Camelot's Sword

Camelot's Sword  - Sarah Zettel

Camelot's Sword is the third of these wonderful medieval romances set in the Arthurian period, and in this story, for the first time, Guenevere plays a major role (though Arthur remains in the background) (and Sir Lancelot comes to the foreground – but I must not give away this sub-plot). The hero this time – or the male protagonist, for the real hero in all these books is the heroine – is another of the sons of Lot and Morgause, Gareth.

 

Gareth is still a squire, and we first meet him during the course of a marvellous seven-page description of boys training to be knights with Sir Lancelot as their teacher, but he is growing up, is now Lancelot's senior squire, and also getting a bad reputation for bedding the girls – and the ladies.

 

The book opens, however, with the heroine, as always in this series. A damsel in distress. Lynet of Cambryn is the younger of two sisters. As a child of thirteen she was fostered to King Mark's court at Tintagel, where she waited on Queen Iseult and became the go-between for Iseult and her lover, Sir Tristan. After their tragic death, Lynet, now aged sixteen, returned to Cambryn in disgrace.

 

They found [Iseult] on the shore beside Sir Tristan who had been left for the carrion birds. She was as dead as he, without a stain upon her. A broken heart some said. Poison said others. It hardly mattered. She was dead, and he was dead, and the whole court was in a frenzy. Suddenly Lynet found herself in the midst of a nest of furies who called her foul names and struck her face, pinched her body, and pushed her into the mud. She hid trembling in the cellars until Wellan found her there, dragged her out by her hair and tossed her down in front of King Mark and his men in Tintagel's hall. She grovelled at his feet, too afraid even to plead for her life.

'Let her go,' was Mark's sentence. 'Let her go back to her father's house and tell him what she has done, and let me never see her face again.'

 

Never is a long time. Now, though, after only two years, trouble is brewing in Cambryn. War looms. When the two sisters find themselves alone with only a few servants and soldiers around them and two sparring tribal chieftains at loggergeads and demanding judgement,  Laurel, the elder sister (and unlike Lynet, of blameless reputation) sends Lynet to contact Queen Guenevere at Camelot. for Cambryn is her family home and it is under her that Laurel and Lynet's father holds it as Steward.

 

So far, so simple. It transpires, however, that it is Morgan le Fay, Morgaine the sorceress, Arthur's half-sister, who is behind all the trouble.

 

Still, the sisters are not without defence against sorcery, for their mother, Morwenna, was the daughter of the Sea and they have inherited both psychic powers and a magic mirror – the mermaid's mirror. All of which Lynet will need when out at sea she confronts the malevolent morverch ("corpse pale they were, yet life flowed abundantly within them") and on Bodmin the daughters of the moor with their pitch black hounds. And when she confronts Morgaine, who, as we know from the other stories, is a shape-shifter and regularly takes the form of a black horse or raven, and even on occasion of Guenevere herself. Not to mention the fact that the mirror itself (like all magic?) is dangerous and in the long run deadly to use. It facilitates astral travel (there are marvellous descriptions of this, too) but the more Lynet uses it (she feels she has to keep ahead of events and in touch with her sister while she is on the long journey to and from Camelot) the harder it is for her to return to her body, until in the end ... Enough said.