With my promise to assist him in finding a new lord to serve I left the workshop of Amandeus puzzled yet elated. In my sabretache I carried proof that Urien had been a fine warrior before he came to be my teacher and even against the monks counsel I still yearned to find out more about him. He was a friend turned into an enigma.
“How can people live like this?” my squire inquired over the din in the tightly pressed street.
“I wondered the same when I first came here… It doesn’t seem natural does it?”
“Is it true they grow their food indoors and upon their roofs?” I stifled a laugh and put my hand around the young man’s shoulders.
“Of course not!”
“Then how do they get food?”
“They… well… We will get lost if you keep distracting me like this.” Nodding my squire turned his eyes toward the busy streets. Standing in my saddle I craned my neck to catch glimpses through windows and over rooftops. But if there were such fields as my squire spoke of they remained hidden to me.
The square around the cathedral was a welcome oasis in the bustling city. Resting in the shadow of the great steeple we watched the murmuring and swelling crowd around the legendary sword.
“So whoever draws the sword from the stone becomes the new High King?”
“That’s right lad.”
“Who decided that?”
‘’Well…You see….’’ The burning eyes of my squire pierced my sweating brow as I tried to save face.
‘’Consider the wise words of Solomon: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.’’ My squire remained silent for a while studying the laboring knight and men around the sturdy anvil.
‘’But what does that mean?’’
‘’If you listen to the teachers you will one day know.’’ I found it hard to determine if my answer had satisfied the young man but it comforted me a great deal. The old hermits had spoken of the hidden meanings and messages in the Good Book at great lengths and I felt certain that I had now found one.
‘’Excuse me, sir, aren’t you Sir Maelgwyn of Chillmark?’’ His voice sounded muffled as he spoke from behind his veil of chainmail.
“Yes I am sir. But I’m afraid I do not know how to address you good sir.” A glint in the rugged man’s eyes suggested he was smiling towards me.
“They call me theBrown Knight of the Wilds, but I understand if my rather unconventional heraldry confounded you, sir.” As he spoke he lightly touched the branch fastened to his unpainted shield. His voice was young and melodious not seeming to quite fit his rugged appearance.
“Well that certainly is a strange name, sir, but in times like this little surprise me.” I must admit that I rather admired how the strange man spoke and handled himself. There was a calmness and grace surrounding his demeanor I’ve never witnessed before, not even among the blessed clergy.
“Are you going to try, sir?” he said pointing to the sword and anvil.
“Ah, no. That sword was not meant for me, sir.”
“How can you be so sure, sir, if I may ask?”
“The Lord rewards contentment and humility: Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.”
“But what if it’s in the Lord’s divine plan for you to become High King, sir?”
“Ha! You surely jest sir! There is no royal blood in my line, however long it may be. Besides how do you know you’re not the one our Lord has chosen?”
The brown knight fell silent and for a while we stood watching as a large beast of a peasant cursed and groaned over the immovable hilt.
“You are of course right, sir Maelgwyn! Such a thing no man can know with certainty. Both of us might be unworthy yet one of us might be! Let us settle this!”
“I challenge you to duel me, sir. Whomever wins shall attempt to draw the sword from the stone!”
As the afternoon sun started sinking behind towards the horizon the Brown Knight held up his hand. I slowly straightened myself and hang over my sword panting.
“The… day seems to… be coming to a… end sir” He said as he tried, best he could, to dab the sweat from his brow.
“You have fought well, sir!” I said and straightened up, ready again to attack him with my blunted blade.
“But shall we perhaps call it a draw sir?” Never before had it occurred to me that such an outcome was possible in a duel. For a few moments I thought of my honor and indeed of the sanctity of all duels, then my aching body and numb arms spoke louder.
“We shall sir.”
“Good! Then we shall settle this next time sir.”
Night had fallen as I parted ways with the strange knight, waving him off as he rode out the western gate. He was last to leave before the drum sounded for the gates to rumble shut for the night, sealing us and myriads of others in the safety of the great walls.
“He is a strange one isn’t he sir?”
“The strangest, lad”
We turned our backs to the gate and slowly made our way towards our quarters. Slowly the city became peaceful and as I gazed towards the sky the stars slowly showed their glory.
“I think I did something bad sir “Even in the darkness of the resting street he must have seen my stern gaze for he continued without me answering.
“His squire asked me of the Loathly Lady sir… and I told him sir Cadry might assist them” It was more due to my lapsing judgement than the boy’s lack of sense that made me sigh deeply.
“If that man wished to find the Lady he would have, no matter what. But that doesn’t excuse you… That demon in the swamps should not be trifled with…”
“I’m sorry sir. I just thought…”
His voice trailed off and became a murmur. I thought of Sian. I thought of the flower that took her from me and I thought of home. It had been almost two years since I felt Marion’s arms around me. Almost two years since I saw my sons and daughters. In that moment nothing seemed sweeter than the stone hall upon the hill and Gwynns thatch of red hair. It was time to head home and to make haste. The safest and fastest route would be through Rhydychan.