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Burden carried PDF Print
Saturday, 28 January 2012

Dear Knights,

Here is my first submission to the literature section, it takes the form of a Prophetess instructing a Damsel about her duties to the questing knights.


It was originally going to be about the mental and physical illness suffered by the aging knight, but the prophetess eventually made an interesting narrator, switching between coldness, warmness, teaching, devotion and longing. I suspect she might be an interesting role model for the poor damsel, and hope that her dark sense of humour and sly understanding of how the relationships between knights and damsels comes across as she lectures her student. Finally, as it's a prophetess telling the story, I wanted everything that happens to be foretold in some abstract way, even down to the very last line, to reward a second reading.

 

Burden carried

    
The young, the beautiful. The vigour of the Errant, the determination of the Quest. The demands of the duty each of us has to the Realm. The purity of the Grail. These are the stories we tell. Victory and valour, banners and shining weapons raised to the sky or dipped below the waters. Cleansed either way, and all is as it should be. We take to our beds once more, secure in the narrative held within our tapestries.

Come with me, young damsel. That's it. Step through the barrier. You have the ways, keep up the Veil, I would have you observe. Here we are. There. I can always find him. 

He is old now, although I remember him much younger. The illness that clouds his eyes hides us from him, although the years of pursuit tell him that we are near, torturing what is left of his fragile sense of self with visions of what might have been, what could still be. Questions later, child. Always with the questions.

I have a mind to drop the Veil and clip the ear of the two adolescents that torment him, but we are forbidden from directly aiding. Even at this late point in the quest. Even worse than seeing the youth torn limb from limb, facing odds we should hope never to see, this is worse. Don't look away. Don't you dare. Open your eyes and stop crying. This is your task as he has his. Watch as one taps his shoulder, and the other moves his goblet out of reach. They begin again. Spiteful children. 

Ah. Yes, you didn't expect that, did you. The fragment of armour bound to his chest does little to protect him from the kicks to the ribs. Ssh. They will hear. He has endured worse. No, the other denizens aren't interested. Probably more scared of these thugs than my poor charge. 

Well, they have his purse now. He will move on. He always does. 

He could have killed them for that. But he will not. Not the young ones.

Make yourself useful. Kneel here, in front of him. Drip one of those maiden tears in the spilt wine. Good. Ah, look-look-look, we have his attention. Step back now, he is quick as a spider even in his dotage, on his knees and half-blind. The parchment on the wall, the bounty on the beast, tear it down, have it float down into the puddle. Hmm. You are awkward, aren't you? You need to learn a flair for the dramatic, paper doesn't fall like that, it floats like this. Or at least it does in the stories.

Yes, he seems to have the gist of it.

I have no idea what happened to it. His shield was as resilient as his resolve when we first met. Perhaps he left it along the path. No, dear. Revenge does not suit you. They are not our priority, nor will they ever be.

We should leave this place, he will not spend the night here, not again.

Well, I am sure your brothers could indeed teach such men a lesson. Really, dear, I am sure they both are the pinnacles of Errantry and capable of destroying whole armies of the Great Enemy single-handed, let alone a pair of purse-snatchers. However, a knight of the quest, no matter his condition, is bound to fight his own battles. No, I am sure they would not treat a Bretonnian warrior with such disrespect if they thought there was any chance of the old man remembering them. Or if they knew they were being watched. In his prime, Sir Jocelyn was a formidable opponent, you know. A monster-hunter. One of our most prolific agents. A sense of presence about him too. I felt it when no older than you. Everything we could want in our Lady's chosen company. I...

Am sorry, little one. It is just, after all this time, you... Must not get too attached to them. Most fall, and it will be your favourites, too. Hah! You will have favourites. Do I look like a wizened hag? Of course you will have favourites. 

He has reached the stable. Good. his journey's end tonight is not too far from here. Let us take a shortcut, that we may observe.

Here we are. You have selected a mighty beast from the deeper woods? Given it an identifying scar that the bounty may be seen to be completed? You would go back and replace it with an easier challenge now, wouldn't you? Again. Don't you dare. Ever. You must bring the ones you favour most of all to the greatest of tasks, or it is all for nothing. Lead them to the mightiest of opponents, for you would make the survivors stronger and weaken the Great Enemy.

That tree will make a fine place to watch from.

Stop this now. Let go of my sleeve, it is in motion, and cannot be undone. Bring your beast. It will hurt when your powers touch those of the deep woods. That's it, keep concentrating. Keep your wards up. There you go. Leave it be. It must run wild to be convincing.

A fine specimen. Good pair of horns. Sir Jocelyn won't be long. Rest now. Oh, for the Lady's sake. Ssh. Rest now.

Do you know what broke Jocelyn? One decision, decades ago. One poor choice in a horrific night of black options. There was little he could have done, of course. Save the child or save the banner of the Lady. We had sent three of them, expecting at least two to survive, but a worthy battle for the end of their quest. An unliving Lord, polluting his realm had come to our attention. Yes, a little bird told me. Don't giggle, child, it's unbecoming. Where was I? Ah yes. They do so love to challenge the purity of the questing knights. Guilt and self-hatred I suppose. But anyway. dark powers had increased the odds against our heroes, it was no longer a battle to showcase their skills, it became a slaughter. Protecting the innocent and preserving honour became mutually exclusive options. The other two died. The banner-bearer, he was a handsome one. Reynald his name was. The axe-wielder, Bertrand, accounted for fully half of the enemy before succumbing. They took him from us. He still hunts us now. Ssh, another story. He'll keep.

What, love? No, rest your head back down. We have a little time yet.

Jocelyn chose the child. No! Of course not! We did not break him for that. How could we? Choosing the life of a single surviving peasant who already showed signs of infection over the honour of the Lady? Have you learned nothing? All this power inside you and you are as blind as our approaching paladin! Regardless of what you must allow your charges to believe, we are not bound by such an inflexible code of conduct, nor is empathy a weakness for a prospective knight of the Grail. Perhaps a little too much empathy on show there, considering it was the Lady's personal banner, but still, there was time to smooth out the rough edges of my knight yet. No, Jocelyn broke himself after that. Oh, he traipsed after the grail, followed the signs, solved the puzzles, saved the damsels (yes, you may be asked to allow yourself to be in peril at some point) and killed the monsters, but his heart was broken. He saw through the veil that night, saw us watching in horror at the choices before him and put the pieces together.

Ah, enough history. Here he is. The minotaur is off to his right, waiting behind the misshapen tree. Do you understand tactics, girl? Expect Jocelyn to lead the beast to a more advantageous position for battle. No, this will be a good fight. You have chosen well, the beast is strong but you underestimate the Questing Knight. Appearances can be deceiving.

He sees us. 

Don't you dare look away girl, I'll tear off your eyelids if you refuse to bear witness...

No, the greatsword is too heavy for him now. We can allow small mercies for our oldest companions. The longsword will be fine, he seems to be using the Carcassonne defence.

There, the feint. The sidestep. The instincts of a lifetime's quest take over. He... For the last time, open your eyes! Look, the beast is wounded and tires. Jocelyn struggles to keep his blade up. Less than a minute of battle and his strength is already fading. Not again.

Come on, my love, fight for the Grail. Please, Jocelyn, every time now the same, every beast, every challenge, show me you want it, show me that you may step forward in peace, just give me one sign after the hundreds I have given you.

Ssh, that must be the beast's last strength too. Do not let your cries distract him. 

No. Nonono.

Don't look at me. Watch your flank! 

You aren't tired! The strength is there inside you, I can see it, the magic. You are my knight. My

Jocelyn.

...
...
...

Please, just a moment of silence.

I am fine, young one.

Pick up your skirts, the quest is over. Return the beast, we go to find another knight.

Remind me, how old is your youngest brother now?
     
Last Updated ( Saturday, 28 January 2012 )
 
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