Everknight is the story of a knight who lost his life in a bet and was given one year to live before paying his dues.
Not only did this knight go to his execution free-willingly, he weathered hardship and temptations to get there.
Crazy? Stupid? No such man?
Men and women like this knight have walked this earth. They did their thing no matter what. And they embraced death in a climactic act of honor. Socrates drank the poisoned chalice instead of escaping the prison. Jesus walked that walk. Martin Luther stood there and didn’t want otherwise. Ghandi suffered through passive resistance and was ready to die fasting. Nelson Mandela endured a life of prosecution and so did Aung San Suu Kyi. After Bob Marley was shot, his honor allowed him only two days rest before going back onto the stage and performing in the name of peace. Martin Luther King Jr. died pursuing freedom for his people.
We forgot about honor. It’s time for a story.
Subscribe to receive a (free) ARC of Everknight:
His mind is afire as if a blacksmith poured molten iron into his head, but his face is ice cold.
He’s lying face down in a puddle.
He lifts his head. A stone’s throw away, a river whirls water, earth, rocks, and fire into the air, raising an elemental wall he can’t see beyond. He sits and hears sounds of cranky chain mail and moaning leather straps. He’s clad in a knight’s armor.
The edges of all things are blur like in a dream. He pinches his cheek. No pain. “Mother of God, stand by me.”
The sky is a sun-less stretch. For some otherworldly reason, it rains, but the rain doesn’t fall. It floats in the air and sways to and fro, brushed by a breeze. Something bitter and sticky coats his tongue. He rubs his tongue over his teeth and spits out green slime.
A horse whinnies close by as if calling for help. It’s lying on its side, tongue out, a foam frothing from its mouth, green like the slime on his tongue.
“Were we poisoned?” He worms his way to the stallion, leans against its belly, and pats its neck. “Or did we try to cross this wicked river?”
The horse answers with a trailing snort.
His memory doesn’t answer at all. It’s a mute mass. “Who am I? What happened? How can I not know who I am?”
He invokes the Holy Spirit and stands. He swipes a hand through the hanging rain and wets his head. The fire inside his head persists.
He turns away from the river and beholds a vast granitic plain. It bears emerald pillars that branch out like leafless winter trees. A violet mountain on the horizon looks like a half-buried egg.
A knightly errand must have brought him here. Who’s his king? He scratches the stubble on his head. “Where is his castle? “Damna memoria.”
“I shall not lose heart.” He bangs his fist against his chest armor and pulls the horse to its feet.
A shield hangs from the saddle and a helmet and a beheading ax, sharp like a Saracen blade. He searches the saddle pockets. A stony loaf of bread, a piece of bacon, a water gourd, a crucifix, and a sachet with a blood-encrusted handkerchief. No letter. Looks like he’s a poor knight. A lost knight.
“What now, horse? There’s no way we get across that river. Shall we head to the mountain?”
The horse nickers, which has a ring of consent to it, and he mounts. Up there, the task looks as uncertain as a battle. Traversing the plain may take days or months or a lifetime. He crosses himself and spurs the horse toward the mountain.
A year earlier.
The castle chapel is stone cold and cloister quiet. The candle flickers, Gwayn’s breath fogs. His stiff fingers arrive at the last rosary bead, which ends the twelfth recitation cycle.
Any moment now, King Arthur will notice Gwayn’s absence and send a servant for him to take him to the Christmas Eve banquet. A sigh slips through his lips. He wishes to remain in the empty chapel and summon the feel of the time God walked the earth. One can find such righteous joy only in a place of solitude and sanctity.
He kisses his mother’s pendant that bears the image of Virgin Mary. “Would you mind saving me?” He imitates her immaculate smile.
The last memory of his mother surfaces as she was lying on her deathbed. When the angel of death arrived to take her breath away, she ripped the pendant off her neck and pushed it into Gwayn’s hand. “Be as pure as Mother Mary, always, then God…”
God knows what final counsel she wanted to bestow upon him.
Gwayn clears the loyal lump of grief in his throat. “I shall honor you, mother, and hate sin as you did. I love you and I’m sorry.”
Sorry indeed. His mother wished he would become a priest, but his uncle, King Arthur, adopted him and decided on a different path. Camelot had plenty of clergymen but was notoriously short of knights. Gwayn learned to kill in the name of the king and Christ.
Killing in the name of Christ. What an absurdity. Guilt slithers up his spine like a serpent up a tree. He bangs his chest with his fist. He shall not lose heart. One day, he shall retire from worldly affairs and live the life of a priest or even a monk, a holy man who communes with Christ all day and invites divine providence into every circumstance of his life.
