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 (9 page)

A pair of wide-eyed boys gaped over their
shoulders at me as they led the riderless horses away. They took
Lucy, too, my last connection to the real world. Sagramore shouted
after them, “No one touches that saddle until I get there.” Smoke
from somewhere stung my eyes.

I hadn’t heard the doors open but when I
turned, a tall man stood before them, waiting. Beyond him, the hall
was dark. The man’s beard was closely trimmed, his hands were
folded at his flat belly, and his steel-gray hair was twisted into
a pair of neat braids. Stone-faced, he bowed slightly, like the
gentleman butler of a haunted house. “Welcome home,” he said.

“Caius,” Bedwyr offered his hand, “All’s
well?”

Caius made no move. “All is well. The king
wishes to see you, Bedwyr. Sagramore, too. And Lancelot. And, of
course, his kinsmen.” He barely glanced at me. “Bring the
prisoner.” He looked over our bedraggled bunch as though inspecting
a delivery, then stepped down from the doorway, his perfect posture
evident in every move. Then he clasped Bedwyr’s hand, and suddenly
they were all slapping each other on the back, hugging and
laughing.

All except Lancelot. He stood at the fringes
of the group, looking to the far side of the building with a gaze
that would melt stone. A young woman peered back at him from her
hiding place around the corner of the hall. Her long, dark hair was
offset by her white tunic. She was fair, far more fair than I had
ever been, even when I was twenty, even when my hair was not caked
with soil and blood. No one noticed her but me before she ducked
into the afternoon shadows under the eaves.

When Lancelot caught me watching, I looked
away.

 

 

 

 

TWELVE

 

In the sudden cool, the empty hall revealed
itself as my eyes became accustomed to the momentary dark. Wooden
poles along the length of the center aisle supported a surprisingly
lofty roof. At the far end of the cavernous chamber, a long table
sat on a raised platform, its wooden chairs facing out over a cold
fire pit. A row of windows opened to the air high on the eastern
wall, admitting individuated shafts of light. The same windows were
likely responsible for the birds that roosted in the rafters and
dotted the benches and trestle tables with droppings.

I wished for a mirror. I wanted to brush the
hair away from my eyes. I had not butterflies, but killer bees in
my stomach.

Caius led our procession along the far wall
to the opposite end of the hall. Partly to show their power over
me, partly to help me remain upright, Agravain and Gareth held my
arms. We made our slow approach to an archway where two armed but
not armored guards stood at attention. They made no move to stop
us. Perhaps they already knew we were coming. Either that, or they
were merely decoration. Caius stepped aside while the brothers
helped me to labor up two stairsteps into a plain room that was at
most twelve feet square. One small window, open to the elements,
lit the tiny space.

Lancelot, Bedwyr, Medraut and Sagramore
followed us into the room and positioned themselves along the walls
wherever they could. When Caius was satisfied, he called through a
faded, red curtain into the room beyond. “Sire, they’re here.”

I heard a slight rustling and the plop, tap,
shuffle of small items being moved about or set down. Then nothing.
At last, a chair scraped on the floor. The next sound was loud
panting.

A white, wolf-like hound burst through the
red curtain and bounded into the room, ecstatic to see everyone,
especially me. With my arms held behind me by the brother guards, I
couldn’t fend him off. As the beast pressed his wet nose into my
crotch, King Arthur chose to enter.

“Cavall, away,” he said, in a voice at the
same time harsh and quiet. I immediately recognized my
square-jawed, grizzled friend. I half expected him to speak in that
strange, foreign tongue he’d used in the woods. But the savage
murderer had become a calm, collected bear in boots. His hair and
whiskers, the color of the dark Cadebir soil sprinkled with gray,
framed an expression of bemusement on a face made interesting by
deep lines. He seemed to tower above the others, not because of his
size, though he was tall, but because of his presence.

The dog backed off, leaving me
teetering.

“Release her,” the king said calmly. “Cai,
send for water.”

The guards let go of my arms. Gareth
steadied me with a gentle touch on my elbow, making sure I could
stand on my own before he moved aside.

Gareth needn’t have worried. King Arthur
stepped forward and took my hands in his, giving me an extra point
on which to balance. Though he had gripped my hands in the bloody
forest, this gentler gesture shocked me in our more civilized
surroundings. Was there a convention I was expected to follow?
Should I bow or curtsey? Afraid to meet his eyes I looked at my
red-polished, chipped nails enfolded in his rough palms.

