A Hard Day's Knight (Nightside)

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9780441019700: A Hard Day's Knight (Nightside)

John Taylor is a P.I. with a special talent for finding lost things in the dark and secret center of London known as the Nightside. He's also the reluctant owner of a very special-and dangerous-weapon. Excalibur, the legendary sword. To find out why he was chosen to wield it, John must consult the Last Defenders of Camelot, a group of knights who dwell in a place that some find more frightening than the Nightside.

London Proper. It's been years since John's been back-and there are good reasons for that.

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About the Author:

Simon R. Green is a New York Times bestselling author whose works include Drinking Midnight Wine, Beyond the Blue Moon, Blue Moon Rising, The Adventures of Hawk & Fisher, and the Deathstalker series. A resident of Bradford-on-Avon in England, he is currently working on the next Deathstalker novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Things you need to know:

  1. The Nightside is the dark, secret, brooding heart of London, hidden away from the rest of the world, where magic is realer than you can bear, where lives and souls and everything else you can think of are always up for sale, and all your worst dreams go walking openly in borrowed flesh. It’s always dark in the Nightside, always three o’clock in the morning, the hour that tries men’s souls. Hot neon burns over rain-slick streets, bars and clubs never close, and gods and monsters go walking hand in hand. You can find anything you ever dreamed of in the Nightside; but watch your back. It might find you first.

  2. I’m John Taylor, private investigator. I wear a white trench coat, but don’t let that fool you. I don’t do divorce work, and I wouldn’t know a clue if I fell over it. I do, however, have a special gift that means I can find anyone or anything, no matter how carefully they’ve hidden themselves. I do my best to find the truth for my clients; but in my experience, the truth won’t make you happy, and it won’t set you free. Walk the streets of the Nightside, and you’ll hear a lot of bad things about me. Most of them are true. I stay in the Nightside because I belong here. With all the other monsters.

  3. Walker is dead. The one and only Voice of the Authorities, the man in charge of the Nightside, inasmuch as anyone was or could be... The only man who could make us all play nicely together is dead. I killed him. I had good reason, but he’s still just as dead. So I have to be Walker now. Take over his role and act as representative for the new Authorities. The punishment must always fit the crime.

  4. Something very old and very powerful has come to the Nightside. That ancient and legendary sword, Excalibur. It isn’t what you think it is, and it never was. Puck told me that; but everyone knows you can never trust an elf. They always lie—except when a truth can hurt you more.

  5. And, last of all... When I finally got home, after killing Walker, wanting only to slump exhausted into a chair and nurse my bitter soul... I found a long, sword-shaped parcel waiting for me on my kitchen table. Some days, you just can’t get a break.


Chapter One
It Came in the Post

I stood in my kitchen, already so tired and used up I would have lain down in a coffin if that was all that was available... and considered the brown-paper parcel on the table before me. Suzie came in from the hall and joined me. She slipped an arm round her waist, and I kissed her absently on the cheek. My Suzie, also known as Shotgun Suzie, also known as Oh Christ It's Her, Run. My tall blonde Valkyrie in black leathers, a bounty-hunter who always brings them in dead because there's less paper-work that way. My love, my life, my reason for living, who had dropped the biggest bomb-shell into my life in years by accepting this appallingly significant parcel...

I moved away from Suzie and walked slowly round the kitchen table, studying the sword-shaped package from all angles. It stubbornly refused to look like anything except a bloody big sword. I had absolutely no intention of touching the thing, just yet. Suzie looked at me curiously but said nothing. She could tell I was working. Solving problems is what I do. I leaned over the kitchen table, examining the brown-paper parcel from hilt to point. There were no stamps anywhere, and no address—only my name, in perfect copper-plate. Which meant the parcel couldn't have come by regular post. It had to have been delivered by hand.

"When did this arrive?" I asked Suzie.

Her ears pricked up as she caught the seriousness in my voice. "Two, three hours ago. I heard a knock on the front door, looked out, and there it was. Leaning against the wall. At first I thought it must be for me since it's so obviously a weapon; but then I saw it had your name on it, so I put it in here for when you got home."

"Think about it," I said. "You wouldn't normally bring a strange, unexpected parcel into our home and leave it lying round without running it through a whole series of security checks first, would you?"

"No," said Suzie, in a way that made it clear she hadn't even considered the point before and was wondering rather angrily why she hadn't. "It felt... right. Like it belonged here. Why the hell didn't I find that suspicious?"

"Because the parcel didn't want you to," I said.

We both glared at the brown-paper package.

"Could it have some kind of compulsion, or geas, attached to it?" said Suzie.

