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The quest of the fair un.., p.10
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.10

           Gerald Morris
 
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  "Uncomfortable?" asked Ellyn, suppressing a smile.

  "This saddle! It's poking me right in the ... I mean..."

  "It's a sidesaddle, you see," Ellyn explained. "Was that not what you prayed for?"

  "I can't ride like this! This pommel goes right up ... I should say ... Why, every time the horse jumped it would ... um ... hurt."

  "Don't you have armor on?" Ellyn asked sweetly.

  "Not down there!"

  "I wonder why not," she mused.

  Sir Bors swung his leg back over and dismounted. "You can have your horse back."

  "Would you like to ride Clover?" Beaufils asked. "I don't mind walking."

  Sir Bors looked at the mule distastefully, then said, "Thank you, Beaufils, but no. No, I don't think so."

  "Well, at any rate, we can travel together," Beaufils said. "We don't mind traveling slow." This being agreed to, they started off again, all three walking. Beaufils glanced at Sir Bors and said, "But you never said what happened to your horse."

  Sir Bors scowled. "It was stolen from me!" he said fiercely. "Just after Lionel and I parted, three knights came on me and attacked. I was driven from the saddle and almost killed!"

  "You seem all right. I suppose the knights spared your life?" Ellyn asked.

  "Not by choice!" Sir Bors exclaimed. "I'm sure they meant to finish me off, but I was rescued by a strange knight with silver armor who galloped up on a white horse. I promise you, I've never seen his like. Sword here, shield there, and in a trice all three knights were on the run. Then the silver knight rode away. The thing is, though, the three knights took my horse with them."

  "White horse and silver armor?" Beaufils asked. "Did his shield have a red cross on it?"

  "Yes, it did!"

  "Oh, that was Galahad," Beaufils said. "Good for him."

  "Who's Galahad?" Sir Bors asked. "I've never heard the name."

  "He's Sir Lancelot's son," Beaufils explained.

  "What?"

  "Didn't the knights who told you about the Grail tell you about Galahad? It seems that Sir Lancelot fathered Galahad many years ago and never knew he had a son. The same as my father must have done."

  Sir Bors blinked, then, in an apologetic voice, said, "I had forgotten your quest, Beaufils. Did you ever find your father?"

  Beaufils sighed. "No, not yet. Sir Lionel was right: it seems it could have been nearly anyone."

  Sir Bors lapsed into silence, and they trudged on together without speaking. Beaufils didn't mind this. Birds were singing, and he saw several flowers that he'd never seen before. Sometimes, he reflected, it was nice to talk, but other times it was nice to let the world talk back.

  The world's speech was brief, however. A few minutes later, Sir Bors emitted a deep sigh, then groaned, "I cannot keep it within!"

  "Are you feeling queasy, Sir Bors?" Beaufils asked, concerned. "Something you ate?"

  "I should have told you when I first met you, but I was afraid. I hoped another knight would prove to be the one. But now I must speak. Beaufils, I ... I may be your father myself."

  Beaufils smiled. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

  Sir Bors didn't seem to hear; he was intent on his next words. "It was nearly eighteen years ago. My father wanted me to be a knight, like my brother Lionel, but I was inclined toward the priesthood. My father thought that a visit to court would cure me of my religious ideas, so he sent me to Camelot. And, in truth, he was right. As soon as I arrived there, I was carried away by worldly pleasures!"

  Not sure what was expected of him, Beaufils nodded and said, "Yes, I enjoyed my visit to Camelot, too."

  "I don't see anything so bad about a holiday at court," Ellyn remarked. "I'd love one myself."

  "You don't understand," Sir Bors said. "There was this servant girl..."

  "Ah, I see," Ellyn said. "What happened to the girl?"

  Bors looked up, surprise on his face. "I left the court shortly after that, but a year or so later I heard that she married one of the smithies and moved away. So you see, Beaufils! I may well be your father!"

  Ellyn snorted and commented, "I don't know what Beau was expecting from his long-lost father, but I doubt it was such a gloomy reception as this. You look more like you've just lost a son than found one."

  Sir Bors looked struck by this. "Forgive me, Beaufils. I wasn't thinking of you."

  "No, you weren't," Ellyn said. "You might try it now."

  Sir Bors looked solemnly at Beaufils. "Can you forgive me, lad?"

