The Mists of Avalon: Avalon Book 7 | Chapter 8 of 81

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

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There was silence in the room, except for the small crackle of the fire. At last Igraine heard herself draw a long breath, as if she had just wakened from sleep. “What is this that you are telling me? Do you mean that Gorlois is to be the father of this Great King?” She heard the words echoing in her mind and ringing there, and wondered why she had never suspected Gorlois of so great a destiny. She saw her sister and the Merlin exchange glances, and saw, too, the small gesture with which the priestess silenced the old man.

“No, Lord Merlin, a woman must say this to a woman. . . . Igraine, Gorlois is Roman. The Tribes will not follow any man born to a son of Rome. The High King they follow must be a child of the Holy Isle, a true son of the Goddess. Your son, Igraine, yes. But it is not the Tribes alone that will fight away the Saxons and the other wild folk from the North. We will need the support of Romans and Celts and Cymry, and they will follow only their own war duke, their Pendragon, son of a man they trust to lead them and rule. And the Old People, too, who seek the son of a royal mother. Your son, Igraine—but the father will be Uther Pendragon.”

Igraine stared at them, understanding, until rage slowly broke through against the numbness. Then she flared at them, “No! I have a husband, and I have borne him a child! I will not let you play again at skipping-stones with my life! I married as you bade me—and you will never know—” The words choked in her throat. There would never be any way to tell them of that first year; even Viviane would never know. She could say, I was afraid, or I was alone and terrified, or Rape would have been easier because I could have run away to die afterward, but any of those would have been only words, conveying only the smallest part of what she had felt.

And even if Viviane had known the whole, touching her mind and knowing all that she could not say, Viviane would have looked on her with compassion and even a little pity, but would not have changed her mind or demanded even a little less from Igraine. She had heard her sister say it often enough when Viviane still believed Igraine would become priestess of the Mysteries: If you seek to avoid your fate or to delay suffering, it only condemns you to suffer it redoubled in another life.

So she did not say any of those things, only glared at Viviane with the stifled resentment of the last four years, when she had done her duty valiantly and alone, submitting to her fate with no more outcry than any woman was allowed to make. But again? Never, Igraine told herself silently, never. She shook her head stubbornly.

“Listen to me, Igraine,” said the Merlin. “I fathered you, though that gives me no rights; it is the blood of the Lady which confers royalty, and you are of the oldest royal blood, descended from daughter to daughter of the Holy Isle. It is written in the stars, child, that only a king who comes of two royalties, one royalty of the Tribes who follow the Goddess, and one royalty of those who look to Rome, will heal our land of all this strife. A peace must come when these two lands can dwell side by side, a peace long enough for the cross and the cauldron, too, to come to such a peace. If there is such a reign as this, Igraine, even those who follow the cross will have the knowledge of the Mysteries to comfort them in their bleak lives of suffering and sin, and their belief in one brief life to choose forever between Hell or Heaven for all eternity. Otherwise, our world will fade into the mists, and there will be hundreds of years—thousands, perhaps—where the Goddess and the Holy Mysteries will be forgotten by all mankind except those few who can come and go between the worlds. Would you let the Goddess and her work fade from this world, Igraine, you who were born of the Lady of the Holy Isle, and the Merlin of Britain?”

Igraine bent her head, barricading her mind against the tenderness in the old man’s voice. She had always known, without being told, that Taliesin, Merlin of Britain, had shared with her mother the spark of life which had made her, but a daughter of the Holy Isle did not speak of such things. A daughter of the Lady belonged only to the Goddess, and to that man into whose hands the Lady chose to give its care—most often her brother, only very rarely the man who had begotten it. There was a reason for this: no pious man should claim fatherhood to a child of the Goddess, and all children born to the Lady were considered so. That Taliesin should use this argument now shocked her deeply, but it touched her, too.

