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 …
He had a sad heart. The early morning forest seemed to empathize with him, overhead the damp tree branches slumped toward the ground, blocking even the most determined ray of morning light. He was a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, one of Camelot’s fiercest warriors, yet he could not save her.
The rock he sat on was cold and damp, soggy green moss creeping up the grey stone from the forest floor. He did not notice the physical discomfort as he pulled his field armor over his head and slammed it to the ground. The tall black horse tied to the hedge a short distance away shuffled his hoofs and shook his massive head, smoke pulsating from his nostrils as he reacted to the crashing armor.
He had her in his arms, they were finally safe, and he thought he had overcome all the hurdles the Queen had put in his path. Merlin had warned him of the freezing, pelting rain in the foothills of the great treeless mountains in the north and he was prepared for, and conquered, the great white fury beast that set upon him in the snowy high peaks.
Even though he thought it ridiculous, he followed Merlin’s directions when the glare of the afternoon sun lit up the snow covered mountainside. Merlin had warned him of blindness unless the young Knight used the dark glass circles set in strong metal to cover his eyes.
Struggling through the deep muck of the marshlands, the young Knight anticipated the small mud people who surrounded him, forced him off his mount and tried to pull him underground. He was shocked by the strength of the small, ugly men as he struggled to reach the green velvet pouch tied at his waist. After much difficulty, he was able to push his hand deep inside the pouch, then fling the golden dust that Merlin had mixed in the dark room in the cellar of the castle, coating the confused mudmen with golden flakes.
Although the young Knight had witnessed horrifying injuries during battle, he was still shocked as he watched the mud people dissolve before his eyes, their skin falling off their bodies revealing small bones that quickly crumpled to the ground leaving small mounds of white dust. Scanning the horizon, he realized his mount had disappeared and he feared the worst had happened.
For two days and nights the young Knight marched forward, his eyes always focused on the mountain range ahead where Catherine was being held captive by dark forces controlled by the Queen. In the early morning of the third day, he finally began the difficult climb up the steep, rocky path that led to the red eyed Wolf-men that stood between him and his love.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Whenever I go to the cemetery to visit my mom and dad I always leave a few small stones on the base of the stone heart which marks where they lie. Usually I leave three small stones and balance them so there is a tiny space in the center. I have been doing that since dad died in 1996. Every time I return, the stones are gone. For a long time I just assumed the weather was washing them away until one day, while standing in the cemetery with my sister, she made a comment that someone kept leaving small stones on our parent’s marker and she had to keep knocking them off and throwing them away.
At first I was shocked that she was the one who was knocking down my little shrines and then, of course, it struck me funny. She had no idea that it was me or what I was doing.
Years before dad died I read about an American Indian tradition where stones are left at the grave sites of relatives. The stones are balanced so that there are spaces in the shrine. The belief was that the souls of the deceased could fly through the spaces and find freedom. That was my wish for mom and dad.
A few years after the conversation with my sister in the cemetery, I took a job working at a Jewish congregation. I suspect you can imagine my surprise the first time I visited their cemetery and saw all of the stones balanced on the grave markers. It is a Jewish tradition to leave a stone every time a visit is made to a relative’s gravesite, the accumulated stones leaving a visual message that the deceased was loved and not forgotten. Centuries ago, before formal cemeteries and tombstones, Jewish families brought a stone to the burial site to literally add to the construction of a marker where their loved one was laid to rest.
What struck me at the time was how amazing it was that two nationalities, American Indian and Jewish, that evolved in geographic locations that were separated by huge distances and whose forefathers never appeared to cross paths, shared such a unique yet similar tradition, albeit for different reasons.
During the course of my life I have worked at Jewish and Methodist congregations and learned their traditions. I have had long conversations about religion with friends who are Atheists, Baptist, Episcopal and born again Christians. I have studied eastern philosophies and was raised Roman Catholic. While I certainly do not profess to have any special mystical insights or aspire to the ranks of the great minds that have puzzled over religion for centuries, all religions do share amazing similarities.
