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The quest of the fair un.., p.16
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.16

           Gerald Morris
 
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  The Grail resumed its procession back and forth across the table until all ten elders had been served. Then it came to a place directly between Galahad and Beaufils and stopped.

  King Josephus said, "Take and drink, my children, for you are the last two men to be deemed pure enough to join us. For these many years we have been waiting until the day that we would become the Twelve Guardians of the Grail. The Grail gives us food and restores our life. In this place we have lives without end, without distress, without toil. You may join us."

  Galahad seemed too overwhelmed to speak, but Beaufils had to ask one more question. "Sir," he said, "why are there no women in this place?"

  "Drink," King Josephus said, his voice stronger but still calm. "Drink, and all your questions will cease."

  Beaufils frowned. "Yes, but will that be because I'll know the answers or because I won't have any more questions? I mean, there's a difference."

  King Josephus sighed heavily. "As you say," he replied. "I will answer this question alone. The drink that is in the Grail is from the miraculous spring that the ancient pagans called Lethe. Anyone who drinks from those waters will be swallowed forever in the peace of forgetfulness. You will be protected from every temptation, from now unto eternity. You will recall no grief, no pain, no sin. You will feel no lust or covetousness or pride. All the trials, the passions, and the toils of that distant world called the World of Men will fade away forever. You will remember no person or object that could distract your thoughts from the peaceful contemplation of eternity."

  "I have dreamed of this day," Galahad said suddenly. "I have dreamed of such peaceful waters."

  Beaufils looked into his friend's face and then, in a moment of insight, at last understood. Behind Galahad's eyes he saw clouds of fear and realized that it had always been fear that had driven his friend. Galahad was brave in battle but terrified of the world, which to him would always be an evil force trying to destroy him. In his fear, Galahad could never rest, never relax, and never trust. To Galahad, the waters of Lethe represented release from fear.

  "Drink, my son," said King Josephus.

  "Yes," Beaufils said. "Have a drink, my friend."

  Galahad took up the goblet from his place and scraped it across the bottom of the Grail, scooping up a few drops of the liquid. He raised the cup feverishly to his lips and drained it. Then, as Beaufils watched, Galahad's expression changed. The suspicion that had always lurked behind his eyes faded and was replaced by pure bliss. His face no longer showed any doubt, fear, or even recognition—only an overwhelming contentment. Galahad let out a long sigh and relaxed into his chair.

  "And now, my child," King Josephus said to Beaufils. "It is your turn."

  Beaufils shook his head slowly and said, "No."

  Beaufils stumbled across the barren wasteland, his mouth parched and his whole body crying out for water. He wasn't sure if this was part of his punishment, but he had a feeling that King Josephus would approve of it anyway: dying of thirst would be an appropriate penalty for refusing to drink from the Grail.

  The king's stern words upon Beaufils's refusal of the Grail still reverberated in his mind. King Josephus had spoken in a calm voice—evidently he'd been telling the truth when he said that the waters of Lethe took away all passions—but there had been no kindness in his speech either. "Then begone from this island, and from this place of peace forever, you child of wickedness. Few are offered this grace, and none have ever refused it. No one who has beheld so great a salvation and then turned away can be restored. Child of wickedness I called you, and so you are. You are no longer fit to remain on these shores."

  Beaufils had barely had time to look at Galahad and note the mild and disinterested expression on his friend's face before the banquet hall began to fill with clouds before his eyes. In a blink he found himself back on the pilotless ship, rushing away through the fog, and seconds later the boat had emptied him onto a bleak shore.

  That had been early morning, judging from the sun. It was now nearly sundown, and Beaufils had been walking all day. He had had nothing to drink and, but for a crust of bread that he'd found in his pocket, nothing to eat. He had set off to find the place where Lady Synadona's castle had disappeared, where he hoped to find Ellyn, but the boat from Carbonek had left him at a different place on the shore, far from any river, and now Beaufils was hopelessly lost.

  He sank into the long shadow of a craggy boulder, to rest for just a moment from the heat. He knew he would die soon without water. A faint skittering sound at his feet made him open his eyes, and he saw a long-legged mouse standing by his leg, examining him with interest. "Hello, dear," Beaufils said. His voice was harsh and raspy. Leaning to one side, Beaufils dug in the pocket where he had found the crust of bread and managed to produce a few crumbs. "Here you go," he whispered, holding them out to the mouse.

  "Isn't that all you have?" said a low voice from beside him—a woman's voice.

  Beaufils turned and looked into the eyes of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It wasn't that she was beautiful in appearance—he still didn't understand that idea exactly—but she was beautiful in goodness and humor and love. "It will do me no good," he explained through his cracked lips. "But it will be a whole meal for the little one."

  "Yes," the woman said, smiling. "Just like the pool of water behind that hill. I don't especially need a drink, but you look as if you could use one."

  Beaufils could only stare, and so the woman took his arm, raised him to his feet, and led him to a blissfully cool pool of water, from which a stream ran gently through the parched earth. "Who are you?" he gasped to the woman when he had had his fill.

  "My name is Lorie," the woman replied. "I am the daughter of an old friend of yours, Ganscotter the Enchanter."

  "Scotus?" Beaufils asked.

  "The same. He sent me to help you."

  "That was nice of him," Beaufils murmured. Then a memory stirred him to say, "But he isn't always nice, is he?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Well, he cast that spell over Ellyn's father—the Carl of Carlisle, and also over the Lady Petunia. He changed them into horrible creatures."

  "My father can do things that no human or faerie has ever dreamed of doing," Lorie said. "But even he cannot change someone into something they don't want to be."

  The idea was familiar. "That's what Lady Synadona said too, about when she became a dragon." He looked up suddenly. "Please, Lorie, can you tell me if she is all right? And my friend Ellyn?"

  "I cannot say," Lorie replied. "All I can tell you is where to seek them yourself. Follow this stream. In a few miles it will bring you to a field, and beyond that a forest. In the forest you will find helpers to take you the rest of the way."

  "Helpers?"

  "My brother and a friend," Lorie said. "I know you are tired, but you should leave now, before it grows dark."

  An hour later, having followed the stream to the forest, Beaufils staggered into a small clearing, where he had seen the flickering of a fire, and collapsed. He heard an exclamation of surprise, a sword being drawn, then a voice saying, "Wait!"

  Summoning his last strength, Beaufils rolled over and looked up into the old-young eyes of the squire Terence. Beside him was Beaufils's old friend Gawain.

  XII. Transformations

  The next few minutes were a flurry of activity, as Terence and Gawain gave Beaufils food and water and checked him for injuries. At last, after Beaufils had assured them for the twentieth time that he would be all right soon, Gawain asked earnestly, "Where's Ellyn?"

  "I'm looking for her now," Beaufils said.

  Gawain's face grew tight. "You've lost her? But that hermit, Basil, promised me that she would be all right in your—"

  "Why don't you tell us what happened, Beaufils?" Terence interrupted.

  So Beaufils told about the past days, from their crossing into the World of Faeries and meeting Galahad to Ellyn's decision at Lady Petunia's castle, up to when they found Lady Synadona
, then lost her again, along with Ellyn. "Now I'm trying to get back to the meadow where the castle disappeared, to find them," he concluded.

  "But hang on," Gawain said. "Where's Galahad?"

  "We've separated," Beaufils replied.

  "That much my powerful intellect had surmised," Gawain said. "But why? Why isn't he helping you look for Ellyn?"

  Beaufils thought for a moment. He didn't want to criticize Galahad, which made answering tricky. "He had his own quest, I guess."

  "What quest was more important than Ellyn?" Gawain demanded indignantly.

  "He went after the Grail, you see."

  Gawain rolled his eyes. "That Grail again. I know I won't ever find it, but I'm beginning to wonder if anyone will."

  "Actually," Beaufils said, almost apologetically, "we did."

  They both stared at him blankly. "You found the Grail?" Terence asked.

  Beaufils nodded. "Yes, after Lady Synadona's castle disappeared. I chased Galahad onto a boat, which took us to an island castle where ten old men met us and showed us the Grail. They fed us a very nice banquet, then invited us to drink from the Grail and stay forever. Galahad drank."

  "And you didn't," Terence said.

  "I couldn't. I had to find Ellyn." Then he added, "But I'm sure the Grail is a wonderful thing. When Galahad drank, he seemed happier than I'd ever seen him, so I can't say he made the wrong choice. It's just that I couldn't do it."

  Gawain looked thoughtful, but Terence gave Beaufils a warm smile. "We'll find her," he said. "In this world, you always find what you really seek. Maybe in every world. Do you know where to look?"

  "Lady Synadona's castle was by a river," Beaufils said. "Do you think if we followed this stream it would lead us to her?"

  "We'll leave in the morning," Terence said.

  Gawain looked sharply at his squire. "Terence, we can't go with Le Beau."

  "He needs our help," Terence replied. "He's alone and on foot."

  "Yes, I see that," Gawain said. "But we have to get our information to Arthur."

  Terence only shrugged, and Beaufils asked, "What information?"

  Gawain replied, "I told you once, didn't I, why Terence wasn't at Camelot when you first came? He had gone to ask his father about some rumors of rebellion. Terence's father, I ought to explain, is a man of some knowledge."

  "Yes," Beaufils said. "Ganscotter the Enchanter. I know."

  Terence looked surprised. "You know my father?"

  "I met him back in the World of Men," Beaufils replied. "But there he called himself Scotus."

  "Then you understand why I went to him," Terence said. "He sees things that the rest of us don't. I couldn't find him at first—perhaps he was back in the World of Men meeting you—but I finally caught up with him. Even then he wouldn't tell me anything until I had done a chore for him."

  "What chore?" asked Beaufils.

  Terence grinned. "Can't you guess?"

  "Oh, yes," Beaufils said, nodding suddenly. "He sent you to help Ellyn and me make the crossing to this world, didn't he?"

  "That's right. He has some particular interest in you, Beaufils. Anyway, after I'd done that for him and gone back, he told me that there really is a plot."

  "Against King Arthur?"

  "Yes," Terence said. "Not a revolt or a battle, at least not at first. Father says this plot will work from the inside, by corrupting and dividing the Round Table itself."

  "I can't see it, myself," Gawain commented. "We're all loyal to the king."

  "Father says the plot will come through a young man whose heart is so filled with hate that it's like a stone. He couldn't tell us who this young man is, though."

  Beaufils let his breath out slowly. "Mordred," he said. Gawain and Terence looked at each other, then back at Beaufils, who explained, "The young man's name is Mordred. I recognize him from your father's description."

  Gawain eyed Beaufils speculatively. "You know, Le Beau, you're a curious case. Just a few weeks ago you came out of the woods as innocent and ignorant as a kitten, but now ... I can't help feeling that you, like Ganscotter, see things I never will."

  Beaufils shrugged. "I don't know about that, but I have seen a lot." He smiled reminiscently. "The first man I ever met, before I left home, told me I should stay in the forest because I would only find wickedness in the world. Well, I have found wickedness—greater and deeper wickedness than I ever imagined. I've even been to the place of death. But it hasn't all been so bad. I've also seen people like you two and the hermits and Bors and Galahad, people who set their face against the Evil and try to stand against it." He hesitated, then added, "Sometimes they try in really stupid ways, mind you, but the trying counts for something."

  Terence touched Gawain's arm. "We can tell Arthur about this Mordred soon enough. First we'll help Beaufils."

  They set off shortly after dawn, with Beaufils riding behind Terence. Gawain apologized for this arrangement. "You really ought to ride behind me. My Guingalet is stronger and can hold two better than Terence's mare. Unfortunately, he's getting short-tempered in his old age and won't carry a second rider."

  "Oh, yes," Terence murmured. "Poor horsie's not sweet-tempered and gentle, like he used to be."

  "Your horse is named Guingalet?" Beaufils asked.

  "It's an old Orkney name," Gawain said. "Half my ancestors have names that start with Guin-, so it makes him almost part of the family."

  Beaufils was conscious of a wistful stirring within. This huge black horse with the baleful eyes had a name and a family, while he himself still had neither. But he only said, "Shall we go?"

