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The quest of the fair un.., p.6
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       The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p.6

           Gerald Morris
 
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  The priest looked irritated and tried to usher Galahad into the church, but Galahad wouldn't be moved. "What shield is this?" he demanded.

  "This priest here was just telling me about it," Sir Brandegoris said. "In the forest just down this path there's a shield hung on a tree. Only the greatest of knights can take that shield down."

  "It is a sign from God!" breathed Galahad.

  "Maybe so, but not for you," Sir Brandegoris said sharply. "I was here first, and I paid good money for the information."

  The priest looked pained. "Please, Sir Brandegoris. You paid for no information. If you chose to make a donation to this church, that is your own affair, but I am no merchant."

  "What? Oh, right. Blessed if I didn't forget that. It was a contribution, not a payment, and a jolly steep contribution at that. Oh well, I don't mind. I've plenty of coin." Sir Brandegoris tossed a clinking leather bag up in the air and caught it. The priest's eyes followed it up and down. "Anyway," the knight said, "I'm off to get that shield myself. Shall I bring it back and show you?"

  "You must not, Sir Brandegoris!" the priest said hastily. "When this Holy Shield was left there by King Evelake, son of Joseph of Arimathea himself, he decreed that whoso took it must never use it just to show others its—"

  "Joseph of Arimathea!" Galahad said breathlessly. "Truly, it is a sign! I must confess at once!"

  "Well, why don't you do that, while I go fetch my new shield?" Sir Brandegoris said. With that, he dropped his bag of coins in his saddlebag, mounted, and rode away, while Galahad followed the priest inside. Beaufils went in for a moment, but this church didn't feel peaceful, like the other one, and after waiting a bit, he strolled back outside to curry Glover and Galahad's horse. He finished, and still Galahad remained inside, so Beaufils stretched out in a sunny spot to think about money.

  He had been puzzling about this money for several days, actually. Sir Bors and Sir Lionel had explained to him as they rode together that what the bandits who attacked him had been looking for had been round flat metal things called money, or coins, and that everyone wanted these things. They had tried to explain why, but it had all seemed absurd to Beaufils. Since leaving Sir Bors and Sir Lionel, though, Beaufils had observed the truth of their words. In the marketplace at Camelot, he had seen how highly these round things were esteemed and had even watched a man trade a whole basket of food for just two or three of them. Beaufils had also noticed that some people seemed to feel good about themselves if they had some of these bits of metal—like Sir Brandegoris tossing his bag of coins up and down with so much satisfaction—and others, who didn't have as many coins, seemed to feel unhappy about it—like the priest who had gazed so hungrily at Sir Brandegoris's bag.

  It was all very puzzling, and Beaufils was no closer to understanding it when at last Galahad and the priest appeared at the church door. Galahad seemed refreshed, but the priest looked almost haggard. "Thank you, Father," Galahad was saying. "I hope I didn't forget to confess something."

  "I can't see how," the priest muttered irritably. "Unless you left out the sin of making too much of your own sins."

  A cloud flitted across Galahad's brow. "Do you really think that might be a sin, Father? Do you think I should—?"

  "No, no," the priest said hastily. "Not at all. And if it is a sin, I absolve you of it. No extra charge! Just go, please!"

  "If you think that I am truly cleansed," Galahad said.

  "Pure as snow!" the priest assured him.

  A motion from the right caught Beaufils's eye, and the horse belonging to Sir Brandegoris appeared, walking back down the trail the knight had taken an hour before, with Sir Brandegoris himself slumped over the horse's neck. Galahad cried out and rushed over to the knight, but the priest only closed his eyes and sighed with frustration. It struck Beaufils that the priest wasn't surprised at all, and that his frustration wasn't because Sir Brandegoris was hurt but because Galahad had seen it.

  "Beaufils! Come help me!" Galahad called.

  Together, Galahad and Beaufils lowered the knight from his saddle. They removed his helm, and while Galahad examined him, Beaufils studied a deep dent in the back of the helm. Sir Brandegoris moaned and reached up one gauntleted hand to his head. "What happened?" he croaked.

  "He clearly was unworthy to take down the Holy Shield of King Evelake," pronounced the priest. "Let it be a warning to all who so presume."

