The Fable of Love and Loyalty
By: Gabriella Graziani
The gentle breeze blew through the windows and rested on my cheeks. I slowly closed my eyes and let the sounds of spring lull me to sleep. With the many battles and quests Camelot had faced over the years, a deep sleep was hard to come by. Night after night, I had woken up in complete terror. My friends had told me to expect nightmares in my line of work, but I did not expect these dreams to illustrate the death of my country, my fellow knights, and my King. Each morning, I woke with the distant memory of war and the faint picture of my mentor fighting by my side.
“Gareth,” a calm voice pulled me out of my daydream. I stood up straight; Gawain, Gaheris, and I had been summoned into Arthur’s chamber. Gaheris was nudging my elbow. “Sir Agravaine and Mordred are here.”
I rolled my eyes. After the past couple of weeks, these two knights had been together more than usual, and I had heard rumors that they had been watching Lancelot and the queen closer than ever before.
Love is a mysterious force, but I cannot judge. Lancelot loved the queen, and he guarded her all the better for it. Ever since Lancelot had returned from his greatest quest, my mentor had been more than friendly with my aunt, and I had seen my share of affection between the two as I turned an unsuspecting corner. Lancelot may be sinning against the church; Lancelot may be in trapped in the bond of love, but I am certain that he is my brother in arms. Ours was an oath of brotherhood and honor; I could never betray him. His sword had not only fought alongside me in battle, but it had given me the identity as a knight of Camelot.
“Brothers,” Agravaine exclaimed, holding out his hands.
“And to what do we owe the honor of your presence,” I asked, politely bowing the way Gawain had effortlessly done for years. As I attempted to imitate my brother’s stoic nod, I noticed him hold back a chuckle. I knew I looked like a fool. Agravaine’s solemn frown was unmoved by my folly.
“Good question, Gareth,” His cold hand shook mine with a wiry grasp. “I had asked the king to summon his closest knights. You all know, as well as I do, about our queen and her fondness for Lancelot. Ask anyone in court, and they will tell you those two are companions by day and night.”
Gawain’s postures stiffened, and I watched Gaheris take a step forward. A small rage began to grow in my heart. Agravaine held up a finger to continue his point.
“Do not deny this, brothers. With my own eyes, I have seen our comrade’s forward affection towards the Queen. We must approach the King. This is a defiant action against chivalry and our code of honor.”
“Agravaine, stop this.” Gawain’s cool eyes glistened with the courage of a warrior. “Whatever may be happening between our brother and the Queen is none of our concern. We do not know anything for certain. You know that we owe Lancelot our lives for the many times he has not only saved us in battle but protected the Queen as well. Their affection is rooted in Lancelot’s devout loyalty.”
“Gawain, do not stand in front of me and make excuses for behavior we all know goes against our code and the church.” Mordred coldly interjected. He was a quiet knight, but there was a glimpse of darkness veiled behind his eyes. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of this veil; the small rage inside of my heart began pushing against my lungs. I did not feel tired anymore; I had to speak.
“Mordred, Agravaine, how dare you mock the greatest knight Camelot has ever known; any of us would give our life for his survival.” I could feel my face begin to turn warm with the passion in my heart. “He was the one who knighted me. He has been like a father to me, and I love him more dearly than life itself. The Queen is my aunt and how dare you discuss her honor so disrespectfully in the King’s own chamber. Do you even-”
“Gareth,” Gawain was looking straight at me with the same cool and mature eyes he had passed towards Agravaine. “Brother, I know your love for Lancelot, and it is honorable.” He smiled graciously towards me, and I dropped my head. Gawain looked towards Agravaine and walked forward slowly.
“I do not believe you know the damage this will cause if you continue down this path. Agravaine, this could not only harm the brotherhood of the Round Table, but it would force knights to make a choice between their king and their comrade. Camelot will fall without the unity of her protectors. I cannot and I will not be forced to make this choice.Do not speak any more of this.”
“You cannot stop us.” Agravaine coldly whispered.
“Then God speed you, for I will not hear your tales ne be of your counsel” (Malory XX.i). Gawain stared into Agravaine’s eyes with fierce resolve.
“What say you?” Agravaine motioned towards Gaheris and I. Gaheris shook his head.
“I do not wish to be held responsible for any destruction that may result from this.” He walked out solemnly.
“Gareth?” Mordred looked at me.
I simply glared back at him as I turned to leave. The hallway leaving Arthur’s chamber seemed longer than I had remembered.
As I turned the corner, I came face to face with Lancelot and Sir Bors. The anger I had felt in my heart a moment earlier turned to an intense sick feeling in my stomach. Lancelot smiled and grasped me in his giant bear hug. He was a great, burly man with a kind heart and an intense loyalty. Though this was his greatest trait, I was afraid it would also bring about his fall. “Greetings, little one,” that is what he always called me, “I do believe you have gained some power in these shoulders since I last battled you.” He grabbed my arm and shook it violently. I flinched under his powerful grasp.
