I love the Tournament Period. This is high Arthurian roleplaying goodness, the apogee of the Pendragon experience, in my opinion. And this year was the year that Graid immersed himself fully in the sights and experiences that accompany the period. Onward, then...
As Graid was increasingly coming into his own, it was becoming ever more obvious just how great a shadow his famous father cast. Earl Robert had done a good job of sheltering Herringdale's son from this legacy, but now that Graid was master of Broughton and making a name for himself in his own right, the signs were everywhere. The way peasants deferred to him, the way other lords and ladies looked at him. Odd little occurrences, too, such as a Londoner named Duncan coming to Broughton to offer his services gratis on account of Graid's famous father.
Duncan was a valet, an expert in dressing, grooming, and protocol. Graid gratefully accepted the offer. Des also used this time to bring in a weaver, spinner, and couturiere to assist Graid's wife, Lady Alis, with turning out au currant fashions, and a troubadour to entertain the household during the long winter evenings.
It had been a good harvest and the larders were stocked. Graid had made sure that the village was also well-provisioned for the cold months, and that year felt that he was getting along with his peasants better than ever. Sadly, his destrier Thunderbolt died shortly after the first snowfall, but this was more than offset by the arrival of a baby daughter near Yuletide. Broughton was thriving again.
Graid's fame was not entirely due to his father's reflected glory, either; tales of his own exploits were spoken of far and wide across Salisbury, and like his father before him, he was the county's most famous knight before seeing his 25th summer! An invitation from Earl Robert to accompany the court of Sarum to the Pentecostal Tournament in Camelot thus hardly came as a surprise. All through the spring, Broughton Hall was a beehive of activity as Lady Alis and her staff busied themselves producing fine clothes and accouterments to wear at Sir Graid's great Camelot premiere.
A week before Pentecost, Graid and his household set out for Du Plain Castle, where they rendezvoused with Earl Robert's much larger entourage. The Salisbury contingent then set out for Camelot, which was only a day away. Graid, having never been, tried his best to conceal his boyish excitement, but he still couldn't stifle a gasp of awe as the great city came into view.
Once through the gates of the city, Graid could immediately sense that he had gone from being a big fish in a small pool to a tiny minnow swimming in the ocean. The great and the greater were everywhere he turned. After stabling his horses and making arrangements for his retinue and family to stay at a local townhouse, he and Alis made for the Keep of Gold, the great citadel of Camelot. There, they lost themselves among the castle's great rambling halls and stairs.
They saw several knights wearing green sashes belted around their waists - a mark of membership in the Round Table order! Over there was a group of knights all wearing eye patches - how strange! And here, down the stairs, strode an echelon of knights dressed all in white, like monks. "Knights of the Grail Temple!" whispered Alis as the priest-knights passed by.
Graid and Alis, meanwhile, were making a favorable impression, dressed in the latest fashions. At least, they thought they were current. At one point they ran into Sir Tor, and were scandalized by how high the hem of his cote had been trimmed; his buttocks were just visible, snug in revealing velvet tights. Alis flushed red, trying not to stare, and Graid could do nothing but laugh nervously. Nonetheless, Tor invited them to attend a small dinner in one of the Keep's sub-halls.
The "small dinner" turned out to have about 200 guests, and Graid and Alis spent most of the feast people-watching. At one point, however, Graid was asked by Tor to entertain the assembly, and, calling for a harp, plucked out such a delicately haunting melody that more than a few of the assembled knights and ladies had to dry their eyes by the end.
Graid slowly began to discern that there were definitely various strata of interaction. Despite his relative notoriety, he sensed that the King and Queen were about as accessible as the stars in the heavens. And many of the kingdom's great knights, like Lancelot, Percival, and Lamorak, hadn't even shown up for the tournament. So clearly a trip to Camelot, though superficially spectacular, brought no guarantee of access to the great movers and shakers of Arthur's realm.
The next day, Graid and Alis rode out for a social hunt with Earl Robert and various other knights and ladies. Among the worthies were numbered Sir Tor, Sir Palomides the Saracen, and Earl Sannam of Bedegraine. The hunt was for deer, and Graid's keen eyes soon picked out signs of a buck's recent passage as the large party spread out over nearby fields. Spurring his horse, he rode off in pursuit.
