|The arms of Sir Loholt|
And so the Romance Period begins. This year, 531, used to be the default starting time for a “by the book” Pendragon campaign. Although I didn’t start playing Pendragon in earnest until shortly after 5th edition came out (with its default starting year of 485), the majority of my campaigns, both as GM and player, have ended up centering around this time. So Des and I are in familiar waters.
It’s easy to see why 531 used to be the default starting year. If you’re going to start out during Arthur’s reign, it’s a good time to start. This is when chivalry enters its full flower, when tournaments replace battles as the venue to demonstrate a knight’s courage, when heraldry and pennants and trappers turn those tournament fields into a riot of colors. Fortresses finally start to look like what we think of when we hear the word “castle.” The land is at peace, Adventure and Quest rule the day, and things haven’t started to go down the toilet yet. Soon enough. In the meantime, it is morning in Britain again and our hero is a young knight out to fill the shoes of his father and win the heart of his true love. To Adventure, then!
Last year, Loholt finally proved his mettle in the course of assisting Sir Cerbal in the recovery of the Spear of Cathoir Mór. He also joined the mercenary banner of Sir Hugo de Ganis and raided the kingdom of Meath; for his efforts, he was rewarded with an Irish holding. Wintering over on his new lands, Loholt had heard rumors of a magical storm ravaging Logres and he feared for the well-being of his beloved Orlande. And so, as the weather turned once again pleasant, Loholt determined to set out for home.
As he was making his preparations, however, he received a message, an invitation, from Sir Cerbal of Waterford. Loholt had nearly forgotten his Irish friend, so concerned was he for returning home – and he needed Adtherp to remind him of the name – but he was delighted by the contents of the letter: there was to be a royal tournament at Wexford and Cerbal was inviting Loholt to attend as his guest! His Irish steward affirmed that Wexford was a port city, and Loholt would be able to secure passage back to Britain from there. And so the manor house was shut down and shuttered, left in the care of the lonely steward; Loholt had no intention of ever coming back if he didn’t have to. Let his Irish peasants till the land and, as long as they paid their feudal dues on time, it was live and let live.
The weeklong trip across the countryside emphasized the primitive, backwater nature of the island. Arriving in Wexford, however, Loholt found a bustling and prosperous port swollen with knights and squires from across the land. He rode through the streets of the town and over the tournament field, taking in the great diversity of sights and sounds. Many Irish “knights” – most wearing little more than leather arming jacks and riding small ponies, bearing no coats of arms whatsoever – had turned out, but so too had many knights of Logres and Britain, some even wearing the latest armor, which featured fitted plates protecting the limbs. Keeping an eye out for Sir Cerbal, Loholt unexpectedly spotted another familiar face: his old mentor, Sir Asser! The Knight of the Old Ways embraced his protege, grinning.
“Good to see you, lad! Truth be told, I only came to this tournament because it promised a good time.” Asser was clearly already deeply in his cups. “Come, let me introduce you to some of my new friends!” As Loholt’s squire headed off with the horses to find a place to set up camp, the young knight followed Asser through the thronging crowd to a massive oak tree, under which an ale tent had been erected. Knights and peasants mingled freely as, nearby, a bear was made to dance for their amusement. Asser procured two leather cups of the freshly-brewed ale and, handing one to Loholt, guided him over to a foreign knight. Tall and lean, his skin was dusky of hue, his dark hair hanging in oiled ringlets. His coal-black eyes were taking in the other revelers as he sipped his ale.
“Sir Palomides!” Asser called out. “I want you to meet an old friend of mine – Sir Loholt.”
Palomides flashed a brilliant smile and flourished an elaborate bow as Loholt approached. “A pleasure, particularly in light of your parentage. You are a son of Arthur, are you not?” he said in a strange accent Loholt had never heard before.
“Indeed,” said Loholt. “Tell me, Sir Palomides – where do you hail from?”
“Lands far south of here. I have come to these isles to see if the tales of Arthur and his knights are true.”
