In The Winter King and Enemy of God Bernard Cornwell demonstrated his astonishing ability to make the oft-told legend of King Arthur fresh and new for our time. Now, in this riveting final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the unforgettable tale of Arthur's final struggles against the Saxons and his last attempts to triumph over a ruined marriage and ravaged dreams.
This is the tale not only of a broken love remade, but also of forces both earthly and unearthly that threaten everything Arthur stands for. Peopled by princesses and bards, by warriors and magicians, Excalibur is the story of love, war, loyalty, and betrayal-the work of a magnificent storyteller at the height of his powers.
About the Author
Bernard Cornwell, who was born in Britain, is also the author of numerous international bestsellers, including the Sharpe series. He lives with his wife in Cape Cod.
Read an Excerpt
A Novel of Arthur
By Bernard Cornwell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Bernard Cornwell
All rights reserved.
The Fires of Mai Dun
Women, how they do haunt this tale.
When I began writing Arthur's story I thought it would be a tale of men; a chronicle of swords and spears, of battles won and frontiers made, of ruined treaties and broken kings, for is that not how history itself is told? When we recite the genealogy of our kings we do not name their mothers and grandmothers, but say Mordred ap Mordred ap Uther ap Kustennin ap Kynnar and so on all the way back to the great Beli Mawr who is the father of us all. History is a story told by men and of men's making, but in this tale of Arthur, like the glimmer of salmon in peat-dark water, the women do shine.
Men do make history, and I cannot deny that it was men who brought Britain low. There were hundreds of us, and all of us were armed in leather and iron, and hung with shield and sword and spear, and we thought Britain lay at our command for we were warriors, but it took both a man and a woman to bring Britain low, and of the two it was the woman who did the greater damage. She made one curse and an army died, and this is her tale now for she was Arthur's enemy.
'Who?' Igraine will demand when she reads this.
Igraine is my Queen. She is pregnant, a thing that gives us all great joy. Her husband is King Brochvael of Powys, and I now live under his protection in the small monastery of Dinnewrac where I write Arthur's story. I write at the command of Queen Igraine, who is too young to have known the Emperor. That is what we called Arthur, the Emperor, Amherawdr in the British tongue, though Arthur himself rarely used the title. I write in the Saxon tongue, for I am a Saxon, and because Bishop Sansum, the saint who rules our small community at Dinnewrac, would never allow me to write Arthur's tale. Sansum hates Arthur, reviles his memory and calls him traitor, and so Igraine and I have told the saint that I am writing a gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Saxon tongue and, because Sansum neither speaks Saxon nor can read any language, the deception has seen the tale safe this far.
The tale grows darker now and harder to tell. Sometimes, when I think of my beloved Arthur, I see his noontime as a sun-bright day, yet how quickly the clouds came! Later, as we shall see, the clouds parted and the sun mellowed his landscape once more, but then came the night and we have not seen the sun since.
It was Guinevere who darkened the noonday sun. It happened during the rebellion when Lancelot, whom Arthur had thought a friend, tried to usurp the throne of Dumnonia. He was helped in this by the Christians who had been deceived by their leaders, Bishop Sansum among them, into believing that it was their holy duty to scour the country of pagans and so prepare the island of Britain for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the year 500. Lancelot was also helped by the Saxon King Cerdic who launched a terrifying attack along the valley of the Thames in an attempt to divide Britain. If the Saxons had reached the Severn Sea then the British kingdoms of the north would have been cut off from those of the south, yet, by the grace of the Gods, we defeated not only Lancelot and his Christian rabble, but Cerdic also. But in the defeat Arthur discovered Guinevere's treachery. He found her naked in another man's arms, and it was as though the sun had vanished from his sky.
'I don't really understand,' Igraine said to me one day in late summer.
'What, dear Lady, do you not understand?' I asked.
'Arthur loved Guinevere, yes?'
'So why could he not forgive her? I forgave Brochvael over Nwylle.' Nwylle had been Brochvael's lover, but she had contracted a disease of the skin which had disfigured her beauty. I suspect, but have never asked, that Igraine used a charm to bring the disease to her rival. My Queen might call herself a Christian, but Christianity is not a religion that offers the solace of revenge to its adherents. For that you must go to the old women who know which herbs to pluck and what charms to say under a waning moon.
'You forgave Brochvael,' I agreed, 'but would Brochvael have forgiven you?'
She shuddered. 'Of course not! He'd have burned me alive, but that's the law.'
'Arthur could have burned Guinevere,' I said, 'and there were plenty of men who advised him to do just that, but he did love her, he loved her passionately, and that was why he could neither kill her nor forgive her. Not at first, anyway.'
'Then he was a fool!' Igraine said. She is very young and has the glorious certainty of the young.