Yet she said stubbornly, refusing to look at him, “Gorlois might have been chosen Pendragon. Surely this Uther cannot be so much beyond all sons of mankind as that. If you must have such a one, could you not have used your spells so that Gorlois would be acclaimed war duke of Britain, and Great Dragon? Then, when our son was born, you would have had your High King—”

The Merlin shook his head, but again it was Viviane who spoke, and this silent collusion further angered Igraine. Why should they act in concert this way against her?

Viviane said softly, “You will bear no son to Gorlois, Igraine.”

“Are you the Goddess, then, that you dispense childbearing to women in her name?” Igraine demanded rudely, knowing the words childish. “Gorlois has fathered sons by other women; why should I not give him one born in wedlock, as he desires?”

Viviane did not answer. She only looked directly at Igraine and said, her voice very soft, “Do you love Gorlois, Igraine?”

Igraine stared at the floor. “That has nothing to do with it. It is a matter of honor. He was kind to me—” She broke off, but her thoughts ran on unchecked: Kind to me when I had nowhere to turn, when I was alone and deserted, and even you had abandoned me to my fate. What is love to that?

“It is a matter of honor,” she repeated. “I owe him this. He let me keep Morgaine, when she was all I had in my loneliness. He has been kind and patient, and for a man of his years it cannot be easy. He wants a son, he believes it all-important to his life and honor, and I will not deny him this. If I bear a son, it will be the son of Duke Gorlois, and of no other man living. And this I swear, by fire and—”

“Silence!” Viviane’s voice, like the loud clang of a great bell, shocked Igraine’s words silent. “I command you, Igraine, swear no oath lest you be forever forsworn!”

“And why should you think I would not keep my oath?” Igraine raged. “I was reared to truth! I too am a child of the Holy Isle, Viviane! You may be my elder sister and my priestess and the Lady of Avalon, but you shall not treat me as if I were a babbling child like Morgaine there, who cannot understand a word of what is said to her, nor knows the meaning of an oath—”

Morgaine, hearing her name spoken, sat bolt upright in the Lady’s lap. The Lady of the Lake smiled and smoothed the dark hair. “Do not think that this little one cannot understand. Babes know more than we imagine; they cannot speak their minds, and so we believe they do not think. As for your babe—well, that is for the future, and I will not speak of it before her; but who knows, one day she too will be a great priestess—”

“Never! Not if I must become a Christian to prevent it,” Igraine raged. “Do you think I will let you plot against my child’s life as you have plotted against mine?”

“Peace, Igraine,” said the Merlin. “You are free, as every child of the Gods is free. We came to entreat you, not to command. No, Viviane—” he said, holding up his hand when the Lady would have interrupted him. “Igraine is no helpless plaything of fate. Yet I think when she knows all, she will choose rightly.”

Morgaine had begun to fret in the Lady’s lap. Viviane crooned softly to her, stroking her hair, and she quieted, but Igraine rose and took her child, angry and jealous at Viviane’s almost magical power to quiet the girl. In her arms Morgaine felt strange, alien, as if the time she had spent in Viviane’s arms had changed her, tainted her, made her somehow less Igraine’s own. Igraine felt tears burning her eyes. Morgaine was all she had, and now she, too, was being cut off from her; Morgaine was falling victim, like everyone else, to Viviane’s charm, that charm which could make everyone into a helpless pawn of her will.

She said sharply to Morgause, who was still lying with her head in Viviane’s lap, “Get up at once, Morgause, and go to your room; you are almost a woman, you must not behave like a spoilt child!”

Morgause raised her head, putting back her curtain of red hair from her pretty, sulky face. She said, “Why should you choose Igraine for your plans, Viviane? She wants no part in them. But I am a woman, and I too am a daughter of the Holy Isle. Why have you not chosen me for Uther the Pendragon? Why should I not be the mother of the High King?”

The Merlin smiled. “Will you fly so recklessly in the face of fate, Morgause?”

