The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 2

2

 

Later that night, she stood with Shy in a library. Count Jonsen held a book in his hand. He was tall, dark-haired, well-dressed, and well-groomed. Everything a count should be. He wore a heavy cloak—the room was cold with the autumn evening—and purple velvets. He set the book down, took a breath, then sat. He looked at them.

“All dead?” he asked.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir.” Her hair was matted and her clothes torn. The scar on her face was no longer bleeding but had turned an awful red color. Her elven blood was working on it. She had not bothered to change. Shy stood beside her in the same condition.

He turned and sat down at a small table. He lifted a silver cover and looked at the meal beneath it. Lamb, steamed vegetables, bread. He began carving the lamb. “And you think it was a trap?”

“I know it was a trap, sir,” she told him.

He finished with the knife and picked up his fork, pausing before he ate. “How do you know?”

She felt the scar on her cheek burn. Shy stitched it well enough, but the pain was still sharp. “Sir,” she told him, “no one knew which way we were traveling. From which way we were to approach the forest.”

“The bandits did,” Count Jonsen said. He nodded, slowly understanding.

She nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

He took a bite of the lamb and smiled. Then, he said, “That indicates someone in this household overheard my orders and your plans.” He shook his head. “Household intrigue. I don’t like it.”

Tamyn felt her stomach grumble. Watching Jonsen eat after days of dried fruit and meat. She heard a sound come from Shy’s belly.

“Oh, forgive me,” Jonsen said. “You must be famished.” He turned to a servant. “Please, fetch two more plates.”

The servant nodded and turned away. Jonsen picked up a goblet of wine. “Now,” he said. “How will we unveil this… spy in my household?”

“Fire the servants,” Tamyn said.

Jonsen made a sour face. “All of them?”

She nodded. “All of them.”

He shook his head. “Nonsense,” he said. “Surely, there is a way to do this that doesn’t involve such drastic measures.”

“If I may, sir?” Shy asked.

The count nodded and Shy continued.

“Tamyn and I have seen this before. Your brothers want your title. And if they’re willing to kill twelve men to get at you, they’re willing to kill you.”

The count laughed. “Nonsense,” he said. “Killing hired mercenaries is one thing, but my brothers would never…”

He saw the looks on Tamyn and Shy’s faces.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir. We are.”

The count thought about that while he sipped his wine. He made a face, looking at the cup. “Bitter,” he said. He looked at a servant. “Fetch me another bottle. This one has gone bad.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. There was panic in his eyes. Both of them rushed forward. Shy knocked the glass from the count’s hand. Tamyn screamed at the servant.

“Water!” she said. “Fetch water! Now!”

The servant’s eyes grew wide and confused.

“Now!” she shouted again.

The servant rushed out.

“What is going…” the count tried to speak, but Tamyn held his jaw.

“Stay still!” she said. Then, she looked at Shy. “Hold him!”

Shy grabbed the count’s hands and held them down to the chair. “I’m sorry, sir.”

The count looked at her. “What treason is this?” he shouted.

“Shut up,” she said. Then, she pulled off her muddy gloves and shoved two fingers down the count’s throat.

He choked an objection. Tamyn kept his jaws apart with her left hand, reaching with her right. Then, she heard the sound she was reaching for. The count’s body buckled and she withdrew her fingers.

The count vomited on the table, his body wrenching. Both Tamyn and Shy held him. Then, when he was finally still, they eased their grip.

“What…” the count started. “What…”

Shy sniffed the bottle, then nodded at Tamyn.

“Arsenic,” she told the count. “In your wine.”

The count shook his head. His body was still trembling as he sat in the chair. His hands shaking. “Madness,” he said. “Complete and utter madness.”

The servant returned then, holding a pitcher of water. Shy took it and gave it to the count. “Drink this,” he said. “All of it.”

The count looked at Shy like he was mad. “Water?”

Tamyn nodded. “All of it.”

He looked at the pitcher, then at them. He drank. He drank until the pitcher was empty. Then, he put the pitcher on the library table.

“Someone is trying to kill me,” he said.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes. They used the bandits to draw us away, then tried to poison you.”

The count stood up for a moment, swaying. Tamyn and Shy held him. He shook them off.

“This is enough,” he said. “I am retiring my chair in the Senate.” He stepped over to a bookshelf, barely able to hold himself up. “Retiring. I will give my title to one of my brothers.”

Tamyn shook her head. “No, sir. You cannot do that. This is what they want you to…”

The count held up his hand. “The two of you will be well compensated, but I have no further need of you.” He waved at them. “Go see my clerk. He will pay you for your service to me.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. He grinned, slightly. She looked back at the count, knowing there was no convincing him.

“Thank you for saving my life,” the count said. “But your services are no longer needed.”

The count looked at the servant. “Show them out.”

The servant stepped forward, gesturing toward the library door. Tamyn and Shy walked out.

Once they were out the door and in the corridor, she told Shy, “He will be dead in a week.”

Shy shook his head. “A silver says less.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 1

Part One

Shy and Tam

 

1

Tamyn Taval looked at the dead man in front of her, his empty eyes glaring into hers. A moment ago he was alive, but now, he was like a doll, silently staring. The arrow in his throat was meant for her. It skimmed by her cheek, ripping skin.

She ducked, fell from her horse and hit the ground hard. Her shoulder disagreed with that tactic. She rolled and found cover under a fallen tree. From under the tree, she looked back and saw who the arrow had struck. It was Jenns. The big man was holding his throat, the arrow sticking out between his fingers. That was when the second arrow struck him in the chest. He fell from his horse, his neck making that sick sound of breaking bones. He fell right in front of her, his eyes looking at her. His dead doll eyes.

It was less than a breath ago, but everything moved so slowly. She saw more arrows hit the other riders. They fell, too. She heard the screams of the dying all around her. Seven men and five women. The men and women of Count Jonsen’s Courage.

She looked to the woods, trying to find her attackers, but the forest hid them from her. Her cheek began to ache. She touched it, saw blood on her fingertips, and for a moment, she was surprised. She had forgotten the arrow. She tasted something bitter on her tongue. Then, someone whispered her name.

“Tamyn,” the voice said. She looked up and away from the dead man.

“Over here!” the voice whispered.

She found it. Just beyond the body, hidden well in the green. A small man with dark hair and blue eyes who looked like he could squeeze through a beer bottle if he had to. It was Shyver.

“Shy?” she asked.

He nodded. For some reason, she marked that he had no arrows in his throat or in his chest. For years, she would remember this moment, not understanding why.

“Are you hurt?” Shy asked, keeping his voice low.

Tamyn shook her head, not saying anything.

“They were waiting for us,” he said. An arrow flew by, but he did not need to dodge. It wasn’t for him.

She nodded. “Agreed.” Tamyn took a breath. Her thoughts were coming back to her now. “We will deal with that later,” she told him. “We need to get out of here.”

“Who is left?” Shy asked.