“Well, I hope you haven’t been let down,” said Loholt. “But don’t take this tournament as representative of the Pendragon’s court. They’re a little backwards here…”
“WHAT?” The shout of outrage came from a nearby Irish knight who had caught Loholt’s comment. “How dare you sir!”
“Easy there, I meant no disrespect,” said Loholt, standing his ground.
“I’ll see you on the tournament field, boy,” said the Irish knight, spitting on the ground beside Loholt and stalking away.
“Almost as proud as my own folk,” said Palomides with a wry grin.
“Tell me, how are you liking the weather?” asked Loholt, trying to appear unfazed by what had just happened. “It must be quite different from what you’re used to.”
They conversed on such light and pleasant manners for a while; Loholt quite liked this foreign knight. Asser seemed to as well, although perhaps more as a novelty. In time, Loholt went looking for his tent. As it happened, Adtherp had found Sir Cerbal and had set the tent up next to him. Cerbal and Loholt spent the remainder of the day catching up.
The following day was the main event of the tournament: the melee. It was to be all Irish knights on one side versus all non-Irish knights on the other. At stake was a magnificent gold and silver necklace. Loholt was determined to win it for Orlande and, surveying the motley arrangement of Irish knights arrayed against his team, felt like he stood a good chance.
With a fanfare of trumpets, battle was joined. Everyone was using rebated lances in an effort to knock enemy knights to the ground – if you were unhorsed, you were out of the melee. Loholt acquitted himself well for the first five hours of the melee, bashing away at various Irish knights and getting a couple bumps and bruises himself, but nothing serious. At one point, Sir Cerbal, not recognizing his arms, nearly unseated Loholt. Finally, Loholt went up against a well-armored veteran, a household knight of King Anguish himself. The veteran delivered a single, perfectly-aimed lance blow and Loholt flew from his saddle. Dispirited, he made his way to the sidelines, marked off with a rope.
He was hardly alone. Most of the participating knights were out of the melee at this point, including the Irish knight Loholt had insulted. Making his way over, Loholt essayed a very well-worded and courteous apology and invitation to make amends. Grudgingly, the Irish knight consented, and the two turned their attention to the ongoing melee. It took another three hours, but soon only two knights remained – and one was Sir Palomides! Loholt cheered him on vigorously, only pausing to ask the identity of the other knight.
“A newcomer from Cornwall,” said a knight. “Styles himself Sir Tramtrist.”
Palomides and Tramtrist engaged in a furious exchange of blows that shattered both their lances. Finally, using the stump of his lance, Tramtrist drove Palomides to the ground and claimed victory! Loholt watched with jealousy as Tramtrist took a victory lap around the churned-up battleground, the gold and silver necklace hanging from the tip of a fresh lance. Loholt realized he had been exceedingly naive to presume he had a shot at winning a tournament of this size and resolved to do better in the future.
As dusk fell over the tournament fields, trestle tables were brought out and a great bonfire lit – there was to be a feast! Loholt went up to the high table to congratulate the champion and thank King Anguish for putting the tournament on. Tramtrist, the champion, sat at the high table with King Anguish. The Cornish knight seemed a fine fellow, courteous and chivalrous. Anguish expressed his personal disappointment that Loholt had not placed higher in the melee; swallowing his pride, the young knight merely smiled and bowed himself away.
Returning to his table, Loholt salved his pride by joining in a round of boastful storytelling, relating his own tales of his time with Lancelot (particularly the incident with the two lions and the magical healing blood he procured, basis of his coat of arms) to general approval. The boasting turned to talk of chivalry as the next course was brought out, and Loholt held forth on the subject of bravery, citing Lancelot as a shining example of valor.
This instigated a debate over Lancelot’s actual bravery – an Irish knight at the table pointed out that Lancelot had not sailed with Arthur’s army when they came to fight in Ireland.
