Authors: Anne Eliot Crompton
On the spot, I invent a short spell. “
Devil take your arms, my Lord, cut your hands off like a sword!
“Holy Mother! If I shaid thatâ”
“Not aloud. You only have to think it. And mean it.” But has this lady the Power to actualize thought?
“A charm will strengthen itâ¦Wait, I must have something hereâ¦” I'm feeling in my pouch. Knife, handy thong, herbsâ¦
I don't carry much in the way of material magic; my magic is in my head, safe from harm and lossâ¦
This light, soft touch tingles fingers and soul. I draw outâ¦Percival's teal feather!
He picked it up from the snow grail, itself a natural, melting charm, and gave it to me for safekeeping.
He has not asked for it back. Too soft, too airy for his keen purpose, it has melted right out of his mind.
“Here. Keep this safe, but within reach. Hold it when you say your spell.”
“Thish little feather?” Behind the veil, the bruised eyes boggle.
“Thish little feather will add weight to your Power.”
“Power?” With a light breath she ruffles the feather.
Briefly, my Spirit touches hers. Bounces off hers. Convinced, I tell her, “You have more Power than you think. Look at you! What other lady in this dun would wander these dark streets alone, without a lantern?”
A grin flashes behind the veil. “You!”
“Ah. But then, I'm no lady.”
I leave her. One moment I sit beside her, thigh to thigh. Next moment I am gone. Let her ponder that. Then let her leave my Percival alone, and keep her magic feather tenderly. It's all I can give her.
Percival sleeps in our wide, warm bed. On the bedside chest the lamp still burns. His green-blue aura wafts about him, gentle as his sleeping breath.
I sink down on the bed and study himâmy new Knight, my old friend.
What does the Goddess think of Percival?
If I were She, Lady of Life, Percival would be my favorite son!
Bright and big he is, it's true; impossible to hide; heavy-footed as his great, red horse. But strong! From the deep insides of him gushes a magic fountain of strength, ever renewed. That lady called him “a veritable God.” And such he is, to Humans. What need has a God to hide, vanish, and sneak like a Fey?
We misjudged our Percy, back in the forest. “
You can't go fishing with himâ¦the fish think his hair is the sun, and hide away.
” We judged him as one of usâ¦which he never was.
As I protected him then, so I would protect him now.
Morning comes soon, and the combat.
If he would use Bee Sting, his favorite weapon, Percy would win for sure. But he has not carried Bee Sting since we came here to Arthur's Dun. Says it's not a knightly weapon.
Look how far he has come, from his forest oak-nest to this hard-won bed! From Alanna's soup-kettle helmet to the red armor carefully stacked in the corner. He must not stop now, cut down by a vicious, undeserved fury! By a cruel, knighted fool!
My Percy must win this combat.
After that, we must find that Holy Grail he's after. Then Percy will have fulfilled himself and his Quest.
And if the price for Percy's quest is my own quest, if I must give up my Power so that he can win his Power, then, Lady Goddess, so be it.
I draw Victory up out of my gown. I let her dangle between us, twirl softly, reflect golden light.
Hound on trailâ¦wind in sail.
I pull down the coverlet and lay two gentle, suddenly hungry hands upon my Percy, hands like lightning bolts, charged with the Power of so many nights' imaginings! My Percy awakes.
Last night, by last lamplight, I lifted Victory from my neck. Lying beside panting Percy, I took up his left hand and pushed the ring firmly onto his third finger. It fit perfectly.
Idly, he raised his hand, looked at the ring with dazed eyes. “What is this?”
“A charm,” I told him coolly, as though it mattered little. “Her name is Victory.”
He studied her. “Dark, it is. No shine.”
“It shines within. Wear it from now on, Percival.”
“Oh. Goddamn! You mean, wear it for you?”
“For me?” Curious, I turned my head on the pillow to watch him push Victory around his finger. His new, crimson aura, fading now, expanded with every touch to the ring. Well would Victory serve my victorious Percy! (I suppose my own ringless aura must have shrunk, even as his expanded.)
