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Monday, 10 December 2012
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Duty Unto Death
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  Winner of the 3rd place in the 2012 Literature Competition


His Lady sad to see his sore constraint,
Cride out, Now now Sir knight, shwe what ye bee,
Add faith vnto your force, and be not faint:

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 1, stanza 19

He was dying. Of that, Reynard de Germaine, Grail Knight and defender of the Grail Chapel Du Hoc, was certain. The final vampire knight had cut deep into his side. Damn but he should have kept his guard up. One did not live to the age of seventy in the service of the Lady by making mistakes, though in his own defense, he killed five accursed vampire knights and a host of ghouls by the time he engaged his last foe. There was no point in chastising himself for the mistake now. There was no time.

As his lifeblood leaked from the rent in his flesh, Reynard focused on his goal. It hurt him to breath, yet the Grail Knight was sucking down air as he staggered through the thick darkness of the forest. The light of his burning Grail Chapel, his home for the last decade, had finally faded in the distance. The Lady was with him it seemed. When he tipped the holy flame onto the last of his attackers, he had hoped that the fire would leave the undead puzzled as to whether or not he survived. Reynard doubted they would be fooled for long. Even while he fought its minions, he could sense the looming intelligence behind the attack. The destruction of his Grail Chapel was only the first step in a much darker ambush that would leave hundreds of young knights dead in their beds.

If he maintained this pace, he would reach the mustering grounds at Bergronde in time to warn them of the coming evil. They had to know. He must reach them, wound or no. The Germaine family motto, Duty Unto Death, had never been more applicable than in this final test of strength and devotion. For the last week, he had blessed the Knights Errant mustering at Bergronde to go join the Errantry War, watching as they road solemnly into the clearing around his Grail Chapel to seek the Lady's blessing before heading to war. Though they treated him with the respect, he knew that they viewed him as an old relic. He had been a Knight Errant once. He remembered. He... stumbled and fell on an oversized tree root. The ground slammed into his wounded side and Reynard gasped aloud at the awful pain as the dark forest earth welcomed him into unconsciousness.


* * * * * * *


Reynard de Germaine, Knight Errant, looked over the field at the howling greenskin horde. The Duc du Anscillone had finally lured Grognak the Gutter into an open battle, and young Reynard was to have his first taste of real war. His steed Halifax, sensing his nervousness, whinnied softly. The lance felt heavy in his gauntleted hand and his mouth was dry. No matter what his tutors said, this was nothing like the practice arena. Reynard felt the ground shake as the greenskins stomped their feet and banged their weapons together. Reynard's left hand trembled slightly and he gripped the reigns of Halifax tighter. He was sure it was just the shaking of the earth.

"Quite the uncivilized lot, eh?" The jovial voice of Sir Bors du Cardonne snapped Reynard out of his revelry. "Clearly, their mothers did not teach them manners with the same strictness imparted on us."

Reynard snorted and cracked a grin. Bors was always the jester, even in the face of such an overwhelming experience. Reynard knew that this was Bors' first battle as well. The stout Knight Errant had been his companion since childhood and the two chose to fight together, trusting their combined strength to overcome any martial challenges.

"Perhaps if they see that excuse for a mustache you're sporting Bors, they'll be so shocked you can lance them as they stand gawking." Reynald teased his friend, who raised a gauntleted hand defensively to the fuzz of hair coating his upper lip.

"I think it makes me look distinguished Reynard old boy." A horn sounded in the distance. One blast, the signal to begin trot. Bors lowered his visor, making his voice sound tinny and hollow. "Here it goes then! May the Lady be with you Reynard!"

"And with you Bors," Reynard lowered his own visor as the regiment of Knights Errant began to trot forward at an increasing pace, "let's see how they handle the combined martial skills of Bors and Reynard, heroes of the realm!"

Bors nodded his helmed head. "As your family says Reynald old boy, duty unto death!" Together, the two picked up pace as the greenskin horde drew closer and closer...


* * * * * * *


"BORS!" Reynard de Germaine, Grail Knight, awoke from unconsciousness with a sudden cry. "Bors, I need your help!" Reynard shook his head to clear his thoughts and looked around. The horde of Grognak the Gutter was nowhere to be seen. Only dark woods surround him. And Bors... Bors was dead, his head split open like a piece of fruit by an Orc chieftain. Reynard had earned his spurs when he lanced that very same Orc chieftain through its howling maw. At the time, he had done it to avenge the death of his beloved friend, not for glory.

He pushed himself upright, trying to ignore the pool of blood that had formed around his side. Judging by the size of the puddle, he had not been unconscious long. He began hustling forward again. He must reach the mustering grounds. There would be no Bors to answer his call for aid this time. But something had heard his cry in the night.

The ghoul came out of the darkness, hurling itself at Reynard before the old Grail Knight could even raise his blade. Its weight bowled him over and the two fell struggling to the ground. The monster's grimy claws scratched at the knight's breastplate and bearded face. The Grail Knight staved the creature off with one arm and desperately scrabbled for his fallen sword with the other. He could feel its fetid breath on his face, the stink like a charnel house almost overwhelming his senses. Its beady yellow eyes rolled in their sockets as it hissed at him, raking and kicking. Reynard could not get a grasp on his sword. He could not die here. Not like this. Not when so many lives depended on him. Duty unto death.

Reynard went with the only option available as the hot breath of the ghoul touched his vulnerable neck. He brought his gauntleted fist around in a right hook that smacked into the ghoul's temple with a sickening thud. The creature reeled and Reynard gave it no chance to recover. Like some feral beast, the old Grail Knight pounced on the disoriented monstrosity and drove a gauntleted fist into its face, feeling cartilage and bone crack under the blow. He pounded another punch into its snarling features, and another, and another. The ghoul swung its claws feebly as the blows reigned down, but the Lady was with Reynald and he would not relent. He pistoned his fists into the creature's face until finally it stopped twitching in death.

Heaving in exhaustion. Reynald rolled off the corpse of the ghoul and got to his feet. An unclean kill, he thought as he picked up his sword, the most desperate and unclean kill of his life. Hopefully, the Lady would forgive him for it. The Grail Knight staggered onwards again. The presence of the ghoul could only mean one thing: his pursuers were much closer than he had thought.

Reynard tried to double his painful pace through the tangled undergrowth. He did not know if some spell had been placed upon the ghoul he had brutalized, but there was little doubt the vampire or one of its minions would soon deduce his whereabouts.

That unwanted lapse into unconsciousness had cost him dearly. So had the desperate struggle with the ghoul. His exertions had opened up the wound in his side even wider and it continued to bleed freely, turning the left side of his tunic into a sopping mess. But for the strength of the Lady that infused him, Reynard would have been long dead. He knew sooner rather than later that the blood loss would lead to... his momentum was nearly arrested when he caught a shimmering glimmer of movement ahead of him in the woods.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 02 February 2013 )
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