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The Lance Thrower /
Jack Whyte.
edition
1st mass market ed.
imprint
New York : Forge, 2005, c2004.
description
527 p. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0812570138
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
series author
series title
imprint
New York : Forge, 2005, c2004.
isbn
0812570138
general note
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
catalogue key
6041951
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Chapter One BAN I cannot recall much about my early childhood, but I have always been grateful, nevertheless, that I survived it, and that the memories of it that remain with me are happy ones, steeped in the eternal sunlight of long, bygone summer days and unaffected by the truths I learned later. The Lady Vivienne of Ganis, who occupied the center of my life then, since I grew up regarding her as my mother, was in fact my mother's twin and therefore my aunt. Her husband, whom I also believed for years to be my father, was called Ban of Benwick, King of the Benwick Franks who settled the Ganis lands in southeastern Gaul before my birth. I was seven years old when first I heard the story that my mother had abandoned me, and I remember the occasion well. I scoffed at first, pointing out to Frotto, the loudmouthed lout who was tormenting me, that my mother was Vivienne, whom people called the Lady of the Lake. Everyone knew that, I told him smugly, except him. Not so, he yelled at me, in a jeering voice that contained an awful note of conviction. His mother had told him that the Lady Vivienne had taken me in as a homeless baby, after my true mother had abandoned both me and my father to run off with another man. Infuriated, and strangely frightened by his outrageous accusations, I charged at him. He sidestepped my rush easily, being two years older than me and almost twice my size, and kicked me hard on the shin. While I was hopping on one foot and clutching my injured leg, he punched me twice with large, meaty fists, bloodying my nose with one and then knocking me down and blackening both my eyes with the other. Of course, I went running home, half blinded by tears and bruises and bleeding from my nose like a gravely wounded man, and Lady Vivienne was horrified when I burst into her rooms, dribbling blood and mucus all over her clean floor. She rushed to me and held me, uncaring about damage to her clothing, then hugged and comforted me and listened to my distraught tale while she tended to my wounds, holding my head back gently but firmly until the bleeding from my nostrils had dried up, then cleansing and dressing my cut leg. As soon as my face was free of blood and snot, she laid me on her own enormous bed and bathed my swollen eyes with a cool cloth, holding me to her bosom and crooning over me until I was pacified, while her women made sure that none of my siblings made their way in to gawk at me in my distress. The major part of my comfort that day sprang from Lady Vivienne's immediate denial of Frotto's tale. She told me I must pay no heed to him or to his wicked lies, and I believed her. How could I not? She was my mother, the most beautiful being in my world, and it was inconceivable to me that she could lie, even to save me from pain. And so three more full years passed by before I learned the truth. Once again, it was Frotto who precipitated things. By then he and I were implacable enemies, although he had learned to curb his tongue and keep away from me, most of the time at least. He was still larger than I was, and fatter, but I had grown too, gaining height more quickly than he and thickening steadily toward the strength and bulk that would sustain me as a warrior thereafter. I was larger than any of the other boys I knew of my own age, and that in itself might have been enough to keep Frotto away from me; he liked his victims to be much smaller than himself. And his father was a wheelwright, whereas mine was the King, so while he spent his time roaming at large with his cronies---and I was often jealous of his freedom---I spent most of mine, from the age of eight, in training to be a warrior. Chulderic, my father's Master-at-Arms, was my official tutor in such things, and he kept me hard at work, learning to ride and fight with sword and spear, and I was an apt pupil. On the day I was to learn the trut
First Chapter
THE LANCE THROWER
BOOK ONE
FATHERS
I
BAN
I CANNOT RECALL much about my early childhood, but I have always been grateful, nevertheless, that I survived it, and that the memories of it that remain with me are happy ones, steeped in the eternal sunlight of long, bygone summer days and unaffected by the truths I learned later. The Lady Vivienne of Ganis, who occupied the center of my life then, since I grew up regarding her as my mother, was in fact my mother's twin and therefore my aunt. Her husband, whom I also believed for years to be my father, was called Ban of Benwick, King of the Benwick Franks who settled the Ganis lands in southeastern Gaul before my birth.
I was seven years old when first I heard the story that my mother had abandoned me, and I remember the occasion well. I scoffed at first, pointing out to Frotto, the loudmouthed lout who was tormenting me, that my mother was Vivienne, whom people called the Lady of the Lake. Everyone knew that, I told him smugly, except him.
Not so, he yelled at me, in a jeering voice that contained an awful note of conviction. His mother had told him that the Lady Vivienne had taken me in as a homeless baby, after my true mother had abandoned both me and my father to run off with another man. Infuriated, and strangely frightened by his outrageous accusations, I charged at him. He sidestepped my rush easily, being two years older than me and almost twice my size, and kicked me hard on the shin. While I was hopping on one foot and clutching my injured leg, he punched me twice with large, meaty fists, bloodying my nose with one and then knocking me down and blackening both my eyes with the other.
Of course, I went running home, half blinded by tears andbruises and bleeding from my nose like a gravely wounded man, and Lady Vivienne was horrified when I burst into her rooms, dribbling blood and mucus all over her clean floor. She rushed to me and held me, uncaring about damage to her clothing, then hugged and comforted me and listened to my distraught tale while she tended to my wounds, holding my head back gently but firmly until the bleeding from my nostrils had dried up, then cleansing and dressing my cut leg. As soon as my face was free of blood and snot, she laid me on her own enormous bed and bathed my swollen eyes with a cool cloth, holding me to her bosom and crooning over me until I was pacified, while her women made sure that none of my siblings made their way in to gawk at me in my distress.
The major part of my comfort that day sprang from Lady Vivienne's immediate denial of Frotto's tale. She told me I must pay no heed to him or to his wicked lies, and I believed her. How could I not? She was my mother, the most beautiful being in my world, and it was inconceivable to me that she could lie, even to save me from pain. And so three more full years passed by before I learned the truth.
Once again, it was Frotto who precipitated things. By then he and I were implacable enemies, although he had learned to curb his tongue and keep away from me, most of the time at least. He was still larger than I was, and fatter, but I had grown too, gaining height more quickly than he and thickening steadily toward the strength and bulk that would sustain me as a warrior thereafter. I was larger than any of the other boys I knew of my own age, and that in itself might have been enough to keep Frotto away from me; he liked his victims to be much smaller than himself. And his father was a wheelwright, whereas mine was the King, so while he spent his time roaming at large with his cronies--and I was often jealous of his freedom--I spent most of mine, from the age of eight, in training to be a warrior. Chulderic, my father's Master-at-Arms, was my official tutor in such things, and he kept me hard at work, learning to ride and fight with sword and spear, and I was an apt pupil.
On the day I was to learn the truth about my parentage, Iran into Frotto and two of his friends while leading my injured horse, Rollo, to a lush pasture, a clearing in the woods I had discovered days earlier. Rollo and I had taken a fall that morning, and while I had been no more than slightly scratched and winded by the event, Rollo had gashed his pastern on a splintered branch that lay hidden in the thicket we had tried to gallop through. Now, a few hours later, his injured leg cleaned and firmly bandaged, I had thought to make reparation to him for my carelessness by taking him where he could eat his fill of succulent grass. I was walking slowly, allowing him to pick his way carefully as he hobbled beside me, favoring his sore ankle, and I was daydreaming, fretting about the damage I had caused to my beloved horse through my own enthusiasm and lack of thought. We Franks have always been proud of our prowess with horses, and we regard ourselves as natural horsemen, born to ride. But it had never really dawned on me until that day that the invincibility and invulnerability I felt, once mounted on my horse's back, were foolish. My poor horse was anything but invulnerable. By sending him charging into that copse the way I had, into its hidden dangers, I might easily have killed him and myself.
