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WHEREIN THEY MEET FOUR RIDERS

As they rode thru the mountains, they met with two mounted men, who were armed at all points. One was dressed in mail, with a white turban about his helmet, and carried a light lance and curved sabre, and he rode a horse of such delicacy and fire that it seemed from Heaven itself.

The other was swarthy of complexion, and scarred of face, and wore clothing of felt and wool, with a bow and sabre at his side, and was mounted upon a small, shaggy pony that seemed to grow from the very land itself. A White Baldric carried his sabre, and he also carried a light lance, and both shaded their eyes and gazed upon the travelers.

Pilgrim put his arm thru the enarmes of his shield, but in error took up the old and battered heater they had found in Castle Grim, and readied himself for battle, but at the sight of the emblazon, both strange riders dropped the points of their lances to the ground, and hailed the travelers.

"Thou who bearest the Laurel ensign! We shall not take arms against thee, for that heraldry is none to be fought! Hail, travelers, from the peoples of the East!"

And truly they were, for one was of the Saracens, and the other was a Mongol.

The two rode up at an easy canter to the travelers, and bowed most fairly to the ladies.

The Mongol gave his name as Master Shadow the Dark, and, when Pilgrim inquired about his White Baldric, answered thusly:

"I will swear fealty to no living man or woman, nor to any Crown, for my loyalty lies to a higher obligation. I and my SwordBrothers and Sisters, my anda, serve The Dream directly, and our fealty is to the Dream within us all, with no Crown to mediate between."

"This is not our Way, but leads unto the same end," said Prince Temperance, "And thus thou are truly a Knight, an though thou bear not the same burden, methinks thine is heavier."

The unsmiling Mongol gazed upon the Prince, and nodded assent unto his words. "Thou speakest words of wisdom indeed," he said.

"Ride with us then," said Pilgrim, "And be welcome to our company!"

The two Payanim looked at each other, and nodded their heads, and said "This we will do, and right gladly, for all who seek the Dream may join with the Laurel Shield in honour and joy!"

The company rode onward, until they came to a small clearing, where a man, dressed in lace and velvet, and with the most outlandishly large hat upon his head (and this hat was covered with feathers of all the shades of color imaginable, save there was no white feather evident) stood with one toe pointed out, and his right arm akimbo, and his left hand making graceful gestures as he spoke, pausing now and then to hold a perfumed lace handkerchief to his nose.

He spoke to a grim and fell beast, that drooled and whispered in the road.

"So, Beast, thou speakest to me of delights, and women to pleasure, and gold to win, and honors that are rightfully mine? Fie upon it! I pleasure those that accept my favours in love and honor, and gold means naught to me! As for these honors thou speakest of, why should I seek them? Being Cavalier is honor enough!"

He held his handkerchief to his nose, and said, "Beast, thou couldst stand a bath, and several quarts of perfume! By my Plume! I wot thy smell is worse than any ten wagon-loads of chamberpots!"

The Beast snarled, and spake, and said, "Then prepare thyself to die!"

The knights of the company made ready to ride to the Cavalier's assistance, but Faith rode across their path.

"Hold, Sirs!" cried Faith. "Each must fight their own fight with that monster, and subdue it in the ways they know best! Stand, and learn how another combats this evil!"

The Beast seemed to shimmer in the air, and in a trice the mirror image of the Cavalier stood in the road. It was truly the mirror image, but its garb was soiled and stained, and the plumes drooped lifelessly.

"Thinkest thou to combat me with mere words? Sirrah, I am more than -that!- Draw!" And the mirror-image drew a long, thin rapier and a large dagger, and prepared to attack the Cavalier.

The Cavalier drew his own rapier, and wrapped his cloak about his left arm. He then dropped his point to the ground, smiled contemptuously, and said, "I know thee, old enemy! Thou art that evil whisperer that lives within each person, and I give thee the Lie Direct! Thou liest in thy teeth, and always will do so!"

