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The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek
By Mari Mancusi
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- Trade Paperback $7.99 $10.49 CAD
- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 3, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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When young Arthur of Camelot accidentally time-travels to the 21st century and Googles himself, he discovers the not-so-happily ever after in store for him once he pulls the sword from the stone. Yes, he'll go from squire to sovereign basically overnight, but he'll also lose the love of his life to his best friend and eventually die in battle. What's a once-and-future king to do? Easy: stay in the future, where he'll actually have a future–and join the football team instead.
Now, with the help of the great wizard Merlin, modern-day gamer-geeks Sophie and Stu find themselves in a race against time to get that sword pulled from the stone and the stubborn soon-to-be-king Arthur back to the past where he belongs.
Copyright © 2018 by Marianne Mancusi Beach
Cover art © 2018 by Pétur Antonsson
Designed by Whitney Manger-Fine
Cover design by Tyler Nevins
All rights reserved. Published by Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To my daughter, Avalon.
You make every day a magical adventure.
The stench of death hung heavy in the air as the group made their way through the ruined castle. Dark shadows danced menacingly across battle-scarred walls while the windows rattled a warning. A nightmare scene to frighten off even the bravest of heroes, and Lady Bella knew she and her companions were far from that.
But they’d come too far to turn back now.
And so they pressed on, through cobweb-draped halls, down crumbling stone steps. Ducking low-hanging archways, crossing rotted-out floors. Until the corridor dead-ended at a matching set of ironbound doors, looming tall and wide before them. The entrance to the sorceress’s chamber.
Lord Vanquish raised his glowing red blade while Sir Melvin mumbled protection spells under his breath. Bella’s staff crackled with magical energy and a chill tripped down her spine.
This was it. This was really it.
“We have fought long and hard, my friends,” Sir Melvin proclaimed, his deep voice booming through the chamber. “At last, we stand at the doorway of our destiny.”
A small grin crossed Lady Bella’s face. She couldn’t help it. They’d waited so long for this day. And now it was finally here. Her heart pounded in a mixture of excitement and fear.
“I’m ready,” she declared.
“I have one final question,” Melvin continued. “Before we enter Morgana’s chamber.” He turned to her, his wizened eyes piercing her with a sharp intensity. “One very important question.”
“Y-yes?” she whispered, drawing in a shaky breath.
Melvin gazed at her solemnly. “Why haven’t you done the dishes yet?”
“Sophie! I’m not going to ask you again!”
Lady Bella, aka twelve-year-old Sophie Sawyer, groaned as she yanked off her headphones and threw them down on her computer desk. Seriously? Seriously? Shaking her head, she banged out a message to her friends.
>>LadyBella: Hang on, guys. I’m getting major dad aggro here.
Pushing away her mouse, she rose from her chair and walked around her unmade bed. She had to admit, her father had a gift. A really, really annoying gift.
She pulled open her door. “Sophie? Did you hear me?” her father was still barking from downstairs.
Oh, she’d heard him all right. All ten times in the past ten minutes. Problem was, she couldn’t exactly explain to him that though it might appear to the un-geeked eye that she was just sitting in her room messing around with her computer, she was actually in the middle of something pretty epic.
And the dishes would have to wait.
She stuck her head into the hallway. “I’ll be right down,” she yelled, hoping to score five more minutes of peace. Enough time to get through this last fight. The three of them had been building up to this battle for over a year now, leveling up and gaining the skills it took to bring down the numero uno boss of Camelot’s Honor, the evil sorceress Morgana. She couldn’t log out now.
Returning to her computer, she jammed the headphones back over her ears.
>>LadyBella: I’m back. Let’s do this. Quick.
Grabbing the mouse, Sophie placed her character into position alongside her teammates, Lord Vanquish (her best friend, Stuart Mallory) and SirMelvin01 (a surfer playing from somewhere out in California). Pressing a few hot keys, she prepped her shields, readying herself for the fight. As a shape-shifting druid, Lady Bella had the most important role in this battle. Also, the most difficult. She needed to morph herself into bird form, then fly above the sorceress, disarming her force field before Morgana could cast her annihilation spell. If Sophie failed to do it in time, it was game over for sure.
She gritted her teeth. But she’d practiced this. She would not fail.
>>LordVanquish: Go, go, GO!
They stepped through the doors, into the sorceress’s inner sanctum: a windowless chamber with black walls and high ceilings disappearing into the darkness. For a moment, the chamber appeared empty. Then Morgana drifted out from the shadows, the music swelling in her wake.
“Foolish mortals,” she purred. “Do you really think you can defeat me?”
“Go!” Melvin cried. “NOW!”
Lord Vanquish charged the sorceress, shield up and sword ready. When he reached her, he slashed down hard, a bite that should have cut her to the bone. Instead, the blade bounced harmlessly off her skin—her magical force field protecting her from any harm.
Morgana cackled, raising her hands above her head, a cloud of black smoke swirling as she drew energy from the elements to aid her cast. A firebolt shot from her fingers, striking Lord Vanquish square in the chest. Only Melvin’s lightning-fast heal kept him upright.
Melvin turned to Bella. “It’s all up to you.”
Bella nodded grimly, using her magic to transform herself into an eagle. Then, beating her wings, she took flight, soaring high above the rafters. Once in position, she locked on to the small tear at the top of Morgana’s force field. The one weakness—sure to bring the sorceress down. She began her descent, heart slamming against her rib cage, ready to—
“You better not be playing that video game!” Dad cried, bursting into the room. Startled, Sophie knocked the mouse with her hand and the game spun, completely distorting her perspective. By the time she regained control, Lady Bella was on the ground. Dead. Along with Lord Vanquish and Sir Melvin. Utterly annihilated.
“No!” Sophie cried, staring at the screen in dismay. “You killed me.”
Her father rolled his eyes. “Funny. You still look pretty alive to me. Which makes me wonder why you haven’t done the chores I assigned you this morning.” He wagged a finger in her direction. “Get to it, young lady. I’m not going to ask again.”
Sophie slumped. “Fine,” she said. “Can I at least say good-bye to Stu first?”
Her father frowned, looking as if he wanted to argue. Then he sighed. “Five minutes. Then I want you off the computer for the rest of the day. Go get some sunshine or something.”
And with that, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Sophie could hear his loud footsteps clomping down the stairs.
Leaning back in her chair, she scrubbed her face with her hands. Lady Bella now stood resurrected in the graveyard next to Lord Vanquish and Sir Melvin. Alive again, but all for nothing. They’d been defeated and the online game wouldn’t give them another chance at slaying the sorceress for the next five days.
Her phone started ringing.
“I know, I know,” she said as she answered.
“What happened? You totally had it!” Stu cried on the other end of the line. She could hear the disappointment in his voice. Stupid Dad. He had no idea how his interruption of Sophie’s virtual world affected other people’s real lives.
“What can I say? My father has an epic finishing move.” She stared glumly at the screen, where Melvin was saying good-bye as he prepared to sign out of the game. She quickly private-messaged him an apology. After all, the guy was a good player and had become an online friend, though neither she nor Stu had ever met him in real life. She didn’t want him to get annoyed at them and decide to leave their guild.
“You can say you’re getting a lock on your door for a start.”
Sophie snorted. “Yeah, right. Like my dad’s going to go for that.” She pressed a hot key, bringing up Lady Bella’s Pegasus mount, then started her flight back to the main city of Camelot. “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something before Friday.”
There was silence on the other end of the line and for a moment she thought they’d been disconnected. Then, “Friday?” Stu asked.
“Yeah, you know, we have to wait until the dungeon resets before we can try again,” she said, surprised at having to explain. Stu was the ultimate expert on everything Camelot related. In fact, he often spent more time on the game’s wiki boards learning the fights than doing his homework.
“I know, but… couldn’t we do it Saturday instead?”
“Actually no. They’re doing that patching, remember?” she said. “The servers are going to be offline all weekend.”
“What do you have against Friday?”
“Uh… nothing. I was just… thinking of going to that pizza-night thing with the team after the game.”
Sophie frowned. “The team?” she repeated before she could stop herself. Then realization hit her. “Oh. Right. Soccer.” She made a face.
It had been three weeks already, but it was still hard for her to believe that her best friend—for some unfathomable reason—had made the crazy decision to join the school’s soccer team. An unexpected move that reeked of his stepbrother Lucas’s influence. Lucas was the resident jock in the family. A star player on their school’s football team. Stu, on the other hand, had always been more mathlete than athlete. A geek of the highest order.
Until now, that was.
“Just tell them you’re busy doing something actually important,” she said. “Like downing Morgana with your best friend. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
She said it as a joke. She expected him to laugh. Instead, there was dead silence on the other end of the line, causing an uncomfortable feeling to worm its way to her stomach. What was going on here? Did he actually want to hang out with the team—off the field? Instead of playing video games with her? They always gamed on Friday nights. It was tradition! And he was going to break that now? Now that they were up against the most important fight of their gaming lives?
