As I sit here typing this, a bird is chirping outside the window. There’s something comforting about birds chirping. They are such little scaredy cats that when there’s a loud disturbance or a sense of danger there’s not a peep out of them. I imagine them huddled together on a branch or wire somewhere holding their collective breath. When I hear them chatting away it means all is well. Even if I’m not conscious of their chirping, I suspect I possess a genetic throw-back that’s tuned into that kind of thing and somewhere inside of me one or two muscles relax.
You know that wolf whistle sound that is most associated with construction workers, the whistle they make when an attractive woman walks by? Wish I could type the sound, here’s my best try: whooo – hooo. Well, I recently discovered that it is a misnomer to call it a wolf whistle, there is a bird that lives in the woods behind my house that whistles that tune all morning long and whenever I’m in the backyard and hear it, there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Why, thank you.”
There are so many sounds that I am oblivious to most of the time. Living in suburbia and working in the city, they are all just part of the background music. Emergency vehicle sirens get my attention only when I hear lots of them at the same time, or they stop close by, or when I’m expecting someone to arrive at my house and they are late. I am generally able to absorb the sounds of the lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, weedwackers and chain saws that ratchet up the volume in my suburban neighborhood when added to the sounds of barking dogs and children playing. Unless, of course, the lawnmowers start booming before 9AM on a Saturday morning, then I just want to reach over and change the station or, better yet, throw something out the window at the offending neighbor.
While driving to work this morning I passed an industrial-sized lawn mower cutting the grass in the median separating the two highways. Tooling along at 70 mph, I suddenly flew through the strong scent of just mowed grass and my thoughts immediately splintered. Simultaneously, I remembered lying in tall grass on a summer day as a kid, snapping off a fresh green blade of grass to chew, and remembered the peace I feel sitting on my front porch or back deck in the twilight of a summer evening surrounded by the smell of my fresh cut lawn.
At lunch time today I walked the paths and stairways on the campus where I work. It is different now that the majority of the students have left for the summer, classes finished until late August. The ebb and flow of thousands of people trying to get from A to B all at the same time has given way to the peace and quiet of a well planted and well manicured park. Everywhere I look there are different types and shades of flowering borders; yellow, red, lavender, white, orange, blue and ten different shades of green. Each weedless border stops where the thick, flat, dark green lawns begin and then those lawns stretch out to span the length of football fields or until they reach the next flowering border.
I wandered up and down small concrete pathways and short concrete steps shaded by infant trees, at least they were youngsters compared to the centuries old trees that towered over them. Finding a park bench I sat and looked at the view. The lawns were sprinkled with sculptures, as if the natural beauty wasn’t enough stimulation. Movement overhead caught my attention. The strong breeze was blowing white clouds quickly across the blue sky. I leaned my head back and tried to find an interesting design in the clouds, believing that on such a beautiful day, in such a beautiful spot Mother Nature would entertain me. Nothing, not a horse-drawn chariot, not a castle in the sky, not even a simple little puppy. There was something about the way the wind was churning the clouds, however, that made them explode like fireworks.
Walking back to the office, I couldn’t help but notice the bulletin boards throughout the campus. When classes are in session, notices of concerts, meetings, games, apartments and clubs are pinned or stapled to those boards three layers thick. Today the boards were empty except for hundreds of white speckles marking where all the notices had been ripped off, leaving hundreds of small chunks of paper still stapled to the boards. In a few months the boards will be full again. Until then, I intend to enjoy my quiet, private park.
My mom was extremely religious. She was a devout Catholic. She had a strong faith in God, the pope and the saints. Yesterday, when I read the statement of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued by the seven Franciscan Provinces in the United States my second thought flew to my mother. While mom loved the Virgin Mary and said her rosary every night, her favorite, very favorite saint was St. Francis of Assisi. She had a personal relationship with St. Francis and prayed to him whenever things hit the fan in our family. He was her last resort, her Ace in the Hole.
I’m sure mom knew everything there is to know about St. Francis, but she loved the fact that he was the patron saint of animals and she had a two foot tall statute of St. Francis, with a bird on his hand and a lion at his feet, in her flower garden. Mom was the rock of the family, the disciplinarian, but inside she was soft and sweet with an affinity towards flowers and small animals.
After mom passed and we were going through her belongings, I found a very tiny and well worn mini book. It is about 2 inches high and, when folded, about 1 inch wide. The cover is a well worn dark brown with faded gold braiding; the edges of the “book” have been loved down to white. On the back in faded gold printing it reads: “Franciscan Fathers T.O.R., Loretto, PA.”
When I opened the “book” I was not surprised to find a picture of St. Francis in a small oval frame covered with a small oval piece of clear plastic. Below the picture a miniscule oval, and inside that oval an even smaller piece of what appears to be brown fabric. Under the smallest of ovals it reads: “Cloth touched to relic of St. Francis.” What faith, to cherish a speck of fabric that was simply touched to some unknown relic of her favorite saint.
How could anyone disparage such faith? How could anyone not honor such faith? Since I found it, I carry mom’s St. Francis relic in my wallet and have for years, moving it from shabby wallet to new one. If we ever meet and I have my wallet with me, I will show it to you.
I have to wonder what mom would think if she was alive today and read that her beloved Franciscans were standing alongside the remaining US nuns and they, together, were standing up to the pope. While I believe she would support the pope, I also believe she was pragmatic enough to understand the position of the Franciscans and the nuns and she would be totally torn. Here’s the irony, I suspect she would get down on her knees and pray to St. Francis for enlightenment.
If that was my second thought, what was my first? Astonishment. During the course of my life I have wandered away from the Catholic faith, leaning now toward a more open-minded spirituality, heavily influenced by eastern philosophy. Even so, the tenants of Catholicism are deeply rooted in me even though I was the kid that raised her hand in religion class and started her questions with, “Yes, but …” and I was the kid the nuns called “doubting Thomas,” obviously ignoring the fact that it was a little girl standing in front of them. The notion of priests openly disagreeing with the pope and supporting women up to the brink of endorsing them as candidates to priesthood almost seems like science-fiction to me. If you had told me a week ago this would happen, I would not have believed it.
So, like my mom, I am taken aback by the Franciscan Leadership’s position as well. The difference being that I think mom would have felt disconcerted, perhaps a little betrayed, while I feel optimistic and pleasantly surprised.
The trees outside the windows are green and lush and hanging down from the weight of the relentless rain that pings off the roof of my camper. The frying pan is still warm on the stove and the dirty breakfast dishes on the counter don’t bother me at all this morning. It’s a rainy day at camp.
Instead of the hum of adult conversations, the excited chatter of happy kids and the occasional rattle of boat trailers that filled the air outside my camper last holiday weekend, today I hear the birds chirping and can almost hear the quiet through the raindrops. I can see my neighbors cars parked outside their campers, but, like me, the rain is keeping them inside. This morning when I woke and realized it was Saturday and I didn’t have to jump up and get on with the day, I let myself be lulled back to sleep by the comforting sound of the rain.
An hour later when I finally got up and opened the door to my camper, I spent two or three minutes just watching a very hungry hummingbird flit from one section of the bright red feeder to another, then fly away into the woods, only to return a few seconds later to eat again. Like that hummingbird, I had a big breakfast. Having time this morning to chop up some peppers and onion and cook them for a while before cracking a few eggs into the pan and scrambling everything up with a whisk. For an unknown reason, my toaster did not make it through the winter and I keep forgetting to buy a replacement so this morning I toasted bread in a pan and it reminded me of the many times I went camping in a tent and had to cook breakfast outside in an open fireplace, rain or shine.
Rainy days at camp also remind me of the delightful rainy days I spent with my little boy in a family camp on a lake years ago. Hours of reading children’s books, playing cards, watching children’s movies, him kneeling on the carpeted floor making tiny car tracks with the tiny metal HotWheels car we bought at the market the night before, then long summer naps on the overstuffed couch. When I was a child on rainy summer days I would make tents in my bedroom by draping blankets over bedposts and holding the ends of the blanket on the floor with tall piles of hardcover books.
Last weekend my friends, Cindy and Ned, came to visit me at the camper and brought a beautiful hanging plant which we hung outside one of the windows that looks out on the pond. During the past four days I have been away the plant has grown, the purple flowers have multiplied and the green leaves have begun to hang over the side. Now when I look out that window, I not only can see the clear mountain pond, but I am reminded of how lucky I am to have good friends in my life.
I am off now to finish watching the movie I paused on TV, begin reading that paperback book I picked up at the market last night and I believe I see an almost-summer nap in my future.
First, congratulations to all you moms reading this. Whether you have children of your own, have raised your siblings, worried about your nieces and nephews or your friends’ kids, no matter, you’re a mom and we all know what a demanding, never-ending, marathon being a mom can be. It can also be a fountain of love, compassion and indescribable happiness.
While many of us spent the day with our children, and the luckiest among us spent the day with their moms, I had a rather unusual Mother’s Day. My son was unavailable. He works for a local catering company at a newly opened Hilton and celebration weekends are his busiest. I received an invitation to go to dinner with another family, but I opted to stay home and bask in the “nothing-to-do-ness” of the day. Although the plan was to stay home, when I remembered the flowers I purchased for the cemetery a few weeks before, I decided to hop in the car and bring them to mom.
When my son was young and lost his paternal grandfather I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the purpose of a cemetery so whenever we visited his grandfather’s site I told him it was his “quiet spot;” a place where the rest of the family could go and remember their times together. Yesterday I went to my parents’ “quiet spot.” I brought a small rake, scissor’s to cut the silver and purple ribbon I would wrap around the silk white roses and purple lilacs that I would put in the metal vase in front of the heart shaped stone that mom selected after dad died.
In addition to one million other thoughts that come to me when I visit their “quiet spot,” I always worry because their names are mixed up on the heart stone. Mom’s name and life years are noted above dad’s head and dad’s name and life years are noted above mom. I worry that in generations to come no one will know who is where. Yet, somehow it seems okay. Their lives were so intertwined anyway.
I’ve come to realize that if I park between two particular trees along the dirt road in the cemetery I can easily find the heart stone 30 feet away. After switching last season’s weather-faded flowers for the bright new bouquet with its shiny purple ribbon, I swept away dried dirt and grass from the heart stone and noticed that the smaller stone to the right that marks my grandmother’s and two grandfathers’ spot needed some attention. Once the cleaning was finished I went looking for small stones to use to build two tiny stone towers that I leave behind for mom and dad.
Walking down the dirt road looking for stones I looked over in the direction of the housing project where I grew up. Fifteen years ago, at dad’s funeral, I realized we could see “our” building from his spot. Even though it had been 35 years since anyone in the family lived in that building, we were a family there, living together, and somehow it has always been comforting to me that mom and dad are close to home.
After building my tiny stone towers and cleaning up my mess I walked back to my car, opened the trunk and put my trash inside. That’s when I decided to look for the “quiet spot” of my friend who died less than a month ago. Although I wasn’t sure he was in the same cemetery, because of where he grew up I couldn’t imagine he would be anywhere else. Just before slamming the trunk closed, on a whim I grabbed a small bouquet of white daises that I had taken from the heart stone, then I closed the trunk and headed for the newer section of the cemetery.
I didn’t get very far when I came upon my aunt, uncle and cousin’s “quiet spot.” Stopping there to say my version of a prayer it dawned on me that this particular aunt, who had died more than 20 years before, was my godmother and there I stood on Mother’s Day with flowers in my hand. I walked away with a smile on my face but the white daises stayed behind.
For the next ten or fifteen minutes I wandered among the newer stones, reading names that I recognized from my childhood, but didn’t see any indication that a site had been created within the past month. I began to walk back to my car and as I passed an older section I saw a fresh site in the distance and wandered over. I was totally taken by surprise when a small white sign propped in the ground told me I had found my friend. I sat on the ground with him for a few minutes and when I stood up I noticed the marker on the site next to him. I laughed out loud when I read the name … my friend was now right next to one of his life-long friends from childhood. Again, I walked away with a smile on my face.
A few minutes later another familiar name engraved in stone caught my attention. My first husband’s parents, who were very much alive when we divorced, are now not ten feet away from my friend; a friend they knew well, a friend who grew up with their son; the same friend who introduced me to their son, my future husband.
As I stood in front of that stone I had another epiphany and the irony is far from lost on me. On this Mother’s Day, without intending to do so, I met more than one of my mothers; my mom, my grandmother, my godmother and my mother-in-law, all women who had been important in my life.
Thinking about yesterday, I can’t help but be in awe of where our very ordinary daily lives take us if we just give up control every now and then and follow our hearts.
It’s April 28th in the Northeast. It should be warm enough outside to begin planting a small veggie garden but my computer screen tells me it’s only 42 degrees and the sound of my furnace kicking on and off reminds me of how chilly it is.
I’m not a great gardener. When I bought my house 24 years ago it had wonderful patches of perennial flower gardens and I have tended to them; separated and moved plants when necessary. They are still thriving. It always seemed I was too busy to tend to a veggie garden. When I was “semi-retired” I spent most of my time during the warm weather up north at my camper so anything I planted at home either died of thirst or morphed into an overgrown, unrecognizable version of its original self.
