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King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are preparing once again to set out in search of the legendary Holy Grail. This time Morgain le Fay is determined to stop them at any cost, and she knows exactly who is standing in her way. When she kidnaps Ailis, the servant girl whose untrained magical powers grow stronger with every passing day, her vengeance seems to be taking a terrifying turn. Gerard and Newt must work together again to rescue their best friend before it's too late...before Morgain turns Ailis to ...
King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are preparing once again to set out in search of the legendary Holy Grail. This time Morgain le Fay is determined to stop them at any cost, and she knows exactly who is standing in her way. When she kidnaps Ailis, the servant girl whose untrained magical powers grow stronger with every passing day, her vengeance seems to be taking a terrifying turn. Gerard and Newt must work together again to rescue their best friend before it's too late...before Morgain turns Ailis to evil...before Ailis helps Morgain destroy Camelot.
The sunlight filtered down through the large window that dominated the room at the top of the Queen's Tower; its glass was the clearest and finest that craftsmen could make. Only the best was offered to the Queen of Camelot, Guinevere, and her court.
Today that court, fifteen ladies-in-waiting, chosen for their good breeding, fine manners, and gracious speech, was scattered about the room, sitting on cushioned benches or padded chairs pushed together for better gossiping. They worked at their stitchery and listened to a musician playing a lute quietly off in the corner. The queen sat in the center of the solar on a simple high-backed wooden chair that was practically hidden by the long purple folds of her skirt. Two maids held up brocaded fabrics for her consideration, while a master craftsman stood off to one side, awaiting her decision.
"Oh, dear. Allison, what have you been thinking to let your threads become so . . . tangled?"
The woman speaking to her was Caitrin. The eldest daughter of one of the queen's cousins, she was sweet-faced--but with the soul of a viper and a tongue as poisonous.
Ailis, still not used to the unfamiliar twist on her name that the ladies-in-waiting had given her, looked up from her embroidery. The soft,blue thread had indeed become less a field of flowers than a mess of knots in the fabric she was working on. A woman sitting on the chair nearest to her giggled, then hid her smile behind one hand and looked away when Ailis glared at her.
Ailis suppressed her instinctive response to Caitrin's usual cruelty, and merely bent her head back down to her work. Calm. Be calm. She hadn't asked to be lifted from the life of a servant, any more than she had asked to become a servant in the first place. She had little to say in her own affairs since her parents had died in a battle in the early years of Arthur's reign. But when she and her friends, Newt and Gerard, had broken the sleep-spell cast by the sorceress Morgain, the queen had decided that Ailis deserved a better future. Gerard, a squire, had also been rewarded. He was given the opportunity to ride out with the great Quest to find the Holy Grail--the very Quest that Morgain's spell had been designed to prevent.
But they never asked me what I wanted, she thought, many times since she had been sent here.
Being taught needlework, or how to read out loud in a properly modulated voice, wasn't such a bad thing. It was certainly better than carrying pitchers and platters, which had been her place before. And serving at her queen's side was better than scrubbing floors, which would have been her fate had she been born to a servant's life, rather than coming to it as an orphaned child. But no matter how nice the surroundings, how light the work, the truth was that she had less freedom now than ever before.
Only Newt, safe in the stable with his beloved horses, had avoided having his life turned completely upside down. Some days Ailis thought that he had been the more fortunate one.
Ailis looked around the room, careful not to make eye contact with Lady Caitrin, who was still lurking like a vulture waiting to pluck some reaction from her victim. In truth, some of the ladies-in-waiting who served the queen had made Ailis's new life almost enjoyable, calling her "pet" and making a fuss over her the way she thought her mother might have, if her mother had lived.
But then there were the ladies like Caitrin, who thought she was still nothing more than a serving girl with too many liberties. They never asked me what I wanted, she thought again, but refused to let the sigh she felt building inside her find release. It would be ungrateful, ill-bred. It would prove Caitrin right. Besides, what did she want? Ailis didn't know . . . exactly.
With a soft whisper of skirts, one of the women gently nudged Ailis over on her bench and sat down beside her. "Here. Let me help."
Ailis handed her stitchery over to Lady Roslyn with relief. The older girl had come with Lady Guinevere's entourage when Guinevere had married Arthur. She had always been kind, even when Ailis was merely a serving girl.
"Ah." Roslyn nodded sagely, handing the needlework back. "You're pulling too hard when you come back up through the fabric. Sweetness, don't let Caitrin worry at you. You'll find the manner of it, soon enough."
Ailis didn't want to find the manner of it--not of embroidery and not of the company of these women. Maybe, she thought. Maybe Caitrin was right. There were days when Ailis felt like she needed to run, screaming, back to the servants' quarters where she didn't feel quite so vulnerable, so very much a target, so dratted restless. She wanted to be out of the sweetly scented, sunlight-filled chamber, with its comfortable cushions and young minstrels, and its inhabitants--friendly and otherwise.
She was suffocating, unable to breathe in her pretty new dress, her hair now tied up under a simple veil that wrapped modestly around her neck instead of her former long russet braid hanging free over her shoulder.
Just that morning, the queen had spoken of setting Ailis up with a suitable match; nothing too high for her comfort, but a marriage where she would be the mistress of her own home. She would be matched with a good-stock knight perhaps; a man who could make much of himself and his name with hard work and skill.
Ailis knew she should be grateful. And she was. But something inside her was dying every day she sat with these women, listening to them gossip. Weeks ago she had ridden on a magical race against time that led her across England in order to save her king. . . .
Excerpted from Grail Quest #2: Morgain's Revenge by Laura Gilman Copyright © 2006 by Laura Gilman. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 1, 2013
Posted June 29, 2011
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