Click to Enlarge

The Green Knight’s Apprentice
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-77115-001-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 121 Pages
Published: October 2012

From inside the flap

"A glint of gold among the dull embers of contemporary fantasy fiction. For those who love the deeper, darker aspects of the Arthur legends this is definitely one not to miss." John Matthews, NY Times best-selling author of Pirates and How To See Faeries.

The Green Knight’s Apprentice (Excerpt)


Prologue

Yuletide, AD 542

Court of King Lot, Orkney

Tonight the king hosts the Yuletide dinner in his great hall. Fires will roar, basting the room in glowing warmth, while roasted meats, rich ale, precious fruits, roasted nuts, and thick bread will set the foundation for an evening of celebration and merriment. My mouth waters even as I write this! My father is dressing in his finest robes tonight; as the king’s bard he will sing the traditional Yuletide lays for the king and his guests after they feast.

It has been a hard winter for the folk of the north; the seas are full of anger and restlessness while the land is blistered by cold, snow, and ice. The food stores of Lot’s fortress are full, and Father tells me that I should not worry, yet I cannot help but lie awake at night and listen as the voices of the Winter Spirits call to each other in the cold darkness. I do not worry of going hungry; I worry that the gods of the north are restless.

"Rhowbyn," says Father, "come and carry my smaller harp for me. It is time to join the king in the Great Hall."

I obey in silence, carefully rolling the lamb’s skin parchment, a Yule gift from my father, upon which I have begun writing this tale. I do not yet know the name of the tale, nor do I know why Father has asked me to write it.

Hugging the harp carefully within the crook of my arm, I walk quickly to keep pace with my father’s long stride. Tall and lanky, my father has wild, dark hair, thick eyebrows, and dark skin. Those features, along with his strong southern dialect, have him called "sorcerer" more often than bard. Yet, he is a bard, trained in the Old Ways and able to weave, remember, and teach through his music and song.

Why he chooses to travel the harsh northern lands is still a mystery to me. For me, I was born here fourteen winters ago. With the exception of a journey that I barely recall to the court of King Arthur in Camelot years ago (although I have been known to boast to the other children here that I have been in the Great Hall of Camelot!), it is in the north that we have remained. I can barely recall my mother, as she left us when I was only five or six. My father still loves her, I think, and speaks as if she may return to us someday. Where she is, I do not understand, but I think it must be here somewhere in the north and that is why we linger.

Being the only child of a respected bard has given me some privileges in my young life: a warm bed and a meal nearly every night of my life, the gift of language and letters, and being that I could learn more from my own father than most any other man or woman in these parts, I was not fostered when I become of that age. Yet, Father has spoken recently of my perhaps learning from his own elders. Father says that I have a gift and that I must trust he will help me to use it wisely, though if that means I must go to the place where he was trained, in the south ...

Lot’s hall is filled with his kin, warriors, and members of his winter court. I can smell the aromas of the rich foods, and my eyes grow wide when I see the bowls of sweets that have been placed upon each of the tables. The hall is festively decorated with holly, pine, and fir, and all the smells wafting together and rising from the heat of the four fire pits nearly make me drunk.

I place Father’s harp near his seat of honor and quietly move towards the lower tables, seeking a vacant space on one of the benches. It does not take long to find, as I soon see a welcoming gesture from my friend Gwar, who is one of Lot’s hound masters. I smile and take the offered seat, delighted to see Gwar and the table overflowing with all the treats from the kitchens.

My plate is soon piled high, but before I can take my first bite, I hear Lot begin to speak.

"’Tis the season of the Winter King," Lot says in his thick Orkney accent. "Tonight we celebrate the dark time of the year by gathering together and --"

I am at the table nearest the great doors, so when they both open with a booming that I swear is summer thunder, and the bitter cold wind comes whooshing in, I find both my breath and my voice taken away.

