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       The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, p.1

           Gerald Morris
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The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady

  The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company


  * * *

  For Marilyn and for Denise—

  whose lights only shine brighter

  * * *

  Text copyright © 1999 by Gerald Morris

  Map copyright © 1999 by Susan Carlson

  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.

  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 squire, his knight, and his lady / Gerald Morris,

  p. cm.

  Sequel to The squire's tale.

  Summary: After several years at King Arthur's court, Terence,

  as Sir Gawain's squire and friend, accompanies him on a perilous

  quest that tests all their skills and whose successful completion

  could mean certain death for Gawain.

  ISBN 0-395-91211-3

  1. Gawain (Legendary character)—Juvenile fiction. [1. Gawain

  (Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Knights and knighthood—

  Fiction. 3. Magic—Fiction. 4. England—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785so 1999

  [Fic]—dc21 98-28718 CIP AC

  Printed in the United States of America

  QUM 10 9 8

  * * *

  And therefore let me beg of you, my lords

  If you should think my story ill accords

  With the original ...

  Or if the words I use are not the same

  As you have heard, I beg you not to blame

  My variations; in my general sense

  You won't find much by way of difference

  Between the little treatise as it's known

  And this, a merry story of my own.

  —Geoffrey Chaucer

  * * *















  * * *

  I. The Emperor of Rome

  Terence squinted down the shaft of a freshly carved arrow and twirled it in his fingers to make sure it was straight. It spun without a wobble, and he yawned and set it down alongside several other fresh arrows. Terence was bored. Whittling arrows and polishing armor was dull work for a squire who had seen as much adventure as Terence had. But King Arthur's wisdom as a ruler had brought peace to the land and left little occupation for the knights and squires who gathered at Arthur's court of Camelot.

  In the center of the "Squire's Court"—an irregular open place between buildings, where the squires of Camelot met to brag and dream of the day when they would be knights themselves—several young squires hacked at each other with clumsy wooden practice swords. Sprawled in the shade at one side, Terence watched them idly. Though he had no knightly ambitions himself, his years of service to King Arthur's nephew and greatest knight, Sir Gawain, had made Terence an expert critic of swordplay, and he could easily identify each squire's strengths and weaknesses. Mostly weaknesses, he thought.

  One of the squires sparring in the courtyard, a fresh-faced youth no more than thirteen years old, separated from his opponent and turned to Terence. "Sir?" he said.

  "Don't call me sir," Terence said.

  "I'm sorry. Could you give me any pointers on my swordsmanship?"

  "I noticed no swordsmanship," Terence replied, yawning. The boy flushed, and Terence relented. "All right. Come here." The boy stepped closer. "Hold your arm out in front of you—shoulder height," Terence said. "When your hand is over that line, your blade must be higher than your hand. Never, never parry a blow over that line with your hand higher than your blade."

  "Did I do that?"

  "Several times. And whatever were you doing when you spun around like that? I mean besides making a target of yourself."

  The young squire grinned shyly. "I saw Sir Tor do it in the last tournament," he admitted.

  "Sir Tor is an expert swordsman. You aren't. If you want to fight like Sir Tor, practice chopping at trees."

  The boy looked hesitantly at Terence to see if he were joking, but Terence did not elaborate. It would take too long to tell of the time years before when he and Gawain had come upon the young Tor, then a sturdy plowboy, practicing with his sword in the forest and dreaming of knighthood. At last the boy said, "Yes, sir."

  Terence closed his eyes and stretched. "Don't call me sir," he said.

  Terence missed Tor, and missed even more Tor's squire, Plogrun the dwarf. Tor and Plogrun had been out questing for the past four months, and Terence was frankly bored with the younger squires. Across the court, a dainty boy in grey satin picked his way past a heap of garbage and chose a seat, which he carefully dusted with a handkerchief. "French," Terence thought, grinning. The other squires ignored him: continental knights and squires, with their sumptuous fashions and exaggerated graces, had grown common in Camelot. King Arthur had established treaties with several continental rulers. The most influential of these—the French King Ban of Benouic—was at Camelot at that moment on a state visit. This boy was probably one of King Ban's retinue.

  "Terence!" Hearing Gawain's voice, Terence leaped to his feet. Gawain stood at the opening of the courtyard.

  "Yes, milord?"

  "Been looking for you. Work to do in the chambers, lad."

  "What, today too?" Terence blinked.

  "Guest of honor tonight, Terence," Gawain replied.

  "You mean she's back? Already?" Gawain nodded, and Terence sighed. "I'll be right there." He gathered his arrows and followed Gawain. While at Camelot, Terence's squirely duties were few, but he had a few special responsibilities, having to do with the late-night drinking and arguing sessions that Gawain held with his friends. Terence had to prepare Gawain's chambers, serve the refreshments, and then help Gawain's friends back to their own chambers if necessary. Gawain had held one such session the night before, which was why Terence had been surprised, but Gawain had mentioned a guest of honor, and that meant that Morgan Le Fay was at Camelot.