Thinking that, I led him around a bush, and found myself face-to-face with Frotto.
He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him, and it was pleasant for neither one of us. His first reaction was to draw back guiltily, leaping away from what he had been doing and looking beyond me as his two friends scattered, too, to see who else might emerge from behind the bush. For my part, I immediately looked to see what he had been doing. A skinny eight-year-old child I recognized as the daughter of one of my father's house servants lay on her back in the long grass, naked, her legs spread wide to expose everything that made her female. Her eyes were wide with fear, although whether she was frightened by what they had been doing to her or afraid of being caught doing it I could not tell. The truth is, I did not know myself what they were doing. I simply reacted to the guilt on Frotto's face.
"What's going on here? What are you up to, Frotto?"
My question broke his momentary panic. He had seen that there was no one with me, and so he charged at me, catching me with a shoulder to my chest and sending me flying to rediscover aches and bruises that I had sustained earlier in my fall from Rollo's back. Winded for the second time that day, I sprawled in the grass, looking up at him towering above me, his fists clenched and his face contorted with anger.
"What's it matter to you, shit spawn, what I'm up to?" He drew back his foot and swung a kick at me, and I rolled toward him, catching his flying foot between my arm and my chest and twisting to pull him off balance. He landed on top of me, and the sour stink of his stale sweat flooded my nostrils as I pushed him away and rolled again to regain my feet. Before I could rise, one of his friends kicked me behind the knee and I went down again, this time on all fours, just in time to take a third kick, full in the ribs, from the third boy. My vision hazed with red and I fought to keep from vomiting from the pain, but I could see Frotto scrambling away from me and I thought he was going to run.
I was wrong. He scrabbled on hands and knees until he reached the place where they had abandoned their fighting sticks, and he picked one up and rose slowly to his feet, hefting the short, thick club in his hand while measuring me with his eyes and grinning the grin that I had learned to detest. Seeing what was coming, I tried again to stand up, but again his friends prevented me, one of them sweeping my legs from under me with a wide, looping kick. And as I huddled there, face down, half lying and half kneeling, Frotto struck me across the shoulders with his cudgel.
Pain flashed across my back, but he had not hit me as hard as he could have; I knew that even as the blow landed, and a part of me wondered why. Chulderic, my trainer, had long since taught me that, once committed to a fight, it was sheer folly to hold back and be anything less than ruthless in disabling your enemy. Now, despite my pain, I was wondering what was going on in Frotto's mind. Perhaps he was still afraid of my status as my father's son. I fell forward onto my elbows, my face brushing the grass, and then I gathered myself and lunged, pushing upward and forward, forcing myselfto my feet in a shuffling run that caught all three of them by surprise.
The largest of the three came close to catching me. As his fingers closed on my tunic, pulling me around, I seized his own tunic in both my hands, then head-butted him hard. His nose crunched and he fell away from me, howling and falling hard to the ground, his hands clamped over the blood spewing from his ravaged face. Before either of the others could recover from the shock of what had happened, I leaped over the distance remaining between me and the other two cudgels that still lay on the ground. I snatched them up, one in each hand, spun toward my tormentors and dropped into a fighting stance.
The fight should have been over at that point. I had cut their strength by one-third and now I held two clubs to their one. And they must have seen how angry I was, in the set of my face. They knew I had been training hard for more than two years with cudgels very like those I now held, except that my own were longer and even heavier. It was plain to me that neither of them wanted to be the one who would put my training to the test. But poor stupid Frotto couldn't simply back away and accept the situation for what it was. Perhaps if he had, and had kept his mouth shut, I might have allowed him to walk away, even then, but that was not Frotto's way. He had to try to convince his dullard friend that they had bested me and that I wasn't worthy of their time or attention, and so he went into his customary diatribe about my parentage, and how my "real" mother had been a faithless slut.
I had heard the tirade many times by then, and I had almost grown immune to it, accustomed to letting it flow around my ears without heed. This time, however, I decided I had had enough, and I knew that Frotto's additional height, weight, and years were no longer significant to me. I raised my right hand high and lowered my left, advancing toward him slowly and daring him to swing at me. He did, and I parried his blow with the club in my left hand, then smashed him on the wrist with the other. He howled, his club went flying, and he spun away in agony, tucking his injured wristbeneath his armpit. I followed him, moving quickly, bringing one cudgel and then the other down as hard as I could on his bent back, driving him to his knees.
The lout with the broken nose had managed to struggle up, but there was no fight left in him. The third, uninjured one stood gaping at me, hovering between flight and fight. I lunged at him and he broke, running for his life. As he went I noticed that the little girl had vanished, probably having escaped as soon as our attention had been removed from her. Broken Nose rose to his feet, one blood-covered hand upraised, palm outward, mutely begging me not to hit him again. I jerked my head at him and he, too, ran off, leaving me with Frotto. My tormentor had regained his feet by that time and stood looking at me, still hugging his wrist under his arm, his face the color of bread dough.
My anger had all drained away, leaving me cold, but I was far from finished with Frotto. I jumped toward him and slashed the club in my right hand downward, striking him brutally on the left knee, and his leg gave way, pitching him at my feet.
"Now listen to me, you fat pig," I hissed. "If I ever hear you say another word about my mother, or about anything to do with my family, I'll kill you. Do you hear me?"
He groveled, whining and blubbering, and the coldness I had been feeling suddenly welled up in me, blinding me to everything but the infuriating sight of him. I hit him again, this time on his upraised arm, wanting to break it, but as I raised my cudgel yet again I became aware of violent movement beside me. A powerful blow sent me spinning to fall flat on my face.
"Enough, I said!" The voice roaring above me snapped me back to my senses. "God's teeth, don't you know when a fight's over? Are you trying to kill him? Pick that sack of guts up and get him out of here. See to him, and hold him with the others."
I raised myself On one elbow and saw two of my father's men-at-arms pulling the blubbering Frotto up between them. Beside me, Chulderic, the Master-at-Arms, was livid with rage. I looked away from him, shaking my head to clear it,and saw four more men holding my other two assailants by the arms. Both of them looked terrified.
I had caught the rough edge of Chulderic's tongue and temper before, but I had never seen anything like the fury that drove him now. King's son or not, I was hauled up by the back of my tunic and sent sprawling again with his boot in my backside before he recaptured me and dragged me, kicking and struggling, to his own horse. He picked me up and threw me face down across his saddle, yelling at me to stay there and not move if I valued my hide.
 
 
We made an inglorious entry to the settlement surrounding our fortress and attracted much derisive attention, me hanging head down over Chulderic's saddle and my three former assailants limping and dragging between their pairs of stern-faced escorts. Chulderic strode in front of me, holding his horse's reins, and I could only suppose that another of the men-at-arms was leading my injured mount.
"Bring those idiots over here!" We had stopped just outside the main gates of the castle and, face down as I was, I had seen Chulderic's legs striding toward me. He grasped me by both shoulders and heaved me bodily toward him, jerking my torso up so that my legs hit the ground and folded just as he let me go. I fell forward on my arms and then pushed myself back up until I was kneeling, and then as the other three were brought toward me I struggled to my feet. We stood side by side facing our glowering captor, all four of us swaying unsteadily. Chulderic's face was filled with disgust as he looked from one to the other of us, his eyes moving up and down the length of our bodies.
