The Black Knight and the Night of the Ancestors: Part 2
After all the guests were safely abed for the night, Ceridwen’s Champions met at the stable to dress their horses and depart the villa, heading for Londinium. The walled city was only a short ride away, and soon the two covert specialists found themselves roaming the streets and alleyways, listening and looking for anything suspicious. It did not take long to find the first trace of the black sorcerer’s nocturnal activities. As the Black Hunter stood on guard, the Black Knight entered a seedy tavern and took a table in the darkest corner possible. As he sipped the dark ale they served, he listened and waited, knowing that as people drank they often talked. He was on his second mug of the delicious ale before the first whispers reached his sensitive ears.
“Did ye hear about the barber’s dog?” he heard one man say to another. “They found him this morning after the poor animal had been missing for days. Wasn’t much left of him though, and he was a full mastiff, a big dog. Whatever ate him must have been huge.”
“I heard that the governor of Londinium lost a whole pig last night; ‘twas blood everywhere, or so the Stykeeper said,” the other man said.
“Ye mean his prize boar, the white one?”
“Aye, and a price of one hundred gold coins has been offered to the person who brings the perpetrator in for justice.”
“A fortune! Surely ‘twill help him find whoever is responsible,” the first man said. The Black Knight had heard enough. It was Modred alright; no one else had the guts to sneak into such a guarded house and take such a victim. He was clearly preparing for something big, and the next night was Samhain. Ceridwen’s man shuddered, resolving to put a stop to it, whatever it was. Exiting the tavern, he met up with his ally for a quick conference, revealing everything he had heard.
“He is up to something, the little bastard!” the Black Hunter cursed angrily. “We must find out what.”
“I agree, my ally. We must work separately now, so as to cover more ground. Modred must be found at once, before he can work whatever evil he is up to.”
Modred of Orkney woke from his sleep suddenly, rising and running into the wood to vomit out his stomach contents. He did not like what he saw when he finished, however; there were teeth and remnants of pig bones mixed in with everything else. It was the price for summoning help he should not have in the first place, but Modred lusted for the power he now wielded because of it. Damn that Black Knight for causing the death of Morgause, his foster mother and the former Queen of the Orkneys, he thought angrily. If not for him, I would know all of what she knew and more. On the night when she had been killed while trying to sacrifice her eldest son Gawaine almost a year ago, he was to have that power as a result of the ritual using his blood.
Instead she had died, transfixed through the heart by the Black Knight with Gawaine’s own oathsword, which Morgause planned to use as the ritual blade for the sacrifice. He had received a wound that crippled his right hand, limiting its use and requiring him to learn to use his left hand in its place. An arrow had come flying from nowhere, impaling him through the wrist. Modred was still not certain just where it had come from. All he knew was that he hated the masked man who dressed all in black, and wielded both throwing knives and his sword to keep him from gaining his birthright, the throne of Britain. He had tried to no avail with every spell he knew to find out just who it was behind that mask, but it was as if a screen had been placed around him, concealing him from any recognition.
“It makes no difference, he will not stop me!” Modred thought defiantly, as he picked some wild mint for a soothing tea. His stomach was upset from so much raw meat, but that was what his demon craved and demanded in return for granting him so much power. There was one more sacrifice he was required to make now; he only needed his victim. “If I could find that Black Knight, I would use him!” Modred thought as he brewed his mint tea.
The Black Knight now moved through the town, while his ally sought their quarry in the woods that ringed the walled city. He reckoned that not even Modred had courage enough to remain in the city during the daytime, and that he had to have a hidden retreat close about. He meant to find it, and he used every skill learned from the Druids while in training there, and everything he had learned since to seek his prey. It took hours of intense work, but at last as evening fell, the Black Hunter found an almost invisible boot track. The print was speckled with blood, and as the Black Hunter’s hackles rose, he sought his ally’s mind quickly and communicated where he was.
“What have ye found?”
“A boot print and blood. Where Modred goes, ‘tis always blood,” the Black Hunter told him, still searching about. “Look here, ‘tis the same print, but ‘tis headed into the city rather than away. He has eluded us, and is in pursuit of his sacrifice.”
“We must go now; he cannot be allowed to use such holy and special night to such a purpose. He is certainly calling for a more powerful demon,” the Black Knight speculated.
“Most likely, and I agree, we must find him quickly. Where would be the most likely place to find him?”
“One of the cheaper brothels, I would suspect,” the Black Knight chuckled. “He cannot have many coins, now that Morgause is dead and he has been expelled from Orkney on pain of death. Let us tend to him and be done with it before dawn. Samhain approaches, and the veil is thinning.”
