THE CALL OF DESTINY
By Alan Fenton
It is said that in times of trouble King Arthur will return.
In the new millennium the world is sliding into chaos, its stability threatened by evil men engaged in the ruthless pursuit of global domination.
A brilliant scientist, Merlin, takes under his wing the newborn Arthur, illegitimate son of a leading British politician. Guided by Merlin, the boy grows to manhood, becoming a renowned soldier and natural leader. But will he have the courage to fulfil his destiny?
The Call of Destiny is the first book of Alan Fenton’s compelling cycle, The Return of Arthur, in which the Arthurian legend is played out against the backdrop of the 21st Century.
An exciting new voice in international fiction, Alan Fenton delivers a superb novel of extraordinary power and imagination that captures the hopes and fears of the troubled age we live in.
On the summit of a hill in the county of Somerset stands a solitary church tower, bearing witness to the ferocity of nature and of man. It is all that survives of two churches that once stood here. The first was destroyed by an earthquake, the second by the command of Henry the Eighth. As sunset approaches, subtle details of stone and lichen, archway and niche, buttress and embrasure, are lost in the deepening shadows. Silhouetted against the evening sky the stark stone mass of the tower dominates the soft contours of the landscape, uniting earth and heaven.
A few yards from the base of the tower, on a mound that marks the crest of the Tor two motionless figures stand, one taller than the other. Seen from the valley below, their dark shapes loom, remote and mysterious. There is a haunting and powerful aura about them, as if they were not people but primeval monoliths or statues of pagan gods in an ancient burial ground. In some strange way they are beings apart, belonging not to the present time, but to time itself.
The hill is otherwise deserted, as are the woods at its foot and the countryside beyond. The red ball of the sun sinks below the horizon. The west wind that has gusted all day is suddenly stilled. Not a sound, not even a breath of air, disturbs the silence. Nothing stirs. In this hushed moment, the earth and all the planets that only an instant before wheeled round the sun, seem to hang motionless in space.
Slowly the taller figure raises his hand, as if to release the world from its spell, then touches the boy lightly on the shoulder. ‘Shall we go? It’s getting late.’
They begin the descent. ‘Tell me more about him,’ says the boy.
‘He was a great leader,’ his older companion responds. ‘King of Britain, as they called it then. When he came to the throne the country was under constant attack by its enemies, both from outside and within.’
Down the steep track they jolt, each for a time absorbed in his own thoughts, the boy’s head buzzing with questions. ‘But what exactly did he do?’
‘The world had gone mad. The king tried to bring it back to its senses, and restore meaning to people’s lives. He wanted to give them courage and hope for the future. But to do that he first had to impose order on chaos.’
‘How do you mean, impose?’
The man nods approvingly. ‘You are right to question that word. He questioned it too. The thought of using force troubled him. But after much heart searching he decided that if mankind was to be saved, he had no other choice. He was given the power to do it, you see, power so formidable that many thought he had been sent to earth by God, or even that he himself was a divine being.’
‘And was he?’
‘So he was just an ordinary man?’
A brief silence. ‘He was a man, but no ordinary man. When he was young he found it hard to believe he had a special destiny. He wanted to lead a fun life and have a happy time, just as most people do. But as he grew older he came to understand that he was not the same as other men, and that the road he would have to take would be a different one.’
‘Because of the power he had?’
‘Yes. And because of the way he chose to use it.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Other men would have used it for selfish ends, but not him. He decided to fight the forces of darkness and chaos. He was a brave and cunning warrior; but he was also much more than that, a philosopher and a visionary, a wise and humane individual, gallant, just and honourable. Those who ruled by terror feared him. Those whom they terrorised, worshipped him. And in return he loved and honoured them, the ordinary men and women. He had a dream, a dream that one day the meek really would inherit the earth. But he knew they could only do it with his help.’
‘Was there no one else they could turn to?’
