And ſoo they mette as theyr poyntemente was & ſo they were agreyd & accorded thorouly / And wyn was ſette and they dranke / Ryght ſoo came an adder oute of a lytel hethe buſſhe & hyt ſtonge a knyght on the foot / & when the knyght felte hym ſtongen he looked doun and ſawe the adder / & than he drewe his ſwerde to ſtrike the adder / & thought of none other harme / And whan the hooſt on bothe partyes ſaw that ſwerde drawen than they blewe beamous trumpetes and hornes and ſhouted grymly And ſo bothe hooſtes dreſſed hem to gyders…
~Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
𝔗he din rose of horns blowing and drums rolling, of horses neighing and pawing at the ground, of knights of Logres calling to their squires for spears and swords and the last pieces of armor that they had hoped not to have to don. Two crowned kings raced back to their own armies–formerly one army–seeking the protection of the men that they led, and the eyes that were not on the last tasks of arming and drawing up for battle were riveted upon them. They did not see a single man, sword still in hand and mail upon his shoulders, staggering back from the line that was rapidly forming. He had been on its edge, close enough for the glint of his steel to be seen when he had swung it both too early and too late, and now he limped away. With each step, his leg dragged more and more. His knee began to buckle under him, accepting less and less of the weight of bone and sinew and muscle and the steel they held with each jerking motion.
At last, his leg would bear him no longer. His vision began to blur, and the man lowered himself down to rest against a tree-trunk, looking on as two ribbons of steel and bright cloth merged and became one, dying itself red and cutting itself away. The screams of horses meeting the points of spears and the edges of swords, the bellows of a few men trying in vain to make sense of the melee, calls of horns beginning and ending abruptly reached him–as did another sound, that of the rustling of leaves as a weight settled down beside him.
“It is a rather splendid thing, isn’t it?”
The mail-clad man turned his head, doing so with some difficulty. Beside him sat a slender man, clad in a dark green that bordered on black, a neatly trimmed dark beard and moustache hiding his cheeks and chin and upper lip from view; his head was bald and pale, and his eyebrows were dark and bushy. They loomed over dark eyes that looked out over the shrinking armies and growing piles of bodies on the field nearby, smiling at the increasing murder that formed above them as crows came, called by the clangor of conflict.
The mail-clad man rasped out “Who are you?”
The green-clad man glanced at the other, moving his eyes but not his head. “Strange that you should ask me that. Should not a knight announce himself when he comes into another’s lands and home?”
The mail-clad man nodded weakly. “You have the right of it, truly.” He coughed.
The other man smiled. “But I do know who you are. You are the man who broke the truce. You have made what would have been a tense but stable truce between two into,” and he waved his hand at the battle that still raged on. “You have brought about the end of Logres. And I thank you for it.”
The mail-clad man coughed again, hacking out the word “Why?”
“Why did you do it? For that, you will have to seek elsewhere.”
“No.” More coughing. “Why–why do–you thank–me?”
“Know you not why? Ah, but the adder! The venom is having its effect on you, certainly.” The green-clad man leaned in. “And I have a cure for it, if you would have it. I know your kind do not abstain from such things. Do not many of your fellowship–former members, most of them, now–wear a green girdle? Do they not for that the king’s nephew or brother–it is hard to know which, anymore–took up once?”
The mail-clad man nodded again. “It is…as you say.”
A smile from the green-clad man. “Will you then accept my aid? Will you do as was done before, and act to save yourself from what has befallen you?”
“I am pleased to hear it.” The green-clad man held a small clay bottle. “Drink of this, then. It will end the work of the poison in you.”
Hands shaking, the mail-clad man reached for the botte. The green-clad man took the stopper from it, and the mail-clad man drank. After a halting swallow, he took another, more strongly. A third, and he set the bottle down. “It tastes as water.”
The green-clad man shrugged. “It is not wine, and it is not meant to be. Now, come away. Your battle is not there. Already, with one stroke of the sword, you have slain as few before you have. It is a worthy deed for a knight, is it not? To fell all the fellowship of Logres–save only a handful, perhaps. Who can claim the same? And how many have tried to do so?” He stood and offered his hand to the mail-clad man.
The latter took it, and he came to his feet with seemingly little effort. “That was a powerful medicine, friend. You must be a mighty physician.”
Another shrug. “I have my ways. And you and I must be on them.”
The mail-clad man shook his head. “I cannot.” He gestured at the fight that still continued, although with far fewer than had begun it. “I must go to them. I am sworn to my king.”
“Nothing you can do will save him.”
“Then I will avenge him.”
“It will do him no good. Nor you. But you have accepted my aid in the hour of your utmost need. Will you demur now? Will you throw away that which you have bought from me? Think you that you can do so? No. You will come with me, and we will leave these to do as they must.”
“Again, I say that I will not away hence.”
“Yet, again, I say that you will.” The green-clad man stared at the mail-clad, and the latter met his gaze. The dark eyes seemed to widen, dilating past where the irises should be, past even the lids, opening into abyssal, fuliginous pools. “You will come with me.”
The mail-clad man found that he could not resist. As the green-clad man walked away, the mail-clad man followed. Behind them, the battle raged on, dwindling in size as fewer still stood to fight.
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