'He was very proud,' I said, and maybe that did make Arthur a fool, but so it did the rest of us. I paused, thinking. 'He wanted many things,' I went on, 'he wanted a free Britain and the Saxons defeated, but in his soul he wanted Guinevere's constant reassurance that he was a good man. And when she slept with Lancelot it proved to Arthur that he was the lesser man. It wasn't true, of course, but it hurt him. How it hurt. I have never seen a man so hurt. She tore his heart.'
'So he imprisoned her?' Igraine asked me.
'He imprisoned her,' I said, and remembered how I had been forced to take Guinevere to the shrine of the Holy Thorn at Ynys Wydryn where Arthur's sister, Morgan, became her jailer. There was never any affection between Guinevere and Morgan. One was a pagan, the other a Christian, and the day I locked Guinevere into the shrine's compound was one of the few times I ever saw her weep. 'She will stay there,' Arthur told me, 'till the day she dies.'
'Men are fools,' Igraine declared, then gave me a sidelong glance. 'Were you ever unfaithful to Ceinwyn?'
'No,' I answered truthfully.
'Did you ever want to be?'
'Oh, yes. Lust does not vanish with happiness, Lady. Besides, what merit is there in fidelity if it is never tested?'
'You think there is merit in fidelity?' she asked, and I wondered which young, handsome warrior in her husband's caer had taken her eye. Her pregnancy would prevent any nonsense for the moment, but I feared what might happen after. Maybe nothing.
I smiled. 'We want fidelity in our lovers, Lady, so is it not obvious that they want it in us? Fidelity is a gift we offer to those we love. Arthur gave it to Guinevere, but she could not return it. She wanted something different.'
'Glory, and he was ever averse to glory. He achieved it, but he would not revel in it. She wanted an escort of a thousand horsemen, bright banners to fly above her and the whole island of Britain prostrate beneath her. And all he ever wanted was justice and good harvests.'
'And a free Britain and the Saxons defeated,' Igraine reminded me drily.
'Those too,' I acknowledged, 'and he wanted one other thing. He wanted that thing more than all the others.' I smiled, remembering, and then thought that perhaps of all Arthur's ambitions, this last was the one he found most difficult to achieve and the one that the few of us who were his friends never truly believed he wanted.
'Go on,' Igraine said, suspecting that I was falling into a doze.
'He just wanted a piece of land,' I said, 'a hall, some cattle, a smithy of his own. He wanted to be ordinary. He wanted other men to look after Britain while he sought happiness.'
'And he never found it?' Igraine asked.
'He found it,' I assured her, but not in that summer after Lancelot's rebellion. It was a summer of blood, a season of retribution, a time when Arthur hammered Dumnonia into a surly submission.
Lancelot had fled southwards to his land of the Belgae. Arthur would dearly have loved to pursue him, but Cerdic's Saxon invaders were now the greater danger. They had advanced as far as Corinium by the rebellion's end, and might even have captured that city had the Gods not sent a plague to ravage their army. Men's bowels voided unstoppably, they vomited blood, they were weakened until they could not stand, and it was when the plague was at its worst that Arthur's forces struck them. Cerdic tried to rally his men, but the Saxons believed their Gods had deserted them and so they fled. 'But they'll be back,' Arthur told me when we stood among the bloody remnants of Cerdic's defeated rearguard. 'Next spring,' he said, 'they will be back.' He cleaned Excalibur's blade on his blood-stained cloak and slid her into the scabbard. He had grown a beard and it was grey. It made him look older, much older, while the pain of Guinevere's betrayal had made his long face gaunt, so that men who had never met Arthur until that summer found his appearance fearsome and he did nothing to soften that impression. He had ever been a patient man, but now his anger lay very close to the skin and it could erupt at the smallest provocation.
It was a summer of blood, a season of retribution, and Guinevere's fate was to be locked away in Morgan's shrine. Arthur had condemned his wife to a living grave and his guards were ordered to keep her there for ever. Guinevere, a Princess of the Henis-Wyren, was gone from the world.
'Don't be absurd, Derfel,' Merlin snapped at me a week later, 'she'll be out of there in two years! One, probably. If Arthur wanted her gone from his life he'd have put her to the flames, which is what he should have done. There's nothing like a good burning for improving a woman's behaviour, but it's no use telling Arthur that. The halfwit's in love with her! And he is a halfwit. Think about it! Lancelot alive, Mordred alive, Cerdic alive and Guinevere alive! If a soul wants to live for ever in this world it seems like a very good idea to become an enemy of Arthur. I am as well as can be expected, thank you for asking.'
'I did ask you earlier,' I said patiently, 'and you ignored me.'
