From editors Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington comes Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices, an anthology that brings fresh life to the stories of King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table—publishing July 13th with Vintage Books.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Ausma Zehanat Khan’s “The Once and Future Qadi” below!
Featuring stories by a bestselling, cross-genre assortment of the most exciting writers working today, an anthology of gender-bent, race-bent, LGBTQIA+, and inclusive retellings from the vast lore surrounding King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table.
Here you’ll find the Lady of the Lake reimagined as an albino Ugandan sorceress and the Lady of Shalott as a wealthy, isolated woman in futuristic Mexico City; you’ll see Excalibur rediscovered as a baseball bat that grants a washed-up minor leaguer a fresh shot at glory and as a lost ceremonial drum that returns to a young First Nations boy the power and the dignity of his people. There are stories set in Gilded Age Chicago, ’80s New York, twenty-first century Singapore, and space; there are lesbian lady knights, Arthur and Merlin reborn in the modern era for a second chance at saving the world and falling in love—even a coffee shop AU.
Brave, bold, and groundbreaking, the stories in Sword Stone Table will bring fresh life to beloved myths and give long-time fans a chance to finally see themselves in their favorite legends.
“The Once and Future Qadi”
by Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Qadi was sitting on his prayer rug at his ease when the summons came from Camelot. Even to consider it a summons was a matter of insult, Ayaan thought, but the Qadi from Cordoba, who had grown to renown in Seville, had survived many skirmishes by refusing to respond to the needling of his pride. And patience, after all, was a much-valued quality in a jurist. Now the Qadi turned his well-shaped head up to the moon and waited for Ayaan to place the message in his hand. A man who had once studied with the masters of the Great Library of Cordoba would have no difficulty interpreting the intricate script of the Franks.
He tapped the scroll against his knee, his knuckles rubbing lightly across his beard.
“It is an honor, Qadi, to be invited to the court of the Franks. To ask you to adjudicate in the matter of his queen’s fidelity is a sign of utmost esteem.”
The Qadi grimaced. “When the invitation itself is an insult to his queen?”
The scribe shrugged, an easy gesture that rolled his shoulders. “These Franks think of honor differently to us. Perhaps their women matter less.”
The Qadi rose to his feet with the limber movements of a man who had performed thousands of prayers during his travels, equally at home on a mat spread out on the desert sands or under the white-and-gold cupola of the great Mezquita.
“Yet they pen such pretty odes in tribute to their maids. Their chivalry is coy. This accusation against the queen Guinevere is bold.”
He gave the scroll back to Ayaan, who asked, “Will you refuse the request, Qadi Yusuf?”
Ayaan knew the Qadi as an exacting mentor. Now he put his scribe to the test. “Tell me, Ayaan, what would be the consequences of either acceptance or refusal?”
A leaping light came into Ayaan’s eyes. He was sharp and capable, ambitious to a fault—qualities he knew the Qadi valued. He cleared his throat, giving his answer with no pretense of humility.
“King Arthur extends a great honor by asking you to adjudicate on a matter concerning his queen. This means he knows your name by repute and respects your judgment more than the jurists of his court. Perhaps he trusts in your discretion. Perhaps matters have become so inflamed with respect to his wife that he feels ill at ease with his court. Or perhaps the jurist whose opinion would be sought is away on a Crusade assailing our Holy Lands.”
“Ah.” A wry sound. “More a Christian knight than a jurist, then.”
“Much like yourself, Qadi.” Ayaan was not above a little flattery. “Knight and jurist both.”
“Theirs is a curious court, their religion encompassing more than just the doctrine of Christ. They are poised between their pagan ancestors and their belief in a man’s divinity. They have no notion of our faith—how would they contend with a jurist from Qurtaba, whose rulings are rooted in his
“Such matters are beyond my knowledge, Qadi. I assume your renown extends to Camelot, though the court may be of a world and time apart.”
“Then you advise me to accept the invitation.”
Ayaan glanced at his mentor with caution. “To refuse would disgrace the reputation of our people. They would call our courage into question. And before these lordly knights?” He shook his head, his tawny curls dancing. “Yet, Qadi, to accept carries its own penalties when you consider you would be judging a matter of great personal import—the honor and fidelity of a queen. This king may not be well disposed toward us, as even by posing the question, he shames this Guinevere. He will be relying on your discretion, and I do not think he will like it.”
The Qadi laughed: a rich, warm sound that lingered on the air.
“So there is no choice I could make that would be sufficient.”
“Qadi, your judgment has always been sound. I defer to your wisdom.”
The Qadi ran a hand over his own dense, dark curls, and Ayaan took a moment to appreciate his patron’s beauty. In the Qadi, all the manly graces were combined. His lineage was distinguished, his bravery keen—though he’d proved fonder of the library than of interminable and frivolous battles. He was a polymath, learned in languages, jurisprudence, theology, astronomy, and medicine, and of greatest delight to the caliphal court at Seville, he was a skilled executioner of the famous ring songs of al-Andalus. His Arabic was thick and rich, curling around the tongue, roughly, giddily beautiful, his use of language the headiest of elixirs.
He was an ornament of the Almohad caliphate—he could lull a listener with the rhythms of his voice, then spear them with his intellect, a sport he reserved for his equals, showing mercy to lesser mortals. Perhaps he was at times remote, lost in contemplation, but like his noble forebears, his judgment was tempered by consideration. He was a great favorite of the Caliph as a man who could be trusted not to curry favor. Though his attitudes were sometimes unpopular, he spoke trenchantly of the incursions of the Franks and the looming reconquest of Iberia. There was danger in such fearless honesty, but the Qadi feared only his Creator.
Ayaan thought again how fortunate he was to be taken on as the Qadi’s apprentice. Consider the adventures they had shared traveling these Christian lands. And now think of the chance. To meet these knights of Camelot whose legend had far surpassed their deeds, and to lay his untutored eyes upon this queen of the Franks.
He let his eyelids droop, afraid that too much eagerness would decide the matter for the judge.
But the Qadi had begun his preparations for travel.
“Come,” he said to Ayaan. “If they do us honor, we should honor them in turn.”
Excerpted from Ausma Zehanat Khan’s “The Once and Future Qadi” in Stone Sword Table, copyright © 2021.