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Tales From Camelot Series 7: Cursed

Tales From Camelot Series 7: Cursed

Автор Paul Green

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Tales From Camelot Series 7: Cursed

Автор Paul Green

Длина:
1 436 страниц
20 часов
Издатель:
Издано:
21 июл. 2013 г.
ISBN:
9781301940493
Формат:
Книга

Описание

Shae. Willow. Poisoned cursed apples from the Isle of Avalon.

And vampires? Really?

And some other special friends come to town.

At 350,000 words, CURSED is in actuality a lengthy and epic trilogy, divided into three parts, all contained within a single volume. (For comparison, the three Hunger Games books are 100,000 words each). Because of the sheer size, the retail price will be set a little higher that the other books. But you will definitely be getting your money’s worth out of this one, as it truly is three books in one.
__________________________________
Tales From Camelot Series

Part One (2012)
Book 1: PENDRAGON
Book 2: CAMELOT
Book 3: CHAMPION
Book 4: SORCERESS

Part Two (2013)
Book 5: ROYALS
Book 6: EXCALIBUR
Book 7: CURSED
Book 8: LADY

Part Three (2014)
Book 9: WARLORD
Book 10: MIRROR
Book 11: WYVERN
Book 12: QUEST

Grand Finale (2014)
Book 13: LEGEND

__________________________________
Due to the unique subject matter, this series will appeal to a very broad audience: teen to elderly, male and female, alike. Although some parts may be considered to be too intense for pre-teen or younger readers. Ages 13 and up recommended.

Издатель:
Издано:
21 июл. 2013 г.
ISBN:
9781301940493
Формат:
Книга

Об авторе

Winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Paul Green (1894-1981) taught philosophy and drama at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a native of Harnett County, North Carolina.


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Tales From Camelot Series 7 - Paul Green

Tales From Camelot Series • Book Seven

CURSED

paul green

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Tales From Camelot Series

Reader Recommendation

Acknowledgements

Cover Page

From the author ...

Part One: Bloodwraith

Prologue

~ Shades of Night ~

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

~ A Brother in Need ~

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

~ Coming Judgment ~

Chapter 11

~ Village of the Damned ~

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

~ Lifemate ~

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

~ The Offering ~

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

~ Twilight ~

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Part Two: Royal Unions

~ An Irish Princess ~

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

~ One Too Many ~

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

~ A Night at the Theater ~

Chapter 43

Special note to the reader:

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

~ And Then There Were More ~

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

~ A Maiden's Castle ~

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

~ Wedding Bells ~

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

Chapter 93

Chapter 94

Chapter 95

Chapter 96

Chapter 97

Chapter 98

Chapter 99

~ Hero of Avalon ~

Chapter 100

Chapter 101

Chapter 102

Chapter 103

Chapter 104

Chapter 105

Chapter 106

Chapter 107

Part Three: The Fourth Cornerstone

~ The Cursed ~

Chapter 108

Chapter 109

Chapter 110

Chapter 111

Chapter 112

Chapter 113

Chapter 114

~ A Visitation ~

Chapter 115

Chapter 116

Chapter 117

Chapter 118

Chapter 119

Chapter 120

~ First Love ~

Chapter 121

Chapter 122

Chapter 123

Chapter 124

Chapter 125

Chapter 126

Chapter 127

Chapter 128

Chapter 129

~ An Irish Violation ~

Chapter 130

~ New Citizens ~

Chapter 131

Chapter 132

Chapter 133

Chapter 134

~ Fractured ~

Chapter 135

Chapter 136

Chapter 137

~ The Judge ~

Chapter 138

Chapter 139

Chapter 140

Chapter 141

Chapter 142

Chapter 143

Notes to the reader ...

Previews

Tales From Camelot Series

Second Chance Series

The Professor Diaries

About the Author . . .

Copyright Notice

www.TalesFromCamelot.com

www.SecondChanceNovels.com

Copyright 2013 Paul Green All Rights Reserved.

First Printing: July 2013

Second Printing: October 2013

Printed in the United States of America. No part of this work may be used or reproduced, transmitted, stored or used in any form or by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, scanning, digitizing, tapping, Web distribution, information networks or information storage and retrieval systems, or in any manner whatsoever without the express written approval of the author, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review. For further information, contact info@paulgreenauthor.com

United States laws and regulations are public domain and not subject to copyright. Any unauthorized copying, reproduction, translation, or distribution of any part of this material without permission by the author is prohibited and against the law.

Tales From Camelot Series

Part One (2012)

Book 1: PENDRAGON

Book 2: CAMELOT

Book 3: CHAMPION

Book 4: SORCERESS

Part Two (2013-2014)

Book 5: ROYALS

Book 6: EXCALIBUR

Book 7: CURSED

Book 8: LADY Part 1

Book 8: LADY Part 2

Part Three (2014-2015)

Book 9: WARLORD

Book 10: MIRROR

Book 11: WYVERN

Book 12: QUEST

Grand Finale (2015)

Book 13: LEGEND

www.PaulGreenAuthor.com

Reader Recommendation

Due to the unique subject matter, this series will appeal to a very broad audience: teen to elderly, male and female alike.

Although some parts may be considered to be too intense for pre-teen or younger readers. Ages 13 and up recommended.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to all my reviewers. Your input has been invaluable.

Thank you to my son Christopher for his help in designing the covers.

And extra special thanks to the One who gave me the desire to write.

From the author ...

In what was a great surprise to me, CURSED ended up becoming a far larger story than I had ever imagined - three times as big as I originally thought it would be. At 350,000 words, it is by far my longest one to date. (For comparison, War & Peace is 400,000 words, and the three Hunger Games books are 100,000 words each). It has essentially turned out to be a lengthy and epic trilogy; which I have divided into three parts; albeit keeping it as a single large volume.

With this book, we will have reached the halfway point in the series. A lot of things are going to happen this time around. A lot of changes are going to take place in order to prepare and set up the second half.