We each pick a religious tradition that makes sense to us, that fits into our interpretation of the good and evil in life. Some of us do not participate in a formal religion at all. No matter what our particular religious affiliation is, or isn't, I believe we’re all talking about the same benevolent spirit and when we stop arguing and warring over who best understands that spirit the world will be a better place.
The death of Whitney Houston this week was sad news for many reasons, first and foremost, because she had been born with so many gifts. Her voice was like a musical instrument, it could be soft and dreamy and then low and gritty. She was able to play her instrument like Ella Fitzgerald could play hers.
Whitney Houston was one of those rare human beings who not only were blessed with an extraordinary talent, but she was a true beauty. There are many attractive singers, but very few that are truly beautiful. Pictures of Whitney as a little girl singing in her church choir flash across the news media now and it’s very sad thinking about what happened to that little girl with all that talent and beauty.
If Whitney did not die of a drug overdose, it sounds like she died from years of drug abuse and the effect that abuse had on her body. I could probably fill up this page with just the names of talented entertainers who died because of drug use. Even sadder, I could probably fill up thousands of 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper with just the names of ordinary people like you and me who died because of drug abuse.
I saw a post on Facebook today vehemently opposing even the notion that flags should be at half-mast in memory of Whitney Houston and many comments agreeing with the post. I also saw another similar post where it was suggesting it would be an insult to men and women who were killed in war if flags were at half-mast in memory of Whitney Houston. After thinking about both of those posts for a bit, I disagree. I think flags should have been at half-mast.
Not specifically for the talented singer whose life was cut short because of drug abuse, but because she was also a victim of war, a victim of the war against drugs that this country is unable to win. Her fame could have been used to draw attention to the waste created by abuse. Every person driving by a flag at half-mast could have been reminded of every youth and every talent whose life was cut short by drugs.
I wonder if we are all just so accustomed to hearing horror stories about celebrities dying or coming in and out of rehab that we forget that our neighbor, or the teenager that lives down the street, could also be caught in the web of drug abuse. Not flying our flags at half-mast at Whitney’s passing may have been a lost opportunity to refocus our attention on what is happening in our own neighborhoods.
The blood rushed through Rita’s veins as she stood watching Maggie relaxing on the couch, all stretched out like she owned the place, Maggie with her petite little body and fresh face. Rita knew her relationship with John had changed, that things would never be the same between them now that Maggie had moved into the house. After 12 years together, she couldn’t believe how quickly his head was turned, she wanted to scratch his eyes out but she loved him and knew that things would get back to normal once Maggie was out of the picture.
By the time one week had passed, Rita couldn’t even eat with Maggie; she couldn’t stand the site or smell of her. Maggie was still in “the world is a beautiful place and everybody loves me” phase of her development and Rita knew that meant she would be a guileless victim if only the opportunity would present itself. She didn’t have long to wait.
After John went to work Thursday morning Rita slowly strutted into the parlor and sat next to Maggie on the couch. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Maggie out into the backyard where they each chose a lawn chair and stretched out under the hot morning sun. After five minutes in the sunshine, Rita casually looked in Maggie’s direction and saw that she was sleeping, the tip of her pink tongue lightly resting on the side of her mouth. It would have been so easy for Rita to destroy Maggie then and there, but that would mean she would have to find a way to get rid of the body, no, she would stick to her plan and the bitch would be dead before lunchtime.
When she saw Maggie begin to stir, Rita walked toward the hole in the back fence and signaled to Maggie to join her. By the time Maggie reached the fence, Rita had gone through the hole and was standing at the curb of the busy roadway on the adjoining street. Maggie hesitated, the traffic noises scared her. Rita walked back and nudged Maggie forward until they were standing side by side on the curb. Rita saw the bus turn the corner one block away. She waited until the bus was almost upon them before nudging Maggie into the road.
Rita turned and walked back to the fence, the sound of screeching brakes echoing in her ears. She slipped through the hole and walked across the green lawn up to the side of the house. Smiling to herself she leaped up to the open window, her paws thudding softly on the windowsill. When John came home that night there was no sign of Maggie anywhere. His heart dropped when he saw the open window, suddenly realizing his new cat must have escaped. He blamed himself for being so careless, and dropped down onto the coach. Out of habit he began petting Rita who sat quietly next to him … purring.
