Strive. Read 1559 times


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« on: September 16, 2013, 08:08:57 am »
A closed redux.
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Ulysses, Tennyson

It was the eve of the Princess’ birthday and Tristan Martell couldn’t sleep.

The seventeen year old sat comfortably on the worn grey stone of the window sill, one foot propped up before him and the other firmly pressed to the ground, as the full moon bathed his lean body in light. Despite the late hour, the tall young man was still dressed in the work clothes he had left in early that morning: leather boots, dark linen pants, and a deep gray wool tunic with his family’s coat of arms embroidered on the sleeve, the white wolf howling on a field of black. They were dirty, streaked with soot, and still smelled faintly of wood-smoke and sweat. It was a smell Tristan had become very accustomed to over the last year as he spent his early morning hours with the city’s finest blacksmith before he rushed back to the castle for his daily combat training. It had been hard going at times, clashing blades with his father as his muscles screamed after using a hammer for hours on end, but in the end…

He had finished it.

For what felt like the hundredth time since he had returned to his room, Tristan held his left hand up and to the window so that critical brown eyes could judge the result of all his hard work, his right idly sweeping away the stray black hairs that threatened to impede his gaze. It shone beautifully as the moon’s glow kissed it, the white spinel gems that made up the wolf’s head reflecting the light like freshly fallen snow and the eyes of black onyx shone as if with a dark light of their own. The gems he had bought out of his own pocket and only after examining each himself, to the mild offense of every jeweler in the city. They were bound together in the shape of the Martell coat of arms by a silver frame of Tristan’s own make, the thin but strong fibers twisting elegantly around each other to give the wolf’s head an almost life like appearance. The master blacksmith had insisted that it was superb workmanship, especially from a lad who had only been learning how to metalwork for little under a year. Tristan had his doubts. It may be good, but was it good enough?

Gwen deserved nothing less than perfection.

Thoughts of the princess brought tightness to his chest and his cleanly-shaven jaw clenched, the nervousness that he had been suppressing for weeks rising again. The city had been preparing for her day of celebration for months now. In the last span, heads of all the greatest houses in the kingdom had been arriving to take part in what would be the greatest festival in decades. She would be lavished with exotic gifts and wondrous offerings, most of all from those who would seek her hand; the thought made Tristan shift uncomfortably in his seat. He looked again at the jeweled brooch in his hand and frowned. What was the rough work of a knight’s lowly son compared to the priceless gifts she was sure to receive from countless lords and dukes? He also doubted that any would be so presumptuous as to give her a symbol of their own house like he intended, as if it was some kind of honor being bestowed upon her to wear it.
A small part of his mind reminded him that it was she who had insisted that he give something personal. It pointed out rather smugly that for as long as they had been friends, he had never been able to deny her anything she wanted from him. So to that end, the young Martell could think of nothing more personal than a handcrafted emblem of the honor that meant so much to him. A tangible symbol of the promise he made her.

A promise he would finally fulfill at tomorrow’s tournament.

As was traditional for every royal coming of age, a kingdom wide tourney was to be held in the Princess’ honor. It would be a grand thing where everyone, nobles and commoners alike, would drink to the Princess’s health and cheer on as knights from across the lands competed for her blessing. The victor of the tournament would be granted any boon asked of them, if it was within the royal family’s ability to grant it: land, wealth, a title…a knighthood.
Tristan’s father had won his own knighthood that very way. Artorias Martell had competed at the age of sixteen in the current King’s coming of age tournament decades ago, becoming the youngest knight in history by defeating the previous Lord Commander of the Royal Guard in single combat. He demonstrated for the first time to the world the legendary skill that would earn him the title ‘The White Wolf’ and, eventually, the position as Lord Commander. Thankfully, Tristan would not have to worry about confronting his own father in this melee, as he had already mentioned he would be watching over the royal family personally. Tristan could barely survive the spars they had every day, let alone win an actual fight with the man.
But that did not mean the rest of the tournament would be simple. There were many renowned knights attending that Tristan had to defeat if he wanted to prove he was worthy of knighthood. If he wanted to prove that he could stand on his own outside the shadow of the White Wolf. If he wanted to prove to Gwen he could be the knight she deserved.