There are going to be quite a few unexpected surprises, twists and turns in this one, including a couple of more popular and well-known Arthurian legends that we will be delving into. One of them being the infamous story of Sir Tristan and the Irish Princess Isolde (a movie was even made about their story). Although this will be more of an introduction to their characters and how they met, as their story will continue to play out in upcoming books.

Also, some of you more observant types may have noticed that as this series progresses, I have slowly been adding more locations to the Map of Pretania, along with updated timeframes. By the time we reach the end of the series, the map will be complete. There are indeed new locations added at this particular juncture, which might provide you with a little clue as to some of the old legends we will be encountering in this outing.

Then of course, there is the one thing which you readers of this series ARE expecting . . .

Just as the Banshee was first born of ancient Celtic lore, so also was another legendary creature described in old Celtic literature. Though this one wasn't ascribed with a definitive name, it's description bears a striking resemblance to modern-day depictions of a vampire. Or the Aswang, such as it is commonly known today in the Philippines, meaning 'ghoul'.

Documented 16th century Spanish sailors brought frightening stories home with them of the terrifying Aswang creature from their trips to the Philippines. Prior to 16th century written accounts, the legend of the Aswang had been verbally passed down from generation to generation, dating back several centuries. Side note: in case you are curious, Polynesians first settled in the Philippines around 4000 BCE.

In this particular story, we will more often than not, refer to the Aswang by a more ancient Celtic moniker: the Bloodwraith. The Bloodwraith (or Aswang) was described as an inky black, nine foot tall bat-like creature which stood upon two legs, and had the face of a woman with razor sharp teeth. A cannibalistic eater of both the dead and the living, it also had immense bat-like wings, and long sharp claws and talons for hands and feet.

Curiously, there are other very similar legends describing the same creature, albeit with slightly varied names and descriptions. These centuries old legends have been found all throughout Asia, Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, even as far west as the Celtic nations of Britain, Scotland and Ireland. A Bloodwraith ... an Aswang demon ... these legends existed ages ago, long before an 1897 Irish novelist by the name of Bram Stoker ever first put pen to paper and wrote the name: Dracula.

Part One

Bloodwraith

Prologue

To whom it may concern,

Our town has been dead for six years. Something came to Shadow Falls. Something ... bad.

Sometimes children were born when they were not wanted. People just managed, and they did not go shouting it from the rooftops. It may have been a bit sad, but it was just good sense; because a lot worse things were happening when it came to the children. Wanted or not, boys and girls, some of them just disappeared. Something has come to Shadow Falls that is taking the children. Something so menacing, something so terrifying, that the people finally gave it a name.

Wraith.

It was like an ancient legend; something from a book of fairy tales, or an old song. Everyone talked about it all the time, because everyone was afraid of it. People were always afraid it would strike again; and when it did, they thanked their good fortune it took someone else's child. Perhaps they felt a little guilty thinking that way, but that feeling didn't last long; for everyone had their own families to worry about. It is not good or bad; it is just the way it is.

My name is Silvia. I am dying, as you might have already guessed, seeing as how I am writing this in my own blood. I do not have much time left. We are not permitted to leave our town or communicate with the outside world. In the event this message somehow finds its way into your hands, consider this a warning.

Stay away from Shadow Falls.

~ Shades of Night ~

Chapter 1

Thick lifeless forest ... walking aimlessly... dark ... cold ... moonless ... mists rising from the ground ... strange sounds ... wrong sounds ... sounds of leathery wings ... lost and alone ... despair ... everything dead ... hollow ... empty ... no memory ... no memory ... no memory ... then from the shadows, the specter ... the black cloak ... cowled in darkness ... no face ... no hands ... raising arm ... pointing at ... reaching for ... reaching for ... reaching for ... me.

Shae lurched up in bed in a cold sweat, shaking and shivering. And she immediately began whimpering.

Moments later, Gawain burst into her bedroom. Shae! Are you alright!?

Shae shook her head 'no', bowed her head into her hands and began to weep.

Gawain rushed to her side and sat down beside her on the bed wrapping his arms around her, as he pulled her head to his chest. You had the nightmare, again.

Shae nodded.

Gawain sighed and said nothing more, as he allowed her to sob in his arms.

It was just after midnight and a short time later, when Anna and Lot appeared in the bedroom doorway. As Shae continued crying, Gawain looked up at his parents. They are getting worse. Almost every night now.

Anna nodded. Stay with her.

Of course. he replied quietly, as he began stroking Shae's long auburn hair.

Anna then looked up at Lot and then indicated to him that they should leave. Lot sighed and looked at Shae sadly for a moment, and then together with his wife, Sir Lot and Lady Anna turned away and returned to their own bedroom.

It took nearly an hour of Gawain rocking her in arms for Shae to finally calm down enough, so that she could go back to bed and somehow try to get back to sleep.

Gawain crawled into her bed with her, and pulled the covers up around them, and cuddled up with her.

And slept with her until morning.

*** *** ***

It was not an uncommon sleeping arrangement for Gawain and Shae. Even though they were both 15 years of age. Even though they were not husband and wife.

It had actually been going on for years, since they were children. Ever since they were seven years old, when Shae first came to live at the castle following the tragic loss of her parents. That was when the nightmares first began. And it was only because of the occasional nightmares that they sometimes slept together.

Neither Shae nor Gawain had ever told other family members of their unusual arrangement - that they oftentimes slept together in the same bed. Of course, Anna and Lot knew; but none of the other royal cousins or parents had any inkling. And they didn't need to know. Some things are personal and better left unspoken; for some might not understand. Some might think it was improper. Some might think there was more going on than sleeping.

There was not anything more going on than sleeping; there never had been. For Gawain's great concern and deep love for Shae far outweighed any desires of the flesh.

There would sometimes be kissing on occasion, and embracing and comforting, to be sure. And neither were strangers to the normal human desires between a man and a woman. But as strange as it might seem to some, that was as far as it went. That was all it was, and that was all there would be. For the young lovers had an unusually strong sense of propriety and self-control and it was a line they simply refused to cross.