Stu cleared his throat. “Look, I’m sorry, Soph. Can’t we just do it Monday instead?” He paused, then added, “I mean it’s just a video game, right? It’s not like Morgana is going anywhere.”
She stared at the phone. “Just a video game?” she repeated. “Just a video game?” She drew in a breath. “Okay, who are you and what did you do to my best friend?”
She could hear the anger and confusion rising in her voice and was a little embarrassed that she was getting this upset. But still, who could blame her? For the past year she and Stu had lived and breathed Camelot’s Honor. Slaving away on menial quests, gaining experience, and rising in levels. All to get to this point.
And now he was bailing. To hang out with the cool kids. Leaving her behind.
“Whatever,” she said sharply. “Maybe I’ll just find a pickup group and slay Morgana with them instead.”
“What?” Stu cried, suddenly sounding concerned. About time. “You’d kill her without me?”
Okay, fine. Maybe that was going a bit too far. He’d only asked for one day. But still! She scowled. This had to be Lucas’s influence. After all, Stu didn’t even like sports. He didn’t even play the video-game kind.
Also? He was terrible at them. In fact, that was how they’d first become best friends back in second grade. No one had picked him for the dodgeball game and she had found him, sitting on the swings all alone looking like he’d lost his pet puppy. She’d asked him if he wanted to play Minecraft on her iPad and he’d eagerly agreed. And the rest was history. Best friends forever. Happily ever after. Till death do we part.
Or soccer tryouts, evidently.
“Never mind,” she muttered. “We’ll do it Monday, or whatever. Just let me know when you can spare some precious time.”
“Wait, are you mad at me?” Stu asked, sounding bewildered.
“Of course not!” she snapped, realizing she didn’t sound very convincing. “Anyway, I’ve got to go. Dishes, remember?”
“But you’re signing on later, right?”
“I don’t know. The cheerleaders might want to go get manicures.”
She sighed. “Never mind.”
The battlefield stretched out before him, drenched in the blood of the fallen. Though ’twould be easy to retreat to the safety of the forest, our hero forced himself to press on. The black knight still rode and there could be no rest until his enemy had been cast down. Evil vanquished once and for all.
A horse’s neigh snapped him to attention. His eyes fell upon a tall figure astride a well-armored horse. He gasped as he recognized the twisted mark on the other man’s shield.
The black knight. His sworn enemy.
The young soldier gripped his shield tightly while scrambling to unsheathe his sword. The black knight watched with apparent amusement.
“Say your last words,” the black knight declared. “And may the gods have mercy on you, for I shall not.”
The villain charged at our hero, their swords meeting with a clang, sparks flying between them. The horses passed, their blades slid apart and the boy readied himself for another round. As he urged his mare around, the black knight came at him again, and he prayed for some opening. Some small mistake that would give him advantage.
Instead, the black knight’s blade came crashing down hard, knocking him from his horse. As he fell to the ground, his sword slipped from his hand, leaving him unprotected and exposed. He scrambled to his feet, and the black knight laughed again.
And went in for the final kill.
“You’re dead! I win again!”
Thirteen-year-old Arthur of Gal groaned as he dropped his sword and shield to the ground and held up his hands in surrender as the evil knight in question, also known as Princess Guinevere, tapped his tunic with the point of her practice blade.
“A lucky break,” he insisted, knocking the dull weapon away with his hand and scrambling to pick up his own sword and shield.
“Please,” scoffed Guinevere. “Evil knight is three for three now.” She danced a little victory dance, her golden curls bouncing off her shoulders. “Methinks our mighty hero might need a bit more practice.”
“Well, methinks he’d get some if he wasn’t always stuck in the kitchen, washing the evil knight’s dishes all the time,” Arthur retorted playfully. He grabbed his sword and swung.
Guinevere rolled her eyes, parrying his blade with an easy stroke of her own. “Trust me, this evil knight would rather be doing anything other than dirtying dishes at one of those boring banquets of your foster father’s.” She charged at Arthur. He raised his shield to block her blow. “You should have seen all the nobles my father tried to introduce me to. You’d think I was to be married off tomorrow instead of three years from now, the desperate way he’s acting.”
Arthur laughed, circling her with wary steps, pinning her sky-blue eyes with his own, daring her to make a move. “Maybe you should just marry me,” he teased. “You’d never have to go to another banquet again.”
