SAVING CASTLE PERILOUS
One would assume that the denizens of a place with a name like Castle Perilous would have seen it coming. Sadly, this was not the case for Lynette and Lyonesse.
In Lyonesse's defense, she had plenty of other things to keep her occupied. Being the elder sister and the Lady of the Castle, she was given the immense duty of making her stitches as tiny as possible, until they were all but invisible to the untrained eye. Her invisible stitches were the talk of the Castle; surely, the servants predicted, a good suitor would be impressed by her ability to sew so economically. Many wondered if she used thread at all.
Lynette, the younger sister, had no such excuse, as her stitches were not worth mentioning. However, she was not raised to be vigilant, and so she never expected that something terrible might occur at Castle Perilous, despite it's rather ominous name. Besides, she spent most of her days learning French and Latin, and had little time to ponder over English words.
And so it was that they were taken almost completely by surprise one day, when knights-errant laid siege to the castle they called home.
Lyonesse was mindfully working her stitches with her pretty white hands. Lynette, curled up near the hearth, was reviewing her French lessons so that she didn't embarrass herself when her tutor came later that night. Just as Lyonesse pulled her string taut and brought her scissors to cut it short, they heard a clamor from outside their window.
Both girls rushed towards the window just in time to see a small army of men, slicing their way towards the castle gates. Lynette knew that they did not have much time; their father and his men were on a quest for the Holy Grail, leaving them unprotected.
"Oh!" cried Lyonesse, scissors still in hand. "We must escape. Do you think we can make it out the back in time?"
Lynette shook her head. "If we leave the castle, they will have what they want. Their leader will become the new King of Castle Perilous, and we shall become destitute."
"What shall we do?" Lyonesse fretted.
The younger sister huffed. "Oh, Lyonesse. You needn't worry. As you are the Lady of Castle Perilous, they will probably hold you hostage until you agree to marry the leader. It is I who should be worried, as I have no land to my name."
"Being held hostage is not exactly how I had hoped to spend my time, you know."
It was perhaps a sign of their ignorance that the girls were wasting time arguing, instead of preparing for the knights-errant who would find them momentarily. It was not until they heard a crash inside the castle that Lynette lept into action, taking the scissors from Lyonesse's hands and chopping off her black locks.
"It is not a good look for you," her sister remarked.
"Be quiet, and perhaps we will both get out of this alive and unwed," Lynette snapped. She gathered the strands of hair off of the floor and tossed them into the fire, hiding the evidence.
She explained her plan to Lyonesse; she would dress as a kitchen boy, so that the knights would not notice her, and then she would escape from Castle Perilous.
"Wait," Lyonesse interrupted. "Why do you get to leave Perilous, and I have to stay here and be held hostage?"
"Because you are the Lady of the Castle, and because I have already sacrificed my hair."
And so it was decided that little Lynette would escape to Camelot to seek out a champion for her elder sister. Lyonesse quickly sewed an outfit for her sister using the worst rags in her possession, and dirtied it in soot for good measure. When Lynette was finally dressed, she looked like the most noble kitchen boy in all of Castle Perilous, but they both agreed that it would have to do. Perhaps the knights-errant would not know the difference.
It turned out that they were only just in time. They heard a clatter outside of their door, and knew that the guard outside their door had fallen. In the fireplace, the last bits of Lynette's old dress were burning to ash.
They were surprised to hear a polite knock on the door. "Princess Lyonesse, Lady of Castle Perilous?" a voice called out.
"Yes?" Lyonesse asked, breathless.
"I am Sir Ironside, here to hold you hostage until you agree to marry me. Please open the door. Your guard is seeping blood and it's quite disgusting."
Lyonesse rushed to her chair and picked up her stitching. "Kitchen boy, please open the door."
Lynette rolled her eyes, but opened the door, doing her best to appear like a servant. Both girls were hoping to see what Sir Ironside looked like, but he was covered head to toe in red armor. His chain mail clinked as he stepped inside, and as Lynette caught sight of the blood creeping inside the room, she skittishly slammed the door shut.
Sir Ironside pointed his hand towards Lynette. "Who is she?" he asked, his voice echoing inside his helmet.
Lyonesse frowned and put down her stitching. "He is my kitchen boy, not that it is any of your business."
The knight-errant had the decency to look embarrassed, assuming that he had just emasculated a prepubescent servant boy. "Sorry, lad. Would you bring us some tea and cakes?" he asked, fidgeting. As he shifted his weight, his armor made great creaking sounds.
Lynette looked towards her sister to see what she should do.
Lyonesse bit her lip before speaking. "Yes, Ly... lad. Go bring us some cakes. And take this as a token of my favor," she said, pulling a small brown bag out of her pockets.
The bag was heavy with gold coins, and they made a delightful clanging sound as they exchanged hands. Lynette knelt down before her sister, suddenly feeling rather chivalrous. "As you wish, Lady Lyonesse of the Castle Perilous. You have my word that I shall return with your... cakes... as soon as possible."
