~ The Black Knight and the Lady ~
© 2000 J M Dragon
They do say that legends are all fantasy!
Let me tell you reader that what is one persons fantasy can quite easily be anothers reality and visa versa. If the simple expression Once Upon A Time does not evoke a pleasant reaction out of every reader, then please by all means go elsewhere for this is a short story for the true romantic within us all!
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Once upon a time
Alicia Lascelles had watched King Arthur from the shore be lost among the mists of the river that beheld the great sword Excalibur. Its timeless ethereal backdrop a fitting place to send the one true king of England upon his death.
What of the ladies in waiting to King Arthurs Queen now?
The loss of the King and the apparent vows she had decided to take in the church bringing to a close an era of magic, mystery, chivalry and romance or had it?
Alicia, the proud daughter of a French nobleman, who had affiliated his sword to the King, and had sent his eldest daughter as a pledge of good faith to be a lady in waiting for the young queen. For the last four years, Alicia had been a faithful friend to the troubled young monarch. The queen's infatuation with the dashing knight Lancelot, had caused so much anguish to her lord King Arthur. Now, what would become of her? Having beautiful strawberry blonde hair that shone in the sunlight and brightened the darkest day, with a smile that filled her whole face with delight and the green eyes that sparkled with the sheer enjoyment of life, she had spurned the attentions of most of the knights that had tried in vain to court her.
Yet, there was one such Knight that had paid little or no attention to her at court. His name had been Sir Edwin DArgent. There were many suitors, but she had declined them all, her eyes had been snared by the blue eyes of the knight that ignored her at every approach, whos eyes matched the very skies on a wonderfully clear day. Where was the noble knight now that the battle had ended? Was he also a victim of the foreigners who had tried, but failed to conquer the lands of the proud King Arthur?
Milady, it is time to ride back to Camelot. The skies grow dark with the cloud of death that has taken our good King. Sir Arnold Debouis quietly spoke to the small woman who had captured his heart, but scorned it time and time again. She was not for him that was certain in this life.
Turning Alicia looked at the boyish features of the Knight who had remained constant in his affections for her. Yet, she had never returned any, but to scorn them politely.
Camelot? Sir Knight will the castle not decay now that our Lord King has gone back to the place of the ancient legends?
Milady, Camelot will stand; as we the Knights of the Round Table will stand for all the values that our King taught us. We will let it stand for all time with the stories that are spoken; for the songs that are written of the adventures and the essence of the reign when Arthur came to us as a mere boy. Even then, as he showed the spirit of a great King within such a frail body! Camelot will stand for the justice of our land. The love of our people, Milady, that can never decay.
In thee, I trust Sir Knight. Please, lead on and take us back in safety to Camelot. Alicia looked around at the prone bodies of those that had given their life as Arthur had done. The carnage made her stomach churn. What of her solitary knight of the sky blue eyes?
Lady I will not betray your trust. Sir Arnold Debouis walked ahead of the young woman and with instinct battle ready and the hilt of his sword glistening with the remnants of blood of the foreigners.
Alicia could not help herself and asked as she was helped with a steel gauntlet covered hand to mount the horse that had been readied for her. The other three ladies in waiting having gone before her, unable to watch their lord King disappears for the final time, into the mist of legend.
Have we lost many knights in the battle Sir Debouis? The French lilt of her voice was distinct, but pleasant to the smitten man at her side.
We have lost several Knights of the Round Table, as well as many Knights of the provinces. Today was not a good day for anyone. Sir Debouis spoke in his clipped Norman dialect.
Alicia nodded her head and looked across the battlefield as they left the area, for both of them never to return again.
As time passes, so do memories and the common people wanted more than the Knights of the Round Table to govern them. They wanted a King!
Alicia had been waiting patiently for her father for over a year to send an escort to enable her to leave Camelot. The castle that was now besieged with doubt and petty bickering between not only the peasants, but the noblemen and women too! It had been a long wait and her need to leave the place had become overpowering as the days went on. Long had she felt that her heart had been broken when the solitary Knight with the sky blue eyes had not returned from the battlefield. Now, she wanted only to go home and see her family in Normandy.
