Featuring in This Instalment –
The Knight of Wands Part One – The Homecoming
The Hero & Heir Returns from Overseas Battles
As we enter the action of The Knight of Wands Card, The Knight is nowhere to be seen. Instead we find ourselves in the cold cobbled inner courtyard of a 16th century castle. The place is a hive of activity with men and women of all ages running to and fro, fetching and carrying all manner of items, even furniture. Tall ladders line the strong stone castle walls, while young boys scurry up and down them to hang garlands of dark green foliage and rich red berries. Everyone is extremely busy, even the Smith whose hammer rings out sharp and clear in the cold morning air, as it connects with hot metal somewhere in the distance. A rotund red-faced young girl runs shouting from a doorway and attempts to round-up a goose that has tried to escape its fate. As we take in the scene around us, we realise it is one of preparation and anticipation. The Castle is being lavishly decorated for a celebration of some kind, even the entrance gate just across the drawbridge and under the portcullis is draped with flowers and greenery.
A clatter and thud of loud hooves in the outer courtyard draws everyone to attention. The Castle Guards rush forward and hail the rider who carries The Royal Standard. He dismounts and breathlessly shouts out loud and clear ‘Hear ye, hear ye, The King is nigh, prepare for The King’s arrival’. A mad rush of sheer frenzy follows as all involved must cease their activity and line up to greet their King. Our eyes are drawn to the second floor window on the west wall of the castle. Three, maybe more young women’s heads bob back and forth. These are The Ladies of the castle and from what we can see, look beautifully dressed and groomed.
A trumpet sounds loud and clear and a voice calls out ‘The King is here, The King is here’. And with that, four horsemen thunder across the drawbridge, under the portcullis and appear through the gateway in a cloud of steam. Horses call out to each other as they circle excitedly among those who stand waiting for orders to be relayed to them. The four horsemen seem in high spirits and shout and laugh as they greet familiar faces.
For a moment silence descends upon the courtyard as all drop into a low bow, eyes to the ground, they hold their stance agonisingly long as The King takes in his surroundings before giving the signal for all to relax. Grooms then spring into action and move rapidly to take care of their charges. The three horsemen quickly dismount. They lead their steaming horses steadily away so that they can be fed, watered and brushed down.
The King and his three companions disappear at haste up steep stone steps and enter the castle hall through its thick oak doorway. We follow unobtrusively behind them, eager not to be seen. There is an air of excitement and anticipation in the way everyone seems to be hurrying and rushing here and there. The mood is light and jolly.
Inside the Great Hall, we encounter yet more servants and maids in a flurry of activity. Two scullery maids tending the large roaring fire in the Great Hall blush with mortification when the three men come upon them unexpectedly. They had been giggling and chatting instead of working and under normal circumstances would have been severely chastised, but The King, whose mood today cannot be broken, laughs with them before sending them on their way.
The King and his companions stand by the bright burning flames and warm their cold bodies. A manservant arrives with a tray of wine and some bread and ham for the exhilarated, yet weary travellers to break their fast with. They had been riding all night and were eager to fall upon their food.
The approaching Manservant once in the presence of The King drops his head and stares to the floor until he is given permission to rise. Taking a liberty, he speaks out, ‘my Liege, it is good to see you returned safely to us once more. And your son, The Knight of Wands, has he safely landed too?” The King turns to his trusty manservant and dispensing on this occasion with formalities he gives him a friendly pat on the back. ‘It is certainly good to be back home for a while, and yes, my son will be here before nightfall. I trust all is in place for the festivities tonight and for the Jousting Tournament tomorrow? My son, The Knight of Wands, will be bringing some people with him, new acquaintances. We want to make a very good impression on them and I am happy to see how well the castle is being prepared for their arrival. They come from some of the most noble and aristocratic families in Europe, and this visit, once successful, will strengthen the allegiance between us. Nothing must go wrong. I want their every wish, desire and need catered for. These are my orders and make sure everyone is informed and aware. Do you understand?” The King stared into his Manservant’s eyes and held his gaze just long enough for him to be totally clear of his instructions. The Manservant nodded silently and with bowed head backed slowly and quietly away from his King and Master.
The King returned his attention to his three companions, now nicely warmed by the blazing logs and the pungent heat of the strong wine. Feeling restored after their long ride, they settled into deep conversation about the imminent arrival of The King’s son, The Knight of Wands and the important Royals who would visit with him. The King has not seen his son, The Knight of Wands for six months. Their battles and campaigns taking them in different directions. He has heard mixed accounts of his success, and received notice that he intended to bring some new acquaintances home with him, acquaintances that might very well prove useful in the future. We listen to them speculate about The Knight’s overseas adventures and conquests. They voice their concerns about the ongoing battles over territory and power, allies and foes, and discuss strategies for future battles. They also discuss in-depth the entourage who will later arrive with The Knight of Wands. Which ones can they trust? Which ones will join forces with them and who will ride out with The Knight of Wands to lead their armies to glorious success and triumph? They decide to closely observe the other Knight’s qualities, skills and strengths at the Jousting Tournament the next day. They will also watch closely to discover their weaknesses. From a safe distance we will continue to observe how this story unfolds.
Up the stairs and at the far side of the inner courtyard, sits The Queen of Wands with her young Ladies-in-waiting. The Queen’s rooms are known for their liveliness and good humour. Her Ladies-in-waiting are the envy of all, for this Queen is bright, sunny and generous. Her energy and spontaneity keeps them all on their toes, and boredom at bay. The Queen likes to sing, dance and laugh, and provides daily entertainment in her rooms for those closest to her.
The Queen of Wands hates to sew and becomes quickly impatient with all the needlework she is expected to be a part of. Today is no exception but there is an extra restlessness about her which makes her pace up and down her Royal Apartments and draws her frequently to the window, or to the chamber door, where she shouts out enquiring of The Guards ‘any news yet?’ Her Ladies-in-waiting do their best to engage her with snippets of gossip from Court life, a new style of hood that is very ‘French’ , and about the excellent form of her big hunter on his last outing. Nothing seems to impress or hold her attention as she paces anxiously, yet excitedly around the large inner chamber. Even the offer of the bright gold silk thread to embroider the sun cannot capture her imagination.
