The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 63 of 81

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

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7

Uriens said, when they were alone in their chamber, “I knew not that your claim to Tintagel was being disputed again.”

“The things you do not know, my husband, are as many as acorns in a pig meadow,” she said impatiently. How had she ever thought she could suffer this fool? Kind, yes, he had never been unkind to her, but his stupidity grated on her like a rasp. She wanted to be alone, to consider her plans, to confer with Accolon, and instead she must placate this old idiot!

“I should know what you are planning.” Uriens’ voice was sullen. “I am angry that you did not consult with me if you were displeased at what was happening in Tintagel—I am your husband and you should have told me rather than appealing to Arthur!” The sulkiness in his voice held a hint of jealousy too, and she remembered now, stricken, that it had been brought out what she had concealed all these years—who had fathered her son. But could Uriens really think that after a quarter of a century she still held power of that sort over her brother, because of something only fools and Christians would think a sin? Well, if he has not wit enough to see what is happening before his eyes, why should I explain it to him word by word like a child’s lesson?

She said, still impatient, “Arthur is displeased with me because he thinks a woman should not contend with him this way. Therefore I asked his help, so that he will not believe I am in rebellion against him.” She said no more. She was priestess of Avalon, she would not lie, but there was no need to speak more truth than she wished. Let Uriens think, if he would, that she only wished to make up her quarrel with Arthur.

“How clever you are, Morgaine,” he said, patting her wrist. She thought, flinching, that already he had forgotten that it was he who had inflicted the injury. She felt her lips trembling as if she were a child, thinking, I want Accolon, I want to lie in his arms and be cherished and comforted, but in this place how can we contrive even to meet and speak in secret? She blinked away angry tears. Strength was her only safety now; strength and concealment.

Uriens had gone out to relieve himself, and came back, yawning. “I heard the watchman cry midnight,” he said. “We must to bed, lady.” He began to take off his festal robe. “Are you very weary, dear one?”

She did not answer, knowing that if she did she would weep. He took her silence for consent and drew her close, nuzzling at her throat, then pulled her toward the bed. She endured him, wondering if she could remember some charm or herb to put an end to the old man’s too-enduring virility—damn him, he should be long past this by his age, no one would even think it the result of sorcery. She lay wondering, afterward, why she could not simply turn to him with indifference, let him have her without even thinking, as she had done so often in these long years . . . what did it matter, why should she notice him any more than a stray animal sniffing round her skirts?

She slept fitfully, dreaming of a child she had found somewhere and must suckle, though her breasts were dry and ached terribly . . . she woke with the pain still in them. Uriens had gone to hunt with some of Arthur’s men—it had been arranged days ago. She felt sick and queasy. I ate more, she thought, than I usually do in three days, no wonder I am sick. But when she went to fasten her gown, her breasts were still sore and aching. It seemed to her that the nipples, brown and small, looked pink and swollen.

She let herself collapse on the bed as if her knees had been broken. She was barren! She knew she was barren, they had told her after Gwydion’s birth that she would probably never bear a child again, and in all the years since, never once from any man had she gotten with child. More than that, she was near to nine-and-forty, long past the childbearing years. But for all that, she was certainly pregnant now. She had thought herself long past the possibility. Her courses had grown irregular and were absent for months at a time, she had thought herself coming to the end of them. Her first reaction was fear; she had come so near to death when Gwydion was born. . . .

Uriens would certainly be delighted at this supposed proof of his manhood. But when this child was conceived, Uriens had been ill with the lung fever; there was small likelihood, after all, that it was Uriens’ child. Had it been fathered by Accolon, on the day of the eclipse? Why, then, it was child to the God as he had come to them then in the hazel grove.

What would I do with a babe, old woman that I am? But perhaps it will be a priestess for Avalon, one to rule after me when the traitor has been tumbled from the throne where Viviane set him. . . .

It was grey and dismal outside, drizzling rain. The games field of yesterday was trampled and muddy, with scattered banners and ribbons trodden into the mud; one or two of the subject kings were making ready to ride out, and a few kitchen-women, their gowns tucked up to their bare thighs, carrying washing paddles and sacks of clothing, were trudging down toward the shores of the lake.

