Arthur and Mrs. Howden walked into the marketplace the next morning, Arthur holding Excalibur and carefully keeping his head down. Mrs. Howden pointed to a hand drawn caravan on the other side of the square painted like a foreign donkey cart.
On the side was written in ornate script, “Signor Pietro Adamoli – Personal Knight Trainer to His Royal Majesty the King of Neapolis”, and underneath that “Adamoli’s Miracle Elixir – Become a master fighter!”
Arthur followed her gaze. “That’s him? Over there?”
She nodded. “Yes, dear. He’s always here Thursdays.”
Arthur read the sign aloud as they crossed the square.
“From Italia. All the rage, he is,” Mrs. Howden told him.
Arthur gave a snort of derision. “Not for long.”
She looked at him worriedly. “Mr. D, do you really think you can do it?”
“By tomorrow,” Arthur said, “They’ll be flocking after me like sheep.”
Mrs. Howden sighed, looked back at the crowd – and gasped. “Oh no, look!” she cried, “Drustan!”
Arthur looked over and smiled grimly. “So much the better.”
“But what if he recognises you? Hadn’t we better -”
He silenced her with a look. “I will do what I have set out to do.”
Mrs. Howden was about to retort when a small, skinny boy of about 13 popped through a curtain at the rear of the caravan, beating a tin drum and shouting.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please?”
A crowd of people started to gather.
“Gentlemen! Do you end every fight for your honour with shame and despair? Do you fail to win fights against the easiest opponents? Well, gentlemen, from now on you can win with ease! You need never again have a worry or care, I will show you...a miracle!”
The crowd gasped, and Arthur rolled his eyes.
“Adamoli’s Miracle Elixir, gentlemen!”
He whipped out a small bottle, and the crowd started clamouring to get closer to the stage.
“Drink two spoonfuls of this, gentlemen,” the boy called over the noise, “and Adamoli guarantees that within a day you will be unbeatable in a fight! This is sorcery, gentlemen, of the highest quality!”
Arthur scowled. He had seen “sorcery of the highest quality”, and its wonder and power. This was little more than a con, and it felt to Arthur like an insult to Merlin.
On the stage, the boy was still talking, and handing out the bottles.
“How about a bottle, mister? Only cost a penny, guaranteed!”
The bottles were passed around the crowd until they reached Arthur and Mrs. Howden.
“Pardon me, ma’am, what’s that awful smell?” Arthur commented loudly to Mrs. Howden.
“Are we standing near a open trench?” she replied, just as loudly.
The boy glanced nervously at them, and spoke a bit louder to get the crowds attention.
“Buy Adamoli’s Miracle Elixir! You will have your pick of the girls, sir!”
Arthur grabbed a bottle from a man near him, uncorked it, and sniffed.
“What is that?” he cried. “Smells like piss!” He handed it back distastefully.
Mrs. Howden sniffed hers. “Smells like – phew!”
A man who was about to buy a bottle paused. “He says it smells like piss,” he said to his friend doubtfully.
“Looks like piss, too,” Arthur added helpfully. “This is piss. Piss with ink!”
“Wouldn’t touch it if I were you, dear,” said Mrs. Howden.
The crowd started to mutter amongst themselves suspiciously.
“Penny for a bottle!” the boy called desperately, “How about a sample, mister?”
“Give us back our money!” called a woman from the front, and soon the whole crowd joined in.
“If you think that piss can fool us -”
“Did you ever - ?!”
“Give ‘em back their money!”
“Never mind that madman, mister,” the boy cried above the noise, trying to turn the crowd away from Arthur. It was completely futile.
“Where is this Adamoli?” called Arthur.
The crowd yelled their agreement.
The boy kept going, beating his drum out of rhythm.
“Let Adamoli’s improve your life -”
“Keep it off your boots though!” yelled Arthur, “Eats right through them!”
“Go and get Adamoli!” one man cried.
“Yes,” the boy shouted, “Get Adamoli’s! Use a bottle! Ladies love it -”
“Flies do too!” interrupted Mrs. Howden. The crowd roared with laughter.
“Give us our bloody money!” they chanted.
The boy looked around the angry faces, and appeared to run out of energy. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the maker of the elixir!”
He yanked the curtain aside, collapsed in exhaustion, and Adamoli stepped on to the stage. He was dressed excessively flamboyantly - a glittery suit, with thick, wavy hair, and a dazzling smile.
The crowd fell silent, stunned. Adamoli bowed and posed splendidly for a moment, waving around an ornate sword.
“I,” he announced grandly, with a thick accent Arthur didn’t recognise, “am Pietro Adamoli, the king of the sword fighters, and the sword fighter of kings. Buon giorno, good day! I blow you a kiss!” He did so, towards a young woman at the front, who blushed and fluttered her eyelashes.
“And I,” he he continued, “the most famous Adamoli wishes to know who has the nerve to say my elixir is piss!” He glared intimidatingly at the crowd. “Who says this?”