'It's my hearing, Derfel. Quite gone.' He banged an ear. 'Deaf as a bucket. It's age, Derfel, sheer old age. I decay visibly.'
He did nothing of the sort. He looked better now than he had for a long time and his hearing, I am sure, was as acute as his sight – and that, despite his eighty or more years, was still as sharp as a hawk's. Merlin did not decay but seemed to have a new energy, one brought to him by the Treasures of Britain. Those thirteen Treasures were old, old as Britain, and for centuries they had been lost, but Merlin had at last succeeded in finding them. The power of the Treasures was to summon the ancient Gods back to Britain, a power that had never been tested, but now, in the year of Dumnonia's turmoil, Merlin would use them to work a great magic.
I had sought Merlin on the day I took Guinevere to Ynys Wydryn. It was a day of hard rain and I had climbed the Tor, half expecting to find Merlin on its summit, but discovered the hilltop empty and sad. Merlin had once possessed a great hall on the Tor with a dream tower attached to it, but the hall had been burned. I had stood amidst the Tor's ruin and felt a great desolation. Arthur, my friend, was hurt. Ceinwyn, my woman, was far away in Powys. Morwenna and Seren my two daughters, were with Ceinwyn, while Dian, my youngest, was in the Otherworld, despatched there by one of Lancelot's swords. My friends were dead, or else far away. The Saxons were making ready to fight us in the new year, my house was ashes and my life seemed bleak. Maybe it was Guinevere's sadness that had infected me, but that morning, on Ynys Wydryn's rain-washed hill, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in all my life and so I knelt in the hall's muddy ashes and prayed to Bel. I begged the God to save us and, like a child, I begged Bel for a sign that the Gods did care about us.
That sign came a week later. Arthur had ridden eastwards to harry the Saxon frontier, but I had stayed at Caer Cadarn waiting for Ceinwyn and my daughters to come home. Some time in that week Merlin and his companion, Nimue, went to the great empty palace at nearby Lindinis. I had once lived there, guarding our King, Mordred, but when Mordred had come of age the palace had been given to Bishop Sansum as a monastery. Sansum's monks had been evicted now, chased by vengeful spearmen from the great Roman halls so that the big palace stood empty.
It was the local people who told us that the Druid was in the palace. They told stories of apparitions, of wonderful signs and of Gods walking in the night, and so I rode down to the palace, but found no sign of Merlin there. Two or three hundred people were camped outside the palace gates and they excitedly repeated the tales of night-time visions and, hearing them, my heart sank. Dumnonia had just endured the frenzy of a Christian rebellion fuelled by just such crazed superstition, and now it seemed the pagans were about to match the Christian madness. I pushed open the palace gates, crossed the big courtyard and strode through Lindinis's empty halls. I called Merlin's name, but there was no answer. I found a warm hearth in one of the kitchens, and evidence of another room recently swept, but nothing lived there except rats and mice.
Yet all that day more folk gathered in Lindinis. They came from every part of Dumnonia and there was a pathetic hope on all their faces. They brought their crippled and their sick, and they waited patiently until the dusk when the palace gates were flung open and they could walk, limp, crawl or be carried into the palace's outer courtyard. I could have sworn no one had been inside the vast building, but someone had opened the gates and lit great torches that illuminated the courtyard's arcades.
I joined the throng crowding into the courtyard. I was accompanied by Issa, my second-in-command, and the two of us stood draped in our long dark cloaks beside the gate. I judged the crowd to be country folk. They were poorly clothed and had the dark, pinched faces of those who must struggle to make a hard living from the soil, yet those faces were full of hope in the flaring torchlight. Arthur would have hated it, for he always resented giving supernatural hope to suffering people, but how this crowd needed hope! Women held up sick babies or pushed crippled children to the front, and all listened eagerly to the miraculous tales of Merlin's apparitions. This was the third night of the marvels and by now so many people wanted to witness the miracles that not all could get into the courtyard. Some perched on the wall behind me and others crammed the gateway, but none encroached on the arcade that ran around three sides of the courtyard, for that pillared and sheltered walkway was protected by four spearmen who used their long weapons to keep the crowd at bay. The four warriors were Blackshields, Irish spearmen from Demetia, the kingdom of Oengus mac Airem, and I wondered what they were doing so far from home.
The last daylight drained from the sky and bats flickered over the torches as the crowd settled on the flagstones to stare expectantly towards the palace's main door that lay opposite the courtyard gate. From time to time a woman moaned aloud. Children cried and were hushed. The four spearmen crouched at the corners of the arcade.