My lady there is a strange Knight at the gates who says he has a message from your father. The coarse guttural voice of the head maid said and passed her a parchment with the seal of her fathers house.
Glancing at the first message she had received from home in over three years, she
quickly broke the wax seal and as the pieces of wax fell at her feet she looked at the
Alicia clutched the parchment to her breast. She looked around the room and retrieved a lace shawl, draping it over her shoulders. Looking at the weather beaten face of the head maid, she then motioned her to lead the way to the Knight.
The night air was cool as winter approached. Although the shawl gave some protection from the coolness of the night, the dampness of the night air clung to her encroaching on the warmth of her own body heat.
The battlements, as always, were heavily guarded. The glimpse now and again with the flicker half light of a torch in the recesses of the castle caste more shadow than light. The whole appearance gave a dark evil intent as night fell. Walking quickly, she was annoyed at the slow gait of the maid that would show her the means to go home! As with everything in life patience cannot always be cultivated. Alicia sighed at the delay, but nonetheless slowed her own steps to match that of the servant.
He be there. The maid pointed to a dark figure in the deepest black armour she had ever seen. Although, the light, or lack of it, could be playing tricks with her eyes.
Thank you. I will not need you again. You may go! Alicia said softly then looked at the Black Knight before her. The Knight had yet to turn his back so she could see the face of the man, who, had not only saved her fathers life it would seem. But, also had pledged his sword and in so doing, his life to her for the journey home.
Sir Knight, you are here at the bequest of my father, Count Henrie Lascelles? Alicia asked the Knight, who, she noticed stiffened at her voice.
Yes, a low voice hardly distinctive was barely heard by the anxious young woman.
I thank you Sir Knight for saving his life. Alicia watched the Knight. He did not turn. He stood erect in the dark armour that protected his body and would in the near future protect hers as well.
Your father is a true knight of the realm of the late King Arthur. It would have been a sorry day indeed that I leave such a fine ally to die at the hands of cut throats who did not know his worth. The Black Knight stated, his voice low, causing Alicias heart to pound at its timbre.
My father believed in the King. He had many times laid his sword at the Kings side. So, tell me where did you meet my father? Alicia saw the brief stiffening of the armour-clad figure before her. She wondered why? It was an innocuous question surely!
I was on my way to seek permission to woe the hand of the one I love. I was on the same road that evening when tragedy struck your father. Providence saw that your father was not forsaken and that I could aid him and in so doing save his life. The Knight spoke in a soft tone.
So, after this event, you managed to finish your own deed; which is very important nonetheless, if it was the hand of the woman you loved? Alicia, for some strange reason was hurt that the Knight had a sweetheart.
No! No, I had to relinquish the deed for another time. Our good King Arthur needed all the knights he could muster. But, I came too late! For that, I will be eternally cursed and my line, I fear, the Knight responded, his voice barely carrying to the pensive woman still unable to see the knight who had not turned to see her.
Then, I hope one day you can continue your quest to seek the hand of the one you love. Alicia stated sincerely.
If that is my fate, I will welcome it.
And if its not? Alicia questioned, her curiosity peeked at the reply.
I will work towards the redemption Milady. I need to fulfil the life I have left to me. It was a quiet admission of a guilt, which to Alicia had no bearing on the situation. Or, was that not the reason for the Knights being on the road to help her father.
Redemption is only for those that have done wrong. Saving my father was not wrong! Alicia replied earnestly.
The Black Knight stood a silent statue for several minutes. Alicia thought that he had finally decided not to answer. Stepping forward, she put a hand out to touch the gauntlet, the cold steel sending a shudder up her spine.
The saving of your Father was perhaps a blessing in disguise for events yet actioned, the enigmatic response for Alicia could have no reply in her mind.
My father said to trust you Sir Knight. But please, do you have a name? A plea that Alicia never realised came from the heart until the sounds echoed in her ears.
The Knight in question sighed heavily. The heavy gauge steel armour that he worn clanked in a tone that indicated careful movement of well kept possessions. Turning for the first time in the darkness and facing the woman that he was to escort to Normandy as the darkness preventing the observer from making any particular appreciation of the true personality of the knight in question, My name Milady for our journey, is simply Black Knight. The quiet tones of the Knight splite the air like the swift blow of a sword in a parry with an opponent.
Alicia was entranced with the mystery of the Knight before her; it sparked her attention for the first time since she had felt the terrible loss of the Knight with the sky blue eyes. And yet, she had never heard that he had died, or anything else about him for that matter! Perhaps there was hope? Yes, there was always hope in every situation.
Sir Black Knight, when are we leaving? Alicia asked quietly. She so wanted to see the Knight in the daylight and see see what? She did not know, but she would find out come the morrow.
At your leave Milady. The earlier, the better in my mind, came the low voice her heart had reacted to at first hearing.
I will need to take my leave from the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps, you know some of them?
The Black Knight turned once again to his observation of the inky blackness of night that had descended.
None that would know of me!
It was a cryptic remark Alicia wanted to understand, but the very stance of the Knight betrayed his annoyance at the question - another time perhaps.
I will take leave of you Sir, and of the morrow we will journey to my home as my father wishes. Alicia finally conceded that the conversation, which had shed little light on the dark figure before her, was ended.
I will wait for you at the gates at your leisure Milady, the Bblack Kknight turned once again to observe the young woman.
As you wish Sir. Goodnight. Alicia turned away, not waiting for a reply and walked back towards the main keep of the castle and her room. Tonight, not only did she have plans to make, but also her mind was awash with the differing feelings-of was it familiarity with the Black Knight? Tomorrow things would be different. The light of day often shed its rays in the most unexpected places.
The Black Knight stood on the hillock observing the heat of a fierce battle of the Knight he beheld, which had been surrounded by the marauding peasants, who had beset the older Knight. The Knight was obviously taken unawares on his way to the battlefield in King Arthurs support. Several blows with the primitive pike of the peasants had knocked off the helmet of the older Knight. Then to the searching gaze of the Black Knight beheld a man known, or at least from a distance anyway, the Count Lascelles. His allegiance to King Arthur had been of great help with his well-trained forces from Normandy. He was helping to seek out traitors who landed on the French shores. Now, the old man needed help. What better way to train for the battle that was waiting then to despatch some of these peasants to their maker.
The Black Knight rode like the wind towards the small battle area. To his amazement, many of the peasants ran in fear as he chargeds the black stallion towards the fray. The older Knight saw his opportunity to make a few pathetic blows of his own with the short dagger he still possessed. As the Black Knight chargeds towards the half dozen offenders, they went scattering in every direction as the long staff he wielded with precision gave many a headache of gigantic proportions. As the peasants realised that the Black Knight, who looked fearsome was, also, as fearsome in battle, they gradually moved away from the prone figure. A couple tried, but failed to dismount the demonic horseman in his attempts to eliminate them.
As all the peasants who could run, walk or stagger made haste away from the two Knights that left only the dead.
Kneel Raven! the Black Knight commanded his stead. The magnificent beast obeyed immediately, dropping his forelegs and then the hindquarters to allow the Black Knight to dismount without the need for a Paige to assist him.
The Black Knight approached the older Knight and carefully scrutinised the injuries that could be seen. Moving slowly closer, not to cause further distress to the injured party, the Black Knight spoke softly, Can you ride Sir Knight?
Count Lascelles looked at the rather menacing figure before him. The height alone from his position on the ground made the Knight very intimidating. "I have to do so. Our King needs all the swords he can muster for the battle ahead. The older Knight muttered in a heavy French accent.
You are in no position to help the King, Sir. I will escort you to safety and help to attend your wounds. Then go on my way to offer my sword and apologise for your absence. The King will understand. The Black Knight replied slowly and watched through his visor that shadowed his eyes, which also refused to allow enough light inside to give the onlooker any idea of his facial attributes.
Count Lascelles realised the folly in trying to go to King Arthurs aid and accepted the generous, if unsolicited help from the unknown Knight. Sir Knight what name does one call you?
