This is a fun backstory to the character Vivien in the legend of King Arthur, in the YA style. It is a descent into madness tale. If you are studying medieval history or literature with middle or high school students, enjoy this exciting tale of intrigue and revenge.
by Faith Kazim
I wet the rag again and place it back on my brother’s forehead. His small six-year old body shivers violently but his forehead is fiery. I lean over and kiss him on the cheek. Outside, my mother fights back tears as she feeds the chickens. Both of us know the truth, but neither of us are going to say it first: my brother is going to die.
The apothecary straightens up and motions us over. “The boy is terribly ill.” he says. “He needs medicine. Very costly medicine.”
“How much will it cost?” my mother asks, a nearly imperceptible quiver in her voice.
The apothecary fiddles with his tools before answering. “15 shillings.”
My mother lets out a sob. I don’t hear what he says next, because I am running out of the room, out of the yard. I wish I could run off the world.
I run my fingers through my hair in an attempt to untangle it. The sun throws down a beam of light, and my curls bounce it back. I am able to smile in spite of my grief for my brother. I know that God’s Word says we should not be proud of our appearances. But I am proud. I am very proud. My mother once said that my hair was the color of gold when, for one second on the anvil, it burns red.
My hair as untangled as I have patience for, I wash my face and brush a few stray feathers off my apron.
The castle towers over my head as I walk through the gate. As much as it hurts my pride, I am here to supplicate Sir Percival Clement, lord of the castle, to help us obtain the costly medicine that may save my brother’s life.
Sir Clement snorts. “15 shillings? Are you mad, girl? I would be out of my senses to provide a young peasant girl with that amount of money.”
My heart sinks. What was I expecting? What reason would a knight have to give money to a peasant with no way of paying it back? Sir Clement has already turned his back. I turn to leave, but am stopped by a memory that grasps me by the ear and shakes me violently. My little brother, valiantly protecting me from a harmless garden snake, at three years old. He was so certain that my life was in danger, that he threw himself in front of me, ready to take the blow. Ready to give his life for me.
I turn back to Sir Percival, resolute. “My lord?” The intensity in my voice surprises me. Sir Percival turns back to face me. He has had enough of this conversation, but I have not. “Sir Percival. I would not expect you to simply give money away. and I am prepared to work for it.”
“I have no need of another servant.” He dismisses me again. But I will not be turned away.
“I can do more than be a servant.” I counter.
He raises an eyebrow. “Is that right?” he inquires. He mocks me.
“Are you quite sure?”
I look him directly in the eyes. “Quite.”
He looks at me for a few seconds before motioning to the others in the room. “Leave us.” He commands. This unsettles me. All but two men leave. Sir Percival must notice my discomfort.
“I apologize,” he says. “but discretion is necessary. There are those in this castle whose allegiance I do not hold entirely.”
Interesting. This bears remembering. There may come a time in which I shall need the assistance of one who does not support Sir Percival’s intentions.
“What makes you think that I am trustworthy?” I question. Bold, yes, but I am now confident.
He smirks. “I don’t. But I am confident that the word of a knight would greatly outweigh the word of a peasant.”
“Well,” I say. “What is this job that requires such secrecy?”
“A day’s ride from this castle lies the Forest of Adventure. It is said that no one enters this Forest without some adventure befalling him. And close by, many have seen a land of enchantment. There is a fountain there, within which is an opal vial. Retrieve the vial for me,” he concludes. “And I will in turn provide you with the medicine your brother needs.”
This makes no sense. I suspect something else is at play here.
“Why would you not retrieve this vial yourself?” I question. “Or at the very least, send one of your men to?”
“I have been advised by those knowledgeable of such things that I would be unable to, due to certain specific enchantments. Enchantments that would not affect you. Which is why I will reward you for it.”
I have already decided that I will do it, but there is one more thing I want to know. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I begin. “What does this vial contain? What properties does it hold?”
Interesting. This question makes him uncomfortable. He quickly exchanges a nervous look with one of the men, but I see it. He shifts in his seat. “It’s nothing, really.” He assures me. “Just a magical keepsake I wish to possess.”
“Very well then.” I decide. “I will bring you this enchanted vial in return for the medicine. But I will require a horse.” I add.
“A horse?” he asks, bemused.
“Precisely.” I return. “If you wish to have the vial in any short amount of time, then I will need a horse to quickly get to the forest, and then to find this enchanted fountain.”
“Fair enough.” He concedes. “I’ll lend you a horse.”
I have been riding through the Forest of Adventure for nigh an hour, and I have yet to run into a single adventure. I am beginning to think that it was misnamed. Or perhaps adventures only happen to knights.
I should be nearing the fountain, at least if the directions I was given by that strange hermit are correct. I want to know what the true value of this enchanted vial is. And I do not believe Sir Percival’s claim for one moment. It must be worth something, if he is willing to pay me to find it.
Something gleams up ahead. I spur my horse forward, and we enter a verdant valley covered with moss. A glistening fountain lies tucked away behind a cluster of angel oaks, the branches twisting and twining above to shelter it. I dismount and approach the fountain. In the middle of the fountain, where the arcs of water stream from, sits the vial. Will I have to wade through the water to get it?
“For what purpose are you here?” a voice calls out.