The buck was soon sighted, springing away through the rapidly-dispersing morning mists. Graid hefted his spear and pursued. His swift courser took him right up alongside the buck, but the wily prey dodged out of the way just as Graid jabbed at its neck. By the time Graid brought his steed around, the deer had gained significant ground. The young knight was not easily deterred, however, and took off in pursuit.
The hunt went on for hours, passing out of the downs and fields and into light woodland. Just as Graid was considering abandoning the pursuit, he saw a rider in hunting leathers coming at him at full gallop. "God's teeth, man, move!" shouted the rider, and Graid narrowly avoided a collision as the man flew past. Curious, Graid spurred his horse forward and followed.
He caught up to the rider after a short pursuit. The rider had stopped and was now engaged in battle against a great grey wolf. The wolf was growling fiercely, the man uttering a string of loud oaths as he tried to strike at the beast with his sword. The wolf darted in, teeth snapping, and the man's horse reared back, throwing its rider to the ground. Wolf and man launched themselves at each other, and blood was soon flowing from both. Graid had seen enough.
Flicking the reins, he swiftly guided his horse towards the wolf, looking to line up a mortal blow with his spear. Much to his surprise, however, at Graid's approach the wolf broke off its attack and backed up, then sat back on its haunches, staring up at Graid with a patient expression on its face, perfectly calm.
The man in leathers jumped up. Graid recognized him now - he had been at the feast the night before. His name was Sir Guaire, and he was a member of Duke Galeholt's entourage. Guaire was quite upset, and moved towards the wolf, sword brandished. No sooner had he taken a step than the wolf resumed an aggressive posture, fur bristling and teeth bared as a terrible low growl rumbled from its throat.
"Best not approach that wolf, sir," Graid advised.
"I am merely trying to rid the countryside of a meddlesome pest," said Guaire, but he did as Graid suggested and did not advance further. At this, the wolf went back to a sitting posture and resumed its patient stare in Graid's direction.
"Remarkable," muttered Graid. He took his hunting horn and gave it a sustained blast. After a time, Earl Robert and Sir Jaradan, Salisbury's aged marshall, arrived with their household knights. Graid explained the scene he had come upon, the wolf looking calmly at the others the whole time.
“This is a singular wolf indeed to behave in such a manner, one I’d wager the king would like to see," said Earl Robert.
"Feh!" said Guaire by way of reply as he remounted his horse. "I hardly think the High King would want a mangy monster in his halls, but far be it from me to gainsay a great lord as yourself, Earl Robert. If you'll excuse me, then, I'll have no part in it!" And with that he rode off.
As Guaire disappeared, the wolf stood, looking quite ready to head off to Camelot. Laughing, the knights of Salisbury provided it an escort, and it loped along among their horses, panting happily.
Guaire had been right on one count: a wolf inside the walls of Camelot was not a welcome sight, and pandemonium broke out as the Salisbury men rode into the Keep of Gold. Merchants ran for cover, ladies screamed in terror, and knights drew steel. "What do you mean, bringing a monstrous wolf here, Salisbury!?" It was Sir Kay, and he looked livid as he stormed out into the bailey.
"If I may, Sir Kay," piped up Graid before Robert could answer. He told the story of finding Guaire fighting the wolf, and of the wolf's remarkable behavior. "It is Pentecost, and it is a time for wonders, is it not?" Graid concluded. Kay smiled in spite of himself. [Amazingly, Des managed to Crit her Orate roll and actually calm down Sir Kay!]
"This is indeed a great marvel for the feast," said Kay. "He may stay." The wolf was led into a large side chamber, and throughout the day many knights and ladies came by to marvel at the tame wolf. Sir Gawaine had come by and was talking to Earl Robert when Graid's squire Dyrn tugged on his master's sleeve. "Over there, sir," whispered the lad.
Graid looked over and saw a gaggle of finely-dressed ladies peering into the chamber from the hall beyond. They seemed reluctant to enter the room, but that was hardly surprising. What was surprising was that the wolf was now emitting a low growl as it looked at them - the first sign of any sort of hostility since Sir Guaire had left. The ladies looked scandalized. "I heard that wolf was supposed to be well-mannered. Well, I never!"
What's more, Graid discerned that the wolf's ire was directed at one lady in particular. Even more remarkable, the lady in question did not seem at all surprised or taken by the wolf's behavior. Rather, she seemed both sad and worried.
"Well, of course the Archbishop is saying that the wolf has been possessed by the Holy Ghost," Gawaine was saying, "but my money's down that it's a pet owned by a giant or dragon or somesuch and it wandered off and got lost."
