Issue #4 of Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine is now available, featuring another great cover by Jabari Weathers, this one illustrating my story The Lady of The Amorous City, a Lovecraftian retelling of the Arthurian legend of the Fish Knight.
The Fish Knight legend originated in a 14th century French Arthurian novel called Le Chevalier du Papegau, which featured Arthur as a knight errant accompanied by a talkative parrot.
The parrot didn’t make it into my story (I substituted Arthur’s foster brother Sir Kay), but the Fish Knight, a monstrous being who was at once fish, and man and horse all at once, features prominently.
Set in Arthur’s squire days, prior to the realization of his true parentage, the story could be considered a prequel to my forthcoming Arthurian fantasy novel, The Knight With Two Swords, coming from Ragnarok Books this January.
Here’s an excerpt –
A dream of maidenhood drifted up the lane through the rolling mists that spilled across the valley off Pemble Mere. She was Arthur’s age, and wore her stark, white-blonde hair unbound. Her marble skin was blemished with the cold, her long neck, encircled by a green knit muffler against the chill air, plunged into a tangle of pine colored fabric which attended her slight form. She rode a smooth-gaited white palfrey, its black mane braided with silver bells that tinkled as she came.
“Is this Caer Gai?” she called to them in a clear voice as she neared the gate. “The home of Sir Ector?”
She was not a classic beauty. She was too thin, and her oil black eyes were overlarge and bugged a bit in her narrow face. The slope of her nose was a bit too dramatic. Yet Arthur found attraction in her strangeness.
“It is,” answered Kay, stepping in front of Arthur. “I am his son, Sir Kay.”
Arthur rankled at the lie. Kay had not earned his accolade nor sworn his oath yet. He was only a few years older than Arthur.
“I am Harddwch heb Drwg, daughter of Count Valsin,” she said, tossing back her hair, “and the Lady of the Amorous City. I have come to ask the aide of your father, Sir Ector.”
Arthur glanced at Kay, and was relieved to see the brute had no more idea who she was than he did.
Nevertheless, Kay ploughed along, fists planted on his wide belt impressively, though Arthur knew it was to hide his bloody knuckles.
“My father is away, campaigning with King Bernant against the Saxons,” said Kay. “In his absence, I am lord of Caer Gai. How may I be of assistance?”
Harddwch looked dubiously from Kay to Arthur, and Arthur became keenly aware of the state of his own appearance. In the absence of their father and with no one but an elderly maid to order them bootlessly to their chores and ablutions, the two of them had been mucking about all day, riding and fighting. They were mud splashed, and Kay’s torn tunic was anything but regal.
“I came seeking a champion of Uther’s table, not a boy.”
“King Uther’s day is passed, my lady,” Kay said impressively. “What need have you of a champion?”
“My city is besieged by a monster.”
Arthur said nothing. A monster? Monsters were bodachs and redcaps, changelings and will ‘o wisps; stories to keep children in line, not anything to be spoken of seriously in the light of God’s day.
“A what?” Kay said, smirking, decidedly less diplomatic.
“My father told me that the knights of Uther fought dragons and giants. Was your father the exception?”
“Oh yes, he won all this from a giant,” Kay said, sweeping the land with the point of his wooden sword. “He used to tell us all about it…at bedtime.”
“There are monsters,” the girl said sharply. “I have seen them. I have seen drawn out specters all aglow, swept along like leaves in a current on the shrieking Helm Wind. I have heard them, clicking claws in the blackness beneath the shrubs along these benighted roads. I have felt them, scraping at the bottoms of boats on the lakes. And among all I have seen and heard, he is a monster to be remembered.”
“Who?” Arthur asked.
“Marchog Psygod, the Fish Knight. He rose from the bottom of Blencarn Lake, where many a worm has been content to wage secret wars in the murky depths against sightless enemies. Maybe he looked up and caught a glimpse of the moon and was tantalized, or maybe Joseph of Arimathea sunk a devil into Blencarn and it wove a vehicle of fish carcasses together for his black soul to ride out onto the lands and do evil. Whatever he is, Marchog Pysgod roams the countryside, and leaves the corpses of men, women, and children in the slime of his wake from Mallerstang to the Eden Valley, even in the sight of the Amorous City. Sixty knights have faced him and sixty knights he has laid low.”
Arthur was chilled by the girl’s talk, and unconsciously gripped the silver cross that hung over his heart beneath his tunic.
Even Kay seemed spellbound.
“Where is this Amorous City?” Kay asked.
The girl turned in her saddle and pointed north across the River Dee.
“Three days, to Rheged.”
Kay looked off in that direction as if he could see the destination if he tried.
“My sword is yours, Lady,” Kay declared. “Take her to the stables, squire. We will pack for the journey.”
Without another word, he went off toward the keep.
Arthur bit his lip at his brother’s airs, but dutifully took the reins of the horse. He led the lady toward the stables, a thousand questions roiling in his mind, a thousand names to call his brother when they were alone. But he was too mindful of offending the strange lady, so he said nothing.
“He calls you squire,” said Harddwch, when they were halfway to the stables. “Are you not his brother?”
“I’m the adopted son of Ector,” Arthur said.
“What is your name?”
“Arthur,” he said.
“Who are your real parents?”
“No one knows that, my Lady. I was left here as a babe.”
“I was orphaned by the Saxon raiders from the sea,” she said. “Count Valsin made me his ward.”
She was like him.
“We are blessed to have known such charity, my Lady.”
“Yes,” she said, “blessed.”
He found Kay in his chamber strapping himself into his armor.
“At last!” he cried as Arthur appeared. “I can’t find my helm.”
“We can’t go to Rheged!” Arthur exclaimed. “What are you thinking? What will father say?”
“When I return to Caer Gai with the head of a monster and the gratitude of this Lady of the Amorous City? Maybe her hand? What do you think he’ll say?”
Her hand? Arthur felt his blood surge, though he didn’t know why.
“He’ll box your ears!”
“The hell he will. I’ll be the son he’s always wanted at last.”
That stopped Arthur.
“You already are that, Kay.”
“No, you’re that, Arthur,” Kay said, staring hard at him. “You’re a better squire than I ever was, and everyone knows you’ll be a better knight one day.”
“You’ll be the master of Caer Gai.”
“Is an inheritance something to boast about? My father won these lands, just as you’ll win something for yourself one day. I need something for myself, to build upon.”
“Kay….,” Arthur began. But he couldn’t think of anything to say. “You think there really is a monster?”
“Monsters are rare in these times, and usually turn out to be nothing more than the overactive imaginations of peasants. Even King Pellinore’s old beast has conveniently only ever been seen by Pellinoire himself. Maybe Marchog Pysgod’s just some villainous knight traipsing about. There’s only one way to find out.”
Arthur chewed his lip. Although he knew it was folly, he badly wanted to go. He’d never been out of sight of Pemble Mere. He wished this lady had arrived when Ector was here. Maybe Ector would have brought them both along.
“But sixty knights!” he heard himself whine.
“I’m going, Arthur,” Kay said. Right or wrong headed, Kay was always a bull. “Will you come with me, brother?”
Arthur felt his heart tremble. Kay rarely ever called him that. Every day he lived with the knowledge that he was no man’s son. No man’s brother, not really. He loved Ector for calling him son, and though he hated to admit it almost as much as Kay, there was love between them as they were each the closest thing to a brother either of them had. He might never rightly bear the charge of Ector on his own shield, but what was that compared to a true brother?
Arthur clasped his hand.
“Good. Now help me with these God-cursed vambraces!”