A snippet of insanely obscure crossoverish strangeness featuring Das Nibelungenlied (Manuscript B) and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival.

In a Strange Land

by Sylvia

The walls were smooth and carefully tended, almost completely free of intrusive plantlife. The ledge in front of the moat was steeped at exactly the right angle, the moat itself filled with muddy water that no doubt held stakes. I'd never seen a castle designed quite like this one before - and I'd seen a great many castles. It was very defensible. The location, though - the middle of a forest - was, frankly, idiotic.

Finishing my circuit, I made mental note of details that could be modified to benefit some of Gunther's castles.

Volker and Patavrid were waiting where I had left them, hidden from sight of the sentries by the forest's canopy. Both looked tense, and Pat began to speak as soon as I rejoined them.

"It wasn't -" His voice broke and he paused to clear his throat. I pretended not to notice. "It wasn't here last month, I'm sure of it. I know it sounds impossible, but..."

"You're right. It wasn't here before." I inspected the castle for several moments. "Inform the king. It's Ortwin's turn to call his men to arms. We'll need carpenters, smiths, and miners, as well. If Volker and I are not back three days from now, we're not coming. In that event, I advise Gunther to put your father Danncward in charge."

"But -" He broke off when I looked at him, flushing bright crimson. "I'm sorry, uncle - it's just - can't Volker...?"

After several seconds of silence, he capitulated, his face burning with shame. "Forgive me, Lord Hagen. I'll convey your message and advice to the king."

"The wonders of a proper upbringing," Volker said as my nephew rode off. "At his age, you couldn't have dragged me kicking and screaming from such a splendid opportunity to get myself severely killed."

I raised an eyebrow. "At his age?"

"My dear Hagen, constancy is a virtue."

I rode out from the cover of the trees, stopping just short of the lowered drawbridge. The expected query came immediately.

"Lord Hagen of Tronje, first vassal to the king, would speak with the master of this castle," Volker shouted in response, reining in at my side.

The pause before the reply was brief. "King Anfortas extends his welcome to the Lord and his retainer and offers his hospitality."

"King!" Volker scoffed. "So that's where they all come from - they drop from the sky complete with castle and crown."

The gates were opened and we rode into the most quiet and orderly courtyard I had ever seen. Not a chicken or pig was in sight; the cobbles were immaculately clean, the only sound the low murmur of people conversing. The smithy was closed. There was no sign of activity around the main building's kitchen entrance, the stables, or any of the sheds.

Several pages and warriors were loitering about, eyeing us curiously. Nobody seemed to be doing anything. The garments everyone wore were not in the fashion of this land - not in the fashion of any other land I had ever seen or heard tell of, either.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Volker muttered under his breath.

A man in a richly embroidered tunic of intense green detached himself from a clutch of people of uncertain station, striding across the yard to hold up a tray with two cups and a jug of wine. I poured the wine, took a cup at random and waited for him to drink first.

"As chastelain of this castle, I bid you welcome, Lord," he said after he'd taken a swallow.

I nodded curtly and drank some of the wine to satisfy the ritual.

"Would you like to rest before you see the king? I will have wine and food brought and -"

"I am here to see Anfortas," I told him, dismounting and summoning one of the gawking pages with a jerk of the head. He came over obediently and took the horses.

The chastelain's friendly expression grew slightly strained, but he held onto the smile valiantly. "Certainly... If it would please you to accompany me."

Like the yard, the hall was too immaculate. It was also too warm, with fires blazing in no less than four fireplaces and countless braziers set up around the room. Not only the walls were hung with tapestries, tables and benches were draped with fabric, as well; there were even rugs, with cushions scattered on the larger ones. Unless it was a ploy to trip up visitors unaccustomed to the decor, someone had tried to turn the hall into a boudoir. Not to mention a fire hazard.

To the left of the entrance stood a figure I at first took to be the metal statue of a man. Looking closer, I realized that it was a hollow shell strapped onto a wooden frame.

"What the hell is that?" Volker muttered to me.

The chastelain, whose hearing was apparently exceptionally good, looked shocked. "It's the king's suit of armor, of course."

A warning glance made Volker snap his mouth shut on the remark he'd almost made. He was red-faced with the effort of containing his mirth by the time we reached the raised dais at the other end of the hall.

