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The quest of the fair un.., p.15
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.15

           Gerald Morris
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  The door swung open and a majestic man in gleaming black clothes stood at the threshold. "Welcome, travelers," he said, sweeping a low, courtly bow.

  "We greet you, sir," said Galahad. "Are you the master of this castle?"

  I am.

  Ellyn frowned. "Isn't this the castle of Lady Synadona?"

  The man's smile faded slightly, and he bowed to Ellyn. "Yes," he said. "I was about to explain that. I am her ladyship's vizier, caring for her interests until she is able to do so herself."

  "Oh?" Beaufils asked. "Is something wrong with Lady Synadona?"

  "Regrettably, yes," the man replied. "She is gravely ill. So ill, in fact, that she is unable to receive guests. But I will be happy to serve as your host and give you lodging on your journey."

  Galahad bowed his head. "We are grateful to you, sir," he said.

  Ellyn shook her head. "No, that won't do."

  The man raised his eyebrows haughtily. "Won't do?" he repeated.

  "We were told to see Lady Synadona herself," Ellyn said.

  "May I ask who told you this?"

  Ellyn hesitated, then said, "An anchoress named Irena. She said that we might be able to help the Lady Synadona."

  The man smiled and shook his head sadly. "An anchoress? And what could a recluse know about the real world?" he said. "I assure you, young lady, that everything possible is being done for Lady Synadona. I, and I alone, have managed to keep her alive by my own magical arts."

  "Magic!" Galahad exclaimed, his hand dropping to his sword.

  "Yes," the man said. "I am called the Necromancer, and I am an enchanter of great skill. By my spells and potions and every other hidden art, I have succeeded in prolonging the Lady Synadona's life. But I will not have my science meddled with. You may not see her ladyship."

  "But how could a visit hurt?" Beaufils asked mildly.

  "You do not understand," the Necromancer said.

  "I understand this, though," Galahad said suddenly, leaping from his horse, his sword in his grasp. "I am sworn to oppose magic and all the forces of evil!" With that, he plunged toward the door where the Necromancer stood, except that the magician was no longer there. He had disappeared in a roiling ball of green smoke that came rushing out the doorway. Without hesitation, Galahad threw himself into the smoke and disappeared.

  "He is brave," Beaufils said to Ellyn. "You have to give him that much." Ellyn only stared, so Beaufils dismounted and took her hand. "Come on," he said. "Galahad may need help."

  They walked into the castle through the already thinning smoke, and found themselves in a grand hall with corridors leading off in every direction, like the threads of a spider's web branching away from the center. The hall itself was empty.

  "Now which way?" Ellyn asked.

  "Don't ask me," Beaufils replied. "You're supposed to lead, aren't you?"

  "Oh, bother. That's right," Ellyn said. "Very well. This way." Still holding Beaufils's hand, she led him down one of the passages. "What am I looking for?" she asked.

  Beaufils grinned. "Isn't that what Terence told you to figure out?"

  "Very funny," Ellyn said. "If you don't know either, just say so. All right, I think Galahad can take care of himself, so I'm looking for Lady Synadona. I don't know what's wrong with her, but I'll wager that Necromancer fellow is the problem, not the remedy. Let's go left here."

  For several minutes she picked her way through a maze of halls, past dozens of doors. When she came to a choice of directions, she never hesitated but just chose a path and pressed on. Before long they heard the unmistakable sound of swordplay, and a minute later they came to an open area before a large door, where Galahad was locked in combat with two knights. To one side the Necromancer stood, wringing his hands and shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!"

  But this clearly was beyond the knights' ability. Beaufils watched in awe as his friend fought with uncanny skill. Galahad was truly a wizard with a sword. He made no unnecessary move, was always in exactly the right place, and in another minute had disarmed both knights. They turned and fled down a hall. The Necromancer, meanwhile, had reached into his robe and drawn out a long, polished stick. Stepping behind Galahad, he raised the stick above his head. Beaufils didn't know what was going to happen, but he saw that Galahad was not watching, so he leaped between Galahad and the Necromancer—just as a glimmer of green light sprang from the tip of the stick toward him. Beaufils saw, but didn't feel, the beam of light hit him in the chest, then bounce away. "What was that?" he asked the Necromancer.

