Title: An Armor's Tale

Author: Michael Weyer

Maximus Decimus Meridas created and owned by Dreamworks Pictures

A Knight's Tale, all characters and story owned by Columbia Pictures, written by Brian Helgeland.

Aaron Gray created by Kevin Matasumato.

Okay, don't expect a major retelling of "A Knight's Tale." I've summed it up pretty well, I believe, for those who didn't see the movie and have been careful not to simply "novelize" the whole thing. Frankly, the story is only about one "Knight's Tale" character so I've simply highlighted the best parts. Before anyone asks, the scene of Chaucer at the stocks was actually shot for the film but deleted from the final cut, the scene itself from the DVD. Hope it works well.

Another "backstory" entry into the Wanderverse. Thanks to Steve for letting me do this. Enjoy.


An Armor's Tale

In which a legacy of armor is begun.

England
May 11th, 1364

The hustle and bustle of the small town was even busier than Maximus Decimus Meridas remembered it. He was a bit surprised as the last time he had been to the area, it had been a much quieter and more laid-back community. The question as to why it was so busy was answered as he heard a mighty roar coming from a large arena-like structure in the midst of the town. Of course. He should have known. A tournament was occurring.

It might have seemed odd to many that a man who had once been one of the greatest gladiators to ever step into the Coliseum might be disdainful of the contest breaking out around him. While the jousts weren't to the death and were for the nobles instead of slaves, Maximus just didn't feel there was really that much honor in fighting other men simply to win some prize.

However, it was a major event in town and he didn't really have many plans so he figured he might as well check it out. His trip through Europe was working out well. It had been nearly a century since he had last seen England and it never ceased to amaze him how much could change in that time and how much could stay the same. He could practically hear Ardeth commenting dryly on how in the desert, one could see how ineffective man was against nature.

Maximus had to smile at the thought of his old teacher. It had been far too long since he had seen the former bodyguard for Seti the First, nearly two hundred years. Once he had seen London, Maximus decided, he would try and make for the desert again and see how Ardeth was doing. No doubt still on his obsessive vigil to watch over a long-abandoned wreck.

It used to be that the thought of Ardeth and his men attempting to prevent the rise of He Who Shall Not Be Named ("Wonderful, he's got me doing it," Maximus muttered to himself) seemed rather ridiculous to the former Roman general. Curses and the rise of a powerful evil seemed only foolish stories to Maximus when he had first met Ardeth. But over a thousand years, he had seen things in the world, things that convinced him that maybe Ardeth wasn't too far off about this curse thing after all.

Whatever the case, Maximus respected his Immortal friend too much to insult what the Egyptian considered a sacred duty. After all, Maximus knew about obsession. It was what drove him to fight in the gladiator rings despite his loathing of the entire concept, it drove him to Rome, to avenge his wife and son, to kill Commodus and yes, to die. And even for a skilled Immortal, one didn't survive over 1200 years by not having a commitment for survival.

Maximus realized he was in a reminiscing mood and chalked it up to his surroundings. The large oval arena packed with commoners, the noble elite in a special covered platform, brought back vivid memories of the Circus. As much as he hated it, then and now, and as much as he was disgusted by the crowd's thirst for blood, deep down, Maximus had to admit that every now and then, he missed the sound of 50,000 voices chanting his name over and over.

He pushed those thoughts aside, concentrating instead on the activity in the arena. It was time for the next round of jousting, which got the attention of an expert horseman such as Maximus. He was seated in the fifth row of the center section of the arena, facing the area where the heralds would announce their lords. His hair had grown a bit long over the last few weeks, he'd have to cut it soon and could use a shave as well. His proud and strong Spanish features stood out though and even a common pair of pants and loose shirt couldn't hide his athletic build. His blade, his constant companion over the last several centuries, was well-secured at his side, which had caused several people to mistakenly believe that he was here to compete.

Maximus had to admit that the knights he had seen had shown a great deal of skill. Not even the Circus had shown jousting and the cumbersome armor they wore while doing it made his old Roman suit look light in comparison.

His analysis was cut off as the crowd let off a roar. Maximus looked to the arena where he saw a young man with a light gait walk to the center. He wore a pair of brown slacks with tears in the leggings, a yellow shirt hung loosely around him, half-open, and a long green coat that billowed around him as he stood in the middle of the arena. He let out a large smile, eyebrows arching wickedly to his short blond hair.

"Isn't he a bit underdressed to compete?" Maximus asked the man sitting next to him.

The bearded and burly man stared at him in amazement, laughing. "He's no knight, man! He's the herald!"

"Then why is he getting such a large ovation?" Maximus frowned. "If he's just a herald---- "

"Oh, trust me, my friend," the man smiled. "He is anything *but* just a herald. He's got quite the reputation, for good reason. Just watch." He turned back to face the arena and Maximus, a frown on his face, joined him.

*****

The man made a large and sweeping bow to the stand where the nobles sat, rising to speak out. "My lords! My ladies! I will not tax you any longer with the histories and lineage of nobility!" He turned, his arms outstretched to sweep over the rows of commoners watching him. "God knows, the nobility have taxed you all long enough!"

A roar went up and Maximus had to let out a chuckle at the nobles on the stand who frowned and fidgeted as the herald went on. With a light run and jump, the man sat himself on the post that would separate the jousters later on. Taking a breath, he spoke again. "I cannot look at my lord.....without weeping. For he is the shining example of what all these knights here merely wish they could be. Strength, pride, nobility, they are there, of course. But in him......in him is a special quality that few could ever possess. In him is the spirit and the fire that has long burned in his lineage, a lineage that goes back beyond Charlemagne. But I will not describe that lineage to you."

He hopped down and slowly paced, the crowd in his hand and he knew it. "No. No, I will not be as these other heralds, who drop names of knights of old and lords of legend, merely to impress you. No, I will not tell you that my lord had ancestors rumored to have fought in fabled Camelot. No, I will not tell you my lord's family has been regarded in his homeland as more royal than the actual royals. No, I will not tell you even of the great deeds my lord has performed in his battles in the Holy Land, where he spilt blood upon the streets of Jerusalem by day and spent the entire night in prayer to our Lord for forgiveness. No. No, I will not waste any time by naming my lord's noble predecessors. For to do so would be a disservice to him. I would not name them to honor him! I would name him to honor them!"

He stopped and slowly circled, his eyes sweeping the spellbound crowd. "You are all to consider yourselves blessed. For no matter what else you do in your lives, from the lowly to the noble, you will all be able, on your deathbed, to take joy in that you were fortunate enough to see in person, a knight the likes of whom the world has never seen before. And when he passes on, it will never see again. You will see his strength, his skill, his fire, a fire so great that it will threaten to ignite all of the country! He will thrill you! He will chill you! He will shock you! And he... will... rock you!"

A smile came onto the herald's face as he took a deep breath. "And so......without any further gilding of the lily and with no more ado, I give unto you.......The Keeper of the Flame of Aragon, First into the breach at the Battle of Bethlehem, the Seeker of Serenity, the Protector of Italian Virginity, the Enforcer of our Lord God! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you......The one! The only! SIR ULLLLLLLLLRIC VON LICHTENSTEIN!!!!!"

The crowd let out a massive roar as the herald pointed toward the knight who entered the arena. "Well, that was different," Maximus had to remark as the herald took a bow.

"I told you he was more than just a regular herald," his seattmate smiled.

"Indeed," Maximus nodded. He was rather surprised that a knight would allow his herald to speak so irrevently about nobility. That was when he saw the knight and he sat up straight, studying him in earnest.

He was young, early twenties, with a shock of curly blond hair, quite handsome by the looks of things. His armor was unique, not the same bulky and cumbersome suit worn by the other knights but quite light and comfortable, a phoenix symbol on the chestplate. He gave a wave to the crowd before putting on his helmet, his two squires aiding him with the lance. He moved forward, awaiting the fall of the flag, the signal to begin riding. Maximus waited as well. He had some suspicions of this young man. Suspicions that he wanted to prove one way or another by the end of the day.

*****

"And first place in the joust, Sir Ulric Von Lichtenstein!"

The crowd cheered as the knight stepped forward, taking the proffered gold statue, bowing respectfully as he stepped back. It had been a tough tournament for him but he had emerged victorious. He had won all his jousts, many by knocking his opponent off his mount and to the ground. He had been quite the favorite with the crowd, who cheered with every blow he struck. All except one, one who was now making his way to the camp area where the knights stayed before and after the tournament.

Maximus carefully made his way through the crowd of knights, smiths and squires, looking for the banner he knew had to be there. He saw it, the simple phoenix design on a flag near a pair of green and white tents. Standing outside was Ulric, unsnapping his armor and pulling it off. Helping him were his squires, a rotund, bearded man in his forties and a thin, somewhat anxious looking redhead in his twenties. Nearby, juggling a couple of apples, was the squire, his voice a bit more subdued as he spoke.

"You have to attend the ball," he was saying as Maximus came into earshot. "You just have to, it's tradition, you know that by now."

"We have to start making way by morning," Ulric stated in a light British accent. "You know there's the tournament next week in------"

"Jocelyn will be there."

Ulric stopped and stared at his herald. "She will?" he said in a soft voice. Maximus didn't need 1200 years of experience to know that whoever this Jocelyn was, she had caught the knight's eye.

"Got here this afternoon," the herald smiled, tossing two apples away and starting to munch on the other. "Couldn't make the tournament but I'm sure she'll love to hear all about it from you."

Ulric let out a small smile, which cut off as he saw Maximus approach. The squires and herald also took notice, each looking at the Immortal with gazes of suspicion. Maximus returned their gazes before focusing on Ulric. "I saw you fight today. You're quite good."

The knight seemed surprised at the compliment but nodded. "Thank you. Are you competing?"

"No," Maximus shook his head. "Haven't for a long time." He looked about at Ulric's companions. "May I ask your company?"

"Oh, um, certainly," Ulric said. He nodded at the rotund man. "This is Roland," he pointed at the redhead. "And this is Wat." He turned to face the herald. "And this is------"

"Geoffrey Chaucer," the herald said, throwing away the apple and offering a hand to Maximus. "Herald for now, soon to be writer."

"I'd recommend changing your name first," Maximus said. Chaucer glowered and dropped the hand, shooting an angry glare at Wat, who had snickered at the comment.

Maximus turned to face the knight. "And you? What's your name?"

The knight frowned, looking at Chaucer and back at Maximus. "Maybe you were the only one not listening to Chaucer," he stated. "Sir Ulrich Von Lichtenstein. Of Gelderland."

Maximus nodded. "Fine." He took a step forward and leaned in, looking Ulric right in the eye. "Now.....what's your *real* name?"

The young man went slightly pale, his friends staring in shock as Maximus backed up and began to slowly pace, his voice a cool tone. "Your English is too good, even the best of educations would leave some trace of an accent. You show little of the arrogance a nobleman should have. Your fighting is good but rushed, not at all the disciplined style preferred by the majority of fighters. Your stance is wrong, you take more hits than you should and your riding suggests you learned bareback a long time before a saddle, which is almost unheard of for a knight in training since a boy." He paused and looked at "Ulric" carefully. "Shall I go on?"

A lone silence covered the area before Roland swore under his breath. "Bugger, I told you this wasn't going to work!"

