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A Fairy Tale Of True Love Triumphant - Part 1
By
Kavyansh

A Fairy Tale Of True Love Triumphant - Part 1

Once upon a time before the Normans came to this land, there lived a great king who was renowned for his wisdom and love of peace and justice. Caradoc, for that, was his name, was much loved by his subjects, and anyone, man or woman, was guaranteed a fair hearing in his courts. When he walked or rode about his kingdom, he would greet everyone with a cheery wave and a cry of ‘Good day to you,' and the gift of a gold coin or two from the belt at his waist.

King Caradoc the brave had only one child, a very beautiful daughter, who was the apple of his eye. There was also a great sadness in his life because his beloved wife the queen had died shortly after giving birth to Princess Ceinwen the fair. He had never married again and even after many years, still mourned his queen. Rather than hiding away in the shadows nursing his grief, he devoted his life to providing for his daughter and in surrounding her with beautiful things. His hall was filled with beautiful sculptures, and hanging on the walls were brightly coloured tapestries depicting the hunt or stories from mythology. The hall was surrounded by a great park with herds of deer, and exotic birds on the lake. Beside the hall, the king had created a beautiful garden for his child with tinkling fountains and shady arbours where she could sit to talk with her servants or play her harp.

As King Caradoc had no sons, his kingdom would pass on his death to whoever married Princess Ceinwen, for it was the custom of those days that no woman could be a ruler. As her sixteenth birthday approached all the talk in the surrounding kingdoms was about whom he would choose for her betrothed. Many thought that it should be an older man, perhaps one of his fellow kings and a widower like himself, with experience in matters of state. Others said that to give such a beautiful maiden to someone old and grey, however kindly and wise, would be a crime and that it should be one of the many handsome princes in that land. Of course, the princes themselves all believed that this was by far the wisest choice and spent much time, when they weren't gaming or hunting, in searching for an appropriate gift to welcome her coming of age.

On the felicitous day itself, the king planned a day of great celebration and sent invitations to all his neighbouring monarchs. In the forenoon, there would be an alfresco banquet by the lake followed by a tourney where the finest champions would face each other in single combat, the victor to receive a prize of a jewel encrusted golden goblet. In the evening there would be a great feast of many courses with the finest viands, sweet pastries and exotic fruits, where the guests would be entertained by the finest minstrels and jesters from many lands. The crowning glory of the evening, however, would be the time when the princess herself would sing and play upon her harp, for she had a beautiful voice and had been taught by the very best masters. The following day there would be a great hunt and in the evening another feast when the king would declare his choice of a husband from among the suitors for the princess’s hand. In all these preparations, the king did not forget his humbler subjects, however, and many oxen were slaughtered for roasting on open fires in all the villages in the kingdom.

For weeks beforehand everything was hustle and bustle. Extra servants and cooks were hired, the guest quarters opened up, and spring cleaned, linen washed and food and wine ordered. Carpenters were employed building the arena for the tourney with viewing stands for the spectators, and brightly coloured pavilions were erected in the great park.

ooOoo

I have been very remiss in not telling you more about our heroine, apart from allusions to her beauty and culture, so I will try to remedy that, although fair words can hardly do her justice. When Princess Ceinwen was very little, but no longer in need of a wet nurse, the king, knowing that she would be very lonely and isolated surrounded only by servants and the older men of the court, requested those of the great nobles with a daughter of similar age, to send them to live in the hall and share her education. He appointed tutors in the arts, music, history, literature, poetry, but also in the more practical skills so important to a ruler, such as justice, finance, and agriculture. He was also concerned that his daughter should have sympathy for humble folk and chose her personal servants from the houses of farmers, artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers. One of these, a lass called Gwen, a blacksmith’s daughter, who was just a few years older than the princess, became very attached to Ceinwen, a feeling that was returned so that when Ceinwen entered her teen years, she becomes her personal maid. Knowing too that young girls needed the steadying influence of a more mature woman he appointed a governess, the widow of a farmer with grown up children of her own, who was kindly and gentle but also firm and practical.