"I think we're in bigger trouble than that," I said. "I'm getting a distinct feeling of destiny."

"Oh shit."

"Yes, quite," I said. "Next question: how did our mysterious benefactor pass unscathed through all our security systems? The land mines and the floating curses? We spent ages setting up the defences round this house, to protect us from our enemies and discourage the paparazzi. Our regular postie has a special dispensation; this guy shouldn't even have made it to the front door."

"Oh, this has destiny written all over it," said Suzie. "Let's run."

"You didn't see anyone when you picked up the parcel?"

"Not as such, no. And yes, I should have found that suspicious. Bloody parcel must have been messing with my head."

"The parcel, or whoever sent it..." I was scowling so fiercely my forehead was aching. "Beware of unseen strangers bearing gifts."

I raised my gift, opening up my inner eye, my third eye, my private eye. I studied the parcel with my Sight, which shows me all the wonders and horrors of the hidden world, and scanned the parcel for booby-traps or hidden messages. I barely had time to assure myself there were no hidden extras when I cried out despite myself and fell back, as what was inside the parcel blazed up fiercely, a magical, spiritual light that dazzled and blinded me. My inner eye slammed shut as my mind flinched away from something it couldn't bear to look at directly.

I grabbed hold of the parcel, glared at it for a moment, then ripped the wrapping away, tearing the brown paper and snapping the knotted string. I had to see it. Had to see what no man had seen for centuries. The legendary sword, Excalibur. King Arthur's sword, from the Golden Age of Chivalry. The scabbard turned out to be six feet and more of tooled leather, with Celtic markings and designs, and a whole bunch of symbols from a language I didn't even recognise. The foot-long hilt of the sword seemed to have been fashioned from a single piece of bone, polished to a fine dark yellow sheen. I brushed the last pieces of torn paper away from it, and the scabbarded sword lay alone on my table, in my kitchen, like an unexploded bomb, or a warning from history.

"That... is not just any old sword," said Suzie.

"No," I said absently. "That's Excalibur."

"What?" said Suzie. "You mean the Excalibur? As in King Arthur? What the hell is that doing here—hold everything. You knew what this was all along, didn't you?"

"I was told the sword had come into the Nightside," I said. "I never thought it would end up here."

"Excalibur," said Suzie. She sounded honestly impressed, which wasn't something that came easily to her. "Damn... Aren't you supposed to draw it out of an anvil, set on a stone? I mean, something as important as this, it shouldn't just turn up in the post. Where's the mystical significance of that?"

"This is the Nightside," I said. "We do things differently here. Somebody wanted to make sure I got it; and this was the best way of sneaking it in, under the radar."

"Well, if you don't draw the bloody thing from its scabbard so we can get a look at it, I'm going to," said Suzie. "That is one of the great legendary swords! How can you not want to try it out for size?"

"Because I don't want it to bite my hand off! I'm working up to it, okay? This isn't something you draw and wave round for the fun of it! This is Excalibur we're taking about. It makes history and gives birth to legends. Everything it does, matters."

"Are you afraid there might be a geas attached to it?" said Suzie, looking at the sword with a new wariness. "Like the Old Man of the Sea...easy to pick up but a damned sight harder to put down?"

"I think I would have Seen anything like that," I said carefully. "I think... we're back to destiny again. And I have had enough of that in my life. I have been there, done that, and seen my mother banished from reality rather than embrace the destiny she intended for me. I'm my own man; and I won't give that up, even for Excalibur."

"We can't leave it lying there. I was going to start making dinner soon..."

"I know! I'm thinking... I'm trying to think of anyone else I could safely hand it over to... Oh hell. Why is it always me?"

I took a firm hold of the polished-bone hilt, set my other hand on the scabbard, and slowly eased the sword out of its sheath. It came easily, almost eagerly: five, maybe six feet of blade that glowed supernaturally bright in the gloomy kitchen. Suzie made a shocked, almost awed sound, and fell back a step. I held the sword out before me, the hilt fitting perfectly into my hand, and the long, golden blade shone brighter and brighter, free at last after centuries of waiting. I swept the blade slowly back and forth, supporting the whole length of it easily with only one hand, and it all felt so easy and natural, as though I'd been doing it my whole life. The long, golden blade seemed impossibly light, almost weightless, moving easily with my hand as though it belonged there.

I stamped back and forth round the kitchen table, thrusting and cutting, the golden blade leaping this way and that. The longer I held Excalibur, the more I knew how to use it, how to handle it. Without quite meaning to, I ran through an increasingly complex series of attacks and manoeuvres, jumping and pirouetting as I slammed the blade back and forth. Suzie fell back to the kitchen doorway, to give me plenty of room.