“Lancelot, I do believe you are going to pull Gareth’s arm right off,” Bors chuckled at his cousin.
“Oh, I am sorry Gareth. Never have been good with knowing boundaries. How go you since the knighting?” He chuckled under his breath at the small joke; his eyes sparkled. I shook my head; Lancelot was wise in all matters except subtlety. No wonder the whole court knew of his affair; it was a miracle Arthur had not found out yet. My stomach sunk again, and I could feel the blood rush from my head.
“Gareth, are you all right?” My great mentor stooped down to look me in the eyes. His face was as concerned had he been my own father. Lancelot had saved my life many times in battle, and I loved him as if he had been my own blood.
He was everything a knight should be; he was not perfect, but he tried, and I hated to think what would happen to him if Agravaine and Mordred had their way.
“I’m fine; thank you, Lancelot. It’s been those nightmares I told you about. During my dreams, the only comfort I have is your presence by my side”
Lancelot sighed heavily. His mind went to some forgotten place. It did that sometimes. “I see. You know I would gratefully die by your side, my lad. Do you know how to defeat nightmares, Gareth?”
I shook my head.
“They go away when you look them in the eyes and tell they’re not real. Life is full of too many real dangers to let the fake ones bother you.”
I nodded my head and smiled at his frank answer. “Thank you, Lancelot. I’ll be sure to tell them.”
He grabbed at my hair and gave a quick yank. “Aye, you will. I love you, brother.”
“I love you, brother.” My heart grew heavy as Lancelot walked away. Bors grabbed me by the arm. His intense eyes searched mine; we were the closest to Lancelot and both knew when something was troubling the other.
“Gareth, what’s wrong?”
I looked at him; concern permeated my voice.
“Keep your eyes and ears open, Bors. Agravaine and Mordred are going to the King about Guinevere.”
His eyes widened, and he grabbed my shoulders, pinning me against the wall.
“You didn’t say anything did you?” He violently spat the words in my face.
“No, how dare you question my love for Lancelot. Gawain, Gaheris, and I did not breathe a word about it. It is none of our business.” I fought his grip, and he dropped me onto the ground.
“Good. See to it that it does not become your business either.”
As Bors walked away, I felt a cold hand slowly grip around my heart. This was exactly what Gawain was talking about. The same rage that had flamed in Agravaine’s eyes and my heart was what I had just seen flowing from Bors. The bonds of the round table were beginning to crack.
That night bells rung throughout Camelot. Arthur had allowed Agravaine and Mordred to plan an ambush around the Queen’s chambers.
I had woken up to Gaheris knocking viciously on my door and summoning me immediately to the King’s chamber. Entering the room, I saw Mordred with blood gushing down his face. He had a deep gash across his forehead. The King sat on the ground, pale. His face looked years older than I had ever seen it before. He was not crying. He just sat in complete silence. Gawain stood above him, and I could tell from his face that the worst had just happened.
“He killed thirteen knights, and Colegrevance is dead.” Mordred’s quiet voice seemed loud in such a silent room.
My head reeled. I instantly knew who ‘he’ was. It had happened; Lancelot had been found, and my mentor was running for his life. I could not say anything. I tried to open my mouth, but words could not escape the painful prison of my mind. I wanted to cry, but I could not. As Gawain’s steady hand grasped my shoulder, I heard a deafening groan and realized that it was my own. My brother’s calm eyes looked into mine; silent tears staining his cheek.
After many minutes, the King slowly stood up and walked towards the open window. The early morning sky started to show the faintest signs of a sunrise. Chirruping tunes filled the morning with an eerie song, the bird’s melancholy voices seemed to sing the reality of what had just happened into our ears.
“It’s seems right that the sky is red,” Arthur stated; his voice was far away from the room where he stood. “I have lost the loyalty my greatest knight, the love of my wife, and the lives of my fellow warriors. The round table has met its end. So many follow him, I cannot keep all of their hearts.”
“What is to be done, Sire?” Gawain left my side to stand beside the king.
“The law. It has always been the law that has kept Camelot as an empire amongst the heathen. We will observe it even now. Guinevere shall be held to the same laws as her people.” The king quickly turned around, the look of defeat that had just held his face was replaced with a stubborn and fierce resolve.
Gaheris was unable to mask the intensity in his voice. “But, sire, the law states she deserves death by fire.”
“And what of it!” yelled the king. “Your queen was certainly aware of what the law stated and fully rebelled against the principles of her role in court. Has she no shame? Has Lancelot no shame?” Gaheris took a step back and quietly bowed towards the king.
“Your highness, my uncle” Gawain bravely advanced towards Arthur. “We know that Lancelot has saved Guinevere many times, how are we to be sure that they were betraying you?
Guinevere trusts him; he has ridden for her when many of your knights were too scared of the challenge. Please, I am sure Guinevere is true to you, and Lancelot will have revenge if any harm is done to her.” Reaching out, Gawain grasped the King’s shoulders and held Arthur’s gaze.
