A Table Like the Moon
by Sebastian Blade
Copyright 2011, all rights reserved
Note: It's Arthurian, a bit of a gender twister.
"Shhh," the healer comforted, one hand under the laboring woman's head, the other holding a small wooden bowl of herbs and medicinal tea to her dry lips. "All will be well."
Goosebumps danced over the healer's scalp, down slender tired arms. A braid as long as a bard's hung down the healer's back, thick silken brown, hints of red and gold that danced in opposition to the dozens of flickering candles and their raking, shifting shadows. As the patient settled back into a fitful unrest, quieted by the forbidden magics in the tea, Gwenhyvar straightened proudly. "Have you come to kill me? Have the pity to wait until the child is delivered. The baby is innocent and can know no secrets."
Barely louder than the candle flickering, a figure, lean and taunt moved so that his shadow lay across the captured queen and laboring woman both. In a voice softened by Rome's rolling tongue, deeply quiet, possibly too tightly cautious to ever be at ease, he asked, "And what secrets might the Queen of the Moon hold that could end such a precious life?"
Gwenhyvar turned slowly, head held high, pale blue eyes meeting the intruder's with neither demands nor supplication. "If one holds a secret that might lead to death, now it would behoove one to keep such a secret to one's self. Death is something one should not share."
The figure wore leather breeches sewn together of different shades and textures that formed ocean patterns. Burnished iron greaves covered both legs, but only up to his knees. Shadows played cross his body, suggesting an ambiguity of sex which intrigued the healer queen. One sword hissed as it was shoved home to its sheath. With a new free hand, the intruder pulled a simple iron helm clear, revealing a fine boned face with scars burned in deliberate lines on both cheeks. Dark eyes were at once intelligent and too feral for much hesitation. "With all that hair, my queen, it may be that you are well acquainted with the secrets in song."
"That may well be," Gwenhyvar said, "But you have done no deed nor offered any merit for which to make the claim that I am your queen. Are you a knight or a brigade?"
"You're a prisoner," the intruder said, then took one of Morgause's chemises with which to wipe the other sword free of dark wetness. "Your king, Lord of the Table of the Moon, wished for you to be freed."
Gwenhyvar sat down on the bed, gave attention to Morgause's pulse for a moment, then threaded fingers together and contemplated the man who spoke of the only King worth mentioning. "Just because something is round, does not mean it is the moon."
"Un." The intruder squatted, half wild eyes watching the bed and the door. Tight awareness hummed as if the slightest drop of rain might burst the damn. "Nonetheless. His table is round and gives light to all, regardless of might or wisdom. It is the table of the moon and you are the queen of the moon. So it was told to me the lady of waves, who carried me to this land."
"You are a mad creature. What name do you give?"
"It is true," the intruder agreed. "I was mad. For many years I was mad. As a child I was stolen from my father and sold to a great city of animals. A great pig of a man claimed to own me, but put out his eye and he sent me to live with the lions and bears."
"Nonetheless," Gwenhyvar said, mimicking the intruder's speech to sooth him, "Your words carry a hint of Rome. Have you been to Rome, Intruder?" Graceful, watching the wild man as carefully as she could without wishing to alarm him, she moved to the fire and pushed the hook holding the black iron pot back over the fire.
"The City of Animals," the intruder agreed. "When I bring the queen of the moon back to her home, I shall no longer be mad. So I am told."
Gwenhyvar stared to unlace his sleeves where they fastened to his bodice. Mad man or not, he was here to see Queen Morgause's child born safely. A word given was a word given, even if King Lot had never intended freedom afterwards. "When the madness no longer holds you, what name shall I call you?"
"Lanselet du Lac," he said and for a moment the tension fled, rippling away as if another helmet, a mask had been lifted away. "We must leave. There were two guards, but with the dawn more will come."
"The guards do not concern me," Gwenhyvar said, laying both sleeves over the back of the chair by the fire. "When you are free of madness, what will you be, Lanselet du Lac?"
"I am," Lanselet said, standing up to full height, "the first knight of King Arthur, guided by the light of the moon."
"The moon," Gwenhyvar said softly, voice like warm melting honey in summer, as he wrapped his very long braid around his left arm, "is bright only because of light reflected from a source much brighter. Tell me, Lanselet, what is brighter than the moon?"
He ran a hand over blade short cut hair and as he looked into Gwenhyvar's pale eyes, a calm shuttered into him with his breath. Tilting his head back a little, he looked back at the queen. "You are," he breathed worshipfully.
"That," the queen said, strong slender fingers gliding across Lanselet's lips, giving into a touch of a different kind of madness, "is only proof of your madness. I am not as bright as the moon. I am, at best, the darkness that holds that which is bright. The sun is brighter than the moon. Arthur will be the sun and draw all of Britain together. Can I trust your word, my beautiful mad knight?"
Lanselet slowly sank to his knees, head tilted back, watching his queen, the calm wisdom in those blue eyes. He drew his sword to off it as proof of his trustworthiness. He held it up by the blade, offering the hilt. "I am yours, My Queen, my throat, my soul, my deeds, all that I may do in this world is yours to command."
Gwenhyvar accepted his short little gladius, held it up so that it flickered gold and fiery in the center of such a circle of candles. "Swear to me that you will tell none, not even our beloved king, of my braid or of what you may see while in my presence."
"Your braid, my queen?"
"There are secrets, my mad knight which do hold the power of life and death in this world. That you do not understand them does not mean that they will not bring about our death. Do I have your binding word?"
"You do, my queen, in all thing, my tongue, my throat, my hands, my being, all that I am is yours to command."
She brought the sword to her lips, leaned it forward and blew. Her breath carried a hint of heaven, of the glittering stars down the lines of Lanselet's sword, so that it glowed itself as if it were a star, much brighter than any of Queen Morgause's candles could ever hope for.
His lips parted, eyes as wide as a child who witnessed an undeniable miracle, he held both hands up to the queen in supplication.
Gwenhyvar took a very small step backwards, bowed politely, then arm out and regal, the sword was touched to one shoulder, then the other. "Rise, Sir Lanselet du Lac of Camelot. You will ever be the first knight of the queen, the favorite of the king, and if you do not keep your vow above all else, you will be the ruin of Camelot." With ease, Gwenhyvar turned the blade and held it back to Lanselet. "Draw this blade in time of darkness, speak my name, and it will be a light."
Shaking, Lanselet took the blade, which returned to itself as soon as it left the queen's hands. Lanselet wrapped both hands around the blade, but gently, not hard enough to bleed. "I am a woman."
"Well, so you are," Gwenhyvar said, smiling crookedly. "I see the madness has left you. The past is the past. It is gone. Rome and its horrors are far away. You are a knight of Camelot."
Lanselet stood, slide her sword hard into her scabbard. "The madness has left me. I do not need for you to tell me that which is plain for me to know."
Gwenhyvar laughed, a light and fluttering laugh. "I could have told you that you were a woman ten breaths ago and you would have thought me mad."
Color flashed over Lanselet's cheeks, except for the stiff snow white branded lines. "Even when I was mad, I knew we needed to leave this place before dawn. Is this woman dying? Isn't she in labor?"
"She is not dying," Gwenhyvar promised. "Have you seen birth before?"
Lanselet's jaw shifted to the side with a stubborn glare. "I was not lying when I said I put a pig of a man's eye out, but when I was mad, I remembered him looking more like a pig. It improved the memory."
"What happened to your child," Gwenhyvar asked, as he went about putting pillows under Morgause's relaxed legs, shifting them apart.
"My child was born still," Lanselet said. She squatted by the fire, hands held out to the warmth. "You're not a woman. How is it that you touch a woman during her time?"
"Among my people, I am a healer. I am an exile for I disagreed with laws. You must never speak of these secrets to anyone, my knight, ever. You must never let drink pass your lips and loosen your tongue. Not in pain, not in passion, you must never reveal what you have seen today. You must never reveal that you can see my braid."
"My queen, you should kill me then, for I am just a mortal. I can swear, but how can I bare carrying such a dreadful secret when I do not even know why it must be a secret. Many people have long hair in Rome."
Gwenhyvar leaned over a little, one eyebrow arched, "Do many people in Rome make your sword glow or reach into a laboring woman and pull for a child without screams and straining?"
"No, my Queen."
"What madness I can banish, I can summon. Remember you this well."
Lanselet wrapped both arms around her knees and stared as Gwenhyvar reached between Morgause's legs, grimaced.
The laboring queen's eyes snapped open, her head tilting back, and she gasped, moaning slow and grievously as if she could not keep the sound to herself, no matter what the great lady's will.
Gwenhyvar went pale. A moment later, a baby was presented to the world, held in blood covered hands. Whatever the mother's cause of quiet that could let a babe be pulled from her body with barely a whimper, the child did not share in the calm. As soon as Gwenhyvar cleared his throat, he gave a cry and a kick that threatened his world, his mother's world, and the world of anyone who dared breath while he had been so distressed!
