will skip the details of the tournament—my first! I fought fairly well, and no one won any prizes from among our party. Several challenges by hostile knights were met, and our men trounced the fools who dared speak against King Arthur. But I must mention the comic antics of Sir Doon. He agreed to fight a bear without his armor, with only a dagger and shield. He was nearly killed, the fool!
Sir Branwyn was leading an expedition—indeed, a small army—northward again to rescue the priest who had stayed among the Picts to convert them. Clydno would not go. He had sworn an oath to stay away for a year if he lost the fight. So had Branwyn and some others, but they deemed it more important to rescue their charge than to obey the oath. Branwyn insisted the oath was void because the Pict was deceitful, but I was deeply shocked. Branwyn was normally deeply religious. I realized he was more moved by his passion for his religion and duty to the priest than by his oath. But Sir Clydno, though he too seethed with rage, would not break his vow. I repeated my pledge, and went with the army northwards.
We passed through Strangorre, and into Pict territory. At the same place where my lord was defeated (as my companions told me) we were challenged by the same Pict warrior that had hurt my good friend! I didn’t wait for formalities. I didn’t pause when I heard it was a fight to the death. I took my mace and, burning with rage, fell to with that Pict. Though he was reputed a giant among men, he was no larger than me. And though reputed to be a champion, he was no match for me, a newly made knight. I bashed him once, staggering him, and with a second blow crushed his chest. When he lay upon the ground I crushed his head to pulp.
“That is for my master, Sir Clydno, and the good King Arthur!” I shouted at him. I took his hand with me as a souvenir to prove my victory.
We pressed onward, and there was the hill fort of the Picts. Sir Branwyn set the peasants to making a ram to cave in the door, but as they were approaching it the gates swung open and out swarmed many of those naked warriors, howling like the devils that they are. Fools! But then we saw why—there was a mighty giant coming from the side to attack us! Huge—twenty or more feet tall!
Sir Branwyn and some others rushed the monster, but seeing opportunity to enter the fort, I went that way. No, I didn’t run from the giant. Honest, I went to the gate. I killed Picts with a single blow each time, and this good armor of mine turned nearly every blow they struck upon me. Small wounds meant nothing.
Then one of their chiefs, seeking to rally his men, set upon me. I cut him in two with my sword. I pushed through the gate, killing right and left as many blows bounded off of me or left small cuts. Another chief, screaming, attacked and he fell as quickly as his companion. With a few of the Gorre knights and warriors I was pressing into the stronghold when the door burst open and a giant boar rushed out. I barely threw myself aside. A strange man sat atop it, and they dashed away before anyone could lay weapon to them. That was when I saw that the Picts were all running, scattering in all directions, even leaping over the walls of the fort to escape. I went into the stronghold and there found the priest, sore wounded, and gave him first aid. He blessed me.
I learned later that Sir Branwyn slew the giant, aided by friends, but it was Branwyn who slew it.
We burnt the fort. We brought the priest back to Strangorre. We were feasted and honored, and I was asked many times to tell of my deeds. I was rewarded the torques of the two chiefs that I slew, and I will after this wear them as arm bands upon my biceps. They fit there snugly.
Sir Clydno was proud of me. He bore no grudge for robbing his of revenge. “You are like a son to me,” he said, “Your victory is my victory.” I could not have been prouder. Sir Clydno chose to remain behind, helping King Brangore of Strangorre fight Picts and Irishmen. I joined the troops heading home.
Lancrius also gave me a charger to reward me for my deeds! I will let my young squire ride upon my trujsty hill pony.
Sir Mortimer was there, and his son Sir Lancrius, who had learned he must go home to marry now, for he was the heir to the family lands. He was strangely unhappy with this. I was too joyous to be depressed by his problems, whatever they might be. We visited Camelot, and there the king praised me some more and said I would be a “model to the Saxons of his kingdom.”
I hope some time soon to return to my old mother and share with her this glory. It’s been years since I have seen her.

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