The Black Knight stood as if the words had turned him to stone. Hesitating for only a moment before he spoke "Let it be known that I answer only to the Black Knight." Striding forward he held out his black gauntlet arm and watched as the older man grasped it. They managed eventually to bring the knight to his feet, the heavy armour being a major hindrance in the task.
As you wish Black Knight. We must hurry for you need to be back for the battle. And what a battle it promises to be." Count Lascelles spoke with enthusiasm.
Yes! I believe it will be a glorious battle. One to tell the grandchildren. The Black Knight answered very seriously in a wistful voice as they moved towards the black stallion that waited patiently for his masters command.
Yet, it had never been a glorious battle for either of them. The Count had a severe wound that bled continuously the entire journey to the inn that housed some of the servants of the older Knight. They had been unable to stop the flow. It was highly likely that the Ccount would die without proper help. The Black Knight did the only thing he could. He sought out help that would aid the injured man and the battle was over before he could return. King Arthur had died at the battle. Now all was lost, or appeared to be. There was no more, the trueborn King of England.
The Black Knight had travelled the country; along with others also in the crusade, to redeem himself from the inability to fight at the Kings side, bringing back the message that the King had entrusted to his name. He had only agreed to this one request by the ailing Count, because it was felt that he neared his end and he wanted to see his eldest daughter one last time!
Now, he was here. So was she. Together they would journey to her home. Then, he would leave to follow his own lonely path!
Alicia watched the tall Black Knight gently stroke the muzzle on his black as night stallion. She was once again taken over by the feeling that she knew this particular Knight. And yet, she had never seen one such knight at the court of King Arthur. As she approached his position, the hand that was gently stroking the horse now stopped and the Knight turned.
Alicia had to stifle a feeling of disappointment as the visor on the black helmet, which the Knight wore, was closed. The face of her companion on the journey was once again indecipherable to the onlooker. This Knight certainly wanted to keep his identity a secret from everyone. Perhaps it was only here that the deed was necessary. Perhaps on the road together, she would at least know his face, if not his true name.
Im ready to leave Black Knight. I have my possessions on the cart and my horse is saddled and waiting. Alicia duly informed her protector for the journey home.
The Black Knight turned from his task and looked through his visor to see the beautiful young woman standing erect and proud waiting for his instructions. So I see Milady. I will be ready to leave shortly. If you have friends you wish to say a final farewell to, I will wait.
Alicia considered the offer and then shook her head. No. I await your leave. There is nothing for me here now.
The Black Knight moved away from the woman and was about to return towards the market in the town that was on the outskirts of Camelot castle when he stopped at the mention of his name. YOU! Sir Black Knight wait! Sir Debouis shouted as he came within yards of the Knight who was to return the lady he loved to her home.
Alicia frowned at the entrance of Arnold Debouis. What on earth did he want with the man before her?
The Black Knight stood silently. Waiting for the other Knight to approach and within his helmet, he smiled at the rather flushed cheeks of the slightly over weight Knight. A Knight he knew had wanted to escort the lady home on several occasions for the opportunity to ask her Fathers permission for her hand in marriage. Even though she herself had said no to the Knight frequently.
Count Lascelles had dismissed Debouiss idea and selected the Black Knight to return his much missed oldest daughter to his side. He sorely wanted her home, as she was very good company, always happy, and he had sorely missed her during her absence to King Arthurs court.
Who are you Black Knight that has permission to take the Lady Lascelles to her home and family? Debouis demanded arrogantly.
I was given the task by her own father. The Lady has his letter, if she chooses for you to view it. The Black Knight spoke clearly in an actuarial way, but with a cold menace to his words.
Sir Debouis looked at Alicia for confirmation. Her head moved in ascent as she reached inside her gown to retrieve the said letter. As you see Sir, the Black Knight is correct in his entrusted charge from my Father.
Alicia, you do not know with whom you travel. Have you even seen the face of this so-called Knight? Has anyone? Even your father? How do we know he is honourable and the same person your Father thinks he is?
