Title: The Mists of Avalon
Date: 1982
Notes: "Rodgers was the oldest member of the Earth Liberation Front at Vail on that October night in 1998. ... Few knew his real name — he went by Avalon, which came from The Mists of Avalon, a novel about matriarchal pagans fighting the oppressive forces of phallocentric Christianity."




    Book One: Mistress of Magic





















    Book Two: The High Queen


















    Book Three: The King Stag














    Book Four: The Prisoner in the Oak


















    About The Author


“... Morgan le Fay was not married, but put to school in a nunnery, where she became a great mistress of magic.”

-Malory, Morte d’Arthur


ANY BOOK of this complexity drives its author to sources far too many to be listed in entirety. I should probably cite, first, my late grandfather, John Roscoe Conklin, who first gave me a battered old copy of the Sidney Lanier edition of the Tales of King Arthur, which I read so often that I virtually memorized the whole thing before I was ten years old. My imagination was also stirred by varied sources such as the illustrated weekly Tales of Prince Valiant; and in my fifteenth year I played hooky from school far oftener than anyone realized to hide in the library of the Department of Education in Albany, New York, reading my way through a ten-volume edition of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and a fifteen-volume set of books on comparative religions, including an enormous volume on the Druids and Celtic religions.

In direct research for the present volume, I should give thanks to Geoffrey Ashe, whose works suggested several directions for further research, and to Jamie George of the Gothic Image bookstore in Glastonbury, who, in addition to showing me the geography of Somerset and the sites of Camelot and Guinevere’s kingdom (for the purposes of this book, I accept the current theory that Camelot was the Cadbury Castle site in Somerset), guided me through the Glastonbury pilgrimage. He also drew my attention to the persistent traditions surrounding Chalice Well in Glastonbury, and the long-standing belief that Joseph of Arimathea had planted the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill; I also saw there many materials exploring the Celtic tradition that Jesus Christ had been educated in the wisdom religion at the temple that once stood on Glastonbury Tor.

For material on pre-Augustinian Christianity, I have used, by permission, a privately circulated manuscript entitled “The Pre-Constantine Mass: A Conjecture,” by Father Randall Garrett; I have also drawn upon materials from the Syro-Chaldean liturgies, including the Holy Orbana of St. Sera-pion, as well as liturgical materials from local groups of St. Thomas Christians and Pre-Nicene Catholic groups. The excerpts from Scripture, especially the Pentecost story and the Magnificat, were translated for me from the Greek Testaments by Walter Breen; I should also cite Christine Hartley’s The Western Mystery Tradition and Dion Fortune’s Avalon of the Heart.

Any attempt at recapturing the pre-Christian religion of the British Isles has been made conjectural by the determined efforts of their successors to extinguish all such traces; scholars differ so much that I make no apology for selecting, among varying sources, those that best fit the needs of fiction. I have read, though not slavishly followed, the works of Margaret Murray and several books on Gardnerian Wicca. For the feel of the ceremonies, I would like to express my grateful thanks to local neopagan groups; to Alison Harlow and the Covenant of the Goddess, to Otter and Morning-Glory Zell, to Isaac Bonewits and the New Reformed Druids, to Robin Goodfel-low and Gaia Wildwoode, to Philip Wayne and Crystal Well, to Starhawk, whose book The Spiral Dance proved invaluable to me in helping deduce much about the training of a priestess; and, for much personal and emotional support (including comforting and backrubs) during the actual writing of this book, to Diana Paxson, Tracy Blackstone, Elisabeth Waters, and Ano-dea Judith, of the Darkmoon Circle.

Finally I must express loving gratitude to my husband, Walter Breen, who said, at a crucial moment in my career, that it was time to stop playing it safe by writing potboilers, and provided financial support so that I could do so: also to Don Wollheim, who always believed in me, and his wife, Elsie. Above all, and always, to Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey, who helped me to outgrow categories in writing, always a scary business, my grateful love and thanks. And last but not least to my elder son, David, for his careful preparation of the final manuscript.



In my time I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen. Now in truth I have come to be wise-woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale. For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world. At best, they say that her power was of Satan. Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth-who indeed had power in her way, too-and say that she was ever virgin. But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?

