For Questing Fools everywhere…
The Holy Grail: is it the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper? A more ancient vessel of healing and longevity? Or perhaps a Celtic cauldron offering wisdom to its seeker, only satisfying those with heroic qualities? For centuries it has been discussed, debated, dreamt of, and occasionally actively sought. What might it have been like for the eager knights of King Arthur’s court to quest after this legendary artifact, the object of their greatest adventures?
Arthurian expert Dale Geraldson offers a glimpse of the old heroes, one unlike the other renditions which have come before. Here are the younger knights of the realm: the daydreaming errant and the headstrong offspring of one of Arthur’s champions. Together these two will venture forth in the name of Camelot.
For the dream is fading from ancient Britain. Arthur has reigned for more than a score of years, but benefits no longer from Merlin’s wise counsel nor the idealism felt when he first took the crown. Camelot has earned the rank of greatness, but not without cost. As dark elements from the past threaten rebellion, Arthur must trust in his knights to preserve the legacy of his vision.
|Publisher:||Stone Ring Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 2.00(d)|
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PART ONE: FOOLISH YOUTH
The water looked so peaceful, drifting under the bridge. The girl loved watching its ceaseless flow, quiet but indomitable, with no one to answer to, no one to judge it.
It was Galienne's favorite spot, this bridge which spanned the cool river Wey. It offered her a view of the small tradeships unloading their treasured cargoes, of the town's children running about in the busy streets, of the comings and goings of Astolat's citizens. She cherished these glimpses, especially when she knew the people she watched. Growing up in the city, she felt she knew every last foot of it.
At least she had a break from her labors. Her mother, Elaine, had been helping her to close the seams on a new tapestry, and Galienne stuck with it diligently, but continued to have trouble finishing the work. It would have to wait until later. Her fingers already had thick calluses which were all but immune to the poking of needles, even the fine and sharp ones Elaine preferred. Elaine was the finest seamstress in Astolat.
Galienne looked about the city. The sight of the perimeter walls always comforted her, even though tales of the Garmani invaders breaching those walls dated to the years just prior to her birth. Astolat lay at the east end of Arthur's domain; Londinium was the only city closer to those lands the Garmani settled and plowed as their own. She had never met a Garmani before, and her mother's stories made her curious. She sometimes wished she could seek out some Easterner to befriend, but couldn't of course. The local populace would not tolerate that, such was their loathing of the foreigners.
Galienne wondered what the outsiders would be like. Being of Cymru stock but Roman civilization, almost all of the people she knew had much in common with her: a sense of order, ornate architecture, strict laws, regular hygienic habits (one of the legendary bath houses was right in Astolat, and Elaine would sometimes take Galienne to visit it as a special treat). The men kept their faces shaved, hair combed, pride swollen. The women were always shown their place: hearth, field, or shop. It was difficult to keep a secret in Astolat. Galienne had tried to keep two of them.
It was one thing for her to study Latin; almost everyone in the land spoke Cymru, except for the Garmani, with their gruff dialect, and the Picts to the far north. Galienne had even heard a few phrases in something Continental: French, she surmised, and she wanted to learn that, too. But girls weren't supposed to learn; they were supposed to master their family trades, and hope for suitable marriages to better their stations in life. But Latin! That was the tongue of the educated, and the educated were male.
She grinned, overlooking the city. She felt her own pride as her eyes took in the steeple of the Astolat cathedral. That was where the Bible lay. Books were priceless; this was the only one Galienne had ever seen. Not even her best friend Lupinia knew how much time she spent in there. Bishop Baudwin, the patriarch of Camelot itself, performed the Mass here last Christmas, and was intrigued to find this girl standing at the dais hours after the service, gently inspecting the holy text. It was an immense tome, leather-bound and hand-stitched, the pages thick and fibrous, each lovingly illustrated and painstakingly copied from an original.
"Six monks labored almost a year to produce it," the voice behind her had said that day.
Galienne had immediately withdrawn from the masculine tone, stifling a yelp. "I-I'm sorry," she said. How would Elaine scold her for this?
"It's all right, child. Tell me, do you know how to read?"
She was so taken aback by the question she could only shake her head.
"Well then, perhaps we could work on that," Baudwin added. Galienne thought he was teasing her, all the way up until he stood next to her, and inquired as to her favorite Book.
"I'm sorry, your Worship. I don't know. Your sermon sounded lovely, but I just didn't understand much of it. All that Latin."
And he laughed, and she was unsure how to respond. Then he grew more serious. "Everyone who attends a service should be able to comprehend its lessons. Come. I have some time now. Let us start."
He was elated to have such an eager pupil, and never seemed to care that she was a girl. She discovered that the nuns learned to read, but never admitted to him that a nunnery sounded quite dull to her. Baudwin stayed in the city for several days following that first lesson, and Galienne took to the new skill quickly, craving new knowledge. She had been to Camelot on occasion, accompanying her mother as she periodically took her wares to the grander marketplace, and always sought out the bishop for additional study. He continued to encourage her. Even the local priest, the spiritless man who preached to Astolat's crowds on holy days, was ignorant of the girl's practice; he thought she came to pray.