"Either that or it's been possessed by demons of the infernal pit!" chuckled Jaradan, much to the scandalized shock of some of the younger knights in attendance. Graid looked back at the door. The ladies had moved on and the wolf was no longer growling. In their place stood Sir Kay.
"The High King has requested an audience at tomorrow's feast," he said simply. Graid swallowed hard and prepared to meet the king.
The next day was the day of the Pentecost feast. Graid made sure to put his new valet Duncan to good use, and he greeted the day dressed in the latest fashions, exquisitely tailored. Everyone attended Mass at the magnificent Holy Trinity Cathedral, and then went on to the Keep of Gold. The wolf had been put up for the evening in the royal stables, and outside the Grand Reception Hall, it was reunited with the Salisbury men, still as alert and seemingly intelligent as ever. A trumpet fanfare announced Earl Robert's entrance, with Graid at his side and the wolf trotting between them.
The Grand Reception Hall was well-named, for it was the largest hall by far that Graid had ever seen. Two hundred yards long and nearly as high, with a floor tiled in a checked pattern of onyx and white marble and a painted ceiling high overhead displaying murals of the triumphs of Arthur and the Round Table. Even with a quick glance, Graid could see that Lancelot's victories made up the bulk of the subject matter.
One hundred coats of arms, each displaying the heraldry of a knight of the Round Table, hung along the outside of a wooden gallery that ran along both sides of the hall, its dark wood intricately carved. Up in the gallery itself were hung with the finest tapestries, and up there too were dozens of ladies, each dressed in full courtly finery, looking on from on high down into the hall, which was filled with about 300 knights.
Graid saw Gawaine and his Orkney brothers on one side of the hall, the de Gales clan (minus Lamorak) on the other. Sir Sagramore le Desirous smiled as Graid passed by. Graid also caught sight of Sir Guaire, who was standing back in the crowd a bit. And at the end of the hall sat King Arthur on his throne. At his left sat Queen Guenevere on her throne. At his right sat an empty seat, reserved for the king's eventual legitimate heir.
At the sight of his queen, Graid's heart skipped a beat. She was truly a glory to behold, and he fell out of step with Earl Robert as he involuntarily slowed down to look upon her, then had to hurry to resume his pace.
The party stopped 20 feet from the foot of the dais, and as one took a knee to bow to their king. Out of the corner of his eye, Graid was shocked to see that the wolf, too, was bowing! The hall was ringing with stunned silence at the sight of this remarkable wolf.
Sir Kay stepped up, and the wolf came to his side. Kay and the wolf advanced to the foot of the stairs.
"Sire, here is a strange marvel indeed," said Kay in a voice loud enough that it echoed through the still hall. "This is but a wild beast of the forest, but it is as well-mannered as any knight in Britain. See for yourself! This wolf is gentle and meek as a lamb."
As if on cue, the wolf stepped forward, bowed again, and then rocked back into a sitting position, its tail wagging slightly. Arthur's bearded face cracked into a smile. He stood and came down the stairs of the dais, stopping just in front of the wolf, who continued to stare up at him.
"Tell me," said Arthur, "who found this wolf? And how was he found?"
Earl Robert nodded to Graid, who stepped up, his blood pounding. He began to recount his story. When he got to the part about meeting Sir Guaire in the woods, he pointed the man out. The wolf looked over and its muzzle curled slightly, the softest growl emanating from its throat.
"Sir Guaire, step forward!" called the king. Graid bit his tongue - he had been hoping to work in a mention of the Frog Kingdom he had visited the year before, as he had promised to do. But now Guaire was working his way up through the crowd. "Why so modest?" asked Arthur as Guaire bowed. The wolf's growl, meanwhile, was now rising in pitch as its hackles went up.
"Why the wolf should feel ill will towards me sire, I know not," replied Guaire.
"This wolf is a strange marvel indeed, and one that I would like to know the reasons for. Therefore, I ask all here assembled to endeavor to puzzle out the secret of this wolf. For whoever can unravel the secret surrounding this wolf will have accomplished a great thing, and the story of how this wolf came to be shall be remembered a long time in Camelot."
Graid wished to speak of the ladies he had seen the day before as well, but clearly it was the end of the audience. The hall was now buzzing with discussion as people filed out of the hall - it was time for the Pentecost feast!
