Which was published in CHALICE OF ROSES, January 2010
Now available as a stand alone e-book.
Chalice of Roses is the new collection from the "Faery Four", a group of writing friends who brought you Faery Magic and Dragon Lovers.
In this collection the stories all weave around the Grail mythology, which connects to the Last Supper but also to ancient page stories about cups of plenty. My story is set back in 1153, in that time of history called the Anarchy. The Grail traditionally brings peace and its enemies are those who thrive on war. In 1153 its powers are badly needed, but who can summon it?
Sister Gledys of Rosewell was sinning again.
She was dreaming of her knight and knew she should wake herself up, but she didn't. Alas for her immortal soul, she didn't want to lose a precious moment of these visions, and her heart already raced with wicked excitement.
As always, he was fighting, clad in a long chain-mail robe and conical helmet. He wielded a sword and protected himself with a long shield on his left arm. Sometimes she saw him afoot, but he was generally on a great fighting horse in battle or skirmish.
That didn't surprise Gledys. Strife, punctuated by outright war, had ruled England for all the eighteen years of her life, but that life had been spent in Rosewell Nunnery, so how could she create such scenes? By day she prayed earnestly for peace, so how could she dream of war so vividly by night?
Every clash of weapons rang in her ears, every squeal of angry horses, every thud of blows. Leather squeaked, metal jangled and the stink of men and horses buffeted her. Hooves cut clods from the ground, and horses breathed like bellows. When these dreams had begun the horses had spewed steam into frosty air and the men had also clouded the air as they howled with pain or roared in triumph. It was summer now, however, and the air swirled with dust and fury.
Then a chunk of earth whipped past her face and she realized she was much closer to the fighting than ever before.
She tried to raise her arms to shield her face, tried to stumble back out of danger. It didn't work. It never did. In these dreams, she was as powerless to move as if paralyzed.
A horse's massive backside swung in her direction. She flinched from its flailing tail and the shod hooves that could kill if it chose to kick. She heard screams nearby. She'd scream, too, but she could no more make a sound than she could move.
Now she was willing to escape.
Wake up! Wake up!
She remained frozen in place, her eyes unalterably fixed on one warrior, and could only pray.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy. . . .
It was a dream. It had to be. No one could be killed in a dream.
Holy Mary, pray for me.
Saint Michael the archangel, pray for me.
But then she wondered if this was punishment. Punishment for her sinful attraction to her knight, and for her secret longing to escape, to explore the world beyond Rosewell.
Saint Gabriel, pray for me.
A great rattling thump jolted the litany out of her mind.
A man bellowed.
Someone had come off his horse. Had that been a death cry?
Not her knight, at least. Not her knight. He fought on, but now against a huge, grunting man.
All angels and archangels, pray for him!
Saint Joseph, pray for him. . . .
He was being driven closer to where she stood. Despite the danger Gledys's frightened breathing changed to a pant of excitement. Would she finally see something of his face? Closer, closer, come closer. . . .
This longing was surely the worst sin of all, but she surrendered to it now, murmuring unholy prayers.
But even when he was almost on top of her she could tell little. Beneath his helmet, a hood came down on his forehead, a front part rising up on his chin, and the helmet had a piece that extended down over his nose. She could see only lean cheeks and bared teeth. Was she imagining a pleasing countenance? He wheeled his horse so that his back was to her, and she glimpsed missing teeth in the snarling red mouth of his opponent. The bigger man landed a hard blow on her knight's arm, causing him to stagger to one side.
Gledys screamed and tried to run to him, but she was still frozen. Her knight fought on, turning his shield into a weapon, slamming his opponent's sword hand with it and kicking him with a mailed boot. His horse joined in with hooves and teeth, and the din made Gledys want to cover her ears.
How had that blow to his arm not maimed him?
How is it that he can fight on so fiercely?