Not until they became husband and wife. Both had been patiently waiting for many years, and both were still patient and content to wait many years more; if that's what it took. Until the timing was right. Until the Aswang demon ... and the nightmares ... were gone.

Chapter 2

The following evening

King's Suite, Camelot

So, here's a question. George said to Arthur.

It was Week's End in early spring; three weeks after the Knights had returned from their quest in search of the Grail and had narrowly escaped the giants' lair.

While George had always refused to function in the role of an advisor to Arthur; at least in an official capacity such as joining the Round Table, Arthur still always considered her as an advisor and greatly valued her unique wisdom and insight. The two of them met often, generally in more casual settings; where Arthur could use her as a sounding board, and where they could both bounce thoughts and ideas off of one another.

Having just finished a large family dinner, George and Arthur were now upstairs in Arthur's suite, looking out a window and down upon the castle courtyard as a group of ten people were walking away together heading towards the Marketplace. Five couples, hand-in-hand - for they were all going on their very first group 'date'. High Prince Lohot and Lady Susan, Captain Lancelot and Princess Ursulet, Marshal Bedivere and Lady Alana, Sir Bray and Lady Vivien, and Prince Gawain and Shae.

The girls were now 15 years of age; although Alana had just recently turned 16. As for the men, Gawain was also 15, Lohot was 16 years of age, and Bors' eldest son Bray was now 20. Captain Lancelot and Marshal Bedivere, of course, were fully grown men, with Bedivere the oldest at 45.

From Arthur's suite looking down on them watching their departure, Arthur was shaking his head. Are you sure this is okay? he said worriedly. This is their first time out in a long time. Should you not be going along with them to protect them?

Nah; not with the big guns going along. Bedivere may not be a Protector, but he's the next best thing. Lancelot is nearly as skilled, and Bray and Lohot and Gawain are also armed. They'll be fine going to the Marketplace, Arthur; I've trained them all myself.

Okay, if you say so; you know best. Arthur then turned around and paused, and he smiled at what George was wearing.

Her armor.

George had many sets of armor; all of them made from lightweight hardened leather. Some were worn during training, others were worn after hours and in more casual settings. But for the most part, George now generally wore lightweight leather armor at all times; she rarely wore dresses anymore. When she originally first came to Camelot, she had brought back with her a custom black catsuit made of lightweight Kevlar, made and designed from her own time in the 20th century. But that armor had been shredded and destroyed by wolves, years earlier. These days she now wore leather, for she preferred the free movement which leather offered over heavier chainmail and iron plates that the men wore. Plus the fact that George thought she looked darn good in lightweight, form-fitting, dark brown leather; to which all of the Knights whole-heartedly and enthusiastically concurred.

Two years earlier following Sara's battle with the Revenant, and in fact George's own battle with the Revenant resulting in her own 'death', George had 'returned from the dead'. As a result of her many years of countless heroic acts, she had been awarded her own personal Forgemaster as a token of esteem and appreciation. It was also in lieu of a promotion, which George was ever-constantly turning down, for she never had any interest in advancing her title or position. But a personal Forgemaster however, was something too tantalizing for her to dismiss so easily. And now, George's specialized armor and weapons were all custom made, exclusively by her very own private Forgemaster; including highly-specialized curved steel swords which were perfectly crafted and balanced just for her; and of course, many outfits of custom-tailored leather armor.

Her personal Forgemaster was named Sten, and was a single man in his late thirties. He was a little larger than average size, but not by much. He was a black man, with skin darker than even Felice, the Clanchief of the women in the north. His hair and beard were also black, and his eyes were nearly as dark. He wasn't especially attractive, though he did have a certain rugged quality that some women might find attractive. Sten had been the Royal Forgemaster from Sterlingshire in the north, Bedivere's home town, and among the thirteen kingdoms which had refused to ally with Arthur. The old king of Sterlingshire bore great enmity and hatred against Arthur's forefathers, namely High King Constans the father of Uther, and wanted nothing to do with House Pendragon. But the old king had recently died, leaving his son upon the throne; a son who happened to be a proponent of Arthur. And one of the first things the new young king had done, was ally Sterlingshire with Arthur, thereby decreasing the total number of unallied kingdoms to twelve. As a gift and gesture of goodwill, the new king of Sterlingshire had sent Arthur their own highly acclaimed and renown Royal Forgemaster as a gift.

Being that Camelot already had a Forgemaster, Sten was given to George. He was, in fact, far more talented and skilled than Camelot's own Forgemaster; but Arthur wasn't the type who replaced his people with someone else, simply because they were better. Arthur was as loyal to his own people, as they were to him.

Sten was a serious man who rarely smiled, and he took his job very, very seriously. He was quite accomplished and had many years of experience behind him, and it didn't take long for George to realize she was fortunate to have one of the most skilled Forgemasters in all of Pretania ... and working exclusively for her. Sten also happened to be very strong, as was common among all Forgemasters, especially in the upper arms and chest. He had no wife or family, as he was only interested in his craft; nor did he have any interest in politics or who ruled where or for what reasons they ruled or whatever else was going on the country. His only interest was in producing the finest of armor and weaponry, and to him it was an art, more than a craft. Leather armor however, was actually a first for him; as he normally specialized in iron and steel. And while it was highly unusual, he approached George's unusual requests not only as a challenge, but also as a high honor. For the great Weapons Master of Camelot was renown in her own right, considered to be the greatest warrior in the land, and Sten was proud to have been chosen as her personal armorer and master weapons designer.

George had always had an eye for fashion, especially in her years before Camelot. Her leather armor designs were no exception. George was the designer, whereas Sten was the one who turned the designs into reality. Although he often had as much input as George, especially as to the functional and practical aspects of her designs. Sten was more interested in protection, whereas George was more interested in comfort and flexibility and overall appearance. But between the two of them, the resulting armor creations were masterful designs which offered both reasonable protection and function, and still looked ... sexy.

