The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 19 of 81

Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 197041 Views | Add a Review

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13

In the spring of the year after this, through a drenching late-winter storm, the Merlin came late one night to Avalon. When word was brought to the Lady, she stared in astonishment.

“A night such as this would drown the very frogs,” she said. “What brings him out in such weather?”

“I do not know, Lady,” said the young apprentice Druid who had brought the word. “He did not even send for the barge, but made his own way by the hidden paths, and said that he must see you this night before you slept. I sent him for dry clothing—his own was in such a state as you can imagine. I would have brought him food and wine as well, but he asked if he might sup with you.”

“Tell him he is welcome,” Viviane said, keeping her face carefully neutral—she had learned very well the art of concealing her thoughts—but when the young man had gone, she allowed herself to stare in amazement, and to frown.

She sent for her attendant women, and bade them bring not her usual spare supper, but food and wine for the Merlin, and to build up the fire anew.

After a time she heard his step outside, and when he came in, he went directly to the fire. Taliesin was stooped now, his hair and beard all white, and he looked somewhat incongruous in the green robe of a novice bard, far too short for him, so that his scrawny ankles protruded from the lower edge of the garment. She seated him near the fire—he was still, she noticed, shivering—and set a plate of food and a cup of wine, good apple wine from Avalon itself, in a chased silver cup, at his side.

Then she seated herself on a small stool nearby and tasted her bread and dried fruit as she watched him eat. When he had pushed the plate aside and sat sipping at the wine, she said, “Now tell me everything, Father.”

The old man smiled at her. “I never thought to hear you call me so, Viviane. Or do you think I have taken the holy orders of the church in my dotage?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, “but you were the lover of my mother who was Lady here before me, and you fathered two of my sisters. Together we have served the Goddess and Avalon for more years than I can number, and perhaps I long for the comfort of a father’s voice this night . . . I do not know. I feel very old this night, Fa—Taliesin. Is it that you think me too old to be your daughter?”

The old Druid smiled. “Never that, Viviane. You are ageless. I know how old you are—or I could reckon up your age if I chose—but still you seem a girl to me. You might even now have as many lovers as you chose, if you willed it.”

She dismissed that with a gesture. “Be sure I have never found any man who meant more to me than necessity, or duty, or a night’s pleasure,” she said. “And only once, I think, any man save yourself who came near to matching me in strength—” She laughed. “Though, had I been ten years younger—how, think you, would I have befitted the throne as the High King’s queen, and my son the throne?”

“I do not think Galahad—what is it he would have you call him now? Lancelet?—I do not think he is the stuff of which kings are made. He is a visionary, a reed shaken by the wind.”

“But if he had been fathered by Uther Pendragon—”

Taliesin shook his head. “He is a follower, Viviane, not a leader.”

“Even so. That comes from being reared at Ban’s court, as a bastard. Had he been reared as a king’s son . . .”

“And who would have ruled Avalon in those years, had you chosen a crown in the Christian lands outside?”

“If I had ruled them at Uther’s side,” she said, “they would not have been Christian lands. I thought Igraine would have power over him, and use it for Avalon. . . .”

He shook his head. “There is no use in fretting after last winter’s snow, Viviane. It is of Uther I came to speak. He is dying.”

She raised her head and stared at him. “So it has come already.” She felt her heart racing. “He is too young to die. . . .”

“He leads his men into battle, where a wiser man of his years might leave it to his generals; he took a wound, and fever set in. I offered my services as healer, but Igraine forbade it, as did the priests. I could have done nothing anyway; his time has come. I saw it in his eyes.”

“How does Igraine as queen?”

“Very much as you would have foreseen,” said the old Druid. “She is beautiful, and dignified, and pious, and goes always in mourning for the children she has lost. She bore another son at All Hallows; he lived four days, no more. And her house priest has convinced her it is the punishment for her sins. No breath of scandal has ever touched her since she married Uther—save for the birth of that first child, so soon. But that was enough. I asked her what would become of her after Uther’s death, and when she had done weeping for that, she said she would retire into a convent. I offered her the shelter of Avalon, where she could be near to her daughter, but she said it would not be seemly for a Christian queen.”