The mirror-image shrieked with rage, and thrust suddenly at the Cavalier, but the rapier's point rose with blinding speed, turned the blow, and returned in a slash to the mirror's throat. The evil image leaped back, dodging the strike, and threw the Cavalier's blade aside in a great circular parry, at the same time slashing with the dagger.

The cloak suddenly whipped around the evil swordsman's dagger hand, and was quickly jerked back, pulling away the dagger, and sending it flying. Where it landed, the greensward boiled and blackened.

"Foul, unchivalrous toad!" The Cavalier hissed. "That blade is poisoned!"

And he advanced in a flurry of strikes and feints, until, with a sudden move that was too fast for the watching company to follow, he sent the evil mirror-image's sword flying from its hand as it fell backwards to the earth to avoid the point flying towards its throat.

Just as the rapier's point struck home, the false image vanished, and the Cavalier looked quickly about. Seeing the travelers, he sheathed his sword and shouted, "What Ho! At last a friendly face or two! Come hither, and let us speak, each to the other!"

As the travelers rode up to him, he doffed his hat, sweeping it in a low arc, and made a splendid bow, with many flourishes of lace and feathers.

"I give thee greeting, travelers! Perchance we journey the same road? 'Tis lonely, this riding alone, for I have none to jest with, and pass a witty remark or two! Wouldst grant me the boon of thy company, an thou ridest for the Castle of the Dream?"

"'T'would harm none, wert thou to ride with us, good sir." Pilgrim gravely answered, inclining his head.

"Good!" cried the Cavalier, with a beaming smile, "Allow me but a moment to brush off the dust from my encounter...." and he began to furiously brush and polish at his clothing until it sparkled and gleamed in the light.

He looked very carefully at his doublet, and noticed a thread coming astray from one cuff.

"Curse that foul Beast! It pulled a thread! Fie and fie again!" And he carefully cut the thread, using a small by-knife that seemed to magically appear from his sleeve. "Now! I am presentable again! 'Tis strange to combat oneself, but most enlightening indeed ... I wonder where I learned that pass I used ... ah well, no matter!"

He mounted his horse, waved his hat merrily in the air, and shouted, "On! Let us away!"

He rode forth, at the head of the company, and the travelers looked bemusedly at each other for a moment, and then followed.

They rode a ways down the highway, until the setting sun showed that it was time to make their camp for the night. They settled in, seated around the fire, and Princess Faith asked the silent Mongol to tell his tale.

"I shall do this thing," said the grim Oriental, "And I shall tell thee what I may tell of the Secret History of the Dark Riders." He sat cross-legged, sharpening his sabre with long, whickering strokes from a whetstone, and began to speak, in low, vibrant tones.

"We left the lands of our fathers, taking all we had. West went we, towards the setting sun from Karakorum."

"After many moons of travel, over land and over seas, we came to the Place of the Lakes, in these Enchanted Lands."

"There were others here, who held to honor's path, and fought with sword and shield. We saw that they fought, and slew each other, and rose to fight again! This was a great magic, and we discovered it was by virtue of a thing they called 'The Dream.' We looked at this Dream, and dreamed it ourselves, and found it good."

"Some, indeed, thought us strange, and a threat to the Dream, but our deeds speak for themselves, and our glory is known in all the Kingdoms of the Enchanted Lands."

"Thus we came, where we may fight and not die the True Death, and live in honor with our anda. Thus we joined these People of Enchantment, in this Land called the Known Worlde." (7)

"I am called Shadow, the Dark One, and I have spoken."

The Mongol ceased to speak, and bowed slightly to the assembled company.

"But what of thy story, O Servant of Allah?" Princess Prudence smiled at the Saracen.

The Payanim Knight bowed his head, and spoke.

"I am called al Sayyid, from Andalusia, what the Nazarenes call 'Spain,' and I travel as a knight-errant, seeking that which I seek. These ideals that thou call "Chivalry," and the most magnificent lute, fiddles and drums, and thy heraldry itself, mayhap had their beginnings with my people."

"The Franks have their heroes and champions of old, and so do we. Al Malik en Nasir Salah'ud'Din Yusuf, that the Malik Rik (called Richard Cour-de-Leon by the Nazarenes) fought at the gates of al-Kuds, the city that thou call Jerusalem, is also a great hero, and a true knight worthy of emulation." (8)

"Insh'allah (if God wills it) I shall find this Dream, and serve it well."

"Thou art truly a Knight, and right welcome indeed." said Pilgrim, "And thy Saladin is well-known to me, but this....cloud of lace and fine language that stands to one side; this I must inquire of, for 'tis no garb of the Age of Chivalry that he wears!"

The Cavalier grinned, doffed his hat and made a mighty bow, and said, "Certes, it is true that some within this Kingdom deny us our reason and rights to be here, but do we not follow the same Dream? Mayhap our words for it may differ, and our garb be somewhat...prettier...(and here he grinned at the company, and winked), and I wot we -smell- nicer," (and here he flourished his lace handkerchief to his nose, with his eyes laughing above it), "But we follow the Light of Chivalry, and its ideals are our ideals."

"Even the mighty Cyrano (9), and the brave Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan (10) could rehearse these ideals, and verily lived them each day of their lives. Heroes all, and worthy of emulation!"

"I, too, quest for the Dream, in the incarnation of a single White Plume for my hat (9) (and is it not a -wonderful- hat, indeed?). I swear that such a Plume will remain unstained and pure!"

He set his hat at a rakish angle upon his head, and struck such a pose that the ladies sighed despite themselves.

The irrepressable dandy then looked straight at Pilgrim, winked, and said, "An it please thee, good Sir Knight, when thou art wearied of sweat, and being shut up inside that suit of tin, I would be pleased to teach thee the Art of Cavaliering, for a well-buckled Swash is a fine thing, indeed!"

Pilgrim could not help but laugh at the good humor of the Cavalier, and said, "Truly, thou art a boon companion for our Quest! Travel with us, and let us all join to achieve our goal!"

They spent a happy evening, enlivened by songs and stories, and a peaceful night, fast asleep.

In the early dawn they were awakened by the sound of hoofbeats riding towards them.

It was another knight, in shining plate, and bearing a fair ribboned lance and mounted upon a steed of snowy whiteness. The stranger knight stopped, and gazed upon the travelers, and then, keeping the lance raised in token of peace, spurred forward.

The knight rested the lance's butt upon the ground, leaning it up against the pure white warhorse, and removed the great helm, and shook free a cloud of dark hair that reached to the horse's knees. A fair maiden's face was revealed, set in the hair like a jewel in ebony.

Pilgrim was thunderstruck, and gaped like a schoolboy.

"But thou art a lady! Why dost thou dress in armor, and seek adventure upon the highroads?" questioned Pilgrim.

"And cannot a Lady follow the lead of such gentles as the Damsel of La Beale Regard (11), and the most virtuous Britomart (12), and Bradamante (13), and Tomoe Gozen (14), and the many other warrior women of the Age of Chivalry ..... and even the daughter of M'Lady De Winter!" (15) (and here she nodded at the Cavalier, who returned the nod with a stupefied smile) "And none can deny the skill at arms of the ladies of the Mongols, nor think that they were not the equal of any man." And she nodded to the Saracen and the Mongol, both of whom bowed graciously in return.

"Shouldst thou wish to try my skill," she continued, "I would be truly glad to oblige thee, and show thee that a lady can fight indeed!" The lady knight spoke courteously, but her eyes flashed as she spoke.

Prudence and the others laughed mightily, and Faith said, "This is verily a most worthy knight, and her fame has reached far and wide! She is known to us, and much beloved."

Faith turned to the lady Knight, and said, "Greetings and well met indeed! We ride on a quest for the Castle of the Dream, and would be honored should'st thou ride with us."

The lady nodded, and smiled, and said, "Right gladly would I return again to that place! Lead on, and I shall follow!"

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