Introducing the KNIGHT TRAVELER SERIES
A new romantic paranormal adventure with a time-traveler twist!
Heart of Time (Knight Traveler Prequel)
Available now at Amazon
King Arthur has learned of a terrible threat – an evil cult is on the verge of destroying Camelot and determined to enslave humanity in the present, even if that means venturing into the future.
In desperate need of help, Arthur assembles a trio of knights uniquely equipped to assist him in his quest to protect the innocent.
“This short novella has me excitedly waiting for the release of the first knight’s quest.” – Sara Marie, reviewer
“…a beautifully written prequel to Ms. Black’s new Knight Traveler series.” – russte, reviewer
“I loved this book and look forward to reading the whole series.” -Melody-Rose, reviewer
King Arthur watched quietly as three of his trusted knights approached the gamekeeper’s hut. The door was flung wide, a fire blazing in the grate, yet his hand rested on Excalibur’s hilt. It was no longer safe to travel unarmed.
His private guard had taken up positions in the surrounding trees, ready to launch an offensive or a rescue at the designated signal from him. That he’d taken such measures would offend his friends, but he would not risk his life or any of theirs, should one of them prove turned by the enemy.
For nearly a year Arthur had heard the whispers, felt the warnings at the wispy edges of his dreams and in the heart of his worst nightmares. Creatures who craved darkness and dealt in evil, always a threat to his personal quest for peace, were gaining a foothold in the west. To what end he could not see and Merlin, his most-trusted advisor, remained coy as always about the future.
He felt it now, another tendril of that ill wind grazing his cheek, despite the clear bright autumn sky and the heat of the fire at his back.
Three pairs of boots crunched on the path, growing louder as the men approached. Arthur studied the wilderness crowding the path, but he found no sign of the animals typically near each man. He knew they were out there, the hound, the bear, and the hawk, as steadfast, watchful, and stealthy as his own guard.
When the knights saw him, all three faces lit with friendly and curious smiles. Arthur hoped what he had to say, the task he had to assign wouldn’t extinguish the light in his dearest friends.
“Is there good hunting this season, my king?” Sir Gawain asked, his long stride putting him a half step ahead of the others in the party.
“I fear there may well be,” Arthur replied under his breath. “Let us hope so,” he said in a carrying voice, stepping forward and grasping each man’s arm in greeting as they entered the hut.
The small space seemed to shrink exponentially as the others joined him. Sir Kay ducked under the lintel and, as the last inside, latched the door at Arthur’s request.
“Tis a far cry from the Round Table,” Kay noted, his sharp gaze raking the room.
“Indeed,” Gawain agreed quietly.
“What is it you cannot speak of within Camelot, my lord?” Sir Bors inquired.
Naturally, Arthur’s finest men would strike unerringly at the heart of the matter. Of all his knights, these three had been with him longest and were best versed in the way his mind worked. Knowing the hut’s small, raw table would do them no good, Arthur had put it out of the way, on top of the rush-filled mattress in the alcove that served as a bedchamber. During the past days, he’d secreted four sturdy chairs to the hut and now he urged the men to take their ease.
On a long, thoughtful breath, he debated the wisdom of this conversation one last time. He’d searched for options and found none, yet the thought of doing nothing, of merely waiting and watching, turned his blood to ice and choked his heart.
“You are my brothers. Friends,” he began, feeling his way through a topic he wasn’t even sure he understood. “At this change of seasons as the trees and earth go dormant and prepare for winter, I would make an unfair request of each of you.”
To a man, they held their peace, all of them sensing this was no ordinary discussion of a quick hunting trip or a risky quest. He admired them more for their patience and silence.
“I must have your vow before I share all the details of my appeal and I apologize. There will be no dispute between us should you refuse. You may leave at once.” He waited, though none of the knights twitched so much as a finger. “Should you stay, I ask that you keep all that we discuss a secret between those gathered here.”
Gawain was already scowling hard enough to match Kay’s normally fierce expression. Only Bors seemed unconcerned with Arthur’s vagaries. With only a glance, the three of them seemed to come to a silent accord. “We accept whatever request you have for us, my king,” Gawain answered aloud as Kay and Bors nodded.
“What has Mordred done now?” Kay asked. “It’s high time we find him and put an end to his tricks and dissent.”
Bors nodded slowly, his pale gaze locked with Arthur’s. “That is the hunting you speak of, my lord?”
“Dispense with rank in this place,” Arthur snapped, impatient with formalities that would do them no good in this endeavor. “We must face the trouble I sense head on, as equals, or be smothered by the encroaching dark.”
