Chapter 1: The Joust

by Svein Kåre Gunnarson

The fair was bustling with life and excitement, shouts and laughter filled the air. Small magicians were showing their tricks to an astonished audience - the best would often be offered a position with one of the barons, or maybe even in the court of a king. Today they showed their best and most difficult magic in the hope that the Lady would recognize them. She might not rule a kingdom, but most would give anything to serve her.

On the plain the children would play maidens and knights, while their older sisters smiled coquettish to the young knights who had fought in the tournament wearing their colours. This was the last day, and the best knights should try jousting against the more seasoned ones. In the end, the winner would try his strength and ability against the champion, currently one of the Lady's knights.

The horns sounded loudly over all the noise in the fair, and silenced all activity. Everyone flocked around the fences. The air was tense as the first two knights rode forward, one in each end of the field. The youngest one had a black scarf around his right arm. He looked small compared to his opponent, but his eyes were filled with determination; This should be his round.

"Well, my dear Lady," Count Morgath said, "Your knight doesn't seem to stand a chance against mine, this time."

"Hah, don't make me laugh! He may look impressive, but he wouldn't stand a chance even against my kindliest maidens, had they been allowed. It doesn't help with much muscles if you don't know how to use them," she replied.

"We'll see. When this day is over, the champion will be mine."

The young squires reached each of the knights their heavy lances. The horses took a few steps, adjusting to the extra weight. Then, spurred by the knights, they charged towards each other. As they came closer, they aimed their lances at the opponent on the other side of the fence.

A load crash, a broken lance, and one knight was sprawling towards the ground. The crowd cheered and applauded as the remaining knight waved his black scarf in the air.

"Morion. Morion. Morion." The shouts built up and sounded rhythmically for a long time, until Lady Morion smiled and waved to the crowd.

"Well, my dear count," Lady Morion said. "What was it you said about my knight's chances?"

The count stared gloomy at her. "Just wait, I have more knights left."

"We both have," Lady Morion agreed. "We both have."

The joust continued with new knights, new defeats, and proud victors. The nobility all had to see some of their knights be defeated at one point or another, but none performed as bad as Morgath's knights. Morion wondered why the count let his knights joust at all. With a couple of exceptions, they only served to ridicule both themselves and their master. Seeing how the count got more and more nervous as his knights were defeated, there had to be something more behind his behaviour. Especially as he sounded so confident when he claimed the champion would be his at the end of the day, but she didn't worry about it and just enjoyed it all.

With so many knights participating in the joust this year, it had been a long and exciting day, and it still wasn't over. The remaining few knights were gaining their strength again after the first rounds. Now it should be decided: Which of them were the best, and should challenge the champion?

Morion noticed that even though his remaining knight had performed very well, Morgath just got more and more nervous. He was looking anxiously around, pale and pearls of sweat on his forehead. Was he scared of something, or was he getting ill? The was nothing at stake in the tournament to explain his behaviour, at least. Morion struggled a bit with herself; Should se ask if she could do something, or just ignore him? One part of her enjoyed to see him so troubled - after she had turned him down the last time he proposed to her, he hadn't exactly tried to make life easy for her. But despite of his greedy and selfish nature, she couldn't help feeling compassion for him, too - he looked terrible.

The knights got ready for the last rounds, getting encouragement from their ladies. One young and impulsive girl even gave her knight a quick kiss. Morion suppressed a giggle as the knight blushed and didn't quite seem to know what to do. "Oh, they may dream of the moment and what they will do," Morion thought, "but when it happens..." The other knights chuckled a bit too, before they mounted their horses. Morion smiled and waved to her knight as he raised his hand for a greeting, before he got his lance from his squire. He would start this round against Lord Gorm's knight, Morions neighbour in the north.

Morgath hardly noticed what were happening on the field; He was looking more around everywhere else than on the jousting, and finally he saw what he was looking for. A man was arriving fast, his horse disabled by overriding. He dismounted and ran the last few metres to Morgath.

"I've got it," he said, panting heavily.

"Good," Morgath replied. "Bring it to the mountains, as quick as possible."