Viviane’s smile hardened a little. “I never thought to hear that of Igraine.”

“Viviane, you must not blame her, even in thought, for what you yourself have wrought. Avalon cast her out when most she needed it; would you chide the girl because she has found comfort in a simpler faith than ours?”

“I doubt it not—you are the only man in all of Britain who could speak of the High Queen as a girl!”

“To me, Viviane, even you are a little girl at times—that same little girl who used to climb on my knee and touch the strings of my harp.”

“And now I can hardly play. My fingers lose their suppleness with the years,” Viviane said.

He shook his head. “Ah, no, my dear,” he said, holding out his own thin, gnarled old fingers. “Next to this, your hands are young, yet daily I speak to my harp with them, and you could have done so as well. Your hands chose to wield power, not song.”

“And what would have become of Britain if I had not?” she flared at him.

“Viviane,” he said, with a touch of sternness, “I did not censure you. I merely spoke the thing which is.”

She sighed and leaned her chin in her hands. “I spoke well when I said that this night I was in need of a father. So it has come upon us already, the thing we feared and have wrought for all these years. What of Uther’s son, my father? Is he ready?”

“He must be ready,” said the Merlin. “Uther will not live till Midsummer-day. And already the carrion crows gather, as they did when Ambrosius lay dying. As for the boy—have you not seen him?”

“Now and again, I see a glimpse of him in the magic mirror,” she said. “He looks healthy and strong, but that tells me nothing except that he can look the part of a king when it comes to that. You have visited him, have you not?”

“At Uther’s will, I went now and again to see how he grew. I saw that he had those same books in Latin and Greek which taught your son so much of strategy and warfare; Ectorius is Roman to the core, and the conquests of Caesar and the exploits of Alexander are part of his very being. He is an educated man, and has trained both his sons for warfare. Young Caius was blooded in battle last year; Arthur fretted that he could not go, but he is an obedient son to Ectorius and did as he was told.”

“If he is so much Roman,” Viviane asked, “will Arthur be willing to be subject to Avalon? For he must rule the Tribes, as well, and the Pictish folk, remember.”

“I saw to that,” said the Merlin, “for I induced him to meet some of the little people, saying that they were the allies of Uther’s soldiers in this war to defend our island. With them he has learned to shoot their elf bolts, and to move silently in the heather and over the moors, and—” He hesitated and said significantly, “He can stalk the deer and does not fear to go among them.”

Viviane closed her eyes for a moment. “He is so young . . .”

“The Goddess chooses always the youngest and strongest of men to lead her warriors,” said Taliesin.

Viviane bowed her head. “Be it so,” she said. “He shall be tested. Bring him here if you can before Uther dies.”

“Here?” The Merlin shook his head. “Not till the testing is done. Only then can we show him the road to Avalon and the two realms over which he must rule.”

Again Viviane bowed her head. “To Dragon Island, then.”

“It will be the ancient challenge? Uther was not tested so at his king-making—”

“Uther was a warrior; it was enough to make him lord over the dragon,” Viviane said. “This boy is young and unblooded. He must be tested and proven.”

“And if he fails . . .”

Viviane gritted her teeth. “He must not fail!”

Taliesin waited until she met his eyes again and repeated, “And if he fails . . .”

She sighed. “No doubt Lot is ready, if that should come.”

“You should have taken one of Morgause’s sons and fostered him here at Avalon,” the Merlin said. “Gawaine is a likely boy. Hotheaded, quarrelsome—a bull, where Uther’s boy is a stag. But there is the stuff of a king in Gawaine, I think, and he also is Goddess-born—Morgause too was your mother’s daughter, and her sons have the royal blood.”

“I do not trust Lot,” said the Lady vehemently, “and I trust Morgause less than that!”