"Warriors, are we?" he snarled. "Fighting men? Brawling animals, more like. Three against one, too. And him barely half the size of any one of you, and he bests all of you. Warriors. Hah!" His eyes came to me, the disgust in them no less than it had been for the others. "And you, kinglet. Training to be a murderer, are you? Set to dash out the brains of anyone who crosses you? A fine king you'll make, raving and foaming at the mouth like some mad Hun. Is that what I'vemanaged to teach you in two years, to take no prisoners? To lose your mind and give yourself up to killing anyone you dislike, even though they're down and finished?"
I started to protest.
"Quiet!" he roared so that everyone watching could hear him, even from the top of the walls at his back. "I don't want to hear your puling tales of how it was. I saw for myself how it was. You won your fight, and then you set out to wade through blood that shouldn't have been spilt
He barked a command to Stegus, the commander of the detachment. "Punishment. Stones." My heart sank, and I wanted to weep with shame and frustration.
The castle we lived in had dominated the shores of the great lake of Genava for hundreds of years, built originally as a standard Roman cohortal camp that would accommodate a garrison of six hundred men. But it had been fortified and enlarged steadily over the course of half a millennium, until it could now house more than four times its original complement. And as the art of siege warfare had progressed and expanded, so had the defenses of the stronghold, so that the fortifications were forever incomplete, each new improvement giving way upon completion to another, newer development. The most recent addition, still under construction, was a matching pair of barbicans--high stone towers jutting far out from the regular line of the walls, flanking and protecting the main gates, from which heavy artillery and concentrated bowfire could be brought to bear on any attacking force below before it could approach close enough to engage the main defenses.
Such massive constructions required an endless supply of stones, and a constant flow of carts and heavy wagons brought stones and boulders from all around the countryside to a dumping ground outside the castle walls. That area was known as the stone fields, and stones were the only crop anyone had ever known to grow there, the inexhaustible piles of them rising and falling constantly, fed by the unending stream of wagons and depleted by the laboring prisoners. It was standard punishment duty, and had been from time immemorial, for criminals, miscreants, and malcontentsto carry these stones, one at a time, from the place where they had been dumped to the area where the masons and builders needed them on any given day. It was bleak, crippling labor, the most detested punishment in the entire region. I had never been assigned to it before--the very idea of it had been unthinkable--and neither, to the best of my knowledge, had Frotto or either of his friends. But I knew there was no recourse open to me, and that it was going to be a painful, miserable day until the sun set.
By midafternoon, my hands were sore and bleeding, my nails broken and splintered, and every muscle in my arms, back, and legs felt as though it was being torn into shreds. But time passed with no respite other than a cup of water at the end of every trip to the walls, and eventually the sun began to sink toward the horizon. Twice I fell to my knees under the weight of individual stones, and both times was convinced that I could not rise up again. But the guard set over me was unyielding. He carried a supple length of willow, peeled and cut to leave only a grip for his hand, and he stood over me, counting aloud as I knelt in exhaustion, and with every fifth count he lashed me with the wand. He was not vicious, not malevolent, but merely dutiful; he took no pleasure out of whipping me, but neither had he any pity. His arm rose and fell mechanically, and its remorselessness inspired me to find wells of energy inside my aching body that I might not else have known existed. Both times I rose up and continued my punishment.
Long before the middle of the afternoon crawled around, however, I had sworn an oath to all the gods in the universe that I would never let myself be consigned here again; not as a boy, and not as a man. Nothing, I had decided, no fleeting self-indulgence, even the most sublime, could be worth this much agony and misery. And yet I knew that we four were escaping lightly. We were but boys and the stones we were made to carry were boy-sized, backbreaking though they were. The men who labored there fared far worse, and they were committed to weeks, months, and sometimes years of punishment. The rocks they carried were enormous, and they were forced to make two trips before receiving water.
"Stop."
It took me several moments to realize that my guard was speaking to me. I stopped, hugging the stone to my chest, heaving and hitching it higher, trying to gain a better grip on it.
"Drop it," he said. "You're being summoned."
Too dazed and tired to feel any elation, I opened my arms and let the stone fall to my feet. It landed with a heavy thump and I stood for a moment looking down at it, aware again, as I had been at the end of every trip to the masons' area, that my hands and arms seemed unaware of being freed of their burden. The throbbing ache in them was too bone-deep to permit any instant relaxation at the mere dropping of a stone. I glanced up then to see Stegus, the guard commander, heading toward me, the speed of his walk lifting the material of his long cloak so that it seemed to float about him rather than hang from his shoulders. I tried to stand straighter as I waited for him, but my shoulders felt as though they might be permanently bowed.
Stegus came directly to me, and nodded to my guard. "I'll take him now. See to the release of the other three and then go back to what you should be doing today." The guard snapped him a salute, turned smartly on his heel, and marched away.
I knew Stegus well and liked him, for he often supervised my training at times when Chulderic had other tasks to perform, but there was no trace now of the easygoing officer with whom I was used to dealing. His face and eyes expressionless, he looked me over from head to foot, taking in the condition of my filthy, torn clothing, and his gaze lingered very briefly on my bloody, dirt-crusted hands. He offered me no recognition, no acknowledgment that he even knew my name.
"King Ban wants you. Come."
As I trudged behind him, fighting to keep my back straight and wanting only to fall down and cry like a baby, the misery of my day deepened and grew more malevolent. Now I had to face my father, something I had not anticipated. As angry as Chulderic had been, I still had notthought he would tell my father about my disgrace. Now it was obvious that he had, and considering the truth of that, I realized that it had been inevitable from the start and cursed myself for a fool for believing, for even one moment, that it might not be. Chulderic, as my father's Master-at-Arms, had condemned me to the stones for a day, and I was the King's son. It was impossible for him to conceal that, or his reasons for doing it, from the King.
I walked in a daze, scarcely aware of my surroundings as we passed through the castle gates, crossed the main yard, and entered the central fortress. Only the flickering of torches and the echo of Stegus's iron-shod boots on the flagged floor of the passageway to my father's duty quarters brought me back to reality.
"Come," my father's voice boomed in response to Stegus's knock on his door. Stegus leaned on the handle and swung one of the heavy, iron-studded doors open until he could lean inside.
"Your son is here, sir."
"Thank you, Stegus."
Stegus held the door open for me while I stepped across the threshold, and then he closed it quietly behind me, leaving me alone with my father, King Ban of Benwick.
 
 
As usual, the first thing I noticed was the chill. It was always cold in my father's day quarters, even at the height of summer, because they lay at the north end of the central stone-walled building of the fort and had large, open windows with high arches, set with a heavy iron grille, that looked out onto a walled garden. The windows had shutters, both internal and external, with wooden slats that could be closed against foul weather, but I had never known them to be closed. On this occasion I did not even look at the windows. I had eyes only for my father's shape, outlined against the brightness beyond them.
He was standing behind the enormous wooden table he used as a desk, gazing down at a wide, unrolled parchment that was held open on one side by his sheathed dagger andon the other by a heavy, squat inkhorn mounted on a carved ivory base. His bronze and iron helmet, crested with tightly packed short, prickly dark brown horsehair, sat by his right hand, and his plain brown cloak lay beside it, casually folded and thrown where he had dropped it. A row of high-backed Roman chairs of the type known as stellae faced the table, their backs to me. On the far side, where he stood, there was only his massive armed chair of black and ancient oak, carved over every point of its surface.
