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chapter three

gawain

I was woken before the sun came up the next morning by a servant who brought me water to wash and a clean change of clothing that was not dirty from my travels. I had slept better than I expected to, most likely from mental exhaustion more than anything else, but I had slept the entire time in my dusty traveling clothes and I was glad of the chance to wash and change.

            I had been given instructions the night before to report to the barracks where I would be staying from then on, to help Sir Gawain ready himself for the morning. I was unsure of whether I should bring him breakfast, but decided it best to ask him when I got there as I knew nothing of his habits or what he liked to eat.

            I found his room and came upon him while he was sitting on the side of his bed, yawning and stretching, but he still spared me a grin as I came in. “Ah, young Mordred. I hope you are well rested after your travels. I am sorry that you are not yet a knight as you had hoped, but I will be glad to have you as my squire.”

            “It is all right,” I told him, trying a smile back, rather unable to help myself in the presence of his contagious grin, but I was so out of practice. I had not smiled in years. “What shall I do for you first, sir?”

            “First, you can call me Gawain or Sir Gawain in polite company, but nothing else,” he said with a grimace and I blushed slightly. “Second, you can fetch me a bowl of water to wash and find me something for breakfast. After that it’s out to the lists.”

            I did as he asked and once he had eaten, insisting I eat with him, I helped him on with his armor and we headed out to the lists in a field outside the castle grounds where other knights could already be seen clanging away at each other with their swords, quarterstaffs, maces and flails, and all manor of weaponry. Some had their horses and were tilting against targets, while others were teaching their mounts maneuvers for battle.

            My task, I found, was very simple, I was to stay on the sidelines with Sir Gawain’s various weaponry and wait until he called for a specific type. I watched him fight with the other knights, all of them laughing and jesting amongst each other in a happy brotherhood that I envied deeply. Not only that, but they were excellent fighters, and I saw easily why Sir Gawain was one of Arthur’s closest and most trusted companions. He fought with a grace that belied his size and seemed adequate in all forms of fighting and weaponry. It was a joy to watch him and the others fight, for while I knew a little of swordplay, which Lady Morgan had taught me from her vast knowledge, I had never seen men fight who really knew what they were doing. I found myself hoping, rather childishly, that Gawain would consider teaching me some of his skills.

            At that moment he was fighting a man even bigger than himself, though younger, and I thought that it was possible he was even a student himself, though he could certainly fight me into the ground any day. Just watching the power behind the blows he and Gawain swung at each other—and this only practice—both frightened me and inspired awe.

            By midmorning, Sir Gawain and his fighting partner called a draw and walked off the field, hardly even breathing heavily, and came over to me where I stood on the sidelines with a bucket of water for them to refresh themselves.

            “This is my new squire Mordred,” Gawain presented me to his companion as he pulled the dipper out of the bucket and drank deeply. “Mordred, this is Sir Percival, another of Arthur’s circle.” I took that to mean they belonged to the rumored ‘Round Table’ which, according to what I had heard, was one of Arthur’s revolutionary ideas that he created to show that no one man was greater than another, for no one, not even the king, can sit at the head of a round table. I was curious to see this round table for myself.

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