Read Camelot & Vine Online

Authors: Petrea Burchard

Tags: #hollywood, #king arthur, #camelot, #arthurian legend, #arthurian, #arthurian knights, #arthurian britain, #arthurian fiction, #arthurian fantasy, #hollywood actor, #arthurian myth, #hollywood and vine, #cadbury hill

Camelot & Vine (6 page)

The cart rocked slightly when someone leaned
against it.

“Yes,” said Bedwyr. “The king would have
killed her, sure.”

 

 

 

 

SEVEN

 

“Leave the rest.” Gorgeous, in command
astride a white stallion, tightened his hand on the reins of his
skittish mount.

The purple sky had turned to lilac and still
no police car came to my rescue. The warriors led their horses out
of the forest and gathered on the road, where the night-time fog
had diminished to a fine mist at the animals’ hooves.

“If others are about,” said Gorgeous, loudly
enough for those others to hear, “let them come upon their dead
once the vermin have at them. Let them know what happens to a Saxon
inside British borders. Let them learn not to come this far
again.”

“They’re not known for their brains,
Lancelot,” Bedwyr said under his breath.

Of course. Gorgeous rode a white stallion
and lorded it over everyone. He would be the one who called himself
Lancelot.

The horses neighed and strained at their
bits, breath rolling from their nostrils like locomotive steam. The
warriors mounted with a running jump and a pull on the withers. I
thought saddles with stirrups would have made more sense than the
animal hides they used.

With a churning of wagon wheels and a chaos
of pounding hooves, our small band headed away from the forest. I
pretty much gave up on the cops.

I didn’t hear the name of the red-haired,
freckled boy who drove my cart. From the looks of his pimpled peach
fuzz he was too young to be a soldier. I was wondering if he was
even in his teens when a more mature rider sidled alongside us to
have a leer at me. He was as broad and muscular as Lancelot, but
not as pretty. Where Lancelot was golden, this man was a ruddy
brown. He might have been handsome, but his looks were marred by a
serious scar across his left cheek.

“Ah, good,” said Lancelot. “Lyonel, help us
watch the prisoner.”

“Gladly.” Lyonel leered some more, as though
I were dressed in nothing but my panties instead of my ensemble of
mud, blood and chains.

As if those chains weren’t enough to keep
me, Lyonel and Lancelot flanked my wagon, while Bedwyr rode behind.
Behind Bedwyr came the wagon carrying the gift-wrapped bodies. The
driver of that wagon stared ahead without speaking and although his
line of vision seemed to lead directly to me he never looked at me.
The young soldier who had smiled at me rode alongside him and even
gave me a reassuring grin. I meant to smile back but I couldn’t get
the corners of my mouth to turn up. It had been a long time since
I’d slept or eaten or had anything to drink. I needed to pee. I
didn’t know who the king was or whether or not he was going to kill
me or why, or why I was even there. Wherever I was.

The denizens of Small Common couldn’t have
ignored the clopping of dozens of hooves on stone. But
inexplicably, Small Common was not there. The night before, Lucy
and I had cantered past neat hedgerows and cozy farms. That was all
gone, replaced by jagged stones, giant cairns and mounds of grassy
earth looming in the dawn. I must have ridden too far in the wrong
direction, although I was confused about that and afraid to ask.
Fear made me quiet on the outside, but inside my ears rang, my head
hammered and my mind shouted question after regret after curse. Who
was this “king?” How did he know about me? What did he want me for?
How had I ended up where I was, and where the hell was I? If only I
hadn’t lost my job. If only Mike’s wife hadn’t been at the airport.
If only I hadn’t boarded that plane. Damn Mike. Damn his wife.
Mostly, damn me.

No longer protected by the cover of the
forest, the men watched the countryside, alert in their exhaustion.
Bedwyr’s every muscle pulled taut in vigilance as we rode across
the wide, grassy plains. Though not a tall man, he could likely
take down ten TV producers and never break a sweat, and he was
probably pushing fifty. I had witnessed kindness in him, though he
was hardened enough to be fearsome.

Lancelot, the handsome thug whose idea it
had been to chain me, was easily twenty years Bedwyr’s junior and
not hardened in the same way, but I knew to be wary of him. He
swaggered, even on horseback, which annoyed me. I’d seen it in
Hollywood. I’d seen it with Mike. A person that beautiful becomes
accustomed to being watched. Posing becomes second nature. So does
mistrust.

I ducked down inside the cart as much as I
could. Lancelot’s scarred friend, Lyonel, continued to ogle me
whenever he took his eyes off the road. A crust of blood had dried
on my face. My chains tore at my clothes. I couldn’t move my arms
to cover myself and I didn’t appreciate the way Lyonel made me feel
like I wasn’t even wearing a sweater.

All that, and no breakfast. Nothing to eat
for more time than I could figure out.

In less than an hour after we left the
woods, the riding rhythm slowed, then stopped. No one had spoken
since we’d gotten clear of the forest. I stayed low in the cart to
listen.

“The horses won’t make Cadebir today,” said
Bedwyr.

“Yes,” said Lancelot. “I invite you and your
men to refresh at Poste Perdu. It is better to make the trip
tomorrow, after rest.”

Lucy sighed. Tied by a rope and trudging
along behind the wagon, she must have been as tired as I was. I
tried to sit up. Over my right shoulder, an infinity of tall grass
waved in peaceful unity. The sun rose over endless plains, burning
off the last of the mist and telling me we headed south. I turned
as far as I could to the left and caught my breath.

A few feet off the road stood
Stonehenge.

When I’d ridden by it in a taxicab the
previous day the stones had reminded me of tamed beasts in a
decrepit zoo. But in the morning sun the monument stood proud. The
grass grew high and wild enough to sway in the breeze. Stonehenge
was wanton with weeds.

We were so close to the stones they dwarfed
us. How had we gotten inside the fence? They don’t let you just
walk right up to the monument. You pay at the visitor center across
the road. You wait in line with the other tourists. You circle
around on the sidewalk.

We were the only ones there. No tourists. No
traffic. No visitor center.

No fence.

Things were not just bad. They were
wrong
.

 

 

 

 

EIGHT

 

From my position on the floor I attempted to
comprehend my predicament. The armor should have been my first
clue. Then the odd language, the bloody swords, the names.

We had continued south for a short while,
that much I knew. At a crossroads we’d gone east. I remembered some
sort of stone marker, but by that time I was beyond jet lag, beyond
hunger. Such relatively minor deprivations would have made me woozy
enough without the added confusion of having landed in the wrong
century. As it was, I’d swooned in and out of consciousness, for
how long, I didn’t know.

“They’ll come indeed, and with vengeance.”
Bedwyr sounded worried.

“We should have burned the bodies.” That was
the big one, Sagramore.

At his mention of burning, I smelled smoke.
My chains kept me from rolling over. About ten feet away across
scuffed mosaic tile, the road-dusted, lace-up leather boots of four
men faced each other around a table.

“Cremation sends the message that we respect
their dead,” came Lancelot’s stilted accent. “It is the wrong
message. I assure you the border is tight. I do not know how they
got in, but if any are yet alive they will not get out.”

“Still, we should go back and be
certain.”

Steel rang against steel. Shouts against
shouts.

“Lyonel, hold!” Lancelot sounded almost
scolding.

“He dares to doubt you—”

“Put up your sword, cousin.” Lancelot again,
the voice of reason. “You too, my friends. Bedwyr is only being
cautious, are you not, Bedwyr? Let us respect his wisdom.”

After a quiet moment, where strained
breathing was all I heard, swords slid back into scabbards. At
least I thought so, from the slip-stop noise of steel on steel.

Then silence.

“What about her?” said Bedwyr, sending my
heart on a whole new race.

“There is a cell near the north gate with
bars strong enough to hold a giant,” said Lancelot.

“Don’t like it.” Bedwyr’s low whisper wafted
to me along with the scent of wood smoke.

“Again, cousin, this one doubts you.”

“Bedwyr and I are friends, Lyonel,” said
Lancelot. “Friends may disagree. But Bedwyr, while we remain at
Poste Perdu I must do as I see fit.”

After a short pause, Bedwyr answered, “We’ll
comply. Arthur’s grateful for your hospitality.”

“It would be easier to kill her,” said
Lyonel.


Mais non
, Lancelot said, “Arthur
wants her.”

“She may be important.”


Oui, je comprends.

I could not shift my position.

“She is awake.”

One man stood, took deliberate steps to my
side and squatted, blocking my view of the others.

Lancelot’s symmetrical face loomed sideways
above me in shadow. “I am sorry for your discomfort, my lady,” he
said. “We are not barbarians. But as I cannot be certain you will
not use your powers against us, I will take no chances.”

My powers.

He rose and moved out of my field of vision.
“Would you like to sit?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Agravain. Gareth.” Lancelot had only to say
their names and the matching brother guards came to lift me. My
chains made me heavy and the process wrenched my shoulders. It was
only pain on top of the pain I already felt. If these are the not
the barbarians, I thought, I hope I never meet them.

The brothers seated me in a leather-bound
chair and took positions beside me, with ready hands on the hilts
of their swords. From my seat I had an opportunity to get my
bearings. Across the long, low room a single torch flickered,
braced in an iron wall-bracket like a medieval sconce. In the
jagged shadows beneath it, Bedwyr and Sagramore sat at a wooden
table, watching me. A legion of axes leaned against the wall in the
dark corner behind the two men; beyond that an archway led I knew
not where. A stand of spears lined another corner. At either end of
the room the doors stood open, allowing small streaks of daylight
to enter while letting out the smoke. Whatever the building’s
original use, it was now an armory. I didn’t see Lyonel and I hoped
he was gone.

Lancelot faced me across a pit in the floor
in which burned a small fire that perhaps warmed the inches nearest
its embers but not those near me.


Bienvenue à Poste Perdu. C’est ma petite
garde joyeuse,”
said Lancelot, his tongue somewhere in his
cheek, “my happy little outpost. We are not far from the border I
share with King Arthur.”

“Um,
merci
.” My voice came out
ragged.

“You speak the Gallic?” he asked, abruptly
leaning forward in his chair, as if my knowing French made me
dangerous.

I didn’t remember much from high school,
except we didn’t call it ‘the Gallic.’ “Just a couple of
words.”

“Have you had dealings with the Belgae
before?”

“I...don’t think so. What is the
Bell-gee?”

A laugh thundered from the dark, somewhere
behind me. Lyonel was not gone.

“I am Belgae,” said Lancelot, “as are my
men.” I looked beside me, to the brothers. “Not them. Agravain and
Gareth are Britons. The Britons and Belgae are allies.” He leaned
back in his chair. “But I sense you know this. From where do you
hail and whom do you serve?”

I didn’t want to lie. But if my father’s
theories about King Arthur were right, I was in the Dark Ages and
America didn’t exist yet. “I come from across the water to the
west. And I serve no master.”

“You are a Scot!” Lyonel’s voice sounded
more incredulous than accusing. Almost.

“Patience, Lyonel,” said Lancelot. “You must
forgive my cousin, mistress. Many enemies are abroad.” He
considered me. The room’s daytime shadows softened the angle of his
high cheekbones and the highlights in his hair. “You do not sound
like a Scot, nor do you look like one. You look like a Saxon.”

Sagramore sucked in a sharp breath. Bedwyr’s
chair groaned when he leaned forward, his face lit more by interest
than by torch light. The older brother, whether Gareth or Agravain
I didn't know, fingered the hilt of his sword. To be a Saxon was
bad news.

Lancelot continued. “You appeared during a
Saxon raid. You lived through it, without a weapon. If I were not
under orders to deliver you to King Arthur I would have left you
behind, or killed you, as you might pose a problem.” His beatific
smile came across as surprisingly warm. “But it is for the king to
decide if you live or die. You are fortunate. He is a great man,
Count of the Britons,
Dux Bellorum,
Leader of Wars.”

He waited.

“You may speak,” he said.

Upon his permission, the question foremost
in my mind popped from my lips. “Do you mean the
real
King
Arthur?”

Lancelot gripped the arms of his chair.
“There is an impostor?”

The warriors at my sides shifted their
feet.

“No,” I said quickly. My headache had
intensified since my sojourn on the floor, and it was becoming
difficult to look at Lancelot without blinking. I struggled to
cover what could be a deadly error. Smoke and body odor filled my
nostrils along with the air I had to have. “It’s
just...amazing...to think I’m going to see him.”

Lancelot relaxed back into his chair. “You
shall. Tomorrow. If you cooperate.”

My father had believed the Arthurian legends
were fiction and much of the real story was unknown. I wished I’d
paid more attention to my dad’s academic studies than my storybook.
It would have been nice to know what year it was, for example, or
how much time had passed since the Roman occupation. I knew the
Saxons had invaded Britain some time after the Romans left. Saxons
were the enemy and Lancelot thought I looked like one. I wasn’t
about to tell him I’d probably descended from them.

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