A shadow of movement caught Tristan’s eye out of the third story window, breaking his reverie. He glanced down and was surprised to see his father, dressed not in the ivory armor that marked him as the White Wolf but the simple raiment he wore to greet people of importance, making his way across the courtyard toward the portcullis at the front gate. There were a dozen armored members of the Royal Guard flanking him, though all were wearing their helmets but one: Ser Allister Longstryder, the Laughing Knight and his father’s second in command. All of them had their weapons, but that was not unusual. A sword was the badge of office for a knight, much in the same way a crown was for royalty.

Odd, Tristan thought as he pulled a fine pouch of black velvet from beneath his shirt and slipped the brooch in carefully. He watched the small contingent stop at the gate and heard the sound of yelled conversation as his father and the gatekeepers conversed, though the exact words were lost in the distance between the wall and the keep. It must have been someone very important if his father and half the Royal Guard were going out to escort them in person. But at this late of an hour?

A gentle knocking at his door startled him out of his thoughts. He quickly slipped the pouch back under his tunic and stepped away from the window, a slight frown touching his lips. It appeared the castle was full of late visits tonight. He took a quick glance around to ensure everything was in its place more out of habit than any real worry. Only the steel sword leaning against his bed and a small shelf of books above the corner desk hinted at any sort personalization to an otherwise spartan and very neat room. Even the clothes in the large oak wardrobe in the corner of the room were neatly arranged and organized, though no one but himself and the maids ever saw it. Satisfied that everything was as it should be, Tristan turned his attention back to the door, voice crisp and clear as he called out.

“It’s open.”

Jill the Ripper

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Re: Strive.
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2013, 08:23:10 am »
She had crept through the castle, bare feet brushing cold stone, the hem of her fine lace and silk nightgown puddling around her every time she paused at a dark corner, waited for silence.
Tristan would disapprove.  Immensely.  But Gwendolyn Cantess was not one for restraint.  For weeks leading up to her birthday she had been bullied, cajoled, pleaded with, even threatened - all for her obedience, her promise that she would behave as a Princess should.   
She would turn Eighteen tomorrow.  And as the sole heir, the Swan Princess, she would have to take on the mantle of her parents.   As such the expectations had been pouring in from all sides, suffocating her, pulling her every which way.
Every Master in the Castle was out to tame the girl, or so it seemed.  Deportment, Dancing,  even a Master for Conversation --  Gwendolyn hated every moment, scowling unprettily as she was gently chided to keep her chin up, her back straight, to keep her hands - slim, white, pretty hands of a girl who had never had to work a day in her life - turned out.
Gwen had wanted to scream.  Only that day, she had smashed a fine china vase by hurtling it at the wall, small pieces of it caught in the hanging colors of their house.  "I will not do it anymore."  She had said, simply.   There was no pouting of her rosebud mouth, no impatient stamp of her foot.  Gwendolyn had just stared at the foppish man before her (the master for dressage, as though she were a horse) and had dared him to tell her otherwise.  He didn't of course, though the Princess had received a terrible scolding from the Queen.
Lily white, slender, graceful, Her Majesty was everything that Gwendolyn loved, fiercely, but could not be.  Her mother had been playing the game of Court all her life, and had done it well, convincing and charming people with honied tones, docile ways - but Gwen was far too much her Father's daughter, a creature of fire.   In the King it worked.  In the King it was respected.   In the Princess, the beloved daughter and the only heir?  It was a problem.
"Dearest,"  Her Majesty's voice was careful, thoughtful, the Queen taking Gwendolyn's hand in her own.  Her mother's nails were polished, shining bright.   Gwen looked at her own, and thought how pretty they would look as the same.  "Dearest, you must try.  Tomorrow is not only the day of your birth, but a day where you take on the responsibilities that we will no longer have the power for.  You will not be able to run about, so.  You will have to think like the ruler you will be, my Love."
Sea-green eyes stared out at Gwendolyn, waiting; it was the only part of her mother that the Princess had inherited, those unyielding, soft eyes.  She had ducked her head and had promised to behave.
Only it was nearing midnight, now, and she had been extraordinarily well-mannered; only... midnight meant a new day, and if these were to be the last few hours she could spend without the pressure of finding a Husband,  of taking power, then she would spend it with the person she loved most fiercely after her parents.
Wonderful, comforting, calming  Tristan, who's eyes reflected the light and the dark within him.  They had been inseparable since childhood, Gwendolyn clinging to him more than anyone - perhaps even the boy himself - wanted, or found proper.  But no one, not even her beloved, knightly friend, would ever understand the influence he had on her.  The way he inspired her to temper herself, without even speaking words.
She had a favour for him.  For the tourney, tomorrow.  Undoubtedly her parents would want her to present it to someone whom she would allow to court her, come the time -- but they were all so boorish, or drove her to distraction with the boredom she faced when having to converse.
But no matter.  She would not be thinking of them tonight.   
Brushing past a tapestry like a ghost, the Princess paused at the wooden door she had been searching for, her heart skipping underneath the silk and finery as she knocked.
"It's open."
Her head dipped forward, ink-black curls falling as she tried to hide the smile that grew at the sound of his voice.
"Receiving visitors, so late at night?  Ser Knight, you are a bold one indeed."
« Last Edit: September 16, 2013, 08:38:13 am by Jill the Ripper »