The figure that enters the hall is simply monstrous. Massive. His booming laughter is neither merry nor light. His sheer size make most in the hall cower like frightened children, though I see that a few of Lot’s warriors have a determined look in their eyes.

The man dismounts from his equally giant warhorse with spurs clinking. It is then I notice that he and his horse are absolutely green. Brilliant green. Deep, mesmerizing green. His beard and hair are not only green but have leaves and vines woven into them as well. His cloak is coated with thick, emerald moss, and even his skin is dark and earthy.

"Lot! King of Orkney! I come to present a challenge to you and your court!" booms the green giant.

"What trickery is this --" someone near to Lot begins to say before the king himself shushes him.

"This is no trick, fool," Lot reprimands harshly.

"Good," the giant continues, taking huge strides until he stands just a few feet from the high table of the king. "I am glad I do not need to remind you of the traditions of your own people, Lot of Orkney."

"I have heard that the Old Ways are fading in the south, Lord. Those traditions have not been forgotten here," Lot says with a frown. "Of that I assure you."

The giant studies Lot for a moment, rubbing his bearded chin thoughtfully. "Very well, then. Let us begin. Who will deliver a blow to me and, as tradition dictates, take the same blow in return?"

I finally remember to breathe again just as I catch my father out of the corner of my eye. He stands passively near the king’s table, guardedly watching the giant, but he does not seem alarmed in the least. Is this some trickery, then, planned for the Yuletide revelries? Perhaps Father is even responsible in some way; Curoih the Bard is known to be a trickster as well as composer of song.

"I will trade blows with you," says a tall, strong warrior sitting near Lot.

The giant turns his piercing gaze to the warrior. "And you are?"

"I am called Brodgar ap Brodlach," the warrior replies as he descends from the high table to face the giant.

I know Brodgar well. Among my people he is considered a big man. A strong man. Yet, standing before the giant in green, he looks like an untried youth.

The giant takes an axe from his belt and holds it before Brodgar. The axe is large, and even from where I sit one can see that its edge is keen and sharp. It looks as though runes and lines have been carved into the metal head; the handle is dark and heavy wood. What, exactly, is taking place here? I know many of the Lays of Winter and have sung them in a voice nearly as gentle and sweet as that of my father, but I have never sung of this giant in green or his mighty axe. This feels more like a dream than waking reality, and the small twinge of familiarity that I do feel is not comforting at all.

The giant kneels, taking his hand and pulling his long mane of leaves, vines, and hair over one shoulder, exposing his bare neck.

"Strike me with the axe," the giant says, though I wonder at the hollowness of his voice.

Brodgar looks first to Lot, who nods slowly, and then, to my surprise, he turns to my father. Curoih nods as well and smiles grimly at the young warrior.

Brodgar takes the axe in both hands, his face determined, and makes ready to deliver the blow. I swear to you, not even the fires crackle or spit as he prepares to strike. Brodgar’s stroke is fast and accurate -- the keen edge of the axe slices neatly through the tissue and bone of the giant’s neck, barely making a sound, and then the head falls to the floor with a thud and eerie echo.

There is a moment of absolute stillness just after the head rolls onto its side, but then the giant’s headless body begins to stand. I hear many cry out when the headless torso reaches to the floor and retrieves the severed head, which I now notice does not bleed. A lady sitting next to Gwar swoons and falls onto his shoulder when the lips of the severed head begins to move and speak.

"Our bargain is struck then, Brodgar ap Brodlach," the severed head announces. "Seek you the Green Chapel and meet me in a year and a day from this Yuletide eve. There you shall take the return blow that is mine to give to you."

With that, the body turns and strides quickly to the horse, which has stood without a stir this entire time. Mounting the horse, the severed head still in the crook of his arm, the green man faces the great hall. He rides forward and takes the axe from the stunned hands of Brodgar, who has yet to utter a word. He then spurs the horse to a slow canter and leaves the great hall of King Lot in silent disbelief.