Arthur stepped forward. “I do,” he said, holding up a bottle of the elixir, “I am Mr. Adalet De Rege and I have opened a bottle of Adamoli’s Elixir, and I say to you it is nothing but an arrant fraud, concocted from piss and ink.”
“He’s right!” called Mrs. Howden, sniffing it theatrically, “Phew! Better to burn your money!” She tossed the bottle to the ground, and the onlookers oohed and aahed in shocked excitement.
The boy had pulled himself to his feet again, and began banging agitatedly on the drum. “Ladies and Gentlemen, pay no attention to that madman. Who’s the first for a sword fighting lesson with Adamoli himself?”
“And furthermore,” Arthur broke in, glaring at Adamoli, “I have serviced no kings, yet I wager that I can wield a sword with ten times more dexterity, and win a fight against any street mountebank!”
He drew out Excalibur, and held it high. The crowd gasped. “You see this?” he called, feeling nervous. If anyone recognised his sword, he was finished.
“The finest in Camelot!” boasted Mrs. Howden.
“I lay it against five gold pieces you are no match for me. You hear me, sir? Either accept my challenge or reveal yourself as a sham.”
The crowd laughed and cheered, obviously on Arthur’s side. Adamoli, as imposing as ever, held up a hand for silence. Slowly he swaggered towards Arthur, took Excalibur, and examined it closely.
“This is indeed a fine sword,” he said. “You wager this against five gold pieces, sir?”
“You hear this foolish man?” Adamoli laughed, “Watch and see how he will regret his folly. Five gold pieces it is!”
Arthur nodded shortly and turned to the crowd. “Will Drustan be the judge?” he asked, the malicious glint in his eye barely visible.
Drustan smiled proudly and stepped forward. “Glad, as always, to oblige my friends and neighbours.” He gestured to two spots on the ground. “Stand there,” he told the two men. “Ready?”
The two men circled each other warily, Adamoli performing over the top flourishes and tricks with his sword.
Arthur rolled his eyes, waited until Adamoli was focused on winking at a woman in the crowd, and lunged forward. Adamoli, taken by surprise, put his sword up in a defensive position, but his moment of distraction meant he was on to a loser.
Arthur could tell immediately that this man was no trained fighter. All he had to do was use the base of Excalibur to flip Adamoli’s sword out of his hand. With a swift kick to his chest, Adamoli was on his back, the tip of Excalibur at his throat.
Arthur grinned fiercely. It felt unbelievably good to have his sword back in his hand – like old times. He was out of practice, but still better than Adamoli by far.
Adamoli scowled and pushed the sword away, getting to his feet indignantly.
“The winner is De Rege !” called Drustan. The crowd cheered,
“I claim the five gold pieces,” smiled Arthur.
“Wait!” called Adamoli suddenly. Arthur rolled his eyes again and turned. “A rematch!”
Arthur sighed and nodded reluctantly.
“Now,” Adamoli laughed smugly, “We see who is the victor. This Mr. De Rege – or the great Adamoli!”
The two men faced each other again, Arthur sighing in exasperation. It really was unnecessary for this man to humiliate himself again.
“Begin!” called Drustan.
This time Adamoli lunged forward first, but his movements were fuelled by anger, and easy to counteract. Arthur sidestepped and disarmed him in one effortless move, leaving the other man swordless once more and even angrier.
The crowd roared with laughter and cheered again. “The man’s a bloody wonder!” someone called out, and the crowed yelled their agreement.
Drustan beamed at Arthur, who smiled tightly back. “The two-time winner,” he announced, “Mr. Adalet De Rege !”
Adamoli stalked over to Arthur, still trying to retain his dignity, and grabbed his sword back.
“Sir,” he smiled through gritted teeth, “I bow to a skill far defter than my own.”
five gold pieces?”
Adamoli grimaced, and then produced a flamboyant purse. “Here, sir. And may the good Lord smile on you,” he smiled rather sinisterly as he pressed the money into Arthur’s hand, “until we meet again. Come, Evan!” This he directed at the boy, who jumped to attention.
Adamoli bowed to the crowd, although most had by now lost interest. “Signori! Bellissime signorini! Buongiorno! Buongiorno a tutti!” he called dashingly. He scowled at the lack of response, and then stormed into the caravan, kicking the boy – Evan – ahead of him.
Arthur shook his head and went back to Mrs. Howden, who laughed delightedly.
“Who’d have thought it, dear?” she crowed, “You pulled it off!”
The crowd began to cluster around. “Oh, sir, Mr. De Rege , sir,” one man called, “Do you teach sword fighting yourself?”
“He certainly does!” beamed Mrs. Howden, “Adalet De Rege ’s Swordfighting – above my meatpie shop on Sowers Street!”
Drustan strolled over as the crowd dispersed, chattering amongst themselves.
“Mr. De Rege ,” he said thoughtfully, “Strange, sir, but it seems your face is known to me.”
Mrs. Howden laughed nervously, trying to conceal her worry. “Him? That’s a laugh – him being my uncle’s cousin and arrived in Camelot for the first time from Glevum yesterday.”