Pages directed courtiers to a variety of banquet halls - the king and his immediate household, plus the most renowned Round Table knights, were to dine in the main hall, but Graid and Alis (along with the wolf, trotting at their side) were directed to one of the ancillary halls. Even this sub-hall, however, was as grand as the hall at Salisbury Castle. They were seated at a long table, over near a massive marble fireplace. As the fire crackled merrily, a troupe of jesters provided the entertainment and the diners settled in as food started flowing up from the kitchens. The wolf took up position at the far end of the table, sitting quietly.
Tureens of beef stew were brought out and set upon the boards, and everyone began dishing their portions onto trenchers. The wolf looked on, a string of drool hanging from its mouth. A loud and boisterous Irish knight down near the end of the table took a morsel of meat from his stew and offered it to the wolf - but then pulled it away at the last minute, laughing. The wolf shifted uncomfortably, emitting an annoyed whine. Several other Irish knights at the table started laughing as well. Graid, recognizing them as emissaries from King Anguish of Ireland, and the lead knight as Sir Ailgel, stood and signaled to a page.
"Bring me some meat from the kitchens, boy," he said. A platter of roast beef was brought up much faster than Graid might have thought possible. Taking the platter, Graid approached the wolf and set the it down. Sir Ailgel looked suitably abashed. An elderly lady seated nearby gave Graid an approving nod.
The rosy-cheeked knight stood as Graid returned to his seat. "Forgive my rash actions, sir! I merely wanted to see just how tame this remarkable beast was. Join me in a song, won't you?" A round of polite applause washed over the table as Graid stood up. Graid did his best to sing along with Ailgel, but his heart wasn't in it, and the moment passed with another, rather more strained, round of applause.
As Graid settled in to the feast, he began to chat with the lady to his left and found out she bore a similar name to his wife, who was seated to his right. This Lady Alice was pretty, young, and vivacious and very interested in hearing all about Graid's adventures. Graid, only too aware of his situation, courteously deflected her flirtatious advances and redirected the conversation towards courtly gossip.
"Oh, the city is absolutely full of people who have come to wish the king well after his adventure last year. If disasters like that bring so many strangers to court, then maybe it wasn't so bad after all! It's great to see all these new faces. You're bound for the Round Table, some say." She laid a hand surreptitiously on Graid's knee. "I was watching from the gallery when you presented that wolf before the king. Isn't it remarkable that it growled at Sir Guaire but no one else?"
"Yes, quite," said Graid, gently slipping Alice's hand off his knee. "What did you think of that?" he asked, flashing her an encouraging smile.
"Well, the wolf is obviously a good judge of character. Sir Guaire and Lady Indeg are notorious for the affair they've carried on for many years!" Graid had no idea who this Lady Indeg was, and said as much.
"You may have heard of her," said Lady Alice. "She was married to Sir Merrick of the Round Table, who went missing some years back. Lady Indeg has tried to get the king to declare Sir Merrick dead, but our liege will have none of it, pointing out that Merrick's name still appears on his siege at the Round Table, and that it is only when a knight is truly dead that his name disappears from the seat. But I first heard of Guaire's affair with Lady Indeg even back before Sir Merrick's disappearance."
At this point, Lady Alis, perhaps feeling neglected, tapped Graid's shoulder. "Look over there, husband!" she said, smiling. Graid looked back down the table to where the wolf had been sitting, and saw that the elderly lady that had earlier given him an approving nod was now over with the wolf, petting it and feeding it a whole joint of meat.
"Eat up!" she said, smiling. Graid excused himself from Alice and Alis and headed down to the end of the table.
"Excuse me, my lady," he said. "May I ask how you have come to be so familiar and friendly with this wolf? Have you seen it before?"
The old lady straightened up and fixed Graid with a soul-searching gaze before speaking. "I have not seen this wolf before, no, but I have a theory about it. You obviously care about the beast greatly, and that has impressed me. You remind me of my departed husband, Sir Niddian. Oh, back in his day, knights were knights, if you follow. They proved themselves in battle. Blood, swords, steel. But I digress.
"I think back to to when I was but a little girl, and a story my grandmother told me. A story, now I think of it, that has led me to believe that this wolf may actually be a man. My grandmother told me of a Saxon family whose men were all knights." At the mention of Saxons, Graid's bowels clenched - he still nursed a great hatred for that race, however pacified they might have become.