She dared a look around. Tamyn saw many bodies, none of them moving. She looked back at him. “Just us.”

“You’re right,” he said. “We need to get out of here.”

Tamyn thought about what he said. They were waiting for us.

She looked at Shy. “Whoever gave us up is also after the count.”

Shy didn’t understand for a moment, then his eyes showed her that he did. “Pull us away from him,” he said.

She nodded. “We have to get back to the castle.”

As she spoke, three more arrows hit the tree she hid behind.

“That is going to be more difficult than it sounds,” Shy told her.

Tamyn looked around. Between her fallen tree and Shy there was only open ground. She could run, but she would be an easy target. She thought for a moment.

She looked for a horse. None within reach. Then, she looked at the dead man. She saw nothing to help her.

Tamyn shouted to Shyven. “Do you have any oil?”

He nodded, ducking back into the green. He came back with an oil pouch. “Here!” he shouted, tossing it to her. She caught it and worked off the top.

She could hear movement in the woods. They were closing in.

Keeping close to the ground, she poured the oil over the fallen tree. As she did, Tamyn thought, My mother would never forgive me for this.

Then, she took out her smoking kit. She pulled out one of the black matches and struck it against the box. Nothing.

More movement. They were closer.

She struck it again. This time, it caught. She tossed the match on the tree and the oil caught, erupting into flames.

And she ran.

She kept low, hoping the fire would cover her movement. She ran fast, pushing against time. Then, when she reached Shy’s tree, she jumped. A swarm of arrows flew by her. She heard shouting from the archers. She looked at Shy and he smiled.

“Lucky,” he told her. “As usual.”

She touched her cheek. “Close this time.”

“We are near Invir Falls,” he said. “We can get horses at the way station there.”

More arrows flew by them, but the archers were just shooting blind now. She looked back at the bodies she was leaving behind. Then, she looked at Shy. “They’re all…”

He shook his head. “We won’t do Count Jonsen any good if we join them,” he said.

She nodded and turned away from the woods. Shy ducked down, running low. She was right behind him.

A few miles down the road, they found the Invir Falls way station. The guard recognized them from when they passed earlier. His name was Reg. Tamyn remembered thinking he was too young to be a guard when she first saw him. That was barely an hour ago. Seemed like a year ago.

“You’re a sight!” Reg shouted out to them. He ran, bringing a flask of water. Tamyn took it and drank deep. Then, she gave it to Shy.

“We need your horses,” she told Reg.

He nodded. “Of course. Anything for the count’s courage!” He ran off to the stable, grabbing saddles and preparing the horses.

She looked at Shy. “I’m going to fix this,” she said, pointing at her cheek. Shy nodded and drank more water.

The way station was small and unequipped. A building with two rooms and a sorry excuse for a stable. They were lucky there were any horses at all. She walked inside, found a washing basin and a mirror. She threw off her backpack and got her sewing kit out. She looked at her face in the mirror.

She saw her father’s brown hair fall down over brown eyes, all covered in dirt and blood. Human hair, human eyes. From under that hair, she saw her mother’s features: high cheekbones and elven ears.

She washed the blood and dirt off her face. When she looked back in the mirror, she saw Shy standing behind her. He was shorter than her, but only a little. Her mother’s blood again. He smiled when their eyes met in the mirror.

“You need help with that?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes.” Her voice made her sound relieved.

“You never were any good with blood,” he told her.

“I know.”

He took the needle and thread from her thin fingers. His were thick and strong, covered with callouses.

“So why do this?” he asked. He threaded the needle.

She sat down and braced herself. “All the years we’ve known each other,” she told him, “and you’ve never asked me that.”

Shy leaned forward and pinched her skin together. He looked her in the eyes. “You should be drunk for this,” he said.

“One or two sips would do it,” she told him, smiling.

He laughed. “Thin elven blood.”

“Half-elven,” she corrected him.

He smiled. “I know.” Then, he stopped smiling. “Hold still,” he said.

She clenched her fingers against the bench and clenched her teeth together.

He frowned. “This isn’t the first time we’ve done this.”

She sighed. “Always feels like it.”

The needle pierced her skin and she winced.

“So,” he asked again. “Why do you do this?”

“You should be asking why do we do this.”

“All right,” he said. “Why do we do this?”

“The coin,” she said.

He shook his head. “More money doing other things.”

“It’s an honest living.”

She winced again and he put more water on the wound, cleaning away the blood. “Stay still.”

“Trying,” she said.

He put the needle through her skin and pulled it back out. “You still haven’t answered me.”

“I’ve given you answers,” she said. “You just haven’t liked them.” She winced. He tied off a knot.

“Done,” he said. “As well as can be expected considering the circumstances.”

She looked in the mirror. A bloody mess.

“Not your first scar,” Shy said.

She touched it. “Are the horses ready?”

He looked out the door. “Looks like it.”

She stood up. “Then let’s go. The count needs us.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Prelude

Back when I was working on Wicked Fantasy, I wrote a novella set in that world called “The Courage of Tamyn Taval.” Years later, I expanded the novella, adding a whole bunch of new words and some subplots. It’s been sitting on my CPU for a couple of years, not really doing anything. This seemed like a good opportunity to make it public and let folks read through it. I’ll be releasing one chapter per day. Enjoy!

 

* * *

 

THE COURAGE OF TAMYN TAVAL

by

John Wick

 

 

courage

  1. The ability to act despite fear, withstand danger and difficulty
  2. mercenaries hired by a noble, usually to preserve the law and protect the noble’s subjects

The Reign Scholar’s Lexicon

After decades of civil war, the ten Cities of the Reign finally found peace, united as individual city-states. They established a Senate, complete with representatives of each City, to resolve internal issues as well as establish relations with the foreign nations of elves, orks, and others.

A History of the Reign, by Donnington True

 

 

Prelude

Tamyn stood perfectly still. Stay still and say nothing. That’s what her mother told her. Tamyn did as she was told.

The trees blocked out the sky. All she could see was green. Tamyn felt their presence, felt them watching. She looked with her eyes but did not move her neck. The trees spoke in song. She heard it. Distantly, like an echo, or like a voice from the other side of a hill. Their voices in harmony. Deep and low.

Tamyn’s mother stood beside her, holding her hand. Tamyn bit her tongue. She could feel her mother’s nervousness in her grip, right on the edge of pain. Tamyn felt her mother’s fingers trembling. Felt her pulse. Felt the heat and sweat in her grip. She was afraid. All her life, Tamyn never knew her mother to be afraid.

Standing among the trees were the elves. They were taller than anyone Tamyn had ever seen before. Their hair was silver or gold or midnight and fell down as low as the ground. Their feet were bare. Their gowns shimmered like moonlight. They wore swords that did the same. When the first one spoke, her voice was like it was spoken in bells.

“Who comes before us?” the voice said. Tamyn winced. The sound wasn’t painful, but it rang in her ears and echoed for long moments after.

“I am Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl.” Tamyn’s mother said. “And I bring my daughter, Tamyn.”

