In this riveting series, author Sarah Zettel expands the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to tell the stories of those untold heroes: the Queens of Camelot . . .
Risa: In Camelot’s Shadow: When Lady Risa of the Morelands discovers her father has promised her to the evil sorcerer Euberacon, she runs away. After meeting the gallant Sir Gawain, she thinks everything has changed, but Euberacon has other plans . . .
Elen: For Camelot’s Honor: As treachery and violence threaten Elen’s homeland, a power begins to rise inside her. But with the foul witch Morgaine aiding her enemy, Elen will find strength and love in Sir Geraint.
Lynet: Under Camelot’s Banner: With the threat of war and dark magic looming over her land, Lynet travels to Camelot to seek help from the High Queen Guinevere and restore honor to her family. But she also encounters the womanizing squire, Gareth.
Laurel: By Camelot’s Blood: Laurel, queen of Cambryn, thought an arranged marriage to the reserved Sir Agravain would save her kingdom. However, she wasn’t expecting to spend her honeymoon on the battlefield.
Praise for the Queens of Camelot series
“Zettel’s artful combination of romance and . . . adventures is truly magical to read and is accessible to even those unfamiliar with Arthurian writings.” —Historical Novel Society on Risa: In Camelot’s Shadow
“This novel delivers passion, danger, and excitement laced with fantasy.” —RT Book Reviews on Risa: In Camelot’s Shadow
About the Author
Sarah Zettel is the critically acclaimed author of more than twenty novels, spanning the full range of genre fiction. Her debut novel, Reclamation, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second release, Fool’s War, was a 1997 New York Times Notable Book, and the American Library Association named Playing God one of the Best Books for Young Adults of 1999. Her novel Bitter Angels won the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback in 2009. Her latest novel, Dust Girl, was named as one of the best young adult books of the year by both Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association. Zettel lives in Michigan with her husband, her rapidly growing son, and her cat, Buffy the Vermin Slayer.
Read an Excerpt
Risa of the Morelands was in the yard when her father told Vernus to remove himself from the hall. Normally, she would have been lurking around a corner or in the shadows of the gallery, but this time she found she could not bear to hear the preordained reply.
So, she stood in the grassy yard with the fresh spring sun warm on her skin. Around her, vassals drove geese and goats to pasture and pigs to root in the forests. Servants toted bales and baskets into the hall and the outbuildings. In the distance she could hear old Whitcomb berating one of the new squires for being slow, or slovenly, or both. All was busy life and full activity.
Except me. She twisted her fingers together. Her handmaid, Aeldra, stood a respectful distance behind her, but she could feel the woman's quiet disapproval. She should be at loom or spindle. She should be down in the cellar helping with the brewing, or seeing how Gwyneth and her new baby were getting on. She should be doing any of a thousand things.
It is like a verse from a country ballad.
"And the maid went to her father,
And her knees she bent,
begging, 'Father, dearest father,
'will you please relent?'"
She stared at the cloudless sky. Mother Mary, I beg you. Soften his heart.
The sound of Vernus's voice turned Risa around. He emerged from the doorway and crossed the yard to her, sidestepping a cluster of squawking chickens. When Risa saw his shoulders set square and level, she felt her heart rise, but in another moment he was close enough for her to see his face. The lines of bitterness on his brow and around his broad mouth showed clearly.
"It would seem I have failed in my suit to your father." He squeezed his riding gloves in his hands and spoke to the tips of his boots. "I am to take myself away and not return." He looked up at her. "Especially not with an offer of marriage."
Risa felt tears sting her eyes even as anger drove the blood to her cheeks. Cruelty. Sheer miserable cruelty. All the worse this time because Vernus was not just some faceless stranger who had sent a letter and gifts. He was a friend from her childhood, who had grown into a tall and handsome young man, well worth the position he would hold in the world. He had even been to Camelot and been presented to the king.
But no. She was not to have him.
"My father seems determined I should die unmarried and go to run with the apes in Hell," she sighed. "Vernus, I'm truly sorry." And sick and sad and burning with fury. Perhaps i shall burst my heart with grieving and that will be an end to it.
"Could you speak to your mother? Your father sets much by her counsel, perhaps she could persuade ..." His words trailed away as Risa shook her head.