Their old joke brought a blush to her face—enough to fluster her and give him a momentary advantage. Arthur charged forward, slamming his sword against hers, knocking it from her grasp. Then he threw his own weapons to the side and leaped onto her, pushing her to the ground.
“I win!” he crowed. “At last our mighty hero has felled the black knight.”
But as he raised his hands in a victory salute, Guinevere managed to flip him over, pinning him by the shoulders. She looked down with a sly smile.
“A bit early for a victory celebration?”
He groaned. “The fight was already declared.”
“Not by me.”
“Guinevere!” A male voice suddenly rang through the forest. “Where did you go?”
“O wind and earth, save us!” Guinevere groaned, sitting up and pulling the dead leaves from her hair. “It’s Sir Agravaine again. The man’s determined to make me his betrothed if it kills him.” She scrambled to her feet, giving Arthur a hand up. “Which it very well might,” she added wickedly. “Come. Let’s leave this place before he finds us.”
She didn’t have to tell Arthur twice. After hiding their swords and shields in the hollow of an old tree, the two of them ran out of the apple orchard, skirting the castle of his foster father, Sir Ector, and heading down toward the small village below.
“I’ve been meaning to check on Sara and her children anyway,” Guinevere informed him. “And bring them leftovers from last night’s banquet.” She held up a burlap sack, stuffed to the gills. “You want to come with me?”
An angel of mercy, dressed as a warrior princess. That was his Guin. “Absolutely,” Arthur replied. “After all, I promised Thom I’d give him another sword-fighting lesson,” he added. Thom was Sara’s adorable six-year-old son.
“Oh, excellent! Someone you might actually have a chance to beat!”
Arthur shoved her playfully and the two of them headed down the hill, toward Sara’s thatch-roofed hut. Smoke curled from the chimney and it looked peaceful and cozy. Inside was anything but. Sara’s husband had been jailed for not being able to pay his taxes and she had just given birth to her fourth child.
They reached the hut and Guinevere banged on the door. From inside they could hear a shuffling, a baby’s cry, followed by a woman’s voice. “Please go away,” she begged. “We haven’t anything left.”
“Sara! It’s me, Princess Guinevere!” the princess called through the door. “I’ve brought food!”
The door burst open and Sara popped her head out, a big smile on her face. “Well, why didn’t you say so, Princess?” she demanded cheerfully. “Come inside at once!”
The dirt-floored dwelling was crudely furnished, but well kept all the same, revealing Sara’s determined pride, despite her humble surroundings. Her children’s faces were scrubbed clean, and the rags they wore were expertly mended.
“The tax collectors came again yesterday,” Sara explained to Guinevere as the princess doled out thick loaves of crusty bread, setting them on the wooden table at the center of the hut. The children watched her with eager, hollow eyes. “What do they expect us to give, when the never-ending wars between the lords leave us with nothing but burned fields and no seed? We scarce have a bite to eat ourselves after we give Sir Ector his due.”
“It’s gotten terrible,” Guinevere agreed as she went over to the cradle to coo at the new addition to the family. “All these tribal lords, fighting one another, all desperate to become high king. If only they could see what they are doing to their people.” She pulled the baby from his crib and nuzzled him to her cheek.
“I shan’t think they’d care much if they did,” Sara replied bitterly. “The only thing that could possibly save us now is Merlin’s promised hero. The one who will pull the sword from the stone.”
Arthur helped spread out the food, handing a hunk of bread to each child, only half listening to the conversation. It was a story he’d heard a million times before. Of a legendary hero arriving and pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone that sat in Sir Ector’s courtyard, becoming king, and uniting all of England under his reign. It didn’t seem all that likely to him. But that didn’t stop the knights from trying. After the big tournament today, they’d be sure to have another go at it, though most of the knights had already tried and failed many times before. The blade was stuck fast and likely would be forever.
He felt a sudden tug at his tunic and looked down. A scrawny redheaded boy looked up at him with an excited gleam in his big blue eyes. “Sir Arthur!” he cried. He was missing his two front teeth. “You promised me a sword lesson.”
Arthur ruffled his hair. “And you shall get one!” he assured the boy. “Let’s go outside so we don’t disturb the ladies.” He shot Guinevere a wink. She waved him off cheerfully.
The two boys headed outside, and Arthur collected two long sticks, handing one to Thom. “You ready?” he asked.