  Morgan was Gawain's aunt, the half-sister of King Arthur himself. She was also a sorceress, which did not endear her to Terence, but Gawain made his chambers available to her whenever she visited Camelot. Even though Terence did not trust Morgan, he had to admit that at times he felt an affinity with her. Earlier in their career, Terence and Gawain had gone on a quest for adventures and had found themselves in the Other World, a realm of faeries and magic. There, Gawain had fallen in love with a faery princess, and Terence had discovered that his own father was a ruler among the faeries. Now, though he and Gawain had returned to the World of Men years before, Terence had never lost the feeling that his true home was elsewhere. Morgan Le Fay, whatever else one might say about her, belonged to that Other World as well.

  Terence passed by the kitchen court, and looked in. "Sophy!" he called.

  "Hello, Terence!" a buxom girl called back. "Fancy meeting you here!" she said wryly. "What do you want this time?"

nbsp; "Ah lass, I'm hurt, I am," Terence responded, in his best imitation of his master's native brogue. "Tha knows I've just come to see if ye're well, and ye accuse me of basely triflin' with ye!"

  Sophy laughed and said, "And it's awful I'm feel-in' about it, too. Now, tell me what you want, and keep your hands off the pastry."

  Terence grinned. "Pastry? What kind?"

  Sophy sighed. "Jam tarts. How many do you need?"

  "It looks like a big one tonight. Lady Morgan's back. Three dozen tarts at least. How about meat? Any of that special chicken of yours—with the brandy sauce?"

  "You're raving, Terence! Three dozen! And what about the king's table tonight?"

  "He loved the flan you served last night," Terence said. "I heard him say so to the queen."

  Sophy dimpled, pleased. "Well, I do have more flan," she admitted.

  "You're a gem, Sophy. And the chicken?"

  "No chicken, but we just got in a nice boar."

  "A rare gem indeed," Terence said.

  "Rogue," the girl replied, and Terence ducked out. He stopped again at the wine cellars and again at a springhouse, where the court's cheese was stored, before he arrived at Gawain's chambers. Gawain and Morgan were in the sitting room.

  "Everything ready, Terence?" Gawain asked.

  "Floor needs sweeping," Terence replied. "You can see Sir Lionel's outline in the dust there from last night. Is the king coming tonight, milord?"

  Gawain said he didn't know, and Morgan said, "If he doesn't, then he should. Your 'little get-togethers' are the round table within the Round Table."

  The king did come that night, but he didn't stay long. He drank a flagon of wine with Sir Kai, asked Gawain how he managed to get fresh jam tarts when the king had to make do with a warmed-over flan, talked for a few moments with Morgan, then left. The rest of the time Sir Kai, Sir Bedivere, Sir Arnald, Sir Bors, Sir Ywain, Sir Lionel, Gawain's brothers Sir Gaheris and Sir Agrivaine, and a few other knights argued about international affairs. At last the arguments grew improbable and the arguers incomprehensible, and Terence led the most unstable knights back to their own rooms to sleep off their wine.

  The next morning the king announced that he would hold a state dinner that evening in honor of King Ban and his court. Terence chose Gawain's court clothes, pressed them with a hot iron, and polished Gawain's black leather boots. Gawain scornfully rejected all the frills and jewels that were popular among the continental knights, but at a state dinner even Gawain had to dress with care.

  Shortly before the banquet, Morgan came to Gawain's chambers, where Terence was carefully snipping unruly hairs from Gawain's red beard. She was magnificently dressed in a pale lavender gown, and her long blonde hair was gathered simply behind her head and then allowed to fall freely down her back. Gawain chuckled. "It's amazing what a bit of primping can do to hide the years, isn't it, Terence?" Morgan was only a year older than Gawain, but he seldom missed a chance to tease her about her age.

  Evidently Morgan was in a good mood, because she only smiled good-naturedly and said, "Terence, don't cut too much off. We don't want the court to know that this youngster's beard hasn't come in full yet."

  "I wish both of you would leave me out of this," Terence muttered.

  "You're in a good mood this evening, Auntie. Plotting mischief?" Gawain asked.

  Morgan smiled dreamily and said, "I plan only to be the most beautiful woman at the banquet."

  "A delightful plan," Gawain said drily. "Sure to make you many friends among the ladies."

  "I do not seek friends among the ladies, Gawain."

  Gawain grunted. "Where are you sitting tonight?"

  Morgan smiled faintly. "I sit at the king's table this evening. I hope I do not outshine his charming queen."

  "Jade," Gawain muttered, but Morgan had left.

  Terence glanced at the door. "Why do you like her so much, milord?"

  Gawain smiled crookedly. "You must admit that she's never dull."

  Terence brushed whiskers from Gawain's chest and shoulders. "She's vain and selfish and spiteful and everything that you would hate in someone else."

  "She isn't always selfish," Gawain said.

  "Only when she's awake?"

  Gawain smiled briefly, but his eyes were serious. "I remember someone she used to care for, a little girl named Elaine. Morgan used to take Elaine riding, make daisy chains with her, tell her stories."

  Terence tried to imagine the cold sorceress playing with a little girl and found he could not. "Where is Elaine now?"

  "She died when she was thirteen. Scarlet fever. It was the only time I've ever seen Morgan cry. She was more mother and sister to Elaine than aunt."

