Back in the gardens of Glenayre , Kathryn smiled a sad, wistful smile. Those few hours had quickly turned into a few months in Bryn Bressail . Caradoc showed her how to use her latent Glamour, as well as teaching her the stories of the people whose spirits Glamour drew upon. The stories were as important as the magic, he had explained, for they were what gave the magic its power. Entranced in Caradoc's lessons, and even more entranced by his voice and charm, she had not noticed the days going by. She fell in love with Caradoc , and swore with her young girl's heart that she would never love another. The young girl that Kathryn was then had not let go of her fairy tale dreams yet, and Caradoc , her prince , brought those dreams to life.
Kathryn looked around at the gardens of Glenayre , the flowers closed in their nightly slumber; pale moonlight shining brightly off the water of the reflecting pool. She looked beyond the pool, to the lone window with the golden light shining out of it. A solitary figure walked in front of it and paused, looking out the window at her. The window was just outside Queen Elaine's apartments, and the figure was one of her fellow knights, making his rounds, pausing briefly to check on her outside in the garden. With little else to do, Kathryn returned to her musings.
Kathryn eventually felt the need to return to her home. She knew that her parents would be worried, and she needed to let them know that she was all right. Caradoc agreed, and he led her to a portal, promising to visit her. Kathryn stepped through the portal, and rejoined her family, with much rejoicing. She learned that four years had passed in this world, and that a young woman had stepped forward with the Graal to claim the Avalon throne. Kathryn's parents were afraid that she might try to return to Bryn Bressail , so they sent her to Carleon , to attend finishing school and perhaps become a lady in waiting to the new Queen, providing this Elaine could overcome her opposition to the throne. Kathryn studied hard, trying to make up for the lost years she spent in Bryn Bressail . She often thought about Caradoc , and hoped to see him again. She often found herself gazing into ponds, hoping to see the world of the Sidhe . The smell of flowers would make her heart quicken, and she would look around eagerly, hoping to see her love, but he was never there. Her heart ached from the fear that he had found someone else, but she kept hoping he had not forgotten her.
During her second year in finishing school, Carleon was host to an event that Kathryn would remember for the rest of her life. After two years, Queen Elaine was to be officially crowned Queen of Avalon. People from all over crowded into the city to see the event. Kathryn's family would be allowed to view the coronation itself, an honor that made Kathryn's schoolmates envious. The day was sunny and bright, the temperature perfect. The streets were packed with people eager to see the young queen and her court. The procession to the coronation site gave the people in the streets a sight to remember for the rest of their lives. In the lead were pikemen with their tall polearms and helmets and breastplates that were polished until they shone like mirrors. Next came the Eisen mercenaries that made up the Avalon army, each wearing their Dracheneisen and the slashed clothing that was peculiar to Eisen , marching in perfect unison. Diplomats and other important people rode in carriages, occasionally nodding to the crowd. Six Knights of the Order of the High King that rode their horses down the street made the crowd murmur approvingly. Already some were calling them Elaine's Knights. Each one wore a gleaming white shirt under a blue tabard lined with silver trim. Tall white boots covered their feet, and each one wore a blue cloak trimmed in silver. Each one carried a tall spear with blue and white pennons fluttering at the tips. They were the embodiment of Avalon's chivalry, and the children watching them that day all wanted to be one of them.
The Knights were arrayed around an open carriage with two in front, one on either side and two behind. The carriage itself was pulled by 6 white horses, and was a deep blue in color, with white velvet seats. Seated alone in the carriage was Elaine. She wore a deep blue gown adorned with white pearls and gold beads, and with a large white ruff at her neck and white lace at the wrists. White pearls were laced into her auburn hair, which she wore up this day. The young queen waved and smiled to the people, as if this was merely one other day in her life.
After watching the procession to the cathedral, Kathryn and her family went inside and took their seats. The faint smell of flowers made Kathryn look around, hoping to see Caradoc . She didn't see him, but she hoped he was there, watching. A long red carpet extended the length of the hall, ending at a raised dais. On this dais was a magnificent golden throne, with a chalice carved above where Elaine's head would be. Kathryn guessed that it was supposed to be the Graal . Banners displaying the heraldry of the lords of Avalon hung from the ceiling. Kathryn managed to pick out the Hopwell's banner: three white rabbits on a green field, and the Bradford's black stag on yellow stood out next to the Preston's five white roses on blue. There were some other banners hanging up as well, but they were rolled up, so Kathryn couldn't see what they were.