The Ladies-in-waiting all looked to each other and sighed. They all knew The King had arrived and his very presence in the castle had created strong energy vibrations all around. His presence today also meant that his son, The Knight of Wand’s arrival was imminent. The Queen of Wand’s limited patience had been severely put to the test these last six months. Both her strong, powerful husband, and vibrant, virile, son away overseas fighting battles and defeating the enemy, while she had to stay at home and keep busy.
Trusted implicitly by her husband, The King of Wands, thankfully she had not suffered the same fate as many other wives left to entertain themselves in their husband’s absence. The Queen of Wands had been left in a position of Governing Power. Not full power of course, but he knew he could rely on her to do what had to be done, and also to keep an eye on those who could cause trouble for The Kingdom in his absence. He knew she was no fool, and if the situation called for it would be able to confidently rule The Kingdom herself without any help from him. She was strong-headed and feisty, with an independent nature and natural curiosity. Nothing would slip by her attention, and all within the Castle were well aware of the power of their Queen. The Queen knew she was an excellent match for her husband’s mite but remained vigilant about not appearing to be in competition with him, or too forceful in her opinions. Being a clever woman, she had ways of getting what she wanted. However, being a Queen, she had to bow to the etiquette and protocol of a Queenly life which is why she now waited to be summoned by her King instead of just running to greet him as she wished to do.
One of the Queen’s Ladies-in-waiting picked up the gold thread declined by The Queen and began to embroider the sun. Her own hair, although mostly covered by her fashionable hood, was just as bright and dazzling as the silk thread. In fact, she believed her own hair would make a more suitable match for the sun than the expensive silk thread she drew between her delicate fingers. Outwardly she appeared calm and consistent, just as she did every day, but inside her heart pounded in her chest. Every time a horse and rider arrived in the outer courtyard she nearly dropped her needle, and it took all her concentration to steady her hands. Her eyes darted from the window to the door, waiting and willing for something to happen. She thought she would go mad with all this waiting. She understood how The Queen felt, but unlike The Queen, she was frustrated for a very different reason.
Suddenly voices came from outside and there was the familiar noise of The Guards standing to attention. The Queen stopped her pacing and faced the door as it flung open before her. She dropped into a low curtsey before The King, as did all her Ladies-in-waiting, eyes cast down, stomachs a flutter with nerves and anticipation. The King moved swiftly, and breaking all Kingly etiquette and protocol, swept his wife into a passionate embrace before holding her in his extended arms for a closer inspection. The Queen’s face was radiant and alive with happiness. Taking her arm in his he marched her out the door startling The Guards into attention once more. The Queen’s Ladies-in-waiting rose to follow their mistress but The King waved them back and announced that he wished to speak alone with The Queen. Embarrassed looks were exchanged all round as The Ladies-in-waiting dropped into sweeping, acknowledging curtsies.
Once the door closed behind The King and Queen, all pretence at focusing on needlework was gone. The Queen’s Ladies scattered about the room exchanging excited chatter as they danced around in circles. They ran to the window seats and climbed up high to view the activity down below in the Courtyard. They strained their eyes as far as they could see in search of the Royal Standard that would herald the arrival of The Knight of Wands. Still nothing on the horizon. They turned back to each other to breathlessly discuss the festivities and celebrations the coming night would bring; the dancing, the entertainment, the merry-making, the courting, flirting and possible lovemaking. It was all possible now that the men had arrived home. Court Life could begin in earnest once more, and tomorrow there was The Jousting Tournament to look forward to. Life had certainly picked up. Fun was in the air again and the promise of exciting days ahead. The Knight of Wands had been sorely missed.
A message arrived to The Queen’s Chambers dismissing her Ladies-in-waiting until later when they would be expected to return to prepare and dress their mistress for the night ahead. Their Queen knew how excited they were about the return of The Court and was happy to allow them some time and freedom to prepare. She had chosen her Ladies for their engaging dispositions, enthusiasm and liveliness. She despised the boring, dull, lifeless faces of some of the other Ladies in the Castle. Ladies who had nothing to say for themselves, no opinions and no interests, other than their husbands’. She felt in a wonderful mood and couldn’t wait to see her son again but in the meantime, she had matters of State to discuss with the newly returned King.
Giggling like children, The Queen’s Ladies ran skittishly down the corridors, while The Guards smiled and admired them from behind. The sound of a trumpet in the courtyard below sent them into a mad tizzy. Orders were called out from one Guard to another as the message was communicated rapidly around the castle confines. ‘The Knight of Wands had arrived, he was home at long last. After a six months’ absence travelling to far distant lands, facing the enemy, marching into battle, seizing territory and conquering all who stood in his way, The Knight of Wands had returned in a blaze of triumphant glory. News of his conquests had travelled ahead of him and whereas he had departed a Knight who showed promise and skill, he had returned as a Knight who had proven his mettle and had already become a living legend, a Warrior Knight of Knights.
In the kitchens they spoke of their Knight as invincible, immortal, fearless and lion-hearted. In the Queen’s chambers her Ladies spoke in hushed whispers of his virility, strong athletic body and handsome looks. They were all in love with him, all vied to catch his attention and all longed to be the chosen one. Tonight, all would dress to impress their young and dynamic Knight, hoping his gaze may fall upon them, yet at the same time fearful of swooning if their wishes did happen to come true.
