Birthday Reviews: Nancy Holder’s “Prayer of the Knight of the Sword”

Birthday Reviews: Nancy Holder’s “Prayer of the Knight of the Sword”

Cover by Paul Youll
Cover by Paul Youll

Nancy Holder was born on August 29, 1953.

Holder has won the Bram Stoker Award five times. She won the Best Short Story award for “Lady Madonna,” “I Hear the Mermaids Singing,” and “Café Endless: Spring Rain.” She won for Best Novel for Dead in the Water and for Best Young-Adult Novel for The Screaming Season.

Her story “”Prayer of the Knight of the Sword” was published in the 1995 anthology Excalibur, edited by Edward E. Kramer, Richard Gilliam, and Martin H. Greenberg. The story has never been reprinted.

The story opens with Joseph of Arimathea climbing to the top of Glastonbury Tor, surrounded by four pagan spirits, although he has no idea of their presence. When Joseph dies during his climb, the spirits plant his staff on the tor and eventually use it to create Excalibur.

The sword is next seen in the possession of Geoffrey de Troyes, a young knight fighting in Jerusalem during the Crusades. While all around him the crusaders are raping, pillage, and killing the Muslims and Jews who live in the city, Geoffrey cannot participate, only seeing the cruelty of their actions and how they seem to fly in the face of Christian virtue. When a young Muslim woman winds up in his path, he shows her mercy and tries to help her, realizing that at the same time he’s rescuing her he needs to rescue himself. His mercy caught the attention of Joseph’s spirits, who appear to him and tell him to return to England with the sword, where he will wield it until one who was destined to appear. In the process, Geoffrey brought Igraine to Glastonbury and pushed the sword into the stone.

While at first the timeline of the story doesn’t seem to make sense, with Geoffrey de Troyes fighting in the crusades, when the tradition of Merlin living his life backwards is taken into account, along with the idea that time may be malleable, the strangeness of the order of events actually becomes something of a strength for the story.

Reviewed in its only appearance in the anthology Excalibur, edited by Edward E. Kramer, Richard Gilliam, and Martin H. Greenberg, Aspect/Warner Books, 1995.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

Good choice, but you missed a chance for the Pangborn triple play! Edgar and Mary’s mother Georgia was born this date.

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