Beautiful Lady’s Tales -- Part the Second
Asullus Anguli XXVI ... (Asullus’ Corner)
Beautiful Lady’s Tales -- Part the Second
Good day to all Gentle Readers ! ‘Tis Asullus, yer old an’ trusty gray Mule, an’ the steadfast Spritae, Morphia the Scribe, bringin’ to yer another two-parter – but this one from the lovely Lady, Mistress Geanninia.
An’ this arrangement will be followin’ along like that o’ Master Silverstrus, that is, a tale first told to all the young recruits that evenin’ in the field on Mid-Summer’s Night, all those years ago.
The Tragic Love Among the Virgin, the Knight’s Squire and the Nymph
Part the Second…
…An hour passed until Sir Ecklunde road back into the clearing from his exercise of pursuit, trailing behind him attached to a tether were five horses now in need of new masters. Also new was his horse’s added burden — a burlap sack, perhaps taken from one of the rogues, which appeared, from a distance, to contain five large cabbages within its confines, excepting for the fact that, typically, cabbages did not pool blood at the bottom of the sack in which they rested.
A glance around the clearing showed that the dead fellow the young lady apparently knifed early in on their engagement had not moved. He was lying in the same spot he occupied when Sir Ecklunde left the clearing hying after the five who had fled. As to the other brigand — the one he, himself, had shot — he was still dead as well and in his self same position. Four horses stood about — the one he took to be the lady’s, the one that likely belonged to her companion, and the last two those formerly used by the dead brutes.
Pulling his Percheron to a halt, he dismounted, tied up the horse’s reins to a nearby branch and approached the young woman by her tree. In his absence, she had, performed some small repair on her person and her dress. Her knife, she kept yet close by lying on the ground next to her, but the biggest change was that she had the head of a young man in her lap and she was gently stroking his hair. Not that he would have noted, however, for he was clearly dead as well, likely from the long gash beginning at his throat and ending in his left shoulder, underneath which, his shirt and open doublet, were soaked in blood, now caking in the afternoon air.
A brief glance at the youth’s brightly colored breeches identified the body as the the self-same Sir Ecklunde had noted earlier, its legs sticking out from under a bush.
Approaching the young maiden, he slowed his pace, careful to make no threatening gesture, lest he alarm the fair one. For now that he was proximate, he could discern that she was indeed fair. Her head-layering had evidently departed in the chase or fray, assuming there had been one, and revealed light-brown smooth tresses kept in a long braid trailing down to her waist.
Her brow was wide and forthright suggesting good brains. Her eyes were a paler blue, neither deep, nor penetrating, but calm, reflective and, he thought, engaging. Her nose — her best feature — bore somewhat of a hook, which caused him to smile as it, in lesser fashion, reminded him of his own.
Her cheeks were high and well-fleshed and teeth — visible when smiling — appeared even with lips running to the thin and, below the cheeks, dimples of a desirous sort, though at first he had misidentified them as wrinkles. The chin was well-matched to the other features of her visage and over-all, the whole was quite pleasing to the older Knight.
He thought at once that, had he been a younger man, he would straight-away think of making some work of capturing her fancy, perhaps with a ballad or two. But that was for another day. Today’s task was to provide her succor in whatever way he was able.
“Your Lady,” he began. He knew not her status, but the years had informed him that few women took offense at such a hailing. “I hight Sir Ecklunde…”
At once, the woman looked up. “Yes,” she said, “of the Bright Armor. Your reputation proceeds you. I am ArrachaeIle, ward to the Lord of Le Gatnit, traveling in these parts with my great friend, Victorio, here, as you see, brought so low.” Several tears course down the maiden’s cheeks and her chin quivered as she bent back down to regard the dead youth, whose head lay cradled in her lap. She brushed stray leaves from the clothing of the inert form and sighed.
She continued. “He was my life companion and we have been together for as long as I can remember. A warrior, alas, he was not, but his gift in song and dance knew no peer. And his voice, ah, silver it was. His company was either playful or soothing based on, I think, what he perceived of my need at the time.
“In fact, he it was who first sang to me of the tales of the mighty and just Sir Ecklunde. And now it is chance that has brought us together — an honor in my life, surely.”
“Well spoken, Lady Arrachaelle. But how came you to this pass in the first place?” asked the Knight, curious, indeed.
“Ah, that. Well, it was tedium, methinks. My way has always been to take the active part in seeing to my wants and needs. From my beginning, I have had a light hand on my shoulders, even at a tender age, and even though my parents, as these things turned, were not known to me. I grew up as ward to my Lord, Arthur, a kind and gentle man, who saw to it that I had a nanny and tutors to need and I was able to take from them their value while finding my own will and way.
“It was Victorio, though, who was always constant and taught me those things I would come to know. So, when I felt I should this journey assay, he would do naught but accompany me, making the way smoother, as always he did.
