16. The Knight with Two Swords

Back at Camelot, King Arthur and his knights—seated together at a large rectangular dining table that wobbled slightly when weight was unevenly distributed upon it—were discussing the events of the day over tall tankards of mead. The mood was solemn. King Pellinore was nowhere to be found. And Sir Lanceor was still insisting that the King send him to retrieve Excalibur.

“Please, your majesty,” Sir Lanceor said, trying his best not to slur. “There is no need to sssend anyone but me to retrieve the Excalibur.”

“Just you?”

“Yesss,” Sir Lanceor said, hiccupping in mid-speech as he beat his own chest plate with a close fist. “I must regain my honour, and my dignity.”

“Very well, if you insist,” King Arthur replied with a shrug.

“Thank you, your majesssty,” Sir Lanceor said. “I will return Excalibur to you, but what do you w-w-w-wisssh for me to do with the criminal?”

King Arthur hesitated.

“Bring him back alive,” he said. “So I can denounce him and strip him of his knighthood before the court.”

“Before exxxecution?” Sir Lanceor asked.

King Arthur’s eyes narrowed.

“Maybe,” King Arthur replied. “But try your best to bring him back alive. Most importantly, get that sword back.”

“And what of the other sssword?”

“Hm?” King Arthur asked.

“He’s referring to the weapon that brute Balin used to decapitate Lady Bradán before my very own eyes,” King Pellinore snarled as he appeared at the entrance to the hall. Lightning flashed behind him before a loud roar of thunder boomed. Rain began to fall behind him.

“Yesss…” Sir Lanceor said. “That sssword.”

Forget the bloody sword!” King Pellinore boomed as he walked into the hall, then knelt deeply before King Arthur. “I ask that you bring back that boy’s head. I beseech you, Arthur.”

Sir Lanceor looked at King Pellinore, then followed his gaze to King Arthur.

King Arthur nods as he turns to Sir Lanceor.

“A head for a head,” King Arthur said hesitantly. “Sounds fair to me.”

“Yesss, sssire,” Sir Lanceor replied and turned about. He stumbled toward the exit of the great hall. He rode after Balin with his lady and halfling squire, sworn to avenge the cold murder of Lady Viviane.

Sir Balan had already left to follow Sir Balin, anxious regarding the safety and well-being of his brother.

Balin continued north, with Tyrfing on his back and Excalibur on his right hip. He resolved to win back Arthur’s respect, and to somehow clear his name of the murder of the Bradán family.

Meanwhile, near Camelot, Merlin appeared on horseback behind a psychopomp who was preparing Lady Viviane’s funeral. Her body was laid upon a canoe filled with flowers and small sticks neatly arranged in a beautiful thatch-work pattern.

“Is this a funeral?” Merlin asked the royal psychopomp, atop his brilliant grey steed.

“Greetings, Merlin the Enchanter,” she replied. “You are correct. It is.”

“Such a grand one, I must say,” Merlin noted.

“Yes,” she replied. “His Majesty, King Arthur of the Bretons, ordered it so.”

“And would it, perchance, be for a Lady Bradán of Listeneise?

“Yes, my lord,” she replied. “Her family was recently murdered by a knight and a moor.”

“Yes, yes,” he said. “Is that the head right there?”

“That it is,” she answered. “She was decapitated by the kni—”

“Yes, yes,” he replied. “Let me say a few words before you send her on her way.”

Merlin dismounted from his horse.

“As you wish, my lord,” the psychopomp replied.

Merlin knelt by the body and uttered close to it, casting a powerful spell upon the body of the Lady of the Lake. Then he lifted the head gently and casted two spells upon it, one less powerful than the first—simple trickery to make Merlin appear as a young, handsome man to the lady—and the other more powerful than the previous two spells combined. The final spell was one of revivification.

Merlin lifted the head up out of the boat grave and placed it into a soft silken bag face-up.

The head opened its eyes, and its mouth curled into a scream.

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