The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 65 of 81

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

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9

The sword, the sword of the Mysteries is gone . . . now look to the cup, now look to all of the Holy Regalia . . . it is gone, it is gone, taken from us. . . .”

Morgaine heard the cry out of sleep, and yet, when she tiptoed to the door of the room where Raven slept, alone and in silence as ever, the women who attended her slept; they had not heard that cry.

“But there is nothing but silence, Lady,” they told her. “Are you certain it was not an evil dream?”

“If it was an evil dream, then it came to the priestess Raven as well,” Morgaine said, staring at the untroubled faces of the girls. It seemed to her that with every passing year, the priestesses in the House of Maidens grew younger and more like children . . . how could little girls like this be entrusted with the holy things? Maidens whose breasts had scarcely formed . . . what could they know of the life of the Goddess which was the life of the world?

Again, it seemed, that shattering cry rang through Avalon, rousing alarm everywhere, but when Morgaine asked, “There—did you hear?” they looked at her again in dismay and said, “Do you dream now, Lady, with your eyes wide open?” and Morgaine realized that in the bitter cry of terror and grief there had been no actual sound.

She said, “I will go to her—”

“But you may not do that—” one of them began, then stepped back, her mouth open, as she realized the full meaning of who Morgaine was, and she bent her head as Morgaine stepped past her.

Raven was sitting up in bed, her long hair flung about her in mad disarray, and her eyes wild with terror; for a moment Morgaine thought that indeed her mind had overheard some evil dream, that Raven walked in the worlds of dream. . . .

But she shook her head and then she was wide awake and sober. She drew a long breath, and Morgaine knew that she was struggling to speak, to overcome the years of silence; now it was as if her voice would not obey her.

At last, trembling all over, she said, “I saw—I saw it . . . treachery, Morgaine, within the very holy places of Avalon. . . . I could not see his face, but I saw the great sword Excalibur in his hand . . .”

Morgaine put out a hand, quieting her. She said, “We will look within the mirror when the sun rises. Do not trouble yourself to speak, my dearest.” Raven was still trembling; Morgaine put her hand firmly over Raven’s, and by the flickering light of the torch, she saw that her own hand was lined and spotted with the dark spots of age, that Raven’s fingers were like twisted ropes around the narrow, fine bones. We are old, she thought, both of us, who came here maidens in attendance on Viviane . . . ah Goddess, the years that pass. . . .

“But I must speak now,” Raven whispered. “I have been silent too long . . . I kept silence even when I feared this would come . . . listen to the thunder, and the rain—a storm is coming, a storm to break over Avalon and sweep it away in the flood . . . and darkness over the land . . .”

“Hush, my dear! Be still,” Morgaine whispered, and put her arms around the shaking woman, wondering if her mind had snapped, if this was all an illusion, a fever dream . . . there was no thunder, no rain, outside the moon was shining brilliantly over Avalon and the orchards white with blossom in the moonlight. “Don’t be frightened. I will stay here with you, and in the morning we shall look into the mirror and see if any of this is real.”

Raven smiled, a sad smile. She took Morgaine’s torch and put it out; in the sudden darkness Morgaine could see, through the chinks in the wattle, a sudden flare of lightning in the distance. Silence; and then, very far away, a low thundering. “I do not dream, Morgaine. The storm will come, and I am afraid. You have more courage than I. You have lived in the world and known real sorrows, not dreams . . . but now, perhaps, I must go forth and break silence forevermore . . . and I am afraid. . . .”

Morgaine lay down beside her, pulling Raven’s cover over them both, and took Raven in her arms to still her shaking. As she lay quiet, listening to the other woman’s breathing, she remembered the night she had brought Nimue there, and how Raven had come to her then, welcoming her to Avalon . . . why does it seem to me now that of all the love I have known, that is the truest . . . but she only held Raven gently, the other woman’s head on her shoulder, soothing her. After a long time there was a great clap of thunder, startling them, and Raven whispered, “You see?”

“Hush, my dear, it is only a storm.” And as she spoke the rain came down, rushing and rattling, bringing a chilly wind within the room, drowning speech. Morgaine lay silent, her fingers just entwined with Raven’s, and thought, It is only a storm, but something of Raven’s terror communicated itself to her and she felt herself shivering too.

A storm that will drive down out of Heaven and smash into Camelot, and scatter the years of peace that Arthur has made in this land . . .

She tried to call the Sight to her, but the thunder seemed to drown thoughts; she could only lie close to Raven repeating to herself again and again, It is only a storm, a storm, rain and wind and thunder, it is not the wrath of the Goddess. . . .

