The lad rode proud despite his day, his life and breath still with him despite his every expectation to the contrary, the girdle unhidden and what would later become a scar on the back of his neck bright and red against his pale skin.
“He was lovely,” she said.
“He was,” he agreed, “so very human, but lovely.”
Once the lad was out of sight, they went back to their home, back to their lives.
Just days before the next Christmas, the lad returned, the past year barely weathering his youthful face.
“You've returned!” she exclaimed.
“I have,” the lad said, “I hope I am welcome, even without sending word ahead.”
“Always,” she shooed him inside, “Always. The Lord will return from his hunt later tonight.”
“I can keep myself occupied,” the lad – no, more man than lad now, something over the last year having changed him, wisened him, humbled him – told her.
“Only if you want,” her smile was sly, a question underpinning her words.
“If it is alright,” the Knight's smile became a grin, “ I wish to delay any proposals and exchanges until the Lord is here to weigh them.”
“Of course,” she nodded so deeply it was nearly a bow, “May I at least show you to the library such that you may have the means by which to entertain yourself?”
“I would be honored,” the Knight's grin turned into a genuine smile.
When the Lord came home, she greeted him with peppered kisses to his brow and cheeks as he shed the outer layers that served him only to keep the winter off his skin.
Such garments had no purpose inside.
“We have company,” she told him.
“Company?” he asked, “Who both has the knowledge to find us and the desire to stay?”
“One guess,” she told him as she helped him shed his protective clothing.
“Ah,” his face brightened, “Has the lad returned then?”
“Hardly a lad,” she laughed, “You'll agree once you get a look at him.”
“I cannot wait,” he said.
Waiting, the three of them decided, was an overrated thing.
“My Lord,” the Knight bowed the instant the Lord entered the library, “and my Lady,” he remained in his bow, “what a pleasure it is to be graced with the both of you once more.”
“As it is our pleasure to be graced with you,” the Lord returned his bow, “But please, come, tell us what has brought you back to us at this most holy time.”
“Well,” the Knight looked between the two of them, “I realized there were missed opportunities last year, and now that I am no longer bound by the quest I was on, I wish to see if they still await me.
The Lord and Lady exchanged a Look and then nodded.
“Yes,” the Lady said, “yes, they are.”
The ecstasy the Knight found between the Lord and Lady was unlike any he had ever felt, ever dreamed of despite the year of longing for the exact things he had received.
When it was finally time for him to return to Camelot, he took his time bidding them farewell, letting their kisses and touches linger, wishing he could brand the feelings onto his skin such that he may never be without again.
“I will return,” the Knight promised his Lord and Lady.
They both held tight to his promise as the Knight who could out-shine the sun rode off once more.
Three midwinters later, their Knight returned to them.
“My apologies,” their Knight said as they both swept him up into an embrace, “the years go faster than I realize and there have been many changes.
“Tell us later,” his Lord told him, “once we have properly reacquainted.”
“Yes,” their Knight hissed, “yes, please, of course.”
Their Knight bore a number of new scars, some fresher than others. They traced fingers and lips over each one, silent questions seeking stories.
He gave some, glossed over others, only offered a small chuckle at one in particular.
“Something weighs heavy on your mind,” his Lady traced over the scar again.
“Please,” his Lord encouraged him, “share with us such that we may help unburden your soul.”
Their Knight hesitated before he spoke.
“There are changes at court,” their Knight said, “a new Knight, a Champion, whose virtue seems to exceed all that is humanly possible.”
“The virtue of a newcomer worries you?” his Lord asked.
“We all already know I am not the paragon of Knighthood,” their Knight said quietly, “What happens when I am unable to keep pace with the younger Knights?”
“You are still young yourself,” his Lady told him, “Your body is strong and you mind sharp.”
“I do not have worries for your enduring nature,” his Lord chuckled.
When time again came for him to depart, the Knight held their Faith in him even closer thean their affections.
“Please,” their Knight begged just two midwinters later, “make me forget the world exists outside the chapel, just for a moment.”
“Of course,” his Lady told him, “of course.”
Despite their efforts, their Knight told them all about the newest, youngest Knight who had not only made his way into the wasted lands but also see the Holy Grail.
