The Warwick Festival of Lights
A comfort this on the battlefields of our lives; for in the clash of arms and worldly strife the pondering of fates and philosophy is a burden to the warrior, and a confusion to bide away the rutal focus of immediate killing-intention and momentary survival in the fray.
But a curse in the darkness of the evening and the gray promise of the coming day; for if our lives are written in the games of the otherworld, what hope to find betterment or merciful release from the tragic events of our past or the failing hopes of youthful idealism?
Can we not change our stories? Can we not cheat the gods and powers both of their amusement? Can not the pawn become a king in his own house and close dominion?
In truth I do not know, but though I will always strive to prove the fate-bound bondage false, I fear more than ever the breadth and far-power of such matters in binding the lives of heroes and lovers and exiles upon the face of this world we watch with wondering eyes and sometimes heavy hearts.
I tell you now the tale of the Falcon Festival of Lights, and how a celebration of life and survival turned darker to embrace the worst of men, to brand a love of fragile beauty with the cruel blessing of a kinsman resolved to curse with lies the breath of a most perilous union.
In Warwick the court of House Falcon gathered to celebrate the ascension of their ancestor, the worthy Knight Cathol, who in the ancient days of Arthur won faith and fair mention in the roles of chivalry and the records of noble conduct and courageous sacrifice.
And now the legend of Cathol was ever close and appropriate; for Falcon Knights and fighters both had lately fought and died in defense of their oath and duty at Caer Llwydd town, in distant Cornovii, and there had Falcon colours fluttered proud indeed in full-noble attendance to the needs of strife and hard combat. And there while blood fell to soak the cold earth, and there while bones were broken by the foeman’s rage, there rose a memory of an older oath, and true-worthy of Cathol’s ancient legend were descendants of that ennobled line.
And now Lord Robert Falcon and his wife of common birth and love, the Lady Madalaine of the golden song, invited all their household to remember Cathol and the ancestry of the Falcon name, and in that remembrance pay tribute to those fighters and heroes who had most lately proved full-able to stand close and proud in the warm light of Cathol’s reflection.
And the courtyard of Warwick castle was filled with lights born aloft by the household, and everywhere the preserved blooms of summer flowers were hung from fittings and tapestries and brocade hangings, and gentle music filled the air, and from the great hall came a greeting and invitation, and in stately lines the gathered company of the great house came in stately poise to receive the blessing and smiling welcome of Baron Falcon and his wife.
A fair ancestor Cathol would seem, if by the virtue of his memory one can judge the mortal man who once served Albion and Prydein, for the wealth of his bounty and the gentle candlelit ceremony was a thing of gentle-mused reflection, and soft-dreamed space to consider the deeds of past and future.
And after a time the gathered throng roused itself from silence, and spoke in low respectful voices of times close and distant, and of dreams fair and graced with honourable bounty.
And then Lord Falcon spoke and called for silence anew, and recounting the deeds of those warriors and auxiliaries who fought at Caer Llwydd, he offered his pride in their actions, and spoke firm congratulations for the goal they had achieved in defending a community of distant well-loved kinsmen by marriage. And Lady Madalaine then presented campaign tokens in silken bonds of emerald brocade to commemorate the deed. And then in final gesture the household bowed itself to the memory of those men and women who would not return from Caer Llwydd, honoured dead these, and long-honoured their memory would be in truth.
Then fresh news, both sweet and bitter entwined, for a party of circle-guards from the town brought the stricken bodies of Hemlock the Wizard and Aspen the Herald to the hall at Warwick. Living yet these emissaries sent beyond the Veil of Albion, but wounded and cruelly treated, for their tongues had been removed and stolen away by the powers of that strange country close-allied with the powers of Story and the ravagers of Albion’s lore and legend. And though healing energies and puissant arts of restoration were employed, neither their tongues nor their voices could be recovered by the powers of those present at the festival of lights.
Alas indeed that fate had conspired to render mute the wisdom of the Falcon while ever more foolhardly and full-malevolent tongues were left to run unchecked with the furious bile of jealousy and jealous resolve!
And as Hemlock and Aspen regained their senses and struggled to convey their experiences and knowledge without words, another of the household, the young prince Edward Falcon, had words of his own to share, and those were bitter words indeed for a recently-married couple, full-taken yet with love and fair regard for souls close-bound in affection and passionate desire.