Thus, as a result, Sten's recent armor creations had in fact, become so lightweight and comfortable and durable, that more often than not, George now preferred wearing her leather armor over dresses and casual wear, even on weekends and in her free time. George was now rarely seen without her armor. The dark brown leather outfits were feminine and attractive and showed off her form, which she happened to be quite proud of. George worked very hard to keep her curvy but extremely athletic shape, and she had no desire or intention to hide it. But more importantly, the lightweight leather armor gave her much better range of motion and movement than the common long dress styles, allowing her to do things she normally couldn't do in a dress without snagging or tearing or ripping.

Which of course meant that, next to Julian and the Master Physician, Sten knew George's body and her private curves better than anyone; for such were the curvaceous armor designs that George always insisted upon. Never one to be shy about her femininity, all of her designs tended to be a little on the daring side, and she wasn't afraid to show a little cleavage and a little leg and sometimes a few other areas of skin. For though she was a Knight among many men, George preferred to be a woman, and she enjoyed reminding the men that she was a woman and not 'one of the boys'.

Julian certainly appreciated that. In fact, Julian himself was continually providing Sten with new and creative ideas for sexy new leather armor designs. Those designs however, were more than a little daring and more than a little revealing, and were reserved exclusively for wearing at home.

And of course, Sten never complained. He loved his new job and his new employer, and not just because his new boss was easy on the eyes; although that aspect was certainly a substantially positive job perk as well. But it was more than just that. Over the past couple of years, he had become friends with both George and Julian, and sometimes even joined Julian for an ale or two after work. Though Sten was the more serious type and didn't often break a smile, his and Julian's personalities seemed to click from the start. And as for George herself? She had never once called him an idiot. He was just too good at his craft and she greatly admired what he could do at a forge. Sten truly was a Master Craftsman, and George greatly appreciated that and had nothing but the highest regard for her personal Forgemaster.

On this particular night in Arthur's suite, she happened to be wearing her most recent design. And because George never had a problem showing a little skin, that was what had caused Arthur to smile at her. Weapons Master, I am unsure if I shall ever become used to your new armor these days. Do you intend to wear this particular ... armor ... in the eye of the public?

George winked at him. Does it make you blush, your Majesty?

Perhaps a little. Arthur chuckled.

Good. Then you had better believe I intend to wear this in public. Otherwise, what would be the point?

Arthur grinned and shook his head. Yes, well ... uh ... you were saying you had a question for me?

My question is ... if something were to happen to ... say ... Willow...

Nothing will happen to Willow, George; you know that.

But see, that is my whole question! How do we know for certain that nothing will happen to Willow? And don't say 'because I am here'. Seriously, Arthur; that answer just doesn't cut it for me, anymore. Camelot died once, and I alone witnessed it. And I've got my face all sliced up as a nice permanent little reminder that it all really happened and that it was quite real. So just because you 'think' that nothing can happen, doesn't mean that nothing can happen. Am I making any sense?

But George, if something happened to Willow, you would not be here!

Didn't I just tell you not to say that?

But...

No 'buts', Arthur. Think about it. You and Gwen died. Now there is a little toddler prince running around named Gwydre; who didn't even exist in the gleam of your eye before you died. So don't tell me that Willow can't die, else I wouldn't be here. That argument is null and invalid.

Arthur smiled. Gwydre exists, because Gwen and I are alive. And had a very romantic Christmas, I might add.

Uh huh. George smirked. The point is...

No, I think I understand your point.

Do you? Again, think about it. Nothing seems to be set in stone. The reason I exist, now ... is not because of our present Willow having a child in the future. I exist, because Merlin secreted a previous Willow and Wesley away, just before the big battle when everybody else died. Julian and I are their descendants. Now that we are here, and we are from their original line, we are ... here. It doesn't mean that things can't go differently for Willow and Wesley this time. I once asked Merlin about it, and his only answer to me was, 'What was done, was done.' In other words, we are here. It happened and we are here. Willow's original line produced me, and so here I am. So even if something happens to Willow this time around, it doesn't change what happened the first time around. Even if she were to die now without bearing a child, it doesn't change the fact that Willow's original line produced me as a descendant. It doesn't change the fact that I am here, Arthur. So the way I see it is, something could happen to Willow ... and I would still be here. Because technically, I am from the previous Willow, not from this present Willow. I think.

Arthur groaned. This is hurting my head. Can we stop talking about this?

George grinned as she elbowed Arthur. Don't tell me I have finally stumped his Majesty?

Will you stop calling me that?

Why do you even bother asking people that? You know everyone ignores that ludicrous command.

Because some day, someone might actually obey me.

Uh huh. That will be the day.

One can only hope. So tell me, Weapons Master, what has brought on all this ... confusing form of thinking all of a sudden? Do you have concern for Willow?

Actually, I do. If my theory is right...

Which I am not agreeing to, nor has it been confirmed.

Nevertheless, if my theory is right, then Willow could be in danger. Willow ... could die.

Protectors are always in danger. said Arthur.

True. And Protectors die; we are not immortal.

You are concerned for Willow's nightmares of bats.

George shook her head. Stop reading my heart, Arthur; it's just creepy.

Arthur shrugged. I did not read your heart, George; it is something which also troubles me. I share your concern for Willow.

You've read Willow's heart, haven't you?

Arthur nodded. I confess, I have.

Is she afraid?

No.

George raised her eyebrow. Really? Are you certain? I know that if I was having constant nightmares about bats, I would be a regular Happy Hour patron at Bors' eatery and seeing a shrink every Tuesday. Have I ever told you I hate bats?

Arthur chuckled. Actually, you have never told me the story or the reason why you hate bats.

Okay. Have you ever heard the saying, 'bats in the belfry?'

No. What is a 'belfry'?

Eh, it is a bell tower. I don't think you guys have invented those yet. At least I hope not. Anyway, in my day, it was just a slang term for saying a person wasn't right in the head. Except in my case, I actually slept one night in a belfry. I was only a nine year old kid at the time, and I didn't know any better. I didn't know there were bells, and I didn't know there were bats. All I needed was a place to crash for the night.

This was after you ran away from your orphanage?

Yeah. Anyway ... when those damnable bells went off right above my freakin' head, and then when those bats went nuts ... because apparently those loud bell vibrations completely messes with a bat's radar ... let's just say the bats and I both freaked in a major way. Between my ears going deaf from the ringing and a gazillion bats getting tangled in my hair and all of them clawing and screeching in my ears ... talk about a rude awakening. Suffice it to say, I hate bats. And ... that's why I now always wear my hair in a ponytail. Oh, and I never sleep in belfries anymore.

Arthur smiled. I can now better understand and appreciate your aversion and apprehension to bats. However, in Willow's case, I am certain she has no fear of her nightmares of bats. She in fact, intends to, and even looks forward to, confronting her nightmares with great ... shall we say ... anticipation.

George sighed. She's determined to go after the Aswang demon alone, isn't she?

It is her intention, yes. Once she discovers its whereabouts, she shall waste no time in seeking it out.

Yeah; she's all but said the same thing to me. I've asked her to come by and get me so that I can tag along, but she said only if I happen to be 'on her way'. I'm kinda getting the impression she doesn't want me along on this one.

Arthur grinned. She has become as independent as you.

Uh huh. It's frustrating as heck, too.

Arthur began to whistle.

Shut up, Arthur. I'm not that bad. Am I?

Me? I said nothing.

Fortunately for you. Okay, on a different but similar note ... what do you know about Shae's nightmares?

Arthur shrugged. Only that unlike Willow, Shae is afraid.

Do you think that Shae's nightmares and Willow's nightmares are connected or related?

I asked my sister Anna about that. She says they are.

Again George raised her eyebrow. Really? Anna never mentioned anything to me about a connection. All I know is Willow seems determined to keep me out of the loop; but don't ask me why. It almost seems to me as if this whole thing between Willow and bats is personal.

Nor has Willow spoken to me. Nevertheless, Anna believes there is a common root cause to both Willow's and Shae's nightmares. And you are correct, George. There is something there in Willow; though I do not know what it is either.

They have both been having those nightmares for years.

Arthur nodded. I believe they both began having the nightmares at around the same time.

Well, for Shae, they started right after the demon killed her parents.

Yes.

But as for Willow? It think her nightmares started long before that. Nevertheless, for whatever mysterious reason, Willow feels protective of Shae. She feels somehow connected to her. Whatever it is, Willow took such a strong and bold stand for Shae that Christmas night, after Shae's announcement that she and Gawain were indefinitely postponing their wedding plans.

Yes. Arthur replied. Shae fears bringing children into a world where the demon roams free.

I don't blame her. George sighed. That poor kid has lived in terror of that thing ever since the day she had to watch it kill her parents. Seven years old and having to watch your mother and father being ripped apart like that? Who would want to start a family living with that cloud of fear hanging over you?

Agreed. Arthur replied.

I can understand Shae; I just wish I could understand Willow's part in all of this. Has she ever described her nightmares to you? All I get from her is vague generalities.

She has not provided me with those details, either. However, I have sensed one thing from her, each time I have asked her about the nightmares.

Wesley.

Arthur looked at her in surprise. How did you know?

She's been worried about him for years, Arthur. Since the day she first met him, in fact. When we first found those kids over in Gaul on Wesley's vineyard, right after they got married, Willow broke down in tears over her worry for him; that's how much it was bothering her, even way back then; so like I said, this has been going on a long time. How much do you want to bet her nightmares have something to do with Wesley?

Arthur sighed. I think you could be right. So this, then, is the reason you were asking me about whether or not you could exist, if something were to happen to Willow and Wesley.

Yes, Arthur. This has been bugging me for a while.

What does your infamous 'intuition' tell you?

It tells me ... something unpleasant is going to happen.

Arthur looked down, sorrowfully. I see.

Yeah. Tell me about it. I wish we could find that thing before Willow does; I don't want her going up against it alone. Even Merlin and Kemuel haven't had any luck in locating it. I don't know where it's been hiding for the last eight years, but you'd think there would at least be a trail of dead bodies. Or ... something that would lead us to its lair.

Arthur shook his head. Merlin says the creature is smart. It is his belief it is selective in its victims, and thus never strikes the same area twice so as to avoid discovery.

Perhaps. Or perhaps it strikes in more remote, off-the-map towns and villages. But be that as it may, there has to be dead bodies to account for over the past eight years somewhere, don't you think? That thing likes to eat people. About all that was left of Shae's parents were the bones from their hands and feet.

I have left messages with all of the kings in all of the kingdoms, to report back any such gruesome discoveries. As of yet, there have been no reports.

It's very strange, Arthur. Eight years and not a trace. Fifteen years, if you go all the way back to when it was first unleashed, when Merlin and Morgause were duking it out over on Avalon.

Yes, very strange, indeed.

Unless... George replied, thoughtfully.

Unless ... what?

Unless ... it doesn't eat it's victims. What if it's getting smarter? What if...

Arthur turned and looked at George in surprise. What!? Surely you jest!

Who's jesting? That thing is around, somewhere. You know, my idiot husband is convinced that if it's not eating its victims and leaving body remains for us to find, and there are no missing persons reports, then somehow it's keeping its victims alive. Who knows, but maybe Julian is onto something; it wouldn't be the first time one of his off-the-wall ideas turned out to be accurate after all. For all we know, its victims could be like the living dead, walking among us, and we would never be the wiser.

I would know. Arthur said, emphatically.

