What Has Gone Before
Sterling Castle, home of widower Lord Selivant and his only daughter, Lady Glensi. Selivant and his oldest friend, Lord Pellandres, swore that their children would be married, forever binding their families together. Lady Glensi, “The Lady of Sterling” has other plans. She has no intention of giving up her title or her authority over the castle.
Lady Denai, Lord Pellandres only daughter, has recently met her oldest brother, Sir Gwinas, who is engaged to Lady Glensi. Pellandres’ clan lives in Alkeep Castle, just an hour away from Sterling. Denai has five brothers — all with blonde hair — but she has red, curly hair. She also has a habit of finding herself in the forest at night with no idea how she got there.
Marinus Felix Hrauthwulfson is the best soldier in Pellandres’ army, but because of his heritage (his father was Roman and his mother was a Pict), Pellandres cannot knight him. Instead, he has given the soldier the privilege and honor of protecting his only daughter, Lady Denai.
Nikole Sutton has only newly arrived at Sterling Castle. Selivant’s brother, Sir Dalan “the Mad,” brought her back after one of his adventures. She has shown some training in the Old Ways and some unorthodox thinking when confronted with problems.
With the arrival of Sir Gwinas, the preparations for marriage have begun. But secret complications arise when Gwinas accidentally reveals that he is a Christian knight, not a pagan like his father and mother.
Lady Glensi had a plan. A seating plan. She had everything arranged with all the nobles sitting in politically safe seats. Keep Nidian away from her father and Pellandres. Seat Einon close to Pellandres and away from her father. Make sure everyone had someone they could talk to. And put her betrothed close enough that she could talk to him or ignore him as she saw fit.
Then, Pellandres screwed everything up. One of his soldiers rescued his wife and insisted that he sit at the lords’ table. Ah, well. Things change.
And that’s when the Knight in the Grey Cloak showed up. He stood at the gate, waiting permission to enter. And when he did, he removed his hood and his face was as bright as a star and his hair was like fire. He was from the Faerie Court, a messenger from the Queen of the Wood and he carried a message from Her Highness. “Why was she not invited to the party?” he asked.
Lady Glensi apologized and told the Knight in the Grey Cloak that the Queen was more than welcome to attend. (And thought to herself, “More re-arranging of chairs. Wonderful.”)
The Knight in the Grey Cloak said that the invitation had to be delivered, by hand, to the Wood. Otherwise, the Queen would take insult at being ignored. “And the note,” he said, had to be delivered by Glensi’s hand.
After the Knight left, Nikole advised Glensi to take the note herself to the edge of the Wood. “That’s all that’s required,” she said. Glensi wrote the note on fine parchment, sealed it with wax and rode her horse to the edge of the wood where she left it.
Meanwhile, Lady Denai of Alkeep Castle watched her oldest brother practice swordsmanship with the other knights. Sir Gwinas (the one engaged to Lady Glensi) fought like a Southern knight: his style was all circles and motion. The Northern knights fought with brutal, straight cuts, hoping to wear down their opponent. Gwinas fought in circles, fighting around them, avoiding their blows. She smiled watching her brother, so proud of him.
Then, Lord Selivant (Glensi’s father) arrived. He saw Sir Gwinas’s fighting technique and challenged him. He attacked quickly with powerful strikes. Glensi tried to hold his own, but Selivant was a man who had seen many battles, killed many men. He defeated Gwinas quickly. Denai comforted her brother. He said, “I have to be better.”
Inspired by her brother, Denai asked her bodyguard Marinus (“Merry”) to practice sword fighting with her. They found a private place in the castle and resumed their practice. Merry gave her advice. “You are small. You must fight to get in close. Then, they cannot defend against you.” Denai listened and kept practicing. As they practiced Merry quietly wondered if her brother lost the duel with Selivant because of skill or because the boy did not want to offend his future father-in-law.
II: The Feast
Guests began to arrive. Lord Nidian — a scoundrel, knave and villain — arrived with his wife. Master Einon, the Enchanter of the North and High Priest of the Goddess, entered with the assistance of the young (Enchantress?) Nikole Sutton. Lady Glensi sat next to her betrothed. He was courteous but seemed uncomfortable.
The Queen of the Wood arrived accompanied by the Knight in the Grey Cloak. When Lady Denai saw her, she felt her heart pounding in her chest, her blood rushing to her face. She could not draw her eyes away from the beautiful Queen. She did not notice that her bodyguard, Marinus, also could not stop staring at her.