"Be sure," the man said. "There is something about it I don't like, want to get rid of it as soon as possible." He started to run away again. "I'm taking your horse, he said, before Morgath had a chance to say anything.

The men had spoken very low, but Morion had heard most of it. She couldn't make any sense of it, but it sure had calmed Morgath. Now he relaxed and smiled comfortably, bringing his attention to the jousting again, just as his knight was victorious against his opponent.

"Are you ready for the finale?" Morion asked.

"Eh, what?" Morgath responded.

"The finale. Only your and my knight left now. You haven't paid much attention to the games, have you?" Morion told him patiently.

Morgath just grumbled as his response, but got an intense look in his eyes as he followed the activity on the field with new interest. His knight signed that he was ready, and the knights got their lances from their squires again. Everyone turned silent in anticipation, only a lonely bird could be heard. A short nod, and the knights charged towards each other. Both the lances hit their target, but both the knights remained seated. A new attempt, with the same result. Third time a lance broke, and one knight found himself on the ground. A short moment of silence, before the applause sounded loudly from the watching crowd.

"At least it was a good fight," Morgath said.

"It was," Morion agreed, and added: "I'm surprised, though. Thought he would be defeated long ago."

"So, why's that?" Morgath inquired.

"Well, he's only had one year of training," Morion answered.

"One year? What are you talking about?" Morgath sounded honestly surprised.

"My knight, of course. Your knight have had a few years of training now, so it's no surprise he should get this far," Morion explained.

"Oh, well - thank you," Morgath said. "Let's see what you say when he wins over your champion, too." He grinned at Morion when he added that.

"Well, that's another story completely," Morion said. "I still think my champion is in a league by himself."

"We'll find out that now," Morgath nodded towards the knight who were arriving on his black, strong, beautiful horse. His armour were of black, polished metal. He was Morion's first knight. And the First Knight was what he was mostly known as, too. Morion knew his name, of course, but still he had not told her about his past, from where he came nor his heritage. "Wonder if he'll ever tell me," she thought.

Morgath's knight, Morion was a bit embarrassed that she couldn't recall his name, got all he needed to gain his strength again. When he was well rested and fully restored, he signalled that he was ready to challenge the First Knight for the champion title. He got up on the horse, put his lance in position, and concentrated deeply. It was as if he gained all his willpower for what was coming. The knights charged towards each other.

The following clash was the hardest ever in the tournament. Or in any of the earlier tournaments, for that matter. Both the lances splintered to pieces, both the horses neighed and reared wildly, making it difficult for the knights to hold on. Suddenly Morgath's knight screamed and fell to the ground, covering his eyes. Those closest to witness it all, could have sworn that up to that point, his eyes had been gleaming red.

"This is impossible," Morgath said, stunned and pale while the First Knight calmed the two horses. "He should be invincible by magic, he promised."

"Magic?" Morion had risen up to go helping the falling knight.

"But you don't have your... You couldn't do magic," Morgath said

"What are you talking about? Why should I perform magic?" Morion asked. "Besides, what use would a knight be to me if I would have to help him with magic all the time?"

Morgath stared at the scene, just realizing: "I'm doomed," he said. "Doomed."

Morion lost her patience and turned around to help when Morgath grabbed her hand. "Listen," he said. "Think what you want about me, but help my knights. Don't let them go back to my castle, at any cost. It isn't safe, the demon is there. Please help them." He looked at Morion with pleading eyes, before he let go of her hand and ran, leaving her confused for a moment. Then she quickly went to the fallen knight. She bent down and looked at his eyes - they were staring empty into the void.

"The demon is there," she whispered to herself. After a brief moment she straighten up and ordered: "Bring him to my castle. Him, and all of Morgath's knights. And I mean all of them!"

"How serious is it?" The First Knight stood next to her, recognizing the concerned look in her eyes.

"Very. We will need all the help we can in this," she said lowly. "Let's pray we can bring this knight back to us. Back to the living."

She turned and looked her knight in the eyes. "This is difficult for me, but I may ask you to put your life in danger later. Everything we know is in danger. Even life itself is at stake, if what I fear is correct."

"I feared so," he said. "I recognize the evil. Too well."

[Content][Next Chapter]