The Pendragon banner writhed on moaning gales above the victorious and dead. Arthur’s knights waded from the blood-soaked marsh.
Warriors removed mail hoods, slinging musky sweat from their hair. Though Guinevere’s neck ached under the helmet’s weight, she dared not remove it. Not in front of those who called her by the name of a dead man. The false goatee prickled at her lip, threatening to slip.
A rasp called from the corpse-strewn field. “Gawain!”
She turned at the name she wore on her brother’s behalf. She alone knew the secret—how death had seized Gawain’s heart on their journey to Camelot. Guinevere vowed to fulfill his dreams of knighthood. Even when crowned, she maintained her oath.
Shadows blurred near-dead and corpses. She tramped the muck with drawn sword. “Who calls me? Foe?”
She squinted down. “Agravain?”
“Aye, brother.” He coughed black ooze.
Guinevere crouched. “Who did this to you?”
“Lancelot. He plots …” Agravain wheezed. “King Arthur against our mother and sister. Plead to the queen. And beware.”
“Lancelot. He plots … King Arthur against our mother and sister. Plead to the queen. And beware.”
Guinevere rose. Twilight’s chill bit through her armor.
“Gawain!” Lancelot called from the distance. “We bury our fellows on the morrow. Hie to Evyndale.”
The knights soon reached Evyndale, where the Hoary Tusk’s innkeeper greeted them at the door. “Two per room. Choicest a’the corner.”
Lancelot tossed him a pouch. “King Arthur arrives after midnight, whence Gawain and I shall surrender our quarters.” Lancelot smirked at Guinevere. “Come, let us warm the royal bed.”
Guinevere rushed upstairs and ducked into the first chamber, moonlit by a window. She removed her helmet. Her false goatee flew off. Guinevere dashed after it. Knelt and groped. Footsteps drummed the hall. As her fingers landed on the furry tuft, the knob rattled.
“Moment’s wait.” She scraped fixative from her medallion’s niched back. Stuck the whiskers into place.
Lancelot entered and slammed the door behind him. “Time for waiting has gone.”
Guinevere stood and spun toward him. As she reached for her sword, he grabbed her wrists. Slammed her against the wall.
“What foul business is this?”
“As foul as you like. My queen.” Sneering, he leaned close. Brushed his beard across her lips, stripping the hairpiece. “I’d rather call you the daughter of my king’s enemy. Your mother, Morgause, plans to take the throne.”
“Serpent!” Guinevere spat into his face. “You could not be more low or less true.”
His grip firm on her wrists, Lancelot licked the spittle away. “Ah, but Arthur will believe me. Once Morgause takes blame for his murder, Camelot will need a new king.”
“Traitor!” She kicked him off-balance and broke free. Drew her sword and pointed it at him.
He countered, aiming his own sword. “My lady, don’t be rash.”
“Do not think me a weak damsel. I’ve skill and fire you can’t imagine. I’ll not be so easily taken.”
“Enthralling.” He winked.
She lunged, nicking the mail at his ribs before he skipped aside. She swung at his neck. He parried the blade away.
Lancelot kicked her knee and hacked at her wrist, jarring the hilt from her grasp. “I offer you a choice.”
As she lunged for the sword, he aimed his blade at her throat. She froze. “You’ve nothing for me, rogue. I’m not afraid to die.”
“A tragic option, since your death would seal the fate of your mother.” He pouted.
“I see no choice but to slay you.” She swatted his blade and dove to retrieve her weapon.
Lancelot swiped, but she rolled aside. She stabbed the back of his knee. He groaned, but hammered her elbow. As Guinevere’s sword clattered to the ground, he pounced onto her.
“I am your queen!” She twisted her head aside.
“You are my chess piece. And Arthur’s weakness.” He grabbed her chin and turned her to face him. “Choose your defense. Who do you most love, king or mother?”
She slapped at him, but he caught her arm.
Lancelot tisked. “Such things can get you killed. If you die, I must visit Morgause and deliver her children’s heads. Right before I torture her to death for the king’s murder. Your mother’s life lies in your hands.” His sour breath steamed over her face. “Do I have your allegiance?”
Horses approached the stable below the window. It could not yet be midnight, but she recognized one rider’s familiar voice.
Pressing a finger to Lancelot’s chin, Guinevere summoned a velvet tone. “I’m overcome, mighty knight. Shall I serve you best in my brother’s guise, or as a lady?”
He pulled her hood off, chestnut tresses tumbling free. “Gawain can be no more.” He caressed her cheek. “I need a damsel’s charms.”
She pressed his chest. “Would you disarm me now?”
Lancelot stood. Helped her rise. “Eagerly.”
After he stripped her gear, she hugged her arms over the thin linen. “I shall freeze in my shift. While you stand armor-clad. Not the makings of an allegiance.”
She strained her ears, but the halls lay silent.
“Allow me to comfort you.” He disrobed, leering.
Footsteps pounded the hallway. Lancelot turned his head. Guinevere tackled the knight onto the cot.
King Arthur stormed in. The circlet’s gleam paled above the fiery glare in his eyes. “What’s the meaning of this?”
Guinevere prostrated herself before him. “I confess, my lord. We are lovers. I beg your mercy. Swift death, or banishment.”
“No!” Lancelot shot upright. “Let one of us remain in your service. It’s the only way to be sure of—”
“Sure of what?” Arthur drew his sword and pinned it against the knight’s exposed chest. “You think me so weak? I’ll not suffer your presence, nor create a martyred lover. Despite her betrayal, I cannot bear to execute my beloved. Banished it is.”
Knights whisked the betrayers out of the inn. They bound Guinevere and heaved her onto the rump of a steed. She jostled over rough countryside to the land of her exile. As Camelot’s bannered parapets faded in the distance, she gazed at them and smiled.
Meet the Author
Wife, mom, and latte junkie, Tina has won more than a dozen writing awards, including FCWC’s 2013 Writer of the Year. She enjoys writing nonfiction and speculative fiction while helping clients optimize their lives through her online coaching business, Divine Encouragement, LLC. Inspirational speaker and mentor with Word Weavers International, she loves to bring encouraging messages through spoken and written words. Come visit her for a virtual cup of java at divineencouragement.com and tyeagerwrites.com.