Good morning everyone! I wanted to share some awesome news with you. My author-friend, Nicola S. Dorrington is releasing The Forever Queen today. This book is the sequel to The Last Knight, in which Cara Paige gets wrapped up in a really cool modern version of the King Arthur Legend (complete with a hunky Lancelot, mind you). Also totally cool– it’s Saint George’s Day, which has something to do with slaying dragons. So, without further adieu, here’s The Forever Queen:
We headed straight out of town, almost immediately hitting the winding back roads. All around us rolled the moors dotted with grazing sheep.
Something had been killing them, although the authorities had been at a loss to explain what. Wyn and Percy were certain it was something that had come through the barriers before I’d been able to close them. I was inclined to agree with them. There were no natural predators in Yorkshire big enough to take down a full grown ram and almost completely devour it, leaving only bones and a few scraps of fleece.
“Where are we going?” Sam hissed at me as we sped further and further out into the moors. Her face was pinched with fear and I wondered what was going through her mind. What could she possibly be thinking we were going to do? A drug deal maybe? Or maybe something a lot worse? I couldn’t help thinking she was surprisingly brave; she had no reason to trust Wyn and Percy, or even me for that matter.
I could only shrug back at her. “I don’t know exactly.”
“You don’t know?” Her voice shot up an octave.
We turned off the road onto a dirt track, winding our way up towards a densely wooded patch of land and I felt my own anxiety beginning to grow. The truth was I didn’t have any idea what we were about to face. I’d confronted numerous creatures of the old magic, and every one of those encounters had been downright terrifying. Even the griffin, who had no intention of harming me, had scared me to death. I thought of the cockatrice Lance had fought and shuddered.
“Wyn?” I leant forward in my seat and his eyes flicked to meet mine in the mirror. “What are we up against here?”
His eyes moved to Sam’s terrified face and then back to mine. “It’s probably better I don’t say. We can’t be a hundred percent sure, and I don’t want you- “
A deafening roar interrupted him, shattering the previous still of the woods around us. Sam screamed as Wyn slammed on the brakes. I clamped one hand over her mouth.
Wyn and Percy were already climbing out of the car. I lowered my hand.
“Stay in the car. Don’t move, don’t make a sound.”
“Cara,” she whispered, her voice taut with fear. “What the hell is going on?”
I gave her a sad smile. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
I’d already seen it when I’d gotten in the car, so I reached over the back seat and my fingers found Excalibur’s hilt. It had been a while since I’d used it, but it felt so natural, like it was an extension of my own arm.
Sam’s eyes were like saucers as I pulled it over the seat, but she didn’t say a word. I pressed one finger to my lips and slipped out of the car.
I joined Wyn and Percy at the front. Both held their swords in their hands, eyes darting around the trees.
“How’s your friend?” Wyn growled as I reached them.
“Terrified,” I hissed back. “What do you expect? Why’d you let her come?”
He rolled his eyes. “What was I supposed to do? Drag her bodily from the car in front of half your school? That’s the kind of attention we don’t need.”
“And this is?”
He looked down at me almost pityingly. “Cara, who the hell is going to believe her?”
He had a point and I was still trying to think of a comeback when another roar reverberated around the forest. It was so loud that it seemed to echo and it was almost impossible to pinpoint where it was coming from.
Off to our left the forest erupted. Birds shot from the trees, screaming in distress. Undergrowth rustled all around as every creature in the forest got out of the way. Something was coming. I could see a shadow far back and the trees shook. One crashed down, shaking the ground.
I clenched my hands around Excalibur, my palms starting to sweat.
He glanced at Percy. “I think we were right.” Then he looked back down at me. “Are you ready to meet one of the original inhabitants of Albion?”
The thing roared again and broke through the trees.
I wanted to scream but the sound lodged in my throat. I choked out words instead. “What the hell is it?”
It stood ten feet tall, maybe more, with skin like an elephant. A dirty animal skin of some description was wrapped around its waist. Tiny beady eyes glared out from under a heavy, overhanging brow. Its lower jaw jutted out, sprouting two thick yellow tusks. As it roared again I saw clumps of rotting meat caught in the rest of its teeth. Its arms were so long its knuckles almost touched the floor. One hand clenched a tree branch almost as big as I was, and in the other something white shone.
I could hear Sam whimpering in the car and part of me wanted to join her. Part of me wanted to hide away and let this be someone else’s problem.
But I wasn’t that person. Not anymore. When I’d claimed Excalibur as my own I’d accepted a certain responsibility that went with it – just as Arthur had when he’d pulled it from the stone so many years ago. I was the last Pendragon and Albion needed me.