         

         

After a long time the storm subsided, and she woke to a world new-washed, the sky pallid and cloudless, water shimmering on every leaf and raining down from every blade of grass, as if the world had been dipped in water and not dried or shaken. If Raven’s storm were to break in truth over Camelot, would it leave the world thus beautiful in its wake? Somehow she thought not.

Raven woke and looked at her, wide-eyed with dread. Morgaine said, quiet and practical as always, “We shall go to Niniane at once, then to the mirror before the sun rises. If the wrath of the Goddess is to descend on us, we must know how and why.”

Raven gestured her silent assent, but when they were dressed and about to leave the house, Raven touched Morgaine’s arm. “Go to Niniane,” she whispered, with the racking struggle to make her unused voice do her bidding. “I will bring—Nimue. She too is part of this. . . .”

For a moment Morgaine was startled almost to protest; then, with a glance at the paling sky in the east, she went. It might be that Raven had seen, in the evil dream of prophecy, the reason that Nimue had been brought here and kept in seclusion. Remembering the day when Viviane had told her of her own mission, she thought, Poor girl! But it was the will of the Goddess, they were all in her hands. As she went silent and alone through the wet orchard, she could see that all was not so calm and beautiful after all . . . the wind had ravaged the blossoms and the orchard lay under a white drift like snow; there would be little fruit this autumn.

We may plant the grain and till the soil. But only her favor brings the fruit to harvest. . . .

Why then do I trouble myself? It will be as she wills. . . .

Niniane, roused from sleep, looked at her as if she were mad. She is no true priestess, Morgaine thought; the Merlin spoke the truth—she was chosen only because she was Taliesin’s kin. The time has come, perhaps, to stop pretending who is truly the Lady of Avalon and take my proper place. She did not want to offend Niniane, or seem to strive for power and set the younger woman down, she had had enough of power . . . but no true priestess, chosen of the Goddess, could have slept through Raven’s cry. Yet somehow this woman before her had passed through the ordeals which go to the making of a priestess; the Goddess had not rejected her. What would the Goddess have her do?

“I tell you, Niniane, I have seen it and so has Raven . . . we must look before sunrise into the mirror!”

“I put not much faith in such things, either,” said Niniane quietly. “What must come, will surely come . . . but if you will, Morgaine, I will go with you—”

Silent, like spots of blackness in the white and watery world, they moved toward the mirror below the Sacred Well. And as they went Morgaine could see, like a shadow at the corner of her eyes, the tall silent form of Raven, veiled, and Nimue like a pale shadow, all blossom and pale flowers like the morning. Morgaine was struck at the girl’s beauty—even Gwenhwyfar in the fullest flush of her youth had never been so beautiful. She felt a wild stab of pure jealousy and anguish. I had no such gift from the Goddess in return for all I must sacrifice . . .

Niniane said, “Nimue is a maiden. It is she who must look into the mirror.”

Their four dark forms were reflected in the pallid surface of the pool, against the pale reflection of the sky, where a few pale-pink streaks were beginning to herald the sunrise. Nimue moved to the edge of the pool, parting her long fair hair with both hands, and Morgaine found herself seeing in her mind the surface of a silver bowl, and Viviane’s stilled, hypnotic face. . . .

Nimue said in a low, wandering voice, “What would you that I should see, my mother?”

Morgaine waited for Raven to speak, but there was only silence. So Morgaine said at last, “Has Avalon been breached and fallen victim to treachery? What has befallen the Holy Regalia?”

Silence. Only a few birds chirped softly in the trees, and the soft sound of water rippled, falling from the channel which overflowed from the Well to make this still pool. Below them on the slopes Morgaine could see the white drifts of the ruined orchards, and high above, the pale shapes of the ring stones atop the Tor.

Silence. At last Nimue stirred and whispered, “I cannot see his face . . .” and the pool rippled, and it seemed that Morgaine could see a hunched form, moving slowly and with difficulty . . . the room where she had stood silent that day behind Viviane, when Taliesin laid Excalibur in Arthur’s hand and she heard his voice forbidding . . .

“No—it is death to touch the Holy Regalia unprepared. . . .” For a moment Morgaine could hear the voice of Taliesin, not Nimue’s voice . . . but he had the right, he was the Merlin of Britain, and he took them from the hiding place, spear and cup and dish, and hiding the holy things under his cloak, he went out and across the Lake to where Excalibur gleamed in the darkness . . . the Holy Regalia now reunited.

“Merlin!” whispered Niniane aloud. “But why?”