“Yes, well,” interjected Sir Asser, “that was because he was too busy in Cambria rescuing the Lady of the Butterfly, then smiting the Giant Weasel of Appleby, then smashing the Giant Skull of Elva, then subduing the bandit lord Gregorius and his sister Gre—”
“Oh, whatever!” said the Irish knight, but he was silent after that.
Asser, who was sitting near Loholt, said in a quieter tone, “Well, that’s what I heard, at least. It’s hard to say – he’s hardly ever at court, and whenever he does come to Camelot he stays only a day or two.”
“Why would that be?” Loholt wondered. “Strange.”
“I suppose he’s just modest,” Asser averred.
As Loholt mulled the point, he noticed the bellicose Irish knight from earlier in the day getting grabby at a neighboring table with an Irish damsel, who clearly did not appreciate his drunken attention. Loholt excused himself and proceeded over to the table.
“Excuse me,” said Loholt, tapping the knight on the shoulder. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but see that knight over there?” He pointed to a random knight two tables away. “I overheard him speaking ill of your homeland.”
“Oh, I’ll show him!” the knight bellowed, stalking off and rolling up his sleeves. Loholt offered his arm to the lady as the sound of a fight wafted over.
“Thank you, kind sir,” the damsel said. Loholt smiled gently; the young lass was pretty, but Loholt could only think of Orlande and so he merely made pleasant small talk with her for a few minutes before he excused himself to go find Sir Palomides.
Unlike the rest of the knights at his table, Palomides had neither overindulged in spirits or serving wenches.
“Ah, young Loholt.”
They chatted for a time about Lancelot and King Arthur’s court before Loholt, pleading fatigue, retired. The next day he secured a berth aboard a cog bound for Carduel, ironically the city he had departed last year when he set out for Ireland.
The crossing passed without incident and soon Loholt was back on British soil, albeit far from Logres. Resigning himself to a long journey, Loholt set out south along the King’s Road, through Rheged and over the Penines, down into the marshlands and moors of Malahaut. His fame was sufficient that he was given hospitable treatment at every manor, hall, and castle he stopped at. His travels by day were growing increasingly uncomfortable; it was high summer and temperatures were unusually hot. Sweating beneath his traveling clothes, Loholt was obliged to stop frequently to rest and refresh himself and his horses.
Most days he filled his skins with water from streams or village wells, but on his sixth day of travel, during the hottest part of the day, he spotted an old Roman fountain set back from the road a ways in the shade of a bower of trees. Wiping sweat from his brow, he guided his horses off the road toward the fountain. It was a large marble affair with a nearly life-size statue in the center of a woman tipping a jug, from which flowed the fountain’s cool water. Gratefully, Loholt threw himself down at the fountain’s edge, drinking deeply and splashing water on his face. Standing back respectfully with the horses, Adtherp heard something.
“My lord, do you hear that?”
Loholt lifted his head. Over the steady trickle of water, he could indeed make out a soft keening wail, as of a man sobbing. Curious, he proceeded around the fountain and found, to his surprise, a fellow knight. The man, like Loholt, was dressed in traveling garb but he also, most incongruously, wore a full jousting helm.
Loholt could now also see a tent set up back among the trees, hobbled horses grazing placidly in the shade. Clearly this man was a knight, and just as clearly he had not noticed Loholt. He sat against the edge of the fountain, helmeted head in his hands, weeping piteously and muttering to himself.
“Woe! Woe is me!” he cried. Uncertain, Loholt moved closer.
“Good sir knight, why are you crying?” The helmed knight appeared not to hear the question. He continued muttering to himself.
“If only I could speak to her, ask her for her hand. If only we could be wed! But alas it will never be! If only I were brave enough! Better I should end my life now than know she’ll never be mine. If only I were not cursed by this loathsome countenance. Oh woe!”
Loholt approached the side of the fountain. At last the helmed knight, seeing Loholt’s reflection in the water, realized he was not alone.
“Oh, forgive me! I did hear you approach,” said the knight, his voice echoing inside his helm. “I paused for a repast at this fountain and the image of the maiden reminded me of my own love, Eleri of Wensleydale, and I was overcome with sadness.”