  Beaufils smiled. "I wish I could, if it would make you happy, but I'm afraid I've nothing to forgive."

  "Eh?" asked Sir Bors, confused.

  Beaufils explained. "The girl you remember couldn't be my mother. You said that she got married and moved away a year or so after the two of you had your meeting, didn't you? Well, I don't know how long a woman will carry a child before—"

  "Nine months," Ellyn said.

  "That long? That must be a bother. But you see what I'm getting at, don't you? My mother left Camelot before I was born, so she couldn't have hung about for a year or so. I'm afraid you aren't my father after all."

  "Oh, I see," Sir Bors said. Then his brows drew together. "You mean I made my confession to you for nothing?"

  "You can't say that," replied Ellyn. "Maybe it did you some good."

  "At any rate, it helped to pass the time," Beaufils added cheerfully. "What shall we talk about now?"

  For the next hour or so, Beaufils and Ellyn had to conduct whatever conversation there was to have. Sir Bors remained gloomily silent. Eventually, though, he discovered another fruitful subject—the discomfort of walking in armor, which led, by natural progression, to the subject of what he'd like to do to the knights who had taken his horse. This didn't contribute much to the conversation, as there was little that Beaufils and Ellyn could add, but Sir Bors didn't need their help to expound on the subject of his own aches and blisters and plans for revenge.

  Beaufils tried to be understanding, but since Sir Bors had refused his offer to ride Clover, it was hard to sympathize. So it was with relief that he saw someone else approaching them over the heath. It was a woman, and she was leading a very large and powerful-looking horse.

  "Good morrow, fair lady," called out Sir Bors, sweeping a bow to her.

  "Good morrow, Sir Knight," the lady replied. She had long, flowing hair that hung down around her shiny red dress. "But what is this? A handsome knight on foot? How can this be?"

  Sir Bors bowed again. "I am indeed grieved to appear so before so beautiful a lady. Indeed, it was not my fault! Three scurrilous knights set upon me without warning and stole my mount from me."

  "Three knights against one!" the woman exclaimed with horror. "Why, you must be a knight of great valor to have escaped with your life!"

  Sir Bors hesitated, then shook his head. "I am afraid I can claim no valor, my lady. I was rescued by another knight."

  The woman let a trill of laughter escape. "Why, you are a conscientious knight!"

  "Thank you, my lady. I try," Sir Bors said, bowing again.

  Beaufils had moved close to Ellyn during this exchange, and now he whispered to her. "Is this lady beautiful?"

  Ellyn looked surprised. "Can't you tell?"

  Beaufils shook his head. "No. I enjoy looking at everyone. But other people seem to prefer certain features over others."

  Ellyn smiled at Beaufils with sudden warmth. "Yes," she said. "This woman is what most men would consider beautiful. Very beautiful."

  "Men? But not women?"

  Ellyn lowered her voice. "She's all right, I suppose. But any woman would think she's a silly goose to wear that silk dress out for a stroll in the fields."

  The beautiful goose clapped her hands together suddenly. "Why, Sir Knight! How silly I am!"

  "There, you see?" Ellyn whispered.

  "You say that you were set upon by three knights? And they stole your horse? But not five minutes ago three knights passed along this very road, and they were l
eading another horse!"

  "They were here!" Sir Bors exclaimed excitedly. "My lady! I must ask your favor. Will you permit me to borrow your horse?"

  "Oh, I could never do that," the lady said. "Ginger here has been my pet since he was a colt! No one else has ever ridden him, and I love him as I would a child."

  "I would take the very best care of your horse, but you must see, my lady, that I have lost honor by my earlier defeat, and here is a chance for me to reclaim it!"

  Beaufils frowned. "But if they knocked you off your horse last time—" he began.

  "Last time they took me by surprise!" Sir Bors replied promptly. "This time I shall take them by surprise. Please, my lady, you must see how important it is!"

  The lady hesitated. "I do, Sir Knight, and I would do anything in my power to help you recover your honor, but I love Ginger so! If I let you borrow him, will I ever see him again?"

  "But of course, my lady! I shall return him to you at once after my victory. Just tell me where to take him."

  "I am the Lady Orgille, and my home is Orgille Hall, three miles to the east. Oh, what shall I do?" She took a deep breath that made her chest bob up and down. Then she handed the reins to Sir Bors. "Here, Sir Knight. Do not fail me. Bring my beloved pet back as soon as you are able."