I love garden books. I love reading about garden design and planting and looking at pictures of successful gardens. One of my personal goals is to visit Monet’s garden at his homestead in Giverny, France, before I become a flower myself. I read a wonderful book about Monet’s garden written by a woman who was hired to restore the garden to Monet’s original design. He laid out the garden like his paint pallet, and when it’s in full bloom the colored flower beds flow from one shade to another to another.
One year I was feeling particularly industrious and planted what was a very large veggie garden in my back yard, at least it was large for me. Before I tilled the soil and planted the garden, I made Saturday morning trips to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and organic farm in Ghent, NY, where I attended gardening classes. The school and farm are a good hour and a half car ride from home but I was charmed by their back-to-nature philosophy.
My son was in third grade at the time and I considered sending him to a Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs. Waldorf teaching philosophy is built upon respect for nature. For example, the teachers take the kids outside and look for twigs that are in the image of letters of the alphabet, one of the classrooms at the Hawthorne Valley School was built around a living tree that sprouted from below the floor and its branches stretched to the ceiling. Ultimately, I decided not to send my son to the Hawthorne School because they expected their students to never look at TV or play computer games, etc., and even though he was only in third grade, my son had grown up with those things. It seemed to me that trying to wean him from the technological world at that point might leave such a bad taste in his mouth that it would defeat the purpose of a Waldorf education.
Back to the garden … I loved the classes at the Ghent farm. We visited a local who tilled her garden with a horse and old fashion till hooked to a harness. We shoveled egg shells and garbage into huge compost piles and learned about the goodness of organic soil. I would come home so charged with ideas. During that spring I created a considerable compost pile of my own and I happily tilled, minus the horse, of course, a large patch of my suburban back yard then covered it with organic topsoil from the bags and bags of soil that I carted home from Ghent. The last day of class was a sad day for me.
Back in the suburbs I planted rows of tomatoes and green snap beans, summer squash and zucchini and even six or eight rows of corn. As soon as he got up each morning my young son would run to the window to see what might have grown overnight. After breakfast we’d go outside and walk up and down the rows to see what had changed since the previous morning. In the evening we’d go outside and water the garden and most of the time we’d water each other. When we harvested our first tomatoes we almost felt like we were eating our livestock!
Everything I planted thrived, except for the corn. Corn needs to have a his and her so that cross pollination can occur. I was careful to plant them correctly, but for some reason, the doves in my neighborhood seemed to have had it in for the corn. I looked out one morning when the corn was only about a foot high and saw two doves slowly walking down the rows of corn, pulling the newly sprouted corn stalks out of the ground and flipping them over their shoulders. I would have been less annoyed if they were eating the stalks, but it seemed they were the hoodlums of the dove community and were pulling them up for the pleasure of it all.
After that summer life got more complicated and other than a few tomato plants the wonderful veggie garden faded away. Up north, I have planted a few veggies near my camper, but there is no way to keep the critters at bay, so anything I plant grows to a certain point and then disappears into the stomach of one of my furry neighbors. There was even a deer or two that would walk out of the misty woods on summer mornings onto the dirt road in front of my camper and eat the rose buds on my prickly rose bush. If I was awake, I watched them through the window blinds.
Last night after work I stopped and bought a little sprig of a tree, my homage to Arbor Day and couldn’t resist buying a few herbs; basil, English thyme and dill, my favorites. As I type this they are all sitting out in my garage waiting to be planted and images of those wonderful English kitchen gardens outside weathered wooden doors are floating through my head. It feels like this may be the year of another wonderful veggie garden.
I’ve been following with great interest the continuing story of the Vatican’s reprimand of the 57,000 member US Catholic Nuns organization. Instead of getting down on their hands and knees and thanking these women for all of the good work they do with the poor in our country and their efforts on behalf of social justice, while so meaningfully representing what is left of the best of Catholic ideals, these old men are bitching because these nuns did not take the time to get involved in the politically highly charged abortion and gay marriage issues. This from a group of old fogies who sit in a gold laden country within a larger country thousands of miles away from the nitty gritty facts of life that these women deal with on a daily basis.
Talk about audacity, the Vatican also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by American bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops - "who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals" - is unacceptable, the report said. Let me repeat this, American bishops, "who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals." Well if these American bishops are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, so many of whom shuffled child molesters from parish to parish and let children suffer for decades at the hands of other “authentic teachers of faith and morals,” then the church is in deeper trouble than it appears.
Currently there are 57,000 nuns in this organization, which represents most of the nuns in the US. As a child growing up in the 50s and 60s attending Catholic schools, it seemed to me there were 57,000 nuns just in the Albany Diocese where I lived. For years people have been asking where all the nuns have gone. Some say that they’re still here; they just don’t wear the habits any more. All you have to do is walk into any Catholic school and count the number of lay teachers versus nuns and you know it’s not the clothes.
It’s representative of a church that refuses to recognize that women and men are equals. A premise they got away with until the late 60’s when women started thinking beyond what they were taught as they grew up. When women who would have added to the growth and expansion of the catholic faith began to walk away from a patriarchal system that they knew in their hearts was wrong.
It’s almost like the Catholic Church has a death wish. By refusing to evolve, by digging in their heels and adhering to the writings of men who knew Jesus but wrote of him decades after his crucifixion when they themselves were old men, and whose words have probably been reinterpreted a thousand times over the years, the Catholic church no longer sounds true. Not only that, they’ve also lost the free labor of those millions of nuns who were the backbone of the Catholic school system over the years. As a result, very few families can afford to pay for a Catholic education in today’s world, an education that propagated the Catholic faith.
It appears the Vatican fails to understand that they do not have the exclusive rights to Jesus. There are many branches of Christian faith where a person can express their beliefs in Jesus and his teachings that believe that all of their parishioners and clergy are equal.
I was never a fan of Lent as a kid. I just didn’t get the concept. It has never made any sense to me that God wants people to suffer, or go without. Which isn’t to say the idea of divine retribution didn’t scare the hell out of me; I guess I walked a thin line as a kid. Mostly I followed all the rules just in case they were right.
Holy Saturday night was spent around the kitchen table. On that table were little paper cups half filled with colored water of dark green, blue and red into which we would slowly lower a hardboiled egg balanced on a thin metal halo, an egg that would inevitably plop into the water at the last second, splattering dyed liquid all over us and the table. After a minute or two of carefully watching the egg change color, we would fish it out of the paper cup using that metal halo and ever so gently lay it onto a paper towel. When all the eggs were colored, or when we grew bored with the process, whichever came first, we would wander away into the parlor to watch TV before going to bed.
The Easter Sundays of my childhood were second best only to Christmas Day. Not only was there candy all over the house, not only could we eat as much of that candy as we wished, but I loved the clothes. A lot of my wardrobe as I grew up was hand-me-downs from my older cousins. But for Easter, I always got a new dress and it wasn’t one of those plaid, back-to-school dresses. Oh no, they were magical dresses. After a long, dark winter of wearing nothing but a heavy maroon uniform, Easter brought dresses with wide satin sashes and lace trim. Those dresses were always soft pastels; greens and pinks and blues. Even if it was a cotton dress, the colors made it magical.
And shoes, dress shoes of black patent leather with straps and buttons and sometimes flowers; maybe white shoes, but always patent leather. I wasn’t a fan of hats, not that I didn’t like them; I just never liked how they looked on my head. Yet, every Easter Sunday I wore a new hat to church along with a fresh pair of white gloves holding on to a small shiny pocketbook. Inside that pocketbook was a small handkerchief; my favorite was the white one with blue flowers embroidered in one corner. Also in that pocketbook was my small contribution envelope that I would take out and drop into the collection basket as it passed by me during mass. Pinned to my shoulder was a small Easter orchid, surrounded by white lace that mom took out of the frig just before we left for mass. The corsage tickled my chin and as I write this I can imagine the flower’s sweet smell.
When we got home from mass we could eat as much candy as we wanted while mom was busy in the kitchen cooking an Easter ham AND I could wear my new dress all day long. My brothers wore suits on Easter Sunday, with long ties and white collared shirts and shiny shoes. They too wore their Easter clothes all day, minus the jacket, of course.
The religious celebration of Easter Sunday made more sense to me than the abstinence of Lent. The dark covers were removed from the Stations of the Cross and from the beautiful statutes of Mary and the Saints that lived in my church. Elegant white and gold linens were draped on the altar and the room was filled with the fragrance of fresh roses and lilies and carnations. In my memory, every candle in the church was glowing. Even the hymns that we sang were joyous and in celebration. Easter Sundays of my childhood, at least in my memory, were flawless.
That’s what I wish you this Easter of 2012. A magical and flawless day with your family and the people you love.
Like everyone else I’ve been reading a lot lately about politicians trying to legislate what women can and cannot do with their bodies. I have refrained from commenting on social websites regardless of how ludicrous the legislation and comments from politicians. Mainly because when I hear men debating what a woman can and cannot do with her body the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I firmly believe that until men can get pregnant and deliver a child they will never understand all of the implications of pregnancy and therefore, are in no position to make decisions on our behalf. I do appreciate and respect men who understand that these bodies that we walk around in are our own and that no man or woman on the face of the earth has the right to impose their morals or beliefs on our bodies.
There are so many red herrings around this issue. There’s the one that goes like this: women cannot decide by themselves to end a pregnancy because the father of that pregnancy has rights too. Then there’s this one: that woman went out and slept around and now she’s pregnant, she has to learn to take responsibility for her actions. And that one fits very nicely with: women should only have sex when they want to get pregnant, if they use birth control they’re just sluts. There are, of course, many more, but I’ll stop here.
Red Herring #1
I think anyone would be hard pressed to identify a couple in a functioning, healthy marriage/relationship where the woman has gone off and ended a pregnancy without first discussing it with her mate.
I also think there are women who are in dysfunctional, abusive, held-together-by-a-string relationships who find themselves pregnant and know that they will be solely responsible for the child that could result from that pregnancy. She will be responsible for providing a home, food, healthcare, education and moral compass, for the next 18 years, all while working full-time in order to make enough money to keep it all together. And, if she already has children, just multiply that anxiety by the number of existing children. I believe any woman in that situation has the right to make her own decision.
Red Herring #2
We often hear indignation about women who have become pregnant outside of a committed relationship, women who some feel have to learn the lesson of responsibility by continuing the pregnancy. Yet, somehow it’s only indignation toward her. “Somewhere” there is a man who had a brief sexual fling that resulted in pregnancy too. Ahh, but here’s the catch, his body doesn’t get pregnant. Do the men who sleep around call the women they have had sex with a month or two later just to check to be sure they’re not pregnant? Not likely. He just walks away and if that act results in a pregnancy, he simply does not care, and if that pregnancy is terminated, he simply does not care. No gut wrenching decision for him ... don’t know, don’t care.
So that means, he doesn’t have to learn to be responsible for his actions by telling his family he’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the mother is, carrying a child to term, birthing a child, putting his career and social life on the back burner in order to accommodate being a single parent. Nope, no life-changing, gut wrenching decisions for him. But her, there are people telling her now that she has to fight for the right to have the option to make a decision.
Red Herring #3
I’m not spending much time on Red Herring #3. Any living breathing adult knows how ludicrous it is to expect grown men and women to have sex only when they want the act to produce a child. To call a woman who is responsible enough to use birth control a slut is simply irresponsible. All women and men should have unconditional access to birth control which should always be a personal and private decision.
Abortion is a scary word. And the person who is scared the most by that word is:
· The 14 year old girl with the 14 year old boyfriend who has just found out she’s pregnant.
· The woman who has been raped and sodomized by a smelly, brutal man on a dark city street who has just found out she’s pregnant.
· The love struck, naive 21 year old who was seduced by a player who disappeared when he found out she was pregnant.
· The battered woman, who along with her 3 children lives in hell every day, who just found out she’s pregnant.
· The well-heeled businesswoman who had a brief fling with a guy she met on a business trip who just found out she’s pregnant.
· The woman who is in an unhappy marriage that needs to end, who just found out she’s pregnant.
Considering an abortion procedure with all of its medical and psychological ramifications is scary for women. It is not a solution, it’s a decision that women carry with them the rest of their lives, and while there may be some women who use abortion as birth control, I have never met any of them.
Would I ever have an abortion? That’s none of your business. As your personal decisions is none of my business. Which is precisely my point here; as a society we need to get off our soapboxes and be realistic about sex. How can we as a society possibly get to the point of respecting each other if we believe we have the right to tell each other what we can and cannot do with our own bodies?
When we were kids, my siblings and I always went to bed early on a school night, 9 o’clock at the latest. On Friday and Saturday nights we were allowed to stay up a little later, maybe until 10. I used to force myself to stay awake; there was something about the weekends that was so special.
Saturday morning I was up at dawn, creeping downstairs to raid the Freihofer donuts that were just delivered, and grabbing the glass milk bottles out of the milkbox on the back porch. Fortified, I would make myself comfortable on the parlor floor carpet, turn on the small TV and wait for the test pattern to change so the Saturday morning cartoons could begin. There were six of us, including my mom and dad, living in our apartment, so it was a treat to have the parlor and TV to myself.
