From the author: This lady isn't your average knight....
By David Perlmutter 5124 words
My introduction to my champion was one event I am not likely to forget. You do not easily forget nearly dying. Nor the being who saved your life- and remained loyal to you for many years after.
This was, of course, at the time when my uncle, by the point of his blade and a mob disillusioned with the rule of my parents, proposed to do away with them by force. And with them, me.
I was near the end of my teens at that time, but I did not have the strength to fight off such a mob alone. When I was captured, they toyed with killing me themselves, on the spot. But then, they decided it would be easier to let the dragons do it for them.
For we are a kingdom where all that is seen to be mere hypothesis and imagining by the eyes of the more “scientific” among us is very, gravely real. More than once, I have been threatened by these horrors- only to be repeatedly saved by them when least expected.
I was placed into a coarse, rough burlap sack, and carted away into a cave, not to be released until I was inside that edifice- and at the mercy of whatever resided there.
After being released, I suddenly heard a massive roar behind me, and turned around to see.
It was a dragon, of the too-common, oversized, fire-belching species.
Having no weapons on my person, I could not defend myself. So I tried, in vain, to locate the exit of the cave so that I might escape. The beast gave me no chance. A blast of its enormously hot fire singed me and dropped me to the ground. I might well have perished then and there.
Were it not for the emergence of my champion.
Before the dragon could pounce upon me, a tall, muscular form inserted itself between it and myself, and growled a loud, wordless challenge at it reminiscent of the dragon’s own roar. The dragon spat flame at it as it had me, and, as the being clearly had a sword but no shield, I feared for its future. But it was miraculously unharmed by the flame. Deftly, it used its sword to issue multiple, crippling blows to the dragon on its nose and face, before a counter-attack could be launched. Then, in a remarkable display of superhuman strength, it seized the creature by its neck and flipped it over onto its back. Without hesitation, my rescuer then retrieved its weapon, and, with a mighty thrust, drove the blade straight through the dragon’s heart!
The beast expired slowly, managing to take a final fiery blast at my rescuer as it retrieved its blade from the body, from which I was shielded as we fled the cave.
These events all occurred in an overwhelming darkness, so much so that it was only when we emerged that I learned exactly who had rescued me. And, indeed, that I discovered that it not a male knight who had saved me, as I had first assumed, but a truly remarkable female one.
She was over a foot taller than I was, and her body radiated a mighty form of speed and strength I could never hope to equal in every pore. These traits alone made her quite exceptional in comparison to the other citizens of my kingdom. But- man that I am- I was most stunned and arrested by the great quantity of beauty she also possessed. She had long, red hair that flowed, unrestrained, down the back of her swan-like neck, and her face was crowned by liquid black eyes that seemed to know more about me than I did myself, though we had only just met. She wore then simple, modest deerskin clothes dyed white, but her carriage was that of both a gallant knight and respectable lady. Moreover, she looked like this after she had fought a dragon- and had nary a wound or disfigurement to show for it!
I admit that I probably abused royal protocol gazing upon her in awe as long as I did without giving her a proper verbal salute. But how in the world was I to address such an enchantress as she?
Finally, she spoke.
“Your Highness is pleased with my conduct, I see,” she said, respectfully, but with a jaunty, masculine confidence not usually heard in a woman’s voice. “This is the truth- is it not, Sire?”
That stunned me even more. I had been stripped of my royal clothing before my imprisonment, and was dressed as a commoner. So how was she to know I was a prince, and address me as such?
“Why…certainly,” I finally managed to say. “But who are you? And how come you to be saving my life- at the risk of ending your own?”
“I, Sire,” she said, “am the Lady Candace.”
She knelt at my feet as she said that, then resumed her normal towering height.
“Until recently,” she continued, “I was a mere hedge knight errant, specializing in performing acts of gallantry where and when needed. But now, Sire, I have been commissioned to rescue you from your predicament-now accomplished- and to restore you to your proper place on the throne of this sovereign land.”
“And who commissioned you to become my protector?”
“Your mother, the Queen.”
“Do you know of where she is?”
“Alas, not now. But I saved her just as I did you, she explained your situation to me, and I vowed to help you in any way I can. I will not rest until I have helped you achieve your vengeance, Sire. And then I shall serve you valiantly in any capacity you seek to use me once you become King. For a knight like myself can only find full usefulness for her skills under the leadership of such a handsome and gallant master as you.”