And now, when the world has changed, and Arthur-my brother, my lover, king who was and king who shall be-lies dead (the common folk say sleeping) in the Holy Isle of Avalon, the tale should be told as it was before the priests of the White Christ came to cover it all with their saints and legends.

For, as I say, the world itself has changed. There was a time when a traveller, if he had the will and knew only a few of the secrets, could send his barge out into the Summer Sea and arrive not at Glastonbury of the monks, but at the Holy Isle of Avalon for at that time the gates between the worlds drifted within the mists, and were open, one to another, as the traveller thought and willed. For this is the great secret, which was known to all educated men in our day: that by what men think, we create the world around us, daily new.

And now the priests, thinking that this infringes upon the power of their God, who created the world once and for all to be unchanging, have closed those doors (which were never doors, except in the minds of men), and the pathway leads only to the priests’ Isle, which they have safeguarded with the sound of their church bells, driving away all thoughts of another world lying in the darkness. Indeed, they say that world, if it indeed exists, is the property of Satan, and the doorway to Hell, if not Hell itself.

I do not know what their God may or may not have created. In spite of the tales that are told, I never knew much about their priests and never wore the black of one of their slave-nuns. If those at Arthur’s court at Camelot chose to think me so when I came there (since I always wore the dark robes of the Great Mother in her guise as wise-woman), I did not undeceive them. And indeed, toward the end of Arthur’s reign it would have been dangerous to do so, and I bowed my head to expediency as my great mistress would never have done: Viviane, Lady of the Lake, once Arthur’s greatest friend, save for myself, and then his darkest enemy -again, save for myself.

But the strife is over; I could greet Arthur at last, when he lay dying, not as my enemy and the enemy of my Goddess, but only as my brother, and as a dying man in need of the Mother’s aid, where all men come at last. Even the priests know this, with their ever-virgin Mary in her blue robe; for she too becomes the World Mother in the hour of death.

And so Arthur lay at last with his head in my lap, seeing in me neither sister nor lover nor foe, but only wise-woman, priestess, Lady of the Lake; and so rested upon the breast of the Great Mother from whom he came to birth and to whom at last, as all men, he must go. And perhaps, as I guided the barge which bore him away, not this time to the Isle of the Priests, but to the true Holy Isle in the dark world behind our own, that Island of Avalon where, now, few but I could go, he repented the enmity that had come between us.

AS I TELL THIS TALE I will speak at times of things which befell when I was too young to understand them, or of things which befell when I was not by; and my hearer will draw away, perhaps, and say: This is her magic. But I have always held the gift of the Sight, and of looking within the minds of men and women; and in all this time I have been close to all of them. And so, at times, all that they thought was known to me in one way or another. And so I will tell this tale.

For one day the priests too will tell it, as it was known to them. Perhaps between the two, some glimmering of the truth may be seen.

For this is the thing the priests do not know, with their One God and One Truth: that there is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you, and whether, at the end, you arrive in the Holy Isle of Eternity or among the priests with their bells and their death and their Satan and Hell and damnation ... but perhaps I am unjust even to them. Even the Lady of the Lake, who hated a priest’s robe as she would have hated a poisonous viper, and with good cause too, chid me once for speaking evil of their God.

“For all the Gods are one God,” she said to me then, as she had said many times before, and as I have said to my own novices many times, and as every priestess who comes after me will say again, “and all the Goddesses are one Goddess, and there is only one Initiator. And to every man his own truth, and the God within.”

And so, perhaps, the truth winds somewhere between the road to Glastonbury, Isle of the Priests, and the road to Avalon, lost forever in the mists of the Summer Sea.

But this is my truth; I who am Morgaine tell you these things, Morgaine who was in later days called Morgan le Fay.