Around 11 o’clock on Saturday mornings my neighborhood friends would knock on the front door, “Can Janice come out and play?” they would ask. So I’d run upstairs and jump into my “play clothes,” put on my “play shoes” (which were usually old school shoes that were too scuffed to wear to school) and rush outside. The rest of the day, with a brief break to scoff down a sandwich, we would play baseball, roller skate, jump rope, onsies/twosies (a game played with a ball thrown against a wall) and ride our bikes. If it was winter we would build snow forts, sleigh ride and even ice skate if there was a large enough patch of ice in the neighborhood.
When the street lights came on we’d all go home, eat dinner, watch TV and try to stay awake after all that fresh air, but it was not easy. I can remember sitting on the coach watching TV with my whole family at 10 o’clock Saturday night and I would be sound asleep and my mom would shake me and tell me to go upstairs and go to bed and I would say, “I wasn’t sleeping!” I went upstairs.
Sunday morning we got up and walked the mile to church for 9AM mass which was the “kids mass,” which meant all the kids that went to my catholic grammar school were there. After church we walked the mile back home and mom cooked a huge Sunday dinner. Most Sundays after dinner the six of us would climb into the car and go for a ride. Sometimes we’d ride all the way up to Schaghticoke and make a quick visit at my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. Then it was back home, baths for everyone, our hair would get washed, we’d jump into fresh pjs and then go downstairs to watch The Ed Sullivan TV show. After Ed it was back upstairs and into bed, me usually falling asleep wishing I had actually finished all the weekend homework that had been assigned.
As we grew older the house rules were pretty much the same. Early to bed, same Sunday night rituals, except the older we got, the longer we spent primping in the bathroom. A household with three teenagers and one bathroom was a challenge for all of us.
Then I spent Friday nights at school dances, Saturdays at school football games and Saturday nights at basketball games. Instead of finding peace and quiet in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, I slept later, and my neighborhood friends and I spent our Saturday afternoons styling each other’s hair, trying our first cigarettes, spinning 45s or record albums on small, portable record players with lids that closed with a latch, or listening to Boom-Boom-Brannigan, a DJ on our local radio station.
There is a magical period of time, at least for girls, between the ages of 11 and 14, before serious dating and broken hearts, when sleeping parties are a part of our lives. Hair curlers the size of small water pipes, bobby pins, lipstick, blush, eyelash curlers, music, pizza, soda, dancing and laughing, lots of laughing.
Then somewhere along the way Saturday night became date night and we all had high school steadies, some steadier than others. Sunday night hadn’t changed much yet.
After high school I took my first full-time job and while still living in my mom and dad’s house, suddenly I’m allowed to stay up as long as I want, wear the clothes I want, and go to clubs and drink and dance and meet all kinds of people as opposed to the white, catholic people that populated the first 17 years of my life.
Friday nights were girls’ night out. Not all of us had cars so five or six of us would pile into one little car at 10 o’clock at night and hit two or three clubs, usually ending up at the Excelsior House, our favorite club where our favorite band, The Knickerbockers, played every weekend. Saturdays were spent recuperating from Friday night and getting ready for Saturday night which was basically a repeat of Friday night.
At some point I met my first husband and Friday nights were pretty much the same, but Saturday night and Sunday night were date nights. As time went by the small group of gals dwindled as we all became involved in exclusive relationships and began to plan our weddings.
As a newly married woman working full-time, my weekends were no longer my own; grocery shopping, laundry, housework, entertaining, trying to satisfy two families, my own and now my husband’s, it was exhausting and a good thing I was young.
Still working full-time, but now in my late 20s and early 30s and divorced, I was living in my own apartment and living alone for the first time in my life. While I still had to take care of all the details that kept my life together, the weekends were fun. I could just stay home and do nothing, or go to a movie and diner with a close circle of friends. Not much club hopping, but plays and concerts and always Friday night happy hours at Ogden’s, a great little restaurant near where I worked.
In my mid-30s I remarried and the weekends were still fun. Two adults with good incomes doing whatever we wanted. When our son was born, my weekends changed again. I was a stay-at-home mom for the first four years of my son’s life so the weekends weren’t hectic; the household chores were taken care of during the week. The weekends were filled with trips to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, Chuck-E-Cheese, ice skating rinks, soccer games, baseball games, and always a house filled with the neighborhood kids. My son had a best friend when he was 7-8-9 years old that lived two blocks down the street. That little boy got off the school bus with my son every Friday afternoon and spent the entire weekend at my house. He didn’t go home until Sunday afternoon. He came with us wherever we went.
When my son was 12, I became a single working mom and boy did my weekends change; back to doing all the household chores on the weekends and now trucking my teenager to the local YMCA and all of his friend’s houses. Then my son became a drummer. So for the next few years there were rock bands practicing at my house on the weekends. When I decided to send my son to private school, I took a second job so in addition to the weekend chores and a fulltime job, I worked every Saturday. During that time my social life on the weekends consisted of falling asleep in front of the TV.
When my son was in his late teens, I was still single and working full time but finally started to get time for myself. My weekends were spent going to concerts and plays and movies and dinner with people closer to my age, people who were not teenagers. I even got to take real vacations and see the ocean again.
Then I was laid off and since I was collecting a pension, I thought I’d try retirement. The best part about retirement is that every day is the weekend. After two years I went back to work full-time because I’m used to living a certain lifestyle, certainly not the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but I like to have more money than I need, rather than less money than I need. That’s where you find me today.
I absolutely love the weekends now. Working full-time defines the weekends very clearly and I dole out those weekend hours very carefully, spending them with friends, family, or even just staying home and relaxing. Like I did when I was a kid, I force myself sometimes to stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights just because I can. Even though my mom’s not here to wake me and send me off to bed, there are times when I wake up from a nap in my den at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and I still refuse to go to bed.
Unfortunately, there are no Freihofer's donuts or bottles of cold milk in a milkbox on my back porch on Saturday mornings any more, but since donuts just go to my waist and whole milk has long been deserted for 1% milk, I have a new Saturday morning ritual. Now, instead of sitting and staring at the TV test pattern, on a sunny spring Saturday morning you’ll most likely find me sitting on my back deck with a cup of warm tea watching the morning birds and critters in the forever wild area beyond my back yard.
Sir Galahad woke that morning feeling more hopeful than he had in a very long time. He washed in the cold water from the deep bowl on his nightstand and quickly dressed in his freshly laundered forest green leggings and gold tunic. Before leaving his chambers he pulled on his robe-like white surcoat and tied it at the waist, the gray and red image of Excalibur painted on the front. He tied his great sword around his waist and closed the chamber door behind him.
Galahad took the stone spiral stairs leading down to the great dining hall two at a time hoping to catch Catherine still at breakfast, although he refused to admit Catherine was the reason for his new-found optimism. The big, strong, fearless Knight’s stomach tightened when he walked into the room and found Catherine alone at the table. Self-consciously he bowed and said, “My Lady, I hope you had a restful night.” Catherine smiled back at this new and improved version of Sir Galahad and replied, “Good morning, Sir Knight.” After a moment of silence, she pointed to the assortment of foods on the stand next to the table and said, “The food is still warm, won’t you join me?” “As you wish,” Galahad replied bending from the waist, a killer smile on his face when he straightened up.
After breakfast, if you could call it breakfast, neither one of them eating more than a mouthful or two, Sir Galahad invited Catherine to walk with him down to the water’s edge to see the view of the Loch from the gatehouse. Anyone watching the dashing, handsome Knight and the lovely red-haired damsel dressed in a rust-colored gown would have been impressed by how compatible they appeared to be, so comfortable with each other.
And there was someone watching them, or rather … something.
The castle gatehouse was built at the water’s edge. The location of the gatehouse allowed the defenders of the castle to see for miles up and down the Loch in either direction. On that sunny spring morning, 200 feet from shore, a mammoth dark shadow floated just below the surface. As Sir Galahad and Catherine admired the view, the dark shadow circled and moved slowly toward them. Catherine and Galahad were too wrapped up in each other to notice when the top of the monster’s head broke the water 50 feet from where they stood. The monster’s huge webbed feet were already standing on the floor of the Loch, a few steps forward and the monster would be revealed.
At that moment, shouts came from the highway leading to the gatehouse. The couple turned to see Sir Jonathan and Lancelot charging toward them. As soon as they were close, Jonathan jumped off his horse and ran to Catherine. Ignoring the rules of chivalry, he hugged her and said, “I can’t believe you’re here.” Turning toward Galahad, our young Knight asked, “Where did you find her?” Startled by the interruption, the frustrated monster sunk down under the cover of the water.
Sir Galahad answered all of their questions while surreptitiously watching Catherine’s reaction to Sir Jonathan. She appeared embarrassed by the young Knight’s exuberance rather than flattered by his attention. As they stood on the shore listening to the story of Lionors’ demise, the monster was listening also. In the over 200 years she had lived in Loch Ness, she learned the strange language spoken by the humans.
She had heard stories of the Knights of the Round Table. Dragons avoided them when possible. They were ferocious warriors. Yet she feared that if she let the woman and light haired Knight go now, she would not have another chance for revenge. The gatehouse guards were not in the tower so she would have to defeat just the three Knights on the shore. The red-haired woman would not be a problem. Ignoring the advice of her herd, she swam cautiously toward the shore. Still underwater, she began walking up the sandy Loch bottom.
Lancelot and our young Knight had their back to the Loch, Galahad and Catherine facing them. Lancelot knew something was wrong when he saw Galahad push Catherine behind him and slowly draw his great sword. Without asking any questions, Lancelot pulled his great sword from his waist and turned around. Watching the other two Knights, our inexperienced young Knight hesitated and when he did the monster lowered her great jaw and clamped it around Jonathan’s waist, carrying him into the air.
Galahad and Lancelot charged forward their swords pointed at the soft underbelly of the monster. She quickly turned to the right, her 150 foot tail sending the two Knights into the air and landing them 20 feet away in the highway. Picking themselves up, they charged again but she was on the move. Lancelot and Galahad reached the water’s edge just in time to watch her sink below the surface, our young Knight’s limp body dangling from her jaws.
When Lancelot was 21 years old he met Margaret Brody. She was a beautiful peasant girl of 17 who lived outside the walls of Camelot on her parent’s small farm. He was a brash new Knight of the Round Table. The first time he saw Margaret he was returning to Camelot from a hunt with King Arthur and 14 other Knights. Whenever the Knights returned, all the young girls of Camelot lined the roadway and watched as they rode by; all except for Margaret Brody. She was indifferent to the parade of Knights that evening as she strolled down the dirt road, swinging a half filled milk can and singing a song Lancelot could not hear. She was a tiny wisp of a lass, her long curly auburn hair disheveled and hanging in front of her face and what a beautiful face it was. A small, full mouth and tiny nose complemented the biggest and deepest blue eyes in England.
It took Lancelot a week to find out who she was and where she lived. For the next few weeks he rode by Margaret’s house in full armor almost every day, but the few times he saw her, she didn’t even lift her head when he rode by. Giving up on that approach, Lancelot began taking early evening walks down the dirt road in front of Margaret’s house dressed in his best leggings and tunics. Once he saw her walking from the house to the barn but again, she didn’t seem to notice him.
Finally one day out of desperation, he caught the Brody’s sheep dog and carried it to their house pretending he found the dog a mile away. Margaret answered the door. While Lancelot was telling his lie, Mr. Brody came out of the barn and invited the Knight into the kitchen for a cup of milk. Lancelot eagerly accepted. As he talked with Mr. Brody, Margaret poured warm milk into a cup and placed it in front of Lancelot. Then, to his horror, she excused herself and went outside. As soon as he could, Lancelot thanked the man for his kindness and went looking for Margaret.
She was standing in the shade of a big oak tree near the barn, waiting for him. She smiled when he walked to her. It turned out Margaret was very aware of Lancelot and knew he had been trying to get her attention but she was afraid he was too worldly for the sweet, innocent farm girl that she knew she was. For the next six months they were inseparable and for the first, and last, time Lancelot was in love.
The day Margaret planned to tell Lancelot that she was pregnant; she was happy and thought that he would be too. Her world crashed around her when Lancelot balked at the idea of being a father. He told her he was a Knight and would never marry. He told her he loved her and did not want their lives to change, that he knew of a woman that could end the pregnancy. Suddenly Margaret saw the truth about the man that she loved. Broken hearted she turned away from him and never looked back. Three days later when Lancelot returned to the Brody house to beg her to forgive him, her parents would not talk to him and no one knew where she was. Margaret was gone from Lancelot’s life forever.
When her son was one year old, Margaret married a gentle man named Michael Burroughs who raised her son as his own. When her son was ten years old, Margaret Brody Burroughs died and her husband and son returned to Camelot where her husband remarried and her son, Jonathan, grew to manhood.
King Arthur included the above paragraph in the letter that our young Knight handed to Lancelot that sunny day when they first met by the sea in Ireland. At the end of the letter, King Arthur wrote, “The young man that hands you this letter is your son, Jonathan, from Margaret Brody. He does not know that you are his father.” Lancelot wanted to tell Jonathan he was his father, Lancelot planned to tell Jonathan he was his father, but at first he was shocked and caught off guard and by the time he was ready to talk, he and Jonathan parted ways and there never seemed to be a right time.
