In his younger years Gilles' questing had taken him all over the Old World and beyond. He had fought alongside Dwarfs against Orcs and Goblins in the World's Edge Mountains, done battle with Sartosan pirates, slaughtered Beastmen and Mutants within the forests. He had even driven an entire Skaven horde back into the heart of its foul, subterranean nest. Gilles had faithfully served the de Chambourt family as their champion for over four decades, and despite his ageing appearance of a middle-aged man, lined and white-whiskered, his sword skills knew no equal, and in the trials he could still keep several far younger opponents at bay.
Attack on the Shrine
It was during one of Sir Gilles' patrols into the local forest that he came across a horde of Beastmen desecrating a holy shrine. Invoking the name of the Lady, the Grail Knight's voice echoed throughout the forest clearing. The heads of the four beastmen at the entrance to the shrine turned to look at him, claws reaching for weapons. Drawing his own blade, Sir Gilles spurred his steed towards the hated abominations. Furious that they dared to tread on this holy ground. Though righteous anger burned in his heart, he did not let it consume nor cloud his mind, for he was a loyal servant of the Lady of the Lake. Nourished by the water of the holy chalice, his soul was as strong and sure as the steel in his mailed hand. These defilers would pay dearly for their trespass.
The first was dispatched before it even had chance to bring its sword to bear. The second's head, that of a half-starved dog, flew from its shoulders, crashing into the undergrowth. A goat-headed enemy came at him from the side, baring foam-flecked teeth, scrawny arm preparing to throw a crude spear. Sir Gilles tugged sharply at the reins, sinking his spurs deep into his mount, and manoeuvred it round. The warhorse, rocking forward onto sturdy forelegs, kicked sharply backwards, its iron-clad hooves snapping the beastman's neck. A spiked mace was swung vainly. Sir Gilles brought his shield up, absorbing the blow, then flicked his blade deftly out, its point sinking for a fatal second into the breast of his final foe. Hardly out of breath, Sir Gilles surveyed the carnage he had wrought. The only sound was the pounding of his horse's hooves as it pawed the blood-soaked ground.
Hearing the buzzing of flies coming from within the holy shrine, Sir Gilles knew that the battle was not yet over. Entering the chapel he bore witness to a horrific sight, rotten corpses of sheep and other animals lay within, the elderly priestess of the shrine had been flayed alive and mounted in the centre of the hall. Standing beside her, stroking the priestess's cheek in a mockery of affection, was a man. A towering and solid block of muscle, he was naked, blasphemous symbols daubed in blood on his body. Long, jet-black hair flowed over his taut shoulders. Eyes lightly closed, he continued to murmur foul homage to his Dark Gods. A blood-soaked, cruelly curved dagger lay at his feet.
With a cry, Sir Gilles launched himself at the fiend. Eyes snapping open, the man moved with unnatural speed. Sir Gilles found his blade biting into the marble floor. Recovering his balance, he turned to face his foe. The man, if man he truly was, was standing a little way off, close to the rotting carcasses, rocking from side to side on the balls of his feet like a wrestler preparing to fight. He made no attempt to reach for the dagger. His dark eyes flashed with venom. An amused smile played on his lips. Cautiously, Sir Gilles squared up to the man. He was naked, unarmed and yet seemed more sure of himself than any opponent he had ever faced. Sir Gilles brought his sword back, then struck, this time anticipating the man's agile dodge. The blade hit the man on the side just above his top rib, cutting him open.
With the Chaos worshipper now captured, Gilles was suddenly attacked from behind, grabbing his foe and throwing them to the ground, he discovered that it was none other than the Baron's own sister, a renowned beauty who had been corrupted by the Chaos worshipper, and taken as his bride.
Gilles returned to his barony with both prisoners in tow, drenched in the blood of the Beastmen he had slain. The old knight then had the unfortunate task of informing the Baron of his sister's ruin. The furious Baron had the Chaos worshipper flogged and tortured, but it did nothing to stop his sister's madness, she was slain whilst trying to escape her cell, but not before killing several of her guards with but a single, blasphemous word.
