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A month had passed, almost more quickly than I could blink, and in that time, I had managed to very nearly forget Morgan la Fay all together. I became happier, and my training was making me stronger by the day. I still was not as broad as the men I looked up to, and likely never would be, but I could handle a sword and a mace, which made me feel rather accomplished and I had gained some more muscles to my slight frame. I had become a moderately skilled swordsman, and had finally moved on to using real swords when I sparred which I did every day, mostly with Gawain but also with Percival, Bedivere, and always Arthur when he was able to make it to the lists, which gave me no small amount of joy as any son would feel in the presence of the father he adored. And though I knew well enough that I was not really his son, I had come to truly adore my king and surrogate father as one.
That first month was blissfully uneventful apart from a few scrapes I sustained in training since that first bruise Arthur had given me that had blackened and been painful to the touch for a few days afterward. I had worn it with pride, however, for how many other boys my age had the honor of being bruised in a practice duel with the king?
Then came the time when Arthur decided to organize a hunt, wanting to get out of the palace and having heard rumors of wolves roaming the countryside nearby. I had secretly hoped that Gawain, or more importantly, Arthur himself, would ask me to come along, but it was not to be. Gawain simply had me pack his bags and then patted me on the shoulder as he left, telling me to be good. I would have moped like a child had I not been charged with a task by Arthur himself just as he was riding away and I was standing aside, after bringing Fenna for Gawain, to watch them go.
“Mordred,” he told me, pulling up his mount right beside me. “I wish it that you would act as Guinevere’s personal guardian while I am gone. And keep her company. Can I trust you?”
“Of course, my lord!” I exclaimed, and he smiled, impulsively cupping his hand against my cheek before he kicked his horse into motion and left with a hunting party of all his most faithful knights.
I sighed at their parting, feeling the memory of his rough hand against my cheek in that fatherly gesture, envisioning myself riding alongside him, and bringing down a wolf single-handedly. But I had a task to uphold, and I would need to be about it. I stopped at my room to wash and change into my nicer set of tunic and hose for if I would be serving in the palace for the next two days at the hand of the queen herself, I would need to look presentable, and not smell of the stable and my work in the lists. The part of me that was no longer a child realized that Arthur had likely set me this task for the soul purpose that I wouldn’t feel disappointed from not going on the hunting trip, and even thought with some melancholy that Arthur likely thought the same thing; but I was a young man still, and not so old that the task seemed like an insult. And, as I was later to find out, it proved to be the most important thing Arthur could have asked of me. I liked to think later, that he might have had that thought in mind when he gave me the command, but I never got around to actually asking him.
After I had freshened myself, I strode off for the castle, and though I was still a little sad about not getting to join the hunt, I was in a better mood now. I looked to one side where I saw three figures standing outside the barracks and realized it was Lancelot and his two fellow knights, talking together before they cast a furtive look my way. I frowned, wondering why they had not gone on the hunt as well, but decided it must be something to do with Lancelot’s fall from grace.