As Lancelot stood on the shore of Loch Ness and watched his son being dragged into the depths something snapped inside of him. “I failed your mother,” he shouted, “I have failed my King, but I will be damned if I will fail my son.”
Running now, toward the gatehouse tower, Lancelot yelled over his shoulder to Galahad and the dozen other soldiers that had raced to the shore when they saw the monster, “Do whatever you have to do to turn that beast around, make it come over to the tower.” As Lancelot raced up the stone steps of the gatehouse, Galahad and the soldiers waded into the Loch, yelling at the monster, daring her to return.
Hearing the ugly humans taunt her, the monster swung her head and looked up at the shore through a foot of water. Angrier than ever, she circled around and her great head broke the surface, Jonathan’s lifeless body still clenched in her jaws. The men ran toward the tower, the monster on top of them. She didn’t see Lancelot until it was too late.
Perched on the ledge at the top of the tower, his great sword pointed downward, Lancelot waited for the beast. He watched the monster swipe at two of the soldiers and toss them into the Loch. Within minutes all of the men were standing at the foot of the gatehouse and the monster was glaring at them, her long neck bringing her head to within a few feet of the crouching soldiers.
That’s when Lancelot pushed himself off the tower and lunged, his sword thrusting downward, at the back of the monster’s head. Sensing Lancelot more than seeing him, she began to lift her head but the great sword caught her between her eyes and she was dead before her body hit the shore. Sir Jonathan dropped from her mouth and rolled along the water’s edge. Galahad ran to Jonathan and found he was still breathing. A moment later, Merlin appeared on the shore, picked up Jonathan’s body and carried him to the castle.
Sir Galahad, Lady Catherine and the soldiers searched until dark for Lancelot’s body but it was never found.
Ten years later …
When Catherine came into his life, King Arthur was revived. Once again he became the great leader and peacekeeper of his youth. His health returned. He spent most of his days training his two young grandsons to become Knights and he slept peacefully every night.
Catherine grew to love her natural father, King Arthur, as much as she loved the father who raised her. She quickly mastered all of the skills necessary to rule Camelot. It was obvious she was a natural leader, the citizens loved her and they respected her as one of their own. She had been a dedicated nurse to our young Knight during the two years of his recovery. She was very much in love with her husband and together they were raising their two charming sons, the Princes of Camelot.
Finally, Sir Galahad was content with his life. He loved his wife, Catherine, more each day and the two red-haired sons, Arthur and Jonathan, which Catherine had given him. Although King Arthur still attended the Round Table, Sir Galahad was now the man the Knights followed into battle. He was also the only remaining original Knight of the Round Table.
Our young Knight
Sir Jonathan was bed ridden for two years and then surprised everyone when he began to walk again. Shortly after walking, he started riding and shortly after that he resumed all of the duties of a Knight of the Round Table. He was fully recovered from his brush with death, except for a barely discernible limp and a very nasty scar on his forehead. During his recuperation Jonathan and Catherine renewed their friendship. As the days went by it became clear to both of them that they were destined to be friends, and he stood beside Sir Galahad as his best man on the day Catherine and Galahad married. Five years after the death of Lancelot our young Knight resigned unexpectedly from the Round Table and left Camelot.
Even if Lancelot survived the beast, he could not have stayed in Camelot. Even if Arthur could have forgiven him, Lancelot could never forgive himself and every time he looked at Arthur his guilt would have been overwhelming.
There is an old English legend about Two Knights in the time of Camelot who traveled the country championing the innocent and slaying dragons. One of the Knights was an old man who fought alongside a young Knight who had a slight limp and a scar across his forehead. There were rumors they were father and son. To this day, the Legend of the Two Knights is whispered around campfires in the English countryside.
Catherine picked up her feet so that Lionors’ head could roll by without stopping. Galahad stepped behind her and used his great sword to cut the rope that bound her. Stepping in front of her he knelt on one knee, bowed his head and said, “Lady Catherine, I am Sir Galahad, Knight of the Round Table. Your father, King Arthur, sent me to find you and bring you back safely to Camelot.” Catherine was raised a peasant, she did not know how to respond to this Knight kneeling before her.
She had heard the women in the village speak of Sir Galahad as though he was a forest god, the thought bringing a smile to her lips as she looked at the blood spattered, disheveled man kneeling before her in his underclothes. Gathering her thoughts, Catherine said, “Rise, Sir Knight. Thank you for saving me from that wicked person.” Galahad stood and looked down at her, a smile passing over his face. That’s the moment Catherine began to understand the Sir Galahad the women spoke about at the riverside.
Galahad interrupted her thoughts with, “My horse is outside, My Lady, if you wish we will travel the short distance to Urquhart Castle where you can sleep comfortably tonight. Tomorrow we will leave for Camelot and you will be with your father by nightfall.
Suddenly, everything that Catherine had experienced during the past months closed in on her. Now that she felt safe and was beginning to let her guard down, she was exhausted. When she tried to stand, her legs would not hold her. Sir Galahad reached out and swept her into his arms before she fell to the floor. He walked the few steps to the door and kicked it open, carrying Catherine out into the chilly night air. Catherine lifted her head to look up at this strong Knight who had saved her, but, overcome by exhaustion, she let herself nestle into his broad chest and closed her eyes.
Galahad gently laid Catherine down on the soft damp grass while he dressed in his armor and attended to his horse. When he was done, he woke Catherine long enough to pull her up into the saddle in front of him. She quickly adjusted to the gait of the animal and fell back to sleep surrounded by Galahad’s strong arms.
In the morning, while Catherine slept comfortably in a large, airy chamber at the castle, Lionors’ “pet” thumped across the highway and up to the cottage where its mistress lived. Curious as to why its friend did not come out to greet it as usual, the “pet” lowered its large head enough to angle its eye so it could look inside through the window. Every creature within 100 miles of that cottage with the ability to hear stopped what they were doing when the grief stricken Loch Ness Monster let out a mighty roar.
Meanwhile, our young Knight and Lancelot made their way to the nearest village to commandeer a horse. It took some time to convince the owner of the horse that Lancelot was indeed a Knight of the Roundtable and that he would return before the winter to pay for the animal. While they were negotiating with the skeptical horse owner, a traveler came to them when he saw Jon’s armor and told them he had seen another Knight of the Roundtable the night before in Inverness. Lancelot asked how old the Knight appeared and judging by the answer, they knew it was Galahad. The traveler told them the Knight left Inverness for Urquhart Castle, about 20 miles away from where they stood.
The Knights decided the best course of action was to ride to Loch Ness, meet Galahad and together they would come up with a plan to find Catherine. As soon as the new horse was saddled, they galloped off toward the castle.
All morning long the monster walked around Lionors’ cottage alternating between whimpering and roaring. The grieving dragon was almost as tall as the cottage, and twice as long, its green scaly hide fit tight to its bones and the half dozen humps that ran down its back. Its face was the face of a snake; great black eyes screwed into slits on either side, two more slits for a nose and a huge gash of a mouth filled with hundreds of sharp teeth. When the monster saw a disturbance in the water it quickly lumbered down to the Loch, recognizing the signal that its mother was searching for her baby.
As anyone who has been a mother, or has known a mother, will tell you, mothers do not like it when their babies are hurt. The dragon in Loch Ness was no exception. When she sensed her son was sad because his friend was murdered, someone had to pay. Besides, mom liked the crazy old human that treated her son so well.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
Changing from one reality to another in less than ten seconds gave Catherine vertigo. Every time she opened her eyes the room would spin. When she was finally able to stand on her feet she couldn’t keep her balance and had to reach out and press her hand against the cold wall for support. She didn’t know where she was. The last thing she remembered was standing in the stream of water cleaning Shadowmere.
Catherine jumped back and gasped when her eyes finally adjusted to the dark room and she saw the witch sitting on an old, once white, wicker chair in the dark corner, blood dripping down the side of her face from a huge gash on the top of her head. The sun was going down somewhere and dark shadows were creeping across the room and piling up in the corners. “Hello, dearie,” the old hag croaked. “We finally meet.” “Why are you doing this?” Catherine yelled through her panic. “Just leave me alone.” “I’m sorry, dearie,” the old crone said sarcastically, “Am I upsetting you?” “Yes, yes you are,” Catherine snapped back. “Well, aren’t you a feisty one,” the witch said sweetly, and then less sweetly, “You’re just like your mother.” “Don’t you talk about my mother,” Catherine shot back.
Catherine was tired, abused, frustrated, angry and at the end of her patience. She simply did not care anymore. She had enough of the old hag. “A pox on you,” Catherine cursed at the witch and turned away from her. “You better be careful, dearie,” Lionors replied with a threat in her voice, “You don’t want to get me angry.” Catherine spun around and yelled at the witch, “You don’t understand you stupid hag I’m not afraid of you, I’m not afraid of your stupid wolf-men or any other dark creature you can think up. I know you can’t kill me because if you do your precious son dies too,” Catherine finished, and then another thought popped into her head. “You’re a wizard.” Catherine said, “Do you think if I take my own life your son will die too?” Seeing the look of surprise, then panic on the witch’s face Catherine got bolder. “Maybe YOU had better be afraid of ME,” Catherine spat at the witch.
Lionors stood up and shouted, “Enough.” Catherine was too much like her mother for Lionors’ liking. “Stop talking,” the old hag ordered. She was trying to think through the horrible scenario that Catherine had just presented. Catherine was too far gone to think reasonably and she just forged ahead, “No,” Catherine yelled back, “I will not stop.” “You have held me captive, forced me to live like an animal, allowed my friend to be murdered and eaten before my very eyes. At any moment the Knights will be at your doorstep and they will kill you. Your only hope to continue your miserable existence is to leave now and crawl into the first hole that you encounter.”
Lionors was taken aback. She had expected Catherine to be docile, afraid; intimidated by the site of her and her black magic. But, no, of course, the child of the two most arrogant people Lionors had ever met, Arthur and Guinevere, would be just like them. She could feel the rage take possession of her and the only thing that stopped her from striking down dead the insolent young woman glaring at her was the safety of her son.
The witch turned to a coil of rope in the corner of the room, spoke an incantation and the rope became a long black snake that slithered toward Catherine. Catherine tried to run from it, but Lionors quickly froze her in place allowing the snake to wrap itself around her ankles, knees and waist then it pinned her arms to her side and slithered around the back off her neck, it’s large head ending up in front of Catherine, flicking its pronged tongue to within inches of Catherine’s face.
Sensing Catherine’s fear, Lionors felt in control again. She propelled an old rickety wood chair across the room and slammed it into the back of Catherine’s legs. Catherine flopped down into the chair, struggling to maintain her balance while trying to keep the snake from touching her face. Now that Catherine was tied securely, Lioniors changed the snake back into a rope and walked to the old wood table where she selected a potion which she carried to Catherine and tried to force her to drink. Catherine resisted and all of her thrashing about caused much of the blue liquid to spill to the dirty floor. Nevertheless, within five minutes Catherine was asleep.
Our young Knight slept fitfully in the forest that morning, tossing and turning on the forest floor, but too exhausted to wake up. When he finally woke he stretched and scanned the forest. Then he blinked, and blinked again, not believing what he was seeing. He quickly rolled over, drew his great sword and pointed it at the naked man sitting on a nearby log. Jon thought he was still dreaming until the naked man spoke: “I can explain,” Lancelot said. Jon just stood staring at Lancelot not able to think of a reasonable explanation for how Lancelot ended up in this particular forest without his horse, without his sword, without his armor, and without his clothes. “Put your sword away, Jon,” Lancelot said, “and throw me that blanket.”
While the men gathered wood and started a morning fire, Lancelot told his story. Like Merlin, Jon had a hard time resisting the urge to laugh out loud but, since Lancelot was no longer an owl but back to his formidable self, he opted to wait until Lancelot’s back was turned before cracking a smile. It was obvious it would take some time before Lancelot considered the story amusing. Jon was relieved that Lancelot didn’t mention the fact that he was the one who threw the stone that knocked Lancelot-the-owl out of the sky. While sharing the last of the biscuits from Jon’s satchel the men tried to decide what to do next.
In the meantime, Sir Galahad was near Moray Firth, and the harbor that leads to the North Sea. He was on his way to Inverness where he planned to spend the night, hoping to talk to the villagers about anything unusual they might have seen. Upon his arrival at Inverness, Sir Galahad was treated as royalty and when word go out that he was looking for a damsel in distress he began hearing stories from the villagers of an odd old woman who was living in an abandoned stone cottage on the shore of Loch Ness, just an hour’s ride away.
Every Scottish man, woman and child, knew of the beast that lived in the depths of Loch Ness and only the farmers who made their living on the land surrounding the Loch were brave enough to build homesteads there. It was most unusual for an old woman to be living alone that close to the water’s edge. Galahad decided to ride to Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness that very night. He would be welcomed at the castle and in the morning he would begin looking for the old woman.
As he rode along the dark dirt highway, Sir Galahad remembered the legends he had heard about the beast. Some believed the monster traveled back and forth from the North Sea to Loch Ness by swimming in the Inverness River, the same river he could hear, but not see, gurgling alongside him. He was not afraid, Sir Galahad had never felt fear, but he was alert to potential danger.
The white smoke against the pitch black sky caught his attention. When he turned the bend he saw a funnel of smoke moving up into the air, it was exactly like every other funnel of chimney smoke except Sir Galahad could not see a chimney, nor could he see a house. The wound from Lancelot-the-owl had taken its toll on the witch. She had put an enchantment on the cottage, hiding it from view, but dozed off before extinguishing the fire in the hearth and now the smoke from that fire was leading Sir Galahad straight to her.
While armor kept one alive in battle, it was not conducive to a sneak attack, it clanked and pinged in the silence, so as soon as he dismounted, Sir Galahad removed his armor and left it beside his horse about 20 feet off the highway. Careful of holes in the ground and tree stumps, Galahad crept toward the smoke funnel, his great sword drawn. The enchantment was a soft mist that hid the cottage; Galahad was able to walk through it and up to the dirty window.
The witch was asleep, sitting in an ancient wicker chair in the corner of the room. She was snoring, her mouth wide open, blood crusted on her filthy face. Movement on the left side of the room caught Galahad’s eye. He had never seen Catherine, but had an image of her in his mind based on Sir Jonathan’s description. When he looked at the struggling woman tied to a chair, her curly red hair flowing down her back, Sir Galahad was thunderstruck.
The Knights of the Roundtable never had any trouble finding female company. Women were drawn to the rugged and mysterious men who swept them off their feet. Yet of all the Knights, Sir Galahad was the most desired. He was not the strongest, but he was the most chivalrous and handsome of the Knights. He was over six feet tall, a thin man but with broad muscular shoulders and a slim waist. More often than not, wayward locks of his long curly blond hair dangled in front of his large brown eyes. On the few occasions when he smiled, there were very few women who could resist him. He was a skilled warrior; Arthur picked him to be one of his Knights when Galahad was just 18 years old, many years younger than the other original Knights of the Roundtable.
Galahad had been with many women, but Guinevere was the only woman he had loved and while she loved Galahad like a younger brother, Guinevere did not desire him.
So this is where the fates had brought Sir Galahad: standing on the porch of an old run-down cottage in Scotland in the pitch black night, looking through a dirty window at the witch that had tortured and murdered his Guinevere and at Guinevere’s red-haired daughter who, while looking nothing like her mother, had already charmed him.
As quietly as he could, Galahad slowly moved the door latch lifting it off of its metal hook. The door squeaked as he pushed it open but the witch did not seem to stir. Catherine on the other hand was wide awake and looked from him to the witch; she seemed to be deciding who presented less of a threat, the witch, or the strange man who just walked into the room in his underwear.
Raising his left index finger to his lips, Galahad shook his head back and forth and with his eyes, pleaded with Catherine not to give him away. Catherine made a choice and decided to trust the handsome, though badly dressed, stranger and watched him creep toward the witch, his great sword stretched in front of him.
In an instant the witch disappeared in a puff of smoke only to reappear five feet behind Galahad. “I remember you,” the witch cackled, “you’re the boy Arthur loved until Lancelot came along.” Galahad swung around and without a word thrust his sword at the hag cutting a long slice of flesh from her right arm. Lionors staggered backward trying to stop the blood oozing out of her by holding her hand over the wound. Sensing it was the right moment, Galahad lunged at the hag again, this time slicing off her head.
TO BE CONTINUED …
A month passed before travelers began stopping at the front gate of the Edinburgh castle with news of a Knight of the Roundtable passing through their village or passing them on the road. It was very rare for a commoner to see a Knight and it was the custom then to report a sighting to the local authorities. As more information was left about the Knights, King Arthur and Merlin were able to make educated guesses regarding their locations.
Sir Percivale only made it to Glasgow where he came down with a serious malady that kept him in bed at the village inn for most of the month. Sir Galahad was last seen passing through Dundee while Sir Jonathan had made it all the way to Aberdeen. There was no news of Lancelot.
On a chilly, gray morning six weeks after Catherine disappeared, Merlin was surprised to see a great white owl perched on the stone balcony outside his quarters. His first reaction when he saw the bird was that it was a good omen. Yet, there was something about the bird that made Merlin take a second look.
When a master Wizard casts an enchantment there is no way to identify the object of the enchantment from any similar object. When an apprentice Wizard casts the same spell there can be an occasional, very subtle shimmy to the object and Merlin thought he saw that shimmy just pass through the white owl.
When he stepped out onto the balcony the owl flew at him, it was agitated, flapping its wings and squawking. Squinting his eyes, Merlin took a better look at the bird and became convinced it was indeed a poor soul that had become enchanted by a mediocre wizard. He knew that Lionors had been an apprentice of the Wizard Digano. He also knew Digano drank too much and his spells were less than perfect. Immediately he began to suspect this spell was Lionors’ work.
“Lady Catherine,” Merlin tried, “is that you?” The owl sat still, its great owl eyes growing bigger by the second. Next Merlin tried, “Sir Jonathan, did Lionors do this to you?” The owl sat still. Then, Merlin had an epiphany and trying hard to keep a smile from his face, Merlin said, “Lancelot?” The owl squawked and waved its wings so fast and so hard there were white feathers floating in the air. Merlin could no longer control himself, he had to turn his back to the manic bird and laugh out loud. When he had regained his composure, Merlin turned around to find the bird perched back on the ledge, its great eyes staring into his and for a split second the thought crossed Merlin’s mind that the owl might sweep down and pluck his eyes out.
Shaking his head and doing his best to suppress another belly laugh, Merlin said, “Lancelot, I don’t know how you do it, lad, but you get yourself into more trouble than anyone I have ever known.” The owl sat there, staring into Merlin’s eyes.
Merlin knew that he could break the spell with a simple flick of his wand, but he began to imagine how helpful it would be as they searched for Catherine to have an eye in the sky. Merlin also knew that the spell was weakening and it would only be a matter of weeks at the most before Lancelot was his old self again. That information Merlin decided to keep to himself.
“Have you eaten, Lancelot?” Merlin inquired. “I think I can find a mouse or two around the castle,” he added, knowing he was pushing his luck. The big bird just sat and stared. “Look, Lancelot,” Merlin began, “there’s nothing I can do right now.” The powerful white wings began to flutter. “I will begin researching a solution to your situation right away, “Merlin said “but in the meantime I have an idea.” The big bird sat and stared. “While I’m researching, why don’t you fly around and look for signs of Catherine. If you find out where she is, we can send a message to the nearest Knight.
This time the bird blinked a few times. “My intuition tells me that Catherine is up north, Lancelot.” Merlin said. “Somewhere near Aberdeen, Jon is in that area.” The owl blinked again, then flew in a circle around Merlin and left. Merlin walked back into the castle, chuckling to himself and anxious to tell Arthur about what had happened to Lancelot.
A few days later, Lancelot was flying over the Grampian Highlands south of Aberdeen when sunlight reflecting off of splashing water caught his eye. Looking down he saw a man running through a shallow stream waving at a woman with a horse further upstream. When he noticed the woman had red hair, Lancelot soared down closer to take a look.
The red haired woman seemed to be ignoring the screaming man and began walking to shore. It wasn’t until Lancelot cleared the tree tops that he saw the crone standing on the shore near the water coaxing Catherine to come to her. Realizing the witch must have cast a spell on Catherine, Lancelot tried to reach the crone before Catherine reached the shore. He almost made it. Just as Catherine placed her soft young hand into the veined wrinkled hand of the witch, Lancelot scooped down and took a chunk of flesh off of Lionors’ bald head, simultaneously, Catherine and the witch disappeared.
A moment later, Lancelot was tumbling head over bird’s feet from the air having been struck by a stone thrown by Sir Jonathan who stood helplessly in the stream somehow blaming the big white owl for Catherine’s disappearance. Our young Knight knew the poor bird was not to blame and as soon as the stone left his hand he was sorry for it and went looking for the bird before a predator came along and killed it.
Lancelot was stunned and couldn’t move, but did not lose consciousness. When he heard Jon tramping through the underbrush toward him, Lancelot expected to be killed and thought of the irony of the situation. Lying there he thought that somehow this end seemed right, since he had lived what was a very ironic life. He made peace with his Maker and waited.
When our young Knight bent down and picked him up Lancelot expected that he would wring his neck and was pleasantly surprised when instead Jon gently inspected under the white feathers for injuries. Carefully Jon settled Lancelot into the crook of his left arm then walked back and grabbed Shadowmere’s reigns and the three of them trudged back to the clearing where Catherine slept the night before.
Being young and believing that if he was in motion he was accomplishing something, our young Knight saddled Shadowmere, dressed in full armor, tucked the injured owl into his satchel and began his search for Catherine once again. For the next 12 hours, he rode through the countryside looking for any sign that would lead him to Catherine. The sun had gone down and was coming up again when he finally had to give in to his exhaustion and hunger.
He simply stopped where he was in the forest, took the saddle and blanket off of Shadowmere, walked him to a small pool of water to quench his thirst and then tied the horse to a hedge. The young Knight sat down on a cold and damp rock with soggy green moss creeping up the grey stone from the forest floor then pulled his armor over his head and threw it to the ground.
He had a sad heart.
He also had Lancelot in the satchel next to him, but he did not know that yet.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Low, rolling hills led to the flat terrain surrounding Stonehenge. As the sun rose above the horizon Lancelot could see the stones from miles away silhouetted against the pink and yellow sky. He had to admit there was something mysterious about Stonehenge and seeing it in the morning light, mist still circling through the stones and rising above the tree branches in the nearby forest, he sensed the magic there.
He was exhausted. The last time he slept was during the channel crossing and he and his horse had been in motion since then. He let himself slip off the horse, untied the saddle and tethered the tired animal to a tree branch. Then he removed his armor, laid the saddle blanket on top of one of the large, flat stones and fell asleep.
It had been many years since the last time Lionors saw Lancelot. They were enemies know, but as she stood over him watching him sleep she recalled their time together when they were dear friends and lovers, at least they were in her memory. Lancelot might say she was just one of many friendly women who lived at the castle and were available to the Knights. Yet, to Lionors, Lancelot was the love of her life. He was also the true father of her son, Borre, the man who would be King.
She remembered the night King Arthur discovered Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere, how she had followed Lancelot into the forest hoping to console him and found him sitting on the forest floor, heartbroken and consumed by shame, an empty wine flask at his side. Borre was conceived that night. Lionors did not see Lancelot again until this very moment. Now Lancelot was here to kill her and destroy their son’s future.
From the first moment she saw her, Lionors hated Guinevere, the spoiled bride of Arthur who always got what she wanted. Guinevere had prevented Lionors true happiness by tempting her Lancelot away from her, only to leave him a broken man. A sly smile creased the witch’s wrinkled face as she remembered how she made Guinevere suffer at the end. Guinevere never did tell her where Catherine was hidden, but she did suffer.
The sensation of something hard pressed against his mouth and a terrible stench woke Lancelot from his sound sleep. He slowly opened his eyes and it took a few seconds before he remembered where he was. “Wonderful to see you again, dearie” said an old crone just inches away from his face. “I knew true love’s kiss would wake you,” she cackled. Lancelot rolled away from the hag and off the boulder, getting to his feet on the opposite side of the stone.
He looked to his left and then to his right but his great sword was gone. “Is this what you’re looking for, dearie?” the witch asked as she levitated the sword into the air and propelled into a tree trunk 20 feet away. “You don’t remember me, do you, dearie?” the hag teased, a hideous grin crossing her face.
Lancelot looked at the creature standing across from him, her head was bald except for a few patches of white fuzz, her gray eyebrows were long and unkempt, her eyes were yellow, a large red mole grew between her mouth and her nose, the teeth that she had left were black and yellow and gray inside a mouth surrounded by a thousand wrinkles. His thoughts went back to the beautiful woman this creature had been not that long ago, long thick raven hair, and eyes the color of Robin eggs, flawless white skin, soft luscious lips and small, perfect white teeth that flashed when she smiled.
Hoping to throw her off guard, Lancelot said, “How have you been Lionors? Looks like the years have not treated you well.” The witch flinched, “You know me?” she snapped. “We know all about you, Lionors, we know everything,” he replied assertively. “Oh,” she mimicked, “you think you know everything, dearie?” “Have you met your son?” she drooled. Now it was Lancelot’s turn to flinch and she did not let him regain his balance before she spat out, “Sir Borre is your son, dearie, remember the night before you left when we met in the forest?” Honestly, Lancelot did not remember much about anything during that time in his life. As best he could recall, he was drunk for a year and a half.
“I don’t believe you, you old hag,” Lancelot snapped back, although he knew it was certainly possible that he could be Sir Borre’s father. Now he was trying to buy time until he figured out how to escape. “Anyone of 20 men could be that lad’s father,” he said. In terms of consequences, that was the worst statement Lancelot could have made.
Lionors face grew red with anger. She had only been with two men in her life; Lancelot and then with Arthur but only to implement her plan. How dare this man who she spent a lifetime loving denigrate their relationship, a relationship that led to the birth of their son.