After what seemed to be an eternity of waiting, trumpets sounded, and all eyes turned towards the door to the hall. Priests from the Church of Avalon led this procession, swinging incense and chanting prayers to Theus . After the priests, came the bishops, followed by the Archbishop of the Church of Avalon, wearing his finest robes. Behind the Archbishop came Elaine's Knights, still in their blue and silver uniforms. When they reached the dais, they formed a semi-circle around the throne and stood at attention. Elaine entered, wearing an elaborate blue and silver robe, with ermine mantle and trim. Three girls slightly younger than Kathryn carried the train of her robe. Kathryn couldn't believe how calm Elaine looked. She was certain that, if it had been her walking down the aisle, she would have been shaking uncontrollably. Following Elaine was the strangest man Kathryn had ever seen. His hair was all tangled and matted and his clothes were worn. Strangest of all were his eyes. One was a pale blue, like ice, and the other was a baleful red. Kathryn realized at once that this was the mysterious Derwyddon , said to be Elaine's chief advisor. Kathryn looked around to see what other people's reaction to Derwyddon was, and realized that everyone else was watching Elaine. Derwyddon turned to look at Kathryn with both eyes, nodded and gave her a knowing smile, then continued down the aisle to stand behind his queen's throne.
Most of the coronation ceremony was a blur to Kathryn after that. Why had Derwyddon looked at her and smiled? Why didn't anyone else seem to see him? She looked at Derwyddon , standing behind Elaine's left shoulder. He certainly was strange.
Elaine was anointed, swore her oaths and crowned Queen of Avalon, protector of the Graal . She called forth James MacDuff , king of the Highland Marches. All eyes turned to the doors and in walked a small group of Highlanders, wearing their many colored kilts. Standing taller than the rest was their king, a very handsome man with a very big sword strapped to his back. He walked down the red carpet, drew his sword and knelt before Queen Elaine.
"I, James MacDuff , son of Robert MacDuff and rightful king of the Highland Marches do hereby swear allegiance to Queen Elaine and Avalon," he intoned, offering the hilt of his great sword to the Queen. "I offer you my sword, that you will be able to defend Avalon and her allies."
Elaine took the sword's hilt in her hands, gracefully reversed the sword so that the hilt was pointing towards MacDuff and said, "This weapon best suits your hands, my lord. Take it and be forever vigilant in the name of Avalon and the Highland Marches. Rise now, and stand at my side."
MacDuff rose and stood behind Elaine and to her right, replacing his sword into its sheath. Jack O'Bannon was then called forth, and the crowd murmured. After a few moments, the herald called for Jack O'Bannon again. Elaine sat calmly, waiting for the O'Bannon to appear. Just as the herald was about to call his name for a third time, the doors burst open and in walked the man some called "Mad" Jack O'Bannon. Looking at him, Kathryn could understand why they called him that. There was a wild, dangerous look in his eyes, and he seemed to twitch every so often. While his clothes were nice, they looked as if he had been in a brawl not too long ago, and his feet were bare. As he walked down the aisle towards Queen Elaine, Kathryn could hear him talking - no - arguing with himself in what sounded like a mix of Avalon and Cymric. Some of the words Kathryn had never heard before, but she was sure they were not the sorts of words one uses around polite company. When he reached the throne, he grew quiet, as if listening to someone. He knelt down before Elaine, and there was a tense silence for a few moments.
"I ain't got no pretty words like that big Highlander, and I ain't got no fancy sword to give ye, either. What I will give ye is my allegiance and that of Inismore ."
With a gentle smile on her face, Elaine said, "I gladly accept your allegiance, Jack O'Bannon. Now rise, and stand by my side, and let us show the world the unity of the Triple Kingdoms."