The sole occupant of the room, an elderly man with a close-cropped grey beard, was reclining on a low bed, propped into a half-sitting position by cushions. He was bundled in a fur cape, the matching hat fastened to a broad, jewel-studded coronet.

The lord of the castle inclined his head regally. "I bid you welcome. Please accept my hospitality for as long as it pleases you to stay. Please - sit down, make yourselves at home."

My acknowledging nod was brusque. "We accept your hospitality. I am here to speak for the king of the land. You have not asked leave to enter the realm, let alone build - or otherwise bring into being - a castle. State your intentions."

The sorcerer, if he was one, took his time answering, studying me intently. I returned his gaze coldly.

"To be frank, I am not certain," he said at last. "You are not quite like I thought you would be, but -" He broke off and shook his head.

The chastelain brought more wine, to be served in ostentatious golden goblets this time. When Anfortas poured, his hand shook slightly. I did not think his weakness was feigned; it could not be easy to construct or transport an entire castle, even by magical means.

Sipping thoughtfully from his goblet, Anfortas seemed to come to a decision. "Forgive my curiosity, noble Sirs, but would you reveal your identity?"

"This noble Sir is Lord Hagen of Tronje," Volker repeated with a long-suffering expression. The glance he shot at me eloquently deplored the lack of a minimum requirement of intelligence for kings. "And I am Volker of Alzey, a noble enough Sir and the best fiddler you're ever likely to meet. And who are you?"

"King Anfortas, of the line of Titurel," he said proudly, his gaze fixed on my face. When I failed to react, he sighed. "Lord Hagen, you wear a sword, but no true armor. It is not fitting that one of your station be clad in mail. It would give me great pleasure were you to accept mine as a gift... I am old and will never ride into battle or tournament again, and I see it will fit you."

I carefully kept my face free of expression, ignoring the stifled sound Volker made. "You do me too much honor," I said in a neutral tone. "Anfortas of the line of Titurel, I ask again. What do you want in Burgund?"

He started slightly. "Burgund?"

There was silence as we stared at each other. The chastelain hovered at his lord's elbow, looking anxious.

"This is most awkward," Anfortas said at length. "It seems there has been a mistake. The king of this land - his name is not Arthur?"

"Certainly not," I said frostily. "The king of this land is Gunther of Burgund, son of King Dancrad of Burgund."

He sighed. "I see. May I assume there is no realm ruled by Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, anywhere in the vicinity?"

"Not to my knowledge," I replied. "Though there are reports of several new incursions in the East. Is Arthur a Goth or Hun?"

"Uhm, no." He looked slightly embarassed. "I see this is a misunderstanding. Please, Lord Hagen, accept the armor as a token of my good will for your king, if not for yourself."

The chastelain leaned forward and whispered something into his lord's ear that caused the two of them to stare at Volker and me for almost a full minute. We stared back, waiting.

"Perchance you do not employ suits of armor in battle?"

Volker reached the limits of his endurance. "Indeed we do not, perchance because we do not suffer from a death wish. I don't know what kind of -"

"We do not," I told Anfortas, hastily interrupting his tirade. "But in the name of the king, I thank you for the offer. What kind of misunderstanding are we talking about?"

"We seem to have gotten somewhat... sidetracked." Anfortas looked discomfited. "It is very awkward - I do apologize. We will not trespass further - it was certainly never our intention. Please convey our apologies to King Gunther."

"You have no designs on his land or property?"

"I do not, I so swear by my honor. I am long past the age of conquering - in fact, I am at this moment looking for the relative that will succeed me. I thought, for a moment, that you were he." He pulled the cloak tighter about himself, looking old and tired. "Your father's name is definitely not Gahmuret?"

"Definitely not," I said firmly. Of course there was a very slight chance, but all in all I seriously doubted it.

"Well, there's no help for it. I have no wish to offend your king and will move the castle tomorrow, when I have rested. Perhaps I can prevail upon you to remain my guests until then - if only because it would be a pity should you leave without once having set eyes on the grail."

Volker and I exchanged glances.

"The grail?" I asked.

Anfortas sighed again, heavily. "Ah, well... Never mind."


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