Here’s an excerpt from The Camelot Kids: Book Two.
It’s Simon’s birthday but he doesn’t want to tell anybody. Can he keep a secret in a place like New Camelot, where a secret is just a spell away?
Simon wasn’t going to tell anyone it was his birthday. He’d spent years minimizing the event, as if it didn’t matter to him, as if it wasn’t worth celebrating. His new friends would probably want to know. Maybe next year…
The day started as all other days did. Simon sat up as his internal clock rang. Training started at daybreak and he enjoyed hitting the dining hall early so he could have some time to hang out with the staff. Taithleach Morecraft was the boss of the team and one of Simon’s favorite people not only because she gave him the most delectable donuts in existence (”basted in a butter spell!”) but because she was the most honest person he’d known since Sister Alphonsus. Ms. Morecraft never hesitated to sit someone down and talk some sense into them. When they first met she spotted a lot of nonsense going on around him and, being Ms. Morecraft, she got involved. The Dim Bulbs, as Simon called them, led by Eric, were a nasty bunch of kids who focused their nastiness on Simon. They didn’t care that he was, technically, their superior and was destined to lead them into battle. Whenever there wasn’t a teacher present they’d let loose on him and his friends with no mercy.
Recently, things had moved from a mischievous to dangerous. Within the last week the Dim Bulbs had settled into a routine of tracking Simon, Russ or Josh and striking when they were alone. Russ ended up on a flying chair with no idea how to control it. He was ten thousand feet in the air when Maille Rose finally found him, cold and petrified. Simon was still determined to get back at Eric and his goons. But he wouldn’t tell Ms. Morecraft that.
“You’d best not be doing yer plottin’, boyo,” she said to Simon as he sat down at the humongous round table that seated 150 hungry teens. No one was there yet except the two of them, which was fine with Simon. Ms. Morecraft sat down next to him and snagged a slice of his toast.
“I’m not doing anything, Ms. Morecraft. Just eating my donut.” He batted his eyes innocently and she nudged him in the shoulder.
“You know you can’t lie to me, Mr. Lancelot-Sharp.” He cringed. He hated that name, but Ms. Morecraft was determined to remind him as often as possible that he was the descendant of Sir Lancelot. Or something more, if you believed his father and Merlin. To them, Simon was Lancelot. He was the knight reborn. To them, Simon was doomed to an identity and a fate that he had no control over. It was all enough to even make donuts taste duller.
“That stunt they pulled with Russ and the magic chair could have killed him,” Simon said.
“Understood. Which is why you deflate the situation afore it gets outta hand, right?” Simon shrugged. She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “If I hear yeh’ve started a revenge campaign of any kind and you can kiss the bagels goodbye.”
“Ouch,” Simon said. That got him. He’d do anything to get his hands on those bagels. Ms. Morecraft had learned the recipe after she’d heard how Simon missed one thing (and one thing only) about New York. The bagels. So she had Merlin send some folks through a Lazy and bring back samples from the city. She experimented with 459 combinations of dough and accoutrements to concoct the most perfect Everything Bagel ever baked. And she used them to bribe Simon all the time.
“How’s Gwen doin’?” she asked, clearly confident that she’d made her point.
Simon shrugged. “She’s still finding excuses to not be around me. I changed soap and everything.”
“She’s just nervous around yeh is all, Simon. Don’t read much into it. She’ll come around when she’s ready.”
“I don’t know. I think it’s…”
“What? Spit it out, boyo.”
“I think it’s more complex than that.” Talking about it meant opening up some old wounds. But Ms. Morecraft was a pro at doing that. She was also good at treating the pain. He glanced up and saw that she was waiting for him to continue. “I just think it has to do with the gold tree.” That golden tree, that trap laid by his father to attract the dragon army, was always present. It lingered over Simon like a ghost. It was a reminder of his father’s betrayal, a reminder of his own bad judgment, and it had been the one thing that brought Simon and Gwen together. Until the dragon’s attacked and ruined everything.
Ms. Morecraft was uncharacteristically quiet. She looked down at the table, thinking, and when she met eyes with Simon again, she was more serious than he’d seen her before. “You think she’s staying distant because she doesn’t want something like that to happen again?”
“Yeah. It’s just that… It’s hard to feel like anything we do is our own choice. It’s like we just keep walking into plots and traps that have been waiting for us for centuries. It’s hard to explain.”
“Yer doing a good job o’ it, don’t worry about that.”
