Onward he rode, / the trees dead about
him / For I have slain the one true king / And I am cursed and
Lancelot by an unknown poet,
After the battle
Lancelot rode through the forest, his
body sore from blows and hunger, whilst his memory was full of the sights of
Hell; soldiers lying dead in their armour or crying in pain, the horses, slain
in their hundreds, covered in flies and feasted upon by crows, and the grass
stained dark red with blood. Worst of all, his beloved king, Arthur, whom
he had betrayed, staggering away with a sword through his guts and then
collapsing dead under an apple tree. And pressing down upon him, so could
barely breath, was the knowledge that it was all his doing.
After the Battle of Camlann, almost half
a year ago now, he had ridden away from Camelot, leaving his squire and his
armour behind, he was wounded but this bothered him not as he had been wounded
many times before, his body a mass of white scars, scars that Guinevere loved
to kiss and trace with her forefinger. And where was she, Camelots
Queen? Mourning her husband and the death of all that is heroic and
chivalrous. Did she hate him he wondered, the last sight of her had been those
brown eyes looking at him with horror and fear, before she turned away to run
after her Lord who had caught them by the lake, naked and in each others
After being caught Guinevere had hidden
herself away in the depth of the castle, whilst Arthur had sunk into despair,
his ager turning inwards rather than towards Lancelot who deserved it. The
ever-watchful Mordred seized his chance and marched to attack the weak kingdom
and its impotent king. At Camlann the two armies fought from first light until
well into the evening when all the main protagonists were either dead, or like
Lancelot incapable of striking another blow, Lancelot who had gone where the
slaughter was thickest in the hope that he would die, but God would not even
grant him that.
Lancelot had been riding through this
forest for almost a day, a dark-haunted place with no sound, not even the cries
of birds or the howling of the many wild creatures that hunted in these parts.
The world truly smelt different since the battle, a smell of blood and damp
which was everywhere; an era was over, an era of bravery, of rescuing the
persecuted and fighting the wicked, a time when goodness was possible, and one
could strive for perfection. But when the temptation to do evil, Guinevere seen
emerging from a lake with breasts so much larger than he had expected, he had
barely even bothered with token resistance, but taken her and not cared who he
hurt in so doing.
He heard the faintest of noises, a
footfall, which woke him from his reverie and he realised that there were three
men cautiously coming towards him, all armed with swords, one who had ventured
closer and grabbed his horses bridle, Lancelot kicked him hard and the
man fell, and then he leapt off his horse, sword in hand. The three men
hesitated which gave him the chance he needed to stab the nearest of them in
the stomach, who fell with a scream, the other two advanced but he knew how to
fight surely and swiftly, so that soon all three were lying on the ground
before him, wounded but none dead.
Who are you? he
Just poor men trying to earn a
living. A young man spoke, blonde and tough but clearly without food, he
winced and held his thigh where Lancelot had stabbed him, how else can we
earn a living in these times? Our village was destroyed a few days ago, we
tried to fight but they were too much for us, they took some of our young women
and the rest either were killed or like us managed to escape.
But who are they? He
They shout the name of Mordred,
but we dont know who that is. They take and murder, they are not the
first, but in the past we have managed to fight them off, but not this
Mordred is dead Lancelot
told them, but his name is a symbol and people still use
The young man nodded, we fled to
the forest, and have tried to stay alive; there are few animals to kill so we
waylay passers-by and steal from them, but you are the first we have seen for
Launcelot did his best to bandage their
wounds and they built a fire and ate some food that he had in his saddle
Why has this happened?, the
young man asked even the wild animals have disappeared.
He shrugged, Arthur is dead, now
we need to fight for ourselves.
All these kings, it is us the poor
who get hurt, not the rich and powerful. The young man paused a moment
and chewed some tough meat. I blame the Jews. He continued,
Arthur should have rid them from his kingdom.
The killers of Christ, they are
driven out of every land now they have settled here to practice their strange
rites and to kill our children.
The four of them continued to eat and
then they slept around the fire, Lancelot not fully asleep in case they tried
to attack him again. At daybreak he left them, asleep and vulnerable curled up
together; ready victims for whoever found them first, that is if they survived
from the wounds he had inflicted upon them. They did not wake as he
mounted his horse and rode away.
What kind of world have I brought
about? he asked himself. Leagues away wolves howled; hungry and
He came out of the woods and a moor
stretched onwards before him, bleak and cold; in the distance he saw a bear,
upright against the skyline and he gripped his sword just in case it headed
towards him, but it went back onto four legs and lumbered away towards the
West. Ahead of him the moor seemed endless and barren, leaving him feeling
exposed as he rode onwards, the only figure on the landscape.
