Having gotten some nice comments -- and thank you those who did comment -- on my Arabian Nights tale, "Rebel Chieftain", I decided to post a tale of another knight, Sir Ansolm, this time, as told by a medieval jongleur (jester).
A quick caution: this story contains an "on-camera" rape.
The Dark and Stormy Knight
By Ellie Dauber
The fires burned low in the Great Hall. Here and there, a lord thought about taking that last sliver of roast, or a lady considered the taste of a sweetmeat or a piece of marzipan. But, no, the feast had been elaborate, and there was no one in the hall who was still unsated.
The Baron rose from his place at the high table, and his voice rang through the Hall. "Elgion, Elgion, my jongleur, give us a tale to fill the time. It is too early for bed, yet there is none, I think, who feels like dancing after this most lavish of feasts.
Elgion uncurled his long legs and rose from his place on the steps beside the high table. "Indeed, my Lord Baron. This feast of Master Jassom will happily weight us all down for several days." He puffed out his cheeks and did a mime as if he had a most monstrous of bellies on his spindly frame. When the laughter of this jest had died down, he ran his fingers through his great thatch of straw-colored hair. "Now what tale to tell? This one." He made a face so that he looked to be an old woman. "Or that." Now he howled like one of the Baron's hounds. "I have it. On this winter night, there can be no other."
He bowed low, first to the Baron and his Lady and then to the others in the Hall. "My Lord Baron and Lady Baroness, Father Timson, my noble lords and ladies, I give you the tale of Sir Ansolm."
* * * * *
Sir Ansolm was a fierce knight, well trained and most skillful in the arts of a warrior. Yet, while he knew the ways of a knight: how to fight, to ride, to shoot; he did not know -- and did not care to know -- their true meaning: honor, humility, the protection of those who could not protect themselves.
He fought not to test his skills against a worthy foe or for some noble cause. No, he fought for the pleasure of a wolf, to devour, to destroy his foe in body and in mind. And he fought for the prizes that could be taken when there was none left to stop him.
In his life, Sir Ansolm made many enemies. Yet none could put an end to his evil ways. For Ansolm was not only a fighter of great prowess. He was also the eldest son, and, so, the heir of might Lord. He had the power that his family name commanded as well as his own strength to fight for him. Even his own liege lord, the King could do nothing, for this was a time of disorder, and the King needed the power that Ansolm and his family brought with them.
Winter had come to the land, covering forest and farmhouse and field in its great white cloak. The King sent messengers throughout his realm. He was holding Court at his castle in the West at Twelfth Night. All the great houses were to send their leaders that enmities might be resolved and the kingdom be united for the war that seemed likely in the spring.
Ansolm's father, Baron Sir Malcolm, was, perforce, invited. He rode off to attend with Ansolm's younger brother, Rickhardt, and his finest retainers. Reason was found that Sir Ansolm stay behind. The King, after all, desired that the Court be a time and place of peace.
Man plans, but Fate laughs. As they neared the castle, Sir Malcolm took a chill. The chill became a fever with a great hacking cough. Ansolm's father retired to his rooms to be nursed by the King's own chirurgeon. If his family's voice were to be heard in the King's Court, it must be Sir Ansolm, as the oldest son, who spoke as that voice. Against his better judgment, the King sent for Sir Ansolm.
Sir Ansolm arrived in great humor. He full well knew that he was not wanted, that the King had been forced to not only send for him, but to honor him for the coming. He thought that he had the license to act as he willed at the gathering.
Sir Ansolm was rude, and he was arrogant. He strode the King's halls as if they were his own. And behind his back, plots were laid and knives were sharpened.
In the end, Sir Ansolm betrayed himself into his enemies' hands.
* * * * *
Lady Bertreise was the daughter of a house as noble as Sir Ansolm's own. Yet, where he was dark of feature and spirit, Bertreise was fair of face. Her form was slender as a reed, and she moved with a grace like that of the swans in the King's moat. As fair the outer form, more fair was her spirit and her soul. She was kind to all, ever cheerful, and devoted to her family and her friends.
Sir Ansolm saw her the first night, and he knew that he had to have her. It was not love that touched his heart, though. It was an animal lust that regarded the lady as no more than the servant or the peasant woman. She was a pretty toy to be used for his pleasure and abandoned without a thought.
He tried, it must be said, to woo her in a manner befitting of their station. But the Lady Bertreise had heard much of Sir Ansolm, and none of it was to his merit. She did her best to avoid him, and, when she could not, she made it most clear by her words and actions that she would have naught to do with the man.
