This one’s a short stand-alone I wrote back in ’04. It’s set in medaeval Europe, sometime after the events of King Arthur’s time.
It is, of course, my own work, and not to be republished or sold. Enjoy.
“I am old,” I tell him. “My eyes do not work like they used to. Give me your hand.” The boy does so, prattling on as he leads me to the table. I see the lights of the hall and I think about my youth. The roast greets my nostrils with all the spice it ever had, the spices of Jerusalem. Bright figures stand indistinctly about, underneath the lights. I smell the running mead. “Is this heaven?” I wonder aloud.
“Nay, ‘tis the hall of the abbey at Glastonbury, milord,” says the boy. “I am sister-son to the abbess here.” My wound, also, tells me it is not heaven, for such a scar will not stand in the Presence: I got it from the friend whom I betrayed. If it was heaven, too, she would be here. She was very like heaven. She with hands as white as Gabriel’s wings, filled with the Seven Graces. I sought love from her, the first time, on the field at Bath-Hill. I gave to her my seven deadly sins.
I have not seen her since she left my camp in France, her hair greying, drawn back in braids. She held her head high, through regal habit, and did not look back. I sat and cried all that night, but it had to be, for the salvation of us both. That morning I had killed three men to save her life. The next morning I killed her truest friend to save my own. On the third the bastard’s message came from London, and the fighting was over; the war had begun. But now, here we are at the table, and I see my knife in front of me. A knife is very like a sword, you know.
“I was the greatest of them all, once. The greatest knight of all.” The boy says nothing. He guides my unsteady hand to the silver flagon in front of me. It is bright like Arthur’s crown, and I tell him so.
“What’s that, sir?” Is he only humouring me?
“It is bright, boy. The cup is bright,” I say again.
“Yes, it is silver, sir.” Silver was the metal she adored most. It stood for purity, she told me once, wistfully. Her husband was hunting with Gareth and Percy that day. I had loved silver like I loved her, but now it galls me and I don’t know why. But I drink from it tonight. We were passionate, she and I.
What does the good Lord do to traitors? Where does my father Judas lie? But I have confessed, done penance for my soul, walked to Rome on weary feet. My very name was hateful to me, so I laid it aside at the Holy Sepulchre. I am now but a poor palmer, returning from Jerusalem. A blind man in a dark world. I remember her touch—gentle, fey. Her walk was always stately, magnifique as my mother would have called it. I killed three—no, seven men better than I, and I broke my best friend’s heart for her, and destroyed the kingdom that once was. In my nostrils I smell again the blood of the man I killed last for her. His limbs lay raw and red before my eyes. Here it is—no, it is only the red, hot veal on the trencher before me. I decline the bloody meat, and pass it on.
Our hostess has arrived, the herald cries. We all stand to our feet for the Abbess in her habit and her train. Tall black figures stride down between the tables. She holds herself erect, and the tallest of the nuns behind her walks shorter than does she. The movements of her wimple take me back, but I must hold on—if I go back now these old legs will give way and I will fall. The tall, the dim lady is level with me now. She has stopped, is turning towards me. For the first time in five forsaken years I see a face, a real face. It is the face of the mother abbess, and of another lady, long ago. The abbess approaches, addresses me.
“Is it thou, knight of the lake?” she asks me. It is the voice.
“My queen, ‘tis I, though no more knight. Is’t thou?”
“Yes,” says the abbess softly. “‘Tis I, Launcelot.”
“They told me falsely, Lady. They said this was not heaven.”
Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments.