The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 72 of 81

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

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

16

Gwenhwyfar lay wide-eyed in the darkness, waiting for the step of Lancelet, yet thinking of Morgause, smiling—almost leering—as she murmured, “Ah, I envy you, my dear! Cormac is a fine young man, and hearty enough—but he has none of the grace and beauty of your lover.”

Gwenhwyfar had bent her head and said nothing. Who was she to scorn Morgause, when she was doing the same thing? But it was too dangerous. The bishop, on his last Sunday, had preached a sermon on the great commandment against adultery, saying that the chastity of wives lay at the very root of the Christian way of living, since only by married chastity did women redeem the sin of Eve. Gwenhwyfar recalled the tale of that woman taken in adultery, whom they had brought to Christ; he had said, Let that one who had done no sin, cast at her the first stone. There had been none guiltless to cast it—but here in her court, there were many who were sinless, with Arthur himself to cast that stone. Christ had said to the woman, Go and sin no more. And that was what she must do. . . .

It was not his body she desired. Morgause, sniggering over the lusty young man who was her lover, would never have believed how little difference that had made to either of them. Seldom, indeed, had he ever taken her in that way which was sin and dishonor—only in those first years, when they had had Arthur’s acquiescence, to try and see if Gwenhwyfar could bear a son to the kingdom. There had been other ways to find pleasure, which she somehow felt less of a sin, less violation of Arthur’s marriage rights in her body. And even so, it was not that she desired so much, only that she should be with him . . . it was a thing, she thought, almost more of the soul than the body. Why should a God of love condemn this? He might condemn the sin they had done, for which she had done penance over and over, but how could he condemn this, which was the truest love of the heart?

I have taken nothing from Arthur which he desired or needed of me. He must have a queen, a lady to keep his castle; for the rest, he wanted nothing of me save a son, and it was not I but God who denied him that.

There was a soft step in the darkness; she whispered, “Lancelet?”

“Not so.” A glimmer of a tiny lamp in the darkness confused her; for a moment she saw what seemed a beloved face, grown young—then knew who it must be.

“How dare you? My women are not so far but that I can scream aloud, and there is none will believe that I summoned you here!”

“Lie still,” he said. “There is a knife at your throat, my lady.” And as she shrank away, clutching the bed clothing, “Oh, don’t flatter yourself, madam, I came not here for rape. Your charms are too stale for me, my lady, and too well tasted.”

“That’s enough,” said a husky voice in the dark behind Gwydion. “Don’t mock her, man! This is a dirty business, snooping at bedchamber doors, and I wish I’d never heard of it! Quiet, all of you, and hide yourselves around the chamber!”

She recognized Gawaine’s face as her eyes adapted to the dim light, and beyond them a familiar form. “Gareth! What do you here?” she asked, sorrowfully. “I thought you Lancelet’s dearest friend.”

“And so I am,” he said grimly. “I came to see no worse done to him than justice. That one"—he flicked a contemptuous gesture at Gwydion—"would cut his throat—and leave you to be accused of murder!”

“Be still,” said Gwydion, and the light went out. Gwenhwyfar felt the pricking of the knife at her throat. “If you speak a syllable to warn him, madam, I will cut your throat and take my chances explaining why to my lord Arthur.” The point dug in till Gwenhwyfar, flinching with pain, wondered if it had actually drawn blood. She could hear small noises—the rustle of garments, the clink of weapons hurriedly muffled; how many men had he brought to this ambush? She lay silent, twisting her hands in despair. If only she could warn Lancelet . . . but she lay like a small animal in a snare, helpless.

Minutes crawled by for the trapped woman silent between her pillows and the knife. After a long time, she heard a tiny sound, a soft whistle like a bird call. Gwydion felt the tensing of her muscles and asked in a rasping whisper, “Lancelet’s signal?” He dug the knife again into the yielding skin at her throat, and she whispered, sweating in terror, “Yes.”

She felt the straw beneath her rustle as he shifted his weight and moved away. “There are a dozen men in this room. Try to give him warning, and you will not live three seconds.”

She heard sounds in the antechamber; Lancelet’s cloak, his sword—ah, God, would they take him naked and weaponless? She tensed again, feeling in advance the knife driving into her body, but somehow she must warn him, must cry out—she opened her lips, but Gwydion—was it the Sight, how did he know?—thrust his hand cruelly over her face, smothering the cry. She writhed under his suffocating hand, then felt Lancelet’s weight on the bed.

“Gwen?” he whispered. “What is the matter? Did I hear you crying, my beloved?”

She managed to writhe away from the concealing hand.

“Run!” she screamed. “It’s a trick, a trap—”

“Hell’s doors!” She could feel him, like a cat, springing back.

Gwydion’s lamp flared; somehow the light went from hand to hand, until the room was filled with light, and Gawaine, Cai, and Gareth, with a dozen shadowy forms behind them, stepped forward. Gwenhwyfar huddled under the bedcover, and Lancelet stood still, quite naked, weaponless.

“Mordred,” he said, in contempt. “Such a trick is worthy of you!”

Gawaine said formally, “In the King’s name, Lancelet, I accuse you of high treason. Get me your sword.”

“Never mind that,” said Gwydion, “go and take it.”

“Gareth! In God’s name, why did you lend yourself to this?”

Gareth’s eyes were glistening as if with tears in the lamplight. “I never believed it of you, Lancelet. I would to God I had fallen in battle before ever I saw this day.”

Lancelet bent his head and Gwenhwyfar saw his eyes, panicky, move around the room. He muttered, “Oh, God, Pellinore looked at me so when they came with the torches to take me in Elaine’s bed—must I betray everyone, everyone?” She wanted to reach out to him, to cry out with pity and pain, to shelter him in her arms. But he would not look at her.

“Your sword,” said Gawaine quietly. “And dress yourself, Lancelet. I will not take you naked and disgraced into Arthur’s presence. Enough men have witnessed your shame.”

“Don’t let him get at his sword—” some faceless voice in the darkness protested, but Gawaine gestured the speaker contemptuously into silence. Lancelet turned slowly away from them, into the tiny antechamber where he had left clothing, armor, weapons. She heard him drawing on his garments. Gareth stood, his hand on his sword, as Lancelet came into the room, dressed but weaponless, his hands in full view.

“I am glad for your sake that you will come with us quietly,” said Gwydion. “Mother"—he turned into the shadows, and Gwenhwyfar saw, with consternation, Queen Morgause standing there—"see to the Queen. She shall be in your charge until Arthur may deal with her.”

Morgause advanced on the bedside. Gwenhwyfar had never noticed before how large a woman Morgause was, and how ruthless her jaw line.

“Come along, my lady, get into your gown,” she said. “And I will help you peg your hair—you do not want to go naked and shameless before the King. And be glad there was a woman here. These men—” she looked contemptuously at them—"meant to wait until they could catch him actually inside you.” Gwenhwyfar shrank from the brutality of the words; slowly, with lagging fingers, she began to draw on her gown. “Must I dress before all these men?”

Gwydion did not wait for Morgause to answer. He said, “Don’t try to cozen us, shameless woman! Dare you pretend you have anything left of decency or modesty? Put on that gown, madam, or my mother shall bundle you into it like a sack!”

He calls her mother. No wonder Gwydion is cruel and ruthless, with the Queen of Lothian to foster him! Yet Gwenhwyfar had seen Morgause so often as merely a lazy, jolly, greedy woman—what had brought her to this? She sat still, fastening the laces of her shoes.

Lancelet said quietly, “It is my sword you want, then?”

“You know it,” Gawaine said.

“Why, then"—moving almost more swiftly than the eye could follow, Lancelet leaped for Gawaine, and in another catlike movement, had Gawaine’s own sword in his hand—"come and take it, damn you!” He lunged with Gawaine’s sword at Gwydion, who fell across the bed, howling, bleeding from a great slash in his backside; then, as Cai stepped forward, sword in hand, Lancelet caught up a cushion from the bed and pushed Cai backward with it so that he fell into the advancing men, who tripped over him. He leaped up on the bed and said, low and short to Gwenhwyfar, “Keep perfectly still and be ready!”

She gasped, shrinking back and making herself small in a corner. They were coming at him again; he ran one of them through, briefly engaged another, and over that one’s body, lunged and slashed at a shadowy attacker. The giant form of Gareth crumpled slowly to the floor. Lancelet was already fighting someone else, but Gwydion, bleeding, cried out, “Gareth!” and flung himself across the body of his foster-brother. In that moment of horrified lull, while Gwydion knelt, sobbing, over Gareth’s body, Gwenhwyfar felt Lancelet catch her up on his arm, whirl, kill someone at the door—she never knew who it was—and then she was on her feet in the corridor, and Lancelet was pushing her, with frantic haste, ahead of him. Someone came at him out of the dark and Lancelet killed him, and they ran on.

“Make for the stables,” he gasped. “Horses, and out of here, fast.”

“Wait!” She caught at his arm. “If we throw ourselves on Arthur’s mercy—or you escape and I will stay and face Arthur—”

“Gareth might have seen justice done. But with Gwydion’s hand in it, do you think either of us would ever reach the King alive? I named him well Mordred!” He hurried her into the stables, swiftly flung a saddle on his horse. “No time to find yours. Ride behind me, and hold on well—I’m going to have to ride down the guards at the gate.” And Gwenhwyfar realized she was seeing a new Lancelet—not her lover, but the hardened warrior. How many men had he killed this night? She had no time for fear as he lifted her on his horse and sprang up before her.

“Hang on to me,” he said. “I’ll have no time to look after you.” He turned then, and gave her one hard, long kiss. “This is my fault, I should have known that infernal bastard would be spying—well, whatever happens now, at least it’s over. No more lies and no more hiding. You’re mine forever—” and he broke off. She could feel him trembling, but he turned savagely to grip the reins. “And now we go!”

         

         

Morgause looked on in horror as Gwydion, weeping, bent over her youngest son.

Words spoken in half earnest, years ago—Gwydion had refused to take the lists on the opposite side from Gareth, even in a mock battle. It seemed to me that you lay dying, he had said . . . and I knew it was my doing you lay without the spark of life. . . . I will not tempt that fate.

Lancelet had done this, Lancelet whom Gareth had always loved more than any other man.

One of the men in the room stepped forward and said, “They’re getting away—”

“Do you think I care about that?” Gwydion winced, and Morgause realized that he was bleeding, that his blood was flowing and mingling with Gareth’s on the floor of the chamber. She caught up the linen sheet from the bed, tore it, and wadded it against Gwydion’s wound.

Gawaine said somberly, “No man in all of Britain will hide them now. Lancelet is everywhere outcast. He has been taken in treason to his king, and his very life is forfeit. God! How I wish it had not come to this!” He came and looked at Gwydion’s wound, then shrugged. “No more than a flesh cut—see, the bleeding is slowed already, it will heal, but you will not sit in comfort for some days. Gareth—” His voice broke; the great, rough, greying man began to weep like a child. “Gareth had worse fortune, and I will have Lancelet’s life for it, if I die myself at his hands. Ah God, Gareth, my little one, my little brother—” and Gawaine bent and cradled the big body against him. He said thickly, through sobs, “Was it worth it, Gwydion, was it worth Gareth’s life?”

“Come away, my boy,” said Morgause, through a tightness in her own throat—Gareth, her baby, her last child; she had lost him long ago to Arthur, but still she remembered a fair-haired little boy, clutching a wooden painted knight in his hand. And one day you and I shall go on quest together, sir Lancelet . . . always Lancelet. But now Lancelet had overreached himself, and everywhere in the land every man’s hand would be against him. And still she had Gwydion, her beloved, the one who would one day be King, and she at his side.

“Come, my lad, come away, you can do nothing for Gareth now. Let me bind up your wound, then we shall go to Arthur and tell him what has befallen, so that he may send out his men to seek for the traitors—”

Gwydion shook her grip from his arm. “Get away from me, curse you,” he said in a terrible voice. “Gareth was the best of us, and I would not have sacrificed him for a dozen kings! It was you and your spite against Arthur always urging me on, as if I cared what bed the Queen slept in—as if Gwenhwyfar were any worse than you, when from the time I was ten years old you had this one or that one in your bed—”

“Oh, my son—” she whispered, aghast. “How can you speak so to me? Gareth was my son too—”

“What did you ever care for Gareth, or for any of us, or for anything but your own pleasure and your own ambition? You would urge me to a throne, not for my sake but for your own power!” He thrust away her clinging hands. “Get you back to Lothian, or to hell if the devil will have you, but if ever I set eyes on you again, I swear I will forget all except that you were the murderer of the one brother I loved, the one kinsman—” and as Gawaine urgently pushed his mother from the chamber, she could hear Gwydion weeping again. “Oh, Gareth, Gareth, I should have died first—”

Gawaine said shortly, “Cormac, take the Queen of Lothian to her chamber.”

His strong arm was holding her upright, and after they had moved down the hall, after that dreadful sobbing had died away behind her, Morgause began to draw breath freely again. How could he turn on her this way? When had she ever done anything except for his sake? She must show decent mourning for Gareth, certainly, but Gareth was Arthur’s man, and surely Gwydion would have realized it, sooner or later. She looked up at Cormac. “I cannot walk so fast—hold back a little.”

“Certainly, my lady.” She was very much aware of his arm enfolding her, holding her. She let herself lean a little on him. She had bragged to Gwenhwyfar of her young lover, but she had never yet actually taken him to her bed—she had kept him delaying, dangling. She turned her head against his shoulder. “You have been faithful to your queen, Cormac.”

“I am loyal to my royal house, as all my people have ever been,” the young man said in their own language, and she smiled.

“Here is my chamber—help me inside, will you? I can scarce walk—”

He supported her, eased her down on her bed. “Is it my lady’s will that I call her women?”

“No,” she whispered, catching at his hands, aware that her tears were seductive. “You have been loyal to me, Cormac, and now is that loyalty to be rewarded—come here—”

She held out her arms, half shutting her eyes, then opened them, in shock, as he pulled awkwardly away.

“I—I think you are distraught, madam,” he stammered. “What do you think I am? What do you take me for? Why, lady, I have as much respect for you as for my own grandmother! Should I take advantage of an old woman like you when you are beside yourself with grief? Let me call your waiting-woman, and she will make you a nice posset and I will forget what you said in the madness of grief, madam.”

Morgause could feel the blow in the very pit of her stomach, repeated blows on her heart—my own grandmother . . . old woman . . . the madness of grief. . . . The whole of the world had suddenly gone mad—Gwydion insane with ingratitude, this man who had looked on her so long with desire turning on her . . . she wanted to scream, to call for her servants and have him whipped till his back ran crimson with his blood and the walls rang with his shrieking for mercy. But even as she opened her mouth for that, the whole weight of her life seemed to descend on her in deadly weariness.

“Yes,” she said dully, “I do not know what I was saying—call my women, Cormac, and tell them to bring me some wine. We will ride at daybreak for Lothian.”

And when he had gone, she sat on the bed without the strength to lift her hands.

I am an old woman. And I have lost my son Gareth, and I have lost Gwydion, and I will never now be Queen in Camelot. I have lived too long.

<< < 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 > >>

Comments

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

Share your Thoughts for The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button