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Re: Strive.
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2013, 08:33:24 am »
Tristan knew that no matter how much time passed or how old he got, he would never forget how his heart would beat faster at the sound of that voice.

The young man crossed the room in a few long strides, opening the door quickly to reveal what he already knew would be there: wide pools of green peeking up at him mischievously through a veil of ink curls and a sly grin on cute, pink lips.

“Princess.” Tristan said calmly but not without a hint of exasperation. He gently guided her inside as he took a swift glance up and down the hall outside his room. Though he saw no one, he still quickly closed the door and worked to put the lock in place, just in case. “Princess, it is neither safe nor proper for Your Highness to be wandering the castle at this late hour. Especially to come see me. What would her Grace say if she knew you were…”

Tristan trailed off as he turned to face her, his throat abruptly tight and his mouth dry. She stood facing him with her back to the window, the moon’s light shining through at the perfect angle to give her body an ethereal glow. Her nightgown, pooling over her slight form and hinting at the curves of a woman grown, made him fight to keep the heat from his cheeks, though it was her eyes that truly captured his attention. Deep wells the color of the ocean, so full of feeling and passion that it was like the Gods had put the soul of fire in the body of a delicate doll. She looked so beautifully fragile standing there that Tristan wanted nothing more than to hold her like he had done when they were younger, as if he could protect her from the world and again whisper childish promises in her ear.

I will become a knight one day, Gwen. A knight as great as my father is. A knight worthy of remaining by your side.

Tristan realized suddenly that Gwen was studying him just as intently as he was her, as if trying to decide if he was happy to see her or not. They hadn’t seen one another very much in the last couple of weeks, brief glances in the hallways as they passed or glimpses of her in one of the windows when he was practicing in the courtyard. Gwen had been even busier than he was, being tugged this way and that way by every Master in the castle and entertaining every lord that came seeking her hand in every fashion possible. The latter of the two was by far the worst for the young Martell and it was something he had stumbled across more than once. It bothered him more than he cared to admit to see all these men, old and young, lavishing his princess with their attention. More times that he could count, Tristan had to remind himself that his childhood friend Gwen was the Princess and he was nothing more than a boy who dreamed of becoming a knight. It was only right that she should spend her time with someone befitting of her station.

But here, with her standing in his room looking at him like that, Tristan couldn’t help but to feel like he was important too. Like she wasn’t a princess and he wasn’t a just a shadow of his father. Like she was just Gwen and he was just Tristan. He cleared his throat, his left hand rising to touch the pouch under his shirt that was heavy with both the weight of his present and his promise to her. The feeling was almost enough to make him tell her how happy he really was to see her, consequences of his selfishness be damned.

“Is everything alright, Your Highness?”


Jill the Ripper

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Re: Strive.
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2013, 08:43:46 am »
He was exasperating.
Broad shoulders stiff, the bulk of a boy - no, a man - who worked every day, trained every day with one of their Kingdom's best knights, Tristan had changed lately though Gwen could not name how.  She idly wondered if he knew how much like his father he was, the legendary White Wolf.  She smiled, lips soft, though she said nothing of the thought to her dearest friend.
"Come now, Tristan." She entreated, moving towards him.  Her next words were honey, the Princess far too skilled at coaxing things from anyone and everyone. "How often must I repeat it:  I tire of the titles.  Please, let us use only our names when together."
A tiny muscle in his jaw jumped.  Without thinking about it, she noticed he'd shaved.  He really was good looking when he wasn't tired, or dirty from training.  Gwendolyn tried to imagine him with a wife - she supposed it would have to happen sometime - but found she could not, no more than she could picture herself agreeing to marry any of the men that came to Court, expecting her hand.  They would never marry, she decided the, frowning slightly.  They would both stay unwed and she would become Queen like she was always meant to and he would be her Champion, and together they would do without the fuss of matrimony.
Her heart lifted at this thought, though her mind was whispering it wasn't realistic, or fair.  Tristan would make a loving husband one day, and a father.  Picturing him holding a small son - one that looked like him with dark hair - was easy, though Gwendolyn didn't like it.  Not to some... common woman.  He was too infinitely precious to her; the Princess would make him a Lord, first, then scour the lands herself for women worthy of him.  She would have to be kind and loving and a real lady - but not annoying, like some of the daughters of nobles could be.  Gwen and Tristan (but mainly Gwen) had spent too many hours hiding during official ceremonies when they were younger, laughing at those other, boring girls.  It was something she wished for now, the ability to hide under the long red drapes of a table with her best friend, eating forbidden sweets from the kitchen or banquet, ruining some of her best dresses by sitting on the floor, tearing them as they got caught.   
What she wouldn't give for a table to hide under now, she thought.  Instead she pressed her lips together, and undid the white ribbon she'd tied around her wrist.
"This is for you." Her voice dropping low.  "For tomorrow.  I suspect Mother will want me to grace his Lordship the Insufferable with a token, but I could not."
Silk ribbon twined around slender fingers, she held it out to him before shouting - in the yard below Tristan's window - caught both their attention.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2013, 09:04:58 am by Jill the Ripper »