  The Necromancer's eyes widened with fear, and he shrieked, "No!" Then, to Beaufils's considerable surprise, he picked up his long robes and scampered off down a corridor.

  "Beau, are you all right?" shouted Ellyn.

  "I think so," he replied.

  "Didn't you feel anything? That magician just cast a spell on you."

  Beaufils shrugged. "Not much of a spell." He turned to Galahad. "Well done, Galahad! I've never seen such skill."

  "Much as I hate to say it," Ellyn said, "Beau is right. That was brilliant swordplay, Sir Galahad. Come on, then. Let's see what these knights were guarding." Striding briskly forward, she pushed open the door at the end of the anteroom and stepped in.

  Following her, Beaufils entered a warm and cozy room, lit with the orange glow of a large fire and many branches of candles. There was a bed against the wall, with no one in it, and a plush chair by the fire, but it too was empty. Ellyn was also looking about the bare room. She caught Beaufils's eye and said, "I was sure we'd find her here."

  Before Beaufils could reply, a soft female voice came from behind the direction of the chair. "Who are you?"

  Then, as Beaufils and Ellyn watched in speechless awe, a long, scaley head appeared over the arm of the chair. Inch by inch, the head was followed by a long serpentine neck, which coiled up from the floor by the fire and wound itself around the chair. The creature's scales glinted in the firelight, orange and shimmery green and glossy black. Then, as the snakelike body rose higher, two knobby feet appeared, gripping the arm of the chair and pulling the body up to its full height.

  "A dragon. It's a dragon," said Ellyn.

  "Oh, is that what a dragon looks like?" Beaufils asked. "How lovely they are!"

  "Saint George be my help!" came a shaky voice behind them. It was Galahad.

  "Who are you?" the voice said again, and Beaufils saw the dragon's lips move. He hadn't known that dragons could talk, but then he looked into the creature's eyes and he was no longer surprised. They glowed with lively intelligence and a great, aching sadness.

  Ellyn was also gazing into the dragon's eyes, and her face suddenly filled with sympathy. She stepped forward nervously. "Please, ma'am," she said. "My name is Ellyn. Can you help us find Lady Synadona?"

  The dragon nodded her head slowly. "I am she."

  "You? But you're a ... I mean ... have you always been...?"

  "No," Lady Synadona said. "I was once a woman like you."

  "Did that Necromancer fellow do this to you?" Ellyn asked indignantly.

  The dragon shook her head. "Not really. Yes, he performed the spell, but at my request. It was why I brought him here. I wanted power. I wanted people to fear me. And now I can barely face what I have become."

  "Can you ... I mean, is there any way that you could be..."

  "Restored? Yes, there is one hope, but it will never happen."

  "What is the one hope?" Beaufils asked.

  Lady Synadona bowed her head. "There is, in a different world, a great king named Arthur, who is surrounded by great knights. The spell over me can only be broken if I am kissed by the son of Arthur's greatest knight."

  Beaufils smiled broadly. "Lady Synadona, I have some good news for you." He gestured at Galahad. "Allow me to introduce Sir Galahad. Galahad is the son of Sir Lancelot, who everyone says is Arthur's greatest knight."

  Ellyn's mouth dropped open, and her eyes began to shine. She looked beseechingly at Galahad. "Sir Galahad," she said. "This must
be why we've been sent here."

  Galahad's face twisted in an expression of disgust. "You want me to kiss that thing?" he asked.

  Ellyn looked steadily at him. "Yes, please, Sir Galahad." Then, after a brief pause, she knelt on the floor. "I beg you, sir, to do this. Kiss this dragon and rescue Lady Synadona."

  Galahad stared at Ellyn, and for a second he hesitated, but then his face grew hard again. "No," he said harshly. A humorless smile spread over his face as he shifted his gaze to the dragon. "You were clever, but I know who you are now."