“It was thus with us, when we chanced upon this glade and found this ill reception. Victorio sought to challenge these villains, but him, they cut down quickly. As I have said, he was a songster, not one for battle. Then they assayed to take me, but their leader it was, I think, made the mistake of assuming I would let this be or, perhaps, crumple in a swoon. Now, he lies dead as well. And, judging from the burlap hanging from your saddle, so, equally, do his companions.
“I admit me, however, that these odds did not favor myself entire, so it was that your intervention came in goodly fashion. I want to thank you for your timely advent. You have undoubtedly saved my honor and, likely, my life. For this, I shall be forever grateful.”
“Nay, fair maid, it is I who am grateful, given this opportunity to do thee a service and rid the world of this modest bit of pestilence. But, now, pray tell, what be your plans, Lady Arrachaelle, and how may I, in my Knightly duty, serve thee further?”
“You are indeed thoughtful, Sir Knight. Prithee, I must needs engage in preparation for dear Victorio, for I cannot leave him thus nor, given the distance we two have traveled, think to return him to Le Gatnit, lest he putrefy o’er the course of the journey.”
“Allow me, fair lady, if it be thy will, to propose that we lay him to rest here in this simple grove — a tract well-blessed by Naturae Mater, as any can see. Then, all who travel these roads — made safe again — will take note of his final stand and, themselves, become tranquil in thought and contemplation regarding the beauty residing here and its tenant. To this end, I will propose to dig for him a suitable repository in this rich earth. I will offer, as well, the Knight’s Blessing and ye may seek to adorn his site as you feel is good and proper and suitable for your life’s companion.”
“That is a fair proposal, Sir Knight, and one which, I believe Victorio would have favored. Shall we about this then?” At once Lady Arrachaelle set about cleansing and restoring her dead companion’s body as best she might with the materials available at hand.
With a nod, the graying Knight took down a shovel from his pack and dug a grave for the Lady’s lost friend. That he did so whilst yet in his armor was but a sign of the hardiness yet remaining in his sinews.
Finally, the task completed, the young courtier was laid to rest. Sir Ecklunde gave his Blessing and the fair maiden garnished the grave with flowers and sweet brush.
The pair, subsumed in quiet reverie, were made quickly alert by a not far away flash of light, followed ten heart-beats later by a loud clap of thunder.
“My Lady, may I make so bold as to say I believe it prudent we seek shelter lest we become drenched and subject, then, to all manner of miasmas of a doleful nature.”
“Thou hast a wise mind with which I am in agreement. But whither shall we, then?”
“If this poor, old brain’s workings persist yet in some goodly function, I believe I am in mind of a series of caves not that far distant from this place which may serve us well in terms of shelter.”
So saying, the maiden mounted her roan, taking the reins of her former companion’s steed as well, while Sir Ecklunde led the seven other horses behind his own, he not wishing to surrender the value such trophies might accrue to him which he had attained by the might of his sword.
In a dash of good fortune, the pair and their horses achieved the area’s stand of caves just as the cloud-darkened sky let forth a pouring rain. While Lady Arrachaelle removed the horses’ tack and groomed them, Sir Ecklunde gathered firewood and put out pots from his pack to catch the rainwater for both the horses and the humans.
Soon enough, a cheery fire was laid somewhat near the great cave’s mouth and the Knight at last deigned to remove his armor.
The matter of Even-tide was next on his mind and he worked to puzzle out how his modest stores would make do to nourish two on this journey. His attention, however, was suddenly riveted by a snap coming from behind him such as one might hear when one is approached another stepping on a dry twig.
Whirling, the Knight lunged for his sword, propped against the cave wall, while the maiden fair drew quickly out her trusted dagger, placing herself in a position similar to that which she held when first meeting the Knight of the Bright Armor.
“Pax, Sir Knight!” a woman’s soft voice issued from the shadowy figure standing some paces behind them in the cave’s recesses. As said, the voice was soft, as a whisper might be, yet the Knight believed they could both hear it well enough.
“I mean no harm to you or your companion. I am but a solitary dryad, abiding here in this cave on this dark and stormy night.”
Recovering his poise, the Knight addressed the tree Nymph. “Your Pardon, Lady. Neither I or the fair maiden here had knowledge that this resource in the downpour was occupied, otherwise we would have shown better breeding in intruding into your abode.”
The figure seemed to nod in response. After a pause the Knight continued. “I hight Sir Ecklunde of the Bright Armor of Sang Froid and, with me this night, the fair lady Arrachaelle of Le Gatnit, who, I hasten to add, lies under my protection as we journey back to her lands, somewhat to the north.”
“Yay, Le Gatnit, I know of it and, of course, who has not heard of Sang Froid and its most famous Knight?” the Fey said, her voice again whisper-soft.