They parted then, the Black Hunter to the east side of the city, the Black Knight to the north. Somewhere out there was an angry black sorcerer, who wanted revenge on everyone he hated, Arthur most especially. The hours passed as they searched until the Black Hunter at last located where the evil princeling had spent the night, in the cheapest brothel in all of Londinium. Ceridwen’s Hunter was relieved to find out the two women he had purchased for the night still lived; not all of Modred’s companions were so fortunate. They had been drugged, that was clear when he tried rouse them, but eventually they woke and groggily left the room, each with a bag of good silver provided by Ceridwen’s man. Finding a faint boot track that he recognized well, the practiced hunter continued to follow the evil man’s progress through the city.
While he did so, the Black Knight also searched, finding those who had encountered the evil man. All of them remembered seeing the slightly crippled and scarred man limping through the market the day before, and to each Ceridwen’s man said a thanks, dropping a golden reward into their hands. At last he found an apothecary’s shop with the door gaping open, which would be unusual in Londinium due to the amount of thievery that occurred. When the Black Knight stepped inside, he found exactly what he was looking for. The poor apothecary was dead of course, his throat neatly slit and barely a puddle on the floor, while Modred used his mixing table to prepare whatever potion he was brewing. It smelled terrible, and evoked a sense of dread within Ceridwen’s man. Nonetheless, he withdrew into the shadows to listen to Modred’s insane ramblings, hoping to get some idea of what he was up to.
“Aye, this should do it,” he was saying. “This potion is so strong, surely ‘twill overcome anyone, even Arthur. His blood will make a fine sacrifice for power, and his death will put me on the throne, where I should be. With him being so close, celebrating some tame Samhain at Aaronnsdale Villa, it should be a simple matter to sneak in there after they’ve finished drinking their fill. ‘Twill not be long now,” he giggled.
“Nay it should not be,” the Black Knight agreed, stepping out of his place of concealment and startling Modred so much, he dropped the vial holding whatever potion he had made.
“Now ye’ve done it!” he screamed. “I shall kill ye for this!”
“Ye may try, sorcerer!” the Black Knight laughed. Modred made a gesture and a vaporous form appeared, ugly and smelling terribly of sulfur. The Black Knight realized this was Modred’s demon assistant, and his laughter grew merrier. “Such a tiny demon, I am certain it took all of yer strength to summon even this little helper,” he derided.
“Kill him!” Modred ordered, pointing at Ceridwen’s man, only to have the tiny being squeal in dismay.
“What, ye want me to deal with him?” it asked. “Such was hardly our bargain, fool! Ye will have to summon greater help than I can give to slay such as he!”
With a loud popping noise the small winged creature was gone, leaving Modred unguarded and unprotected. When the Black Knight advanced to take him in hand, the sorcerer disappeared in a cloud of foul smoke, eluding his capture.
“Curse ye sorcerer!” he growled as his eyes cleared. “I shall find ye one day, and ye will meet yer end!”
The Black Hunter appeared just at that moment, while the cloud of disappearing smoke still hung in the air. It did not take much to figure out what had happened, especially when he saw the bloodless body of the apothecary on the floor.
“Gone again, is he?”
“Aye, damn him!” the Black Knight responded heatedly. “However, I think his plans have been forestalled, at least for now. He was mixing something, using the apothecary’s bench.”
The Black Hunter strode to the bench and smelled what was left of the potion, grimacing at the odor. “Poison, I think, and a slow working one that acts as a sedative. Could he have been planning to use that on someone?”
“Arthur at least, if not some of the other knights,” the Black Knight told him. “That means he knows they are at the villa. We should return there at once!”
“Aye!” the Black Hunter agreed and they raced to where they had tied their horses, jumping aboard and spurring the steeds into a full gallop. It took very little time for them to arrive at Aaronnsdale Villa, and as soon as their horses slid to a stop in the courtyard, they were off and running in search. It was still barely dawn; the pink of the sun tinged the clouds as they looked through every building, shed, barn and coop, finding nothing to indicate that the evil princeling had been there.
“Ye should go now, before ye are seen,” the Black Knight advised his ally.
“Aye, be cautious. I still feel uneasy,” the Black Hunter replied, disappearing. Quickly, he put his horse in the stall, brushed him thoroughly and covered him with a blanket. It was cold that morning, and all of the other horses wore coverings; to have only their horses without one would have looked strange. Once both were properly tended, the Black Hunter made his way from the barn to the barracks under the villa house by way of the hidden entrance, quickly gaining his quarters. Entering and locking the door behind him, he sponged himself free of the sweat from that night’s activities and donned comfortable clothing, hiding his working clothing in the special compartment within his clothespress until he could deal with them later. After some quick attention to his appearance, Olran fell into bed and slept a few hours, albeit restlessly.