“There are a number of wonders that people see and let pass them by,” his Lord told him.
“You find us time and time again,” his Lady added, “surely you must realize the power and determination that takes.”
Their Knight shook his head.
“Let us show you,” his Lord told him.
They were able to show him, if nothing else, what it meant to escape one's own head in full.
“I fear the future may not be as kind to him as the past has been,” his Lord said to his Lady as they watched their Knight depart again.
“And not in the same way as time is unkind to most,” his Lady agreed, “I fear all we can do if offer him what he seeks and take our own joy in both him and his offerings.”
“And joy we both take,” his Lord smiled.
“You are hurting,” his Lady told him.
“Just a little sore,” their Knight tried to wave off her concern.
“Next you're going to try to tell us you are getting old,” his Lord teased, “Come, breakfast will be ready.
Their Knight let himself be lead to his feet, then to the dining hall.
The savory smells of stewed meats and the sweet smell of preserved berries wafted over them, surrounded them, clung to their robes like the wood smoke.
Their Knight's stomach growled.
“You could have told us you were hungry,” his Lord told him as he wrapped their Knight in a hug from behind.
“There are many types of hunger,” their Knight said as he kissed his Lord's knuckles.
His Lord hummed, a pleased thing.
“Then come, both of you,” his Lady told them, “let us get our fill here before we examine these other types of hunger.
His Lady and Lord both knew their Knight's hunger would not be sated, for it was a hunger of his soul he had began to develop.
Such hunger in men was always a harbinger of things men and gods alike wished to forsake.
“Half a decade,” his Lord's mouth was on his in a flash, having ran into their Knight still some ways out from the Green Chapel.
“I know,” their Knight told him, “forgive me.”
“Always,” his Lord assured him, “Always.”
There was a new type of hunger driving their Knight that midwinter, something that had so clearly wounded him in ways their love could not repair.
Still, they loved him.
They gave him what they could.
When the time came for their Knight to depart again, they exchanged no words, knowing whatever they had to say held no hope in it.
His Lord returned from the hunt early, having sensed their Knight returning to their Chapel once again.
Their Knight greeted the hounds, a new thing, seeming to take a solace in the dogs' company.
“He hurts more this year,” his Lady told his Lord quietly.
His Lord did not reply, only watched their Knight and his hounds run inside together, a thing both Lord and Lady tried not to thing too much on.
And then their Knight took them both to bed, if he was more wild, more desperate, they fed his feral energies with their own, something within all three of them loosed from its tethers.
The news of the Grail being achieved reached them before their Knight.
“It wasn't me,” he told them, “It never could have been me.”
“Come,” his Lady held out her hand, “let us remind you that there are many things you can still achieve here.”
Their Knight took her hand, choosing not to dwell on the fact that it was Earthly delights that kept him from the Grail in the first place.
His lord returned from a midsummer hunt one evening to find his Lady nowhere near the doors.
He found her in their bedroom, seated on the edge of the bed, her feet on the floor, their Knight's head in her lap, his body and soul broken in equal measure.
“Oh my sweet Knight,” his Lord knelt down at his Lady's feet so come face-to-face with their Knight, “Oh my sweet, sweet Knight.”
“They're dead,” their Knight sobbed, “My brothers, all of them, and for what?”
They spent the days trying to soothe their Knight, repair his soul.
“Gawain,” his Lord felt their Knight's name on his tongue like a prayer, the irony not lost on him, “whatever you are about to do, please. Reconsider.”
“I can't” their Knight bit back another sob as he readied his horse, “Either the Champion pays in blood for what he stole from me or I join them.”
They watched him go, knowing their Knight would not stop for man or god now that his brothers' blood had stained his soul.
His Lord and Lady were surprised by another visitor as the summer gave way to autumn.
They felt the newcomer enter their Chapel grounds before they saw him.
They awaited whoever was coming at their doorstep.
It was a lone man on an exhausted horse.
The man took off his helmet.
“I am Lancelot,” the stranger told them, “Champion to King Arthur. Formerly.”
And they knew instantly what news this stranger brought them.