  "I never even saw who hit me," Sir Brandegoris said with another groan.

  Beaufils took the horse's head and spoke softly to the animal, calming it, and while he stroked its neck, he reached back and felt in the knight's saddlebags. The bag of money was gone.

  "You stay here with this good priest," Galahad said, standing suddenly. "I shall seek this shield myself, and if the same enemy attacks me, I shall avenge your humiliation! Come, Beaufils."

  Galahad raced to his mount and started at a gallop down the path toward the Holy Shield of King Evelake. It took Beaufils several minutes to catch up with his friend, but when he did, Galahad smiled delightedly at him. "I knew that this adventure would be ours after all. We seek the Holy Grail, brought to this land by Joseph of Arimathea, so of course we should have the shield of Joseph of Arimathea's son. God has provided for us again on our quest!"

  Beaufils didn't bother answering. When Galahad talked fervently about God, he never noticed what anyone else said anyway. Beaufils was busy watching for hidden attackers. Ten minutes later, Galahad spied the shield, hung in the fork of a tree just off the path, and Beaufils spotted what he was looking for: a man crouching atop a boulder above the forest track. "Why don't you say one more prayer before you go get the shield?" Beaufils suggested, sliding off his mule and slipping into the forest. He circled around behind the boulder, then climbed noiselessly up behind the man. Galahad had finished his prayer and was just about to ride past the stone, his eyes fixed on the shield. The waiting man stood up, holding high in both hands a rock the size of a man's head. Beaufils stepped up behind the man and, grasping the stone just as the man began to throw it, held it in place. The man released the stone, and Beaufils allowed it to drop with a dull thunk onto the man's head. The man crumpled in a heap. Beaufils made sure that the man wasn't seriously hurt, stretched him out in a comfortable position, then searched him. Sure enough, Sir Brandegoris's money pouch was in the man's belt, so Beaufils took it and went back to Clover.

  "Did you see, Beaufils?" Galahad asked. "The shield came away in my hands as easily as the sword came from the stone!"

  "And now you have a shield, just as you wanted," Beaufils said.

  "I must go back and thank the good priest who gave me absolution before this great trial," Galahad declared.

  Beaufils looked thoughtfully at his companion. For himself, he was convinced that the priest was little more than a clever bandit, sending knights into a trap, where another man waited to bash them and steal their money, but it struck Beaufils suddenly that he shouldn't tell this to Galahad. Galahad regarded all priests as holy and blameless, and he'd never believe different. Beaufils shrugged and turned Clover back down the path after Galahad. He had to return Sir Brandegoris's money anyway.

  On the fourth evening after they left Camelot, they came to what was by then their fifth church. This one was built of stone and looked older than the others they'd been to, and there were smaller slabs of carved stone scattered about the yard beside the church. At Beaufils's query, Galahad explained that those were graves, and while Galahad went in to see the priest, Beaufils strolled among the gravestones, understanding for the first time why his mother had told him to bury her body and then cover the burial place with stones. It hadn't been just an odd idea of his mother's; it was an established custom among people. Of course it was still odd, but when everyone does the same odd thing, it seems almost normal.

  Beaufils was used to Galahad taking at least an hour for a confession, but he had been in the graveyard barely ten minutes when Galahad reappeared, accompanied by a priest.


  "Here it is, Sir Knight!" the priest was saying breathlessly. "This grave right here. Since the children first heard the noises, no one from the village will enter the churchyard. Some won't even come to church. I've heard the sounds myself, after dark, and they drove fear into my heart. O Sir Knight, if this is indeed a spirit from below, do not face it unless you are truly pure of heart!"

  "If I am not, then I can never achieve the quest I have undertaken, and it would be better for me to die anyway," Galahad replied. "Leave me now, and I shall pray while I await this visitation."

  The priest agreed readily and hurried back into the church. Beaufils watched him run, then asked, "What's the matter here?"

  "You had best leave me, Beaufils," Galahad said. "The people of this town have heard the sounds of a foul spirit coming from this grave, as if the soul is unclean and should not have been buried in holy ground. I have vowed to face it and drive it away if I am able."

  "That was kind of you," Beaufils said. "I'll stay with you while you wait."