Morgaine knew her face was like stone as she said, “Once he spoke of this to me. He said that Avalon was now outside the world, and that the holy things must be within the world to the service of man and the Gods, by whatever name men called them. . . .”

“He would profane them,” Niniane said hotly, “and put them to the use of that God who would drive out all other Gods. . . .”

In the silence, Morgaine heard the chanting of monks. Then the sunlight touched the mirror and turned it all to shooting fire which flooded her head and eyes, burning, blazing, and in the glare of the rising sun it seemed as if all the world burned in the light of a flaming cross. . . . She shut her eyes, covering her face with her hands.

“Let them go, Morgaine,” whispered Raven. “The Goddess will certainly care for her own. . . .”

Again Morgaine could hear the chanting of the monks—Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison . . . Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy. . . . The Holy Regalia were but tokens, surely the Goddess had let this befall them as a sign that Avalon needed these things no more, that they should go into the world and be in the service of men. . . .

The flaming cross burned still before Morgaine’s eyes; she covered them and turned away from the light. “Even I cannot abrogate the Merlin’s vow. He swore a great oath and made the Great Marriage with the land in the King’s stead, and now he is forsworn and his life forfeit. But before I deal with the traitor, I must deal with the treachery. The Regalia must be returned to Avalon, even if I must bring them hither again with my own hands. I will go forth to Camelot at dawn.” And she suddenly saw her plan complete as Nimue whispered, “Must I go forth too? Is it mine to avenge the Goddess?”

She, Morgaine, would deal with the Holy Regalia. They had been left in her care, and if only she had taken her proper place here instead of revelling in sorrow and considering her own comfort, this could never have come to pass. But Nimue should be the instrument of the traitor’s punishment.

Kevin had never seen Nimue. Of all those who dwelt on Avalon, the Merlin had never seen that one who dwelt in seclusion and silence. And as always transpires when the Goddess brings down punishment, it should be the Merlin’s own undefended fortresses which should bring him to ruin.

She said slowly, clenching her fists . . . how had she ever softened to that traitor? . . . “You shall go forth to Camelot, Nimue. You are Queen Gwenhwyfar’s cousin and the daughter of Lancelet. You will beg her that you may dwell among her ladies, and beg her to keep it secret, even from King Arthur, that you have ever dwelt in Avalon. Pretend even, if you must, that you have become a Christian. And there you will come to know the Merlin. He has a great weakness. He believes that women shun him because he is ugly and because he is lame. And for the woman who shows no fear or revulsion of him, for that woman who shows him again the manhood he craves and fears, he will do anything, he would give his very life. . . . Nimue,” she said, looking straight into the girl’s frightened eyes, “you will seduce him to your bed. You will bind him to you with such spells that he is your slave, body and soul.”

“And then—” said Nimue, trembling, “what then? Must I kill him?”

Morgaine would have spoken, but Niniane spoke first.

“Such death as you could give would be all too swift for such a traitor. You must bring him, enchanted, to Avalon, Nimue. And there he shall die a traitor’s cursed death within the oak grove.”

Trembling, Morgaine knew what fate awaited him—to be flayed alive, then thrust living within the cleft of the oak, and the opening stopped with wattle and daub, leaving only enough space so that his breath would not fail, lest he die too quickly. . . . She bowed her head, trying to conceal her shudder. The blinding sun was gone from the water; the sky dripped with pale dawn clouds. Niniane said, “Our work is done here. Come, Mother—” but Morgaine pulled herself free.

“Not done—I too must go forth for Camelot. I must know to what use the traitor has put the Holy Regalia.” She sighed; she had hoped never again to go forth from the shore of Avalon, but there was no other to do what must be done.

Raven put out her hand. She was shaking so terribly that Morgaine feared she would fall; and now she whispered, her ruined voice only a distant hiss and scratching like wind against dead branches, “I too must go . . . it is my fate, that I shall not lie where all those before me have lain in the enchanted country . . . I ride with you, Morgaine.”

“No, no, Raven,” Morgaine protested. “Not you!” Raven had never set foot off Avalon, not in fifty years . . . surely she could not survive the journey! But nothing she could say shook Raven’s determination; shivering with terror, she was adamant: she had seen her destiny and must go with Morgaine at any cost.

“But I am not going as Niniane would travel, in the pomp of priestess garb, in the litter of Avalon, riding in state to Camelot,” she argued. “I am going in disguise as an old peasant woman, as Viviane travelled so often in the old days.” But Raven shook her head and said, “Any road you can travel, Morgaine, I too can travel.”

Morgaine still felt a deadly fear—not for herself, but for Raven. But she said, “Be it so,” and they made ready to ride. And later that day they took their secret ways out of Avalon, Nimue travelling in state as the kinswoman of the Queen, riding on the main roads, and Morgaine and Raven, wrapped in the somber rags of beggar women, out of Avalon by the back ways and side roads, making their way on foot toward Camelot.

Raven was stronger than Morgaine had believed; as they made their way, day by day, slow-paced and afoot, at times it seemed that she was the stronger. They begged broken meats at farm doors, they stole a bit of bread left for a dog at the back of a farmstead, they slept once in a deserted villa and one night beneath a haystack. And on that last night, for the first time on their silent journey, Raven spoke.

“Morgaine,” she said, when they were lying side by side, wrapped in their cloaks, under the shadow of the hay, “tomorrow is Easter at Camelot, and we must be there at dawn.”

Morgaine would have asked why, but she knew Raven could give her no answer but this—that she had seen it as their fate. And so she answered, “Then we shall leave here before dawn. It is no more than an hour’s walk from here—we might have kept walking and slept in the shadow of Camelot, if you had told me this before, Raven.”

“I could not,” Raven whispered. “I was afraid.” And Morgaine knew that the other woman was weeping in the darkness. “I am so frightened, Morgaine, so frightened!”

Morgaine said brusquely, “I told you that you should have remained in Avalon!”

“But I had the work of the Goddess to do,” whispered Raven. “In all these years I have dwelt in the shelter of Avalon, and now it is Ceridwen, our Mother, who demands my all in return for all the shelter and safety I have had from her . . . but I am afraid, so afraid. Morgaine, hold me, hold me, I am so frightened—”

Morgaine clasped her close and kissed her, rocking her like a child. Then, as if they entered together into a great silence, she held Raven against her, touching her, caressing her, their bodies clinging together in something like frenzy. Neither spoke, but Morgaine felt the world trembling in a strange and sacramental rhythm around them, in no light but the darkness of the dark side of the moon—woman to woman, affirming life in the shadow of death. As maiden and man in the light of the spring moon and the Beltane fires affirmed life in the running of spring and the rutting which would bring death in the field to him and death in childbearing to her; so in the shadow and darkness of the sacrificed god, in the dark moon, the priestesses of Avalon together called on the life of the Goddess and in the silence she answered them. . . . They lay at last quiet in each other’s arms, and Raven’s weeping was stilled at last. She lay like death, and Morgaine, feeling her heart slowing to stillness, thought, I must let her go even into the shadow of death if that is the will of the Goddess. . . .

And she could not even weep.

         

         

No one took the slightest notice of two peasant women, no longer young, in the turmoil and tumult about the gates of Camelot this morning. Morgaine was used to this; Raven, who had lived so long in seclusion even on quiet Avalon, turned white as bone and tried to hide herself under her ragged shawl. Morgaine also kept her own shawl about her—there were some who would recognize the lady Morgaine, even with her hair streaked with white and in the garb of a peasant woman.

A drover striding through the yard with a calf ran into Raven and came near to knocking her down, and he cursed her when she only stared at him in dismay. Morgaine said quickly, “My sister is deaf and dumb,” and his face changed.

“Ah, poor thing—look, go up by there, they’re giving everybody a good dinner at the lower end of the King’s hall. You two can creep in at that door and watch them when they come in—the King’s got some big thing planned with one of the priests in the hall today. You’ll be from upcountry and not know his ways? Well, everyone in this countryside knows that he makes it a custom—he never sits down to his great feasts unless there’s some great marvel arranged, and we heard today that there is to be something truly marvelous.”

I doubt it not, Morgaine thought disdainfully, but she only thanked the man in the rough country dialect she had used before and drew Raven along with her toward the lower hall, which was filling rapidly—King Arthur’s generosity on feast days was well known, and this would be the best dinner many people had all year. There was a smell of roasting meat in the air, and most of the people jostling round her commented greedily on it. As for Morgaine, it only made her feel sick, and after one look at Raven’s white terrified face, she decided to withdraw.

She should not have come. It was I who failed to see the danger to the Holy Regalia; it was I who failed to see that the Merlin was traitor. And when I have done what I must do, how will I manage to flee to Avalon with Raven in this condition?

She found a corner where they would be disregarded, but where they could see reasonably well what was happening. At the higher end of the room was the great mead-hall table, the Round Table which was already almost legendary in the countryside, with the great dais for the King and Queen, and the painted names of Arthur’s Companions over their customary places. On the walls hung brilliant banners. And after years spent in the austerity of Avalon, this all seemed gaudy and garish to Morgaine.

After a long time there was a stir, and then the sound of trumpets somewhere, and a whisper ran through the jostling crowd. Morgaine thought, It will be strange to see the court from outside, after being a part of it for so long! Cai was opening the great doors to the upper end of the hall, and Morgaine shrank—Cai would know her, whatever garb she wore! But why should he even look in her direction?

How many years had she spent quietly drifting in Avalon? She had no idea. But Arthur seemed even taller, more majestic, his hair so fair that no one could have told whether or no there were silver strands among the carefully combed curls. Gwenhwyfar, too, although her breasts sagged under the elaborate gown, bore herself upright and seemed slim as ever.

“Look how young the Queen looks,” muttered one of Morgaine’s neighbors, “yet Arthur married her the year I had my first son, and look at me.” Morgaine glanced at the speaker, bent and toothless, stooped like a bent bow. “I heard that witch sister of the King, Morgaine of the Fairies, gave them both spells to keep their youth. . . .”

“Spells or no,” mumbled another toothless crone tartly, “if Queen Gwenhwyfar had to muck out a byre night and morning, and bear a babe every year and suckle it in good times and bad, there’d be none of that beauty left, bless her! Things are as they are, but I wish some priest’ud tell me why she gets all the good in life and I get all the misery?”

“Stop grumbling,” said the first speaker. “You’ll have your belly full today, and get to see all the lords and ladies, and you know what the old Druids used to say about why things are what they are. Queen Gwenhwyfar up there gets fine gowns and jewels and a queen’s business because she did good in her last lives, and the likes of you and me are poor and ugly because we were ignorant, and someday, if we mind what we do in this life, there’s a better fortune for us too.”

“Oh, aye,” grunted the other old woman, “priests and Druids are all alike. The Druid says that, and the priest says if we do our duty in this life we’ll go to Heaven and live with Jesus and feast with him there and never come back to this wicked world at all! It all winds up the same, whatever the lot of them say—some are born in misery and die in misery, and others have it all their own way!”

“But she’s none so happy, I’ve heard,” said another of the group of old women wedged in together. “For all her queening it, she’s never borne a single babe, and I have a good son to work the farm for me, and one daughter married to the man at the next farm, and another who’s servant to the nuns on Glastonbury. And Queen Gwenhwyfar has had to adopt sir Galahad there, who’s the son of Lancelet and of her own cousin Elaine, for Arthur’s heir!”

“Oh, aye, that’s what they tell you,” said a fourth old woman, “but you know and I know, when Queen Gwenhwyfar was absent from court in the sixth or seventh year of his reign—something like that—don’t you think they were all counting on their fingers? My stepbrother’s wife was a kitchen woman here at court, and he said it was common talk all round here that the Queen spent her nights in another bed than her husband’s—”

“Keep quiet, old gossip,” said the first speaker. “Just let one of the chamberlains hear you say that aloud, and you’ll be ducked in the pond for a scold! I say Galahad’s a good knight and he’ll make a good king, long live King Arthur! And who cares who his mother is? I think meself he’s one of Arthur’s by-blows—he’s fair like him. And look yonder at sir Mordred—everybody knows he’s the King’s bastard son by some harlot or other.”

“I heard worse than that,” said one of the women. “I heard Mordred’s the son of one of the fairy witches and Arthur took him to court in pawn for his soul, to live a hundred years—you’ll see, he’ll not age, sir Mordred there. Just look at Arthur, he must be past fifty and he could be a man in his thirties!”

Another old woman spoke a barnyard obscenity. “What’s it to me, all of that? If the Devil were about business like that, he could have made yonder Mordred in Arthur’s own image so anyone could accept him as Arthur’s son! Arthur’s mother was of the old blood of Avalon—did you never see the lady Morgaine? She was dark too, and Lancelet, who’s his kin, was like that. . . . I’d rather believe what they said before, that Mordred is Lancelet’s bastard son by the lady Morgaine! You’ve only got to look at them—and the lady Morgaine pretty enough in her way, little and dark as she was.”

“She’s not among the ladies,” one of the women remarked, and the woman who had known a kitchen woman at court said authoritatively, “Why, she quarreled with Arthur and went away to the land of Fairy, but everybody knows that on All Hallows Night she flies round the castle on a hazel twig and anyone who catches sight of her will be struck blind.”