  "I swear it!" Sir Bors shouted, leaping into the saddle. He looked briefly at Ellyn and Beaufils and said, "You stay here! I want to take them by surprise, and too many riders might alert them of my approach!" Then he was off, thundering down the path in a manner likely to alert everyone for miles around.

  Lady Orgille smiled very faintly, then began to walk back the way she had come. Beaufils said, "Er, Lady Orgille? Do you need any help getting home?" But she either didn't hear or didn't care to answer, because she continued striding away.

  "There's something not right here," Ellyn said. "I don't trust that Orgille."

  "Why not?" inquired Beaufils.

  "Well, there's the silk dress. No lady would wear that for a solitary ride out in the fields. You'd only wear something like that if you were expecting someone and wanted to make an impression. A man. And that was no lady's horse either. A great big animal like that?"

  Beaufils, of course, knew nothing of dresses and horses, but he had no trouble accepting Ellyn's doubts as valid. "Ellyn," he said. "That sidesaddle of yours. Do all ladies use that sort of saddle?"

  Ellyn's eyes widened. "You're right, Beau! Lady Orgille said that horse was her own and no one else had ever ridden it, but it had a man's saddle!"

  "As if she were planning to lend it to a man," Beaufils said.

  Ellyn frowned for a moment, then waved her hands at Beaufils. "Let me think."

  Beaufils cleared his throat. "Could you think while riding? I have a feeling that Sir Bors might be in trouble up ahead."

  Ellyn nodded. "That's what I was thinking," she said.

  Fifteen minutes later, they found that they'd been right. Riding through a craggy area, where the path led through several tall boulders, they came upon Sir Bors, unhurt but trudging dejectedly back down the path toward them. Lady Orgille's horse was gone.

  "Oh, dear," Ellyn said.

  "Are you hurt?" asked Beaufils.

  "Only my honor," replied Sir Bors, his voice flat. "I have lost my own horse, and now I have lost the Lady Orgille's." A sudden hope sprang into his eyes. "Lady Ellyn, could I borrow your horse? I'd take off the saddle and ride bareback, but I must—"

  "You must have been hit in the head," she said. "Why would I trust you with my horse, with your history?"

  Sir Bors drooped, as much as someone in armor can droop, then nodded. "You're right. I can't be trusted at all, can I?"

  "Listen to us, Sir Bors," Ellyn said. "We were thinking about this Lady Orgille. We think she was waiting for you."

  Sir Bors shook his head slowly and resumed plodding down the path.

  "Didn't you hear me?" Ellyn said. "She meant for you to take that horse. Didn't you think it strange that it was saddled with a—?"

  "It makes no difference," Sir Bors said gloomily. "Though she were a fiend from hell, I should still have to return to her and humble myself before her. I took her horse, promising to return it, and now I've lost it. I've done her a great wrong."

  Beaufils and Ellyn looked at each other. "I guess so," Ellyn said with a resigned shrug as they trailed behind the trudging knight. "You have to admit that Sir Bors always does what he thinks is right."

  Beaufils nodded, but uncertainly. "Yes," he said. "But is doing right supposed to make you so unhappy?"

  "No!" moaned Lady Orgille. "No! Oh, poor Ginger! My beloved pet, my dear, my darling who ate sugar from my hand when I was a mere child!"

  They were in a large room at Orgille Hall, to which they had been conducted by a servant. Lady Orgille had joined them there, wearing a different gown—of the same shiny material but fitting her body even more snugly. Sir Bors, with great resolution, had plunged at once into his confession, which led Lady Orgille to place her hand on her chest and wail and moan and look like she was sick. Ellyn, standing beside Beaufils, looked grim.

  "My lady," Sir Bors said, kneeling. "I shall do all in my power to restore your beast to you."

  "On foot?" demanded Lady Orgille between sobs. "What can you do?"

  "I can do little, I know. But I vow that all that I can do—"

  "And meanwhile the White Knight will steal my lands!" moaned the lady.

  "Eh? What White Knight?" asked Sir Bors.