Lyonesse pressed a kiss on Lynette's brow and then bid her sister Godspeed. She watched with trepidation as the younger girl tiptoed out the door, careful to avoid the blood of their unfortunate guard.
Sir Ironside seemed confused. "Do you treat all your servants in this manner? He is only going to bring us tea and cakes," he said, lifting up his visor.
The Lady grinned. "Well, it is not called Castle Perilous for nothing, you know. Why, the poor boy may never return!"
Lynette's feelings of chivalry and bravery diminished as soon as she took in the sight of her dead guard. She tried not to look at him for long, but as the reader may well be aware, it is hard to look away from something horrific, and so she found her eyes drawn to the deep gash in his side.
She was not particularly familiar with violence, though she loved to hear tales of adventure and daring knights when she was younger. Now that she was presented with the reality of it, it didn't seem nearly so amusing.
She heard her sister and Sir Ironside arguing inside the room she had just left, and realized she had to act fast if she wanted to escape. As she walked down the halls, she saw that his men had begun their take over of the castle. They didn't hassle her as she walked, paying attention to the nobles instead, and she managed to make her way to the kitchens with little incident.
There were already a great number of Ironside's knights in the kitchens, going through the foodstuffs to see what they could devour. Men were men, after all, and these men were hungry. She squeezed past them, holding her nose, trying to ignore the smells of kitchen grease and sweat. Their chain mail chafed against her.
The other kitchen servants were no where in sight, she realized. Had they run away?
The kitchen had one door leading outside, which gave the servants easy access to herbs and spices in the garden. Lynette was now counting on escaping through that door. When she had finally gotten past most of the knights, she made a dash for it.
Of course, one should never dash towards something when in the presence of the enemy, and so it was that one particularly energetic knight-errant put his left foot forward and tripped the unfortunate Lynette.
She howled, startled by the pain shooting through her nose and mouth.
"Where's the 'ickle girl going to?" the man asked, taking off his helmet. He gripped her by her short black hair and leaned down to view her. "You've a sweet face," he noted, laughing.
She narrowed her eyes, taking in his whiskers and his bad breath. Her kitchen boy disguise had not fooled anyone thus far, and she regretted her decision to cut off her long black locks. Still, the long hair would have only increased her resemblance to Lyonesse.
She wondered what she should say to the man so that he would let her go. Lynette was not unfamiliar with the art of lies, as she often had to tell them to get out of trouble with her tutors. This situation was a bit different, however, and she was filled with fear.
She cleared her throat. "Lord Ironside asked me to find him some fresh flowers outside, to help him woo the Lady Lyonesse," she mumbled, licking her lip. It was bleeding, she realized.
The man sighed. "I always knew Sir Ironside was just a big softie," he confessed, before looking around warily. "Don't tell anyone I said so, 'course." And with that, he dropped her head back down onto the stone floor.
She got up slowly, teetering, and blinked away her tears at the rough treatment. "Thank you, Sir Knight," she said, though she did not mean her words.
"If you find any black-eyed susans or cabbage roses, send them my way," he said, jauntily. Her blood dribbled down her chin, but the man seemed unperturbed by it, his attention back on raiding the kitchen.
She got up and walked out the door, slowly this time. Her joints were sore from her fall, but she knew she would have to manage. The cool breeze seemed to bite at her lip. She wiped the blood away on her sleeve, and walked towards the flower garden before breaking into a run for the stables. Luckily for her, the knights were too involved in eating to be paying attention to something like a flower garden, and so it was that Lynette left Castle Perilous for the first time, riding her white horse to Camelot.
Traveling in that day and age was not easy, as you might imagine, especially for someone like Lynette, who had never traveled at all. She'd lost her way, lost her gold coins, and nearly lost her sanity before she had finally been pointed in the right direction. Despite all that King Arthur's knights did to keep peace and justice as the reigning powers, people were still cruel. In fact, Lynette was practically falling off of her horse when she finally arrived at the shining city of King Arthur.
She only prayed that Lyonesse was not yet in mortal peril, but found comfort in the fact that she had finally reached her destination.
Hardly able to enjoy the sights and scenes of Camelot, she swayed from side to side, trying to keep her balance as her horse trotted along. Had she been in good health, she would have noticed the white turrets and the beautiful dresses the noblewomen wore. However, she was not, and so, when a guard stopped her to ask her name, she mumbled something about needing an audience with the King, and slipped right off her horse.
It was a testament to the goodness of King Arthur that he gave audience to all who sought him. Little Lynette was dragged in by the guard and then given smelling salts until she was well enough to stand up on her own.
"Who is this girl you have brought before Us?" asked King Arthur, looking down at her from his bejeweled throne. She looked a mess; her short black hair was muddied and stuck up in every direction, and her face was covered in dirt and blood. Even her nose looked crooked and bruised. It was not unusual for him to meet weary travelers, but she looked especially odd.
