The wheel is turning and the world will change. . . . And a son of Lancelot, with a bloody sword and a righteous heart, shall renew the Light in Britain before the descent of savage dark. . . .
So spoke the Lady of the Lake. Now her grim prophecy is coming true. King Arthur lies dead, struck down along with Mordred, his son and heir, and the greatest knights of Camelot. Of that peerless company, only Lancelot survives, a broken man who has turned his back on Britain and his forbidden love of Guinevere. Yet one knight, scarcely more than a boy, fights amid the ruins to keep Arthur’s dream alive: Galahad, the son of Lancelot.
Before his death, Arthur swore the young knight to undertake a quest: a search for the scattered treasures of an ancient king. On the recovery of these powerful relics–a grail, a spear, and a sword–hinges the future of Britain. But it is the past that torments Galahad. He cannot forget or forgive his father’s betrayal of his king. Nor can he banish thoughts of the intoxicating Dandrane, sister of his friend Percival, from his mind. Yet only a man pure in heart can fulfill the prophecy of the Lady of the Lake.
Not since The Mists of Avalon has an author so brilliantly reimagined and brought to life the enduring Arthurian legends. Weaving back and forth through time, from Arthur’s mighty reign and commanding influence to Galahad’s ultimate quest to preserve the destiny of a nation, The Grail Prince is an unforgettable epic of adventure and romance, of clashing swords and hearts set in a magical world as deadly as it is beautiful.
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BOOK ONE Part I In the Shadow of Camlann In the first year of the reign of Constantine
Wolf Galahad woke instantly. It was cold and dark. Silence breathed on his neck, and his heart raced. Where was he? He lay still, holding his breath, listening hard. He could see nothing, but something was there. The very air was thick with menace. He knew, without knowing how, that death was near.
Suddenly he heard again the sound that had jerked him awake: the shrill bleat of a horse in terror. His horse! Memory flashed back: Farouk tied at the back of the vaulting cave, Percival tucked in his bedroll against the rock face, a fire lit in a circle of stones at the mouth to keep away wolves—
He raised himself cautiously on one elbow. Two feral golden eyes stared at him out of the night, ten feet away, throat high. His breath stopped. By the dark light of dying embers he made out the thin gray-black body of a mountain wolf, head down, ears forward, ruff bristling, nose alive to living scent. Without moving his body he let his fingertips slide toward his belt and his dagger hilt. But even as the weapon slipped into his hand, he knew it was no use. He would never have enough time. At the first threat of movement the animal would attack. Already the lips stretched in an ugly snarl, revealing the great fangs. He stared back at the golden eyes as hard as he could. The wolf did not blink. A low, rumbling growl sprang from deep within its belly. Behind him the frightened horse swung around on his tether, nervous footfalls vibrating through the earth.
“Jesu God!” Percival’s terrified whisper split the silence. The wolf’s head shot up, turned. Galahad’s arm drew back and whipped forward as the animal, sensing its mistake, whirled and flung itself at him. The wolf fell dead as it hit his chest, the dagger’s hilt stuck in its throat.
“Shhh!” Galahad rose to a crouch, shaking, and scanned the darkness beyond the cave, but he could see no other eyes.
“My God!” Percival stifled a sob and wriggled out of his bedroll. “It’s my fault! The fire died—I fell asleep—he might have killed you! Oh, Galahad, after all we’ve been through—to think we might have ended as a meal for a mountain wolf! A wolf, of all creatures, when we’re on the road home to Gwynedd!”
“Be quiet, will you, for pity’s sake?” Galahad glanced at Percival’s shoulder badge, where the Gray Wolf of Gwynedd stood proudly guarding the Irish Sea. Did the boy think the creatures knew who he was? “Get busy with that fire. There may be others about.”
Forcing his breath to normal, Galahad looked down at the wolf’s emaciated body. It had been a hard year for wolves as well as men: a late, cold spring, a dry summer, a hot, desolate autumn, and now winter looked to be early. It must be bitterly cold in the heights to drive them down into the valleys so soon.
It’s a new world now. The thought came back to him unbidden, rising in his throat like vomit. Everything is changed.
He dragged the wolf’s body back to the cave mouth, pulled the dagger out, and slit its throat. Blood spilled out onto the rock ledge outside the cave, and dribbled down into the blackthorn thicket hedging the brook below. Percival lay on his stomach, cupping the precious embers as he blew gently on their only hope of fire. Galahad watched him a moment, saw the glow brighten and strips of whittled kindling curl and dissolve into little flames.
He nodded. “Keep your eyes open and your dagger nearby. The stench of wolf’s blood may deter any others, but fire’s better. I’m going to settle the horse.”
The black stallion snorted and flung his head at the end of his rope, but calmed when he felt the reassuring touch of his master’s hand. Galahad took his time with the horse, running his hands over the sweating coat and speaking calmly. “Rouk, Rouk, steady on, my boy. It’s only a wolf. You’ve faced worse: Romans in Gaul and Saxons in Britain. It’s all over now.” But underneath the steady flow of assurances, the fear he had lived with for six long weeks clutched him again. It is a new world now. Arthur is dead. Oh, dear God, Arthur is dead. . . .
He bowed his head against the horse’s flank as hot tears escaped his hard control. It was only last spring—a lifetime ago—he had left Britain with Arthur’s army to join the kingdoms of Less Britain in their stand against the Romans at Autun. That battle had ended the threat of Roman domination, but it had come at such a cost! So many men had died! His own father— He shrugged the thought away. He did not want to think about Lancelot.
