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Authors: Gerald Morris

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BOOK: The Squire's Quest
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"Your uncle has sent for his own doctors, my lady," Acoriondes explained.

"Oh, I should to him also send Thessala! No one knows more about healing than she knows!" Fenice exclaimed. "I must go at once!" Fenice leaped up from her chair just in time to escape another affectionate embrace from the regent. She hurried from the room.

Smiling foolishly, Alis watched her leave. Acorion-des muttered to Terence. "Was that just an excuse to get away from her husband, or do you think this nurse really knows anything about medicine?"

Terence met Dinadan's eyes and saw his own speculation reflected in them. "It may be that Thessala knows more about Cligés's illness than anyone," he replied. "Let's go see."

Before they could leave, though, the regent launched into a long monologue, and they were obliged to stand and wait until he finished. Terence understood none of what Alis said, of course, but it clearly made everyone else in the room very uncomfortable. Acoriondes's face reverted to diplomatic inscrutability, and his eyes stared fixedly at the wall behind the regent, while the other Greek nobles in the room either turned red or looked frankly nauseated. At last Alis concluded his speech, uttered a deep sigh, and lapsed into a meditative silence. Acoriondes spoke abruptly and turned to leave with Terence. Dinadan leaped up from his chair and joined them.

"What was that all about?" asked Terence.

Acoriondes looked grim. "He was describing how he loves his wife," he said at last.

Terence was going to leave it at that, but Dinadan said, "Rot! You looked like a stuffed frog in there, and the other chaps were thinking about throwing themselves out the window. He wasn't just being gushy. What was he
really
saying?"

Acoriondes scowled. "He spoke of how warm his darling Fenice was, and how she had cuddled him—that is the right word, yes?
Cuddled?
"

"I hope not," muttered Dinadan.

"—how she had cuddled him every night since their wedding," Acoriondes continued.

In a subdued voice Dinadan said, "Sorry I asked. You know, maybe I don't want to learn Greek after all."

They walked together down the hall for a moment, then Terence asked, "Forgive me, Acoriondes, but did he really say
every
night since his wedding?"

Acoriondes shuddered and said, "Yes." Then he stopped in his tracks and looked curiously at Terence. "But that is impossible, is it not? One night she was the duke's prisoner."

"That's what I was thinking," Terence agreed. "But maybe it was just a figure of speech."

A moment later they came to Cligés's room. Entering, they found themselves in the midst of a shrill argument. Fenice's nurse was standing between Cligés in his bed and three distinguished-looking men in long robes and gray beards. After a minute, Dinadan whispered to the others, "The old biddy won't let the doctors bleed him."

The sides didn't seem fair—three official medical experts against one retired nursemaid—but in the end, to Terence's surprise, the doctors backed down and left. Terence wondered if the doctors knew about Thessala's former training in sorcery. Thessala looked up at Acoriondes, Dinadan, and Terence and smiled reassuringly. "You need not worry. All those doctors think about is bloodletting, but really what this dear boy needs is tender care. I will see to him myself."

"My good woman," Acoriondes said, "if my young master dies because you've driven the doctors away—"

"Dies? It will be no such thing, I assure you. You just trust Thessala, and I'll make it all better." She smiled brightly, and Terence had a sense he had just been dismissed. A moment later he and his friends were out in the hall.

"Do the rest of you also feel five years old?" Dinadan asked plaintively.

With Cligés in a high fever, there was no question of the Greek party leaving Mainz, and as the scheduled tournament approached, the Emperor Karl began to show increasing frustration, at least until Acoriondes set his mind at rest. Taking Dinadan along as interpreter, Acoriondes apologized profusely to the emperor for being such a nuisance, then asked the emperor not to expect any of the Greek knights to take part in the tournament. "For none of us," Acoriondes explained, "would feel at all able to join in while our master lies ill."

Relieved, the emperor almost smiled. Dinadan even heard him comment graciously to one of his courtiers that, so long as the Greeks didn't ruin the tournament, he wouldn't even mind if Cligés lived.