We waited. It seemed to me that we waited for hours and my mind was wandering, thinking of Ceinwyn and of my dead daughter Dian, when suddenly there was a great clash of iron inside the palace as though someone had struck a cauldron with a spear. The crowd gasped and some of the women stood and swayed in the torchlight. They waved their hands in the air and called on the Gods, but no apparitions appeared and the big palace doors stayed closed. I touched the iron in Hywelbane's hilt, and the sword felt reassuring. The edge of hysteria in the crowd was unsettling, but not so unsettling as the very circumstance of the occasion, for I had never known Merlin to need an audience for his magic. Indeed he despised those Druids who gathered crowds. 'Any trickster can impress halfwits,' he liked to say, but here, tonight, it seemed as if he was the one who wanted to impress the halfwits. He had the crowd on edge, he had it moaning and swaying, and when the great metallic crack sounded again they rose to their feet and began shouting Merlin's name.
Then the palace doors swung open and the crowd slowly fell silent.
For a few heartbeats the doorway was nothing but a black space, then a young warrior in the full panoply of battle walked out of the darkness to stand on the top step of the arcade.
There was nothing magical about him, except that he was beautiful. There was no other word for him. In a world of twisted limbs, crippled legs, goitred necks, scarred faces and weary souls, this warrior was beautiful. He was tall, thin and golden-haired, and he had a serene face that could only be described as kind, even gentle. His eyes were a startling blue. He wore no helmet so that his hair, which was as long as a girl's, hung straight down past his shoulders. He had a gleaming white breastplate, white greaves, and a white scabbard. The wargear looked expensive, and I wondered who he was. I thought I knew most of the warriors of Britain – at least those who could afford armour like this young man's – but he was a stranger to me. He smiled at the crowd, then raised both his hands and motioned that they were to kneel.
Issa and I stayed standing. Maybe it was our warrior's arrogance, or perhaps we just wanted to see across the intervening heads.
Excerpted from Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell. Copyright © 1997 Bernard Cornwell. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Table of Contents
On Thursday, July 23rd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Bernard Cornwell to discuss EXCALIBUR.
Moderator: Good evening, Bernard Cornwell, and welcome to the Auditorium! How are you this evening?
Bernard Cornwell: Hot -- we have a power outage and we're sweating, but we are here.
lmhoskins from Canada: How would you compare your book to others written on Excaliber?
Bernard Cornwell: I'd say mine was better, but then I would, wouldn't I? On the whole I would suggest mine is more rooted in a fairly horrid reality -- that of fifth and sixth century Britain, rather than in a fantasy world where the sword has magical powers.
Paul from Canada: How long did it take you to complete this book?
Bernard Cornwell: I can't remember -- the book was published in Britain well over a year ago, so was finished a year before that, but I don't recall it as being a long time. Some books come easily, others hard, and the whole Arthur trilogy almost wrote itself. I always think that's a good sign -- but to answer your question, I'd be surprised if it took longer than five months.
Carol Ann from Wilmington, DE: I'm wondering if you got a chance to catch the miniseries "Merlin" on NBC. What were your opinions of it? To me, it seemed all glam and no substance...
Bernard Cornwell: I didn't. I haven't watched any television, except the World Cup, for 15 years and I'm a much better person because of it.
George Parks from Cape Hatteras: Will you be doing any sailing this summer?
Bernard Cornwell: I wish I was out there now -- I've had the boat in since May, but it's been an odd season. May was good, there was no wind in July, and this week it's been all thunderstorms. I went out yesterday and it was hairy, but with any luck I'll finish the book I'm now writing at the end of July and spend the whole of August sailing. It's a tough life.
Barrington S. from Peekskill, NY: Is Derfel a character from another telling of the King Arthur legend, or did you invent him for your story? What made you decide to have the story narrated through his eyes?
Bernard Cornwell: Derfel is one of the oldest characters in the Arthur story, but over the years he dropped out of sight and was replaced by newcomers like Lancelot. In the oldest versions of the stories, mostly Welsh, Derfel is an important character, though we know nothing about him except that he became a monk. So I picked him up from the old stories and used him. I do like him, but I got a letter from a nutcase in England who claimed to be Derfel reincarnated and telling me I'd got it all wrong. Oh well.
J. Poroit from Newton: What version or which portrayal of the characters in your Warlord Chronicles do you most disagree with?
Bernard Cornwell: It has to be Sansum. I resent what the Christian church did to the Arthur cycle of stories -- replacing the classic Celtic cauldron quest with the Holy Grail search -- so my depiction of Sansum is my revenge.
Janine Markson from Louisville, KY: I think Guinevere is such an intriguing character, and everyone seems to have a different take on her role in the Arthur stories. Could you give us a little taste of how you see her character?
Bernard Cornwell: I adore her. Even now, in Welsh-speaking Wales, a woman who is "no better than she ought to be" is described as a "regular Guinevere." She's a powerful, politically frustrated woman, and hugely sexy.
