The King's Arrow

The King's Arrow

by Michael Cadnum

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The king is killed on a shadowy summer day—and his servant becomes an outlaw On an August day in 1100, King William II of England goes hunting. At the side of the notorious monarch is his loyal servant, Walter Tyrrell, who is ranked among the finest archers in the kingdom. Riding through the New Forest, the king is separated from his party. Tyrrell

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The king is killed on a shadowy summer day—and his servant becomes an outlaw On an August day in 1100, King William II of England goes hunting. At the side of the notorious monarch is his loyal servant, Walter Tyrrell, who is ranked among the finest archers in the kingdom. Riding through the New Forest, the king is separated from his party. Tyrrell lets loose a shot at what he thinks is a passing stag, but his arrow buries itself in the king’s chest instead. When he realizes what he has done, Tyrrell escapes from the forest—and into the twilight of English legend.   For nearly 1,000 years, scholars have debated whether or not Tyrrell intended to kill the king. In this rollicking novelization of that ancient tragedy, author Michael Cadnum imagines what might have happened to cause that fatal shot—and where the fugitive archer ran to next.

Editorial Reviews

Set in England in the year 1100, not long after the Norman Conquest, this novel tackles a real-life historical mystery: was King William murdered? Our hero is Simon, the 18-year-old son of a Norman nobleman and an Englishwoman. He is invited to accompany the king's friend, Walter Tirel, as his varlet (game servant) on a royal hunt in the New Forest. This is a great honor, but Simon's pride and excitement are replaced by horror and fear when the hunt goes terribly wrong and the king is struck down by Thiel's arrow. Pursued by Marshal Roland, the king's guardian, Thiel and Simon are forced to go on the run, escaping first on horseback and then by boat. Welcomed in Normandy, where he meets Thiel's pretty sister, Simon starts a new life. Was the accident really just a convenience for conspirators (including the king's brother, Prince Henry), who had plotted to take over the throne? Cadnum, the author of many acclaimed historical novels, makes a good case for this interpretation in this carefully drawn portrait of a pivotal event in English history. Despite the rather abrupt ending, this fast-moving, realistically brutal adventure will be welcomed by fans of the genre. Age Range: Ages 12 to 18. REVIEWER: Paula Rohrlick (Vol. 42, No. 1)
Children's Literature - Denise Daley
This story is set about fifty years after the Normans conquered England. The year is 1100 and there is a great deal of animosity between the Normans and the English. Simon is the eighteen-year-old son of an English aristocrat and a Norman nobleman. Simon is a respectful young man anxious to find a place for himself in the troubled kingdom known as New Forest. He is proud and excited when given the opportunity to go hunting with the King. Accompanying them on the hunt is Walter Tirel, a mysterious man whose loyalty is questioned all the more when his arrow goes astray and strikes the King. The action escalates as Simon and Walter suddenly find themselves fleeing for their lives. To make matters worse, Simon must rely on Walter, a man he does not truly trust. Based on some actual events, the author recreates a realistic and intriguing story that readers will find difficult to put down. Reviewer: Denise Daley
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10- Cadnum attempts to answer a historical mystery: Did Walter Tirel shoot King William II of England by accident or design? Set in south England in AD 1100, the novel follows 18-year-old Simon's journey from bystander to Tirel's de facto accomplice. Born of a Norman-English union, Simon doesn't fit in with the conquerors or the vanquished. Thrilled to be invited to assist on a deer hunt, he witnesses the fateful shot (meant for the king's marshal Roland) and, with Tirel, flees for his life by horse and by sea. William's successor, Henry, turns a blind eye to the escape, hinting at Henry's own plans for his brother's demise. Readers could wish for no better guide through medieval England than Cadnum. He explores the concepts of fate, honor, and the changing political landscape with the surefooted poise of his noble characters. Through Simon's eyes, readers understand the difficulties of assimilating to foreign rule as well as the importance of each word spoken to powerful men like William and Tirel. Always, Cadnum's language is king. "English, the language of hill and river, but not the language of government." Until the hunt, the plot moves deliberately, explaining medieval customs and jobs and seamlessly setting the scene, but once the arrow is loosed, the action takes over, and the story becomes a breathless ride to freedom. Cadnum's elegiac style gracefully complements his tale of a time when honor and right speaking could cost or save a man's life.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another medieval tale from Cadnum-this one set in 1100 and centered on the killing of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. Historians disagree about whether the king's death was an assassination or a hunting accident. The author offers an answer, but he wraps it in a slow-moving, unsuspenseful story that is more about the Norman oppression of the English than any specific character or event. He also has two characters duking it out for the role of protagonist: Simon, a young half-Norman, half-English minor noble caught in the clash of cultures; and the king's veteran, fiercely loyal marshal Roland, weary after years of bloodshed but never shy about creating more. Of the two, Roland is the more vividly drawn. Simon isn't entirely a passive observer but he does more reacting than acting; his motives are no more clear to readers than they are to him, and his later, closing encounter with a beautiful noblewoman in Normandy gives the resolution a Disney-esque cast. Cadnum's novels about the Crusades, for all their flaws, are considerably more compelling. (foreword) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

