The Forsworn Knight
By Maradas Graham
Once, in the sunlit
Realms of the Seelie, the King was served by a loyal and faithful knight named Niall.
He had not always been the most virtuous of men, and had made mistakes in his younger days, but his later years had
been spent making reparations for his earlier deeds, and trying his hardest to be a bastion of good. The king knew of this knight’s shady past, but did not fault him for it, and instead embraced the
man all the more for rising above his misfortune to become the pinnacle of chivalry.
With nothing but truth and goodness in his heart, the knight swore a great Oath to the King, to always serve him loyally,
and without question. In exchange for this Oath, the King granted Niall, whose
name means “champion,” the gift of a single, unnamed favor – the granting of any one thing that the King
possessed that Niall desired – to be fulfilled by the King without question, should Niall but ask.
For many, many
years, noble reader, by our own mortal reckoning, Niall served the King loyally and unfailingly. He performed countless acts of heroism in the King’s name, and, in time, many in the kingdom came
to love and respect him. There were dragons slain and maidens rescued, deaths
avenged and wrongs righted, and in that time, there were many great treasures recovered of great value, but not once did Niall
ever ask the King for one of them. In fact, he never spoke of the favor, taking
it as much for granted and beyond mentioning as he did his Oath to the King. They
were both part of his duty, and neither needed much deep contemplation.
Of course, it
should happen in the rising of a new year that Niall met a woman with whom he immediately fell deeply in love. She was a lady of the highest noble birth, and graceful besides, and could stop the sunrise with her beauty
if she so willed it. Unfortunately for Niall, she was also betrothed to a wealthy
Count of grand estates but little personality, who would have taken exception with Niall’s admiration. So, with nothing but goodness and purity in his heart, Niall loved her from afar for quite a long time,
longing, perhaps, for a gentle word from her, but expecting nothing. The lady
was blithe and merry, and gave no thought to the knight, for outwardly he behaved no differently toward her than any other
maiden, though inside he was in a torment of love.
The knight sought
ways to catch the lady’s eye, performing small tasks within her sight, offering small services to her family, and after
a time, the lady started to notice that perhaps there was more to the man than she had thought. Niall seldom spoke to her, and never in a way that was outside the proper rules of etiquette for an unmarried
lady and a knight, but there were times when his eye caught hers and it seemed that the time between them was all that mattered
in the world. These moments were brief and fleeting, never planned and over much
too soon, but something began to grow between them. One such day, Niall grew
very bold, and left on the lady’s doorstep a single white rose, as perfect in the lady’s eyes as the lady was
in Niall’s. Attached to the rose was a note. “Meet me in the garden”
was all that the note said, simple enough, but it sent the lady’s heart aflutter.
When her family
was all in bed, the lady crept quietly from her chamber, and into the garden below, to find Niall waiting for her on the marble
bench beneath the rose bower. For a short moment they simply stared at each other,
then the lady flew into Niall’s arms. The two sat in the embrace until
morning, when they parted for decency’s sake. Ever evening they would meet,
after the house was quiet, and they would talk until the sun was in the sky again and the early rays of light pierced the
windows. Still, a shadow lingered beneath the surface of their love. The lady was still to be married to a Count, and the knight’s first pledge of loyalty was, of course,
to the king.
with his lady love, begging her to call off the wedding, but for duty’s sake she refused. He begged her, go to her father! Tell him of their love, and
have him release her from her vow. Go to the King, and have him declare the vows
of promise void between herself and the Count, but the lady would do no such thing.
Perhaps she saw more comfort in the thought of a loveless marriage, where she knew both she and her husband would live
out safe and secure, than she saw in the passion she shared with a man who put himself in danger’s way every day. Perhaps she knew that his Oath to the King kept Niall from swearing an oath to her
above all others. Whatever it was that made her refuse, it made her turn a cold
shoulder to her beloved.
When she failed
to meet him in the gardens one evening, and then did not appear for several more days after that, Niall became distraught. He went before the King himself, and pleaded for the breaking of the promise to the
Count. He begged his Lord and Liege, please take her from the Count and give her to him! The
King would only shake his head no.
not mine to give,” said the King, “if she would not give herself.”
Niall was filled with fury, and he shook with rage at the King.
an Oath,” he cried with anger. “A single, unnamed favor, anything
that I desire! This you swore when I bowed my knees to you before your court. All I ask for my favor, all I ask of you in return for my unquestioning service and
faultless loyalty, is that you give me this woman to be my lady wife!” The
King shook his head ever more gravely at his good knight.
give you that which does not belong to me, and the lady belongs to herself alone,” said the mighty king of the Seelie. “I must refuse you your request. Pick
have no other favor, my Lord, save the hand of my lady love in marriage,” cried Niall in despair, “And so by the
terms of our Oath, I can serve you no more!” And with that, Niall turned
and fled the court. The King hung his head in sorrow as he felt the breaking
of the Oath, for Niall’s words had split the swearing in twain, and his heart was great with pain for his fallen knight. Niall had forgotten the most important part of the Oath, which was that the gift must
be something possessed by the King, and all the ties between King and subject in the Fair Realm or our own Mortal world could
not have given the King claims over the lady’s heart. So, the forsworn
knight left the realms of Seelie, leaving his Oath to the King broken.
Our story does
not end here, dear reader, though many wish it had. When Niall left the king’s
palace, he fled to the only refuge he could find, the lands of the Unseelie. There
he found himself in the court of the Queen, where he soon enlisted into her service.
He would swear no oath of loyalty, and for that she bore him a great resentment, but even the Winter Queen knows that
a man forsworn cannot be tied by any Oaths, even those to his own heart. So he
served her without question, loyally and unfailingly, for some time. Word came
of the lady’s marriage to the Count, and word came of the birth of their first child. Through
it all, Niall said nothing, and shut himself off so well from his heart that he could not feel it breaking and breaking.
The lady, now
Countess, bore many children to her husband, and lived in relative happiness and peace of mind. Her life was secure and untroubled, and filled with much joy amongst her many children. She even, in time, came to love her husband, though always with a pang of regret for what had happened
with Niall. She moved on with her life, and made the best of things. Her life would have continued, happily and unremarkably, if a fated meeting had not occurred.
Long had Niall
lived with the pain locked away in his heart, for it is easy to forget a wound that cannot be seen. He grew hard and cold, and perhaps even a bit cruel, and he hid from himself because facing the truth would
have broken him. Breaking an Oath does things to a man, noble reader, for there
is nothing more destructive than losing faith in yourself. A man who has nothing
left to live for, nothing he holds sacred, is a man who is to be feared. So,
it should have been expected what would occur when Niall happened across the Count and Countess for the first time since he
had fled the realms of light.
Riding in the
Seelie Realms, on some mission of the Queen’s, Niall came across a carriage stuck fast in a stream where it had failed
in the crossing. He was flagged down by a man, and begged for help, for the man’s
lady wife was inside the carriage and could not be made to struggle through the forest, nor could she be left alone while
the man looked for help.
agreed to help, for time had not changed him so much that he did not hold something of himself. He helped the man dislodge the carriage from the water, and the horses pulled it to safety on the other
side of the stream. He made his “good days,” and turned to leave,
when he heard the lady’s voice expressing her thanks for his kind help. Immediately,
Niall froze fast in his tracks. It was not the words that were familiar, but
the voice! He would have known that voice if it had been a thousand years, and
more. He spun around where he stood, and his eyes met with those of the lady
who had once been his love!
She was as shocked
as he was, for though she had managed to put him from her mind, she had never stopped loving him. She certainly had never expected to run across him on some lonely road.
Oh, cruel Fortune was not smiling upon her daughter this day, for as the lady watched Niall’s face, it began
to twist, ever so slowly, from surprise to shock and finally into a look closely akin to hate.
Niall trembled, his lip quivered, his whole body seemed to shake, perhaps with rage, or maybe with sorrow. As all the pain of memory came rushing back to him in a great torrent, Niall cried out in furious anger
as he pulled his sword from its sheath. Without so much as missing a step, he
spun around and rushed toward the man, the Count, with his bare blade!
The Countess gave
a cry of terror, flinging herself from the carriage and in front of her husband, for though fate had dealt her unkindly, she
did love her husband, and would not have her children lose their father. In his
blind rage and fury, Niall could not stop his charge, and as he felt his blade thrust forward into flesh, he saw the look
of disbelief in the eyes of his true love! The Count stepped back in horror as
Niall took the woman into his arms, cradling her gently as he tried to turn the tide of blood that flowed from her. He wept as he held her there, crying out curses against Seelie and Unseelie alike, but nothing could be
done for his true love. As the light began to fade from her eyes, and the color
from her fair skin, she whispered the words “forgive me,” and then breathed no more. Such a cry did Niall issue that it could be heard throughout the Sunlit lands and Shadowed alike, and in
the Mortal realm it sounded as if the very sky thundered without the benefit of clouds.
Niall picked up
the body of his lady love, though the sobbing Count weakly protested, and with her in his arms he mounted his horse and rode
back to the Unseelie realms. There, he begged the Queen to restore the woman
to life, but the crossing of the border from Seelie land to Unseelie had ensured that no force of the Unseelie Queen could
make this woman walk again with the living. Unable to see his beloved’s
body be destroyed by time, Niall then took her to a craftsman of the greatest skill in both magic and artifice. There, the craftsman transformed her body into a heavy talisman of gold, and as Niall’s tears fell
upon it, they were turned into diamond stones set about the pendant. This he
then placed on a golden chain around Niall’s neck, and charged him thus with a quest: to forever feel the weight of
his true love’s death like a stone about his neck, and to search forever until he could find a way to transform her
once again into a woman and restore her to life.
To this day, Niall
still searches the lands, both Mortal and faerie, hoping to find the powerful magic that will bring life back to his lady. Perhaps the task is impossible, but he will search until he dies, for all that is
left of his heart lies within that talisman. He is a man seeking to find his
faith in himself again, and to reforge those oaths with himself that he has broken.
Until such a time, he will be nothing more than a broken man, bitter and heartless, alone in the empty world.