The Kingpin of Camelot – Cassandra Gannon

Avalon Pendragon wanted her daddy. Her mommy was locked up in the dungeon, and her house was full of mean people, and the Scarecrow kept yelling at her, and she just wanted her daddy to come and make everything okay. Since that wasn’t happening today, she comforted herself with her drawings. Avalon liked to draw. Her mommy said she was the best artist in the whole world and had set up a special place for her, on the western terrace of the palace, where she could create her masterpieces in the open air. Usually, Avalon used her crayons to color flowers and dolphins and the rocking-horseflies in the garden. But lately all her pictures featured a mighty queen with an eyepatch and wings, who would sweep down to get rid of all the mean people forever. Avalon liked those pictures. “Now isn’t the time to obfuscate.” The Scarecrow paced around the veranda, trying to hide the fact that he hated her under his phony smile. It was a gloomy day, a cold breeze cutting across the kingdom. From the terrace, Avi could see straight down the hill to the foggy forest and then to Mount Baden far in the distance. All of it was dreary. Avalon missed the sun, but it would stay away until Camelot was happy again. “We need to identify where the wand is located and it’s incumbent on you to relay the information forthwith.


” The Scarecrow nodded like she was supposed to know what all of that meant. “It’s imperative that you cooperate, Princess Avalon.” Of all the people in the world, the Scarecrow was her least favorite. Not just because he was ugly and talked funny, but because he was the meanest of them all. He was ugly, though. His head was made of burlap, with painted features that somehow moved, and a widebrimmed felt hat. He dressed in a long coat made up of different patches of fabric all sewn together. Avalon had heard someone say that each square had been ripped from the clothing of his victims. That was just icky, because some of them still had blood stains on them. Most gross of all, of course, were the birds. The Scarecrow’s body was made of straw and kindling, his arms “comprised” of many branches that he could “articulate” like “appendages.” Those were the words Avalon had heard him using to describe his weird finger-y sticks, anyhow. The Scarecrow liked to use big words when he talked. She wasn’t always sure what they all meant, but she kinda thought that was the point of him using them. To make everybody think they were dumber than him.

As if the bundles of wooden twigs he used as hands weren’t creepy enough, inside his torso and limbs lived dozens of blackbirds. They nested in the hay and sticks, always ready to do his bidding. Avalon liked animals, but she was terrified of those birds. She wasn’t even sure they were birds. Sometimes she felt like they were pieces of the Scarecrow himself that he could send flying out of his body to peck out his enemies’ eyes and noses. Avalon never knew where they would be and it was scary. In Camelot, there were all kinds of people. Human-sized mice, and giants, and pixies, and fish who could talk… Avalon respected them all as unique beings. Her mommy said it was important to treat everybody equal. But the Scarecrow was different. Wrong. Inside of him there was nothing but birds and meanness. She didn’t want to talk to him. “Are you heeding this discussion?” He prompted when she didn’t answer. “Avalon, concentrate.

You must confess to where the wand is located. If you relinquish it to me, you can have Guinevere back.” He crouched down in front of the small table where she was coloring and tried a big, fake smile. “Isn’t that what you desire? Your mother returned to you? You need to help me in my undertaking, if we’re going to make that fond dream a reality.” Avalon didn’t like to look at him. It disturbed her to watch his dirty coat move as the birds shifted under the patchwork fabric. “You’re a bad person.” She told him, because it was wrong to lie. “I’m not helping you.” His painted-on eyes narrowed and he forgot he was pretending to be her friend. “I’m not Bad. You’re Bad. You and your Bad kind have polluted this kingdom long enough with your villainy. Soon enough, all of you will be expunged from Camelot.” Avalon wasn’t sure what “expunged” meant, but it sounded mean.

