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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.1

           Gerald Morris
 
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The Quest of the Fair Unknown


  The Quest of the Fair Unknown

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company

  Boston 2006

  * * *

  For

  Laura Crouch

  Bill Mitchell

  John D. W. Watts

  * * *

  Copyright © 2006 by Gerald Morris

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce

  selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,

  215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

  The text of this book is set in 12.5-point Horley Old Style.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963–

  The quest of the Fair Unknown / by Gerald Morris,

  p. cm.

  Summary: Having grown up in an isolated forest, Beaufils sets off for Camelot

  to find his father and winds up undertaking quests with Sirs Gawain and Galahad,

  visiting various hermits, and traveling to the fairy world.

  ISBN 0-618-63152-6

  [1. Knights and knighthood—Fiction. 2. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction.

  3. Identity—Fiction. 4. Gawain (Legendary character)—Fiction.

  5. Galahad (Legendary character)—Fiction. 6. Humorous stories.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785Que 2006 [Fic]—dc22 2005034850

  ISBN-13:978-0618-63152-0

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  MP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  * * *

  Contents

  I BEAUFILS I

  II A TRUE CHRISTIAN KNIGHT 19

  III A CHAIR, A SWORD, AND A PLATTER 38

  IV QUESTING 61

  V THE CARL OF CARLISLE 83

  VI HOLY MEN LIKE FLEAS 107

  VII THE LABORIOUS SAINT 129

  VIII THE TESTING OF SIR BORS 146

  IX THE BLOOD OF A MAIDEN 172

  X A KISS FOR THE DRAGON 199

  XI CARBONEK 218

  XII TRANSFORMATIONS 230

  AUTHOR'S NOTE 261

  * * *

  For this soul had to go forth to perform a deed so heroic and so rare—namely to become united with its Divine Beloved—and it had to leave its house, because the Beloved is not found save alone and without, in solitude.

  —Dark Night of the Soul

  Saint John of the Cross, 1542—1591

  1. Beaufils

  Beaufils gently laid his mother in the hole at the edge of the farmyard, then climbed out and sat in the grass. The day was warm, and digging the hole had been sweaty work. It was what his mother had said to do with her body after she died, though, so he didn't mind. After resting a moment, he stood, stretched his muscular arms and shoulders, and began filling in the hole with dirt.

  She had also said that he should lay heavy stones over the soft dirt, and Beaufils—with the help of Clover the mule—had just finished dragging some rocks over to the hole and arranging them there when he saw the white-haired man at the edge of the clearing. Beaufils stopped in his tracks and stared at the man with wonder. In all his years in the forest, he had never seen any person besides his mother. This man wore a brown garment and was staring back at Beaufils with astonishment. It made Beaufils smile to think that he should be as amazing to the man as the man was to him, and that stir of amusement broke his trance. He said, "Hello, man."

  "Good afternoon, lad," the man replied.

  "It is, isn't it?" Beaufils said, raising his face to the sun. "But warm if you've been working. Clover and I need a drink. Would you like some water with us?"

  "I would indeed," the man said. He stepped forward, and Beaufils led him to the well, where he dipped water for the mule first, then for the man, and finally for himself. When they had all had their fill, the old man looked at the mound of stones Beaufils had just left and said, "That looks like a grave, my boy."

  "What's a grave?" Beaufils asked.

  "A ... a grave. A hole where you put someone's body after he dies."

  "Is that what it's called?" Beaufils asked, interested. "I didn't know. Yes, that's what it is."

  "May I ask who is buried there?"

  "My mother," Beaufils explained.

  The man's lined face grew grave. "I'm sorry, my boy. When did she die?"

  Beaufils didn't understand why the man had apologized, since he had not caused her death, but he only said, "Last night. I found her dead on her bed this morning."

  The man stared at Beaufils. Then, in a sterner voice than he had used before, he said, "Your mother died only last night, yet you show no grief?"