His Queen looked at Lynette curiously. "Do you think she wants to join the kitchen staff? We'll have to tell her no, you know. We've more staff then we would ever need."
Lynette frowned. Though the Queen had spoken quietly, she had heard her words. "I'm not here to be part of your kitchen staff," she said. "Though I am rather hungry, now that you mention kitchens." She licked her lips, wincing because of the large cut that had not quite scabbed over.
The Queen sighed. "Tell one of the kitchen boys to bring her something to eat."
Lynette took this moment to study the King and Queen. Though their thrones were ornate, they managed to not be overshadowed by them, which impressed her. The King had some gray hairs, boy-King no longer, but the Queen's thick mane was as dark as the night sky. They seemed to have an easy comfort between the two of them, leaning towards each other and occasionally whispering and smiling. For a moment, Lynette was envious, though she was not sure why. Between her tutors, her sister, and her exorbitant riches, she was lacking nothing.
A young man with curly dark hair brought her a bread roll and a glass of water, and Lynette scowled, unused to such coarse food. However, she ate it without complaint, and felt quite sated when she was done. "Thank you," she said to the boy.
"Beaumains," he said.
"Excuse me?" she asked. She knew her French, however, and was aware that he had just said "beautiful hands". She wondered if he was referring to her own hands or to his.
He blushed. "They call me Beaumains."
She nodded, unsure how to respond. Clearly, the boy saw her uncouth appearance and thought her to be of the same class as him. Her pride did not allow her to keep her identity secret any longer, and so she looked up towards the King and Queen, who were waiting patiently for her.
"My sister, Lady Lyonesse of the Castle Perilous, is being held hostage by a wicked knight-errant and his men. I've come to request a champion for my sister, someone like Sir Lancelot."
The Queen shifted in her throne, distressed. "Oh, Arthur, please don't send Lance away from me." Her cheeks were tinted a light pink. Though Lynette could not have known, Sir Lancelot was first and foremost the Queen's champion, and as he had only just recently returned from another quest, Guenevere would be sorry to see him go so soon.
Arthur thought over his options. He was sure that Lancelot was tired of saving every person in the Kingdom from whatever misfortune they found themselves in. Why, just the other day, Lancelot had traveled all the way to King Pellinore's castle, just because the old man had gotten stuck in a tree. It was best to give the man a rest.
"We are afraid that Our best knight is a bit indisposed at the moment, and will not be able to come to your aide. Why don't you choose a different champion? Our court is full of brave men who would be glad to help you."
Mind you, dear reader, that as a princess, Lynette was unhappy with not getting her first choice. She was further confounded that her sister Lyonesse, the most important woman she knew, save for her late mother, was getting such light treatment here at the court of King Arthur.
She snorted. "It will be Sir Lancelot or none, my good King."
It was perhaps this wording that sealed her fate, for the High Queen Guenevere appeared to take it as a challenge. Her face, pleasant only moments before, was now black upon seeing Lynette's insistence. "Absolutely not," she hissed. She leaned towards her husband and began whispering furiously.
The kitchen boy beside Lynette cleared his throat loudly. Every eye fell upon him, as they realized he was going to speak.
"King, forgive me if it is not my place to speak, but I find I cannot hold my tongue. I will go in place of Sir Lancelot. I am not a knight, but I am strong off of the meat that I have eaten in your good Camelot. I know that I will champion Lady Lyonesse well."
The King smiled mysteriously and nodded. "Very well, Beaumains. We have decided to appoint you as Champion of Lady Lyonesse. If you succeed, We will knight you as part of the Round Table."
The Queen smirked, victorious, and the silence was broken. Several men voiced their disapproval, and many others gasped in pure shock. It was unheard of to send a mere servant instead of a real knight, and people were already imagining how the King of Castle Perilous would react when he came back from his Grail quest. He would be offended, no doubt. Sir Kay began to speak, but the King silenced everyone, holding up his right arm.
"We have spoken. It is Our will that We should judge Beaumains not by the nobility of his blood, but the nobility of his character."
There was a short silence. King Arthur's court loved him dearly, but sometimes, they felt they would never understand him and his strange ideas. After all, everyone knew that nobility of birth was the only nobility that counted for anything.
Beaumains, however, was pleased, and turned to smile at Lynette, who refused to look at him. She had turned a splotchy purple, which, he assumed, meant that she was hardly happy with the High King's decision.
"You cannot send me back to Castle Perilous with a kitchen boy, my King. What will he do, overwhelm Sir Ironside with the smell of kitchen grease?" she asked.
Though she had deigned to dress as a kitchen boy to escape from Sir Ironside, she would certainly not take one back with her as her champion. Not even an army of kitchen boys would be able to defeat a true knight.
And yet, it seemed she had little choice in the matter.
Author Note: An adaptation, or perhaps even an unfunny parody, of the story of Lynette and Lyonesse, from Arthurian legend. Part one of three.