Morgaine buried her face in her ragged cloak to smother a giggle. Raven, hearing, turned an indignant face to Morgaine, but Morgaine shook her head; they must keep still and not be noticed.

The knights were seating themselves in their accustomed places. Lancelet, as he took his seat, raised his head, looking sharply round the hall, and for a moment it seemed to Morgaine that he sought her out where she stood, that his eyes met hers—shivering, she ducked her head. Chamberlains were moving at both ends of the hall, pouring wine for the Companions and their ladies, pouring good brown beer from great leather jacks down among the peasants crowded in at the lower end. Morgaine held out her cup and Raven’s, and when Raven refused, she said in a harsh whisper, “Drink it! You look like death, and you must be strong enough for whatever is coming.” Raven put the wooden cup to her lips and sipped, but she could hardly swallow. The woman who had said that the lady Morgaine was pretty enough in her way asked, “Is she sick, your sister?”

Morgaine said, “She is frightened, she has never seen the court before.”

“Fine, aren’t they, the lords and ladies? What a spectacle! And we’ll get a good dinner soon,” said the woman to Raven. “Hey, doesn’t she hear?”

“She is not deaf, but dumb,” Morgaine said again. “I think maybe she understands a little of what I say to her, but no one else.”

“Now you come to speak of it, she does look simpleminded, at that,” said the other woman, and patted Raven on the head like a dog. “Has she always been like that? What a pity, and you have to look after her. You’re a good woman. Sometimes when children are like that, their folks tie them to a tree like a stray dog, and here you take her to court and all. Look at the priest in his gold robes! That’s the bishop Patricius, they say he drove all the snakes out of his own country . . . think of that! Do you think he fought them with sticks?”

“It’s a way of saying he drove out all the Druids—they are called serpents of wisdom,” Morgaine said.

“How’d the likes of you know a thing like that?” Morgaine’s interrogator scoffed. “I heard for sure that it was snakes, and anyhow all those wise folk, Druids and priests, they hang together, they wouldn’t quarrel!”

“Very likely,” said Morgaine, not wanting to draw further attention to herself, her eyes going to Bishop Patricius. Behind him there was someone in the robes of a monk—a hunched figure, bent over and moving with difficulty—now what was the Merlin doing in the bishop’s train? She said, her need to know overcoming the risk of attracting attention, “What’s going to happen? I thought surely they would have heard their mass in the chapel this morning, all the lords and ladies—”

“I heard,” said one of the women, “that since the chapel would hold so few, there would be a special mass here today for all the folk before meat—see, the bishop’s men carrying in that altar with the white cloth and all. Sssshh—listen!”

Morgaine felt that she would go mad with rage and despair. Were they going to profane the Holy Regalia beyond any possibility of cleansing, by using it to serve a Christian mass?

“Draw near, all ye people,” the bishop was atoning, “for today the old order giveth way to the new. Christ has triumphed over all the old and pretended Gods who shall now be subservient to his name. For the True Christ said unto mankind, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. Also he said, No man may come to the Father except he come in my name, for there is no other name under Heaven in which you may be saved. And by that token, then, all those things which once were devoted to false Gods before mankind had knowledge of the truth, now shall be devoted to Christ and newly dedicated in service to the True God. . . .”

But Morgaine heard no more; suddenly she knew what they were planning to do—No! I am sworn to the Goddess. I must not allow this blasphemy! She turned and touched Raven’s arm; even here, in the midst of this crowded hall, they were open one to the other. They would use the Holy Regalia of the Goddess to summon the Presence . . . which is One . . . but they would do it in the narrow name of that Christ who calls all Gods demons, unless they invoke in his name!

The cup the Christians use in their mass is the invocation of water, even as the plate whereon they lay their holy bread is the sacred dish of the element of earth. Now, using the ancient things of the Goddess, they would invoke their own narrow God; yet instead of the pure water of the holy earth, coming from the clear crystal spring of the Goddess, they have defiled her chalice with wine!

In the cup of the Goddess, O Mother, is the cauldron of Ceridwen, wherein all men are nourished and from which all men have all the good things of this world. You have called upon the Goddess, O ye willful priests, but will you dare her presence if she should come? Morgaine clasped her hands in the most fervent invocation of her life. I am thy priestess, O Mother! Use me, I pray, as you will!

She felt the rushing downward of power, felt herself standing taller, taller, as the power flooded through her body and soul and filled her; she was no longer conscious of Raven’s hands holding her upright, filling her like the chalice with the sacred wine of the holy presence. . . .