On the third night, the King gave a ball for his guests. By chance, Sir Ansolm and Lady Bertreise were matched for a bransle. He held her hand tightly, too tightly. He smiled, but his eyes looked down at her bosom beneath her silken dress and not at her face. When the dance ended, he did not release her hand. "Another dance, my Lady?" He smiled, but it seemed more of a leer.
"I think not, Sir Ansolm." Lady Berteise smiled, but her teeth were clenched. "If I may have my hand back, now."
"Who are you to refuse me?"
"I am Lady Bertreise de Trovel, daughter of Baron Sir Nicholan de Trovel, and I will not be treated as some man's property, especially when that man is a cur and a brigand like you."
Sir Ansolm reached for his knife. He stopped when he looked round the hall. A full dozen men stood ready to meet any challenge he might make, hoping that he would draw live steel, break the King's peace, and give them the right to slay him where he stood. And at their head stood Sir Kay, Bertreise's brother and the King's Champion at sword and shield.
"Bah!" Sir Ansolm dropped Bertreise's hand and stormed from the room. He was not a man to run from a fight, but he knew enough to fight when the advantage was his and not his enemies’. There was time enough before the Court was at an end.
* * * * *
To say that Sir Ansolm was the height of courtesy for the remainder of the Court would be to say a lie. Yet he was quieter than most had ever seen him. He seemed almost chastised, though he was seen to glare at Sir Kay when he thought none were looking. His manner towards Lady Bertreise was cold yet respectful. He watched her, too, at times with a look that a hungry man might give a hot meal.
There were no revels the last night. Most retired early for they planned to leave at first light. Home and hearths were long days of travel away. More so, for the days are short in mid-January. Only a few of the great Lords attended the King. Sir Malcolm, his health restored, was among them. Sir Ansolm was warned to be on his best behavior and left in his chambers.
Had he obeyed his father and remained there, I would have no tale.
Sir Ansolm waited, passing his time with some of the King's wine. While he waited, a servant of his house spied. After a time, that servant knocked at his door. The King and the great Lords were in council and would there remain for some time. Most of the rest of the guests were themselves abed, and, yes, the Lady Bertreise was alone in her chambers not far away.
Sir Ansolm wrapped himself in a fur robe. He lit a candle from the fire in his hearth and made straight away for the rooms of Lady Bertreise. He knocked on her door and spoke in a small voice as a maid might do. Bertreise thought it was, indeed, her maidservant, whom she had sent on an errand. She opened the door but a crack and saw Sir Ansolm. She tried to slam the door in his face, but what was the strength of a young girl against the might of a trained warrior?
He was in her room in a moment and locked the door behind him. He smiled as he looked upon Lady Bertreise. Her blonde hair was undone and hung down far below her shoulders. Her gown was replaced by a light chemise that more than hinted at the form beneath it. She read the lust in his eyes and backed away until she was trapped against the side of her bed.
Sir Ansolm moved to her side. He took her two wrists in his one large hand and held them above her head. With his other hand, he grabbed the collar of her chemise and yanked, ripping it away from her body. He smiled at what was revealed beneath. Then he shrugged off his own robe. He was as naked as she, and she felt his erect maleness press against her thigh.
Lady Bertreise screamed and kicked at that maleness. Sir Ansolm dodged and used her movements to force her legs apart, to force her back onto the bed. She screamed again, but he cut her off by forcing his lips against hers, sticking his tongue into her mouth.
Bertreise felt a hand on her breast. She felt him moving up between her legs, and then she felt him enter her. He pulled his head away from hers, and she screamed again and again. She had been a virgin, and she was not ready for such an experience. Sir Ansolm's brutishness drove any pleasure she might have felt far from her mind or her body.
There was a noise at the door, a hammering. Sir Ansolm, in the midst of ravishing his prize did not notice, but Bertreise did. The door crashed open. Sir Kay, Sir Nicholan, even Sir Malcolm rushed in and pulled Sir Ansolm from Bertreise, even as he screamed and howled that he must be allowed to continue.
The King convened a closed Court to mete justice. Only Sir Malcolm, Sir Nicholan, and their children were present of all of the nobles in the castle. Lady Bertreise, attended by the King’s own chirurgeon, came in, still shaken, but carrying herself proudly for she had done nothing wrong. Indeed, she had shown great courage in her own defense.
Sir Ansolm was tied to a chair. His eyes were wild. He demanded to be released. It was his right, he claimed, to continue ravishing Lady Bertreise, and he demanded justice against those who had stopped him. Even against his own father and brother.
Sir Malcolm sadly shook his head. "My son is mad, Sire. I offer no defense, save that it was my love that might have spoiled him so. If there is a way that he may be shown mercy and allowed to live, I ask that it be done. If not, then I will not say 'Nay' to the justice he deserves."