I stood motionless and waited for him to take notice of me. He was engrossed in whatever he was working on, however, and paid me no attention at all for a long time, and as I waited I felt my initial fear abating. I had no fear of him as my father, none at all, but I knew I had earned the punishment I had endured thus far that day and I expected more to come. Patience and tolerance my father had in abundance, but when discipline was called for he could be ferocious and unsparing. Looking at him now, when he was unaware of being watched, I saw that the light behind him made him appear different, in some subtle fashion, older than I had thought him. In fact I did not know how old my father was, but I knew he was much older than my mother, Vivienne of Ganis, for his firstborn son, Gunthar, had been born out of wedlock to a different mother, who had died birthing the boy years before Ban and Vivienne of Ganis ever met. My mother, who had given him four sons--Samson, Theuderic, Brach, and me--was, in effect, his second wife. It was perhaps that difference that made it easy for the four of us who were Vivienne's sons to believe that our half-brother, Gunthar, was both mad and dangerous, but then, we were all mere boys and Gunthar was a disapproving and unfriendly elder who also happened to be a sibling, so we felt justified in regarding him as both alien and inimical.
The light shining in on my father from the windows behind him outlined the deep, vertical scar on the left side of his face where a hard-swung sword had almost cloven his skull in some long-past fight but had glanced down the side of his head instead, trenching his face and separating theflesh of it from the underlying bone, so that even his skilled surgeons had been unable to repair the damage. His hair, iron gray, was cut short, close to his scalp, in what I had heard called the warrior's crop, and he was wearing his standard, daily armor, a sculpted cuirass of layered, hammered, highly polished bullhide embossed with broad bronze rosettes on his breast and a delicate tracery of bronze inlay outlining the abdominal muscles beneath. Heavy, armored epaulettes protected his shoulders, and from waist to ankles he wore breeches of soft, supple, carefully tanned leather. Over those, he was still wearing his armored leggings, which meant that he had not long since come in from riding, for the leggings were heavy and cumbersome things to wear when not on horseback.
My father was proud of his leggings, because they were an innovation that he had designed himself, years earlier and in cooperation with a few of his friends, after the cataphractus, the heavy, armored blanket developed by the Romans to protect their horses against weapons and projectiles. The cataphractus had worked so well as a protective device that riders had soon begun adapting its design to protect themselves in the saddle, reshaping and extending the blanket so that one flap of it could cover their legs. My father had taken the adaptation one step further, fashioning a kind of divided skirt that covered him from waist to ankle, separate from the cataphractus itself but serving the same purpose for the rider that the armored blanket served for the horse he rode. The resultant leggings were little more than hanging flaps of ring mail, leather panels held in place by a thick belt and encrusted with thousands upon thousands of tiny rings of bronze, sewn to overlap each other thickly enough to deflect a sword blade or a spear point, but they could be laced at knee and ankle to wrap around and cover the vulnerable parts of a rider's legs. It was obvious to me that before I entered his quarters that day he had already started to remove his leggings, for the laces at both knees and ankles hung free, and the belt tongue threaded through the heavy bronze buckle at his waist had been pulled through on one side, then left hanging. He had removed his scabbarded sword belt,too--it was worn over the belted leggings--and hooked it over the back of his chair.
As I watched him, thinking he had already lost awareness of my being there, he crossed one arm in front of his chest to support the other, drew back his upper lip in a rictus of frowning thought, and began to tap the back of one fingernail against his upper teeth. The sound of it carried clearly to me, and I listened as the tempo of his tapping increased then stopped. He sniffed sharply, then sighed and looked up at me, sweeping me from head to toe with his eyes before turning away to gaze out of the window.
"You look like a casualty. Mud, blood, and crusted dirt. Your mother's going to be very pleased with you."
I gazed at his back, unsure whether or not to speak and trying to gauge how angry he was with me. He hadn't sounded angry. But before I could respond he spoke again, still facing the garden.
"You're ten years old now, boy, more than halfway to manhood and big for your age. Do you think you'll ever make a decent man?" He didn't wait for a reply this time, but swung back to face me. "Chulderic thought you would, until today, but now he's not so sure. And from what he has told me, I have to wonder, too." He gazed at me for three long, pounding heartbeats, then closed his eyes, leaving his face expressionless. "Now tell me, do I need to wonder? What happened out there?"
My face was crimson, my chest crushed with shame.
"I got into a fight."
He opened his eyes wide and raised one eyebrow high. I did not know the word sardonic at the time, but I recognized the expression on his face.
"I know that. You against three others, bigger and older than you. You won. That's not what worries Chulderic. He's the one who taught you to fight, and he might have been proud of you. But he tells me that when everything was over, and you had thrashed all three of them, you went wild and tried to kill the biggest one. Frotto, is it?"
When I nodded, he frowned. "Aye. Well, Chulderic is my Master-at-Arms, and a fighter born and bred, not some terrifiedold woman. He says you stopped, stepped back, chased off the other two and then went after the big one again, even though there was no fight left in the fellow. Chulderic believes you were trying to kill him. He says he yelled at you and you ignored him. He says that if he hadn't torn you away and thrown you down you would have smashed the boy's head in. So you tell me, now, the truth. Is Chulderic lying?"
I shook my head, trying to swallow the lump in my throat and blinking my eyes fiercely to stem the tears that threatened to spill out of me. "No," I whispered, almost choking as I tried to speak. "I wasn't trying to kill him ... I only wanted to beat him badly, to teach him a lesson."
My father's eyes narrowed to slits. "Why? And what lesson?"
"To keep his big mouth shut and stop telling those lies about me."
"What lies?"
I was crying openly now, the hurt spewing out of me. "The same ones he always tells. Every time I meet him he tells all his friends that I'm not really who I am. He tells them you're not my real father, and that my real mother was a ... was a faithless whore who left me and my father when I was a baby to run away with another man. He says his mother says that you and Mother took me in out of pity, and he says anyone can tell, just by looking at Gunthar and Samson and Theuderic and Brach, that I'm not their brother. I hate him and he's always lying and I wanted to make him stop, to make him afraid of me so that he would stop."
I squeezed my eyes shut, scrubbing at my face with my sleeves to dry my tears, and when I opened them I saw my father frowning at me in stupefaction.
"How long has this been going on?"
I knew then that my mother had never mentioned the first incident to him, and young as I was, something inside me shrank and withered. "For a long time. Since I was seven."
"Three years? Why haven't you told me this before?"
What could I say to that? I knew that if I spoke the truth my mother would have to answer for it, and in my confusion, wondering myself why she had said nothing to him, Icould think of nothing else to say. He was glowering deeply now. "Answer me, boy. Why didn't you come to me?"
"I ..." And suddenly the answer sprang to my lips, along with the knowledge that I could protect my mother. "You told me not to," I said, and saw his eyes widen. "When I told you about Ector stealing my knife you were angry at me. You told me that you had more to think about than silly boys' squabbles and said if I came running to you every time someone did something to me that I didn't like, I would never grow up."
He gazed at me for a long time, his lips moving together soundlessly as though he were nibbling something, and then he drew himself erect and breathed out through his nose. "That's true, I did, didn't I. But that was a long time ago. You were, what, six at the time? And I had a fresh war on my hands. That very day you came crying to me over your stolen knife, as I recall, I had just received word that an entire unit of my men had been ambushed and wiped out by marauders, less than ten miles from here." His hands moved to the heavy buckle at his waist and he undid the belt of his leggings, folding them over one arm and dropping them heavily over the back of his chair, beside his sword belt. "But at six, I suppose you would have been too young to know anything about the seriousness of that. You saw your own problem that day as the most serious one in the world, and I barked at you like an angry dog and sent you off to resolve it by yourself. And you've never brought me another problem since, have you? Not until now."
He walked to the window again and stood staring out at the garden, clasping his hands behind his back. "I need to think about this, but I'll tell Chulderic he need have no fears about your savagery--that you did what you did for good reason--good enough to satisfy me, at least. Leave me now. Go to the bathhouse and clean yourself up. Tell Lorio I want him to look at your injuries. I'll have someone bring you fresh clothes. And we'll say nothing-to your mother about your punishment today. When you're presentable again, come back here." He turned back to face me. "Show me your hands."
I went to him and did as he had asked. He took one of my hands in each of his own, turning them over to inspect my swollen fingers and mangled nails. When he was satisfied, he grunted and released me. "Well, they're not permanently damaged, but you'd better be sure to have Lorio bandage those two fingers on your left hand. I imagine that's all he'll be able to do for you, other than to rub in some liniment. The bruising will go away and the nails will grow back, but you're going to be sore for a few days. I think that, and the punishment you've already undergone, will be sufficient for the sins you've committed. What about Frotto?"
I blinked at him. "Frotto? What about him, Father?"
"What am I to do with him and his friends? Do you want me to have them whipped?"
"No!" I surprised myself with my vehemence and with the realization that I was no longer angry with Frotto. "No, if you please. Let them go."
"I already have, but I could bring them back and have them flogged. Are you sure you want to let this quarrel end that simply?"
"Yes, Father."
He shrugged, but I could tell he was pleased with me for some reason. "As you wish. We'll say no more about it. Do you think you frightened him enough to make him stop baiting you?"
I frowned. "Perhaps not, but I think Chulderic did."
My father's face broke into the wide-mouthed smile I loved. "Aye," he said. "I believe you might be right about that. Off with you now, and see Lorio, but waste no time. Come back here as soon as you're clean and dressed again."
 
 
How easy it is for us to delude ourselves in matters we simply do not want to confront. Thinking back on that afternoon--and it is a scene I have revisited countless times--I am constantly astounded by my own lack of perception. Of course, I was only ten years old, no matter how grown up and worldly I believed myself to be, and yet it has often seemed to me that the mindless relief with which I soughtmy freedom, scampering off to the bathhouse to be tended to and fussed over by Lorio, would have been unchanged had I been twice the age I was.
I threw myself into the task of washing away all signs of my misadventures that day, accepting the stinging pain of hot water on my bruises and injuries as an easily bearable penance. When I was clean and dried, Lorio massaged my aching hands, then smeared them with unguents and bound them carefully in clean bright white bandages of boiled linen. I was appalled by that clean brightness, for the sight of it filled my mind immediately with the impossibility of concealing the bandages from my mother. She would immediately want to know what I had done to myself. The fact that my father had told me we would say nothing to her about my escapades that day became meaningless. Neither of us, I knew, could lie to her, for my father's celebrated courage and heroism were all confined to what he did in battle. Even at ten, I knew they counted for naught in his own household whenever he clashed with his wife. My father would tell her the truth, and she would be angry.
Thinking such thoughts, I made my way slowly back to my father's day quarters in the gathering dusk. It did not cross my mind that my father had not denied Frotto's taunts, as my mother had; I had too many other thoughts to occupy my mind. Because of the shame and humiliation I had already brought upon myself that day, I was convinced that nothing could make matters worse than they already were that afternoon.
My father was still reading when I returned. The broad chart he had been studying earlier, whatever it might have been, was still spread on the table in front of him, but his attention was now focused elsewhere. He was sitting in his huge chair, deep in concentration and whispering to himself as he deciphered the script on a thick wad of paper sheets held stretched between his hands. As I entered the room he finished reading one page and moved it to the back of the pile, and the entire wad sprang back into the tubular shape in which it had been delivered, rolling itself up over his left thumb. He anchored the moved sheet carefully against theothers in his left fist and then straightened the entire bundle again before he continued to read. I could tell from the speed of his whispering that he had already read the script at least once before, for first readings were always slow and hesitant as the eyes and the mind struggled with deciphering the written words and separating them from each other, trying to make sense out of the densely packed mass of characters that covered the paper. I stood patiently until he reached a natural stopping point, when he released the right edges of the missive again and allowed it to snap back into shape before he rolled it tightly and slid it back into the leather tube in which it had come to him.
"That's better," he grunted in my direction. "You look more like your mother's son now. How do you feel? Are your hands sore?"
"A little," I admitted, and he placed the leather tube carefully on the table.
"Aye, well, they will be for the next few days, I suspect. Come."
He led me from the room and past his guards, along the stone-flagged passageway to the wide, curving staircase of hand-carved steps that led up to the King's Quarters, where our entire family lived in a sumptuously appointed privacy that was unique in the entire kingdom. These quarters, elaborate and grand, formed the official center of the fortified castle and had been built for a Roman procurator more than a hundred years earlier, when this region had been one of the most prosperous provincial centers in the Empire. The broad, shallow stairs swept grandly upward to a deep and spacious oval landing facing three tall and imposing doorways, the central one slightly taller and wider than those on either side, its double doors of dark, polished wood more elaborately carved. The doorway on the right was the entrance to the King's bedchambers, and its double doors opened into a suite of four large rooms, two of which were bedchambers, while the others were a living room and a private bathhouse for the sole use of the King and his wife. The imposing central doors concealed our opulent official reception rooms, the third and farthest of which was a private diningroom that could seat upward of fifty people in comfort and was built directly above the main kitchens on the ground floor. The third set of doors, to the left, led to what had originally been sleeping quarters for important visitors and imperial guests and now served the rest of our family--a long row of sleeping cubicles for myself and my siblings, with an extra common room, all of which opened off the left of a long passageway that ran along the wall of the central reception hall.
"Wait here."
I remained obediently on the landing as my father entered his own rooms, closing the massive doors behind him and leaving me to wonder idly what was going on. I let my gaze fall to the familiar colors on the floor beneath my feet, illuminated by dim, late-afternoon light from a narrow, open skylight far above my head. I slid the toe of one shod foot over the tiny bright mosaic tiles that formed an enormous and intricately worked oval depiction of the Chi-Rho symbol of the Christian Church. My mother had commissioned this work years earlier, when I was still a crawling tot, engaging the services of a brilliantly gifted artisan named Poli-dorus who traveled all the way from Antioch in Asia Minor to design and install the floor over the course of three years. I could still recall the rapt awe with which, as I grew older, I had watched the old man work, meticulously selecting tiny square fragments of polished stone--he called them tesserae--from the piles of red, white, and blue. He would place them effortlessly but with great precision so that, from day to day, the picture he was creating grew in size and complexity. It had been endlessly fascinating to me to wonder how the old man would be able to fill the shrinking work space to perfection, completing the design with squares of stone. so that the irregular, shapeless, and rapidly dwindling space would be filled without obvious flaws to indicate where he had left off working. For every stone he set in place diminished the open area remaining for his work, and I was incapable of seeing how he would reduce the ragged, asymmetrical work area that remained so that it would eventually accommodate and accept exactly, at the very last, onefinal, perfect square of stone. But flawless he had been to the last, so that nowadays, although I knew the approximate position of the final tessera he had set in place, I found myself unable to identify the spot.
Alone on the landing, gazing at the floor, I became aware of the silence surrounding me. There were no guards up here. Only when King Ban was receiving guests and envoys did he station guards at these doors, more for display than for security, and even then my mother disapproved. These were her quarters, too, and she saw no need for guards. In truth, there were many things for which my mother saw no need--frequently to the great frustration of my father, I knew--and one of those was concern over the opinions that other people held of her. She was a conscientious and committed Christian, and that alone set her apart from the majority of the people whom her husband ruled and governed, as Christianity was something of a novelty among the pagan folk who peopled our land. It amused and delighted my mother that the people around us thought her both unnatural and magical. Her Christianity they could take in stride, although they might wonder at it among themselves, but they truly believed she was a faery creature: a water sprite; a supernatural being whose true element was water and who lived as easily beneath the surface of the lake, communing with the spirits there, as she did on land by day, where she mixed with normal folk. They called her the Lady of the Lake, and although others assumed that this name derived from our castle's position on the shores of the lake the Romans called Genava, they knew within themselves what the name really signified, and they smiled at the foolishness of others. They knew all about my mother and her strangeness, our local folk, for my mother's magic was that she could swim, and she did so as easily and naturally as did a fish, for the sheer pleasure it gave her.