"Not in this, she cannot." Tears threatened again. Risa dropped her gaze to the ground and blinked hard. "My father has been turning away my suitors for five years now, and for five years my mother has tried to persuade him of the worth of each of them. But he will not hear of it." The heat of her anger dried up her tears. She stared hard at the window of the hall. "He will not hear anything from any of us."
"I will speak to my father. Perhaps he can persuade Lord Rygehil to part with you."
Risa felt a weak smile form. She wanted to touch his hand but decided she had better not. "Thank you, Vernus. Perhaps he can."
Your father will marry you to Melina of White Hill whose father is not insane, and we both know this. Please go away, Vernus. I cannot stand here trading empty words anymore.
"I must go, Risa." He bowed to her. "But I have not abandoned you."
"Thank you, Vernus." She dropped a curtsey. "God be with you."
"And with you."
His cloak swirled as he turned away and marched toward the stables, cutting a straight line through the myriad activities of the yard.
Risa watched his back for as long as she could stand it. She dropped her gaze and caught sight of her reflection in the horse trough. Her eyes were pleasant blue and since she had been fifteen, her figure was rounded and full. She had seen the stablehands and foster boys casting glances at her so she knew she was not uncomely. Her hair was her crowning glory. It was red-gold in color and even tightly braided as it was, it fell to the backs of her knees.
But it seemed she would have no use for what beauty she might have if her father continued to have his way.
"Aeldra," she said to her maid. "Fetch my bow and arrows, and send a boy for my hounds. Meet me at the gate. I expect I shall soon want to be elsewhere."
She lifted the hem of her skirt and strode into the hall.
It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim interior after the bright daylight, but her ears immediately caught the sound of preparations for the midday meal.
He did not even let Vernus stay to eat. Risa's teeth clenched together. She stood aside for the servants setting up the trestle tables and bringing the benches away from the walls. Kettles of fragrant stew hung over the fire pits and a sheep's carcass turned on a spit tended by ancient Cleve.
Her father, Lord Rygehil of the Morelands, sat slumped in his carved chair at the end of the hall. A wooden goblet dangled from one hand. He looked up when she came to stand before him and dropped the curtsey that respect demanded.
"Yes, Risa?" he said in a tired voice.
"And the maid went to her father,
And her knees she bent,
begging, 'Father, dearest father,
'will you please relent?'"
But she would not beg. Not this day.
"Why?" she asked instead.
He sighed and straightened his back a little. His features fell into the hard lines she had come to know so well. "Because I did not choose to give you to him."
As if that were not evident. "Lord Father, may I know the reason?"
He looked into the depths of his cup. "More ale!" he called out and one of the servants hastened forward with a pitcher. Risa wondered how much of that pitcher he had already drained.
"Lord Father ..." she began again.
He pointed to her with his free hand. "Your place is not to question me, Risa, it is to be silent and obey."
He downed a prodigious portion of his drink, and when he lowered his cup, Risa saw something unexpected in his face. Regret, as plain and full as the anger had been earlier.
She opened her mouth, but all her earlier thoughts had fled her. "If you would just tell me what I have done, Lord Father, to merit this treatment."
He shook his head heavily. "Nothing, Risa. You have done nothing."
He turned his attention back to his cup.
I have lost. I am lost. Risa curtseyed reflexively. When she lifted her eyes, she saw her mother, Jocosa, standing in the threshold between the great hall and the living rooms. Jocosa gestured to her. Risa set her jaw again and followed her mother as she walked up the stairs of the stone tower and into the sunroom.
"Now then," said her mother, sitting herself down on a cushioned chair. "I suppose you will run away and shoot at birds and hares until dark to ease your disappointment."
Risa felt her cheeks heat up. "That was my intention. What else should I do?" she threw open her hands. "My father consistently denies me other employment for myself."
"I know." Jocosa took her daughter's hand. "You will forgive your foolish mother. I fear one day you will run off and not come back to us."
Risa squeezed her mother's hand. It felt as worn by years as her face appeared worn by care. In a chest in the treasury Risa had once seen a miniature of her mother as a young woman. She had been lovely. As a girl, Risa had wondered where all that beauty had flown. Now, she thought she knew.