Sir, may I remind you, for that slur on my honour, you must allow me to fight you in combat, this day! the Black Knight fairly seethed with anger at the other Knights arrogant attitude to his honourable intentions.
It will be my pleasure Black Knight. Then, we will see who fits the true Knight of the realm to take this Lady home.
Debouis knew he was at a disadvantage in height and therefore chose the poleaxe as a weapon on foot.
Within the hour, both Knights were in a circle arranged by various spectators; not least of which, was the Lady Lascelles, who watched the personal battle over honour commence.
As with all hand-to-hand combat, much of it was the parry and sidestepping that made it more of a dance than a dangerous pastime. Both Knights were equal in the ability to side step vicious attempts by the other to make the first strike.
However, the first strike did indeed come. It was the Black Knight whose attention had been momentarily lost as the sight of the Lady Lascelles came into view. Her face held not fascination as most ladies did in this type of encounter but she looked fearful and anxious. Debouis had his opportunity and managed the engage his poleaxe in the visor of the black helmet tangling it there.
As the Black Knight eventually managed groggily to displace the weapon, blood appeared at its tip signifying that a blow had indeed made a mark. The Black Knight momentarily stunned managed to weave out of several more attempts to make more marks. As the bravado of the other Knight increased so came the opportunity to strike a blow in retaliation and he aimed the poleaxe spike directly at the shoulder of the Knight. The force cleaving open the armour and planting itself firmly in the shoulder blade, thus ensuring the Knight fell to the ground in agony.
The Black Knight watched the crowd rush forward and encompass one of their own, shielding him from further harm.
One person stood alone on the circle of the battlefield and the Black Knight looked with quizzical eyes at the Lady Lascelles and bowed gallantly towards her. She had several tears in her eyes and the traces of tears that had already been shed. The Black Knight moved towards her, We are ready to leave now Lady. No better time than now, I feel. The softly spoken words defied the Knights daunting prowess on the field of battle.
Do you not wish to attend to your injuries? Alicia asked hims equally softly and noticed the red stain that now marked the neck of the man; the white flesh stained with the red liquid of life.
No! The Black Knight went towards the stables and found their respective mounts. Within a short space of time, they were at the gates of Camelot being allowed to leave. Alicia took a backward glance at the place she had called home for the last five years. The cart laden with her possessions ambled along several yards behind them.
Alicia did not regret her taking leave. Her only sorrow was her inability to find out what had happened to Sir Edwin DArgent. Now, she would never know. Sighing heavily she had not noticed that the Black Knight was alongside her and heard the sound.
You are sorry to leave? The man asked at her side.
Alicia was surprised at the question. Why would he care?
No, no not really. My one regret is that I never found out about someone I cared for. They never returned from battle. It has always plagued me the loss of one so alone and yet!
And yet? The Black Knight reined his black stallion closer to the chestnut mare that she rode proficiently.
Yet, he did not care for me as I never mind. It is long over. Alicia glanced towards the green pastures that gave them a reasonable element of safety from the bandits on the road, but no protection. She smiled as she thought. For hadnt she her own protection now? He was called the Black Knight!
As nightfall came the Knight saw fit to have a log fire positioned in the hollow between the forest and the open road. It was a suitable place to take care of the safety issues for the Lady. Settling her in the cart for the night, the Knight spoke quietly to the cart driver, and then left the area towards the stream that was hidden behind the staggered trees.
Several minutes had eroded. Alicia became worried about the Knight for if it was water only that he had foraged for, then that was in abundance close by. Perhaps, he was hurt rather more than he had at first allowed. Silently she reached for a warm cloak and quickly descended from the cart without the knowledge of the driver, who was busily eating pieces of the rabbit they had roasted earlier for their meal.
Alicia was to find the Knight and to this day she wasnt sure who was the most surprised by the encounter. Her or the Knight! For before her she saw that the helmet had been taken off and long flowing ebony hair greeted her as the Knight with his back turned was bathing the injuries he had received.
Please let me? Alicia said gently and her next words were lost as she encountered the most beautiful eyes she would ever see in her life. Sky blue. The eyes of one, Sir Edwin DArgent!
