ARTHUR & THE HEADLESS KNIGHTS OF THE FLYING ROUND TABLE
Middle grade Arthurian retelling
ARTHUR & THE HEADLESS KNIGHTS OF THE FLYING ROUND TABLE
Stale sweat inside the executioner’s mask soured my nostrils, forcing me to breathe through clenched teeth. It stank, and so did Fay for making me wear this hood backwards to keep her precious tunnel secret. Rats squealed as she maneuvered me through yet another puddle.
They must have recognized Fay, because they scurried ahead faster than a fox leaving a henhouse with takeout. A rumored shortage of rat tails, the key ingredient for casting spells in my sister’s also-rumored magic practice, kept Camelot’s rodent community on high alert.
Inspired by blindness and the tunnel’s acoustics, I sang, “Three blind mice . . . see how they—ouch.” Fay and her elbow disliked my dream of becoming a minstrel.
“Why drag me along?” I asked, rubbing my side.
“To keep the cow slayer from catching me.”
I yanked my makeshift blindfold off. “How? I have no sword.”
She smiled. “No worries. I’m a much faster runner than you. Besides, you’re madder than a bag of ferrets, if you think I’d let you wave a sharp object around in the dark.”
Great. Hoodwinked into missing Saturday Night Juggling to become beast bait.
Soon afterwards we reached a ladder leading to the surface and climbed up into a tree
hollow. Outside the gnarly hole, Fay’s breath fogged. “We’re here.”
I scratched my head beneath oak branches besieged with mistletoe, staring at a moonlit meadow ringed with giant rocks. “Where’s here?”
“Road apples! Stonehenge takes three days by horse.”
She laughed. “Great tunnel, don’t you think?”
“Oh . . .” Granted, I only cared about one stone—the one with the sword in it. If I ever got my hands on Camelot’s legendary Sword in The Stone, I hoped to trade it for a guitar.
“Stay here,” Fay said. “I want to take a closer look.”
“A sheep herder claimed he saw magical lights above Stonehenge.”
A branch snapped behind us. I spun about. Nothing. Leaves crunched. More nothing. Something parted the bushes. Something invisible. My stomach hardened. I chivied forward in front of Fay before she shoved me.
The something materialized into someone in seamless, black armor. “Arthur and Morgan Le Fay Pendragon?”
Speechless, I nodded.
The stranger’s helmet disappeared into his suit with a swirl, revealing a kid my age. “My name is Merlin.”
Fay stepped forward. “How do you know our names?”
“I’m here to—” His helmet burst from his armor and masked his face again. “Get down!”
We dropped onto our bellies as a bolt of blue flame swooshed from his armored fist.
A green fireball devoured the earth beside Fay, shaking the ground as if a troop of giants stomped about the meadow. Clumps of smoldering grass, mixed with dirt and rocks, showered down on us. Fay struggled to her knees, shaking her head.
I stood and glanced at Stonehenge to catch a flash of lightening streaking toward us. Leaping, I pushed Fay down, as a blur of green licked my shoulder. My body spun in the air before I crumbled to the ground. White hot pain seared through me.
A second blast followed the first one, striking Merlin in the breast plate. He staggered backwards while snakes of grass colored flames crackled and danced about his armor. I sneaked a peek at my shoulder, fearing a nasty burn. No damage. My tunic wasn’t even scorched. The pain had disappeared, replaced by a deep numbness on the left side of my upper body.
“Run,” Merlin shouted, firing again. Another shot screeched past his head to blacken a hole through the trunk of an ancient oak.
Fay snapped a rat’s tail from her sleeve and tossed it behind us. It glowed red as we scrambled to our feet. She grabbed my numbed hand. “Follow me.”
The tail exploded into a star of light, transforming night into day. The shooting continued as we bolted through the woods. After a short distance, we stopped.
“We can’t get through,” Fay said. “It’s blocked by thorns.” She tilted her head. “Do you hear that?”
I nodded at the approach of muffled clanking.
Clank. Clank. Clank.
Six men cloaked in white hooded robes, with walking staffs, marched on a trail thirty-paces away. Men dressed in white near Stonehenge? Druid priests. Behind them three eight-foot tall headless knights lumbered. A glowing ball encased in metal rested on top of their squared shoulders, streaming a beam of green, illuminating the ground to their front.
The last knight stopped. The ball atop its massive frame swiveled and probed its light toward us. A deep hum groaned from within the giant’s armor.
“Get down,” Fay whispered.
We crouched and I pressed my elbows into my sides. Six Druids appeared at the knight’s side. They spread out, striking the brush with their staffs as they prodded toward us.
My leg muscles tightened, screaming a warning to my brain—prepare to run.
The thrashing of sticks crashing through the underbrush got louder. Closer. Louder. It stopped.
A druid priest hovered over the bush we hid behind. “Come out.”
We didn’t move. We didn’t breath.
A staff smacked the ground near my foot. “Come out now!”
Fay crumbled a rat’s tail beneath the bushes, causing a hedgehog of thorns to sprout from its limbs. The priest parted the branches and cried, “Ow, it’s a mess of thorns. They couldn’t have come this way.” He examined his finger and returned to the trail.
I counted ninety-eight beats while the clanking grew weaker and weaker. Fay motioned for me to follow her.
“Good,” a voice whispered from behind. “you didn’t fall for their bluff.” Again, the Merlin kid materialized out of thin air. “They didn’t see you because I extended my—”
Fay took a step back.
Merlin raised his hands. “Please, don’t run. I’m here to help.”
“Oh, we won’t run.” Fay grabbed my belt, shouting, “Pendragon.Pendragon. Pendragon.”
An explosion of smoke bounced me into the air. Merlin laid sprawled on the grass. I winced for the coming impact. But instead of falling, my body raised higher.
Not knowing what to do, I flapped my arms, hoping to control my new ability.
“Arthur, stop flailing about,” Fay shouted from above.
Fay could also fly? Magic, she used magic to allow us to fly. I loved what she could do with a rat’s tail.
“Stop moving your arms,” she said.
Good advice. Soar like an eagle. I spread my arms, hoping I looked proud and bald-headed. “Where are you?”
“Right here,” she replied as a dragon’s head twisted into view.
“Dragon!” I screamed, twisting to glide away from it.
“Arthur, stop moving, I may drop you.” The sneaky dragon imitated Fay’s voice. “Oh, and by the way, the dragon you see is me.”
My arms went limp, along with my voice. “I’m not flying?”
Fay laughed. “I’m carrying you by your belt.”
Blood drained from my face. “That’s my old—” My belt loosened a notch. “It could snaaaaaaaaaaaap,” I screamed, falling while frantically flapping my arms again.
“Say Pendragon, three times fast,” Fay shouted.
So you can change into a dragon.”
Good idea. “Pendragon. Pendragon. Pendragon.” No smoke. No wings. “Fay, what’s plan B? And it doesn’t need to be fancy, a duck or chicken will do.”
“Arthur, chickens can’t fly.”
“And neither can I.”