The feast ended slowly. Ceramics clinked, benches creaked on the stone floors, and knives were wiped and sheathed; the talking died down as people left the hall in twos and threes. Some went back to their rooms along torch-lit halls to prepare for evensong, and others went to finish their day's work and have a surreptitious beaker or two, or three, of wine mixed with honey. The table on the dais, usually the first to empty, was hushed and silent, the day having been long for all of them--cold and difficult winter days caught in closed spaces do not foster chivalry in the best of men.
The King leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Perhaps he was praying, or maybe only hoping, or maybe he was merely more exhausted than he had been willing to show at the meal itself. The Queen was saying farewell to the Knight of the Golden Wren, so old and gray as he walked in perfect dignity to pray for his Order before evensong. The riddler was led off to find a place to sleep, and then only the royal family, several guests, and their attendants remained.
A few more logs were put on the fire in the back of the hall, and then at a word from the King, they stood and made their way to form a semi-circle around the fire. In such a way did the King begin to speak, recounting the deeds of the past month and declaring the purpose of their meeting.
" . . . and a reward is due, a request from the champion ought to be granted. We are gathered to hear what this request may be, and how it may be fulfilled to the honor of the people. Let the champion speak."
The young man squared his shoulders and spoke.
"Long did I ponder what boon I might ask of thee, and in the wondering did I fathom how vulnerable thou hast made thyself to those whom you honor. Thanks must doubly be in order, and the price thou hast set upon the honor of thy family--thy people--that care must be taken to find a suitable reward I return for what seems a small deed, to me. I have tried to think well. I would honor the love of thy family with my request--the good lady to whom I owe the honor of my reward I ask to pray at the vigil of my knighthood, that will be in one year's time, from the first day of the new year."
The King, afraid that the young man might have asked a place in the court for which he was not prepared, or a horse that he might ride errant, or at worst a vulgar kiss (all of which he could have rightly asked), was relieved and pleased by the discretion of the youth.
"You are a true son of your father! As thou hast a right to thy request, so we shall honor it. Thy vigil she shall attend, and pray therewith. May the day of thy knighting come soon that may we all prove your worth in praise and thanks, for verily thy grace and prowesse has shown thee worthy of knighthood yet again."
They stepped forward in front of the fire and grasped hands. A cup was brought of wine that all might drink in witness and agreement, and then the meeting broke up. It would be an early morning and there was much work to do yet.