“Why should Igraine be chosen and not I? I have no husband—”

“There is a king in your future and many sons; but with that, Morgause, you must be content. No man or woman can live another’s fate. Your fate, and that of your sons, depends on this great High King. More than that I cannot say,” said the Merlin. “Enough, Morgause.”

Igraine, standing, Morgaine in her arms, felt more in command. She said in a dead voice, “I am remiss in hospitality, my sister, my lord Merlin. Let my servants take you to the guest chambers prepared for you, bring you wine, and water for washing, and at sundown a meal will be prepared.”

Viviane rose. Her voice was formal and correct, and Igraine, for a moment, was relieved; she was again mistress of her own hearth, not a passive child but the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall.

“At sunset, then, my sister.”

But Igraine saw the glance Viviane exchanged with the Merlin, and she could read it as clearly as words: Leave it for now, I will manage her, as I have always done.

And Igraine felt her face harden into iron. That is what she has always done, indeed. But this time it shall not be so. I did her will once, when I was a child and knew no better. But now I am grown, I am a woman, not so easily led as the child she gave away to be Gorlois’s bride. Now I will do my own will, and not that of the Lady of the Lake.

Servants took her guests away; Igraine, in her own chamber, laid Morgaine in her bed and fussed around her nervously, her mind full of what she had heard.

Uther Pendragon. She had never seen him, but Gorlois was full of the tales of his valor. He was a close kinsman, sister’s son, of Ambrosius Aurelianus, High King of Britain, but unlike Ambrosius, Uther was a Briton of Britons, with no taint of Roman blood, so that the Cymry and the Tribes did not hesitate to follow him. There was little doubt that one day Uther would be chosen High King. Ambrosius was not a young man; that day could not be so far.

And I would be queen. . . . What am I thinking of? Would I betray Gorlois and my own honor?

Behind her, as she took up the bronze mirror again, she saw her sister in the door. Viviane had taken off the breeches she wore for riding, and put on a loose gown of undyed wool; her hair hung down, soft and dark as the wool of a black sheep. She looked small and fragile and aging, and her eyes were the eyes of the priestess in the cave of initiation, years away and in another world. . . . Igraine cut off the thought, impatiently.

Viviane came close to her, reaching up to touch her hair.

“Little Igraine. Not so little, now,” she said, tenderly. “Do you know, little one, I gave you your name: Grainné, for the Goddess of the Beltane fires. . . . How long has it been since you did service to the Goddess at Beltane, Igraine?”

Igraine’s mouth only stretched a little; the smile went no deeper than her teeth. “Gorlois is a Roman, and a Christian. Do you truly believe his household keeps the rites of Beltane?”

“No, I suppose not,” said Viviane, amused, “though, if I were you, I would not take oath that your servants do not slip out at Midsummer to burn fires and lie together under the full moon. But lord and lady of a Christian household cannot do so, not in the sight of their priests and their stern and unloving God. . . .”

Igraine said sharply, “You will not speak so of the God of my husband, who is a God of love.”

“You say so. And yet he has made war upon all other Gods, and slain those who will not worship him,” Viviane said. “Such love we might well pray to be spared in a God. I could call upon you in the name of vows you once made, to do what I have asked of you in the name of the Goddess and the Holy Isle—”

“Oh, rare,” Igraine said sarcastically. “Now my Goddess demands of me that I shall play the harlot, and the Merlin of Britain and the Lady of the Lake will act as panders for me!”

Viviane’s eyes blazed; she stepped one step forward, and for a moment Igraine believed the priestess would strike her in the face. “How do you dare!” Viviane said, and though her voice was soft, it seemed to raise echoes through the entire room, so that Morgaine, half asleep beneath Igraine’s woolen plaid, sat up and cried out in sudden fright.