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Read an Excerpt

The King's Arrow

By Michael Cadnum


Copyright © 2008 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1973-6


The stallion was afraid of shadows.

He danced sideways at the glimpse of a cloud sailing in a puddle, and tossed his mane at the sight of a grasshopper preening on a shaft of rye. His own silhouette spilling across the cart ruts made him snort and tear the road with his hooves, like an animal who wanted to fight something — anything — as soon as possible.

"Easy, Bel," said Simon, although the stallion gave no sign of knowing his own name.

There was real danger that Simon might fall off, despite the fact that he was supported from behind by the saddle's high cantle, and his feet were thrust into war stirrups. Bel took a deep, house-wide breath and held it, trying to loosen the saddle and dump Simon into the nearest puddle.

Simon hung on. The horse and all the leather trappings were for sale, if Simon could part with enough silver. The stallion would prove expensive, Simon feared, and he knew his mother could ill afford the price. Nonetheless, he thought, why not dream of owning such a steed for a few moments more?

The mount was indeed bel — handsome. Simon could scarcely wait to ride back down to the river and let Gilda admire the sight of Bel and his lucky rider — maybe this time she would be outdoors and looking up toward the road. But he did not want to risk ending up in the river muck, tossed aside by his ever-inventive steed, who by then would have come up with a way of rubbing his rider off against the mossy masonry of a wall, or knocking Simon's head off passing under Chad's Cross, the old stone monument on the way to the village.

Swein the horse breeder had been right to suggest that Simon take the steed for an afternoon's ride before he parted with precious metal. Now Bel was trying to take a chomp out of Blackfire, Certig's stalwart gelding, and out of the venerable servant himself, who exclaimed, "My lord Simon, look how he shows off his teeth!"

"Did he hurt you, Certig?" asked Simon, concern in his voice. The horse had about nine hundred teeth, he thought — far more than was required for chewing oats or biting servants.

Certig was Simon's manservant, and he had served Simon's father in the same capacity. He was adept at caring for animals — washing the horses' legs and mending buckles. In his earlier years he had been a sturdy companion and a good predictor of the weather.

"My lord," said Certig, rubbing his arm, "he did come close." Simon was concerned to see an expanding spot of blood on Certig's sleeve, but before he could inquire further, Bel gave a warning snort.

A far-off figure sprinted away from the leafy canopy of New Forest.

Even at this distance Simon recognized Edric.

Simon had known the hunter since boyhood — he had given Simon a fox's ear, for good luck. It was true that Edric was little better than a poacher, making his living by setting illegal snares in the king's forest. But he had a ready laugh and a pleasant singing voice, a delight to all who heard it.

