The Ethiopian trumpeters sounded a blast in celebration of the jousting tournament held at Edinburgh Castle. Flags of all shapes and colours danced in the wind. The blazing silks of the nobility contrasted the sober garb of the common people who stood in the wings, waiting in eager anticipation. The Lists were peppered with wandering minstrels and jugglers, moving around in noisy flourish, and the grandstand was packed with nobles and beautifully dressed women. In the centre box above the lists sat Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and daughter of Henry Tudor of England. She was attended to by her African servant, Eleanor, and accompanied by Dunbar, the Earl of Orkney. The King of Scots was nowhere to be found.
The crowd's attention was drawn to the Herald who was officiating the tournament.
'By order of His Majesty King James of Scots', he began, 'the tournament of knights led by the Portuguese knight, Alfonso, representing the kingdoms of Spain, Sicily and Denmark shall commence. Any newcomer wishing to challenge one of these knights must strike their shield with the butt of their lance as a friendly gesture. The champion will have the honour of choosing the Queen of Love and Beauty, and will be presented with a kiss by the chosen lady. Who will be the first challenger?'
There was a moment of murmuring amongst the crowd as they looked around, wandering who would be brave even to challenge these noble knights.
The sound of the herald's trumpet drew the audience's attention to the solitary figure of a strange knight in black armour riding a beautiful black horse with great ease. His helmet concealed his identity, and he trotted along almost like a lamb to the slaughter. He was cloaked in mystery, promising adventure for the crowd. He was a doomed knight, but yet at the same time there was something triumphant in his approach.
He moved from a trot to a canter, and then progressed to a gallop as he challenged all of the knights by searing their coat of arms.
A cry of astonishment roared from the crowd. Who was this black knight?
The Herald flashed a glance at the five knights and then turned to the black knight.
'Who are you sir Knight that you should throw your life away so easily?' the Herald asked.
'My name is not important', the black knight replied. 'My allegiance is to James, King of Scots. And my mission is to demonstrate equality in the royal courts.'
The Herald exchanged a look with Alfonso, and then turned his attention back to the black knight.
'Then pray that you find it in heaven, sir knight', he replied. 'For you will not live long enough to find it here.'
The black knight surveyed his opponents and then wheeled round to his end of the lists.
The courtyard was sixty paces long and forty paces broad with a wooden barrier down the centre to separate the jousting knights
The trumpets signalled the first opponent. It was Sancho, the Spanish knight.
Both knights were handed their twelve-foot long lances, but only Sancho's one carried a metal coronet at the end.
The tournament official looked at both knights, and then dropped his flag.
The crowd rose to their feet as force and flesh hurtled towards each other. The two knights rode at full gallop towards each other, bearing their lances with great steadiness of aim. The black knight lowered his lance and struck the helmet of his opponent, unseating him from his horse. The crowd cheered at this initial victory, becoming more and more intrigued by this mysterious knight.
The herald's trumpet blew amidst the mumble of the crowd.
'The next joust will be between the Sicilian knight, Frederick and the knight with no name', he announced.
The black knight stayed at his end of the lists, steadying his lance and observing his next opponent.
The excitement was immense.
The official dropped his flag and the two combatants charged towards each other.
Anticipating that the black knight would lower his lance before striking, Frederick kept his lance low as well. Lulling the Sicilian knight into a false sense of security, the black knight kept his lance centred and caught his opponent squarely in the chest, hurling him from his saddle as though he were struck by a thunderbolt.
The cheer from the crowd thundered out. The black knight was their hero. He was an extension of them: their chosen representative on the jousting field, a man of the people.
The herald turned to look at Alfonso. His face was dark with fury, highlighted by his black hair and raven eyes.
The herald returned his attention to the crowd.
'The next joust will be between the Danish knight, Gustav, and the knight who has no name but rides in black', he announced.
The black knight cantered back to his end of the list and surveyed his next opponent.
The murmuring in the crowd began to decline as the official brought down his flag.
The two knights advanced towards each other, eating up the ground beneath them. The strain of steel could be heard as the black knight's lance caught Gustav's shield, unseating him in the process, forcing the Danish knight to the ground.
A yell of excitement came from the crowd. It was too good to be true. The black knight was the voice of the people, challenging the best that the establishment had to offer.
The herald looked nervously at Alfonso who was now filled with rage. Their eyes met in silent rapport, and then the herald turned to face the black knight.