"For many generations they shared a strange curse. Whenever the crescent moon set with the Evening Star, the knight would change from man to wolf. As the curse came over him, the poor soul would have to shed his clothes quickly, so that they would not be burst by the wolf-shape. As a wolf, he would still have the mind of a man, but could not speak or act but as a wolf acts. He would change back to man-form in the morning, provided his clothes were available to put on. Without his clothes - and they had to be his own clothes, my grandmother told me - the man was trapped in wolf-form. I believe that this poor wolf is like one of those knights, and that he is forever searching for his clothes, which misfortune has somehow hidden from him."
"That theory does not seem so far-fetched, considering the evidence before us," said Graid thoughtfully.
"Yes, perhaps my grandmother was right?"
"Well, I too have a theory," said Graid, taking the matron's arm and leading her away from the wolf. "I have just heard of a knight named Sir Merrick. Have you heard of him? No? Well, Sir Merrick is missing and some think him dead. Could it be coincidence that the wolf has shown hostility towards Sir Guaire, who it is whispered was involved in an affair with Sir Merrick's wife? And yesterday the wolf growled at a lady, whom I believe to be that very woman, or perhaps one of her servants. I think this wolf could well be Sir Merrick!"
"God have mercy on his soul if that be the case," said the old woman.
"If I can confirm that the lady I saw was Indeg, that will all but erase my doubts," said Graid. "Thank you for your words of wisdom, m'lady. I must return to my seat and see to my wife now. I didn't catch your name, though."
"I am Dame Briadnt," said the lady, "and you are most welcome."
Graid came back to his seat just in time to receive a tot of cherry liqueur, which he courteously raised in Dame Briandt's direction. He also found his wife engaged in a rather animated conversation with a lady seated on her right; the two women were complaining vociferously about how boring tournaments were for the non-knightly participants, and how there should be more things for the women to do. The conversation didn't go on much longer after Graid took his seat, and a dish of poached pike was brought out to further distract everyone.
Or nearly everyone. Graid noted a nearby knight engaged in a loud and heated argument with the lady seated next to him. It was impossible not to overhear some of their words, especially when the knight fairly shouted, "I will hear no more slander against my old master!" With that, he stood and began walking out of the hall. At this, the wolf sprang up and trotted over to the knight and pawed at him as if trying to make him stop. The knight looked at the wolf, then at Graid.
"Aren't you the one that found this wolf?" asked the knight. Graid answered in the affirmative. "Well it is quite a remarkable beast. But if you'll excuse me, I'm much too upset to linger here any longer." Graid suddenly realized he had seen this knight in Earl Sannam's retinue during the hunting party in which the wolf had been found. He was one of Sannam's household knights and was called Sir Tathal.
"If you don't mind me asking, what was the cause of your argument?"
"Ach, the lady had harsh words for the knight I served as a squire. Sir Merrick - you've heard of him? I won't repeat what she said, but I'll just say that Sir Merrick was a great knight, missing these seven years now. Rode forth from Camelot one day and never returned. There have been tales of him meeting his end at the hands of various evil knights, but I believe none of them. Sadly, I am nearly alone in this belief."
"Have you seen Lady Indeg at this feast?"
"I have not, and I don't care to seek her out. When I was a squire, I observed that Indeg treated my lord cruelly and often lied to him. Though she was married to a Round Table knight, she thought little of her husband's accomplishments, and often made unfair comparisons to other, more famous knights. She quite often found fault with me for no justifiable reason. If there is one favorable point about Sir Merrick's disappearance, it's that he's now free of Lady Indeg's foul presence."
Sir Tathal then gave the wolf a friendly scratch and departed. The wolf remained, now going around and collecting table scraps from various diners.
Just then, one of the logs in the fire popped loudly and sent a burning ember flying onto Graid's fancy satin jerkin. There was a brief flurry of panicked swatting from both Graid and Alis and the ember was extinguished, but not before it had burned a nice hole right through the brand-new garment.
"Come, Alis, we must away," said Graid, still somewhat flushed from the scare.
"Yes, let's get you out of those clothes," said Alis with a mischievous wink. And so the young couple departed the Keep of Gold, which stood shining like a beacon in the moonlight, and made their way arm-in-arm through the streets of Camelot. Troubadours and revelers lounged in windows and on street corners, laughing and singing, and the magical evening came to a suitably romantic conclusion.
It was only the following morning that Graid realized his squire Dyrn had gotten back to the townhouse much later. As the squire was helping his lord prepare for the day, Graid casually raised the subject. Dyrn, clearly troubled, confessed.