I whip around, looking for the source of the voice. Across the fountain stands a woman swathed in cloth that looks as if it was woven from moss. As she approaches, I see she is no mortal, for her skin is a light hue of green. Her hair drapes around her shoulders as do the leaves of a weeping willow, and her belt looks as of tree bark.
“Who are you?” I question.
“I am the Fae guardian of this valley.” Some would describe her voice as rough and jagged, but it has a beauty to it that harmonizes with her appearance perfectly. “You have come here for the vial. To claim it, you must want it not for evil purposes, but another’s good. If you mean to do harm with it, you will be unable to approach it.”
This should not be a problem, as I am trying to save my brother’s life. “I do not seek it for myself.” I return.
She looks carefully at me before stepping back. “If your motives are truly selfless, approach the fountain and claim the vial.”
I nervously approach the fountain. This Fae’s perceptive gaze unsettles me. What will happen if the fountain decides my cause is not worthy? I step to the edge of the fountain. With a sweeping sound, the streams of water rise above the trees, and then disperse. Behind me, the Fae nods slightly. I step into the now dry fountain, make my way to the center pedestal, and grasp the opal vial. I am now sure that it holds some powerful enchantment for it to be so safeguarded.
Thrilled, I step out of the fountain and walk back to where the Fae stands.
“What does this vial hold?” I inquire, turning it over in my hands. The vial is carved of a large opal, with delicate scrolls and designs engraved along it. Inside, just visible, is a shimmering fluid of a vibrant sapphire color.
The Fae seems surprised by my ignorance. “This vial contains a Fae poison so potent that but a few drops will descend even the strongest warrior into a sleep-like death lasting for eternity.”
I gape at her. What Fae would be mad enough to entrust anyone, let alone a mortal with such a fatal potion? It is doubtful that Sir Percival has any positive designs for its use, but that is none of my concern and out of my control.
I thank the Willow Fae and mount my horse. It is time to bring the vial back and save my brother.
This time, I am not turned away, but immediately ushered into a private room. Soon after, Sir Percival enters with an old, shriveled man and two of his guards.
“Vivien!” He is cheerful today. “Welcome! How was your journey?”
“Fine, thank you.” I have no wish for small talk. I am leaving the moment I have the medicine. “Do you have the medicine?”
“Straight to business, is it?” he chuckles. “Very well. You secured the vial?”
I nod and bring it out, wrapped in a rag. He takes it and unwraps it. His eyes go bright when he sees the vial.
“Finally.” He breathes. He reverently hands it to the old man who turns it over and inspects it skillfully. The old man nods and hands it back.
“It is genuine.” He rasps. Sir Percival fondles the vial lovingly. This is far too peculiar for my comfort.
“Sir Percival,” I remind him. “I have brought you the vial. It is now your turn to give me the medicine. I must leave for my house directly.”
A crafty look comes over his face, and my heart drops. What a fool I am.
“Thank you for bringing me my vial, Vivien. I would like you to leave now.” He smiles slyly.
I try to collect my thoughts. “My lord, we had an agreement. The vial for the medicine.” I remind him.
He smirks. “Did we? You know, I have quite the faulty memory. Perhaps you have it written somewhere, or a witness to the transaction, to refresh my memory?”
He mocks me. Furious, I lunge for the vial, but he holds it away.
He laughs and motions to the two guards. “Would you please escort this madwoman out of my castle?”
I scream at him as they hoist me up and drag me out of the room. “You cannot betray me in this way!” I shriek. “My brother will die!” They carry me through the castle, and leave me outside the castle wall. I sob in grief. Because of my naivety and foolishness, any hope for my brother is now gone. I will never trust anyone again. No one deserves my trust.
My brother dies two days later. He is buried, and my mother and I weep. My heart is burning up, soon it will be nothing but a heavy, dull stone. I am done with love.
I hear of a position open at the court of Queen Morgana le Fay. The Queen is in need of a new handmaiden. With my looks, I believe I will receive the position. I have arranged for a neighboring family to keep an eye on my mother.
There is only one more errand I have to complete, one thing tying me to my old life.
I make my way to the legendary castle of Sir Percival Clement. He was correct in saying that he did not hold the allegiance of all in his castle. I have easily befriended one. I slip into the courtyard. No one notices me. Why should they? I am a simple peasant girl, of no account. I make my way to the back kitchens. A mug of beer is tucked back behind the door. Leaning over, I draw out a small stone jug. I may have been naïve, but I was not naïve enough to give Percival the entire vial. The fire in my heart still burns with hate. I pour the poison drop by drop into the mug. The sapphire swirls and mixes with the beer. It’s beautiful. My new friend in the castle will ensure it ends up the right hands.
I leave the courtyard. I am done with this place forever. As I walk, my mind goes back to the castle. I see them set the poison before noble Pericles. He is laughing over some bawdy jest with his men. He lifts the mug to replenish his thirst. The flames of my hate roar as he swallows. I hope he realizes what has happened. I hope he realizes who has done this to him. Furiously, I hope he feels the fear of death creeping over him as my brother did. And as he slumps over and the mug slips from his hands and smashes on the ground, I laugh deliciously. My heart is stone.
The many versions of the legend of King Arthur has been tantalizing subject for writers for centuries. We hope you enjoy this small contribution!
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