The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 74 of 81

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

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Epilogue

In the spring of the year after this, Morgaine had a curious dream.

She dreamed that she was in the ancient Christian chapel upon Avalon, built in the old times by that Joseph of Arimathea who had come here from the Holy Land. And there, before that altar where Galahad had died, Lancelet stood in the robes of a priest, and his face was solemn and shining. In her dream she went, as she had never done in any Christian church, to the altar rail for the sharing of their bread and wine, and Lancelet bent and set the cup to her lips and she drank. And then it seemed to her that he knelt in his turn, and he said to her, “Take this cup, you who have served the Goddess. For all the Gods are one God, and we are all One, who serve the One.” And as she took the cup in her hands to set it to his lips in her turn, priestess to priest, he was young and beautiful as he had been years ago. And she saw that the cup in her hands was the Grail.

And then he cried out, as he had done when Galahad knelt before him, “Ah, the light—the light—” and fell forward and lay on the stones without moving; and Morgaine woke in her isolated dwelling on Avalon with that cry of rapture still ringing in her ears; and she was alone.

It was very early, and mist lay thick on Avalon. She rose quietly and robed herself in the dark garb of a priestess, but she tied her veil around her head so that the crescent tattoo there was invisible.

She went quietly out into the stillness of the dawn, taking the downward path beside the Sacred Well. Still as it was, she could sense noiseless footsteps, silent as shadows, behind her. She was never alone; the little dark people always attended her, though she seldom actually saw them—she was their mother and their priestess and they would never leave her. But when she came near the shadow of the ancient Christian chapel, the footsteps gradually ceased; they would not follow her on this ground. Morgaine paused at the door.

Inside the chapel there was a glimmer of light, the light they always kept in their sanctuary. For a moment, so real was the memory of her dream, Morgaine was tempted to step inside . . . she could hardly believe she would not see Lancelet there, struck down by the magical brilliance of the Grail . . . but no. She had no business there, and she would not intrude on their God; and if indeed the Grail was there, it had gone beyond her reach.

Yet the dream remained with her. Had it been sent as a warning? Lancelet was younger than she herself was . . . she knew not how time ran in the outer world. Avalon, now, had gone so far into the mists that it might be with Avalon as it had been with the fairy country when she was young—while a single year passed within Avalon, three or five or even seven years might have run by in the outer world. And so what it had come to her to do should be done now, while she could still come and go between the worlds.

She knelt before the Holy Thorn, whispering a soft prayer to the Goddess, and asking leave of the tree; then she cut a slip for planting. It was not the first time: in these last years, whenever one had come to Avalon and returned to the outside world, wandering Druid or pilgrim priest . . . for a few of them could still come to the ancient chapel on Avalon . . . she had sent with him a slip of the Holy Thorn, so that it might still blossom in the world outside. But this she must do with her own hands.

Never, except at Arthur’s crowning, had she set foot on the other island . . . except, perhaps, for that day when the mists had opened, and Gwenhwyfar had somehow fallen or wandered through. But now, deliberately, she called the barge, and when it was out in the Lake, sent it into the mists, so that when it glided forth into the sunlight again, she could see the long shadow of the church lying over the Lake, and hear the soft tolling of a bell. She saw her followers shrink from the sound, and knew that here, too, they would not follow her, nor set foot. So be it, then; the last thing she wished for was to have the priests on that isle staring in fear and dread at the barge from Avalon. Unseen, they glided toward the shore and unseen she stepped onto the land, watching the black-draped barge vanish again into the mists. And then, the basket over her arm—like any old market woman or peddler come here on pilgrimage, she thought—she went silently up the path from the shore.

Only a hundred years or less, certainly less in Avalon, that these worlds have diverged; yet already the world here is different. The trees were different, and the paths, and she stopped, bewildered, at the foot of a little hill—surely there was nothing like this on Avalon? She had somehow thought the land would be the same, only the buildings different, for they were, after all, the same island, separated only by some magical change . . . but now she saw that they were very different.

And then she saw, winding down the hill toward the little church, a procession of robed monks, and they bore with them, toward the church, a body on its bier.

So I saw truly, then, even though I thought it a dream. She stopped, and as the monks brought the body to rest before taking it into the church, she went forward and drew back the pall from the dead face.

Lancelet’s face was drawn and lined, far older than when they had parted . . . she did not want to think how much older. But she saw that only for a moment; then what she saw on his face was only the sweet and marvelous look of peace. He lay smiling, looking so far beyond her that she knew on what his dying eyes had rested.

She whispered, “So at last you found your Grail.”

One of the monks who carried him said, “Perhaps you knew him in the world, sister?” and she knew that in her dark garb, he thought her one of them.

“He was a—a kinsman of mine.”

Cousin, lover, friend . . . but that was long ago. At the end we were priestess and priest.

“I thought as much,” said the monk, “for they called him Lancelet at the court of Arthur, in the old days, but here among us we called him Galahad. He had been with us for many years, and he was made priest but a few days ago.”

So far you came in your search for a God who would not mock you, my cousin!

The monks who carried him raised him again to their shoulders. The one who had spoken with her said, “Pray for his soul, sister,” and she bowed her head. She could not feel grief; not now, when she had seen the reflection of that faraway light on his face.

But she would not follow him into the church. Here the veil is thin. Here Galahad knelt, and saw the light of the Grail in the other chapel, the chapel on Avalon, and reached for it, reached through the worlds, and so died. . . .

And here at last Lancelet has come to follow his son.

Morgaine walked slowly along the path, half ready to abandon what she had come to do. What difference did it make now? But as she paused, irresolute, an old gardener, kneeling at one of the beds of flowers behind the path, raised his head and spoke to her. “I know you not, sister, you are not one of those who dwell here,” he said. “Are you a pilgrim?”

Not as the man thought; but so she was, in a way. “I seek the burial place of my kinswoman—she was the Lady of the Lake—”

“Ah yes, that was many, many years ago, in the reign of our good King Arthur,” he said. “It lies yonder, where pilgrims to the island may see it. And from it, the path leads up to the convent of the sisters, and if you are hungry, sister, they will give you something to eat there.”

Has it come to this, that I look like a beggar? But the man had meant no harm, so she thanked him, and walked in the direction he had pointed out.

Arthur had built for Viviane a noble tomb indeed. But what lay there was not Viviane; nothing lay there but bones, slowly returning to the earth from which they had come . . . and all things at last give up their body and their spirit into the keeping of the Lady again. . . .

Why had it made so much difference to her? Viviane was not there. Yet when she stood with bent head before the cairn, she was weeping.

After a time, a woman in a dark robe not unlike her own, with a white veil over her head, approached her. “Why do you weep, sister? She who lies here is at peace and in God’s hands, she has no need of mourning. But maybe she was one of your kin?”

Morgaine nodded, bending her head against the tears.

“We pray always for her,” said the nun, “for, though I do not know her name, she was said to be the friend and benefactor of our good King Arthur in the days that were gone.” She lowered her head and murmured some prayer or other, and even as she prayed, bells rang out, and Morgaine drew back. So, in place of the harps of Avalon, Viviane had only these clanging bells and doleful psalms?

Never did I think I would stand side by side with one of these Christian nuns, joining with her in prayer. But then she remembered what Lancelet had said in her dream.

Take this cup, you who have served the Goddess. For all the Gods are One . . .

“Come up to the cloister with me, sister,” said the nun, smiling and laying a hand on her arm. “You must be hungry and weary.”

Morgaine went with her to the gates of their cloister, but would not go in. “I am not hungry,” she said, “but if I might have a drink of water—”

“Of course.” The woman in black beckoned, and a young girl came and brought a pitcher of water, which she poured into a cup. And she said, as Morgaine lifted it to her lips, “We drink only the water of the chalice well—it is a holy place, you know.”

It was like Viviane’s voice in her ears: The priestesses drink only the water of the Sacred Well.

The nun and the young girl, robed in black, turned and bent their heads before a woman who came from the cloister, and the nun who had guided her said, “This is our abbess.”

Morgaine thought, Somewhere I have seen her. But even as the thought crossed her mind, the woman said, “Morgaine, you do not know me? We thought you long dead . . .”

Morgaine smiled at her, troubled. “I am sorry—I do not—”

“No, you would not remember me,” said the abbess, “though I saw you, now and again, at Camelot; I was so much younger. My name is Lionors. I was married to Gareth, and when all my children were grown, I came here—here to end my days. Did you come to Lancelet’s funeral, then?” She smiled and said, “I should indeed have said Father Galahad, but it is hard to remember, and now he is in Heaven it will not matter.” She smiled again. “I know not now even who is King, or whether Camelot still stands—there is war in the land again, it is not as it was in Arthur’s time. That all seems so very long ago,” she added with detachment.

“I came here to visit Viviane’s grave. She is buried here—do you remember?”

“I have seen the tomb,” said the abbess, “but it was before ever I came to Camelot.”

“I have a favor to beg of you,” Morgaine said, and touched the basket on her arm. “This is the Holy Thorn that grows on the hills of Avalon, where it is said that the foster-father of Christ struck his staff into the ground and it blossomed there. I would plant a cutting of this thorn tree on her grave.”

“Plant it if you will,” said Lionors. “I cannot see how anyone could object to that. It seems right to me that it should be here in the world, and not hidden away in Avalon.”

She looked at Morgaine, dismayed.

“Avalon! Have you come here from that unholy land?”

Morgaine thought, Once I would have been angry with her. “Unholy it is not, whatever the priests say, Lionors,” she said gently. “Think—would the foster-father of Christ have struck his staff there if the land had seemed to him evil? Is not the Holy Spirit everywhere?”

The woman bowed her head. “You are right. I will send novices to help you with the planting.”

Morgaine would sooner have been alone, but she knew it was a kindly thought. The novices seemed no more than children to Morgaine, girls of nineteen or twenty, so young that she wondered—forgetting that she herself had been made priestess when she was eighteen—how they could possibly know enough of spiritual things to choose lives like this. She had thought nuns in Christian convents would be sad and doleful, ever conscious of what the priests said about the sinfulness of being born women, but these were innocent and merry as robins, talking gaily to Morgaine of their new chapel and bidding her rest her knees while they dug the hole for the cutting.

“And it is your kinswoman who is buried here?” asked one of the girls. “Can you read what it says? I never thought I would learn to read, for my mother said it was not suitable, but when I came here, they told me I must be able to read in the mass book, and so now I can read in Latin! Look,” she said proudly, and read: ” ‘King Arthur made this tomb for his kinswoman and benefactress, the Lady of the Lake, slain by treachery at his court in Camelot’—I cannot read the date, but it was a long time ago.”

“She must have been a very holy woman,” said another of the girls, “for Arthur, they say, was the best and the most Christian of all kings. He would never have had any woman buried here unless she was a saint!”

Morgaine smiled; they reminded her of the girls in the House of Maidens. “I would not call her a saint, though I loved her. In her day, there were those who called her a wicked sorceress.”

“King Arthur would never have a wicked sorceress buried here among holy people,” said the girl. “And as for sorcery—well, there are ignorant priests and ignorant people, who are all too ready to cry sorcery if a woman is only a little wiser than they are! Are you going to stay and take the veil here, Mother?” she asked, and Morgaine, for a moment startled at the word, realized that they were speaking to her with the same deference and respect as any of her own maidens in the House of Maidens, as if she were an elder among them.

“I am vowed elsewhere, my daughter.”

“Is your convent as nice as this one? Mother Lionors is a kind woman,” the girl said, “and we are all very happy here—once we had a woman among our sisters who had been a queen. And I know we will go to Heaven, all of us,” said the girl with a smile, “but if you have taken vows elsewhere, I am sure that is a good place, too. Only I thought you might perhaps want to stay here, so that you could pray for the soul of your kinswoman who lies buried here.” The girl rose and dusted off her dark dress. “Now you may plant your cutting, Mother . . . or would you like me to set it in the earth?”

“No, I will do it,” said Morgaine, and knelt to press the soft soil around the roots of the plant. As she rose, the girl said, “If you wish, Mother, I will promise to come here and say a prayer every Sunday for your kinswoman.”

For some absurd reason, Morgaine felt that tears were coming to her eyes. “Prayer is always a good thing. I am grateful to you, daughter.”

“And you, in your convent, wherever it may be, you must pray for us too,” said the girl simply, taking Morgaine’s hand as she rose. “Here, Mother, let me brush the dirt from your gown. Now you must come and see our chapel.”

For a moment Morgaine was inclined to protest. She had sworn when last she left Arthur’s court that she would never again enter any Christian church; but this girl was so much like one of her own young priestesses that she would not profane the name by which the girl knew her God. She let the girl lead her inside the church.

In that other world, she thought, that church where the ancient Christians worship must stand on this very spot; some holiness from Avalon must surely come through the worlds, through the mists . . . she did not kneel or cross herself, but she bent her head before the high altar of the church; and then the girl tugged gently at her hand.