Launcelot rode through villages that
looked half-made and with inhabitants who were poor and desperate; everywhere
he went he heard the same story of random attacks by violent men, of plagues of
insects that destroyed crops and of rivers and lakes turned bitter and
undrinkable. He wondered if England had always been like this, if he had just
not been aware living in luxury in Camelot where danger and hardship were
chosen not forced upon you. Could the country have changed so swiftly in a
matter of months? Could the death of Arthur have really rent England asunder?
The sky looked grey and heavy with clouds, with rarely a sight of sun, and
there was rain, not a cleansing rain but drizzle that smelt of smoke and was
sticky, as if there were poison in it.
He was running out of food now; his
saddlebags were virtually empty, and he had not come across any wild game to
replenish them with, whilst crops lay dead in the fields, and trees gave forth
grey and withered fruit. His stomach felt sore with lack of sustenance and his
mouth fetid and disgusting from the water he was forced to drink.
He came across a village on a hill,
appearing to be built in the shell of a ruined castle; a group of children came
out and stared at him as he dismounted and walked towards them. There were
wooden huts in a circle and they looked in better condition than those he had
come across previously. An older man came out of a hut, perhaps an elder of the
Who are you? he asked. His
accent was not one Lancelot had come across before and he barely understood it.
Behind the elder were men and women from the town who stared at the stranger,
and soon the whole town joined them.
A poor knight. I have not eaten
for several days. I have silver and other items to pay with.
They took him to a large hall and gave
him a bowl of vegetable stew. The Elder, who said his name was Lucas, sat at
Where are you from? he asked
the Knight as he ate.
The South, I have just been
wandering, trying to find peace.
The man laughed bitterly, I doubt
you will find that. We too are looking to move on, find somewhere more fertile.
Our animals have died; either of fever or carried off by wolves. A year or two
ago we would have given you a magnificent welcome but now all we can offer you
is this. And the man gestured with contempt at what was left in the bowl,
which in truth had been tasty, certainly more toothsome than anything else he
had eaten since he was at Court.
He was given a bed in a small hut, again
Lucas apologised for the poverty of what he was being offered, but it proved to
be comfortable, certainly more so than the earth, where he been used to taking
his rest. As he started to drift off to sleep the door of the hut opened and a
young woman wearing just a shift which she was undoing as she entered, walked
in and crossed over to his bed. She had long straight hair and her breasts
glowed faintly in the moonlight. It had been a long time since he had lain in
the arms of a woman, and after Guinevere he had thought it would not happen
again, but he was too tired to resist and what followed was like a beautiful
Afterwards he started to doze and only
faintly heard her leaving him. He turned to settle but then his horse whimpered
and grabbing his sword, which fortuitously he had left under his bed, Launcelot
strode naked out into the night. The whole village was packed and ready to
leave and they were around his horse, feeling the saddle bags.
Away he shouted, and as
Lucas, the elder came at him with a short knife, he decapitated him with one
stroke of his sword. He had kept his sword sharp and true and it hissed as he
swung it. The other villagers stood off, presented with this naked man covered
in scars and swinging a fearsome sword. He leapt onto his horse and swiftly
rode away carrying on towards the North, none of the villagers daring to follow
Days later he rode through a meadow,
which was green and fresh, and through it there flowed a stream which he drank
from and bathed in; for the first time he had come across water that was fresh
and pure, and did not taste of death, it was cold, and above his head the sky
seemed to clear a little and he could see occasional patches of blue behind the
grey. Once dressed and his horse having eaten his full, he followed the stream
leading his horse to rest it. There was almost complete silence, only the
slightest of ripples from the lake and the noise of the horse as he strode
along beside his master.
He came to a small white house which
abutted onto the river, he knocked on the door, but nobody answered, however as
it was clearly lived-in he sat outside and waited for whoever lived there to
return, eventually he fell asleep in the brown grass, his face warmed by the
sunshine. As he slept he dreamed of Guinevere, she was dressed in all her
finery; an emerald cloak and on her head the silver crown, she was walking away
from him down a long path, but every so often she turned to look at him, with
eyes that said, follow me. He tried reach her, urging his
horse on feverishly, but however fast he rode she grew more and more distant.