“Who is this lady?” Loholt asked.
“She is my one true love. I would ask her father for her hand in marriage if only I weren’t cursed with this loathsome visage.”
“And does she love you as well as you love her?” asked Loholt, taking a seat on the fountain’s edge.
“I can only dare hope!” replied the helmed knight. “But I am too ashamed of my appearance to approach her. Through my deeds as a knight I hope to prove my ardor.”
Loholt was thoughtful. “Is there any way to break the curse?”
“What’s this?” asked the helmed knight, startled. “You are offering to help me?”
“Of course!” replied Loholt brightly.
“Oh, kind sir!” said the helmed knight, grasping Loholt’s hands. “Would you take my proposal of marriage to Lady Eleri’s father? Would you tell him that Sir Corwin wishes his daughter’s hand?”
“I’d be honored,” said Loholt.
Sir Corwin straightened up. “Very well then! But before I send you, I must know that you are a true knight and a true lover.”
With that, he called for his squire, who emerged from the tent. “We joust for love, sir! For love!”
Loholt got into his armor and White Star was prepared for the joust. The two knights faced off as Loholt thought of his love for Orlande and what he would do for her. Inspired by his passion, he easily unseated the much larger and stronger Sir Corwin, who seemed incongruously pleased by this development.
“Oh, happy day! But before I let you go, tell me of your own love.”
“I must speak of the Lady Orlande, then. She puts the sun to shame with the radiance of her beauty. Her grace and kindness surpass all…” Loholt went on at length about his amor’s many virtues.
“You are indeed the right messenger for my missive of love,” said Sir Corwin as Loholt wrapped up. “This was my lucky day after all. Come! Let us dine in my tent.”
Loholt was served fine wine and cheese; Corwin, not removing his helm, did not eat, instead telling Loholt how to get to Apperside mano. “Do not take the northern road! It is the shortest path, but it would take you by Pendragon castle. The lord there is hostile to Arthur and his supporters and you would risk capture.”
As Corwin talked, Loholt stared at the helm, dying of curiosity over what sort of visage laid beneath. Once Corwin had finished giving directions, Loholt changed the subject. “How long have you been wearing that helm, sir?”
“Ah, since I received my knighthood. I’ve always been hideously ugly. But I sought to make up for my appearance by embracing all the qualities of knighthood; it was not enough. As a squire I was not allowed to serve at the table lest the ladies of the court take offense at my face. Other squires and even pages mocked me, laughing behind by back. No one would call me friend.”
“Well, I’m your friend,” said Loholt.
“I am! I shall help you with Lady Eleri no matter what.”
“Truly you are the son of Arthur! I thought I’d recognized your coat of arms. I should have known that great justice and valor would flow through your veins. You are a credit to our brotherhood, sir knight.”
With a wave and a salute, Loholt mounted up and headed off. He followed the Helmed Knight’s directions and rode on under the baking sun. In due course, he entered a forest, which provided relief from the heat but soon presented its own obstacle, as the trail became increasingly indistinct. Soon, Loholt was lost in the woods and he wandered for some time before hearing a distant horn blowing at one minute intervals. Following the sound of the horn, Loholt soon came to a village built among the trees. A young man in a wooden watch tower was still blowing the horn as a villager came up and hailed Loholt.
“Welcome to Bainbridge, good sir! Lost in the woods?”
“Indeed. Can you tell me where I might find Apperside manor?”
“Certainly! Just follow yonder trail.”
Loholt thanked the villager and proceeded on with evening closing in overhead. Soon he caught sight of a vale of farmland along the banks of a river. A fortified manor house perched alongside the manor and, as Loholt approached, he began to get a feeling of unease. No men-at-arms patrolled the ramparts and the main gate lay open. All was eerily quiet as Loholt guided his horse into the courtyard. There he found clear signs of a battle: splintered shields and shriven spears, even blood splattered against the wall of the manor house itself.