  "Mother said I wasn't to feel sad for her," Beaufils explained, "because she would be happier after she died, in a better place. She wasn't happy here these past months, I think. Her sickness made her hurt." He sighed softly. "I'm glad she doesn't hurt anymore, but I think I'll be sad sometimes anyway. It will be different without her."

  "I see," the man said slowly, his voice gentle again. "You're right: Death is not sad for your mother. Her spirit is well now." Then, glancing curiously at Beaufils, he asked, "Forgive me, but if you didn't know what a grave was ... Do you ... do you know what I mean by 'spirit'?"

  Beaufils nodded. "That's the part of you that knows things that the rest of you doesn't know."

  The man looked struck by this. "Is that what your mother told you?"

  "Oh, no," Beaufils said. "I figured that out on my own. Mother only told me what name to call it."

  The man looked silently at Beaufils for a moment, then turned his head and examined the little house and shed and garden in the forest clearing. While the man looked around, Beaufils admired his brown garment. It was of cloth, like his mother's old dress, and it looked much warmer than Beaufils's own rough, sleeveless deerskin shirt. "Do you live here?" the man asked at last.

  "Yes."

  "For how long?"

  "Always," Beaufils replied. "My mother came to this forest when she knew she was to have a baby. I was born in this clearing."

  "Just you and your mother in this forest?" the man exclaimed, startled. "I thought these woods were uninhabited. But you must be seventeen years old!"

  Beaufils cocked his head and considered this. The man evidently meant how many years it had been since he had been born, and never having thought about it before, Beaufils had to count back through the summers he had known. "Something like that, I suppose," he said at length. "But I'm not sure. I don't remember all the years when I was little."

  "Amazing," the man said. "So long in this wilderness. Have you ever even seen another human?"

  "No," Beaufils said. "You're my second, after Mother. But she told me there were others, so I wasn't too surprised to see you. Mother said that in some places there are many people."

  "Yes," the man said in a dazed voice. "There are."

  "Please, man," Beaufils said. "I don't know what she meant by 'many.' In these other places, are there more than twenty people?"

  "More than...? Yes, there are more than twenty people."

  Beaufils sighed. "That will make it harder."

  "Make what harder, my boy?"

  "Finding my father," Beaufils explained. "You see, when Mother knew she was soon to die, she told me to put her body in a deep hole—which seems very odd, but I suppose she knew best—and then said that I should leave our home to find my father."

  "What is your father's name?" the man asked.

  "Father, I suppose," Beaufils said. "That's what he is, isn't he?"

  "Your mother didn't tell you another name? John? Rufus? William? Ambrosius Aurelius? Rumpelstiltskin?" Smiling with wonder, the man shook hi
s head.

  "No," Beaufils replied. "Do you mean that the people in those other places have special names like that?"

  The man nodded. "Didn't your mother have a name?"

  "Oh, yes," Beaufils said. "I called her—"

  The man said it with him: "Mother."

  Beaufils smiled. "That's right."

  "And what did she call you?"

  "Beaufils."

  The man frowned briefly, "Bo-feece," he repeated. Then his brow cleared. "Oh, I see. It's French. 'Fair son.' Of course." He sighed to himself. "You know, my boy, it might be harder than you think to find your father. Didn't your mother tell you anything about him?"

  "Yes," Beaufils said. "She told me that he was a knight in a place called Camelot." The man's mouth opened, and he stared at Beaufils. "Please, man," Beaufils said, "what's a knight?"

  Beaufils set off the next morning, despite his first friend's attempts to dissuade him from going. "You will be disappointed in the world beyond your forest," the man had said earnestly. "It is a bad place, filled with wickedness."

  "What do you mean by 'wickedness'?" Beaufils asked. His mother had sometimes used the word when he was younger, when rebuking him, but he had not heard it in years.

  Shaking his head slowly, the man said, "You don't even know, do you?"

  "Well, I think I do," Beaufils replied. "It means doing things that your mother says you shouldn't do, doesn't it?"