Simon did not like the way Edric was running, like a man who had seen his own death. The cunning huntsman was running as hard as anyone could, tossing aside a handful of crossbow bolts to make his stride lighter.

Three horsemen broke from the verge of the woodland behind him. Prince Henry, King William Rufus's younger brother, was in the lead, urging, "A coite, coite!" — commanding his companions to spur their mounts.

Riding just behind the prince was Roland Montfort, the royal marshal, carrying a javelin, its iron point winking in the afternoon sun. The javelin was a spear with a leather loop attached to the shaft. The loop provided greater power to the throwing arm, but most men found the weapon hard to fling accurately from horseback.

Trailing behind was Oin the royal huntsman, riding like a man in no great hurry to overtake his quarry. Too far back, Simon believed, to restrain the marshal.

Edric fell to the ground far ahead of them, hidden by the windswept gorse. The horsemen did not see him for the moment, and they reined in their horses, struggling to control their mounts, pointing: there, no — there.

Edric crouched unseen to them under a flat, half-tilted stone, the fragment of some monument left by ancient folk, or — some believed — by supernatural beings still resident in the woods.

Stay, Simon warned him mentally, trying to send the message like a sling stone.

Edric, stay where you are.

He could call out to the prince — Spare Edric, if you please, my lord prince.

But the words froze in him. Simon had never spoken to the prince, and he had certainly never met King William, although on other summers he had watched from afar as the red-haired monarch rode back to his lodge, drunk in the saddle from a day hunting deer.

During the twelve years of his reign, the king and his brother nearly always visited New Forest during the fat season, the late summer weeks when the rutting roe deer were prime. Despite its name, New Forest was as old as any other natural wild land. It got its designation from the fact that the old king, William the Conqueror, had claimed the place as his own within living memory, stripping the fields away from many of their traditional inhabitants. The forest, located along the coast in the extreme south of England, was dotted with a few long-established hamlets, but under law it was almost entirely given over to royal sport.

Simon had never dreamed of hunting in such a place. He was the son of a Norman officer and an English noblewoman. To a Norman man-at-arms Simon looked every inch the Englishman, while to a local shepherd he resembled a foreign lord. It was true that both king's men and field hands always spared him a smile and a kind word. But Simon faced a future of divided happiness, knowing too much of both English umbrage and Norman self-importance to feel at home in either camp.

Now Edric broke from his cover, and began to run again.

Saddle girths creaked, and snaffle bits jingled, the horse furnishings giving out rhythmic complaints as the riders closed in on the fugitive.

Simon called, "Flee, Edric, like a buck hare!"

Edric did as he was told, sprinting with a will, but right in the direction of Simon and his retainer. As the poacher reached the crest of the field, so close Simon could see the sweat on his face, Bel decided to play a role in events.

The steed did not plunge or fight the reins or shy — shy and stay where he was as many a horse would have done. Perhaps the roan took a particular offense at the sight of Edric's fowling weapon, the crossbow beating a steady rhythm at the hunter's side, or at his tattered sleeves, streaming behind as the poacher flew. Or perhaps the horse was a creature of such spirit that he could take one glance at the fugitive and decide he did not like the angle of the freedman's cap.

Simon was powerless to stop him. The stallion hurried to meet the approaching runner and lunged. He flattened his ears and attacked, snapping the air by Edric, and snapping again, and getting a good mouthful of the yeoman's shoulder.

Edric fell.

The horse had hurt Edric. As he struggled to his feet, Bel shifted his heavy hooves and blocked Edric's escape, even as he presented Simon to the possibility of danger.

The royal marshal powered his javelin high into the air as Simon tugged at the reins, moving to block Certig from danger, and putting his own body in the likely path of the spear.


The javelin hummed, a surprisingly low sound, like the approach of a large moth.

The weapon descended with a gathering speed, its sound increasingly high-pitched — and shockingly close to Simon. When it lanced home the projectile was — at that last instant — invisible. And then suddenly it was all too visible once again, the wooden shaft erupting from the back of a struggling mortal like a long, wooden extension of the poacher's backbone.