“Come,” she said. “The high altar is of God and I am a little afraid here always . . . but you have not seen our chapel—the sisters’ chapel . . . come, Mother.”

Morgaine followed the young girl into the small side chapel. There were flowers here, armfuls of apple blossom, before a statue of a veiled woman crowned with a halo of light; and in her arms she bore a child. Morgaine drew a shaking breath and bowed her head before the Goddess.

The girl said, “Here we have the Mother of Christ, Mary the Sinless. God is so great and terrible I am always afraid before his altar, but here in the chapel of Mary, we who are her avowed virgins may come to her as our Mother, too. And look, here we have little statues of our saints, Mary who loved Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, and Martha who cooked dinner for him and scolded her sister when she would not cook with her—I like to think of Jesus when he was a real man who would do something for his mother, when he changed the water into wine at that wedding, so she wouldn’t be unhappy because there wasn’t enough wine for everyone. And here is a very old statue that our bishop gave us, from his native country . . . one of their saints, her name is Brigid . . .”

Morgaine looked on the statue of Brigid, and she could feel the power coming from it in great waves that permeated the chapel. She bowed her head.

But Brigid is not a Christian saint, she thought, even if Patricius thinks so. That is the Goddess as she is worshipped in Ireland. And I know it, and even if they think otherwise, these women know the power of the Immortal. Exile her as they may, she will prevail. The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind.

And Morgaine bowed her head and whispered the first sincere prayer she had ever spoken in any Christian church.

“Why, look,” said the novice, as she brought her out of doors into the daylight, “we have one of the Holy Thorn here too, not the one you planted on your kinswoman’s grave.”

And I thought I could meddle in this? Morgaine thought. Surely, the holy thing had brought itself from Avalon, moving, as the hallows were withdrawn from Avalon, into the world of men where it was most needed. It would remain hidden in Avalon, but it would be shown here in the world as well. “Yes, you have the Holy Thorn, and in days to come, as long as this land shall last, every queen shall be given the Holy Thorn at Christmas, in token of her who is queen in Heaven as in Avalon.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Mother, but thank you for your blessing,” said the young novice. “The abbess is awaiting you in the guesthouse—she will take breakfast with you. But would you like, perhaps, to stay in the Lady’s chapel first and pray awhile? Sometimes when you are alone with the Holy Mother, she can make things clear to you.”

Morgaine nodded, unable to speak, and the girl said, “Very well. When you are ready, just come to the guesthouse.” She pointed, and Morgaine went back into the chapel and bowed her head, and giving way at last, sank to her knees.

“Mother,” she whispered, “forgive me. I thought I must do what I now see you can do for yourself. The Goddess is within us, yes, but now I know that you are in the world too, now and always, just as you are in Avalon and in the hearts of all men and women. Be in me too now, and guide me, and tell me when I need only let you do your will. . . .”

She was silent, kneeling, for a long time, her head bowed, but then, as if compelled, she looked up, and as she had seen it on the altar of the ancient Christian brotherhood in Avalon, as she had seen it when she bore it in Arthur’s hall, she saw a light on the altar, and in the Lady’s hands—and the shadow, only the shadow, of a chalice . . .

It is in Avalon, but it is here. It is everywhere. And those who have need of a sign in this world will see it always.

There was a sweet scent that did not come from the flowers; and for an instant it seemed to Morgaine that it was Igraine’s voice that whispered to her . . . but she could not hear the words . . . and Igraine’s hands that touched her head. As she rose, blinded by tears, suddenly it rushed over her, like a great light.

No, we did not fail. What I said to comfort Arthur in his dying, it was all true. I did the Mother’s work in Avalon until at last those who came after us might bring her into this world. I did not fail. I did what she had given me to do. It was not she but I in my pride who thought I should have done more.

Outside the chapel, sunlight lay on the land, and there was a fresh scent of spring in the air. Where the apple trees moved in the morning breeze, she could see the blossoms that would bear fruit in their season.

She turned her face toward the guesthouse. Should she go there and breakfast with the nuns, speak perhaps of the old days at Camelot? Morgaine smiled gently. No. She was filled with the same tenderness for them as for the budding apple trees, but that time was past. She turned her back on the convent and walked down to the Lake, along the old path by the shore. Here was a place where the veil lying between the worlds was thin. She needed no longer to summon the barge—she need only step through the mists here, and be in Avalon.

Her work was done.

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

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