Knight LifePeter David
DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.
MINEOLA, NEW YORK
Copyright © 2002 by Second Age, Inc.
All rights reserved.
This Dover edition, first published in 2016, is an unabridged republication of the work originally published in 2002 by the Berkley Publishing Group, New York.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: David, Peter (Peter Allen) author.
Title: Knight life / Peter David.
Description: Mineola, New York : Dover Publications, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015039905| ISBN 9780486804682 |
Subjects: LCSH: Arthurian romances—Adaptations. | Knights and knighthood—Fiction. | New York (N.Y.)—Fiction. | Fantasy fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3554.A92144 K58 2016 | DDC 813/.6– dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015039905
International Standard Book Number
Manufactured in the United States by RR Donnelley
Ye Olde Foreword
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YE OLDE FOREWORD
FOR YEARS NOW, Knight Life has proven to be the most elusive of all my published novels. Folks who came across my work by way of comics, or Star Trek novels, or Howling Mad, have been unable to turn up the original edition in used book stores and have inquired as to when—if ever—it might be brought back into print. So I shall tell you right now, you should all be thankful to editor Ginjer Buchanan (who shepherded the book through the first time) for pioneering a deal that has not only returned my little tale of Arthur’s to print, but has ensured a sequel, tentatively titled Dead of Knight.
A few years back, during one of the several times that Knight Life was optioned for the movies (and never made, as I’m sure you’ve surmised), I wrote a screenplay version of the book. And as I did, I was struck by all the things in the novel that I did—well, not wrong—but not as right as I could have. The story was told, yes, but I took shortcuts in getting there, and there were some problems to be solved in the narrative, which I hadn’t solved properly because I lacked the tools as a writer to do so. There were carryovers from the bland journalistic writing style I used at the time and story elements that were put in to serve my convenience rather than the story. It was as good a tale as I could have told then—but I felt I could do better. Crafting the screenplay forced me to think more visually, and ultimately I was happier with the screenplay in many ways than I was with the published manuscript. I wished there was some way that I could go back in time and “fix” the original book; improve upon it.
So part of the deal I cut with Ginjer was that I would return to the original manuscript and fix all the stuff that was fixable. It’s ironic in a way: At conventions, one of the standard questions I get is, “Are you writing any new novels?” To which I used to respond, in my smart-ass fashion, “No, I’ve decided to write only old novels.” Well, I can’t say that anymore, because that’s fundamentally what I’ve done here, not only incorporating aspects from my script version, but also trying to bring the story more in line with the way my writing style has developed over the years.
There will be some long-time fans of my work who will be irked with this decision, because they will feel they are being “forced” to buy a book they already have. For that matter, they might read it and say that they don’t perceive any differences between this and the previous version. To those folks, I will say that the changes that have been made are more than cosmetic. The original novel had just over 65,000 words; this incarnation has 95,000— nearly half again as long.
There will be newcomers to my work who will be irked that they still don’t have the original. To those folks, I will say that you may very well have found the original annoyingly dated, in little ways (having an office filled with clattering typewriters and computerization regarded as something new) and in big ways (having Republicans as a non-force in New York mayoral politics.)
And to all of you, what it really comes down to is: If you’re buying a book with my name on it, I feel I owe it to you to have it be the best book that I can make it. The original edition was as good as I could make it at the time. Now, I think I can do better, and hopefully, I have.
And before we go any further, there’s some final business to attend to.
The author would like to cite the following books and/or authors:
Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlin by T. H. White
The Last Enchantment and other assorted titles by Mary Stewart
Tales of King Arthur by John Steinbeck
Arthur Rex by Thomas Berger
All of the above have been carefully read, or purchased, or checked out from the local library and never returned by the author of this work. In the preparation of this manuscript the author has at the very least skimmed the flap copy, sell copy, and table of contents of all of the above, plus many other titles too numerous or obscure to mention.
The author thanks all of the above for their contributions, however small, to this work. But don’t expect royalties.
