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BUT … if you havent yet read MERLINS BLADE,


then it is recommended you do so first!


Arthurs Blade (excerpt)

Copyright © 2015 by Robert Treskillard. All Rights Reserved.

The characters and events depicted in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons real or imagined is coincidental.



Book 1 of The Pendragon Spiral

Robert Treskillard




Lake Dosmurtanlyn near the village of Bosventor, Kernow, in southwestern Britain Spring, In the year of our Lord, 493

The scales upon Gwevian’s back shivered when she sensed the werewolf rushing past her lake. She had been warned in a prophetic dream many years beforeand now her doom had finally come. She swam out of the cave that was her home at the bottom of the lake. Surfacing just the tip of her nose among the lily pads and sedge grasses, she sniffedand smelled blood. Its salty tang stung her nose; many men had died this night, more would yet die, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Rising further from the water she saw the lifeless eyes of a warrior staring back at her. He’d fallen on the very edge of the lake and the blood from a rip in his throat leaked down onto the black, drought-stricken heath. And if the prophecy were true, then it foretold that this werewolf would battle Arthur, her son Merlin, and their warriors. Fear drove her forth. She had to know if Merlin was safe. The werewolf was headed toward the village, so in a flash, as was her power, she changed herself into a small salmon and slipped into a cleft at the side of the lake where a tiny spring flowed. The cold water numbed her as she swam furiously against the current, and soon she was deep into a network of water-filled caverns under the earth. She knew the way to the village brook, having discovered the path years before, and quickly found herself in the cool waters of the spring that emptied near the southern sheep- fold of the village. When she changed back to her human-like form the water she breathed in and out tasted of peat. Hurrying downstream she came upon a stand of bulrushes, and


looking through them to the village green, she saw her doomthe Druid Stone, which still sat upon the old granite slab. This was the very Stone that had stolen her from her family that fateful night thirty years ago when she was boating on the lake with her husband. A storm had surprised them and lightning had shattered their little coracle. She had been pulled down to the depths by the power of the Stone and changed. All presumed her drowned, and she had never seen Merlin again until fourteen years later when the Stone had been removed from beside the lake by Mórganthu and his druidsthey who used its power to enchant the villagers. Yes … the very Stone upon which High King Uther had been slain, he who had been Arthur ’s father. This was the Stone that Merlin had attempted to destroy by hammering a sword into it. A power emanated from its surface, lurking inside somehow, and she still did not understand it. Pushing the reeds aside, she looked more closely. The Stone lay upon the granite slab in the village green. Arthur and the werewolf were fighting next to it, and Arthur was knocked to his knees. He stabbed upward at the beast with his spear, but the creature was maddened by many wounds and snatched at the wood just below the tip. He then shattered the spear and flung the deadly metal into the darkness. Arthur found his feet, threw the useless handle at the werewolf, and then backed to the other side of the Druid Stone to escape the swinging claws. The sword stood between them now, wedged deeply into the Stone just as it had been for the last sixteen years. A strange look came over Arthur’s face as he beheld the magnificence of the blade: the bronze hilt and pommel shone golden in the moonlight, and the red glass inlays glinted like blood. In desperation, and without any other weapon, Arthur reached out, took hold of the hilt, and pulled. The werewolf paused, confused by the blue glow emanating from the Druid Stone. Arthur pulled again, harder, and the sword slid upward a little. Howling now, the werewolf lunged forward and struck out. Arthur dodged to the side, but kept one hand on the pommel.


The beast reared back, preparing to strike out again. This time Arthur pulled with all his might. The blade came loose … it was free in his hand! Blue flames shot from the Stone, and in that instant Gwevian felt a giant claw grab hold of her soul and rip into her spirit. She screamed, but no one heard her, for Arthur fought with his father’s blade even as Merlin and the others joined the fray. She never saw the end of the battle, as pain wracked across her body and she slipped back into the stream. Her lungs felt crushed and she couldnt breathe. A vision appeared, and she finally perceived the true nature of her doom: The Stone … the Druid Stone was not a stone at all, but an egga dragon egg. Now that the sword had been removed from it, the shell would crack and twin dragons would emerge. Shadows danced before her blinking eyes and soon a scene appeared before her. It was a cave. Merlin was there, tied up, and Mórgana was speaking to him:

“Your sword, dear brother, prevented these two from hatchingbut now that the blade has been removed by a hand that was able to claim it properly, they will come forth. Watch and tremble! Merlin couldn’t take his eyes off of the egg. Under Mórgana’s hands the shell began to crack, quiver, and convulse. Then with a jerk a small section broke away and slipped to the floor. The scaly nose of a creature pushed through the hole, bubbles forming in the green, gelatinous slime that spewed forth as the creature breathed in and exhaled for the first time. Merlin watched, horror-struck, as the creature fought against the shell and finally broke through, its entire head slipping out into the cold air of the cave. It was a lizard … a dragon! The skin was white, it had curved horns like a goat, and the tips of its teeth were sharper than needles. But there was something odd … the dragon was missing one of its four longest fangs, and where the tooth had been there was only an uneven scar. The blade that Merlin had thrust into


the stone must have cut it off. Soon, the rest of its snakelike body slipped from the egg. A sulfurous cloud belched outward, and Merlin coughed on the stench. For the dragon’s size, the creature had small arms and legs, each ending in a claw-like hand. The dragon was six feet long from the tip of its tail to the curve of its wickedly sharp fangs. On its back lay a set of scaled wings, folded now and sodden with slime. Mórgana began petting it. “Poor dragon … you’ve been through a lot, haven’t you? Now to birth your brother.” She reached into the egg and searched amongst the slime. “Where has your brother gone?” she shrieked. “There were two here … a white dragon and a red one. But—but

A man who looked familiar to Gwevian knelt down and turned the egg on its side, emptying it. That was when she recognized him … he was Loth, her very own brother! “He’s nay here,” Loth said. “Are ya sure you weren’t imagining it? Could you have misunderstood the Voice?” “NO!” she screamed, and struck him in the face. The man fell backward with the smoking outline of Mórgana’s handprint on his cheek. “Th-then … perhaps the blade slew ’im, and his body dissolved.” “That must be it,” Mórgana said, scowling. “But ultimately it is no matter. This dragon was the larger, and shall soon be strong enough for all of our purposes.”

The vision smeared to blackness. Gwevian opened her eyes, and found she had remained in the stream south of the village of Bosventor. Though it was still night, there was no sound from the world above save for the muffled moan of the wind through the reeds. How long had she been unconscious? She tried to move, but it hurt, because the dragon had an unceasing, spiritual grip that still tore through her soul and even into her flesh.


If she had only known all this, then she might have stopped Arthur from drawing his father’s sword from the Stone. But the true secret of the Stone had been kept even from her. She held her mouth shut tightly against the urge to scream as she began to swim upstream. Gripping rocks. Pulling. Kicking with her tail. Fighting panic. Bile burning her throat. When she reached the spring, she painfully changed back to a salmon for the journey underground, and then after arriving at her lake, she changed back to herself again and wept. But the pain overwhelmed her, and she blacked out, floating, until a voice spoke to her from the darkness. Low. Menacing. It was the white dragon. Thou hast escaped serving me while the sword was impaled through the shell of my imprisonmentbut now I am free! And when I choose a new servant, you will die, and I will eat thy flesh.Translucent shackles appeared before her spirit’s eyes. No-o-o!she screamed, kicking and trying to break free from the dragon’s grip. She had worn these shackles for too many years. The dragon cut her words short by ripping at her spirit and then latching the shackles on her wrists and ankles. Silence!She curled up, weeping. The shackles were not visible to her human-like eyes, but they bit into her flesh nonetheless. Yes, her suffering had overtaken her again, yet a spark of hope remained deep in her soul: She had tasted freedom once, and now knew it was possible to break free. Even if she should suffer, then perhaps Arthur’s deeds might shine all the brighter and the future people of Britain might look to him whenever they needed hope and strength. This was enough for her, giving meaning to her own suffering and it was for her glory, too … even if she were to be cast off and slain by the dragon. As she sunk into the depths of the lake, another vision took her. Gwevian saw amidst the dark fog a white ship, magnificent of


sail, and upon its deck stood three queens crowned with silver circlets, simple and pure. They carried shining lights and together chanted a lament, their voices carrying over the water, clear but sad:

Alas, alas, we shout and call, The dragon’s cast a blackened shawl. The light, the light, is dim and small, And doom has come to one and all…




Sick of swamp slime, the sides becoming Crack of grey ghost, the white door splitting Foul of corpse rot, the dark smell choking Thirst of hell spawn, the gore teeth clicking Dark in cave, there the beast revives




The village of Dinas Camlin near the mouth of the river Camel, Kernow, in southwestern Britain Spring, in the year of our Lord, 493

The dance clopped along and Arthur tried not to trip over his own feet, a rather difficult task even without his heart in his throat and Gwenivere dancing closer. She held out her sash like the others ladies of the inner circle. Arthur, in the outer circle of men, danced in the opposite direction toward her, making plans to grab onto her sash and so claim her as his partner. The watching crowd swayed and clapped to the beat of the tabor drum, nearly drowning out the box-fiddles and whistle- flutes. The bagpipers, however, had no trouble being heard, and their rich strains floated over the open square of the village, spurring on the dancers as their shadows swirled and gallopped in the torchlight. What a feast and what a dance! Arthur smiled. This was all in celebration of his coronation. Now if he could just dance with Gwenivere… Two hops forward, then the spin. Arthur feinted toward another lady’s sash, purposely missing as she playfully yanked it away. Gwenivere was closer now, twirling left, stepping right. Her sash was in reach! Arthur reached outslowly at first to gauge the angle and motion of her handand then swiftly, trying to catch her by surprise before she could snatch it away. Then the tip of his boot caught on a rock jutting from the ground. Arthur fell sideways, reaching for the sash. His fingers closed


around the soft linen but it flitted away like a ghost and was gone. His shoulder hit the ground hard, jarring his neck. The dancer behind him tripped on Arthur’s calf, caught his balance, and danced on. The next one jumped over as Arthur swung out of harm’s way. By the time he could pull himself up and dust off, he had lost his place and had to take another openingand there were many since half of the men had caught their partner and had swiveled to the inside of the ring. By the time Gwenivere came around again, she had a partner, some urchin of a fellow with oil stains on his tunic, a thin beard, and even thinner arms. The two promenaded past him, and Gwenivere’s beautiful smile shone in the flickering torchlight. Why? Why had Arthur tripped? If he’d only— But at least it wasn’t his false-friend Cullan. That insolent man had taken a liking to Gwenivere and seemed to guard her like a dog drooling over a bowl of stew. But it was too late now and everyone had paired off except one old lady who waved her sash at him, grabbed his arm, and spun him to the inside of the ring, practically against his will. Ah, yer a tough one to catch,” she said, smiling. Her front teeth were missing and she squinted at him, nearly blind in the darkness. But oh, could she dance, and she knew all the steps. Up and down her legs pumped, guiding Arthur through the unfamiliar Kernow dance. Sometimes the sash was low, held between them, and sometimes high to let another pair of dancers pass through. On and on it seemed to go: step after mis-step, sash up, sash down, promenade, spinhe going the wrong way of course. And the whole time Arthur only caught one clear glance of Gwenivere, her fair locks flying past him in the never ending jostle of feet. When it was over everyone clapped and hooted while Arthur caught his breath. Gwalahad came and patted him on the back. “A good try for your first Kernow dance, eh?” He was grinning at Arthur, his face flushed beneath his sandy white hair. “It’d be a lot easier if it wasn’t so fast.” “That was my great-aunt you were dancin’ with … she’s one o’ the best!”


“At least I didn’t step on her toes.Two men with big saffron colored hats and leather gloves strutted to the center of the square, lit six oil-soaked balls with a torch, and began to juggle them. The delighted crowd lurched backward to make room as the flaming balls spun and sparked through the air, sometimes straight up, sometimes across to the other juggler. Arthur backed up as well and felt something hard under his right heel. That something jerked sideways and cursed. “Look who you’re stepping on, nimble-foot!” Arthur turned and looked up to see Culann staring down at him, his sharp nose pointing accusingly and scorn playing at the corners of his mouth. “Sorry, I—” “Stop being a pretender.” “No, really—” “You knew I was here all the time.” Culann raised his hands to shove Arthur back, but stopped himself. After taking a deep, angry, breath, Culann tightened his lips and smiled. This was so frustrating for Arthur. The two had shared many years of friendship before it was discovered that Arthur was the lost heir to the throne of Britain. And then Dwin was murdered by the werewolf. Only now did Arthur realize that Dwin’s cheerfulness had been the common bond holding his and Culann’s brittle friendship together. And then there was Gwenivere, whose natural beauty had soured their relationship more than anything. Arthur heard her distinctive laugh from across the square and glanced up to see her giggling at Gwenivachher nearly identical sisterwho had a pinched expression as she lifted her slender boot and picked off a soiled rag that had stuck to her heel. Watching looking at?Culann said, grabbing Arthur by the shoulders and shaking him. Anger rose up in Arthur, and he knocked Culann’s hands away. “Don’t touch me.” “The royal majesty’s too good for a tussle, huh?” “No, I’m not.”


“Then prove it.” Arthur felt a tenseness gather in his clenched fist and rise up his arm to cover his chest and neck. Culann’s left hand shot forward. Arthur reacted quickly, seizing the man’s wrist. But then the bagpipe skirled, starting another dance. Some girl grabbed Culann’s right hand and pulled him into one of the two lines that quickly formed. Arthur, grasping Culann’s left wrist, was jerked along with. Gwalahad joined them, and the three stood in a line, with a partner immediately across from each. Culann jerked his hand away and glared at Arthur. The bagpipe softened and the whistles took over. A caller shouted instructions, but Arthur had never danced like this before. His partner was a young barefoot girl in a green smock, pretty brown hair, and with an air of shyness. Arthur followed as best he could, stepping toward his partner, then back, then forward to pass on her right, finally back to his original position. But the steps got more complex and Arthur became confused with all the twirls, short promenades, and funny turns. Then each line shiftedhis to the right by one and the opposite line to the left by one, giving him a new partner, this time it was the reeking urchin in the oily shirt. Ugh! Arthur danced, but miserably. Only then did he realize Culann was laughing at him. Arthur looked around. Most of the people had lined up with the men and women alternating … and Arthur was in a woman’s position. Double-Ugh! They shifted again, and now Gwenivere was dancing with Culann. And though Arthur had to dance with a skinny man smelling of freshly baked bread, he smiled to know that she would dance with him next. Then it hit him … the shift moved by two people. Gwenivere would dance with Gwalahad, not him. Looking past Gwenivere, he saw that Gwenivach, who was also in a wrong position, would be his next partner. Triple-Ugh. Gwenivach was shallow and fickle, constantly flirting with a different warrior. Not like her older sister,


Gwenivere, who was thoughtfully quiet, kept mostly to herself, and would often go roaming beyond the walls of the village. But Arthur never had venture after her, what with all the decisions begging for his attention, not the least of which were the war councils concerning the invading Saxenow and Picti. And then there was Merlin—Arthur’s foster father—who always wanted to talk with him about how they might stop Mórgana and her mysterious dragon. But when Arthur did get a spare moment to breathe he would always find Culann hovering around Gwenivere. Impossible. It was just impossible. The drummers beat louder, and Arthur knew he had to make his move. On the next in-and-out-rotation, he purposely went one too far and got himself mixed in with the dancers to his left. When the time came to return to his home position Arthur slipped quickly into Gwalahad’s place, and the young warrior confusedly took Arthur’s old spot. It worked! Gwenivere would dance with him! They shifted, and the girl of his dreams stood across from him. She looked upon Arthur with a puzzled expression, searching his face in such a way that Arthur’s cheeks began to itch. Her long russet dress was worn over a white bodice, and tiny pewter spiralsperhaps cast by her newly deceased fatherwere tied to the dark brown fringes, and they jingled quietly as she stepped into position. Arthur and Gwenivere bowed to each other and the dance began, this time a little slower. The box-fiddlers took the lead, their tune flitting over the dancers like a mother humming sweetly to her child. “I didn’t know you could dance so well,she said, an elusive hint of either teasing or disdain in her voice. “Well … I learned up north.” “Do they teach spectacular tripping as well?” “No, I learned that here.” He tried to smile, but it felt forced. They held their right hands up, palms pressed together in the center, and circled for eight steps. Her hand was cold, which surprised him. Needing to change the subject, he asked “Did your father cast the pewter spirals on your dress?” The words were out


of his mouth before he realized how stupid he was. Gwenivere blamed him for the giant man’s death. “Let’s talk about your masterful dancing instead.” “I’m sorry,” Arthur said. “I shouldn’t have asked your father…” “Don’ you like dancing?” Gwenivere whispered, her teeth bared. They separated for a turn, spun left, and then danced around each other, Arthur’s thoughts troubling him all the while. Their conversation was going from bad to worse, and he needed to help her get past this. “Gwenivere … forgive me, please.” “I’ll never forget that battle. Never.They had to link arms now and promenade. She leaned toward him and her lips were so close that the words stung doubly hard. “I’ll never forgive you,she said quietly, and the cold, steady look in her eyes bore witness to her seriousness. “Please don’t hate me.She glared at him. “I am queen of my own emotions, and will do as I please.” This exchange felt so similar to what they had said at her father ’s death, that Arthur began to feel lightheaded. The world spun even as the dancers twirled around him, and he saw again the old giant’s bearded, bloody face and how his chest fell still after his last, ragged breath. That battle had been a nightmare. But why did she blame Arthur? He hadn’t asked her father to fight … the man had volunteered to fight Mórgana’s werewolf and his army of wolf-heads! They had desperately needed the help, but Gogi had made his own choice. Nothing that Arthur said, it seemed, could set things right. Do you only blame me?” he asked, and his voice sounded hollow in his own ears. “Yes and yes and yes!” The dance ended with clapping, and Arthur, dejected, almost bumped into Gwalahad. “Thank you for the dance,” Gwenivere said as she stepped back, eying him like a cornered cat ready with her claws. They bowed awkwardly to each other in the dimming torchlight, and he


turned away, vowing once again that until the day of his death he would never forget the cruelty of her words. Why? Why couldn’t they at least be friends? Oh, but he wanted more than thatmuch moreand this argument with her not only intensified his feelings, but it made him feel stupid and shameful. Maybe he was responsible for her father’s death. Wasn’t the king always responsible? This burden crushed down upon him, sucking the strength from his lungs so that he could hardly breathe. He hung his head and closed his eyes, fighting the frustration and anger that rose up from his gut and threatened to strangle his throat. A man yelled. ARTHUR! … above you! He looked up and saw the dim silhouette of a curved bow on a crennig rooftop, with a shadowy figure behind it. There was the muted snap of a bow string and Arthur saw an arrow of death speeding toward his heart.




With the arrow flying at him, Arthur twisted to the side just enough for the shaft to miss and bury itself into the ground behind him.

But this archer was fast, and almost instantly another arrow was flung from the bow and raced toward him. To his left, someone began to yell. Arthur tried to duck, but found himself only falling backward, still in the path of the arrow glinting through the darkness. With no armor to protect him, he instinctively stiffened for the coming blow. And just as the deadly blur of the arrow drew near, someone thrust their hand in the way. It was Gwalahad, his long whitish hair shining like a beacon as the man desperately tried to protect Arthur. The razored tip ripped through the man’s palm and didn’t stop until it pierced Arthur’s the left side of his chest. Clenching his jaw, he crashed to the ground. Gwalahad fell with him, his dreadful yell splitting the night air. In the confusion, Arthur heard another twang of the bowstring, and another arrow, this one shot hastily, missed the right side of his chest and its shaft quivered as it dug itself into the dirt, a hair’s breadth from his side. Merlin was there—Arthur’s foster-father and now adviserand he shouted for Peredur to catch the archer. Bending over to see the wound, the dark curls of his hair contrasting strongly with his ashen, scar-etched face. “Are you alright? Stupid of me! Where’s your armor?” He swore, and Arthur knew why: blood began to pool under his white tunic where the arrow had struck, and some of it leaked down to the pit of his arm. But Arthur knew that the wound was superficial. Gwalahad had saved him from certain death, and as the man jerked his hand


away, the arrow came with it. Gwalahad alternately gasped, yelled, and prayed. “Sweet Jesus … have mercy.” Arthur clambered up and began sprinting after his would-be assassinwho had slid down the thatch roof and disappeared into the darkness. Peredur and Caygek were only a few steps ahead of Arthur. “Please … stop!” Merlin called, but Arthur wasn’t about to turn back. This assassin, whoever he was, had to be caught, and Arthur was going to help. The three of them bolted behind the shop upon whose roof the assassin had been hiding. “Missin’ … missin’ …” Peredur said under his breath. Arthur caught up with him. “What’d you say?” “Who was missin’ at the dance?” “What? You think he was from the fortress?” “Well, that’s where he’s goin’ … look!” Peredur pointed toward a shadow that darted from one patch of darkness to another, and then behind another roundhouseall the time headed toward the towering stone walls of the fortress. Arthur sprinted between the two closest crennigs and tripped on a large clay pot that had been left to catch the rain from the roof. Shattering the pot, he crashed against the wooden wall of the roundhouse, scraping his elbow. Caygek helped him up. “That way … he’s almost to the wall!” They ran, but Arthur ’s shin throbbed, and he fell behind. In the distance he saw the assassin begin climbing the wall using hand and toe-holds amongst the rough stonework. By the time they arrived, the mandressed all in black with his bow over his shoulderhad already climbed a third of the way to a large upper windows which looked out over the bay of Lake Camlin. “Guards!” Peredur shouted toward the top of the wall. “GUARDS!” “It’s no use,” Caygek said with a moan. “They were all at the dance.” “Then let’s climb!” Arthur said. Peredur blanched. “Never done that before.” “An’ I don’t like heights,” Caygek said, shaking his head. None of the three had a spear or any other ranged weapon.


Arthur had no choice, and he began to search for a toehold. He had climbed the raw cliffs around their fortress back home, and figured this would be easier. Caygek pulled him back, slipped off his own rust-plated leather helm and scale armor, and threw them both onto Arthur. “Then you’re at least going to wear these.” They were heavy, but Arthur didn’t protest anything but his injured shin and burning chest. Grabbing the closest stone, he began to climb after the assassin. Caygek and Peredur helped steady him at first, but he gained confidence as he climbed beyond their reach, and soon he was making fast progress toward this man who had tried to kill him. He had to be stopped! Soon Arthur was gaining on him, and then found out why: the stones nearer the top were smaller and his grip became more precarious. Still he climbed as fast as he could until he realized, too late, that the assassin had stopped. Looking up, Arthur saw the mans boot slam down into his face. Once. Twice. The shock nearly blinded him, and the world tilted dizzily. He tried to back down, but one of his toes slipped and he scrabbled against the rock to find a hold. Once more the heel of the man’s boot cracked into Arthur’s head and he fell twenty feet to the grass below. The air was knocked from his lungs and he lay there, stunned. The assassin climbed closer to the lookout window as Peredur and Caygek began to drag Arthur toward the woods. “Let go,” he called, but they didn’t stop. Above him, the assassin pulled himself in, turned around, and swiftly shot two arrows. One hit the trunk of a tree, shattering bark into Arthur’s face. Another hit his side and caromed off the scale armor Caygek had given him. “I’ll get you …” Arthur called as Caygek helped him to his feet behind the largest tree. “To the gate,” Peredur called. “We can catch him yet!” They ran until Arthur was winded and slowed to a walk. “Go


on ahead,” he urged, but they refused. Circling around the perimeter to the trellised gate, they found it blocked by newly stationed guards, who allowed them passage after a hurried briefing. Search the hall!” Arthur commanded as they ran through. Peredur had them take torches and led the way. To the warrior’s quarters … quickly!” His voice was desperate … almost as if he suspected someone in particular. Arthur followed across the inner courtyard, finally able to catch his breath since he had fallen. Up the left stairs, through two stone archways, down four steps, and through another doorway, they paused at the entrance to

a large vaulted chamber filled with warrior’s bunks. The room

was dark despite knife-slits of pale moonlight cast through the thin windows. A tomb-like silence filled the air. Arthur chose to search the far aisle, his feet clunking loudly on

the stone floor, and his heart thumping in his chest. Equipped with a torch in his left hand and his father’s dirk was in his right, yet he wished for the new sword he had pulled from the stone. But

it was locked in a trunk back at his quarters, and there’d been no

time to get it. Arthur stopped. Had he heard something above him? Lifting his torch, he studied the upper reaches of the chamber, but saw nothing. Had he imagined it?

Moving forward again, he saw that one of the bunks was occupied. After readying his blade, he lowered his torch to reveal

a sleeping man with a black beard and a round, yellowed nose.

But something was wrong … his face was contorted and one of his eyes was open. A bloody knife was jabbed into the man’s chest, and fresh blood flowed from the wound.

Arthur backed up and someone grabbed his shoulder from behind. Whipping around, he swiftly knocked the hand away and raised his dirk. “It’s me … easy.” “Caygek? I thought you were—” “You think I’d leave you alone … in here? Looks like you


found a trail to the assassin.” “I don’t understand. Why this man, too?Caygek shook his head and pointed down. Drips of blood led from the corpse down the aisle toward the base of a window where they disappeared. They both moved forward to the window, Arthur in front and Caygek guarding from behind. The sill was high, but Arthur handed his torch to Caygek and pulled himself up. Looking out, he had to ignore the pain in his chest. A cool breeze was blowing in from the south, and though the moonlight lit up the hillside below in an eerie tangle of shadow and glimmer, he saw no sign of the assassin. The rocky ground was a far plummet, but Arthur supposed that the assassin could have climbed down just as well. Arthur dropped back to Caygek. “He’s gone. Escaped.” Peredur rounded a corner, startling them both. “Nothing that way, the bunks are all empty.” Yet a faint sound fluttered at Arthur’s ear. Someone was breathing quietly against the far wall. Arthur took his torch and motioned for silence. Gripping the hilt of his blade, he led them toward the sound. The darkness fled away with each step, finally revealing a man asleep on his side with his back to them. He wore a blue tunic and brown pants. His feet were bare, and his ratty hair was braided from below his bald spot into a long rope that hung down toward the floor. Peredur jumped forward, grabbed the man by the back of his tunic, yanked him onto the floor, and stuck a knife at his throat. “Tethion! It was you!” he yelled as the man squinted his eyes and flailed his hands outward, confused and choking as Peredur twisted the cloth tightly at his neck. “Where’s your bow and arrows? We’ll find them and I’ll have you hung on a gibbet, I will.” “Th-th-th,” the man stammered as he pulled at Peredur’s hand. “Let him talk,” Arthur said. Peredur relaxed his grip even as he brought the tip of his blade up against the man’s chin. Tethion belched and a strong waft of wine floated upward. “I know nuthin’ … nuthin’ … let a poor man sleep.”


Caygek searched the man’s bedding and area, finding nothing unusual. But Peredur wasn’t satisfied. “Where’d you stash your black clothes … tell me!” “I don’t know what yer talking about. I been sleepin’ for hours. Ask Hicca over there … we was drinkin’ together, and he’ll vouch fer me!” “You mean that man over there?” Caygek asked, pointing below the window. “Well he’s dead, and so will you be if you don’t start answering our questions.” Tethion nodded, alarmed. Arthur put a hand on Caygek’s shoulder. “We haven’t proof. Leave him be.” Peredur, still angry, let go of the man’s tunic, stood, and sheathed his blade. Caygek led the way out, and Peredur slammed the door. “I know it was him. It has to be. Remember when Rewan was murdered with an arrow in his eye? The only man who hadn’t agreed with his testimony was Tethion.” Caygek looked to Arthur for support and then spoke. “But we need proof. Suspicions aren’t enough.” “When the king’s life is at stake, suspicions are all that matter to me. That man should be banished from the warband.” “He’s one of our best bowmen,” Arthur said. “And without him we might have lost the battle against the werewolf’s army” “That doesn’t mean I trust him.” Peredur said as he stormed away. Caygek and Arthur alerted the guards to the dead body so they could remove it for burial. Then, after searching the rest of the fortress, no better evidence was found than the trail of blood leading to the window. The assassin had escaped.




Once the search was concluded and the fortress secured, the doors were opened to those gathered outside. Arthur went immediately


back to the village to help carry Gwalahad’s stretcher to the infirmaria where the monks and nuns would care for him. Though the arrow had been carefully removed by Merlin and the injured right hand wrapped tightly, the young man was still in great pain. “You saved me,” Arthur said. “And at great cost. My prayer is that you’ll heal quickly and fully.” “I-I don’t know,” he said, each word cut between sharp breaths. “I think it’s ruined and I can’t be your warrior. Forgive me.” “Forgive you? I’m trying to thank you! I owe you my life.” “No, no … you don’t understand,” Gwalahad said, his eyes still closed. “Anything for my king.” The man’s commitment stung. Would Arthur have been willing to do the same for him? Surely the man’s hand was useless now, and he might never wield a sword again. Really … Arthur hardly knew Gwalahad. They had only met two weeks previously, Gwalahad being the grandson of old Pelles one-ear, the chieftain of the fortress of Dinas Camlin where they were staying. Ahead of them a small herd of dirty sheep were lazily blocking the path, and the guards spotted the errant shepherd boy staring at Gwalahad from where he sat on top of one of the beasts. “Git awa’, you!” a guard said while running up beside the young boy’s mount. When the boy didn’t respond right away, the guard cuffed him in the face. “Can’t tha see the king is tryin’ to git through?” “I’s donna’ see no king,” the boy said, rubbing a grubby hand on his quickly reddening cheek. “Be git, wretch!” the guard said, kicking the boy’s scruffy mount. “Me name’s Brastias,” the boy said, sticking his tongue out, “and I’ll not be beat upon.” He flicked one of his thin legs back and his mount snapped around to face the man, its pointy horns lowered menacingly. The guard backed up and began to draw his sword. Arthur stopped him. “Let the boy be … shedding this worthy


opponent’s blood won’t help your prince any.” The guard pursed his lips, cocked his eyebrows at Arthur, and then bowed. “As you wish, my Lord.” Arthur nodded to Brastiaswho grimly set his thin jaw, nodded back, and then rode off, down and away from the village. His sheep followed in swift procession. Arthur and the others advanced with Gwalahad’s stretcher and behind them flowed an entourage of villagers and residents of the fortress. From among them, a group of females stepped forward and hemmed him in. The foremost was Gwenivach. “Are you all right?” she asked, her voice nearly a screech of concern and fear. “Fine.” “Are you sure? I saw blood.She tried to inspect the wound on his chest, but Caygek’s armor prevented her. “You were hit! I saw the arrow.She started pulling his left sleeve until cloth with a bloodstain slid out from under the armor. Arthur’s cheeks felt hot, and he jerked his arm away. “Leave it alone,” he said. Why’d she have to point out his wound? He was supposed to lead … didn’t that mean he had to be invincible? Who would follow if he made silly mistakes like that? Her eyes showed shock at his gruffness, yet her hands reached toward him again, almost involuntarily, it seemed, and he had to push past her to get away. “Gwalahad saved me. I’m fine. Tell the others.He stuffed the bloody bit of tunic back inside his armor to hide it and then ushered Gwalahad through the doorway and into the fortress. “I’m watching you…” she called. Arthur ignored her.