For my first day of blogdom I figure there’s no better way to start than by showing off some of my writing (or brandishing, depending on how much you enjoy it) I tend to write long, luxurious chapters, so producing a whole one may be too much to start off with, but I’ll post a bit of “Rooks of the Knot” Chapter 9 (from Book One: Escape from the Knot) now, for the enjoyment of anyone who enjoys it.
‘Rooks’ is very complex for YA, but I like to think it’s manageable for avid readers. It’s dystopian, set in London over seven hundred years in the future, now renamed Camelot when an Arthurian Myth-based religion sprang up after a catastrophic war isolated the entire City from the outside world under a protective (and restrictive) forcefield. Unghared, the POV character in this chapter, is a precocious 11-year-old girl (youngest of all the POV characters) and granddaughter of one of the Knights of the Round Table who govern the City.
It was a cool morning, and the Knot was producing more static than usual, a side-effect of being taken offline the night before. Unghared used to worry about Camelot being attacked during a storm, but the likelihood of that was actually slimmer than an attack in broad daylight. Enemies had resource problems of their own, after all, they couldn’t risk their planes to dangerous storms.
Still, the thought made her nervous, and she held hands with Constance as they approached the ancient stones. Ravenhouse was not the grandest of the pre-Sorrow buildings, though it was among the oldest. The Ozymandias building was far taller, the Houses of Parliament more impressive and the seat of the Round Table huger than anything else in the city, but this place was… special, she thought, in a way the others weren’t.
The Beefeater stood outside the gates as he always did, and Unghared pointed him out to Constance as soon as he was in view. Dressed in red, trimmed with gold and in a black hat, the guise that had been worn since before the Sorrow, so they said, the old man stood in front of the door and smiled.
He hadn’t seen them yet, the smile was one he always wore. Unghared quickened her pace, pulling Constance along beside her. She stopped in front of him and glanced at the doors, a new craft since the wooden ones had been torn away half a millennium ago. A quartet from the religious orders were passing through carrying candles, two women from the Order of Guinevere, two men from the Order of Lancelot. Behind them, two Rooks guarded the doors.
But the Beefeater’s attention was immediately on them.
“Well, well, well, little hatchling,” he greeted her, a mocking laughter in his voice. “You’ve flown in early today, and brought another egglet with you, so I see.”
“Mr. Beefeater,” she greeted in return.
“Do you really eat beef?” Constance blurted out, then slapped a hand over her mouth as if she couldn’t believe her own brazenness.
The Beefeater laughed. “Nay, little hatchling,” he said. “That’s a title from the days of London, a long time since. They say my ancestors were given extra beef, back in the days when everyone ate it. Of course my great-grandfather said that in those days there were many Beefeaters, and they were chosen for their record of service, not passed from father to son.”
“Why is it passed from father to son now?” asked Constance.
“In the Sorrow,” said the Beefeater, his voice losing its humour, “when men bloodied their hands ripping floorboards up to burn, eating their children for hunger while great poisonous clouds rolled over the Knot like the end of the world, the Beefeaters left their posts—not as the Ravens did, as messengers, but as cowards. And only one stayed to guard the Ravenhouse, and he was my ancestor.” He paused. “So they say.”
“Tell Constance about the Ravens, Mr. Beefeater,” said Unghared.
Constance frowned. “I know about the Ravens,” she said. “The sisters told us about them in Sunday school. They protected the city for a thousand years, but when the Knot was made—”
“You heard the story from the Guineveres, or the Lancelots,” said the Beefeater. “But this place here is where the story of the Ravens come from. They’re not in the canon, so the Orders don’t know the real story.”
“The Ravens must be in the canon though,” said Constance. “Everyone knows about them.”
“Not the truth,” laughed the old man. “Listen to me, little girl, I’ll tell you the truth of the Ravens. Thousands of years ago when Morgan le Fay sent the King to Avalon, Merlin put an enchantment on the land, so that as long as the Ravens stayed in Ravenhouse the land would be protected from foreign enemies. These were no ordinary birds, you see. Ravens were huge creatures, taller than any man with wings as long as trees that could carry people on their backs as easy as you carry your coat. And under Merlin’s enchantment they could take the shape of men and women and fight with sword and shield against the enemies of the lands.”
“Like in your drawing?” Constance asked Unghared suddenly. Unghared nodded, not really listening. The Beefeater’s tale intrigued her every time she heard it.
He only smiled at the interruption, however. “The changeling’s daughter is good with pen and paper, true,” he said. He often called her and her siblings that, she didn’t know why. “Had she been in the City at the time the Knot was tied, she could have engraved pictures into the walls as the Scribe did her words.”
Unghared didn’t think so. Constance had been kind enough not to mention it, but she must have seen that neither of the figures in her pictures had had eyes. The Beefeater’s vision was more suspect, given his age, though he continued with his story easily.
“At that time the Ravens who lived in this place feared the worst,” he said. “The land was protected from its enemies, but not from the cold or the hunger. ‘And things went ever from bad to worse’, as it is said. The Ravens knew only Arthur could save the people.”
“Who were the enemies that attacked us?” asked Constance.
“Ah, no one knows that these days, fledgling. It was so long ago. And only the Ravens had the power to get to Avalon, to bring Arthur back to us, but they couldn’t leave the city unprotected. They knew terrible things would happen if they left no one to guard the people, so they turned to the Rooks, their small cousins.”
“The Rooks aren’t really birds though.”
“The first ones were,” insisted the Beefeater. “The Ravens gave them their magic, so they too could take the form of humans and become the guardians of Ravenhouse, which in those days was called ‘the Tower of London’. Without the Ravens this city couldn’t be London anymore though, and when Guinevere, Lancelot and Merlin got us through the Sorrow we became Camelot again, and the Rooks chose their successors from the people.”
“So… the Ravens are coming back then?”
The Beefeater nodded. “Eventually,” he said. “They say that as the Ravens protected us for a thousand years, so too shall the Rooks, and that means we’ve another three hundred and seventy-four years until they return.”
“That’s enough now, John.”
Both girls were given a sudden start, whirling around to find Unghared’s Uncle Val standing behind them with an almost pained expression. Unghared fumbled for Constance’s hand quickly, while from the corner of her eye she noticed the Rooks in the doorway shift, as if they too had been enraptured by the tale.
“Come along girls,” said Uncle Val. “You shouldn’t be out here. It’s time for breakfast, and John should be getting his as well.” He forced a smile. “After that we’re going to Parliament to see your sister, Constance.”
Constance nodded, unable to find words. Unghared curtsied to the Beefeater, who gave her a little bow in return. Then she pulled her friend along again, back towards the house as the sun started to shine through the clouds and past the Knot. Constance followed her gaze, then leaned over towards her.
“When the Ravens come back,” she said softly, “how are they going to get in through the Knot? Won’t it kill them?”
Unghared had never considered the possibility.
“Uncle Val?” she asked.
“We’ll think of something,” he said, at length.
Unghared didn’t like how that pained look remained on his face.”