One among them, she with the Golden Hair, secretly entertained more than just a look or gaze from her dashing, brilliant Knight. Indeed she intended to take up where she had left off six months ago when The Knight of Wands gallantly rode out and away in the early morning summer mists, to lands far away, and an enemy known for his brutality and menace. She had stood on the turret stairs then, sobbing and weeping quietly to her brave and courageous Knight, begging him to stay, yet equally proud of his willingness to lay down his life to protect his country and his family’s honour. As she secretly watched his departure that early morning, she could still feel the heat of his body on her skin, the tautness of his muscles as he had held her in his strong embrace, his passion intense and wild. She had abandoned herself to him, risked discovery and ruin, as she ran her fingers through his coarse dark auburn hair in the candlelit enclosure of his bedchamber. His Guards, sworn to secrecy had smuggled her into his room that eve anxious to gain the trust of their Master who may not return from the battle fields so far away.
On the turret stairs he had held her close and whispered promises of love and a lifetime of passion when he returned. She had let him go that morn and vowed she would love no other but him, and would count the days away until his return. She had pulled the silk scarf from around her delicate shoulders and shivering in the chilly air insisted he take it as a talisman that would protect and keep him safe. The Knight of Wands had accepted her gift and said he would tuck it away safely inside the cold heavy armour he would ride out to battle in.
And so she had waited, six long months for this very day. Her passion and love burned strong and deep and she congratulated herself on keeping their secret safe and sound. Not even The Queen had guessed of their secret romance. Her heart beat so hard, she thought it could be heard echoing around the stone hallways of the castle, but no one seemed to notice. After all this time, The Knight of Wands was close by, so close, she would soon hear his voice, see his rugged face and those striking emerald-green eyes. She knew she would have to contain herself, not show her real emotions. She would have to wait until he summoned her later. Then, and only then could she fall into his waiting arms. She would soon lie beside her man once more, her Knight of Wands, and release the passion for him that burned so strong inside.
Trumpets and horns sounded loud and sharp in the clear winter air of the courtyard as under the portcullis came the thunder of hooves and loud cheering voices. The Queen’s Ladies ran to the nearest windows and throwing formalities and ladylike behaviour aside, climbed up onto the narrow ledges to get the best view.
The Royal Standard billowed in the evening breeze, showing obvious signs of stainage from the long journey it had endured. It momentarily blocked the Ladies’ view forcing them to scramble along the window ledge to see around it. Suddenly, there he was, he, The Knight of Wands, returned from battles in far distant lands, home once again. A joy to behold. The Ladies standing on tip toe upon the window ledge all gasped as they took in the scene below.
Featuring The Knights of Cups, Swords and Pentacles
The Festivities, Foregin Guests, and A Shock In Store
The Knight of Wands looked larger than life as his Horse circled and whinnied. The young groom’s boy who had sprung into action once he had heard of his Master’s arrival struggled hard to grab hold of the massive deep chestnut stallion that seemed intent on trampling him out of sheer excitement. The Horse’s eyes looked wild and ready for more action, even after the long and arduous ride from the coast. The Knight of Wands took a tight hold of the reins and circled the Horse a few more times. The Horse snorted and stamped before allowing the young groom to come even remotely close. Laughing out loud, The Knight of Wands leaned down from his massive height and handed his Wand to his waiting Manservant who looked terrified to be so close to such an enormous beast of an animal.
Still holding control of his Horse with his left hand, he released the buckles on his helmet and pulled it free from his head. The Ladies-in-waiting spoke not a word between them as they watched his deep auburn hair fall to just about shoulder length. It was damp from being encased in his head armour, and like his Horse’s coat, was steaming from the exertion of the long ride. He shook his hair free, but long strands of it blew across his face, obscuring his vision. He swiped them away impatiently and looked around at the crowd that had gathered to welcome him home.
Through the upstairs window and still unobserved, The Ladies-in-waiting looked knowingly at each other. Words failed them as they gazed down upon their brave and bold Knight. They watched the angle of his rugged, strong and determined chin as he turned to talk to the gathering crowd. He had a heavy growth of russet red beard, slightly lighter in colour than his hair. In the setting sun, they could not fail to notice the glint of his emerald green eyes as he beamed his delighted smiles for all to see. His skin looked lightly tanned, his complexion, ruddy from prolonged exposure under hot foreign skies.
The Golden Haired Queen’s Lady thought of his finely honed body beneath his armour. After all the months on crusade and campaign; the rigours of battle, the hours, days and weeks on Horseback, she pondered the level of his fitness and agility. He looked strong and incredibly healthy with no signs of injury or damage. She had worried about all the horrific mutilation that only too often came home from the battle field. She felt her heart quicken at the thought of her Knight. Here was a man at the peak of his manhood, virile and healthy. He was home and she could barely contain her longing ache for him.
The Knight below remained mounted as the little groom’s boy danced around unsure as to what to do next. The Knight seemed to be waiting for something, or somebody, as he constantly glanced towards the drawbridge. The young boy stared admiringly at his master’s tunic. The evening sun made its yellow colour glow like deep gold. The black embroidered Salamanders of his family crest stood out in stark contrast, making the boy feel almost dazed in its presence.
The elder of the Ladies-in-waiting began to get a bit anxious about standing up on the window ledge too long, and feared they would be scolded if caught involved in such unseemly behaviour. The Golden Haired Lady took no notice of her nervous twittering companion and continued to watch her glorious man in the courtyard below. There was a rumble of noise, some scattering and reforming of servants and guards, and The Queen and King of Wands appeared down the Great Hall steps to formally welcome their son home from his escapades at war.
The Queen of Wands stepped towards the mighty Horse as The Knight leaned down to kiss her hand. From the window above, they could see them exchange excited words, and both Queen and Knight looked so happy. The Queen threw back her head in deep laughter at one of her son’s outrageous comments before turning to share his joke with the gathered crowd. She turned back to converse with him. The King then joined them. The Knight glanced over his shoulder towards the drawbridge and then back to his parents once more. Then they all looked back at the drawbridge in anticipation. Whatever was going on?
The Ladies-in-waiting strained their necks as far as they could in attempt to get a view of what they might all be looking at, but the angle was wrong. The Golden Haired Lady felt nervous and unsettled. What where they waiting for? Who were they waiting for?