“It is well noted that ye be thus informed, but, my lady, might we know thy appellation and, better yet measure thy visage? It seems mete that travelers and strangers getting to know one another do so more easily seeing a name attached to a face.”
“Very well,” came the whispered voice. A slight rustling informed them of the Nymph’s drawing closer and with a few more steps she was visible, though dimly so, in the flickering fire light.
Truly a woman, yet also truly Fey, she was clad in what best appeared to be bark and leaves, yet it was uncertain whether this covering represented a garment or was part and parcel of the creature, herself.
“Hello, Ecklunde,” said the Nymph.
Stunned, the Knight was silent for a full moment before speaking. “Meannea?” he asked.
“Yes, Ecklunde. The same. I see you fair well. And greetings to your companion — Arrachaelle, is it? Yes. You have had quite a day, it is said. Seven bandits dead by your sword, I hear from the winds of the trees. Quite an accomplishment, but then not so much for you, yes? But I am a forest-dweller and forget my manners. Here let us sit by your fire and share a repast. As it happens, I have, this night, made a forest broth which, I believe, should abate thy hunger and some potion of nectar which should assuage thy thirst. I will fetch what we require and return shortly.”
Once the Nymph had left them, the maiden fair addressed the Knight. “Know you this personage?”
“Yea, of a certainty. Once, when I was younger, there was a time when we had drawn close but the warring in the south drew me away and I have not seen her since.”
“But I’ve seen you,” came back the whispered voice. After a moment, the Nymph returned, laden with victuals for the three of them.
“You know, Meannea, I did not want to leave you. I —”
“Shh-shh, Ecklunde. Let us not stir the ashes of a fire long burned out. Instead let us dwell on topics of more pleasure. Here, take some of this potion in a toast to the benefits to be had in meetings by chance.”
The Knight drank deeply and was refreshed, then ate heartily of the soup he was served. At the end he spoke.
“Ah, Mennea, now that was well-served, and grateful am I to you for this unanticipated but bountiful repast.”
“Hmm,” the Nymph replied, “are you now?”
“What? How mean you? It was a good supper and I merely sought to, to— Wait! I confess, of a sudden, I do not feel quite so well.”
The Knight began to massage his stomach as if he was experiencing more than slight discomfort. “What is it you’ve fed me, Nymph?”
“Nothing more than you deserve, oh Knight of the Bright Armor. It is a poison that afflicts you, beginning in your loins, by the way — poetic justice wouldn’t you say? Now, in truth, I have the antidote back with my other vials, but you’ll not be receiving it this night. No. Not this night. But, no matter, soon you will be unable to move, in any case, and in that moment will I slice your throat with your own blade and you will die. Then I will observe you for some moments and feel better. After, you will have a quick shove down a nearby ravine and feed my mushrooms for a time. You and this trull, here — you may keep each other company.”
Sir Ecklunde rose unsteadily, somewhat shakily drawing his sword, now pointed at the tree creature, slowly circling her.
“Strike at her,” spoke the Lady Arrachaelle. “Smite her down and we will find the antidote and you will be well.”
The Knight raised his sword, causing a questioning look of concern on the Nymph’s features, which then resolved, as he lowered his weapon back down.
“I cannot. I cannot strike at a Lady. It is in my code, my training, and my profession’s following these many centuries.”
The Nymph threw back her head and laughed.
Not so the maiden fair who, in one swift step, achieved the Nymph’s side into which she, with a cry, thrust her knife. A brief struggle ensued, but the repeated stabbings worked their will and within moments the Nymph fell dead to the cave’s floor. And, in moments following that, the Fey’s body disappeared entirely, leaving behind only a malodorous pile of leaves and bark.
“And six only he slew -- I killed the other," the maiden said, addressing the clump of detritus. Then, she turned her attention to the graying Knight. “Fool of an old man,” the maid said in a heat. “Your antiquated attitude and stony thinking would have left us both dead, likely, come sun-up.”
The Knight’s sword fell heavily from his hand and he sat down hard upon the cold stone floor. “Are you…are you not ill, then?” he panted out.
“Nay, I am not. I have always been taught to be cautious with potions so freely given and so none, therefore, passed my lips. Now, to find the antidote and see that it does as its title suggests. Then, some sleep for us and an early start to the morning. The storm should be well past by then.”
And what the woman said was done and the following day the two parted company, for the lady avowed she would be safer by herself, on the trail, all things considered, without his attendance though she thanked him once again for his earlier help.
Riding off to the north, the maiden fair left Sir Ecklund to continue on his way westward, newly chastened and with much on his mind to ponder.”
An’ so endeth the second o’ our cautionary tales concernin’ relationships an’ how bein’ straightforward an’ carin’ o’ the other will, most times, result in safer passage through this time o’ Life.
Next time we’ll return to our usual form o’ discourse, but until then…
The Great North Tower, Northfast