Fable: The Balverine Order (Fable)Peter David
Table of Contents
PRAISE FOR PETER DAVID
Fall of Knight
“David shows his boldness in this series by charting an evolution for Arthur and his friends that moves down a path of moral exploration. David’s prose is easy on the mind. He has a knack for writing fluid action scenes, perhaps derived from his years of comics scripting. His characters stay authentic and true to themselves. His musings on the nature of spirituality are heartfelt and involving. And the novel’s coda is both ironic and apt, as well as seemingly conclusive of Arthur’s journey.”
—Science Fiction Weekly
“David’s best-known style—light, breezy, and chockablock with well-chosen pop-culture references—is rarely so well employed as in his Knight novels. His Arthur is a true treasure of light fantasy, fully human and yet a walking legend both, full of foibles and yet the sort who could lead battalions into Hell. His cast of returnees from Camelot, reborn into the modern era, are true to themselves, though the outcome now is generally happier (or more harmonious) than it was in the age of myths . . . Anyone looking for a delightful Arthurian tale set in the here and now will enjoy David’s trifecta of enchantment. It’s not your father’s King Arthur—but it might be the one you share with your kids. Recommended.”
“A richly developed story line. Arthur is seen as a mighty warrior, a loving husband, a person who needs to help mankind and [is] capable of making a mistake. In other words, the author humanizes the myth and in doing so makes him even more heroic.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Will please fans.”
One Knight Only
“This engaging and intelligent sequel to David’s classic Knight Life is a tale filled with dark humor and ingenious variations on the Arthurian legend in a contemporary setting.”
“This irreverent romp impartially jousts at White House staff pomposity, the inanities of today’s press corps, congressional antics, and mismanaged U.S. foreign policy. Some of the goings-on are belly-laugh funny . . . a wild mix of ancient legends.”
“With One Knight Only, Peter David has managed not only to be funny, but insightful and astute as well. He has written a humorous fantasy novel that could, and perhaps should, be used to teach political science in schools around the country . . . He writes characters that are real and fun to read . . . I am sure the Monty Python troupe would approve, and I am sure you will, too.”
“One Knight Only is a twenty-first century rendition of the Arthurian legend, and the Once and Future King loses none of his majesty and valor in a modern setting.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Filled with genuine wit, irony, and keen observations of human nature.”
“A wonderful modernization of Camelot.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Arthurian legend gets another kick in the pants with this rollicking rewrite of bestseller David’s first novel . . . 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.”
—Publishers Weekly(starred review)
“A fun spin on that Mark Twain classic. A mix of classic Arthurian fiction and satiric commentary about the nature of todayʼs politics. Engaging.”
“A rollicking urban fantasy in the manner of Neil Gaiman or Christopher Moore. Lots of humorous incongruities as Arthur’s old-fashioned ways meet contemporary absurdities such as politics and television.”
—Science Fiction Weekly
“The once and future king is back and running for mayor—of New York. King Arthur’s New York City court is an old-new story for our time, with a fresh and very funny perspective.”
“The novel has a little bit of everything: deft satire . . . laugh-out-loud humor . . . low comedy . . . a love story . . . breathless magical action . . . potential tragedy . . . and a solid grounding in Arthurian themes.”
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
FABLE: THE BALVERINE ORDER
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with DK/BradyGAMES, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Ace premium edition / October 2010
Copyright © 2010 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Microsoft, Fable, Lionhead, the Lionhead logo, Xbox, and the Xbox logo are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies. “Fable” is a registered trademark or trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries and is used under license from Microsoft.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-46466-3
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bsp; The author wishes to thank the ingenious creators of “Fable” for allowing him to play in their universe
“PEOPLE GET THE HEROES THAT THEY deserve.”
It is a very ancient saying, spoken by someone who was, I have no doubt, far wiser and greater than I could ever hope to be. For I am not, and never have been, a Hero. I have been a king, a warrior, a politician . . . but not a Hero.