He shouted her name, but even the sound refused to travel and soon she was a
green speck in the distance. He called her name again and then
The door of the house was open, and he
could smell cooking; a tall, red-haired woman was stirring something in a
You are awake at last she
smiled at him. I had a dream that someone like you might appear, although
I have no idea why.
They dined together, cooked flesh for
the first time since he could remember, and he ate until he could not eat
anymore. The woman looked at him with pity, she was dressed in rags but was
striking in her beauty.
Where you live, it doesnt
seem affected by the blight of elsewhere.
She shrugged, I am a wise woman,
or a witch as the locals call me, I know what say, what spells to cast. But
there is so much darkness coming from all sides, so that soon even this place
will be overrun.
He told her of Guinevere and of the
dream that he had.
Did you not think of going after
She is the Queen, or was, my
betrayal of Arthur was such a wicked thing, this is not a romance and what I
did was past everything.
Do you know where she is
now? she asked.
I believe that she is in a
nunnery, begging God for forgiveness.
Or for you to come to her
But the world has fallen apart
because of my actions.
The world is always falling
apart. Arthur was at fault, Mordred, your companions, do not take
everything on to you.
She leant over and kissed him hard, and
for a moment he felt forgiven and at peace. He slept alone, and when he awoke
most refreshed, she had left the hut but there was food for him on the table
for breakfast and provisions for the journey ahead.
Perhaps she was right Lancelot thought,
he set off heading to the South, at last he had a purpose to his
Search for a Queen
For much of his journey he travelled
along by the sea entranced by the waves and the sense of freedom they gave
him. He had heard that Guinevere was in Bangor and so headed towards
Wales, it was just a rumour, a voice in the wind, but it was all he had, and it
was somewhere to go to, if she wasnt there he could try elsewhere.
As he was riding he overtook a man
wearing a large hat who was also on horseback, he seemed peaceable and the two
men rode in step.
Who are you? Lancelot
Abraham and he bowed
slightly, I am a Rabbi, but a Rabbi without a
He looked young with barely a beard, but
if you gazed into his eyes there was something ancient in there, ancient and
strong, and he seemed finely built, as if he could fight if called upon to do
Where did your congregation
The Rabbi smiled, I was sent over
from Germany where I had been studying, but when I arrived in Lincoln, where I
was due to teach, there were no Jews, the local people blamed them for the poor
weather, so they drove them out, those that they didnt
What are you doing
I will look, somebody will need
me. I used to live here in England, but it has changed so much even just two
For the better?
For better and for worse. Before
persecution of Jews was by the King and his courtiers, now it is by the
discontented. I am not sure which is worse. But at least the weather was
better before, and crops grew in the fields.
The two men continued on into Wales, the
sea, which lay on the right of them, looked dark and dangerous, sometimes a
strange head would emerge from the waves, some creature from the depths, or was
it just a trick of light on the sea? They saw birds overhead, but they
were all heading away from land towards the sea and to other countries and
dominions and one damp morning, as Launcelot arose he looked up and there in
the distance he saw something large and stately slowly flying away.
A dragon he murmured almost
to himself, if they are leaving then the kingdom is
That Friday evening the two men ate
together, they had done all their work before the sun fell and so were able to
rest for the sabbath. Abraham talked of Moses and the children of Israel in the
desert, and then quoted from Jeremiah and the Psalms. They had made camp in a
grove of trees, peaceful and warm, the two men rested and talked of their
pasts, not setting off again until Sunday morning. Launcelot had been baptised,
but with this man of a strange faith he felt closer to God than he had ever
done before, and as they journeyed he asked him more about his beliefs and his
They came across a castle just outside
the large town of Pendrach.
I have stayed here in happier
days he told Abraham but I do not want them to know my name or my
history. When so many are displaced we will not stand out, and it will be good
to escape this rain.
They arrived at the castle as the day
was coming to its end. It was the middle of the summer, but although the sun
was warm, the sky was an everlasting grey, and the land smelt damp with the
continual rain. The two men were let into the castle and were given beds in a
dormitory and an evening meal in the refectory where other travellers and
servants were given food.
As they ate their bread and lentils some
men walked up to the high table and started to eat, Lancelot recognised My Lord
Dafydd, who looked at least twenty years older than he had last time Lancelot
had seen him despite it being less than two summers past, his wife, the
beautiful Lady Myfanwy was not there, and Lancelot hoped that she was abroad
and safe, and not dead. Lancelot and his companion were hidden away at the back
of the hall and thus could not see the high table well, so it was some moments
before he realised who the tall, distinguished looking man was who had come in
with Lord Dafydd, this man he knew as well as anybody, someone who he had
shared adventure and friendship, Gawain, still looking noble but troubled and
grey, at least he had survived the battle. For a moment he thought of Gawain
and remembered his humour and his kindness to all he met, as well as his
bravery which was always lightly worn.
