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The quest of the fair un.., p.3
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.3

           Gerald Morris
 
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  The man fell. His violent swing completely overbalanced him, and he tumbled with a clatter to the path. Beaufils swung down, hung from the branch for a moment, then dropped lightly beside the stunned knight. The knight's sword lay on the ground at Beaufils's feet, and he picked it up. The knight groaned and sat up just as Galahad cantered near.

  "What meant thou, Sir Knight," Galahad said, in a somewhat deeper voice than his normal one, "lying thus in wait for strange knights errant?"

  The knight shook his head slowly, as though to clear it, then replied, "Are you Sir Breunis Sans Pité?" he asked.

  "I am not," replied Galahad.

  The knight sighed with relief and rose to his feet. "I beg your pardon," he said. "I had heard that that most wicked of recreant knights was in these parts. He lives but to strike down young knights from ambush, and when I heard you approach, I hid."

  "You should not run from recreant knights!" Galahad said sternly.

  "But Sir Breunis Sans Pité is a demon with a sword! I confess that I feared for my life."

  "You need not fear now that I am with you," Galahad said.

  The knight looked Galahad over frankly. "But ... forgive me for pointing this out ... you don't seem to be armed."

  Galahad lifted his chin. "Sword or no sword, I fear no recreant knight."

  "That's admirable," the knight replied. "But if it's all the same to you, I'd rather have my sword back." He glanced at Beaufils, who returned his sword. Immediately the knight grasped the sword by the hilt and put the point at Galahad's throat.

  "You are very brave, youngster. Also very stupid. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Breunis Sans Pité, and I am the last knight you will ever see alive."

  "You would strike down a knight with no sword?" Galahad asked, his face calm.

  "Not extremely clever, are we? Didn't you hear my name? 'Sans Pité' means without mercy. I don't care if you're armed or not, except that unarmed is easier. Are you ready to die now?"

  By way of answer, Galahad—who had silently slipped his foot from his stirrup while Sir Breunis talked—simply kicked Sir Breunis in his elbow and, in the same motion, threw himself backward from his horse. He landed on the ground like a cat and whirled around to face the knight, but there was no danger there. Sir Breunis's sword had flown harmlessly from his grasp, and he was kneeling on the ground clutching his right arm. Galahad retrieved the sword, then strode over to the kneeling knight and placed the edge against his neck. "Tell me why I should not slay you now," Galahad said calmly.

  "You've broke my arm!" Sir Breunis said.

  "It's true," Beaufils contributed. "I heard it crack. That'll smart for a bit."

  "I care not. He would have killed us both. Truly I should break his neck and rid the world of an evil man."

  "You would kill an unarmed knight?" Sir Breunis whimpered.

  "It is what you meant to do, after all," Galahad replied. "It is no crime to punish evil." He drew back the sword to strike.

  His eyes glazed with pain, Sir Breunis managed to say, "I don't suppose it would help to say I was sorry, would it?" He clearly didn't think it would, because he then closed his eyes and braced himself for the blow.

  But Galahad had stopped and was staring at Sir Breunis uncertainly. In a low voice, as if speaking to himself, he said, "If he has truly repented and I kill him, then I commit a mortal sin."

  Sir Breunis opened his eyes, one at a time. Then suddenly, with his good arm, he began frantically touching his forehead and stomach and both shoulders and muttering, "Domine patris ave Maria plene gratia something something summa pater noster" and several other things like that. Beaufils stared at him with consternation. He appeared to have lost his mind.

  But Galahad lowered the sword. "Sir Breunis," he said at last. "I do not know if your repentance is true or not, but if it is not, God will requite you for your falseness. I will not slay you."

  Sir Breunis stopped muttering and waving his arm about and let out his breath slowly. "You are a true Christian knight, my lord," he said. Then his eyes rolled up in his head, and he fainted, falling face first into the dust.

  Beaufils and Galahad rode away an hour later. Beaufils had set the unconscious knight's broken arm and bound it tightly, and Galahad, after much soul-searching, had returned his sword. Pacing back and forth for a long time, Galahad had fretted aloud about whether he should keep the sword for himself or return it. Beaufils was occupied with Sir Breunis's broken arm and didn't pay a great deal of attention, but in the end Galahad slid the sword back in its owner's scabbard. "For if his repentance was true and I left him defenseless, it could be the same as doing him harm myself," he said. "God shall have to provide me another sword, if it be His will."

  Beaufils didn't understand Galahad's scruples, but he was content to let him sort out the matter for himself. Leaving Sir Breunis beside the path, he and Galahad remounted and continued together toward Camelot.

  "Galahad?" Beaufils said.

  "Yes, Beaufils?"

  "You're very quick, too."

  They slept that night in a dense forest that Galahad said was less than a day's ride from Camelot. Beaufils was pleased that they were near their goal—he had already traveled over far more country than he would have believed existed—but he would not have minded if the journey had been longer. He liked traveling with a friend.

  In the middle of the night, Beaufils was awakened by a strange noise. It sounded like nothing he had ever heard, but among the sounds he knew it was most like the cry of a wounded and frightened animal. He sat up at once in the darkness and waited for the noise to recur. When it did, he realized with surprise that it was coming from Galahad, asleep a few yards away. Taking a smoldering stick from the dying fire, Beaufils blew it into flame and held it over his friend to see if he were hurt, but there were no visible wounds. Galahad's eyes were tightly closed, but his forehead shone with sweat, and he writhed and twisted under his blanket.

  Beaufils sat cross-legged beside his friend and waited. Galahad appeared to be ill, and if that was so he needed his sleep, but Beaufils wanted him to have help as soon as he awoke. For nearly an hour Galahad moaned and cried out and mumbled to himself, but never did he awake. At last he seemed to grow quieter and to rest more easily and, after waiting another minute, Beaufils turned back toward his own bed, then started with surprise. Seated on a stone beside his bed was an old man.

  "You're very quiet, old man," Beaufils said.

  "I have that reputation," the man replied. "How is your friend?"

  "I hardly know. He seems to be resting better now, but I don't know what was wrong with him. I suppose he is ill, like my mother."

  "Your mother is no longer ill," the old man said. "Nor for that matter is Galahad. He was dreaming." Beaufils wanted to ask the man how he knew about his mother, but the man spoke first. "In Galahad's dream, a strange woman came to him. She held out her hands to him in welcome, but he ran away. As he ran, he came to a great tournament of knights. He joined the contest and fought very well, defeating every knight and claiming the crown, but when he knelt to receive his prize, he found it was held by the woman he had run from."

  It didn't occur to Beaufils to doubt the old man or even to wonder how he knew Galahad's dream. Instead he said, "Why did Galahad run from the woman?"

  The old man nodded. "He was frightened of her."

  "She didn't sound frightening," Beaufils said.

  "To you she would not be," the old man said. "But enough about Galahad. How are you finding your life outside the forest?"

  "I like it very much. People are much more interesting than beasts. I never knew how exciting they would be."

  "All of them?"

  Beaufils shook his head slowly, thinking of Mordred. "Not all, no," he admitted.

  "That young knight who was with Galahad?" the old man asked. Beaufils nodded, and the old man seemed satisfied. He rose to his feet. "Son, I must ask you a favor."

  "Of course, old man."

  "Don't tell
anyone you have spoken with me."

  "If you wish," Beaufils said. "Why not?"

  "Some people might not believe that you met an old man in the forest—or approve of it if they did."

  "All right," Beaufils said. "Will we meet again?" The old man nodded, and Beaufils said, "I'm glad to hear it. My name is Beaufils."

  "No, it isn't," the old man replied. "But it will do. My name is Scotus." Then he stepped backward and the dark swallowed him completely. Beaufils lay down and went to sleep at once.

  Galahad had dark circles under his eyes the next morning, but Beaufils said nothing about his friend's fitful sleep. Since he had promised not to tell Galahad about Scotus, it was best not to say anything at all, even when Galahad stared morosely at the fire and replied irritably to every word. When they had eaten, finishing off the last of the nuts and vegetables that Beaufils had packed for his journey, Galahad spoke suddenly. "We must find a church before we go to Camelot. It has been five days since I've heard mass. I will not go to court until I do." As usual, Beaufils didn't know what Galahad was talking about, but he had no objection to a side trip. So far, everywhere had proven to be equally interesting, and he supposed that a church must be an enjoyable place too.

  And so it was. Around midmorning, Galahad spotted a tower that he somehow knew was a church. As they rode near, Galahad tried to explain to Beaufils what he would find there. Beaufils listened closely but it all sounded very strange to him—stranger even than the first description of "knights" that he had heard—and he decided he would just have to wait to see it all himself. Galahad led him up to a huge town filled with more people than Beaufils had ever imagined living in one place—as many as thirty, or even more. Beaufils wanted to stop and talk to them all, especially the children, but Galahad rode through the town without giving the people a glance, went right to the building with the tower, and found a man in black robes. Within an hour Beaufils was sitting in the back of a large room, listening to the pleasing drone of the robed man's murmur while Galahad knelt at the man's feet. There was a sweet, burning smell in the room and dozens of little fires flicking shadows on the walls, and as Beaufils watched the priest and Galahad go through the obviously memorized motions, he felt suddenly peaceful. It made him want to say thank you to God, so he did, but he took care to do so very quietly. Everything seemed to follow such a strict order in the church, Beaufils wasn't sure if giving thanks to God would be allowed.

  When the two men were done, Galahad rose to his feet, looking calm and refreshed, and strode back to where Beaufils sat waiting. "I am ready now, my friend," he said. "Let us go to Camelot."

  III. A Chair, A Sword, and A Platter

  Beaufils was speechless. He had thought that the town where Galahad had gone to church had been large, but Camelot—Camelot was beyond anything he had ever imagined. There were people everywhere, like leaves in a forest, and every one was different and interesting. There were more houses than he had thought could exist, all clustered around high stone walls, and inside the walls, towers rose high in the air, decked with strips of cloth attached to poles and fluttering in the wind. In the streets were wonders beyond compare: there were wooden platforms on wheels being pulled along by mules or horses or some other animals—what a clever idea!—and men with huge muscles and heavy hammers pounding pieces of red-hot metal into shapes—whoever first thought of that?—and other people with whole tables piled high with vegetables, more than anyone could eat at one time. Beaufils wanted to stop everywhere to talk to the people he met, but Galahad rode through the town without looking at the people at all, so Beaufils had to be content with staring at everything as he passed by.

  They came to a great gate, where Galahad spoke to a man carrying a long pole with a sharp metal point—a lance, Beaufils supposed—and a moment later they rode into the castle itself. By this time, Beaufils was too dazed to take it all in; there were just too many colors, too much activity, too many faces, for him to register everything. But then he looked down into the eyes of a red-haired girl, who was staring at him. "Hello, girl," Beaufils said.

  The girl turned red and beamed at him. "Good day, sir," she replied breathlessly.

  Another girl, with yellow hair, came up behind the first girl and stopped. She too was staring at Beaufils, so he smiled at her, and she turned red, too. "What is your name?" Beaufils asked the first girl.

  "Maggie, sir," the red-haired girl said.

  "And I'm Anna," said the yellow-haired girl.

  "He didn't ask for your name," Maggie said over her shoulder. "He was talking to me."

  "Don't be a piggie," Anna said.

  "I saw him first," snapped Maggie.

  "What does that have to say to anything?" Anna hissed. "You don't think he likes you best just because he saw you first, do you?"

  "No, I think so because he spoke to me first," retorted Maggie.

  Beaufils didn't understand what was going on, but he realized that somehow he had caused these two girls to speak angrily to each other. Perhaps he had been rude by speaking to only one of them. He said, "I'm very glad to meet you both," smiled at them again, then urged Glover ahead so as to catch up with Galahad. Behind him, he heard Maggie say, "See what you done? You run him off!"

  It seemed there were many customs that he would have to figure out in a big town like Camelot, and he hoped he wouldn't make too many more mistakes. He didn't want to make people argue. Galahad stopped and glanced over his shoulder at Beaufils. "Say, Beaufils, do you see the stables anywhere? We ought to put up our horses ... er, our animals."

  Evidently a stable was a place to put horses and mules. Beaufils didn't know where one was or even what one looked like, but he said, "I can ask this girl if you like." He turned to a girl with very dark eyes who had been walking beside him for a little ways, glancing frequently up at him. "Excuse me, girl."

  The girl turned red. Evidently turning red was good manners. Beaufils hoped he didn't have to learn how to do it. She bent her knees and picked up her skirts in an odd gesture, then stammered, "Yes, sir?"

  "What is your name?"

  "Maude, sir."

  "I'm glad to meet you." The girl turned even brighter red, and Beaufils continued. "Can you tell my friend and me where a stable is?"

  "Ooh, yes sir," the girl said. "I'd be happy to take you there, sir."

  "That's very kind of you," Beaufils replied. "Galahad, Maude here is going to show us the way."

  By the time they arrived at the stable, Maude had been joined by three other girls, all eager to help. At the stable, Galahad cared for his great horse while Beaufils and the four girls saw to it that Clover was rubbed down and fed. Girls seemed to like mules more than horses. When they were done, Galahad looked disdainfully at the girls gathered around Beaufils and said, "Perhaps you could ask your, ah, acquaintances if they know when the next meeting of Arthur's Round Table is to be."

  Beaufils turned to the girls, who all began talking at once. At last, Maude managed to silence the others and say, "Why, it's tonight, sir. There's a special meeting to discuss the chair! There's going to be a banquet for all the knights of the court in the Great Hall—which Lisa and Martha did ought to be going off to prepare, them bein' kitchen maids—and then the knights'll all go to the Round Table and talk about what's to be done about the chair."

  "What chair?" demanded Galahad.

  Maude replied at once, but to Beaufils instead of to Galahad. "Ooh, don't you know about the chair? It's the greatest marvel anyone hereabouts has ever seen! It just appeared yesterday, a new chair at the Round Table, with letters carved right in the back of it. They do say that those letters spell out that only the greatest knight ever can sit in that chair, and nobody knows where it came from, with words and everything!"

  "Words right on a chair?" Beaufils said. "What a notion!"

  "This is a marvel indeed," Galahad said. "And who may go to the banquet?"

  "Every knight who's at court'll be there," Maude said.

  "We must attend, Be
aufils," Galahad said decisively.

  "Fine with me," Beaufils replied. "What's a banquet?"

  Beaufils followed Galahad around the court for an hour as his friend talked to different knights and other gorgeously dressed people, who Beaufils learned were called "courtiers," and at the end of it all, the two were given a room to share. They entered the room, and Galahad firmly closed the door, shutting out several girls who had been following along to help.

  "You should be careful there, my friend," Galahad said soberly.

  Beaufils had been about to sit down, but at Galahad's warning he stopped. "Does this chair not look strong enough?" he asked.

  "Not the chair, Beaufils. I mean the girls."

  Beaufils frowned uncertainly. "Who should be careful? Me or the girls?"

  "You, my friend. You are very innocent, I know, and you employ no arts to attract them, but attract them you do. You must keep your distance. Women are more dangerous than you know."

  It was inconceivable to Beaufils that the girls who had been so helpful all day long could be dangerous, but he decided not to ask for an explanation. He had learned in his days with Galahad that it was just when his friend was most earnest that he was least likely to make sense.

  Galahad continued. "You are wholly unaware of it, Beaufils, but as those girls' attention shows, you are an extraordinarily handsome young man. Your features, your form, and your expression are all perfection itself."

  "Please, what does 'handsome' mean?" Beaufils didn't remember his mother ever using that word.

  "It means ... it means pleasant to look at."

  As Beaufils had expected, Galahad's explanation made no sense. Beaufils thought that everyone he'd met was pleasant to look at. One person had particularly bright eyes; another had brilliant hair; another smiled with great sweetness; another looked very strong and healthy. Everyone he'd seen had been interesting. But he didn't pursue the subject. Instead he asked, "And are we to go to this big meal—this banquet?"

 
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