After my glorious win and my ignominious defeat, I took time to return the ribbon to Lisle, knowing that she would treasure it. “I’ll wear it forever and never ever wash it again,” she vowed. “I swear by the Holy Mother who guided me to wear it today. Can you tie it in my hair, Mum? You’d have beaten that dastardly Sir Lionel if he hadn’t cheated.”
“Sorry, luv. Sir Lionel is a good man and would never cheat. His only character flaw is that he’s a much, much better knight than I am, particularly with the bâton de faux guerre, and also with the lance and sword and undoubtedly in unarmed combat too. But if I ever get him to agree to a dual with long division, I’ll have him begging mercy.”
“You’re silly. What’s long division?”
Father Gascon interrupted. “It’s the work of the devil, ma petite. Close your ears when this man speaks such blasphemy.”
“It’s no such thing, Lisle. Suppose you had seventy-two men and six wagons. How many would you put in each wagon so that the men would be evenly distributed?”
Lisle screwed up her little face in serious thought. “I’d put one in each wagon, and then another, and so forth, until all the men were loaded.” She humph’d a little victory sound.
“Correct. But suppose half the men weren’t there yet, and only one wagon had arrived and you wanted to get it loaded and on the way?”
She tilted her head and considered gravely. “Then I’d draw two circles on the ground, and I’d put one man in the wagon and one in each circle until all the men were either in the wagon or in one of the circles.”
Gascon shrugged. “Fie on your long division. My eight year old daughter can solve your problems without resorting to such devilment.”
I leaned toward Lisle and whispered loud enough for everybody to hear. “Once we’re married, I’ll teach you how to do long division.”
Lisle looked at me with a tilted eyebrow before squealing in delight and throwing her arms around my neck. “Mum, did you hear? Sir Knight and I are to be wed.”
“Lord, child. What would Sir Kay want with a scrawny thing like you? We’ll have to put some meat on your bones first.”
I headed down to the cellar to lay my bruises on the cold stone (an ice pack would have been nice, but there wasn’t any around here by May). I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the thrill of victory, but I knew all about the agonies of defeat. Fortunately, once I realized that my fate included getting knocked off a horse regularly, I’d gotten Fool—the father of our current Fool—to teach me how to fall. So at least I minimized the damage.
Then I treated myself to an ale and took time to sample the bread just coming out the ovens with some cheese. “Llew, these loaves are superb, just how I like them on normal days. But for feasts, I prefer a little more crust.” I flicked the loaf to show him how it was missing that perfect thump echo. “Have the oven a little hotter when you first put the loaf in, and slip in a bowl of water with the bread.”
“Yes, Sire. Thank you. I have another batch going in right now, I’ll try that.”
My mouth was too full to answer, so I just nodded.
After lunch I went out to check on the progress of the tournament. We were near the end of the Round of Sixteen, so in a few more minutes would be down to just eight contestants. I checked the pairings to see which of the newcomers had done the best so I could recommend to Arthur who should be selected for the Round Table.
Setting up a tournament is simple if you’re me, and pretty much impossible for anybody else. So I would lay out the structure and Guardemaine, Camelot’s arms master, filled in the names. Guardemaine was as good with a sword as any of the knights except perhaps the big four—Lancelot, Gawain, Tristan, and Gareth—but he couldn’t compete because he wasn’t noble. Arthur had begged him to accept knighthood but Guardemaine stubbornly refused. “I weren’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and by Mithras, I’ll be damned if I’ll die eating with one.”
So: tournament pairings. You have to get to a number that is continually divisible by two as quickly as possible; with 212 entrants, that number would be 128. So in the first round, 44 of the Knights of the Round Table got a bye, 43 fought new guys, and the remaining 82 new guys are randomly paired up. After that, everybody fights in every round until only one knight is left sitting. Favorites are spaced so they don’t meet until the final—that’s called seeding.
The results were about what you’d expect. Four new guys had upset a Round Table opponent in the first or second round; the only surprising thing is that one of the upsettees hadn’t been me (neither was Agravain, I noted: he’d lasted exactly as long as I had). Two of the non-Round Table Knights had made it out of the third round, so Arthur’s choice was pretty clear.
OK, not the only surprising thing. One of the new guys was still in the tournament, already in the Round of Sixteen which was just finishing up. I’d never seen that before.
“G, Berwick” was the name on the parchment. Hmm, Berwick. That was Lancelot’s kingdom, although he was never there. When his father Ban had died, maybe five years ago, a regent had been appointed to run the kingdom in his stead. As far as I know, Lancelot never intended to rule himself. Too far from Guinevere, I suppose.
And yes, I knew all about Lancelot and Guinevere’s treasonous dalliances. It was a remarkably well-kept secret, considering that it had been going on—well, I don’t know exactly how long it had been going on. I stumbled across them indiscreetly and indecorously making the beast with two backs in the wine cellar three years ago, while Arthur and most of the Knights were out on the Grail Quest (they were too busy to notice me). After losing a week’s worth of sleep, I decided not to out them. Chances were good that Arthur knew about them and was pretending not to; if I brought it to public attention, he wouldn’t thank me for it.
Wonder who this G of Berwick was? He’d survived five rounds and already bested at least four Knights of the Round Table, so whoever he was, he was a hell of a jouster. Well, I knew how to find out.
There’s traditionally a break after the Round of Sixteen so the nobles and the wealthy can refresh themselves and the peasants can have some more water. I wandered out among the spectators until I found Oswald, standing with Guardemaine, soaking in his knowledge.
“OK, boys and girls. Who is G of Berwick?”
