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Sir Eberhart's Age of Recognition

Eberhart is a knight in his late twenties who swore to marry only for love then fell for the widow Lady Evangeline, who clings to the memory of her late husband. In his hall at Castle Beneth he argued with his shrewish spinster sister Katherine, who believes him to be feckless and misguided in his dedication to Evangeline. Katherine considers Evangeline to be an overweight old woman of little wit. She wants Eberhart to spend more time managing his demesne — a view shared by Squire Malvo, religious zealot who seeks to root and local banditry by terrorising the peasants whom he suspects of harbouring outlaws. Eberhart was unable to persuade them that his monotropic love of Evangeline will serve their interests by securing the dynastic line. He did, however, agree that a tourney at his castle might bring Evangeline to his home where she might be convinced to transfer her affections from the shade of her late lord. He had planned to send his new young page Brosius to represent your case to her but he had disappeared to dine outside the castle having found the kitchens closed. Eberhart did consult with Mary, his old nurse who is more supportive than the rest of his household. With the tourney planned, we all scattered to invite our neighbours.

Out in the Duchy, Eberhart met Jack, a huge bandit whom he has known for years. He hopes to persuade Jack to confess to his crimes and be rehabilitated. Lady Marguerite, another local landowner, has given much sound advice about love to Eberhart and supports him in his determination to woo Evangeline. She suggested that he encourage the younger knights to enter the tourney so that he would be among those more experienced entrants who would look good against them. She even gave him the gold to buy a more elegant mount although he is not short of funds.

When night fell, Eberhart found himself so entranced by several stories that it was as if he was living them himself. Sir Balin had been told by Arthur himself of a dolorous knight who wept in the woods. Balin entered the forest to find this knight and learned how he was threatened with death by Sir Garlon, who had taken imagined insult. Balin agreed to protect him but he could not save him from a mortal wound by an invisible weapon as an invisible knight roared in rage. As Balin stood beside his protege's corpse, a second knight came upon him with a similar tale of woe. Again Balin agreed to protect him. Again the invisible Sir Garlon taunted him, brushed aside his defence, and killed succourless victim. When a third knight asked for protection from Garlon's attacks, Balin wavered and explained how an invisible assailant had killed the last two victims. Garlon added to his humiliation by staying silent as he roared his challenge to the apparently deserted trees. As the third knight looked askance, Garlon provoked Balin to a third futile challenge and felled the third unfortunate knight. Balin fell to his knees, desolate in his failure. A beautiful damsel ran from the trees and asked of his distress. She comforted him with the news that she had just seen a golden stag, a symbol of hope, and revealed that she knew a place where sorcery could not work. In the court of King Pellam, Balin's invisible opponent would be visible. When they arrived at the court Balin learned that Garlon was Pellam's brother. Pellam defends Garlon's behaviour but Garlon continued to insult Balin until the beset fellow was provoked to violence. When disarmed by Pellam's huge battleaxe, Balin tries to flee the castle but the portcullis was down so he scales the stairs to the battlements chased by Pellam, Garlon, and their men at arms. Balin finds himself cornered in a room richly draped in cloths of gold where a dead man lies on a central bed. Beside the corpse stands an iron spear with a strange small head. Balin snatched it up and thrust it at Pellam defensively. Pellam fell maimed. The earth itself shrieked and the castle walls crumbled killing all but Balin, who stood alone among the desolation bereft even of the lance. Alone with the knowledge that he had blighted a kingdom as a consequence of his original good intentions, Balin realised that Merlin's prophecy was true and that all the good he did would turn out ill. He learned that courage alone is not enough; that wisdom is needed to temper impetuosity.

Saddened by this tragic tale, Eberhart sought a story of love. He heard how young poor Sir Brunhart saw the beautiful Iblis and fell in love with her before he found that she was a king's daughter. Undaunted, he sought an audience with her at her father's castle and declared his love. She promptly challenged him to bring her the tears of a fairy and insisted on joining him in the quest. Deep in the dark woods, Brunhart saw the twinkling wings of a fairy. She was the beautiful Lady Collinda, dressed in green velvet with dark strawberry blonde hair. Provoking her to tears seemed heartless to Brunhart, who talked to her gently about fairy life, but Iblis pressed to the heart of the matter and as Collinda recalled the surrender of her child to Oberon she began to weep. Brunhart dried her cheeks with his sleeve and the cloth became as if made of gold. Moved by her story, he asked if there was any way that he could help her to regain her child. He quaked rather when she suggested that he could challenge Oberon, the magical king of the fairies, and was relieved when Iblis insisted that he should come away to marry her first. Iblis was later shocked to learn of his poverty so she may have sent him to his death at the hands of Oberon later. Clearly, love cannot conquer avarice and Eberhart derived wisdom from the story.

With the night deepening, Eberhart listened to a last tale. He heard how Sir Mallik had been so distracted by ruminations about who might be worthy of his loyalty that he inadvertently insulted Sir Bors. Rising to Bors' challenge, Mallik was defeated and lying on the field of honour insisted upon the death that was his chivalric right. But Bors had sworn an oath to kill no-one. Mallik suggested Bors pretend to have lost the duel and accompany him to the court to admit this and make a public apology. Bors deliberated long as he weighed the oath-breaking killing against the lie. He decided that the lie was the lesser evil and even disregarded Mallik's boorish gloating at his 'defeat'. When Bors had made his public apology with courtesy with noble grace, Mallik fell to his knees and swore fealty to such a noble knight, confessing that the whole charade had been a test. Choosing the most honourable course is not always easy realised Eberhart as he headed for his bed.

Eberhart lay reflecting on the lessons of the Age of Recognition. Balin had showed that courage could lead to awful consequences. Brunhart had found that love did not always engender courage. Bors had demonstrated that great courage was needed to choose the most honourable path. Clearly, this had been the Age of Courage.

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grin

September 2015

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