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. The Sony itself was showing its age rather severely, having been purchased second hand from a going-out-of-business motel some years earlier. There was a bent antenna on top of it, and a thick film of dust across the screen, which whimsically had the words “Life sucks” etched in it.
The apartment had clearly been allowed to go to seed. The wallpaper was yellowed and peeling, with 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 apartment’s sole occupant was also visible in the cathode’s unflattering glow. Then again, the only thing that could have been flattering to the occupant at that moment was utter darkness.
An old sitcom was playing on the screen. She had seen it before. She had seen all of them before. It did not matter to her. Nothing much mattered anymo
She smiled slightly at the antics of the castaways on the screen. Somehow Gilligan was always able to make her smile slightly. A buffoon, a simple jester.
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, but if there was, she missed it entirely, for she heard the can clattering around in the corner before rattling to the floor. Or perhaps it had indeed found its target, but there was already such a stack of cans built up that the newest one had simply fallen off. Either way, 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 tresses, once a pure raven-color, were shot through with gray. The formerly 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 made her way across the kitchen, kicked aside a stray beer can, and pulled open the refrigerator door. She saw something out the corner of her eye, scampering away across the kitchen floor. Good luck finding something around here of use, she thought mirthlessly, as she looked into the fridge. She squinted slightly, because the refrigerator bulb was nearly blinding in contrast to the dimness of the rest of the place. She reached in and snapped another can of beer out of a half-consumed six-pack and lurched 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. Abandoned by happenstance, cast off by fate. Alone, forgotten …
And prone to indulging in lengthy exhibitions of self-pity. Don’t forget that, she added mentally.
She popped the top on her can and started to guzzle beer. The cold beverage slid down her throat, bathing 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.” Morgan 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 back her arm and hurled the half-empty can square into the TV, which sat two yards away. Except the can was not propelled by a normal arm making a normal throw. Instead, in that throw, was centuries of ennui, of frustration and anger, heaving it in an eldritch fit of pique. Against such a display, the ancient television had no chance. 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. It was not the first occasion she had done so, but every time she had decided to terminate her wretched life, she had always thought better of it. Her loathing had always turned outward. “I still hate,” she had always managed to say, and make it sound as if she meant it. But this time, though—this time, something had broken within her. She had no idea what had done it, what single thing had set it off. It probably wasn’t any one thing, she realized. It was probably the collective weight of it all, crunching down upon her until—all at once—it had proven unendurable.
“Existence for the sake of existence alone is no existence at all,” she declared out loud. “I am a mushroom. A fungus. I have lived for far too long, and it’s time I rested.”
She waited a moment to see if some other aspect of her mind would tell her that she was wrong, but none did. Knowing beyond question that she was doing the right thing, 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 forehead, 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 the cave on sight. 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. Yes … yes, they probably would, once her decaying corpse smelled so bad that no one in the neighborhood could take it anymore. She took some tiny measure of comfort in that, that in her death she would at least be able to provide inconvenience for somebody.
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 pressed the blade against the skin of her right wrist. “Damn you, Merlin,” she said softly. “You’ve finally won.”
She set her teeth against the anticipated pain of the knife digging into her flesh … and 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 have held 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.
Quickly and deftly she manipulated the remote control. Respondi
ng to it, 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!” she whispered. “But who 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 had no clue when they’d been left there. Once she would have known immediately, for in olden times she had looked in on this spot every day. She would have spotted any change, no matter how minor, within twenty-four hours … less, considering she used to check two, even three times a day if she was bored. But with passing years had come passing interest, and the occasional look-see had seemed to suffice. Seemed to, but clearly did not.
“Yessss,” she hissed, “footprints.” But more than that, she realized, barefoot. And something else: 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 the sound a parrot would make. 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 positively ludicrous. But her life had become no less ludicrous, and knowledge of the departure of the cave’s occupant from his place of imprisonment had fallen into her lap like a gift from a benevolent—if somewhat twisted—god.
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, though, her spirit soared. She spread her arms and a wind arose around her, blowing wide the swinging windows of her apartment. It was the first time in several years that clean air—or at least what passed for clean air in her neck of the woods—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.