3 November, 2013 by katelaity
Here’s a sneak peak at the medieval romance I’m writing for NaNoWriMo. If you’re taking part, be sure to ‘buddy’ me:
Knight of the White Hart
by Kit Marlowe
Blurb: Based on Marie de France’s ‘Guigemar’: the tale of a man who thought he could live without love until he shoots a white deer — and wounds himself.
Thise auld gentil Bretons in hir dayes
Of diverse aventures maden layes…
It all came down to the third lance. Guigemar looked down the pitch at his opponent. The tall Lancastrian had proved more formidable than he had expected, but that was all to the best. He was more than ready.
After some weeks of idleness after the last campaign, the king’s proposal of a tournament was met with hearty cheers by all his knights. Guigemar had been especially enthusiastic, as he had known it would be his last adventure before heading reluctantly home. Somehow Brittany had come to be a rather dull place in his mind and he thrilled to the world he had discovered in Arthur’s court.
The lanky man opposite him doubtless had the same eagerness and resolve. Guigemar felt the familiar weight of the lance under his arm as he measured up his challenger. The two of them had faced many today, but now it was just they two.
And the one lance each wielded would decide the matter.
Guigemar allowed the possibility of another draw to enter his mind and then swept it away. He would be satisfied with nothing but victory. Beneath him Robin stamped with what seemed to be equal impatience. The huge chestnut charger strained at the bit, his muscles wound as tightly as the coils of a serpent’s body, ready to spring. How strange that training could so completely overcome the nature of the beast; a horse in his natural state would flee this sort of arena, yet here he was, as eager for the fray as his master.
The crowd shouted encouragement to them all. Guigemar knew there were likely as many cheering for him as against him. It didn’t really signify. God would award victory to whomever he chose. All any knight could do was his best. Fate would fall as it must.
But how he wanted to win!
Let it be so, he prayed fervently and briefly, I wish to depart with my name upon their lips in joy. Guigemar glanced up at Arthur and saw the king leaning forward with anticipation. The cares of the kingdom and the recent skirmishes in the north had lifted from his brow for the time being and he retained that look of youthful vigor that only fleetingly visited of late.
The queen sat beside him, eyes bright. She always seemed half thrilled and yet half terrified that one of the men might actually injure himself drastically. It was not unknown. Without exception, Arthur’s knights threw themselves into the jousting with the same zeal they showed in battle.
It meant something to win, and Guigemar had very nearly won everything.
The Lancastrian’s mount reared slightly, forcing him to rein it in and resettle the lance into the ready position once more. Guigemar found himself grateful that Robin kept all his energetic spirits within, not dancing with eagerness like so many of the horses. Both their bodies were taut with the keenness. Surely the seneschal who held the banner at the ready would give the signal in a moment.
As always happened at moments like this, Guigemar felt a calm descend upon him. Though his body remained taut, the muscles ready to launch him into action, the radiance of bliss coursed through his veins.
He was a knight of proven ability, ready to prove it once more. There was no doubt in his mind.
After a quick look between the two challengers, the seneschal dropped the banner and ran hastily from the track. Guigemar gripped the lance and dug his heels into Robin’s sides, an action perhaps superfluous as the gelding knew the sign as well as he and tensed to leap even as the spurs touched his flanks. It was the ritual that gave each action its significance and they trusted it as they trusted the cadences of the mass.
Robin’s hooves dug into the dirt of the arena like spades in haste to plant a new field. Down the long rail, the Lancastrian’s grey mirrored his movements, hooves flashing as they beat an eager tattoo in the soft ground. The long limbs flew as they impelled their riders toward one another.
Guigemar leaned into the wind, his grip on the lance firm yet relaxed. His mind held nothing but the ghost of the words Let it be so! as they clattered toward the impact. The minute details of the ride would return to him later—how he could feel the whistle of air through the gap where the couter at his elbow had been knocked askew by the stray lance of that buffoon from Cornwall. The man had no business facing knights of their caliber, better he had remained in the west for a few years more. Doubtless he had a father more eager for fame and a good wife for him than for battle and true glory. Guigemar had been irked by the damage but now it only served to remind him, like the scars on his flesh, of all that he had mastered.
Even the calls of the crowd, urging their favourites on to victory, came only indistinctly to his ear. There would be time enough to enjoy their shouts when he had vanquished his challenger. Now there was only the beat of hooves, the labored breathing of them both, the chink of the armour with every step and the ever-present weight of the lance.
His opponent grew larger as the gap between them closed, the grey pounding along as fervently as Robin did, the man in the saddle leaned forward for the blow as he did. The lines of his frame spoke as clearly of his determination.
Guigemar lifted his lance a fraction higher. That had been his mistake before. Ritual did not mean habit; if the movements became meaningless, their aim did as well. He should have taken the man’s size into consideration from the start. One could not glimpse his countenance through the visor, but the smile that lit his face must have radiated through his limbs to the more perspicacious of the onlookers. Afterward there were many who said they had known the third time would be his from the way God’s grace seemed to shine upon him.
In his chest the certainty sang but he did not let it distract him from his task. The distance between them had become mere yards and the clank of metal, the grunts of the effort from both men and both horses melded in the crisp afternoon air. It seemed as if the entire audience, from the field workers crowded at the sides to the nobles on the dais, held its breath in anticipation of the final clash.
Guigemar breathed out and braced himself as he let a last prayer leave his lips behind the metal mask: in manus tuas. Robin sped even faster and the Lancastrian and his horse bent to the blow and then it came, as it always did, like an explosion of light and pain and sound that sucked the very air from his lungs as they both staggered back even as their mounts charged on.
The blow never landed without surprise, without the fear that he would be dislodged from his horse and fall to the ground with ignominy. Sometimes it had been so and he had cursed his failings, mounted and tried yet again. Very often he had sustained the blow and gone on to be felled by the next, but very often too he had shouted with victory and accepted the laurels and gifts that had been awarded to him.
Guigemar held the broken lance in his grip yet, unable as much as unwilling to let it go. As breath returned to his body, he whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for life, Deo gratias! As he straightened up in the saddle, he became aware of the crowd’s rising cheer of noise and looked behind him.
The Lancastrian had fallen!
[Don’t worry, AIRSHIPS & ALCHEMY will return!]