Excerpt of The Killing Way by Tony Hays
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I did not cry again.
I smiled at each Saxon throat I cut. I smiled at each rotting
Saxon body we left on the battlefield. My fellows thought it odd that I smiled
so much at death and devastation, and after a while they called me "Smiling
Malgwyn." They did not understand that the smile ate at me like a disease.
Arthur saw something in me though. Before one battle, I sat on
my horse on a ridge and studied the land before us. Another horse rode up
alongside, and I took it for one of my fellows. "If Arthur is smart," I said,
"he will place forces in hiding there, there, and there." My finger pointed out
low hills. "When the Saxons ride to face our main force, they will be trapped
with their backs to the river."
"I agree," a deep voice said. Arthur. "You are Malgwyn ap
"Yes, my lord." I said, turning quickly and giving the salute,
surprised almost as much by his sudden appearance as by the fact that he knew
He nodded, smiled faintly, turned his horse and left. Within
minutes, the troop dispositions were made as I had suggested. When the Saxons
made their charge, the course of battle ran just as I predicted. We crushed a
large Saxon force, shoving the last survivors into the river to drown. I was
given my own troop of horse to command and a place in the war councils.
Had I known then what that brief encountered portended, I would
have killed him there. It would have saved me a great deal of pain and misery.
Arthur's odd pronouncement cleared my eyes, and I began to
focus. I yearned to return to the wine and the wench, but the set of his jaw
made me want to know more.
"Death is a constant of this life, my lord," I observed. "It is
all around us. Why is this one different?"
Arthur lowered himself onto a stool that I had lashed together
out of an armload of trimmed branches and scraps of leather. He was dressed as a
common man, in a woolen tunic hanging down nearly to his knees and tied at the
waist with a leather belt, and braccae. His huge feet were covered with
leather shoes laced across the top in the Celtic manner. He liked to go abroad
in peasant's garb, without the fine linen camisia his wealth and station
afforded him. A dagger protruded from his belt, and I suspected that one or more
of his men lingered in the darkness outside my hovel.
"A servant girl from my hall was found dead an hour ago in the
lane. She was lying outside Merlin's home."
"Ravaged?" I gathered my own braccae and slid them on. In front
of any other man, I would have been humbled, but we had shared too many
campfires to worry about such niceties.
"That is not for me to say, but the poor child was gutted like a
deer, slit from throat to belly."
"Odd. But, why does the death of a serving girl disturb the
great Lord Arthur?"
"There was a knife lying by her body, covered in blood. It
belongs to Merlin."
And that explained it all. Merlin, though some called him
Myrddin hereabouts, was a harmless old man, a counselor to Ambrosius Aurelianus
and Arthur's old teacher at Dinas Emrys, where Arthur was schooled. He came from
a town in the far north, Moridunum in Roman days, Carmarthen now. Some
said that he was of a long line of prophets, whose deeds gave rise to the town's
name, which meant "inspiration" in our tongue.
Once he had given good counsel, but the years had played tricks
on his mind, and he thought himself a sorcerer now and sold potions made of
valerian root to the gullible. When he was in his right mind, he could cut
through the thickets choking a problem and strike at the root of the matter.
Plus, Arthur loved the old cantankerous fool.
Excerpted from The Killing Way
by Tony Hays. Copyright 2009 Tony Hays. Excerpted by
permission of Forge Books. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.