Camelot’s cathedral announces the eighth hour. The banquet is mid-feast. He stands. “I should go. No need to disappoint my uncle.”
The snow-clad castle court has sunken into silence. In Camelot, the snow bears down on the houses, but the windows glimmer from an abundance of Christmas candles, people’s hope of salvation.
Gwayn takes a deep breath of the winter air, pulls his hood low, like a monk who wants to shade his eyes, and marches across the courtyard. He knocks at the keep’s gate, which opens and shoves snow over his boots.
“Merry Christmas, sir.” The sentinel blows into his cupped hands.
Gwayn relinquishes his sword in the disarming room and climbs the stairs toward the scent of roasted mutton and cinnamon pastries.
And there it is – the great hall. No kneeling at the holy family, no biblical storytelling, neither savior romance. Instead, an air thick with the whiff of spilled beer, the sweat of dancing men, and ladies’ flirtatious perfumes.
He keeps the hood on. This is a tavern bout, not a Christmas gathering.
“Knights, cover your bollocks. The monk knight is here.” Sir Balin pulls down Gwayn’s hood.
Gwayn rams his shoulder into his bullsome comrade. Monk knight is an epithet and not to jest about.
“Sit by my side, nephew.” King Arthur waves on the dais, royal shirt unbuttoned, showing his bronze chest hair.
Gwayn climbs onto the regal stage, kisses the hand of Queen Guinevere, and endures his uncle’s hug.
“Why so serious, nephew?” He makes Gwayn sit. “Celebrate with me the renewal of the sun and life.”
“This isn’t the way Christmas–”
“Pull that crosier out of your butt. I’m done with the mass. I gave God what is God’s, and now I give my belly what’s my belly’s.”
“There’s nothing that isn’t God’s.” Gwayn reclines in his chair.
The queen offers him a glass of red wine. “Mon cher Gwayn, there’s a time for praying and a time for delighting in life.”
The king sits too, grabs Gwayn’s neck, and pulls him close, eyes on his wife. “Listen. Fresh maids arrived from Montgomeryshire. I reserved two for you. I want you to make a baby tonight. Or two.”
Gwayn’s cringes as if the devil just dropped a serpent into his shirt. “Mother of Christ, Christmas Eve it is.”
“That’s why. The birth of the savior. Birth, get it?” He smacks the back of Gwayn’s head.
“I’m too young to marry–”
“I wasn’t talking about marriage. I want you to have a son.”
“A son? Why?”
“I need to get you down from your unicorn, lad.”
“Unicorn? Son? What are you talking about?”
A trumpet announces the first course.
“Wait.” King Arthur jumps to his feet and waves both hands. “Not yet.”
“What is it, chérie?” Queen Guinevere produces a courteous smile but her voice is tense, as if a premonition caught up with her.
“A miracle is supposed to happen. I want my miracle.”
“Christmas is the miracle of miracles. Ça suffit .” The queen pulls the king’s sleeve. “Please, sit.”
He frees his arm. “I want a new miracle. I won’t sit, I won’t eat before a wonder, or anything out of the ordinary happens.” He steps to the front of the dais and crosses his arms.
The queen’s smile does not waver but her lips shift, likely from grinding her teeth. She eyes Gwayn for help.
He leans toward her. “What is this about?”
“His astrologers foretold a cardinal event for tonight. They said something of the stars hanging oddly in the sky.”
“Good or bad?” As if Gwayn believed in astrologers, infidels, remnants of Merlin’s heathen legacy.
“Of course, they couldn’t say.” The edge in her voice matches the flare of indignation in her eyes. “They speculated whether Christ shall return or the Adversary or both. Imbécile star gazer–”
“They’re not imbecile,” King Arthur shouts. “The stars reveal our destiny.”
“Please, get your uncle back here.” Her voice is a smoldering plea.
Gwayn leans back and laces his fingers on the back of his head. The king is having a childish fit, and Gwayn is not good with children.
“Men.” The queen purses her lips in an unroyal manner. “As you wish, king. Make a fool of yourself.” She waves at the chamberlain, who signals the trumpeter.
The fanfare sounds again. Hardly did the servants fill the first bowls, when a giant something crashes through the east wall. There’s a blast of snow and the crackling of lightning, shaking the tables, toppling jars and mugs and bowls. The giant something turns out a tall woman on a winged horse and a host of ghosts whirling in her wake.
Gwayn’s heart leaps into his throat and hammers there. He jumps from his chair and covers the king with his body.
The tall woman is clad in shining green armor. She wears no helmet, nor holds a shield, but has a large ax on her back and a bull whip tucked behind her belt. A serpent slithers across her body, diving in and out of her skin.
This is no ordinary shield maiden.
Subscribe to receive a (free) ARC of Everknight: