Authors: Kathryn Rose
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy
Avalon Rising © 2015 by Kathryn Rose.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Flux, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Cover models used for illustrative purposes only and may not endorse or represent the book’s subject.
First e-book edition © 2015
E-book ISBN: 9780738745251
Book design by Bob Gaul
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
Cover illustration by John Blumen
Interior map illustration by Chris Down
Flux is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Flux does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
Frost has the good sense not to test my patience by settling on my tools.
Nevertheless, a half-dozen gas lanterns line Merlin’s desk as precaution. They illuminate iron beams, steel gears, and my own chapped hands when ensuring no snow touches my bounty of metal. Cold air has been my companion for several months, but it doesn’t bother me; it’s the same air Marcus is breathing on the quest for the Holy Grail. And he has less of a chance for any warmth while I at least have Guinevere’s forgotten wardrobe. Amongst it, a selection of strange black-and-white furs I can drape over my shoulders.
Today is a windless morning in the tower Merlin decapitated when he became the spirit of Victor, the ghost in the mechanical dragon, and this lets me keep close watch on that jagged bit of land concealing my newly-built aeroship from curious eyes. On clear days with a pale sun high in the sky, I can lift my viewer north to see if anyone will return, half a year after aeroships evacuated Camelot’s subjects to safety. If the Lady of the Lake will stroll with her warped cane in hand to tell me it’s time to leave for Avalon now that my aeroship is finished. Which it is— almost.
But she hasn’t passed through Camelot in weeks. My viewer is heavy and unused in my dress’s pocket, but my work lies before me, a small flame hovering above to illuminate the words. I release the long, cylindrical quicklight with its small lever from my gloved grip: it rolls a few times and settles atop the table, the words
facing up, engraved in my own penmanship. My hands, freezing despite the tough leather of Merlin’s falconry gloves, reach across for scraps of parchment to brainstorm the enigma that has plagued me for days—
how on earth does one create
I rest my chin on my folded arms and glance at Merlin’s safe, inside of which the last of Azur’s own blend sits. I ponder the alchemic properties the sorcerer taught me—
what is the precise make-up of charcoal? At what temperature does newly-forged gold best keep shape?
—and flip through the hastily-scrawled notes. But what I seek is nowhere to be found. The sorcerer made sure of that.
“Merlin,” I mutter to myself, “this would be a much faster endeavor if you hadn’t been plagued with paranoia.”
Perhaps the sorcerer intended to start me on a wild goose chase when he hid those instructions, though to think in such a way might bring about an irreconcilable madness. Outside this insanity, the new-falling snow is as gentle as always for Decembers in Camelot, and that quiet is unnerving.
December. Three months longer than the knights claimed they’d need to beat the Spanish rogues, and not a word from them since autumn.
It’s left Lancelot more than worried, but I’m sure plans simply didn’t go as expected. Secondary and tertiary tactics became necessary, and although my heart seems to swell with unease every time I think of how long it’s been since I last saw Marcus, he and the rest of Galahad’s infantry are knights. They can certainly find their way home.
That isn’t the only reason for Lancelot’s worry, though. Every month, it seems, I watch from Merlin’s tower as more knights leave for neighboring kingdoms, carrying messages to aeroship ports on the coast of Britannia. These knights are not going after the Grail; they’re tracking down the ships from the kingdoms of España that took Camelot’s subjects to safety before Morgan’s war. It has slowed the rebuilding of our castle, not having them back yet. And now, with few left in the kingdom, and not a whisper about where the rest might be…
I squeeze my eyes shut. I have to believe my mother is on her way back. “Focus, Vivienne.”
Volumes of correspondence between Merlin and Azur lie amongst the cogs and wheels at my fingertips. Caldor I resurrected after Morgan’s war, and it tiptoes to my side, every creak and whistle of copper talons amplified through the tower’s silence. Its plated feathers are innocently tucked against its belly, but I keep a close eye on my pet nevertheless, in case it were to suddenly broaden its wingspan, knocking the tools and shimmering steel clear off the table and into the clouds drifting beside us. There are still some loose ends to tie up in its machinery or it’ll forever be an awkward plaything.
Steam whistles, and the dying sound of Caldor’s
stutters empty. I cast some of Merlin’s blend into the falcon’s copper heart. Then I lean close. This is the best part.
“Yaty ala alhyah.”