Almost without thinking, she raised her hand into a fist and snapped her fingers open in Lancelot’s direction. Immediately, where Lancelot’s mouth and nose had been there now was a small yellow beak. When Lancelot tried to speak he could only make a small clicking sound. The witch cackled at the sight and admired her handiwork. “You want to know who my son’s father is?” she yelled, “You shall spend the rest of your days asking just that question, “who?” and with one more snap of her hand, Lancelot was turned into a large, white owl.
Lionors laughed at the pitiful bird that was staring at her in disbelief. Although he looked like an owl, Lancelot was fully aware of what had happened to him and the witch enjoyed that detail the most. In one swift movement, the hag pulled her dirty, stained cape in front of her and disappeared, leaving Lancelot to fend for himself.
By the time King Arthur and his Knights arrived at the cottage, the battle had ended and Catherine was gone. Merlin had treated the injuries Sir Kay suffered while defending Catherine from the wolf-men and was confident Sir Kay would recover, although he would always have a limp, a badge representing the courage he displayed defending King Arthur’s daughter.
Jonathan walked the moors looking for clues that might tell him where Catherine was taken. At the beach, Sister Ruth’s body was gone and everyone said it was taken out to sea by the tides, at least that’s what everyone hoped had happened to her body.
When our young Knight returned to the cottage, Merlin reached into his robes and pulled out an ancient map of Scotland which he laid on the table. When all the men in their armor squeezed into the tiny room Merlin told them Catherine was still in Scotland and was hidden in one of a thousand caves in the country’s hillside. No one asked Merlin how he knew this; they all learned years ago not to question him. After some discussion they divided the map into three sections, assigning a section to each Knight. Jonathan, Galahad and Percivale began their search for Catherine that very afternoon. King Arthur, Merlin and Sir Kay left for the castle in Edinburgh where Arthur would stay until he was forced to return to Camelot.
If by chance, you happened to be near Stonehenge that day, you no doubt would have spent a good deal of time watching the large white owl as it ran down the open spaces fluttering its wings but going nowhere. You would have been mesmerized as the owl used its beak and sharp talons to climb up a tree, walk to the end of a branch and throw itself off only to sink like a stone and hit the ground hard, losing some of its white feathers in the process. Yet, if you stayed long enough you would have been rewarded by the sight of the large white owl as it finally lifted off the ground, did a few out of control loops in the air and then lifted itself up, up into the late afternoon sky.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
In place of the gold promised for killing the sea serpent, Lancelot negotiated for two strong Irish horses. The horses sailed back to England with Lancelot and our young Knight. As soon as the ship docked and they were able to disembark, they were thundering down the road to Camelot, not even taking the time to send word to King Arthur that they were on their way, he would know soon enough.
An hour into their journey, half a dozen men came out of the dark woods and stepped into the road in front of them. Lancelot yelled “highwaymen ahead, Jon.” They both drew their great swords. The highwaymen knew Knights when they saw them and stepped aside just as the charging horses raced by.
It was well after midnight when they rode into the castle courtyard. Jon and Lancelot handed off the reigns of their horses to a drowsy squire that came running out of the horse barn. They walked quickly across the cobblestones and banged on the castle door. The old servant who greeted them was clearly shocked to see Lancelot again and hesitated when Lancelot told him to wake the King. “Now,” Lancelot roared, and the servant went on his way.
While they waited, Lancelot paced the Great Room, not sure of what to say to Arthur, or what to expect. Jon sat near the hearth, using the walking stick he found leaning against the stone wall to poke at the fireplace, hoping to coax some warmth out of the dying embers and anxious to hear of Catherine.
Lancelot was overwhelmed when Gawain, Percevale, Tristram, and Lionell charged into the room, each speaking his name, patting him on the back and welcoming him home. They joked about the “Lancelot Legend” and goaded him for details, only to make fun of his adventures. Servants appeared with trays of food and drink.
When Galahad entered the room he nodded at Jon, but did not join the others in welcoming Lancelot home. Galahad had always been jealous of Arthur’s affection toward Lancelot and did not understand Arthur’s willingness to bring Lancelot back after he had betrayed him. Galahad wanted to be the Knight sent to kill the witch. Lancelot noticed Galahad keeping his distance and decided to let it be.
When he could finally break into the conversation, our young Knight inquired about Catherine and was told she was in hiding in Scotland, that Sir Kay and a companion were with her and all was well. They explained that each Knight took their turn guarding her and assured him she was safe.
Arthur entered the room and the Knights bowed and stepped away from Lancelot. Lancelot bowed his head and did not look up at Arthur. “Good, you’re here Lancelot, and none too soon.” Was all that Arthur said.
King Arthur turned to Tristram, put out his hand and said, “Your sword Sir Knight.” Then he said, “Jon Burroughs come over here.” When Jon walked to him, Arthur told him to kneel. He tapped the flat of the sword blade on one shoulder and then on the other saying, “In front of these good and noble Knights, for services rendered, I dub thee Sir Jonathan, a Knight of the Roundtable.” Then the King said, “Stand Sir Jonathan. We will not celebrate your knighthood now but will wait until we have our Catherine safely home.” Turning to Sir Gwaine, Arthur ordered him to fetch Merlin and bring him to the Great Room.
What followed was a reunion of sorts, the King at one end of the great wood table, the disgraced Knight at the other, Merlin in the middle. Arthur and Lancelot did not exchange small talk and only acknowledged each other when necessary. Mostly the Knights talked of Lionors, where she might be, the extent of her powers, how best to capture and kill her. Sir Borre, Lionors son, had not been invited to this reunion. He appeared to be loyal to Arthur, but Merlin had counseled against Borre’s attendance.
Merlin told them of an old crone who had been seen walking among the ancient boulders of nearby Stonehenge at night. No one knew her or where she lived. Thinking out loud, Arthur said, “That could not be Lionors, she would be but 35 years now and her beauty would not have faded so quickly.” “I suspect, Sire,” Merlin replied, “that she traded her beauty for black magic.”
“When we find the old witch, how do we kill her?” Arthur asked. All eyes turned toward Lancelot. “I know every witch has a weakness,” Lancelot replied, “Merlin, can you tell me this witch’s flaw?” “I believe she will die if mortally wounded, the difficulty will be in overcoming her black magic to get close enough to kill her,” Merlin replied. “Lancelot, you will have many challenges to overcome if you agree to hunt her.” “I will leave for Stonehenge at dawn,” Lancelot replied.
Suddenly, Merlin stood and pushed his chair away. “Catherine is in danger,” he said. “I leave now.” And in a poof of white smoke, he disappeared. Our young Knight was first on his feet, the rest of the Knights right behind him. ‘If Catherine is in danger than the witch knows Catherine is under my protection, the ruse is over.” Arthur said. “It will take a half day of heavy riding for us to get to Catherine,” he continued, “but I think it best.” “Percivale have my squire prepare my horse and armor, Jonathan and Galahad you will come with me and Percivale; Gwaine and Tristram you will stay and guard the castle.” Turning to Lancelot, the King said, “You will leave for Stonehenge immediately and track down that witch and kill her.” Within a half hour the King and his Knights had left the castle and Lancelot was on his way to Stonehenge.
The strong Scottish wind was blowing through the window cracks of the cottage causing a draft strong enough to change the direction of the flames in the hearth. Sister Ruth got up to pin a blanket over the window. That’s when she saw them creeping closer across the moors. Dumbstruck, she just stared out the window until her brain could register what her eyes were seeing. Finally, she whispered, “Sir Kay …” Looking up and seeing the expression on the good sister’s face, Sir Kay grabbed his great sword and stepped to the window.
At first he thought it was a pack of wolves crossing the moor to get to the sea, until he saw the grotesque image of two of the “wolves” walking on their hind legs, their front legs dangling in front of their chests, their giant paws flopping with each step.
Sir Kay turned to Catherine, “You must follow our plan now Lady Catherine, “he said, “You know what you and Sister Ruth must do.” “But we cannot leave you in danger, Sir Kay” Catherine replied. Raising his voice, Sir Kay yelled, “Move … now … Lady Catherine, go!” The women looked at each other for just a moment then grabbed their shawls and rushed out the back door of the cottage into the dark windy night to follow the path that led to the beach.
Sir Kay pulled on his armor and helmet as best he could. He had fought bewitched creatures before and felt he had a good chance of defeating them. He was not afraid. If he met his fate here on this night on this dark moor then he would consider himself blessed to have died protecting King Arthur’s daughter. Making the sign of the cross he opened the cottage door and stepped outside to meet his fate.
As Catherine and Sister Ruth cautiously made their way down the dark dirt path to the North Sea, the flutter of Catherine’s green plaid shawl against the sky caught the eye of one of the wolf-men. Dropping to all fours he crept away from the pack and began to follow the women.
Meanwhile, the rest of the pack continued toward the cottage but slowed down when they saw the armor clad man with the great sword standing at the front door daring them to come closer. The alpha wolf, the leader of the pack, howled in defiance and ran at the Knight, the remaining four wolf-men following his lead.
The first wolf-man to reach Sir Kay lunged in the air at him and was skewered like a piece of meat. Sir Kay pulled his bloodied sword from the beast’s stomach before it hit the ground. Thinking timing was on its side, another wolf-man swung its razor sharp claw at the great sword trying to knock it out of Sir Kay’s hand. The bewitched claw scraped a long deep hole in the Knight’s armor before it fell to the ground, no longer connected to the beast. That wolf-man whimpered and limped away. “Three beasts left,” Sir Kay thought to himself, not knowing of the fourth beast slinking down the dirt path to the beach.
As wolves do, the three remaining wolf-men tried to circle around the Knight, but he kept his back to the cottage. Slowly, saliva dripping from the sides of their great mouths, their sharp yellow fangs highlighted in the moon glow and their flaming red eyes smoldering, the beasts approached Sir Kay. Sir Kay lowered his great sword, swinging it back and forth in front of the three creatures. They all lunged at him at once.
Sir Kay’s sword too off the head of the beast on the right, spraying the front of his armor with blood and whipping the other two beasts into a frenzy. The larger of the two knocked Sir Kay to the ground and ripped at his armor while the other beast grabbed on to his ankle and began pulling him. Using the end of his sword handle, the Knight hit the beast nearest to him on its temple and the beast fell dead upon him. The remaining beast continued to drag him by his ankle while shaking its great ugly head back and forth, trying to rip off the remaining armor and tear the foot away.
Sir Kay began to lose consciousness as a result of the weight of the huge dead wolf-man on his chest and the pain and blood loss as the other wolf fed on his ankle. Neither he nor the wolf-man noticed the white flash when Merlin appeared a few feet away, picked up Sir Kay’s sword and stabbed the beast.
Meanwhile, Catherine and Sister Rita were carrying the small wood boat down to the water line, Rita holding the back of the boat, Catherine the front. When the back of the boat suddenly dropped to the ground Catherine turned around to find Sister Rita dead on the sand, a grotesque black beast tearing at her throat. Catherine ran to the water as fast as she could but the beast was quickly upon her, grabbing her by her hair. As if everything she had seen wasn’t horrifying enough, Catherine’s knees buckled and she fainted when the creature leaned its head to her ear and whispered, “Don’t worry my dear, I am sorry to say that we cannot eat you.”
TO BE CONTINUED …
One month after our young Knight arrived in France, Lancelot heard through his network of supporters that a young Englishman was looking for him. Jon had left his armor in England and portrayed himself as a Yeoman, a landowner and member of the middle class. Lancelot’s first thought when he heard of the young man was that he was a product of one of his many dalliances and he sent out word that he did not want to meet the lad.
For the next six months Jon wandered around Europe following lead after lead, each one taking him farther away from Ireland where Lancelot had been hired to find and kill a sea serpent that had been feeding on the locals.
At 50 years old, Lancelot was past his prime, but Lancelot past his prime was still better than most. He was tall, solidly built and handsome even though his graying black hair was receding and his waist line was expanding. He was shy and introspective, but not unfriendly. He was a fearless warrior who believed in fair play and chivalry. Wealth meant nothing to him as long as he had enough money to feed his horse and buy ale at the end of the day. Most nights he slept under the stars, even in cold weather, and most nights he fell asleep thinking of how he betrayed his best friend and mentor, King Arthur.
Guinevere was not the love of his life. In his memory he loved her and knew she loved him but he never thought they were meant to live happily ever after. He often thought their romance would have burned out in a few months, but they were discovered before that could happen. Nevertheless, he cried when he heard of the death of his friend and did not believe for a moment that the strong, independent Guinevere he knew would give up on life.
On a sunny mid-week afternoon Lancelot was sitting on a hill watching the water ripple in Galway Bay on Ireland’s West Coast. Local fishermen and a young couple had disappeared in the Bay area within the last month. The water was mesmerizing. He closed his eyes and almost dozed off in the warm late afternoon sun until he heard a blood curdling scream. Reaching for his great sword he jumped to his feet, just in time to see a poor soul clamped in the jaws of a thick black-skinned snake-like creature that rose up to the height of a tree, glared at Lancelot as though it was daring him to approach, then slowly slithered back into the sea, never taking its huge eyes off of the warrior and snapping its prey in two just before they disappeared under the waves. Now that he had seen his foe, Lancelot had a plan. Four years ago he had defeated a similar creature in the great sea near Haifi.
The next morning Lancelot returned to the hillside with a cow. He staked the cow near the water’s edge beneath a row of trees then climbed the tree nearest the cow and waited. He didn’t wait long before the greedy sea creature slithered onto the shore, its great eyes focused on the poor sacrificial cow. Lancelot waited until the creature was directly below him then he leaped, holding his great sword in both of his hands, the blade pointing down. As soon as the sword pierced its brain the creature fell in a heap. When the dead monster hit the ground, Lancelot lost his grip on his sword and rolled down the creature’s scaly back until he tumbled into the sand.
Lancelot closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath. When he opened them again there was a large black something blocking the sun. At first he thought the monster may have had more than one head and since his sword was still sticking into head number one that meant he was about to be devoured. “You must be Lancelot du Loc.” The shadow said. “Prey, Sir,” replied Lancelot squinting at the dark outline standing over him, “I am at a disadvantage, who are you?”
“My name is Jonathan Burroughs. King Arthur has sent me to find you and bring you back to Camelot.” Lancelot was speechless and thought his hearing might have been affected by the skirmish with the sea creature. “I beg your pardon, Sir” Lancelot replied as he stood up, “What did you say?” Jon repeated himself and waited for a response.
Finally Lancelot said, “This must be some kind of a trick, I am the last person in this world King Arthur would want to see again. I am not a man to be trifled with lad.” It was obvious Lancelot was angry, which made Jon fear that he would walk away and Jon might never have another chance to speak with him. “Here, Sir Knight,” Jon blurted as he reached into his traveling pouch, “a letter from King Arthur.” “I am no longer a Knight,” Lancelot bellowed. “Show me this letter of yours.” Jon fumbled the letter out of the pouch and handed it to Lancelot. When he saw the official Pendragon wax seal, Lancelot looked stunned and sat on a nearby bolder. After he pulled off his armor, Lancelot opened the letter and began to read.
The letter was five pages long in Arthur’s sprawling handwriting. It took Lancelot five minutes to read it. He stopped reading the letter twice, each time he dropped his hands to his knees and stared out into the twilight. Jon was afraid the strong wind blowing off of the sea would rip the letter out of Lancelot’s hand, but Lancelot held tight.
When he was finished reading, Lancelot lifted his melancholy eyes and for the first time took a good look at our young Knight. “How did you find me, Jon?” he asked. “I knew people were hiding you and not telling me the truth. When I heard about a Knight who was hired to kill a sea serpent in Ireland, I guessed it was you. When I arrived in Galway this afternoon the villagers told me where you were and as I watched you slay the serpent I had no doubt.”
“Jon,” Lancelot began, “Arthur has asked me to return to Camelot to track down and destroy a witch.” Now it was Jon’s turn to sit down, he didn’t understand what Lancelot was telling him. Then, Lancelot told him Catherine’s story, that she was the daughter of Arthur and Guinevere and heir to the throne of Camelot. He ended by telling him that Catherine was in grave danger while Lionors was alive and that Catherine was in hiding and under the protection of Arthur, the Knights of the Roundtable and Merlin. The two men sat in silence and watched the sun go down, each deep in their own thoughts.
The stench of the dead sea creature began to drift over to them. They decided to go into Galway, have supper and discuss what to do next. Almost absentmindedly, Lancelot walked over to the creature and yanked his sword out of its skull, wiped the blood and brain flakes off of the sword with his shirttail, picked up his knapsack, grabbed the reigns of his horse and joined our young Knight as they walked over the hill and down the dirt road that led to Galway.
In the meantime, 10 months had passed since Catherine left her home. She was living in a small remote cottage overlooking the North Sea on the Isle of Sky. Her companion was a friendly, chatty, middle aged nun named Sr. Mary Ruth from Sr. Margaret’s convent. Having been given permission to break her vow of silence, Catherine often thought the good sister was making up for lost time and occasionally wished she would just stop talking for a while, but mostly she was glad for such pleasant company.
There was always a Knight of the Roundtable with them disguised as the groundskeeper. Every two weeks a different Knight would arrive with a wagon filled with supplies. The Knights would change places and so it went on.
On the night that Jon and Lancelot arrived back in England, Catherine, Sister Ruth and Sir Kay were sitting around the hearth, enjoying the warm fire and listening to the wind roar off the sea outside the cottage windows. Sister Ruth was telling another long winded story about her childhood in Manchester, and Catherine and Sir Kay were pretending to listen, but both were lost in their own thoughts.
Outside in the dark, windy night, the clouds parted just long enough to allow the full moon to shine down on six, large, black wolf-men with flame red eyes as they crept over the moors, some on all fours, some balancing on hind legs, towards Catherine’s cottage.
TO BE CONTINUED …
King Arthur was an old man when our young Knight first met him, and it was clear that the beloved King was ill. The six remaining original Knights of the Roundtable, Sir Galahad, Sir Gawain, Sir Percivale, Sir Lionell, Sir Kay, and Sir Tristram de Lyones, were at least ten years younger than King Arthur. They made up the Kings inner circle and fiercely defended Arthur against slander and physical threats. Even with their best years behind them, they were formidable adversaries and could easily defeat the youngest Knight.
Every citizen of Camelot knew King Arthur never fully recovered from the betrayal by his wife, Guinevere and the Knight he loved as a son, Sir Lancelot. After their affair was discovered, Guinevere left Camelot to live with the Sisters of the Order of Mercy at their nunnery on the North Sea while Lancelot simply disappeared into the mist, never to be heard from again. Ten years after leaving Camelot, the Sisters found Guinevere’s body floating in the sea on a cold winter morning. Everyone assumed she had taken her own life.
For years there had been rumors of a fearless Knight who traveled the world defending oppressed peoples and defeating horrific creatures. The Knights of the Roundtable had always suspected that unnamed warrior was the disgraced Sir Lancelot of du Loc, even though there was no credible evidence to support their suspicions.
The year our young Knight completed his training, King Arthur decided he wanted Sir Lancelot found and brought to him. It had been 16 years since Guinevere and Lancelot had left Camelot and now that the King was sure he was facing his own death, he wanted to see Lancelot one more time and tell him he was forgiven. King Arthur’s wish became our young Knight’s Quest.
Dusty hand drawn maps of the world created from the memories of travelers were pulled out of cabinets and studied. The young Knight spent days learning languages different than his own. The court artist drew a rendering of Lancelot based on input from the King and Knights that knew him. Of course, the rendering was of a young man and no one knew what Lancelot looked like now. A few days before he was to leave, the King himself called our young Knight to his chambers and told him to go to the cellar of the castle and meet the King’s old friend, Merlin. Jon had not spent much time in the sprawling castle, and wandered around for what seemed like hours before he found the stairs that led to Merlin. As he wandered through the castle he wondered how he would find Lancelot if he could not even find Merlin in the King’s castle.
In the year Jon lived there, he had never seen Merlin but had heard impossible and frightening stories about the man. He was excited to finally meet him and noticed that his hand was shaking when he reached up to knock on the old wood door to Merlin’s chambers. The door opened quickly and Jon saw the back of a man with long white unkempt hair, wearing a plain, stained, white robe, walking away from the door and toward a mammoth stone hearth where a large black pot was boiling over. “Come in, come in,” the ancient looking man commanded. “I was about to send out old Gunther here to find you,” he chuckled while pointing at the largest dog Jon had ever seen.
Jon wondered what spells Merlin was creating in that old black pot as he watched him scoop out some of its contents into a large wooden bowl. He literally took a step backwards when Merlin offered him the steaming bowl and told him to sit down on a nearby rustic chair and eat. “It’s only venison stew,” Merlin chuckled while handing Jon a big wooden spoon.
As Jon sat and cautiously sipped the “stew,” Merlin began. “First, Jon, Lancelot is alive. You need to know that so you do not despair of finding him. I cannot tell you where he is, but I can tell you where he has been. Go to France first. When you get to London, do not take the first ship that leaves for France, it will be damaged by a sudden storm in the channel and sink before sunset. Wait one day and board the la Hynde out of Ipswich, your crossing will be safer and the weather more pleasant.” For the next hour Merlin talked and Jon listened.
Mostly Merlin told Jon about Lancelot’s adventures. He told him about dangers he had heard of in specific areas and as he was leaving handed him a small vile containing a clear yellow liquid. When Jon raised his eyebrows, Merlin said, “for sea sickness.” As he opened the heavy wooden door, Merlin put his surprisingly young looking hand on Jon’s shoulder. “Be careful, Jon. This man you are searching for does not want to be found. He will not harm you, but there are forces acting against you that want you to fail.” Then, very cryptically, Merlin added, “Finding Lancelot will change your life.” When Jon started to ask what he meant by that, Merlin held up his hand and simply said, “Be sure to see Catherine before you leave.”
See Catherine? John thought. How does Merlin know of Catherine? The young Knight had been thinking about Catherine for months but they had not spoken in over a year. He had never given her the respect of explaining himself to her; he had just ignored her and let her slip away. While our young Knight was a brave man, the thought of facing the most fearsome creature was less intimidating than knocking on Catherine’s door.
Nevertheless, on the eve of his departure, our young Knight found himself walking down the dirt road that led to Catherine’s home. He waited at her door a minute or two before he took a deep breath, stood tall and knocked. Almost immediately Catherine opened the door with a smile on her face. Obviously she expected to see someone other than him standing there judging by how quickly her smile disappeared.
“Hello, Catherine,” Jon said while trying to maintain his image as a strong, almost-Knight. She had changed in the year since he last saw her. Her face was now the face of a woman. Standing in the doorway, not allowing him to enter, Catherine simply asked, “What do you want?” Jon had grown to expect women to defer to him and was surprised to realize he was taken aback by this unwelcoming reception.
Fumbling for words, he blurted out, “I am leaving on a Quest tomorrow and do not know if I will ever return to Camelot. I wanted to tell you how much you mean to me.” Catherine’s face changed from a becoming rosy shade to bright red, the vein in her forehead began to pulse. “What I mean to you??” she said in a controlled whisper. “Ha, you asked for my heart which I readily gave to you only to have you throw it away and you didn’t even have the decency …” “Never mind, “ she said after taking a deep breath. “Go on your Quest, become a Knight of the Roundtable, it matters naught to me.”
Trying to maintain his composure, Jon said, “I understand why you feel the way you do, Catherine, but …” She interrupted him there, “Jon, I have more serious problems in my life now. Good night.” She closed the door leaving our young Knight to wonder what serious problems Catherine was talking about.
Two years passed. The next time they saw each other Catherine was in shackles in a cave and our young Knight had just arrived to rescue her …
TO BE CONTINUED …
Our young Knight was too hungry and tired to strategize about the best way to deal with this new threat following them through the forest, so he slammed down his face shield, drew his great sword, yelled for Catherine to take cover and charged toward the shadow. Barreling over the top of a small hill he stopped in his tracks when he saw the monster standing in the moonlight. After a moment’s hesitation, he laughed out loud and rushed down the hill toward the “creature,” his laughter carrying through the trees back to where Catherine knelt behind a thicket, convinced now that her young Knight had lost his mind.
Catherine could hear thundering hooves pounding in her direction and dared not peek over the top of the thicket to see what creature would be the end of her. She heard her Knight calling her name but, thinking he had become possessed by the monster, she did not respond. “My Lady,” he yelled, his deep voice echoing in the night, “Catherine, it is me, Sir Jonathan, it is safe to show yourself.” Slowly Catherine stood up and saw her young Knight sitting upon a huge black horse. At least she thought it was black, the animal was covered in mud from hooves to head, and even the saddle was encrusted with layers of dried dirt.
When he saw Catherine, Sir Jonathan, jumped down from his horse and walked toward her, the huge horse following close behind. “It will be better now,” the young Knight said, “now that Shadowmere has returned he can carry us, but first we will find a place where we all can rest until morning.”
It did not take long for the three weary travelers to find a small meadow protected from the chilly night wind. Sir Jonathan removed Shadowmere’s saddle and shook the dried dirt from the heavy wool saddle pad, then wrapped it around Catherine’s shoulders. He found a dry patch of grass under a huge oak tree where he pulled off his armor and chain metal and sat down, propped up by the old tree trunk. The last thing the young Knight saw before he closed his eyes to sleep was his dear Catherine sleeping in the moonlight on the soft green moss a few feet away.
He dreamt of the first time he met Catherine.
The deer in the forest disappeared the spring of his 17th year and the villagers were forced to hunt for smaller game. Even the rabbits could not reproduce quickly enough to fill all of the empty stomachs. On a sunny, still misty, green English morning, Jon left his parent’s home on the outskirts of Camelot taking his bow and arrow into the black forest. Jon had a growing reputation as a skilled fighter and planned to compete in the King’s Tournament the following summer, but because he had not seen battle yet he still had a pure poet’s heart.
He was taken by the beauty of the morning and did not notice the deep pit in the forest floor ahead of him until he tumbled into it. The walls of the pit were slimy and there were no rocks or branches that he could use to climb his way up and out. He yelled for help on and off for hours but no one appeared above him. Late in the afternoon a big brown bear ambled over to the pit and swiped his huge paw down at Jon but the hole was too deep and the bear could not reach him. After a frustrating half hour for the bear, and a frightening half hour for Jon, the big bear lumbered away to find his lunch somewhere else.