At this, the banners that had been rolled up were unfurled. They were half white and half blue, with a chalice in the center, half blue and half white and three crowns arranged around it. This was the banner of the Triple Kingdom, with the crowns of each of the rulers around the Graal . A great cheer rose up from the crowd, and the bells of the cathedral started ringing.
That night, Kathryn was allowed to attend the celebration ball at Glenayre with her brother. She wore her best gown, and spent hours getting her hair just perfect. Her parents agreed that she could have her first glass of wine tonight, which made her giddy. She took a glass of red wine and wandered, looking at the people gathered. The Knights intrigued her. They were the symbol of Avalon's chivalry and honor. She got a glimpse of Queen Elaine and was mesmerized. Kathryn wandered to a quiet spot in the gardens, away from the crowd to let the evening soak in. She saw a couple to her left who were seeking their own quiet spot and blushed.
As she stood watching the crowd, she smelled flowers again; flowers that she instantly recognized and knew they were not of this world.
"At last, I have found you again."
Kathryn jumped and almost dropped her glass at the sound of the familiar voice. She spun around and saw Caradoc's features in the glow of the lights.
" Caradoc !"
He hadn't changed at all. He still had that timeless look on his face, and an impish grin, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"Your parents made it difficult to find you. They drained the pond where you first saw me, and sent you away. Still, they couldn't keep us apart, could they?"
"How did you know to find me here?"
"I suspected that your family would attend the ceremony. I saw you earlier, but had to wait until now to speak to you."
He gazed into her eyes and ran a finger down her face. "You've grown a bit. Filled out, as well. You're almost a woman."
Kathryn blushed, unsure of how to respond.
Caradoc lifted her face, leaned down and kissed her. Kathryn had never been kissed like this in her life. She found herself wrapping her arms around Caradoc and leaning into his body as the kiss continued. His arms supported her as her knees went unexpectedly weak. When the kiss ended, she was breathless.
"I think you need a sip of this," Caradoc said, as he handed her wine glass back.
Wondering when he had taken the glass from her, she took it and drank some wine. Her legs recovered their strength, and she pulled away from Caradoc a little, frightened by the feelings she was experiencing, yet wanting more.
"I cannot stay longer. There is danger for us both if we are caught. Know that there will come a time when I will come to you and we will spend much more time together, and I will teach you much more."
"You mean you'll teach me more Glamour?"
Caradoc smiled. "Glamour, yes, but I was thinking of something else."
Caradoc smiled with a mischievous glint in his eye, and said, "That, you'll just have to wait to find out. Until then, be well and know that I am watching for you."
Caradoc slipped through the hedges and was gone before Kathryn could do anything. She felt sad, yet elated. He was here, and he had been looking for her. Surely that meant that he cared for her.
Kathryn found a bench and sat down. Today certainly had been a momentous day. She closed her eyes and smiled. Caradoc would come back for her. He was still her prince.
"Enjoying the night air, are we?"
Kathryn's eyes popped open. Standing before her was Derwyddon .
"You have a great future ahead of you, young lady. Her Majesty appreciates your loyalty and service."
"Ah. Yes. Forgive me. Sometimes I forget when I am." He smiled at her again with that knowing smile. "Your future holds many great triumphs, and many dark defeats, young lady. Do you have the mettle to withstand the triumphs and enjoy the defeats, I wonder?"
As Kathryn pondered the meaning of that, a woman came up behind Derwyddon and said " Derwyddon , pray tell who is this charming young lady you are talking to?"
Katherine looked behind Derwyddon and saw Queen Elaine standing with two of her Knights in attendance. Eyes widening, she quickly rose to her feet and started to kneel.
"Please, young lady, don't bother yourself . Nobody is looking, so I won't insist on all of the formalities," Elaine said with a gentle smile.
"Elaine, this is young Kathryn Adams, daughter of Lord Charles and Lady Elizabeth Adams. Kathryn, this is Elaine, your Queen."
"Nicely done, Derwyddon ."
"Thank you. If you will excuse me, I'm going to find some more of that wine, and keep my eye on that one Highlander. I don't like the look of him."
Elaine laughed. "Very well, then. You may go."