Valentine’s Day is in the air and the idea of kissing and being kissed is on my mind.
Initially I thought of first kisses. Me at my first boy-girl party and the warm, soft sensation I felt when the music stopped and the boy I was dancing with kissed me on the lips. It was not an emotional moment, but it was a rite of passage.
On second thought though, I had to go back much farther to find my first kiss. Most likely it was from my mom or dad, probably on my brand new pink skin shortly after I was born. Now that must have been an emotional kiss but I don’t remember it of course, at least not consciously.
From then on my world was filled with kisses from grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends and occasionally, on special occasions, from my sister and brothers.
When I lived in their home I never went to bed without kissing my mom and dad goodnight. After I moved out on my own I kissed them hello and goodbye every time I saw them. And would happily give everything I own to kiss them one more time.
I remember the first boy that I shared sustained kisses with. It was called necking then, I think it’s called making out now. We were sophomores in high school and those were sweet, innocent kisses. We were very much “in like” with each other and 50 years later, I still consider him one of the great kissers of my life.
Eventually the inevitable happened and crazy, can’t-stop-myself kisses entered my life along with love, passion, broken hearts, anger and jealousy.
Then there are all of the kisses I shared with my friends over the years when we all got married, started families, got that great job we wanted, lost loved ones, got divorced, fell in love again.
Oh, and how life-changing it was to kiss my own child moments after he was born and collect all of the sweet baby kisses he gave me as he grew.
So how many kisses have I given and received in this lifetime of mine … thousands, hundreds of thousands, more? I do know that every one of those kisses changed me somehow. They warmed me, they encouraged me, they supported me, they helped me mature and expand my horizons, a few even disappointed me, but mostly they made me feel loved.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, although I do not have a Prince Charming in my life right now, I will recall all of those kisses and look forward to all of the kisses yet to come.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Ah, Valentine’s Day. For as far back as I can remember there were Valentine’s Day celebrations in my life. Dad always gave mom a Valentine’s card. Dad was a big card giver and in my memory they were always pink with lace and roses and had the most sentimental verses. Dad always signed all of his cards to mom with “Love you, Jimmy.” As a child it always struck me as such a personal signature, a special code between mom and dad because no one called my dad Jimmy, it was always Jim.
With apologies to Hallmark, when we were kids, my siblings and I made our own cards. I have vivid memories of sitting at the kitchen table trying to cut out a lace pattern on the edges of a sheet of plain white paper. When that was done a slightly non symmetrical red heart that I cut from a sheet of red construction paper was glued to the center of the laced paper. In the center of that newly constructed card I would copy my newly composed Valentine message to mom and dad.
The Catholic grammar school I went to also celebrated Valentine’s Day and all of us kids would exchange those tiny little Valentine’s cards that squeezed into those tiny little envelopes. As I remember, we each had to be sure to have a card for everyone in the class so that no one felt left out.
Valentine’s Day carried no special romantic connotation for me until I was given my first Valentine chocolates in a red velvet box shaped like a heart when I was a sophomore in high school.
Originally St. Valentine’s Day was a Catholic holyday celebrated on February 14 in memory of St. Valentine. Actually there were at least three St. Valentines who were martyred between 150AD and 300AD; St. Valentine of Rome, St. Valentine of Terni and a much more obscure St. Valentine who was martyred in Africa and is also associated with February 14th. Over the next few centuries those martyred Valentines blended together and became one St. Valentine. Nevertheless, there was nothing romantic about the original February 14 holyday.
It wasn’t until Chaucer wrote a poem for the engagement of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in 1382 that included a romantic reference to St. Valentine’s Day that romance entered the picture. Here’s the line:
“For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."
Not too long after that poem made the connection between Valentine’s Day and romance, a story began to develop around one of the original St. Valentines, St. Valentine of Terni. Here’s the story:
In an effort to build up his army, Roman Emperor Claudius II issued an order that young men remain single. He believed that married men did not make good soldiers. Well, that did not sit well with Bishop Valentine of Terni who ignored the order and began conducting clandestine marriage ceremonies. When the Emperor heard of this, he had Bishop Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.