Even so, there are millions of people in this country, Arthur; people which you would never be able to scan with your x-ray vision. So if there was evidence of the demon's touch on their hearts, you would never see it, just for the sake of sheer numbers. If that thing is as smart as Merlin says that it is, it wouldn't be feeding on people in our own backyard. Although it might be watching us. Nevertheless, it's out there; we just haven't found out where. Somewhere, that thing is flying around at night and feeding on people in one form or another; I guarantee it.

And the people know it exists. Arthur sighed. The local villagers know Shae's story; especially those from her home village. They know what happened to her parents and why she was orphaned and why we took her in. They too, live in fear of the creature. Sometimes not seeing, or knowing when it might strike next, can be more terrifying than facing the creature itself. Sometimes the fear of shadows can be worse than what is in the shadows. After eight years, the creature has now become legend to many people in the surrounding villages and communities. Kemuel has the named the creature as an Aswang demon. But to the people of our towns and villages, they have named it a Bloodwraith.

A Bloodwraith, huh? Yeah, I guess that's a fairly accurate description of the wretched thing. You know, Julian is convinced that this ... Bloodwraith ... might actually be the first and original vampire, and that maybe this is where all the legends of vampires originated from in the first place. And who knows, but maybe he is right. And of course, as we all know, demons themselves are ancient; they're older than we are. Who knows how long it had been 'imprisoned' in the world of Shadow before Morgause inadvertently released it. And now that it's finally been set free? Call it a hunch, but I don't think it's anxious to go back. It's going to be very hard to find, much less capture; and trust me, it's not going to go down easy. Even Merlin had a rough time dealing with it before it managed to escape him.

That is because Merlin was more focused upon dealing with Anna at the time.

True, but it slashed him up pretty good before it got away. There's not many things that can do that to Merlin.

I asked Anna ... as to whether it is a High Demon. She said it is not.

I've asked her, too; and Kemuel, also. Both of them say it's not in the same league as the Revenant; that it's only a Medial demon; which is scary enough. What's worse, it's in the upper echelon of Medials, just like that creepy Banshee demon that Morgause once messed around with. But unfortunately, the Bloodwraith is no longer tethered to Shadow; it's free to roam the earth until someone stops it.

Demons cannot be killed. They cannot die.

I already know that, Arthur. That leaves us with only one means to get rid of the thing - we have to somehow capture it, and then recede it back to Shadow. But there is only one person on this planet who has the power to do that. Merlin.

Two people. Do not forget Anna.

No, not Anna. Morgause. And you know as well as I do, that 'Morgause' is not an option. Anna cannot afford to revert back to what she once was. If she does, it will destroy her. And quite possibly take all of us along with her. Not to mention, that the whole sorcery thing is a big no-no? We had a witch trial a while back. Perhaps you heard about it?

Arthur sighed. I know, George; that I not what I meant. Of course I was not suggesting such a thing; you know that. I know what happened to her the last time she reverted back to ... what she was.

George raised her eyebrow. Really? You know about that?

Anna has recently confided in me. She told me what she did ... in her attempt to stop the Revenant.

Yeah. And I alone was left alive to witness the aftermath. Camelot looked like it had been nuked. The Castle, the Marketplace, the Learning Place, the Barracks and the family housing area, the training field and compound ... the whole entire region was obliterated. The castle was ground zero and the devastation spread outwards from there.

What!? Anna did all of that!? She did not tell me that part!

Uh huh. She probably didn't want to alarm you.

Arthur gulped. Consider me alarmed.

I'm glad she finally told you about it, though. But trust me Arthur, that little girl packs a wallop. We can't afford to let her go off like that, again.

She was only trying to stop the Revenant! Her motives were not evil!

You weren't there, Arthur; I was. I saw what happened. Sure, I know she had good intentions; that of buying Merlin and the others time to escape. But she's not allowed to use her powers in that way, you know that. She can only use her abilities to heal, not to destroy. If she does, it will corrupt her and turn her back to the way she was, faster than you can say 'sorceress'. And furthermore, not only did she fail in taking out the Revenant, when Anna became Morgause, she lost control. And do you know what the tragic result from that was? Trust me, I saw firsthand the result of her losing control of herself. Of course we know it cost Anna her life. But she also took out a lot more that she had bargained for. The Revenant survived the blast; but many people did not. She inadvertently killed hundreds of other innocent people that day when she brought down Camelot. Fortunately, my favorite little hero Sara, came back from the future and prevented all of that from happening and also managed to stop Mordred in the process. But it doesn't change that fact that Anna ... cannot ... become Morgause. She cannot control it.

Arthur solemnly nodded his head. This is why she does not pursue the Bloodwraith demon. She does not trust herself.

Exactly. If she were to go up against that thing, all Hell could break loose. Literally. And she knows it; she's done it before. She's the one who nearly unleashed Hell on earth, remember? So when it comes to going after demons, Anna is off the table. She's not a weapon to be used.

I already know that, George; I was not suggesting such a thing.

Good; I'm just making sure we're on the same page. Listen Arthur, I love Anna dearly; you know that. We've become close friends in recent years since everything that happened. But as much as I love that little girl in all of her endearing quirkiness, we can't blind ourselves to the fact that Anna is also extremely dangerous. Remember Merlin's and Kemuel's warnings to us.

I know. We cannot let her out of our sight. If Shadow should ever find Anna alone...

Then she could very easily become corrupted again, and we'd all be doomed. I'm not sure if even Merlin could stand up to her the next time.

You are right as always, George. So ... there is then indeed, only one person who can return the Bloodwraith demon back to Shadow. Merlin.

Yup. But first we gotta catch it. The problem is, like you said, it's smart. And it's not land-locked; the thing can fly. And we have no way of knowing when or where it's going to strike next. For all we know, it could be hovering up above us right now in the dark clouds as we speak, watching for its next victim. Which could be any one of us.

Arthur nodded as he looked back in the direction that the five couples had just left for the Marketplace. George...

Already ahead of you. George replied, as she began to climb out the window.

Lohot and Ursulet are both out there.

I know. After our little discussion, I'm not as comfy cozy as I was in letting them out of the castle; especially Ursulet and the girls. I really don't want to crash their evening, but I need to at least go and alert Bedivere and Lancelot to stick among the safety of the crowds and to think three dimensionally and keep their eyes on the sky. And maybe not to stray too far or stay out too late. In the meantime, until we can learn more, you need to keep Gwen off that rooftop garden of hers; especially at night. Oh, and while you're at it, close all the shutters in the castle.

Arthur groaned. Gwen is going to hate that. She loves open windows.

Yeah well, so do bats. When that sun goes down, keep all the doors and windows closed and maybe hang some garlic. Oh, and do you have any crosses you can wear around your necks?

What!? Crosses!? Garlic?

Kidding, just kidding. I think. I'm honestly still not quite sure just what we're dealing with here; that was my idiot hubby's suggestion, not mine. Anyway ... better be safe, than sorry; I at least want all doors and windows shut tight. When that sun goes down, this castle is under lockdown. I'll tell Willow the same thing goes for Cameliard when we see her this weekend. Anice is the Seed, same as Gwen and Ursulet. And I don't have to remind you that all demons know about the Seed, and that the girls are always in their sights.

I know. Arthur then looked down at the evening stone courtyard, forty feet below. George, it is three stories down. Are you sure you would not prefer to use the...

And in answer to Arthur's question, George suddenly leapt off the window balcony and landed far down below, catlike on her feet; and then disappeared into the darkness.

...stairs. Arthur sighed. I really hate it when she does that.

Chapter 3

Camelot

Five couples were on a 'date', walking along hand-in-hand amongst the crowds at the busy Marketplace. Most of them were wearing hooded cloaks to conceal their identities. The only exceptions being Marshal Bedivere and Sir Bray, because of their great size. Bedivere was 7'2, and Bors' eldest son was at 6'11, and cloaks didn't seem to be made in their size. Rather, they walked as seeming giant guardians armed with sheathed swords at their sides in order to protect the others. The great contrast in size was especially notable between giant Bedivere and little 4'10" Shae, who was the smallest of them; for she looked to be half his size.

We look like a bunch of monks. Susan groaned.

Lohot chuckled. True. But at least this way we have found escape from the castle walls. I confess, I was beginning to forget what the Marketplace looked like. It feels good to get out.

I know, I am trying not to complain; but it is just so hard to see with these stupid cowls; they are practically covering my eyes! I am not used to all this ... stealth and secrecy.

Lohot grinned and then spun Susan around to face him. At least our cowls do not cover the most important parts. And then he kissed her.

Susan giggled. Okay, you can surprise me like that any time you want, my Prince.

Bedivere grunted. Those are not the most important parts.

Bedivere! laughed Alana, as she playfully slapped at his arm.

What? What did I say? he grinned.

Alana shook her head with a smile and cuddled up closer to him as he put his arm around her.

Well, I for one... said Ursulet, ...am grateful for these cloaks. At least we may move around freely without fear of discovery.

True. said Gawain. You and your brother Lohot, especially. People mob you both on sight. Then Gawain grinned at Shae. Why do I never get to enjoy being mobbed like that?

Shae frowned at him. You are hardly a stranger to being mobbed by girls, Gawain. Or have you already forgotten what happened last month after Knight Training? There were over twenty girls waiting to introduce themselves to you by the exit.

Gawain grinned. Only because I was the first one to leave through the gate. They would have done the same to any other Knight. Besides, you are one to talk. At least I did not have over fifty thousand men clamoring for me at a tournament.

Shae shivered. Ugh. That was a dreadful day. I shall never forget that day for as long as I live.

Neither will I. chuckled Lancelot. I lost my back.

Ursulet groaned. Lancelot, you promised you would stop jesting about that. That was a terrible day.

No. Lancelot grinned. That was a wonderful day. Shae was returned to Gawain where she rightfully belongs, and the women of Pretania were rightfully granted honor. According to George, that was the day chivalry was born. It was indeed a day to remember.

Lancelot! said Ursulet. I am not talking about that! I am talking about you! You died! I heard you die as you were being scourged behind the door! Afterwards I saw your body! It was a horrid day!

Then there is that. Lancelot shrugged. But I prefer to dwell upon the benefits, not remember the costs.

Easy for you to say. Ursulet countered. There is no question the benefits were truly wonderful and a great blessing to many; but that is not the point. How can you expect me to forget the cost? If what had happened to you, had happened to me? If you had to listen to me being scourged and hear me die, and you had seen my body after the fact? Would it be so easy for you to forget? Not to mention that I had to care for you, and your ... backside.

Lancelot sighed. Forgive me, Ursulet. I sometimes forget to see things from your perspective.

Ursulet nodded. It is not that I do not greatly appreciate the benefits. And I do rejoice for Shae, for she is my dear friend. And I do rejoice for all women, for already we begin to see their lives being changed. But neither Shae nor I, shall ever be able to forget the terrible cost. Do not think to make light of such things. It was a terrible price to have to pay.

Shae nodded her head at Lancelot in agreement.

Sorry. Lancelot grinned sheepishly. I shall strive to do better and not make jest of such things.

Good. replied Ursulet. For such things should not be made light of.

Lancelot winked at her. At least I got my back back.

Ursulet groaned as she slapped her hand over her eyes.

And Bedivere laughed as he slapped Lancelot hard in the back; hard to enough to cause him to stumble forward.

OUCH!!!

Oh, stop your whining, weakling man. chuckled Bedivere. At least you now have a back to slap.

I am NOT a weakling man! I am now up to 147 pounds! Granted, I still have a ways to go, but that gives you no reason to hit me so hard!

Bedivere snorted.

Lancelot glowered at Bedivere as he cracked his neck and straightened himself. Sometimes you forget your own strength, you giant fool. Maybe YOU should get slapped by a giant someday, just to know what it feels like.

Bedivere gave Lancelot a wide grin. I already know what it is like to be slapped by a giant. And almost eaten by a giant. And fighting against many giants. Yet you never hear me snivel and complain.