“Yet Lot holds the clansmen to the north, and I think the Tribes would accept him—”

“But those who hold to Rome—never,” said the Lady, “and then there would be two kingdoms in Britain, ever warring, and neither strong enough to hold off the Saxons and the wild Northmen. No. Uther’s son it must be, he must not fail!”

“That must be as the Goddess wills,” said the Merlin sternly. “See you mistake not your own will for hers.”

Viviane covered her face with her hands. “If he fails—if he fails it will all have been for nothing,” she said wildly, “—all that I have done to Igraine, all I have done to all those I love. Father, have you foreseen that it will fail?”

The old man shook his white head and his voice was compassionate.

“The Goddess does not make her will known to me,” he said, “and it was you who foresaw that this boy would have the powers to lead all of Britain. I caution you against pride, Viviane—thinking you know the best for every man and woman living. You have ruled well in Avalon—”

“But I am old,” she said, raising her face, and she could see the pity in his eyes, “and one day soon . . .”

The Merlin bowed his head; he too lived under that law. “When that time comes, you will know; it is not yet, Viviane.”

“No,” she said, struggling against the sudden despair which had come, as it sometimes did now, a heat in her body, a torment in her mind, “when it comes, when I can no longer see what lies ahead, then I will know it is time to give over the rulership of Avalon to another. Morgaine is still young, and Raven, whom I love well, has given herself to silence and the voice of the Goddess. It has not yet come; but if it comes too soon—”

“Whenever it comes, Viviane, that will be the right time,” the Merlin said. He stood up, tall and unsteady, and Viviane saw that he leaned heavily on his stick. “I will bring the boy to Dragon Island then, at the spring thaw, and we will see whether he is ready to be made king. And then you will give him the sword and the cup, in token that there is an eternal link between Avalon and the world outside—”

“The sword, at least,” Viviane said. “The cup—I do not know.”

The Merlin bowed his head. “That I leave to your wisdom. You, not I, are the voice of the Goddess. Yet you will not be the Goddess for him—”

Viviane shook her head. “He will meet the Mother when he is triumphant,” she said, “and from her hand he will take the sword of victory. But first he must prove his own, and must meet first with the Maiden Huntress. . . .” A flicker of a smile crossed her face. “And no matter what happens after that,” she said, “we will take no such chance as we did with Uther and Igraine. We shall make certain of the royal blood, whatever comes of it later.”

         

         

When the Merlin had gone away, she sat for a long time, watching pictures in the fire, seeing into the past alone, not seeking to look through the mist of time toward the future.

She too, years ago, so many years that she could not now remember how many, had laid down her maidenhood to the Horned God, the Great Hunter, the Lord of the living spiral dance. She hardly spared a thought for the virgin who would take this part in the kingmaking which was to come, but she let her mind stray into the past, and the other times she had played the part of the Goddess in the Great Marriage . . .

. . . never had it been more to her than duty; sometimes pleasant, sometimes distasteful, but always bidden, possessed by the Great Mother who had ruled her life since first she had come here. Suddenly she envied Igraine, and a detached part of her mind wondered why she envied a woman who had lost all her children to death or fosterage, and now was to suffer widowhood and end her life behind convent walls.

What I envy her is the love she has known. . . . I have no daughters, my sons are strangers and alien to me. . . . I have never loved, she thought. Nor have I known what it is to be loved. Fear, awe, reverence . . . these have been given me. Never love. And there are times when I think I would give it all for one look from any human being such as Uther gave Igraine at their wedding.

She sighed bleakly, repeating half aloud what the Merlin had said. “Well, there is no use fretting after last year’s snowfall.” She raised her head, and her attendant came on noiseless feet.

“Lady—?”

“Bring me—no,” she said, changing her mind abruptly; let the girl sleep. It is not true that I have never loved or been loved. I love Morgaine beyond all measuring, and she loves me.

Now that, too, might come to an end. But that too must be as the Goddess willed it.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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