She realized that she'd closed her eyes, and forced them open, dreading what she'd see. Somehow, her knight's opponent had been unhorsed, but the big man scrambled to his feet and unhooked a mighty ax from his saddle. An ax! Her knight leapt off his horse to face him, laughing.
Was he mad?
Mad or not, he was beautiful, even sheathed in gray metal. So tall and broad shouldered, and moving as if burdened by nothing but a shirt, leaping away from another attack on strong, agile legs. It must be a mortal sin to think of a man's legs, but she'd pay the price in hell.
Be Saint Michael, she prayed. Or Saint George.
It wouldn't be so terrible a sin to be fascinated by the warrior angel who defeated Lucifer, or the saintly dragon slayer. She might even be receiving blessed visions symbolizing the defeat of heathens in the Holy Land by Christian crusaders.
But in her heart she knew better, and now, watching her knight breathing hard but still smiling with a burning delight in violence, she knew it yet again. These dreams came from Satan, and the swirling chaos of men and horses was a vision of hell. . . .
Gledys blinked, realizing that her view had expanded. Now she could see many fighters, but also others behind them. People in ordinary dress, some of them screaming and yelling, but with excitement.
This wasn't a battle. This must be what they called a tournament, where knights played at war. Heaven only knew why. People watched for amusement, including women, some of high rank. Gledys glimpsed richly colored gowns and cloaks. Flimsy veils fluttered in a breeze and the sun glinted off precious metals and jewels. Beyond the watchers stood a stone castle on a grassy mound, where colorful pennants danced against blue sky. There were people up there, too, watching.
Why was she forced to endure this from down here?
Another man came off his horse and she remembered her knight. Was he safe? Yes! He stood his ground, although still hard-pressed by his bigger opponent, both of them breathing heavily, even staggering as if they might collapse together in a metal heap.
Gledys fixed her eyes on him by her own intent now, praying that he be safe. As if summoned, he looked past his opponent, straight at her. His lips parted in astonishment.
He saw her?
Gledys tried to reach out, to speak to him, but she was still mute, still frozen in place. She saw the battle-ax swing and tried to scream a warning.
Perhaps he understood, for he turned, ducking. The weapon still caught his helmet, knocking it askew, and he stumbled to one side, down to one knee.
Gledys screamed again. Knew again it couldn't be heard in her dreamworld.
He was already up, his attention glued onto his opponent as he forced the other man backward. He was younger, stronger, magnificent. He would win! But then his eyes flicked to her once again. . . .
"Don't," she tried to cry. "Don't be distracted!"
The burly man could have killed him then, but exhaustion won and he collapsed to his knees, dropping the ax, wheezing for breath. Her knight sucked in air, too, hands braced on his knees, heaving with it. But then he straightened and turned, seeking her, seeing her. A smile lit his face and he took a step toward her.
Gledys smiled back in pure joy.
At last she would meet him.
Gledys was so used to being mute, she almost shouted the word, but choked it to a mere grunt, fist stuffed into mouth. She was back in Rosewell Nunnery in the dark dormitory.
No, not back.
She'd been nowhere else.
Though so powerfully real, it had been another dream.
She blinked up into the darkness, teeth in her knuckles to suppress a wail at being snatched out of sleep at just that moment. He'd seen her. He'd been coming to her. They might -- oh, heaven, oh, hell -- they might have touched.
Gledys clutched her nightcap. It had been a dream, just like all the other ones. Her knight wasn't real. His opponents weren't real, and nor were the watching people or the castle. Still she grieved, as she always did when snatched out of that unreal land.
Grieved. That was the word for it. Grief as she was wrenched away, then aching grief as precious details melted from her mind like caught snowflakes melting in the palm of her hand.
Her knight. Fighting, as usual . . .
No, not as usual.
People watching. Women, even. A tournament.
A castle . . .
But even as she tried to pin such things in her mind, they slipped away, slipped away.
And were gone.
In the US. not yet
In the UK. not yet
In Canada. not yet
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