So saying, from the ruin'd shrine he stept
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.
SHINING KNIGHT: FRAGMENT I
There is a lake south of the parish of Bolventor in the green pastures of Cornwall, small and untouched by the ravages of tourism or industrialization. It is not the largest or the oldest in the isles. Few know of its legacy except for him.
It was on these very shores that the first men to walk what was known as Briton would make their first hearth. It was the waters of this lake that were mistaken for the famed Fountain of Youth by enterprising Spanish conquistadors. A thousand nameless duels, confrontations, discoveries and historical records happened and were forgotten here, buried under the loam and the sand, never to be unearthed.
He’d always feared coming here, of tasting the ashes of yesterday’s glory. Every step he took on the sand brought back memories he’d long tried to bury. He could clearly see the five of them standing on the shoreline: him, Percy, Lancelot, Edwin watching stoically as the boy king rowed to the middle of the loch to retrieve his birthright. He could smell the dew that dripped from the petals of lilies that once dotted the lake’s surface. Most of all, he could hear the voice of his king, a boisterous laugh that reminded them all that the sun would always dawn tomorrow.
Justin crouched down and touched the surface, watching the waves radiate out and dissipate, eventually settling back down into stillness. The center of the lake was occluded by a dense thick cloud of fog that floated on the water’s edge. Tendrils of grey mist flicked in and out as if they were looking for any unwary traveler to take hold of.
Why did he come here? This place was nothing but a graveyard of memories and lost faith. Did the stranger send him here to take the piss out of him? Justin then spotted an old boat, moss clung to the underside, with a paddle hanging out from the seat.
He’d have to walk the same steps as his king.
Justin pushed the boat off the shore and clambered onto it. The planks creaked underneath his weight as he sat and took hold of the paddle. The water felt like treacle as he cut through the lake with his paddle, pushing the boat ever so closer to the fog. For brief moments, the blanket of fog devoured his senses. It was suffocating as an indistinguishable void permeated everything outside of the boat. He focused on the monotony of rowing, his arms moving back and forth, as he continued to venture deeper and deeper.
The fog then cleared and he saw a small island with a gnarled tree, hooked branches free of leaves. The trunk was hollow and twisted in a helix with glowing runes inscribed onto the bark. The lip of the boat hit the dirt with a thunk and Justin stepped it off slowly. Je reached his hand towards his belt
“ Hello, is anyone there? My name is Justin.”
His voice travelled out back across the lake, growing dim before it echoed back.
“ Justin Inse Ghall.”
“The Shining Knight.”
“ The Last of Arthur’s Men.”
“ Sir Justin.”
The last words made the hair tingle on his back and he turned around to see himself from over a thousand years in the past. A coif of chain mail obscured his sandy hair and his cleft chin remained bare of the overgrown beard that obscured much of his jawline. Thick yellow plates of quilted brigantine covered much of his body, inalid with war scratches and trenches from enemy swords. In the center of his chest, an ornate raven had been stitched on the outer layer, the sigil of his ancestral homelands.
Justin stood agape at his own reflection. Or perhaps, he was the reflection, a pale imitation of who he once was. They stood apart for a while, silent, before Justin spoke up, his voice quiet.
“ I don’t deserve to be called sir. “ He motioned to himself, placing both his hands on his chest. “ You should be ashamed of how much I’ve ignored! Why are we still here?!”
“ What blossoms in the springeth, burgeons in the summ'r, sheds in autumn and dies in wint'r but remains the same und'rneath?” His reflection took a step towards him, his stoic face never changing. “ What did thee seeketh here again?”
“ Faith.” Justin’s face turned away from his reflection, downcast with shame. “ B-but we’ve lost it.”
“ Thee never hath lost thy faith. From thy dunnest nights to thy brightest days, thy faith did remain alive. How can thee feareth, cry, chuckle, rage without faith to fuel?”
“ I’ve seen too much to still have faith,” Justin murmured, voice heavy with defeat as he begun to walk back towards the shore of the isle. Just as he was about to step into the boat, his reflection then chuckled wistfully.
“ So, we hath kept telling ourselves for 9 centuries. Your faith has always been strong, Justin, whether you try to convince yourself otherwise. Arthur knighted you for a reason. ”
Anger flashed in Justin’s heart as he rounded back on his reflection, wanting to strip off that past arrogance, hurt him, show him what he was exactly fighting for. Grass crunched underneath his feet as he pounded his reflection’s armor with a balled fist.
“ My faith is broken!” He kept battering it repeatedly, his blows growing more feeble, as he slid to his reflection’s feet. “ I used to believe that He gave me a purpose to walk the earth for a reason. I thought this eternal life was a blessing and that I could champion the ideals of my King throughout these many ages. Instead, I feel emptier with every passing day. t’s harder to wake up? ”
Justin sobbed before letting out a final plea.
“ Can’t my quest end?”
For brief moments, he was lost in his own world of grief and futility, grabbing onto his reflection like a lifebuoy. Firm hands then grasped his shoulders and pulled him up. His reflection looked upon him sombrely, not with pity, but with patience.
“ Our quest hasn’t ended. The quest never ends, whether you will it to be or not. That is the great burden of knighthood. We fight to honor our oaths and protect those shielded by our vows because that is what a knight does. The call never escapes us, as much as we want to ignore it. To do so would tear apart a knight from the inside.”
“ I haven’t been much of a knight in the last twenty years.”
“ A knight’s greatest strength isn’t in their feats of daring or their renown throughout their lands but their faith. To hold onto faith even when all is lost. You still have faith, Justin. It calls upon you and you must answer.”
Justin suddenly felt a sharp pain blossom in his chest. He looked down to see a sword buried to the hilt, yet, no blood came out. His reflection’s face smiled tenderly as he placed his hand on the handle and gripped it tightly, wracking his body with agony.
“ You must answer the call.”
The words didn’t register in his brain. Black dots swam in his mind as he felt the distinct sensation of sinking in ice. The sounds of his breathing grew shallower before he felt something pull on his ribs as darkness devoured his vision.