As Loholt dismounted, a young squire came tearing out of the house. Bowing hastily, he began to speak in a rush, his breathless words tumbling from his mouth.
“Oh, sir knight! You are too late to save the lady!”
“It was Sir Neilyn who did it my lords, he always coveted the Lady Eleri though she did nothing but spurn him, and he came to the manor to demand the lady be handed over to him, and grew wroth when refused, and then he struck down the lady’s guard and Sir Owain, as old as he is, donned his armor to fight for his daughter but his age betrayed him and he was cut down! Now he lies dying within and there is no one left to save her!”
“The last we saw of Sir Neilyn, he was riding west towards Pendragon Castle – if you ride out now, you may yet catch him up. But first Sir Owain wishes to speak with you.”
“Of course,” said Loholt. “Lead on.”
The squire took Loholt into the hall where Loholt saw an old man reposing on a day bed under a layer of animal skins. His skin was deathly pale and a young maid was tending him as best she could. As Loholt approached, she rose and strode over to him.
“He is easily fatigued and not always lucid,” she whispered.
“Do not worry, I have something that might help,” Loholt replied. He withdrew a phial of the lion’s blood he had taken from the tomb of Lancelot’s forefather and approached Sir Owain. “Drink this, my lord,” he said, tipping the blood into Owain’s mouth.
The old knight quickly regained some color and his eyes became clear. “Who are you? Where has he taken her?” Owain grasped Loholt’s hand. “Sir Neilyn did this. I wounded him, but he has wounded me more so, for Eleri was my only family. Please promise you’ll return her to me. Please.”
“I will,” said Loholt. “But I should like a promise from you in return.”
“Anything,” said Owain, sinking back into the bed.
“Promise you will consider Sir Corwin for betrothal to your daughter.”
“Yes, yes. Of course! Now go, please!”
Loholt wasted no more time and departed at once. The peasants down in the village, alerted by the recent commotion, met him out on the road, pointing out the way Sir Neilyn had fled.
“Sir Neilyn will rue the day he crossed the Helmed Knight!” they called. Loholt proceeded along the moonlit trail for only a short while before catching sight of a knight in a clearing off the road. He was bundling a lady, her hands bound, onto the back of his horse. When he caught sight of Loholt, however, he quickly dumped her on the ground and mounted up.
“Be on your way, sir!” he called to Loholt. “You have no business here! This is between the lady and myself. Now go, or I shall ride you down!”
“Dubious,” Loholt muttered, then more loudly he called: “I have come on behalf of Sir Corwin. I will defeat you and return the Lady Eleri to her hall.”
“So be it! You shall fall beneath my lance!”
Both knights leveled their lances and charged. Loholt shattered his lance on Neilyn’s shield. Wheeling about, he saw Neilyn had kept his seat. Adtherp rushed up and handed Loholt a fresh lance, and he put spurs to White Star once again. The two knights, each inspired by their passions, crashed into each other. After bashing at each other with their lance butts, they separated and drew back to charge once more. On the third pass, Loholt again shattered his lance and this time unseated Sir Neilyn.
Dismounting, Loholt approached Neilyn’s prone form and nudged it with his booted toe. The villainous knight was dead, killed by his fall from the horse. Loholt rushed over to the Lady Eleri and undid her bonds. As he did so, she looked around, blinking in surprise. “Is it night already? Where am I?”
Loholt noted Eleri’s clothes were loose and disheveled, as if Neilyn had ravished her. “I have come to take you back to the manor,” said Loholt.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, getting uncertainly to her feet. “I swooned when I saw my father fall beneath Neilyn’s blade.”
“Your father yet lives,” said Loholt, as he went about gathering up Neilyn’s horses; he also stripped the knight of his armor, as he was about the same size and wore a better harness. On the ride back, they talked about Sir Neilyn’s abduction. Eleri could give no account of the time since Neilyn had ridden off with her. “Tell me, though,” she asked, “have you seen the Helmed Knight?”
