DRAGONJULS Storybook
 ~ The Black Knight and the Lady ~
Part Two
2000 J M Dragon
e-mail:  jmdragon1@hotmail.com

Disclaimers:  See Part One


Chapter Three:

Once upon a time…

The Black Knight had delivered his precious charge to the home from whence she originally came. The Normandy Castle was now alive with the sounds of the servants and their start of the day’s activities. Today was indeed going to be a special day. Count Lascelles was throwing a party in honour of the return of his eldest daughter.

Lady Alicia Lascelles watched the Black Knight stroke the mane of her tall, imposing steed, Raven with gentle care and attention. Her position at the window onto the courtyard below gave her a very good view of the happenings of both servants and… a very special Knight.

Their five-day journey to the home of her birth and the reunion with her ailing father had been uneventful. Well, if you call finding out that the brave Knight you had assumed a man was not only a woman, but also the person whose eyes had captured hers, as well as her heart so long ago in Camelot. That made her feel so much love for the person within. Then it was otherwise uneventful. Arriving the day before in the glorious mid afternoon sun to her father’s castle, had made Alicia wish something had delayed them. She felt in her heart that the Knight would stay no more than the required night to sleep and refresh her horse.

After a tearful reunion with her father, with even more tears from her younger sister, who was a little taller than Alicia and had chestnut hair the colouring of their father. Sophia had looked with appreciative eyes at the Black Knight who waited patiently holding the reigns of his steed a few paces behind them. Alicia had not cared for her sister’s maidenly glances towards her Knight. She was sure with a certainty that was as clear as the next breath she would take to keep her alive, that the Black Knight was hers - and hers' alone!

Her father had motioned for the Black Knight to stand forward and receive his thanks. He knew the young Knight would accept nothing for his journey. The honour of the Knight had convinced the old Count that he was a true Knight of King Arthur’s round table, even if he had not sat around it in fact!

“Sir Black Knight, I thank you for the safe return of my daughter. May I ask did you encounter any trouble along your journey to these shores?”

The Black Knight inclined her head and as always refused to remove the helmet that held her secret safe within, a fact that sorely aggravated the Count.

“It was with honour that I return your daughter to the safety of her fathers home. I’m sure she will now be happy, here among her family. We did not encounter trouble of any manner to speak of. Your daughter’s safety was never in jeopardy,” her voice a low tone that could have been described as neutral by many. But to Alicia, who watched in fascination the words being uttered, she could see Edwina’s beautiful face speaking them.

“Alicia, come! We must celebrate tomorrow with a party in your honour.  Sir Black Knight please, you must stay to celebrate along with us. What say you?” The Count had put a tender arm around Alicia’s waist and was laughing merrily as he spoke the words.

“I will by your leave, only stay until the morrow. Then I must move on to my next crusade.”

All eyes shifted to the black imposing figure. A heartfelt sigh could be heard from the younger sister Sophia at being deprived of the possibility of engaging the Knight in something other than watching him tend his horse.

The Count shook his head wearily. He too sighed, but with regret for his new friend who had become so much more to him - more like family and the son he had never had.

“I respect your wishes Black Knight. Will you venture this way again soon so we may honour you with a banquet fitting the Knight who not only saved my life, but who has now returned my daughter home safely?”

Alicia had disengaged from her father as he spoke quietly to the Knight. Her green eyes sparkled with anger at the affront that the Knight gave in not accepting the invitation to the party on the next evening.

“He will stay papa!” Alicia exploded arrogantly, and then turned the full effect of her angry stare to the shining black helmet that affected a steel screen between them.

The Count shifted in discomfort at his daughter’s rudeness and her audacity. Surely the Black Knight would not put up with such a show of possession from her. “Daughter, be quiet! This is for the men to decide. Go inside before you damage the friendship that is between our two houses!”

Alicia refused to be thwarted. Her eyes grew angrier still, if that was at all possible.

The Black Knight had made no move to counter anything said. Suddenly he raised his black gauntlet and the three sets of eyes rested on him again in total absorption. “You want me to attend your party Milady?”