Suddenly, the trumpets sounded once more and a sound like rolling thunder echoed throughout the castle walls and corridors. Under the portcullis, more and more riders on Horseback appeared, one after another, filling the inner courtyard with the clatter and clamour of hooves and metal. It was quickly noticed that some of the riders were female. The gathered servants, and higher appointed staff erupted into crazed excitement as they ran everywhere to accommodate these impressive looking new arrivals.
The Knight of Wands hailed and welcomed three armour-clad Knights who now circled the yard in a cloud of steam, their Horses foaming at the bit and pawing the ground. The Knight of Wands exchanged exuberant conversation with them, and his Horse, excited to be reunited with his travelling companions whinnied loudly before rearing up tall as a mountain. The Horse stood on his hind legs and pawed the air. The Knight of Wands roared with laughter and leaned forward so as not to be thrown to the ground.
One of the female riders laughed loudly back and moved her Horse closer to exchange some private words with him. As if sensing she was being watched, she glanced quickly up towards the overlooking window and momentarily caught the eyes of the Three Ladies-in-waiting before smiling and turning her attention back to The Knight.
The Ladies-in-waiting almost fell off the window ledge with the sudden shock of it all. The meeting of eyes had only lasted a fraction of a second, but it was long enough for a certain Lady-in-waiting to recognise elegant beauty when she saw it. Not only was the female rider beautiful, she also had a certain foreign air about her. Her riding habit and head-dress where unusual, and of course her deep brunette hair, almond eyes and sallow skin. She had to be of Spanish, French or Italian extraction.
The Golden Haired Lady crept back to the window and gazed intently down on the new arrivals below. The female rider had re-joined the other women but continued to throw words and laughter back and forth to The Knight of Wands. The other women looked foreign too. All were depressingly glamorous, even after several hours in the saddle. Why had they not travelled behind in the litters like most Ladies do when travelling long distances? Who were they, these Knights and the accompanying women? Why had they come? Did not The Queen know of The Knight’s plans to bring guests? There was little The Queen did not know. Why had she not mentioned it to her closest Ladies?
Noise below again caught their attention. In the dimming light outside, it was hard to see what was going on. The servants, only now beginning to light the courtyard wall sconces, brought a bit of light to the situation. The Ladies adjusted their vision and tried to make out the comings and goings in the flickering light from the flames.
The loud rumble of wheels brought carts heavily across the drawbridge and under the portcullis. Servants rushed to begin the unloading of several large trunks, rolls of carpets and even furniture. The excitement began to calm down as riders dismounted and handed their Horses over into the care of their grooms. The women had brought their own entourage with them, servants and Ladies-in-waiting, but it was The Knight of Wands who rushed to help the dark haired beauty down from her mount. He held her for longer than necessary, before putting her safely on the ground. Despite the fading light, the Golden haired Queen’s Lady missed nothing. She saw The Knight of Wands move his face too close to hers, she saw the look they exchanged and how his strong arms had encircled her tiny waist.
Confused and dazed, she felt she was going to faint. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears and her breathing became rapid, too rapid for the tight bindings of her corset. Her stomach churned as bile rose in her mouth. She had to get away before the others saw her. A male servant running down the corridor towards them distracted attention away from her. The Queen would be returning in one hour to her rooms to dress for the evening’s banquet and celebration. They had visiting courtiers from France and Spain, so an extra special effort was to be made with their own dress for the evening.
The Golden Haired Lady ran to her sleeping quarters and threw herself down upon her bed. Her mind was racing in circles. She couldn’t think straight. Maybe she was wrong; maybe she was too paranoid, too suspicious. Could she have imagined the whole thing? Surely there was a perfectly valid excuse. Six months was a long time to wait, a long time to hold the secret of her love all to herself. Would that make her more likely to see things that weren’t there, could her eyes conjure up all sorts of illusions? Calming herself, she decided that she had been mistaken, and that once she was re-united with her Knight, he would reassure her of his love and all would be forgotten. These were formal visitors and guests from Foreign Courts. The Knight, King and Queen no doubt were eager to secure allies in these nations and keep the country safe from war and attack. Of course he would have to be seen to make a fuss and give them extra special treatment. She decided to brush it aside and act like a Queen instead of a Lady-in-Waiting. If she played her cards right, she might one day stand proudly beside her Knight as he was crowned King. If she was betrothed to him, she would become Queen. She must not act like a silly girl. The Knight of Wands would not have declared his love to her in the manner he did if he had meant to take up with another once she was out of sight. Neither would he have taken her to his bed six months ago on the eve of his departure if he had not intended to publicly acknowledge and commit to her on his return.
Sitting in front of her looking-glass, she wove her golden hair into tight braids and piled them into intricate knots at the nape of her neck. She selected her most stunning gown of silver and lavender silk with velvet trimming. She pulled her waist in until she could barely breathe and then slipped her tiny feet into matching soft velvet pumps. Lightly powdering her face and adding a touch of colour to her lips, she dabbed some essence behind her ears and between her cleavage. She gazed back at her reflection in the flickering candlelight and was pleased by what she saw. She was beautiful too, and her Knight would not be able to take his eyes or hands off her when he saw her. As she tripped lightly down the corridor towards The Queen’s Chambers she felt in high spirits. Her Knightof Wands was home. He was in his chambers in this very castle, almost within touching distance, after six long months. The celebrations tonight would be spectacular. It would be clear to all present that The Knight of Wands and The Queen’s Golden Haired Lady-in-waiting were in love and ready to commit to each other.
Once all the guests had dismounted in the Courtyard, The Knight of Wands had rapidly made his way up the stone steps and into The Great Hall where he received more welcomes from the internal castle servants. All were happy to see the young Knight home again. Although The Queen and King of Wands were lively figures, the castle had seemed terribly quiet and gloomy in The Knight’s absence. Now he was home and moving noisily down the corridors towards The King’s Chambers where his father waited along with several government ministers and advisors. His voice echoed loudly throughout the castle corridors and hallways. He seemed to fill the whole building with his dynamic presence as he strode purposefully and confidently. He appeared to have grown in stature since his departure to foreign lands. War or not, this was a young man who had thrived on the experience of it all.