“Let us see her,” the voice said.

Sylvel let go of her daughter’s hand and Tamyn knew what to do next. She stepped forward onto the wet, cold forest floor. It was like stepping onto frozen grass. It crunched as she put down her feet. But it was still green. And when she lifted her foot, the grass resumed its shape as if no one had ever stepped there for a thousand years.

Tamyn stepped until the voice said, “Stop.” She did as the voice commanded. Even now, she doesn’t remember how long she stood in that spot, but it seemed like a dream. An eternity stretched into a single moment. She stood still until the voice said, “Go back to your mother.”

The voice ran through her like a cold wind cutting through her bones. Tamyn turned on her heel and ran back as quickly as she could. She put herself against her mother’s side.

“Why did you bring this to us?” the voice asked. The bells were deeper, darker. Tamyn covered her ears, but she could still hear it echoing in her head. She felt her heart pounding against her chest, her belly quaking.

Sylvel said, “She is my daughter. My blood.”

“She is a man child,” the voice said. “Her father’s blood.”

Sylvel shook her head. “No. He is not her father. She has no father. He does not know her.”

“You were reckless with your seed,” the voice said.

Tamyn felt her mother’s fear turn to something else. She felt her mother’s muscles stiffen. Felt her breath get short. She could almost hear Sylvel clench her teeth.

“She is my daughter,” Sylvel said. “And you will not speak of her in that way.”

Laughter then. All around them. Tamyn’s knees shook.

“You dare to speak to the Council of Trees with a threat in your voice?”

“The Council of Trees…” Sylvel said the word with plain and pure contempt. “…does not represent me. My lineage isn’t pure enough.”

“Take your thing back to the Reign of Men,” the voice said. “Take it back to where corruption thrives.”

Tamyn looked up at Sylvel. “Mother?” she asked.

“Do not listen to them,” Tamyn’s mother said. She did not look down at her daughter, only at the circle of elves. “They do not know you. They cannot see what I see.”

Sylvel put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and walked away from the circle of trees. A voice called after them.

“You are no longer welcome here, Sylvel, Daughter of Reigyl. Do not come back until you have cleansed yourself of the filth in your blood.”

Sylvel stopped. She turned to look at the elves and the trees. She shouted.

“One day, you will regret your foolish aristocracy. And you will pay for it.” Then, she turned away, leading her daughter from the forest. Laughter followed them until they hit sunlight.

#

They camped at the base of a mountain, the start of the long and twisting road leading up to the City of Tamerclimb. A city in the Reign of Men.

“It will be a long way up,” Sylvel told her daughter. “But we will find shelter there.”

Tamyn nodded and stoked the fire. She built a small wood structure to hold their pot above the flames. The water boiled and Sylvel dropped herbs she crushed into it. Tamyn wanted to ask about the Council of Trees, but knew it would upset her mother, so she said nothing.

A little while later, a young man approached them, walking along the stone road. He stopped. Tamyn saw his fine, dark hair falling over blue eyes. She thought he looked handsome. He looked at the stew and said, “I have carrots.”

Sylvel gestured for the man to sit. He opened his pack and retrieved three carrots. He offered them to Sylvel and she broke them into pieces, tossing them into the stew.

The man extended his hand. “Oliver,” he said.

“Sylvel,” she said, then gestured to her daughter. “This is Tamyn.”

“Hello!” Tamyn said.

Oliver touched his fingers to his brow. “Pleased to meet you.”

Tamyn kept stirring the pot, making sure the water did not boil over. They all sat quietly until Oliver said, “Going to Tamerclimb, then?”

Sylvel nodded. “We are.”

Oliver sighed. “Not my place to say so, but…” he paused. Tamyn saw his face turn to concern. “There are plenty in Tamerclimb who would give you grief.”

Sylvel looked confused. “I thought Tamerclimb was the home of the palatines?”

Oliver nodded. “That’s true.” He took a flask from his pouch and sipped from it. Tamyn smelled something awful from the other side of the fire. She made a face. Oliver saw it. He smiled and raised the flask. “Whiskey,” he said. “Not for little girls.”

“Smells like it isn’t for anyone,” Tamyn said.

That made Oliver laugh. “Probably true, little one.”

Sylvel said, “Why shouldn’t we go to Tamerclimb? The palatines are sworn to protect the Reign.”

“Exactly,” Oliver said. “Protect the Reign…from elves and dwarves and orks and the rest of the non-human peoples.”

Sylvel shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

Oliver took another swig of his whiskey. “You see, the Reign isn’t exactly friendly to elves. Or orks. Or anything that isn’t human.”

Sylvel nodded. “I’ve noticed. But I thought Tamerclimb would be different.”

Oliver frowned. “It is. In a way. You may find a few who aren’t…you know…”

Sylvel nodded. “I do.”

“But they’ll be few and far between. Most of Tamerclimb hates elves.”

Sylvel shook her head, throwing her stirring spoon into the pot. “Then where are we to go? The elves won’t take us! The Reign won’t take us! Where? Where?” Sylvel tucked her head down and put her hands over her face.

Slowly, and carefully, Oliver put his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry. But Tamerclimb…I don’t think it’s the right place for you.”

Sylvel lifted her head, her eyes red and ready for tears. “Where then? Where can we go? To the orks, maybe?”

Oliver shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. But…maybe…”

Sylvel looked at him. “Yes? Tell me. Please.”

Tamyn saw him thinking. Considering what he would say next. Finally, he spoke. “Jinix,” he said. But he said it, jinx. Something Tamyn would remember.

Sylvel shook her head. “What? Why? The city…”

“City of thieves,” Oliver said. “Yes. That’s what the other Cities call us.”

Sylvel tilted her head. “Us? You are from there?”

Oliver nodded. “I am. Born and raised there.”

Tamyn saw her mother look at the hand on her shoulder, then quickly look down to check her belt pouch.

“Relax,” Oliver said. “I’m not here for that. Besides, I took a vow. Rob no widow or orphan.”

Sylvel did relax, but only a little. “How do you know I’m a widow?”

He took his hand away and reached into the pot, quickly grabbing at the wooden spoon. Took him two tries, but he got it. He wiped his hands on his trousers, hissing through his teeth. “Why else would an elf and her daughter be on the road alone?”

Sylvel shook her head. “All I have learned of the people of the Reign is to not trust them.”

Oliver nodded. “That makes sense. But I hope I have earned a little trust?”

Sylvel looked at him for a long time. Finally, she said, “A little.”

He smiled. “Good. Let me tell you why I’m here. Perhaps some honesty will earn a little more.” He stirred the spoon, preventing the soup from boiling over. “I’m here to pick up something and bring it back to Jinix.”

“What is that?” Syvlel asked.

“My nephew, Shyver.” He stirred a bit more, then he said, “I think it’s ready.” He tasted the stew from the spoon and nodded. “It is.”

Oliver served it out and they sat together and ate. Tamyn listened as he spoke.

“He came here with his sister. But it isn’t working out. She asked me to come get him.”

“She’s giving her son to you?” Sylvel asked.

Oliver nodded. “Seems he’s ‘not appropriate’ for Tamerclimb.” He sipped the stew and made a warm sound with his throat. “This is good.”

“The herbs make the soup,” Sylvel said.

Oliver sipped more. Then, he put down the bowl and reached into his jacket. He pulled out a letter, handed it to Sylvel. “This is from her.”

Sylvel took the letter and read it. Tamyn watched her eyes move over the page. She knew how to read the language of the elves, but not the Reign. Not yet. Her mother folded the note and gave it back to him.

“I understand,” she said.

Oliver put the note back in his jacket then took the bowl back into his hands. “I’m picking him up. Bringing him back to Jinix. Raise him there.”

Sylvel almost laughed. “You’re taking him from Tamerclimb to raise him in Jinix?”

“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “It’s a funny story.” He pointed at Sylvel with his spoon. “Come with me. We’ll travel together. Better to travel like that.”

Sylvel considered it.

“I thought I’d have to make the whole trip on my own,” he said. “It’d be good to have company.”

Tamyn watched her mother. Finally, Sylvel smiled and nodded. “Yes. We will.”

“Good,” Oliver said. “Let’s finish the stew. I have some whiskey, if you want it.”

“We have a tent,” Tamyn said, her sudden enthusiasm startling her.

Oliver looked at Sylvel. “I wouldn’t presume.”

“It is big enough for all of us,” Sylvel said. “And your nephew.”

Oliver nodded. “All right then. It’s a deal.”

They all ate together until the stew was gone. Sylvel sipped some of the whiskey and made a sour face. Oliver laughed. “Told you. Not for young women.”

“I am no woman,” Sylvel said. “I am an elf.”

“Not for elves, either.” He lit a pipe and laid back, his hand on his belly. Tamyn washed the pot in the nearby river, using sand and water to get it clean. When she returned, Oliver and her mother were speaking. They stopped as soon as she could hear their voices. Oliver began telling stories. Tamyn spent all night listening until she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She felt her mother putting her into the tent.

Later that night, she heard the both of them talking again, outside the tent by the fire. But her eyes were heavy and she fell asleep.

 

Let It Go

I do a lot of game design seminars and I always meet “The Guy.” He always says the same thing, too. He raises his hand and says, “I’ve been designing a roleplaying game for twenty years now…”

I stop him. Right there. I know exactly where this is going and I need to stop it before it gets any further. I say, “In twenty years, I’ve designed almost thirty roleplaying games. You need to crap or get off the pot, pal.”

That’s usually when The Guy gets up and walks out. And in twenty years, he’ll still be designing the same game. He’ll never be finished.

That’s because he’s unwilling to do the hardest part of design or writing or painting or anything else: letting it go.

I told Mike Curry and Rob Justice this. “Every day, you wake up and know how to make your game better. Every day. Even the day after you sent it to the printer. Even the day after it shows up in bookstores. Even a year after that. Every day.”

The hardest part is letting it go.

I’m elbow deep in the second draft of Born Under the Black Flag, the second 7th Sea novel. The first one was damn hard. This one was easier. Not a lot easier, but I did a few things I did not do with the first novel. First, I made an outline. Black Flag jumps back and forth through the life of Thomas St. Claire, a pirate in the world of Théah, and I wanted to know where the past and present were going to be. I outlined the chapters on index cards and put them down on the floor with numbers. Then, I picked them up in the order I wanted the novel, giving them letters. I shuffled them around a bit, scratched out some numbers and letters, and when I was finished, I started writing.

I finished just as my deadline hit. I mean, on the same day. Daughter of Fate—the first novel—got pushed back 30 days because I wasn’t finished with it. But St. Claire had a goal, a simple goal, and he was able to reach it because he was willing to spill blood to do it.

First draft done, I sent it off to Amanda Valentine and take a year end vacation, not thinking about the novel for a while so I could approach it with new eyes. Also, I spent some time doing research and reading Patrick O’Brien.

I knew a novel about pirates would need some O’Brien in it. There was already a little—maybe 1 O’Brien’s worth—but I wanted more. Not a lot more, but enough to satisfy myself and the other fans of his work.

O’Brien was the author of the Master and Commander novels—among others—and his storytelling made my heart ache. I couldn’t capture the same authenticity he did—I simply did not have the level of knowledge he had—but I wanted to make sure the nautical elements felt authentic enough.

I told Amanda that when I sent it off to her and she said she would help me out. She had a couple of friends who were O’Brien fans, so when I finished the second draft, she would hand it over to them for feedback.

Last night, I was going through her edits, making changes both big and small, when it came time to introduce the first ship in the book. And this is where I needed to raise the O’Brien Factor. I spent an hour and a half writing a single paragraph. One hundred and thirty words. I wanted them to be the right words. To make St. Claire’s inspection of the ship feel authentic.

Ninety minutes on those words. It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. But I went to bed happy. This morning, I sent them to Ben Woerner who gave me feedback and added a little bit about hammocks. And then, I read it back to myself—out loud. And I was happy. Damn happy.

The Galente was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar. A merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. The ship was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. Despite its size, she could handle shallower waters than most and the aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. A sure sign of vanity. The masthead caps were wide and she had little room for cannons. All of it was for crew and cargo. Her rigging was designed to minimize the first of them. She was tall and proud, few guns. And she was fast. Damn fast. Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

After I was done, I sent the words to Jessica. She’s my Jane Austen fan. I sent them along with the request, “Please tell me if you get lost in the jargon.” I wanted to make sure there was just enough she could understand what was going on. She sent me this reply:

This is the sort of paragraph I skip when reading. If a fluyt is a real ship, then I don’t want someone spelling it out for me in text. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Talk about the significance that whoever’s POV would be considering.

Things like “A sure sign of vanity” are hints of a good direction.  I want to hear the captain (or whoever) size her up, like a sailor would. I know no one knows what a fluyt is anymore, but ignore that. hide the information in the captain’s evaluation of his dreams and plans for her.

A merchant ship means he can hide his nature. That should be emphasized rather than comparing it to other nations.

A sure sign of vanity, but he could afford that. or maybe it would extend to his men, proud to have such a vessel. They will work harder.

I don’t know. But make it personal. Make it real. This is a text book description. Jargon smargon. It’s missing the people and the reasons.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I loved those words. I worked hard on those words. Dammit. DAMMIT.

Okay, okay. Take a breath. You know why you’re upset. You know why.

She’s right.

So, after stomping around the room for a little while, I set myself back behind the keyboard and began editing. Looking at Jessica’s feedback and using it. And what I got, after another hour of work, was something better. Not just better, something that Ben Woerner said “gave me chills” after reading it.

Yeah. It was better.

I wasn’t The Guy. I wasn’t going to walk out of the room when someone challenged me. I was going to listen and think.

And let it go.

St. Claire walked along the Galente, his eyes and mind taking in all the details. She was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar: a merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. She was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. That meant he could sail her in shallower waters, hiding behind islands from larger ships. He could sail her up rivers, giving him access to ports and escape routes larger fighting ships could not manage.

The aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. St. Claire snickered. A sure sign of vanity on the part of the captain. Made the officers’ cabins easy targets for other ships. That would have to go.

She had little room for cannons. Only six per side. Instead of cannon decks, the Galente had room for cargo. She was a merchant ship, after all. Claire didn’t need many more guns, what he needed was speed, and the Galente had plenty of that. Her rigging was designed for minimal crew and outracing pirates. She was fast. Damn fast.

He knew what he had to do. Lose some cargo space with double hammocks and she could carry plenty of fighting men along with a small working crew. Add chase guns to the fore and aft, keeping sharp shooters in the rigging. Hiding in shallow waters at night, waiting for larger ships to go by, sailing right up to their hulls, moving so fast, the enemy’s cannons would fire too long, splashing cannons behind them. Then, unleash the marines. If he got that close, most ATC ships would surrender without ever firing a shot.

Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

The Pendragon Ladies (Episode 2, Cont.)

(read Part 1 here!)

Cerdwwr arrives at Terrwyn’s pavilion. "I thought you could use an escort," he tells her. She thinks about it for a moment, then shrugs.

"Why not?"

He walks her to King Lot’s pavilion. There, she sits down to dinner with Cerddwr and her body double Liam, in front of King Lot and his wife, Morgawse. The woman’s dark beauty is haunting.

"My wife wants to speak with you," Lot says. Terrwyn looks at the woman. A deep darkness in her eyes.

"I want your knight," Morgawse tells her.

Terrwyn doesn’t know what to say.

"I saw him on the field today," she says. "And he impressed me greatly. I will pay well for him. Enough for you to buy five more knights." She looks at Terrwyn’s body double and smiles. As bright and wicked as the moon. "I want him."

Terrwyn shakes her head. "I’m afraid I can’t do that," she says. "He’s been with me for quite a long time and I…"

"I want him," Morgawse says again. "I will have him."

Terrwyn tries to think of a way to politely decline again. Turning down the Queen of Orkney has all kinds of dangerous implications.

Then, Liam speaks up. "I’m in love with Lady Terrwyn," he says. "I cannot leave her."

Morgawse looks at both of them. Then, she smiles. "I shall not pursue my request further, then," she says.

After dinner–a cold, quiet affair–on their way back to the pavilion, Terrwyn thanks the young man. "You did not have to say that," she says.

Cerddwr smiles, "Ah but it would have been so convincing if there was not a seed of truth in your words. Isn’t that true?"

Terrwyn looks at Liam and sees the slightest hint of a blush.

* * *

On the hill behind the tournament, Anwyn stands with Uther. Uther/Cornwall. Uther/Cornwall/Jacob Collins.

"I’m Uther," he says again. "How fascinating."

"Yes," Anwyn tells him. "And it’s time for you to go and sleep with Igraine." Her voice rushes over the words.

He looks back at her. "I don’t think so," he says. "If I do that, I will no longer be the King of All Britain."

Now Anwyn’s heart feels the pangs of fear. "You have to," she says. "If you don’t, this new world doesn’t like you breaking the rules. It will find out and it will punish you."

"How exciting," he says, his smile shining in the moonlight.

She takes a step back. "The world died," she says. "This is the new world. And you have to do what you’re supposed to do."

He takes a step forward. "The world died. Hm." He puts his hand on his chin. "Sounds like a reason to celebrate." His eyes then glow in the darkness. Anwyn recognizes that glow from the old world. Deep beneath the seeming of Uther and Cornwall, Lilith recognizes the eyes of Jacob Collins.

"COME HERE," he tells her. And she steps forward.

"Now, TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES," he says.

Anwyn and Lilith struggle to resist, but her hands begin working. Her mind races. In that world, she thinks, I could not resist him. But in this world, I am an Enchantress of Britain.

"I am an Enchantress of Britain," she says, her hands stopping. "Apprentice to Merlin. Your powers cannot affect me."

Uther/Cornwall/Collins frowns. "Very well," he says. "We will do this the old fashioned way."

Anwyn looks around for help. She’s alone up here on the hill. Not even within shouting distance of the tournament.

So, she runs.

She doesn’t get five steps before he’s pulled her down to the wet grass. She feels a pain in her knee as it smashes into the ground. She screams for help, knowing there is no one to hear. She feels his hands pulling at her clothes.

And then she hears a thump. And his body’s weight falls against her. She pushes him off and looks up.

And she sees Sebastian’s face looking down.

"My Lady," he says. "Are you injured?"

She stands up with his help, kicking the man lying on the ground as she does. "Yes. I’m okay."

Sebastian looks at her.

"I’m fine," she says.

"Who is this villain?" Sebastian asks, turning the body over. He sees the face and takes a step back.

"Jesu’s wounds!" he says. "It is the Duke of Cornwall!"

"Uh," Anwyn sputters. "Uh. No, it’s… I mean, yes it… I mean, we should get him back to his tent."

"I never believed Cornwall could be such a lout!" Sebastian says.

Anwyn tries to think of something to say. "He was drunk," she says. "No harm, no foul, right?"

Sebastian looks confused. "Drunk, my lady?"

"Yes," she says. She recovers her wits and remembers why she was up here to begin with. "He was drunk. And we should get him back to his tent. Right away."

"As a pagan knight, I am bound to serve your will," Sebastian says. "I serve the faith." He lifts the unconscious body and carries it back to the tournament.

Anwyn watches him leave. Then, when he’s out of sight, she runs back to her tent, her hands covering her tears.

* * *

On the way back to her pavilion, Cerddwr and Terrwyn speak.

"I do not trust Uther," she says.

Cerddwr nods. "Nor, do I."

"What do you do in London?" she asks.

"I assist the monks there," he tells her. "In the library."

She turns her head. "Library?" she asks. "I thought there weren’t any books in Britain?"

He frowns. His brow curls. "No, there are many. In London… many…" his voice trails off. "Many… books…"

Then, his eyes light up. "Misty! You have to stop them! They’re going to kill Cornwall!"

And his eyes dim. "I’ve been in London all my life. I’ve heard some say I’m nothing more than a scholar-knight. A city knight." He smiles. "But I am a man of arms, just as the others. The monks need protection, too."

Terrwyn stops walking. "Cerddwr," she says. "Take my hand."

He hesitates. "My Lady, I would not be so bold to presume…"

She shakes her head. "No. I don’t mean that. Take off your glove and take my hand."

He touches the hand with the ring. "I do not know where this came from," he says. "And Merlin will not tell me."

"Trust me," she says.

He takes off his glove. He puts his hand in hers. The rings touch.

His eyes take a different light. "Misty," he says. "Uther plans on killing Cornwall tonight. He’s arranging a secret meeting on the west side of the river. He has a small army there. He’s going to kill Cornwall. If we don’t stop it, there’s going to be war."

Then, his eyes change again. "I was glad to escort you and hope to do so again," he says. He bows. "Have a pleasant evening."

Terrwyn watches him leave. Then, she turns to Liam. "Get the men together. We’re going across the river."

* * *

On top of the hill, surrounded by stones, Brangaine waits for Sebastian. When he arrives, she leaps on him. He winces.

"I was in the tourney today, my love," he says. "Be gentle."

"You’ve never asked me to be gentle before," she tells him.

"Aye," he says. "But I was injured today and that injury was aggravated by carrying the Duke of Cornwall back to his tent."

She looks at him. "Why did you need to carry my uncle back to his tent?"

He hesitates. "I was sworn to secrecy by an Enchantress."

"Which one?"

"Anwyn," he tells her.

"She and I are friends. You know that. Tell me."

Sebastian tells her the story. The attack. Clubbing him on the back of the head. The terrified Enchantress. Carrying Cornwall back to his pavilion.

"That doesn’t sound like my uncle," she says.

"It was. I saw it with my own eyes."

Brangaine throws away a dangerous thought and kisses him.

* * *

Later, lying under the moon, lying in his arms, that dangerous thought comes back.

"We should speak to my cousin Tristan."(1)

Together, they get dressed and seek out her cousin. When they find him, he is playing the harp. He smiles when he sees them. "What can I do for my favorite cousin?" he asks.

"Tristam, we need to see the Duke of Cornwall," she tells him. "I do not have the authority to ask, but you do."

"Very well," he says. "I trust it is important."

They nod. He escorts them to the pavilion.

But the guard refuses them entry.

"No," he says. "The Duke of Cornwall is with his wife and they cannot be disturbed."

Tristan turns to them. "Sorry," he says. "That’s one thing I can’t interrupt."

"I understand," Brangaine says. They walk away from the tent.

* * *
Across the river, Terrwyn and her archers approach a small, makeshift camp. There, they find fires and bodies. Among the bodies are the Duke of Cornwall and Meliodas, his chief lieutenant (and Tristan’s father).

Terrwyn orders the bodies be collected and brought back to the tournament. Then, she climbs on her fastest horse and rides.

* * *

Brangaine and Sebastian find Anwyn sobbing. When they ask her what’s wrong, she looks at Sebastian. She tells Brangaine everything.

"He tried to use vampire powers on me," she says.

Sebastian looks confused. "Vampire powers?"

Brangaine holds Sebastian’s hand. "Do you remember when you were a wolf?" she asks.

"I was a wolf?"

"Yes. And you protected us in Dinkytown. Do you remember that? The vampires? We were changelings. And you and Barnabas were in that bar together…"

Anwyn touches Brangaine’s hand. "If you do this, the world will notice," she says.

Brangaine ignores her. "Do you remember, Sebastian? Remember the Rubik’s Cube?"

A light shines in Sebastian’s eyes. He looks at the girls. Then, he frowns.

"You and Barnabas are married?" he asks.

She nods. "Yes, but that isn’t important right now. The Prince is here. And he’s Uther."

"But you and Barnabas are married?" he asks again. Then, he puts his head in his hands. "This is very complicated."

That’s when Terrwyn walks in. She looks at them and says, "The Duke of Cornwall is dead. Uther murdered him."

All of them look up. Sebastian asks, "Does she remember?"

The girls nod, "Yes."

"That’s impossible," Brangaine says. "Uther is the Duke of Cornwall."

"It was a secret meeting on the other side of the river. They’re all dead. All of Cornwall’s best men. It was an ambush."

"Who’s left?" Anwyn asks.

Terrwyn thinks for a moment. Then, she remembers a small detail.

"Leodegrance," she says. "He’s talking with Walk–Cerddwr now." She doesn’t waste any time. She’s out of the tent, running for Leodegrance’s pavilion.

When the guards try to stop her, Terrwyn throws them aside. She rushes in and sees Leodegrance talking with Cerddwr.

"The Duke of Cornwall is dead," she says. "And you are in grave danger."

Leodegrance stands. "That’s not possible. The truce…"

"It’s as dead as he is," Terrwyn says. "We have to get out of here."

* * *

Outside the pavilion, Merlin touches Anwyn on the shoulder. She nearly jumps.

"What did you do?" she asks him.

"I did nothing," he says.

"What did you make me do?" she asks.

"You made your own choices," he tells her.

She pauses. "What did I do?"

He smiles. "You put the future in motion." Then, he steps away, vanishing into the night.

____

(1) A note for Arthur scholars: I have taken the liberty of making Tristan a nephew to the Duke of Cornwall. While this may be confusing to purists, it allows me to put Tristan into the story and it, even though it is chronologically incorrect, it is fitting in many ways. Trust me; everything will sort itself out.

The Flux: Pendragon Ladies (Episode 2)

One moment, they were Changelings living in a vampire-infested Twin Cities area, and the next, they find themselves in 5th Century Britain bumping shoulders with Uther, Igraine, Leodegrance and Merlin.

They’ve undergone something called “the Flux.” The entire world changed and nobody noticed. Everyone entered the new world with complete lives and memories. What’s more, some of the folks they knew back in the Twin Cities have shown up in Britain as well. Changed just slightly—some more than others—but still familiar. Familiar strangers.

Our cast of characters includes:

  •   as Brangaine, a Cornish lady married to a Christian knight having an affair with a Pagan knight;
  •   as Anwyn, an Enchantress of Britain and apprentice under the Great Enchanter, Merlin;
  •   as Terrwyn, the Cambrian lady who disguises herself as a man to participate in tournaments; and
  •   as Ysbail, the Norman lady with merchant contacts in both Britain and the continent.

All of us missed  this session. She’s at home with her beautiful new baby. We know we’ll be seeing her again, but until then, we miss her much. And, Emily, there’s always an empty seat at our table for you.

Also, for further context, be sure to check up on what the boys have been doing!

* * *

… the next morning.

Anwyn stands very still in the corner of the pavilion while Uther screams.

"I must have her!"

His voice echoes through the small place and rings in Anwyn’s ears. She watches as Merlin speaks.

"You will wreck everything I have worked for. Britain is united! At last! And you would throw all of it away for what lies between her thighs!"

Uther’s eyes grow dark. His voice drops to a growl. "You’re the wizard," he says. "The next words you speak to me will be how I will bed that woman without breaking the truce." And then, Uther leaves.

Merlin looks at Anwyn. "Well then," he says. "I thought that went well."

"What are we going to do?" she asks.

Merlin ponders for a moment. Then, he says, "You are skilled in glamours, are you not, dear?"

Anwyn nods. "I am."

"Good. Meet me tonight at the standing stones just outside the tournament." He begins to leave, but then pauses. "And wear a disguise."

* * *
 

Brangaine serves her wounded husband breakfast. "Here you are, Barnabas," she says. "Is there anything else I can do?"

"Stay with me," he says. "All day. Your company is salve enough for my wounds."

Brangaine thinks about her lover, Sebastian. He is jousting later today in the tournament. She missed his joust yesterday. She does not want to miss it again. She looks down at the eyes of her husband and sees his unquestioning devotion to her. She tells him a story.

A story about four girls living in a small kingdom. They were surrounded by darkness all around. A darkness filled with monsters. One of the girls had to go into the faerie lands to rescue a friend in danger…

Barnabas listens to her. His smile is warm.

* * *

Across the tournament, Terrwyn sits on a horse, dressed in black armor. She waits the command. The flag drops and she lowers her lance. Her aim is true and it slams into her opponent’s chest, throwing him from his steed. He slams into the ground hard and under her armor, Terrwyn winces just a little. "Such a useless sport," she thinks to herself.

She brings her horse back to her squire and he leads them both to the black knight’s pavilion. She changes into her usual garb and retires to her own pavilion just a few feet away.

A servant tells her that a messenger from King Lot is there to see her. He wishes to have dinner with her and her knight. Both of them. Terrwyn sighs. "Very well. Tell him I will be there." Then, she turns to one of her men. "Time for you to be my cousin again," she says. Her man bows his head.

"Of course, my lady."

* * *
Anwyn finds Brangaine in her tent. "Merlin wants me to do something," she says. "I’m not sure I should do it. I mean, I don’t know." She asks, "Have you seen Walker? I have to find Walker."

"What does he want you to do?" Brangaine asks.

Just then, a man steps into the pavilion. Anwyn sees him and her eyes open wide.

"Hello cousin," he tells Brangaine. He carries a harp. Anwyn’s knees shake.

Brangaine turns to Anwyn. "Anwyn, this is my cousin, Tristan."

"H-how do you do?" she says, curtsying.

He bows to her, then looks back at Brangaine. "I brought my harp," he says. "I hope to ease your husband’s pain."

Brangaine smiles. "You’re so thoughtful," she says. "He’s right in there."

Tristan enters the room and sits. He greets Barnabas and then begins to sing. His fingers play across the harp strings. Anwyn sits. The enchantress, enchanted.

With her husband distracted, Brangaine leaves the pavilion and starts off for the jousting arena.
 

* * *
Terrwyn goes looking for Merlin. She wants this ring off her finger. As far as she’s concerned, that "old world" is just a nightmare. The sooner she can forget it the better. And the first step to putting it in her past is getting rid of this damned "lady fate" ring.

She meets up with Cerddwr, the knight she went to dinner with when Uther and Cornwall signed their peace treaty.

"My Lady," he says, bowing. "I come to ask a favor."

She eyes him with suspicion. A part of the past. That "Walker" detective with the Lord Strange ring. But he does not seem to remember who he was. Only who he is now. "What can I do for you?" she asks.

"I seek an audience with Leodegrance," he says. "It is in regards to the peace treaty signed last evening."

She nearly spits when she hears him say it. "Peace with Uther," she says. "That day will never come."

"I agree," he says. That surprises her.

"Are you not a knight from London?" she asks. "One of Uther’s vassals?"

He nods. "I am. And I do not trust this treaty. Merlin may have arranged it, but there is no way Uther will keep it."

Terrwyn decides she likes this knight, despite his connection with the old world. "I will arrange that meeting," she says.

And just then, his eyes change. Panic fills his face. He grabs her wrist.

"Misty!" he says. "You have to help me! It’s gone wrong! I can’t stop…" His eyes change again. His voice softens. "Excellent," he says. "I look forward to meeting him."

Cerddwr leaves her then. And she stands watching him.

 

* * *
 
At the joust, Sebastian wins again. Brangaine does not cheer. But she smiles from the stands and he sees her as he makes his victory circle. She watches him whisper something to a page and the page vanishes.

Making her way back to her pavilion, the page finds her. "My lord wishes to tell you to meet him at the standing stones just outside the tournament."

"When?" she asks.

"Tonight."

She undoes a ribbon from her hair. "Give this to him," she says.

The page nods and rushes off.

When she comes back to the pavilion, her husband is asleep. A servant tells her that her cousin wished her well and hoped to see her again. She remembers Sebastian’s smile and she sighs. Then, she hears her husband stirring in his bed. No, he still sleeps. She sits down at his bedside and touches his brow.
 

* * *
Later, Terrwyn speaks with Leodegrance. He and her father were old friends. His shaved head and short beard are something she remembers well. When he speaks, she knows why men follow him.

"This knight… what was his name?"

"Cerddwr," she says. "From London."

"A scholar-knight, then," he says. She nods. "Why did he not go to Cornwall himself?"

"He knows I have a relationship with you," she says. "Perhaps he hopes to convince you so you can convince Cornwall?"

Leodegrance nods, his hand on his chin. "That makes sense." He walks about the room in silence. Then, he turns to her. "Tell your scholar-knight that I will meet him. Tonight, after dinner."

She nods and bows (she never curtsies). "Yes, sir," she says. Just as she leaves, Leodegrance tells her, "I hear you are meeting with King Lot this evening?"

She nods. "Yes, I am."

"Be careful with him," he tells her. "He is a cunning man. His wife, also. They would not have invited you if they did not have… plans."

She leaves the pavilion and makes her way back to her own.

* * *

Nightfall…

Anwyn waits at the standing stones. In the distance, she sees the fires and pavilions of the tournament. She’s wearing a mask made of twigs and leaves. Merlin arrives. "I see," he says, looking at her disguise. "Well done."

"What do you want me to do?" she asks.

"Uther will be here soon," he tells her. "I want you to use your glamour to give him the semblance of the Duke of Cornwall."

"Why?"

"That way, he can satisfy his lust and we can maintain our truce."

Anwyn nods. "Okay," she says. She sees Merlin’s confusion. "I mean, ‘very well’."

Merlin nods. "I will not be here. I have other things to attend to." Then, he looks down the hill. "Here comes Uther now." Anwyn looks and sees him walking up the hill. She turns to ask Merlin a question, but he’s gone.

"Where is Merlin?" Uther asks.

"Merlin sent me," Anwyn says. "Just stand there. I will take care of everything."

In the middle of the standing stones, drawing power from the earth, she begins the ritual. Her words fill her body with power. Power that she’s felt before and never felt before. And Uther begins to change. Transform. His cruel, hard face softens. His steel gray eyes change to blue. His jaw, his cheeks, his hair. All of it is different. Anwyn finishes the ritual and her body is drained. A heavy sleep fills her brain. She never knew such a simple act could be so exhausting.

And then, Uther says, "Lilith?"

Anwyn’s eyes snap open. "What did you call me?"

"Where am I?" Uther/Cornwall asks. "What am I doing here?"

Anwyn begins to panic. She looks at him, but the glamour is so complete, she cannot recognize him. Not the way she recognized Kiera or Misty or Melanie.

Uther/Cornwall looks at his hands. He touches his face. "I’m Uther," he says. "Uther Pendragon."

Anwyn guesses. "Fix?" she asks.

Uther/Cornwall’s eyes shine. "No," he says. And she recognizes the voice.

"Collins," she says. "You’re Jacob Collins."

Uther/Cornwall nods. "Yes. I am."
 

END OF PART 1

Blood Boys to Noble Knights (The Flux: Part 2)

 Something has happened to the Blood Boys. Something odd happened. The whole world changed. One moment, they were vampires living in the Twin Cities area and the next… they were somewhere in the 5th Century bumping shoulders with characters straight from Arthur’s Britain.

They’ve undergone something called “the Flux.” The entire world changed and nobody noticed. Everyone entered the new world with complete lives and memories. Only three of the Blood Boys remembered the past world and retained their memories. Roman did not. As far as he knows, the whole world has always been 5th Century Britain. And the Boys can’t find a way to change that.

Confused? Not as confused as the Blood Boys are.

What’s more, some of the folks they knew back in the Twin Cities have shown up in Britain as well. Changed just slightly—some more than others—but still familiar. Familiar strangers.

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Ben as Gwillym, a knight under Uther of Logres. Giant in stature, hideous in appearance,
  • Lee as Cysgodian of Cameliard. Leodegrance’s personal advisor and mentor to his child, Morganna,
  • Fabien as Dominic of Gaul. An Occitanian knight who has a subtle and secret agenda in Britain,
  • Dan as Gwinas of Cameliard. A devout Christian knight who serves under Leodegrance, and
  • Nick as Gideon of Trent. A godless and villainous man, the greatest knight under Uther of Logres

Our story continues…

* * *
The Boys (in their new identities) meet up in a pavilion to discuss what’s happening. With them is Ms. Lethe in her new identity, Lady Elaine.

"We have to get out of here," she says.

"What do you mean?" asks Dominic. "You mean out of this Changeling trick?"

"No," Elaine says. "Out of Britain." She looks at all of them. "Listen to me. Don’t you recognize the names? Uther? Cornwall? Igraine?"

The boys look at her blankly.

"Well, yes," Will says. "It’s Camelot."

She shakes her head. "No. It’s not. It’s before all that. And there’s going to be a war. A big, bloody war. And everyone is going to die. And it’s going to be chaos for ten years with no king. And the French are going to invade and the Vikings are going to invade and the fucking Irish are going to invade." She pauses. "No offense, Don," she says.

"None taken," he says.

"It’s the only time in British history that the Irish actually invade Britain. It’s all building to a climax right now. And it’s going to be ugly."

The Boys think about that for a while. Dominic asks, "Where do we go?"

She doesn’t hesitate. "China," she says. "They have literacy and medicine and fucking hygiene."

"What if this is it?" Dominic asks. "I mean, what if the world is just Britain? And nothing else?"

"Do you want to stay here?"

There’s a long pause. And all of the Boys look at Dominic. Finally, he says, "Let’s get together everyone we know and try to get out of here."

"What about the Dinkytown Girls?" Gwillym asks.

Cysgodian shakes his head. "No. We don’t know if they’re a part of this or not."

Gwillym frowns. "They’re just as screwed up as we are," he says. "Misty… she doesn’t even remember the past world."

Dominic nods. "I agree. We just need to find people we trust."

"I found Walker," Gwillym says. "He’s messed up, too. He said something was wrong."

"All right," Dominic says. "Let’s figure out what’s going on. Find people we know. And prepare for getting out of here."

"Oh!" Gwillym says. "I forgot. Uther and Cornwall signed a truce last night!"

Elaine’s eyes go wide. "Did Uther see Igraine?"

Gwillym shook his head. "No. She hasn’t shown up yet."

Elaine looks at Dominic. "When Uther sees Igraine, it’s all over. We need to do whatever we’re going to do before that happens."

 

* * *
 
The one person Gideon wants to find is his granddaughter. He walks the tournament looking for a familiar face.

After half a day, he sees something out of the corner of his eye. He rushes forward, pushing people out of his way. Then, he sees a young knight–about his age–with long hair and a fair face.

"Do I know you?" the knight asks.

Gideon shakes his head. "I don’t think so," he says. The eyes. This knight’s eyes. They are the same as his granddaughter’s.

The knight offers his hand. "I am Mathias," the knight says.

Mathias. Mathilda.

"Gideon of Trent," Gideon says.

"Are you certain we’ve never met before?" Mathias asks.

Gideon shakes his head again. "I’m certain."

"Very well." The young knight smiles. "Will thou be at Uther’s celebration this evening?"

Gideon’s memory rushes back into his mind. He is Uther’s greatest knight. I am Uther’s greatest knight.

"Yes," he says. "I will be."

"Then I shall see you there," Mathias says. "Well met, sir."

Gideon watches the knight walk away.

Mathias. Mathilda.

 

 * * *
"There’s another problem," Gwillym tells Dominic. "That Finger guy is here."

"That’s impossible," Dominic says. "He’s dead."

"No," Gwillym says. "Lilith–I mean, Anwyn told me that Finger is a French lady. And she’s–I mean, he’s–I mean, I mean Finger is here."

"A French lady?" Dominic asks. "From Gaul?"

Gwyllim nods. "I think so. Her name is French. It means ‘little finger’ or something like that."

Dominic’s eyes go dark. "Auriculaire?" he asks.

Gwyllim lights up. "Yeah! That’s it!"

Dominic covers his eyes with his hand. "Merde," he whispers. Then, he looks at Gwillym. "That’s my sister."

 

* * *
All this time, Cysgodian has been testing things. If he can remember who he was, can he still do the things he used to do?

Walking through the pavilions, he tries to vanish. He does.

He tries using his Mekhet sight. He does.

Excellent.

He arrives at the Duke of Cornwall’s pavilion. His young student, Cornwall’s daughter Morganna, is there.

"You look different," she tells him.

"In what way?" he asks.

"I do not know," she says. "Just different."

The Duke of Cornwall enters. Cysgodian bows. "My Lord," he says.

"I am sorry I made the decision without you," the Duke says. "I know I should have talked to you first. But the moment was there." He touches Cysgodian’s shoulder. "I will never make that mistake again."

"I hope not, sir."

The Duke leaves the room. Morganna tugs on Cysgodian’s robe. "Will Merlin be there?" she asks. "At the party?"

"I suspect he will."

"What is he like?" she asks.

Cysgodian considers his answer. Then, he says, "Never let him touch you."
 

* * *
At Uther’s celebration, all the greatest knights in the world gather. Leodegrance is there. Uriens is there. Melodias and his son, young Tristan are there. And, of course, the Duke of Cornwall is there. And with him is his wife, Lady Igraine.

All the knights look upon her. Their eyes grow wide. Their jaws fall slack.

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World has entered the room. And everything changes.

Uther looks upon her…

… and the knights know their time to escape is running out.