Then Hrolant, the King's chirurgeon and sage, rose slowly to his feet. "Your Majesty, my Lords, there must, perforce, be justice in all things, but there is an innocent here whose fate must needs be addressed."
"My daughter will see the justice that Sir Ansolm has called down upon his head," Sir Nicholan said.
"Not your daughter, my Lord Baron, but your grandchild. I have examined Lady Bertreise, and she is this night pregnant by Sir Ansolm's deed." There was an uproar in the hall, and Hrolant allowed it for a few moments before he continued. "I do not like this any more than the rest of you, but it happened. It is a fact, and the question is how you will deal with this fact."
"Let the two of them be wed."
Lady Bertreise glared at the men. "Is that your answer? He ravaged me like an animal. And now, because his vile seed is within me, his punishment is that I am to be his wife. I would sooner use his dagger to cut out my own womb and the thing that grows within."
Hrolant took her hand gently, in his own. "There will be no need for that, my child. If the King, your brother, and Sir Malcolm are willing, there is another way."
"What other way, and why is my permission needed?" Sir Kay was suspicious. His sister was pregnant by this arrogant animal. "Why not simply kill him?"
"To kill him is to leave your sister the mother of a child whose father died in disgrace. What future would she have? What future would her child, your own blood, have in this world?"
"So what would you do with Ansolm and with my grandchild?" Baron Nicholan's curiosity was getting the better of his anger.
"If Ansolm were a woman, he could bear and raise the child. And if he -- if she -- were married to Sir Kay, then it would still be your grandchild." Hrolant seemed taller and more filled with power than any, save the King, had ever seen him before.
Sir Kay laughed. "Ansolm as a woman would be a fate he deserved, but do I deserve to be married to the harridan he would most surely become?"
Hrolant laughed. "Of a certainty not, but she would not be the shrew that you fear. As I create her new body and use my magicks to move the infant to her new womb, I can re-shape her soul so that it more closely resembles your own gentle sister. You would have a most kind and loving wife."
Sir Malcolm put a hand on Kay's shoulder. "I do not like the bad blood that now stands between our houses thanks to my mad son. There is no means, no normal means, by which this blood may be set aside except the shedding of more blood. Hrolant's wild idea has merit for how can bad blood exist when two great houses marry?"
The King nodded in agreement. "I will have need of both your houses in the spring. What you decide will have a force felt throughout this kingdom."
Sir Kay looked over at Ansolm who was just beginning to understand what was happening. "Then let it be done. Rid this land of Sir Ansolm and bring me my... bride."
Sir Malcolm and Sir Rickhardt, Sir Nicholan, even the King agreed. "Let it be done."
Ansolm screamed and tried to break free from his bonds, but the knots were well-tied; the rope was new, and it held. Hrolant left the chamber for a few moments, to return in a long blue robe embroidered with odd symbols in green and yellow silk. He carried a large box that he set down and unlocked with a key on a chain from around his neck.
He took out a small pink gemstone, wrapped it in white silk, and tied it to Ansolm's wrist. He mixed several powders with a small bit of wine to form a paste, and this he spread in an odd pattern across Ansolm's bare chest. Ansolm shivered at the old sage's touch. He tried to move, but found that he could not. Something seemed to rob him of his will. He no longer struggled but sat quietly as the man went about his strange work.
At last, Hrolant seemed finished. "The charms and potions are laid. It is now time to evoke them, to fill them with the power to do their work." He stood and began to mutter in a strange language. These were all learned men as well as skilled knights, churchgoing men as well. And, in their youth, both Sir Malcolm and Sir Nicholan had traveled to the Holy Land with the King's father. Yet, none of them recognized more than a few words of what Hrolant said.
There was a glow of power around the old man, a sort of Saint Elmo's fire as one might see on a summer’s night. He made a final gesture, spat a last few words, and pointed at Ansolm. The glow leapt from Hrolant to the symbols on Ansolm's chest. They began to glow, a glow that spread out to cover his entire body.
Ansolm's eyes went wide. His mouth opened as if to speak, but he made no sound. Then the change began.
Ansolm shrank until the ropes hung loose around him, though he made no effort to escape. His muscles faded away as his body grew slimmer. His face grew narrower, his nose smaller. His dark hair grew out, down past his ears, past his shoulders until it hung loose halfway down his back. Ansolm managed to whimper, and they heard his voice grow higher and higher.