"After you and the Lady Alis departed the dining hall, I noticed that the lady Sir Tathal had had the row with got up and left very quickly. It seemed timed with your departure somehow. So...I decided to follow her. Did I do wrong? I was only acting in your best interest!"
"Not to worry. What did you see?"
"She departed the castle and made for a townhouse. She knocked on the door and had some words with a servant, then departed. I asked around, and it seems that the house in question is currently occupied by Lady Indeg and her retinue."
"You don't say? Where is that house? I must go to it."
As he disappeared around a corner, Graid crossed the street and knocked on the iron-studded door. A young woman answered the summons. "Yes?"
"I seek audience with Lady Indeg."
"And who may I say is calling?"
"Sir Graid of Broughton."
"Very well," she said, quietly shutting the door. A few minutes passed by. The door was opened again, and this time Graid recognized the lady that the wolf had growled at two days ago.
"I would like to speak to you about a matter concerning a beast," said Graid. Lady Indeg cocked an eyebrow, but stepped back to allow him and Dyrn entry. She led them into a small dark-paneled hall. The morning light filtered through thick glass windows. From a sideboard, Indeg filled three cups with wine.
"Thank you, m'lady," said Graid, propping his free arm on the wooden mantel of the small fireplace. "I don't wish to disturb you, but I have it on good authority that you know who that wolf is," Graid said casually.
"I'm sorry," said Lady Indeg, taking a seat on a straight-backed chair. "I know who that wolf is? I'm not sure I follow you."
"I think you do," said Graid, now turning his piercing gaze directly on her as he took a sip from his cup. Indeg returned the stare.
"Very well. You're obviously intelligent and know what you're doing."
"My lady, you misunderstand - I am not here to blackmail you. I merely want to get to the bottom of this. If this indeed be a man in wolf's guise, he is suffering, and he should not be made to suffer any longer if it can be helped."
"I don't know of anyone who is suffering."
"Where is your husband?"
"Sir Merrick disappeared seven years ago. He is dead."
"Do you know that for a fact?"
"I have heard testimony from some who have witnessed his death. He was killed in battle. His body was burned."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"And I am sorry that the High King has not yet accepted this fact, for it has prevented me from coming into my rightful inheritance or remarrying. I have been living in poverty these seven years," she said, her face flushing a bit.
"What if Merrick were to reappear?"
"I tell you, he's dead."
"I am going to make this incredibly plain," said Graid, setting his cup on the mantel. "I must tell you that I know who the wolf is. I know why Sir Guaire was hunting him. If this information gets to the king, then..."
"Then he will ask you what proof you have. And you have none."
"I'm just letting you know that it would probably be easier to come forward. I'm onto you, m'lady. There is no reason to continue this game. Come, squire." And with that, Graid swept from the room as Indeg watched him cagily, sipping her wine. Sir Graid, having departed, returned to his townhouse. After all, he had a joust to prepare for!
And what a joust it was. A Regal Tournament, the kick-off of the "tournament season," as some were calling it. It would take three days just to get through the elimination rounds to crown a champion of the joust. The jousting field itself, in the shadow of the Keep of Gold, was massive, and boasted permanent grandstands that could seat 5,000, as well as a royal viewing box for the king and queen and 100 of their closest friends.
After registering his name and arms with the Master of the Lists, Graid strolled the impeccably manicured grounds, taking in the pageantry of it all. Banners fluttered in the breeze, fine horses in rich caparisons cantered past, knights from all over Britain mingled, their richly-decorated helmets on display for the helm show.
Graid spotted his friend, the lady-knight Dame Idain, milling among the crowds and headed over. "Wait til you hear about this," he said conspiratorially, and then told her his theory, as well as details of his meeting with Lady Indeg that morning. Idain listened with a mixture of shock and incredulity.
"What a tale!" she said when Graid finished. "Here I thought the gossip I'd heard about Sir Tristram was scandalous - they say he's been driven mad with passion. But I think that can only help our odds here. No Lancelot, no Lamorak, no Tristam. I think we've got a shot! We've got a shot!" she said, punching Graid on the shoulder.
"You're right, naturally. But don't be shy about getting the word out about Sir Merrick, either."
"I don't know, Graid. There's not a lot of hard evidence to go off of. That's a serious accusation to make."
