Thursday, July 26, 2007

544 cont'd: The King of Cats

Sir Monroe speaks

Everyone in polite speech is calling him the Pendragon's guest, but from the side of one's mouth people in Camelot know King Mark is Arthur's prisoner. Mark was even forced to swear allegience to Arthur at a fancy banquet held in Mark's, ah, honor. And everyone knows it's Sir Doon who will reap vast rewards when this guest delivers his ransom next Pentecost feast. Court ladies are as thick as ticks on Doon, who looks most of the time like he doesn't know quite what to do.

Sir Tor's tournament circuit was shortened by an impromptu tourney here at Camelot, dubbed the Friendship Tournament. It was round-table knights versus the rest of us, and us hounds did respectably well, though not to the level we reached earlier this year. Still. Oh, and it was won—both joust and melee—by a mystery knight all in red who turned out to be Sir Lamorak. Huzzah! I thought he must have perished by now, there being no word of him for quite some time. He quit the field before collecting the prize, but the hounds and I were hot on his heels for I greatly desired to speak with him. My near-death at the hands of those I suspect to be behind the grievous murder of King Pellinore and the unfilled nature of my quest therein still torment me. We caught up to him and in the delay our speech caused, other of Arthur's men surrounded us and forced Lamorak to return to the castle.

For the rest of the day I kept an eye out for him, but everyone was on their best behaviour. However, during the feast that night, I noticed Lamorak had slipped away—then I realized that so had Gaheris of Orkney! I had squire Aggrovain search the stables for Lamorak's horse—gone. I determined to ride off and make sure he was okay. Brother noticed my distress and, quickly gathering the rest of the hounds, met Aggrovain and I at the stables and off we rode.

Sir Cynfyn picked up their outside the city. We rode hard and caught up to him, only to have him tell us he was fleeing lest enemies overtake him. He didn't need to elaborate. We told him we'd keep these enemies off his tail, and I urged him to ride to Father for assistance. Lamorak didn't reply, but rode off to the east in haste.

Shortly after our parting we saw a small hunting lodge as one often finds in this part of Salisbury, with a pair of horses tethered by the open door. Sir Bradwyn, a fine judge of horseflesh, recognized one of the mounts as belonging to Gaheris. We entered the lodge and saw...well. We first noticed a lot of blood, then the naked corpse of a headless woman, then a man, his back to us, sobbing on his knees by the wall. Upon hearing us enter, the man turned around and stood up: Gaheris. Just about the time we noticed the head and realized who the woman must be, Gaheris admitted to killing her: Queen Morgauwse, his own mother! It was quite a shock. He tried to run out, but we overpowered him and dragged his sorry ass back to Camelot and the King's justice.

The reaction at court was predictable.
"This is unspeakable!" That was Sir Kay.
"Yes. However, we need to speak to somebody..." That was Sir Bradwyn. Sir Kay had the body taken to St Stephen's, and we told the king what had happened, how Gaheris had raised his sword and struck off the head of the king's own sister in one fell stroke. I described it exactly.

After a few weeks of the rumor mill swirling around us at court, King Arthur asked us to leave! We weren't 86'd, but he said he wanted things to "quiet down" and thought that if we went out adventuring it would help matters. So we hounds—Lancrius, Bradwyn, Cynfyn, Doon, Gerin the weaker, and myself—decided to track down this king of cats. Lancrius explained it to me one night over supper: Bradwyn was told by an old hag of Faerie that he needs to kill the king of cats in order to lift the curse on his (and his very upset brother's!) lands brought on by killing, apparently, the mouse-queen of Faerie. Well, if there's one thing my years in Faerie taught me, it's do not meddle with the Fair Folk. So off we went, all of us except Gerin, who was, ah, busy making the rounds with the ladies.

I admit, privately, that I had serious reservations about this undertaking. It's easier to get into Faerie than out of it, and I did not want to lead my brother into such a mess. Yes, my brother. I don't know how the Father finagled it, but riding out with him and Lancrius and Leodigrance that spring day was the best thing I've done in, oh, so many years. The more I rode with Lancrius, the more I saw how much like Father he is, even so. One morning, before one of the tournaments we rode in this summer, I looked over to see him putting on his Order of the Hounds tabard, finely dressed and beaming at the thought of the day's challenge. Then I looked down at myself, also finely dressed, in a matching tabard, and realized that if Father considered him a son, no questions asked, then who was I do consider differently?

And, feeling that way, how could I now encourage him to venture into Faerie, which so nearly swallowed me up for all time but only, as it turned out, ruined my marriage and any chance I had at achieving the highest honor in the kingdom, becoming a round table knight like Leodigrance, or cousin Trently, or especially Father? No way, but here we were, following some Fay's advice and riding blithely down the path to Over There. When I told him all this, he replied that we were all brothers in arms, Bradwyn needed our help, and glory through adventuring was ten times better than glory won in a tournament for play. Wow, it sounded exactly like something the old man would say. So off we rode, although at one point I looked back and noticed Sir Doon was no longer with us.

I could see everyone looking around at the strangeness of Faerie. Ha. The strangest sight? That Sir Gerin the Weaker should not have ridden with us, because who were the first people we encountered Over There but good old Sir Uren the Timely and the ravishing Lady Ga, Sir Gerin's parents! They graciously showed us the way to the castle of the king of the cats while we did a considerable amount of catching up for them. We had, surprise, shown up "just in time" for this feline king's coronation, though Sir Bradwyn put a damper on their party when he told the king in front of his court why we were there. But the soon-to-be king of the cats was more than hospitable and courteous, and displayed no rancor. Instead, we adjourned to the tournament field so that the almost-king of the cats and Bradwyn could have their fight to the death. The not-quite-king of the cats was a very fine swordsman, but unfortunately fragile like so many Faerie-folk, and Bradwyn handily won. We left to the sound of the not-to-be-king of the cat's lady weeping over his corpse.

Bradwyn said we next had to take the corpse of the not-king to the old hag's hovel so that she could remove the curse, and off we rode on the trail pointed out to us. Lancrius's descriptions of her ugliness did not do her justice, I must say. Wow. The old hag's son, a giant dwarf, was apparently the father of the queen of the mice that Bradwyn had killed, though when we rolled up to the hovel there she was, whole and alive. Go figure. I'm surprised that I was surprised when events like the corpse of the king of the cats reanimates, turns into a giant cat, and then bites the head off the reanimated queen of mice occur. When the old hag reached for a very large log we all took off lickety-split, though soon we were overwhelmed by scores of ROUS. We killed them left and right, but more and more came, pulling us off our horses, biting and tormenting our horses...I thought we were going to die in a heap of oversized rodents when I heard Lancrius lament, Oh I wish the King of Cats was here. Then the rest of us shouted it and lo and behold! He was, and the ROUS scurried for their lives. After the king of cats had bounded away after the fleeing rodents, Bradwyn found elephant tracks in the duff and led us to the castle of the Duke de la ROUSse. A cat there paused in its ablutions to tell us that we now owe the wily king a favor, but there are certainly worse people, and worse faeries, to owe a favor to.

Lancrius mentioned that that is the third time he has seen (and heard) a cat speak.

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