Thom nodded and Arthur began his lesson. But he hadn’t gotten very far before he heard two familiar voices on approach. He cringed. Quickly, he ushered Thom inside and then joined him, yanking the cottage door shut. He turned to Guin and Sara.
“Hide the food!” he cried. “Now!”
Sara and the children sprang into action, scurrying to find hiding spots in the tiny home. Guinevere looked at Arthur questioningly.
“Sir Agravaine and Sir Kay,” he said in explanation. “Looks like they found you after all.”
Sure enough, a moment later, the door flew open and the two knights poked their heads inside. Sir Agravaine was in town for the big jousting tournament. He was a brutish knight from the Orkneys of the North who wasn’t exactly known for his acts of chivalry.
“So, Princess, this is where you choose to spend your time?” Agravaine clucked, looking over the small cottage with disdain. “Down in the mud with the serfs?” His eyes locked on to Arthur, who stood protectively in front of the family and Guinevere, arms crossed over his chest. “And this your only escort?” He gave Arthur a scornful look. “I hardly think a scrawny little wart like him could properly serve and protect a royal princess.”
“Go away, Agravaine,” Arthur growled. “There’s nothing for you here.”
“Oh, I think I’ll be the judge of that,” Agravaine replied dismissively. He started trolling through the cabinets.
“Please, sir,” Sara begged, stepping in front of him. “We have nothing. Your fellow knights have already been here and taken it all.”
“Then you won’t mind me searching around a bit,” Agravaine said with a mean-spirited grin. “Kay, help me!” The two knights started scouring the hut, haphazardly throwing plates and pots around.
Arthur glanced over at Guinevere, who was looking back at him with troubled eyes.
“What are we going to do?” she whispered under her breath.
“They’re knights,” he whispered back. “There’s nothing we can do.” Under the current laws of the land, the knights had every right to take what they needed as “supplies” for the war campaigns. And if Arthur made any move against them, he’d be arrested and likely burned at the stake. And while at the moment he wouldn’t mind taking that risk to protect the poor innocent family—not to mention Guinevere herself—he knew it would do no good in the end. The knights would burn the cottage down anyway, just for spite.
He scowled. Sometimes he just felt so helpless.
“Hey, look here, Agravaine!” Sir Kay, Arthur’s older foster brother called out. He was just as mean as Agravaine, though not half as clever. He pulled out a long loaf of bread, hidden beneath the table. “Looks like the cow has been lying to us.” Then he added a hunk of cheese. “Isn’t this the same cheese we had at the banquet last night?”
“Where did you get this?” Agravaine demanded, grabbing Sara by the collar of her dress. She squealed in terror. “Did you steal it from your lord? You know what the punishment is for thievery, don’t you?”
“Stop it!” A little voice suddenly rose above the din. Arthur realized Thom had stepped forward, his expression fierce. He glared at Agravaine. “Or Sir Arthur himself will strike you down.”
- "A highly imaginative twist on the legend of King Arthur, complete with time travel, programming, and fierce friendships, the Camelot Code is the perfect pick for tweens who love medieval lore and geek culture in equal measure!"—Christina Soontornvat, author of The Changelings series
- "Arthurian legends just leveled up in this hilariously geeky, modern, and clever take on The Sword in the Stone. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court meets Ready Player One for the middle-grade set."—Julie Leung, author of The Mice of the Round Table series
- "Boys and girls will ditch their video games and be sucked into the delightful world of (future) King Arthur and his unlikely saviors, Sophie and Stu. An absolute delight!"—Jen Calonita, author of the Fairy Tale Reform School series
- "Imagine The Sword in the Stone with a dash of Freaky Friday and a pinch of World of Warcraft--this funny, fast-paced adventure is chicken soup for the geek's soul."—Zack Clark and Nick Eliopulos, authors of The Adventurers Guild series
- "A wholesome, modern twist on the classic legend that could provide a gateway for newer readers and fun for the gaming set."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Cinematic and epic in scale. . . . A delightfully unexpected amount of detail from Arthurian lore. . . . Fast-paced, downright fun novel."—Booklist
"Dashes of romance, bullying, social anxiety, family stresses, commentary on middle school social structure, and bits of history and Arthurian lore all combine to create a though-provoking adventure story. . . . Blending elements of several genres, this story will be appealing to many different types of readers."
—School Library Journal
- "Impeccably incorporates contemporary and video-game elements into the original King Arthur story, creating an enjoyable and seamless narrative."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Sep 3, 2019
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers