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Knight Life ma-1

Peter David

  Knight Life

  ( Modern Arthur - 1 )

  Peter David

  Arthurian legend gets another kick in the pants with this rollicking rewrite of bestseller David's first novel, originally published in 1987. Extensively updated and lovingly revised, this hilarious romp in today's New York features a cast of zany characters, zippy dialogue and enough action and plot twists to satisfy most satirical fantasy fans. After 10 long centuries spent trapped in a magical cave, King Arthur is finally rescued by a pint-sized, wisecracking Merlin, who has aged backwards enough to slip through the bars of his own prison. The "once and future king" arrives, in armor, no less, on the streets of the Big Apple. Soon, with the help of Master Merlin, the charmingly anachronistic and good-hearted "Arthur Penn" is running for mayor of New York. Meanwhile, much to Arthur's dismay, the reincarnated but unemployed Guinevere, aka Gwen DeVere Queen, is already living with Lance, an unpublished and also unemployed "misunderstood" writer. Morgan, aka Morgana le Fey, Arthur's half-sister sorceress, bored and gone to seed in a dumpy New Jersey apartment, becomes angry enough to get back into fighting form when she discovers her spell has been broken. With the help of Moe Dreskin (aka her bastard son, Modred, PR whiz and erstwhile murderer of his royal father), Morgan schemes to put Arthur and Merlin back where they belong. But she has no idea just how determined Arthur's eclectic election team is to fight back and reinvent Camelot in the "kingdom" of Manhattan.

  Knight Life

  Peter David

  Chaptre the First

  The apartment was dark, illuminated only by the dim flickering of the twelve-inch, black-and-white Sony that sat atop a scratched coffee table. From the glow of the picture tube one would have seen an apartment allowed to go to waste through lack of attention.

  The wallpaper was yellowed and peeling-there were squares and circles imprinted where various paintings or pictures had once hung. The floor was bare, the boards warped and uneven. Off to one side was a small kitchen that had a gas stove last cleaned sometime around the Hoover administration, and a refrigerator stocked with two cracked eggs, half a stale loaf of Wonder Bread, and a flat bottle of club soda. And three six-packs of beer.

  The occupant of the apartment was also illuminated in the light.

  On the screen an old sitcom was playing. She had seen it before. She had seen all of them before. It did not matter to Morgan. Nothing much mattered anymore.

  She smiled slightly at the antics of the castaways on the screen. Somehow Gilligan was always able to make Morgan smile slightly. A buffoon, a simple jester.

  Simple. She remembered when her life was simple.

  She took a sip of the beer, finishing the contents of the can and tossing it off into the darkness. She thought there might be a trash can there to receive it. She didn't much care.

  Morgan Le Fey hauled her corpulent body protestingly to its feet. She was clad in a faded housecoat that had once been purple, and her swollen feet were crammed into large fuzzy slippers. Her hair was still the raven color it had always been, or at least had been for as long as she could recall. She hadn't checked the roots for a few decades now. But the fine lines of her face, her sleek jaw and high cheekbones, were now sliding off into her collarbone. She had given up counting her chins, as another one seemed to spring into existence every decade, like clockwork.

  As she waddled into the kitchen, her housecoat tugged at the protesting buttons, threatening to pull them all off their thin moorings.

  She squinted at the dazzling (by contrast) brilliance of the refrigerator bulb, reached in and snapped another can of beer out of a half-consumed six-pack. She made her way back across the kitchen, the slippers slapping against the bottom of her feet.

  As she sank back into the easy chair, resting her hands in the customary places on the arms, she watched the final credits run on this latest rerun of the adventures of the castaways. Even more than Gilligan, she empathized with the concept of castaways as a whole. She was a castaway too. Drifting, floating, on an island of isolation. That her island existed in the midst of a bustling metropolis was irrelevant.

  She flipped the top off her beer can and started to drink. The cold beverage slid down her throat, basking her in a familiar warmth and haze. She patted the can lovingly. Her one friend. Her familiar.

  She held up the can in a salute. "To mighty Morgan," she croaked, her voice cracking from disuse. "Here's to eternal life, and to the thrice-damned gods who showed me how to have it."

  She choked then, and for the first time in a long time she really thought about what she had become. With a heartrending sob she drew her arm back and hurled the half-empty can square into the TV which sat two yards away. The screen exploded in a shower of glass and sparks, flying out like a swarm of liberated sprites. There was a sizzling sound, and acrid smoke rose from the back of the set.

  Her face sank into her hands, and Morgan Le Fey wept loudly. Her sides heaved in and out, her breath rasped in her chest. The rolls of fat that made up her body shook with the rage and frustration she released.

  She cried and cursed all the fates that had brought her to this point in her life, and it was then that she resolved to put a stop to it. Existence for the sake of existence alone is no existence at all, she decided. "I am a mushroom," she said out loud. "A fungus. I have lived for far too long, and it's time I rested."

  She stood again, but this time with far greater assurance, for her movements now had a purpose to them other than simple self-perpetuation. She lumbered into the kitchen, fumbled through a drawer crammed with plastic spoons from Carvel's ice cream stores and equally harmless knives from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Finally she extracted a steak knife. She blanched at the rust, then realized that rust was hardly a concern.

  She sat back down in front of the TV, the knife now cradled serenely in the crook of her arm.

  The TV screen had miraculously mended itself. There was a crisscross of hairline fractures across it, but these too would fade in time. Not that this was any concern to Morgan either.

  "One last time, old enemy," she said. Her thin, arched eyebrows reached just to the top of her head, even though her eyes were little more than slits beneath painted green lids. She fumbled in the drawer next to her for the remote control, and she started to flick the switch.

  Time had lost all meaning to her, and she could not recall how long it had been since she had looked in on Him. Five days? Five months? Years? She was not certain.

  Once these long-distance viewings had exacted a great toll from her, physically and spiritually. She had had to use specially prepared mirrors, or magic crystals. With the advent of the diodes and catheters, however, had come a revolution in the art of magic. A one-time ensorcellment of the wires and tubes, and she could look in on Him whenever she wished.

  That was why she had never opted for solid-state components -she didn't trust her ability to control something as arcane as microcircuitry.

  She clicked her remote to Channel 1, and the smiling face of the news anchor disappeared.

  In its place was the exterior of a cave. Erosion and overgrowth had altered the exterior somewhat over time, but not enough to throw her. She knew it. And she would take the knowledge to her grave, providing that someone ever found her bloated body and tossed it into the ground for her.

  She held the knife to her wrist. She should really do this in a bathtub, she remembered reading now. But she hated the water. Besides, she wanted to be here, in front of the entombed resting place of her greatest magical opponent.

  She stared at the cave entrance on her TV screen. "You'd really enjoy this moment, wouldn't you, you cursed old coot? Morgan Le Fey, driven to this, by you. You knew this would happen someday. This is your doing, you reaching out from beyond the grave." She pre
ssed the blade against the skin of her right wrist. "Damn you, Merlin," she said softly. "You've finally won."

  Then she stopped.

  She leaned forward, the knife, still against the inside of her wrist, forgotten now. She squinted, rubbed her eyes, and focused again.

  Against the mouth of the cave rested a huge stone, covered with moss and vegetation. This stone was far more than just a dead weight. It was held in place through the magic of a woman's wiles, and there is no stronger bond than that. And though the woman, Nineve, was long gone, the magic should hold for all eternity.

  The operative word here being should.

  For Morgan now saw that the rock had moved. It had rolled ever so slightly to one side, creating an opening. An opening far too small for a man to squeeze through. But still ... it hadn't been there before.

  Responding to Morgan's merest thought, the TV screen zoomed in tight on the hole. Yes, definitely new. She had never seen it before, and she could see where the overgrown leaves had been ripped away when the stone was moved___

  Moved! But who had moved it?