“I think maybe it would be good if we all go our separate ways sometimes. I mean how can the prophecy come true if I’m in the North Pole or something? It gets into your head that every step you take could bring the roof down on your home and everyone you care about.”
A silence took over the huge round room. Only the morning fires in the seven fireplaces surrounding them made a sound. Their crackling and popping provided some small sense of comfort.
“I think trouble would find yeh no matter where you go, Simon. And I think yer just goin’ to have to get used to it, I’m sorry to say.”
“I know that. I’m trying.”
“I know yeh are. You sure you don’t want me to teach her to bake white chocolate cookies?” Simon smiled and shook his head. Ms. Morecraft insisted that cooking cookies “with love” was a potent love potion. Her plan was to teach Gwen how to bake them and keep the casual conversation on Simon. Simon thought it was unfair but to Ms. Morecraft, it wasn’t a magic spell. It was just a way to clear the path between someone’s feelings and their love of the sweetest cookies ever. That sounded like magic to Simon.
The other students started trickling in. Ms. Morecraft stood and patted down her apron. She put a hand on Simon’s shoulder and smiled. “You keep on tryin’ with her Simon. My feelin’ is that she and you have some good to do for yourselves and everyone if you can help each other through all this. Understand?”
“I’ll leave you in peace. Enjoy it ‘cuz you only have seven seconds of it left.” Simon followed her stare and saw Russ and Josh shuffling toward him with their standard morning gait. Which was like a couple of zombies.
“Hi guys,” Simon said, adding as much chipper to his voice as he could, just to annoy them.
“Enh,” they both grunted. His joy was their poison. Simon smiled and slid the toast down the table. It darted toward the edge but when it was about to fly off the table, Josh quickly snagged it and grabbed a slice in one elegant move. His eyes still at half-mast, he glared at Simon, silently daring him to try that again.
So he did. Simon lifted the orange juice from the table and tossed it to Russ who grabbed it without spilling a drop. Simon laughed. Especially when Russ shot him the same look. They may be tired, but they were also descendants of two knights of the Round Table. Their reflexes were beyond anything Simon could have imagined even six months ago. He had the same reflexes, which is good because they helped him catch the cup that was just aimed at the back of his head.
Eric and his dim bulbs huddled together near one of the fires, warming themselves up. Eric was disappointed that his missile didn’t find its mark but he managed to chuckle as his buddies slapped him on the back. Simon put the cup down on the table and turned his back on the smirks. Eric didn’t like that one bit. He lifted another cup to throw. But right as it left his hand, it turned back around mid-air and dumped juice on his head. When the cup started slapping him on the cheeks everyone knew what was going on.
Or who was going on.
Simon turned to the door to watch her walk in, bat held high and aglow with a sickly green haze. She smiled as Eric ran out of the room slapping at his own face to get the liquid off. Everyone at Eric’s table started to make a face. They covered their noses and fled out of the dining hall.
“That wasn’t juice you just dumped on his head, was it?” Simon asked.
“Juice? Where’s the fun in that?” Maille said.
But the smiles didn’t last.
Maille cringed, realizing her mistake a minute too late. Ms. Morecraft emerged from the kitchen, roller held high.
“Sorry, Ms. Morecraft!” Maille shouted. “I’ll clean it up.” Simon had never seen Maille so scared before. He almost smiled but caught himself. He liked having all his limbs.
“YOU DO IT NOW!”
“Yes, ma’am. Just… gimme a minute…” Maille was trying to think of the right spell while having a 300 pound woman looming over her with a kitchen tool that could knock her head off. It wasn’t easy but after a moment, her silently moving lips started a quiet chant. With no fireworks or fanfare, the stink began to lift from the room, replaced by roses. Two mops and a cloud of towels floated from the kitchen and danced about the area where Eric had stood. They scrubbed at the spot with such ferocity that nearby kids covered their ears from the noise.
Maille gave Ms. Morecraft a friendly wave, but the elder crossed her arms and gave her an eye.
“So… what are you guys up to?” Maille asked, hoping to salvage some kind of dignity.
“We were enjoying a nice conversation with the Dim Bulbs before you interrupted,” Simon said. Maille sat down and pulled up a bowl and slopped some porridge in. “What’s wrong?” Simon asked.
“Besides being humiliated in front of everyone, that is,” Josh interjected, without thinking. Maille frowned at him and he tried to cover the awkward moment with a smile. When she stared into her bowl again, he thought he’d slipped out of trouble, but the snake he was holding used to be a fork so he was wrong.