Lord Selivant stood and made a toast. Marinus, used to sitting at the soldiers’ table and not at the lords’ table, kept whispering under his breath, thinking he was not being heard. He saw Lord Pellandres glaring at him and he fell silent.
During the dinner, at one of the common tables, Nikole sat next to Sir Dalan, the Mad. He also glared at the Queen of the Wood, but not out of fascination, out of rage.
Earlier, he told the story of how he bested a faerie knight who was guarding a bridge (as commanded by his Queen). When he heard that knight had been executed for failing her, his rage grew red hot.
Nikole told him, “You cannot do anything against her.”
Dalan said, “Yes, I can.”
She calmed the mad knight down and he agreed not to despoil the party with bloodshed. “Even if it is only faerie blood.”
Meanwhile, at the table, Sir Gwinas asked his betrothed, “Is that Sir Dalan?”
Lady Glensi said, “Yes. That is my uncle. He is full of stories. Most of them wild fantasies of his imagination.”
Gwinas shook his head. “No. If that is Sir Dalan, he is the greatest knight in the world.”
Glensi laughed. “Dalan? He’s delusional. I mean, we love him, but he tells these stories…”
“They are all true,” Gwinas said. “He fought the Giant at Cameliard. He defeated the Black Knight at the Summerspring Well.” He went on and on, retelling all the stories Lady Glensi had already heard, but when he spoke, he spoke with conviction and awe.
“Your uncle,” he said, “is the greatest knight in the world!”
Glensi thought about this. About whether or not her uncle, who she loved, but always knew was crazy, could have actually done all the things he said he had done.
When the music began, everyone started dancing. Master Einon wanted to stand and the Knight of the Grey Robe helped the Druid to his feet. Lady Glensi and Nikole both saw a look of sincere empathy on the Faerie Knight’s face.
While the dancing continued, Lord Pellandres took Marinus aside. He spoke with a harsh voice. “You are the best man in my castle,” he told Marinus. “Out of all the men, you are the most deserving of being a knight. But you cannot embarrass me like that. You cannot act like a soldier if you sit at the Lords’ table.”
Marinus wished to speak, but he remained silent. When Pellandres was done, Marinus said, “Yes, my Lord.” And they returned to the party.
Lady Glensi found herself dancing with her betrothed after her father and Glensi’s mother insisted. “I do not know how to dance,” he told her. “Neither do I,” she said. “Let us go out into the garden.”
“Alone?” he asked.
She said nothing, but grabbed his hand and took him out to the garden.
There, she told him her true feelings. “I do not want to marry because I will lose everything I have earned.”
Gwinas said, “Why?”
“Because when I am married, I am someone else’s possession. I will no longer be the Lady of Sterling. I’ll be… someone’s wife.”
Gwinas didn’t understand. “Why would you not be the Lady of Sterling?”
“You don’t understand,” she told him, “because you’re a man. If you were a woman, you would understand.”
Meanwhile, inside the castle, Nikole saw Denai staring at the Queen of the Wood. “You are faerie struck,” she told Denai. “Do not go anywhere alone with the Queen.”
“I know,” Denai said. “She’s just so lovely. But I will be careful.”
“Don’t just be careful,” Nikole said. “Stay away from her.”
Dancing continued. As Denai danced, she kept watching the Queen. And as she danced, she began to hear the Queen’s voice, as if they were dancing together. Her eyes grew wider, her heart beat against her chest. And then, she switched partners and found herself dancing with Lord Nidian’s son, Sir Archade. The knave’s son. The scoundrel’s son. Her surprise caught her off guard, and while she thought of something to say, he took her hand and pushed a ring onto her finger. It caught her knuckle and drew blood. She looked down and saw it was a ring made from iron.
And the Queen’s voice was no longer in her head.
Sir Archade said nothing. Denai nodded slightly and they continued to dance.
At her table, Nikole drank wine. She saw one of the knights watching her: Sir Cymrain, the Falcon. It was rumored that his pet was a gift from a grateful faerie or perhaps an Enchantress. Nikole did not hesitate. She stood and grabbed his hand.
“We’re dancing,” she said.
“I do not know…” he started.
“It doesn’t matter,” she told him, and dragged him to the floor.
END OF PART 2