The Last Knight

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2007-01-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Need a Hero? You've got one in Sir Michael Sevenson. Although there hasn't been a knight errant in over two hundred years, this young noble has decided to revive the trade. He's found himself a reluctant partner in Fisk, a clever rogue who has been given the choice of serving as Michael's squire or going to jail for a very long time. Now Michael and Fisk are on a quest to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and make the world a happier place. It's not going to be easy. On their first attempt at rescuing a damsel in distress, they break a lady out of a tower, only to discover she was there for good reason: awaiting trial for poisoning her husband. Now the would-be heroes must find Lady Ceciel and return her to justice or be condemned themselves.


The Last Knight

Chapter One


To say it was a dark and stormy night would be a gross understatement. It was colder than a witch's kiss, wetter than a spring swamp, and blacker than a tax collector's heart. A sane man would have been curled up in front of a fire with a cup of mulled wine and a good boo—, ah, a willing wench. But not me. I was out in it. I'm squire to a hero.

At least the downpour that had drenched us all afternoon was now beginning to slacken. The Green Moon hadn't risen, but the Creature Moon was high enough to glow dimly through the churning clouds, shedding just enough light for me to watch the damsel being lowered from the tower. Not that I could see her well, with the rain splattering into my eyes whenever I looked up; she was only a dim shape of swirling skirts and hair, dangling from a knotted rope.

Sir Michael, my employer, had tied those knots to make handholds for the climb down. He was inside the tower now, slowly releasing the rope. The woman bounced when the knots slid over the windowsill, but the lady had the sense to brace her feet against the tower. She was doing all right.

But if she slipped and set up a screech, or if anything alerted the guards, who were currently dicing on the tower's ground floor, I was going to take Tipple and ride off as fast as I could. Tipple was the faster and sounder of the two horses I was "guarding," and even she wouldn't be able to move quickly in this much mud. I had seen enough of my employer, in the one week we'd known each other, to be certain he'd put up a good enough fight to delay them while I escaped.

I had suggested hiring a nice dry carriage . . . but even if he'd agreed, Sir Michael would have expected me to drive it.

When Sir Michael first told me he'd take me as his squire (this was after he'd told me he was a knight errant, and I'd asked if his keepers knew he was out), he said that all proper knights errant had trusty squires behind them.

Shaken as I was at the time, I still had the sense to refrain from saying that "behind him" was where I intended to stay. Looking after lunatics isn't a job I fancy—but then, I didn't have much choice in the matter.

This is the modern age. Knights errant have been extinct for over two hundred years, and even when they existed, errantry wasn't what you'd call a practical profession. I'd outgrown that kind of romantic idiocy before I was ten, but looking at his calm face, I realized that Sir Michael—a full year older than my own seventeen—was perfectly serious.

He'd done a better job getting into the tower than I had expected—crazy people must have an advantage when it comes to doing crazy things. The rain-slick ruins of the keep provided a treacherous but manageable staircase that stopped just short of the third-floor window where Sir Michael had entered the tower. The only tricky part was climbing the last ten feet of sheer stone to the third floor. It took him four tries. A woman climbing down never could have done it.

The tower's upper windows were dark, which meant there were probably no guards on the upper floors. The lady's steward had warned us, several times, what would happen if the guards caught us.

But the lady was now only twenty feet from the ground and no alarm had sounded.

Who had bothered to maintain this old tower, and why? It had no use that I could see, except as a prison. Even if the noble who owned the manor at the foot of the hill was trying to wed a spectacularly Gifted young widow by force, he still wouldn't need a prison often enough to make preserving the tower worthwhile.

Gifts may pass from a woman to her children of either sex, but no man, no matter how great his own Gifts, will pass them on to his descendants. Because of this, Gifted women are sometimes forced into marriage—though these days the force usually consists of gold roundels applied to the pockets of the woman's male relations. But the ragged old man with the missing foot had sworn that he was steward to a lady who was being held prisoner in the tower, and here she was, coming down on the rope.

Sir Michael had worried that she might have been dosed with aquilas, which is frequently used to subdue abducted damsels. That could have slowed down our escape, but nothing had hindered matters so far.

She was less than ten feet from the ground now, so it was time for me to do something.

I checked Chanticleer's and Tipple's tethers—though being bright beasts they showed no sign of wanting to leave the shelter of the crumbling wall—and walked carefully through the slippery mud to the tower's base.

The lady's long, dark hair no longer swirled, but clung to her head in much the same way the bodice of her dress clung to her figure. An admirable figure, but it didn't keep me from noticing that she had pulled back one dainty foot to kick me in the face. Her expression was a mixture of fear, determination, and misery, but determination came out on top.

I stopped, well out of range, and murmured, "It's me, Fisk, his squire. So don't kick me, all right?"

"His what ?" she whispered. The rope jerked and she bounced downward. Her descent had looked smoother from a distance. Or perhaps Sir Michael was getting tired.

I stepped forward warily, and caught her in my arms as the rope slackened. "It's a long story."

Her amused, rain-wet face was attractive, if you like strong, even features better than soft prettiness. Me, I like both, but the willful glint in her eyes was enough to warn any sensible man.

The Last Knight. Copyright © by Hilari Bell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Last Knight by Hilari Bell
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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