There were serious matters to discuss in the King’s Chambers about their overseas campaign and forthcoming battle strategies. Senior members of the local aristocracy and nobility had also gathered to receive detailed information from The Knight and his companions. The King of Wands had only briefly met with his son over the previous six months, as his battles had taken him to other lands further away. He too was eager to hear how much progress his son, The Knight of Wands had made. They had arrived back on the same day but on different sea crossings and from different directions.
The gathered aristocracy were anxious to know how safe their castles were, were they under any threat of attack, should they move their women and children out, stockpile resources, food and weapons, or should they feel relaxed and at ease. The Knight of Wands had being gone six months, and although information coming back from the battle field had been erratic and often of dubious origin, success seemed to be on their side and the enemy had fallen rapidly or retreated hastily under the relentless and tireless attacks launched by The Knight of Wands and his troops. Now they wanted to hear it with their own ears and decide for themselves where the country stood and who could be relied upon. The sight of such a large foreign entourage returning with The Knight was a welcome site. It meant that he had used his charm, enthusiasm and powers of persuasion to get them on board, and on their side.
They had faith in their Leader and Ruler, The King of Wands, for he was a man of maturity and experience. They had no doubt he could be relied upon to do what had to be done in battle, and for the good of his Kingdom. The King of Wands understood his duty and obligations, but many of those gathered could remember him in the days of his youth when he had been wild and difficult to control. This was of course before he had inherited the throne from his father before him. He was quite a rebel back then and often impulsive and unpredictable. They now saw shades of this behaviour in The Knight of Wands. They knew, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and they hoped for all their sakes that his father could see this too and keep a tight rein on his actions.
All knew The Knight of Wands from childhood, had seen him grow up. All were well aware of how he had managed to wrap his nanny’s, governesses and tutors around his little finger. Even his strong controlling parents had weakened in his presence, indulging and spoiling him, allowing him free run to get up to all sorts of antics. He had being able to work his charm on everyone and always managed to get people around to his way of thinking. When it came to being trained in weaponry he had excelled, and even his trainers found it hard to overcome him as he came into his prime. He was also a master Horseman. No one in Europe could match his speed and agility on the battle field. He was known for tying his Horse’s reins in a knot and steering him with just his legs so that he could hold a spear in one hand and his heavy sword in the other. He was certainly a sight to behold. His reputation had spread far and wide. He was still young and a bit green in his thought processes but if he had the proper advisors, they would smooth off any of his rough edges. He could become a powerful ruler when his time came.
He stood in line to be the next King and it was important that he be able to fulfil his mature Kingly role. That might entail him having to learn to curb his enthusiasm and impulsiveness. As well as he was known for his courage and strength, private reports had come back pertaining to his volatile nature. Rumour had it that at times he had to be restrained by his fellow Knights from riding into battle un-prepared due to his hot-headed, eager, and often enraged reaction to some taunting of one sort or another from the enemy camp. These insinuations were designed specifically to provoke him into making hasty decisions and taking knee-jerk reactions. He was impatient and restless which unnerved those around him as much as it encouraged them. He didn’t like having to wait for anything and battle strategies often involved days of waiting, waiting for the enemy to run out of food or water. The Knight of Wands found these times exasperating. He was a man of action and not used to waiting for anything. He often acted without thinking. He seemed to change his mind a lot, and after hours spent discussing the next day’s attack strategies, he would rise the next morning with his plans changed because he had enough of sitting around. Worse still, he often changed tactics without warning in the middle of battle. He would act without consulting anyone else and expect his troops to just follow his lead. It was impossible to keep up his pace and follow his train of thought at times for it changed so often. The Knight of Wands enjoyed the thrill and risk of battle. His troops, as much as they loved him and swore allegiance to him, were exhausted from the constant marching and endless engagement with the enemy. No sooner would they have set up camp in one place, he would find a better place for them elsewhere and they would be forced to pack up and move on. The Knight of Wands himself rarely seemed to tire and he came down hard and heavy on those who complained of weakness or were ill.
The other Knights had witnessed his explosive outbursts when things didn’t go his way, and had watched him recklessly endanger the lives of his troops just because he felt insulted or slighted. They loved and looked up to him so he got away with it. Troops were known to desert on turn for the slightest thing, but The Knight of Wands had them under his spell. He moved among his men, sat with them in camp at night and sang bawdy songs of lust and women. They looked upon him as one of their own. He knew exactly how to play them. Luck went his way a lot of the time, but it was often left to his fellow Knights to clean up many a mess he had created.
He had been cheered and hailed a hero on his return but few had the courage to speak out about, or challenge the future King to be. It was true he was a hero for he was always there to lead his troops out into battle, never shied away from duty or the thought of impending death. He was first to volunteer for the most dangerous of missions, missions that should have been handed over to one of his soldiers. He wanted full control and found it hard to delegate. He took everything on himself and constantly bragged about him been the best man for the job. He forgot that they were all in this together and at times seemed to be more interested in competing for glory against the other Knights. The more territory they gained the more overly-confident he became. His ego grew larger by the day. So too did his desire for battle. He became hooked and addicted to conflict, deliberately seeking it out when it refused to come to him.