The Black Knight didnt have time to replace the helmet. He was taken totally unawares as the beautiful woman came to stand at his left side. Without conscious thought the secret face of the Black Knight was revealed to the Lady. The sky blue eyes that ensnared the green eyes, which now looked at the Knight with recognition--puzzlement and finally, shock as the name passed her lips in question.
Standing to full height the Knight continued to look deep into green eyes and a small smiled played along the full lips wryly.
No, Milady, as you see, I am not a man, therefore Edwin would not be appropriate. I am Edwina DArgent Lion, eldest daughter of the first Knight of the round table, Sir David Lion, who was lost to the Crusades many years ago.
The softly spoken words captured Alicias attention as her eyes roamed freely over the face that she had never seen. Yet, she had. Her heart had seen it and loved it. Yes, loved it from a distance. The only thing she could think to do was place her hand tenderly to the injured cheek that bore the mark of the earlier bout.
The Black Knight relished the touch of the Lady, who had been in her heart from the first day she had arrived at the court of King Arthur and swore her allegiance to the King. Who had been the only one to know that Sir Edwin DArgent wasnt a man, but the Lady Edwina DArgent Lion; the only child of his great mentor and early friend, David Lion? The secret had been kept and taken to the grave with the King. Edwina had been despatched on an urgent recognisance task earlier that day prior to the battle, and been delayed with the details to Arthur because of the Father of the Lady before her. Had he know, would he still be alive today? That was always the question? One never to be answered in this lifetime.
Why? Why did you want to live your life a man? Alicia asked quietly and gently pulled the cloth that was being used to wipe away the blood on the womans cheek. Placing the cloth in the cool water, she returned it to its task and proceeded to wipe away the traces of blood, leaving only a jagged cut that might heal, but, probably would leave a scar.
I was my fathers only child. We travelled the Crusades and he taught me his craft. I became more proficient than even the Knights of the Round Table that sought his guidance and experience. I swore my allegiance to the King long ago. He agreed to keep up my charade until I felt it was right for me to claim my Fathers title to land and his birthright that had been lost to him due to treachery when he fought for years abroad. I fight for his line and now I fight for the redemption my own foolhardy choices in life. Placing a warm strong hand on the one that was administering to her injured cheek, she pulled it away and she looked for something in the green eyes that she herself did not know what. Then she shook her ebony hair and replaced the helmet.
Are you still going to take me home? Alicia asked in a tentative voice, the soft melodic sounds striking a slither of hope in the Black Knights solemn thoughts.
I have given my word and my sword to see you home safely Milady. If that is not your wish, then please, I will take you back whence we came and you may chose your own escort? The Knight waited patiently for a reply. Her heart beating so loudly in her chest, that she feared the other woman would hear it and know the reason.
Alicia looked at the sky blue eyes she had loved from the first moment she saw them sparkling in the sunlight. To her the same feeling was still there. Even though now, she must think about the other issue, what she had thought a man was now a woman. How did one reconcile that change? For it was a physical change, not a change of the true heart. She knew deep within her soul that it did not matter. She would find a way to show her love for this lonely Knight. Who was indeed her Knight in shining armour be it Black and not White as the driven snow, for time would take care of the problems she was sure of it!
No, Black Knight, we journey forth together as my father wanted. Let us rest. We have a long way still ahead of us, and we will do it together.
Edwin looked at the younger woman. Gave her a small smile that sent the sparkles into her sky blue eyes as Alicia gasped at the change. She returned the smile; her own eyes glowed at the warmth she felt at such a small show of affection.
Then onward we will go Lady Alicia Lascelles. My sword is yours for as long as you need it. The Knight turned away and pulled down the visor effectively blocking out any chance that another would see her face.
Alicia walked at the Knights side a happy smile of her own, I would take your sword forever! was her thought as they re-entered the area where the cart driver was still munching happily on his roast rabbit, having no knowledge of her leaving the camp site.
Tomorrow they would set of on a journey together, the Black Knight and the Lady.
Once upon a time
Continued in Part 2
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