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American King (New Camelot Trilogy #3)
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They say that every tragic hero has a fatal flaw, a secret sin, a tiny stitch sewn into his future since birth. And here I am. My sins are no longer secret. My flaws have never been more fatal. And I’ve never been closer to tragedy than I am now.
I am a man who loves, a man whose love demands much in return. I am a king, a king who was foolish enough to build a kingdom on the bones of the past. I am a husband and a lover and a soldier and a father and a president.
Long live the king.
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When I was a child,I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned liked a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am known now to God.
There is a certain fatalism in the old myths and legends that I’ve always relished. This idea that our paths are pre-ordained by some external hand—by God or by the universe or by fate, or by some mixture of the three. That from the moment I took my first breath, the date and time of my last were already stitched into determined existence. Why this idea should fascinate me, I don’t know, but it does. I suppose it promises meaning. And meaning, above all, is what I seek.
I want to know this isn’t in vain.
I want to know my life wasn’t in vain.
I keep having this dream about a lake. Mirror-still, glass-clear, fog wisping over the surface. There is a boat there, and women, and there is someplace to go. A better place, over the water.
My Greer is there. And my mother, and Morgan, and strangely enough, Embry’s mother Vivienne. They cry over me like they would cry over a body, and the boat cuts through the water like a knife, swift and smooth.
There is a better place over the water.
It’s no easy thing, knowing the day. Choosing it. Fuck fatalism, because it’s still a choice. I still have to put on this armor I’ve chosen—cuff links, tie bar, flag pin—and I still have to pick up my weapons. I still have to face a man I love and hate—a man who loves and hates me in return—and choose to lay down my life, hoping that everything I fought for, all the fragile peacetime work of a tired soldier, will still stand when I no longer can. I have to trust—so much trust—that this sacrifice has meaning. That on this wicked day, when I fall to my knees, I will fall knowing that the world has shifted that much closer to peace and goodness. I will fall knowing the people I love are safe.
I will die and go to a better place over the water.
Now I know in part, but then I shall know, even as I am known.
I pulled a sword from a stone when I was twelve years old.
A carnival had come to town, all lights and cotton candy and generators whirring in the summer heat, and Althea had given Kay and me each ten dollars to spend there. Kay, too cool and too old to be bothered with the rides, bought a soda and spent the evening flirting and showing off her new yarn braids, bright blue and just finished after midnight the night before.
But me, I spent every last dollar at the same booth. Sandwiched between the ring toss and the place where you shot metal ducks with cork guns was a small canopy strung with lights and carpeted by grass so trampled that the dirt showed through. It was a strength game, much like hitting a giant hammer on a scale—pull the sword from the stone and you won the blinking plastic crown hanging from the ceiling. If you could pull the sword up halfway, you won a stuffed animal.
The stone was, of course, molded concrete, and the sword wasn’t a real sword. Just a piece of stamped metal rigged with bolts and slides to keep it from moving up all the way out of the stone. It was a money trap, exactly the kind of thing my adoptive mother Althea would refuse to let me spend her money on if she were there.
But she wasn’t there, and for some reason I was determined. I think I had this idea that the crown would look good perched on my sister’s new braids. I’m sure part of it was an adolescent desire to show off. And part of it still lay beyond the realm of explanation; I couldn’t articulate why I wanted to do it, I just knew that I did. And so on a hot summer’s day, thunderclouds piling up like cars over the Missouri River, I spent ten dollars for ten tries at the sword.
I failed nine times.
On the tenth, the sword pulled free.
A bolt must have broken, something sheared loose with a rattle and a snap, and all of a sudden I was staggering backwards, holding a sword-shaped piece of metal too heavy to keep upright.
“Holy shit, kid,” the carnival worker said. “You broke that thing right off.”
I was too stunned to answer, holding the sword-shaped metal like it was the answer to every question in the universe. Up until that moment, I’d been a good but unremarkable boy—I got good grades, I played a decent game of baseball, I got along with almost everyone. But holding that rusted, dull metal, the hilt cool in my hand, the humid air hot on my face, I felt the thrill of possibility. The insistent tugging feeling that I needed to be doing something, going somewhere, finding someone. The enchanting itch that there was a better, richer world just out of reach, that I could stretch out my fingers and part the very air like a veil, and that behind that veil would be a place that was more than my own mundane life. The trees leafier, the sun warmer, everything just more.