  It was more than she dared hope. The camera panned down, away from the hole which was several feet above the ground.

  There were footprints. She could not determine how old. Once she would have known immediately, for once she had looked in on this spot every day. But with passing years had come passing interest, and the occasional look-see had seemed to be sufficient. Seemed to be, but clearly was not.

  Yes, footprints. Barefoot. And something else, she realized. They were small. A child's.

  Heading one way, away from the cave.

  "A child," she breathed. "Of course. Of course!"

  The knife clattered to the floor as Morgan Le Fey, half sister of King Arthur Pendragon, incestuous lover of her brother, mother of the bastard Modred, tilted her head back and laughed. At first it was hardly a laugh, but more like a high-pitched cackling imitation, similar to a parrot. With each passing moment, however, it grew. Fuller. Richer. Although the abused body of Morgan still showed its deficiencies, years were already dropping from the voice.

  If anyone had once dared tell her that she would be happy over the escape of her deadliest enemy, she would have erased that unfortunate person from the face of the earth. The suggestion was postively ludicrous. But so had her life become as well.

  For Morgan Le Fey had come to realize that she thrived on conflict and hatred. It was as mother's milk to her. And without that her spirit had shriveled away to a small, ugly thing lost somewhere in an unkempt form.

  Now her spirit soared. She spread wide her arms and a wind arose around her, blowing wide the swinging windows of her apartment. It was the first time in several years fresh air had been allowed in, and it swept through as if entering a vacuum. Fresh air filling her nostrils, Morgan became aware of the filth in which she had resided for some time. Her nose wrinkled and she shook her head.

  She went to the window and stepped up onto the sill, reveling in the force of the wind she had summoned. Above her, clouds congealed, tore apart, and reknit, blackness swarming over them. Below Morgan, pedestrians ran to and fro, pulling their coats tight around them against the unexpected turn of bad weather. A few glanced up at Morgan in the window but went on about their business, jamming their hands down atop their heads to prevent their hats or wigs from blowing away.

  Morgan drank it in, thriving on the chaos of the storm. She screamed over the thunder,

  "Merlin! Merlin, demon's son! The mighty had fallen, mage! You had fallen. I had fallen. All was gone, and you were in your hell and I was in mine." She inhaled deeply, feeling the refreshing, chilled sting of cold air in her lungs. She reveled in the tactile sensation of her housecoat blowing all around her, the wind enveloping her flimsy garment.

  "You're back now!" she crowed. "But so am I! I have waited these long centuries for you, Merlin. Guarding against the day that you might return, and yet now I glory in it. For I am alive today, Merlin! Do you hear me, old man? Morgan Le Fey lives! And while I live, I hatel Sweet hate I have nutured all these long decades and centuries. And it's all for you, Merlin! All for you and your damned Arthur!

  "Wherever you are, Merlin, quake in fear. I am coming for you. I thank you for saving my life, Merlin! And I shall return the favor a thousandfold. /, Morgan LeFey!"

  "Harry, what's going on?"

  Harry peered through the curtains at the window of the apartment across the way. "It's that nut, the black-haired broad again. God, what a slob. I don't know how people let themselves go like that."

  His wife eyed his beer belly but wisely refrained from comment.

  "She's shouting about some damned thing or other," he muttered as he came to sit next to her on the couch. "Usually she's just regular drunk. I don't know what she's on tonight, but it must be a wowser."

  "Bet she's from New York," mumbled his wife.

  "What?" he asked.

  She repeated it, adding, "It wouldn't surprise me in the least."


  "No. Because New Yorkers are all crazy. They know it. The government knows it. The whole country knows it. In New York everyone acts like that," and she chucked a thumb across the street in Morgan's direction. "You never know what's going to happen."

  "Yeah," said Harry. "That's why I like it."

  "Well, I hate it," his wife said firmly, as if she'd just turned down the option to buy Manhattan.

  "All the crazy people there-they all deserve each other. Why, I hear tell it's not safe to walk the streets at night there. You never know what weird thing you'll run into next."

  Chaptre the Second

  Each day in life begins with the same expectations. At least each day did for Sidney Krellman, the manager of Arthur's Court.

  Arthur's Court was a fashionable men's clothing store situated near Central Park. And for Sidney each day was nice and simple. He woke up in the morning. Got dressed (nattily, of course). Went into work. Acted politely to most clientele, enthusiastically to a select handful, and brushed off whatever else might exist. At the end of the day he and an assistant-it was Quigley, this particular day-would check over the day's receipts, shutter and close up the store, and leave precisely at 7:45 sharp.

  Sidney Krellman expected nothing different on this particular day. It did not occur to him that this brisk November day was exactly one year before the next mayoral elections in New York City. Sidney didn't care for politics. Or elections, or mayors. Or much else except his daily routine. And he disliked intensely anything that caused a deviation from that routine.

  This being the case, Sidney was going to really dislike what was about to happen. It disrupted his store-closing routine, threw the end of his day into a turmoil, and generally wrinkled the fabric of his well-ordered life.

  It might have been different had he had some warning. If he had known, for instance, that this evening the legends were to be fulfilled, and that Arthur, King, son of Uther Pendragon, was about to return, he would certainly have kept on extra help. Or perhaps left early. Or even gone on vacation.

  As it was, he did none of these things.

  At 7:30 precisely, Sidney was issuing^instructions to Quigley on opening the store tomorrow morning. Sidney anticipated being late, having a dental appointment scheduled. Sidney was a short, almost billiard ball of a man (but sartorially correct), and Quigley-his young, gawky assistant manager-was his physical opposite. Sidney was waving one finger in the air, as was his habit, when there was a rap at the glass front door.

  The rap derailed Sidney's train of thought, and he turned with an annoyed glance to the door.

  He froze in mid sentence, finger still pointed skyward, as if offering directions to a wayward duck. Quigley continued to stare at his superior, waiting for him to continue. When no continuation was forthcoming, it dawned on Quigley to follow his boss's gaze toward the front door.

  The knight occupied the full space of the door. He was dressed in full armor from head to toe, the plates smooth and curvi
ng over his chest, arms, and legs. The armor was excellently made, for hardly a gap had been permitted, and even those were protected, either by small stretches of chain mail or by small upturns in the plates. A full helmet covered his head, a visor with a short blunt point in front of his face. A scabbard hung at his side-it was ornately decorated with dark stones and intercurling lines of design.

  The knight stood there for a moment, as if contemplating the two men within the store. He raised his gauntleted hand and knocked again, this time a bit harder.

  It was the wrong move. The metal-gloved hand went right through the glass. The glass hung there for a moment in midair, and then with a resounding crash gave up all molecular adhesion and shattered into thousands of pieces.

  Sidney Krellman's jaw moved up and down and side to side slightly, but that was it. Quigley was not even able to handle quite that much.

  The knight stood there for a moment, looking down at the destruction. Then the gauntleted hands reached up and lifted the visor of the helmet. A gentle, bearded face smiled regretfully at Sidney Krellman.

  "I'm terribly sorry," he said. "I seem to have damaged your establishment."

  Sidney Krellman found it odd that despite the fact that this man was fully armored, the thing he found to be far more impressive was his voice. It was low and carefully modulated. It seemed to have an age and wisdom to it that contradicted the relative youthfulness of the face. It was a compelling voice, that of a great orator, or perhaps commander of men. The lines of the face that peered out from the helmet were clean and straight. The forehead sloped slightly, and eyebrows that were a bit thick projected over eyes, which were almost black. His lips were thin and what Sidney could see of his beard was very dark, but with a few strands of conspicuous gray.

  Sidney Krellman shook off the daze that had come over him and gave a small bow. "Quite all right," he replied in a voice pitched two octaves above his usual tone. He quickly corrected his pitch and continued, "It could happen to anyone."