THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXVIII: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Arthur was sickened by what had happened. Deeply despondent, he refused to even go through the motions of ruling. I sat on my cedar pedestal for weeks without so much as a glimpse of him. Kay made decisions and issued orders in the King’s name and tried to hold it all together. But although he certainly had the brains to rule, he didn’t have the charisma.
Guinevere took refuge in a convent, but even so, the Young Companions refused to let it go. They wanted her tried for treason. And now they had a new leader—Mordred. He called for an assembly of the Knights of the Round Table to proclaim that he was Arthur’s son and defy the king to deny it.
“I don’t deny it at all,” Arthur pronounced.”You are my son, though bastard by birth. And by personality as well, it seems. I promised Lot you’d be my heir, but I can’t wait that long. Take it. Everything east of the Welsh border. Camelot and all. It’s yours now.”
So the King and about forty of the companions left Camelot and retired to Caerleon. Most of the knights were the oldest of the companions, crusty warriors who had fought at Arthur’s side for the better part of three decades. But Gareth went, blaming Agravain rather than the king for his brother’s death. And Galahad, who adored the older knights and disdained the ignobility of the younger ones, stayed with Arthur as well.
Knowing that, the Queen wouldn’t be safe in Mordred’s realm, convent or not, Arthur took her along, too. Forgave her for anything she had done or might have done without prying; offered her back her old place at his side and in his bed. But she refused to forgive herself, retiring to another convent not far from his new stronghold.
Tidbits of news trickled in from Camelot. Mordred proclaimed the realm to be officially Christian. Sir Ignatius, the rabid priest who had promulgated the false grail scheme, was invited back as archbishop. In the absence of a queen, Morgause took up residence as her son’s chief advisor.
Winter came and went, while Arthur grieved and the knights moped. Then one fine spring day, an emissary from Mordred arrived to deliver an ultimatum. Arthur would surrender Guinevere to be Mordred’s queen and the Holy Grail as her dowry. Or prepare to lose his soul fighting to keep her.
And thus ended the legend that was Arthur. Not is some glorious campaign, desperately holding back the tide of the Saxons who would ultimately prevail as Britain’s next rulers. Not as Arturis, sword of the emperor, leading the flower of the finest cavalry in the world to the continent to aid embattled Rome. But on some meaningless battlefield in a misty valley somewhere in Wales, the location of which has been lost.
Galahad as the Grail Knight carried me into battle, tucked in a special holster secured to his scabbard. So I was able to see a little of what took place. There were no great armies, no auxiliaries, no bands of indifferently armed peasants. Just two groups of dismounted knights, perhaps a hundred on their side, half that many on ours. Silently facing each other from a little distance as the mists swirled and shifted. Then Gawain screamed a challenge and the two sides charged each other.
No shield wall here, and no quarter either. The handful of fights I saw were mostly between two knights, or occasionally one of ours and two of theirs. As if this were an endless series of trials by combat, up close and personal, until only one side remained. I watched one of the enemy warriors dispatch his opponent, then wait until Galahad had done the same before engaging him. Apparently some sense of honor or the companionship they’d shared kept the no-holds-barred aspects of warfare at bay. Some of the battles lasted a long time, but eventually the loser bled out his life on the soggy ground while the victor went off in search of someone new to kill.
Our side had an edge in talent, theirs in numbers. If Lancelot had been there, we’d have kicked their rebellious asses and returned home. But he wasn’t, and we didn’t.
Then Galahad went down from a blow I didn’t see. And there was Mordred, wiping his blade on Galahad’s tunic, having just stabbed him in the back. A little treachery to tip the odds in his favor.
After that, I didn’t see any more. The sounds of swords clashing grew fewer. Eventually night fell.
Dawn came, with a mist so thick nothing was visible. The valley was totally silent. No clang of metal, no women keening, no birds even. The sun grew brighter, the mists thinned a little. And still nothing stirred.
As dusk grew closer, I could make out the sound of someone moving about. A jingle of metal, an occasional grunt of effort.
And then somebody rolled Galahad’s body over.
“Oho, so what have we here? Could this be it?”
A clean-shaven man plucked me from my holster and held me up for inspection. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had finally met the infamous Father Ignatius.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXVIII: OUTTAKES
So the king and about forty of the companions left Camelot and moved to Caerleon.
“Is that the city in South Wales? Do you know?”
Caerleon apparently meant ‘Camp of the Legion’ or ‘City of the Legion. ’ There were two on the Wales border, one on the south coast, the other on the Dee River in the north. We weren’t there very long, and I don’t know anything that would allow me to determine which one we were residing in.
“So what good are you?”
Well, rumors are that I can talk women out of their panties.
“Get thee behind me, Satan!”
* * *
“So you didn’t actually see King Arthur and Mordred kill each other, like in the stories? Sir Bedivere take Excalibur and throw it in the lake? The wounded king carried away to the Isle of Avalon on a barge rowed by Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake and another queen or two? There ‘to rest and heal until the world once again has need of heroes? ’ None of that?”
Sorry. Once Mordred stabbed Galahad in the back, I could see this little patch of sky, part of his lifeless arm, and a lot of leaves and dirt.
“So maybe the legends are true and he didn’t die there.”
Maybe so. I would think he might have come and rescued me if he had lived. But maybe not. Particularly when you consider he never picked me up when he was alive.
“Well, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I’m going with it. The whole Once and Future King bit.”
You’re writing fiction, dear. Just write anything you like.