“Now you have wakened my babe—” Igraine said, and sat down on the edge of the bed, hushing the child. Gradually the angry color receded from Viviane’s face. She sat down beside Igraine and said, “You have not understood me, Grainné. Do you think Gorlois immortal? I tell you, child, I have sought to read in the stars the destinies of those who are vital to Britain’s wholeness in the years to come, and I tell you, the name of Gorlois is not written there.”

Igraine felt her knees weaken and her whole body loosen at the joints. “Will Uther kill him?”

“I swear to you: Uther will have no part in his death, and when Gorlois dies, Uther will be far away. But think, child. Tintagel is a great castle; do you believe, when Gorlois can hold it no longer, that Uther Pendragon would be slow to say, Take the castle, and the woman who holds it, to one of his war dukes? Better Uther than one of his men.”

Morgaine. What will become of my child; of Morgause, my little sister? Truly, the woman who belongs to any man must pray that he will live to protect her.

“Can I not return to the Holy Isle, and live out my life in Avalon as priestess?”

“That is not your destiny, little one,” Viviane said. Her voice was tender again. “You cannot hide from your fate. It is given to you to play a part in the salvation of this land, but the road to Avalon is closed to you forever. Will you walk the road to your destiny, or must the Gods drag you to it unwilling?”

She did not wait for Igraine’s answer. “It will not be long. Ambrosius Aurelianus is dying; for many years he has led the Britons, and now his dukes will meet to choose a High King. And there is none but Uther whom they can all trust. So Uther must be duke of war and High King, both. And he will need a son.”

Igraine felt as if the walls of a trap were closing around her. “If you make so much of this, why do you not do this thing yourself? If there is so much power to be gained as the wife of Britain’s war duke and High King, why do you not seek to attract Uther with your charms, and bear this ordained king yourself?”

To her surprise, Viviane hesitated for a long time before saying, “Do you think I had not thought of that? But you have forgotten how old I am, Igraine. I am older than Uther, and he is not young as warriors go. I was twenty-six when Morgause was born. I am nine-and-thirty, Igraine, and I am past childbearing.”

In the bronze mirror, somehow still in her hand, Igraine saw her sister’s reflection, distorted, misshapen, flowing like water, the image suddenly clearing then clouding and vanishing. Igraine said, “You think so? But I tell you that you will bear another child.”

“I hope not,” Viviane said. “I am older than our mother was when she died in bearing Morgause, and I could not now hope to escape that fate. This is the last year I shall take part in the rites at Beltane; after this I shall hand on my office to some woman younger than I, and become as the Ancient One, the wise-woman. I had hoped that one day I would hand on the place of the Goddess to Morgause—”

“Then why did you not keep her in Avalon and train her to be priestess after you?”

Viviane looked very sad. “She is not fit. She sees, under the mantle of the Goddess, only power, not the unending sacrifice and suffering. And so that path is not for her.”

“It does not seem to me that you have suffered,” Igraine said.

“You know nothing about it. You did not choose to walk that path either. I, who have given my life to it, say still it would be simpler to live the life of a peasant woman, beast of burden and brood mare in season. You see me robed and crowned as the Goddess, triumphant beside her cauldron; you do not see the darkness of the cave or the depths of the great sea. . . . You are not called to it, dear child, and you should thank the Goddess that your destiny is laid elsewhere.”

Igraine said silently, Do you think I know nothing of suffering and enduring in silence, after these four years? but she did not say the words aloud. Viviane had bent over Morgaine, her face tender, stroking the little girl’s silky-dark hair.

“Ah, Igraine, you cannot know how I envy you—all my life I have so longed for a daughter. Morgause was like my own to me, the Goddess knows, but always as alien to me as if she had been born of a stranger, not my own mother. . . . I longed for a daughter into whose hands I could resign my office.” She sighed. “But I bore only one girl-child, who died, and my sons are gone from me.” She shuddered. “Well, this is my destiny, which I shall try to obey as you do yours. I ask nothing of you but this, Igraine, and the rest I leave to her who is mistress of us all. When Gorlois comes home again, he will go to Londinium for the choosing of a High King. Somehow you must contrive to go there with him.”

