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The legend of the king, p.1
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       The Legend of the King, p.1

           Gerald Morris
 
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The Legend of the King


  The Legend of the King

  Gerald Morris

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  Boston NewYork 2010

  * * *

  For Rebecca, for more than I've ever imagined

  * * *

  Copyright © 2010 by Gerald Morris

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from

  this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,

  215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin

  Harcourt Publishing Company.

  www.hmhbooks.com

  The text of this book is set in Horley Old Style MT.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963–

  The legend of the king / by Gerald Morris.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Sir Dinadan and his friends Sir Palomides, Sir Gaheris, Sir Terence, and

  other knights of the Round Table and their associates try to stop Mordred and his

  White Horsemen from ending King Arthur's rule of Great Britain.

  ISBN 978-0-547-14420-7

  [1. Knights and knighthood—Fiction. 2. Arthur, King—Fiction. 3. Middle Ages—

  Fiction. 4. Great Britain—History—To 1066—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M82785Leg 2010

  [Fic]—dc22

  2009039316

  ISBN 978-0-547-14420-7

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  4500238620

  * * *

  Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

  The ceremony of innocence is drowned...

  —W. B. Yeats

  All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

  And to die is different from what any one

  supposed...

  —Walt Whitman

  * * *

  Contents

  1 The Messengers [>]

  2 The Mission [>]

  3 The Trap [>]

  4 The Siege [>]

  5 Questing [>]

  6 The Trial [>]

  7 A Love Story [>]

  8 The Titans [>]

  9 The Last Enchantress [>]

  10 The Pilgrimage [>]

  11 BarhamDown [>]

  12 The Beginning of the Story [>]

  Envoi [>]

  A Cast of Characters [>]

  1. The Messengers

  Dinadan

  Sir Dinadan of Camelot, knight of the Fellowship of King Arthur's Round Table, emissary of Emperor Alis of Constantinople to the Seljuk Turks, sniffed cautiously at his left armpit. It smelled very bad.

  "Shallow breathing, lad," he murmured to himself. "And through the mouth."

  The worst thing about traveling in the exotic Orient, Dinadan reflected, was that at least in the bits he'd seen, water was far too precious to waste on such trivial matters as bathing. He and his fellow ambassadors from the imperial court had been three days in the rocky wilderness of Cappadocia, hoarding every drop in their water bags as drink for themselves and their mounts. In England, over the same distance, they would have crossed at least a dozen streams or rivers, but here they found mostly dry gulleys.

  They came to one of these gulleys now, deep enough to provide shade even at midday. The leader of their party—a gray-bearded dignitary named Paulos—called out in Greek that they would stop there until the worst heat of the day was past. Paulos then tried to communicate the same message to Dinadan by pantomime. Dinadan had actually understood the Greek command, but he let Paulos proceed. He saw no reason for everyone to know how much Greek he had learned. Besides, watching the austere Paulos try to act out the concept of "midday sun" was too precious to miss.

  Dinadan concealed his amusement, though. The imperial ambassadors were noted for their grim seriousness, which may have been simply their nature or may have been because of the gravity of their mission. They were trying to avert war between the empire and the Seljuks. The emperor of Constantinople, who had been on the throne only three months but whom people were already calling Alis the Deranged, had managed to insult nearly everyone he encountered, most notably Tugril Bey, ruler of the Seljuks, in a private letter. This bey evidently took himself very seriously, calling himself the Phoenix of Araby because (he declared) under his rule, the majesty of the great caliphs was rising from the ashes. No one knew the exact contents of the unstable Alis's letter to the bey, but it was reported that upon receiving it, the bey had begun mustering troops along the imperial border and had sent to Africa for an army of mercenaries. In truth, Alis might have written anything. The emperor, a portly gentleman of more than fifty years, was besotted to the point of madness with his fifteen-year-old bride, Fenice of Mainz, and often uttered the most appalling twaddle.

  When word came to the imperial court of Tugril Bey's military movements, a delegation of high-ranking officials was dispatched to try to avert war, and Dinadan had joined them. Dinadan was no diplomat; he was just staying with a friend at court, seeing the sights. But when it had been revealed that the African mercenaries were led by the famous warrior Palomides the Moor, Dinadan had volunteered to go along at once. Years before, this Palomides had visited England, and Dinadan had ridden with him for several months. Dinadan wasn't particularly interested in international diplomacy, but he did want to see his friend again.

  Dinadan dismounted in the shade of a large rock, allowed himself a small drink of water, poured a more generous portion for his horse, then took out his rebec and began tuning it. The rest of the party turned eager faces toward him. Whatever they may have thought of the value of bringing an Englishman along on a crucial diplomatic mission—and they had made it clear that they didn't think much of it—they had come to appreciate his music. Dinadan began a lilting Languedocian love song, but broke off after only a few notes. Something had moved at the edge of the rocks.

  "Ithe!" he snapped—Greek for "Look!"—but it was too late. A dozen men in dusty robes and turbans had appeared at either end of the gulley. Some held long, wicked-looking curved swords, and others held bows, with arrows at the ready. There was no escape. The narrow crevice that had provided the slight relief of shade had become a trap.