She moved forward and saw Patricius, stunned, draw back before her. She had no fear, and though she knew it was death to touch the Holy Regalia unprepared—how, she wondered in a remote corner of her waking mind, did Kevin manage to prepare the bishop? Had he betrayed that secret too? She knew with certainty that all her life had been preparation for this moment when, as the Goddess herself, she raised the cup between her hands.

Afterward, she heard, some said that they saw the Holy Chalice borne round the room by a maiden clothed in shimmering white; others said that they heard a great rushing wind fill the hall, and a sound of many harps. Morgaine knew only that she lifted the cup between her hands, seeing it glow like a great sparkling jewel, a ruby, a living, beating heart pulsing between her hands . . . she moved toward the bishop and he fell to his knees before her as she whispered, “Drink. This is the Holy Presence. . . .”

He drank, and briefly she wondered what it was that he saw, but then he fell away behind her as she moved on, or the cup itself moved, drawing her with it . . . she could not tell. She heard a sound as of many wings, rushing before her, and she smelled a sweetness that was neither incense nor perfume. . . . The chalice, some said later, was invisible; others said that it shone like a great star which blinded every eye that looked on it. . . . Every person in that hall found his plate filled with such things as he liked best to eat . . . again and again later she heard that tale, and by that token she knew that what she had borne was the cauldron of Ceridwen. But for the other tales she had no explanation, and needed none. She is the Goddess, she will do as she will. . . .

As she moved before Lancelet she heard him whisper in awe, “Is it you, Mother? Or do I dream? . . .” and set the cup to his lips, filled with overflowing tenderness; today she was mother to them all. Even Arthur knelt before her as the cup briefly passed before his lips.

I am all things—Virgin and Mother and she who gives life and death. Ignore me at your peril, ye who call on other Names . . . know ye that I am One. . . . Of all those in that great hall, only Nimue, she thought, had recognized her, had looked up in astonished recognition; yes, Nimue too had been reared to know the Goddess, whatever form she might take. “You too, my child,” she whispered with infinite compassion, and Nimue knelt to drink, and Morgaine felt somewhere through her the surging of lust and vengeance, and thought, Yes, this too is a part of me. . . .

Morgaine faltered, felt Raven’s strength bearing her up . . . was Raven beside her, holding the cup? Or was it illusion, was Raven still crouching in her corner, holding her upright with a flow of strength which poured through them both into the Goddess bearing the cup . . . ? Later, Morgaine never knew whether in truth she had borne the chalice or whether that, too, had been part of the vast magic she had woven for the Goddess . . . yet it seemed to her, still, that she bore the cup around the great hall, that every man and every woman there knelt and drank, that the sweetness and the bliss flooded her, that she walked as if borne along on those great wings she could hear . . . and then Mordred’s face was before her.

I am not your mother, I am the Mother of All. . . .

Galahad was white, overawed. Did he see it as the cup of life or as the holy chalice of Christ? Did it matter? Gareth, Gawaine, Lucan, Bedivere, Palomides, Cai . . . all the old Companions and many she did not recognize, and it seemed at the last that they walked somewhere beyond the spaces of the world, and all of those who had ever been among them, even those who had passed beyond this world, came to commune with them at the Round Table this day—Ectorius, Lot, dead years since at Mount Badon; young Drustan, murdered in jealous rage by Marcus; Lionel; Bors; Balin and Balan hand in hand, like brothers again past the gates of death . . . all those who had ever gathered here around the Round Table, past and present, today were gathered here in this moment beyond time, even at last before the wise eyes of Taliesin. And then it was Kevin kneeling before her, the cup to his lips . . .

Even you. I forgive all this day . . . whatever may come in the times yet to be seen. . . .

At last she raised the chalice to her own lips and drank. The water of the Sacred Well was sweet on her lips, and though she saw now all the others in the hall eating and drinking, somehow it seemed, when she took a bite of bread, that on her lips it was the soft honey bannock that Igraine had baked for her when she was a child in Tintagel.

She replaced the cup on the altar, where it shone like a star. . . .

Now! Now, Raven, the Great Magic! It took all the strength of all the Druids to shift Avalon from this world, but now we need not do so much . . . the cup and the dish and the spear must go . . . they must go from this world forever, safely into Avalon, never again to be touched or profaned by mortal men. Never again may they be used for our own magic among the ring stones, for they have been defied by their moments on a Christian altar. But never again will they be profaned by priests of a narrow God who would deny all other truths. . . .

She felt Raven’s touch, hands gripping hers, and it seemed to her that beyond Raven’s hands she felt other hands, she knew not whose . . . and in the hall it seemed as if the great wings flapped for a final time and a great rushing wind swept through the hall and was gone. White daylight broke into the room, and the altar was bare and empty, and the white cloth was crumpled and lying there untenanted. She could see the pale terrified face of Bishop Patricius.

“God has visited us,” he whispered, “and today we have drunk of the wine of life by the Holy Grail. . . .”

Gawaine leaped to his feet. “But who has stolen away the holy vessel?” he cried. “We have seen it veiled . . . I swear I shall go forth to find it and bring it again to this court! And on this quest I shall spend a twelvemonth and a day, till I see it more clearly than here. . . .”

Of course it would have to be Gawaine, thought Morgaine, always first to set himself face to face with the unknown! Yet he had played into her hands. Galahad stood up, pale and shining with excitement.

“A twelvemonth, sir Gawaine? I swear that I shall spend all my life, if need be, till I see the Grail clear before me. . . .”

Arthur held out his hand and tried to speak, but the fever had caught them all and they were crying out, pledging themselves, all talking at once.

There is now no other cause so dear to their hearts, Morgaine thought. The wars have been won, there is peace in the land. Between wars, even the Caesars had the sense to set their legions to the building of roads and the conquest of new lands. Now this quest, they think, will unite them again in the old fervor. Once again they are the Companions of the Round Table, but this will scatter them to the four winds . . . in the name of that God you would set above Avalon, Arthur! The Goddess works as she will. . . .

Mordred had risen and was speaking, but Morgaine had eyes now only for Raven, fallen to the floor. All round her the old peasant women were still chattering about the fine foods and drink they had tasted under the spell of the cauldron.

“White wine it was, rich and sweet as fresh honey and grapes . . . I never tasted it but once, years ago . . .”

“Plum cake I had, stuffed with raisins and plums and a sauce of rich red wine . . . I never had anything so good . . .”

But Raven lay silent, white as death, and when Morgaine bent to her, she knew what she had already known when she first saw her lying there. The weight of that Great Magic had been too much for the terrified woman; she had held firm, buoyed by the Great Magic, until the Grail had gone away to Avalon, all her own strength poured out selflessly to strengthen Morgaine in the work of the Goddess; and then, that strength withdrawn, her life had gone with it. Morgaine held her close, in wild grief and despair.

I have killed her too. Truly, truly, now have I killed the last one I had to love. . . . Mother, Goddess, why could it not have been me? I have nothing more to live for, no one to love, and Raven has never harmed a living soul, never, never. . . .

Morgaine saw Nimue come down from her high seat beside the Queen and speak with the Merlin, her look warm and sweet, and lay a confiding hand on his arm. Arthur was speaking with Lancelet, the tears streaming down both their faces; she saw them embrace and kiss as they had not done since they were boys. Arthur left him then, and walked down into the lower end of the hall, moving among his subjects.

“Is all well, my people?”

All were speaking to him about the magical feast, but as he came nearer someone called out, “Here’s an old deaf and dumb woman, my lord Arthur, dead—the excitement was just too much for her!”

Arthur walked to where Raven lay lifeless in Morgaine’s arms. Morgaine did not raise her head. Would he recognize her, cry out, accuse her of witchcraft . . . ?

His voice was gentle and familiar, but distant. Of course, she thought, he is not speaking now to sister or priestess or equal, he sees no more than a crouching old peasant woman, white-haired, clad in rags. “Your sister, my good woman? I am sorry this has come to you at a festival, but God has taken her at a blessed moment into the very arms of his own angel. Would you have her lie here for burial? She shall lie in the churchyard, if you wish.”

The women around drew breath, and Morgaine knew this was, indeed, the highest charity he could offer. But her cloak still over her head, she said, “No.” And then, as if compelled, looked up into his eyes.

They had changed so much, both of them . . . she was old and burdened, but Arthur, too, had changed from the young King Stag. . . .

Not then nor ever did Morgaine know whether Arthur had recognized her. Their eyes met for a moment, then he said gently, “Would you take her home then? Be it as you will, mother. Tell my stablemen to give you a horse—show them this.” He put a ring into her hand. Morgaine bent her head, squeezing her eyes tight against tears, and when she raised it again, Arthur was gone.

“Here, I’ll help ye carry her,” said one of the women nearby, and then another, and they bore Raven’s slight body from the hall. And Morgaine was tempted to look back into the hall of the Round Table, for she knew she would never see it again, nor ever set foot again upon Camelot.

Now her work was done, and she would return to Avalon. But she would return alone. Now she would always be alone.

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

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