  The dragon looked sad, but she only said, "I have not lied to you, sir. I am no more than I said I was."

  "You are that same fateful serpent who seduced our mother Eve and thus brought evil upon mankind! Now you seek to lure me also into temptation." Galahad raised his sword. "Stand back, Beaufils. I shall rid us of the Temptress forever."

  "No!" shouted Ellen, but Galahad had already leaped forward, his arm striking out with blinding speed. Beaufils, moving just as quickly, caught Galahad's arm but was only able to check the blow partially, and the sword bit into the dragon's neck. Bright red blood spurted from the wound, and the dragon made a low moaning sound. Galahad snatched his arm from his companion's grasp and with a heavy blow cuffed Beaufils across the face, knocking him down. From the floor, Beaufils watched with horror as Galahad raised his sword for another blow, but then Galahad froze. Ellyn had thrown herself over the dragon, shielding her from Galahad's second strike.

  "Very well, Lady Ellyn!" Galahad declared, lowering his sword. "The monster will die soon anyway. I have now at last defeated her. I have destroyed the Temptress!" With a cry of triumph, he rushed from the room.

  "After him, Beau!" Ellyn shouted. "Bring him back. He must kiss her! I'll try to stop the bleeding."

  Beaufils nodded and ran from the room, chasing the echoes of Galahad's receding footsteps. He dashed for what seemed forever, but was probably only a few minutes, through the web of corridors, coming out into the great entrance hall just in time to see Galahad dive through the door. Beaufils sprang after him, plunging over the threshold and throwing himself onto Galahad's running form. They both went sprawling in the dust outside the palace.

  "Stop, Galahad!" Beaufils said. "You have to come back! Lady Synadona needs—"

  He got no further. His words were drowned out by a deafening crash and rumble, louder than a clap of thunder, followed by a thick cloud of dust. Beaufils released Galahad and looked about in wonder, but he could see nothing in the storm of dust that swirled about. At last the air cleared, and before Beaufils's stricken eyes appeared a peaceful meadow by a river, and nothing else. Lady Synadona's castle was gone.

  XI. Carbonek

  "What have you done?" Beaufils shouted furiously at Galahad.

  "I've done it! I've done it!" Galahad crowed joyously. "All my life I've struggled with temptation, but now I have seen sin in its true form and have defeated it!"

  "And what if we've lost Ellyn too?" Beaufils shouted, tears of anger and grief welling from his eyes.

  "At last I have been made worthy!" Galahad shouted, ignoring him. "Now surely I will achieve the Holy Grail!"

  "And what about Ellyn?" Beaufils screamed.

  At last Galahad seemed to hear what Beaufils was saying, and he shrugged. "Don't you see? She too was part of my temptation. Surely you saw how beautiful she was. She also had to be driven away."

  Beaufils's jaw dropped. Fury welled up inside him. "She was not part of your temptation, blast you, Galahad! She was a person!"

  "And look! Just as I expected! The boat has come to take me to my goal." Galahad jumped to his feet and began running toward the river where a great wooden boat lay up against the bank.

  "No!" Beaufils shouted, scrambling to his own feet. "Come back!" He raced after Galahad, but the knight had too great a lead, and Beaufils didn't catch up to him until he was already on the boat. Beaufils threw himself aboard and grabbed hold of Galahad, but a sudden jerk made him lose his grip. The boat was moving. Beaufils ran to the rail, but by the time he got there, the boat had left the shore and plunged into a dense fog. He couldn't even see the water, let alone the riverbank and the place where the palace had stood. There was nothing to do but let the boat take them where it would. Galahad moved to the front, his eyes bright with anticipation, while Beaufils sank to the wooden floor and wept.

  Beaufils could not have told how long he and Galahad rode through the cloud, with no sound but the lapping of water along the sides of the boat. It could have been hours or days or just minutes, but eventually they came out of the mist to a bright sea before a towering island fortress. Beaufils felt his heaviness lift slightly as they emerged from the fog, as if he were either waking from a dream or just beginning one, and then the boat crunched up onto the gravel beach of the island.

