Ben Bova Orion and King Arthur

ISBN 13: 9780765368065

Orion and King Arthur

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9780765368065: Orion and King Arthur

Ben Bova's timeless hero returns . . . at the nexus of myth and history!


More than human, less than god, Orion has fought across time and space at the whims of his Creators, god-like beings from the future who toy with human history like spoiled children playing with dolls. From the frozen wastes of the Ice Age to far-flung interstellar empires, Orion has been both assassin and hero, all the while striving to be reunited with Anya, the ageless goddess who is his one true love.


Now Orion finds himself in Britain in the dark years after the Romans abandoned the island kingdom. Minor kings and warlords feud amongst themselves even as invading hordes of Saxons and Angles threaten to sweep over the land. There Orion befriends a young warrior named Arthur, who dreams of uniting his quarreling countrymen and driving the invaders from their lands. Along with a few brave comrades, Arthur hopes to the stem the tide of barbarism and create a new era of peace and prosperity.


But Orion's vainglorious Creator, Aten the Golden One, has other plans for the timeline. Arthur's noble ambitions interfere with Aten's far-reaching schemes to reshape history to his own ends. He wants Arthur dead and forgotten---but Orion does not.

Defying his own creator, and risking his own immortal existence, Orion will battle the gods themselves to see that Arthur fulfills his destiny. But can even he save Arthur from the tragedy that awaits him?

Orion and King Arthur is a thrilling new chapter in Ben Bova's unforgettable cosmic saga.

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About the Author:

Ben Bova is the author of five previous novels in this series: Orion, Vengeance of Orion, Orion in the Dying Time, Orion and the Conqueror, and Orion Among the Stars.

Bova is also a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, a former editorial director of Omni, and a past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. He is the author of more than one hundred works of science fact and fiction. He lives in Florida.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE
Amesbury Fort
 
 
1
“A Sarmatian, you say?” Sir Bors looked me up and down, sour disbelief plain on his scarred, bearded face. “And what is your name?”
“Orion,” I replied. It was the one thing I was certain of. How I came to this time and place I knew not.
“And why are you here?” asked Sir Bors.
We were standing in the dingy courtyard of a hilltop fort named Amesbury, its walls nothing more than a rickety palisade of timber staves. These Britons had tried to build their forts in the way the Roman legions had, but their engineering skills were poor. They stared at the ruins of Roman aqueducts and monuments and thought that the stonework had been done by giants or magicians.
A few dozen men milled about the bare dirt courtyard, some leading horses, a few practicing swordplay with one another. The place smelled of dung and sweat. And fear.
“I came to serve King Arthur against the Saxons,” I said.
Bors’ eyes widened. “ King Arthur? You’ve made him your king, have you?”
I felt confused. “I thought—”
Bors planted both fists on his hips and pushed his scarred face so close to mine that I could smell the stale wine on his breath.
“Ambrosius is our king, Sarmatian! Young Arthur may be his nephew, but the pup’s still wet behind the ears. King indeed!”
I said nothing.
Bors grumbled, “His uncle’s put him in charge of Amesbury fort here and sent Merlin to watch over him, but that doesn’t make him anything more than an inexperienced babe in the woods.”
“I … I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I meant to say King Ambrosius.”
Bors snorted with disdain.
My mind was spinning. I remembered Artorius as a skinny, pimply-faced boy, a captive of the Danes when I served Beowulf. I had saved him then, I dimly recalled.
Somewhere in my mind I knew he was to be king of the Britons, and he would lead these island people against the invading barbarians. Britain had been abandoned by the Roman Empire after centuries of their occupation. The legions had returned to Rome to fight against the hordes of Goths who were slashing into the empire’s heartland. Britain was left to fend for itself, wide open to invasion by the barbarian Angles and Saxons.
Aten had put that knowledge into my mind. But why he had sent me through spacetime to Amesbury fort I did not know. Aten, the Golden One, is my master, my Creator, sneering and superior. I have died many times, in many strange and distant places, but always he brings me back, revives me to send me on still another task of pain and danger.
“You are my creature, Orion,” he has told me often. “My hunter. I built you and you will do as I command.”
I hate Aten and his mad dreams of controlling all of spacetime to suit his whims. There are other Creators, as well, haughty and demanding, toying with human history like children playing with dolls. Cruel gods and goddesses, all of them.
Except for Anya.
Anya of the gray eyes and supernal beauty. Anya is the only one among those Creators who cares at all for their creatures. Who cares for me. I love Anya and she loves me. Aten knows this and, vicious with implacable jealousy, sends me far from her, to serve him and die over and over again.
“Well, you’re big enough,” said Sir Bors, snapping me back to the moment. “Can you fight?”
I smiled tightly. I had led Odysseos’ men over the high stone wall of Troy. I had made Mongol warriors gape at my battle prowess. I had helped Beowulf kill Grendel and its mother.
“I can fight,” I said.
Sir Bors barely reached to my shoulder. He was thick and solid as a barrel, though, his arms heavy with muscle. He wore only a cracked and stained leather jerkin over his tattered knee-length tunic. But he had a long Celtic broadsword belted at his hip. I was in chain mail and linen tunic, my sword strapped to my back.
Drawing his sword from its leather scabbard, Bors said, “Let me see what you can do.”
“Wait!” a young voice cried from behind me. “Let me test him.”
I turned and saw a handsome tall nobleman walking toward us, so young that his beard hardly darkened his chin. His eyes were light and clear, flecked with gold, his shoulder-length hair a light sandy brown, almost blond. He was smiling warmly.
“My lord,” Bors said, his tone several notches softer than it had been, “this Sarmatian—”
So this was Arthur. He had grown into a strong young man since the time when he’d been a starveling captive of Hrothgar, king of the Scyldings, in Daneland.
“He’s got good shoulders, Bors,” said Arthur. Then, to me, he added, “Let us see if you know how to use your sword.”
Bors objected, “But, my lord, you shouldn’t engage yourself with a stranger. He might be an assassin, sent to kill you!”
Arthur laughed aloud. He had no fear of an assassin. He did not know that I had murdered men in other eras, at Aten’s behest.
A squire, not much younger than Arthur himself, trudged up and handed him his helmet and a shield with a blood-red dragon painted on it. I drew my own sword, heard its steel tongue hiss as it came out into the sunlight. My fingers tightened on its leather-wrapped hilt.
“Where is your helmet, friend, your shield?” Arthur asked as he stood before me. His iron helmet covered his cheeks and had a nosepiece shaped like an upside-down cross.
“I won’t need them,” I said.
His smile turned down a little. “Pride goes before a fall, Sarmatian.”
“Then I will fall,” I replied.
Arthur shrugged, then put his shield up and advanced toward me, sword cocked in his right hand.
My senses went into overdrive, as they always do when I face battle. The world around me seemed to slow down, as if everything was happening in a dream. I could see Arthur’s gold-flecked amber eyes blinking slowly over the rim of his shield. And Sir Bors stepping sideways to keep at my side. His sword was still in his hand, ready to strike me down if I endangered Arthur. I thought he was more worried that Arthur did not have the skill or experience to face a true fighting man than fearful that I was an assassin.
Arthur swung at me in lethargic slow motion, a powerful overhand cut that would have sliced me down to the navel if I hadn’t danced lightly out of harm’s way. He grunted, frowned, and advanced upon me in sluggish slow motion.
I feinted once to the left, then slashed at his shield, splitting it in two with a loud cracking sound. My blade would have taken Arthur’s arm off if I hadn’t pulled back in time.
Arthur’s eyes went wide with surprise. After only a moment’s hesitation, he tossed away the broken shield and came at me again. He smashed another mighty overhand slash at me. I parried it easily and his blade shattered into several pieces with a brittle snap.
“Hold!” Bors shouted, sticking his sword between us.
I stepped back.
If Arthur had feared that I would kill him he gave no sign of it. Instead, he tossed away the broken stub of his sword and then reached out for mine.
“That’s a fine piece of steel,” he said admiringly as I handed the sword to him.
Without thinking of why, I answered, “I know where you can get one that’s even better, my lord.”
2
It took hours of arguing and cajoling, but at last Arthur and I set out for the distant lake in search of the sword I promised him. Sir Bors and the other knights were dead set against the king’s nephew traveling alone with a stranger from a distant land. Bors complained that the fort might be attacked by Saxon raiders at any time, and Arthur’s place was where his uncle had put him. But wizened old Merlin was on my side.
“The Sarmatian brings good fortune to Arthur,” the old wizard said, stroking his long white beard as he spoke. The beard was knotted and filthy, his homespun robe even dirtier, but all the knights and squires stared at him with wide-eyed awe. They would not step closer than five paces to him; Merlin walked through the little fort’s dung-dotted courtyard as if protected by a magical aura.
In truth, I saw a burning intelligence in the old man’s narrowed eyes, a keen awareness that belied his wrinkled, ragged appearance. Beneath those shaggy gray brows his eyes were shrewd, sharp, penetrating. Was he one of the Creators in disguise?
To satisfy the suspicious knights, Merlin cast a spell to protect Arthur, nothing but hand-waving and muttering as far as I could see. But it seemed to satisfy Sir Bors and the others, at least enough to allow their young leader to leave the fort with me and no one else.
For two days we rode, and I got to know Arthur a little. He was burning for fame and glory. His highest hope was to one day be named Dux Bellorum: battle leader of his uncle’s forces.
Yet, like many an untried youth, he doubted his own abilities.
“I can see it in the faces of Bors and the others,” he told me as we camped for the night in a dark, dank forest. The huge, broad-boled trees grew so thickly that much of the day we had been forced to lead our horses afoot. “They would never follow someone so young.”
“They will, my lord,” I said, “once you prove yourself in battle.”
He shook his head mournfully. “The curse of the Britons, friend Orion, is that they will not follow anyone for long.”
“They will follow you, my lord. I’m sure of it.”
In the darkness of the forest night I heard him make a sound that might have been a sigh. “No, Orion. Look at us! Ambrosius calls himself high king, but who follows him? A handful, that’s all. You travel for two days in any direction and you pass throug...

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