Jane Milton from San Diego, CA: I am interested in what you said in your Q&A about the REAL King Arthur. What do we know about who he most likely was?
Bernard Cornwell: We know nothing -- or almost nothing. The earliest source we have was written at least 200 years after Arthur might have lived and describes him as a dux bellorum, leader of battles. He was a warlord, his enemies were the Saxons (the sais, the English) and he made a great name for himself -- that's about it -- and some historians, academics, and bores insist he did not live at all, but, as usual, they're wrong.
Joe from Sparta, NJ: Will there be other books in the series? Perhaps focusing on other characters?
Bernard Cornwell: Alas no, it's finished, but I'm planning a similar sort of series, but set later. No details will be given yet.
Paul from NJ: How has your idea of the legend of Arthur evolved, having spent so much time with the characters and the story?
Bernard Cornwell: That's a hugely good question, and I'm not sure the answer can be given very quickly, but I'll try. I suspect that we all have Arthur wrong -- that he was a ghastly fifth century warlord, just as the early Welsh saints' lives (that don't like him) suggest -- or as an early manuscript says in a marginal gloss -- "he was cuel from childhood." But we now want him to be magical, so I kept that charisma. I think he was a great Welsh hero who gave the English a deal of grief.
Millie from Athens, OH: How has writing The Warlord Chronicles compared to writing your other books?
Bernard Cornwell: It was much more fun. I really enjoyed Derfel and Ceinwyn, and was sorry to see the trilogy end.
Mary from Bucyrus, Ohio: I love your series. How much research did you do for your Arthurian books?
Bernard Cornwell: A huge amount! I slaved for years. Actually there isn't that much you can do once you've read the usual sources (Nennius, Gildas, etc.), but what I did do was to immerse myself in a great deal of early Welsh poetry (and some prose), much of which I had translated by a friend in Powys, and some of which I translated myself with the help of a grammmar and dictionary, and that made Arthur's world magically alive.
Craig Milton from Illinois: I am a big fan of your series, and I can't wait to read this latest. But I am worried about what to read next! What is your favorite King Arthur book or series, other than your own?
Bernard Cornwell: T. H. White -- THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. Read it, it's terrific!
James from Queens, NY: How does it feel to end the series? I know I will miss the books, but how does it feel for you? It must be very rewarding...
Bernard Cornwell: It's horrible -- I really liked those characters, and I miss them.
Joe from Sparta: Do you think that you might want to take on any other topics of British history, such as William the Conqueror or other great figures?
Bernard Cornwell: I've got some ideas -- but not William the Conqueror. I'm pretty busy with Richard Sharpe, am supposed to be writing a novel of Stonehenge next, and then want to do my trilogy that will have a similar feel to the Arthur trilogy, but I ain't saying what it is because I don't want anyone else to pinch what is a good idea.
Mary from Bucyrus, Ohio: Now that you're done with Arthur, what's your next project going to be, and when will it be published?
Bernard Cornwell: Hello again -- I sort of answered you in the last answer, but I'm presently finishing off the books about Richard Sharpe in early 19th-century India and then, I think, I'm going to write a novel about Stonehenge -- my construction novel -- which will offer a similar mix of magic, religion, and politics (and romance) as the Arthur trilogy.
Andy from Allentown, PA: My mother and I really enjoyed "Sharpe's Soldiers," the series that ran on PBS. Were you involved in that in any way? What did you think?
Bernard Cornwell: My wife's relatives all come from Allentown. No, I didn't really have anything to do with the TV series, other than give it my blessing. It differs from the books, of course, because it has to. But Sean Bean was terrific.
Joe from Sparta, NJ: Do you think that Merlin had any real mystical powers, or was he just a wise, cunning old priest/druid?
Bernard Cornwell: The latter, I'm sure. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Regina from Bennington, VT: Could you tell us a bit about your history as a writer? How did you get your start?
Bernard Cornwell: It was all a dreadful, romantic mistake. I was a perfectly happy television producer in Northern Ireland when I met this American woman and fell hopelessly in love. She couldn't live in Belfast (she was, and is, lumbered with an inconvenient family, some of whom are doubtless reading this) so I had to come to the States. Trouble was I couldn't get a green card, so I had to do a job that did not need the U.S. government's permission -- so I said, airily, "I'll write a book." I did, it was published, and I've been doing it for 18 years - and am still married to the lady with the inconvenient family, thank God.
Matt S. from South Carolina: Do you think writing the Warlord series has caused a change in your writing style? Did you adapt your voice to the time and characters and place you were writing about? What's it going to be like to write about something else, now?
Bernard Cornwell: I suspect the change in writing style emerges from the subject -- I wasn't aware of trying to change, but was very aware that the voice was different. I couldn't really write Arthur and Guinevere like Sharpe!
Bob from Hartford, CT: Mr. Cornwell, do you have any sage advice for a young writer?
Bernard Cornwell: Remember, as the great Dr. Johnson said, only a blockhead doesn't write for money. There is no such thing as writer's block. It's a great life, go for it. Look for a gap on the bookshelf and fill it -- i.e., don't imitate what someone else is doing well, but find your own specialty.
Maura from Hicksville, NY: What did you think of the musical "Camelot"? How does the plot of that movie compare with your books?
Bernard Cornwell: Dear Maura, I loved it, I can say no less as I am married to the greatest lover of musicals in North America, but it has about as much to do with my books as, say, Braveheart had to do with Scottish history. I.e., nothing.
Mark from Chapel Hill, NC: As a British-born author living in America, do you feel a stronger inclination to write about British history or American history?
Bernard Cornwell: British, I guess because it's in the bone. And because I hear British voices more easily than American ones (in my head).
Jennifer from Georgetown: Do you think you will ever write any contemporary novels?
Bernard Cornwell: Dear Jennifer, what a treat is in store for you. I already have, five of them, and all bestsellers in Britain, from whence they may be bought. Their titles are WILDTRACK, SEA LORD, CRACKDOWN, STORMCHILD, and SCOUNDREL. They're all sailing novels, and OK.
Vic from Victor99@yahoo.com: I have heard that you are a fan of Bill Bryson. Have you read A WALK IN THE WOODS?
Bernard Cornwell: I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson and I have read A WALK IN THE WOODS -- I'll read everything and anything he writes. I envy him!
Valerie from Portsmouth, ME: Any plans to make a film from The Warlord Chronicles? I think it would make a great epic...
Bernard Cornwell: There are supposedly plans from Scottish Television, but I suspect they are coming to nothing. A pity, but such is life.
Mike from Malvern, PA: What are the pluses and minuses of writing about events and persons that don't have as much verifiable historical detail as, for example, the Sharpe and Starbuck books, for which there exists plenty of contemporary documentation?
Bernard Cornwell: The great plus, of course, is that you can make things up with merry abandon and no boring academic/expert can tell you you've got it wrong. The minus is that you have to make everything up, which makes the work harder. But fun.
John from Cape Cod: Any ideas on why the Starbuck series has not done well?
Bernard Cornwell: It did remarkably well in Britain, where they all made the bestseller lists -- it was my fellow Americans who didn't buy it. Which is their privilege.
Joe from Sparta, NJ: Did you consider wrapping up the series by documenting the end of Derfel's or Sansum's days? I suspect Sansum came to a discomforting end!!!
Bernard Cornwell: I was never tempted to round it off like that, but I suspect Sansum died very painfully.
Stan from Farmville, NC: When will your next Sharpe novel be published here in the U.S.? Will it be paperback or hardback?
Bernard Cornwell: I think it will be published later this month -- it's called SHARPE'S TRIUMPH and is currently the number one bestseller in Britain, but here it will leak into the bookshops in a paperback.
Jack from Riverside, RI: Your battle scenes are very realistic. What do you draw on?
Bernard Cornwell: A malformed imagination.
Greg from Cape Cod, MA: I, too, love to sail -- and I love all your books. Can you recommend any great reads for people interested in sailing (other than your book in England, which I will definitely look up!)
Bernard Cornwell: Sam Llewellyn's thrillers (lots of them) are terrific -- he is also an avid sailor, and sails the same kind of boat as do I -- a Cornish Crabber. You've read "The Riddle of the Sands" by Erskine Childers? It's the great classic sailing novel.
Terrence from Massapequa, NY: Do you plan to write any historical novels about sailing?
Bernard Cornwell: I thought Sharpe might get tangled up in the battle of Trafalgar on his way home from India -- the dates fit -- but other than that I haven't anything planned.
Rissa from Rissa: I read that you grew up in one of the places described in your books -- first off, how do the geographical places you describe in your books differ from what they look like now? Any examples? In other words, if we were to visit England and were interested in Arthur, are there any places to visit that will give us a sense of the legend and times?
Bernard Cornwell: South Cadbury in Wiltshire -- which was probably the real Camelot; other than that there are very few -- though I suspect Little Solsbury Hill near Bath was the site of the Battle of Mount Badon.
Moderator: Thank you for joining us again, Bernard Cornwell, and enduring the heat at home... This was truly a pleasure. We wish you the best of luck with EXCALIBUR, and we hope you will join us yet again when your new book is released! Before you go, any last words for your online audience?