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Re: Strive.
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2013, 08:53:17 am »
Without conscious thought, a stunned Tristan found his hand stretching to accept her gift to him.
A sudden commotion outside broke the spell that her sweet words had cast and his head snapped toward the window. Tristan moved swiftly toward it, the steps marked with the recognition of two familiar sounds: his father’s shout and clash of swords. He felt more than heard Gwen following close behind, her feet moving quickly to keep up with his broader pace. The sight that awaited them froze him in place.
The courtyard was a battlefield. The Royal Guard was fighting a losing battle against a flood of unknown knights in pitch black armor pouring through the open gates, torch light flickering eerily off their plate as they overwhelmed his father’s men. Ser Artorias stood in the middle of it, his white sword howling as he cut down man after man and steadily made his way toward a shrouded figure sitting atop a massive black stallion at the mouth of the gate. But Artorias Martell was only one man; the Royal Guard was falling one by one beneath the tide of black armor and the White Wolf began to slow, his progress hindered by fighting enemies on all sides.
It was then that Tristan saw the Laughing Knight moving quickly through the black flood, heading straight for his father. His hope lifted at the sight, glad to see his father’s close friend was still alive and on his way to help, but the hand on his heart that lifted now slowly clenched into cold realization. Ser Allister had his blade drawn, but the dark invaders parted before him without a need to lift the steel. As if he was an ally, not a foe.
By the time he reached his father, the White Wolf turned just in time to see the Laughing Knight cut down the closest of the invaders, men Tristan was sure were convenient scapegoats. He watched as Artorias turned his back to the old friend, trusting the Laughing Knight to guard his flank.
Tristan’s grip on the stone turned white with strain. He knew he should open his mouth and shout a warning – No, his logic argued. Your voice would not be heard over the din of combat and would only alert the enemy to your location – or rush down there to help – No, reason denied again. You would never make it in time. You would surely die. Who would be left to protect Gwen then? – or anything at all. Anything. But that voice of cold rationality that sounded so much like his father during training had no solution. All he could do was watch.
He could only watch as the Laughing Knight turned and thrust his blade through the Lord Commander’s back, protected only by the official court clothes his father hated so much, bloody steel gleaming in the torch light as it exploded from Artorias’ chest.
He could only watch as his father stumbled forward to his knees, his sword hand flying reflexively out to strike the opponent; but the blind attack was slowed by pain and numbness. It might as well have been still for all the effort Ser Allister Longstryder used to disarm the blade. There was a moment’s pause as words seemed to be traded between the two before the Laughing Knight’s sword flashed.
He could only watch as his father’s head rolled in the dirt before it was picked up and offered as a trophy to the shrouded man approaching on the massive black horse. He felt more than saw the attention of that man, clearly the leader of his unexpected coup on the evening of the princess’ celebration, turn upward to the castle. Turn upward to the very window that Tristan and Gwen stood.
Instinct caused Tristan to step quickly back from the window, pulling Gwen back with him. His mind was a whirlwind of thoughts, his heart beating wildly in his chest and his breathing rapid and shallow. Was he dreaming? He had to be. The castle couldn’t be under attack. Who would be mad enough to attack the castle with half the kingdom’s lords assembled nearby for the tournament tomorrow? He couldn’t have just witnessed his father’s death, stabbed in the back by his loyal friend. No, his father was the legendary White Wolf – there was no way he would have been killed in such an ignoble way. This was just a dream. A crazy, impossible dream. He had fallen asleep at the window and –
A soft touch on his cheek made him start, wide and wild brown snapping down to concerned green. He blinked once, his larger hand rising to touch hers and felt the heat of it against calloused finger tips. His breathing slowed and his heart calmed, the torrent of thoughts narrowing to focus on the gentle hand under his carefully tender grasp.
Tristan dreamt of the Princess often. Certainly more than his sense of duty to her cared to admit. But it was odd, in a way. The Princess of his dreams was so like the one standing before him now: full lips so close and ebony hair tickling his skin and eyes so deep that he forgot to breath. But the one thing he could never get right was her touch. The warmth he dreamt of was always a flickering flame to the way his nerves ignited at her actual touch, as if he was tuned to come alive only when she allowed it. He would never mistake this feeling.
He wasn’t dreaming. Then the castle was truly under attack. His father, the legend, was murdered, slain by the betrayer Allister Longstryder. At least half the Royal Guard was dead and the other half may be in league with the Laughing Knight, searching the castle for the Princess at that very moment.
Gwen was in danger.
“I’m fine.” Tristan stepped away from her and moved quickly around the room, going first to his sword and then to his cupboard. He pulled from it two identical traveling cloaks, both the mottled brown of quality leather. He tossed one on the bed and approached Gwen again.
“We have been betrayed. The castle will fall quickly. I know not how many other traitors there are in the castle, so we shall avoid everyone.” Tristan told her as he briskly swept back her hair and latched the cloak into place. He paused for a moment to make sure his old traveling cloak wouldn’t make her trip before lifting the hood to hide her face in shadow.  “We shall head for the secret tunnel in the kitchens. Keep your hood up and do not stray from my side, Gwen. I will not allow any harm to come to you.”