“My mommy and daddy are going to stop you from hurting everyone.” She knew that was true, so why didn’t he? It was clear to her that the Scarecrow wasn’t nearly as smart as he pretended. “Your father is dead!” He shouted and his birds restlessly fluttered in agitation. “Killed by your murderous mother in this very house!” He pointed upward, towards the balcony where King Arthur had fallen the year before. Avalon finally met his eyes, shocked that he could believe such a lie. “My daddy isn’t dead.” She said with absolute confidence. The Scarecrow hesitated, as if her certainty confused him. “Of course, he’s dead. I beheld his corpse with my own eyes. It’s interred in the royal tomb.” Avalon tilted her head, studying him for a long moment. “No,” she finally decided and went back to her drawing, “you’re wrong.” The Scarecrow’s lips tightened. They were painted to look like stitches in the burlap.

“I grow weary of your obstructionism.” Reaching over with his twig-fingers, he grabbed all the crayons from her. Avalon sent him an angry glare. “Those are mine!” “No more coloring for you, until I receive the information that I seek.” He glowered down at the drawing she was working on. “And that is one fucking hideous picture.” Avalon gasped in outrage. It was a beautiful picture and cursing was a no-no. “I realize now that I’ve been too lax in my interactions with you and your mother.” He snapped. “Perhaps you’d like to spend some time in the dungeon yourself.” He seized Avalon by the arm, dragging her inside. “See if that refreshes your memory.” Avalon allowed herself to be tugged along. Not that she had much of a choice, since he was so much bigger than her.

But if the Scarecrow was taking her to see her mommy, then he was forcing her to go just where she wanted to be, anyhow. Avalon loved her mommy more than anyone and missed her desperately. She didn’t fight at all, as he propelled her past the castle’s fancy rooms, towards the stairs she was never supposed to play on. They were made of heavy stones and led down, down, down into the lowest level of the house. Avalon squinted into the darkness looming below her, her heart pounding. “You shouldn’t do this.” She warned him quietly, because everybody deserved one last chance to fix their behavior. Her mommy always said that when Avalon was breaking the rules. “One last chance to fix your behavior, Avi, and then you’re going to be in big trouble.” If you were smart, like Avalon, at that point you stopped being naughty and made better choices. If Mommy said you were in big trouble, something horrible could happen. Like losing your dessert, or having to cut playtime short, or even an early bedtime. The Scarecrow wasn’t nearly so smart as her, though. He ignored Avalon’s advice and began lugging her down the cold steps. “It’s about time you and your mother comprehended who’s ruling this kingdom, now.

Once I marry her, you’ll learn to obey me and show some respect for your betters, you Bad little…” And then he was gone. One second he was shouting at her, his twiggy hand crushing her wrist. The next he was flailing down the stairs, into the blackness of the dungeon. It all happened very fast. Avalon felt someone yanking her away from the Scarecrow’s grip and lifting her off the ground. “Don’t watch, Avi.” Mommy said. At almost the same time, the Scarecrow was shouting in alarm and careening backwards. Avalon obediently closed her eyes, like her mommy said, but she still heard his body thumping down the steps. The disgusting birds squawked with panic. Mommy had pushed him and his nasty flock down the stairs. Mommy always kept her safe from the mean people. Avalon peeked upward and wasn’t surprised at all that her mother was invisible. The cloak was one of their favorite magical objects. Usually, Mommy got it out during games of hide-and-seek.

She beamed happily. “Hi, Mommy! Are we going to play, now?” “Absolutely we are. And it’s going to be very fun. We’re going to be super-duper quiet, so no one can find us.” The cloak swirled around Avalon and she became invisible, too. Inside the folds of the enchanted fabric she could finally see her mommy and she didn’t look so good. Being locked in the dungeon for days and days must have been sad for her. She was hurt and covered in dirt and way thinner, now. Avalon blinked up at her, her eyes filling with tears. This didn’t seem like a fun game, at all. “You okay, Mommy?” “I’m fine, baby. Are you okay?” She scanned Avalon from head to toe. “Did anyone hurt you?” “No.” Avalon shook her head. “But I don’t like it here, anymore.

I want my daddy.” Mommy sighed, like she was tired. “I need you to be very, very quiet, alright?” She made a “shhh!” sound and carried Avalon back upstairs. “We have to escape without anyone noticing.” At the top of the steps, she hesitated and cautiously looked around. There were several of the King’s Men stationed about, but they couldn’t see Avi or her mommy inside the cloak. Mommy carefully edged around them, heading for the terrace. It was the closest way out. “I wish we could steal a horse, but I don’t see how we can get into the stables without someone noticing.” She whispered. “So, we’re going to hop over the railing in your art area and run as fast as we can towards the woods.” “I like running.” “Good. Don’t stop running. You keep going until we’re in the trees.

We just need to put some distance between…” The Scarecrow’s angry bellow cut her off. “Find them!” He screamed charging up the steps in a furious rush. It was super hard to kill a person who wasn’t a person, but at least Mommy had hurt him. All his stuffing was askew, making him look lumpy and messed up. Straw and feathers poked out every which way. “Locate that bitch and her evil whelp or I’ll have all of your heads!” Mommy flattened her body to the wall, holding Avalon against her. Avalon squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make herself as small as possible. “How did Guinevere get free of the dungeon?” Sir Percival demanded, hot on his heels. He was almost as mean as the Scarecrow. “I don’t know. It was too dark on the stairs to even see her. She must have had assistance. She’s not clever enough to outmaneuver me herself.” The Scarecrow sounded mad. “Is there anyone still inhabiting the palace who could remain loyal to her?” “No, sire.

We disposed of all the Bad servants long ago and the Good folk who replaced them know better than to cross you.” “Where’s Galahad? Could he be back?” Percival scowled at the name. “I’m not sure, sire. No one’s seen him since King Arthur had him banished, because of his betrayal and his… attachment to the queen.” “Find him.” The Scarecrow spat out. “In the meantime, I want Guinevere back and locked in chains immediately. Seal the doors and ensure she can’t leave the property.” He issued orders to random soldiers as he walked, pointing at them. “Cut off all her access points. Alert the perimeter guards. If Gwen escapes, she could locate the wand and ruin us!” “Even if she gets out of the castle, the bitch won’t have anywhere to go.” Sir Percival assured him. They were so close now, Avalon was surprised they couldn’t hear her breathing. “No Good folk in the kingdom will support her, as long as she insists that Bad brat is Arthur’s heir.

” Mommy’s hand came up to cradle the back of Avalon’s head, shielding her from danger. Mommy was the best person in the world. She protected Avi. But Daddy wasn’t there, so who protected Mommy? Avalon hugged her tight, scared they would be found and her mother would be taken away, again. Luckily, the Scarecrow and his men walked right past them. “And someone make sure Arthur’s really dead!” The Scarecrow bellowed to nobody in particular as he stormed by. Avalon breathed a sigh of relief as they headed down the hall, their weapons drawn. “Fucking bastards.” Mommy muttered. “You shouldn’t curse, Mommy. It’s a no-no.” “Sorry, baby.” Mommy hitched Avalon up on her hip, not sounding very sorry. She hurried towards the terrace, barely squeezing through the door before one of the guards slammed it shut. “What a pretty picture!” Avalon’s art was still sitting on the small table and Mommy nodded to the sketch of the flying lady as they hurried by.

“That just might be your very best drawing, yet.” Avalon bobbed her head, pleased that her work was appreciated. “Lyrssa’s brave. Like you, Mommy.” “Like us, baby. You and I are going to be very brave together.” She swung them both over the low railing, dropping into the flower garden below. Rocking-horseflies buzzed. Those were Avalon’s favorite and they made her feel a little bit better. Mommy paused by a statue of Arthur’s father, kicking it over with her foot. Avalon winced as the boring clay bust of King Uther shattered into a million pieces. “Why’d you do that?” “I hid something under here that we might need.” She grabbed a small rolled up package from beneath the base of the ruined memorial, keeping one arm locked around Avalon. “A present from Galahad.” Avalon smiled.