The day of the tournament arrived. Alis was to watch the tournament from Karl's own box, but following Acoriondes's strict instructions, none of the rest of the Greeks even went to the tournament grounds. Terence and Dinadan strolled down alone. "Cligés any better today?" Dinadan asked as they walked.

"Thessala thinks so. He's sleeping better, anyway, she says." Thessala had established herself as the dictator of the sickroom, deciding who could enter and for how long. "She wouldn't let anyone in to disturb him this morning, not even Alis and Fenice."

They arrived at the stands that encircled the tournament grounds. Like most such structures, they had been hastily thrown together and seemed on the verge of collapsing, but the nearer one got to the imperial box, the sturdier they were, and Dinadan and Terence managed to find seats that not only seemed stable but also provided a view of the emperor and his guests. Between Alis and the emperor sat Fenice, clearly enjoying the festivities hugely. "She doesn't seem concerned about Cligés, does she?" asked Dinadan.

"She never has," Terence replied.

The tournament began with a mock battle, in which twenty knights of Saxony were pitted against the same number of the emperor's knights. Terence and Dinadan watched closely, not so much to see who would win—they assumed that the Saxons would do that—but rather to see how well they managed to stage that victory. "There," Terence whispered to Dinadan. "See that tall knight with the red shield? He had a chance to unhorse the duke just now."

"I didn't see anything," Dinadan said. Terence grinned without answering, and Dinadan shrugged. "All right, so I probably wouldn't. I never pretended to know anything about fighting."

"No, that's probably why I like you," Terence said. "You don't pretend anything."

The Duke of Saxony spurred his mount forward and unhorsed two knights with one lunge of his lance, prompting a roar of approval from the crowd. "I don't think he even touched that second knight," Terence said, shaking his head. "This is getting a bit thick."

"Was that fellow here when we started?" Dinadan asked, gesturing toward a knight in black armor at the far end of the tournament field, by the gate.

"I don't think so," Terence replied.

The new knight urged his mount into a run and plunged into the thickest part of the fighting, sending two Saxon knights to the ground at once and forcing several others to flee. The crowd cheered, and several of the imperial knights raised their lances in salute. But the black knight only lowered his own lance and charged the knights of the emperor's party.

"He doesn't seem to know what side he's on," Dinadan said.

"Or care," Terence said. "That armor isn't German armor."

"You think it's one of Alis's knights?" Dinadan asked, alarmed.

"It isn't Greek, either. I'd say it was English, myself."

The black knight threw himself into another charge, then another. Wherever he went, knights went down, from both sides. Terence's eyes narrowed. He had spent most of his life around the greatest knights in the world and had learned to identify a fighter's style. He had seen someone who sat his horse like this. "I think I know who this is," he said.

"Cligés," Dinadan replied.

Terence looked at his friend with surprise. "You could see that, too? From the way he sits his saddle?"

Dinadan shook his head and gestured at the imperial box, where Fenice was standing and gazing rapturously at the black knight.

"Ah," Terence said. "She knew he'd be here. That's why she wasn't worried."

"But he really was sick," Dinadan said. "I was in his room just yesterday with old Acoriondes, and he was truly feverish. You can't fake a cold sweat."

"I wonder," Terence said, "if there are potions that a fellow could take that would make you feverish for a time."

"Thessala?" Dinadan asked. Terence nodded, and Dinadan sighed, "I hate enchantresses, you know that?"

"Not usually my mug of ale, either."

"He took sick the morning after the tournament was announced," Dinadan said slowly. "So if this whole thing was planned, it must have been so that he could enter the tournament anonymously."

"Like in a story of courtly love," added Terence.

Dinadan scowled. "See? That's what happens when stupid people tell stupid stories. Stupider people believe them."

The battle was nearly over. Only the black knight and three Saxon knights were left in their saddles—the duke and two others. The black knight charged recklessly, sending shields and lances flying. There was a minute of furious fighting, but when it was over, the duke and his knights lay on their backs in the mud. The black knight rode over to the imperial box, bowed toward Fenice and Alis without speaking, then trotted majestically away. The Emperor Karl rose to his feet and began shouting over the cheering crowd.

"What's he saying?" Terence demanded.