Igraine burst out laughing. “Only this you ask me, and this is harder than all the rest! Do you truly think that Gorlois would burden his men with escorting a young wife to Londinium? I would like to go there, indeed, but Gorlois will take me thither when figs and oranges from the south grow in the garden of Tintagel!”

“Nevertheless, somehow you must contrive to go, and you must look upon Uther Pendragon.”

Igraine laughed again. “And I suppose you will give me a charm so that he will fall so deep in love with me that he cannot resist it?”

Viviane stroked her curling red hair. “You are young, Igraine, and I do not think you have any idea how beautiful you are. I do not think Uther will have need of any charms.”

Igraine felt her body contract in a curious frightened spasm. “Perhaps I had better have the charm so that I will not shrink from him!”

Viviane sighed. She touched the moonstone about Igraine’s neck. She said, “This was not Gorlois’s gift to you—”

“No; I had it from you at my wedding, you remember? You said it was my mother’s.”

“Give it to me.” Viviane reached under the curling hair at Igraine’s neck and unfastened the chain. “When this stone comes back to you, Igraine, remember what I said, and do as the Goddess prompts you to do.”

Igraine looked at the stone in the hands of the priestess. She sighed, but she did not protest. I have promised her nothing, she told herself fiercely, nothing.

“Will you go to Londinium for the choosing of this High King, Viviane?”

The priestess shook her head. “I go to the land of another king, who does not yet know that he must fight at the side of Uther. Ban of Armorica, in Less Britain, is being made High King of his land, and in token, his Druids have told him that he must make the Great Rite. I am sent to officiate in the Sacred Marriage.”

“I thought Brittany was a Christian land.”

“Oh, it is so,” Viviane said indifferently, “and his priests will ring their bells, and anoint him with their holy oils, and tell him that his God has made the sacrifice for him. But the people will not accept a king who is not himself vowed to the Great Sacrifice.”

Igraine drew a deep breath. “I know so little—”

“In the old days, Igraine,” Viviane said, “the High King was bound with his life to the fortunes of the land, and pledged, as every Merlin of Britain is pledged, that if the land comes upon disaster or perilous times, he will die that the land may live. And should he refuse this sacrifice, the land would perish. I—I should not speak of this, it is a Mystery, but in your own way, Igraine, you too are offering your life for the healing of this land. No woman knows, when she lies down to childbirth, whether her life will not be demanded of her at the hands of the Goddess. I too have lain bound and helpless, with the knife at my throat, knowing that if death took me, my blood would redeem the land. . . .” Her voice trembled into silence; Igraine, too, was silent, in awe.

“A part of Less Britain, too, has withdrawn into the mists, and the Great Shrine of Stones cannot now be found. The avenue leading to the shrine is empty stone, unless the Way to Karnak is known,” Viviane said, “but King Ban has pledged to keep the worlds from drifting apart, and the gateways open to the Mysteries. And so he will make the Sacred Marriage with the land, in token that if there is need his very blood will be spilled to feed the crops. It is fitting that my last service to the Mother, before I take my place among the wise-women, shall be to bind his land to Avalon, and so I am to be the Goddess to him in this mystery.”

She was silent, but for Igraine the room was filled with the echo of her voice. Viviane bent over and picked up the sleeping Morgaine in her arms, holding her with great tenderness.

“She is not yet a maiden, and I not yet a wise-woman,” she said, “but we are the Three, Igraine. Together we make up the Goddess, and she is here present among us.”

Igraine wondered why she had not named their sister Morgause, and they were so open to one another that Viviane heard the words as if Igraine had spoken them aloud.

She said in a whisper, and Igraine saw her shiver, “The Goddess has a fourth face, which is secret, and you should pray to her, as I do—as I do, Igraine—that Morgause will never wear that face.”

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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