On the eve of his execution, St. Valentine wrote a love note to a woman who was described as his beloved and the daughter of his jailer. The note read, “From your Valentine.”
The reality is that Emperor Claudius tried to get St. Valentine of Terni to convert to paganism, but Valentine resisted and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity so Valentine was sentenced to death. The night before his execution, he reportedly performed a miracle and cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness.
In 1797 The Young Man's Valentine Writer was published in England and offered romantic versus for men who were romantically challenged. Following that publication, mass printing of Valentine cards began. When Valentine cards finally began to be sent through the postal service, offering the sender anonymity, the romantic element of a possible Secret Admirer was added to the mix and it gave birth to the racier, naughtier Valentine card in straight-laced, Victorian England.
Back in the States, the first mass produced Valentine cards appeared in 1847 but it didn’t take long for them to catch on. In 1849 Leigh Eric Schmidt wrote in the publication, Graham’s American Monthly that, “Saint Valentine's Day... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday."
Interestingly, in 1969, Pope Paul VI removed St. Valentine’s Day from the General Roman Calendar of Saints which means the original purpose of St. Valentine’s Day no longer exists, yet the new romantic version of St. Valentine’s Day still thrives.
Those who know me well know I am a hopeless romantic and those of you who are getting to know me, will soon realize this is true. It is my nature and I have long sense stopped fighting against it. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day I will end this blog with a verse from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” Not the familiar verse that begins with “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” but another verse that goes like this:
“If thou must love me, let it be for naught
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of speaking gently – for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and bought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day” –
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee – and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry –
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.
Yesterday, when I read that Mimi Alford had written a book about her affair with JFK I casually mentioned it to a colleague at work. Her response was, “She should just keep quiet about it.” That response surprised me. After everything we have heard about JFK, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Dwight Eisenhower, even as far back as George Washington, I thought we were all pretty jaded by now regarding politicians and their affairs, that we’re no longer shocked by the news. I was surprised that someone would still want that type of information buried.
The comment got me thinking about what my reaction to Mimi Alford’s story might have been 50 years ago when I was a teenager and JFK was President. Back then reporters, police, families and, (this thought really shocked me) OTHER POLITICIANS kept all those dirty little secrets. Back then it was important that our elected officials maintain an image of wholesomeness and integrity even if it was a false image. Such a far cry from today’s voracious, news-as-it-happens; absolutely-nothing-is-sacred media orgies.
Today political staff go to all kinds of extremes to maintain that wholesome image of their candidate but they do it to maintain their candidate’s “electability.” In JFK’s day maintaining that image appears to have been for other reasons. First, sex was not a common topic in the media back then. Most of the adults of that generation, my parent’s generation, did not discuss sex. Makes me wonder how a President’s affair could even be reported publicly, what words would be used? How would it be presented?
Second, it seems to me many of that generation were “pro-actively naïve.” Having just turned their heads away from the loses and horrors of WWII, they wanted the house with the white picket fence, they wanted a new car in the driveway and happy babies in their homes, they wanted their presidents and politicians to be morally perfect and if they were not, they did not want to know about it.
Another factor, at least in my teenage-Irish Catholic-attended-only-Catholic-schools world, was that JFK was the first Irish Catholic President and everyone in my world knew that men were faithful to their wives, people burned in hell if they had affairs. Any rumors of JFK affairs would no doubt be considered propaganda started by some anti-Irish Catholic faction.
Another aspect of the Mimi Alford story is the fact that Mimi was 19 when the affair began and JFK was a 45 year old married man. She says she was a naïve virgin seduced by a handsome man of the world and, not just any man, but the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States. I buy her story. There were 19 year old virgins back in 1962. Then, of course, there’s always the possibility some 70 year old guy will show up in the news one of these days and claim that he and Mimi made out behind the bleachers in 1960.