I blushed at being referred to in such a fashion by the likes of her, but quickly recovered.
“You flatter me,” I said. “But you also presume much.”
“Presume?” she answered.
“Yes. How is it that I am to become a King with no resources? Least of all, no weapons.”
“We shall find a weapon suitable for you,” she replied, determined. “In the meantime, Sire, I will defend your life to my very death. Come. Your destiny awaits.”
She was amazingly prescient in declaring that I would become King. But she was modest in defining her own role in how that came about, then and now. I would not be King now were it not for her.
Neither of us were mounted, so it took some time for us to return to the castle from which I had only been evicted. My uncle had his supporters surrounding the place protectively, and they look like difficult customers in a fight. To be honest, I was intimidated by them.
Not so the Lady Candace. For she was very much their equal in size, strength and speed, as she quickly came to demonstrate.
“Make way, laggards,” she declared, pointing her sword at me, “for the rightful king of Trevelyan!”
Naturally, they uttered scornful laughs. Which sent my lady champion into a furious rage.
“Any man who doubts my master’s claim to the throne,” she snarled, “shall face me in battle! And perhaps I shall be merciful and SPARE you!”
The men drew their swords and attacked her in a group. But they had reckoned without her power and wiles. In a few minutes, some lay dead, and others fled, dropping their weapons in the process. She picked up one of the dropped weapons and gave it to me.
“Now,” she declared, “we will deal with that dog of an uncle of yours.”
The rest of this part of my life is well-known. She fought her way single-handedly through the castle with my (only nominal) assistance, killing any man who dared try to stop her. And then, she and I confronted my uncle, and- after she had bested him and he confessed, to my horror, to killing my parents- she decapitated him with a clean and vicious stroke.
Then, as I collapsed on the floor and bawled my eyes out, she held me tight in her mighty arms, giving me comfort and reassurance in my grief as only a woman can.
From then on, no other woman has ever replaced her in my affections.
There was little time wasted after the defeat of my uncle. I became King Jeremy, and went through the elaborate crowning ceremony of our land decreed by tradition, overseen by the Prime Minister, who had previously served my parents, and whom, therefore, I had no desire to replace. Lady Candace stood erect and stone-faced at my side through the whole affair, her sword held point down in front of her, as tradition dictated a knight should be in public. But I felt that, inside, she was positively aglow with admiration and affection for me. As she had always been and always would be.
Once I was allowed to be alone with her again, I made no secret of my deep affection for her, and declared that I wanted to make this official by having her become my Queen.
To my shock and horror, she refused.
I was crestfallen.
“How can you refuse me now?” I said. “And knowing of my desire for you?”
“Sire,” she said, firmly, “you will recall that I made a vow to serve you as a knight. And a knight I shall remain.”
“So you have no interest in being anything else?”
“Even with the advantages of the position I offer you?”
“Sire, as a product of a royal house, you know as well as anyone that one of the functions of being a Princess or Queen is that they are, so to speak, expected to provide their husband with heirs.”
“And you cannot?”
“My womb is barren. I will never conceive.”
“But you said very clearly that you would always serve me….”
“Oh, I will. Just not in that capacity. I will serve you, instead, in your Army.”
“No,” I said, firmly.
Her mouth opened in stunned, outraged shock. But, before she could shape an insult or curse with her scalding tongue, I clarified myself.
“You are too skilled, talented and loyal to me to be wasted in the anonymity of being a mere servant-girl. Instead, you will lead my army.”
Suddenly, she became starry-eyed. This, I realized, was she had wanted all along. Not to rule the kingdom, but defend it as she had me. Remembering herself, she bowed respectfully.
“I am honored by your gesture, Sire,” she said, resuming her full height. “But, given who I am, will I be fully accepted as a leader?”
“If a man will not accept you that way,” I declared, “he will not serve me. For no man has served me as you have- and as, undoubtedly, you will continue to do so.”
“Always, Sire. Always.”
So that was that. A King’s subjects, especially his soldiers, know better than to go against his word. If I wanted her as General of my Army, it was not for others to question. Not even the most vexing and salacious allegations about how Lady Candace and I first met, what she did to gain my affections, and the private bedroom athletics that supposedly “united” us (this last was particularly untrue, since we never even shared a bed) would sway us from keeping our kingdom a peaceable and content one.