'Sir knight', the herald began. 'It is your privilege to choose amongst the fair ladies gathered here who shall be the queen of love and beauty.'
He placed a gold laurel crown on the point of the knight's lance, and watched him survey the faces in the crowd.
They were a homogenous mix of fair-skinned faces, some trying to avoid his gaze, others looking at him in eager anticipation. The noble women wanted nothing to do with this wild knight, but the common women gleamed at him as though he were a god. But out of all of them, only one face stood out in the crowd: a blackamoor by the name of Ellen, an attendant to the king. She was dressed in a gown of damask flowered with gold taffeta, exaggerating the complexion of her dark skin. She was a fragile, vulnerable woman who could understand the English language even though she couldn't speak it.
The black knight tipped his lance towards her, and held it there, waiting for her to respond.
She paused for a moment, juxtaposed between confusion and fear. She then placed the crown on her head, and her eyes crinkled in a slight smile.
He saluted her with his lance held high, wheeled around and then galloped back to his end of the list.
'The finale joust will be between the Portuguese knight, Alfonso, and the black knight with no name', the herald announced.
Alfonso stood at his end of the list with his arms outstretched as his squires strapped his armour onto him. He watched the black knight with keen interest, trying to take in the full measure of the man. He was then mounted onto his red tailed Portuguese horse and handed a fresh lance by his squire. Both knights were now ready.
A blast of the horn ushered in a blanket of silence.
The official took one look at Alfonso, another at the black knight and then lowered his flag.
The jousting knights galloped towards each other and their weapons connected as they collided violently in the centre. The black knight rolled to the side of his horse, but then righted himself without stopping his forward momentum.
'Sir knights', the herald called out. 'I urge you to choose between axe or mace.'
The squires rushed out with an axe and a mace.
The sharpness of Alfonso's horse's turn-of-foot enabled him to grab hold of the mace first, leaving the axe for the black knight. The strain of steel against steel could be heard as Alfonso's mace clashed with the black knight's mace.
Alfonso wheeled around in a full circle and then swung the mace in a loop, knocking the black knight clear off his horse.
A yell of fear came from the crowd, frightened that their hero may be defeated.
The black knight leapt to his feet, his shield way out of reach and his axe his only defence.
Alfonso sat in his saddle for a while, staring at his prey behind his visor, enjoying the moment. He spurred his horse into a trot, accelerated to a canter, and progressed to a gallop, swinging his mace in a circle.
The black knight scrutinized the revolutions of the mace, calculating in his mind when it would be low enough to trap it under his axe. The horse's forward motion gathered momentum, increasing in speed with the swell of his tenacity of purpose. A moment later, Alfonso swung his mace, but the black knight intercepted it, yanking him right out of his saddle and pulling him off his horse.
Now, the two knights were equal.
Not giving himself any time to recover, Alfonso got to his feet swiftly and swung at his opponent. The black knight ducked, knocked him off his feet with the butt of his axe, and raised it in the air for the final onslaught as he stood over his victim.
'Sir knight', the herald interjected. 'We proclaim you the champion of this tournament.'
As if suspended in time and space, the black knight held his axe in mid-air, remembering the rules of the tournament: strike, but do not thrust. This was a dangerous sport, and the excitement of the occasion almost got the better of him.
There was a moment's hesitation, and then eventually, his hands came down by his side.
The trumpets blared triumphantly, communicating with the drummers as the black knight dropped his axe in resignation. The drumbeat grew louder, faster, pounding towards ecstasy in the background.
The black knight pulled off his helmet, revealing himself as James lV, King of Scots. He walked over to the lists, searching for Ellen in the crowd. She emerged voluntarily with the laurel crown on her head, glistening beautifully against her Ebony skin. She was truly the queen of beauty.
He enveloped her in his arms, and turned towards the crowd as the rhythm of the drums swelled to a crescendo.
'Let it be known throughout all of Scotland', he began, 'that I, King James of Scots, do believe in the equality of the human race. And that beauty can be found in any culture, any race, any colour.' He turned to face Ellen. 'Let the people of Scotland know, that my personal attendant, Ellen, is the queen of love…and beauty.'
He looked at her as the rise of the drumbeats peaked, and then placed his mouth upon her soft lips, lingering in a long, tender kiss.
Copyright © Jason Young