Launcelot did not want to look at his
old friend, but irresistibly his eyes were drawn towards the high table and he
neglected the Rabbi at his side who, realising that his companion was
distracted, soon lapsed into silence. Gawain was facing the throng of soldiers
and travellers, and he seemed to look them over, this continual watchfulness
was a good habit to have particularly now when any man could be desperate, and
all rules of chivalry and hospitality were at an end. For a moment the knight
looked over at Lancelot, and seemed to start, the two mens eyes met, and
they stared at each other, and then Gawain turned and said something to his
host before striding out of the room.
Lancelot was expecting to be dragged out
of the castle or thrown into the dungeon, but he and the Rabbi slept peacefully
and left the next morning without hindrance. They made camp that night
and Lancelot unpacked his saddle bags; fresh food had been put in them and a
flagon of ale, and there at the bottom of the saddle bag was a gold ring that
Lancelot recognised from Gawains hand, something he was never without.
Launcelot wept as he looked at the gifts which Gawain had left for him whilst
Abraham, tactfully built a fire whilst whistling a melody that he had had in
his head all that day.
As they headed towards Bangor they saw
three more dragons at different times during the day, heading out over the sea,
perhaps to Ireland or beyond.
You should be happy Abraham
said, you spent your time slaying dragons, rescuing damsels from their
Oh, that was exaggerated, and they
are noble creatures who hurt no-one. Dragons still belong here, and it troubles
me greatly that they are leaving the country.
They saw a fourth dragon just as they
entered the town of Bangor, it flew directly above their heads, by the looks of
it, it was an ancient creature, perhaps it was alive when the first people
landed on this island, and now it was time to go and find sanctuary elsewhere.
Fire blew from his mouth, and the two men, despite being so far below him,
could smell something dark and primeval as the creature made its way through
Lancelot remembered Bangor when it had
been thriving and full of people from the villages round about, there were
still people but less of them, and they walked with heads bowed and there was
little talk. Lancelot and Abraham were stared at as they rode through the high
street and they were both glad when they were out the other side. The nunnery
was further along and involved climbing what was known as Mynydd Bangor
(Bangors mountain), they walked their horses up the steep hill, down
below them they could see the town, looking less threatening from above and
there were the Menai Straits and on the other side the black Island of
It was getting dark as they reached the
gates for the nunnery, Lancelot knocked loudly on the gate with the handle of
his sword, the sound echoed and then there was silence.
Abraham said Let me try, and
he rapped more gently and the large door was immediately opened by a female
Can we speak to the head sister
please? asked Abraham. The servant looked askance, she was dark and
looked tough, but she shut the door and went back inside. The two men looked at
each other as they waited. After a few moments a nun, grey-haired and gaunt
came out to see them.
I have come to talk to one of your
nuns, Guinevere Lancelot told her
I will see if she will receive
you. Abraham remained outside with the horses whilst Lancelot headed into
The room was clearly for visitors, there
were two chairs and a torch which spluttered, but at least gave light and a
little heat. He sat and thought what he needed to say, his heart trembled at
the thought of seeing Guinevere again. Quietly she entered the room, she looked
even more beautiful in a habit than she had ever done as Queen, her long black
hair was covered but her face looked pale, her eyes brown, holy and calm, and
Launcelot felt daunted for the first time since setting off to find
I wondered if you would try to
find me. She spoke quietly, her accent a strange mixture that he had
never been able to quite place.
It took me awhile. I still love
you my lady, I see no purchase in spending our time mourning the
Why what have you got to offer me?
A castle? Knights to restore order to this benighted island? Or perhaps you
have the Holy Grail, for all men to worship? She paused, perhaps
regretting her sarcasm, and when she spoke again her tone was gentler, I
can do some good here; we help the towns people and it is a place of
safety if they are attacked.
He argued for awhile, but she was
adamant. Whilst he had known that she would need persuading he had thought that
he would eventually prevail.
We have both done wrong, we cannot
have a happy ending, but instead we must strive in our different ways to make
the world right again, to undo the wrong that we have done.
He looked full of woe.
But for how long must we carry on
with this penance?
