7. Allure

Read it to me!

Sir Balan returned home, hot and sweaty from the journey back.

“Mother,” he called out as he entered. “I’ve returned.”

Catalina was sitting at a window by a tall stack of clean dishes.

“Welcome home, son,” she replied. “Look, how you’ve dirtied yourself.”

“Yes,” Sir Balan replied as he changed into cleaner clothing. “I was training hard with Lin.”

Sir Balan left his dirty clothes in a pile. Catalina glared at it.

“I’m going to Camelot soon,” he replied.

“Help me take the clothes off the lines while you are here, child,” she said. “They are drying in the sun out back.”

Sir Balan groaned, but acknowledged.

“Yes, mother,” he said as he went out the back of the house.

Catalina walked over to the pile of dirty clothes and lifted it up. A talisman fell out of it onto the ground. She lifted it up in her hand, and studied the image of the fish and the cornucopia.

She turned her head to find a thin, pale woman at her door.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is not important.”

“You hail from Hibernia,” Catalina stated accurately.

“That I do,” the Damsel replied. “And that talisman in your hand holds the mark of the Grail Kingdom.”

“Yes,” Catalina said. “That it does.”

They glared at one another.

“Why is that talisman so far from where it is from?” the Damsel asked.

“What is an Irish girl like you doing so far from where she is from,” Catalina asked in response.

The Damsel scoffed.

“You’re one to talk!” she said. “How did    a moor like you arrive at this island?”

Catalina smirked.

“By ship,” Catalina replied coldly. “By trade. Sold by the Romans. Brought on this island to work as a slave. Then, stolen by the Saxons.”

The Damsel discretely pointed her ouroboros pendant at Catalina.

“It’s easier to stomach when you think of it as a grand comedy,” the Damsel said with a smirk. “And how did you free yourself?”

“I didn’t,” she replied. “By the grace and mercy of Allah, I was rescued—along with the other prisoners— by a warband of Scots. I was treated fairly by one of their soldiers, and fell in love with him. We started a family.”

The Damsel continued to point the pendant hanging off her neck at the woman before her.

“King Pellam and his fiery horde descended upon our small village,” she continued. “They enslaved my love, Balgaire, and forced him to fight Fomorian sea-raiders. He was lost, and his body was last seen floating in the Bay of the Folk. My sons were next, so I decided that we would escape. My sons were strong enough to break the wooden bars of our cage, and we fled south to safety so they could be spared a tragic and watery end like their father’s. We walked south through Rheged and Pengwern to this land of Logris.”

The ouroboros just above the neckline of the Damsel glinted a bit too brightly into Catalina’s eyes, and the Spaniard caught herself. She blinked hard. Then glowered at the Damsel.

“Are you applying your Irish trickeries upon me, foul hechicera?” Catalina asked.

The Damsel smirked, surprised that the woman before her was able to break her mind free of the enchanted pendant’s spiritual grasp.

“Will you help grant me an audience with the king?” she asked Catalina.

“And how can I do that?” Catalina responded with a raised eyebrow.

“Isn’t one of your sons a knight?”

Catalina’s eyes narrowed.

“And why would I do that?”

Sir Balan entered from the back door, carrying a pile of clean laundry in his large, muscled arms.

The Damsel’s eyes fell upon Sir Balan, and she got quite flushed at the sight of him.

“Your… son…”

“Greetings, I am Sir Balan,” he said, bowing deeply.

“The half-breed is handsome,” the Damsel said, not taking her eyes off of the knight.

Catalina’s eyes narrowed. She opened her mouth to curse the Damsel, but Sir Balan interjected.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady,” Sir Balan replied politely.

“Pleased to make yours,” she said as a thin smile crept across her face. “I was wondering, sir knight, if thou wilt take me to see thy king. I have a request to make of him.”

Sir Balan bowed.

“It would be my pleasure,” he said. “Allow me to escort you.”

The Damsel giggled as she turned about and departed with Sir Balan towards Camelot. Catalina crushed the talisman in her hand as she stood in the doorway of her home.

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