By the time she was sixteen, the Princess Ceinwen had grown into a truly beautiful young woman with her father’s blonde hair and blue eyes and her mother’s complexion, which had been compared by poets to the finest rose. With the bloom of youth on her cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes, all the court fell in love with her. Her beauty was matched by her temperament, which was kind and courteous like her father’s. She was a good listener too, gravely paying attention to whoever was talking to her, and only interrupting to ask a question, or with a word of praise or concern. As I have said, she was skilled at the harp and had a delightful voice, soft and modest when speaking, but showing its true glory when she sang — better than any nightingale — and many were the courtiers who swooned when she would sing after supper on the dark winter evenings. Although she was very attentive in all her studies, her favourite subjects were the tales of heroes and heroines from long ago, stories of unrequited love and perilous quests, especially tales of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

ooOoo

Every fairy tale should have a villain, and this one is no exception. Among the many monarchs and princes invited to the celebrations was the king’s cousin, King Iago the sinister. Sadly, King Iago was a bitter and twisted man, opposite to King Caradoc in almost every respect. Where King Caradoc was fair and sunny of visage, he was dark and secretive. Where King Caradoc was just and generous, he was harsh and cruel, ruling his subjects with an iron fist. Worst of all, he was envious of his cousin, and coveted his lands, wanting the kingdom for himself, for King Caradoc's country was fertile and prosperous, with gently rolling hills and pleasant pastures, whereas his was mountainous and barren, with many bogs and tangled thorny forests instead of pleasant rivers and verdant woodland.

It was also rumoured that King Iago had warped and cruel tastes and that in the secrecy of his dark castle, he practised witchcraft and many debaucheries. Even worse, it was whispered in corners, that he kidnapped beautiful maidens and incarcerated them in a deep dungeon, where he would make them dance for him before he satisfied his vile lusts on their innocent bodies. It was even said that he had them torn apart by his dogs for his sport and pleasure.

King Iago knew that he had little chance of being chosen as Princess Ceinwen’s intended husband, for although King Caradoc had to invite him to the celebrations out of courtesy, he had few illusions about his cousin’s true nature, so he hatched a simple but evil plan. Outwardly, like all the other guests, it would appear that he had come to the party in peace, but secretly he planned to bring a small army of his best soldiers, disguised as peasants, their armour and swords concealed in hidden compartments in their wagons. On the day of the hunt, in confusion, he would find the opportunity to kill his cousin and take over the hall by force of arms.

ooOoo

At last the great day arrived. The parkland was filled with a gaily attired throng of retainers, and many of King Caradoc’s happy subjects who had come to enjoy the festivities and celebrate the coming of age of their princess, who was as loved as her father. In the pavilions by the lake, the principal guests mingled and chatted amiably whilst awaiting the arrival of the king and Princess Ceinwen. At a table in a corner two stewards were taking bets on the afternoon’s tourney, the number of supporters for each champion shown by coloured ribbons hanging on a board decorated with their blazon. The contestants were generally well known, and as morning turned into afternoon, there was one clear favourite, a prince from one of the neighbouring kingdoms, an experienced warrior who had won many combats in his time. However, there was one board surmounted by a plain black shield which attracted no favours, and there was much speculation about who the mystery champion might be.

At noon the sound of trumpets announced the arrival of the king. The guests hushed their chatter as King Caradoc, and Princess Ceinwen took their seats on a raised dais. Each guest filed up to be presented to the princess by the principal herald and to offer their gifts. Many of them asked her who her favourite might be in the coming contest, but she just meekly bowed her head and said that it would be unfair to single out one from among so many brave warriors.

