Here’s the first thousand words of Fall of the Green Land, book one of my series The Future History of the Grail, a brand new take on the Arthurian legends. The book is now on sale at Amazon for Kindle and in Kindle Unlimited. The other two books, War for the Green Land, and Return to the Green Land, are also now available, as well as a bundle of all three. Please enjoy the preview!
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Rescue
June 13, 3267, by the Old Calendar
The 80th year of the Treaty of Camelot
The forest mocked Percival for his faith. Dry, low-hanging spruce branches scourged him. Hemlock boughs slapped him in the face. Exposed roots tripped him for sport. Gaia gave life to the forest and everything else, and she took it from knights who lost their way. He’d watched everyone on his expedition fall to disease, starvation or despair. Percival, however, had to go on.
“Find the Grail,” Arturus had said, “or we are all lost.”
“I will find it, my lord,” Percival said to himself, alone in woods thick as his flaming-red hair. “It’s what I’m meant to do.”
The vermin in the knight’s beard grasped the hairs tightly as he stumbled. His clothes shed patches like molting fur. How many days had passed since he had last seen his human companions? How many weeks since his com had stopped working? No power, no messages. The setting sun was his final beacon, dimming like approaching disappointment as it sank behind the Range of Needles.
“You must find it.” Arturus’ graying face had the intensity of sun at noon. “The man or woman who owns the Grail owns the nation.”
Percival thought of those words often, but the king’s meaning always escaped him. A glottal growl stopped his reflection cold. The sound was layered: half-bark, half-bellow. It awakened a memory. A time before—centuries ago, it seemed, long before his acceptance to the Round Table, back when he was a teenager—he’d found spoor in the mountains on the edge of his mother’s land. He’d gone home empty-handed on that quest, too, though he’d recorded the terrifying call. The sage-scientists declared it genuine. He’d been lucky to come back with a whole skin. As he stumbled forward in the forest twilight, somewhere east of Camelot, the growl had returned. He reached for his javelin, but he’d lost it the day before in a marsh. If the beast was pursuing him, he’d be an easy meal, though not much more than an appetizer.
The bestial voice rose into an anxious, restrained scream, coming from the direction of the dissipated sun. The western breeze carried Percival’s scent away. The beast might not know he was near. So why the scream? Was it vocalizing fear? The earth trembled with the creature’s advance.
Percival pressed himself against the trunk of a monster fir. The ridges of bark dug into his spine. He thought the tree might vibrate in sympathy with his terror and give him away. He wanted to live. He’d avoided the despair of a few of his companions, who’d wandered off into the desert or mountains one by one to end their drain on the expedition’s resources. Others died from disease. More died from attacks by trolls and ordinary two-footed predators. Only Percival remained. He lived because the expedition’s story was important. His death was a luxury Viridiae, the “Green Country,” his country, could not afford.
The slow thump-thump stopped. In the violet darkness, Percival heard the questing beast inhale sharply. Only the wide trunk of the tree hid him from his predator. The beast barked, and Percival reflected that its call was less like the baying of a brace of hounds, and more like the plaintive cry of a chorus of mountain lions. The sound resonated in Percival’s heart, but it was discordant. It sounded the way Percival felt—afraid. What could frighten a mutant heavier and longer than three horses lined up nose to tail?
Another sound penetrated the forest, bouncing between the rock walls of the narrow ravine, trapping Percival and the chimera. Percival’s ears pricked at a human voice, distant and diffuse. The beast cried a second time, its pace quickened by anxiety. Confident he was safe from its jaws, Percival dared to peer around the fir’s trunk, hoping to catch a glimpse of it. Percival missed seeing the whole animal, but he caught the fleshy, arrowhead shape of its tail’s tip. It swished.
For a moment, silence cloaked the forest. The final wisp of breeze had dropped away, but Percival’s breathing quickened again. What if the beast had slunk into a position better for an attack on him? Unlike animals formed by natural selection, the beasts were descendants of animals designed for the pleasure of people, and therefore, like people, unpredictable. It might circle back. It was an ambush predator, like a cat.
The lost knight fell to his haunches, the remnants of his hope for survival evaporating. He couldn’t call for help. Running was impossible. The beast wouldn’t listen to pleas for mercy. His mouth resembled the eastern desert, his stomach a hollowed-out tree. Exhaustion prevented tears.
Don’t toy with me! Percival thought to himself. He deserved to die with a little dignity. He was a knight, a favorite of Arturus. He started to laugh. What a useless thought! The beast hates knights who pursue it with the relentlessness of a rising tide. Why shouldn’t it torture human prey as revenge for living a life of fear?
Another thump came through the spongy ground, but this sound was different. It didn’t belong to the beast. Again, Percival pressed against the tree. A jingle of metal mixed with the panting of a horse ridden hard. The rider called out, but the words were lost among the branches.
Percival knew her voice.
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