But what our people saw as strange and unnatural was perfectly straightforward and unremarkable in lands not much farther to the south and west. My mother had learned to swim as a child, on a long-ago visit to the imperial island of Capri in the Middle Sea when she and her mother hadbeen privileged to accompany her father on official business for the Emperor Honorius. For an entire summer there, in the warm, pellucid waters surrounding the beautiful island, she swam every day and developed a lifetime love of the pleasures of swimming underwater, marveling at the beauties that abounded there. The waters of our lake of Genava were far colder than those of the Middle Sea, but such was my mother's love of being underwater that she had grown inured to the discomforts of our more northerly climate and plunged into the lake every year as soon as the chill temperature grew bearable in summer. Once begun then, she swam every day, sometimes for hours on end, stopping with great reluctance only when autumn was far gone and the winds and frosts of each new approaching winter threatened to bring ice.
To our local people, such behavior was incomprehensible. They had a passing familiarity with hot-water bathing, thanks to their hundreds of years of association with the ruling Romans, but even that activity seemed alien to them. They themselves simply did not bathe, in the sense of immersing themselves in water, hot or otherwise. Bathing, voluntary self-immersion, was madness to them, since no one could breathe in water without drowning. By that logic, therefore, swimming in the open waters of a vast lake demonstrated complete insanity; or, alternatively, it endowed the swimmer, my unique and beautiful mother, with supernatural attributes. People chose to believe the latter, because they could see in their daily dealings with her that the Lady Vivienne was as sane as they were. Besides, the alternative explanation provided rich fodder for their imaginative murmurs and whisperings over the long winter nights.
And so my mother was perceived and talked about as a water sprite, which caused her great amusement and enabled her to go about her life as a conscientious Christian wife and mother without being concerned that her true beliefs might attract unwelcome attention. That reluctance to be noticed as a Christian was no empty fear, because outside the primary Roman spheres of influence--the towns and fortifications throughout the province--Christians were few, and becausethey had a reputation for meek submissiveness in turning the other cheek to aggressors, they made easy targets for predators. Tales of slaughtered, robbed, and despoiled families of Christians were commonplace, although such depredations were usually carried out by strangers or wandering bandits, rather than by any of my father's people. On the whole, the ordinary people of our lands were pagan in their beliefs, but not savage; a large proportion of them were completely godless, but the remainder shared their worship, when they did worship, among an entire pantheon of gods imported over the ages from all parts of the far-flung Empire.
King Ban was Christian, too, of course, as were we all, his sons and daughters. But even at the age of ten I knew that Ban's was a nominal Christianity, held and observed more to please his wife than to save his soul. Left to himself and living his life as King Ban of Benwick, nominal vassal to what-ever subemperor might be in power at any given time, my father was a responsible warrior king first, an administrative imperial official next, and a working Christian last and least.
As these thoughts of my father filled my mind the door opened again and he stepped out halfway, looking at me with one eyebrow raised. "Come," he said, and stepped back inside, holding the door open for me to follow him. I entered the long, lamp-lit hallway that I had not seen in the time that had elapsed--more than two years now--since my eighth birthday, when I had been ritually deemed too old to share my mother's bed any longer and old enough to be able to fend for myself among my elder siblings. It had been a form of banishment, but one which every boy endured when he turned eight, and therefore it had been bearable. Now the warm, familiar atmosphere washed over me and I stood there, blinking, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. My father moved ahead of me and walked directly toward the brightness spilling from the room at the far end, and I trailed behind him, glancing at each of the doors on my right as I passed.
The first, I knew, concealed a deep, narrow storeroom lined with shelves, and the second led to the family's private bathhouse. I also knew that behind that door, at the end of ashort, narrow passageway, hung double floor-to-ceiling curtains of heavily waxed cloth that contained the steam and moisture from the baths and prevented it from spilling out into the passageway. The next room was my parents' sleeping chamber, containing an enormous bed, framed in dark, richly polished wood and surrounded by curtains of the finest, most diaphanous cloth made by the nomads of Asia Minor. My mother would be in there, I assumed, but the thought had barely entered my head when I saw her instead peering anxiously toward me from the room my father had just entered, the family room at the end of the hallway. This spacious room was the heart of their private quarters, and it was filled now with the evening light that shone through the hundreds of small, translucent rectangles of colorless glass in the high, arched windows in the outer wall. There were six hundred of these glass panels--I had counted them many times--all uniform in size and held in place by a mesh of lead strips, and they were the wonder of all our land. People marveled at them, I knew, because I had often heard them speaking of their beauty and speculating on the cost of them. They were unimpressive from the outside, looking up at them, but the light that poured through them during the day transformed the room's interior in a manner that seemed magical.
As I stepped into the room, I lost awareness of all else as my attention became focused instantly on my mother's distress. Her face looked gaunt and distraught, her eyes deep set and haunted, but she did not appear to be angry with me, and I felt an instant of selfish relief. She seemed afraid, more than anything else, and that frightened me in turn, for I could not imagine what kind of terror might have frightened her here, in her own castle, with her husband by her side and his warriors all around us.
"Mother?" I said, beginning to ask her what was wrong, but the moment I uttered the word she rushed to me and drew me into the kind of enveloping embrace she had not shared with me since I had entered training as a warrior. Her hand clasped behind my head and drew me to her bosom and her other arm wrapped about my back, pulling me close, sothat I felt the womanly softness of her body as I had never been aware of it before, and as she held me I felt her shuddering with grief and heard her anguished sobs above my head. Mystified, I did not know what to do or how to respond and so I simply stood there, letting her crush me to her until I felt my father's hand gripping my shoulder, pulling me away. As I obeyed and stepped back, I saw that he was grasping both of us, one in each hand, prizing us apart.
"Enough, Vivienne," he said, and his voice was gentle. "The boy's unhurt. A few scrapes, no more than that. Nothing that will not heal and disappear within the week." I saw him wince, as though in pain himself, as he uttered the last words, and I understood immediately that he wished he had not said them. My mother groaned and swung away from his now gentle grasp, catching her breath in her throat and turning her back on both of us. My father-looked from her to me and shook his head tightly in what I recognized, even at ten years of age, as frustration with the behavior of women.
"Sit down," he said to me, pointing to one of the room's large padded armchairs, and then he slipped his arm about my mother's waist and murmured something to her that I could not hear. She sniffed and fumbled for the kerchief in her sleeve and then, wiping her eyes, she permitted him to lead her to a couch, where she sat staring at me for long moments until fresh tears welled up into her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.
"Vivienne." There was a warning tone to my father's voice, and she looked up to where he stood beside her, watching her.
"Must we, Ban?" Her voice was plaintive, beseeching him.
"Yes, we must. Now."
Both of them turned their eyes on me then, and I spoke through the panic that had been building in my breast since this strange behavior began. "What is it, Father? Mother, what's the matter, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing is wrong, Clothar--not in the way you mean." My father perched on the arm of Mother's couch and leaned slightly to rest one hand lightly on her shoulder, histhumb moving soothingly against her neck. "I said something to you earlier today, when you first came to me, about your age. You were ten, I said, more than halfway along toward manhood. Do you remember?"