  Lady Orgille took several deep breaths, as if to calm herself. Beaufils wasn't sure that her dress would hold, but it must have been well made, because no matter how much air she took in, none of the seams popped. At last she seemed able to speak. "My lands are under siege," she said. "Or they will be soon. A strange knight, clad entirely in white armor, has come to this land and has declared that he will soon be the lord of my lands. And I have no knights to defend me."

  Sir Bors took Lady Orgille's hand. "Command me, my lady. What do you wish me to do?"

  For a moment, Beaufils caught an odd look in Lady Orgille's eyes, a flicker of satisfaction. Then she took another of her deep breaths and sighed. "I hardly know, Sir Knight. But if you would be willing to fight for me—oh, perhaps then I might be saved."

  "You have only to summon me, my lady. I am Sir Bors, of the Fellowship of the Round Table, and I will lay my life and my honor at your feet."

  "A knight of Camelot!" exclaimed Lady Orgille with a gasp. "Oh, I shall be saved after all!" Another deep breath. Then, with her right hand, she reached down the front of her gown and pulled out a white square of cloth. "Sir Bors, do you see this embroidered handkerchief?"

  "Yes, my lady."

  "When I need you, I shall send this token. Will you vow to come to me at once when you see this?"

  "I vow it with all my heart, my lady!"

  "No matter what else you may be doing?"

  "Indeed, I promise!"

  Lady Orgille sighed, then smiled. "Then I can be at peace again." She clapped her hands, and a servant appeared. "Gorin!" she said. "Take Sir Bors to the stables! Give him the finest horse there! He will be our champion!"

  "My lady!" stammered Sir Bors, overwhelmed at the gift of the horse.

  "We cannot leave our savior and champion afoot, can we? I thank you, Sir Bors. Keep your vow to help me, and I ... I will look forward to your return." Lady Orgille blushed and lowered her eyes.

  "Now," Beaufils whispered to Ellyn. "Deep breath coming."

  Lady Orgille took a deep breath. Ellyn looked as if she had just tasted something nasty, but she didn't speak as she and the two men followed the servant to the stables, chose a horse for Sir Bors, and then rode away together.

  VIII. The Testing of Sir Bors

  "Can't you see that she was using you?" Ellyn snapped at Sir Bors. "The whole thing was a plot to get you on her side against this White Knight!"

  "Then why didn't she say so at once? She didn't have to go through all this handkerchie
f business; I would have helped her anyway. Any of Arthur's knights would," replied Sir Bors mulishly.

  "Maybe, but without your vow you might have asked a few questions first. As it is, she's got you under oath, and she won't let that advantage go to waste. You'll see that hanky again, and soon."

  Sir Bors scowled but did not reply, and the three continued down the path toward the rocks where Sir Bors had lost Lady Orgille's horse. There was a sharp bend ahead, where the road curved around a massive dome of rock, and as they came to this curve they heard a burst of raucous laughter from around the corner. Sir Bors smiled and loosened his sword in its sheath. "Perhaps I will have another chance at these knights," he said. He seemed pleased by the prospect. In light of the way the first two meetings had turned out, Beaufils wasn't sure why.

  Rounding the bend, the three beheld a piteous sight. In an open area among the boulders stood three knights, and tethered nearby were five horses. One of the horses was Sir Bors's old horse, Beaufils noticed, but Lady Orgille's beloved Ginger was not there. The fifth horse, he decided, must belong to the fourth man in the clearing, who was stretched out face-down on the path, his hands and feet tied and staked to the ground. Below the waist he wore armor, but he was naked from the chest up, and his back was covered with blood. The three knights who stood around him had removed their helms and iron gauntlets and each held in his bare hand a long branch covered with thorns. Clearly, they had been beating the man on the ground with these thorny switches.

  "You three are despicable," Sir Bors said, drawing his sword and riding into the middle of the clearing. "You don't deserve the name of knight. Release that man and draw your swords."

  A faint drumming sound from behind came to Beaufils's ears. Someone was riding toward them on the path—one horse. At that moment, the bound and bleeding man lifted his head, with effort, and looked up at Sir Bors. "Bors?" he groaned.

  "Lionel!" gasped Sir Bors. "By all that's holy, you men shall pay for this!" The three knights glanced at each other nervously and took a step back, reaching for their weapons. Sir Bors already had his blade ready and was about to charge into the three, but suddenly a liveried servant on horseback pounded into the clearing.

 
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