by David Farland
It was late evening on a sultry summer's day when three riders appeared at the
edge of the woods on the road southwest of Tintagel castle. The sentries did not
see them riding up the muddy track that led from Beronsglade. The knights
merely appeared, just as the sun dipped below the sea, as if they'd coalesced from
mist near a line of beech trees.
The manner of their appearance did not seem odd, on that day of oddities. The
tide was very low, and the whole ocean lay as placid as a mountain pool. To the
castle's residents, who were used to the constant pounding of the surf upon the
craggy rocks outside the castle walls, the silence seemed thunderous. Even the
gulls had given up their incessant screeching and now huddled low on the rocks,
making an easy dinner of cockles and green kelp crabs.
All around the castle, the air was somber. Smoke from cooking fires and from the
candlers hung in a blue haze all about Tintagel's four towers. The air seemed
So it was that the sentries, when they spotted the three knights, frowned and
studied the men's unfamiliar garb. The leader of the trio wore a fantastical helm
shaped like a dragon's head, and his enameled mail glimmered red like a dragon's
scales. He rode a huge black destrier, and as for the device on his shield, he
carried only blank iron strapped to a pack on a palfrey.
Beside him rode a big fellow in oiled ringmail, while the third knight wore nothing
but a cuirass of boiled leather, yet carried himself with a calmness and certainty
that made him more frightening than if he rode at the head of a Saxon horde.
"'Tis Uther Pendragon!" one of the boys at the castle walls cried at first. The lad
hefted his halberd as if he would take a swing, but stepped back in fright.
Pendragon was of course the guards' worst nightmare. At the Easter feast, King
Uther Pendragon had made advances on the Duke Gorlois's wife, the Lady
Igraine. He had courted her in her husband's company with all the grace and
courtesy of a bull trying to mount a heifer. At last the duke felt constrained to flee
the king's presence. The king demanded that Gorlois return with his wife, but
Gorlois knew that if he ever set foot in the king's palace again, he'd lose his head.
So he locked his wife safely in Tintagel, began fortifying his castles, and prayed
that he could hire enough Irish mercenaries to back him before the king could
bring him down.
Last anyone had heard, Duke Gorlois was holed like a badger at his fortress in
Dimilioc, where Uther Pendragon had laid siege. It was said that Pendragon had
employed Welsh miners as sappers, vowing to dig down the castle walls and skin
Gorlois for his pelt within forty days.
So when the lad atop the castle wall thought he saw Pendragon, immediately
someone raised a horn and began to blow wildly, calling for reinforcements,
though none would likely be needed. Tintagel was a small keep, situated by the
sea on a pile of rocks that could only be reached over a narrow causeway. It was
said that three men could hold it from an army of any size, and no fewer than a two
dozen guards now manned the wall.
The captain of the guard, a stout old knight named Sir Ventias who could no
longer ride due to a game leg, squinted through the smoke that clung around the
castle. Something seemed afoul. He knew fat king Pendragon's features well, and
as he peered through the gloom and the smoke that burned his eyes, he saw
immediately that it was not Pendragon on the mount. It was a young man with a
flaxen beard and a hatchet face.
Ventias squinted, trying to pierce the haze until he felt sure: it was Duke Gorlois.
He rode in company with his true friend Sir Jordans and the stout knight Sir
Ventias smiled. "Tell the duchess that her husband is home."