  Paulos began speaking slowly in a language that Dinadan had never heard. He knew that the ambassadors, with the exception of himself, had been chosen because they spoke Arabic, the official language of the Mohammadans, but these warriors showed no sign of comprehension. They lifted their swords and stepped forward, and Paulos cried out desperately, "Tugril Bey! Tugril Bey!"

  The Seljuk ruler's name caught their attention. They hesitated, conferred briefly, then sheathed their swords. While the archers kept their arrows pointed at the ambassadors, the swordsmen produced ropes and began tying the ambassadors' hands. Soon Dinadan and the noblest diplomats of Constantinople were tied together in a long chain and were being driven roughly through the broken wilderness in the heat of the day. Their captors took turns riding the prisoners' horses. Dinadan was glad he had given his mount a generous drink just before their capture. He only wished he had drunk more himself.

  Six hours later, nearly fainting with thirst, the staggering line of captives came to the top of a hill and looked down on a city built along a wide river. Their captors allowed them to stop, and Dinadan slowly disengaged himself from the old man he had been supporting. As it happened, Dinadan had been tied behind the oldest and frailest of the imperial ambassadors, and
for the last hour Dinadan had been all but carrying the old man, who faded in and out of consciousness but somehow managed, with Dinadan's arms supporting him, to keep his feet moving. The robed men began handing out water bags, for only the second time since the capture, and the ambassadors drank greedily. At last, the man whom Dinadan had identified as their leader handed a nearly empty bag to Dinadan. Dinadan shook it, grinned ruefully at the forlorn slosh of water at the bottom, then placed the mouth of the bag to his aged companion's lips and slowly emptied it. When it was gone, Dinadan lowered the man to the ground and sat beside him. It wasn't much of a sacrifice, he told himself; they'd probably be dead soon anyway.

  They waited at the top of that hill for nearly an hour, until a new group of men appeared. These men wore robes dyed a deep red color and matching turbans. Dinadan guessed that these were soldiers of Tugril Bey, and to one used to seeing soldiers in chain mail and plate armor, they looked oddly defenseless. Then they drew their swords and formed a menacing circle around the captive ambassadors, and Dinadan decided that they looked more than sufficiently warlike. Through cracked lips, Paulos tried again to say something in Arabic, but one of the new soldiers casually backhanded him across the mouth and sent him sprawling. Then that soldier began speaking with the leader of their captors. Dinadan heard them say "Tugril Bey," and two or three times their captor waved a hand at Dinadan, as if specifically speaking of him.

  In the end, the imperial ambassadors were rounded up and led away by the soldiers in the red robes. Dinadan, however, was taken by their captain in a different direction, to a stone building with bars on the windows. There, Dinadan was ushered into a cell, where he saw a small bed and—more welcome than any luxury—a basin full of water. The captain cut Dinadan's bonds, and Dinadan hurried toward the basin, but the captain caught his shoulder. With a gentle patting gesture, the captain indicated that Dinadan should drink slowly. Dinadan nodded and said "Thank you" in English. After all, he might as well be misunderstood in his own language than in any other. Dinadan took two small drinks, counted slowly to twenty, then two more. In this way, he got all he wanted to drink over the course of an hour, at which time he collapsed on the bed, and that was all he remembered for a long time.

  The sun was high in the sky when Dinadan awoke, in the same position as when he had lain down. He stretched stiffly, then rose for a drink. The water basin had been refilled while he slept, and a small plate of unfamiliar fruits and flat bread lay beside it. Dinadan ate breakfast and looked around. The food had tasted good, and the bed had been comfortable. If not for the bars on the window and the locked door, he could easily imagine himself a guest in a private home. He strolled to the window and stood there for a long time, watching with fascination the city that teemed and streamed before him.

  He was somewhat prepared for this sight by having seen Constantinople. Was it really less than a week earlier? That magnificent city had left him breathless. He had seen all the largest cities of western Europe and had even spent time in the shabby, fading grandeur of ancient Athens, but nothing had prepared him for the glistening splendor and nearly unfathomable size of Constantinople. One could fit two dozen Camelots, with their outlying towns, within Constantinople's towering walls. This city, whatever it was, seemed smaller but was still bursting with more people than Dinadan could imagine living in one place, all bustling about on apparently urgent business. Somewhere out of Dinadan's field of vision, someone plucked a stringed instrument, and Dinadan felt a sudden pang as he wondered if he would ever see his rebec again.

  As if in answer to his thoughts, the familiar sound of his rebec's strings came from the other side of the door. Someone was fingering the strings, evidently trying to figure out the unfamiliar instrument. Crossing the room, Dinadan began banging on the door and shouting. The door opened, and two red-robed soldiers loomed in the entranceway. Dinadan ignored them, craning his neck to look over their shoulders. Sure enough, on a small table all his traveling gear was heaped and on top of the pile, his rebec. Dinadan smiled at the two soldiers, then pointed at the rebec. Neither moved. Dinadan hummed a tune, then pointed at the rebec and back at himself. "You want to hear some music?" Dinadan asked in English. He pantomimed playing the rebec, humming all the while, then pointed at the instrument again.