‘No one else whom good men and women would follow, no other leader who had the courage and strength of character to meet the challenge. Not that he was the only one who saw the world descending into chaos; there were leaders in other lands who feared for the future but were too weak, or too corrupt, or simply too afraid to act. As everything around them disintegrated, they stood by helplessly, resigned to self-destruction, accepting that mankind was doomed. They had abandoned all hope of changing anything; they no longer cared what happened. But he cared. He did everything in his power to create a new world for mankind, a world based on love and respect and justice.’
‘And did he succeed?’
‘For a while. Until things started to go wrong.’
The boy is impatient. ‘But how? Why? I want to know everything.’
‘It’s a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it?’ asks the man, teasing his young friend.
‘You know I do!’
A loving hand rests lightly on the boy’s head. ‘Then you shall.’
A mole of thought furrows the boy’s brow. ‘Is it just a story?
Or was there really such a person?’
‘There was,’ says the man, adding tantalisingly, ‘and may be again.’ The boy looks puzzled.
‘There are those who say that if ever he is needed, he will come again.’
The boy’s eyes shine. ‘What will he do?’
In the twilight the first star shows itself. A pale sliver of moon floats above the horizon.
‘Now there’s a question,’ the man says softly. ‘What will he do . . . ? Well now, I imagine he will try to save mankind, just as he did all those centuries ago. Lord knows, we need saving.’
The boy nods in acknowledgement, though scarcely understanding.
‘You never told me his name.’
‘You know it already.’
‘From the story books.’
The boy stands still and looks up at his beloved mentor, puzzled.
The man looks fondly down. ‘You want a clue?’
‘You have the same name as that king.’
For a second or two the wide eyes dream, catching the starlight, then suddenly sparkle as he laughs with delight. ‘Oh, that king!’ On an impulse he cups his hands around his mouth and shatters the silence, crying out the name at the top of his voice. ‘Arthur!’
The echoes wrap around him like a cloak in a swirl of wind . . . ‘Arthur! . . . Arthur! . . . Arthur!’, then tumble down the hill, fading as they fall, losing themselves in the twilight woods.
A vivid – and curiously timely – retelling of the 1200 year old ‘Arthurian’ myth. A worthy successor to Mallory, Fenton’s Return of Arthur is a deliciously fulfilling read. In part a modern redemptive, it also encompasses morality tale, cautionary fable and a warts- and-all analysis of contemporary ‘realpolitik’. I urge you to read it, and read it now, and then savour the exquisite agony of waiting for the sequel!
Paul Blezard, Oneword Radio
A very well written book. Takes the story of Arthur into the 21st Century and beyond. An unexpected slant on the story. Full of intrigue, politics and terrorism. Would make a great film.
“A The Return of Arthur is unashamedly political, posing incisive and challenging questions to the liberal democracies of the West. Despite being a fantasy, it is also a zeitgeist novel, drawing on the current world climate to open a window into the future. Based on Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur, the reader closely follows the magic and intrigue which surrounds the character of Arthur. From his childhood with the loving couple, Hector and Elizabeth, to his university days at Oxford, we see Arthur develop into a dashing and chivalrous young man, under Merlin’s careful tutelage. Fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy that he would usurp his real father’s position as British Prime Minister, Arthur stands alone against a ruthless terrorist group, known as the Angels of Mercy. Faced with an impossible choice, Arthur knows how to act. Alan Fenton’s second novel moves with relentless pace, making it eminently readable. A gripping yarn, The Return of Arthur, continually tantalises the reader as to how Arthur will fulfil his destiny. Fenton manages to combine a nail-biting political thriller with Mallory’s Arthurian fantasy, providing the reader with an allegory for our times.
Arthurian novels rarely match the excitement of the real thing. This one does. Alan Fenton has conjured up a highly topical story of Arthur for our times of Islamic terrorists. A ripping yarn, I found I couldn’t put the book down. Even Merlins’ illuminated holographic head materialising in the bookcase rang true. The personal lives of the politicians add to the sense of reality.
This is a believable book. If your image of Arthur is of a man ‘willing to sacrifice everything for a point of principle’ this is a book for you. Here is Y Gwir yn Erbyd y Byd (The Truth against the World). Highly recommended – I can’t wait to read the sequel.
Laurence Main, Pendragon XXXIV NO 1