The Camelot Spell (Grail Quest Series #1)by Laura Anne Gilman
On the eve of the Quest for the Holy Grail, every adult in King Arthur's castle falls into an enchanted sleep. The future of Camelot rests on the shoulders of fourteen-year-old squire Gerard, who has dreamed of becoming a Knight of the Round Table his whole life. With the help of Newt, the stable boy, and Ailis, a young maidservant, he must face terrible dangers,… See more details below
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On the eve of the Quest for the Holy Grail, every adult in King Arthur's castle falls into an enchanted sleep. The future of Camelot rests on the shoulders of fourteen-year-old squire Gerard, who has dreamed of becoming a Knight of the Round Table his whole life. With the help of Newt, the stable boy, and Ailis, a young maidservant, he must face terrible dangers, including a monstrous bridge troll, a wise and scheming dragon and finally, a dark, powerful force that will stop at nothing to destroy King Arthur, the knights, and the entire realm of Camelot.
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Grail Quest #1: The Camelot Spell
By Laura Gilman
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Laura Gilman
All right reserved.
spring, 12th year of
Arthur's Pax Britannica
"This entire castle has gone mad!"
Gerard instinctively ducked out of the way as the chief cook sent his assistants into motion with a wave of one muscled arm, flinging flour-dust over everyone within range. The spring morning was warm, and thrice so down here, where the ovens were burning hot and flour stuck to sweaty skin and dampened tunics and aprons. His face already perspiring, the squire hung close to the doorway, mentally cursing his master for sending him down to the kitchens today of all days.
"It's the Quest," one of the under-bakers ventured from where they huddled near the great brick ovens of Camelot's kitchen.
The cook glowered at the boy who'd spoken. "Of course it's the Quest! Everything has been the Quest for months now! And I, for one, will be glad when they're all gone and out of my hair" -- Gerard, along with everyone else in the kitchen, refrained from pointing out that Cook had no hair -- "and we can get back to living like civilized folk!" He caught sight of Gerard by the door and pointed one oversized, flour-covered hand at him. "You. What are you doing here?"
The squire swallowed hard, reminding himself that in his fourteen years oflife, he had faced much worse than Cook's temper. Well, faced some things almost as bad, anyway. "Message from my master, Sir Rheynold, about -- "
"About that bird of his, I'll wager, no?" Cook was a fearsome-looking mountain of a man at the best of times. But when he smiled, even brave knights took a step back. "Tell your master the fowl arrived safely and will be a masterpiece when we're done with it. Rest easy."
Gerard personally hated the taste of peacock, especially when the outer layer of flesh was stuffed with roasted pigeon the way his master enjoyed it, but he knew better than to say so. It was not his place, as a mere squire, to speak anything but good of his master's choices. Especially when the dish was one the king was also reported to enjoy, and Sir Rheynold was currying favor by arranging for the banquet tonight.
All the knights did it, one way or another, with presents or sweet words or brave actions dedicated to the king and his queen. Arthur was an easygoing man, for a king, but he wore the crown, and the crown had the power. Gerard had lived in Camelot for six years now under Sir Rheynold's fosterage, and he thought he understood how things went. Power was to be catered to, and you had to establish your own power in turn. Or, in Gerard's case, maintain the power of the man who sheltered and trained him. That was the way of the world.
Nodding his head to give the right amount of respect due to a servant of Cook's ability and reputation, Gerard said, "I'll tell Sir Rheynold of your assurances. I am sure he thanks you for your attention to this offering."
Message delivered, he turned to escape the heat and chaos of the kitchen. He should have gone directly back to his master's rooms up in the east wing of the castle to see what else might be required of him. But Cook had not been exaggerating about the energy that was filling Camelot. Two months prior, Arthur had announced a Quest. It had come to him in a dream, he said. A great Quest, blessed by God, to search out and find the Holy Grail brought to this island by Joseph of Arimathea from the Holy Land and then lost for centuries after his death.
The Knights of the Round Table would find it. Restore it. Bring it back to Camelot, where it would be the fitting symbol of Arthur's kingship, alongside his sword Excalibur. It would be a glorious, wonderful thing.
For the past week, men had been riding to Camelot to speak with Arthur and explain why they should be honored with a place on this Quest. At the banquet tonight, Arthur himself would proclaim the names of the knights who would ride out on this Quest of his. The entire castle was mad from it; so much so that anyone caught unoccupied was sure to be put to work.
Gerard never shirked from work . . . but he saw no reason to look for it, either. Especially, he admitted reluctantly to himself, since the Quest had completely overlooked him. Not that he, a mere squire, would have been allowed to take part, but he was no more immune to the dreams than any other. To be the one who found the legendary Holy Grail, who brought it home to Arthur's hands and reaped the praise and rewards such a treasure must bring . . .
"But first you'd have to be there to find it. And that's not going to happen now, is it?" he told himself, moving down the narrow side-halls that were used only by servants and the occasional page or squire in a hurry. No, it wouldn't be he who found the Grail, even if he had been allowed to go along on the search. One of the knights would find it. Most likely Lancelot, who was the perfect knight, brave and noble and kind even to the clumsiest of pages, although his face was not handsome. Or Gawain, whom everyone called "the Pure." No, not a lowly squire, no matter how noble his bloodlines might be.
A page, his young face flushed with exertion, hurried toward him with half a dozen parchments under one arm. "Gerard, Pickleface is looking for you!"
"Drat it," Gerard muttered, waving his thanks to the younger boy. If Pickleface -- Master Balin, so-called because of the sourness of his expression -- was looking for him, it could only be bad. As a squire, Gerard was supposed to be above any duties the page-master might give him, but explaining that to this adult would earn him a sound boxing on the ears and he'd still have to do whatever Balin had in mind.
Excerpted from Grail Quest #1: The Camelot Spell by Laura Gilman Copyright © 2006 by Laura Gilman. Excerpted by permission.
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