She was not without her eccentricities. She refused to wear armor, not even light chain-mail. She never rode a horse, as she insisted she had no experience working with the beasts, and did not want to take the chance of being thrown and killed. And she kept on wearing her white deerskins even though she deserved far better clothes. Finally, I put my foot down on that. I had the Army seamstress put together a tunic in the Army standard colors for her to wear, and disposed with the old clothes.
If she was to lead, I told her, she had to look the part. That was just fine with her.
But, as a military leader, and a social ambassador, she was brilliant, as I knew she would be.
She was wiser and more experienced in the world than her vigorously youthful looks let on, and much more so than my callow self was then. I learned much from her in action, though dealing with her was not easy. She demanded perfection (or as close to it as possible) from her troops, and would fly into uncontrollable anger if her standards were not met. More than once, she might have killed a man on the spot for what she saw as his irresponsible or disrespectful behavior. What spared them was my presence on the field, or a later appeal for mercy to me. The times when I confronted her about these instances were the only times I showed genuine anger towards her, and the only times when I saw her toughness fade into a much more stereotypically feminine meekness. For, as much as I owed my life to her, she owed her position to me, and did not wish to lose it through my dismissing her.
Her greatest moments, however, were when Trevelyan was invaded by outside forces- which, as we are a relatively small land with a prosperous economy, is still prone to occurring even now. Be it giants, ogres, witches, fairies, trolls or goblins, she had a large storage of knowledge of dealing with them from the time before we met, and always seemed to have a solution on hand to the problem. She always insisted on a diplomatic mission first, with herself as the diplomat accompanied by me. Of these peoples she knew much more than I did, and I insisted I accompany her so that I would come to know their ways. Indeed, I have found the information I gathered about them from those trips still very useful in keeping the peace with these groups.
Of course, there were times when diplomacy failed, and we would leave the enemy camp with her threatening to violently destroy them in battle. A threat always acted upon with a vengeance, with herself always at the front taking more than a few casualties.
And, perhaps most importantly, she made time to be with the children of the realm, more than any other General before or since. She made it a point to show the girls true and effective ways of defending themselves against male attackers, for this was something she felt, from observation, that they truly needed to be aware of so that they would not become victimized. But, as much as she delighted in displaying her skills and strength to all of the children, she also made it clear to them that physical force such as she possessed, and which they might come to have, was not something to be wasted on unimportant things. Especially not bullying, which she abhorred. She threatened, though not unsympathetically, to severely thrash anyone known to be doing it within the kingdom. The amount of it in the kingdom then decreased precipitously.
This was nicely balanced by the large number of young women who came to serve under her in the Army, something that pleased us both greatly.
There have been so many actual and fabricated notations of her strength, bravery and intelligence that it could fill volumes, and I won’t bore you by reciting all of them. There was, however, an instance where our relationship was tested, and one that finally ended it.
The first was this. One day, she came to see me at court, positively livid, with a face nearly as red as her hair.
“Sire!” she announced, loudly to all in earshot. “I have been INSULTED!”
I cast a cold eye on the other people in the room, in case one of them was responsible. When it was clear they were innocent, I turned back to Candace.
“Who has done this to you?” I said.
“It is not so much a who,” she said, “as a what.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come, and I will show you.”
She led me to the long, high wall which marked the boundary of our kingdom then. There, on the outer wall, she pointed out a mural painted there, in some sort of offal. It was a crude picture of Candace’s face, with a spiked dog collar on her neck, and her lips pulled back to reveal pointed fangs. The legend beneath read:
“Who could have done this, Sire?” she said. “It could not have been any of our people, for they know better than to test my patience.”
“It had to have been someone beyond our borders,” I said. “Someone obviously familiar with you and your position. And, I might say, jealous of it.”
“That gives them no right to demean me in such a fashion. I have been many things to you, Sire, but I am not your DOG!”
“It might not have been intended as an insult, my Lady. It could have been a tribute to your bravery….”
“TRIBUTE?” she shouted, in her vicious, kill-the-enemy voice. “Since when does one honor the work of a knight by merely presenting them as the pet of their King?” A great flash of untrammeled menace that I had never seen in her before- and did not like- came into her eyes. “By your leave, Sire, I shall scour these woods until I find and DESTROY whomever has DARED to cast aspersions on my honor. And, if it means running the hills and valleys RED with the blood of those who dare stop me from gaining my vengeance, I shall do it!”
“No,” I said, asserting my authority. “You are needed here to…”
“You would allow me to go UNAVENGED?” she screamed.