  "Yes," the man admitted. "I suppose so."

  "Like picking scabs?"

  The man closed his eyes. "I beg you, Beaufils, not to go. Here, in this enchanted place, you are all unspoiled. It grieves me to think about the evil you will meet in the world."

  Beaufils wasn't sure why the man was so worried; he knew better than to pick scabs now. He didn't want to argue, though, so he simply said, "My mother told me that people were not meant to be alone, and that once she was gone I should go find others like me."

  "There is no one else like you," the man said.

  "But there must be," Beaufils said. "One of them is my father. And besides, I have enjoyed talking to you very much; why should I not enjoy talking with other men as well?"

  And so it was that Beaufils gave his forest cottage to the white-haired man—who seemed very pleased at the prospect of living there, hidden from the world—and started off the next morning on the back of Clover the mule. He rode southwest, which the man said was the way to Camelot, whistling bird songs to himself as he traveled. He took two pouches with him: one containing some vegetables and nuts to eat and the other filled with water. Before noon he had gone farther from his home than he had ever been, and everything he saw was new and exciting. There seemed to be treasures everywhere, and while he couldn't take every new wonder with him, by that evening he had already picked several fine keepsakes—a perfect swallow's nest, a white feather as long as his forearm, and a shiny black stone that had been polished smooth by a river. Beaufils couldn't imagine ever wanting more. He was enjoying his travels very much.

  He set off the next day at sunrise, as soon as he and Clover had both eaten and had a roll in the grass. They continued traveling southwest, but Beaufils began to wonder how long it would take. Just how large was the world beyond? How far away was Camelot? For that matter, how would he know it when he arrived? All he knew was that there were knights there, but when he had asked the man about knights, his explanation had seemed so peculiar that Beaufils had concluded the man probably didn't really understand them himself. It was inconceivable to Beaufils that anyone would purposely wear such hard, heavy clothing as the man had said knights wore, and as for what knights did with those long poles—lances, the man had called them—well, that made no sense at all. Beaufils had politely refrained from asking any more questions about knights. He would just have to wait until he met someone else who was better informed. After all, the white-haired man was only the second person Beaufils had ever spoken with; he couldn't expect him to know everything.

  He met his third and fourth humans around midmorning. He was walking beside Clover across a grassy plain, giving the mule a rest, when two men with heavy black beards and very dirty clothes jumped out of a spinney and stood in front of him. They both carried thick sticks above their heads. "Stand!" one of them shouted.

  Beaufils smiled a greeting and stopped walking.

  "Hand them over!" the same man said loudly.

  "What?" Beaufils asked.

  "Your valuables," the second man said sharply.

  Beaufils drew the nest, the feather, and the stone from his pouch. "You mean these?"

  The two men looked at each other, and then, with loud, angry shouts rushed toward him. The nearest one was swinging his stick, and Beaufils saw at once that if he didn't move his head the stick would hit him, so he ducked enough to let the stick pass by. The man stumbled past and fell down. Then the other man swung his stick, and Beaufils had to step out of the way of this swing as well. For some reason, these men were actually trying to hit him with their sticks, which would hurt. Beaufils didn't want to be hit, so when the first man scrambled to his feet and swung at him again, Beaufils caught the stick as it went by and pulled it from the man's grip. Then, when the other man swung, Beaufils used it to deflect the blow. The second man struck three more times, and each time Beaufils tapped the blow away with his borrowed stick.

  The attackers paused for a moment and backed off a couple of steps. "Why are you trying to hit me?" Beaufils asked.

  The two men looked at each other. "Something's not right here," said the one whose stick Beaufils had taken. "This boy ain't scared."

  "Ay," replied the other one. "First he mocks us with birds' nests and rubbish, then he takes your cudgel away like you was a baby and fights me like a knight."

  "Leave him be," the first one said. "We've had two good robberies in a row and we've got plenty of swag, even after splitting it between us."

