The gauntlet is thrown. One must die. Refusal is not an option.
Arthur the High King of Breatein has fallen captive of a longtime enemy, the Saxon warrior-princess Camilla, who lusts to avenge the death of her betrothed at Gyan’s hands and will stop at nothing, even the black arts, to achieve her goal. Because Gyan and Arthur have grown estranged, she fears that Arthur may side with Camilla and make her his new queen.
To meet Camilla’s challenge, Gyan must face all her demons—public as well as private.
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An Excerpt from The Challenge
Upon reaching Gyan’s side, Angusel thrust a scroll into her hand, his gaze softening. Her stomach knotted. It took all her strength of will to keep her hands from trembling as she broke the seal and unrolled the parchment to read its contents.
She had expected word of Arthur’s condition, couched in threats. Not this.
Camilla had issued a personal challenge to end the impasse by single combat in front of Gyan’s troops. If Gyan declined the challenge, violated the terms, or lost the fight, her crown would be declared forfeit.
Gyan crushed the parchment in her fist.
She beckoned Angusel and Merlin to follow her to the headquarters tent. Once inside with the flaps tied shut, she whispered the details.
“What will you do, Your Majesty?” Quiet worry colored Merlin’s tone.
What, indeed? She dropped the scroll onto the field table and, sighing, closed her eyes. Victory would be difficult to achieve if the rumor of Camilla’s demon-aided strength was true. Defeating her would permit Gyan to retain her crown… and the joyless life it had come to represent.
There had to be another option.
“Your Majesty?” She opened her eyes to find Angusel gripping the pommel of his sword with white-knuckled intensity. He thumped fist to lion-embossed bronze breastplate. “Let me fight for you!”
Interview of Gyan from The Challenge
What is the meaning of your name?
I am Gyanhumara nic Hymar, daughter of Hymar and her consort, Ogryvan. My mother, whose name means “song,” named me her “rarest song,” for I was fated before birth to be the only daughter she would ever bear. Those who do not ken the Caledonach tongue call me by many other names: Vennevria… Guanhumara… Ganora… Gwenhwyfar… Guenevara… Guinevere. I am none of those women.
I am Gyanhumara.
My kin and closest friends call me Gyan. You may call me “Your Majesty.”
As you wish, of course. Please describe your job, Your Majesty.
I am Chieftainess of Clan Argyll of Caledon, a position I inherited from my mother. When my husband Arthur was acclaimed High King of Breatein by virtue of his—our—victories over the Saxons, Scots, and other enemies of his people the Breatanaich, I became High Queen to rule at Arthur’s side.
Though I remain honored that Arthur’s people hold much love and respect for me, the added responsibilities have proven to be far more of a burden than I could have ever foreseen.
Do you have a favorite place to visit?
The Sanctuary of the Chalice on St. Padraic’s Isle. In the churchyard lie the bodies of the first men to die under my command. Their gravestones serve to remind me that war should only be pursued after all other avenues toward peace have failed. Inside the church sits enshrined one of the holiest relics of all Christendom… and the only means by which I have ever attained forgiveness for the mistakes I’ve made. And those mistakes are, indeed, legion.
This may be a sensitive question, but please tell us, Your Majesty, about your significant other.
Ah, Arthur, my life, my heart, my soul… my dearest love. How did we ever come to a point where we scarcely share an intimate word anymore? I blame the pressures of governing the people, of protecting them from invasions and famines and plagues and sundry other threats.
But most of all, I blame myself for the poor choices I have made that have widened our rift.
What is your most important goal?
I would give anything for the chance to set things aright with Arthur. Anything, even my very life itself.
What is your worst nightmare?
Ha! You have doubtless heard that in mere moments I must face in combat a woman reputed to be in league with a demon. Is that not nightmare enough for you?
Please forgive me, Your Majesty; I intended no offense. Thank you so much for your precious time, and I wish you success in this battle… and beyond.
(Gyan inclines her head, a slight smile bending her lips. The smile inverts as she tugs on her gloves, dons her helmet, claps hand to hilt, and strides off to meet her foe.)
About Kim Headlee
Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, Great Pyrenees goat guards, and assorted wildlife. People and creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins—the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-twentieth century—seem to be sticking around for a while yet. She has been an award-winning novelist since 1999 (Dawnflight 1st edition, Sonnet Books, Simon & Schuster) and has been studying the Arthurian Legends for nigh on half a century.
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From Mari: I’d like to send out a special thanks to Tina Gayle for inviting me to participate in her annual Egg-cerpt Exchange, which goes until March 31. I have a new author lined up for Thursday Tea & Co. every week during the Exchange. So be sure to check back next week!