Along the road to Constantinople, The Byzantine Empire
“To our king! To Arthur! To Arthur!” The cry rose above the din of blade, hoof, and man, coming to the ears of the embattled knights like a trumpeter’s call. With the ringing cacophony of forged steel tattooing the air, the knights arrayed in a rough battle line along the road, began to collapse backward towards the line’s center, heeding the rallying command.
Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britons, stood behind the corpse of his fallen horse, swinging Excalibur in deadly and precise arcs at the advancing tide of mercenaries and bandits arrayed before him. The once bright sheen of his mail was ruddy with dust and splattered with gore, and the blue of his eyes was wild with exertion. To Arthur’s left, Sir Lamorak slashed through the belly of a mercenary, and took the brief reprieve to once again send up his rallying cry.
“To Arthur! To Arthur!”
Arthur ducked beneath the swing of an ax, and stabbed Excalibur into its owner’s throat. Blood rushed down the length of the blade before the king kicked the dying man from the weapon’s embrace.
“They are too many,” he called breathlessly to Sir Lamorak, angered despair evident in his voice. “How is this our end?”
From over the small rise where the retinue of Knights of the Round Table fought alongside their king, a new wave of enemies crested the hill, and moved to descend upon the group. The retinue of knights, along with their accompanying squires and men-at-arms, numbered only fifty. As it stood now, they were engaged with almost four times that amount.
The knights fought valiantly, maneuvering as best they could to come to the defense of their king. All had long ago abandoned or lost their horses in the midst of combat, and all were covered in a mixture of their own blood, and that of their enemies.
“Riders, coming up the road!” Yelled a knight.
“Spearmen! Array yourselves!” Came a broken reply.
A few of the remaining men-at-arms tried to push to the flank of the group in an attempt to defend against the coming wave of cavalry. The battle was too far gone, however, and the men that did manage to push their way to the front were brought down by mercenary arrows and blades before they could setup their defense.
Arthur glimpsed the first wave of Saracen cavaliers hurtling into the right flank of his men, and an involuntary wail of empathetic rage left his throat. The crash of metal, and the rending of flesh and bone joined the whinny of horses and the death knell of dying men.
In that moment, Arthur was struck across the back, just below his ribs. The armor about his torso took the brunt of the blow, but his balance was lost, and he fell hard upon his plated knees.
With his head bent in dazed delirium, a single thought cut through the fog of his mind.
My God, why have you forsaken us?
Sir Lancelot of the Lake, looked down from his place at the top of the keep, and across the rooftops of Camelot towards the River Usk. The dawn sun was just breaking, and the light gave a soft, ethereal sheen to the great city. It was an awe-inspiring sight, and one that filled Lancelot with a well of pride: at Arthur’s side, he had helped to save this land.
The faint smile that was affixed upon his handsome face faltered then. It will need saving again.
Turning back into the interior of the tower, Lancelot looked to the man that waited dutifully beside the mantle. He was a young man, barely more than seventeen, yet he wore the emblazoned tri-crown crest of King Arthur with evident pride.
“You are clear with your task, then?” Lancelot said to the man.
With a slight bow, the man replied. “Yes indeed, my lord. I will not rest until I have fulfilled my duty.”
Lancelot exhaled slowly through his nose, and nodded. “Very well. Be on your way. May God bless you, and speed your mission.”
* * * * *
By the time the bells of St. Stephen’s cathedral tolled, riders were already making their way from Camelot, traversing the realm to all points of the compass. Each carried a message for the knights in the service of King Arthur, calling them to Camelot at the behest of the regent, Sir Lancelot. Their service to the crown was needed, and all haste in answering the call to duty was required. Crisis had arisen in the land of Arthur.