For as long as we both live, there
is no end to the trouble we have caused, and there should be no end to our
striving to make things better.
But I love you. He told her,
his eyes filled with tears.
There are more important things
than love, the poor have no time for such frivolous emotions they are too busy
trying to survive. You must go now she told him, it has been good
to see you my Lord, but this must be the last time. You need to find your
destiny, you have much to offer, but not with me, not ever with
She turned and left the room and that
was the last that he saw of her. Abraham was still waiting for him at the
nunnery door, and the two men slept outside before setting off before the sun
rose the following morning.
Lancelot and the Rabbi stayed together
for the moment and travelled across the country to Nottingham where Abraham had
heard there was a group of Jews living. They arrived within a fortnight, it was
a magnificent city seemingly less affected by the troubles than elsewhere, much
of Nottingham overlooked the River Trent which flowed out into the distance,
through fields and villages. They rode through the city gate and Abraham found
a small group of Jewish families, enough to form a Minyan and he
Are you staying here?
Abraham asked his friend.
No. My destiny lies
elsewhere, I am glad you have found what you are looking for, but I must keep
Launcelot stayed for a week and then
left the city with supplies and a new horse.
The Knight who refused to
In a small Southern Italian village
there lived a warrior who never grew old; he still looked the same as when he
had ridden into the village many years ago on a white horse with a sword by his
side. He was originally from England but had travelled many miles throughout
Europe and perhaps even further but he now felt compelled to settle down and
live the rest of his life in this small obscure place.
In those days the village was ruled by a
cruel and rapacious baron who took whatever he wanted and laid everything to
waste. The English knight came to his castle one evening with his sword in his
hand and when he left the following morning, the baron and his best soldiers
lay dead and the servants had fled. The Knight then ordered the castle to be
burnt down and declared that there would be no more barons or kings and that if
anybody tried to hurt the village, be it human or daemon, he would protect
them, and he kept his word, although as news of the brave and ruthless Knight
spread, few cared to test him.
The Knight moved into a small house
overlooking the village which had been empty for many years, and there he
settled. Many women came to him, but he refused them all, just allowing
the elderly woman called Gina, who many thought was a witch, to clean and cook
for him, and when she died her daughter took over her duties, and eventually
her daughter in turn. He planted crops around his cottage and he trained the
young men how to fight and to be chivalrous. Only on Friday night, when the sun
set would he stop work and then he prayed and sang songs in a strange tongue
until the sun went down on Saturday night. and that was his day of rest.
Sometimes at night he would look out
over the sea as if he were searching for something, and the young men who
followed him about, would sit with him and respect his silence, a respect due
to such a good and holy man, and then he would sigh and tell them of his past,
of the good king Arthur and his beautiful Queen, and of dragons and brave
What happened to them all?
asked Amadeo, the youngest and most attentive of his followers.
They died many years ago, many in
battle some in old age in a nunnery or a monastery. Even my friend the Rabbi
will be underground, mourned by many.
How could you have known them all,
you still seem young and are so healthy.
Because God has not willed it.
Every morning when I arise from my bed I pray for release, to join my comrades,
and for forgiveness, but I am still alive, serving my penance.
The young men all left him sitting
quietly on the cliff edge, all except Amadeo, whose father was said to be the
Priest and who sang like a nightingale.
I will pray with you he
Thank you the Knight
responded, and the two sat together, huddled together for warmth, and both
prayed in their different ways, using prayers they had been taught by holy men
who loved God. The sea looked black but calm, and in the distance they could
see fishing boats, and there was the moon looking larger than in England, and
brighter. Launcelot thought about his country and hoped that peace had
come to it and decency, and wondered if he and Arthur were remembered, and how.
He had heard that the blight was slowly lifting, and that the country was
becoming civilised again, although it would never be what it once
And then Amadeo started to sing,
quietly at first so that one could hardly hear him, it was as if the sound came
from the sea below and the skies above, but then the words came out true and
clear, as he sang an ancient song from the Italian south about a woman who
falls in love with a merchant who on his way back from a distant land drowned
at sea, and from then on, every night she prayed for him to return to her. And
then one night he did return fresh from his grave covered in seaweed and
smelling of salt and he took his love with him back to the ocean where they
could swim forever.
Amadeo stopped singing and looked down
at the knight by his side; his eyes were closed and his face shone golden in
the dark. Amadeo kissed his forehead, which was cold, and then he hurried
towards the village to call his father, weeping as he ran, for the great knight
was dead and everything was ordinary again.