I have always envied those who were.
I hear that the king of far-off Albion is a Hero. I have never had the honor of meeting him although I would much like to. In my younger days, that seemed a possibility, but matters of state kept me here. I always figured there would be time enough in the future.
Now the end of my future looms before me, and I am filled with naught but regrets.
I find myself, day upon day, trapped in endless and oftentimes mindless meetings as various landed and titled individuals come before me and explain why they should have even more land and more titles. Or an endless stream of people with barely two coins to scratch together parade before me, presenting me with problems or disputes and expecting me to come up with some manner of solving them. On occasion I am able to. More often than not, they are trapped by the particulars of their circumstances, and I cannot change them because I cannot, with a wave of my scepter, reorder the entirety of society. Such engagements become a humbling exercise in the realization of how limited a king’s power truly is.
They are waiting for me even now in the throne room, more people seeking my help or advice or who knows what else. Very likely, the Duke of Overland will step in and start adjudicating the less-pressing cases in my stead. Ah, the duke . . . when he first came to court, he seemed very much the Hero to me. Brave, noble, selfless. His emulation of the heroic ideal is why I made him one of my closest advisors. But since then, he has proven just as much the political animal as any other striving for power, if not more so. Pondering the vast gulf between what I thought the duke was, and what he is, is what has prompted me to dwell upon the nature of Heroes in the first place.
Then I remember that the duke is not at court although he is reportedly on his way back from an excursion. Running late, so I’m told. So they will be waiting on me, then. Let them wait. That is one of the few advantages of being a king. People wait on you and dare not say a word if you decide not to tailor your schedule to their liking.
Rather than sitting in the confines of my throne room— a room so vast that it would seem insane that anyone could possibly find it limiting—I have taken refuge in the royal garden. It is a crisp day as I sit here, surrounded by thick green hedges and lush beds of flowers planted by previous occupiers of the throne, or more precisely, their queens. The air is getting colder these days, and I see it in the morning frost on the flowers. It will mark their annual march toward extinction, only to be reborn in the spring.
Would that humans had the same capacity for endless rebirth.
I hear a soft footfall behind me and quickly I am on my feet. The bones may be brittle, the muscles may have lost their suppleness, but the reflexes continue to serve me well, and though my body may moan in protest, at least it continues to obey my commands. I have a short sword in my belt that I carry routinely, and it hisses smoothly out of the scabbard. I whip it around to face the unknown intruder.
It is a man with a bemused expression and empty hands. His face is narrow and hawklike, and his gaze darts around as if he is trying to determine what might be the source of my concern, only to be profoundly surprised upon realizing that it is he. He is dressed in traveling clothes and obviously has been employing them for that purpose, for they are caked with dirt. “Greetings, sire,” he says.
“Greetings,” I say cautiously. “I thought you might be an assassin.”
“If I were, I would be a rather poor one, given that I am unarmed and that you are supposed to be elsewhere. So if my plan of attack were to involve assaulting you bare-handed someplace where you are not supposed to be, then I’d be advised to find another vocation.”
His words seem reasonable to me, and slowly I sheathe my blade. “Who are you, then, and what business have you here?”
“I am no one of importance. A mere lover of horticulture. Whenever I am hereabouts, I make sure to take in the royal garden.”
“Which is intended to be for the exclusive enjoyment of the king.”
“And will you have me beheaded for enjoying the flowers?”
“Kings have beheaded men for less.” I shrug. “Enjoy them as you wish. In the grand scheme, it is of no consequence.” I lower myself back onto the bench.
“I did not mean to intrude on the royal contemplation,” he assures me.
“I contemplate nothing of consequence. I contemplate Heroes.”
“How can you say that Heroes are inconsequential,” he says, sounding surprised at the notion.
“Because there are no more, save for the king of distant Albion—at least, so I hear—and he is roughly my age. Once he has departed this sphere, Heroes will be of no more consequence than any other extinct species.”
“You know the world in which we live as well as I,” I say. “Once Heroes bestrode the land, and they were beloved and revered.”
“Now?” I shrug. “Now they are treated with contempt. With suspicion. Any who would pursue the noble calling are made to feel ignoble and so become mere sell swords or hedge wizards or similarly waste whatever talents they might have. The vast majority never even explore their potential, and thus their talents lie fallow while they lead mundane, unexceptional lives.”
“A very sour view of the world, Your Majesty.”
“Sour but no less accurate. What is it . . . ?” My voice trails off a moment before I recover it once more. “What is it about humanity that there is such a need to tear down Heroes? I cannot comprehend it.”
“The pendulum swings and continues to swing and never stops. Heroes were once far more revered than they are now, yes, I concede that. And over time, people have grown suspicious because . . . well, because they are fools, I suppose.
“The truth is that people always want what they do not have while being dissatisfied with that which they do have. They had Heroes, and they became suspicious and distrustful and drove the profession nigh to oblivion. But nearly is not the same as completely.”
“The time for Heroes has passed, and whatever you may believe about pendulums, oh nameless one, there is nothing to say that such a time will return.”
He looks at me with something akin to pity. “You say that there are no more Heroes, and I am telling you that you are wrong. That may be a shocking notion for a king to have to face, since kings traditionally are surrounded by people who seem obsessed with trying to convince them of their infallibility.”
“And you believe otherwise?”
“Belief indicates a lack of facts. I despise beliefs. I embrace only knowledge.”
“So you have knowledge of Heroes, then.” I keep my tone even and skeptical, not wanting to hint that there is the slightest bit of hope left within me.
“Seen”—and he taps the side of his head—“with these very eyes, as surely as I am seeing you.”
“Tell me of them.”
“It is a lengthy tale,” he warns me. “A tale of such enormity and scope that some would dismiss it as a mere fable.”
“I would hear it and dismiss it as nothing.” I stretch and wince as I feel pain seizing my spine. “If it is all the same to you, I shall lie down upon this bench.”
“You are the king. You may listen however you wish.”
I lie down upon the bench, interlacing my fingers and resting them upon my chest. The position eases the spasms in my back, and I sigh gratefully. “Speak, then, and I shall attend.”
“The tale begins in Bowerstone. You know of it?”
“It is in Albion, I beli
eve. Beyond that, I know nothing of it.”
“Bowerstone”—and the man is already warming to his tale—“in many ways is at the forefront of what Albion has become . . . and, by extension, what it has left behind. Once Albion had been a land where magic held sway. Eventually, technology supplanted much of it, like weeds overrunning a lush and green forest. At the time my story starts, the advent of technology and the growth of the population had already caused Bowerstone to expand beyond an acceptable size for any city, much less a pit such as Bowerstone. If you expand a dung heap, you just end up with a far greater stench.
“Not that the entirety of Bowerstone was execrable. The immediate area surrounding Bowerstone Castle was quite nice. And one could actually spend a pleasant day wandering Bowerstone Market, with many respectable shops and the Cow & Corset Inn, where the meat was fresh and the wenches fresher. But then there was Bowerstone Industrial, a haven of so-called progress, belching smoke and fouling the very air. And then there was Old Quarter, a depressed slum filled with thieves and lowlifes. It is also the home of one of our protagonists, but we shall get to him anon.
“Instead, our story begins in the mind of a young man.”
“How would you know what was in his mind?”
He had been about to move to the next sentence in his narrative, but his mouth remains open momentarily before snapping shut with an audible click. He pauses a few seconds, and then, his mouth in a firm line, says, “With all due deference to Your Majesty, this story will progress far more smoothly if you do not question me perpetually as I tell the tale. Please, I pray you, accept that I am the omniscient narrator of this ‘fable,’ and thus am somewhat . . . what is the word . . . ?”