As night began to fall Jon made one last effort for rescue and started yelling again. He was just about to give up when a long green vine swung down into the hole. Jon pulled on the vine and after assuring himself it could support his weight, he climbed up and out.
He dropped onto the wet grass catching his breath and let his head fall to the right. A pretty girl with red curly hair to her waist stood a few feet away from him, holding the reigns of a big white mare. He sat up and smiled at this appealing red haired girl and asked, “Did you throw the vine down and save me?”
Unlike most of the girls in the village that Jon knew who lowered their eyes when a man spoke with them, this red haired girl did not move her eyes from his and offered an equally beguiling smile, as she replied, “Why, yes sir, I did.” Jon stood up, he was five or six inches taller than the red haired girl, and bowed, saying “Well thank you, My Lady, and what shall I call you?” “You can call me by my name,” she replied with a shadow of a smile on her lips, “Catherine.” He liked her immediately. The other girls he knew were coy and he was never sure if what they were saying was true. There was something about the way this red haired girl returned his gaze that made him believe she was incapable of deceit.
Then he noticed her appearance. She was not what most men would call beautiful, but she was definitely appealing. She wore leather riding boots, a coarse leather skirt to her ankles and a matching leather jacket that stopped at her slim waist. A white gauze shirt untied at the neck revealed a glimpse of her soft, full breasts. Her curly red hair made a halo around her pretty face with its pale pink complexion and striking green eyes.
While he was evaluating her, she was evaluating him, this muddy, handsome young man she had just rescued. His short leather boots were tucked into tight forest green suede pants which hugged his long, muscular legs. The white gauze shirt he wore was tight at his broad chest, the loose sleeves falling down his long arms. His rumpled, curly light brown hair fell to his shoulders around a most appealing face, the most prominent feature being his sky blue eyes.
When he tried to walk toward her, he fell; noticing for the first time, that he had damaged his ankle. Between the two of them they managed to get him on top of the white mare where he sat behind Catherine enjoying the warmth of her and the sweet smell of her beautiful hair as it softly brushed against his face during the ride home.
From that day forward they were fast friends. Most every day Jon would ride his horse by her family’s modest home near the bread baker’s shop and find her and the white mare waiting for him. Off they would thunder toward the open meadows. Everyone in the village began to take notice of the young couple that were always laughing and seemed to live in a world of their own. As summer and the King’s Tournament approached Catherine helped Jon prepare by ensuring he ate well and had plenty of rest.
A week before the Tournament Jon told Catherine he was in love with her and asked for her heart which she readily gave him.
The Knights of the Roundtable never participated in the Tournament, but would come to the village from their nearby homesteads and ride their decorated steeds down the main street to the tournament fields. It was a sight to see, the 25 Knights in shining armor, a Squire walking in front of each Knight, wearing his Knight’s colors and emblem, the bright banners and flags moving in the sunny morning breeze. Arriving at the game fields, the Knights settled in to judge the competition.
In addition to being a form of entertainment for the citizens of Camelot, the Tournament had a much more practical purpose. It identified the countryside’s most skilled fighters, five of whom would be selected to train with the King and his Knights. After one year each of them would be sent on a Quest. If they were successful and returned safely their name would be added to a list of warriors from which the next Knight of the Roundtable would be selected.
Not unexpectedly, Jon did well at the Tournament and tied for first place. Immediately the shy, unassuming young man became a celebrity in his village and the center of much attention. In order to train with the King and his Knights Jon moved from his family home into the castle where young women who ignored him before, now competed with each other for his attention. Enjoying his new popularity, Jon began to pull away from Catherine until a whole year had gone by and they had not spoken.
The memory of that time began to cause dark images to intrude into his dreams, waking our young Knight from a sound sleep. When he opened his eyes morning had broken. The wool saddle pad lay on the spot where the moss was worn down from Catherine’s weight, but she was not there. The young Knight jumped to his feet calling her name and then noticed Shadowmere was gone too.
In the daylight he saw a shallow stream of water running alongside the meadow that he had not seen the night before. Leaving his sword and armor behind he followed a fresh path that ended at the water’s edge. The small stream twisted to the left a quarter of a mile ahead of him. At the turn he saw Catherine, her back to him, standing in cold water up to her knees washing the mud off of Shadowmere. She looked beautiful in the morning light, her hair, now clean, was shining and full. Her wet gown clung to the round of her back, her waist and her thighs and he never wanted her more.
Which is why he did not see the old crone standing on the shore talking to Catherine until it was too late …
TO BE CONTINUED …
Catherine kept trying to pull away from our young Knight as he dragged her down the dark path. “Leave me,” she whispered, “You don’t know what will happen to you, run while you can, leave me here.” He ignored her while he concentrated on the path. It was dark, even in the clearing. If it was daylight, they would have seen all of the small dead Dartalies, rotting quickly under their feet and the 10 remaining Dartalies hiding behind a nearby bolder, too afraid to confront the human who had murdered all of their kin without even looking at them.
When they reached the narrow ledge that ran along the precipice the young Knight stopped, raised the face shield on his helmet and grabbed Catherine by her shoulders. He couldn’t help but notice how thin she had grown, her bones felt like brittle sticks under her skin. “Catherine, listen to me,” he began. “We have to walk a very small path now and you have to stop fighting me. You will not see this in the dark, but there is a cliff that is higher than the great wall around Camelot. If we fall from that cliff we will die. Do you understand?” “It doesn’t matter,” Catherine replied. “You are dead already and I would rather fall to my death with you than return to the cave.” “No!” our young Knight yelled, “Do not think that, we will escape.” Catherine did not reply, just stood looking at him as she might look at a child. Slowly she stood on her bare toes and kissed his cheek. “Yes, my Knight” she said with a smile.
He slammed the face shield shut on his armor, sensing her condescension but glad to have her cooperation. He grabbed her hand and guided her to the ledge. Within a few minutes they had passed the narrowest section and he began to breathe again, at least until he heard the low, rumbling growl.
He could not see the black man-wolves in the dark, but he could see their flaming red eyes staring at him and smell the stench of them even with his helmet closed. The beast on the right tried to walk the ledge but loose stones slipped under its weight and it almost toppled over the cliff, it let out a fierce roar as it struggled to regain its balance. While our young Knight was occupied watching that beast, the beast on his left, where the ledge was wider, was creeping closer.
Seasoned warriors develop a sixth sense. Even though they may not see danger, they sense when it is nearby. Slowly, maintaining his precarious balance on the ledge, our young Knight turned to his left. The beast, now standing less than 15 feet away, let out a low growl, angered that it had been discovered. Dropping Catherine’s hand, the young Knight drew his great sword and pointed it at the beast.
Snarling the beast backed away, the young Knight followed it, forcing it backward with his sword. Catherine held on to the back of the young Knight’s armor, her head down fearing the worst. Suddenly she jerked backward pulling the young Knight with her. One of the beasts had stood up on its long hind legs and snuck up behind her. It was pulling her by the hair on her head. When she realized what was happening she dropped her grip on the armor, wanting to give her young Knight a chance to defend himself.
Holding his sword in his left hand to fend off that beast, the young Knight lunged for Catherine with his right hand, but she was too far away. Sensing an opportunity, the beast on the left moved forward, but was too big for the narrow ledge and again had to back away.
Catherine and the beast pulling her were almost to the thistle field when the beast lost its footing. It released Catherine’s hair as it dropped to all fours, but could not maintain a balance and slipped down the precipice. The remaining beast howled, the fallen beast whimpered as it grasped for a tree root growing out of the side of the cliff. The root supported the beast, but it would only be a matter of minutes before it was dislodged and they both fell to the ground.
As the beast dangled from the root, without thinking, Catherine reached down and grabbed the beast-man’s arm. The young Knight yelled to her to let the beast-man fall, but Catherine held on. As she did, the great black fur paw changed into a dirty, long nailed human hand. When the young Knight recognized the determination in Catherine’s face, he knew she would tumble to her death before she let go of her grasp. Resigned, he made his way back to where she was kneeling on the ledge and he also grabbed the arm of the beast-man, although now it was clearly more man than beast. Between them they managed to pull the beast-man to the ledge and out of danger. The young Knight kept his sword at the beast-man’s throat expecting him to change back into his wolf form at any moment, but minutes went by and that did not happen.
Turning to be sure the creature behind him was not closing in, the young Knight saw a naked middle aged woman sitting on the ground staring at him. The woman spoke and said, “Thank you, Sir Knight and my Lady, for saving my husband and breaking the curse.”
She explained that when her tribe was captured by the Queen they were all put under the Wolf-men curse and that the only thing that could break the curse was an act of kindness extended to them. Considering how dangerous the tribe had become, the Queen felt there would be no one on the face of the earth who would be kind to a Wolf-man and that the curse would never be broken.
The young Knight felt sorry for these people, but distrusted them and wanted to get away from them as quickly as possible. Again, he took Catherine’s hand and they cautiously walked past the woman who was still sitting on the ground and talking to herself. Although it was late at night, the crescent moon was bright enough to light their way and within a half hour they were at the base of the mountain.
Acres of brown winter fields stretched out in front of them, with an occasional patch of frozen white snow made bright by the late night moon. The young Knight removed his helmet and pushed it under his arm enjoying the cool night breeze on his face. The moonlight shining through the flimsy material of Catherine’s gown outlined her gaunt body, no longer the voluptuous soft body of the young Knight’s dreams. He noticed she was trembling from the cold and searched for something to warm her.
That’s when he saw the shadow of the huge, four-legged creature that had been following them …
TO BE CONTINUED …
As the young Knight cautiously made his way up the mountainside, the path disappeared and was replaced by loose rocks and stones that threatened to join together and roll off the precipice, taking the young Knight with them. The walkway grew narrower and the cliff grew closer. Finally he had to press his armor-clad back to the stone mountain and walk sideways in order for his feet to keep their purchase, his metal armor scraping along the stone wall, throwing off an occasional spark. He tried not to look straight ahead at the bird’s eye view of the Scottish countryside. Although he feared nothing, the height made him dizzy.
A few more carefully placed steps, and then he rounded a corner and came to an open field covered with purple thistles. He could see no pathway but forged ahead protected from the sharp thistles by his armor. Mid way down the field, he thought he heard children whispering. The metal helmet he wore muffled sounds and blocked his lateral vision but had saved his life more than once, witnessed by the many dents it displayed.
Other than the fleeting sounds of their childlike whispering voices, which he dismissed as the wind, our young Knight was oblivious to the ugly little creatures that were falling into regimented lines behind him. On the dark side of the world, they were called Dartalies, so named because with a quick flick of their lavender colored heads each mean little Dartalie could toss 100 poisoned tipped thistles in any direction with deadly accuracy.
Actually the Dartalies had been attempting to take down the young Knight since he stepped into their field, but the flying poisoned thistles kept deflecting off the Knight’s armor and unceremoniously sticking into their fat little bodies, killing hundreds of Dartalies with every volley. While they were vicious little creatures, they were not very bright, which is why there were only 10 Dartalies still alive by the time they figured out the cause and effect of their actions. By that time the young Knight had left their field and was looking up at the dark cave above him where his beloved Catherine was imprisoned.
Merlin had warned the young Knight to get to the cave and have Catherine off the mountain before sunset. Merlin had also told him to be sure to lock himself inside his armor when he reached the open thistle field, but since he found no danger in the thistle field, the young Knight began to doubt Merlin’s wisdom.
Judging by the location of the sun in the late afternoon sky, the young Knight knew it would be twilight within the hour, not nearly enough time to fight the Wolf-men and get Catherine safely off the mountain before dark. He knew Merlin would advise him to get off the mountain now and return in the morning but he was too close and could not convince himself to leave Catherine in that dank cave for one more night.
Having made his decision, he ran up the stony path in front of him as quickly as his heavy armor would allow. As he got closer to the cave there were piles of bones everywhere, some half buried in the soft earth. His armor clanked in the silence as he drew closer to the entrance and slipped out of the purple twilight into the pitch dark cavern. Once inside he leaned against the damp wall, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Looking down he began to see that his left foot was an inch away from a dirty, naked man sleeping on the cold floor. Scanning the cave he saw a dozen or more filthy naked people, men, women and children, curled up and fast asleep. Against the farthest wall Catherine stood shackled in heavy chains. Her eyes were wide and she was shaking her head back and forth, mouthing the words, “leave here.” Her long, red hair was flat and matted, her green gown torn and stained, her face was smudged, but to him, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Watching the stream of sunlight as it quickly moved up the stone wall just above Catherine’s head, he knew he was in a race with nightfall and that it was nipping at his heels. As quietly as possible the young Knight crossed the cave and took out the key Merlin had given him. As the key approached the large lock holding Catherine’s chains in place, it began to move in the Knight’s hand and change its shape until it fit snuggly into the lock.
A loud click echoed off the walls of the cave when the lock opened. The young Knight turned quickly while reaching for his sword but was surprised to see no one had stirred. The last rays of the sun were racing across the roof of the cave when they stepped into the fresh air and tripped down the path.
Inside the cave six pairs of red eyes snapped open...
TO BE CONTINUED …
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