"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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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