The Black Knight continued his search, looking for any sign, any trace of Modred’s presence. As the sun broke over the trees, he found it, a rude altar in an older building no longer in use on the estate. A grim smile emerged as Ceridwen’s man noted fresh blood, and wondered which of the animals on the villa had been so ill-used. Following the trail into the woods, he did so cautiously, finally encountering his prey.
“Ye are foolish, to come in search of me,” he heard. It sounded a bit like Modred’s voice, but it was stronger and deeper. He saw Modred, his body at least, emerge from the darkness of the forest holding a blade.
“I think not,” Ceridwen’s man responded quietly, fiercely pulling Razor’s Edge so that it rang a bit in the cold morning air. The enchanted blade, a gift from Ceridwen, sang out its refrain to be fed and the Black Knight knew his enemy could hear it. “Ye have come too late, I have received the training I need to defeat such as ye.”
“We shall see then,” the evil entity laughed, brandishing the weapon it carried. It was a mortal sword, but it carried the demon’s glamour. The Black Knight could see the shadow of it clearly, and sent a quick thought of thanks to the Lady for the training he had received at the hands of the Ruby Phoenix.
They engaged then in deadly combat, the demon controlling Modred’s body, the Goddess empowering Her chosen Champion. Even without the demon’s influence, Modred was a decent swordsman being a Pendragon; with that influence, he nearly matched the Black Knight. The sun continued to rise, spreading its golden light to dispel the shadows needed by the demon. The match lasted only until Modred’s mortal body flagged, and the demon decided that retreat was its best option.
“Ye may have won this round, Ceridwen’s man, but the time may come when it will be otherwise. Ye are always welcome to join my service,” it invited as it left Modred’s body. Once it was separated completely, it was encased in silver chains, wound tightly around so as to restrain it both physically and magickally. The Black Knight watched as Modred’s skin turned white and pale, a fever came upon him and he wandered away, mouthing obscenities in a slightly crazed state. The Black Knight watched him go stoically, mindful of the Goddess’ and Arthur’s order that Modred was not to be slain. Feeling the Goddess’ mantle suddenly increase, the Black Knight went on guard again. What now, he thought, sending his extra senses out as far as he could in search of the reason. He could find nothing amiss, and a momentary confusion fell upon him, at least until the mists parted and a female figure appeared. She was dressed in flowing black, a raven upon her shoulder, a blade on her back. The Black Knight recognized the Morrigan, and he knelt in respect.
“Rise Sir Knight,” She laughed a bit. “Ye have done well to face such as this one during the time when the veil thins. They can draw their power more directly from those consumed by fear during this time; ye have likely prevented a great bloodletting. We have sought this one a long time, he has done great evil.”
“I am happy to have been of service, My Lady Morrigan,” he answered in his resonant tones. “Blood should never be shed for evil’s purpose, and even within the Lady’s realm, ‘tis a sacred substance that should never be wasted.”
“Ye are right about that, Sir Knight,” She agreed. “Take care, and thank ye again for yer help in capturing this one. Ye risk so much, and take so little reward.”
“I only risk what I need to, and as for reward, I have everything I could want already,” the Black Knight answered. “Ye are kind to be concerned for someone like me.”
“Men and women such as ye deserve My concern,” She remarked. “To see such courage, such steady faith and service is rare anymore, and ye have earned any reward ye receive.”
“I shall not dispute a Divine Goddess on what I deserve,” the Black Knight replied, a bit of humor in his tone. She laughed with him, a rich alto blending with his deep tenor, and she kissed his cheek before departing. “Enjoy the Night of the Ancestors, Sir Knight, and be sure ye do them honor.”
“I shall this year, for I have much to be grateful for, My Lady Morrigan,” he replied. “I thank ye for watching over myself, and my ally as we have worked in the shadows all these years.”
“It has been a pleasure to watch ye work,” She laughed merrily, disappearing into the rising mists of morning, taking the restrained demon with her. He found his energies renewed in a rush as She departed, he felt as if he had slept the entire night. Realizing it was Samhain morning, he recalled that Glenda would just be baking pastries. If I hurry, I shall get one fresh from the oven. He ran for the underground entrance to the villa, then stole up the stairs and entered his room without anyone hearing or seeing him, even though he was certain he would be seen. Counting it as a gift of the Morrigan’s kiss on the cheek, he quickly poured hot water from the kettle over the small hearth in his room into a basin.