The words caused Alicia to take in a sudden breath at the way the resonation made her feel from the top of her head down to her toes.

Now all eyes turned to Alicia and waited for her response. “Yes, Sir Knight, I wish it so,” her voice rasping. She was sure someone would mention that it came out somewhat breathless as well.

The Black Knight came closer to her, picked up her hand and raised it to the visor in a gesture of a kiss.  Alicia was sure of that, or was it just her fanciful imagination?

“I will do as you bid.  But, beware fair maiden, a price may be required,” the words spoken so low only she could hear them.

“What pray tell would that price be Sir Knight?” Alicia beseeched for the Knight’s ears only. Her face turning a delightful shade of pink at the possibilities it brought to mind.

“For that, you will need to wait for the festivity,” came an enigmatic response that had her heart fluttering wildly in her chest.

“Count Lascelles I will be happy to stay until the celebration is over. One can never tell if there are vagabonds still waiting in dark corners of the castle. We do have two fair maidens to protect do we not Sir?” Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked with total command and authority towards the stable. The steed called Raven ambled along proudly directly behind the powerful and stunning Knight.

“What did you say to change his mind Alicia?” her father inquired. Although surprised, he was very pleased at the outcome.

“I merely extended your offer once again to the Knight. Nothing more than that father.” Alicia was watching the retreating back of her…now what could she call the woman who was so clearly happy masquerading as a man? Her head shook at the thoughts, for there was no answer to them at this time.  However, there would be. Oh yes, there would be!

“Then daughter, you and he must have become friends perhaps, on your journey home?” Her father smiled at her with the same green eyes as hers as both twinkled in the sunlight.

Alicia considered her father’s words. Her smile filled her whole face with delight and brought a reciprocating one from her father.

“Yes! Yes, I do believe we may have become friends.” Her words expelled quietly as she put her hand through her father’s arm. They then walked happily towards the doorway to the main hall, following her younger sister.

Now, watching with a hand to her lips and concentrating on what she could wear that would dazzle the Knight before her and not make him leave shortly thereafter. It was a perplexing thought. One she wasn’t sure she could answer in truth. But, why dazzle, for it was certain that the Black Knight could have no feelings for her other than as the elder daughter of the noble man he saved on a journey to the late King Arthur’s side. Sighing heavily the door to her room was opened in a dramatic fashion and her sibling Sophia stepped inside as her long gown in a russet brown sweeping along with her. She looked like the sail of the ship they had taken only a few days earlier to reach France.

“Sophia do you ever knock?” Alicia chastised her. It had little effect though, as Sophia bustled towards her sister and kissed her on the cheek saying good morning as she did so.

Sophia looked down from the window that Alicia had been intent upon. She smiled as her eyes alighted on the Black Knight. “He makes a handsome sight does he not Alicia? So, come tell me what he was like on the journey?” her sister questioned in an excited voice.

Alicia smiled at her sister’s enthusiasm and shook her head at the notion that any one could know what the very private Knight was. “He said little Sophia.”

Sophia gave her sister a wide-eyed look that spoke the words she was not telling all in this matter. “Please Alicia I like him. I was trying to get Papa to persuade him to stay longer, so I could have the chance to get to know him. But, I feel that it should be you that I need to convince.” Her sister, being four years her junior, was very impressionable and somewhat apt to live a life of fantasy.

Smiling and placing a hand to the arm of her sister, “Please sit Sophia. We will talk.” Alicia was disturbed by her sister’s admission. It was one thing to think that her way to the Black Knight heart was strewn with obstacles, quite another that one of them should be her own sister.

“I’d rather watch the Knight, Alicia. He does look so fine handling his horse, do you not think?” Sophia refused to be drawn along by her sister. So, Alicia herself watched the Knight, her own heart singing as she did so.

“He will not stay Sophia! He must continue on his crusade. It is something he must do for his father.” Alicia said softly knowing the facts, but only allowing her sister to hear a very edited version.