"I feel it in my heart that it must be true!" said Graid, somewhat dejected. He wished Idain good luck in the joust and bid her farewell, then sought out his nephew, Sir Gilmere, and shared the story with him as well. Gilmere was much less skeptical than Idain, and was all for spreading the tale.
"I think I need to go back to the townhouse," said Graid.
"Do what you need to do," said Gilmere. At that moment, a fanfare of trumpets sounded the first round of the joust. "But you'll be disqualified from the joust if you leave now." Graid hesitated, but in the end decided that this would be an ideal time to go investigate. And so he quietly departed the tournament grounds and made his way through the empty streets to Indeg's townhouse, the sound of the roaring crowd now a distant phantasm.
As he neared the townhouse, Graid spotted Indeg speaking to a man in full armor on horseback. Graid couldn't get a good look at his heraldry and tried to get a bit closer, but Indeg spotted him. She shot Graid a spiteful look, said a word to the knight, and the knight brought his horse around and spurred it in Graid's direction. Graid ducked back and the knight tore past. After that close encounter, there could be no doubt that the knight was Sir Guiare. "He's going after the wolf," muttered Graid. Little did Guaire know that the wolf was with Arthur in the royal viewing box.
Indeg had ducked back into her townhouse as soon as Guaire had ridden off, and no amount of pounding on the door could get her to answer it this time. At something of a loss, Graid headed back to the jousting pitch. He had missed the first round, so he was out of the competition. He asked around in search of Sir Guaire, and found out that Sir Guaire had sought permission from Duke Galeholt to be absent "on a personal errand" - for several days. What that errand might have been, none could say. He had left Camelot, that's all that anyone knew.
Graid was at a dead end. Without any other notion of what to do, he found a seat in the grandstands next to Lady Alis, holding his head on his hands. "I'm sorry you couldn't participate in the joust," she said. "You want to hear some juicy gossip?"
"Sure," said Graid, not really meaning it but trying to be polite.
"Well, the lady I was chatting with last night, Lady Laudine? She told me that she used to be Sir Guaire's lover."
"Really? I heard that he'd sworn himself to Lady Indeg."
"So he has. But he once courted the Lady of the Laundes from Leinster. Laudine was her handmaiden, and he was interested in her as well. She told me of his favored trysting place, an old abandoned castle on the Endbourne River. He took her there a few times before he left her for Indeg. Kind of romantic, don't you think?"
Graid had a notion as to where Guaire had departed, then. "Yes...yes. Romantic." He stood up. "If you'll excuse me, dear, I have some business to attend to." Summoning Dyrn and his riding horses, Graid rode hard out of Camelot, through Silchester, towards the Endbourne. As the sky turned dusky overhead, Graid spotted a crumbling motte and bailey castle near the banks of the river. In the gathering gloom, Graid could see that a fire was being lit in the shadow of the motte. He spurred on his tired horse ever harder.
Guaire was approaching the fire with a bundle in his arms. "On, boy! On!" Graid urged on his horse, trying to get between Guaire and the fire. The horse reared up, not liking the flames, but he stopped Guaire in his tracks.
"You again! Must you dog my every move!" shouted Guaire.
"Yes! Your lack of honor offends me. Hand over that bundle immediately, sir!"
"You shall not have this bundle but instead my blade, sir!" Guaire drew his sword, and Graid, ever the chivalrous knight, dismounted so that they could fight on even terms.
The two knights threw themselves into combat. Graid came on full force, pushing him back with his shield and then swinging at Guaire's knees. The sword connected, but the blow glanced off the armor and failed to sweep Guaire to the ground. Undeterred, Graid pressed on, again aiming for the legs. This time, his blow took Guaire's feet out from under him, and the knight hit the ground.
"Give me whatever's in that bundle and I'll let you live," said Graid, looming over Sir Guaire, his sword tip at the knight's face. Without a word, Guaire tossed the bundle up to Graid. "I will let you go, but know this: I will not hesitate to tell the king what you have done," Graid said, stepping back.
Guaire scuttled away, then got up, spat on the ground, mounted his horse, and rode off. Graid mounted up as well and pointed his tired horse back towards Camelot. He rode slowly through the night. Several times, he was challenged by local guards suspicious of his movement in the dark. Graid simply said he was on a mission for the king and left it at that. The night porters at Camelot reluctantly granted Graid entry, and Graid passed what remained of the night in his townhouse, sleeping fitfully with the musty bundle of clothing clutched in his arms.
As soon as the dawn crept over the horizon, Sir Graid headed off to the Keep of Gold, seeking an audience with Sir Kay. He found the steward down in the kitchens supervising the staff's preparation of the morning repast. "Sir Kay, I have solved the mystery of the wolf!"
And so, two hours later, Graid was up in the Grand Reception Hall, still clutching the old clothing. He was bleary-eyed and unshaven, and was still wearing his travel-stained clothes, but he was smiling. King Arthur came into the hall and took his seat on the dais. Sir Kay was nearby, the wolf at his side. Many Round Table knights, having heard what was going on, had turned out as well.
Graid then presented his story: of his suspicions regarding Sir Merrick, of the behavior of Lady Indeg, of his fight with Sir Guaire. Everyone listened closely, and when Graid was done, Arthur approached him and took the bundle of old clothes. He then walked over to the wolf and laid them delicately before the beast.
"Wolf, if you truly be Sir Merrick, who served me well in past days and may yet serve me again, accept these clothes with the apologies of all present who allowed you to roam the forest as a wild animal. Transform yourself back into man-form, so that you can rejoin the company of your good fellows."
The wolf sniffed the clothes, its ears back. It looked around, its ears still back, whining slightly. "It's just a wolf!" said someone back in the crowd. Arthur looked skeptical, then laughed.
"Of course! The wolf is naked," said Arthur. "Sir Kay, escort our friend to a private dressing chamber, that he may change in peace." More knights, including Graid, laughed at this, and the wolf was escorted out. Arthur picked up the bundle and followed.
An hour went by. Graid and Kay talked a bit about the bad harvests they'd been having up north the last couple years. Sir Tor speculated on making the "tournament season" official by drafting up an official Circuit. "I would sign up for that!" said Graid enthusiastically.
At last, King Arthur reemerged into the hall. "You'll all have to forgive the wait," he said, "but Sir Merrick needed to rest a bit after his ordeal." The assembled knights all gasped as one as Sir Merrick, freshly shaven and bright-eyed but dressed in moth-eaten clothes seven years out of fashion, stepped out from behind Arthur. As the hall broke out into applause, Sir Merrick strode over to Graid, clasped him by the shoulders, and planted a big kiss on each cheek, then laughed heartily. Graid couldn't help but laugh as well.
Lady Indeg was then summoned before the court, and made to plead her case. She maintained that all she had done was take some of her husband's old clothes, and that was hardly a crime. Graid pointed out that she had also taken Sir Merrick's humanity, and that was a terrible crime.
"Hear, hear!" said Gawaine. "A crime worthy of no less than death."
Sir Merrick, on the other hand, was ready to let things lie. "Seven years ago, I may have wished death for my wife and Sir Guaire, but now I am tired and do not care. She may go on with her life, as far as I'm concerned."
Graid spoke up again. "Sire, I think Sir Merrick may have the right of it. For if Indeg goes on with her life, she will be forevermore infamous for her treachery."
"This seems just," said Arthur. "Lady Indeg, I hereby banish you from my sight and from my city. May you never return and may you live out your remaining years in infamy." At Arthur's words, Indeg burst into tears and fled the hall, crying into her sleeve.
Graid and Alis spent the week in Camelot, but Graid did not participate any further in the Pentecost tournament. The sad tale of Merrick's marriage to Indeg had impressed upon him how lucky he was to have a woman like Alis at his side, and how important it was to keep her happy. And in Camelot, it was very difficult to be anything but happy.
The bright mood did not last long after their departure, however, for tragic news reached Britain from the continent: Sir Borre, Arthur's sole surviving son, had been killed while laying siege to a castle in Ganis, felled by an errant arrow. The body, preserved in honey, was sent back for burial at Stonehenge, and it lay in state at Salisbury Castle, where Graid formed part of the honor guard.
At the funeral, the procession, made up of nobles and commoners alike, stretched for over a half-mile. Graid, still standing in the honor guard, had a front row view of the burial. He noted a stone had already been erected for Arthur as well against that tragic day when he might fall. A great sense of mortality hung over the Pendragon, and over everyone else.
Whatever verve and life Arthur had picked up from his adventure the previous year had now once again be wrung from him. He did not cry - he did not look capable of tears. Guenevere, her face veiled, held his hand as Borre's coffin was lowered into the ground. And Graid gripped the shaft of his spear a bit more tightly as a cold wind blew down from the north.
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