We all know the tale of King Arthur… but where did Excalibur come from? And how did it come to Arthur’s bloodline?
Follow King Arthur’s Grandfather Constans, in this historic fiction*/fantasy story that answers these questions in one hell of an epic adventure.
Excalibur: the Isle Beyond Avalon
by Nick Macari & Josh Cohen
© 2016 All rights reserved.
On a ship of fellow soldiers, Constans, son of Constantine the Western Emperor of Rome, sails to Gaul to fight Rome’s enemies. When their ship is redirected to an unknown isle of the gods, sixty seven men join together to survive the deadly isle and find the one thing that can pull Britannia from the dark ages, the sword of power–Excalibur.
15. A Native Approach
Seven men cautiously made their way through the unending downpour. Mandrake the druid led, pushing aside leaf and vine with his long wooden staff. Corryn followed next, keeping a close eye on his fellow shipmates immediately behind, Constans, Brennus, Maddock and Fetch.
Brennus somehow managed to survive the mauling to his face. Although in the process lost his left eye and retained only a gruesome, bloody hole in the area that previously occupied his nose. Reeling in agonizing pain, the man of the Calibran lacked the strength to walk on his own effort. Constans embraced his wounded comrade, shouldering the bulk of his weight, allowing him to continue. The Emperor’s son knew, in all likelihood, disease would set in and claim Brennus’s life slowly and painfully over many days. But soldiers of Britannia were not keen to giving up and so Brennus soldiered on.
Maddock bore a number of superficial lacerations to his body and suffered a blow to the head–one of the beasts had rammed into him sending the side of his head hard against a rock. The blow delivered a sensational swelling, ringing in the ears and an inconsistent dizziness. Maddock moved on his own accord behind Constans and Brennus, but often reached out grabbing hold of either man to keep himself from falling over. Fetch followed squirrelly behind.
In the rear came Frumwald the Burgundian, with his own shipmate Mord. Mord rested the right side of his body against Frumwald and hopped more than walked. Jagged protrusions of splintered bone slipped from the gaping wound of his leg. With each step the bloody bandages secured around his thigh expanded and contracted squirting blood on his companion. The Burgundian’s left hand had been consumed by one of the creatures. Its white bony remnants hung at barbarian’s waist, upturned and twisted.
The seven men moved deeper into the vegetation under a heavy jungle steam, kicked up by the pouring rain. The mist limited visibility to a mere few feet before them. “If this keeps up much longer I don’t think I’ll ever dry out again.”
Constans stretched his head around to face his friend with a smile. “Be grateful for small miracles Fetch. The rain will wash our tracks and scent, the mist will hide us from view. Just in case any of those beast things are still out there looking for us.”
Constans’s insight drew nods and sighs of relief, yet worry hung from every face present. Each step took the group one step further from their companions and perhaps one step closer to being stranded on the isle forever.
“How the devil can you see where you’re going?” Corryn called out, raising his voice above the falling rain. “I can hardly see the back of your head.”
Mandrake whacked at the vegetation in front of him with extra strength and effort and shouted back. “Well Mr. Corryn, when you have traveled lands as far and wide as I have. When you have seen all that the elements bring to bear, you gain a knack for finding your way in such a trifle storm.” Mandrake whacked a few times in quick succession, cutting down a large patch of vegetation. “Ahhh there you see, a clearing…”
The group of men stepped into a small clearing, with a vague familiarity to it. Before them, broken and charred remains of a large tree jutted up from the depths of a bog.
“Cernunnos be damned, you’ve lead us in a circle.” growled Frumwald.
Mandrake’s face blushed though none could see. “Well what do you expect, constantly hounding, rushing me to find the way…” The druid stomped off to the side of the clearing and looked onto the nearby vegetation with a furrowed brow and his hand upon his face. With a final clamor of thunder, the rain came to a sudden halt and the light of the jungle returned. Mandrake threw down his hands and crossed to the other side of the clearing, examining the jungle beyond. “There. At least that’s something.”
Constans sat Brennus down atop a stump to catch his breath. “I for one value your guess through this land over my own. So I say lead on. But perhaps we should take a moment and let the wounded regain some strength.”
The men took to ringing out their clothes and pouring the water from their boots when a clear, crisp feminine voice cut the air. “Their strength will not return to them, they have the sickness.”
Constans and the others turned to meet the voice. Although it came from just a few feet away, their eyes struggled to make out the source. Slowly a figure stepped out from the mist filled vegetation. So near to the men was she, Fetch stumbled backwards nearly falling into the bog.
The woman stood before the men practically nude. Animal hide boots ended just above the ankle giving way to long slender legs with sharply defined musculature. Similar hide leggings barely covered her upper most thighs and buttocks. A scrap of tan animal fur stretched tightly across her ample bosom, held in place by numerous crossed lashes of native cordage.
Her chestnut hair fell wild and matted, unkept and unbrushed for many days. It held streaks of mud and grey wood ash, breaking up the form of her head.
Perfectly bronzed skin lie blotted in jungle patterns of green and blue dyes, glistening with drops of rain. With an unfocused glance, her figure melted away into the vegetation behind her.
Most notable of all, a raccoon mask of black streaked across her eyes. A veil of darkness emphasizing her fierce emerald green eyes. Eyes that pierced through the men into their very souls.