Such was the first detail she wished to keep secret, but no one else knew about the second one. She had good cause for hesitancy: the local young people, even Galienne's own mother, taunted her for wanting to learn to read, and the curious girl could only imagine the ridicule she would invite if people learned of what she could see.
Her visions still terrified more often than comforted. Galienne liked not to think about them at all, but they would not go away. Indeed, they occurred more frequently recently, and with greater clarity. The most recent one was of the two knights, leading the beating back of a Garmani revolt to the east. She could not see King Arthur dispatching them, nor those who saw them on their way as they left Camelot behind. But she was able to make out the details of the pair of them as they rode on, rallying the Romanized landholders on to quash the Garmani upstarts before the flames of rebellion had any chance to fan. She could have even picked out their shield designs, were either of them to cross over the bridge toward her now.
But who were they? she craved to know. That was the unfair part. She used to think that she just had an overactive imagination; after all, considering her mother, that trait surely ran in the family! But still ... the visions always were so real, more vivid than dreams, more lucid than a storyteller's yarn. Galienne could make out so much detail, and all it left her with was the desire to know more.
Which was heresy, of course; wanting to know more than one's fair share, or receiving sendings from some demonic source were sins, to put it mildly. What would people say? She couldn't let Elaine find out, or bishop Baudwin. Maybe she could tell Lupinia.
Galienne's best friend was what her mother called a free spirit. Never one to judge, always one to listen, and certainly out for a good time, Lupinia came from a well off merchant family, dealing with the profitable but odoriferous leather trade. Practically, this meant she got to go to Camelot often, partly to help her father, and partly to gain the attention of suitors, especially knights. Both she and her father wanted her to marry well; Galienne never thought that would prove difficult.
But how might Lupinia respond to all this? Galienne was supposed to meet her here on the bridge, so maybe she could tell her then ...
"How long have you been here?" the familiar musical voice chimed.
Galienne turned toward the sound. "Lupy! Finally. Where were you?"
"Working." Flirting with someone, Galienne thought. "I was helping Father get ready for his next trade trip, and just singing." She grinned, the luscious locks of her dark hair swirling about her curved face. "And you haven't answered my question."
"I've been down here a while, since that ship arrived."
"You still want to take that boat trip, don't you?" Galienne nodded. "That's a trade ship. Father's used that one before. Looks like they're taking on a load of grain." That was all the small talk Lupy wanted. "So, what are we doing tonight?"
Galienne shrugged, not really wanting to respond. "I just thought we'd take a stroll down by the bathhouse, and maybe get something to eat." She knew Lupinia adored baths, anything to help get the smell of leather and tanning away from her. Neither of them had much love of the urine and guano from various species which often went into the creation of good leather.
Lupinia brightened at once. "You mean casually walk by all those sexy bathers, and loiter about in a local tavern?" Her friend blushed. "I don't want to spy on anyone. But Mother and I just sold those dresses we finished last month, and she's actually given me some of the money. I haven't eaten outside the house since –"
"Since we flirted with those squires in that place on East Gate Street."
"You flirted with them, not me."
"Oh, dear little Galienne. You know we share the same faith. When are you going to let yourself have some fun? God doesn't care. I think He wholeheartedly approves."
"Lupy, you know that's not what we're taught."
"Well, whatever we're taught in church might affect our souls. But I'm telling you, why shouldn't we be allowed a bit of joy in our lives, too? You spend too much time listening to your mother."
Galienne hated that, because she knew her friend was right. "You commit no sin tonight, is that clear?"
Lupinia crossed herself, grinning. "None of the seven deadlies from this young angel, I promise. Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?"
The younger girl sighed as they started walking through town. If you only knew. But can I tell you the truth?
* * *
Sixteen dozen miles northwest, a young man was angry and tired, perched atop one of Cambria's endless grassy and rock-strewn hills, feeling the sweat tighten his skin as it already began to dry. The day finally was beginning to cool, and Perceval watched the huge deer sprint further and further away, until it disappeared into the labyrinth of what the native Cymru proudly called mountains.
I should have had it, he thought; I know my aim is better than that. And I never should have left Dindraine alone with the sheep.
The herd animals provided enough on which to live. They might be used by the family in their village of Oerfa, or traded to one of the other neighboring raths. Perceval took pride in his mother's trust, though today was the first time he relinquished control to his younger sister. Dindraine had gone into the hills with him enough times, so why shouldn't she be able to do the job herself? Besides, the prospect of bringing down the stag was just too much for him to resist.
His skin felt warm and snug now, and he stood up again. He knew he had to return to Dindraine before nightfall, and the sky was already beginning to glow, no longer orange and blue, but the deepening reddish-purple of a summer sunset, extending outward forever. He glanced upward. Where do the clouds go? he wondered. How far does the land go, before the world ends? Can the birds fly there? He smiled. So often he wanted to be anywhere but the tiny rath in which he had been raised.
"Ble mae'r gwaywffon, twpsyn?" was the sound which brought him back from the realm of the birds.