Edric reached out for a support that was not there — a staff, perhaps, or the arm of a vanished friend. He reached to cling to Bel's bridle and missed. He fell to the ground. Simon knew that the injury was grievous, but wanted to believe that shock and suddenness would render Edric insensible to the pain.

"Quiet yourself, dear Edric," exclaimed Simon, reaching down from his saddle to grasp the jutting shaft.

His gloved hand reached — but he could not bring himself to seize the shaft, thinking that the effort would only stir more agony in the man. The poacher hitched himself nearly double, trying to turn around, struggling to work his body inside out as Prince Henry approached.

Edric managed a final laugh — a bloody, ragged gash of a smile — as though the cruel joke was not lost on him: the poacher pinched.

Simon had once seen a woodcutter bleed to death from an accidental wound, and he had seen neighboring farmers sicken and fade despite the prayers of family and friends. But he had never seen a man die at the hands of another, certainly not as Edric was dying, the prince probing and stabbing with the weapon as the poor soul lay bleeding within the shadows of the horsemen.

Simon breathed a prayer to Heaven for the broken-bodied, now silent Edric. The man expired in the blood-soaked earth, his sins unconfessed, and Simon felt the coming sorrow of Edric's wife and children in their ramshackle homestead. He could not bring himself to look at the prince, let alone the marshal.

"My lord prince," Simon began, when he could make a sound. He was going to add a word of welcome — stiff and unfelt courtesy, but necessary all the same. Could you not have given him a lash or two, and sent him home?

His death was legal, Simon knew. Poaching the king's game was a capital crime, and the king had commanded swift punishment to such criminals. But still — Simon remembered Edric's chuckle, and the way he danced on market day, quick-footed in work and play.

Simon would have asked, Why, my lord prince, did you have to kill him?

But Prince Henry himself wore a sad smile. "I thank you, friend, whoever you are," said the prince. "You did well to block his escape — although it is a shame to see a man die so."

The royal huntsman arrived at last. Oin fitzBigot had allowed Simon to ride in the New Forest since boyhood, if not to actually hunt there. "My lord prince," said Oin, "this is Simon Foldre."

"Who?" asked the prince absently.

"My lord," said Oin, "I told you he'd make a good hunting companion to the king's friend Walter Tirel from Picardy."

Simon's heart leaped at the sound of the well-known noble name. And at the promise of a royal hunt — that sort of honor had always been beyond the reach of Simon and his widowed mother. No one but the king and his favorites could legally so much as bend a bow in New Forest.

The royal marshal was silent, eyeing the shadowy oaks beyond the grazing land. Like the king, the marshal was a red-haired man with blue eyes, and a fighting man's thick neck and deep chest. Roland was in charge of the king's personal security, and he protected the gateways, halls, larder, and kennels of the king with his personal attention and the well-honed talents of his staff. In the absence of the prince, Simon would have hazarded his future in a confrontation with Roland right then.

From within the woods now came a series of shrills on a horn, answered by a distant series of similar blasts from near the river, a woodsman's code.

Roland said, "Already word of this poacher's death is spreading, all the way to the salt shore. Let them all respect King William's property."

Simon was impressed at the marshal's ability to interpret the horn blowers' code, but not surprised. It was said, half in jest, that Roland met with spiders every night, collecting information on everything from cowpox to taxes.

There were lingering figures on the forest verge, no doubt apprentice poachers, stunned at the fate of their master. No human beings actually lived in the woods, although there were tales of half-mad felons who had escaped the law for so many years they had grown cloven hooves and horns.

The shadowy observers ran off. Only one lingered at the edge of the sunlight, one of Edric's nephews, unless Simon was mistaken, waiting until he could safely steal forth and claim his uncle's body.

Not three months earlier Simon had come upon Roland wrestling a goose girl to the ground near the bridgehead. Simon had heard a gasping plea for help, parted the saplings, heard the young woman's grateful thanks, and found himself eye to eye with Roland as the young woman escaped.