The intruder bore a young and flawless face save two small scars, one just above her hard angular left cheekbone, the other above her rose stem thin right eyebrow. Her voice fell from sharp, full lips of strong pink contrast.
All seven men stood speechless staring at the wild woman. Far too little meat on her bones to attract Burgundian eyes, but to the others, especially young Constans and Fetch she was Venus reborn.
The wild woman looked at them silently resting her left hand on a short crudely fashioned spear with a stone tip. Her right hand fell to a flat, angular piece of carved wood, snug behind a leather satchel at her hip. The only other weapon a small bone blade handle protruding from her right boot.
When none spoke she pointed the spear at Brennus. “If you care for your friends, the most compassionate thing you can do for them, is kill them now…”
“What do you mean kill them,” whined Fetch, his voice high in apprehension.
“I saw the beasts attack your group and these men fell to their claws and fangs. The fever now settles on them. In time, they will become the very foul creatures that struck them.”
“Jungle witch!” Mord yelled as he struggled to bring his blade up aggressively with his one good hand. A short-lived effort that caused the Burgundian to collapse back into Frumwald’s arms.
Mandrake neared the men placing his hand against the faces of Brennus and Maddock. They boiled beneath their skin. He spun around and stood face to face with the jungle woman. “Beldonia root?”
“It may help slow the sickness… but that will only prolong their suffering,” she responded staring into the druid’s eyes, her face void of any emotion.
“If it will help, we should try.” added Constans.
The woman slowly made her way back into the vegetation. “It grows in few places on the isle.”
“Will you lead us?” asked Mandrake.
The woman paused, focusing her gaze on Constans alone, long and intentional. Unnerved by the silence Fetch grabbed Constans by the arm and shook him. “What does he mean to have her lead us? The Lord only knows where she’ll take us… we don’t even know who she is.”
The wild woman glared at Fetch. She crossed the clearing towards the boy with her spear pointed in his direction. Fetch grabbed the hilt of his sword and stepped back a half-step behind Constans.
A slight smirk broke across the woman’s lips as she passed Fetch and pushed aside a clump of large fern-like leaves with her spear tip. Entering the dense vegetation she paused and looked back over her shoulder. “I am Asteria. The Beldonia is not far from your companions. I will take you to both. But as long as these men are in your company, you are all in great danger.” With that, the woman disappeared into the greenery like a ghostly apparition. The men rushed to follow.
The seven men moved quickly and purposefully with their newfound female companion. In no more than an hour’s time, they arrived among the rest of their number. The bulk of the men sat sprawled out on large yellow mushrooms the size of throne chairs, tending wounds, eating, oiling blades and otherwise deliberating on their next course of action.
The Centurions and Yury stood at the far side of the makeshift encampment when Goron’s deep voice screamed out. “Woman. See there! By God I was right!” The men turned all at once. Some jumped to a defensive stance with sword in hand while the bowmen of the group knocked arrows. A bit more composed, the commanders marched defiantly towards the visitor.
“Lower your weapons, lest you intend to shoot your own…” Mandrake called forth following Asteria out of the jungle. The soldiers watched with relieved faces as their lost comrades emerged. The Burgundian’s rushed over en masse, surprising Constans who perked up in flattery. But the Germanians pushed by the Emperor’s son with little thought, and embraced their countrymen. Constans hung his head momentarily as he fell in among his own.
Urian moved towards the Emperor’s son with haste grabbing the boy about both shoulders and eying him up and down in an almost fatherly fashion. “Bless you God for delivering him back safely.”
Mandrake pursed his lips and shook his head. “I do all the work… He takes all the credit.”
“What of the beasts? And where did you capture the woman?” Tiberius asked in a pompous tone.
“The beasts are no more, we trapped them in the bog.” Corryn called out, drawing admiration and murmured cheers from his shipmates.
Before the accolades drew silent, Asteria lunged at Tiberius bringing the stone tip of her spear to the Centurion’s juggler. She had seconds at her disposal before the legionnaires’ own spear tips were upon her. Tiberius swallowed with a pronounced, slow motion. “I am no man’s prisoner. And I can claim your head any time I wish.”
A wooden staff appeared among the spear tips waving them off. “Bahhh, enough of that. The woman is Asteria, native of the isle, and our ally. She has guided us to you and in turn offered to guide us to Beldonia root.”
Urian stepped alongside Asteria and looked at her with firm but non-judgemental eyes. “and what need do we have of Beldonia root druid?”
In the midst of removing his gear and weaponry Constans answered. “The men wounded by the beast creatures have contracted a sickness and the root is the only thing that will slow its course.” At the mention of sickness the men recoiled, even the Burgundians stepped away from their wounded.
Urian’s eyes fell to Asteria with a trusting respect, as if addressing one of his own men. “Is the sickness contagious?”
“Only by bite or by scratch. But I warn you, same as I’ve warned the others, there is no cure for their ailment. In time, they will be overcome with madness, overwhelmed with the desire to rip out your innards and drink down your blood…” The men grimaced at the description.
… Continued in “Excalibur: the Isle Beyond Avalon” available soon.
I should probably start up an email list or something to notify people when work is published. One of these days I’ll get organized.
* Although Excalibur: the Isle Beyond Avalon is fantasy, tremendous research into the legend of King Arthur was undertaken for this book. I painstakingly traced his potential lineage to the Roman era. Though admittedly the record of antiquity is not decisive, I feel like I’ve given it a really good guess. And who knows, maybe I’m right.