“Why must he do it for his father Alicia? Who is his father?”

“Sophia his father is dead and he…would not reveal his true identity to me as he also did not to our father. We must respect that. Perhaps, if we do, he will return and come see us from time to time.” Alicia was sure her own longing for the Knight to stay would be revealed in her voice, but her sister appeared to take the words at face value.

“There are so few eligible noble men Alicia. What will Papa do should we not marry soon and if he dies, what then?” Sophia uttered, her voice full of woe.

“I for one am happy at the moment Sophia. I do not want to marry a man that I do not love. Do you not think the same? Papa looked quite well yesterday Sophia. He looks strong, he is not an old man.” Alicia was distressed that her sister thought their father might die.

“Alicia you do not know, since the Black Knight brought him home he has been slow to recover and now he has started to cough up blood. He does not say much Alicia. He just smiles all the time, but it pains him. You can see it in the eyes sometimes when he cannot mask it. You know we cannot stay at the castle should he die. It goes to our cousin Count Johan Defries. He is married with three children already. He will not let us continue to live here.” Sophia had tears brimming and ready to cascade down her cheeks.

Alicia put a loving arm around her sister in comfort. If her sister was right about the health of her father and it was death that starred him in the face, they would indeed be at the mercy of their cousin’s benevolence. He had never been that, even as a child. “I will go see Papa immediately upon our finishing our breakfast together and I will see for myself. So, come Sophia. Let us go and have some bread and cheese and a little goats milk. It will do us both good.”

“Will you make it alright Alicia? Papa does look so much better now that you have come home, but it maybe too late.” Sophia looked down with a steady glare at the Knight below before she turned back.

As Alicia looked down also, the Knight in question turned his black helmeted head towards the direction of the window and both lady and Knight stood silent as something intangible passed between them.

“Are you coming Alicia, if you do not move soon the Knight will see you and think we are interested in him,” she laughed merrily as her other sad thoughts now banished as Alicia was taking over the troubles.

“I’m coming.” Alicia replied softly, though tempted to bring her hand up and acknowledge the Knight, but thought it far to brash to do so. She turned suddenly and went through the door that her sister held impatiently.

**********

Count Lascelles had been amazed that his eldest daughter had managed to persuade the silent black armoured Knight to stay for the party. Although he had expressed a wish to leave as he saw fit.

Contemplating all the issues at stake and the lives of his daughters, he was loath to see the Knight depart. But, what could he offer to keep him here. Walking over to the rich tapestry that his long deceased wife had placed over the now glowing embers of the fireplace, it always made him smile as he thought of that first day he had entered this room and saw it hanging there. It depicted not the usual fighting scene that was evident in many of his friend’s homes, but a gentle scene of a flowing river and several maidens partaking in a leisurely stroll along the banks. Some arm in arm others throwing stones in the stream and of another using a pole to fish with. The sun was bright and high in the sky, but the lush green fields had been a little dimmed over the years, but still gave the tapestry that calm peaceful setting. He had chastised his wife for her sentimentality, but it had lasted for all of two minutes. She looked at him with the most distinctive blue eyes he had ever seen, and as from the first time he’d ever locked gazes with her, his heart reached out and it found a home. He had never argued with his wife.

Although their life together had been shortened by the plague, he had regretted none of it and loved every single moment they had spent in each other’s company. That was what he wished for his two children. He had never forced them into unsuitable marriages and had hoped fervently that Alicia might meet a proud Knight at Camelot and be happy thus herself. That was alas, not to be; she was now home and no suitors had been spoken of except Sir Arnold Dubois. She had not wanted him and he could not force her, it wasn’t his way. What would become of them if he should die soon and that was something he did not wish, but felt the draw of death coming closer each day?

Turning towards his view of the courtyard he saw the Black Knight performing the menial task of grooming his horse! For many knights it was a menial task, but for this Knight it was not.  Hadn’t he once explained on his last visit when asked?
 