I asked him, “What good would that do me?”
“So I'd remember you. If we should ever part.”
What a fool Human notion!
“No, Percival. She is for yourself. To bring you Power.”
“Power. Only one kind of Power I want now!” He turned to me, reached for me.
But found me not. I was out of bed, pretending preparations for the morning. “Rest now,” I told him, busily fussing in a corner. “You'll need your strength tomorrow.”
“You're right, Lili.” Thinking of the morrow, he smiled a smile of pure confidence, stretched out comfortably on his back, and was instantly asleep.
I looked again on his dear face, newly relaxed, newly warm; and I rejoiced.
Not made of ice now!
According to Merlin, Percy's Quest should now be almost in his grasp.
My own Heart Quest was probably lost, flickering last, pitiful flames, like this lamp.
Well I knew what I had done. Well I knew what the Goddess had done. She had told me. And She had given me a task. For Her sake I would now have to leave Percival behind, alone; yet not truly alone; for I had given him Victory.
I blew out the light.
Now, this morning, I face a stiff, winter breeze at ringside. A much larger crowd than yesterday's has gathered to watch the combat. Behind me all manner of Humans push and jostle, curse and laugh. Too small to defend my space, I manage to stay in front by dodging, vanishing, and reappearing, like a snake in high grass.
Ranna's heavy gown and my “invisible” cloak serve well in this bitter wind. From upwind I smell warm bread and those little honeycakes Percival loves. Sales must be brisk as this breeze, which rushes away honey-smell and crowd-smell!
Men have paced off the combat ring in brown, snow-speckled grass. They have pushed back the crowd and left the space empty.
Lo, here strides a big Knight into the ring, sword and shield at the ready. Red cuirass and greaves, helmet and shield proclaim him my Percival. A murmur of appreciation runs through the crowd. And the crowd does not even glimpse his wide, orange aura edged in red! I see it almost clearly in windy gray light.
Sir Agrain comes in from the other side. His shield is half blue, half orange. His small, dark red aura clings close. Smaller than Percival, he must be far better practiced with the sword. He stands well away from Percival.
The crowd's murmur rises a notch. Some of these same folk watched my Percival knighted yesterday. Then they waited in awed, reverent silence. Merry, now, they wait to see him kill or be killed.
Across the ring last night's bruised lady, heavily veiled, droops near Agrain's handful of men. I wonder what happened to her last night. Did she not use the teal feather?
Horns blow. King Arthur and the Queen approach through the parting crowd. Close behind them come Lancelot and Gawain. Their four mingled auras rise straight and high above the crowd, bright smoke on a brisk day.
Servants place cushioned benches in the front row. The haughty four seat themselves and spread their embroidered cloaks.
In the center of the ring a herald blows a horn, then shouts into wind and crowd-chatter. Only the combatants on each side of him can hear his words. I think he tells them combat rules.
Once more he lifts and blows his horn.
And now the crowd hushes.
The herald steps nimbly away. For the first time the combatants face each other. Swords
out of scabbards.
Agrain lifts and lowers his sword like a signal to Percival. Quickly, Percival lifts and lowers his sword.
The crowd stands almost silent, with only a rustle here, a mutter there.
Percival and Agrain raise swords and shields, lift feet, and come at each other, swinging.
On his gloved finger, Percival wears Victory.
Wind in sailâ¦
His heart is hot, no ice crumb left there. Should he stumble; should Agrain's practiced skill begin to weaken him, here I stand ready, spell on tongue, Power gathered in clenched fists. I came here to see Percival victorious, and this I will see.
Swords clang on shields.
Agrain's bloodred aura expands.
The Knights circle each other like fighting dogs. They advance, retreat, strike, ward, high, low, left, right.
Agrain's red aura fills the great circle.
Should I cast a spell?
Contained Power shakes my fists at my sides.
Truly, I am not sure that red aura is all Agrain's. Percival's aura has reddened as well; and now the two auras writhe together, attack, and retreat in air, like the Knights below them.