“Speak clearly, my k- friend,” Gawain amended quickly. His voice, deep and quiet, ran like a cool river through the charged moment, settling all of them.
Arthur sighed and lowered himself to the edge of his chair. “The world as we know it, as we have worked and dreamed it to be is in terrible trouble.”
Gawain scowled. “Morgana.”
“Yes,” Arthur admitted. “I know Morgana is at the heart of it. She is scheming once more and seems to have new allies, though they are not known to me,” he added. “What I fear is that without drastic measure, without this extreme vow from each of you, she will succeed.”
“Never.” Kay’s deep voice boomed around the hut, rattling the door. “We will find her and stop her.” He looked to his fellow knights, receiving nods of agreement.
“May your surety hold fast, my friend,” Arthur said, relaxing for a moment in a fragile belief. The doubts and fears of men often faltered when faced with Kay’s sheer force of will.
But they didn’t yet know what he required of them.
He met each man’s determined gaze. “We have always been honest in our dealings. You three have trusted me with your secrets, as I have trusted you with mine.”
Gawain sat forward, eyes intent and clear. “You need magic to defeat her.”
Bors gave a low whistle. “Plain speaking, indeed. What has Merlin to say?”
“Not enough,” Arthur groused, rubbing at that persistent prickling at the back of his neck. “Men, I know not what you’ve told each other, only what you’ve told me and what is evident to any attentive observer. You are each strong of faith and will. You all have clarity of thought and boundless courage. And each of you maintains a unique bond with an unlikely friend.” Arthur’s gaze took in each man’s solemn expression, they knew he referred to their animal companions. “The secrets you’ve shared will go with me to my grave, have no doubt. What I ask of you is to promise me you won’t let the grave defeat you in the task I am about to reveal.”
Bors pursed his lips, but no sound came forth. Kay’s big body went absolutely still. Gawain’s gaze snapped to the fire.
Arthur knew Gawain sensed the power hidden behind the flames, the danger and hope each man present would need to balance in order to stop Morgana.
“This is no border skirmish or campaign,” Arthur continued. “Not even a clear-set quest. The threat she poses is worse. She would weave herself into our daily lives, corrupt the hearts of those around us. She would choke out the good we have wrought as a weed chokes a healthy garden. Each day she draws more followers flocking to her cause.”
“Evil often appears lovely in the beginning,” Bors said, his voice sad. “People are too eager to believe and quickly led astray.”
“A truth we know too well,” Arthur agreed. “My dreams are too consistent to ignore, yet Merlin cannot guide me to the time or place of a confrontation. What I recall are more than dream nonsense. I know it and he agrees. Merlin has confessed that our battle may well take place beyond this time we know and hold dear.”
Gawain’s gaze remained locked on the fire. “How are we to make such a vow? How shall we persist in our hunt for Morgana beyond the grave, as you say?”
“My best interpretation is that Morgana is planting seeds she hopes to harvest in this time and seeds she hopes to harvest in times yet to come.”
“Heirs to her destruction, eh?” Kay’s disapproving grumble rolled through the hut like thunder. In the distance a bear called. He glanced to his left, meeting Bors’s gaze and both men turned to Gawain. “What do you see in the fire, man?”
“Our king’s last resort,” Gawain said. His hound gave a lonely howl, seemingly just outside the door. “A fire nymph is waiting.”
“Indeed,” Arthur whispered. “You will join me and together we will do all in our power to root out Morgana’s plots. No matter the personal sacrifice, we shall vow to put an end to her schemes before they can begin in earnest. We will begin our preparation here, now, then we shall spend three days in Avalon, strengthening our hearts and minds and honing our unique skills. We shall brace ourselves for victory in what – if my dreams can be trusted – are quite foreign places.
“Is there one path, Arthur?” Gawain asked, looking away from the fire at last. “A point of weakness we might exploit right away?”
“Possibly. The Lady of the Lake may know more by the time we arrive. While I hope and believe we will prevail, Morgana’s empty promises of power, riches and the like have enticed too many already.”
“You fear if we sever the head of the snake too soon, others who may be worse will take the lead,” said Bors.
“Yes,” Arthur replied. That was his greatest consternation. “New leaders pose a greater danger because they are unknown to us. Merlin agrees Morgana is training her followers to hide themselves from him and others who would interfere with her plans. When I volunteered to do this alone, he insisted it would be folly. He mounted a tremendous resistance and there were visions of certain failure, in fact.”