Sitting down on the bed as she wiped the howling baby clean, Gwenhyvar smiled the most gentle and love filled smile towards Morgause. "It is a boy. He is quiet well and you will be also. What do you call him?"
Morgause's eyes were only half open. "My baby. I want to see my baby. Lot will kill him."
"He will not," Gwenhyvar promised. The baby now wrapped in a shawl of blue linen, stopped howling as he was laid in his mother's arms. "When the sun is fully up, your milk should flow well for him. Do you have a name with which to bless him?"
"He will be Mordred. Someday, he will be king of Britain."
"That may well be, but for today, he is but a little boy, and you his beautiful mother." Gwenhyvar squeezed water from a clean cloth, then wiped Morgause's face.
"My husband will kill you when he comes. You belong to Arthur as does this babe."
"I think you'll find that a baby can inspire an unexpected gentleness in a man's soul," Gwenhyvar said. "It has been lovely being your guest, Queen Morgause."
"You are my prisoner." The words were cold, holding none of the quiet from the earlier tea and none of the gentleness a baby was thought to inspire.
Gwenhyvar stood, motioned for his sleeves where he'd hung them, gave Lanselet a glare until the knight moved to fetch the sleeves. "Prisoner, guest, they both have so much in common, depending on the situation." With deft, rapid movements, Gwenhyvar laced both sleeves back into place. "Well, then, again, thank you much for the tea. Terribly sorry about any harm that may come to your warriors, through unfortunate misunderstanding, as we leave."
"We? The Lord in Heaven could not and would not compel me to go with a witch like you."
Gwenhyvar touched his finger to the middle of his chin, took a deep breath, then smiled. "That's so like a challenge, but honestly, I wasn't speaking about you at all. This," he gestured to Lanselet,"is the Lanselet du Lac, the greatest knight of the Round Table and the Invincible Guardian of the Queen."
"A demon then?" Morgause accused.
"I'm no demon," Lanselet growled, drawing both swords.
"Neither are harming the lives I've just saved," Gwenhyvar said, shaking two fingers at him. He grabbed up his cloak, a deep purple cloak with golden lions embroidered by the clasps. "Come, my knight, we must be leaving."
"You will not escape! We will burn you and send the ashes back to that heathen who claims to be a king!"
Gwenhyvar pulled up his hood and strode out the door that Lanselet had so helpfully unlocked on her way in. Lanselet grabbed up her helmet and raced down the spiraling stone stairs. "My Lord! Let me have the advance! We don't know who may await us!"
King Lot was the answer to that. A powerful man, built like a bear with a disposition to match, he sat a horse who could easily eat in a day enough straw to thatch a village. He held his sword where it rested on his pommel, a hunger for death in his eyes. "Well, witch. Did you kill the spawn your king got on my wife?"
The dark purple hood fell back away from Gwenhyvar's face, framing smooth creaming skin, dark lips, and defiant blue eyes. "Is that why you set me so - in a tower with your defenseless wife, so that I could commit harm?"
One of the twenty or so knights giving support to their king snorted in amusement. Lot stiffened. The group went respectfully quiet. "It is of no concern. I can burn three for one."
Lanselet watched a dark and dangerous rage brew in her queen's eyes. By his skills were miracles wrought. For all Lanselet knew, the queen could fall forth fire from heaven, but that would both cause harm and put at risk the queen's secrets. So she stepped between her queen and the homicidal king. "I am Sir Lanselet du Lac. I am the Queen's champion and I will fight for him. Choose your own champion, King Lot."
"Your queen is a witch who should burn."
Both swords hissed angrily as they were drawn. "Come then, prove this to me with your sword, if you dare."
"We are many," Lot pointed out.
Lanselet backed them up a little, moving towards the narrow arched entrance to the tower. "What matter is it how many there are of you? Come at me. We will simply walk over your corpses when I have finished with you."
"You are an upstart fool."
"It is the law that an accusation may be met by a champion, is it not?"
"Gawain! Send this imp to hell," Lot growled.
The young knight rode forward, then prepared to dismount.
"What are you doing?"
"He has no horse." Gawain said stubbornly.
"Do you intend to surrender your armor to him if he beats you?" The king sneered at his son.
The rest of the knights snickered freely at that.
Agravain, Gawain's elder brother leaned over his pommel and sneered. "It is only fitting that the champion of the witch from Camelot should fight the greenest knight among us. Hurry and lose to him, my brother, so that we may slay them both."