And Lady Katerina of House Grimmir listened well to the words of Edward Falcon, hearing close the taint of aristocratic jealously and supremacist thought, marking well the fell direction of his rhetoric, and looking on with concern at the implications for Lady Rebecca Beomarise and her husband of that troubled line.
On and on Edward spoke; naming blood nature a thing of resolute certitude, laughing grimly at the questions of common-born attributes, and stating firm pronouncements on the inevitable dominance of noble lines over those spawned by the common herd.
“It is a thing so simple and ingrained in nature as to need no repetition. Spoken plainly, the blood of ancient noble families is empowered beyond the prospects of common wind-blown seed. Our blood … Cathol’s blood, for example, is directly attributable to the superior intelligence and charismatic qualities our line. It would be a nonsense to compare a mongrel family to ours, like staking a thoroughbred hound against a starveling runt at the hunt … a ridiculous prospect I trust you will agree.”
But if others of the household did agree, they kept their peace, and Edward in his turn grew louder and ever more expansive in pace with the strong mead and ale he consumed, until at last he turned his stumbling rhetoric to the matter of his cousin Rebecca, and her marriage to a family he considered of low poor-bred nature and little moment.
“The line of Beomarise is no true line at all, in truth that family are the product and produce of goat-herders and peasants of woeful potential, utterly bereft of the blood-benefits of full-noble birth”.
And hearing this Rebecca turned her eyes away with flashing rage constrained by respect for Lord Robert’s hearth and the sanctity of Cathol’s celebration. Glancing on from her cousin’s exposition with wary attention, she marked well that her husband was involved elsewhere, and mercifully in rigorous conversation with men of more honourable modes and tastes in rhetorical flourish.
And elsewhere still, the hall discussed matters arising from the mission of emissary to the Veil, and of the likely hostilities with the Story Fae, or of the treason of the Hunters, or of the nature of the Dragons, all subjects broaching better the rules of courtesy and civilized restraint, but still Edward waxed further into the extremes of social opinion and poor-regal taste, and try that they might to guide the discourse to gentler pastures, Edward’s audience were continually regaled with slantwise imprecations and gossip bordering on the slanderous and beyond.
In an attempt to lighten the mood; Ladies Madalaine and Beatrice performed a new song composed in fitting accolade to the Dragon invasion of the Harts encampment at the gathering of nations, and though the words were passing bold in their evocation of the twitching horror that flowed past gates betrayed by the hunter guard, and though the chorus was full-crafted levity to raise the spirits of all, and though the Dragons would henceforth weep in shame to listen to this denouncement of their form and face and manner, the song alone was no bar to Edward’s behavior, and even before the last notes and admiring laughter and applause had died away, the heir to house Falcon launched on into a fresh and shocking accusation against the nobility and name of House Beomarise.
“And further, I am told and have seen evidence with my own eyes, that Rebecca’s husband has proved-out his vile ancestry in the nature of his deeds, and has full-dishonoured the vows he made in marriage and has made carnal sport and adulterous consort with another low-born exile of his own family. My noble cousin has been abandoned and despoiled for the peasant embraces of Branwen de Gales, the wife of a cuckolded fool!”
Silence met this last charge, and wordlessly Rebecca rose to seek the counsel of her husband. Elsewhere the hall looked askance, and pondered the bold accusation laid against the name of an outland Knight who had come but lately to their hearth and married a princess of the blood.
Lord Robert for his part looked displeased at both the nature and timing of the charge, but Edward was his brother and heir, and in such matters the blood truly musters a force in law beyond even the incidence of truth and evidence and even sanity.
Then Rebecca’s husband came to stand before Edward Falcon, and controlling his rage with difficulty, asked the heir to the house to repeat those words he had but lately spoken.
Edward obliged with a cold smile, adding a further twisted flourish to his denouncement of outlander blood, and his description of the low-rutting which occurred between close relatives in defilement of tradition and customary taste.
“I say you lie, upon my oath I swear it.”
The exile-Knight spoke clearly.
“Or you are mistaken, I invite you to retract those words and regain my friendship thereby”.
But Edward merely smiled, and shook his head.
“I am my brother’s heir and my word is absolute, you have dishonoured my cousin and are proven a knave and villainous pretender to the rank of knighthood, no fit husband to a woman of my blood”.
