Welcome to Chapter Six of my Arthurian experiment. If you missed previous chapters, here they are:
After a few days, this self-imposed drilling of horse and rider settled into a routine for Iwein and Judah, one that would hold for several weeks, which Iwein found quite surprising. He was charged with protecting the Stone Table, but from what? The only threat he saw in those first few weeks was a wolf that he found sleeping next to it one morning and quickly dispatched with a javelin. He almost wished for one of the giant’s less civilized kin to make an appearance to relieve the encroaching monotony. The most exciting part of his days was becoming laudes, the morning mass. At least there was some variation in who attended and what attire they appeared in for the Mass. Laudine’s attire was quite beginning to catch his eye regularly. He noticed with appreciation that she favored dark greens and darker blues in her morning dresses.
Unknown to Iwein at the time, something else became routine as well: His being observed during his exercises at a distance by Geoffry, Laudine or both of them. They followed him, singly or together, on their own mounts at a discreet distance every time he left the castle. They concealed themselves each time in the thicker but still traversable skirt of the forest across the long meadow from the Table. On a sunny late summer day, after some eleven weeks of daily masses, meals, training and rest, in a few moments when Iwein was taking a time away from practicing with Judah and his javelins to wash the dirt off of their tips in the stream, the two observers exchanged a few words.
“He has not run. He’s had many chances, and he’s not taken any of them,” Geoffry remarked to the Duchess.
“With three months gone or nearly, that speaks well of his outlasting the geas,” she responded, nodding. “He also speaks with father Bertram often, and the father speaks well of him.”
“Yes, the father told me our guest is quite well-read for a knight. Lunete is keeping him in reading materials but it is a challenge. There’s not much else we have now in Latin, French or English he could read. It’s refreshing. He’s not just a horsed soldier or a just a walking storm of bladed metal death, he’s a man of thought. That pleases me beyond all expectations. Dafydd was such a …non-reader.”
“One should refrain from speaking ill of the dead, ma’am.”
“I did. I did not call him a dullard with a head full of curd. But earnestly, Captain, do you think he would willingly choose to stay after the enchantment passes?”
“Have you even told him that he must? In the case of a female heir to the stone and the lands that come with it, the protector must become her consort.”
“You have it stated backwards, but yes, that is it,” she corrected. “The female heir’s consort must be the protector, not the protector must be her consort. If I had a nephew who was protector, I would still be heir but he would be protector, if what my father told me is true.”” She looked away, turning her eyes back to Iwein, who by now had cleaned the mud and grass off of his javelins, put them back in their leather saddle holder and was riding back down the field for another pass. “If this one leaves when his year has passed, the Stone will only call someone else, we know that.”
“Counting this prince Iwein, it has now been three times since your father’s death, ma’am,” Geoffry commented. There was a tenseness in his words and his face drew taut with discomfort as he spoke the words. “With the deference due your station, I would humbly and honestly suggest that you tell him, soon, of the geas that lays upon yourself.” Then, in a burst of courage, he added, “And you could hardly find a better match than a prince of Bretagne. Having him as your royal spouse would add prestige to your position and holdings, it would elevate you from duchess to …”
Laudine raised her hand and glared at her trusted captain. “You go too far. Know that I am watching him, considering him, and will speak more with father Bertram of him. You are a soldier and though your loyalty and your concern for the fortunes of my house are admirable, the affair and the decision are mine.”
“Yes, of course. But do what you said. Speak with the father about this,” Geoffry replied with what he hoped was sufficient contrition in his voice.
Laudine turned her horse to ride back to Rhiw Gwyrdd and as she did, her tack made just enough noise to attract for a moment Iwein’s attention. The knight rapidly turned his head toward the woods and saw just for an instant, the movement, obscured by foliage it was. He and wondered, briefly, who had been watching him. Laudine? The Captain? One of the guards from the castle? He resolved to seek clarity about that question at the first opportunity. That would be at laudes the next morning, of course.
The “why”, unknown to Iwein, turned on the conversation between Laudine and Geoffry the day before. Though Geoffry would only learn of the fact much later, the words of the Guard Captain at Rhiw Gwyrdd had the desired effect. The very next day, Duchess Laudine did speak with father Bertram about Iwein…and about the enchantment that had, for a year, intertwined them. She found the priest in his private chambers adjacent to the chapel where he had been reading through a letter from a French colleague containing some new reflections on explaining the trinity to the laity when Laudine entered. He but the letter aside, greeted her with deference and asked the occasion for her visit. He was quite surprised when she related the content of her conversation with the Captain to him.
“You mean you have not told the knight of that aspect of the geas already?”, father Bertram asked, not masking his incredulity in the slightest. “Daughter that is completely foolish decision and one disrespectful of his rank. He is a king in his homeland, which land also has allegiances with ours. It is hard to image a better possible match for you and here we have him! Your parents would be rhapsodic.”
“I’m sure, father. Seen only in those terms, of alliance and gain, if those are the only considerations. This is the Stone, though. It has already summoned three men who were wholly unsuitable, two of whom fled under the geas, and were killed by it, and one of whom died at the hand of this newest would-be protector of the stone. What am I to think of him, really? He’s hardly spoken to me since our first meeting.”
“He’s hardly had the chance, if you want to speak in truth,” and here he stood to make better eye contact with his patroness. “You have come to me for spiritual and moral guidance?”
“Then my guidance is that you reveal to him in full the truth about the enchantment that binds you both to the stone.”
“I’ve considered it,” she admitted. “It’s his allegiance to the so-called King of Britain that gives me pause. Suppose he stays, he weds me, we unite our land holdings and titles through our posterity…”
“As should be wished,” the priest interjected. Laudine responded with a scowl before continuing.
“And further suppose the day comes when we were to find Arthur making demands on our lands and our household, our people, that were unjust and perhaps even despotic. What would he do? To whom would his loyalty hold strongest? Would he bear injustice against him, against us it would be then, or would he if the conflict rose to a matter for arms, take arms against the king to whom he had sworn fealty? And the power of the stone, how will he use it if he knows it in full?”
Father Bertram rubbed his forehead in irritation. “Laudine, you have been in my charge as spiritual shepherd since you were a girl, and you have not grown out of this excess of caution. Your parents succeeded more thoroughly than they knew impressing on you the need for prudence in dealing with those from beyond our borders, but, my dear lady, you are troubling yourself over events that have not and may not come to pass. You came to me for counsel and I have given it. If you wish to join me in needless, worrying speculation, I shall not. Perhaps you should spend some time in quiet contemplation of the matters that trouble you in the chapel…and then go speak with your knight.”
“I will. Tomorrow.”
(to be continued)
Iwein Chapter Six
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