His body was no longer that of a fighter. There was a smoothness, a softness to it now, as muscles were replaced by feminine curves. Lady Bertreise reached over and modestly closed Ansolm's robe over the breasts that were growing out from his chest. His legs were still exposed, and the men noticed them develop a most delightful and feminine curve. Suddenly his eyes went wide, and his entire body shivered. A single "Yeep!" escaped her lips.
Hrolant leaned over and tightened the robe around Ansolm's now narrow waist. He lifted one part of the robe and peered within, just a bit below that waist. "It is done. _She_ is done." He lowered the robe, leaving no doubt as to what was now gone from between Ansolm's legs.
"Now for the second part of this great spell." Hrolant mixed a few more powders together and painted a small new design on Ansolm's stomach. Then he bowed low to Lady Bertreise. She seemed to understand. She stood and modestly opened her robe. The other men, even the King, looked away. Hrolant painted a similar design to Ansolm’s onto the Lady’s stomach and had her close her robe.
He gently touched Lady Bertreise's robe just above her stomach. Then, with a sweeping gesture, he raised that hand from her, moved over, and laid it on the stomach of the transformed Sir Ansolm. He said a few more words in that most strange tongue.
Lady Bertreise felt an odd tingling in her body. She looked down and saw a glow appear at the place that Hrolant had touched. The glow formed into a small sphere no bigger than a man's hand. It rose from her, floated through the air, and sank into Ansolm. He seemed as unmoved as before, still trapped and unable to react because of Hrolant's magicks.
"Your betrothed now carries the child, Sir Kay." Hrolant placed his hands on the two sides of Ansolm's head. "Now for the hardest part. It is far easier to re-shape a body than to re-make a soul." He stood in that way for several minutes, looking only over at Lady Bertreise. There was no evil in his manner. It reminded Rickhardt of a painter once summoned to his father's castle to create a portrait of his mother, a woman whose memories he still cherished long years after her death from a fever.
"Done!" Hrolant dropped his arms to his side and took a breath. He looked as if he had done a hard day's physical labor.
Ansolm shook his head -- her head -- as if waking from a dream. She looked around at the men staring at her. Then she saw Lady Bertreise and began to cry. "My Lady, my... sister, I have done you a most horrible evil. I do not deserve it, but, please, I pray you, can you try to find it in your heart to someday forgive me for what I have done."
Lady Bertreise was confused. There was none of Ansolm's male anger in the voice that spoke to her. Instead, it was the voice of a young maid, high, but soft in tone, anxious, almost desperate to be forgiven for his crimes. "Ansolm..."
The new woman shook her head. "No, please, no. Sir Ansolm is still within me. All of his memories are there, but they are the memories of another. I am Lady Annys now, and, if your brother will still have me, I shall this day be his wife and your sister." She looked down as if ashamed. "If not, I shall stay only long enough to bear the child I now carry. Then I will leave the child and be gone, never to trouble any of you again." She looked as if she were on the verge of tears.
Then a great magick touched Sir Kay. Not the magick of Hrolant, though, but a magick that passes between men and women who are truly blessed by its presence. He gently took Ansolm's -- Annys' -- hand in his own. "Leave, Annys? No, you will stay with me as my Lady and my wife, the binder of our family's wounds, and the bearer of the future we shall all have together in friendship." He knelt and kissed her most gently on the cheek. "And in love."
* * * * *
Elgion looked around the Hall. Many were still listening to him, but, here and there, a head was nodding, fighting sleep. "And so, to use an ending many have used before me, 'They lived happily ever after.' I thank you for your kind attention, my lords and ladies, and I wish you all a night of the sweetest of dreams."
Baron Kay looked over at his wife. Baroness Annys was lifting up their younger son, Malcolm, who slept at his place at the high table. "Did you enjoy the tale, my Love?"
The Baroness smiled. "I was truly a thing of evil before your love cured me."
"Not my love, but old Hrolant's magicks."
"No, Kay. Hrolant's magicks gave me the form and the soul of a woman. You showed me the wonder, the joy, and the love that these could offer me." She handed Malcolm to his father, kissing him as she did so.
Elgion came over carrying the older boy, Bertram, on his back like a pony. Aunt Bertreise was also his godmother, and she sometimes teased the boy that he was really hers and only "on loan" to his parents.
Elgion bowed low. "If your Graces wish, gladly will I put these lads to bed. You, it would seem, have much to... discuss."
Baron Kay laughed and handed his son to Elgion. "You, my jongleur, are as wise in your way as your father, Hrolant, is in his." The Baron took his wife's hand, kissed her sweetly on the cheek, and led her off to their bed.
Elgion smiled. "And, as I said before, 'They lived happily ever after.'"
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