Timeless ChangesBy: Regan Black
A Knight Traveler Novel
Sir Kay swore under his breath when he caught Mordred’s rotten scent on the wind. Kay and his bear companion had been tracking the black-hearted betrayer of the Round Table for weeks, following Mordred’s latest attempt to seize King Arthur’s throne.
Kay had no doubts what had brought Mordred sniffing about Camelot, risking exposure and worse. A year ago, Kay, King Arthur, Sir Eiddlig the dwarf knight, and an orphan from a family of healers had thwarted the sneaky bastard’s attempt to steal an amber amulet. A beautiful piece, the amber talisman was rumored to grant the wearer never-ending life. It had come down through family to the orphan and from him into Eiddlig’s care and study, yet it had taken the three of them together to keep it out of Mordred’s evil hands.
Through combining their magic they’d broken the amber into three parts, vowing never to bring those pieces near each other again. For most of the year, Arthur and Eiddlig had kept the orphan in hiding, but clearly Mordred’s spies had learned the truth of the talisman. Constantly thirsting for power and never satisfied, Mordred had been making some unfortunate gains.
While Kay and his bear hunted for food by necessity and battled to protect king and country and to preserve the peace and Arthur’s ideals, they were not assassins.
His orders from the king were to stop Mordred at any cost. The foul devil had just enough magic in his blood and a powerful new charm in his possession that meant no prison could hold him. The most recent discovery had come at a dear price. With the slippery influence of a Biblical serpent, he seemed to sway honorable, clear-minded people to his cause, killing them swiftly once they’d served his purpose.
Two against one, Kay thought as he and his bear followed Mordred’s trail. Too arrogant, confident he could overpower any pursuit, the shameless weasel made few attempts to hide his direction as he headed for his established territory. Enough horror, enough suffering, Kay decided. This time when he struck, his sword wouldn’t leave a pesky, un-healing wound behind. This time he would strike true and part Mordred’s head clean from his shoulders. It was the only way to be sure of success.
Kay and his bear halted as Mordred made preparations to shelter for the night under a stone outcropping near a small stream. The time would never be better and waiting only increased the odds that Mordred’s men would come out of hiding to ride the last leg of the return journey with their master.
Still, the obvious vulnerability encouraged Kay’s caution. His bear padded off, moving with a predatory silence despite his size and breadth. They could strike now, in the graying twilight and rid the world of Mordred’s tenacious evil once and for all. He crept closer. At the sound of Mordred’s oily voice, Kay held his position, straining to hear who or how many might have joined him.
“No more lies!” Mordred snapped. “Cut out his tongue. Let him wallow and choke on his blood a bit before you kill him. Then find me another who knows the path to the amber pieces.”
Hearing no response, no tortured shrieks of pain, Kay realized his enemy had reached out to his allies by magical means. The black knight remained alone in the hollow of rock above the stream.
Kay crept to the edge of his cover and studied the terrain, planning the swiftest route to trap Mordred and cut him down.
To his shock and chagrin, Mordred stepped into the open armed with a bow and an arrow at the ready. Kay swore. The miscreant had not been armed at any point on this trek. Seeing Mordred’s bow aimed at the bear, Kay’s skin went cold and his heartbeat slowed in his chest. Against a normal adversary he had no fear for his bear. Mordred, however, was notoriously devious. The arrow was likely tipped with poison or charmed by an evil force.
“It’s over, Mordred.” Kay strode forward, heedless that his target had the higher ground. “Stand down and settle this man to man.”
Mordred’s lip curled. “Give me that amber around your neck, Sir Kay and I’ll spare your friend.”
“Must you always barter with a sneer?” Kay withdrew a dagger, letting the fading light catch the blade. He had to keep the man’s attention while his bear retreated. “A smile goes so much further.”