"The Wrong Sword" - Excerpt - Ch. 1 & 2

Chap. 1: The Previous Owner

The king stumbled down the tunnel, trailing blood. He had ridden for three days without stopping, and he could barely stand. His queen was dead. So were his sorcerer, and his best friend, and most of his capital city. His own son was hunting him, with traitors and foreign mercenaries. His dreams of uniting the land again under one pax, one law, were dead as Alexander.

Sometimes, it sucked to be the king.

As he dragged himself forward, his sword whined and muttered, begging him not to sheathe it, but to wield it once again for justice. Of course, it was the sword that had gotten him into this mess in the first place. It had taken him out of the stables, made him king, given him the power to do any bloody stupid thing he liked. A giant circular table! A Perilous Seat that only the pure could sit in! A Britannia-wide manhunt for a four-hundred-year-old cup! What had he been thinking?

And the sword was still making it hard for him. The prince, his appalling son, had enough pure meanness to force the sword into obedience, no matter how the sword itself felt about it. That was the one thing the king could not allow. So instead of expiring peacefully on a couch of shimmering samite, surrounded by weeping damosels, he was limping down a Welsh burial mound, leaking fluids, hoping desperately that he’d get there before —

“Hello, Your Highness.”

It was Hwyll son of Kaw, a nasty piece of work who loved knives and hated soap. The king had disliked Hwyll even before the knight had gone all Ostrogoth and woven those shark’s teeth into his beard. And behind Hwyll, filling the rocky shore between the tunnel mouth and the lake, were a dozen private military contractors. Saxons, by the look of them.

“Why, Hwyll, what are you doing down here? Come for the waters?” 

“Hand it over, Your Highness.” Hwyll extended his hand.

The king smiled to himself. His son might have a spirit strong enough to master the sword, but Hwyll? The knight was a dead man, and he didn’t even know it.

“You want it? Here!” The king tossed the sword into the air. Hwyll caught it, hilt-first.

And screamed.

He staggered backward, then shook the sword as though it were red-hot grease clinging to his skin. He screamed again, fell to his knees, and with a final whimper, shoved it point-first into the cavern floor. The blade cut into the bedrock like cheese, sparks flying everywhere, squealing against the stone.

Hwyll collapsed, twitching. The Saxons backed away, making witch signs and muttering charms. Bloody pagans.

The king limped to the sword and grabbed the hilt. Strength poured into him, and he pulled it effortlessly from the stone. He twirled it casually in front of himself, once, twice.

“Right, then,” said Arthur, for the very last time. “Who’s next?”

Chap. 2: Eight Hundred Years Later — Tuesday

It was a bright, breezy morning on the Rue St. Germain, and five or six knights were getting their post-Matins exercise by abusing random townsfolk. Henry had been on his way to meet a promising new friend when he spotted the knights, but seeing the flower of chivalry about to single out a young dairymaid for some serious harassment, he knew at once he had to meet these bold cavaliers and share the good word. 

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise le bon Dieu and Our Lady of Paris! I have found it!” Henry stumbled into the street and fell to his knees in front of the knights. His teenaged face was a mask of well-practiced joy.

Caught up short, the knights stumbled to a halt, their swords snaking between their legs. The dairymaid fled. The leader of the knights, a tall, bony thug with big hands and long black mustachios, jerked Henry upright by his robe.

“What? What have you found?”

“Why, the—” Henry stopped, as if he had just remembered to keep his mouth shut. “Oh...uh. Nothing. Just a relic for our monastery. Got to be going, thanks for stopping by — ”

The knight grabbed Henry’s shoulder. His hand felt like a cobblestone. “I don’t like monks,” he said, to no one in particular. “They think they’re better than honest knights.”


“And I especially don’t like pimple-faced smartasses, and you look like one to me.”

Got that in one. But Henry didn’t have time to smirk, because the knight lifted him into the air and shook him like a rattle.

“What did you find, you scabby little novice?”

“The sword! The sword! I found the Great Sword, Your Highness!”

The knight dropped him to the ground. “Show me.”

When they got to the smithy, the knights made a point of filling up the place, bumping into things, pawing and dropping the merchandise. Henry had seen this trick before, but for real intimidation, you needed a shop filled with breakables, not a tent selling ironwork — it isn’t easy to shatter a horseshoe. These guys were thick, even for Normans.

“Shopkeeper. Shopkeeper! Show yourself!”

The rear flap opened. A Turk entered, wrinkled and exotic, with a pointed beard and a big green turban. 

“How may I help the noble sir?”

The knight, Brissac, shoved Henry to the counter. “I want to see the sword of Charlemagne.”

The Turk whirled on Henry. “You told him! I mean...me very sorry, monsieur, but me no have sword — ”

Brissac pushed Henry aside and leered at the merchant. Jesu, thought Henry. Does this guy have one expression that isn’t nasty?

“Show me Joyeuse, or I will see your anvil sunk five fathoms in the Seine.”

The Turk held up his hands in surrender. Then, reaching under the counter, he unwrapped a cloth bundle and laid out its contents.

In the dim light of the booth, it seemed to glow. Broad at the haft, pointed at the tip, its pommel a single ruby, it was every inch a broadsword of the ancient Franks. Even Henry had to admit that it looked good. Brissac sank to his knees, tears in his eyes.

“Aye...” His voice was a whisper.

The other knights gathered around. “It is Joyeuse.” One of them pointed to the haft. “Look, there’s Charlemagne’s crest, etched in the blade.”

“Dieu et mon droit,” another nodded. “The prince will love this.”

The Turk reached for the sword, but Brissac was there first. “Not so fast. What price did you give the monk?”

“My Lord — ”

“What price?”

“Two hundred livres.”

Brissac nodded. “I will pay you one hundred.” 


Brissac leaned in. “Or would you rather I told my prince that Joyeuse, the sword that united all Christendom under Charlemagne, is in the hands of an infidel?”

The Turk wilted. “Very well.”

“No!” Henry yelled. “You promised — ”

“What can I do?” The Turk shrugged and turned away.

Brissac nodded at one of his men, who dropped a purse on the counter. Brissac took the sword, and the knights left. One plantagenet, two plantagenet, three plantagenet...Henry counted to twenty, then peeked through the door-flap. “They’re gone.”

“The Turk” carefully peeled off his beard and mustache, revealing Alfie’s wizened Welsh face, split by the biggest grin in Paris. “A hundred livres.”

Henry nodded. “A hundred livres.” 

Alfie’s eyes were wide. “A hundred livres.” 

Henry snorted. “A hundred livres!”

“A hundred livres!” Alfie was laughing helplessly now. 

“A HUNDRED LIVRES!” Henry threw his arms wide. 


They locked arms and danced. 

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