"On my soul, I would never leave without telling you, Lady Mother." Risa let herself smile. "Where would I go, in any case? What neighbor would take me in knowing my father?"
Her mother pulled her gently down until Risa sat upon a footstool. "I know, I know, my dear. Perhaps if one of your brothers or sisters had lived, he would not guard you so jealously. Perhaps ..." She stopped herself. "Go off to your woods. Shoot what you may. Come back before dark. Then you can amuse yourself with your other skill. Lurking in doorways." Risa opened her mouth to protest, but her mother patted her hand. "Do not attempt to beguile me, my lamb. I know in Aeldra you have had an excellent tutor in such matters."
As hard as she tried not to, Risa fidgeted. "And why, Lady Mother, should I give way to this practice this evening?"
For a moment, her mother's gaze drifted over Risa's shoulder and she seemed to be studying the grey stones of the wall. "Because tonight, I mean to have your father announce to you he has reconsidered the suit of Vernus of White Hill."
Risa's heart leapt into her throat. "Mother, how?"
Jocosa's shoulders slumped. "Tears, extortion, hysterical fits, threats to bar him from my bed if necessary." Her voice sounded drained and dull. "I have never, never had to work upon him thus before. Such gross artifice is to be despised. But in this matter, I am afraid your father's reason has failed him." Her gaze came back to Risa's face. "So now, mine must fail me."
Risa said nothing for a moment, she just squeezed her mother's hand. "But," she licked her lips. Her mouth had gone unaccountably dry. "Forgive me, but why would you want me to witness this ... conversation?"
Her mother smiled and some life returned to her voice. "Firstly, so you do not hear about it through the general gossip. Secondly, because if nothing else, I am going to force my lord to give his reasons for forbidding you to marry. I want you to hear them from him, whether he knows he is giving them to you or not."
Risa let go of Jocosa's hand and walked across to the window. She stared out across the yard with its people and animals strolling to and fro.
"I do not like this, Lady Mother."
"No more do I," said Jocosa. "And if you can tell me what else can be done, I am willing to hear you and act."
Risa had no answer for her. "I will be back before dark." She gathered up her skirt and left.
The whirling in her mind did not clear even when, she reached the gate in the wooden wall that surrounded the hall and its yards and buildings. Her three long-legged grey-haired hounds leapt to their feet, wagging their tails and baying and straining at their leashes. The boy, Innis, struggled to hold them in check. As she approached, they thrust their noses into her skirt and against her hands. She patted them absently. Aeldra frowned at her, but Risa did not say anything. She just took her bow and quiver from her maid's hands and slung them over her shoulder. Innis bowed until his scraggly forelock almost touched the ground.
"Let us go then. I would see if there are any partridge we can catch unawares today." Risa nodded to Innis and again to the guards who saluted her from either side of the gate. She tucked her skirt into her belt, set her gaze on the meadow past the earthen outer wall and followed the boy through it.
The dogs loped happily forward through the knee-high grasses towing Innis behind them.
"Let them loose, Innis." Risa unslung her bow and tested the string. "Let us see what they find."
"Yes, my lady." With some difficulty, Innis hauled the dogs to him so he could unfasten their leashes from their collars. With yelps of pure joy, all three sprang into the grass, free to run where they pleased. As she nocked an arrow into the string, Risa found it in her heart to envy them.
In the next heartbeat, a great flurry of wings sounded from the burgeoning grass. Three brown partridge shot up toward the sky. Risa drew her string back to her nose and sighted along the arrow's shaft. She loosed and was rewarded by the sight of one of the birds plummeting back to earth and landing with a loud thud.
"That one is for Vernus," she whispered. "And the next is for Aelfric, and the next for Daffydd, and the next for Shanus, and the one after that is for me."
"If my lady is thinking of counting her disappointments with arrows, we will be out here all the rest of the year," said Aeldra, puffing up behind her.
"What would you have me do then?" Risa watched Innis crouch over the bird and pull out the arrow.
"It is not for me to say, of course, my lady," said Aeldra with the false modesty that irritated Risa so easily. "But there are ways to ensure your father must say yes to your suitor."