There was a knock at the door; the servant’s voice was soft and respectful. “Queen Morgaine, the High Queen has asked that you and the Queen of Lothian should come to break your fast with her. And the Merlin of Britain has asked that you will receive him here at noon.”

“I will go to the Queen,” said Morgaine. “Tell the Merlin I will receive him.” She shrank from both confrontations, but she dared not deny herself to either, especially now.

Gwenhwyfar would never be anything but her enemy. It was her doing that Arthur had fallen into the hands of the priests and betrayed Avalon. Perhaps, Morgaine thought, I am plotting the downfall of the wrong person; if I could somehow manage it that Gwenhwyfar left court, even to run away with Lancelet to his own castle, now that he is widowed and can lawfully take her . . . but she dismissed that idea.

Probably Arthur has asked her to make up the quarrel with me, she thought cynically. He knows, too, that he cannot afford to quarrel with subject kings, and if Gwenhwyfar and I are at odds, Morgause, as ever, will take my part. Too strong a family quarrel, and he would lose Uriens, and Morgause’s sons too. He cannot afford to lose Gawaine, Gareth, the Northmen. . . .

Morgause was in the Queen’s room already; the smell of food made Morgaine sick again, but she controlled it with iron will. It was well known that she never ate much and it would not be particularly noticed. Gwenhwyfar came and kissed her, and for a moment Morgaine’s real tenderness for this woman returned. Why should we be enemies? We were friends once, so long ago. . . . It was not Gwenhwyfar herself that she hated, it was the priests who had so much influence over her.

She came to the table, accepting but not eating a piece of new bread and honey. Gwenhwyfar’s ladies were the kind of pious idiots with whom Gwenhwyfar always surrounded herself. They welcomed Morgaine with curious looks and a great outward display of cordiality and pleasure.

“Your son, sir Mordred—what a fine lad he is, how proud you must be of him,” one of them said, and Morgaine, breaking the bread and crumbling it, remarked with composure that she had hardly seen him since he was weaned. “It is Uwaine, my husband’s son, who is more truly my own son, and it is in his knightly accomplishments that I take pride,” Morgaine said, “for I reared him from a little child. But you are proud of Mordred as your own son, are you not, Morgause?”

“But Uriens’ son is not your own child?” someone else asked.

“No,” she said patiently, “he was nine years old when I married my lord of North Wales.”

One of the girls giggled that if she were Morgaine, she would pay more heed to that other handsome stepson of hers, Accolon was it not? Morgaine, clenching her teeth, thought, Shall I kill this fool? But no; the ladies of Gwenhwyfar’s court had nothing to do but spend their time in mindless jests and gossip.

“Now tell me—” Alais, who had been waiting-woman when Morgaine was also at Gwenhwyfar’s court, and whose bride-woman Morgaine had been when the girl was married, giggled. “Isn’t he Lancelet’s son, really?”

Morgaine raised her eyebrows and said, “Who? Accolon? King Uriens’ late wife would hardly thank you for that imputation, lady.”

“You know what I mean.” Alais snickered. “Lancelet was the son of Viviane, and you were raised by her—and who could blame you? Tell me the truth now, Morgaine, who was that handsome lad’s father? There is no one else it could have been, is there?”

Morgause laughed and said, trying to break the tension, “Well, we are all in love with Lancelet, of course—poor Lancelet, what a burden to bear.”

“But you are eating nothing, Morgaine,” said Gwenhwyfar. “Can I send to the kitchens, if this is not to your liking? A slice of ham? Some better wine than this?”

Morgaine shook her head and put a piece of bread into her mouth. Hadn’t this all happened before? Or perhaps she had dreamed it . . . she felt a sick dizziness before her eyes, grey spots dancing. It would indeed give them gossip to enliven many a boring day if the old Queen of North Wales swooned away like a breeding woman! Her fingernails cut into her hands and somehow she managed to make the dizziness recede a little. “I drank too much at the feast yesterday—you have known for twenty years that I have no head for drinking wine, Gwenhwyfar.”