In the summer of 1964, the summer after graduating from high school, I started my first full time job working for New York State Government. I truly was a babe in the woods and I don’t mean a “she’s a BABE,” kind of babe, although I wasn’t exactly chopped liver (just saying). Anyways, as I was promoted up through the ranks during the following few years and different positions were offered to me, I was always cautioned (by men and women alike) NOT to take a position with the NYS Legislature. That young women like me were considered fair game there and since it was still the age of dirty little secrets there were stories of women who spoke up and resisted and lost their jobs. I have no firsthand knowledge of that experience, but trusted, and am still grateful to, the men and women who mentored me back then.
As for JFK, if Jackie knew of his affairs and they had an “open marriage” then that’s none of my business. However, if a 45 year old JFK was preying on 19 year old naïve young women than he was not much of a man in my book, just a sorry excuse of a man.
From a distance, on screen and in photos horses are beautiful to me. It’s truly poetry in motion to watch a thoroughbred at full speed racing toward the finish line; every muscle flexed and stretched all four hooves off the ground. Whenever I see an image of a band of wild mustangs thundering across a landscape something stirs inside of me that makes me root for them, makes me hope that they will always stay free.
As much as I admire and enjoy looking at horses, I am afraid of them. They are so big and powerful. Usually I like a fence, a pretty good size one, between me and a horse.
When my son was young he had a friend whose mom and dad owned a thoroughbred ranch in Cambridge, NY. His friend’s dad ran the business side of the ranch, and his friend’s mom was the horseperson. They bred thoroughbreds and had some fairly well known clients, the only name I remember now is Reba McEntire.
His friend’s mom and I also became friends and she invited us to visit their ranch one Sunday afternoon. The farm house was quite old, but the outbuildings for the horses were state of the art. There were 25 or 30 thoroughbreds and a half dozen colts grazing in the field across from their house when we pulled off the dirt road into their driveway.
Pulling into the ranch I noticed that the old farm house on the right had a lovely glass enclosed room off the back. An obviously old barn stood directly in front of us, and behind that barn were paddocks and a beautiful new post and beam barn.
She and I sat and chatted a while at a table on the lawn while the kids took off to play on a nearby trampoline. After a while she excused herself, telling me she had to bring some of the horses from across the road to the new barn. After she left I sat back and sipped my wine, watched the kids play, enjoyed the view of the surrounding green rolling hills and allowed myself to relax into the warmth of the summer sun.
I was snapped right out of my relaxed mood when a few minutes later she came around the corner of the house, about five feet away from me, walking two gigantic thoroughbreds. She was a wisp of a woman, probably not much taller than five feet or so and those horses loomed over her, their heads were half her body size. My immediate reaction was I was doomed … those horses were going to get one look at the fear in my eyes and trample me to death. She was oblivious to my reaction as she walked the horses even closer to me so she could say something. I had no idea what she said, I was frozen, deaf, and dumb but definitely not blind.
Eventually she walked away with her charges and I gulped the last of my wine relieved that I survived the experience. To my horror she did the same thing two more times for a total of six gigantic horses passing within two feet of me. Other than getting up and hiding behind the two hundred year old tree that stood next to the table, I had no recourse but to sit as still as I possibly could each time she passed by and hope the horses wouldn’t notice me. As if that wasn’t harrowing enough, the day got worse.
Once she had all six horses settled in the barn, she called for me to join her there. As calm as I could I yelled back and asked if all the horses were in their stalls. She assured me they were. The barn was striking. Red brick floors, shiny dark wood stalls, wrought iron trim, a fully complemented tack room, an inside arena and each stall had video equipment so they could watch the horses that were in labor from their living room. When I walked into the arena she was talking with her teenage daughter who evidently owned a horse of her own and wanted to ride it. She was telling her daughter that since she had not been taking care of her horse and she had not been on the horse for a few months, the horse was going to be mad at her and riding it right now was not a good idea. When the daughter insisted the mom threw up her hands and said go ahead.
Five minutes later the daughter came trotting into the arena riding a very large horse, but not a thoroughbred. After a few laps around the arena, just enough time to build up some speed, the horse stopped on a dime and the daughter went flying over the horse’s head landing on her rear end in front of the horse with her arms up in the air still holding on to the reigns. When she dropped the reigns, the horse took off, heading right at me. I barely had time to jump into the tack room before it flew by me and out the door into the paddocks.
As I peeked out the tack room door I saw my friend racing by chasing the runaway horse. What followed next really blew me away. The horse was racing through the paddocks at full gallop, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging out of its head. I managed to force myself out of the tack room to the door of the barn and to my horror, there stood my tiny little friend her feet square in the middle of the paddock run, that horse charging at her and she was not about to move. I felt like I was watching a train wreck about to happen and could do nothing to stop it.
When the horse saw her it slowed just enough for her to grab the reigns and make it stop. She grabbed the piece under the horses chin, pulled that huge head down so they were nose to nose and she yelled into that big face, “you want to run, OK, then, you can run …” and she walked that big sweaty horse within inches of me back into the arena where she tied a rope to the horse and to something in the middle of the arena that would allow the horse to only walk in circles. Then she turned to her very contrite but uninjured daughter and said, “Now you walk him until he is tired.”
Then she turned to me and said, “Let’s go see what the kids are up to.” “Kids?” I thought. “Oh, yes, of course, the kids,” I finally said.
While driving home that night I was still somewhat traumatized by the events of the day. I asked my son if he had a good time and he said, “Yeah, it was great.” Then I asked him what he thought about his friend’s mom walking all those big horses so close to the trampoline where he was playing. Much to my surprise he said. “What horses, I didn’t see her walking any horses.” Interesting how two people can be in the same place at the same time and have two totally different experiences.
A week before Christmas 2011 I went to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (HMHS) in Menands, NY, and came home with an 18 month old dog I call Riley. The people at HMHS called him Yukon. Yukon seemed more like a name for a Huskie rather than little Riley so his name was changed while driving home in the car.
If Riley could talk, this is what it would sound like (read as fast as you can): Oh-great-you’re-home-come-on-in-and-see-me-and-take-down-the-gate-please-then-can-we-go-out-in-the-yard-and-will-you-take-my-leash-off-so-I-can-run-I-promise-I’ll-try-to-resist-jumping-over-the-fence-and-if-I-do-jump-over-the-fence-I-promise-I’ll-come-right-back-and-then-do-you-think-we-could-go-for-a-walk-or-better-yet-could-we-go-to-the-dog-park-so-I-can-play-with-that-big-black-dog-that-was-there-the-other-day-and-can-I-sit-in-the-front-seat-and-do-you-think-you-could-open-the-window-and-on-the-way-home-can-we-stop-at-the-store-and-could-you-get-me-some-tennis-balls-to-rip-apart-I’ll-try-not-to-make-a-mess-and-could-you-buy-a-carton-of-those-malted-milk-balls-that-you-sometimes-give-me-if-I-sit-quiet-and-stare-at-you-I-promise-I won’t-bark-in-the-car-while-you’re-in-the-store-and-if-the-big-dog-next-door-is-out-in-the-yard-can-I-play-with-him-I-think-he-likes-me-even-though-he-barks-at-me-all-the-time-and-by-the-way-I’m-sorry-I-broke-the-slat-in-the-fence-I-was-just-so-excited-you-understand-right-did-you-notice-my-water-dish-is-empty-and-is-that-big-red-box-on-the-kitchen-table-filled-with-dog-bones-I-hope-you-got-the-big-bones-this-time-I-eat-the-small-bones-too-fast-wait-a-minute-is-that-the-neighbor-and-her-dog-walking-by-the-window-I’ll-try-not-to-knock-your-plants-off-the-windowseat-while-I-take-a-look-oh-yah-that’s-them-so-can-we-go-out-in-the-yard-now? Then he would take a breath …
Riley has so much life in him it’s remarkable, yet he is also remarkably obedient. I have never owned a dog that looked me in the eye. Riley has big brown eyes, set in eye sockets that look almost too big for his eyes. When I talk to him he looks me right in the eye, not in a confrontational way, he’s just interested in what I have to say.
Riley strikes me as a dog that has never had to defend himself. He acts like a dog that has always been treated kindly. As a result he is friendly, affectionate and curious. OK, so how did he end up in the dog pound? Riley’s one fault is that he likes to run AND he can leap over the four foot fence in my backyard like a deer. I suspect that’s exactly how he got away from his last owners and ended up being captured by the dog warden in Menands.