“I have serf’s for such a task Black Knight. Please let me despatch one immediately to the task.” Lascelles responded, annoyed that the head of his stables had not posted a serf to take up the task prior to the event. He must talk to the man soon!
“No! Thank you anyway Sir.  I prefer to take care of Raven myself.” The Knight stood tall and turned his shiny black helmeted head towards the man offering the service. The visor did not allow the man to see any features of the Knight, but the Knight could see out. It was a useful advantage at times.
“Why?” Lascelles asked earnestly, not wanting to upset the man before him.
“Raven is important to me in many ways, in battle, survival, and friend. Therefore, I would not be doing justice to him if I did not make sure he was well cared for. Who better Sir, than the person that needs him the most.” The Knight replied, the voice solemn but not sad.
The Count Laughed at the words. He placed a friendly hand on the broad armoured shoulder of the Knight, “So be it Sir Knight. I think your logic commendable.  I’m sure Raven does as well.”


The Count continued the view the scene of the Knight and the steed. He suddenly placed a hand to his forehead as if a brilliant thought had attacked him without a defence. “Of course! Of course, how could I have been so blind? That is the ideal solution!” Smiting a hand to his forehead, then having to reach for a piece of linen as a coughing fit ceased him and the red patches of blood appeared again, but more enhanced today.

“Levant, Levant get me the Black Knight immediately! Do not delay.” Lascelles shouted to his personal manservant, who had been watching with interest and then anxiety as the Count coughed hard.

“At your service Count I will do as you bid.” The man scurried off to undertake his errand.

The door was closed only for a few minutes before his daughter knocked on it gently and upon hearing her father, she went inside. “Good morning Papa, how are you this beautiful day?” Alicia smiled warmly at her farther and placed a small kiss on his cheek as she sat beside him on the horsehair seats in his room.

“My daughter good morning. It is a pleasure to see you. I wondered if I dreamed your return, but no, you are flesh and blood.” Her father smiled at her with an indulgent look.

“Papa, I hear things that disturb me.” Alicia said tentatively. She and her father had the same temperament. It was placid and caring and although she did not want to anger him, as once angered, her father had a fiery temper like her own.

“My daughter, please what is it?” Lascelles gazed upon his eldest daughter. His heart swelled up at how she had developed into a poised, beautiful and compassionate woman. He was sure his wife would have been proud. No! No, he was certain she would have been very pleased with the young woman beside him.

“Sophia is upset that you are really sick Papa. That you might die?” Alicia as ever, was not tactful, not when the answer mattered so much to her.

Lascelles thought of being evasive and then changed his mind. “Alicia there comes a time when we old war horses need our rest. Perhaps for me, as it did with King Arthur, my time is near. But, I will not go easily daughter, so please do not worry so.”

Alicia gave a half cry and flung her arms around his shoulders, she loved her father. He had always been there for them especially when their mother had died ten years hence. He had not let the suffering he felt at their mother’s loss affect the children. That had been a blessing to them and he had loved them dearly. “Papa is there anything I can do?” her voice filled with tears.

“No daughter, nothing more than your being here. That is enough, as I’m sure it will bring me strength by your presence. Please do not cry child. It will all work out daughter. One day we will all be happy.” Lascelles had always loved the first-born child the most. One should not he knew, but she was so open and honest. Yet, she gave so much love and understanding to everything and everyone, even the servants.

King Arthur had been very vocal that she had been a wonderful source of caring to the people in general, not just his court. She was simply, Lady Alicia, a light that shone when darkness appeared. She was the woman, who had captured so many of his Knights hearts, but had refused all the overtures. Not one had managed to scale the wall she had built.

The King had been praiseworthy of her with his queen, court and the general populace. For the Count, it had been a glory that surpassed the battles he had fought and won. It was a battle won by caring, warmth and love. He had been proud, so very proud.

“I love you Papa. We will be together for a long time. I’m sure of it.” Alicia loving responded her words muffled into the heavy brocade her father wore around his neck.