Among the many gifts of silver and gold, rich jewels, necklaces, brooches and belt buckles, sables and silver fox furs from Russia, and fine silks from the Orient, one stood out for its simplicity – a single red rose of silk so cunningly crafted that the eye could not distinguish it from a living rose, with a single drop of crystal like a bead of water on its lip. Around the stem was a black ribbon, but no other mark to show whom the giver was. After the presentations had all been made and safely stored away, it was time for the feasting to begin. At a sign from the king, the servants entered bearing plates groaning with sweet pastries of many kinds, delicate cakes with silver icing, concoctions of spun sugar and flagons of fine wines from France and Italy.

The tourney in the afternoon was a colourful and joyful affair, and pennants in bright colours flew from the stands which were garlanded with flowers. The contest was to be a knockout, the contestants for each round to be chosen by lot. Each contest was by single combat with blunted swords, the victor progressing to the next round.

The contestants were introduced by a trumpet fanfare, and the marshall indicated that combat should begin by dropping a large kerchief. As the contests proceeded, the air was filled with the sounds of clashing swords, and the cheers, groans, and booes of the spectators in the stands. After several hours there were only two contestants left, both dust stained and sweating in their armour. As expected, one was the favourite, a renowned champion, in gilded armour and resplendent in his colours of yellow and scarlet, but to the great surprise of the whole multitude, the other was the unknown warrior, in black armour without ornament and carrying a shield of black. After each contest, it was customary for the winner to remove his helmet, and bow to the king and princess, but this strange knight never showed his face, just bowed his head, and lowered his sword in salute, so his identity remained a mystery, although it was obvious to all that he was skilled in combat.

Before the final combat, the king stood and lifted the prize goblet to show the crowd, and turning to the two knights, told them to fight fairly in accord with all the laws of chivalry, before declaring ‘May the best man win.' The two champions took their places in the arena facing each other, the trumpets sounded a final peal, and the marshall dropped his kerchief, the two warriors saluted each other, and then battle commenced. The crowd was hushed, and the only sound was the clang of steel on steel.

At first, neither champion could gain an advantage, despite exchanging mighty blows that would have felled lesser men. After a nearly two score minutes both began to tire, and seeing his advantage, the unknown warrior made a feint, and when his opponent was momentarily off balance, struck him such a blow on his helm that he was felled to the floor where he lay stunned and motionless. The crowd let out a great sigh, believing him dead, but eventually, he weakly raised his hand in surrender, of which there were a great roar and tumultuous applause for the victor. The mystery warrior first offered his hand to his defeated opponent and helped him to his feet, before turning to face the royal party and walking wearily across the arena to receive his prize from the hands of Princess Ceinwen. At last, everyone thought, they would find out the identity of this great champion, but when he finally removed his helmet, his face was concealed by a cloth of black linen, so that all that could be seen were his eyes, dark and glittering like a hawk’s. Having bowed to the king and the princess, he took the goblet from her fair hand, and after lifting his sword in salute walked out of the arena and was soon lost to sight among the pavilions.

ooOoo

At the banquet that evening, everyone looked in vain for the mystery champion among the happy throng seated at the groaning tables. All the other champions were there, gloriously apparelled in brightly coloured silks and satins, many of them nursing a few bruises, but happily discussing the finer points of the day's events nonetheless. A sharp eyed observer might have seen a dark haired man seated in the shadows at the back of the hall, but as his garb was plain, and his demeanour humble, it is unlikely they would have thought him to be the victor of the afternoon’s tourney. On closer observation, one might have noticed the concentration with which he watched the high table and the king’s principal guests, particularly the behaviour of King Iago, but in the general rejoicing, this went unnoticed.

As the night progressed, the guests grew increasingly jolly, and the poor minstrels had great difficult making their voices heard above the hubbub. All were agreed, however, that this was the finest and most merry feast that they had ever enjoyed, and many were the goblet raised in toast to the king and his daughter.

•    To be continued 

 

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Copyright © 2020 by Keith Paver

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