If someone asked me to describe Riley I would say this: Riley is just one big heart walking around covered with loose skin and fur.
The first time I saw Andrew Wyeth’s art was in the 1970s. Immediately I was drawn to the sepia tones in his paintings, the tones created by a mixture which included raw eggs. His work looks more like photography than the stroke of a brush. At the time Monet was my favorite artist and other than Picasso’s and Pollock’s abstract art, no artist’s work could be more distant from Monet’s than Andrew Wyeth. No pastel colors, no blurred imaging for Wyeth, bare, broken and battered was what he depicted in his paintings and for me his art captured something about America. His paintings say something about the stoic nature of Americans who work close to the land.
I came to know many of his paintings and his “Distant Thunder” became my favorite. It depicts a woman lying on her back in tall grass, the trees just beyond her titling ever so slightly, as trees do just before a summer afternoon rain storm on a humid day. A few feet away from her, her dog sits quietly in the tall grass gazing in her direction. Of course, thunder cannot be painted, but the title is enough encouragement to imagine that she is hearing a rumbling of thunder in the distance but it’s not close enough yet to make her stir.
Critics were split on Wyeth’s work. While they were praising the realism of Andy Warhol’s work, they were suggesting Wyeth’s paintings gave realism a bad name. Regardless, Wyeth’s work became extremely popular with middle class Americans. Perhaps it was seen as an alternative to the abstract art that was getting critical attention at the time. The abstract work of Sidney Pollock sat on one side of the continuum while realists like Wyeth and Norman Rockwell sat at the other.
Andrew Wyeth was not a bohemian and he was a patriot. While many other popular artists at the time were active in liberal politics, Wyeth was voting for Nixon and Reagan. In an interesting twist, as a result of his more conservative political views, which were contrary to the views of the liberal art establishment, Wyeth was perceived by many in America’s middle class as a free-thinker, adding to his popularity.
Andrew Wyeth’s father was famed illustrator, Nowell Convers Wyeth who, in the early part of the 20th Century, earned his fame and fortune by creating the illustrations for such books as The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and perhaps most famously, Peter Pan. Although it has been speculated that Andrew Wyeth’s realist leanings are a direct result of being raised in the household of a successful illustrator, one of the most interesting cubist paintings I have ever seen is a huge painting hanging in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, painted by Andrew Wyeth’s father, the illustrator. It appears all styles of painting were explored by the Wyeths. Nowell Wyeth died in 1945 with a four year old grandson when their car stalled on a railroad track and was hit by a train. Andrew’s son, Jamie, is also a successful painter.
During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Andrew Wyeth’s work was displayed in every major museum in the United States. The prices for his paintings grew to $100,000 in 1962. In the 1980’s Japanese collectors paid more than $1 million for a Wyeth painting. Which makes perfect sense to me since Japanese art is clean, pure and simple.
In 1986 sex and scandal rocked Andrew Wyeth’s world. That year a publisher paid $6 million for 240 Wyeth paintings that no one knew about. They were all paintings of a woman, nude and clothed named Helga Testorf. She was a mother of 4, a German immigrant and a housemaid to Wyeth’s sister. The married Wyeth had been painting Helga in a room in a neighbor’s house for more than a decade. His wife, who was also his business manager, knew nothing of the “Helga Paintings.” Helga ended up on the covers of Time and Newsweek Magazines and the National Gallery of Art in Washington rushed to put together a show of the “Helga Paintings” in 1987, although it was extremely rare for the National Gallery to sponsor a display of the works of a living artist. Eventually Mr. Andrews, the publisher who originally purchased the “Helga Paintings” sold them to a Japanese collector for $45 million.
Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in Chadds Ford, PA on January 19, 2009 at the ripe old age of 91. Till the end his work was criticized but Wyeth was not deterred. “I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age,” he said.
I have posted some of my favorite Andrew Wyeth paintings in the “Photos” section of the Red Geraniums website for those of you who might be interested. The photos of the paintings begin on page 5.
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