To the other Knights his actions were often seen as irresponsible behaviour regardless of how successful they were. The Knight of Wands believed he was invincible, a god-like creature. Should he have been killed or taken prisoner it had the potential to completely destabilise the alliance. It also put everyone else in danger too. Imagine, the Heir to the Throne captured by the enemy? What would the price of his ransom cost his countrymen. Without their leader urging them on and on, his troops and armies would have scattered and dissipated maybe even sworn allegiance to the enemy’s camp. It was brave and bold, but also foolhardy. When The Knight of Wands was good, he was terribly good, but when he was bad, he was horrid. From day to day, depending on circumstances, his personality would swing from one to the other. The worst days were when their progress was delayed, or when they came up against set-backs and blocks to their advancement. However, he never gave up pushing forward and the other Knights had to give him the credit for keeping the troops motivated and on their side. He got angry and explosive at times but never once did he doubt the success that lay ahead for them. Failure was not an option for this Knight. Through Hell and High Water, for King and Country, he fought on dragging his exhausted troops behind him. It was his very optimism, confidence and self-belief that sustained them all, when food supplies ran low and heavy losses where sustained on the battle field. He was either crazy or a total genius. It was hard to work out which was which.
The Knight of Wands spoke constantly about ridding the land of its tyrannical rulers and being a man of the people. The Knights looking on, saw how much he craved power and spoke secretly amongst themselves of what he might be capable of should he succeed in gaining it. At present he was a young warrior, hell-bent on saving the world and all its occupants from the evils of corrupt rulers and dictators. Would he be any better himself when his time came to take over from his father, The King of Wands? His companion Knights pondered such issues on a regular basis.
The Knight of Cups only saw the good that he could achieve. He believed in him and trusted him for he was his friend. Friends stood by each other and could be relied upon. He admired his courage in the face of the enemy. He was not made of such strong stuff himself. His mission was to find a peaceful way to resolve the differences between the warring factions. Too much blood had been spilled. There was too much hatred and bitterness. The Knight of Cups often felt drained after a day’s battle, sickened to his stomach at the barbaric sights he saw, he longed to go home to his family, to his beautiful homeland and peaceful castle.
The Knight of Swords, although fiery and quite aggressive at times, saw his role as the negotiator and strategist. He did a lot of thinking and wore them out with his theories and plans for victory. His plots were intricate and often complicated but he was certain of their potential for success. Unfortunately, he too was easily riled and incensed by the enemy. Volatile and too quick to react, he was lethal on the battle field. He never let anyone get away and would hunt down his prey for hours, eventually running them to ground before he quickly slaughtered them with his Sword, or took them prisoner.
The Knight of Cups feared him for he found him too clinical and cold at times. He was well liked by all, but somehow managed to keep a cool distance from everyone. He was secretive and moody too, hard to get close to. He was painfully sharp in his speech and manner with his cutting remarks and barbed comments. The Knight of Cups knew he had the capabilities of slitting his throat if he felt it would help their campaign. He believed The Knight of Wands was well aware of the same. He was keeping his friends close, but his enemies even closer still. He had the power to turn on The Knight of Wands if he chose. The Knight of Wands had to keep him sweet and on his side for he did not trust him. He knew The Knight of Swords had powerful connections and his family were more highly ranked than his own. At any moment he might choose to seek the power and control for himself. He would be a dangerous adversary under such circumstances. The Knight of Wands held all the intense energy and vision, yet The Knight of Swords instinctively had the know-how, and the strong potential to out-smart him if he were to turn against him. He also came from a strong military background. He was born with a Sword in his hand and was not afraid to use it. Both The Knight of Cups and The Knight of Pentacles knew that there were two battles raging; The physical battle against the enemy, and the battle of wills between The Knight of Wands and The Knight of Swords. They rarely agreed on anything, both believing they were right, both refusing to back down. They often came close to blows but it was neither the time nor the place for such behaviour. They were very alike in nature when all was stripped away. This left them with the situation of having the potential to be the best of friends or the worst of enemies. If one had to take a bet on which would be triumphant, it would be very close call indeed.
The Knight of Pentacles said little and kept his own counsel. He listened intently at all their camp meetings and took notes of all plans. He was the realist and regularly had to bring both The Knight of Wands and The Knight of Swords down to earth. The Knight of Wands often turned to him for his seal of approval, for if The Knight of Pentacles thought it a good idea, then they were definitely on the right track. A lot of their plans although great in theory, were not practical. Too much risk was involved, too much too lose. The Knight of Pentacles was there to ensure that to the best of their ability, the results on the battle field aimed for, where sufficiently achieved. He kept a close eye on their supplies and weaponry. He also had to introduce food and water rationing as he found the troops guilty of squandering the very resources that would keep their energy and stamina levels high. If left to them they would have eaten and drank all the food, water and ale within the first few weeks of their campaign. The Knight of Pentacles also was responsible for the organised running of treating and caring for the wounded. He assembled tents and camp beds, and sourced those among them who had knowledge of potions and herbal remedies that could dull pain and slow down the spread of infection. If it was not for The Knight of Pentacles, their war horses and oxen that pulled their carts of supplies and weaponry would have gone without food, or be forced past their limits. He spent a lot of time with the animals and was insistent upon maintaining their welfare. Without healthy and well shod horses and livestock, they would not be able to advance. He had no interest in engaging in verbal battle with The Knight of Wands. Instead he went about his business quietly and without making a fuss. The Knight of Wands was not unaware of this and would often grab hold of The Knight of Pentacles and tell him how they wouldn’t be able to survive without him. The Knight of Wands did not see him as a threat, and out of all the Knights trusted him implicitly. The other two Knights held The Knight of Pentacles in high regard.
The Knight of Wands was very competitive all the time. This exhausted the other Knights who were there to work as a team, and not independently. It especially annoyed The Knight of Swords who seemed to be in constant conflict with him. Truth was they were very alike but The Knight of Swords was not as impulsive as The Knight of Wands. Yes, he was flighty and quick to fly of the handle but he did believe in tactics and forming a workable plan with a view to sticking to it. Otherwise it was a complete waste of time for them all. If the King knew of his son’s antics there would be trouble indeed. The King of Wands was the only one who could exert any power or control over his son. However, this time they had prevailed, and the other Three Knights had covered his tracks as much as possible. It too was important for them to keep on the right side of The Knight of Wands. He was a wonderful friend and would do anything for them, but they also knew that he could make a powerful enemy, an enemy who would turn on them very quickly if they did not agree with his needs and demands. They also knew that one day he would be King and they wanted to remain in his favour. The Knight of Swords knew this too, and for the moment and his country, it served his purpose. He would do his best to exert control and self-discipline in his dealings with The Knight of Wands for as long as it was necessary. Both The Knight of Wands and The Knight of Swords sustained an atmosphere of competitive tension whenever they were all together. Both wanted to get their own way.