“Yes, daughter we will.” Her father smiled. For it may not be in life that she beheld him, but in her heart and wasn’t that enough? Whilst one lives in the hearts of people and they are talked about and remembered, they can never die. For memories are the things that are passed down in stories from generation to generation through which you could live forever!

The door to his private room was assailed by several heavy knocks and he told whomever to come inside.

As the door-opened Levant announced the Black Knight and he retired as the Knight moved forward into the room.

To Alicia’s eyes he dwarfed the room. It suddenly became stifling, for all the wrong reasons.

“Ah, Black Knight, thank you for answering my invitation,” Lascelles said grandly.

“My sword is at your service Count. What pray, do you require of me?”

The voice was so low Alicia was hard pressed to hear it. Yet her smile came unbidden and threatened her composure.

“Alicia would you please leave us. I need to speak to the Black Knight alone.” Her father requested quietly into the ear of his daughter, and then saw her look at first with irritation, and then it softened.

“Yes father. I will be in the rose garden if you care visit me?” Alicia wasn’t sure if she issued the invitation to the Knight, or her father.

“I understand daughter.”

Alicia pecked her father’s cheek and walked towards the door and stopped within inches of the Knight. “Good morning to you Black Knight.”

The Black Knight turned slightly so his visor could see the young woman before her. “Good morning to you Milady. Did you sleep well?”

Alicia could almost, but not quite picture the expression on the Knights face. Would it be enigmatic or happy or playful or…she did not know, and she cared not at this time.

“I slept well Sir Knight. Why would I not? You have promised your sword in my protection. I take it that it extends to the castle as well?”

“Yes.” A single word that would always make her heart feel light. It was just what was meant to be and she felt that she and the Black Knight were meant to be.

“Thank you Sir, on that I will leave you with my father and see you later.” Alicia moved towards the door and she thought she heard a reply.

“Oh! Yes, for you, I will be there.”

“So, Black Knight, I need you to consider a proposal.” Lascelles said distinctly as the door closed behind his daughter.

“I await the information with interest Count.” The Black Knight moved closer to the older man to hear his words with perfection.

**********

The Black Knight did not know what to think!

Now he had a decision to make and it was one that had repercussions no matter what. It would not be right, whichever way he decided to go. His own redemption was far less clear. How in those circumstances could he possibly take on others?

Yet!

Wasn’t the redemption he sought part of taking care of King Arthur’s obligations. It would be so easy to say yes, and consider something so far removed from her sights achievable. But then, it would be a lie, for the Count did not know and would never approve; it was all pie in the sky, a dream never to be fulfilled. There was only one thing she could do in the circumstances. She could feign a relationship with a daughter and that would keep the old man happy and the vultures at bay. Well, for now at least. Yes! That was a viable proposition; a very viable proposition and he knew the daughter in which to make it happen, it was going to be so easy.

“I will court your daughter Sir. But, it must be with discretion and she must never know of this conversation between us?”

“Sir, I would not do so. If my daughter chooses you, then it will be without cohesion. I do not believe in forced marriages Black Knight. My daughters must marry for love. Even at this late time in my life, I know it must be so and I know deep down it will be so.” The old Count replied, his own memories of his love for his wife taking over.

“I hope that is the truth Count Lascelles. For I would not want to leave behind me…heartbreak in your family.” The Black Knight moved towards the door then rested a hand on the large handle in readiness to open it.

“My dear Sir, you have brought us only good. Your well-being is important to us and to my family, all of them! I hope you enjoy this evening’s entertainment. Please will you allow me to announce your betrothal tonight? It would be fitting.”

“Count, please, I need to ask the question of your daughter. Then we will do so, if she is agreeable.” The Knight took his leave.

Lascelles watched the virtually empty courtyard fill with people as he waited for the Black Knight to emerge. As he did so, paths as he approached opened up and he went on his way without trouble. ‘Yes, his daughter would be happy at the knight’s proposal. It was a solution in part, and one day Alicia would find someone that she would want to marry.’


Continued in Part 3

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