  "Come, Beaufils," commanded Galahad. He leaped lightly from the boat, and, having nowhere else to go, Beaufils followed him. A path led up a long rocky crag to the fortress door, and they climbed the path together, neither speaking until they came to the castle itself. "This must be it, the home of the Holy Grail," Galahad said breathlessly.

  The door swung outward noiselessly, revealing a long line of old men standing just inside the castle, in a neat row, as if they had been waiting. "Yes, Sir Galahad," said the oldest of the men, who stood at the center of the line. "This is the Castle Carbonek, where resides the Holy Grail. You are welcome."

  Galahad sank to his knees, uttering a prayer of gratitude, but Beaufils remained standing, staring at the row of men. There were ten of them, their faces all very old but their bodies and their posture as straight and strong as those of young men. Several of the men were dressed in armor of different types and held swords. Others wore long dark robes like Clerk Geoffrey and the Necromancer, and still others wore outfits like Bishop Baldwin's garments. The man who had spoken wore a long cape of some lush purple material trimmed with fur, and on his head was a golden crown.

  "Rise, Sir Galahad," said the crowned man. "You and your squire have been deemed worthy to join us at Carbonek. You and you alone have achieved the Quest of the Holy Grail. I am King Josephus, the son of Joseph of Arimathea, and I have been waiting hundreds upon hundreds of years for this moment, the moment when our number shall at last be complete. It was for this moment that we sent the chair and the sword to Camelot on the day before you arrived: to call you to this place."

  "You've been here hundreds of years?" Beaufils repeated, raising one eyebrow.

  "We are kept alive by the Grail," King Josephus said. "But you will see. Come join our feast."

  As one, the ten elders turned and walked in two lines, keeping in strict order, down a great hall. Galahad fell into place at the end of one line, so Beaufils went to the other. The procession made its stately way down the hall and into a vast banquet room, where the ten elders took seats on either side of a long table, still in order. Thus Beaufils ended up at the last chair on the left side of the table and Galahad at the very end, looking all the way up the long board to the other side, where King Josephus sat on a throne that looked even more uncomfortable than King Arthur's jeweled seat. Beaufils wondered that, in all those hundreds of years, it had never occurred to King Josephus that another chair might be more pleasant to sit in, but he said nothing.

  The long banquet table was empty, but as soon as all were seated, King Josephus clapped his hands, and a door opened at the end of the hall. Through the opening, floating like goose down on the breeze, came the Grail itself. It was the same large golden platter that had appeared at King Arthur's court, and just as had happened then, a plate of food appeared before each of the elders and Galahad and Beaufils. The Grail went to the center of the table, then stopped, and floated there, immobile.

  Wordlessly, the elders turned to their plates and began to eat, so Beaufils followed their example, politely eating from the plate of fresh fruit and vegetables and brown bread that had appeared before him. It tasted very good.

  When the
silent meal was done, the plates disappeared and were replaced with twelve small goblets. The Grail began to move again, floating above until it was directly before King Josephus. The king rose to his feet and, taking his goblet, dipped a swallow of some liquid from the lip of the Grail and drank it. At once he seemed to grow stronger and more youthful. Then the Grail moved to the next man at King Josephus's right, who followed the king's example, then across the table to the man at the king's left. One by one, in this zigzag pattern, the Grail went to each of the elders, who each drank a swallow from the clear liquid in the Grail. At about the seventh elder, Beaufils decided not to wait any longer. "Excuse me, King Josephus, but what exactly is this Grail?"

  The Grail stopped, and all the elders turned their ancient eyes toward Beaufils. King Josephus held up his hand, as if to calm them, and said, "Peace, friends. Galahad's squire is young and innocent—indeed, we know that he is innocent, or he could not have come here. He does not understand." Then he looked at Beaufils. "You do not know it yet, in your youth, but you will learn it. Here at the Castle Carbonek, all that need be known is known already. There is no need to ask questions."

  "But what if you want to learn something?"

  At this second question, the king's brows drew together, but only for a moment. At last he said, "You disturb our order, child. All you need to know will be made known."

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