I nodded.
"And then I asked you if you thought you would ever make a decent man." He was looking intently at me now. "I had never doubted that you would, until I heard that report from Chulderic today, and your explanation satisfied any doubt I had then. You will be a fine man when you are grown, and you are growing quickly. You have the makings of a warrior and a king, both. Any father would be proud to have you as a son."
He glanced down to where his thumb still stroked his wife's neck, comforting her. My mother had stopped weeping and sat gazing at me, and I frowned in puzzlement at what my father had said--not about his pride but about my having the makings of a king. I was the youngest of five sons, with little chance of ever becoming King of Benwick, and I had known and accepted that all my life. Mine would be a warrior's life, but not a king's.
"This fool, Frotto ... Your mother told me earlier today, while you were at the baths with Lorio, that you came to her three years ago, when he first began taunting you. She told you then he was lying, but she said nothing to me at the time, thinking it was no more than a boys' spat and would pass." He glanced sideways at my mother, who showed no reaction but stared steadfastly at me. "I am not displeased over that. I might have said and done the same things, at that time, had I been faced with the dilemma you presented to her. You were left to deal with Frotto's bullying for three years, but that's a normal thing that all boys have to undergo, in one form or another."
I felt myself frowning at him now. He saw my confusion and rose to his feet, sighing deeply and expelling the air noisily through pursed lips. "Damnation, boy, you understand nothing of what I'm saying, do you?" He did not expect an answer and moved away, pacing the length of thefloor three times before he spoke again, and by the time he did, nameless terrors were clawing at my guts.
He approached and stood directly in front of my chair, holding out his right hand palm downward in the ancient, imperious gesture that demanded fealty and obedience. I leaned forward and took his hand in both my own, feeling the calluses of his weapons-hardened palm.
"Time for truth, boy. Time to grow up, to leave childhood behind and face the world of men. Do you fear me?"
I shook my head, wide-eyed. "No, Father."
"Do you doubt my love for you as a son?"
"No."
"Good, so we are as one on that. In all respects save one, you are my son, and I am proud of you."
"What?" My question emerged almost as a bleat, betraying all my sudden fears and consternation, and he turned his hand, grasping both of mine tightly but not painfully.
"Frotto is a fool, Clothar--a loudmouthed, mindless, empty-headed fool who gabbles about things he neither knows nor understands. But he is not completely wrong, and I will not lie to you. Most of his mouthings are mangled, foolish, ignorant noises, almost completely untrue in all respects, yet nonetheless, when all is said and done, even in his wrongness he is correct, and I should have his idiot tongue cut out." His fingers tightened on mine. "I am not your father, nor is your mother your true mother. Your real father and mother died many years ago, murdered when you were a tiny child, still suckling at your nurse's breast."
I know I must have cried out, because the Lady Vivienne sprang to her feet and rushed to kneel beside me, and as her arms closed around me, pulling me close again, King Ban released my hand and moved away. I was vaguely conscious of the stiff set of his back and shoulders as he went, but I have no other recollection of how I actually felt. All I can recall is a reeling numbness, a yawning emptiness, and a deep-seated, aching coldness in my chest and belly.
"Vivienne! Leave him and sit down. This has to be finished quickly, the needless pain of it. There will be time tocomfort him later, once he is ready for comfort. Right now he needs to hear the truth, to take away the strength of Frotto's lies. Step away, if you love him."
She did as she was bidden, slowly, leaving me to huddle in the depths of my large chair.
"Clothar? Clothar!"
I looked up again at the man who had been my father all my life and now was not. I saw the familiar size and strength of him and the unusual severity in his face, but all I could think was that he was not what he appeared to be. He was not my father. I was not his son.
"Listen carefully to what I say. Listen to me, and put all thoughts of what Frotto said out of your mind. What I will tell you now is the truth, the only truth. Do you understand me? Do you?" He watched for my nod, and then perched himself on one corner of the large table by the wall opposite my chair. This was a favorite position for him, in any room, braced on one long, rigid leg and sitting with his back straight and his head erect, his other leg crooked over the table's corner; it allowed him to look down upon anyone seated elsewhere, or to gaze eye to eye with standing men from a position of authoritative comfort.
"I know you feel betrayed by both of us. I can see it in your face. You think your life has been a lie and that we have gulled you. Well, that's not true, and the quicker you accept that, the sooner you'll reach manhood. The only thing we have concealed from you is the truth of your identity--of who you really are--and that was for your own protection."
His words were echoing in the hollow emptiness of my mind, but I could understand them, if not their full meaning. He spoke of protecting me, but from what, or from whom? The only threat I had known until then had stemmed from Frotto, and no one had protected me from him. I wanted to challenge the King on that, but I did not know where or how to begin, and he was already speaking again.
"You are high-born, boy, of bloodlines nobler and far older than mine. The truth of that is demonstrable, and the time has come for you to know about it. You were your father's firstborn son and the sole heir to his kingdom. Youwould have died for that alone, slain like your parents, had your father's murderer known where to find you. But he did not know where you were--nor was he even certain that you remained alive. And no one here, except my most trusted warriors, Clodio and Chulderic, knew where you came from. That kept you safe.
"But you are a king's son. Your birthright and standing are the same as those of Gunthar, my firstborn. So you will be a king someday, although not here in Benwick. When you are old enough and strong enough to claim your own and take your vengeance for your parents' blood, I, or your brother Gunthar if he is king by then, will assist you in claiming what is yours by right of blood and birth, and the man you must strike down will know who you are and why he is being destroyed." He had my full attention now; I could feel my own eyes wide upon his. He knew I wanted to speak, and he nodded. "What is it?"
I had to swallow before I could make any sounds. Even then, however, in my extreme youth and in the shock of having my entire world reshaped, there was a doubt in my mind. It was not a doubt about my father's truthfulness--even now I think of him as the father of my boyhood--but rather of his blindness concerning the nature of his firstborn son, for I knew with complete conviction that Gunthar, son of Ban and future king of Benwick, would be no source of help to me, ever. Gunthar was simply not an amiable or accommodating person. Even at ten years old I knew better than to trust him in anything, and I had grave misgivings, shared with my other brothers, about his sanity. We joked about it among ourselves, but none of us believed that he was normal in his mind. Gunthar's was a cold, calculating mind well matched to an emotionless, distrustful personality that considered his own welfare and his personal advantage first and foremost in all things. But there were times when he could also be terrifyingly irrational, and at those times you could practically smell the threat of rabid violence in him. None of us had ever voiced the thought aloud, but none of us doubted, either, that Gunthar would kill us without a thought if we provoked him far enough.
I thrust those thoughts aside, dismissing them as unimportant, and condensed all my newfound pain, my wonderings and curiosity, and my sudden, soul-deep longings into one simple question.
"My father ... my real father ... . Who was he?"
"His name was Childebertus. He was my closest friend for many years, though he was much younger than me. We served in the legions together, long ago, during the reign of Honorius, just after the death of Stilicho, and your father was no more than a lad when first we met--a bright, sparkling lad, only seven years older than you are now. I was his first commanding officer, but he was talented and won promotions quickly. He grew level with me quickly, then went on to outrank me. He was a brilliant soldier."
Chillbirtoos, I thought, repeating the name in my mind as he had pronounced it. My father was Chillbirtoos, a brilliant soldier. The skin on my arms rose up in gooseflesh, but the King was still talking.
"We became close, he and I, over the ten years that followed, brothers in arms, closer than blood brothers--him and me and one other friend who outranked both of us and commanded an entire army group. And then, one day about twelve years ago, your father and I met and married twin sisters--the Lady Vivienne, here, and your own mother, the Lady Elaine, both daughters of King Garth of Ganis." He stopped suddenly, then waved his hand toward his wife in an unmistakable order for her to hold her peace. He kept his eyes fixed on mine. "Stand up."