“I have no idea, Sir Kay.” Guardemaine could mop up the floor of the arena with me if he wanted to, but politeness was one of his trademarks. “He’s young, no more than twenty. Strong enough, quick as a snake, rides like he was born in the saddle. But what makes him so dangerous are his instincts, unbelievable for someone his age. Most newcomers are so eager to make a name for themselves that they charge right in. But in every match so far, this knight has made three passes where he was purely defensive. Didn’t even try to hit his opponent, just fended off the attack. By the fourth pass he’s figured out his opponent’s weakness and how to exploit it. Sir Tor, Sir Cleges, and Sir Gauen all went down on the fourth pass. Sir Girflet, who you’ll recall made it to the Round of Four last Pentecost and is one hell of a jouster even if he’s a little long in the tooth, only lasted one more.”
“G of Berwick beat Girflet? Oswald, go see if you can find out anything more about him. Although he’s destined for the Round Table, so I suppose we’ll know soon enough. Never mind. Just enjoy the tournament.”
The other seven knights still competing were all familiar names. Lancelot and Gawain, of course. Gareth, also not a surprise—Gareth towered over the biggest of the other knights by half a foot; sheer brawn was usually enough to keep him around. Dinadan, who by virtue of quickness and agility could hold his own against all but the best. Sagramore—although you’d hate to meet him on the battlefield, he wasn’t much of a jouster and had probably benefited from an easy draw. Dagonet and Ozanna, both solid in the lists, unlikely to make it much farther.
And G of Berwick. Which of these names doesn’t belong, children? Well, obviously he did.
The heralds announced the end of the intermission. Merchants scurried back to their seats; even the nobles hurried a little, unwilling to miss the drama. Gareth easily sent Sagramore to the turf in the first match; Dinadan dispatched Ozanna with similar ease in the next.
The crowds showed mild displeasure when Lancelot and Gawain met up this early. But they’d met in the finals so often that Guardemaine frequently paired them earlier just so we could see somebody new. Sword and shield of Hermes, they were beautiful. They made six passes, displaying a skill that most of us could only dream about. Then, with the agreement of Guardemaine, they got off their horses and had at each other on foot. The match went on for a long time before Gawain slipped just enough for Lancelot to catch him behind the knee and send him to the ground. They embraced when it was over.
And then it was G of Berwick’s turn. The crowds were on their feet, stamping and whistling and screaming their heads off as he rode into the arena. His shield, which he’d hung on the low wall of the lists, had a strange device on it, a pair of crossed spears entwined by a grapevine. Meant nothing to me.
Dagonet was a broad-chested, hot-tempered brawler who liked to get in close and mix it close. He didn’t want any part of this young whippersnapper’s technique and did his best to close the gap and get at him. But G easily fended him off. His horse would leap to the side just as they closed, as if he were trained to do exactly that. “Fight like a man, boy!” Dagonet roared after the second pass. But G just went on about his deliberate business.
When they were lined up for the fourth pass, Dagonet shook his fist at G. “This ain’t some backwater tournament in the sticks of Brittany, boy. This here’s Camelot. I don’t care who you’ve beaten with your girly ways so far. If you want to beat me, you gotta come get a piece of me before I get a piece of you.”
G merely shrugged.
Dagonet spurred his steed and charged furiously, setting a course so that they would actually cross paths and his opponent wouldn’t be able to merely dodge aside as he’d been doing. G put his horse into a little cantor, and then just before they met, wheeled around so that the two of them were heading in the same direction. As Dagonet pulled up—if he didn’t slow he’d crash into the stands—G slipped his bâton around him from behind and held on while his horse dug his hooves in. Dagonet, braced for any possible blow from the front, slid backwards over his horse’s ass and onto the ground. It was so sudden and so neatly done, afterwards I wondered if I had seen it correctly. If this boy was going to be around for awhile—and it looked like he would be—we were going to have to add a few rules.
Dagonet was furious, snatching up his stick and preparing to continue to battle from the ground. But Arthur yelled, “Hold” and the heralds sounded their horns. Dagonet slammed down his weapon and stalked from the lists as the crowds went nuts.
Down to four, and G was still in. A much shorter break and then back at it.
Apparently it was a day for quickness over strength, because Dinadan unexpectedly bested Gareth. And now it was Lancelot and G’s turn.
You could hardly stand the noise as the two rode in together and faced the crowds. Side by side, G looked like a younger version of Lancelot. Hmm. One of Old Ban’s late-in-life bastards and Lancelot’s half brother, perhaps?
Their match was everything one could ask for. The crowd hushed as the two survived pass after pass, near miss after near miss. But I began to notice a pattern. Lancelot, a score of years older than his opponent, was tired. G had Lancelot sideways in the saddle, unbalanced and hanging on for his life, on three separate occasions but didn’t finish him off.
On the next pass, G made a mistake when he swerved into Lancelot instead of away from him. Lancelot put his fake war stick right in G’s breastbone, and the momentum of the charge left the youngster lying across the back of the horse, one hand clutching the saddle, feet inches from the turf.
But before G’s feet touched the ground, Lancelot leapt off his horse. “No more, no more. I yield while I still can, before I lose what little honor I have achieved thus far.”
“Nay, sire, it is I who yield,” answered his opponent, who slid off the horse and stood before Lancelot. “Your blow was fair and felled me truly. Your well-deserved reputation as unbeatable is still intact.”
“So now we must fight on to see who will have the privilege of losing? Well, at least tell me your name, Sir Knight of the Crossed Spears and Vines.”
“Sire, I am Galahad of Berwick, son of the greatest knight who has ever lived, Sir Lancelot.”
These words, just audible in the front rows of the stands, spread through the crowds like fire on a thatched roof. Meanwhile, Lancelot stood stunned and speechless for a moment before throwing his arms around his son and welcoming him to Camelot.