Gilles was one of the de Moreaux's, a family that boasted an impressive lineage of mighty Grail Knights, and for several generations Gilles' fore-bearers had both quested and succeeded in finding the Grail. Gilles' own journey had started when his brother Leon, now renowned as Leon the Brave, and Leon the Fair, after a scant two weeks of questing, had returned with a massive Troll's head the size of a cartwheel and the Blessing of the Lady.
Gilles set off to the Massif Orcal, accompanied by his elderly retainer Claude, a man who had served Gilles' family for many years and who had witnessed more than one of their number complete the Grail Quest. The young knight travelled through the Massif Orcal well into the dawn of winter, searching for an enemy worthy of the Lady's attention. Recently he had slain a particularly massive Orc, but had decided to leave its boulder of a head strapped to a tree for carrion, instead of taking it as a worthy trophy, much to Claude's confusion.
Gilles set up camp soon after, both to sharpen his sword and to collect his thoughts. That night he was awoken by Claude's frantic shouts, a ragged figure sprang from the bushes and lunged into the camp. As his companion desperately tried to find a weapon, Gilles arrived. His appearance was silent, marked only by a sudden rush of displaced air. Gone was the man, the youngster Claude had known since his swaddling days. Gone was the tiredness, the yearning. Gone was the humanity. All that remained of Sir Gilles now was the knight, the steel-clad killing machine. The dark stormcloud of his cloak whipped around him.
Despite the layers of metal which encased his form, Sir Gilles bounded forward with all the grace and poise of a big cat. With the hiss of steel slicing through air, his sword was in his hand as he leapt towards the newcomer. The knight hefted the length of his sword, flicking it upwards in an effortless arc that sent a wink of sunlight flashing along the edge. And for a moment, just one moment, it looked like the blade was about to guillotine down across the newcomer's shoulders. But of course it did not. For this wasn't a monster or bandit, but a desperate man.
The peasant told Gilles of the nearby village of Celliers, which was being terrorised by an unseen foe. Gilles and his companion then travelled to Celliers' inn and waited for the village elder. Whilst sitting within the packed tavern, the villagers were in awe of the armoured knight, he spoke to them respectfully, asking about their lives, their crops, their children and the first signs of the coming season. Even when the village elder arrived, Gilles bade him not to kneel before him, as he was both old and wise.
The elder informed Gilles about the recent disappearances, of people vanishing in the night. After much discussion the Questing Knight came to only one conclusion, it was a Vampire. That night Gilles camped out inside the village crypt, hoping that this was the monster that would both test his faith and end his quest.
That morning GIlles would be alerted to a horrific sight, outside the crypt the villagers were huddled around a grotesque corpse, mutilated and eaten beyond almost all recognition. The bite marks that littered the body appeared human, furthermore the villager who had at first led Gilles and Claude to the village had fled during the night. Gilles concluded that he must of been some form of Chaos Cultist or madman, and that it was in fact not a Vampire that he needed to seek. Gilles rode out to hunt down the vile cannibal, but the chances of finding the man were slim. Alone and unarmed the local areas beasts and dark races would make short work of him. This particular quest was at an end, however bittersweet it was.
When Gilles returned from his unsuccessful hunt, he discovered a village in chaos. The very man he hunted was found dead and mutilated... He was not the one responsible for the attacks.
Gilles managed to rally the fleeing villagers, leaving them under the command of Claude. He then rode out to a sacred pool he had passed in the forest days before, hoping to pray and clear his mind for the fight to come. Meanwhile, Claude had secretly followed his master into the forest, and watched as the young knight approached the sacred water. Kneeling at the pool in deep prayer, Gilles did not notice a disturbance in the water, or the figure that emerged. It was the Lady, there could be no doubt of that. As she glided through the pool, her skin glowed paler and more precious than Araby pearl. Her hair cascaded down onto her shoulders, framing a face both girlish and ancient, wise and forgiving. And her eyes sparkled and shone with a healing warmth of green fire.
The knight still sat slumped in prayer, lips moving silently even as his goddess approached. The light gossamer of her dresses flowed around her, shining with a ghostly luminescence against the dark backdrop of rotten forest. She had almost reached Sir Gilles before he looked up. He rose to his feet, then started as though stung. The Lady smiled at his astonishment, a beatific expression of love and compassion speeding slowly across her face, and he sank back down to his knees.
- "My Lady...' he whispered as she approached, arms opening and hands outstretched in benediction. Sir Gilles, head bowed, watched her glide through the last few feet of water and step onto the bank. He saw the water dripping from the hem of her dress, the white of it now speckled with the green of pond weed."
"My Lady...' he repeated breathlessly as she laid a perfect hand on his shoulder and stooped down to brush cold lips across his brow. She smiled again, revealing teeth as white and hard as bones and lowered her lips to kiss his neck."
"My Lady!' he said a third time, his voice suddenly full of fire as he sprang backwards. With an evil hiss of steel against leather, his sword was free of its scabbard, the burnished metal of the blade dull despite the divine light that surrounded the goddess, then suddenly, his sword backhanded across the smooth, cream-coloured flesh of her neck. It was a killing stroke. The blade spat out a bright plume of blood as it sawed effortlessly through the cords and tendons of her neck, almost decapitating her where she stood."
- —Gilles' faith is tested by the Vampiress.
The woman crumpled backwards into the mud and filth of the forest floor. The body lay on the marsh, ruined flesh that had once lived, once breathed... had once been a goddess. Now it was no more than meat cooling on the forest floor. And bad meat at that. The flowing silk of its hair withered and died, shrinking back into a malformed skull. Already the supple grace of her frame had collapsed into something ruined and hunched, the skeleton twisted out of shape by dark sorcery. Gilles stood palely over the body whilst his elderly companion shivered as the fair pigment of her skin darkened and mottled, turning into a sickly grey leather before his very eyes. Even worse was the thing's face. How those evil and wizened features could have resembled anything even the least bit fair was a mystery. Only the colour of the eyes remained unchanged, but the green now seemed rotten and cancerous and very cold.
The next morning Gilles rode out to Castle Moreaux, carrying the trophy that he had spent so long seeking. It was far smaller than the skull of the massive Orc he had slain many days earlier, but it was the creature that had tested his faith and will.
- 1: Hammer and Bolter: Faith (Short Story by Robert Earl)