(with apologies to the ghosts of Mallory and Chretien de Troyes, and definitely the 21st-century inspiration, too!)


In the bad old days when men were manly, armor clanked and metal was considered a blacksmith’s prerogative, there lived a lady Guinevere. Guinevere had been brought up to believe that if she could master the art of armor-cleaning and castle sweeping, then she, too could find a knight to call her own forevermore, and the Saxon hordes would always, but always, go find some other places to loot that had much better weather and more willing women to ravage.

So Guinevere’s father waded his way through an army of suitors for her flower-like hand. Then, the perfect prospect came along. He was young, he was a king, no less, he was noble, chivalrous, and rather hot, in a high-minded, kingly way. His name was Arthur, but Guinevere’s father wasn’t going to hold that against him.

Nor was Guinevere. She packed her trousseau and set off for Camelot, fully expecting her Arthur the perfect to deliver the perfect Happily-Ever-After. And for the longest time, Arthur did. She was treated like the queen he had made her from the minute she woke up until she sank into the swan’s down bed at night with a sigh, and not even Arthur dreamed of complaining. He had gotten what he wanted. His armor never clanked or chinked, the castle courtyard was flawlessly kept and strewn with flowers every morning, and everyone, down to the lowliest stableboy apprenctices, loved Guinevere. Guinevere was lovely to look at, lively to listen to, and kind. She really did care about her subjects, and her subjects responded in kind whenever she walked by wafting perfume and promises of sunshine and happiness.

Then, one day, Arthur barged in on her in the bath, all excited, just not where Guinevere felt it mattered.

“He’s coming! He’s coming!” he cried. “My best friend and loyal knight Lancelot is returning from Joyous Garde! He’ll be here tomorrow – bettter go tell the cook and the baker and the candlestick maker-” he stopped in mid-sentence, distracted by the sight of Guinevere’s D-cups clothed in lily-scented bath bubbles.

“Well…” he swallowed hard and blinked, for there was no time for dallying if Lancelot was coming. “I’d better…
go. We shall have a party, yessirree, and Merlin to do the fireworks and where is that dastardly magician anyway, I haven’t seen him in days…” And so distracted, Arthur left the bathroom. Being chivalrous, however, he did remember to close the door behind him, to keeo out the draught.

Guinevere sank further down in the steamy water and considered painting her toes, if only for a change.

After all, Lancelot was coming. Whoever he was.

What he was – was a good deal of everything Arthur never was, she discovered. Lancelot and Arthur were like night and day – literally. Arthur lived his life and his emotions right out in the open – on his face and in his moods. So noble were his moods, so kingly was his face, that noone would ever doubt who and what he was.

But Lancelot. But Lancelot…

Lancelot carried himself with the air of someone who knew far more than he would ever tell, and would only tell what he thought you needed to know, which was never what you wanted to hear. He was as dark as Arthur was fair. He also, she noticed, had a very nice pair of legs, especially in black leather riding trews.

That night at the party, Guinevere toyed with her wine and thought distinctly un-queenly, unseemly thoughts. She noticed his impact on her ladies. They were simpering and smiling and flirting and sighing. Each of them were quite obviously hoping that he would pick her to haul off into the stables and the hayloft, since he might be rough and obviously knew how to tumble.

Lancelot never noticed. He seemed moody and preoccupied at a feast in his honor, and refused to tell even Arthur why.

Guinevere was why. He saw the way her hair curved up and out over her shoulders, he breathed in the heady scent of myrrh and Thracian roses, he could almost feel the lines of her neck where it met her shoulders in one delicious, creamy curve. And he noticed that she was amazingly easy to talk to.

So they did. And as time went on, they talked. He knew things she did not, such as how to slay dragons, how to hatch them, and even, he told her one night when the wine had hit him hard, how to make them from scratch and dust and air and fire. Those, he told Guinevere, were the most dangerous of all, the dragons of your own making.

“Because…” he fixed his eyes on hers, and his were the very blue of lost hopes and drowned dreams, “those are the dragons that are hardest to kill.”

Guinevere looked right back, trying not to drown. For the first time in her life, she had met someone she could have entire conversations with, just by gazing into his eyes, and without a word being spoken. He knew what she meant, and she knew what he said, and not one word had been uttered.

He did other things to surprise her, He would hunt wild boars and bring them back to Camelot. He brought back new and strange minstrels from Joyous Garde, who sang dark, intriguing tales of mayhem and madness and the blackest of lusts and passions that ate you. Alive.

The songs those minstrels sang kept Guinevere awake at night. or else it was wondering, what it would be like, to be eaten alive by a passion. Or by Lancelot. Once that heretical thought had popped into her head, it refused to leave, no matter how many baths she had. She was being foolish and stupid. She was far too old for this sort of thing. He had no shortage of those who were younger, and lovelier, and they came, and they came and they were sent away again, and Lancelot went back to seek out Guinevere, for Guinevere, unlike the young lovelies, was never, ever boring.

And all the while, their friendship grew and flourished, and while they talked of everyday things and places they had seen and things they had done. But their real relationship existed not in the words of what they said, but in the silent spaces in between, in a glance that passed and was gone in an instant, except it wasn’t.

Guinevere’s skin began to crawl. If she couldn’t, if she didn’t, just once, just to get it and get him out of her head and out from under her skin and her fevered imagination, then she would wither away like a frost-blighted flower, and never, ever, know about passions that were black.

That was one thought that made her want to cry.

(to be continued…)