Wetting and soaping a cloth, he sponged the sweat from his body, drying quickly with a soft thick towel and dressing in warm, comfortable clothing. He was just about to step out the door and head downstairs when he heard a commotion in his common room. Assuring his knife harness was in place, he ran down the stairs to find the Ladies of Avalon had arrived. Morgaine was with them, dressed in her traveling clothing; heavy trous and boots, a thick shirt and a hooded cloak decorated with a crescent moon.
“Sisters!” he greeted with joy, coming to embrace his best female friend in the realm.
“Brother,” she greeted in return, laying her right hand atop his head. “A blessed Samhain to ye and yer house. I could not think of a better place to spend such a holiday, considering ‘twill be yer first hosted Celebration of the Ancestors. I have brought some of my younger sister priestesses with me to be of assistance. I hope ye do not mind?” she laughed.
“I am glad ye are here sister!” he said, embracing her.
“Mine’s the honor!” she quipped with a huge smile. “We can sleep anywhere, ye needn’t clear out a guest room just for us.”
“I think we have plenty of room downstairs, sister,” she heard Olran’s voice, turning to see him emerge from the nearly hidden door.
“Brother!” she called to him, and soon the grey-eyed knight found himself the subject of another huge hug from the tiny woman. “I am so glad to be here!”
“We are honored to spend Samhain with the Ladies of Avalon!” Osric’s voice entered the conversation. “If ye are hungry, we have hot beverages and warm pastries ready.”
The women partook of the treat gladly, for such things were rare on Avalon, and then they went to Glenda to find out what help they could be that day. It was Morgaine who went to tend the altar in the common room, rearranging it and adding some things she had been saving for the purpose. First she set down a small dragon carved from black granite adding a raven’s feather, a piece of obsidian followed by a small quartz crystal from her own collection. She placed black, red and yellow candles in the carved turnip holders, and hung a wreath of leaves she had made over the table, stepping back to assess the effect. Glenda brought a fresh cup of wine in a silver cup, as well as a small loaf of bread fresh from the oven to complete the offerings.
“It looks very nice now,” she observed to the younger woman. “I was going to remove it after Samhain, but I think I shall leave it permanently. The Goddess is welcome here, as well as all of the Old Ones.”
“Indeed sister, perhaps someday ‘twill be this way again all over Britain.”
“Perhaps,” Glenda sighed. “But, today is not a day to be concerned over that. Today is a day to honor those who have come before, those who have paved the way for us and taught the secrets.”
“I agree,” Morgaine smiled. “Perhaps we might be of assistance that way, telling the old stories to the children so as to continue the passing down of knowledge.”
“I think that would be wonderful!” Glenda replied with a smile. “We have many children, and I think ye should have a look at some of the very special ones. I am sorry not to have sent them to Avalon, but Merin would not allow it.”
“Then ‘tis good he can no longer interfere in the Lady’s work,” Morgaine replied. “Is there more caffe?”
“O aye, come into the kitchen. I shall pour ye a fresh cup,” Glenda told her. Meanwhile, Aaronn and Olran found a moment to discuss the night before, including the visitation of the Morrigan.
“I can only say She appears to whom She will, brother,” Olran finally said. “‘Tis said She appears to those destined to die in the next battle.”
“Hmmm…” Aaronn mused. “I can only think of one battle in which I might perish, the one against evil itself. With Ceridwen’s empowerment, the Black Knight is nearly invincible, aye?” he chuckled a bit.
“We cannot let ourselves think like that,” Olran told him seriously. “Ye must always be observant and wary in battle, brother. To do something hasty, something rash, is nearly always fatal.”
“We have both seen that, brother,” Aaronn replied warmly. “I have no intention of laying down my life foolishly.” He watched with some amusement as his close friend expelled a tense breath, then relaxed and picked up his cup of caffe. Olran worried too much, he thought as he sipped his own beverage, enjoying the bitter taste. It was strange to have someone so concerned about his health, while putting aside his own, he thought as he looked at his thin and wiry friend. “Are ye losing weight again brother? I thought we talked about that; ye do not have any to give away.”
“I am not losing weight,” Olran replied. “I am gaining muscle. I am eating five meals a day when in residence here at the villa, and if Glenda does not stop offering me food every time she sees me I am going to live in the woods for a few weeks.”
“She worries about ye, as we all do, brother,” Aaronn told him seriously. “Now, today is Samhain, and we have a bit of a feast to prepare. I heard something about a whole pig, and I am going downstairs to see to it. Are ye coming?”
“Aye, brother, if only to make certain the pig gets turned constantly,” Olran laughed as they left the room.
The rest of that day was spent in a spirit of quiet celebration, for the holiday was somewhat of a somber one. At sundown, the bonfire was lit and the children gathered for series of stories, while they ate their supper and listened. The tales were designed not only to educate, but to entertain, and the tales told at Samhain were slightly spooky and scary, so as to impress upon the young the difference between beings of Light, and those who meant no good. Finally, when their yawns could no longer be stifled, they were taken home to their beds and tucked in for the night. Afterwards, the adults tended to their ritual duties associated with the day as they took brands from the bonfire home to relight their cleaned hearths for the winter season, then offered their private devotions to their patrons and patronesses.
Only after the sacred work was finished did they gather for a silent meal, thinking only of their ancestors and any guidance they might come to offer. The table with the offerings to them was set with the best china, silver and linen in the house, the best cuts of meat, the finest loaf of bread and the most beautiful of all of the other foods laid upon it and candles lit to invite them to partake of the meal. After a bit of music and dancing everyone retired early, leaving the supper laid on the table for the ancestors. It was quiet and peaceful all night, no one heard anything, but in the morning when Glenda rose to begin the kitchen work, she found that the supper had been consumed down to the last crumb. Even the plates had been wiped clean, she noted with a quiet smile. Apparently the offered feast had been enjoyed by those for whom it had been intended, she thought as she made to clear the table of the used dishes. A light touch on her shoulder caused her to turn, and she nearly dropped everything she had gathered when she saw her own mother’s shade standing there.
“Mother! Are ye well?” she asked before thinking.
“I am, daughter; I have no more pain or sorrow,” her mother answered. “Ye have done well in my absence, to rise to where ye are now. To be of service to Ceridwen’s man during the time of Camelot is an honor.”
“I know it well, and I am happy to do it. He is such a good man.”
“I am certain he is,” her mother’s shade replied. “The dawn comes, I must go. The supper was delicious; yer skills have vastly improved, daughter mine. I am so happy ye have finally found love with Osric. Fare thee well.”
“Fare thee well, mother,” Glenda returned with a fond smile as her mother’s shade faded. As the staff began to appear, other tales of relatives returning to grace their houses and visit during the night were told. It seemed that everyone had seen someone who had passed, which was unusual. Glenda did not let it concern her, she simply accepted it. This was the Black Knight’s home, such things were to be expected in such a place. In time, Aaronn and Olran appeared downstairs as was their custom, and the house returned to its usual schedule, at least until Arthur and the Knights awoke. When they came downstairs, food was ready and conversation passed easily between them all.
“Ye know, I could have sworn that I saw Uther’s shade last night,” Arthur finally said to Aaronn.
“Some of our other brothers have expressed a similar opinion, even Gawaine said that Lot came to him last night to discuss the situation in Orkney,” Aaronn revealed. “This Samhain, the veil was very thin, apparently.”
“I have a feeling ‘tis the place we spent it, not the thinning of the veil that has something to do with it, brother,” Arthur replied with a smile. “I surely would not have seen Uther if I had remained at Camelot,” he sighed. “I am not looking forward to returning.
“Would ye like me to go along?” Aaronn offered. “Surely, she will not abuse ye too badly if I am there.”
“Nay, she would focus on ye instead. She is my wife, and my burden to deal with. The sooner the better, I would imagine,” he sighed, turning to Bedwyr. “Give the order, we are going back to Camelot today. We will ride slowly, so as not to overtire our horses, and perhaps we will stop for the night at a hostel. I am in no hurry.”
“As ye wish, My Lord,” Bedwyr answered respectfully, but a smile of understanding played about his lips. “We will be ready within the hour.”
Arthur’s party quit Aaronnsdale Villa within the appointed time, and soon, Aaronn was poring over his correspondences, both those he received as the lord of the villa and the others as well. One caught his eye, a report of Modred crossing into Saxon lands over the Severn River, many miles to the east. The person wrote that the evil sorcerer looked very ill indeed, and expressed the hope that he would die of whatever sickness he had contracted. The Black Knight knew better; he knew that the evil princeling was on his way to a remote spot to work the sorcery necessary to attract another demon sponsor.
“Come ahead, Black Pendragon. I shall always be here waiting for ye!” he thought defiantly as he burnt the missive in the hearth, keeping his secret safe.
By Sunbow Pendragon