Turning to Kathryn, Elaine said, "Will you join me on this bench? I believe it's large enough for both of us and our skirts."
Kathryn couldn't believe her ears. Her Queen wanted to sit with her!
" It would be an honor, your Majesty."
Elaine sat down, and then Kathryn joined her. The two knights stood a few discreet paces away, with their backs to the two women.
"I must apologize for Derwyddon . He is...strange to those who don't know him. He is my trusted advisor, however, and has been invaluable to me thus far. I don't know what I'd do without him. Are you enjoying the festivities, Derwyddon notwithstanding?"
"Yes, your Majesty. Very much. Are you enjoying them?"
"Yes, I am, although I find I am growing somewhat weary. I've been busy for weeks preparing for this. Tell me, how old are you?"
"Well...that's a difficult question, your Majesty."
"How rude of me, I know. One should never ask a woman her age," Elaine said with a smile and a wink.
"Oh, that's not what I meant. You see, I'm supposed to be 19, but I was in Bryn Bressail for a while, and when I came back here, four years had passed, so I'm only 15. It gets confusing, sometimes."
"How interesting. You seem to have adjusted well; not many people do. You are a remarkable young lady."
Kathryn blushed. "Thank you, your Majesty."
"What do you intend to do with your life?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Majesty. What do you mean?"
"What are your plans for the future? Will you marry and raise a family? Perhaps become a lady-in-waiting here in my court?"
"I hadn't really thought about it, Majesty. I suppose my parents will marry me off to some lord's son. Perhaps I could serve you in your court."
Elaine smiled. It was a kind smile, but it looked a little sad, too. "You have choices, Kathryn. Choose wisely, and make the most of those choices."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Queen Elaine stayed and chatted for a few minutes more, about more trivial things, like the fashions of that evening, and one or two light comments about some of the men in attendance. Kathryn was struck by the way her Queen treated her as if she were a close friend, though certainly not equals. Elaine certainly knew how to put someone at ease. As they talked to each other, Kathryn found that she truly admired her Queen as both a person and a monarch.
"Well, Kathryn, I have enjoyed your company, but my guests will start to wonder where I am. I'm afraid I must rejoin them. I do hope to see you again, though. Have a pleasant evening."
With that, both women rose, and Kathryn gave Elaine her best curtsy.
"I wish you a good evening, your Majesty."
After Elaine left, Kathryn rose and watched her rejoin the ball with a sense of awe and wonder in her heart. She realized that she would gladly do anything in her power that Elaine asked. In that moment, she knew that she could never betray her Queen.
Kathryn was the envy of the other students at school. Although she had not told anyone about her conversation with the Queen, word leaked out, and, before she knew it, everyone was approaching her to learn what Her Majesty was really like. Kathryn remained modest, and merely said that she was nice, and would be a good Queen. Things slowly settled back down to normal, and Kathryn found herself spending her time studying again.
A few weeks after the coronation, Kathryn was summoned to the headmistress' office. When Kathryn entered, she saw her parents, the school headmistress and two people she had never seen.
"Kathryn, this is Lady Margaret Walton and Lord Adam Hartley. They are here to look for young ladies who would be suitable to do some work in the palace, perhaps even becoming a lady-in-waiting someday."
"Of course, you wouldn't start as a lady-in-waiting," Adam Hartley continued. "You're still a bit young for that, although in a couple of years I'm certain that you could be a lovely lady-in-waiting. We're not looking for menial servants, either. While there never seem to be enough servants, you obviously are above that station, being noble born. Lady Margaret will explain further."
"You will be schooled in courtly ways. You will learn the proper etiquettes, how to dress, how to speak and some basic dances. You will do this while continuing your studies here, although those will be lessened. You will also be required to do some work to keep the court functioning smoothly. You will not be in the presence of Her Majesty except during an occasional court. You will not be in the presence of high-ranking members of the court. Discretion is paramount. Any misbehavior is reason for immediate dismissal, though I'm sure that won't be a problem, will it?"
"No, milady. I will be on my best behavior."
"I'm sure you will. Are you willing to accept our offer?"