“It’s Sam,” Maille said as Josh ran to the window and tossed the snake outside. “He’s out on the south balcony throwing food at people and then ducking away. I’d toss him off the balcony myself but Merlin says to leave him be. Needs to vent or somesuch nonsense.”
“You’re joking, right?” Simon said. “He’s throwing food at people?” Sam, a new recruit, was acting up recently. Simon had taken him under his wing. He knew how hard it was to adapt to life in New Camelot. But he was being a real jerk these days.
Maille nodded and took a big bite of porridge.
Simon put his sword on the table and stormed out of the dining hall. If he’d bothered to look back he’d have seen Maille smile and wink at the boys.
Simon ran through the castle, moving swiftly past the morning crew as they prepared the castle for another busy day. He tried to be polite to everyone who greeted him, but he was focused. He was getting tired of babysitting. It had gotten to the point where Sam sapped the energy out of everyone around him. Simon was determined to teach him a lesson. He didn’t know how but he’d figure it out when he got there.
When he arrived at the balcony, he didn’t see Sam anywhere. Did he move on already? Maybe he’d found higher ground to heave his bananas from. Simon looked over the edge of the balcony, expecting to see the beautiful view of the town and its busy citizens scurrying about in a glorious maze of commerce. He saw the town all right, but the people weren’t busy…
They were all looking up at him underneath a gigantic banner that read “Happy Birthday, Simon!”
The crowd erupted in cheers when they saw him, smiles on every single face. The noise hit him so hard that Simon had to take a step back.
As did the feeling. The feeling of joy and love and belonging. It swept over him and gave his spine a jolt that moistened his eyes.
Maille, Josh, Russ and Sam stood beside him. They took turns patting him on the back and Maille even gave him a hug.
“Happy Birthday, Simon,” Maille said. “Gotcha!”
“How… how did you know? I never told anyone.”
“Silly question. Merlin. Hello?”
“Oh, yeah. He knows all, and all that.”
A thought shot through his head like a splash of cold water.
But the answer to that question came with the dimming of the din. Simon cleared his throat to thank everyone. When he looked down on his home he saw Gwen standing on a small platform in front of the crowd. She smiled up at him and waved. He waved back and she turned to conduct the loudest rendition of Happy Birthday To You he’d ever heard.
Something has to give. I’m just not sure what yet.
I’m in New York City for the next two months, teaching a marketing course at School of Visual Arts. While I’m here, I’m writing the next Shirley Link. The final draft will be done by the end of the day! I’m excited by that in ways I’ve never felt before. This Shirley adventure has been the toughest one to craft yet. By far. Part of it is that I’ve had the idea for the mystery for a long time. That meant wrestling with age-old preconceptions about how the clues would be set up, how the players would respond to them and how they’d be revealed. But once I sat down to write the book, well, none of those ideas lasted a single draft. Still, with the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through it and I think this may be my new favorite Shirley Link book! Stay tuned for launch dates and peeks at artwork soon ;-)
Then there’s The Camelot Kids: Book Two. I found myself at 40k words before I knew it, so I know the book is primed and ready to emerge. I’ve been getting up at 5:30am every morning to work on it and that’s worked well on a number of fronts. There’s something about writing Fantasy (that’s heavy in magic) at the start of the day when the world is quiet. Magic is more present when our lives are still. But to tap it means pushing aside all concerns. It means assuring The Stress that it can come out in a little bit and do its thing. It means gently nudging strong insecurities back into whatever caves they spring from. While the story is all over the place right now, I’m excited to release the ending to a story that’s been dancing around my head for ten years.
And then there’s Atticus. The book died last night. I mean it was dead. Flatlined. It had frustrated me one too many times. I went to sleep in despair. My good idea had no legs. It had nowhere to go. It gasped for oxygen and I tried to give it some but it wasn’t enough. Then, this morning, its eyes popped open and it breathed in a lungful of air of its own making. So, on its own, it’s showed me a way forward. Now I’m more excited than ever about the story, though I also see that it’s bigger than I initially assumed.
Excited. Terrified. Tired. Pounding on three books will do that to a guy. So wish me luck. I’m headed into the final pass on Shirley Link & The Party Poopers and then I’ll be outlining the next Shirley! Yeah, you know that title I gave this post? The one that advises against writing three books at once? Well, I may be addicted to the feeling so, uh, do as I say, not as I do…