One Patent Knight
Word Count: 1097
Sir Stranford looked down at his wife. The sweat of effort glistened upon her skin, only enhancing her ethereal beauty. She had fainted at the last. Insensate to the fresh cries of the son she had pushed forth into the world. Stranford looked on as the midwife wiped the birthing from the infant who squalled at the rough treatment and chill of the room. He smiled at the thought that as his wife had pushed their son from her womb, in short years, he would do the same. Pushing their son out of their house and into the world to make his mark. The mark of a Knight of Bretonnia.
"What is his name?" Asked Stranford. The child's name would have been whispered to his mother by the Lady during the birth.
"Leal." The midwife bowed low, her voice quavered with fear. "Milord."
"Faithful?" Stranford snorted. "That is no name for a warrior."
After those short years, Leal celebrated his thirteenth. His manservant, given to him at five, locked down the final buckle.
"Dog! Is he not ready?" Lord Stranford bellowed from the hall.
"Aye, milord!" Dog shouted back.
"Able. He needn't be so rude", Leal rolled his shoulders to resettle the breastplate.
"Nay, sir. He must. Tis his oath and mine."
Leal looked down at his pudgy manservant. Strong as any peasant, Able could not think beyond his next meal nor imagine his life as more than with what he awoke. Leal gave a moment to send a prayer to the Lady, thanking her for his friend, though Able would be frightened and his father mortified if either heard the silent thanks.
"Hmph!" Stranford inspected his son. "Here."
A long sword sheathed in wood and silver, semi-precious stones adorning its hilt and scabbard was tossed at Leal. A short pull to appraise the blade and workmanship. Leal nodded his appreciation to his father and together they headed to the faire grounds.
"By the Lady!" Abrielle cried out as the Stranfords arrived and she swiftly adjusted her skirts as they approached. "Tis a happy hour, your arrival, Leal."
Abrielle was a petite girl of fourteen and Leal could not remember when he had not been in love with her. It was his fifth birthday when the Lady had bestowed upon him his two greatest friends; Abrielle Touchet and Able the peasant.
"Attend to the lists after your hellos, Leal."
Abrielle rushed over and threw her arms around Leal. It had been some weeks since they last saw one another.
"And the Lady's blessing upon you, good Able."
She smiled at Able who blushed and scuffed his feet as he mumbled a response. He knew of Leal's love for Abrielle and speaking to her made him feel awkward and confused. Able shouldered the embarrassment gamily, as it never seemed to daunt Leal, and he thought someone should be tongue-tied in the face of the beautiful girl.
"I enter my first tourney today! As a man!" Leal laughed. "At its end, I will ask your father for your hand."
Abrielle's mouth fell open as her face grew flushed.
"Father will be displeased, but deep down he'll take pride in the audacity."
Abrielle began to shake her head and Leal frowned.
"Nay, good Leal. I am already betrothed, I came to tell you before your entered the faire."
Sorrow laced her announcement.
"Whom is to take your hand?"
Abrielle looked away as her hands fell to Leal's arms. He had not relinquished his hold of her and she could feel the tightness of his hands where his fingers dug into her waist. She could not face the look in his eyes.
"Roswald? That upstart from the Empire? Has Chaos taken your father?"
Able's cough broke the tableau and they took in a man striding toward the trio.
"Ah ha! There you are. Both of you!" The swarthy man called out.
"Abrielle has told you the good news then?"
Leal nodded, glaring at his rival. What had been a childhood animosity expanded beyond.
"I will meet you in the lists." Leal turned away, letting Abrielle stumble as she was released.
Roswald grinned darkly.
Weeks later, a letter arrived that told of Abrielle's summoning to the Lady's service at the Lake. A summoning that erased Abrielle's commitment to Roswald as he would not stain his family line with fairy's blood. Leal was already on the road in a band of Knights Errant. It was some time before the letter caught up with the young man. More time passed before a Knight of the Realm found himself in the company of a Damsel.
"We shall escort a Damsel?" It was the word running through the ranks of the Knights. Some in awe, some in apprehension. Leal sat in his saddle disinterested, but straightened when a familiar voice broke his reverie.
"My Lord General. I shall take this knight as my protector."
The Damsel pulled her horse into line next to Leal.
Gone was the shapeless little girl he remembered and he fought the urge to touch the beautiful vision before him.
"In your care I place this Damsel, Sir Leal."
The words faded away, as the world shrank down to naught but Abrielle and himself.
"You have returned?"
"For this battle. Yes. How fares Able?"
"He awaits at camp. Have you time for a visit? He would take pleasure in seeing you again."
"Aye. And how fare you? Word has reached me that you are Lord Stranford. Who is now your lady?"
Leal paused, thinking back to the moments before his first tourney.
"The Damsel Abrielle Touchet."
Abrielle fell silent for a moment, remembering his proposal and her current commitment.
"Then the lady is away?" She asked. "A shame, for if I had the time, I would come visit for I most desire to meet the wife of my greatest friend."
"Perhaps an opportunity will present itself."
The battle horns sounded and across the field the enemy approached. They dismounted as the call for the Lady's Prayer was sounded.
It would be some years before there would be such an opportunity presented to a Grail Knight and a Prophetess.
Abrielle gazed at her lifelong friend. Time and war transformed him from boy to a man of steel.
"Prophetess?" Leal spoke first. "The Lady called me here."
"A prayer was sent. You have come."
Leal frowned, puzzled, as Abrielle moved before him and slid her hands into his.
"Who is your lady wife? Could you remind me? For I would meet this wife of my friend."
(A very abridged 'The Price of a Grail')