  Then, as Beaufils watched with amazement, the man who still had a stick drew back his arm and bashed the other man in the back of the head. The stricken man fell forward, and at once the other man pulled a pouch from his companion's belt. "Even more if we doesn't split it, see?" he said. Then he turned and ran away over the plain, leaving the first man face-down in the dust at Beaufils's feet.

  "Are you all right, boy?" called a new voice from some distance off. Beaufils looked up to see two men riding huge animals, larger than Glover, approaching rapidly across the plain. Beaufils could only stare. The men wore the oddest clothing he had ever seen, clothing that shone in the morning sun, and each wore a hat that covered nearly his whole head, but for an opening in front. Beaufils realized that these were the knight's outfits that his friend had described, and he smiled with delight. So people really did wear such ridiculous garments.

  "Are you knights?" he asked, smiling broadly at the two men as they approached.

  "Ay, lad, that we are," said the knight who had called out earlier. "I'm Sir Bors, and this is my brother, Sir Lionel. Are you hurt?"

  "No," Beaufils said. "But it's kind of you to ask. Are you?"

  "These bandits are growing brazen, attacking boys in broad daylight," Sir Bors said. "I'll wager you gave them a bit of a shock, though. I saw the whole thing from that hill over there, and I've never seen neater work. Who taught you to fight, boy?"

  Most of this was incomprehensible to Beaufils, but he had other things on his mind anyway. "What beautiful animals!" he exclaimed, reaching out to caress the face of Sir Bors's beast as soon as it was near enough. "What strength! Pray tell me, is this a horse?"

  Sir Bors gaped at Beaufils briefly before replying. "Ay. This is a horse. Have you not seen one before?"

  Beaufils shook his head, still beaming at the animals. "My mother told me about them, but they're far more magnificent than I'd imagined."

  The other knight, the one called Sir Lionel, swung easily from his horse's back and knelt over the prone form of the fallen man, who was beginning to groan softly. Sir Lionel took hold of the man
's leather garment at the back of the neck, then jerked him roughly to his feet. "Thought you had easy pickings, didn't you?" Sir Lionel said roughly. The man only groaned louder and put his hands on the back of his head. "And justly served for your infamy, you were. Still feel like making a living by thievery? How'd you like to rob me, hey?" Sir Lionel released the man, who sank immediately to his knees and began whimpering. "Oh, stop groveling, you cur," Sir Lionel said, pushing the man roughly back to the ground.

  "Why are you shoving that man?" Beaufils asked.

  "Eh?" Sir Lionel said, casting a curious glance at Beaufils. "Didn't he just try to hit you?"

  "Yes, he did," Beaufils said. "I didn't understand that either."

  "The fellow's a bandit," Sir Lionel said. "He meant to take your mule and everything else you have and probably leave you dead."

  "He meant to do all that?" Beaufils asked, astonished. He thought of what the man in the forest had said about wickedness in the world. "I see," he said thoughtfully. "That's worse than picking scabs, isn't it?"

  Sir Lionel chuckled, and Sir Bors said, "Ay, it is. But the lad's right, Lionel. The fellow's received justice. What he thought to do to the boy has been done to him. No need to knock him about any more." Sir Bors turned back to Beaufils. "But you haven't answered my question: Who taught you to fight?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "The way you defended yourself with that cudgel. You'd make quite a swordsman, I'd say."

  "You mean knocking away the other fellow's stick—cudgel, you say? Nobody taught me how; it just seemed the right thing to do."

  "And so it was," Sir Lionel said, his eyes bright with laughter. He examined Beaufils appreciatively. "You're a likely looking lad. Good arms and shoulders. Judging from your leather jerkin, I'd say you were a woodsman."

  Beaufils had never heard the term, but he liked it. "Yes, I suppose I am."

  "I didn't know anyone lived off this way. Wild land, for the most part," Sir Lionel commented.

  This didn't seem to require an answer, so Beaufils asked a question of his own. "Do you know the way to a place called Camelot?"

 
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