“Ah, and it was good wine too,” said Morgause, with a greedy smack of her lips, and Gwenhwyfar replied courteously that she would send a barrel of it to Lothian with Morgause when she left. But Morgaine, mercifully forgotten, the blinding headache clamping down over her brow like a torturer’s band, felt Morgause’s questioning eyes on hers.

Pregnancy was one thing that could not be hidden . . . no, and why should it be hidden? She was lawfully wedded; people might laugh if the old King of North Wales and his middle-aged Queen became parents at their advanced ages, but the laughter would be good-natured. Yet Morgaine felt that she would explode from the sheer force of the anger in her. She felt like one of the fire mountains of which Gawaine had told her, far in the countries to the north. . . .

When the ladies had all gone away and she was alone with Gwenhwyfar, the Queen took her hand and said in apology, “I am sorry, Morgaine, you do look ill. Perhaps you should return to your bed.”

“Perhaps I shall,” Morgaine said, thinking, Gwenhwyfar would never guess what was wrong with me; Gwenhwyfar, should this happen to her, would welcome it, even now!

The Queen reddened under Morgaine’s angry stare. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean for my women to tease you like that—I should have stopped them, my dear.”

“Do you think I care what they say? They are like sparrows chirping, and have as much sense about them,” Morgaine said, with contempt as blinding as the pain in her head. “But how many of your women really know who fathered my son? You made Arthur confess it—did you confide it to all your women as well?”

Gwenhwyfar looked frightened. “I do not think there are many who know—those who were there last night, when Arthur acknowledged him, certainly. And Bishop Patricius.” She looked up at Morgaine, and Morgaine thought, blinking, How kindly the years have treated her; she grows even more lovely, and I wither like an ancient briar. . . .

“You look so tired, Morgaine,” said Gwenhwyfar, and it struck Morgaine that in spite of all old enmities, there was love too. “Go and rest, dear sister.”

Or is it only that there are so few of us, now, who were young together?

         

         

The merlin had aged, too, and the years had not been so kind to him as to Gwenhwyfar; he was more stooped, he dragged his leg now with a walking stick, and his arms and wrists, with their great ropy muscles, looked like branches of an ancient and twisted oak. He might indeed have been one of the dwarf folk of which tales told that they dwelt beneath the mountains. Only the movements of his hands were still precise and lovely, despite the twisted and swollen fingers, his graceful gestures making her think of the old days, and her long study of the harp and of the language of gesture and hand speech.

He was blunt, waving away her offer of wine or refreshment, dropping on a seat without her leave, by old habit.

“I think you are wrong, Morgaine, to harry Arthur about Excalibur.”

She knew her own voice sounded hard and shrewish. “I did not expect you to approve, Kevin. No doubt you feel that whatever use he makes of the Holy Regalia is good.”

“I cannot see that it is wrong,” Kevin said. “All Gods are one—as even Taliesin would have said—and if we join in the service of the One—”

“But it is that with which I quarrel,” Morgaine said. “Their God would be the One—and the only—and drive out all mention of the Goddess whom we serve. Kevin, listen to me—can you not see how this narrows the world, if there is one rather than many? I think it was wrong to make the Saxons into Christians. I think those old priests who dwelt on Glastonbury had the right idea. Why should we all meet in one afterlife? Why should there not be many paths, the Saxons to follow their own, we to follow ours, the followers of the Christ to worship him if they choose, without restraining the worship of others. . . .”

Kevin shook his head. “My dear, I do not know. There seems to be a deep change in the way men now look at the world, as if one truth should drive out another—as if whatever is not their truth, must be falsehood.”

“But life is not as simple as that,” Morgaine said.

“I know that, you know that, and in the fullness of time, Morgaine, even the priests will find it out.”

“But if they have driven all other truths from the world, it will be too late,” Morgaine said.