Gawain dismounted stiffly, anger making his skin and soul both brittle. He lead his horse towards them, with no weapon drawn.
Lanselet moved into a fighting pose, ready to separate the boy from his soul with the slightest provocation. Up close he was a handsome boy with brilliantly blond hair as if it were spun from sunlight, freckles dotted across his face to ever remind him that he was simply a man, and a very slight shameful smile. "It seems, good sir, that we will be unable to have a fair contest on this day."
With a wrinkle of her nose, Lanselet nodded. "It is unlikely. I apologize for needing to kill your family."
"I really shouldn't like for that out come either," Gawain said solemnly. "So I propose a trade. I will jump into the tower, close the door, throw the bar. You and your Queen will take my mount and flee. My boy is easily the fastest and least tired of all the horses with us today. If you take the straight path, you will come to a ferry, which, if you reach it well ahead of my father, you will have an easy time reaching Camelot and he must needs let his head clear."
"What will become of you?"
"I expect he will give chase to you. I shall secret myself away until such time as we can fairly complete our contest. Should I be victorious, your queen must still surrender his life."
Lanselet turned to seek the approval of his Queen, who was after all, the one the contest was set to prove or disprove the innocence of. The beautiful queen gave a solid nod.
The exchange was made with ease, almost as if they'd practiced it. Lanselet sprang onto the dark black charger, her arm held out for the queen, who clasped hands with his knight to find himself hoisted easily up and between Lanselet's arms. One knee around the saddle's horn, he leaned forward to hold to the midnight black stallion's neck. Lanselet leaned protectively over her queen, shielding him from arrows and swords, any threat. The horse reared, slashing at the other advancing knights, effectively clearing their path.
With great powerful strides, Gawain's mount ate the road, carrying a captured queen healer and a recently mad knight from certain death to future unwritten. Shouts roared behind them, but Lanselet urged their gifted horse on, holding the much to slender and precious form of the Queen to her so closely that she felt as if both their hearts beat together, bound by secrets, magic, and a rebellious unwillingness to die.
The ferry waited for them. Arrows rained fire, slicing Lanselet's sleeves, finding the weak points in his armor. He held though, refusing to return either the sanity or the precious queen she now served. The great black charger leapt for the deck of the ferry, shaking the boat to it's very keel. The ferry man unwound the moorings as quick as a man could move, his very long braid flashing about as he went.
As soon as they were out of arrow range, the deadly bolts simply hitting the dark water, Lanselet let them sit up. Without looking at him Gwenhyvar said, "You do not see his braid either. Do you understand me?"
Lanselet gently took hold of her queen's chin, turned the beautiful face towards hers and looked into those too clear blue eyes. Her breath caught, her heart suddenly light and filled with an emotion she did not know the name of. Without permission, she leaned forward and kissed the startled queen, teasing the kiss from blush to fire that lasted moments. When the tide of desire pulled back to leave both their lips warm, swollen feeling, she said, "I shall keep your secrets, but it's helpful if I at least understand some of them."
And so was the first contest between Lanselet and the Green Knight first arranged.
Arthur Interviews Lanselet
Arthur: "You saved Gwenhyvar?" His voice almost failed to rise at the end, more stating than questioning.
Lanselet: *perched on a chair, on the balls of her feet, watching the king, calm as she ever got* _There were just so many ways to answer that question and one had to start with understanding just exactly what the king meant by saved... Did he mean rescue from harm? Did he mean as the new religion was putting out to save from eternal damnation or maybe saved as in held over for later, as in did not have sex with her right now._ Lanselet's lips pursed a little. "As much as I could, Sire."
Arthur: "Um." *crosses arms, glares sternly to make sure he's getting a straight answer. "So that's Roman armor you're wearing?"
Lanselet: *eyes widened a little, mouth shifts to the side* _Roman armor... belongs to Rome? Made in Rome? Roman style, stolen from a Roman?_ *head started to hurt just a little* "It is my armor now, but I took it from a Roman, several Romans, when I defeated them. One of them was in Rome at the time. I ate his chicken."
Arthur: *clears throat, jaw beings to hurt* "I see. So you're a good fighter then?"
Lanselet: *tilts head, scratches temple* _Fight against good?_ "I am a knight of the Round Table, Guardian of the Queen. Are you a fighter of good?"
Arthur: *eye twitch* _switches to Latin_ "Are you a skilled warrior?"
Lanselet: *perks up completely a brilliant smile on her face* "I am the best Sire. Would you like to spar?"
Arthur: *perks up, standing a little straighter, hand on his pommel as he grins* "Indeed."