  "She was her aunt?" Terence asked, his eyes widening.

  "Elaine was my little sister," Gawain said. "Morgan and I cried together."

  "I'm sorry, milord."

  "So you see why I put up with Morgan, even at her most provoking," Gawain said with a smile.

  She was certainly provoking that night at the banquet, and Queen Guinevere was the one provoked. As soon as Morgan entered the hall in her finery and Guinevere learned that Morgan was to sit at the head table, the queen became visibly enraged. It wasn't that she was jealous of Arthur, Terence reflected, because the king showed Morgan only the same gentle courtesy he used with all the court ladies. It was Morgan's beauty. A beautiful woman herself, Guinevere was not used to being eclipsed by another.

  Guinevere showed her anger obliquely, but it was no less obvious. She greeted Morgan with bright and brittle laughter, covered her with effusive compliments uttered in a voice that was rather too loud, and succeeded only in drawing attention to the two of them. Morgan, accepting the queen's artificial prattle with only an amused smile, looked much more queenly than the queen.

  "Why, Lady Morgan," Guinevere said brightly, "I declare that you are so brave! I should never dare to wear a gown of that shade if my hair were your color!"

  "Would you not?" Morgan's voice dripped boredom, but when she glanced at Gawain, her eyes glinted with mischief.

  "Poor Guinevere," Gawain said softly to Terence. "You know she might have a friend if she would stop competing with everyone."

  "Just tell her that she's beautiful," Terence whispered. "You'll be her best friend at once."

  "That's not what I meant."

  Arthur, meanwhile, talked gravely with King Ban and with Sir Kai, his stepbrother and most trusted advisor, apparently unaware of the minor drama beside him.

  Before the evening was over, though, no one was thinking about Guinevere's behavior. As the servants cleared the second course, a frightened page dashed into the banquet hall and whispered urgently to King Arthur. The king questioned the boy sharply, then whispered some terse instructions. More frightened than ever, the page turned on his heel and ran back out of the hall. All conversation stopped as Arthur rose and said, "I beg your pardon for interrupting your meal, but I'm afraid I must attend to some business. Kai, will you come with me, please?"

  Arthur and Sir Kai began to follow the page, but before they had gone two steps, the door flew open and a procession of twelve elderly men in white robes filed into the banquet hall. Each man carried an olive branch. The man in front, somewhat younger than the rest and much more belligerent-looking, stopped in front of the head table and said, "I seek one Arthur, who styles himself King of the Britons!"

  King Arthur returned to his place and deliberately took his seat. "I am one Arthur," he said mildly.

  "We are emissaries of Lucius, Emperor of Rome and all its dominions," the man said.

  "You've come all the way from Rome?" Arthur asked. "You must be weary. Please join our little family dinner. We can discuss your business tomorrow."

  "We do not eat with rebels," the man pronounced grandly.

  "They've never come from Rome," King Ban interrupted. "And Lucius is no more Emperor of Rome than your horse. He's some sort of minor excise official, Procurator of Gaul or something, who's gotten a big idea o
f himself. He's a nuisance to all of us in France."

  The leader of the delegation flushed darkly, and Arthur said, "Ah, you've just come from France. Then I do not wonder that you decline our dinner. Those channel crossings can be very unsettling. Perhaps you would rather rest for the evening. We can deal with your business tomorrow."

  "The Emperor does not choose to wait!" the man declared.

  "Very understandable," Arthur said, nodding. "I find myself much in sympathy with him. I, for instance, am waiting for the third course."

  Gawain's shoulders shook, and Sir Kai smiled widely. The ambassador frowned and said, "I have a decree from your lord the Emperor, and I will read it to you now, whatsoever say ye."

  Arthur sighed and said, "Very well. And when you are done, perhaps you would join us after all. We have roast venison, and my cook really makes a good thing of it."

  The man ignored the king and took out a roll of parchment. In a grand voice he read, "The high and mighty Emperor Lucius sendeth to the self-styled King of Britain greeting, commanding that he acknowledge him for his lord and send him the truage due of this realm unto the Empire, which his father and other tofore his predecessors have paid as is of record—"

  "I'm sorry," Arthur interrupted. "But is there much more? I fear the venison will grow cold."

  The man shook with anger. "Is this how you treat your visitors of state?" he demanded.

  Slowly Arthur rose. "Sirrah, I have given you three opportunities to behave as a visitor of state. I sent word that I would see you in the entrance hall, but you chose to interrupt our dinner instead. I twice suggested that we conduct state business tomorrow, as would be seemly, but you refused. I no longer consider you visitors of state. I consider you and your eleven friends only bothersome intruders to whom little attention and no courtesy are due."

  "If you do not send tribute to Lucius, he will burn your land!" the ambassador cried.

  "I shall keep it in mind," Arthur said. "Await my summons in the entrance hall. If you interrupt me again, I will have you flogged by my scullery maids." Arthur gestured to three burly knights, who firmly escorted the twelve ambassadors from the banquet hall. Arthur turned immediately to King Ban. "Ban, what can you tell me about this Lucius? Has he an army?"

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