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chapter two


To a boy who had grown up in a fishing village and later in a mountain cabin far from any civilization, Camelot was something unfathomable in its majesty and vastness and I found myself staring slack-jawed when I arrived at the gate, nearly forgetting my bloody mission with my awe. The town was sprawling and lively, with rich woman shopping for fabrics in so many bright colors they hurt my eyes, and men bartering with tradesmen for the best prices on goods and horses. The children I saw were happy, and even the beggars looked fat compared to the ones I had grown up with. It seemed that what everyone said was true; that this was indeed a golden age for the kingdom, and Camelot was flourishing under Arthur’s rule. A cold feeling entered my gut, and all awe and excitement washed out of me like a sigh as I was reminded of my mission. I knew in my heart that a king whose kingdom looked like this could not be an evil tyrant. I had hoped—a small part of me had hoped—that I would be able to hate Arthur Pendragon—anything to make this horrible charge easier, but I knew it was not to be. I knew then, and I would only be more convinced later when I had actually met Arthur himself.

            I did not go to the castle first off, for it was evening when I arrived, and I wanted to make a start of it in the morning. So I found an inn to stay at for the night and enquired about how best to approach the king as a knight.

            Most men looked at me skeptically, and I knew well I was no real knight, but they didn’t say me nay. Perhaps it was my dark desperate look, for I had become a bit of a hard looking young man for my suffering at Lady Morgan’s hands and perhaps, despite my young age and willowy figure, they were willing to give me the benefit of a doubt.

            One man, a trader, was very kind to me. “I am going to the castle myself tomorrow with a shipment of cloth for the Queen’s wardrobe. You may travel with me if you wish.”

            “I would be glad to,” I replied and also allowed him to buy me an ale that night.

            I slept poorly, my stomach churning, tossing mercilessly on the rough cot, with the thought of meeting Arthur the next day—if he were not too busy to see me. I wished, oh how I wished, I could have run with any hope that Lady Morgan would never find me, but I knew it was not to be. I feared her powers with magic, not knowing how much she really possessed and not wanting to take the chance. Perhaps I should have just let her kill me and be done with it, but I knew she would not have done that, ever. She needed me for some insane reason, and I knew she would make me do it all one way or another before she ever killed me. The only other option was to plunge a knife into my own breast, but I blanched at the thought. It was not that I was too much of a coward to do it; it was that I thought the action too cowardly in itself. If I killed myself, I would never be able to beat her, and thus she would have won, and that thought tormented me more than anything.

            So I went to the castle the next morning with the trader and left him in the courtyard to go and speak to a knight who was standing to one side, talking to a groom and stroking his horse fondly. He was a kind looking fellow, like one of those carefree men who was always ready to laugh and make for easy friends. He looked the least likely person to be cruel to a boy, so I chose to ask him.

            “Your Mercy,” I said respectably and he turned around, a big, broad man with wild blond hair, and I could not help but notice that he was the complete opposite of me: confident, sure, and visibly merry.

            “Can I help you, lad?” he asked, fondling his horse’s forelock as the beast whickered against his shoulder affectionately.

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