After intense talks and some heated debate in The King’s Chambers, The Knight of Wands and his companion Knights were given leave to go and prepare for the night’s celebrations ahead. Putting any differences aside for the moment, laughing and joking together, they appeared quite boyish as they clapped each other on the back, pushing and shoving as they moved quickly down the corridor. At the foot of the main staircase, their servants waited to guide them to their bed chambers where fires had been lit and their clothes laid out in preparation for the night ahead. The Knight of Wands took leave of his friends and took off up the staircase two steps at a time, showing no signs of tiredness or exhaustion. The Knight of Cups went his way, so too The Knight of Swords.
The Knight of Pentacles asked his servant to wait. He wanted to check on his Horse. He had been concerned the last couple of miles that he felt un-level, possibly lame, and wanted to make sure for himself that he was been properly cared for. He told his servant that he did not know how long he would be and that he would be able to dress himself if necessary. He just needed directions to his chambers. Other than that he could manage fine on his own. His servant was unsure and seemed to be unused to Knights looking after such things. However, The Knight seemed insistent and so the servant was happy to be relieved of his duties, even though he was worried he might be in trouble. What was he to do? His Knight had told him he didn’t need his help.
Up in The Knight of Wand’s Bed Chamber a bath of steaming hot water awaited him. He stripped off his clothes and sank into the tub, sighing with the luxury of hot water after the long ride. His Manservant, knowing his Knight so well, had prepared his clothes for the night ahead. He had chosen the finest tunic and doublet that blazed in fiery red and orange. Brilliant gold silk embroidery epitomised his regal stance. He would undoubtedly stand out in this outfit and create quite a stir. No one would be able to match such a dazzling display of power and status. He was their young Sun God and he would wear the clothes to suit such a station. Along with his magnificent outfit, his Manservant had carefully chosen heavy gold chains and rings encrusted with brilliant precious gem stones. He would certainly be a sight to behold; all would be envious of his master.
Cleaned and scrubbed of the dust, sweat and grime, The Knight of Wands dressed swiftly. He was eager for the night’s entertainmen to get underway. His people awaited their Knight down in the Banquet Hall but he had a little business of his own to conduct before he went to mingle with them. A quiet knock on the door was the signal for his Manservant to make himself scarce. The Knight of Wands opened the door and admitted a cloak-clad figure to his room. His standing guards outside showed no sign of acknowledging the secret guest. They had been instructed to allow access.
Once the door was closed, the figure that had made its way to the roaring fire pulled back the dark hood and unhooked the clasp. The cloak was flung to the floor and there stood the dark haired foreign beauty he had helped from her Horse. In two strides he swept her up off her feet and threw her onto the bed. Laughing at her surprised face he jumped on the bed beside her and covered her mouth with a deep longing kiss before she had a chance to complain. They embraced as their passion for each other became intense. Outside the guards pretended to ignore the laughs, passionate sighs and moans from their Knight’s Chamber, but most of them smiled knowingly and envied him his foreign beauty.
In The Queen’s Chambers the last touches were being put to her magnificent gown of deep orange velvet. Her flowing locks of rich auburn hair were almost the same colour. Her Ladies worked excitedly as they tamed her wild hair into twists and plaits bound in gold thread and jewels. Her gown flowed out in a train behind her and was trimmed in gold lace. She looked every bit the proud and powerful Queen she was. With the last of her rings and bracelets in place and secured, all were ready to make their exciting journey to the Banquet Hall. The King had been similarly looked after in his own Chambers and what a sight they would make as they joined at the head of the Banquet Table taking their throne-like seats, with their Knight of Wands son by their side. No other family in the land could match such splendour.
Down the great staircase they filed, The Queen and her Ladies-in-Waiting. Lines of serving staff awaited their descent. They would be escorted to the Banquet Hall, their arrival announced so that the crowds would turn to see their Queen in all her beauty and radiance. Her Ladies-in-waiting would be seated at a table close by to their Queen so that her every need could be looked after. The excitement among the Ladies-in-waiting was palpable regardless of how well they tried to conduct themselves in a modest and comely manner. The Golden Haired Queen’s Lady, was almost faint with anticipation. Her heart beat loudly in her chest and she felt breathless and dizzy in her tight corset.
The Grand Entrance was made amidst a fanfare of trumpeters and musicians. The Queen took her place at the main Banquet Table, the King rising to formally welcome her and kiss her hand. Her Ladies-in-waiting settled not too far from her. The Golden Haired Lady–in-Waiting scanned the room as discreetly as she could in search of the one face she had waited so long to see. She almost fell off her chair in her attempt to look into each corner of the Banquet Room, over people’s heads and around the constantly moving serving staff. There was no sign of him. He had not yet arrived. Dismayed and growing more impatient by the minute she quickly downed the wine that was placed in front of her. She felt its soothing warmth as it flushed through her system. She began to relax just a little. He would be here soon. She had waited this long, she could wait a few minutes more.
A half an hour later and two more goblets of wine, he still had not arrived. She began to grow very restless and found it impossible to engage in the silly conversation of the other Ladies at the table. She began to settle her attention on the table of Foreign Ladies at the far side of room. They were all elaborately dressed and showing no signs of the long arduous ride they had undertaken earlier that day. They spoke quite loudly and were surrounded by a group of men, some of from their entourage, others from the local nobility. They seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. She scanned the group looking for the dark-haired beauty who had so worried her earlier on but she was nowhere to be seen. Where could she be? Surely she would be with the other Ladies enjoying the attention of all the men.