Lancelot scowled and held up a warning finger in Bedivere's his face. The Master Physician says I can expect to regain my full strength in about another year. And when I do, believe me, you muscle-bound ogre, I intend to give YOU some pain for a change!

Ogre!?

Bray chuckled. You know, the way you two always bicker like that, you almost sound as siblings. You remind me of my brother Cadmon and myself.

Vivien groaned. Honestly. You two boys fight over the silliest things. Yesterday you were both fighting over some silly sword.

Vivien! Bray exclaimed in horror. That was not some silly sword! That was MY sword! The Royal Forgemaster made it specially for me!

Vivien shrugged. They all look alike to me.

How can you say that!? They are most certainly NOT the same! My sword is perfectly balanced to my sword arm. Cadmon's sword is balanced to his arm. They are VERY different and believe me, Cadmon knows the difference.

Then why did Cadmon take your sword if he knew the difference?

Bray grinned. Because I took his shield.

Vivien rolled her eyes.

And Alana shook her head. Idiots, one and all.

Bedivere chuckled. Spoken as a true daughter of Sir George.

Alana raised her eyebrow. What do you mean by ... 'true'?

I did not mean anything by it, Alana. replied Bedivere, defensively. Only that you take after your mother in many ways. But I was not insinuating ... in that way. I was not inferring...

Good. Because I am not like my mother. I am a Lady, not a Protector.

I was only referring to your appearance and your speech. You and your sister Susan both oftentimes share your mother's manner of speech.

Of course. Susan replied. We have grown up around Mother. Sometimes we talk like her.

Vivien nodded. And Alana, you really do look like George; more and more all the time. In height, in body, your features and your hair, even your expressions. Bedivere is right, you are your mother's daughter.

Alana shrugged. In appearance only. I am not my mother.

I was not saying you were, Alana. said Bedivere.

Alana turned her head and looked the other way.

And everyone quickly decided it was time for a change of subject. By now, the other Royals had all learned about Alana's 'secret'. They also knew that Alana didn't want to talk about her secret. The subject was taboo, and Alana always made sure they knew it was taboo. If they so much as even hinted at the subject they would be rewarded by a dark icy glare. Alana loathed the very idea of being a Protector and it was not a subject open for discussion.

*** *** ***

After some time passed of uncomfortable silence, the group of five couples noticed a stranger approaching them from the side shadows - an old woman wearing a dark shawl. And in her gnarled hands she carried a basket filled with apples.

Please? the old woman pleaded. Buy my apples?

The group stopped and looked at her. Some of them with pity, others with suspicion. One of Arthur's strict rules in the Marketplace was that vendors had to be registered in order sell their wares, in order to maintain fair business practice among all street vendors. Freelance vendors and beggars were not permitted, and guards were posted all throughout the Marketplace to keep an eye out for lawbreakers. Of course, all beggars were welcomed with open arms to visit the farms of Morgan and Accolon, to have all of their needs met; food, medical, social, a place to stay or live ... and by now, all of the people in Arthur's kingdom knew it. Thus, there really wasn't a valid reason for beggars to appear in the Marketplace.

But the feeble old woman looked so frail and sickly, that even the most suspicious members of the group began to take pity on her.

Please? she repeated. Buy my apples?

Ursulet and Susan immediately stepped forward with the intent to purchase an apple. But surprisingly, it was Shae who beat them to it.

Of course. Shae smiled at the old woman. How much for an apple?

Two for a copper; five for two. The woman replied.

Really? Are you sure? That is not very much.

The old woman smiled and nodded. I do not need much.

How much for the whole basket?

The old beggar woman looked at her in surprise. You would desire ... all of them?

Yes. They look delicious. And so huge! Are they Avalon apples?

They are indeed, sweet pretty child. The best are from Avalon, the Isle of Apples. Ripe and freshly picked.

Gawain, however, was still a little on the suspicious side. Pardon my asking, old woman; but how did you come by freshly picked apples from Avalon? Avalon is half a day's journey from here by horse. You do not seem capable of riding a horse; how can they possibly be freshly picked?

I received these from a traveling merchant outside of town.

Really? Gawain asked. You were given free apples, in which you are now turning around and selling for profit?

Gawain! Shae scowled. Leave her be. She is only trying to get by.

The old woman nodded. Thank you, sweet child; but it is a fair question. The merchant had taken pity on me and had given me these apples for reason of selling them.

Now it was the giant man, Marshal Bedivere, who looked at the woman suspiciously. That does not sound like the action of a merchant; to give away his wares so that another might enjoy the profit. What did this 'merchant' look like?

The old woman shrugged. I do not know. I did not see his face. Who am I to question a turn of fortune? I accepted his gift with grateful thanksgiving and asked no questions.

So this merchant was a man?

He had a strange raspy voice, but yes; he seemed to me to be a man.

Are you certain you did not get a good look at him?

Then it was Susan's turn to take up the old woman's defense, as she turned around and faced the group with her arms crossed. You guys! Why are you being so suspicious of this poor woman? They're just apples!

And before anyone else could respond, Shae reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold piece and offered it to the woman. Here. For the whole basket.

The old woman looked at the gold piece in stunned surprise, and quickly began shaking her head in consternation.

What? Shae asked. Is it not enough?

No, sweet child! It is too much! There are only twelve apples. Five coppers for the whole basket.

Shae smiled and shook her head. No. Five coppers is not enough for an entire basket of big, delicious, red Avalon apples. Neither is five silvers enough. I shall offer you one gold, and nothing less.

But ... that is enough to purchase food for an entire winter!

That is my final offer. Shae replied, warmly. One gold, for your basket of twelve apples.

The old woman thought about it ... for only a brief moment. And then quickly handed the basket of apples to Shae. Who, in turn, promptly handed the woman the gold coin.

Bless you, sweet child! the ole woman gushed. Bless the Maker for his generous provision! And

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