Come to life.
Caldor’s feathers shine reddish-gold, and the copper plates bounce with the chilly morning air. Its neck stretches, twisting until beady black eyes can blink themselves awake with an extra surge of life, even though they’re the only parts still reminiscent of a machine. Less clacking are its wings now; when alive through alchemy, they’re as fluid as a real bird’s. I smile, and my gaze pulls back to my scribbling in front of me.
A knock on the door’s frame surprises Caldor enough that the newly alive falcon spins on its talons to face the intruder. I glance over my shoulder at the tall, black-haired knight Gawain standing where there was once a red door. His jaw is square, his eyes are deep and black, suspicious in this space he hasn’t grown to know. And his new arm, welded together by the blacksmith, is due for a fix-up.
“I don’t disturb, Lady Vivienne?” His middle-aged voice is rough and low, matching perfectly his ruddy face and traveled eyes.
I straighten in my less-than-ladylike leather bodice atop one of Guinevere’s cherry gowns, jagged furs about my shoulder and neck, and hair piled up in my trusty steel netting. But Gawain ignores how I look. Those who stayed in Camelot, working to remake it what it once was, have grown accustomed to my dress.
“Of course not.” I must force a gentle smile. I wish my thoughts hadn’t been interrupted.
He glances around at the remains of the tower. “When will they rebuild it?”
Perhaps when knights and subjects walk the cobblestone streets of Camelot again. “I don’t think it’s a high priority.”
He frowns. “Terrible weather up here, especially if a strong wind were to hit. Why not work in the main castle?”
I hesitate in the ruins that have evolved into a strange sort of sanctuary. Because this is where I feel at home. This is my refuge from the kingdom and reminds me of a time when Camelot might have been a prison, but at least sported life and happiness at every turn.
Gawain notices my discomfort. “Apologies. I don’t mean to pry.”
I gesture to the chair across from mine and gather a leather-bound set of tools from a table nearby. “Please.” I switch out Merlin’s falconry gloves for my own fingerless set, wool and leather and studded with pearls: much easier when working with the intricacies of Gawain’s arm.
He obeys. “It’s incredible what you’ve done to this old thing,” he says, unslinging the immobile arm. “Next time you wish to try your luck at sword play, I don’t think I’ll need to rely on my left.”
I smile. It’s nice to hear appreciation for the less than conventional route I’ve taken. “I’m glad it suits you.”
I roll up his sleeve and regard Gawain’s arm. Black iron to the shoulder, welded to the bone in the same manner Morgan would have done to construct her dying son, Mordred. I don’t know how the man-machine bore it when his mother brought out the soldering torch and pressed the red-hot tip to his flesh. Nor do I know if Mordred had been human enough to scream as Gawain did, despite the tough leather Lancelot gave him to bite down on.
But such gruesome memories have been erased from Gawain’s face, a little more each day. He watches plainly as I adjust the elbow: the joints twist in my hands, and black oil softens the creaks until they go silent. There’s a mechanism at the base of his wrist that attaches fine wires to the intricate iron fingers and thumb the blacksmith constructed, based on my design.
Gawain shivers. “Ten minutes in this tower is as frigid as an entire day in the north. Did I ever tell you about that journey? We searched Viking-dense airs for the Grail, and that took an entire fortnight. Had it been a day longer, one less arm would have been the least of my bloody problems.”
Gawain is the first knight I’ve met who will talk freely about any and all aspects of the quest without any thought to censor himself in front of a lady.
“How far did you get?” I ask as I lay out the appropriate tools.
Gawain looks over my shoulder at the mountains. “This time around I didn’t get farther south than the French territory.” His eyes are cold, but also alive, exhilarated. “But last time, it was as far as you could go before you’d reach the end of the world. A land where the sun clung high in the sky for days on end.”
I light a small burner Merlin would use to melt metal; the fire dances like a child at a feast. A strange device composed of copper wires I rescued from my unsalvageable mechanical falcon Terra heats up and glows red, but it does not warp. The wires are reinforced with plated steel. I pour in a slow stream of water, and the instrument catches a lightning bolt, as though from Zeus himself, and cages it. From the mechanism, I pull a steel wand connected to a fine wire and set it to Gawain’s palm. The elements create a charge that singes all five fingers of Gawain’s hand to his flesh. Instantly, the appendages drum against the table, his iron hand now in possession of the lightning’s power. I wish my mother were here so I could show Merlin’s former apprentice what her daughter is capable of building now.