His grip warm and sure, the king led me to
the bench near the doorway, where Caius had stationed himself, and
helped me to sit. Movement aggravated my migraine. I tilted my head
back, allowing the cool wood of the wall to support it. Opposite
me, Lancelot leaned, languid, in the corner. I thought he was
watching me but in the dimness I couldn’t be sure.

Having placed me, the king turned to his
men. I would have to wait to know my fate. “Bedwyr, your
report.”

Bedwyr stepped forward. “About a dozen
escaped us, Sire.”

“We’ll return for the stragglers. How many
did we kill?”

“Seventeen, Sire, with Lancelot’s help.”

“Our casualties?”

“No serious injuries among the survivors,
Sire,” said Bedwyr. “Three dead.”

The king’s forehead clamped down over his
brow. “Their names,” he demanded.

Bedwyr seemed to be holding his breath.
“Dead are Tore, Fergus and...Dynadan, Sire.”

I felt the king’s weight tip the bench
forward when he sat. “Failure,” he said.

The dog circled, settling at his master’s
feet and closing his silver eyes with a sigh. The king looked
around the room, visiting each man with his eyes. “There’s a spy
among us.”

“No, Sire!” Outraged, Medraut placed his
hands on his hips. His resemblance to his father showed in the
smooth but still square angle of his jaw.

“It can’t be!” I thought Sagramore’s chin
quivered.

Lancelot stopped leaning and stood up, at
last interested in the proceedings.

“You were all fighting for your lives, as
was I,” said the king, “but they knew me, I’m sure of it, either by
my dress or my face. They sent their strongest warriors and
separated me from the rest of you. I killed two men but was
overpowered by the third. I couldn’t see how to save myself.” He
turned, and I felt his eyes on me. “Then help came from the sky. An
angel saved my life.”

Cloth shifted against skin and leather slid
across wood as all turned their eyes to me. Stunned, I tried to
think back:
hurtle through space, see the grizzled man, bump
into a hard thing, fall.

“How did she save you, Sire?” asked
Bedwyr.

“She flew at me with fury in her eyes. With
great might she forced the Saxon upon my sword.” King Arthur gazed
at me in wonder. “I am forever in your debt.”

The fury in my eyes had been terror. The
shadow I’d bumped into with my head had been a man—a man I’d
killed. King Arthur was forever in my debt. He probably wasn’t
going to kill me.

A servant appeared with a cup of water and
offered it to me.

“Thanks,” I whispered. I tried to calm my
breathing so I could drink.

“Tell me your name, mistress,” said the
king.

I swallowed. “Casey.”

A soft chuckle rose up among the men.
Someone said, “Oh no,” and someone else said, “It’s the gallows,
then.” The king blinked and suppressed a fatherly grin.

Caius bent down from his considerable height
to whisper, “You will address the king as ‘your majesty.’”

“Oh. I’m sorry. It’s Casey, your majesty.”
My voice sounded timid, not like a furious, avenging angel.

“Kay-see,” the king tried it out on his
lips. “An unusual name. You are most welcome here, Casey. Have my
men ill-treated you?”

They just wanted to go home and get some
sleep. It was in the look Bedwyr exchanged with Sagramore and in
Agravain’s yawn, and the way they all slouched against the wall. By
then not one of them was holding himself up with his own power.

“No, your majesty, they’ve been nice.”

He shook his head. “I’ll forgive you that
lie because you don’t know me yet. I can see they’ve been rough.
You will be honest with me henceforth. I do not accept lies.” He
turned on the bench to face me squarely. “I owe you my life. I wish
you no harm. I only wish to keep you. With your powers, you can be
of great help to me.”

Lancelot cleared his throat.

“What is it, Lance?”

“The stream did not frighten her, Sire.”

“That is inconclusive.”

Bedwyr spoke up. “Sire, if I may.”

“Bedwyr.”

“The lady has given her word to stay and has
abided by it so far. She accompanied us the latter part of the day
without chains.”

I wanted to say, “Where else would I go?”
but I sensed I shouldn’t speak until spoken to, regardless of my
magic powers.

The king folded his arms across his chest.
To me he said, “Will you allow my wizard to nurse you?”