I tightened my grip on the hilt and stepped up beside Wyn and Percy.
The creature saw my movement and focused those beady eyes on us. It dropped the sheep skull it was holding and lunged for us. The three of us scattered and it roared in frustration, not knowing who to follow.
“What the hell is it?” I shouted again, ducking its swinging arm and taking shelter behind a tree.
“Ogre.” Wyn darted off to its left, trying to get around it to me.
I stared up at the thing as it swung between our voices, trying to decide which of us to kill first. This was no friendly Shrek. This thing was a monster. Its thick hide deflected Percy’s sword as he swung at it – it simply bellowed in rage and turned towards him.
“What do we do?”
“We have to kill it.” Wyn ducked between its legs before it even saw him and reached my side.
He sighed. “It’s content enough with sheep for now, but it’ll kill and eat a human just as happily. Most of them had been killed off even in my time. But you’d still get a rogue one that would come down out of the mountains looking for food. Can you imagine this thing in your town? In your school?”
I gulped. Wyn was right. I knew he was right but it didn’t make it any easier. I wasn’t a natural killer.
“How?” I asked at last.
“Excalibur. It’s dragon-forged. It’s stronger than normal steel. But it still won’t pierce the hide easily, but they have weaker spots, vulnerable spots.”
Sam screamed and the ogre turned towards the car, advancing on it with lumbering steps that made the ground tremble. Sam shot across the back seat, cowering against the far door. The ogre’s club whistled out, slamming into the top of the car and denting the roof. A second swing into the side of the car nearly buckled the door.
Percy darted out and swiped at the back of its legs, drawing a thin line of blood. The ogre roared again, more with frustration than pain, and spun towards him. He backed away quickly, trying to keep his footing on the uneven ground.
“A little help?” He yelled as its club whistled bare inches from his ear.
I darted out from behind the tree and swung Excalibur with all my strength. It hit the unprotected back of the ogre’s legs. It cut deeper than Percy’s sword, but not by much, only enough to enrage it further.
But it drew its attention to me and it spun, growling. I ducked under its club and leapt backwards, drawing it foot by foot away from the car.
I looked towards the car, just for a second, distracted by Sam’s terrified face pressed up against the window. It was only a second but it was enough that I almost didn’t see the ogre swing at me. I spun away but not quite quickly enough and the club caught me across the shoulder. Pain erupted as I felt bones crunch and a sickening pop as my shoulder dislocated.
I staggered sideways, almost blacking out as three voices simultaneously screamed my name.
Percy shoulder charged the ogre, but the thing barely flinched, batting Percy away like he was an irritating fly. He stuck a tree and dropped to the ground. I couldn’t tell if he was winded or unconscious.
I didn’t have time to check on him as the ogre stomped towards me and I backed away until I hit a tree trunk.
It wasn’t like they say, my life didn’t flash before my eyes, but Lance was suddenly in my head. It wasn’t that I was wishing for one last moment with him or anything romantic like that. My desperate fear left no room for romance. Instead I could almost hear his voice, repeating the lessons he’d taught me once in a forest glade centuries ago.
Always have space to move. Never get cornered. But if you do, never give up.
I ducked again as the club smashed into the tree overhead, showering me with leaves and bark.
Holding my nerve I waited until the ogre lunged at me again and then I brought up my sword. Its own strength and momentum drove it onto Excalibur, burying the sword to the hilt in its stomach.
It fell forward, pinning me against the tree. My hands grew slippery with blood as I gasped for breath.
The weight of it vanished as Wyn pulled it backwards off the sword. He grabbed me roughly by the shoulders, spinning me to face him, checking me for injuries. I bit back a scream as the pain in my shoulder intensified. He grimaced apologetically.
“What-“I screamed again as he wrenched my shoulder and arm, popping the joint back into the socket.
“Sorry. But better I do it then you end up in the hospital trying to explain to a doctor how you dislocated your shoulder.”
I glowered at him for a moment, rubbing my shoulder. It was still going to be horribly bruised, and it hurt like hell, but the worst of the pain was subsiding. I knew he was right but I wasn’t about to forgive him just yet.
At last he smiled wryly. “Not the method I would have chosen. But I suppose it worked.”
Percy came up on my other side, clutching his ribs. “Not bad, Princess. We’ll make a knight of you yet.”
I snorted, huffing my fringe out of my eyes, and turning my gaze and attention back to the ogre. “Is it dead?”
Percy prodded it with his sword. “Very.”