"All right, cut it out, I'm impressed!" she said. "Where did you learn to use a sword like that?"

"I didn't," I said, forcing myself to stop. I was hardly even breathing hard. "I've never handled a sword in my life. Excalibur is making all the moves; I'm just along for the ride."

"Okay," said Suzie. "Getting a bit spooky, now..."

"Trust me, you have no idea. Wait a minute..."

Suzie's head came up sharply, as she sensed it, too. Without moving or changing in any way, Excalibur was suddenly so much more than it had been. There was a new presence in the room with us, like a third person, uncanny and overwhelming; and it was the sword. Excalibur's presence beat on the air like a breaking storm, like a great bugle sounding a charge that would never end, a cry to battle, for the soul of Humanity. It dominated my small kitchen—a cry from the past, the deep past, wild and glorious and very dangerous.

Suzie had backed half-way out the kitchen doorway. I would have liked to join her, but I was still holding the sword. I could feel it coming awake, yearning to be used, demanding to be put to the purpose for which it was intended. And I couldn't help remembering that terrible old weapon, the Speaking Gun. That evil device had wanted to kill and kill until nothing was left, and hated the fact that it couldn't do that without its owner's cooperation. Excalibur didn't feel anything like the Speaking Gun, but it still needed me to wield it. To help it fulfil its destiny.

The sword blazed with purpose: of something vitally important that had to be done, that it had been brought back into the world to do. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly; then I picked up the scabbard and slid the sword carefully back into its sheath. It didn't fight me. I placed the scabbard carefully down on the table again and stepped away from it. The sheer effort of will left me shaking and covered in a cold and clammy sweat. But I am my own man, no-one and nothing else's.

"Well?" said Suzie, from the doorway. "Is it destiny?"

"Oh... I'd have to give you ninety-five per cent on that, yes. And it wants me."

"I could write you a note, say you're excused destinies."

"Why me?" I said, a bit wistfully.

"Isn't that what everyone says, when destiny comes calling?"

"If this turns out to be connected to Merlin, I swear I will find a way to bring him back from the dead, just so I can kick his arse!"

"Never speak ill of the dead," Suzie said briskly. "Especially when they aren't always as departed as they should be."

I couldn't help noticing that she'd backed right out of the kitchen doorway and was now standing in the hall, looking in. Suzie wasn't scared of anything, but she had a hell of a lot of natural caution and really good survival instincts. I would have liked to walk away and leave the sword, but owning Excalibur is like holding a tiger by the tail. Bad as the situation is, it's even more dangerous to let go. I had hoped drawing the sword would trigger a recorded message that would tell me what the hell was going on and what I was supposed to do about it; but apparently that was too much to hope for.

"We need to get this sword out of our house," said Suzie. "Something that powerful, running wild in the Nightside; who knows what kind of attention it's going to attract?"

I looked at the scabbarded sword; but all sense of its presence was gone, vanished the moment I sheathed it. It looked like any other sword, now. But Excalibur was the kind of sword men would kill and die for, for any number of reasons. Suzie came warily back into the kitchen.

"So, does this mean you're the rightful King of all England now?"

"No," I said. "I'm pretty sure that was a one-time-only thing."

"Does it mean you're King of the Nightside, then? Or was the sword sent to you by someone who thinks you should be?"

"I had the chance," I said. "And I turned it down. I'm not about to change my mind. As to who sent it: I have a horrible feeling this might be Walker's last gift to me, taken from the late Collector's legendary collection."

"Hold everything," said Suzie. "The 'late' Collector? He's finally dead?"

"Haven't you been watching the news?"

"I've been busy," Suzie said defensively. "Aimless lounging round won't do itself, you know. What happened to the Collector? Who killed him? I take it somebody did finally kill the thieving old scrote?"

"Walker killed him," I said. "He walked right up to his oldest friend and stuck a knife between his ribs. I was right there, but there was nothing I could do."

"I'll not shed a tear for the Collector," said Suzie. "How many times did he try to kill us? All right, he was a colourful rogue, or a treacherous little turd, depending on how you look at it, but I think the whole Nightside will sleep more peacefully, now he's gone. You could always rely on the Collector to stir things up, and rarely in a good way. But... why did Walker finally kill him, after all these years? I thought they were friends again, after working together during the Lilith War?"

"They were," I said. "It's... complicated. Friendships often are."

"Hold everything, part two," said Suzie. "You said... Walker's last gift. Don't tell...

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