I rose to my feet obediently.
"Would you ever call my wife a whore?"
The question stunned me, and I felt my face blaze with a sudden r
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"Of the scores of novels based on Arthurian legend, Whyte's 'Camulod' series is distinctive, particularly in the rendering of its leading players and the residual Roman influences that survived in Britain during the Dark Ages."TheWashingtonPostonCamulod Chronicles "Whyte has done an excellent job of constructing a viable pre-Arthurian world. His fifth-century Europe is evocative, earthy, and well researched."Romantic TimesonCamulod Chronicles "As Whyte waves off the fog of fantasy and legend surrounding the Arthurian story, he renders characters and events real and plausible."BooklistonCamulod Chronicles "Whyte shows why Camulod was such a wonder, demonstrating time and again how persistence, knowledge and empathy can help push back the darkness of ignorance to build a shining future."Publishers WeeklyonCamulod Chronicles "Whyte's story has an undeniable power that goes beyond the borrowed resonances of the mythic tales he's reworking."Fantasy & Science FictiononCamulod Chronicles "A rousing historical adventure, full of hand-to hand combat, hidden treasures, and last-minute escapes, a refreshing change from the many quasi--historical, politically correct Arthurians out there."LocusonThe Skystone "It's one of the most interesting historical novels that I've ever read and I've read plenty."Marion Zimmer Bradley onThe Skystone
" Of the scores of novels based on Arthurian legend, Whyte's ' Camulod' series is distinctive, particularly in the rendering of its leading players and the residual Roman influences that survived in Britain during the Dark Ages." -- "The ""Washington"" Post" on "Camulod Chronicles"" " " Whyte has done an excellent job of constructing a viable pre-Arthurian world. His fifth-century Europe is evocative, earthy, and well researched." -- "Romantic Times "on" Camulod Chronicles" " As Whyte waves off the fog of fantasy and legend surrounding the Arthurian story, he renders characters and events real and plausible." -- "Booklist "on "Camulod Chronicles" " " " Whyte shows why Camulod was such a wonder, demonstrating time and again how persistence, knowledge and empathy can help push back the darkness of ignorance to build a shining future." -- "Publishers Weekly "on" Camulod Chronicles" " Whyte' s story has an undeniable power that goes beyond the borrowed resonances of the mythic tales he' s reworking." -- "Fantasy & Science Fiction "on "Camulod Chronicles" " " " A rousing historical adventure, full of hand-to hand combat, hidden treasures, and last-minute escapes, a refreshing change from the many quasi--historical, politically correct Arthurians out there." -- "Locus "on" The Skystone" " It' s one of the most interesting historical novels that I' ve ever read and I' ve read plenty." -- Marion Zimmer Bradley on "The Skystone"
"Of the scores of novels based on Arthurian legend, Whyte's 'Camulod' series is distinctive, particularly in the rendering of its leading players and the residual Roman influences that survived in Britain during the Dark Ages."--"The ""Washington"" Post" on "Camulod Chronicles"" " "Whyte has done an excellent job of constructing a viable pre-Arthurian world. His fifth-century Europe is evocative, earthy, and well researched."--"Romantic Times "on" Camulod Chronicles" "As Whyte waves off the fog of fantasy and legend surrounding the Arthurian story, he renders characters and events real and plausible."--"Booklist "on "Camulod Chronicles" " " "Whyte shows why Camulod was such a wonder, demonstrating time and again how persistence, knowledge and empathy can help push back the darkness of ignorance to build a shining future."--"Publishers Weekly "on" Camulod Chronicles" "Whyte's story has an undeniable power that goes beyond the borrowed resonances of the mythic tales he's reworking."--"Fantasy & Science Fiction "on "Camulod Chronicles" " " "A rousing historicaladventure, full of hand-to hand combat, hidden treasures, and last-minute escapes, a refreshing change from the many quasi--historical, politically correct Arthurians out there."--"Locus "on" The Skystone" "It's one of the most interesting historical novels that I've ever read and I've read plenty."--Marion Zimmer Bradley on "The Skystone"
"Of the scores of novels based on Arthurian legend, Whyte's 'Camulod' series is distinctive, particularly in the rendering of its leading players and the residual Roman influences that survived in Britain during the Dark Ages." The Washington Poston Camulod Chronicles "Whyte has done an excellent job of constructing a viable pre-Arthurian world. His fifth-century Europe is evocative, earthy, and well researched." Romantic Timeson Camulod Chronicles "As Whyte waves off the fog of fantasy and legend surrounding the Arthurian story, he renders characters and events real and plausible." Bookliston Camulod Chronicles "Whyte shows why Camulod was such a wonder, demonstrating time and again how persistence, knowledge and empathy can help push back the darkness of ignorance to build a shining future." Publishers Weeklyon Camulod Chronicles "Whyte's story has an undeniable power that goes beyond the borrowed resonances of the mythic tales he's reworking." Fantasy & Science Fictionon Camulod Chronicles "A rousing historical adventure, full of hand-to hand combat, hidden treasures, and last-minute escapes, a refreshing change from the many quasi--historical, politically correct Arthurians out there." Locuson The Skystone "It's one of the most interesting historical novels that I've ever read and I've read plenty."Marion Zimmer Bradley on The Skystone
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Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
Clothar is a young man of promise. He has been sent from the wreckage of Gaul to one of the few schools where logic and rhetoric are taught along with battle techniques. He is sent by his mentor on a journey to aid another young man - Arthur Pendragon.
Long Description
Jack Whyte has written a lyrical epic, retelling the myths behind the boy who would become the Man Who Would Be King--Arthur Pendragon. He has shown us, as Diana Gabaldon said, "the bone beneath the flesh of legend." In his last book in this series, we witnessed the young king pull the sword from the stone and begin his journey to greatness. Now we reach the tale itself-how the most shining court in history was made. Clothar is a young man of promise. He has been sent from the wreckage of Gaul to one of the few schools remaining, where logic and rhetoric are taught along with battle techniques that will allow him to survive in the cruel new world where the veneer of civilization is held together by barbarism. He is sent by his mentor on a journey to aid another young man: Arthur Pendragon. He is a man who wants to replace barbarism with law, and keep those who work only for destruction at bay. He is seen, as the last great hope for all that is good. Clothar is drawn to this man, and together they build a dream too perfect to last--and, with a special woman, they share a love that will nearly destroy them all... The name of Clothar may be unknown to modern readers, for tales change in the telling through centuries. But any reader will surely know this heroic young man as well as they know the man who became his king. Hundreds of years later, chronicles call Clothar, the Lance Thrower, by a much more common name. That of Lancelot.
Unpaid Annotation
In the last book in this series, readers witnessed the young Arthur Pendragon pull the sword from the stone and begin his Journey to greatness. Now comes the tale itself-how the most shining court in history was made. Clothar is a young man of promise. He has been sent from the wreckage of Gaul to one of the few schools where logic and rhetoric are taught along with battle techniques, and is sent by his mentor on a journey to aid another young man: Arthur Pendragon. Arthur wants to replace barbarism with law and to keep those who work only for destruction at bay. He is seen as the last great hope for all that is good. Together, Clothar and Arthur build a dream too perfect to last-and with a special woman, they share a love that will nearly destroy them all. The name of Clothar may be unknown to modern readers, for tales change through the centuries. Hundreads of years later, chronicles call Clothar, the Lance Thrower, by a much more common name: Lancelot.

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