The Fair Lady of Ascalot
A Noble Death
“There is a great crying of the waves tonight.”
“Yes, the moon is red.”
“I hear the pounding of the sea afar.”
“I see that the snows are white.”
“Look, here come the flutes.”
“What’s that my dear? What do you say?” croaked the old woman.
The master looks pale tonight, like the foam of the sea or the tear of the moon. He looks out the window but does not see the two women. His eyes gaze in the distance, at a point they cannot see. A slight breeze curls strands of his hair. His sword rests on his side. Knighthood has its price.
The flutes are drawing nearer. One can hear their shrill scream, the pounding of the drums. The young maiden’s heart is still. Candles are lit and the procession moves forward. Not too quickly. Slow, slow and steady, now. One must have time to grieve.
The sky is dark. Not quite black, but dark. Red is the moon, loud is the sea and heavy is his heart. A knight’s heart…is it so still and cold that it may not be pierced? What of love?
The drums are drawing nearer, beating in the cold windy air.
The young woman gazes at Lancelot. She does not see nor hear the procession. What care has she of a funeral? It is not of one she knows or loves. She stares at Lancelot, his silver hair floating under the stars. He is high above, oblivious to her presence in the shadowed garden. But – ah, her mother will scold her again for leaving the milk to turn! Always the hurry. Always the scolding… life, what an unnecessary reality! She hurries back inside, not without picking a rose. Two drops of red drip into the pail.
“Where has he king gone? Oh, what is this horrible noise? Make it stop, make it stop!”
The queen turns and tosses in her bed. It will be a long night. The sheets are moist with sweat, the air too thick. She cannot breathe. Servants rush to and fro bringing water, fresh sheets and perfume. Blood is dripping on the white sheets. The ceiling is dark. A young boy comes in bringing a flower. It has not yet bloomed. It is not yet a bud. But it is green, full of life.
“My mother said this would help”. Slowly, delicately, he places it on the bed. His brow is fixed in concentration. The queen tosses again and the leaves fall on the ground. The bud is blue, dead.
“Where is Lancelot? Oh, what is this horrible smell?”
The young boy cries. Nobody pays attention.
The drums are beating louder. The smells of wine and incense waft closer. A strange scent of flowers comes through the window, aggressive. The boat is pulled by ropes tied to the horses’ saddles. They glitter beneath the moon.
Lancelot looks out and sighs.
“What have I done?”
The moon is red. The sea cries louder.
“I hear the pounding of the sea afar,” says a woman.
“Yes. She is quite dead, our young mistress.” The young men slap the horses, urging them to move faster, faster! The sea is calling the boat.
The queen opens her eyes. They rest upon the red cloths over the bed. Everything is so still, up there, in the meanders of crimson. She has stared at the embroidered petals countless times…yet, now, they do not remind her of flowers but of blood. Oh, there has been so much pain. Where is Lancelot?
Her husband the king is by her side. She can hear his voice murmuring pater nosters. She does not turn her head towards him. Suddenly, she mutters a moan. What is this weight upon her chest?
“Oh, Sir, the queen is awake.”
Oh, the curious creature that sits upon her chest. She stares at it, disconcerted. Is this the being she carried just a sunset ago? What a curious little thing, all curled up on itself and pink, so brightly pink, like a burgeon. Suddenly, it opens its eyes and reaches for the queen with its tight little fists. She smiles. She ignores the king, the attendants and servants. She smiles at this little being lying over her heart.
“My prince,” whispers she in his ear. Her child.
The sea is red, the sky is black, the moon silver. The waves moan, the skies cry but the moon is silent. Cold. It is a cold night. The man shivers, his sweat forming hard crystals on his back. His right arm moves forwards and back, forwards and back in repeating circles as the whip crashes against the horse. Faster, faster. They must hurry. The moon is mounting, the moon is ascending in the sky. Faster, faster. His lady is waiting.
His lady…white, a thin white face. White lips too. Her eyes are closed and one cannot tell they once were blue. A white dress she wears, and white roses in her hair. It too is white, dead as the moon above. The waves are calling.
“I hear the pounding of the sea.”
“It calls for her. She is pale.”
“Her heart is red. There is blood.”
“What folly was in her heart. To die for love
– Is it not strange?”
“Yes, it is strange. The sea is calling.”
Further away, beneath the horizon, figures are busy on the shore. Pinpricks of shadow on the distant sands, they are busy. Horses are being led away. A boat is in their midst, facing the sea, facing the moon. The flutes are getting louder. The men’s movements are precise, calculated. They beat to the rhythm of the sea. A wail is uttered, long, plaintive, doleful. A moan answers. It is the sorrow of the sea. The waves call.
Slowly, dolefully, they push the boat into the sea. A shaft of green, a flower of white – it is their lady they see floating in the sea. She is dead. The moon is coming down, down it slowly drifts, down it comes to meet its lady. The wind is picking up, upwards it moves. A dark cloud comes across the sky, slicing the waves, the silent sea. All is silent, all is dark.
A knight at his window stands still, his sword grasped tight, his eyes focused. Of his lady, the fair lady of Ascalot, he sees one last shining vision as moon and boat embrace. Theirs is the shape of a bud, silver and green. Swiftly, implacably, the clouds cover the sea. All is black and night has settled.
A sigh escapes Lancelot’s lips. What a pity he could not love her, the fair lady of Ascalot. What a pity. But the moon, silver; but the ship, green…they resembled, a bud, a flower – the promise of life. Perhaps, perhaps it was truly so. To lose one’s life out of love…Yes, he is sure of it. His lady lives, she is one with the moon and the stars, her song the eternal call of the waves, her hair the silken strands of the sea. She lives, the fair lady of Ascalot. She lives.
“It is cold tonight. The night is dark.”
“Yes. How is the queen?”
“Well, my lord, she is well. A prince was born tonight.”
“So it is. (a pause) Thank you. I will go see her in the morning.”
The servant retires. Lancelot stays a long while yet, staring at the sea. Finally he turns around and enters the tower. Dawn is already pulling apart the curtains of night. Soon, there will be light.