This evening I attended one of the regular BristolCon Fringe reading events — in this case, an open-mic session where lots of people got a strictly-policed five minutes to read excerpts from their work, followed by a general Q&A free-for-all.
For the occasion, I put together this (basically spoiler-free) reading, which I explained as a hybrid between William S Burroughs’ literary cut-up method and a movie trailer:
The Pendragon Protocol: Trailer
Jory stands on the tarmac pavement between two ranks of privet-hedged, pebble-dashed houses, wearing the armour of a Knight of the Circle. Ahead of him along the road, one of these innocuous suburban semis is harbouring a monster.
Jory’s sword and helm are urban grey like his armour – as inconspicuous against the road and pavement as one might reasonably expect, which isn’t very. His shield’s a vibrant red with tracery of gold.
The Circle are the modern-day successors of the Knights of the Round Table.
A second shield-charge bursts the glass doors into fragments, skittering across the decking, showering the lawn, crunching beneath his boots as he approaches the shed at a run. He slides his sword smoothly from its scabbard and shouts:
‘James Ribbens! I’m a Knight of the Circle. I’m here to take you into custody, in the name of the Circle and its Head. Open the door!’
A leftover corner of glass drops and shatters, as if his yell’s dislodged it.
Armed with the latest military hardware and operating from a hidden fortress on the South Bank, they protect twenty-first-century Britain from certain very specific threats…
‘The giant Retho,’ Jory says. ‘An ogre who lived on Mount Arvaius. He owned a fur coat made from all the beards of the kings he’d slain. It’s an old Welsh story – the myth evolves, but the central device is always the same.
‘Retho killed many kings, and with every regicide he added a new beard to his cloak. He needed King Arthur’s beard to complete the set, but Arthur was the High King of all Britain. Retho wanted to humiliate him, or perhaps he was more afraid of him than the others. So he pretended mercy. He sent a message ordering Arthur to pluck out his own beard, and send it to Retho. Arthur refused, of course, and challenged the giant to single combat.’
…criminals who, like the Circle’s own Knights have characters from Arthurian legend living inside their heads.
Jory clearly remembers the crunch of the first grenade, lobbed up into their vantage point from a completely unexpected direction.
It took out two of the men-at-arms and stunned David, leaving him concussed and semi-conscious. Seeing his superior in no position to direct his men, and the squad suddenly exposed in what was supposed to have been their strategically advantageous high ground, Jory ordered them to drop to the ground in a tight defensive formation, the wounded David in the middle, and used their radio to call for backup.
For twenty minutes they fended off snipers and grenade-throwers, jeered at by a capering, sword-wielding figure whose Old Etonian accent immediately identified him as Clifford Chalmers himself.
Jory Taylor, the Knight bearing the device of Sir Gawain, has grappled on the Circle’s behalf with serial killers, mercenaries and far-right terrorist cells.
Noake stands, an isolated figure, between the rows of pillars in the middle of the cordoned-off marble floor of St Pancras. At this distance his White Horse of Uffington tattoo is a dark smear across his cheeks and forehead. Jory stares at his bulky vest, comparing it with the last customised waistcoat he saw worn by a renegade device-bearer. This one’s shorter on the rustic psychosis, but heavy on the paramilitary chic. It’s black, made of some tough canvas-like fabric, and slatted about like a Dalek with blocky rectangles the size of thick paperbacks, whose function is depressingly obvious.
‘That’s what I call a bomber jacket,’ Wigsby observes unhelpfully. ‘Eh?’
However, when he is captured by Gawain’s traditional enemy, the Green Knight…
He was burly, but not built on Jack Bennett’s scale. He carried a heavy long-handled axe, of the kind Jory imagined men using to fell trees. It was twined about with tinsel. Over his hood, the man wore a pair of rubber Christmas reindeer antlers and a holly wreath.
In theory, he looked ridiculous. To Jory, his tawdry headgear looked as regal as a crown.
The device-bearing stranger plucked off the festive hat and pulled his hood back, showing himself to be a black man of about Jory’s age.
‘Nice sword, pal,’ he said. ‘Where’s your horse?’
…he discovers a new side to the myths he lives by…
In years to come he’ll have one memory of that party, and it will be of her voice. She’s singing, unaccompanied, the stereo silent for the moment, and the folk of the Green Chapel, aside from the odd disrespectful dog or baby, listening appreciatively.
‘This world seemed topsy-turvy, and persons of renown
were humbled at the people’s feet as the world turned upside down.’
…one which, as he learns more about this clandestine world, becomes both threateningly personal…
In this moment, Jory forgets more or less everything.
His reservations about the Green Chapel, for example. The need to keep friendship and romance separate. Thoughts of the future, even of the hangover which will inevitably blight his world tomorrow morning. His friend, whose feelings for this woman, he could see from one glance earlier, are stronger than her airy denial would allow.
Plus, at the number one spot, his vow of chastity.
…and terrifyingly political.
‘The homeless slept at the palace, and sold the sceptre and crown
to fill themselves with beer and bread as the world turned upside down.’
The Devices Trilogy Book One: The Pendragon Protocol. Available now.
I believe recordings of both the readings and the Q&A may be appearing on the web at some point, so you may be able to hear not only my fumbling attempts (after three pints) at explaining what the trilogy is actually about, but also the unprecedented spectacle of me singing solo in public. I’ll post a link here when there is one.