“I love Gal and I love presents.” “I love him, too.” Mommy sighed again, ‘cause she missed him a lot. “We’ll see him soon. I promise.” “We should find him.” “We will, but not today. Today, we’re running to the forest and we’re not stopping until we’re safe in the trees, remember?” Avalon nodded, trying to be brave like her mommy said, but she was still afraid. “Then where are we going to go?” “I’m not sure.” Mommy kissed the top of her head. “We’ll figure it out when we get there, won’t we?” Avalon popped her thumb into her mouth. Things that made sense to her usually didn’t make sense to other people. She’d figured that out a long time ago. Arthur used to get real mad when she’d tell him stuff and the Scarecrow called her names. Mommy would listen, though.

She always listened, especially when it was important. “Mommy?” “Yes, Avi?” “I want my daddy.” Chapter One This Contract is entered into by Guinevere Pendragon and Midas (no last name given) willingly and knowingly. Each party wishes to define their rights and obligations under the arrangement herein discussed and attest that they fully understand all its terms, conditions, clauses, and caveats. The purpose of this Contract is to ensure there will be no misunderstanding in the future and to facilitate a smooth and profitable partnership. Clause 1- General Purpose of Contract Gold could buy many things. Palaces. Armies. Women. Just about anything a man could want, really. But gold couldn’t buy class. At least, that’s what everyone told him. All his life, Midas had been trying to prove them wrong. He refused to accept that there was anything in existence that he couldn’t purchase. Class was proving to be an elusive item on his shopping list, though.

He’d tried to acquire it in a thousand different ways and he’d still come up empty. Maybe it was hopeless. Maybe class was just an innate quality that some people were born with and most people weren’t. That possibility never seemed as frustratingly true as when he saw Arthur’s wife entered the ballroom. She was shivering and soaking wet from the rain. Her dress was so worn that it was falling apart. Her body was frail, her pale hair a bedraggled mess around her colorless face. In her arms, she carried a small girl who couldn’t have been more than five. Quite frankly, Guinevere Pendragon looked as if she’d just walked straight through hell itself, carrying her daughter on her hip. And somehow she was still the only woman in the room. All around Midas, the finely-dressed guests at the party transformed. Their lavish clothes and priceless jewelry became gaudy. Their artful, cutting laughter suddenly seemed grating. Their carefully made up faces now looked overblown and fake. Next to Guinevere, all the illusions they had crafted for themselves fell away and revealed the common tin under their gilded surfaces.

Imitations would always look like imitations when you set them next to the genuine article. When you compared them to the best. From his perch on the balcony, Midas’ golden eyes sited on Guinevere and he saw what he could never have. He had more money than he could ever spend and enough power to change the course of history, but he didn’t possess what this tiny woman wore like perfume. Class. His detractors were right. Midas could try and fake it, but his efforts no doubt looked just as artificial as the rest of the partygoers’. In that moment, he saw the truth. You couldn’t bullshit class. Couldn’t pick it up like a new language. Couldn’t bibbity-bob it into existence with a fairy godmother. It was quite simply bred in the bone. Guinevere had it and he wanted it. And if she was coming to Midas, she must want something from him, too. Satisfaction filled him.

He’d been right, too. Everything was for sale, if you offered the right price. Everything. Midas believed that with a fervor other men reserved for God and kingdom. If he couldn’t buy class itself, he’d simply own someone who possessed it. It amounted to the same thing. Every day, people showed up at his custom-designed castle to pay homage and beg favors. Guinevere might be royalty, but she was no different in that respect. He could already tell. She needed something desperately or she would’ve stayed far away. They’d certainly never met before. Arthur would roll over in his tomb before he’d let his pristine bride within a mile of the Kingpin. Their dearly departed ruler was quoted as calling Midas a “violent predator who lured innocents into his evil clutches.” It was all right there in the trial transcripts, along with other memorably colorful phrases such as “upstart commoner,” “mindless gorilla” and “tawdry, feral animal.” The “tawdry” part was just a low-blow, in Midas’ opinion, but the jury sure had liked it.

In any case, classy noblewomen and their sleeping daughters usually stayed far, far away from Midas and his home. Especially with the Round Table about to begin. The guests at his bacchanalia were the worst the kingdom had to offer. Soulless predators in the sometimes literal sense of the words. A lady like Guinevere would never willingly walk through his front door. Not unless she was completely out of options.

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Updated: 19 July 2021 — 15:54

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