I nodded, then remembered, “Yes, your
majesty.” I thought I might pass out again if I didn’t get
something to eat or at least a place to lie down and let the
migraine finish its evil work.

“Good. Cai will see to it that you get to
the dell. Order the cart to the kitchen door, Cai.”

Caius disappeared through the archway. The
dell, whatever it was, had better be nearby.

“Can you walk?”

“I think so, your majesty.”

Careful of my chafed wrists, the king helped
me to my feet, holding my elbows with his big, bear hands. He put a
protective arm around my shoulder and we moved with halting steps
through the archway, down the stairs and into the hall, leaving the
others behind. I held myself up, wanting to give over my strength
to him yet not sure I should.

“I’ve never seen a hauberk like yours,” the
king whispered as we made our measured steps to the back door. “Is
it magic armour? Can you make more of it?”

“I...I’m afraid I can’t, your majesty,” I
said, glad he’d at least mentioned my armor so I had a general idea
of what “hauberk” meant.

“Who made it? Perhaps I can persuade him to
make more for my men. The hood is especially fine.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, forgetting
myself in migraine and exhaustion. “I got it at the Gap.”

He stopped, turning me to face him, gripping
my upper arms too hard. His gray eyes held mine, eyes that made me
hope Guinevere, if indeed she existed, was not his wife. I’d never
seen gray eyes before, at least not up close. Within them, relics
lay buried. Chasms ran deep with hope, loss, and too much
knowledge.

“I mean, I got it at the Gap,
your
majesty.”
Stupid, stupid, I thought. Remember where you are. He
doesn’t know about retail.

But his eyes brightened with revelation. “I
see!” He looked over his shoulder toward the men, then back at me,
lowering his voice to a whisper. “We’ll speak of it when you’re
well. Now go to the dell. Myrddin will know what to do with
you.”

 

 

 

 

THIRTEEN

 

Sick of rolling, sick of wheels, sick of
feeling sick, I lay in the bed of another cart, this time
unchained. On the downhill lurch I slid against the wagon side,
bumping my pounding head. The cart rattled under branches of forest
canopy while twilight crept over me, like an animal padding over a
bed of fallen leaves. I wanted to pull myself up to look around but
could only wonder at the great height of the trees, while details
of their leaves diminished into darkness.

After time, long or short, someone lifted,
moved, floated me to a surface where at last movement stopped. I
lay listening to the whooshing in my temples, until a tiny light
invaded the space. Soft footsteps padded toward me.

“Help me, Drostan.” A rumbling, confident
voice.

Strong arms propped me up to sit.

“Drink this.”

A veined hand offered a steaming cup
containing hot water and what looked like a bit of tree bark. The
concoction burned my tongue and tasted bitter. It would cure me or
kill me. Either would be a relief.

“Drink more.”

“Whzzt?”

“Bark of the white willow. Good for aches,
especially of the head. Drink every drop.”

I did. The helper laid me down.

They moved away. When I opened my mouth to
say “thank you,” my stomach retched and my body curled in
convulsion.

His robe swishing, the deep-voiced one
returned to my side. “Some don’t take well to willow bark,” he
soothed. “Pail to your left.”

 

-----

 

If I dreamt, I didn’t remember. I woke,
wildly hungry, on a comfortable cot in a clean hut. Sun and
birdsong beamed through a window, opened to them with no glass to
keep them out. Most of me was still filthy but my wrists and ankles
had been cleaned and salved.

I rose slowly, allowing my joints to release
their stiffness like paper once scrolled and reluctant to unroll.
My feet, now bare, felt like they’d spent the last few days in
vice-grips instead of expensive boots. With tentative steps I
crossed the room and opened the door to peek out, jumping back when
I nearly broadsided a small woman who rushed by. She wore an
off-white tunic and carried an armload of clean rags.

“Good morning,” I said. She ignored me and
trotted past, disappearing down a path that was shaded by a pergola
overgrown with woody vines. I followed her, meandering between huts
and enjoying the morning’s soft air until the path opened onto a
sunny garden. The woman had disappeared. Across rows of vegetables
and greens, an old man in an off-white robe watched me from the
doorway of a large hut. When our eyes met he waved me to him. I cut
between rows of lavender, rosemary and poppies, inhaling the
mixture of their scents as I crossed the garden, my feet warm on
the earth. The old man watched my approach, his pate reddening in
the sun, his thin lips framed by a white beard.

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