Kevin sighed. “There is a fate that no man, and no woman, may stop, Morgaine, and I think we are facing that day.” He reached out one of his gnarled hands and took hers; she thought she had never heard him speak so gently. “I am not your enemy, Morgaine. I have known you since you were a maiden. And after—” He stopped, and she saw his throat twitch as he swallowed. “I love you well, Morgaine. I wish you nothing but well. There was a time—oh, yes, it was long ago, but I forget not how I loved you and how privileged I felt that I could speak of love to you. . . . No man can fight the tides, or the fates. Perhaps, if we had sent sooner to Christianize the Saxons, it would have been done by those same priests who built a chapel where they and Taliesin could worship side by side. Our own bigotry prevented that, so it was left to fanatics like Patricius, who in their pride see the Creator only as the avenging Father of soldiers, not also as the loving Mother of the fields and the earth. . . . I tell you, Morgaine, they are a tide that will sweep all men before them like straw.”

“Done is done,” Morgaine said. “But what is the answer?”

Kevin bent his head and it struck Morgaine that what he really wanted was to lay that head down on her breast; not now as a man to a woman, but as if she were the Mother Goddess who could quiet his fear and despair.

“Maybe,” he said, his voice stifled, “maybe there is no answer at all. It may be that there is no God and no Goddess and we are quarrelling over foolish words. I will not quarrel with you, Morgaine of Avalon. But neither will I sit idle and let you plunge this kingdom again into war and chaos, wreck this peace that Arthur has given us. Some knowledge and some song and some beauty must be kept for those days before the world again plunges into darkness. I tell you, Morgaine, I have seen the darkness closing. Perhaps, in Avalon, we may keep the secret wisdom—but the time is past when we can spread it again into the world. Do you think I am afraid to die so that something of Avalon may survive among mankind?”

Morgaine—slowly, compelled—put out her hand to touch his face, to wipe away tears; but she jerked her hand back in sudden dread. Her eyes blurred—she had laid her hand on a weeping skull, and it seemed her own hand was the thin, winter-blighted hand of the Death-crone. He saw it too, and stared at her, appalled, for a single terrified moment. Then it was gone again, and Morgaine heard her voice harden.

“So you would bring the holy things into the world, that the holy sword of Avalon may be the avenging sword of Christ?”

“It is the sword of the Gods,” Kevin said, “and all the Gods are one. I would rather have Excalibur in the world where men may follow it, than hidden away in Avalon. So long as they follow it, what difference does it make which Gods they call on in doing so?”

Morgaine said, steadily, “It is that I will die to prevent. Beware, Merlin of Britain: you have made the Great Marriage and pledged yourself to die for the preservation of the Mysteries. Beware, lest obeying that oath be claimed of you!”

His beautiful eyes looked straight into hers. “Ah, my lady and my Goddess, I beg you, take counsel of Avalon before you act! Indeed, I think the time has come for you to return to Avalon.” Kevin laid his hand over hers. She did not draw it away.

Her voice caught and broke with the tears that had laid heavy on her all this day. “I—I wish I might return—it is because I long so much for it that I dare not go thither,” she said. “I shall go there never, until I may leave it never more—”

“You will return, for I have seen it,” said Kevin wearily. “But not I. I know not how, Morgaine, my love, but it comes to me that never again shall I drink of the Holy Well.”

She looked at the ugly misshapen body, the fine hands, the beautiful eyes, and thought, Once I loved this man. Despite all, she loved him still, she would love him till both of them were dead; she had known him since the beginning of time, and together they had served their Goddess. Time slid away and it seemed that they stood outside time, that she gave him life, that she cut him down as a tree, that he sprang up again in the corn, that he died at her will and she was taken in his arms and brought back to life . . . the ancient priest-drama played out before Druid or Christian set foot upon the earth.

And he would cast this away?

“If Arthur shall forswear his oath, shall I not require it at his hands?”

Kevin said, “One day the Goddess will deal with him in her own way. But Arthur is King of Britain by the will of the Goddess. Morgaine of Avalon, I tell you, beware! Dare you set your face against the fates that rule this land?”

“I do what the Goddess has given me to do!”

“The Goddess—or your own will and pride and ambition for those you love? Morgaine, again I say to you, beware. For it may well be that the day of Avalon is past, and your day with it.”

Then the fierce control she had clamped upon herself broke. “And you dare call yourself the Merlin of Britain?” she shrieked at him. “Be gone, you damned traitor!” She picked up her distaff and flung it at his head. “Go! Out of my sight and damn you forever! Go from here!”

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

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