"It is something, is it not?" Envy laced Mordred's voice. He was jealous of his own city. Perhaps viewing it through her eyes, he saw it anew. It was a thing to be coveted, certainly.
They rode closer. She focused only on the castle. Tried to ignore the ever-present roaring of the rivers and waterfalls. Tried to ignore the fact that she would have to cross a lake to get to her new home.
On the banks of the lake, a festival awaited them. Tents had been erected, flags snapping and whipping in the wind. Music played, and the scent of roasting meat tugged them forward. The men straightened in their saddles. She did the same.
They stopped on the outer edge of the festival grounds. Hundreds of people were there, waiting, all eyes on her. She was grateful she had replaced the veil that hid her from them, and that hid them from her. She had never seen so many people in her entire life. If she had thought the convent crowded and the company of knights overwhelming, that was a trickling stream compared to the roar of this ocean.
A hush fell over the crowd, which rippled like a field of wheat. Someone moved directly through the crowd, and the people parted, closing in again behind him. The murmur that accompanied his procession was one of reverence. Of love. She sensed they had come there to be near him more than they had come to see her.
He strode to her horse and stopped. If the crowd was hushed, her body and mind were anything but.
Sir Bors cleared his throat, his booming voice perfectly at home in this environment. "Your Grace, King Arthur of Camelot, I present to you Princess Guinevere of Cameliard, daughter of King Leodegrance."
King Arthur bowed, then extended his hand. It engulfed hers. It was a strong hand, firm, steady. Calloused, and with a sense of purpose that pulsed warmly to her through him. She began to dismount, but with the rivers and the lake and the travel, she was still shaky. He bypassed that effort, lifting her free of the horse, spinning her once, and then setting her on the ground with a courtly bow. The crowd roared with approval, drowning out the rivers.
He took off her veil. King Arthur was revealed like the sun breaking free of the clouds. Like Camelot, he looked as though he had been carved straight from nature by a loving and patient hand. Broad shoulders over a trim waist. Taller than any man she had ever met. His face, still youthful at eighteen, was firm and steadfast. His brown eyes were intelligent, but lines around them told stories of time spent outside, smiling. His lips were full and soft, his jaw strong. His hair was cut startlingly short, clipped almost to the skin. All the knights she had met kept theirs long. He wore a simple silver crown as easily as a farmer wore a hat. She could not imagine him without it.
He studied her as well. She wondered what he saw. What they all saw when they looked at her long hair, so dark it shone almost blue in the sun. Her swift and expressive eyebrows. Her freckled nose. The freckles told the truth of her life before now. One of sun and freedom and joy. No convent could have nurtured those freckles.
He took her hand and pressed it to his warm cheek; then he lifted it and returned his attention to the crowd.
"Your future queen, Guinevere!"
The crowd roared, shouting the name Guinevere. Over and over.
If only it were actually her name.
Finger on leaf. Leaf to forest floor to root. Root to root to root,
interlocking webs crawling through the dirt. Root to soil to water.
Water seeping and creeping through the soft black loam. Rushing
over stone. Falling and breaking and rejoining, flowing, flowing.
Water to water to water to root to tree to sap.
Sap to dirt that held the absence of a body.
Arthur's queen does not taste the way a queen should taste. What
does she taste like? The true queen, the dark queen, the generous
and cruel and wild queen, wonders. She has no answer. But she has
eyes. So very many eyes. They will see the truth.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Hunger Winter, by Rob Currie.