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Maximus quickly stepped in. "Call me.....Crowley." The name had just popped into the Immortal's head somehow. "I just want the truth. Who are you?"

The knight looked at him for a long moment before swallowing and drawing himself up. "William Thatcher," he said, showing off a less intense side to himself as he spoke.

Maximus raised an eyebrow. "Is that actually your last name or a family occupation?" The young man's silence answered him and Maximus nodded. "So, just how did this start?"

With a sigh, William answered. "My father sold me to the service of a famous knight as a boy. He'd hoped I could.....change my stars, as he put it. But, life wore on, the knight grew old and less famous and just before he was going to compete in a tournament a few months back, he died. So......"

"Let me guess," Maximus interrupted. "You took his place to finish the tournament, won it, and decided there was a living there." As William nodded, Maximus had to let out a small smile. "That's actually not a bad plan," he stated. He looked over toward the "squires." "And you two?"

"We were helping the knight too," Roland answered sourly. "And, hell, someone had to keep him from killing himself."

Maximus turned toward Chaucer. "What about you?"

"Ah, yes," the herald said, coughing. "I was in the middle of some delicate negotiations------ "

"He'd been stripped bare naked for gambling debts and needed cash," Roland clarified.

"Which I've provided by forging the documentation needed to make this work," the writer clarified.

Maximus returned his attention to William. "Do you really think you can pull this off?"

"I've done well so far," the young man answered easily.

Maximus narrowed his eyes at him. "Be careful about your fame, boy. Too much and it'll get attention and people will look into your past. Or lack thereof. I know the dangers of that."

Before he could go on, Maximus felt the presence of another Immortal come into range. He glanced about, trying to pinpoint it, finally seeing the young woman coming toward the group.

She was in her twenties, face marked with dirt but still quite attractive, long black hair flowing behind her. She wore a long brown outfit, the edge trailing a bit in the dirt, her boots leaving heavy prints behind her. She rubbed at her head, as if suffering from a sudden headache. She held a metal shirt in one hand, the same style as the unique armor William had on. "Here you go," she said, her voice carrying the traces of a Scottish brogue as she handed the shirt to William. "This should do it."

"Thanks, Kate," William said, hefting the shirt. "Oh, this is Crowley. He's sort of figured it out."

Kate's eyes rose. "Figured out what?"

"You know what," William replied. "Me?"

"Oh, oh, that," Kate relaxed. She looked over at Maximus, nodding briefly before facing William again. "Right, I got the dents out of it all right and I've done my best to try and toughen it up."

"Interesting armor," Maximus said, glancing over it. "Never seen the likes of it before."

"You wouldn't have," Kate said with a trace of pride.

"Kate here came up with it herself," William answered. "Lighter than any of the others, it lets me get on a horse with just one hop, no climbing on and needing help getting settled."

"I hope you don't take a bad hit," Maximus stated.

Kate snorted. "This suit can take twice as many blows as regular armor and it won't leave him with a scratch."

Maximus raised an eyebrow at the audacious claim. His gaze fixed on the strange symbol on the shoulder of William's armor. It appeared to be a pair of wing-like symbols, one on top of the other. "What is this?"

"My trademark," Kate answered with a smile. "Every good smith needs one."

"Hope it works out well at the next tournament," William said. "Come on, let's get ready for the banquet and then we make way tomorrow."

"Time to get out the dress clothes, lads," Chaucer grinned, heading toward the tent. "Joining us, Kate?"

"Thanks but no," Kate said. "I still have to get a few things done on the armor, make sure it's in good shape."

"As you wish," William said. He looked toward Maximus. "Needless to say, it would be good if you didn't mention what you know to anyone."

"You have my word," Maximus said, meaning it. He nodded and began to walk off. "I hope to see you again, Sir Ulric." He glanced quickly at Kate. "Maybe quite soon."

*****

The banquet was a large gathering, knights and squires mingling with nobles, enough to get the attention of pretty much anyone involved with the tournament. So the building that held the tools for a smith was empty and free, just the way Kate preferred it.

She hammered down hard on the piece of metal before her, trying to pound out the slight dents in it. She wiped the back of her glove along her forehead, taking a breath as she straightened up, feeling the aches of the long hours working along her back. She lowered the hammer and picked up a large set of tongs. Carefully using them to grab the armor's chestplate, she swung it over and dunked it into a nearby barrel of water, steam rising from the barrel as the armor cooled. Raising it, Kate lowered the metal onto a table and put away the tongs.

She had just removed her gloves when she suddenly felt a wave of weakness overtake her, a strange buzz filling her head. She rubbed at her head, trying to figure out just what it was and why it had happened twice today.

"Nice work." Kate yelped and spun around to see the man called Crowley standing in the doorway of the smithshop, looking at her. He walked forward, glancing at the armor. "Just how long did it take you to come up with that?"

"Just came to me one day," Kate answered with a shrug, tossing down the gloves. "I just never got an opportunity to use it yet. Frankly, the only reason William came to me was because all the other smiths were busy. Not a lot of call for women blacksmiths, you can imagine."

"Not even if they're experienced as you?" Maximus said carefully.

"I'm not that experienced," Kate smiled.

"Prove it."

Before Kate could ask what he meant, the man suddenly yanked out a sword and lunged at her. Instinctively, Kate leapt back, tripping over a loose board and falling back. Maximus moved in, the tip of his blade on her throat. Kate froze, terrified to move, swallowing as Maximus slowly lowered the blade from her throat over to her chest. He looked at her carefully, seeing the terror in her eyes, the certainty that a thrust to the chest would kill her as permanently as a beheading. "You really don't know what you are, do you?" he said softly.

"What?" Kate choked, not sure what the hell was going on.

"Has something happened to you recently?" Maximus asked. "Something odd? An accident or some such and afterwards, you felt oddly healthier?"

Without realizing it, Kate held a hand to her head as she softly spoke. "A week ago....I was trying to shoe a horse and it suddenly reared back and kicked me. Felt like it was right in the head, knocked me out for a while but when I woke up, there was no mark. I felt fine and.....come to think of it, I've felt pretty good since then."

"Sounds like a crushed skull," Maximus said in a calm tone. "Maybe a little bone in the brain, must have healed quickly, not a bad way to go."

Kate stared at him in confusion as he backed away, the sword lowering. "What are you talking abo------"

She stopped as Maximus held the sword to his hand and pressed down and away, a cut opening up in his palm. He held it up to let Kate see a sudden spark of what looked like lightning covering the wound. When it faded, the cut went with it, bare flesh where the wound had once been.

Kate stared in shock at the healed hand before looking up at Maximus, fear in her eyes. "Are.....are you a demon?"

Maximus smiled lightly. Without warning, his sword swung out, opening a cut on Kate's arm, the woman letting out a small shriek at the sudden pain. She held a hand to the wound as she backed away, then lowered it to look at the wound. She felt her throat go dry as she saw the same lightning covering the cut, healing it.

"If I am," Maximus stated. "Then so are you."

Kate looked back at him, her jaw trembling. "What......what is------"

Maximus lowered the sword and brought himself up to speak. "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridas. Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Gladiator known as the Spaniard."

Kate stared at him before realizing just what he had said. "Wait....." she whispered. "That name.....I've heard of him but......But you can't be the same man! You'd have to be-------"

"Over a thousand years old," Maximus nodded. "And yes, I am. I'm Immortal, Kate. And so are you." He looked at her shocked expression and smiled. "I believe we have a lot to talk about."

*****

"You want to come with?" William repeated, staring at Maximus. The area where the knights stayed was being quickly cleared out, "Sir Ulric's" own tent broken down and loaded onto a nearby cart, where Wat and Roland waited for him. Chaucer was doing jotting down on a piece of paper, preparing for his next big speech.

"I can help you," Maximus stated evenly. "I can give you a bit more training, not just in fighting but in how to act around nobles, so you can fit in without suspicion. And another pair of helping hands couldn't hurt."

William rubbed his chin in thought. After a moment, he nodded. "All right then. Make some room, boys, we've got another squire!"

"Great, another bloody person to share the winnings with!" Wat said sourly as he hopped into the back of the cart.

"I don't require much in the way of money," Maximus smiled. It was the truth, as he had managed to get a few hidden nest eggs put away over the centuries.

"Wonderful!" Chaucer smiled. "Welcome aboard then!" He hopped into the back, Maximus following. He carefully reached down a hand and pulled up Kate. The young woman silently sat next to her pile of armor, deep in thought. Maximus had spent most of the night explaining to her all about Immortality and the Game and what she needed to do. It wasn't an easy thing for her to accept, he knew. He tried to give her his best reassuring gaze, to let her know he understood what she was going through and intended to help her the best he could. He resisted the urge to pat her shoulder as the cart got under way, taking them all to their new destination.

*****

London, England
August 18th, 1364

It was ironic, Maximus had to admit. He had set out months ago to make it to London, to visit it just briefly. Now, he was here but under much different circumstances than he had imagined.

It had been a hectic few months for Maximus and the band he had been caught up with. William had won several more tournaments, his fame growing as he did. Also growing was his romance with the noblewoman Jocelyn. Having met the beautiful and independent-minded young lady himself, Maximus could understand why the former commoner was so infatuated with her. From what he understood, Jocelyn had figured out "Sir Ulric" was not what he seemed but didn't seem to care, so long as his love for her was true.

Maximus had been busy behind the scenes as well, helping William with his training. But the real training was with Kate, teaching her what she needed to know to survive the Game. He was surprised to find out that she was already capable with a sword, both her father and late husband wanting her to know how to defend herself. So, Maximus only needed to show her some new tricks to use in a duel, her training progressing much faster than he had anticipated.

For now, that training had been pushed aside. For the group had reached their ultimate goal: London and the World Championship. The best of the best was there, knights from all over Europe competing to see who was the best of all. So far, William had done well, taking out several top challengers. But the one top one left was also the one who had defeated William before. Ademar, a somewhat brutal knight who was a rival not only for the championship but also for Jocelyn's hand in marriage. And unlike William, he had true nobility to back up his claim for her, despite how Jocelyn felt about William.

All those thoughts ran through Maximus' mind as he walked through the streets, heading towards the arena. He wore a more casual outfit than usual, the green tunic and dark pants allowing him to mingle easier with the common crowd. He was a bit concerned about William. Being back in London had apparently sparked an interest for the man to try and find his long missing father. Maximus had warned against it, that it could lead to trouble, but the boy was young and thus headstrong. *A shame he was born a continent away and a few centuries too late* the former Roman general thought to himself. *He would have made a fine member of the Legions.*

His light chuckle cut off as the Buzz hit him. He looked about, his hand on his sword in case it was someone looking for a fight. He looked over to see Kate approaching, her face anxious, her eyes darting about before locking on Maximus. She rushed to him, pushing a few people aside to reach her teacher. "What is it?" Maximus said, knowing it was bad.

Kate heaved for breath, trying to get enough back to talk. "It's......William. They've taken him."

"Who?"

"The city guard," Kate explained. "He found his father last night, an old blind weaver, talked to him, told him who he was. Ademar followed him, found out as well, told the guard. He's under arrest, in the stocks, the people have turned on him."

Maximus sighed. "Damn, I was afraid of this."

"What do we do?" Kate asked.

"Well, from a brutal point of view, I'd take this as a sign to get out of town and get started on a new life," Maximus remarked. Before an outraged Kate could respond, he held up a hand. "But considering how good a man he is and how much he means to you and the others....I think another tactic is called for."

He rubbed at his chin, swiftly going over all the options available to him before nodding. "Right. You go get the others, watch him, make sure the mob doesn't get him. I have an idea." He turned and started to walk off, startling Kate. "Where are you going?" she called after him.

"To call in a favor," Maximus remarked over his shoulder. Kate watched him go and then shook her head and broke off in a run back towards the small square where her friend remained.

*****

William Thatcher, for everyone knew that to be his real name now, was getting a first- hand lesson in just how quickly a crowd could turn into a mob. When he had entered the city as part of the procession of fighters, he had been cheered and welcomed with open arms by admirers. Now, many of those same admirers were jeering at him and throwing rotten fruit and food at his face. He was hardly in a position to duck, seeing as how he was bent over, his hands and head stuck in the stocks. In a semi-circle around him was the common rabble, all except a group of hooded monks jeering at him.

A shadow fell over him and William looked up, expecting to see yet another tormentor. Instead, it was Roland, who stood before the mob, a large stick in one hand, glaring at them all, defying anyone to come near. "Get out of here, Roland," the defeated former knight said.

"Not this time, Will," Roland shook his head. "We're all in this together, remember?"

William looked about to see Wat also nearby, Kate beside him, a pair of tools in her hands, showing a strength he had thought she lacked. Chaucer, to little surprise, was attempting to address the crowd. "Good people!" he called out in his booming voice. "Good------"

A tomato streaked out of the crowd and smacked Chaucer right on his shirt. Instead of getting upset, Chaucer looked down, his eyes lighting with inspiration. He put a finger into the tomato, brining it up to swallow it. "Mother?" he called out, searching along the crowd. "Is my mother here? I'd know her cooking anywhere!"

A laugh went up and Chaucer knew he had them. Starting to pace, he waved a hand. "Please, Mother, you at least go home. I will tell you tonight how it all turns out. I hope it is good news, Mother. I hope I can tell you how I convinced these.....good....people to leave my lord William unharmed."

Chaucer turned to point at the immobilized William. "For I have never seen a heart that beats like the one in this man. Great it is, swollen with all the virtues risen of pride. Full, free, courageous, constant and most of all....filled with hope." He threw a look at the crowd. "Until now."

The jeering had stopped, the crowd silent as Chaucer lowered his voice. "I ask you. What makes a man noble? His lineage or his heart?" Chaucer sighed and looked away. "Thank you very much, Mother, you can go home now." He returned his gaze to the crowd, speaking softer than he was used to. "And what are knightly virtues and who decides who shall possess them? My lord, it's true, was born poor in Sheepside, London and so what? For he is as true as steel...." Chaucer paused and shook his head. "No, truer. For he is like gold to me. He is like gold and you and I are merely iron." He glared at the mob. "And yet you people would come to see him rust. For shame." Chaucer threw one more disdainful look around before turning back to the stocks. "Shame on you all."

He walked slowly back towards the stocks, taking the steps carefully as the crowd reflected on his words. "Ulric!" a voice suddenly yelled out. "Ulric! Ulric! Ulric! Ulric!" the crowd began to chant.

Chaucer spun about, his face set in anger. "His name is William!" The crowd stopped their chanting for a moment. Then, the cry went up, a larger one this time. "William! William! William! William!"

It was at the height of this chant that the leader of the group of monks threw back his hood and shrugged off his robe. Instantly, the crowd went silent in shock as the man carefully stepped forward, a beautiful sword at his side as he put a foot on the stocks. He wore no crown and while his garb was upper class, it wasn't spectacular. But one look at the tousled black hair, good built and  lined face with the scar on one side and everyone knew who he was: Edward, the Black Prince, the next King of England.

Several already knew the story: Months before, Edward, desiring to compete as a regular knight, secretly entered a tournament. However, word as to his true identity got around and no knight dared raise a lance against the man who would occupy the throne and all forfeited. All except William, who saw a kindred spirit in the prince wanting to compete as a knight. They fought, William getting a good blow and Edward surprising the crowd there by revealing his face and thanking William for the chance to compete. That had been the last time the duo had seen each other, until now.

Edward looked up at William, a little smile on his face as he appraised the commoner. "What a pair we make, hmm?" he said softly. "Both trying to hide who we are. Both unable to do so." He glanced about at William's friends, as stunned as everyone else to see the prince there. "Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough." He smiled as he leaned in. "But you also tilt, when you should withdraw. And that is knightly too."

He stepped up, straightening as he looked at a nearby guard. "Release him."

The guard was startled but knew better than to question a command from royalty. He quickly undid the stocks, Roland and Wat moving in to help William up, the man unable to resist a moan as he straightened up and felt the ache of having been bent over for so long. As he tried to get his strength back, Edward turned to the crowd.

"He may appear to be of humble origins," he spoke out. "But my......personal historians... have discovered that he descends from an ancient royal line." His face set as he looked about, trying to see if anyone was going to challenge his statement. "This is my word. And as such is beyond contestation."

He turned back to William, the little smile back on his face. "Now, if I may repay the kindness you once showed me. Take a knee."

In his weakened state, William didn't have much trouble going down to his knees. Before him, Edward unsheathed his sword, holding it up high. "By the power vested in me by my father, King Edward and by all the witnesses here, I dub thee Sir William." He carefully tapped each of William's shoulders with the flat of the blade, the young man unable to respond.

"Arise, Sir William," the prince asked, William slowly getting up to his feet as Edward clasped his hand. "Can you joust?" William nodded. "There's a tournament to finish."

As William slowly walked off, the others following, Kate caught the Buzz in the air. She looked about and saw Maximus coming towards the stocks, a satisfied smile on his face. She moved towards him, watching him carefully and something about his expression confirmed her suspicions. "You had something to do with this, didn't you?" she asked.

"Actually, I just wanted to set him free," Maximus answered. "Edward wanted to pay him back fully, however. He just needed to be alerted to what was going on."

"How did you manage to--------"

"Oh, I just called in a favor. Let's just say it involved his grandfather, a lowly maid and a night that officially never happened and leave it at that."

Deciding that was a good idea, Kate followed Maximus out of the square, the two heading towards the arena, to see if a man really could change his stars.

*****

"You sure you don't want to stay?" William asked for the tenth time.

"I'm sure," Kate answered for the tenth time. She was carefully saddling a horse near the massive London arena, making sure her pack of provisions was on tight. She was wearing a nicer version of her usual brown suit, the result of her now being a friend of the world champion.

Chaucer had said that not even his wildest fictions could dare come up with such an ending: William entered at the last minute as a knight and facing Ademar in the finals. Ademar cheating by removing the protective edge from his lance, handing William a severe blow. William, inspired by the presence of his blind father in the stands, riding out sans armor to knock Ademar off his mount and win. And to top it all off, William and Jocelyn sharing a long kiss in the middle of the arena.

Needless to say, things were going to change for the group. William and Jocelyn were already planning to wed, with Roland and Wat now having the chance to be true squires to a true knight. William had assumed Kate would stay with them to maybe get more of her special armor sold but Kate had surprised him by announcing she was moving on.

"It's just that you kept saying you wanted to see London again," William said as Kate loaded the last of her belongings onto her mount.

"And I did," the woman replied. "But....I've just got an urge to go, is all. To see more of the world, to see Paris perhaps. I liked Paris."

"Maybe you'll run into Chaucer," William smiled. "He wanted to get away a bit, write that story he's always talking about, with all those pilgrims he ran into."

"Maybe," Kate smiled. She moved in and gave William a hug and a light kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for giving me a chance, William. Give my best to Roland and Wat." She hoisted herself on the saddle, taking up the reins as William gave her a last smile. "Thanks for letting me keep the armor."

"What else are you going to use?" Kate smiled. "It's the best and you know it."

William patted her arm. "Change your stars, Kate."

"Same to you, William." With a last nod, she took up the reins and kicked her horse a bit, sending it out. She headed out and didn't look back.

She had gone about a hundred yards beyond the limits of the city when she felt the Buzz kick in just as she saw Maximus waiting for her on his own horse. She slowed to a trot as she came up to him. He nodded at her and looked back at the city. "Was it hard to say good-bye?"

"It was," Kate nodded. "It really was, given all I've been through with them."

Maximus turned his horse around and started to ride out. "Get used to it."

*****

France
October 14th, 1364

Maximus kicked his heels harder into his mount, forcing the horse to go faster, wishing once more he had a fine Spanish steed. The wind whipped at his hair, his loose coat billowing behind him. He cursed under his breath, whipping the reins, trying to get his horse to move on and hoping to hell he wasn't too late.

He had thought that he and Kate would be all right in this small province. It had been a quiet trip so far, the two moving from town to town, breaking in between to continue her training, Kate showing real improvement. Maximus hoped she would be up to a proper skill level when they reached Paris. He had a couple of friends there who might be able to take her under a more watchful eye and help her establish a new life.

However, any life of Kate's was in jeopardy. Maximus had no idea Jeruad was in the area and if he did, he would have made sure he and Kate were quite a distance away. The French Immortal was well-known for his cheating tactics, often using a crossbow from a distance to take his prey down, then behead him or her while they were incapacitated. He had been on something of a tear the last few years and still made France his main stomping grounds.

Maximus knew that in a fair fight, he could take the younger Immortal. But Jeruad's cheating gave him a slight edge. Plus, there was Kate to worry about as well. Maximus had been in the nearby village getting some fruit when he overheard two men talking about a customer they had seen earlier. When they mentioned the silver crossbow, Maximus had known who they meant and a quick query on physical appearance confirmed his fears. Now, all he could do was get to Kate and get them both out of the area before------

A flash got his distance and Maximus looked up, his horse slowing a bit as he saw a piece of lightning in the air. It continued, the lightning apparently coming from behind the trees on a nearby hill, thunder and flashes of light following. "Kate," Maximus whispered as he saw the Quickening. He kicked back at his horse, pouring on the speed and swearing that, weakened or not, Jeraud's head was his. He owed Kate that much.

*****

A few minutes earlier, Jeraud was standing in the middle of the shallow creek near the small camp Maximus and Kate had set up. A fire was still going as Kate lay in the creek, an arrow sticking out of her chest, her sword limp in her hand. The short and lithe Frenchman lowered his crossbow, a smile coming onto his weasley face as he pulled out his short sword, small and beady eyes taking in the helpless woman. She looked young but he hoped that the Quickening would be worth it. "A shame, madame," he said, pulling up his sword. "I could have given you such a thrill if we had met under better circumstances."

Without warning, Kate's hand gripped her sword, whipping it forward, the point slashing into Jeraud's stomach. The Frenchman gasped, both from pain and shock since Kate had given no sudden breath or other sign of coming back to life, she had simply struck. Jeraud stared at Kate, the woman's face turning into a tight smile. She twisted the blade, the pain causing Jeraud to nearly drop his sword, his eyes fixed on the arrow still sticking out of her chest. "How-----how?"

"Trade secret," Kate remarked as she yanked the blade out. Jeraud backed away, rubbing at his stomach. Snarling in sudden rage, he leapt forward, thrusting his sword at Kate. She easily blocked his blows, his wound slowing his attacks as Kate managed to sweep aside one thrust. She spun about, sword held at just the right level as she completed her turn, the blade slicing through Jeraud's neck, severing his head. It bounced in the creek a few times, Jeraud's body actually taking a step forward before collapsing into the shallow water.

Kate stepped back, heaving with breath, the impact of what she had just done fully hitting her. She started as she saw the white cloud of energy leave Jeraud's body. Even though Maximus had warned her, she was unprepared for the sensation as the cloud covered her, entering her own body. Without warning, lightning came out of nowhere and struck her. She gasped as she felt the bolts cover her, whipping around the creek, water blasting about as the Quickening hit its stride.

Kate felt memories overtake her, brief flashes of the life of Jeraud, of those he had killed, the memories overtaking her as the lightning continued to hit her. Her body felt on fire but it somehow felt good in a way, so Kate couldn't explain the real reason for her screams, unable to keep silent as the lightning blasted around the water and the camp, fire covering several branches, splashes of water blasting around Kate as the lightning kept striking around her, her hair whipping around her face from the sudden wind, which was almost as loud as her screams.

The Quickening faded, the wind and lightning dying, the water slowly going back to its smooth state. Kate was on her knees, heaving for breath, trying to cope with what she had just experienced. She looked up to see Maximus there, the older Immortal looking at her with a mix of relief, amazement and pride. "Are you all right?"

"I......I think so," Kate answered, swallowing. "My God.....You never told me it'd be so....so......"

"It's always hard the first time," Maximus answered. "Don't worry, you'll be okay soon." He came over to her, helping her up, staring at the arrow in her chest. "Doesn't that----hurt?"

"Not a bit," Kate smiled, yanking it out with not so much as a wince. Smiling at Maximus' stare, she opened the first two buttons of her tunic top and pulled it down to reveal a thin plate of her own armor underneath. She let out a laugh as she saw the look of total surprise on Maximus' face, getting a kick out of putting one over on her teacher. "You're the one who told me to always be prepared," she grinned.

"I'm glad for that," Maximus stated just before the Buzz hit them both.

*****

The two were instantly on alert, swords up and ready as they heard the sound of horse steps come toward them. They turned to see a figure approach on a white horse, pausing as he came to the riverbed. He carefully dismounted and moved forward, his sword up as he looked at the two. He wore a suit of brilliant armor over his hefty frame, shuffling a bit in the clunky metal as he came to the two. He had a sneaky face, a smirk seeming to always be on it, his sharp black goatee highlighting his features. He looked them over, focusing on Maximus. Slowly, a smile came onto his face as he lowered the sword.

"Do my eyes deceive me," he said in strong English. "Or is that the Spaniard I see before me?"

Maximus' face set in anger, his eyes narrowing at the figure before him. "Thief," he hissed under his breath.

"That's Sir Thief to you, General!" the man grinned.

"Sir?" Maximus scoffed. He looked towards Kate. "At least Chaucer did a decent job of forgery for William. This is just pathetic." He looked back at the figure. "Just what possible line could take you on for a knight?"

"The Order of the Grail," the Immortal replied. He was startled as Maximus threw his head back and let out a long laugh. "You-----you-----you expect me-----" Maximus got out. "You expect me to believe------that the Grail Order would actually take you on?"

Smiling, the man tapped his armor. "Have a look."

Maximus stared at it carefully, his face slowly giving way to stunned disbelief as he saw the logo on the armor plating. He looked up at the Immortal, his face turning hard as he reached out and grabbed him. "All right, Autolycus. What scam are you up to now, hmm? Hoping to rip off the Vatican?"

"Um, Autolycus?" the Immortal replied. "I think your memory's getting hazy in your old age, pal. I told you then, my name is Ialous Joxer------"

"I chase an Immortal thief with a flair for the dramatic for a bit, he sticks in my mind," Maximus replied, holding the bearded man tight. "So I do some checking with some Immortal friends of mine and some....other sources and I find out about a Ancient Greek Immortal who was once a major thief and has the same physical description. It's not that big a leap in logical thinking, Autolycus."

The Spaniard held Autolycus in close. "So. Once again. What are you planning?"

"Hey, hey, easy!" the man who had once been the King of Thieves said, pushing Maximus back. "No scam here, I've gone legit."

"And Xena has risen from her grave," Maximus sarcastically replied. "Come on, Autolycus, I know you. You don't make a move unless it's all about yourself. I know, I'm the one who had to chase you all over Italy after you tried to steal those urns from the palace."

"Hey, that was six hundred years ago," Autolycus pointed out. "People change, okay? Look, I'll admit, when I got started with them, I was looking for a way out of a nasty situation. But, I've gotten to like these guys and believe in what they believe in. I think I can help them out and I'm sincere about it."

Maximus gave him a long look, not quite sure if he believed him. "Totally legitimate?" he asked. "No plans to rob from within or anything?"

"Hey, Maximus, come on. You know the Order of the Grail. Even I know when you shouldn't try and steal from some people. You know what they'd do to me if I tried anything?"

"I can imagine," Maximus smiled. "Just what brings you by here?"

"I caught the end of the fireworks. Your doing?"

"Actually, it was her," Maximus said, nodding to Kate. "My student, Kate. This was her first." Turning to Kate, he motioned towards the armored Immortal. "It is my dubious honor to introduce you to the man who was once the greatest thief on Earth------"

"Hey, still am," Autolycus shot back. "Just in retirement at the moment."

"Autolycus, the King of Thieves," Maximus finished. The Immortal smiled and shook Kate's hand. Immediately as he let go, Maximus grabbed the hand and checked it. "Just making sure you didn't nab a bracelet or anything," he remarked.    

"I take it this isn't a pleasant past relationship?" Kate asked, looking at the two.

"A story I may choose to bore you with if you pressure me," Autolycus stated. "Come on, I have a camp nearby with some friends."

"Friends?" Maximus said, raising an eyebrow. "More knights?"

"Indeed," Autolycus nodded. "Come on, they'd love the company."

Maximus looked at him, then at Kate, leaning towards her. "Keep an eye on your purse," he muttered. "It goes missing even for a minute......then get ready for your second Quickening."

*****

It was dark by the time they had gotten to the camp, Maximus sharing with Kate a few stories about the Order of the Grail and what they fought.

"You're telling me these vampire creatures are real?" Kate said in disbelief.

"Oh, trust me, they are," Maximus smiled. "I know very well."

He and Kate greeted some of the other knights, Autolycus wisely keeping Maximus' true identity a secret, just saying he knew him from a way back. As a few of the knights prepared for dinner, Autolycus gave Maximus and Kate a quick tour of their camp and belongings.

"I must say, I am impressed," Maximus said as he and Kate looked over the weapons and armor tent of the Grail Knights. "I had no idea you people were so organized."

"We have a sacred duty," Autolycus replied. "We try to do our best to fulfill it." He stopped as he saw Maximus staring at him. "What?"

"This really is you, isn't it?" Maximus replied in wonder. "You really have gone straight."

"Like I said, it grew on me after a while," Autolycus shrugged. "Besides, seeing what these things are capable of convinced me they had to be fought no matter what. So, I've been helping them out. As you can see, we have the right materials."

"Not really."

Maximus and Autolycus stopped and turned to where Kate was standing by a table of armor. She shook her head in disapproval as she glanced over a suit before her. "Look at this," she said. "Too bulky, too heavy, no ability to bend right, extreme lack of mobility in elbows and legs, gloves are too big to properly hold a sword. I'm amazed you don't lose twice as many knights as you do in a simple skirmish."

Autolycus raised an eyebrow, thrown by how this girl was running down his people's finest assets. "You can do better?"

Kate looked up at him with an air of absolute confidence. "Give me a hot fire and eight hours and you're damn right I can. Pardon my cursing."

Autolycus opened his mouth when Maximus grabbed him by the arm and took him aside. Maximus leaned in carefully to talk to Autolycus. "Autolycus, I think you may have something here."

Autolycus stared at him, then at Kate, then back to Maximus. "What, her? Working as a smith?"

"She's good, Autolycus. Under her shirt right now, she's wearing a chestplate that was able to stop an arrow shot from a crossbow."

Autolycus looked in disbelief at Kate and back to Maximus. "That can't be possible. Armor like that doesn't exist outside of Olympus, believe me, I know, I've looked. Something like that could never fit------"

"It does," Maximus answered. "I've seen her work, it's good. It's very good. She's a smith with some very radical ideas on the future of armor. You've got quite a few mystical items around here that could use her touch. Sounds like a good match to me."

Autolycus looked at him, then back at Kate, thinking about it. "You think she could whip up something for us?"

"Autolycus, if this woman can't take the materials of the Grail and put together armor capable of stopping any projectile and still light enough not to weigh you down, then I don't know one end of a sword from another."

Autolycus looked at him for a long moment, then at Kate. "Madame," he called out. "I have a proposition for you."

*****

It was quiet as the sun broke over the hills. The camp was quiet, only a couple of people around. Thus, only Kate was around as Maximus loaded up his horse.

"Autolycus is a.....well,  good man might be an exaggeration, but he is capable," Maximus was saying as he threw his knapsack onto the saddle. "And trust me, you'll love working with what he has to offer."

"I am intrigued by the challenge," Kate nodded. "I've already got plenty of ideas going with some of those blessed materials they gave me." She bit her lip and looked up at Maximus. "It'd be nice if you stayed."

Maximus shook his head. "I respect Autolycus, and that statement is so hysterical I have to say it again, I respect Autolycus and what he does and believes in. But I'm not in the mood for another crusade. At least, not right now. Besides, it's time you broke away from me anyway. You've won your first fight, that's usually a sign that you're ready. I really can't teach you much more than I already have. Autolycus's older, he has a few more tricks."

Kate looked at him as he mounted his horse. "I'll......I'll miss you."

"As will I with you," Maximus nodded. "Be well, Kate."

"Thank you," she said softly. "For everything. For helping me, teaching me, helping me live on. Thank you."

"Here's a last piece of advice," Maximus smiled as he leaned down to her. "After a few centuries, don't be afraid to break out in some new ways. You'd be amazed how versatile you can be, given enough time."

"I'll remember that," Kate smiled as Maximus took up the reins. With a final smile of goodbye, he rode off, leaving his student behind to design a new path for herself.

*****

Epilogue:

New York
1985

Maximus sipped at his coffee as her perused the daily paper. He shuffled in his seat at the outdoor caf,, his three-piece suit hanging well over himself. He glanced at his watch, making sure he would be on time for his investment meeting. He was hoping to move some stocks about from his personal proftfolio, prepare for his next identity change. He figured it was time to go back to Rome for a while and wanted to be prepared.

An item in the paper caught his eye and he stared at the photo that went with it. It appeared that Michael Jordan, the new talent that had been getting attention in the NBA, had just signed a major deal to endorse a major shoe company. What caught Maximus' attention was the photo of the shoe itself. Or more properly, the logo on it.

"Good for you, Kate," Maximus whispered as he saw the logo on the shoe and realized just who the real force behind Nike was. "Change the stars, indeed. Or make them."

The End

Home