The Chaos worshipper then told the Baron that his entire household would be cursed, starting with his wife. As he had promised, the lady died when giving birth to the Baron's son. The Chaos worshipper later escaped his imprisonment, not to be seen again for many years.
Over twelve years passed, and Sir GIlles continued his sworn duty as his realm's champion. He was now also teaching the Baron's young son, often regaling the boy with tales of his days as a Questing Knight. Eventually GIlles decided to take the young heir on a hunting trip, to further hone his skills. Though he had relented, the baron was leaving nothing to chance. A retinue of men-at-arms and bowmen, as well as Gilles and his company of knights and squires, all accompanied the noblemen down into the forest. It was not long after they had entered the forest, that they were ambushed.
Horses whinnied as a volley of arrows came from the trees. Screams. The thud of arrowheads on shields. Pulling the reins of his steed in tight, Sir Gilles quickly assessed the situation. Arrows were coming from all around. They were surrounded. He spurred his house through the confusion of panicked noblemen, to the men-at-arms. At his word the bowmen scurried forward, taking up places behind the pikes. They fired a volley into the trees. Bestial cries of their victims rang out. Pulling his visor down, Gilles peered into the murk. The shadows moved; suggestions of horns and hooves, tentacles and twisted, Chaos-tainted limbs. This was no opportunist beastman raid, he realised. They were well organised. And there were hundreds of them.
Screaming in their foul, ululating tongue, the enemy burst forth from the trees. Wave after wave fell to the bow and the pike, but each time a gap was left. Under Gilles's command, the soldiers shored up, but the protective circle was getting ever smaller. And the arrows kept coming from all around. A clamour of clashing armour from one side of the circle announced another attack. The beastmen were concentrating on one area. They hacked at it, burst through, splintering shields and cleaving skulls, cutting down bowmen. They were in.
His horse rising onto its hind-legs, Gilles raised his sword skywards, gave a rallying cry and went to join the fray. An arrow found a gap in his mount's armour-plating, piercing its side. It fell sideways. Unable to free his foot from his stirrups in time, Gilles went with it. He heard the crunch as his leg dislocated. His sword snapped in two as it connected with a rock. Fighting against the pain, Gilles was unaware of the beastman, a stocky hunchback with the head of bull, standing over him with a club. Raining blow after blow against his armour, it beat him into the blackness.
The old knight awoke to find himself bound. He had been stripped of his armour and was lying on a slab of stone, his arms and legs pinioned by ropes. He was covered in bruises. Blood had dried over his head. His broken leg was numb and would not move. From a torch set on the wall, he could see that he was in some sort of cave. The vicious points of stalactites jutted out of the darkness above him. Gilles heard crying coming from within the room and saw that it was the Baron's son, it was then that a towering and muscular man strode into the cave, the Chaos worshipper from all those years before. The man grabbed the young boy and exited the cave, leaving Gilles frantically trying to loosen his bonds.
Sir Gilles untied the last of the bonds around his feet. He swung round and planted his good foot on the cave floor. Wincing, he limped up the rough slope in the direction the Witch had taken. Supporting himself on the limestone wall, he looked down into another chamber, beyond which could be seen a moonlit clearing in the forest. A bonfire was burning and the unholy mutterings of the beastmen could be heard. Somewhere, drums were being pounded.
Sir Gilles crept out of the cave, hoping that the night and the flickering shadows of the fire would provide enough cover to prevent his detection. It was then he heard the first scream. Squinting in the darkness, Sir Gilles could make out a terrible sight. With several flat-topped stones arranged around him in a circle, each with one of the baron's soldiers lying upon it, the witch stood in his robes, his knife in one hand, a severed head in the other. Blood trickled down his arm, glistening in the flames. He moved on to his next victim. Issuing a silent prayer to the Lady, Sir Gilles called upon his last reserves of strength and courage and took action. He deftly broke the neck of the nearest beastman, took its weapon - a rusted broadsword - and went to work.
Swinging rhythmically, lopping off heads, opening throats, he hobbled forward, screaming out the ancient battle-cries of his order. The beastmen, drunk and distracted by the blood-letting ceremony, were slow to react. And Sir Gilles had his righteous anger on his side. Wounded and old though he was, he was unstoppable.
A beastman came out of the darkness at Sir Gilles, its large hooves kicking up cinders and dead twigs. One arm was a lashing tentacle, the other a thick, almost-human arm, wielding a large club. Its head was that of a horse. Deep-set eyes glowed with rage. Its mouth was crowded with needle-sharp teeth. Expertly side-stepping Sir Gilles's first lunge, it retaliated with an unexpectedly swift upswing that caught the knight in the stomach. Winded, he staggered backwards. The beastman leapt at him. Beyond the horse-creature, Sir Gilles could see that the witch had not yet harmed the Baron's son. He stood instead by the tree, freeing the boy from his bonds, no doubt in preparation for moving him to one of the plinths. Blocking club with sword, Sir Gilles pulled his arm back ready to punch, but found it held fast by the tentacle. The beast dropped the club and gripped the knight's sword arm instead. Its strength was too great. Sir Gilles felt the blood fleeing his fingers. He dropped his weapon. A cracking noise. The beastman let its lower jaw dislocate like a snake's, the bone hanging loose in stretching skin. The teeth, coated in spittle, glistened in the flames. Sir Gilles tried to struggle but the beast held him fast. He prayed to the Lady. With a roar the horse-head sank its teeth into his neck and bit down hard. Then stopped.
The tentacle uncoiled itself, and the fingers around his sword arm went slack. The beastman pitched forward, a dead weight. Scrabbling back out from under the monstrosity, one hand to his neck to stem the flow of blood, Sir Gilles saw that an arrow protruded from the back of the creature's neck, lost in the mane. Not having time to question his good fortune, and losing blood fast, Sir Gilles drew on the last reserves of strength and pounded across to the witch. Gilles knocked him to the side, rolled over with him, pinned him to the ground. One punch destroyed his nose.
Choking on blood that flowed down his throat, the witch stared up at the Grail Knight. His eyes were wild with shock and, though Sir Gilles dare not think it, what looked like fear. Starting to lose consciousness, Sir Gilles brought his fist down once again. The witch went limp. More arrows flew out of the darkness, bringing beastmen down as they closed in on Sir Gilles. The others stopped to sniff the air. Clambering off the witch, Sir Gilles went to the baron's son. Felt for a pulse. The boy still lived. The beastmen started baying in alarm. A crashing of undergrowth. Horses' hooves. The clank of armour. The glint of weapons in the flames. The baron had arrived.
Mighty though he once was, Sir Gilles was near the end of his long lifespan, old and ageing, his wounds had begun to fester. Pale, drawn and confined to his bed, the Grail Knight's health had deteriorated since his ordeal. His leg had not set well and the bite mark, through which he had lost a lot of blood, was not healing satisfactorily.
With him was the baron's son, Gilles asked the young boy to help him up to the window to witness the Chaos worshipper's execution. He lifted the old retainer from his bed and supported him while he hobbled on his broken leg to the window. Sir Gilles rested himself against the sill, his breathing shallow, his thoughts scattered and vague. If this was a taste of old age, he said to himself, then he prayed that his end would not be long in coming. Tapestries lifted in the wind as the boy opened the windows. A low rumble of conversation drifted upwards from the crowd. The occasional cry of a hawker advertising his wares. The window was level with the top of the pyre, towards which the crippled figure was being marched. The gaoler tied the witch to the stake and made his way back down the steps.
Sir Gilles stared, unblinking, at his hated enemy. The monster strained forward from the stake, feebly struggling, the filth on his face streaked with tears. A distressed shrieking came from his empty mouth. He seemed more like a child than a man. As the Chaos worshipper burned, he began crying, and desperately repeating the word "father". That was when Gilles realised. Turning to the boy beside him the old knight was let go, he fell to the ground, his injuries slowly killing him. The "boy" explained that Sir Gilles was an old fool, that the ceremony he had performed had been completed before the knight could save the baron's son, for he had succeeded in switching bodies with him.
Sir Gilles, Grail Knight of the Lady, eventually perished from his wounds, tears in his eyes, huddled in silent prayer...
- 1: Warhammer: Son and Heir (Short Story)