“But already, sir,” Arthur said smoothly, “I have heard the name Drustan spoken of with great respect.”
Whatever dim suspicions Drustan may have had were allayed by the flattery, and he smiled. “Well sir, I try my best for my neighbours,” he said proudly, and then turned to Mrs. Howden. “Sowers Street? Above your pie shop, ma’am?”
“That’s it, sir.”
“Then, Mr. De Rege , you will surely see me before the week is out.”
Arthur’s face was expressionless. “You will be welcome, Drustan. And I guarantee to give you, without a penny’s charge, the most skilled sword demonstration you will ever know.”
stood outside Guinevere’s room nervously. He was preparing himself to go inside
and tell her how he felt. He had struggled with his feelings for her for some
time. At first, he had only kept her for levarage against the sorcerer, but he
hadn’t seen him for years now, and he knew Merlin was probably dead.
So why did he still keep her? Would it not be easier to kill her, cut off all ties with the old kingdom, and Arthur? But he had grown to care for her. She used to behave herself, he knew, because he had told her that he had Merlin in captivity also, and she couldn’t bear for anything to happen to her friend.
But as he had grown to care for her, he liked to believe that she had grown to care for him. He had always treated her well – her rooms were spacious, she was fed well, and she was allowed whatever she wanted to keep herself entertained. Maybe she appreciated all that, and maybe she loved Agravaine as he now loved her.
He peered in through the keyhole, to see her sitting in the sunlight, sewing.
“Oh, Guinevere,” he sighed, captivated by her beauty. “I’ll keep you here forever. I’ll marry you this week. We will be happy together!”
unlocked the door and strode in, and Gwen jumped up.
“Guinevere,” he smiled, “I trust you’ve not been near the window again.”
She sighed and sat again, her eyes falling on the key Agravaine had left in the lock. “Hardly, sire, when it has been shuttered and barred since yesterday.”
“How right I was to insist on such a precaution, for once again he has come, that conscienceless young sailor! Ten times he has been driven from the square near your window, and yet...” He trailed off, smitten with her beauty. “How beautiful that gown looks on you.”
Gwen turned away uncomfortably. “It’s nothing but an old dress, sire,”
“But fairer on your form than wings on an angel. Oh, if I were to think...”
Gwen barely concealed a shudder and moved demurely to the door.
“Think what, sire?” she asked nonchalantly.
“If I were to think you encouraged this young rogue...” He gazed at the lark in the cage casually, but he was on edge. What if she said he was in love with the boy?
“I?” Gwen asked innocently, keeping an eye on Agravaine’s turned back as she slipped the key out of the lock and into her pocket. “A maid, who finds modesty and obedience the greatest of all virtues?”
When Agravaine smiled and turned back to her, Gwen was standing guiltlessly away from the door. “Venal young men of the street,” he told her, glad that she agreed with his views, “with only one thought in their heads. But,” he added carefully, his heart pounding in anticipation, “there are men of different and far higher breed. There is such a man that has announced his...feelings for you.”
Gwen stiffened, dreading his next words. She had barely spoken to anyone except Agravaine for years, which had to mean....
“Oh?” she asked, trying to conceal her fear.
“A gentle man, who would shield you from all earthly cares and guide you with love.” He had decided – and he hoped she had also – to pretend she had never married Arthur. He would be her first husband, and the sole love of her life. “A husband,” he continued, “a protector, and yet...an ardent lover, too.” He stepped forward and took her hands.
“It is a man who through the years has surely earned your affection.” He dropped to his knees.
Gwen’s jaw dropped, and she pulled away from him desparately. “You?!” she gasped, although she had suspected it.
Agravaine stared at her, taken aback and hurt by her reaction. This was not what he had expected at all. Perhaps it was just the shock. Perhaps she just needed time. “I’ll let you think on it,” he said, awkwardly getting to his feet. “I’ll come back for your acceptance tomorrow.” He left the room quickly, shutting the door behind him.
Gwen sat down heavily on the bed, horrified. She missed Arthur so much, and was struggling with her feelings for the sailor more and more each day, but to marry Agravaine? The man who had sent her husband away, taken his kingdom, killed her friends?
She hated him. She couldn’t keep the facade of obedience going any longer, not now... Gwen had overheard a conversation through between two of the castle cooks through her window. People used to be careful about avoiding her window, but they had grown complacent, and she had heard them talking, and now she knew.
Of course Agravaine didn’t have Merlin. She couldn’t believe she had been taken in by his lies so easily, and had stayed here all this time, trying to keep him safe.
But if he’d been free all these years, where was he? Why hadn’t he tried to rescue her? Gwen didn’t know what her old friend was doing or even if he was still alive, but she realised that she was on her own now.
Even if it felt like she was betraying Arthur, Gwen knew that this sailor was a good man. She had to sneak him into the castle, and talk with him. That or marry Agravaine. Gwen knew she would rather die.