Her attention was drawn back to the head table as she saw the King and Queen exchange words. She knew by their demeanour that they were anxious. The King had called his Manservant and spoke privately to him. She watched as The Manservant shook his head and raised his shoulders. Instantly she knew that The King and Queen were enquiring after the whereabouts of their son, The Knight of Wands, and by The Manservant’s response, he had no idea of where he might be.
Just as the King was beginning to rise from his chair, the trumpets sounded loudly and in through the doorway burst The Knight of Wands in all his glory. The gathered crowds and revellers stood to applaud and cheer their handsome Knight who quickly made his way to the Head Table to join his mother and father. Puzzled exchanges between King, Queen and Knight drew the attention of all. They too had wanted to know where he had been for so long. He smiled mischievously at them and his mother responded with a scolding look while his father burst into laughter and eagerly pulled him down onto his waiting seat. The musicians on queue began to play.
The Golden Haired Lady could not eat the delicious food that was put before her. She felt sick with nerves and tension. Her eyes bored into The Knight willing him to look up and see her. However, his attention seemed drawn elsewhere. In through the doorway, arrived the Brunette Foreign Beauty, in a gown so elegant it shimmered in the candlelight as she moved gracefully and confidently towards her companion’s table. The Golden Haired Lady watched her intently as she took her seat. She noticed her flushed cheeks and the instant gossip-like behaviour that ensued between all her foreign friends. Hands flew to mouths in an attempt to stifle gasps and laughs. She threw her head back and laughed with them. She tried to turn away but she felt mesmerised by this dark woman and her sallow foreign skin. Once more, aware she was been watched, the Foreign Lady turned her head and looked straight into the eyes of The Queen’s Golden Haired Lady. Neither could look away, their stares intense and questioning. The Dark Haired Lady tilted her chin upwards acquiring a haughty air of arrogance along with a challenge. The Golden Haired Queen’s Lady, no match for this blatant cheek, looked away. She turned her attention back towards the head table and her Knight once more. Would he ever look her way she wondered? She wanted to shout out at him, ‘look, it is me, for God’s sake look, it is me’, but the words only sounded in her head. The Dark Haired Beauty watched her with growing interest.
The Knight of Wands seemed oblivious and she was confused and upset that he had not instantly sought her out in the crowd to exchange knowing looks of aching passion. Instead he raised his goblet of wine towards the Foreign Ladies’ table, occasionally shouting over comments and jokes which seemed to highly amuse them. She drank more wine on top of her empty stomach and felt bile rise in her throat. She would have to eat something or else be forced to retire early for the night. That was not an option. She began to eat and managed to swallow even though at times she felt she might choke. Would the banquet ever end and the dancing begin she thought as she tapped her foot under the table. Then she would be free to move around, free to put herself in the way of her Knight of Wands, where he would instantly recognise her and claim her as his own.
Eventually, the crowd sated with food, began to call for the dancing to begin. The King and Queen nodded their agreement, allowing those seated to be released from their position. The Queen gave the signal to her Ladies that they were free to mingle. At last she could move, and not a minute too soon. She felt overheated from all the wine and slightly nauseated from the food. She watched The Knight rise instantly from his seat and make his way towards the surging crowd. Now was her chance. Almost knocking over her chair in her rush to intercept him, she half ran towards him. People got in her way and jostled her aside. The music had started and crowds were making their way to the dancing area. Smoothing down her gown and fixing her hair, she composed herself. Suddenly there was an opening in the crowd. There he was her handsome Knight, only feet away from her. She was nearly there; ready to fall into his waiting arms.
She reached him just as he turned and headed in a different direction. Forgetting her position, and his, she stretched out her arm and touched him, desperate to get his attention. The Knight of Wands turned around and looked at her. Their eyes met, he smiled and mumbled some words of greeting. She held onto his arm and looked deep into his eyes. The Knight of Wands looked confused and uncertain of what was going on. He bade her good evening and turned to continue to his intended destination. She moved again, this time without care for her reputation or self-respect. ‘Do you not know me Sir?’ she pleaded, ‘do you not remember me?’, ‘it is I, it is me’. The Knight of Wands looked uncomfortable and shook her hand off his arm. ‘My Lady, it appears that you may have had too much to drink this evening. There certainly was good cause for celebration, but my advice to you would be to retire for the night. You will be grateful in the morning. Trust me.’ And with that, he walked away from The Golden Haired Lady to join the Foreign Ladies at their table. The same Ladies had all watched this interlude with great interest and amusement, especially the Dark Haired Beauty who raised questioning eyebrows to The Knight of Wands as he took her hand and twirled her off to dance.
The Golden Haired Lady staggered backwards and grabbed a table to steady herself. She felt weak and totally unstable on her feet. He head was exploding with both a headache and bewilderment. He had just publicly rejected her; cast her aside as if she was nothing. She had searched his face, seeking some sort of recognition but had come up against a brick wall of nothingness. He did not know her, did not remember her, cared less about her. She was a total stranger to him. She had made a nuisance of herself and had been publicly humiliated for her efforts. She was also drunk and terrified that The Queen may have been privy to what had transpired between the two of them. She felt her stomach heave and knew she would be sick. She tried to compose herself as she made her way towards the open doors out onto the courtyard. She had just cleared the steps when she could hold it no longer. Falling to her knees she vomited all over the ground and part of her dress. She felt wet with sweat and close to total collapse. Leaning against the castle wall, she pressed her burning cheek against the cold stone and was soothed. She forced her eyes to stay open. When she closed them, everything began to spin. She began to sob quietly and moved further into the shadows of the castle walls where she thought she could not be seen. Her stomach churned once more and she choked up the remains of the wine and food she had consumed. Faint and distressed, her legs buckled and she began to fall. Out of the darkness a hand reached out and caught her. She saw only a brief glimpse of a face before she passed out. Someone had seen her distress and come to her assistance. Who was this person? Who had watched her? Who had followed her?
To Be Continued …………
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