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The quest of the fair un.., p.17
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.17

           Gerald Morris
 
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  "It was nothing personal," Beaufils protested.

  The Necromancer began to hop up and down, screaming, "I said to shut up about that!"

  "Why don't you want me to say anything nice to you?" Beaufils asked.

  "That's the whole problem! Don't you understand, you pock-bottomed toad? That's what you did to me! The power I had gained—at great personal sacrifice, I might add—was to use other people's fear and hatred against them! All I had to do was wave my wand at someone, and all the fear and hate that he felt for me would turn right back on him! It was perfect, because everybody hated me! So I bounced their hate right back at them, and it destroyed them! It was foolproof!"

  The Necromancer was almost raving now, and flecks of foam had appeared at the corners of his mouth. Hoping to calm him, Beaufils said soothingly, "That certainly was very clever of you, sir."

  "Don't patronize me! Shut up, shut up, shut up! You're just trying to make it worse than you already have!"

  "But what did I do?"

  "Don't you remember? I cast my spell on you, right after your friend had beaten my guards, and it bounced away!"

  "Yes, I remember that, except that I didn't know what spell you were casting. Why did it bounce off, anyway?"

  "Because-the-spell-would-only-work-on-people-who-hated-me, you looby!"

  "But I don't hate you."

  The Necromancer turned purple and couldn't speak for a moment, and when he did, his voice was shaking with passion. "I'm well aware of that, thank you! And because you didn't hate me, all my work, the work of a lifetime, has been destroyed! My power began slipping at that moment! Within a day after you left, even my invisibility curse faded and the castle reappeared."

  Beaufils nodded with comprehension. "Ah, now I see," he said.

  "I know you see!" the man squealed. "Didn't I just say that? Didn't I?"

  "Yes, you did," Beaufils said. "I'm sorry."

  "And don't apologize either!"

  Beaufils took a breath and glanced over his shoulder at Gawain and Terence, both of whom were grinning broadly. He let his breath out and said, "Look, it's very sad that you lost all your powers, but as I said, I really didn't come to see you at all. I want to see Lady Ellyn and Lady Synadona."

  "You didn't come to see me?" Beaufils shook his head, and the Necromancer's eyes began to bulge. "You destroy the greatest enchanter of all time, and you don't even care to see what you've done?"

  "No," Beaufils said. "But look, if there's anything I can do to help you—"

  "Nooo!" the man shrieked. "It needed only that! You want to help me, do you? How cruel can a person be? You ... you're despicable!"

  With that, the Necromancer turned and stalked away, taking up a broom from beside the door. As Beaufils led Gawain and Terence into the great entry chamber, he was vaguely aware of the old man halfheartedly sweeping the flagstones behind him.

  Following the same route that Ellyn had chosen on their earlier visit, Beaufils led his friends through the maze of corridors to Lady Synadona's chamber and pushed open the door. There, in the armchair by the fire, sat Ellyn, with the gleaming, serpentine body of Lady Synadona coiled about her. As the door opened, Ellyn looked up quickly. "Beau!" she said, her tone a mixture of relief and anger. "Whatever has taken you so long?"

  Beaufils stepped into the room. "Galahad didn't want to come back," Beaufils said apologetically.

  "How did you convince him?" Ellyn asked. Beaufils only shook his head. "Beau, you did bring Galahad back, didn't you?"

  "No, Ellyn."

  "Oh, Beau!" Ellyn said, her eyes filling with tears. "Now what are we to do? Synadona's dying! I've done everything I can think of, but the wound Galahad gave her won't heal."

  Terence and Gawain stepped into the room behind Beaufils and stopped, both staring at the scene before them.

  "Gawain? Squire Terence?" Ellyn said bemusedly.

  "I ran into them on my way here," Beaufils explained.

  "That's the dragon you told us about?" Gawain whispered. Beaufils nodded, and Gawain said, "Are you sure it was telling the truth about being a woman under a spell? I mean, you don't hear about many honest dragons."

  Ellyn shook her head, one tear rolling down her cheek. "No, Gawain, it isn't like that. She's really who she says, and she ... before she grew too weak we were able to talk and ... oh, until now I'd never met someone who needed me but wouldn't use me ... Squire Terence, you were the one who told me I should find out what my quest was. Well, I've found it—it's to find someone I care about, someone I would give myself for willingly and freely. And now—" Ellyn's face crumpled up and she began to sob softly. "Now I've failed."

  Terence said quietly, "Tell me again what Galahad was supposed to do."

  "Kiss her. She can only be restored to her true shape by a kiss from the son of King Arthur's greatest knight." Ellyn looked at the squire hopelessly. "Squire Terence, who is your father?"

  "Not one of Arthur's knights, if that's what you mean," Terence said.

  Ellyn turned her eyes toward Gawain, but he shook his head. "My father was a knight, all right, but not one of Arthur's. In fact, my father died fighting Arthur."

  Beaufils stepped forward and took Ellyn's hand in his. "Ellyn," he said. "There may be other ways to help her. I've a feeling that there are always more ways than we know." He knelt beside Ellyn and reached down to where Lady Synadona's reptilian head lay in her lap. "My lady," he said. "I don't know who my father is, but I want to help you." Then he bowed his head and touched his lips to the dragon's rough face in a gentle kiss.

  A dazzling light exploded from Lady Synadona, and Beaufils lurched backward and sat down hard as Ellyn gave a yelp of surprise. At first Beaufils thought that Lady Synadona had burst into flame, but although the blaze of whiteness blinded him, he was not burned. Everything went black, then red, then shaded with rainbow hues. Beaufils wasn't sure if the colors were really in the room or if they were just his eyes trying to readjust to dimness after that brilliant glare. It was nearly a minute before he could see clearly again, but when he could, he became aware of a woman kneeling beside him. She had long auburn hair, was wearing only a thin and ragged shift, and her eyes were fixed on Ellyn.

  "Synadona?" Ellyn whispered.

  "Ellyn," the woman said. "You saved me."

  Ellyn looked dazed, but she managed to shake her head. "No, Beau saved you."

  The woman turned and looked at Beaufils, her eyes solemn. "Thank you, sir, for restoring me. But Ellyn stayed with me and saved my life."

  Then Ellyn began to cry, her face a curious blend of happiness and disbelief and exhaustion and something else that was stronger. Beaufils felt suddenly like an intruder, and he rose to his feet. "Lady Synadona," he said, "I am glad I could help. Now I think that my friends and I will leave you for a moment. You'll, ah, want to change clothes."

  Lady Synadona looked down at her shift, then smiled. "I suppose I should be glad that the spell left me any clothes at all. Will you come back in an hour, so I can thank you properly?"

  Beaufils, Terence, and Gawain agreed and left the chamber. "It seems you were right, Le Beau," Gawain said. "The kiss didn't have to be from the son of Arthur's greatest knight, after all."

  "Maybe," Terence said.

  ***

  Now that Ellyn had been found and Lady Synadona restored, Gawain and Terence were eager to return to the World of Men with their message for King Arthur. To no one's surprise, Ellyn had decided to stay behind, Lady Synadona's new chief lady-in-waiting and best friend. "It's not one of those Castles of Women you told me about," she said to Terence, "but it's where I belong. At last I've found a person who would love me if I were ugly—and a person I would die for. If you see my parents, will you tell them I'm well?" Gawain promised he would make a special trip to Carlisle as soon as he was able. "And Beau?" Ellyn asked. "Will you come visit me?"

  "As often as I can," Beaufils replied, smiling. Then the three men rode away, down the avenue of statues. Beaufils noticed with mild i
nterest that none of them changed appearance as they passed. They weren't all pleasant figures—some of them had assumed their evil side as their permanent form—but they were now all plainly one thing.

  "How do we get to the World of Men?" Beaufils asked once they were away.

  Gawain only glanced at Terence, who replied, "Well, that's a bit tricky, actually. There aren't any permanent gateways. Sometimes I know exactly where a passage is and how to get there, but that's generally only when I'm helping someone else make the crossing, like when I helped you and Ellyn that day. Other times I recognize a crossing when I see it. Still other times I need help myself."

  Beaufils stared at Terence. "Then we have no idea which way to go?"

  Gawain grinned. "It's not quite so bad as that. The crossing is nearly always through water, so we can stay by this river."

  "In the meantime," Terence added, "watch out for old friends. You never know who'll lend a hand."

  Beaufils tried be watchful, as Terence had suggested, but he found it difficult. As the day went on, he grew more and more distracted, his thoughts turning inward to his own situation. It had occurred to him suddenly that he had nowhere to go. Ellyn had finished her quest. Galahad had achieved the Grail. Even Sir Bors had completed a quest of sorts, having conquered his own guilt. Gawain and Terence had discovered news that was important to King Arthur, so they had a purpose. But what of him? What was his quest? He had helped everyone else achieve their quests, but he himself had achieved nothing. He hadn't even found out who his father was, the whole reason he had left home to start with. They trotted down a small slope, and as Glover jumped a stone, one of the bags on the mule's back thumped against Beaufils's leg. He glanced at the bag, then snorted softly as he realized what had hit him: the black river stone he had found on his first day away from home. It was still in the bag with his other "treasures": the bird's nest and the long white feather. Beaufils shook his head sadly. Childish things. How could he have come so far since setting out, and changed so much, only to arrive nowhere at all?

  They made camp that night by a mountain brook, still looking for a crossing to the World of Men. Gawain was starting to fret at the delay, but Terence remained calm. "We'll get back, milord," he said. "Do you imagine that worrying will make it happen faster?"

  Gawain grumbled something about "uppity squires" who were most annoying when they were right, then rolled up in his blankets by the fire. A few minutes later, Terence followed his lead, and before long Beaufils could hear from them both the even breathing of sleep. He moved back from the fire and sat against a tree at the edge of the darkness.

  "You've been thoughtful today, Beaufils."

  Beaufils smiled with relief but didn't turn his head to look. He now realized he'd been waiting all day for Scotus to appear. "I was wondering about my quest," he said.

  A stirring at his right told him that Scotus had sat beside him. "And what quest would that be?" Scotus asked.

  "That's the problem, sir. Everyone else seems to know their quest, and then they achieve it. I keep remembering how Terence told Ellyn that she first needed to find out what her quest was, and as soon as she did, it was over. But I don't even know what I'm looking for."

  "Yes," Scotus said. "Terence was right when he said that to Lady Ellyn. Some people need to know their goal or they can't search at all. For others, though, the quest itself is enough." Beaufils puzzled over this, and then Scotus said, "But I thought you did know your quest. Weren't you trying to find out who your father is?"

  Beaufils sighed. "Yes," he said. "I was. But I've forgotten why. It doesn't seem very important just now."

  "Would you like me to tell you?"

  Startled, Beaufils at last looked at his friend. Scotus sat in utter stillness beside him, his eyes—which were equally still—watching Beaufils with affection. "Who my father is?" Beaufils asked. "You mean you know?"

  "I've always known," the old man replied.

  Beaufils stared at Scotus. All the wistfulness he had felt just that morning returned, his envy of how Gawain and Terence and even Gawain's horse Guingalet had families. But the wistfulness faded quickly. Even if he did know who his father was, what would he do? Try to become a part of his father's life? Once he had thought so, but now he knew that he didn't want just to be a part of someone else's life and goals, even his own father's. He wanted his own quest. He shook his head, hesitantly at first, then more firmly. "I guess not," he replied. "As I said, it doesn't seem very important today."

  Scotus nodded. He didn't seem surprised at all.

  Beaufils said, "Did you already know what I would say?"

  "No one knows for certain what someone else will choose."

  "Not even an enchanter?"

  Scotus smiled. "Not even an enchanter. So you know who I am?"

  "Except for your real name. Is it Scotus or Ganscotter?"

  "When you travel to worlds other than your own, it doesn't matter much what name you are called," Scotus replied. "In the World of Faeries, I'm Ganscotter. In the World of Men I have at least a dozen names."

  Beaufils frowned suddenly. "Now there's something that I would like to know."

  "What's that?"

  "My name. Mother called me Beaufils and Sir Kai, Le Beau Desconus. Gawain calls me Le Beau, and Ellyn, just Beau. Oughtn't I to have one name that is just me and not be someone different with every new person?"

  "Indeed you should. Why don't you choose one?"

  "I could do that, I suppose," Beaufils admitted. "But didn't my mother have a real name for me before she fell into the habit of calling me just Beaufils?"

  Scotus nodded. "She did." He was silent for a moment, then said, "You should know your mother's story. Her real name was Yvette, and she was the daughter of a respectable and very moral nobleman. I suppose your mother found her upbringing a bit stifling, because she left home at fifteen to become a lady-in-waiting at Camelot, dallied with a young knight, and, as a result, conceived you. Ashamed, she returned to her home, but her father turned her away. That was when she went to the forest, bore you into this world, and made a new home. A courageous woman, your mother."

  For the first time in his life, it occurred to Beaufils to wonder how his mother had survived. He couldn't imagine any of the noble ladies he had met since leaving home being able to live alone in a forest. He looked questioningly at Scotus.

  "Yes, my boy. I helped her. I admire courage, and I saw great potential in her baby."

  "So," Beaufils asked, "what did she name me?"

  "Your name is Guinglain. She meant to tell you, I think, but in her final illness, she didn't think of it."

  "Guinglain," he repeated softly. "Yes, I think I can make something of that."

  "You already have, my boy." Scotus stood. "Shall I come visit you the next time I am here in the World of Men?"

  "Please do," he replied. "You know what name to ask for." Then he realized what Scotus had just said. "What do you mean, here in the World of Men?"

  "You've been back in your own world since I sat beside you. Somewhere near the town of Leeds, I believe. You can tell Gawain and Terence when they awake." Then he stepped into the darkness and was gone.

  "When the deuce did it get so cold?" said Gawain, rolling out of his blankets the next morning. "It's as if we went from midsummer to late fall overnight."

  Beaufils, or Guinglain—as he meant to think of himself now—huddled in his blankets and glanced up at him from the fire. "Tell me, Gawain. When you travel from one world to another, do you ever find yourself in a different time as well?"

  Terence, who had been loading their horses, turned quickly to look at Guinglain. Gawain replied, "Ay, lad. Sometimes."

  "What do you mean, Beaufils?" Terence asked.

  "Well, we're in the World of Men again," Guinglain said.

  "When did this happen?" Gawain asked.

  "While you were sleeping."

  "Do you have any idea where we are?" Terence inquired.

  "Near some town call
ed Leeds."

  "Yorkshire," Gawain said. "We'll have several days' ride yet. Pity we couldn't have made the crossing to a more convenient spot."

  Terence replied with only a soft, noncommittal murmur. His eyes were on Guinglain. "You had a visitor last night?"

  Guinglain nodded, and Terence asked no more questions. They ate breakfast by the fire, then mounted and rode away. Terence and Gawain both had warm clothes, but Guinglain still wore his old sleeveless leather jerkin, so he kept his blankets wrapped around him as they made their way south through the chilly, damp wind. His feet grew numb by midday, and the rest of him never got warm, since the blankets kept slipping from his shoulders. A nice warm cloak or a few minutes out of the wind would be nice, he reflected.

  At that moment, as if in answer to Guinglain's wish, they came upon a small, deserted house in a weedy clearing. The hut had the dark windows and forlorn aspect that mark every deserted house, but it looked to be in fair condition, and there was an unfinished woodpile behind it. Gawain halted in the yard. "Shall we stop here for a bit? We can eat inside, out of the wind."

  "Is anyone home?" Terence wondered aloud.

  Guinglain looked about the forest clearing, his brow furrowed. Then he smiled. "No one will be home," he said. "This is a hermitage, but the hermit has left."

  "You've been here before?" Terence asked.

  Guinglain nodded. "Yes. With Ellyn, Sir Bors, and Sir Lionel."

  "And you're sure the hermit's gone?" Gawain asked, dismounting.

  "Pretty sure," Guinglain replied. "He didn't really seem cut out for the holy life."

  Gawain said, "Well, if there's no one here, let's find a place for the animals and go inside."

  Another memory came to Guinglain, and he leaped from Clover's back. "There's something else he doesn't need now," he said, running into the house. There it was, still hanging where he had left it: the thick, warm robe the hermit had thrown down before leaving. Guinglain pulled it over his head, glad that this particular hermit had not chosen to wear the rough, bristly haircloth that some other holy men used. Gawain stepped into the room, followed by Terence. Gawain blinked at Guinglain's robe.

 
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