He only then noticed that he had wandered clear back to the hill where he left Dindraine and the herd; he had passed the time daydreaming, mostly recounting his failed hunt. It rubbed at him, especially since Perceval knew how to kill; he was blooded by the hunt already, once leading a snarling boar to the rath so the warriors could dispatch it. His mother had threatened to kill him for that stunt.
"What?" was his delirious reply, his mind still fantasizing.
"Your javelin, bone-head. Where did you leave it?"
He hadn't even considered it. Then he remembered: he last saw it falling somewhere near the stag, after his hasty and surprisingly inaccurate throw. Curses! Now he would be in trouble. He couldn't believe he forgot; had he really been that out of it? His family was not exactly known for their rich coffers; javelins cost. It was already too late to look for it, and he didn't think it would last long exposed to the weather. He shook his head. Dindraine seized the moment.
"Ha! You foolishly leave me here to watch the sheep, and you go and lose the javelin. What if some wolves attack us?" Dindraine had never even seen a wolf, though she often resented how their mother kept harping on about how responsible Perceval was, and now this.
"There are no wolves out here, you ugly little hag." This insult, of course, was one of the older brother's retorts to his younger sibling's prodding. While he had only rarely seen wolves and never worried about them, he likewise had never seen a hag, nor knew of any, except maybe for the witch who lived outside the village. Kundry she was called, although the villagers stayed far enough from her to avoid having to call her anything at all.
"Am not. I'm telling Mother what you called me!"
"You started it."
"Uh-uh. You did. You did, by chasing something you could never catch, and by being so stupid in the process."
Perceval misjudged the act accused of idiocy. "It wasn't stupid."
Dindraine could hardly believe it. "How could losing the javelin not be stupid?!"
"I meant chasing the stag. It wasn't stupid. Haven't you ever chased after anything you couldn't catch? Not even for just the excitement of it?"
There was little reply to that. Dindraine opened her mouth, instinctively expecting to throw something back at her brother, and could feel her cheeks warm when nothing came out. "Well, no," was all she managed.
"I really thought I could have bagged it, that's all. I'm sorry I left you here. I just got too excited." Perceval was in no mood to continue the bickering, especially since they had to get the sheep from their grazing hill back to their evening pen, or else maybe his sister would get to see some wolves after all. He felt defenseless without the lost weapon, though he never understood how some of the people he knew hated wolves; they'd never bothered him or his family before.
"Let's just get back. It's getting late," he told Dindraine, not looking at her.
"But tell me about the hunt."
"I don't want to," he answered, less than proudly.
"Please," she whined, giving him her best imitation of the sort of look he might get from their dogs when they wanted treats. "It's the least you can do, after running away."
"Fine," he conceded as they started to walk. "But let's get the others first."
They called the dogs, Cabal and Dannedd, who never seemed to tire. They came trotting over, encircling the sheep along the way. Dogs and humans finished regrouping their woolly responsibilities, and silently turned towards home.
Wouldn't Mother have been proud, Perceval thought, trying to ignore his earlier considerations of her rebuking him for this, if I could have only caught up to the beast, and brought it down. It was just like him to be primarily concerned with what his mother would think, and he never even considered just how he might have managed to haul such a sizable carcass back to Oerfa.
"It had sixteen points, I'm sure of it!" he told her excitedly.
"You'd need four hands to count that high," she chided him. He briefly considered smacking her. "Why did you want it so badly?"
"I wanted to be like it, just run with it, all the way to the end of the world, maybe. Does that make any sense?"
Dindraine nodded, enjoying that image as much as her brother. They often spoke of what life might be like if they could leave Oerfa behind. "How did it get away?" she asked, not wanting to think about home right then.
"Oh, I got close to it, hiding behind a tree, and then stepped on and broke a twig, of all things. The noise scared it off. Hey, it's not funny."
Dindraine couldn't help laughing at him, picturing him giving chase to something much faster and stronger, alerted to his presence by his own clumsiness. "It sounds like it was teasing you."
"Perceval, that thing could have changed its mind and come right after you. It didn't. It's like it wanted to see how close you'd come."
Perceval thought about it. He wondered if a stag could be that bright.
The surrounding countryside ignored his storytelling.
They hiked through a valley isolated from most of the known world by mountains and rugged hills. The Plimlimmons lay westward; Mother said to never go there. Snowdonia perched far to the northwest, and they thought they could actually see it sometimes.
Perceval remarked about how good the cool wind felt at their backs. He almost felt cold now, with the sweat in his clothes still drying. His thoughts returned to his conception of the end of the world. It did not sound bad to him at all, especially right then, to just keep on walking and walking until the world ended, if for no other reason than to enjoy the view along the way. He wondered what it would be like to actually get there; he was just feeling tired of home. What would the people be like at the world's end? How exactly did it end, gradually, or all at once? Was it just dark there; was that the end? Or did everything just go there to die?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dreamers of the Grail"
Copyright © 2011 Edwin Wollert.
Excerpted by permission of Stone Ring Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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