And after Autun, disaster had followed hard upon disaster. Was it only six weeks ago, the Battle of Camlann? Six weeks ago half of Britain had died near the banks of the Camel within sight of the towers of Camelot.
Angrily he pushed away that memory. There was no point in remembering. Even the last six weeks were growing more difficult to recall. He had spent most of them at Percival’s side in Avalon’s House of Healing. That was a time shrouded in grief. Or had the Lady of the Lake drawn a living mist across his mind to guard the secrets of Avalon? He wouldn’t be at all surprised. Niniane, chief priestess when Arthur was King, was a powerful enchantress, a witch of the first order. And young Morgaine, who took her place after Camlann, was a gifted healer. Although it was widely claimed they used their power only for good, he did not trust them. He would have preferred a pile of bracken on the floor in one of the mean cells at the Christian monastery atop the Tor, rather than sleep in a real bed with a down pillow as a guest of pagan priestesses in the orchards of Avalon. But they had saved Percival’s life. For that, he owed them courtesy.
What would happen now? He glanced toward the cave mouth, where Percival crouched over the growing flames. Percival of Gwynedd, his cousin, was eleven years old—too young to be a warrior king. He was one of twelve, the Lady said, to survive Camlann. But he had barely survived it. It had taken six weeks in Avalon and all the healing power the Lady could summon to close the sword cut in his shoulder and put color back into his face.
Galahad ran his hand over the stallion’s flank. The horse had cocked a hind leg now and slouched in boredom. How lucky animals were to forget fear so quickly! His own fear pressed down upon him like a bird of prey crouching on his shoulder, with every faltering step digging talons in. Once, he had had a future. King Arthur had given him a mission, a quest—the witch Niniane had sent him a dream about it—but now Arthur was gone and Niniane had disappeared. Nothing was the same as it had been. What on God’s sweet earth would happen now? Slowly, like a man in sleep, Galahad walked forward toward the fire.
“I’m sorry I shouted,” Percival mumbled. “I thought he was going to kill you.” He crouched over the pile of brush and branches they had gathered before dusk, searching for the right size tinder for the nascent flames.
“He might have, if you hadn’t drawn his attention. Your shout probably saved my life.” Percival colored shyly and reached for a branch. Galahad watched him struggle to break it across his knee. The boy had no strength yet in his injured arm. “Do you want some help?”
“Certainly not! Any village child of six can do this. And I’m nearly twelve.”
“No man of twenty could do it if he’d had his shoulder cut clean through six weeks ago.”
Percival flashed him a grateful look. Beads of sweat had formed along his brow, as cold as it was. “Nevertheless, let me try. I’ll get it.”
“You’ll open the wound again. And this time you won’t go to Avalon. You’ll have to settle for whatever care your kin can give you in Gwynedd.”
If we get there. Again the unbidden voice of fear whispered in his ear. Two boys traveling through Welsh hills left lawless by the decimation of Camlann—they could so easily be killed by a couple of bandits with decent knives, or by a starved wolf, or even by a night out in the cold without a fire. . . .
Impatiently Galahad shrugged off the weight of his fear and went out to the rock ledge beyond the cave. He lifted the wolf carcass by its heels until it was drained of blood. Then he dragged it back inside the cave, slit it open, and began to skin it.
“Sharpen a stick or two. Let’s roast the pluck.”
In the end they roasted all the flesh they could get off the bones, and stuffed it into their saddlebags for future meals. They ate the liver and the heart, and finding there was not enough dirt on the cave floor to bury the bones and entrails, threw them off the rock ledge, a feast for night’s creatures. They stretched the wolfskin to dry by the fire and then sat down, looking at each other. Neither of them made a move toward his bedroll. Instead, Percival brought out the skin of wine the Lady had given him at parting, and offered it to Galahad.
“We’re still in Guent now, aren’t we?” he asked. “A day out of Caerleon? How many days until we reach Gwynedd?”
“I was going to ask you that. I’ve never been to Wales. You live here.”
Percival looked uncomfortable. “Yes, but until I sneaked away to join Arthur’s army I had never been out of my own valley. I don’t even know where the border lies. I won’t know where we are until we get to land I recognize.”
Galahad tried a smile. “Then we’ll have to hope the commander at Caerleon was telling us the truth. Northwest, he said. Gwynedd lies northwest of everything.”...
In this imaginative retelling of the Grail legends, with alternating timelines between a younger and older Galahad, McKenzie (Queen of Camelot) offers a psychological study of the "best knight in all the world," obsessed with honor and disdainful of women. We first meet Galahad, perforce a man at age 15, traveling through a bleak, cold North Wales landscape with his 11-year-old cousin Percival, who was sorely wounded six weeks earlier in the cataclysmic battle that ended Arthur's reign. The regent, Percival's uncle Peredur, welcomes them to Percival's home castle, but Peredur's wife, Ennyde, resents their presence. They winter in the crowded castle, where Galahad spars with Percival's twin sister, Dane, a hoyden who challenges his beliefs about women. Preferring not to go home to his estranged father, Lancelot, Galahad is eager to head out on the quest Arthur gave him, to complete the set of powerful items said to ensure the health of Britain: the Grail and the Spear, locations unknown, and the Sword that Arthur threw into a lake as he lay dying. Taking Percival along on the quest serves to remove Galahad from the dangers of growing to majority under Peredur's rule. Thus proceeds a tale of prophecy, fulfillment and maturation. Familiarity with the Arthurian legends isn't necessary to enjoy this engrossing medieval fantasy, though the genealogy tables at the end do help.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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