The gloomy weather, darkening skies, and twisted oaks formed the perfect backdrop for my growing sense of unease. A wolf even howled somewhere far off in the distance. All we needed was some scary music—maybe one of Tristan’s sad ballads where you believe doomed love is going to happen to you instead of him. And when we finally our destination, I fully expect it to be a dark and misshapen castle that exudes the color and odor of dung. Wait! I’m describing Maleagans’ place.
Except when the source of the light finally came into view, it was absolutely nothing like what I’d pictured. I couldn’t get a great look at the building because of the growing darkness, but from what I could tell, it was a walled manor house in the Roman style. Built in a more peaceful time; definitely not designed to withstand a siege. A stone wall with a stout gate, but without moat or drawbridge a battering ram would have had attackers inside in moments. And no guards present.
I would like to claim that I didn’t run after Elaine because I considered all of the ramifications and decided it wouldn’t be a wise plan. But the truth is, I didn’t follow Elaine because I was too flummoxed to do anything. And then once I managed to pull my head out of my ass, I immediately spotted the moon and that set me to sighing like I was, well, moonstruck I guess is the best word. Plus I kept clawing at the burning in my chest where the arrow had pierced.
In other words, I was seriously fucked up. To put it mildly.
Sleep was a lost cause.
Not that I was too full to be comfortable. Not too full of swill, in any case. Too full of emotion, mayhap.
An oath is a funny thing. When you swear fealty to your lord, you generally do so in the name of something you hold sacred. A priest might swear on the splinter of the true cross purchased from a wandering merchant at the little pissant market town of Lourdes, although only Yahweh and perhaps a couple of his drinking buddies know how such a thing got there in the first place. Knights of the Round Table swear their oath to Arthur holding their swords, which were pretty damned sacred back when there was a Saxon behind every tree and most men could only afford a spear. In the old days a man would swear while holding his own balls. Which I guess, when you get right down to it, is about as sacred as it comes (no pun intended).
So when you don’t really hold anything sacred, an oath should be pretty easy to break. Right?
Every story must have its heroes and its villains. A story with only good guys would be quite a yawner (and a world with only good girls would be a sorry place indeed).
I’ve not treated Guinevere kindly, I’m afraid. That didn’t exactly happen by design. When I was researching Morgan le Fay for Strange Bedfellows, I came across the following fact from an article on the literary tradition of Morgan.
Her enmity towards Guinevere has its origin in the Vulgate Lancelot, where Morgan is having an affair with Guiomar, Guinevere’s cousin, and Guinevere puts an end to it.
In the tales that troubadours tell, all princesses are young and beautiful, albeit ever in some fluffy bit of trouble that the handsome knight has no problem unraveling to win her heart, not to mention access to her heretofore virginal nether regions. She leaves maidenhood willingly to provide her knight in shining armor a lifetime of stimulating conversation by day and satisfying sex by night. Or at least I imagine that’s what ‘happily ever after’ means. I’ve never been in one of those happily-ever-after relationships, so I can’t speak to the matter from personal knowledge. None of the noblewomen I’ve known were capable of an hour of stimulating conversation, unless you cared deeply about the weather, sewing, babies, or court gossip.
Dinner was . . . adequate.
I mean, I’ve eaten a lot of bad meals. Back during the early years of the Saxon War in particular. You didn’t mind the mold on your bread because it was better than starving, and besides, the mud covered up some of the taste of the mold. A cup of warm weak broth was something to kill for, and on the rare occasion that you got one, it was more likely flavored with leeks than a beef bone.
I’ve posted 10 chapters, and we’ve hardly talked about the book at all! My fault. I should be posting discussions and related materials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’ve been building a deck instead. My son Saxon was on spring break, so we hit it hard every day. After we finished, it was all I could to lift my arms, much less write a blog post. Here’s one thing I already knew but was reinforced dramatically during the week: he’s a LOT younger than I am.
So I compromised and posted only once/week except for chapters. But then Strange Bedfellows came out, and with it a swirl of other activities to blog about.
Bottom line is: I’ve been slacking off on my responsibilities. There’s a picture at the end so you’ll know I haven’t been a total slacker, but that’s not the same thing.
So today, we’re going to talk about the book.
Castles are supposed to be utilitarian rather than beautiful, but even so, the castle Maleagans was without a doubt the ugliest building I’ve ever seen. From a little distance, it didn’t look all that different from the wattle-and-daub peasant huts that huddled not far outside the walls. The main building was squat, formed from some strange combination of piled stone and untrimmed wood poles sticking out at random. Where there was stone or wood, it had been colored a streaky, dark yellow-brown, looking for all the world like it had been wiped with soiled baby nappies. The moat was a foul ditch that wouldn’t have slowed an attack by virtue of breadth or depth, but the persistent odor of some fiend from Father Ignatius’s hell that had been slaughtered, drained of ichor, and left to rot beneath the black scum, would quail men brave enough to face a Saxon shield wall. A tower in one corner leaned precariously out over the moat—probably why it was unmanned.
The lone guard peeking out from behind the earthen parapet was wearing a cloak that perfectly matched the baby shit motif of the walls.
“Halt. Who be it?”
Despite all my bluster about being able to walk out the door and have everything function smoothly in my absence, it was a few days before we managed to leave Camelot. Not so much the checking on the planning and logistics for the upcoming events. That took about ten minutes. I called my staff together, spent eight minutes bullshitting before we got down to business, told them I was leaving for a few days, asked if they needed anything, heard them all say no problem.
No, it was my new responsibilities for Oswald that delayed our departure.
It wasn’t a restful night. At some point I simply gave up. Polished my own armor, although it didn’t need much, since it had been buffed to perfection for my public spill just two days before. Packed a kit, then realized how foolish that was and unpacked it again. Sharpened my sword, which certainly didn’t need it–I hadn’t hit anything with it in awhile, but there’s something very soothing about running a whetstone down your own blade. Finally blew out the candles and just sat there in the dark, watching the stars out my tiny window until it grew light enough that I could see the guards on the near parapet.
Even without the darkness, I would have known it was early because when I left my chamber, Oswald wasn’t standing there.