Kathryn looked over at her parents, who gave a slight nod. "I would be proud to accept your offer, milady. When will I start?"
"We need to discuss some things with your parents. You will be moved into quarters within Glenayre within the week. Welcome, Kathryn."
Kathryn's first few weeks were hectic, but she quickly adapted. She found that she liked being around the court, and always strived to do her best, lest she be dismissed. On occasion, she would see the Queen, or one of her advisors. Those moments always filled her heart with joy, and reminded her of why she was doing what she was doing.
The next year and a half passed quickly. Several months later, Kathryn was in her room, studying one night, when her door opened and a man entered. He was from the Highland Marches, with light brown hair and a goatee. Kathryn thought she had seen him before, but she couldn't remember where.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you aren't allowed in here. You must leave."
"Don't worry about breaking the rules. I've already talked to Lady Margaret, and she knows I'm here," he said in a voice that, though quiet, was also commanding.
"Who are you, if I may be so bold to ask?"
"I'm Bors MacAllister ."
Kathryn's eyes grew wide. She had heard rumors about Bors . People whispered his name, and called him the "Black Knight." He supposedly went around and killed people in their sleep when they broke the law.
"I see you've heard of my reputation. You need not fear. You haven't done anything to warrant a, shall we say, disciplinary visit."
Kathryn relaxed a little, but was puzzled. "Why are you here, then? Is there something I can do for you, sir?"
MacAllister smiled. "I am hoping there is. Do you love Avalon?"
Kathryn thought for a moment. That was a strange question. Avalon was her country. She was proud to be from Avalon. But that wasn't love. Kathryn loved her Queen, but that wasn't the same, either. She thought about Avalon itself - it's past, it's people, the land itself. She realized that she did, indeed love Avalon.
"Yes, I do love Avalon."
"Good. I've been watching you for the last couple of months. You certainly take pride in your tasks here, and you have done extremely well in your studies. I also know that you can use Glamour. That could come in very handy."
"How so, Sir Bors ?"
"Please, call me Bors . I won't insist on formality between the two of us tonight. I'll explain my remark about your Glamour later. For now, I'd like to discuss your future. You're almost 17 years old now. Your schooling is almost finished. I'm sure you could find a position here in the palace quite easily, but somehow, I think your talents would be wasted there. How many languages can you speak?"
"I can speak Montaigne, Castillian and a little Vodacce ," Kathryn replied, realizing as she did so that Bors had asked his question in Montaigne, and she had answered likewise.
"Good. You seem to have a talent for languages. Can you use a weapon?"
"No. I haven't been taught to use any weapons. With all due respect, that isn't part of the normal curriculum."
"I didn't think it was," Bors responded dryly. "However, it's entirely possible that you learned something from an outside source, such as your family, or friends. As I said, I've been watching you. I've also been doing some research into what kind of person you are. It seems that you are a very honorable, loyal and caring young woman."
"Thank you, Sir Bors ."
"I only repeat what others have said about you. You know that the other Knights have Knights under them, correct?"
"I only have a select handful under me. What we do requires...subtlety and discretion, rather than numbers. I dirty my hands so that Her Majesty doesn't have to. I also make sure that what I do in her name, and for the sake of Avalon, isn't traceable back to Her Majesty. Do you understand what I am saying?"
"Yes, I do. But, why are you telling me this?"
"Kathryn, I want to take you in, and train you to be one of my knights, if Her Majesty accepts you, of course."
"You want to train me to be one of Elaine's Knights?" Kathryn asked, her eyes wide with wonder.
"No, I want you to be one of my knights. We serve and protect Elaine, and Avalon, but we do not get the glory that other Knights get. We don't travel around in the fancy blue and silver uniform. People don't say our names in awe. People don't say our names at all, if we are doing our duty properly."
"I- I see. The most important thing though is that you serve Avalon and Queen Elaine."
"I'm glad you understand. I don't expect your answer right away," Bors said, as he stood up. "I'll give you a week to think this over. Until then, I wish you well."
"No matter how I decide, I want you to know I appreciate the honor you have bestowed upon me. Thank you."
Bors smiled, then left the room. Kathryn's heart raced. What was she to do?