The Black Knight follows on from The Knight of the White Fountain, even though it was written before it. It has similar themes, but includes loss and regret at the sacrifices the main character is forced to make.
The black knight — his armour dented by sword and axe, blackened by fire — thrust his bloody sword into the grass and earth. He slumped to the ground and sat leaning back against a silver birch. He watched as the gore oozed down the blade of his sword, the morning sun reflecting brightly on blood and blade alike. With practised fingers he unbuckled the straps holding his helm in place. He removed it, carefully, and let it fall to the ground before brushing back the mail coif. The cool summer’s breeze felt good against his chapped and blistered skin. He looked around the glade, absorbing its scents of earth, grass and dew; its sights of tree, leaf and grass: greens, silver, brown, the black of the earth and the gold of the sun. Its beauty was marred only by the distant screams of the dying and the caw of carrion. The morning’s work had been bloody, and done well.
“My lord,” he whispered, raising his face to the sky. Tears rolled down his cheeks, the discomfort as they grazed the web of scars he bore was familiar, welcome even.
“Forgive me,” he continued, his voice cracked and low, “for the sins I have committed against you in the name of my king.”
The young man — he thought himself a man — walked into the clearing with some caution. His armour gleamed, bright like the sword blade thrust into the ground, like the sun walking the earth. He was tall, like his father, proud; his steps even, practised.
“What news of the battle?” asked the black knight, not looking up.
He studied the old man’s head, noting the scars, the patchwork flesh in reds, purples, yellows.
“The remainder have surrendered. The field is ours.”
The black knight looked up, held his gaze. The brown eyes, the golden hair reminded him of the boy’s mother. The concerned expression was hers. Unbearable, he looked away, face screwed up into a grimace.
“Have them killed.”
“Father!” said the boy, his voice shrill.
“Do you question my orders?” asked the knight, head snapping back to face his son.
The boy looked down, stared intently at the last dew drops on the tips of the grass. He hoped his trembling wouldn’t show through to his armour. He looked up. Stared into the old man’s cold blue eyes and monstrous face.
“I will attend to it personally.”
When the screams of the dying started afresh — louder this time — the black knight let out a sob and buried his face against the warm metal of his gauntlet. The breeze against his neck reminded him of his wife, felt like her golden hair brushing against him. He could smell her: the soft hint of summer, her fragrance. He could almost hear her: the breeze whispered his name in her voice.
If he opened his eyes he knew he would see her.
“My lord,” he prayed again, “I ask not for the forgiveness of my sins, for they are many. I ask forgiveness for my son for he knows not the evil he does in my name. May you guide him where I have not. May your wisdom be his strength; your faith, his courage. And may our lady grant me the peace I do not deserve.”
His prayer over and the screams silenced he looked around the clearing. A starling sang in the branches opposite; he stared into its beady eye. It was going to be a beautiful day.