Unsure of the modes of justice and allegation employed there at the Falcon hearth the accused Knight sought the advice of Lord Robert, and after discussion and a repetition of the charge and refutation both, the Lord of house Falcon concluded that trial by combat would suffice to find the truth or lack thereof.
“For no Knight who is false may prevail in battle against one who is true”.
Edward then offered a choice of champions, and terms to first blood and yielding the custom, but his foe now shook his head and spoke in tones of cold resolve,
“By no means will terms less than death suffice to settle this matter in truth. I am no pawn to battle in faith for the entertainment of ignoble schemes, my name has been tainted by this accusation, I shall have it back clean, or not at all. My heart will not consent to cry grammercy to this charge whatever the outcome, that it should, would prove more surely than your sword that falsehood walked in the shadow of my oath.”
And Edward set his own jaw then, and would not retreat, his eyes flashing anger and hatred for this interloper who had brought his own taint to the hallowed lineage of the Falcon blood.
“Then to the death it must be, for you have defiled my cousin and I would see you slain for the crime of reaching beyond your station.”
And shocked beyond silence now, the household of the Falcon looked on as their Lord’s heir pledged his life to battle against and outland prince of the Beomarisian blood.
And Lord Robert took counsel amongst his ministers and knights and close advisors and for a time was distracted in hard planning before rising once more to speak and address the hall.
“I declare that this house in now in full state of war. The nature of external threats and the treatment of our emissaries has left little alternative but to take this heavy step. As a matter of course, I forbid the conduct of dueling and trials by combat for the duration of the present emergency.”
Questions came fast, and conversation rose high in tides of expectation and excited anticipation, but hard in thought now, Edward Falcon and his foeman sat still and gazed sightlessly across the gathered company. A direct command of the Baron was was impossible to gainsay with easy gesture, but blood called to blood, and the words spoken had taken a darkling life and energy of their own. Now brooding resolve must replace quick-tempered passions, now lasting anger and bitter resolve would rise to supplant the fiery flights of mercurial rage.
Lord Robert spoke last then, discussing the role of the house in the coming struggle with the Story and their allies of Dream and Veil, speaking well of the need for unity and the comrade-bond of battle brotherhood, summoning close the remembrance of shield-line in adversity, and the sacrifice of a noble priest at the gathering of nations. His words were fine and passionate, and at other times perhaps would have sufficed to change the mood and restore the balance of thoughts and feelings. But as noble as these sentiments might be, they did little to dispel the wounds dealt that eve to trust and love and teulu-band faith.
Edward had made a bitter charge against a proud man’s honour and word. And blood would not flow to clear the wound of poison. A union of love had been daubed with the filth of common gutter taint and the essence of nobility had been changed like the alchemical practice of transmutation so beloved of the Falcon heir; where days before in another place the heroes of the House had strived to uphold nobility in just defense of the weak and powerless, now nobility was a bar to fraternity not a doorway, and as Edward lauded well the rare principles of his familial blood, he drove a hard wedge between the love and trust of men of varied birth and foreign ancestry.
And for an outland Knight of a wounded land the blow was cruel indeed. For love cannot slay blood and remain pure.
And bitter the farewells that eve, and bitter yet the knowledge that the road of exile once foreshortened, now swept away beyond the limits of sight, mist-bound and indistinct in a future beyond the eyes of common man.
And somewhere the gods laughed, and another throw-piece swept from the board as fate diced with fate and hope sang mournful from the chords of mortal faith.
And this is a true account of the Falcon Festival of Lights on the occasion of Autumn in the year 1101AF, and I Gwalchmai ap Maelduine pledge it thus, for I was witness to the procession of hope at the celebration of Cathol, and I stood with other veterans of Caer Llwydd to receive an award of recognition for those deeds done in Cornovii, and I saw the work of the Veil first hand and watched as those emissaries strove to tell their tale without tongues, and more yet I heard the words of Edward Falcon as he told the supremacy of his blood, and worse yet, I was the Knight who stood accused of breaking faith with my wife of three short months, and I learned a hard lesson that eve, for the bonds of blood will ever supplant those of faith and duty, and though truth be a fragile blossom of beauty and delicate scent, its sweet aroma is no balm to withered hearts and jealous eyes and claws to grasp yet the fruits of more ancient dominions beyond the realms of mortal love. And by the words of Edward far-witnessed and well-recorded may you know this tale to be the truth, and not the invention of poets and liars and fools.