  Galahad didn't seem to hear. He had sunk to his knees and was already deep in fervent prayer. While Galahad whispered to himself, Beaufils examined the grave. This one was more elaborate than most, being covered with a long, flat, carved slab of stone. The carvings were words, but while Beaufils could sound them out, they weren't words he knew. If a spirit did come out of the grave, maybe he could ask it what they meant.

  Less than an hour later, just as the sun was about to disappear in the west, there came a scratching and a huffing sound from inside the grave. Galahad began to pray more loudly and his breath came in gasps, as if he had been running a great distance. The sound stopped, then resumed, and Galahad fainted.

  He just crumpled and fell forward, bumping his forehead against the headstone. Pulling him away from the grave, Beaufils found that Galahad was panting and perspiring and moaning just as he had the night when Beaufils had met Scotus. Beaufils waited a moment until the scratching began again, then took hold of one end of the great stone slab and pulled it away from the grave. The scratching stopped. Beaufils lowered his head into the dark hole he had opened and said, "Hello? Anyone home?"

  As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Beaufils saw that the grave was not very deep, and in the faint moonlight even made out a few bones, scattered about, as if they'd been disturbed. Small piles of brush dotted the open hole. Just below the headstone Beaufils made out a second hole, round and about a hand's breadth wide. From this hole, two bright eyes peered out. Beaufils grinned. "Hello, dear," he said. He lowered his hand into the grave and waited expectantly. After a minute a hedgehog appeared from the round opening and sniffed Beaufils's hand tentatively. "You've been scaring the people around here," Beaufils said sternly. "Let's go find you another place to build a den." He carefully picked up the spiny creature and drew it from the hole, but as he lifted it out of the grave, Galahad moaned, and the hedgehog jumped from his hand and scurried back into its tunnel. Beaufils sighed. He had known many small animals when he was growing up, and he knew he'd not coax this one out again. For the next twenty minutes, Beaufils worked to plug up the hedgehog's tunnel with large stones. Then he pushed the slab back into place and waited for Galahad to awake from his swoon.

  It was an hour before Galahad jerked into consciousness. "Did you see it?" he demanded.

  "Yes, yes, I saw it," Beaufils said soothingly.

  "What did it look like?" Galahad asked.

  "Um, it had sharp points sticking out all over it," Beaufils replied carefully.

  "Did it have a human shape?"

  "No, not at all."

  "Did it see me?" Galahad asked, his voice tense.

  "Yes."

  "What did it do?"

  "It ran away. It was afraid of you, you see."

  "Afraid of me!" Galahad repeated, wonder in his voice. "Then it is true! I truly am the purest of all knights! Even the spirits flee from me!"

  Beaufils considered his friend in silence for a minute. He could tell him the truth, of course, but once again Beaufils knew instinctively that the truth would not be welcome. Galahad was so sure of his own way of seeing things that he wasn't really very interested in seeing anything that didn't fit. Beaufils realized with surprise that as much as he liked Galahad and respected him for his desire to do right, he was growing weary of his friend. You had to pretend too much when you were with Galahad, and it was starting to get tiresome.

  V. The Carl of Carlisle

  Since leaving Camelot, Beaufils and Galahad had been traveling in a general northerly direction, varying their course only when Galahad got word of a church he could visit. On their sixth day out, Galahad told Beaufils that they were nearing Scotland and would enter that land soon after they passed through the town of Carlisle. All places were new to Beaufils, of course, so he didn't care one way or the other, but Galahad liked to tell him where they were, and Beaufils didn't mind hearing it.

  On the outskirts of Carlisle, Beaufils had a new and wonderful experience—the delight of meeting an old friend. Crossing a field, they came upon Gawain, whom Beaufils greeted with pleasure. He was less excited to see that Gawain was accompanied by Bishop Baldwin from Camelot, but Galahad seemed more excited to encounter Bishop Baldwin, so it worked out very evenly.

  As they rode into town, Beaufils fell back beside Gawain and gestured at Galahad and Bishop Baldwin riding ahead of them. "Galahad seems very pleased with Bishop Baldwin, doesn't he? Normally he only gets this excited about meeting priests."