“I saw him just today, and in fact I came to your manor with a message from him: he wishes to propose marriage.”
“Oh my!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t he come himself?”
“He says he is too ashamed of his appearance to come before your father with such a question.” Eleri was quiet for a time and suddenly Loholt realized she was weeping silently. “My lady!”
“I am sorry. It’s just that Sir Corwin is the only knight I shall ever love or marry.”
“That is good news indeed! I am sure he will be happy to hear it.” Eleri smiled and brushed her disheveled hair from her tear-stained cheeks.
By the time they got back to Apperside, many of the village peasants had turned out to see if they could help Sir Owain. Amidst their cheers, Loholt and Eleri rode into the courtyard, where they were met by the squire.
“Gale!” Eleri said, smiling broadly.
“My lady! You made it back!” Gale turned to Loholt. “Sir Owain is much better, but still very weak. We managed to get him up the stairs to his tower chambers, but he told me to bring you to him at once as soon as you got back.”
Quickly, Loholt and Eleri followed Gale through the hall and up a flight of stairs set into a square tower built along one side of the manor. At the top of the stairs waited the maid, whose name was Rowena. She ushered them into Owain’s chambers at once.
The old knight did indeed look better, but he was still confined to bed. His countenance brightened as soon as he saw Eleri, who knelt at his bedside and took his hand, smiling. “Father, this is Sir Loholt. He rescued me from Sir Neilyn, who was killed in the fighting.”
“Sir Loholt?” Owain said, suddenly alert. “The Pendragon’s son?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said Loholt uncomfortably.
Owain looked at Loholt cagily. “You know, my daughter is of marriageable age, and it was time she took a husband. Would you like to marry her?”
Loholt paused, then, with great courtesy and panache, gently turned down Owain’s offer, bringing the topic quickly back around to Sir Corwin’s proposal.
“Yes, father, I wish to marry Sir Corwin!” Eleri piped up, unable to contain herself.
Owain nodded. “Very well. Splendid, in fact. He is a good knight, brave and true. Have the servants bring out a table – we must have a feast at once!”
And so, despite the fact it was past midnight, a feast was held down in the hall. Owain sat between Loholt and Eleri as many from the village toasted his good health. Also sitting at the table was the village priest, who watched Eleri cagily throughout the meal, which featured far more ale than actual food. At last, somewhat drunkenly, Owain banged his goblet on the table and the hall fell silent.
“Forgive me if I do not stand, but my injuries are still fresh,” he said. “I am pleased to announce the engagement of my daughter to Sir Corwin, also known as the Helmed Knight of Lestroite. The wedding shall take place in one month’s time—”
“One moment, my lord, if I may,” interrupted the priest. “Rumors of your daughter’s disgrace at the hands of Sir Neilyn are already beginning to spread. It is not fit that a sullied woman such as she marry and raise the future lords of this demesne. For this reason I say that the Lady Eleri should be sent to a nunnery and you, Sir Owain, should find another to marry and carry on your line.”
Sir Owain, shaking his head sadly, agreed. “Alas, the priest is right. My daughter must be sent to a nunnery and it shall fall to me to preserve the noble name of this family.”
Eleri, shaking with anger, jumped to her feet. “How dare you do this! I am as pure as the day I was born. This priest is a fool, and if I could I would prove my chastity here and now!”
“There is a way, my lord,” said Rowena, stepping forward from the shadows and glaring daggers at the priest. “Before I came into your service, I lived up north, near the wall of Hadrian. My mother told me of a castle there, called the Castle of the Leprous Lady. It was said that within that castle there was an enchanted bed, and that any maiden who slept in it, were she not chaste, would awaken the next morning in the grip of madness. My mother also said the lady of the castle extracted a terrible price from those who would sleep in the bed.”
“Whatever the price, I will pay it!” said Eleri.
“Very well then,” said Owain, turning to Loholt. “Will you escort my daughter to this castle?”
