Knight Gareth witnesses something Horrible
King Erik was happy with the outcome. The war had added to his prestige. On his return he entrusted his knight at arms to his cronies all valiant men who had fought by his side for long. He paid his courtesy call to his aunt Lady Gisella of Griswold. Then he had his horses and four wolfhounds to look after. Having done these he could walk towards his apartment.
As soon as he entered the palace he hung his battle axe on its rack along with his breastplate and chain mail. Sooner had he settled his weapons and irons he entered into his private chambers. He drank himself to oblivion. He had earned his drink by Saint Maloy!.
On waking up the king called his court jester Berthold and asked him to fill in his day-book as before with the days events.
Berthold had a fine hand with which entered somewhat as follows.
Tuesday: Reception of the Council of Minisiters. Knight Gareth introduced to the pards. Dinner: Knight Gareth is seated next to Lady Gisella. The knight strong with his sword as reports go; definitely shy with women. Lady Gisella spoke with her eyes and her ladies in waiting all in titter.
Thursday a bear hunt. So it was to the forest Malfardeen. Black bears aplenty.
Saturday: Thirty pelts assured. Meat to the wolfhounds. Beaters get farthings and free drinks. Bonfire by the plains. King and party sets out for wenching. Knight Gareth sits apart stone sober. He doesn’t drink like a knight. He doesn’t wench unlike the king. He says he misses his hearth.
Sunday: Lady Gisella drops in on the king’s party. King orders Knight Gareth to escort her back. May be Lady Gisella and Maid Sylvia will need to watch out the knight doesn’t cry on their shoulders.
The scribe wasn’t far from wrong. Knight Gareth was the miserable but he dreaded displeasing the king. He kept company to the ladies and he spoke only when spoken to. He was a reluctant gallant who knew his place. Often as he trotted his horse by them he thought how he could drop them all and make a visit to his Greta.
He had no idea how his absence was viewd in his home town.
The battle of the Marshes was celebrated throughout Gothburg with enthusiasm. Only that news from the court began circulating among the elite; and soon the habitues of the taverns and coffee houses began narrating the valor of a knight. Gareth was a name much bandied about. No one could place hearing of such a wight.
The town of Fidelis by the river Ghoul could take pride in one broad road and it was paved with shale. Every Friday market brought the burghers who made something useful or needed, together. Knight Gareth was a name that the folks could not place let alone remember of having seen. As squire Cut n’Thrust they had hobnobbed and made merry at the end of the day for a pint or two. Had they known him as the husband of Greta they could have chattered about their love that stemmed from ther cradle; they knew the ups and downs of their family fortunes; and they knew their tastes in fashion. Their hearts could weave poetry of uneventful life on the refrain of fidelty alone and if some minstrels needed material they would have pointed them to the couple. The squire was a nobody who made their rude tongues wax eloquent; as the name Gareth awed them to silence.
Greta went on with her life and she was not happy since her lover was absent. Her babe made her life full but something had gone out of her life. Where was he?
One morning Greta got up hurriedly to meet the bailiff from Roget le Duc the lord of the domain and he was rather abrupt to call on her door early. “If you paid the dues in time I would have been resting in my bed” He abused the manner in which he was harried by folks for no mistake of his. Greta wrung her hands and sighed. It was three months since her husband had disappeared. She knew he was alive and would not leave her unless he had a good reason. It was her sorrow and it was not going let her off the hook. So she let sat with him to count how much of her livestock would please the Duke’s collector. They haggled over flock of geese and a cow as surety. She promised to pay as early as possible. After sending him away grumbling she called her neighbor Agathe and asked,’Will you be going to the market? She had things to do around her house. Knowing the drift she agreed to look after Rudy and told her about the latest gossip. Knight Gareth and his exploits were of least interest to her.
She had a cart load of baskets woven by her to sell. These were beautifully crafted and she also took pride in them. If she could sell them all she could have redeemed her pledge. She was wistful. She didn’t blame her man. Edgar was his name who looked after his family. She still looked winsome her plainness made delicious by her warm heart. After finishing her chores she carried her baby to the neighbor with instructions. Agathe listened to her indulgently.’ I brought in my time eight angels’ she thought to herself.
Meanwhile Knight Gareth was in a manner of speaking held in prisoner by his king. King Erik was besotted with pride of his new champion. He had begun to think grand and he knew Gareth would make his ambition to fruition. The week after he had rested in one of the houses where his knights were housed he asked permission to go and see his wife. “I am sick with love,”he said bluntly and the king assured he would get to see his family sooner than he thought. The king told him that he was indebted to him because he shed blood for his honor.”It has cleaned you from your low ignoble birth.” He was certain it was premature: his idea was that he ought to go home only to give his family a new name. A new pomp and circumstance for the House of Gosling he had almost won by his might.
The king had set a whole regimen to make his knight earn his place at the court. Towards this he had to excel in fencing, courtly dance and diplomacy. “You have to think like a prince if you were to serve me.” Edgar or Knight Gareth could not find fault with his reasoning. King Erik also confided how he was harried by people who lived across the river. Palatinate of Ghoul was one itching for war. ‘I am a man of peace till odds of victory is in my favor.’ Surprisings there was a diplomat from the Palatinate. In annoyance he threw his hands and said, “Enough headaches and must you add to mine?” That shut up the knight.