“We stood out horribly, though. Our markings as Arthur’s knights made us easy targets, and the thick furs to hide our inked necks suffocated us.” Gawain blinks at the memory. “Course, there were some with gentle hearts; those who didn’t want to see Morgan claim the Grail offered hospitality, but for the hundreds that loved us, there were those who hated us more fervently.”
Now it’s time to ask the question that’s lingered on my mind for weeks. I clear my throat, hoping my fear won’t betray me. “The knights. Where would they be now, if they haven’t sent word to Lancelot?”
He scratches his thick mop of stringy black hair. “Don’t know. If they’ve been gone this long, perhaps they’re being tested. The nearer you get to Avalon, the more you feel its siren’s call. Maybe that’s where they are. Or maybe they’ve never been further away.”
A response that returns me to the limbo I found myself in not minutes ago. I shake off the disappointment and dip into a forgotten opium box of Merlin’s. Inside lies a reserve of Azur’s
, more than enough for Gawain to use his iron arm for months. Just a little less than what I’ve kept in Merlin’s safe for my aeroship.
I think of it then, hidden in the woods from Camelot and pillagers alike. Furnace and copper veins inspired by Merlin’s catacombs and the mechanical dragon we set against Morgan’s drones in June. White sails made of the lightest silk I could find, although their skeletal extensions and retractions are not yet as smooth as I’d hoped. The body of the ship: wood, to counter the heavy iron necessary to reinforce the vessel. Dry kindle and gas lantern oil ready for the voyage. My voyage.
When Gawain sees the small box, he leans forward and pulls open his tunic, right at the heart, presenting a small iron door that’s been surgically set into his torso. One of the door’s chambers is locked with a pocket attached to his ribs that lets the
pass through his body, like real blood. It ignites his mechanical arm, but not permanently.
The instructions to bring the dust to life are soft whispers I emit without thinking. I pour in the
. The arm flexes, and Gawain nods in approval as he rolls the sleeve back down, breathing fully as he feels the contortion of the elements elevate his blood. People have gotten used to his iron arm, but when the aeroships return with Camelot’s citizens, there’ll be a new batch of strange looks.
I close the box, and his words hit me again. “The knights are being tested?”
Gawain ties up his tunic and tightens the black furs around his shoulders as a chill overcomes the
’s warmth. “The Grail is protected. It won’t be found easily. In order to claim it, the knights will have to go through tests the likes of which you could never imagine. Even with what you know about Merlin and all.”
The Lady of the Lake never mentioned this. “What kind of tests?” My wobbly voice might have alerted someone who knows me better—like Merlin or Marcus, or even my brother Owen—to a secret I’ve kept since Galahad’s infantry left six months past. But Gawain might assume my nervousness is for the idea of Avalon, and not the coordinates to it etched onto my mind, but locked from me. I firm my lips in frustration at that.
My own mind kept from me, part of it held hostage, until I don’t know when.
Gawain looks me right in the eye. “All men have vices, things of sin they cannot live without. The Grail’s holiness purifies anything that comes near it. All desires will be made stronger so those seeking it might overcome them. A swordsman will slit his friend’s throat. A drunk will search for a pint. An adulterer will seek a bed … ” His mouth promptly closes. “Begging your pardon.”
I’m in a kingdom of men six months without any other women. I’ve heard worse. “Go on.”
“It makes the Grail impossible to seek. Only someone pure of heart will find her. Someone with no tainted soul.” Like a legend or a fairy tale Owen might have told me as a girl. I want to laugh at the audacity of such a person existing. But after what I’ve seen and done, I know better. “This … ” Gawain says, gauging the iron fingers on his arm. They stretch and bend at his will. “This is the closest I ever got to it. This right here.”
I don’t ask his vice. It’s well known that knights have always sought the pleasures of food and drink, women and opium. And the swollen cheeks of a forgotten drunk in front of me could never lie. “How did it happen?” I ask. This is the first time I’ve found the courage to ask. He’s not bothered by my question. “You ever hear of the Spanish rogues?”
“Of course.” Every child in Camelot grows up hearing the stories of air pirates from all corners of the world who took over a kingdom of España while the rest of the country fought to take it back. For years, Arthur sent knights to help.