Loholt had been watching all this unfold in shocked amazement, but he quickly recovered. Although he was inclined to believe Lady Eleri, he knew it was important that her chastity be proven before the wedding. “Of course, sir.”
And so arrangements were made for departure in the morning. Tired and hungover, Loholt guided Lady Eleri out of Wensleydale and onto the King’s Road. Retracing his steps back north, he reached the Wall after several days’ travel. Turning east, the party made its way along the Wall Road until, hiring a local guide and following directions provided by Rowena, they turned south. About five miles south of the Wall, they caught sight of a crumbling old motte-and-bailey castle.
An old man hobbled out over the moss-covered drawbridge that spanned a stagnant moat. “What do you want?” he barked.
“We have come seeking the Bed of Virtue!” said Loholt.
“What’s it to you?” asked the old man, spitting into the scum-covered moat below.
“I am Loholt, son of the Pendragon,” said Loholt, deciding to pull rank for the first time in his life. “I demand to be let in!”
“And who is he to me?” asked the old man, sneering. His expression quickly changed when he saw anger flash in Loholt’s eyes and his hand go to his sword hilt. “Alright, alright! I meant nothing by it! Come in, if you must.”
With that, the old man stumped back into the castle, not bothering to look back. Loholt left Adtherp and the horses in the bailey and led Lady Eleri up the side of the motte towards the crumbling wooden keep. Within, they found a hall covered in filth and grime, cobwebs hanging heavily from the rafters. Only a single candelabrum on a dusty table provided any kind of light. At the table sat a withered old crone, her hands shriven, her eyes sunken. At her side stood a young knight who looked to be the picture of health, quite the opposite of the old lady. She rose and began to speak, but was forestalled by a wracking cough. Recovering, she spoke at last, her face sneering.
“Be welcome, brave knight. What brings you to my home?”
“The lady and I are here seeking the Bed of Virtue in order to clear her name so she can marry.”
“Very well. But there is a price. Do you think it not strange that a woman cursed with such a wretched body should have a son as healthy as mine?” She indicated the knight at her side. “It is because I give him my health. He enjoys the vigor of two, as I forsake my own. While I live, my son shall be the healthiest knight in all of Britain. All it takes to keep my son and me healthy for a year is a bowl of blood from the arm of a virtuous maiden.”
She indicated a rather large silver bowl sitting near the candelabrum. It looked like it would hold a lot of blood. But Loholt had a trick up his sleeve. Smiling, he agreed to the lady’s terms. And so Eleri was led upstairs to spend the night in a tower chamber. Loholt slept on the filthy floor of the hall, awaking the next morning with a hacking cough. He wasted no time, however, in accompanying the old crone and her son up to the chamber, where they met the disagreeable gatekeeper, who produced an iron key. The door was unlocked.
Within was chamber that was as clean and pleasant as the rest of the castle was filthy and disgusting. A large bed, draped in samite and glowing with the pink rays of the rising sun streaming in through a window, stood in the center of the room. Lady Eleri, smiling, greeted Loholt.
“Now I take my price,” said the crone, shuffling over. Placing the silver bowl under Eleri’s arm, she produced a wickedly sharp blade from her belt and, with no preamble, sliced open Eleri’s vein. The lady winced in pain but held her arm steady as the blood began to flow. Loholt watched as the color drained from her face and her eyes began to flutter. At last the bowl was filled to the brim with blood and the crone bandaged Eleri’s arm.
Loholt stepped forward and produced from his belt pouch another phial of the magical lion’s blood. Tipping the blood into Eleri’s mouth, he watched as the color returned to her features, much as it had for Sir Owain. In minutes, she was on her feet and smiling again. With the crone and her strange companions watching, they quickly made an egress from the Castle of the Leprous Lady and returned to Apperside manor.
As they approached, they saw the manor had a guest: a banner bearing the arms of Sir Corwin hung over the gate! Sir Owain welcomed his daughter back with open arms and declared the wedding could go ahead as scheduled. Another feast was held, with Sir Corwin and Loholt sharing the spot as the guests of honor. As always, Corwin wore his helm at all times, even at the feast table. And he once again turned to Loholt for help, this time in composing a love poem for his sweetheart.