  Gawain scouted ahead on Guingalet while Terence held his mare to a moderate pace, conserving her strength. "I suppose your mule is at Lady Synadona's castle, too?" he asked.

  Beaufils nodded. "I hope so. We left our animals by the front door when we went inside." After a few minutes, Beaufils asked, "Tell me about your family, Terence."

  Terence smiled. "To say truth, you and I have a lot in common. Like you, I grew up not knowing my father—or mother, for that matter. She died when I was a baby. I was raised in a hermitage in the World of Men by a holy man named Trevisant. I didn't find my father was until I was about your age."

  "What about your sister?"

  Terence turned in his saddle and stared at Beaufils. "You know my sister?"

  Beaufils nodded. "Lorie helped me find you last night."

  Terence whistled softly. "Father really does have an interest in you, Beaufils. What did you think of Lorie?"

  "I loved her," Beaufils replied simply. "She's what beauty ought to mean—all goodness."

  Terence nodded at the distant figure ahead of them that was Gawain. "I know one who would agree with you. Gawain is Lorie's husband."

  Beaufils blinked. "What?"

  "I won't tell the whole story, but they met some fifteen or sixteen years ago. Gawain was a brash young knight, eager to prove himself by winning tournaments and battles, and just as eager to prove himself with the ladies, I might add. Then Lorie came to court and called us on a quest that changed us both. That was when I found my family, and Gawain found a love to be faithful to. They were wed a few years later, but they've lived in their different worlds ever since, both waiting for the day when they can be together forever."

  "When will that be?"

  "I don't know. Father says that Gawain has more to do in the World of Men. We don't know what, but it has to do with Arthur." Terence smiled at Beaufils over his shoulder. "It's hard on Gawain, but you understand," he said. "You also turned your back on a world in order to help a friend."

  At that moment, Gawain, who had been riding ahead of them, topped a hill, then stopped abruptly. Wheeling his horse, he galloped back toward them.

  "This must be it," he called when he was near. "A huge marble palace with cupolas on towers and statues all around."

  Beaufils nodded, and Terence booted his mare into a gallop. They rode together up the hill, and looked down on Lady Synadona's castle.
Beaufils could even see Clover and the horses, quietly grazing by the river. He slipped down from behind Terence. "Let's go."

  The others dismounted and followed him down the hill, along the avenue of the two-sided statues. As before, when they came to the front door, it swung open as if by itself, but this time the figure that stood across the threshold was no towering magician in long robes but a rather shriveled old man swathed in a black garment much too big for him. "Go away," he wheezed at them. "No visitors on weekends."

  Beaufils's mouth dropped open as he stared into the old man's face. It was changed, but there could be no mistaking it. This was the Necromancer.

  The Necromancer recognized Beaufils too. "You!" he shrieked suddenly. "Get out of here! Go away, I say!"

  "I can't," Beaufils replied. "I've come for Lady Ellyn. But don't worry. I don't mean you any harm."

  "Be quiet!" the old man snapped, covering his ears with his hands. "Don't say that!"

  Beaufils was puzzled. "Say what? That I don't mean you any—?"

  "Shut up! Shut up!"

  "But why?"

  The withered figure scowled at Beaufils. "It's a lie, that's why! How can you say you mean me no harm? Look at the harm you've done me! You did this! You did this!"

  "I made you like that?" Beaufils asked, bewildered. "But how? I really didn't mean to—"

  "Will you shut up about that? Just rubbing it in, you are! Oh, I know your type. You've come to gloat over me, haven't you?"

  "I don't understand," Beaufils said. He couldn't help feeling sorry for the shriveled specimen before him.

  "Don't understand, do you? Well, let me explain it, if it will give you so much pleasure, you loathsome insect! I was once the greatest enchanter in all the world."

  "Which world?" Beaufils asked. "Because in this world there's Ganscotter the—"

  "Will you please shut up?" the old man snapped. "I was the greatest, I tell you, and the reason I was the greatest was because by my own arts I had discovered the most fearsome power dreamed of! All dominion was mine, and I was about to take it, too. I would have been the most powerful ruler in all the world, but then you came along! Why did you have to come here, anyway?"

 
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