“You have said before not to waste energy on foolish pursuits and fights,” I reminded her. “This seems to me to be one of those instances.”
“You would not say so were it your Crown being mocked!” she roared back.
“And you would not refuse me were I a MAN! Instead, you wish me to remain at home, as any other woman would, and suffer my insult in SILENCE!”
“Even if you were a man, I would refuse you. It is a fool’s errand for any knight to pursue an invisible, unknown enemy without any secure evidence of their guilt. And it is especially the case for such a trifling action as drawing a caricature of a knight on the outer wall of their kingdom.”
“Indeed, Candace. Especially since it is a temporary thing, easily rid of with a bit of rubbing, much less permanent in nature than the glorious reputation you have built for yourself here. Which you risk permanently damaging by chasing a phantom enemy and killing in the name of avenging yourself against it!”
“Can you really value my honor so little, my King, that you would allow this to stand?”
“How can you be so sure who the perpetrator of this was, my Lady? Of their intent, their nature and character. Supposing it was one of young ones, drawing this out as an innocent jape, exaggerating a quality of yours they well know of, and which you yourself have seen fit to mock occasionally? If that was the case, would you consider then to commit murderous revenge?”
“Of course not, Sire. But I…”
“I beg you, Candace. For our sake. Your past valor has brought us success, but a rash misuse of your abilities might bring us ruin. You have been insulted by this graven image, yes, and I will have it destroyed to avenge you in the immediate time. But it is not worth any sort of unnecessary suffering of the kind you might be planning.”
Her rage subsided, and she fell silent. But the cold glare she gave me indicated that our relationship would never be as close, or as personal, as it had been when I ascended to the throne. I had denied her an opportunity to use her powers as she saw fit. And, for that reason, she now sought to deny me the love she had once freely given me, and which I had gladly received.
Not long afterwards came the time when she would serve me no more.
It had been twenty years since we had first met. We had kept a kingdom once thought to be doomed alive and thriving, chiefly through her muscles and brains, but also through my growing confidence in my judgement, which she had helped to hone. She fought in my name when she had to, and I cleaned up any diplomatic damage that might have occurred.
I grew no taller than I was when it all started, but I also grew a beard, put on weight, and grew older. To all of our astonishment, however, she appeared as young and as strong as she had ever been.
In all of our time together, she never told me much about her past, and thus the sources of her undimming loyalty, great swiftness, keen mind and mighty strength were as much a mystery to me as they were to anyone else in the kingdom. But, when she did reveal her secrets, it was to me alone- just as when she first revealed her gifts to me so long ago.
It seemed like a typical private meeting between us, to confer on military matters. But, typically, she stunned me with what she had to say.
“Sire,” she said, “I request to be discharged from your service.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I feel I have accomplished all I set out to do when I first came into your service. You are now more than capable to rule without any further guidance from me. And I will be leaving you with a well-trained Army loyal to you and always at your command.”
“And what will you do when you leave?”
“I will retreat back to my old life as a noble hedge knight, so that I may use the rest of my remaining days, using my remaining power, to help others as I did you.”
“The rest of your…..are you ill?”
“Have you been mortally wounded?”
“Were you poisoned?”
“No. Nothing fashioned by human hands can harm me. For I am not a human.”
“Not human?” This scared me. “Then what are you, then?”
“Sire, I am an Elf. The proof is on me.”
She swept back one side of her hair, which she always kept long to cover her head entirely, and revealed that she had an ear not in the shape of a human ear, but in the particular enclosed, conical shape that only Elves can have. Just as she had deceived me when we met, she proved she had been deceiving me again all this time.
“There are other differences between Elves and humans like this,” she added, “but modesty and protocol prevents me from showing you them.” She gave a knowing wink that made me relax and laugh.
Part of it was because I knew now what her secrets were, back from the times when we had met with and negotiated with the Elves themselves and she taught me their ways. Her size, speed, strength and intelligence were of the keen, superhuman kind only they have. Her agelessness came from the fact that they are immortal, unless killed. Her aversion to armor came from the fact that cold metal is their greatest weakness, and destroys them if they are exposed to it for long periods of time.
And, only now, I understood why she refused to become my Queen. Humans and Elves are different races entirely, with different means of reproduction. Neither of us knew how our opposite number reproduced, or how to deal with it when it happened. Likewise what might happen to us in the throes of intercourse, if it ever occurred between us. What if her mighty power had destroyed me in the midst of our love making- or my human body proved fatal to her Elf one?