Inspired by his passion for Orlande, Loholt, despite having no experience in composition, came up with an immortal love poem on the spot. Loholt was then called upon to affirm what he had seen at the Castle of the Leprous Lady, which he did.
Corwin then rose and addressed his poem to Eleri, concluding, “You have never had need to prove your worth to me, my lady. When I heard of your capture by Sir Neilyn I was overcome with anger, and then apprehension when I heard of your travel to the Castle of the Leprous Lady. I can only thank Sir Loholt for the great service he has rendered you, and thus me. To him I pledge my friendship and my sword, should he need it. To the one who slew Sir Neilyn, I offer the honor of best man at our wedding.”
Kneeling, Sir Corwin continued, “To Eleri, I offer my heart. Now that we are to be married, there should be secrets between us no more.” The assembly gasped as Sir Corwin rose and removed his helm at long last. The face revealed was indeed loathsome, more pig than man. “Now you see the true Sir Corwin, and know why I have always worn this helm. Now that you know my secret, I give you the chance, my lady, to choose another as your husband. I would rather lose you than shame you by my hideousness.”
Lady Eleri, not flinching from the hideous face before her, took Corwin’s hand and said, “Never before
have I gazed upon your face, sir knight, but I love you still. It is your heart and spirit that turn my head, not your appearance.” With that, she kissed him gently on his brow. As she drew away, Loholt goggled; gone was the hideous countenance, replaced by the face of a kind and gentle man, tears streaming down his face.
Sir Loholt stayed at Apperside for a month longer so that he could serve in Corwin’s wedding. At last the two were wed and Loholt set out for home as soon as courtesy allowed. He was anxious to see Orlande at long last! And so he rode into Sarum as summer waned to autumn. Even from a distance, he could tell he had arrived on a day of great merrymaking; tents were erected outside the city and banner and pennants streamed from every tower and gate. His heart dropping, Loholt noted the pennants bore the coat of arms of Sir Gondrins, son of Earl Robert, and…Lady Orlande. Hands shaking, he rode on into the city. The streets were thronged with revelers as the air was cut with the peal of church bells. Loholt, feeling distinctly separate from his body, rode towards the great square from which rose Sarum’s massive cathedral.
And there he saw it: Orlande and Gondrins, departing from the doors of the cathedral, dressed in their finest clothes and bedecked with garlands of flowers. Loholt guided his horse forward through the crowd, staring hard. As Gondrins and Orlande made their way from the cathedral behind a guard of honor, Loholt caught his lady’s eye. A moment passed between them and Loholt felt his love swell anew. He knew that marriage would be no impediment to his amor.
That night, before departing for Camelot, Loholt took off the enchanted armband he had received from King Alain when he was growing up in Carlion; called the Arm Ring of Chastity, it had been an heirloom in his possession for years. No longer. He had it sent to Orlande’s chambers as a token of his enduring esteem.
Arriving in Camelot, Loholt determined to make a coded declaration of his continuing love for Orlande. He knew that, in Camelot, word of his declaration would spread quickly and disseminate into the countryside. And so, at court one evening, he provided the entertainment by reciting a poetic rendition of the tale of the Helmed Knight, as he had intended to do before for Orlande. But this time, he spun the tale to make it a tragedy: the Helmed Knight did not get to marry his love, but instead loved her from afar forever after.
As he spoke, he noticed a few eyes narrowing in suspicion. The absence of his Arm Ring had been noted, and his love of Orlande was hardly a secret. Clearly a few at court were putting two and two together.
“Brother! A tale well-told!” It was Borre, Loholt’s half-brother. “I see you’re buying into this whole romance thing, eh? Come, let us feast!”
“Yes. I need to fill my flagon…” said Loholt, who had every intention of spending the winter in a drunken stupor.
|The arms of Sir Corwin|