"He's the sole son of your father's loyal swordsman Fulcher Foldre," Oin was saying. "Fulcher married an English beauty, a duke's daughter."

"Is that right?" inquired Henry. He was dark-haired and had dark eyes, and usually spoke quietly. His cloak bore a silver-and-jet pin shaped like a falcon or a griffin, or some other beaked creature. This single ornament, Simon guessed, was worth more than all the plates, pitchers, swords, and charms of a noble English household.

"My lord prince, my mother's father," Simon said, "was Usher of Aldham."

"Oh, yes?" said Prince Henry with mildest interest, melancholy, it seemed, at participating in the death of the poacher.

"And Usher's family," Simon continued, "called these fields home since Noah's flood."

Roland reached down and seized the projecting shaft of the javelin. He withdrew the weapon from Edric's body with a twist. "This dead felon, Simon," said the marshal, "could make a similar claim, along with many a marsh leech in England."

Simon was speechless at this insult. He was not fully armed, but he was far from defenseless. Men out riding for hunting or sport usually carried a stabbing sword. Simon had a formidable blade at his belt, with which his father had once frightened off a party of drunken English squires.

Simon's hand went to the hilt of this weapon.


It was the year of our lord 1100.

Nearly thirty-five years had passed since William the Conqueror had sailed from Normandy, the countryside across the Channel from England. He had arrived with knights and squires, and destroyed King Harold's army. Norman noblemen had replaced the English-speaking aristocracy throughout the realm. The best land had been confiscated from English families and given out as rewards to the victor's loyalists.

There had been bitter resentment among the suddenly powerless natives, and towns to the north had rebelled until King William had devastated farmsteads and villages, causing the deaths of untold numbers. Now the Conqueror's son, William Rufus — the Red — continued the mastery of the defeated kingdom, ensuring that his friends and cousins held positions of power.

Wherever William Rufus traveled, his men stole what they fancied, destroyed what they chose, and even the most distinguished English families were powerless to protest. The current king was thought to be a worthy heir to the throne, but where the first King William had crushed his enemies with a dashing ruthlessness, the current king was thought to be ruthless without much originality. To his father's passion for the hunt, William Rufus added a zeal for the stag and hound that was already legendary.

The eighteen summers of Simon's life had seen some gradual political and social changes. While no Norman in a position of power ever bothered to learn much English, every Englishman of ambition studied the language of the conquerors. More than a few Norman aristocrats fell in love with local women and married them, and some English noblemen were lately being awarded minor positions of stewardship. It could be easily argued that Norman rule was not so different, summer and winter, from the English feudal establishment.

Now Simon was absorbing Roland's insult, as Prince Henry was giving a wave of his hand, reassuring Simon. "For myself, I would rather this lively poacher were still alive. But my brother is king, and his command is law."

"God keep him," offered the marshal.

The prince gave Simon a searching, but friendly, glance. "Walter Tirel," the prince said, "was mentioning over morning wine today that he wanted to hunt with an English varlet who knows the woods."

A hunting varlet would be expected to act as the game servant — to carry the quiver, hand out the arrows as needed, and have an eye for the woods and its creatures. To serve a nobleman at the royal hunt, even in a secondary role, was a magnificent privilege.


Excerpted from The King's Arrow by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 2008 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Dean Koontz
The King's Arrow is an adventure story full of color and romance, as resonant as a fable, told in clear, clean, swift prose. A wonderful read.

Meet the Author

Michael Cadnum is the author of 35 books for adults and young adults. His work—which includes thrillers, suspense novels, historical fiction, and books about myths and legends—has been nominated for the National Book Award (The Book of the Lion), the Edgar Award (Calling Home and Breaking the Fall), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (In a Dark Wood). A former National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, he is also the author of award-winning poetry. Seize the Storm (2012) is his most recent novel.   Michael Cadnum lives in Albany, California, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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