Percival wears Victory.
I need to know if he can win alone, with only her help.
Because I must leave him.
I clasp Powered hands tightly under my chin. Bite my tongue, that wants to shout the spell.
Blow upon ringing blow, Agrain beats Percival back.
A small moan runs through the crowd, as a small thought may run through a distracted mind. Percival is the crowd's manâat least while he still swings a sword.
Back and back he steps, back he bends beneath steady blows. Now he could stumble.
My fists fly up before me, ready to open, to cast forth Power upon Percival. My mouth opens to cry out Power.
But wait! Wait till he actually stumbles. See if he canâ
In the air Agrain's aura swoops toward Percival's.
On the ground, Agrain swoops toward Percival. And overreaches.
Percival has led him on!
Percival regains balance with one easy step. His sword plunges in under Agrain's cuirass.
A moment the two figures hang there, Percival holding the spit on which Agrain writhes.
Percival yanks out the sword.
Agrain reels toward Percival. Crashes on his knees. Rolls prone on earth.
Midair, his aura freezes. It turns purple, brown, black. It collapses upon him like a huge black veil tossed over a corpse.
Across the circle, one high shriek rends air. The veiled lady faints into the arms of Agrain's nearest man.
In her slippers, I would not shriek and faint! I would sing praises to all Gods. Butâto think HumanâSir Agrain must have been of some use to her, and now that use is lost.
The King rises from his bench. He raises, then lowers, a commanding hand. The rules say Percival is in command.
Agrain's black aura-veil shudders and ripples as though windblown. The man is not dead yet.
The crowd roars.
Percy, make speed! This enemy viper must trail you no more. Another time, he might strike without warning.
Percival steps forward. Raises sword.
His aura that has filled the circle comes rushing back to him. From red, it fades to orange. A wide green border circles the orange and moves inward.
Percival sheathes his sword.
“Why did you not kill him?”
“Lili, I don't know why!”
“You know. You don't want to look at why.”
“Look at why, and tell me.”
A deeper sigh. “Lili, he was breathing.”
“I did not want to stop him breathing.”
“Wellâ¦you know, good men don't grow in gardens.”
“This was not a good man! But you could not know that.”
“What did you know of him?”
“I saw his bloodred aura. Big as the combat circle! I saw his wife's face.” Lili paused, thinking. Then she said, “You realize he may come after you again.”
“Nay. He will die.”
No doubt of that. The healer who could save him lives not in this world.
“Then you might have done better to stop him breathing then and there.”
If every breath he draws this moment is an agony.
“Yes. I might have. But why do we argue, Lili?”
“I seek to understand you.”
“Now is our last chance to play our new game, alone, in a soft bed.”
“Last chance? What last chance?”
Lo! I have surprised her!
“We leave in the morning.”
Percival pulled off his tunic, dropped it on the floor and jumped into bed beside Lili. He left the lamp burning. He wanted to see her face when he delighted her. “So let us spend this time well, Lili, as you have shown me how.”
He grabbed for her. Hastily, she sat away up and curled herself small.
“Where are you going in the morning?”
“First light, we pack up and ride out with Lancelot and Gawain!” Percival could hear, himself, how rich satisfaction darkened his voice.
“Where and why?”
“To quest for the Holy Grail. What else?”
“Now? In dead winter?”
“In the spring, the whole Round Table will go questing. Except that we will be back by then, grail in hand!”
“Hmm. Grail in whose hand?”
“Why, in ours!”
“Give that some thought, Percival.”
Percival laughed. “You talk like a Human, Lili!”
“I am learning.”
“But truly! We are now three brothers. I never had brothers beforeâexcept the dead. Now I have Lancelot and Gawain, and I stand by them and they stand by me, and I will hear no word against them!”
“Not from me, no.”
“Nor no one else! We three are Arthur's Best Knights. So, as I said, this is our last chance in bedâ”
Lili hiked her curled-up self farther away. “Very well; first light, you ride out. As for me, I go another way.”