"Hang on," replied Dinadan, listening. At last he spoke. "He's trying to make the most of a bad thing. He says that since the unknown knight was of neither camp, he awards the prize for the mock battle to the Saxons and the individual prize for the battle to the duke himself."

Terence was dubious. "Will it be enough for the duke? He's probably in a fury."

"It'll depend on the individual jousting," Dinadan said, considering the question. "That's where the real winner's chosen. If the duke wins that, it should smooth things over."

"But what if Gliges comes back?"

"Karl's thought of that," Dinadan said. "While they set up the tilting yard for the jousting, he's sending his men out to find and, ah,
restrain
the black knight."

The black knight did not reappear, and when the individual jousting began after noon, all seemed to be going as arranged. The individual contests were well fought and evenly matched, except when someone faced the Duke of Saxony. In those jousts, the duke always won easily, moving steadily up the chart toward his inevitable victory. At last, about four hours after noon, there were only four knights left in the contest. The duke dispatched his opponent quickly, if not very convincingly, and trotted over to one side to await the joust that was to determine who would face him in the final test. The two knights took their positions and waited. One was a Saxon knight in brilliantly shined bronze-colored armor who had won every previous joust quickly and decisively; the other was a knight in shabby red armor who had seemed all day to be on the verge of elimination but had always come out on top by the barest of margins, unhorsing his various opponents on the third or fourth pass, with what usually seemed to be a lucky blow.

"Which side is this red chap from, anyway?" Dinadan asked.

"I don't know," Terence replied. "Which side did he fight for during the mock battle?"

Dinadan puzzled over this for a moment. "I don't remember any red knights this morning."

Terence frowned. Certainly not every knight had partaken in the mock battle, but the most skilled knights always did. It would be very odd for a knight who was able to reach this stage in the individual jousting not to have done so. But Dinadan was right. There had been no red knight in the battle. "Maybe he changed armor," he said.

As soon as he said this, he and Dinadan looked at each other with horror. "No!" Dinadan said. Then he turned his eyes toward Fenice in the emperor's box and uttered a muffled oath. Fenice was waving a silk scarf in the air toward the red knight. Red nodded his head in silent acknowledgment of her greeting, then settled himself into the saddle with grim purpose. Most of the afternoon, the red knight had seemed almost lackadaisical in his approach to his jousts, but now that careless attitude was completely lacking.

"We should have thought of this," Terence said. "Acoriondes
told
us that Cligés always traveled with several different suits of armor."

"I wonder how many soldiers are still out there looking for a black knight," Dinadan mused.

The horn signaled the charge, and the two knights raced toward each other, lances leveled. There was a tremendous crash and both horses reared on their hind legs, but it was the bronze Saxon who tumbled from his saddle. The red knight saluted the emperor's box, then trotted back to his starting position for the final joust.

"Dinadan," Terence hissed, "go tell the emperor that he mustn't let this joust go on."

"What, trot up and tell him that I know he and the duke have been cheating? No, thank you."

"No, you can't do that," Terence admitted. "But you could say that you think that red knight's an imposter. Then he'd realize his plan's in danger."

Dinadan nodded and hurried away. Terence watched as he climbed into the box and made his way to the emperor. A guard tried to stop him, but Dinadan called out to Karl, who permitted him to approach. Dinadan whispered something in the ear of the emperor, who blanched and stood abruptly to his feet. Waving his arms, he began shouting over the cheering crowd. The Duke of Saxony rode near to hear what the emperor was saying, but he didn't respond as Terence had expected. Instead, he shouted angrily at the emperor and rode to his own starting post. The emperor sank back into his chair and covered his eyes with his hands.

The trumpet was sounding the call to readiness when Dinadan returned to Terence. "What was all that?"

"Karl tried to call off the tournament, saying that both of the last two knights deserved a prize and that there was no need for the last joust."

"That was the best he could think of?"

"Evidently. And the duke took it to mean that Karl was trying to back out of the deal at the end."

The trumpet sounded the charge, and a moment later it was over. The Duke of Saxony lay prone in the mud, having flown a good ten feet backwards after leaving the saddle. The red knight was clearly and undeniably the winner of the tournament.

BOOK: The Squire's Quest
2.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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