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Winter I - Camelot

(Editor's note—yes, I know we're breaking from the rules by actually doing stuff in the winter. Nyah nyah nyah.)

The four knights spend some time resting and recovering before taking the road toward Camelot. All except Rupert have been there before, but never under such circumstances, and spirits are very high. They are greeted well at one of the lesser gates and cheered by those they pass, forming almost a parade as they approach the castle. They are given separate rooms (wow!) with glass in the windows (wow!) and elegant new clothes to replace their provincial gear, and almost before they know it, the time for their audience with the king has arrived.
     Talor, Knight of the Round Table, is their guide to one of the great halls, the Hall of the Sea. Arthur's air is that of the Platonic ideal of a man, as he expesses his pleasure in the quartet's deeds and the debt he owes them for the return of his most prized servant (Isaac and Miriam are standing to the right of the throne). The queen's otherworldly beauty is almost frightening, and she speaks little.
     Aeron and Elffin comport themselves most becomingly; Rupert takes one glance at the queen, turns scarlet and barely says a word; and Richard stutters. Nevertheless, the queen favors all with her smile. Rupert, entirely smitted and untutored in the ways of the court, unfortunately chooses this moment to make his gift to Gueneviere of the jeweled necklace; eyebrows rise all around the room and there is a good deal of whispering, but she accepts the gift with grave politeness and in fact puts it on then and there. More whispering.
     Court ends, and the knights are left to fend for themselves. Maggor and Maddog are there, they find (the six of them compare notes on the insane earl of Rydychen), and they meet many others besides, and although no knights of much name are present they are duly overawed by their surroundings.
     Elffin, Aeron, and Richard notice a group of young knights nearby, who appear to be arguing among themselves over which of them will be the one to challenge Rupert for insulting the queen. Acquainted with Rupert's skill as they are, they decide not to interfere. Rupert pays no mind until Sir Savin flings down his gauntlet and challenges him; the puzzled Rupert accepts (Elffin later takes him aside, explains what he did wrong, and suggests that before he does anything else in court, he should ask Elffin first).
     The four spend most of the day poking around the royal gardens, listeing to poets declaim and lovers pine after their beloveds. Rupert asks one of the poets if he ought to lose his duel tomorrow, since he did in fact offend the queen, albeit unknowingly. The poet suggests that since this is trial by combat, God will decide who should be the victor. Rupert hires the man (Michael) to teach him reading and some of the courtly graces. Elffin makes the acquaintance of a young lady named Evelyn.
     Dinner that night night is in the Green Hall. The knights are seated near the high table and are impressed by the beautiful setting. The feast is incredible, although they note what seems to them to be a peculiar absence of pig dishes. The last of the entertainers is a man named Hilaire of Gaul, whose song pricks the interest of the visitors—it concerns a knight who attempts to climb a tree and steal a pelican's eggs. One egg is white, one green. A black and white eagle comes down and kills the knight. After the feast, they hold a conclave in Elffin's room and ponder the similarity of the song to Rupert's dreams, as well as the fact that Isaac appeared quite uncomfortable upon hearing it. Rupert and Richard seek Isaac and do not manage to find him, while Elffin and Aeron look for Hilaire, who claims that the song goes back to Roman times and that he heard it from his mother.
     Rupert's duel is at noon the next day, and Sir Savin yields quickly. Aeron and Richard spend some time in the lists, but the only available opponents are poorly skilled, and they leave after a few bouts. Elffin goes into the city's monasteries to try to research the song and finds nothing. He then tracks down Isaac, who denies that he was at all discomfited by the song, yet counsels "patience in all things."
     The next day is the beginning of a great hunt. The four knights ride with Madog and Magor, with whom they have become friends. Evelyn's father Cynhafal of Morham stops by to check out Elffin, who learns that the lord has two knighted sons, two married daughters, and two good-sized estates. The huge party reaches the forest and camps for the night; the hunt properly begins the next day. Rupert gets lost and is gored by an aggressive buck. The others, including the two Scottish knights, find a panther and dispatch it. The prize of the day, however, is a pair of beaver's testicles; the knights as a whole are solemn at the prospect of an animal that chews off its own testicles when threatened.
     On the second day, Rupert, Madog, and Magor find a bull and kill it, and although Magor and his horse are badly injured the Scot gets in the killing blow. Aeron battles a wolf, alone. Richard finds nothing all day. Elffin gets lost and is gone all night, returning just as his cousin and the others are organizing to search for him. He refuses to speak of what happened, although he tells Richard they will speak privately, later.
     The hunt over, they return to Camelot, and Elffin speaks to Richard of his experience in the wood. Thoroughly separated from the rest of the party, he chose a tall, broad tree as his shelter and prepared to wait out the night. At midnight he heard a voice utter his name. This voice told him that "The Jew will lead you to your doom," that Isaac was an "unworthy craftsman" and not to be trusted. When he asked the voice to identify itself, it said that "their names" (although there was only one voice) had been "erased from places on high." This smacks of demons or other fell powers. The two decide to wait and keep their eyes open for any significant events involving Isaac.
     For the remainder of their stay, Richard abandons himself to the delights of the city, enjoying a chance to play the tourist. Elffin practices his singing, dancing, and harping (not in public), and spends a good bit of time with Evelyn; when she and her father leave she city, she gives the knight her sleeve as a token. Rupert assaults the citadel of learning with Michael's aid, and Aeron circulates through courtly society. Aeron also receives a visit-and a challenge-from the Knight of the Lady, the man whom he knocked unconscious with one blow at the Battle of the Towers of Fire. They fight to wound, and the Lady knight, who appears rather hung over, loses again, much to his evident displeasure.
     The knights leave the city in early November in order to return to their separate homes for Christmas, with a visit paid to the Earl of Salisbury on the way. Rupert goes with Richard. As the days grow shorter, society begins to shut down, most people more or less going into hibernation.


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© 1999 David Twiddy