A fortnight later the king received a few diplomats from the Elector of Palatine. The knight was by the side of the king. Of the many gifts brought the diplomat picked a recorder from a wickerwork . Knight Gareth was struck by it. It was a present for Lady Gisella. The visitors conveyed compliments from Queen Mother and presents for Lady Gisella.
The king sent the knight to fetch his aunt. Knight Gareth promptly went to her apartments and informed his master’s wishes. Maid Sylvia went in and out came the Lady Gisella to receive the message in person. She gave him a smile and he for once was tongue-tied. As always she was radiant and self possessed and her playful eyes were her ornaments. He curtseyed and he could not escape her eyes as she peered into his face. Her breath was fresh and her hands rested casually on his. ‘I am real and wait what else you have to say.’ He again repeated what he was there for. “I didn’t mean that. Haven’t you something to tell me -for yourself?” He fumbled that sent her into peals of titter. Maid Sylvia also was enjoying his discomfiture. They had fun at his awkward silence. Oh I adore silences!’ Lady Gisella gurgled throatily and it was comical. The knight knew she was too smart and elegant so he kept his mouth shut.
She made him wait till she went into her boudoir and dressed herself for the occasion. All in white with her collar trimmed with ermine and train trailing behind her she was beyond compare. Hardly he dared to breathe or look at her. She put her gloved hand out and he could not escape. Her touch was as strange as he took a cold corpse for a walk. One moment she was all warm flesh and looks; in her mere presence her feminine wiles like an aura enveloped her. Now there was something awful a mystery that hit him hard. Bravely he escorted her and left her before the diplomats who were true to their form. They made deep courtesy and paid compliments. The elder presented a message from the Queen Mother which she glanced. He face showed no expression. A page meanwhile took a present and handed it to Sir Roeolf the younger of the two. Knight Gareth saw him tremble and he unfolded the silk sash and Lady Gisella as courtly as ever took it and adjusted folds so the silver patterns fell all on the right side. The knight was certain the entire frame of Lady Gisella was strange and her touch was as cold and distant.
Obviously the Queen Mother and her present disgusted her. It was the strangest sensation he could not get over. She jerked her chin haughtily as though the gift was her due.
There was an audible hiss. Like the sash unfolding. No it was burning to cinder! The flames hissed and spiraled about her. Lady Gisella went up in flames and not a speck of ash remained. A cold wind seemed to ride along the frame and nothing remained.
King Eric the Broadsword was aghast. So were his court. The embassy from the Prince-Elector of Ghoulish Palatinate was equally astounded. They wanted to express their horror and sorrow. “It was a mistake, an egregious blunder of nature, sire” Baron Thybault The senior diplomat said. The King waved him and his party. ” We shall let you know our answer.” He said and strode off. knight Gareth also made an about turn. He remembered he was entrusted with the presents. The box with recorder.
He carried them and he gasped, ” This wickerwork is familiar.” He sidled to the side of Berthold and whispered. The court Jester bounded down the wide stone steps to inquire.
Knight Gareth left the presents with the palace Chamberlain who was somewhat nervous. He had already about the terrible event. The news of Lady Gisella going up in smoke was as extraordinary as was provocative. The Queen Mother had insulted the court of Gothburg. Knight Gareth for once felt afraid. Having done his duty he quietly retraced his steps. He saw at the end of the corridor Maid Sylvia who peeked her head out and quickly motioned him to come.
He was puzzled. She almost pushed him into the chamber and shrilled,” Quickly,come sir!” She led him into a ladies boudoir rich with tapestries and polished silver mirror between candelabra. There were deep drawn out sighs and he looked around. Lady Gisella was alive. She groaned and panted. Even in her wretchedness she was stately. From the anteroom he saw her lying in a bed under a purple canopy stamped with golden bees.
Lady Gisella raised herself up. She looked pale and her eyes were strange. Eyes were kind of mysterious. And inhuman. She called him to approach and he did feeling tremor run through his body. She caught hold of his hand and drew to her bosom and said,” Tell me sire, you will ever protect me”.
Her heart beat furious and yet he felt nothing. What he experience had seared his thinking and he felt numb.
He fell silent. “See to what extent my enemies plan my destruction?”
He knew she spoke truth after her fashion. He dreaded her.
He knew he had come across the first witch that he had only heard in whispers. Now he was within her striking distance.
Late that night Master Berthold brought news that the diplomats had made a stopover by the town by River Ghoul. Knight Gareth felt his heart beat faster. He asked which and the Jester was clear. Fidelis. Blood rushed into his head he knew the wickerwork was the handiwork of his beloved. Her artistry was unmistakeable. He knew in the manner she wound the cane around the corners to create little ornamental flourishes; the way she could glide her knife to round the split canes she had left her signature. The type of cane she used itself told its story. He felt homesick. But the king had expressly sent word to him to await his further orders. He knew the king was preparing for a war with the Palatinate. The Queen Mother had played her card. It was the king’s move now.
Berthold had found ways to befriend the page in the service of Baron Thybault and he also let known a few tidbits. Probing further Knight Gareth found the Queen Mother like Lady Gisella dabbled in witchcraft. She must also know a witch of unsurpassed skills in the town of Fidelis. The Queen would not have sent her diplomats to his home town for nothing! It also made sense. Who was a witch of such power? He was stunned. The diplomats would have contacted their person in the town and found use for canework. It made his wife vulnerable. Probably the witch was very close to Greta and used her wicker basket. But he knew Lady Gisella’s attention would also be drawn similar to his line of reasoning. He was troubled at the thought.