  Gawain glanced at him curiously. "Well, you know—or, rather, I suppose you don't—a bishop is a kind of priest."

  "Oh, that explains it," Beaufils said. "I didn't know. I thought 'Bishop' was just a part of his name."

  "No, it's a title," Gawain explained, "like king or duke or baron."

  "Does everyone have a title?" Beaufils asked.

  "No," Gawain replied. "It's a special privilege, and the people who have a title sometimes think it makes them very special indeed."

  Beaufils smiled at Gawain's witticism. He had to be joking, of course; Beaufils knew that people would never really think they were special just because of extra words tacked onto their name. Changing the subject, Beaufils asked, "What brings you and Bishop Baldwin to Carlisle? Have you heard anything of that Grail thing we're looking for?"

  Gawain shook his head. "Nay. I have no notion which way to look, so I thought I'd look up north. I have family in this direction, you see. It seemed like a good time to drop in for a visit. Why shouldn't the Grail be at my brother's house, after all? As for Baldwin"—his voice changed slightly, and Beaufils sensed Gawain's dislike of the priest—"I've no idea why he came this way. I found him lost on the moors yesterday. He'd been two days without food, so I fed him and brought him along. I thought I might drop him off with some wealthy patron here in Carlisle."

  Beaufils asked what a wealthy patron was, and Gawain explained that sometimes noblemen—those people with extra words in their name—took care of priests. "I see," Beaufils said. "And have you found one?"

  "Not yet," Gawain said, "but a villager on the road told me there's a castle up ahead that belongs to the Carl of Carlisle."

  "Ah, and is 'Carl' another one of those titles?"

  "Not usually," Gawain replied. "More often, it means a rough and boorish person, like 'churl,' but the villager told me that he owns most of the lands hereabouts, so I thought we'd give it a try. When he hears that we're from Arthur's court, he might put us all up for the night. These rich fellows often do."

  Twenty minutes later, having asked for directions in town, the four came to the castle of the Carl of Carlisle. Gawain knocked on the great gate; then they waited. Nothing happened. No one opened the gate or even looked over the wall. Bishop Baldwin began to frown. "Try again!" he commanded Gawain.

  Gawain cast the bishop a look of distaste, but he did as told and knocked again, harder. Again they waited in silence. Just before Gawain knocked a third time, the gate began to creak, and opened a crack. A slou
ching man in stained clothes peeked around the edge of the door. "What?" he demanded in a surly voice.

  "Pardon our—" Gawain began.

  "Open this gate at once," Bishop Baldwin commanded. "I am Bishop Baldwin of Camelot, and my escort includes two of knights of the Round Table! Tell your master we demand his hospitality for the night!"

  "Baldwin," Gawain expostulated. "You can't—"

  "I'll tell him," drawled the stained man, "and he might even let you stay, if he's in the mood, but I'll tell you now you'd rather not. Whyn't you go find a nice clean farmhouse somewhere?"

  "We are from Camelot," Bishop Baldwin replied, "and we do not sleep in farmhouses."

  "We don't?" Beaufils asked Gawain. "Why not? Is there a rule?"

  "I've slept in many a farmhouse and been glad for it," Gawain said quietly to Beaufils. "Better than the woods, I say."

  "All right," the man at the gate said. "I'll tell the Carl. You come on in if you're minded, but don't say I didn't warn you." With that he pushed the gate open wider and shuffled away.

  The four travelers rode into the filthiest place that Beaufils had ever seen. The castle courtyard was strewn with all sorts of stinking piles of garbage and rotting food. Rats scampered about in the open, and swarms of flies filled the air. "You want to rethink the farmhouse idea?" Gawain asked, but Bishop Baldwin either didn't hear or pretended not to. No one dismounted while they waited in the courtyard for the doorman to return; no one wanted to step in something nasty.

  At last the stained man leaned from the window and said, "The Carl says to suit yourselves. Stay here if you want; it's no skin off his arse."

  He turned away, but before he disappeared inside again, Gawain called out, "And, sir, forgive me, but is there a place we can put our horses?"

  "If you want, you can leave 'em with the asses in the stable," the man said with a grunt, gesturing to a ramshackle building against the far wall.

  "Thank you," Gawain said, bowing politely.

 
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