Bernard Cornwell: Thank you very much for some very good questions, and I hugely enjoyed the experience. Be well.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thoroughly enjoyed this book & the others in the series. My only complaint would be that the series is expensive. Each book is approximately 289 pgs & @ an average of $9.99 per nook book, that makes the complete story around $30 in a digital format. This is true of Bernard Cornwell's other historical as well.
As mentioned, if your image of the Arthurian legend is the romantic one and you want to keep it that way, do not read this trilogy. However, Bernard Cornwell retells the legend in a way that it probably would have happened if it were true. He strips away the romance and fair maids waiting to be rescued by their knight in shining armor and gives us King Arthur as he would have been during the Dark Ages. Told from the veiwpoint of Derfel, a Saxon who was given to the Britons when he was a child and who grew up to be one of Arthur's trusted leaders. Here is Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad and Gawain, presented in a way like you've never seen before.
In the third and final episode of his Warlord Chronicles Cornwell wraps up all the loose ends, like what happened to Derfel¿s hand. He also returns to the more traditional telling to find his ending for the Arthur story. I found the ending of the Arthur portion of the tale very satisfying but was a little disappointed in the ending the Cornwell wrote for Derfel. In the end Derfel is a warrior again which is the way I am sure my friend would have wanted it but I really wanted Derfel to have one last glorious triumph to end his tale. I guess that would have been impossible as Derfel is the author of the story, life is inexorable. All in all a great ending to a wonderful and much more believable and satisfying retelling of the Arthurian legend. P.S. If you are looking for the Holy Grail, check out the ¿Archer¿s Tale¿ another great series by Cornwell.
I have read every book Bernard Cornwell has written and this series is my favorite. Since Arthur is a fictional character with very little known about the real him, if there was a him, Cornwell can weave a great story out of legend. I enjoyed this version because of the plausibility. I am not a big fan of romantic Arthurian legend simply because it all so historically wrong. This book is of course for entertainment, but hopefully it will peak your interest into the history of Britain that I love so much.
Lovely, thrilling. beautiful.
"The Matter of Britain" - that is, the story of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot - exerts a powerful fascination on both writers and readers. I was about to say that everyone knows what happened, but then I recalled Randall Jarrell's narrator in "Pictures from an Institution" saying "There is no book that all my students have read" and Dr Rosenbaum sadly replying "It is in such phrases that one realises the decline of the West". But at least we can say that many readers are familiar with the basic elements of the Arthurian legend, so the attraction for them can't be in finding out what happens. It has to be in how well the author describes why it happened, in the interactions of character and events which plausibly bring about the well-known consequences. Cornwell is strong on fighting, tactics, descriptions of people and places in an England for which there is little extant history. We know more about the Romans and the Greeks than about Dark Age Britain, and his version is well-written and persuasive.
Excalibur is the last book in the Arthur series by Bernard Cornwell. Brits are facing the Saxons who are gathering to strike a decisive blow and conquer the Britain Kingdom. After winning a decisive victory (nobody expected them to win) Arthur and his fellow commanders (Derfel, the storyteller, among them) decide to fortify their position, ensure no danger comes from the Saxon lands and pass their rule to Mordred, Uter¿s heir. Arthur longs for the simpler life and soon finds it ¿ only to lose it after Mordred starts his own vendetta against Arthur and his allies, thus bringing doom to the entire Brit kingdom. Story that shows no good deed ends up unpunished ¿ druids with cataclysmic views on the world, looking for ways to bring back ancient deities no matter the price, Saxons bent on pillage and conquest and Brits, fighting amongst themselves because of religion, land or both.Interesting book and I have to agree it is not good to start with the series by reading the last one in line. But I think it says enough that this entire novel could stand on its own. Recommended.
The last of Cornwell's Arthur trilogy, Excalibur features epic battles, the death of nearly all protagonists (save the narrator of the story, our now-pious monk Derfel), and..well, magic. In the first two books, Cornwell was careful to maintain plausible denialability when it comes to Druidical magic, exemplified in the person of Merlin. In Excalibur, however, he gives in to temptation -- there are more than a few situations where Druidical magic (and the subsequent nullification through other magic) is just too cause-and-effect to be explainable in mundane terms (no matter how badly Arthur wants to not believe). The story ends with a wounded Arthur, fresh off his single-combat victory with his former charge, King Mordred, sailing off through the "mists of Avalon" never to be seen again. The series is a fine composition using characters from the Arthurian legend combined with historical events and places at the time (~500 CE). Cornwell certainly did his research, although most historians on the subject consider Arthur's existence to be speculative at best. Bernard Cornwell is the finest historical novelist of our time, and this series is another tribute to his skill and story-telling. And unlike the Sharpe stories, it's over, done, ended....there won't be 20 more books to come. Now when is that next Saxon Chronicles book going to come out?
