"Pleasure myself with a one-armed man?" the wench had whined. "'Tisn't
likely." But half a chilly night and a full skin of wine later, she chanted a
different tune. And I was forgetting that I was half a man.
Until someone grabbed me about the neck and lifted me from
between her legs.
Until someone flung me across the hut, and I crumpled against
the stone and stick wall.
My attacker first appeared as a fuzzy shape, and anger welled up
in me as I shook my head to clear it and the figure became better defined. Then
he spoke, and the anger filled my throat and threatened to choke off my breath.
"It does not surprise me," the tall, bearded man said with a frown, "to find you
wasting yourself with a drunken wench."
Not only had I been savagely torn from a night of drink and
pleasure, but the culprit was none other than my Lord Arthur, a man who had
saved my life and the man whom I hated with all my heart.
"I have need of you," Arthur said in his deep, rumbling voice.
He tossed a woolen wrap at the girl and motioned sharply at the door. Silly
wench was blubbering by then, scared witless of Arthur, and she scampered out of
the hut and into the foul night.
"I have no need of you," I answered, groping for the goatskin.
But he snatched it from my grasp and poured the wine onto the ground.
"You wound me, my lord."
"You wound me, Malgwyn. Quit sniveling and come with me." His
voice changed, perhaps unnoticeable to others, but I had warred with him through
too many battles and knew that it portended trouble. "There has been a death,"
he said, dropping his chin to his chest.
I am called Malgwyn ap Cuneglas. The only thing gentle about my
birth was the kiss that my mother laid on my newborn brow. I was born to a
farmer near the River Yeo, a man from the west country named Cuneglas. He died
when I was but ten years old and my mother when I was seventeen, the year I took
to wife Gwyneth, the daughter of my neighbor. She was 15 and the loveliest lass
in our lands. For five years life was as good as I could ask. We farmed and
lived and loved. For a while.
Arthur was not king then, but rather the "Dux Bellorum," the
general of generals, for Ambrosius Aurelianus and a handful of lesser kings
scattered throughout the land. The kings had made an uneasy alliance with the
Saxons to fight the Picts, and then the treacherous dogs betrayed us. To Arthur
the kings turned; I knew him then only as a whisper on the wind, a story made
larger in the telling, of a great warrior who laid a hundred Saxons low with a
single sweep of his sword. And, truly, I paid him no mind. Troop levies had not
been made in our region. The Saxons were many leagues away from our lands, and
the people found no fear of them; they had once been our allies.
Until they turned on us, one cool morn while the men of our
village were off to market to sell our produce. Until our return brought us
death and destruction. As we rounded the road to our village, instead of finding
our families eagerly awaiting our return, we discovered our huts destroyed,
smoking, burning. We found our women raped and our babies killed. Searching the
rubble that had been my home, I found Gwyneth, her legs aspraddle and her throat
slit. Our girl, Mariam, still in her first year, had hidden in a storage pit.
For a wonder, they had not found the child. I suspected that Gwyneth hid her
there when she heard the Saxons come. I took her from the cold pit and cried
giant tears, until her wrap was moist with my grief.
The next day I took her to my brother's home in Castellum
Arturius the town was too large for a simple raiding party and left her with
him. With other men of my village, we mounted our horses and rode to find
Arthur, to join him.
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.
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