The consequence of this was the one and only thing she feared. That fear meant she never acted to completely show her love to me, as I had to her.
And, in doing so, she saved my life. As she always vowed she would do.
“But why would an Elf want to be a leader of Men?” I asked her. “I had always assumed that, while not perfect, Elves had a more….placid existence.”
“You know little of the reality of it,” she spat. “In Elfland, a female’s life is not worth living. They are second-class citizens first, last and always. My childhood was of nothing but arbitrary humiliations based on my sex, and I wanted nothing further of it once I came of age. Once I was old and powerful enough to feel I could live here, I left the realm with a few, spare weapons of my race’s construction- the very ones you have always seen me employ- and I left it behind forever.
“In this world, I hoped that my appearance would not matter, but I was soon relieved of that notion once I tried to ply my knightly trade. There are far less gallant men than you, Sire, who did not feel I was up to assisting them with their troubles, and they paid the price for it. Still, I kept at my trade as a hedge knight, secure knowing someone would appreciate me, eventually, for what I was, and not what I only appeared to be. Your mother was such a being. She was in need of assistance, and I gladly gave it. And then, to hear of your plight. Such a young creature as you, to be robbed of his birthright in such an unjust matter! It roused me to the deepest depths of my soul. I vowed that I would do so well by you that you would never tire of my presence, and wish to keep me in the valiant profession I know well under your leadership as long as you felt I was valuable to you. We both can agree that I have more than fulfilled that arrangement.
“However, Sire, my time is coming to an end, and I can no longer help you as I once could.”
“What do you mean, “coming to an end”? You told me yourself the Elves were an immortal race.”
“Immortal, yes. Provided we stay as close to Elfland as we can, and do not remain too closely in the human realm. Unfortunately, as time advances, by your human standards, the risk of us losing our strength increases the more we stay away from the homeland. When I left, I was the most powerful I had ever been in my life, and I have remained as such all this time. I was able to maintain my body and appearance much more easily because of that, and your time was able to grant me advantages I would have been denied there. But now the time of my world is catching up to me, and punishing me for my deviance from the way of the Elves.
“Already, I feel I like I am waning. My punches and kicks no longer have the same impact, and my sword blows are no longer as steel-true as they once were, for all my efforts to maintain them. I am being diminished daily. Soon, I may not be able to defend myself in times of trouble, let alone others. How can I expect to continue to be a leader of men under these circumstances?
“No,” she said, holding her hand up to silence me. “Nothing you can say can make me stay, Sire. I have lived as a warrior, and I will die as one. In my remaining time, I must continue to be one as much as I can.”
“And I cannot change your mind?”
“Then I will not stand in your way. But know that you will always a place at my court should you desire it. I owe you far too much, but this may be a way of repaying you, should you need it.”
“Very well, Sire. But I ask only one thing further of you.”
“What is that?”
She did not answer with words. She grabbed my head, put her lips against mine, and we kissed for the first and only time. Then she departed as she had entered my life, quickly and without a warning.
It seems as if it was yesterday that she left, even though years have gone by. I have no idea whether Candace is now, or even if she is still alive. If she has indeed perished, I hope it was as nobly as she lived, defending a good cause. She certainly thought I was one.
Not long afterwards, I commissioned a statue of her to be erected on the grounds of the castle. Some in the kingdom thought it rather egotistical of me to “remember” my “girlfriend” like that, but they have no idea about how much they truly owe her. Of course, there were some flaws with it when I finally saw it. She was never one to wear clothes without sleeves or expose her legs, so putting her in a sleeveless shirt and short skirt says more about the character of the artist than it does about his subject. Plus, he gave her a horrific, brutish expression on her face, with her sword raised up, like she was going to kill you if you got too close. Not a single hint of the truly merciful and gracious woman I knew in that pose. But you know artists. I’m sure she’ll get a more accurate depiction in some art form from a more sympathetic eye, eventually.
Candace herself would have been enraged by that statue, and at me for erecting it. She considered that kind of art to be graven images. She would have smashed it into rubble, in yet another display of her formidable, fearsome might. But even she would have to admit that it’s an improvement, however slight, above being portrayed as my “bitch” in offal.
But one thing is always clear to me, and will be until the day I die.
She was, she is, and she will always be my Champion. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
And, especially, I couldn’t have asked for a better friend, either.
This story originally appeared in Original to this site.