  The two guards hesitated, glancing uncertainly at each other, then at the rebec. At last, one of them shrugged and fetched it. Then Dinadan had to pantomime again that he needed the bow. This took longer; evidently the guards had never seen a stringed instrument played by bowing. They clearly suspected the bow of being a weapon, but in the end Dinadan persuaded them to bring it as well. Dinadan tuned the rebec swiftly, then began playing a mournful melody of his own composition.

  At the first long, quavering note, the guards jumped in surprise, their mouths dropping open and then broadening into deep smiles. Dinadan continued playing, enjoying the guards' expressions of amazed appreciation. From the corner of his eye, he saw a face at his window, then another, as people in the street came seeking the source of the music. Dinadan smiled to himself. An old Greek story had Orpheus charming his way out of hell with his music; perhaps he could play his way out of prison. He played for another minute, then took a casual step toward the door, where the two guards still stood. One of them reached to his right, produced a spear, and pointed it at Dinadan's chest. Gingerly, Dinadan stepped back, still playing. So he wasn't Orpheus.

  Then the guard with the spear dropped to his knees, his weapon clattering on the floor, and sprawled forward. Dinadan blinked at him but continued playing. The other guard stared blankly at his fallen companion. Then an arm appeared in the doorway, bringing a heavy club down on the second guard's head. He fell beside his companion, and into the doorway stepped a tall, dark-skinned man with a widening smile. "As soon as I heard the music, I knew it could be no other, my friend." It was Palomides.

  "I could have taken them myself, you know," Dinadan replied, lowering his rebec and returning the smile.

  "Indeed?" Palomides asked politely. "Then why did you not pick up the guard's spear when he dropped it at your feet?"

  It hadn't occurred to Dinadan. "What, stop at that point in the music? In the middle of the secondary theme?"

  Palomides' smile broadened. "Yes, of course. Unthinkable."

  "I was just lulling them, you see."

  "That much you did, certainly," Palomides replied. "I believe your horse is tied nearby. Shall we gather your possessions and leave? I do not know exactly what the bey intends for you, but I think it would be better if you were free."

  As they left the prison house, with Dinadan's possessions in their arms, Dinadan asked, "Were you just passing, or did you know I was here?"

  "I did not know it was you, although I wondered. I knew only enough to make me curious. Yes, here's your horse, just where the agha said it was."

  "Agha?"

  "General, captain, lord. The officer who brought you here. I was with the bey when he gave his report. He said that he had thrown into the dungeons several whimpering old men who claimed to be emissaries from the empire, and that with them there was a man with fair skin, a strange language, and the nobility of God. Naturally, I thought of you."

  Dinadan rolled his eyes. "Naturally," he said. "Is it acceptable manners in this country to tell one's friend that he's speaking rot?"

  "I only repeat what the agha said. The bandits who captured you told him how you carried one of the men yourself and gave him your last drop of water."

  "I was holding out for a nice glass of French wine," Dinadan explained.

  "Of course. To continue, the agha said that he could not put such a man as you in the dungeons with the whiners, so he brought you to this house, which is reserved for noble prisoners."

  "I see," Dinadan said. "So I gather my companions didn't sleep in a bed and have breakfast brought to their rooms on a tray?"

  "A stone floor, and breakfast lowered to them in a bucket, more likely."

  Dinadan knew he
should feel sorry for the ambassadors, and he even tried to summon some sympathy, but feelings didn't always behave as one wished them to, and after a moment he abandoned the attempt. He hoped that they hadn't been too miserable, but the truth was that he didn't care for any of the emissaries, even the old man whom he had supported.

  "And so," Palomides continued, "I listened until the agha told where your prison was, then strolled around this morning to see for myself this fair man with the nobility of God. The rest you know. I heard your playing, knew it was you, and decided to set you free."

  "Will it be awkward for you, freeing me? I mean, aren't you in the employ of the bey?"

  "No," Palomides replied imperturbably. "I am in no one's employ. It does appear that when the bey invited me to bring a troop of Moorish warriors for a visit, he had some notion of hiring us to make war with the empire, but he has a mistaken idea of me. I do not fight for hire, however insulted the bey was."

  By this time, they had located Dinadan's horse, stowed Dinadan's gear, and were several streets away from his former prison. "Tell me about that insult. I gather that Alis said something witless in a letter. Have you seen it?"

  "I have."

  "And?"

  "It was, ah, very insulting. The only explanation is that this Alis wished to provoke a war."

  Dinadan shook his head, puzzled. "I just can't believe it," he said. "I know Alis a bit—just attended his wedding, in fact—and while he's a priceless ass and more than a little mad, I'd swear that the last thing he wanted was war."

  "Would you like to see the letter?"

  "You could arrange that?"

  Palomides smiled. "I have allowed the bey to think I may still fight for him, and while he has such hopes, I have a privileged position at court. Come."

  Palomides led Dinadan through the streets of the city—which, as Dinadan learned, was called Angora—to the rear of a magnificent palace. "This is the bey's castle?" Dinadan asked, whistling admiringly.

 
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