Risa rolled her eyes and sighed. "And don't think I haven't considered them Aeldra. But I would have to face my mother also and I'm not yet certain I could."
All at once, one of the hounds bayed at the edge of the woods. Something flashed white and immediately there was a great crashing of underbrush and bracken as the creature, whatever it had been, fled into the forest. All three hounds barked and howled. They dove forward into the trees. Risa ran after them.
What is it? A deer? No, it is too white for that ...
She broke the tree line and was engulfed in the sun-dappled twilight of the forest. She saw the dog's brown backs plunging on ahead of her and again glimpsed the fleeing white form.
The dogs ran into a thicket of fern fiddleheads and Risa lost sight of them. The wind blew through the forest, rustling the greening underbrush and confusing her further.
"Orestes! Orion! Orpheus! Here, boys!" she called dashing forward. Somewhere behind her she heard Aeldra calling her name. Risa ignored her. She wanted to find her dogs. She wanted to see that mysterious white quarry they'd flushed.
All at once, she broke into a sun-soaked meadow. The sudden light dazzled her and Risa stumbled to a halt, blinking hard.
When her gaze cleared, she looked around to take her bearings, but then found herself gaping in surprise.
In the center of the clearing stood a broad, gnarled stump. On it lay a flat board covered with red and white figurines of extraordinary delicacy. Not one of them was taller than Risa's hand was long.
To one side, on a fallen tree, sat a gigantic man all of a sparkling green color, as if he'd been fashioned out of a monstrous emerald. One of his hands could have engulfed Risa's waist. The crown of his head brushed the leaves of the oak tree he sat under. Skin, hair, eyes, all shone greener than the sea. His plaited beard might have been grown from dewy meadow grass. His jerkin, mail and hose were so green the fresh leaves paled next to them. Beside him on the ground lay a battle-axe of the same brilliant color.
On the other side of the board stood a tiny man, barely as tall as the figurines in front of him. His mottled brown garments and peaked hat made him look like a mushroom that had decided to walk about.
Risa was rooted to the spot, unable to move or think. Both creatures turned to regard her frozen there. The great, green giant smiled so broadly she could see his teeth were indeed emeralds that flashed in the sun.
The tiny man looked back to the board and its figurines. Grunting with effort, he picked up one the same size as himself. He teetered under its weight, but he struggled toward the middle of the board and set it down.
Risa still could not make a sound.
"It's called chess," the giant's voice boomed all around Risa's head. "And a merry game it is, too. I fear Pyoonkay there had to steal the board and pieces from a great way off, but a merry game all the same." His eyes glittered as if he had caught two stars in them. "Would you learn this game of nations and of power, pretty maiden? Step forward, then."
Risa found her feet moving. Without any thought or help from her, they carried her body into the sunlit meadow until she stood over the board. Now she saw the figurines were people, men and women all standing on a board inlaid with neat squares of ebony and ivory.
"Harumph!" grunted the tiny man. He stomped back to his perch on the board's edge, frowning deeply.
The giant let out a laugh so loud Risa thought she would go deaf. "Ignore my good Pyoonkay, he has no patience. Now, then." The giant winked at her. "Which side for you, pretty one? The red?" He pursed his lips and wrinkled his brow. "I think not, though the red king knows you passing well." He plucked a scarlet figurine from its place and Risa saw a man with a lean, lined face and hooded eyes who wore long robes like a nobleman, or a monk.
"The white is your side, and the white queen is your protector, I think." Another figurine lay nestled in the hallow of his enormous palm, although Risa didn't see him put down the first. This one was a woman, perfectly formed with a circlet on her long hair. Her eyes were wide and her face was wise, somehow. "And with her, the white king, but not before the white knight." Another figurine appeared in his palm. This was a man on a horse, he held his sword aloft and his shield before him. Risa could not see his face, but she clearly saw the five-pointed star carved on the shield.
"Will these three keep you from the red king and the red castle?" The giant shook his head gravely. His palm was empty. The tiny man squatted at the edge of the board and glowered at him.
"You do not speak, pretty one. Perhaps chess is not the game for you?" The sparkling green smile grew fierce. Risa felt her heart fluttering against her rib cage, but still she could not move.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Queens of Camelot"
Copyright © 2019 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
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.