“Your visions or Merlin’s?” Gawain asked.
Arthur bore Gawain’s scrutiny, wondering what the man’s uncanny vision noted that others could not. “What word shall you give? Are you still willing to join me, my friends?”
“Aye,” Kay said without hesitation.
“Aye,” Gawain and Bors said on the heels of Kay’s agreement.
“What is life without risk and adventure?” Bors asked. “And the promise of more of the same after this body fails me is too intriguing to ignore.”
“My gratitude, friends,” Arthur said. Pushing to his feet, he embraced each man as they stood, hoping he was not cursing them all to a terrible, violent eternity. These men deserved far better in whatever afterlife awaited them. “Then let us proceed with the first step,” Arthur said, reaching back for a flask. “Merlin warns me it’s bitter, but it takes the sting out of the fire nymph’s touch.”
He removed the cork and touched the flask to his lips, trying not to taste the liquid as it poured down his throat. He handed the flask to Gawain, who drank, winced, and passed it to Kay.
“Pray tell, what does she intend to touch?” Kay demanded with more curiosity than concern as he dragged the back of his hand over his mouth.
“Your heart,” Gawain replied before Arthur could explain.
Arthur had always admired Gawain’s intuition and vision. Long before the magic that solidified the bond with his hound, the knight was ever quick and accurate at sizing up a situation. Be it a battlefield choked with enemies, or the unspoken fear plaguing a friend.
Bors hissed at the tasted of the bitter liquid. “Why the heart?” he asked, pushing the stopper back into the empty flask.
“As Merlin explained it to me, the fire nymph’s touch will serve as a defense, shielding your heart against false witness or influence,” Arthur explained. “Her touch shall increase our constancy of purpose.”
“Will her shield make us immune to Morgana’s influence?” Gawain asked.
“I hesitate to make such a certain promise, being fully aware of Morgana’s dark power. But I believe in taking every precaution.”
The fire flickered and leaped. Arthur pushed back the screen and a form emerged. Small and golden, the nymph seemed dwarfed by the knights surrounding her. Red and yellow flames clothed her, rippling over her slender body and limbs, her eyes blue as the blaze at the wick of a lit candle.
“My intention is to protect,” she declared. Her warm, crackling voice raised chills along Arthur’s skin. “Beware my intention may be altered by the intent of he who seeks my protection.”
Arthur stepped between the knights and the fire spirit. “Be certain, my friends. I am asking you to step into the breach, to go into the unknown to defend and shelter those Morgana would exploit. I cannot see how it ends, only that I need men of great valor, strength, and courage to rise to this task despite the unknowns.”
Gawain dropped to one knee. “I am able and willing, my lord.”
Kay and Bors followed his action with equal and swift conviction.
As Arthur looked down on the bowed heads of his friends, he prayed what they learned in Avalon over the next days would equip them for the conflict cloaked in the shadows of the present and the future.
He had conquered impossible odds with these men before, quested over hostile territory in pursuit of justice and peace. His heart full to bursting with thankfulness for the unflinching devotion of these men, he begged them to rise.
“You have given me hope, my friends. In response, I give you my eternal gratitude. Let us embrace this measure of protection together.”
With a nod, he faced the fire nymph and instructed her to proceed.
The creature closed her eyes and brought her hands together over her heart. It seemed as if an age had passed before she extended her arms toward him and the knights. In her cupped hands Arthur saw a strange, glowing ember. It did not flicker as the fire nymph flickered, it pulsed as steadily as a heart.
“Champions of goodness, be safe,” she began, her voice quiet. “Champions of peace, be strong. Champions of light, be constant.”
She blew softly on that ember in her palms and it rose, spinning faster until it was a blinding white flash. Arthur refused to flinch or look away, knew his knights were equally steady. Merlin claimed this step was essential, though he wouldn’t reveal why.
With words beyond Arthur’s understanding, the orb fractured, spearing out toward each of them. At first he felt a gentle pressure over his heart, then the pulse began, out of time with his own heartbeat. The fire nymph’s touch forced its will on his heart and the spear of pain threatened to push him to his knees. When the pulsing finally eased to a comforting warmth blanketing his heart, he hid his absolute relief.
He would thank Merlin for the liquid at the earliest opportunity. If a dose from the flask eased the adjustment, he never hoped to repeat this precaution without it. As the fire nymph stumbled back toward the fire from which she’d appeared, he wondered if his friends were concealing similar responses to her touch.