Arthur violently turned away. “You’re right,” he whispered quietly. “I’m sure he would avenge her death, but he relies on his own abilities far too much; I will ensure that the queen will never have to be protected by his might again.”
Gawain’s eyes fell, and he walked towards the door. “My lord, I love you, but I will have not part of this.”
“He killed thirteen of my knights, he killed Agravaine, he nearly killed Mordred. Why do you owe him such loyalty?” I could see respect for my brother glimmer in the King's eyes, but there was also a faint light of jealousy in Gawain’s devotion to Lancelot. I began to feel the confusion of the morning wear off, and I suddenly realized that the red sky had been replaced with ominous black clouds.
Gawain turned around and faced Mordred. “Do not mistake my desire for fairness as indifferent with my brothers’ deaths. This should never happen in Camelot. I had warned them. They knew what they were doing, and they started something that can only be stopped with the shedding of blood. I will not partake in this revenge.”
Inside my heart, every emotion raged. Mordred and Agravaine knew the cost of displaying Lancelot’s affair to the king. They had pushed my mentor to become a traitor. I wanted to run away and join Lancelot, far away from the political chaos that had taken over the room. In my heart, I knew I had taken an oath to serve the King. Lancelot had witnessed this act of allegiance. We had both been accepted into the same knighthood; he had taught me what it meant to be a knight of Camelot. Had he forgotten? What made him rip the chords he had taken so long to weave in the hearts of his brothers? Surely, the Queen’s temptations could not have twisted that tightly around his soul.
As these thoughts began to gnaw at my mind, I realized that the room was looking at me.
“Will you do it, Gareth?” The king’s gaze pierced my soul.
“Do what, sire?”
“Will you and Gaheris enforce my authority with the Queen?”
“I-” my mouth faltered because I could not find the words to scream. Thoughts flooded into my mind. There were so many allegiances to uphold. I loved Lancelot. I loved the Queen. I loved the Round Table. I loved Camelot. Why did I have to choose between loyalty and love? Why are they so close, yet they demand such different actions? My heart settled. I knew what I had to do. I had to serve my king.
Gaheris grasped my arm, and we were both thinking the same thought.
“This is a terrible decree, lord, but Gaheris and I shall honor you. Because we do not wish to lead our Queen violently towards death, we will enforce the punishment unarmed. We refuse to partake in battle.” What am I doing? My mind reeled as I offered my service. I saw Gawain leave the room with eyes full of tears. Taking the oath of chivalry to protect Camelot, I had no idea I had bound myself to enforcing the killing of women and betraying loyal friends.
“It’s time, your Highness.” My Aunt’s hand carefully rested in my own. Her countenance resonated with a calm resolve; the only sign of nervousness I could feel was the icy cold touch of her skin. Gaheris, the Queen, and I had ridden in complete silence the entire ride towards the hill of judgement. I led my lady towards her fate. I was sobbing, but tears were not falling down my face. I was screaming, but no sound escaped my mouth. I wrapped the heavy chains of a traitor around the Queen’s fragile wrists. She was trembling now, but her face was filled with a calm strength.
The crowds surrounding the stake were unsure and unsettled. Some loudly protested the “murder of the maiden monarch” while others simply stared silently at the vision before them. While they were awestruck at the sight of the Queen’s beauty, they were caught in the horror of witnessing her beauty on the day of her death. But, then there were others-
Watching Lancelot advance towards me, I tried to run, but I heard the scream of Gaheris and turned. He lay on the ground; his lifeless corpse was the victim of a war between love and loyalty. . I fell on the ground with rage in my heart. I was not mad at Lancelot; I had no bitterness towards Arthur or Agravaine or Mordred.
A scream. A yell. The sharp slice of medal on the innocent life of a bystander. Lancelot and his followers plowed through the onlookers and advanced towards the Queen.
The blood drained from my face. This was my dream; the death of Camelot and the Round Table took place before my eyes. There was my mentor, fighting by my side, but he was not fighting for me. The faceless mask of a knight’s helmet covered his eyes, and I knew it blanketed the entire crowd in the haze of battle.
It was a rage towards the bitter reality of fate. Man cannot maintain peace in life, so we kill each other. Lancelot stood above me, and the large silhouette of his shadow covered my body.
Malory, Thomas. “Book XX.” Morte d’Arthur, edited by Ernest Rhys, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.: London, 1906.
Cover Picture. Bible ('The Floreffe Bible'), vol. I. WikiMedia Commons, 27 February 2018, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bible_(%27The_Floreffe_Bible%27),_vol._I_-_Upper_Cover_(Add_ms_17737).jpg
Fig. 1. Sebacalka. Heavy Cavalry Knight on Horse, 28 January 2017. WikiMedia Commons, 10, February 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_knight_on_horse_in_battle.jpg
Fig. 2. Takashmen. Medieval Meeting, 2015. DeviantArt, 2018, takashmen.deviantart.com/art/Medieval-Meeting-507923166