I’ve been dreaming full story lines lately. Most of them are entertaining enough at the time, but not worth recording. But King Arthur’s ringing voice the other night convinced me to try to capture the idea.
The leaders of his army stood in a circle around Arthur. It meant that he could not see each of the knights at the same time, but they could see each other. That was the point.
“We have worked hard together and won a space of freedom and peace.” Arthur turned slowly as he spoke so that he met the eyes of each of the fifteen knights in the circle. “But the invaders will come again. To be ready, we must unite the disparate and often fractious realms of this land.”
A smile come to Arthur’s face as he met the eyes of Lancelot. He held the smile as he turned to dark-haired Gawain, standing next with arms crossed and feet spread wide.
“Gawain, my companion. Your courage and your constancy are renowned.” Arthur heard a slight ripple of a woman’s laughter behind him. The knight Ginavere was right. Stubbornness might be a better word, but this was a day to inspire not criticize. “Gawain, I send you to your father King Lot. Share with him what is in your heart, what you believe about our endeavours here in Camelot. Speak of the good you believe in. You are the best one to reach him, to draw him close to us. I trust you with this.” Gawain unfolded his arms and nodded once.
Next to Gawain was his brother Agravain, his twin in size and shape, but with a face more like a craggy rock face. “Agravain, you are respected in rugged Northumberland. Therefore, I send you north. Ships have been sighted in those waters. Assure the king we will stand at his side to defend his land. Work with him to establish a line of communication that will quickly get us a message should the Norseman come to land in his realm.”
“Aye, Sire,” Agravain said.
“Gaheris,” said the king, “you have ears that all find sympathetic. I send you south and east to Lundein. Saxons landed north and south of them. Fighting was bitter in their lands. Listen to their worries. Listen for news of illness and hunger. Bring us word of what they need. The lords of their city are too proud to ask me for help.” Gaheris bowed his head.
“Patient, gentle Gareth, you I send to Glastonbury. You will stay at the monastery on the shore of the lake, request the time and attention of the lady there. Listen to what she says and what she does not say. If a request is made, come to me immediately. If not, linger for the winter and absorb what you can. Tell stories of Camelot as well, nuggets that will act like seeds, binding us closer together.”
Arthur turned around again, meeting the eyes of each. “The stories you tell of comradeship and loyalty, of victory in the face of bitter defeat will bear fruit. Speak well.” He then turned to the knight beside Gareth, Kay, his foster brother. “Go home, Kay. Bear my thanks to those who helped to raise me. Assess the farms. Talk to the farmers. Much of our food comes from home. We accomplish nothing if we starve.”
The next four knights he sent north west. Then he took one step forward toward the one woman among his closest companions. “Ginavere, the lightness of your humour can ease tension or increase it. Be careful of your laughter.”
“Yes Lord, though it is a subtle weapon and a sharp one.”
“Therefore, use it on your enemies not your friends. I send to Tintagel. Queen Ygraine will receive you, welcome you I do believe. Learn what she has learned. Assure her Cornwall will not fall while I am king.”
“Must I wear skirts, Sire?” A sour expression came to her face.
Arthur smiled broadly. “Bring a dress or two. Ygraine will invite you to sit with her ladies, and they will speak more freely if you look like them.”
“Even in a dress, I do not look the same.”
“Take this as an opportunity to practice then. You may be more useful as a spy in future if you can blend in. But you are going as my knight. Arrive as you are this day. Practice with her knights. Do not get into any unnecessary fights, only those you must to prove you belong as one of my companions.”
Ginavere put her fist to her chest and bowed her head. She always feels like a Roman to me, Arthur thought, though the only stories of women warriors came from farther back and east.
Two more knights were sent to areas of Cornwall and another directly south, each with specific instructions as well as the general command to bring to the hope of the king to all and draw all to Camelot.
Arthur met the eyes of Percival and Galahad, then turned slowly around the circle again. “You will knit together our land. I trust you.” A warm smile came to his face as his gaze returned to Lancelot. “I will miss your company at meals and your advice at my elbow, even your correction, but I ask you to travel across the water to your home. Assess the situation in Brittany. Can they give us aid, or do they require ours?” Arthur longed to step forward and embrace his friend, but there would be time before his departure, and this was not a moment to set anyone apart. Otherwise, what was the point of the circle.
“Now to you Percival and Galahad, the youngest of us here. Your youth might lead some to question your presence in this elite company. But on this day, I name you the most important. We have fought this war so long it is in our blood. In our very nature. But war is not our purpose. And so, I name you Life and Love. “It is your job to remind us why we do battle. Percival, you must teach us again and again that we do not fight to kill, though this is a consequence of battle. We fight to make space for living. And Galahad, you must understand our enemies. Someday we must live side by side. You will visit the isolated villages of the invaders who have remained. Learn of them. Teach us love.” Arthur stepped forward. “You were named last as you hold the places of honour. The work of the others is essential to protecting this land, but it is your work that will keep us from becoming men who only feel alive on the battlefield.” Arthur turned again, more slowly, meeting the eyes of each. “Look at each other. These are your companions. Do not fail me. Do not fail each other. Do not fail the people we are called to serve.”