The third book in the warlord trilogy, Excalibur follows Arthur to the end of his tale. Derfel, the narrator, is finishing the story for Queen Igraine of Powys, his patron, and reminiscing about a life lived and how the smallest things can change a life forever.In Excalibur, we find Arthur at peace with the world. He has helped to install Mordred as king, and while his reign is anything but just, Arthur has kept his oath to see him placed on the throne. During this time of hesitant peace --- Saxons are gathering and people are expecting another battle --- Merlin believes it is time to bring the gods back to the land. Everyone is gathered, Pagan and Christian alike, to watch Merlin summon gods of the old world. He fails and the blame falls on Arthur who would not allow his son, Gwydre, to be sacrificed for the gods. Soon after, the Saxons invade.The invasion is the largest yet and the Saxons have come not just to intimidate but to conquer. Past wars have been rather quick but this time Arthur guesses wrong about where the enemy will make its stand. He gets cut off from his forces and the Saxons mount an impressive siege, trapping Derfel and his men who were to meet with Arthur. Arthur does arrive with reinforcements and the ensuing battle is long and harsh. He prevails, driving the Saxons out once more. Mordred is left a king without powers but a king nonetheless. And against his wishes, Derfel is named to rule Dumnonia and Arthur, newly reunited with Guinevere, retreats to Siluria to live the quiet life he has always wanted. They all become content and this is when their enemies rise.Arthur and Derfel wanted peace and quiet, time with their wives, children, and grandchildren. When news comes of Mordred's approaching death after being wounded in battle far from home, they begin planning for Gwydre to become ruler of Dumnonia. Mordred, unfortunately, is far from death and returns with a warband intent on killing rivals and anyone who caused him pain in the past. He plans to take the power and rightful kingship he feels he was denied.While reading, there were times when I needed to remind myself this wasn't Derfel's story but Arthur's. Their lives, fortunes, and wars are so intertwined that you can almost see them as one story. Derfel, in his telling, reminds you that it is Arthur and intentionally leaves out information he isn't comfortable speculating on which sometimes can be annoying. For instance, Queen Igraine wants to know how Arthur and Guinevere were reunited and what happened. He tells her only what he knows --- that they spoke together after the battle of Mynydd Baddon where the Saxons were defeated. You want to know more too but he doesn't add that information, telling only the story he knows. This is one of the reasons why I liked this series so much, the character of Derfel. He was honest, true, credible, and so very likable even if he didn't tell you all you wanted to know. You trusted him to be true to the story and it made it all work in the end.The ending is true to Arthurian standards and while I won't disclose it here, it does feel satisfactory if a bit stunted but then again, that is how war and stories sometimes end.
A wonderful take on the King Arthur story. This third and final book in the series finishes up Cornwell's version which he handles nicely with equal portions of realism and mystery. I imagine this whole series would be difficult for Cornwell because most of his other books are based on subjects with a great deal of historical documents to launch from. The post Roman Britain world is quite sparse when it comes to written documents so it was interesting to see where he took plots and stories. I much appreciated the extra notes in the back that elaborate his research methods and where he took liberties.
Wow, just wow. Rarely have I read a novel that truly makes me feel for a people, a land or a time. However, Bernard Cornwell¿s ¿Excalibur¿ the third and final book in his warlord chronicles series brought out a plethora of emotion I haven¿t experienced in quite some time. I can see why Mr. Cornwell reuses this template, of an old warrior remembering the sweeter days, in his Saxon series as well. Finishing this novel I am reminded of the line from the movie Excalibur (although the two are vastly different in every which way) ¿I have often thought that in the hereafter of our lives, when I owe no more to the future and can be just a man, that we may meet, and you will come to me and claim me as yours, and know that I am your husband. It is a dream I have...¿ Fate is inexorable.
First half was more of the same, then it got really cool. Magic almost for sure. Merlin dies.
The finest Arthurian novel I have read, I think. Cornwell weaves a compelling tale that is not necessarily true to the legend, but explains the legend in a manner that is truthful and intriguing. At last the end has come, and we follow Derfel to the fate we knew would come. Yet Cornwell can make us mourn again for the fallen kingdom over which we have mourned in Malory, in T. H. White, in Stephen Lawhead, and in Mary Stewart. A worthy conclusion
I tried to read this. I am an Aurthurian legend fan but this is So a mans book. I guess it balances the Mists.
Enjoyed and recommended
Great !!! Wonderful read
I think some of Cornwall a books go on too long in volumes. Kind of like a hit TV series goes on a couple if seasons too long. But this 3 volume set is just wonderful.
Very enjoyable read. All of his books are excellent but I like this series the best. A different take on the normal Arthurian legends, more realistic.
Best Arthurian trilogy, Excalibur concludes the trilogy started with Winter King.