Book One: Mistress of Magic


Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland. As she stared into the fogs and mists, she wondered how she would ever know when the night and day were of equal length, so that she could keep the Feast of the New Year. This year the spring storms had been unusually violent; night and day the crash of the sea had resounded over the castle until no man or woman within could sleep, and even the hounds whimpered mournfully. Tintagel ... there were still those who believed the castle had been raised, on the crags at the far end of the long causeway into the sea, by the magic of the ancient folk of Ys. Duke Gorlois laughed at this and said that if he had any of their magic, he would have used it to keep the sea from encroaching, year by year, upon the shoreline. In the four years since she had come here as Gorlois’s bride, Igraine had seen land, good land, crumble into the Cornish sea. Long arms of black rock, sharp and craggy, extended into the ocean from the coast. When the sun shone, it could be fair and brilliant, the sky and water as brilliant as the jewels Gorlois had heaped on her on the day when she told him she bore his first child. But Igraine had never liked wearing them. The jewel which hung now at her throat had been given her in Avalon: a moonstone which sometimes reflected the blue brilliance of sky and sea; but in the fog, today, even the jewel looked shadowed.

In the fog, sounds carried a long way. It seemed to Igraine, as she stood looking from the causeway back toward the mainland, that she could hear footfalls of horses and mules, and the sound of voices-human voices, here in isolated Tintagel, where nothing lived but goats and sheep, and the herdsmen and their dogs, and the ladies of the castle with a few serving women and a few old men to guard them.

Slowly, Igraine turned and went back toward the castle. As always, standing in its shadow, she felt dwarfed by the loom of these ancient stones at the end of the long causeway which stretched into the sea. The herdsmen believed that the castle had been built by the Ancient Ones from the lost lands of Lyonnesse and Ys; on a clear day, so the fishermen said, their old castles could be seen far out under the water. But to Igraine they looked like towers of rock, ancient mountains and hills drowned by the ever encroaching sea that nibbled away, even now, at the very crags below the castle. Here at the end of the world, where the sea ate endlessly at the land, it was ‘easy to believe in drowned lands to the west; there were tales of a great fire mountain which had exploded, far to the south, and engulfed a great land there. Igraine never knew whether she believed those tales or not. Yes; surely she could hear voices in the fog. It could not be savage raiders from over the sea, or from the wild shores of Erin. The time was long past when she needed to startle at a strange sound or a shadow. It was not her husband, the Duke; he was far away to the North, fighting Saxons at the side of Ambrosius Aurelianus, High King of Britain; he would have sent word if he intended to return.

And she need not fear. If the riders were hostile, the guards and soldiers in the fort at the landward end of the causeway, stationed there by Duke Gorlois to guard his wife and child, would have stopped them. It would take an army to cut through them. And who would send an army against Tintagel?

There was a time-Igraine remembered without bitterness, moving slowly into the castle yard-when she would have known who rode toward her castle. The thought held little sadness, now. Since Morgaine’s birth she no longer even wept for her home. And Gorlois was kind to her. He had soothed her through her early fear and hatred, had given her jewels and beautiful things, trophies of war, had surrounded her with ladies to wait upon her, and treated her always as his equal, except in councils of war. She could have asked no more, unless she had married a man of the Tribes. And in this she had been given no choice. A daughter of the Holy Isle must do as was best for her people, whether it meant going to death in sacrifice, or laying down her maidenhood in the Sacred Marriage, or marrying where it was thought meet to cement alliances; this Igraine had done, marrying a Romanized Duke of Cornwall, a citizen who lived, even though Rome was gone from all of Britain, in Roman fashion.

She shrugged the cloak from her shoulders; inside the court it was warmer, out of the biting wind. And there, as the fog swirled and cleared, for a moment a figure stood before her, materialized out of the fog and mist: her half-sister, Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, the Lady of the Holy Isle.

“Sister!” The words wavered, and Igraine knew she had not cried them aloud, but only whispered, her hands flying to her breast. “Do I truly see you here?”

The face was reproachful, and the words seemed to blow away in the sound of the wind beyond the walls.

Have you given up the Sight, Igraine? Of your free will?

Stung by the injustice of that, Igraine retorted, “It was you who decreed that I must marry Gorlois ... “ but the form of her sister had wavered into shadows, was not there, had never been there. Igraine blinked; the brief apparition was gone. She pulled the cloak around her body, for she was cold, ice cold; she knew the vision had drawn its force from the warmth and life of her own body. She thought, I didn’t know I could still see in that way, I was sure I could not ... and then she shivered, knowing that Father Columba would consider this the work of the Devil, and she should confess it to him. True, here at the end of the world the priests were lax, but an unconfessed vision would surely be treated as a thing unholy.

She frowned; why should she treat a visit from her own sister as the work of the Devil? Father Columba could say what he wished; perhaps his God was wiser than he was. Which, Igraine thought, suppressing a giggle, would not be very difficult. Perhaps Father Columba had become a priest of Christ because no college of Druids would have had a man so stupid among their ranks. The Christ God seemed not to care whether a priest was stupid or not, so long as he could mumble their mass, and read and write a little. She, Igraine herself, had more clerkly skills than Father Columba, and spoke better Latin when she wished. Igraine did not think of herself as well educated; she had not had the hardihood to study the deeper wisdom of the Old Religion, or to go into the Mysteries any further than was absolutely necessary for a daughter of the Holy Isle. Nevertheless, although she was ignorant in any Temple of the Mysteries, she could pass among the Romanized barbarians as a well-educated lady.

In the small room off the court where there was sun on fine days, her younger sister, Morgause, thirteen years old and budding, wearing a loose house robe of undyed wool and her old frowsy cloak about her shoulders, was spinning listlessly with a drop spindle, taking up her uneven yarn on a wobbly reel. On the floor by the fire, Morgaine was rolling an old spindle around for a ball, watching the erratic patterns the uneven cylinder made, knocking it this way and that with chubby fingers.

“Haven’t I done enough spinning?” Morgause complained. “My fingers ache! Why must I spin, spin, spin all the time, as if I were a waiting-woman?”

“Every lady must learn to spin,” rebuked Igraine as she knew she ought to do, “and your thread is a disgrace, now thick, now thin.... Your fingers will lose their weariness as you accustom them to the work. Aching fingers are a sign that you have been lazy, since they are not hardened to their task.” She took the reel and spindle from Morgause and twirled it with careless ease; the uneven yarn, under her experienced fingers, smoothed out into a thread of perfectly even thickness. “Look, one could weave this yarn without snagging the shuttle ... “ and suddenly she tired of behaving as she ought. “But you may put the spindle away now; guests will be here before midafternoon.”

Morgause stared at her. “I heard nothing,” she said, “nor any rider with a message!”

“That does not surprise me,” Igraine said, “for there was no rider. It was a Sending. Viviane is upon her way here, and the Merlin is with her.” She had not known that last until she said it. “So you may take Morgaine to her nurse, and go and put on your holiday robe, the one dyed with saffron.”

Morgause put away the spindle with alacrity, but paused to stare at Igraine. “My saffron gown? For my sister?”

Igraine corrected her, sharply. “Not for our sister, Morgause, but for the Lady of the Holy Isle, and for the Messenger of the Gods.”

Morgause looked down at the patterned floor. She was a tall, sturdy girl, just beginning to lengthen and ripen into womanhood; her thick hair was reddish like Igraine’s own, and there were splotches of freckles on her skin, no matter how carefully she soaked it in buttermilk and begged the herbwife for washes and simples for it. Already at thirteen she was as tall as Igraine, and someday would be taller. She picked up Morgaine with an ill grace and carried her away. Igraine called after her, “Tell Nurse to put a holiday gown on the child, and then you may bring her down; Viviane has not seen her.”

Morgause said something ill-tempered to the effect that she didn’t see why a great priestess would want to see a brat, but she said it under her breath so that Igraine had an excuse to ignore it.

Up the narrow stairs, her own chamber was cold; no fires were lighted there except in the dead of winter. While Gorlois was away, she shared the bed with her waiting-woman Gwennis, and his prolonged absence gave her an excuse to have Morgaine in her bed at night. Sometimes Morgause slept there too, sharing the fur coverlets against the bitter cold. The big marriage bed, canopied, curtained against draughts, was more than big enough for three women and a child.

Gwen, who was old, was drowsing in a corner, and Igraine forbore to wake her, stripping off her workaday dress of undyed wool and hurrying on her fine gown, laced at the neck with a silk ribbon Gorlois had brought her as a fairing from Londinium. She put on her fingers some little silver rings she had had since she was a little girl ... they would go only on her two smallest fingers, now ... and hung a necklace of amber which Gorlois had given her about her neck. The gown was dyed rust color, and had an overtunic of green. She found her carven horn comb, and began to pull it through her hair, sitting on a bench and working her comb patiently through the tangles. From another room she heard a loud yelling and decided that Morgaine was having her hair combed by her nurse and didn’t like it. The yelling stopped suddenly, and she supposed that Morgaine had been slapped into silence; or perhaps, as sometimes happened when Morgause was in a good temper, Morgause had taken over the combing herself, with her clever, patient fingers. This was how Igraine knew that her young sister could spin well enough when she chose, her hands were so clever at everything else-at combing, at carding, at making Yule pies.

Igraine braided her hair, clasped it on top of her head with a gold clasp, and put her good gold brooch into the fold of her cloak. She looked at herself in the old bronze mirror her sister Viviane had given her at her wedding, brought, they said, all the way from Rome. She knew, lacing her gown, that her breasts were once again as they had been before: Morgaine had been weaned a year now, and they were only a little softer and heavier. She knew she had her old slimness back, for she had been married in this gown, and now the laces were not strained even a little.

Gorlois, when he returned, would expect to take her to his bed again. Last time he had seen her, Morgaine had still been at the breast, and he had yielded to her plea that she might continue to suckle the child through the summer season when so many little children died. She knew he was discontented because the baby had not been the son he craved-these Romans counted their lineage through the male line, rather than sensibly through the mother; it was silly, for how could any man ever know precisely who had fathered any woman’s child? Of course, these Romans made a great matter of worrying over who lay with their women, and locked them up and spied on them. Not that Igraine needed watching; one man was bad enough, who would want others who might be worse?

But even though he was eager for a son, Gorlois had been indulgent, letting her have Morgaine in her bed and continue to suckle her, even keeping away from her and lying nights with her dressing-woman Ettarr so that she would not get with child again and lose her milk. He too knew how many children died if they were weaned before they could chew meat and hard bread. Children fed on gruel were sickly, and often there was no goat’s milk in the summer, even if they would drink it. Children fed on cow’s or mare’s milk often got the vomit and died, or suffered with the flux in their bowels and died. So he had left Morgaine at her breast, thus postponing the son he wanted for at least another year and a half. For that at least she would always be grateful to him, and not murmur, however quickly he got her with child now.

Ettarr had gotten herself a belly from that visit, and gone about preening herself; would she be the one to have a son by the Duke of Cornwall? Igraine had ignored the girl; Gorlois had other bastard sons, one of whom was with him now, in the camp of the war duke, Uther. But Etarr had fallen sick and miscarried, and Igraine had enough intuition not to ask Gwen why she looked so pleased at the event. Old Gwen knew too much of herbs for Igraine’s perfect peace of mind. Some day, she resolved, I will make her tell me exactly what she put into Ettarr’s beer.

She went down to the kitchen, her long skirts trailing on the stone steps. Morgause was there, in her finest gown, and she had put Morgaine into a holiday dress, dyed saffron, so that the child looked dark as a Pict. Igraine picked her up, holding her with pleasure. Small, dark, delicately made, so small-boned it was like handling a little soft bird. How had that child come by her looks? She herself and Morgause were tall and red-haired, earth-colored like all of the Tribeswomen, and Gorlois, though dark, was Roman, tall and lean and aquiline; hardened from years of battle against the Saxons, too filled with his Roman dignity to show much tenderness to a young wife, and with nothing but indifference for the daughter who came in the place of the son she should have borne him.

But, Igraine reminded herself, these Roman men considered it their divine right to have power of life and death over their children. There were many, Christians or no, who would have demanded that a daughter not be reared, so that their wives might be free at once to give them a son. Gorlois had been good to her, he had let her keep her daughter. Perhaps, though she did not give him credit for much imagination, he knew how she, a woman of the Tribes, felt about a daughter.

While she was giving orders for the entertainment of guests, for wine to be brought up from the cellars and for the roasting of meat-not rabbit, but good mutton from the last slaughtering-she heard the squawk and flutter of frightened hens in the court and knew that the riders had come across the causeway. The servants looked frightened, but most of them had become resigned to the knowledge that the mistress had the Sight. She had pretended it, using clever guesses and a few tricks; it was just as well that they should remain in awe of her. Now she thought, Maybe Viviane is right, maybe I still have it. Maybe I only believed it was gone-because in those months before Morgaine was born, I felt so weak and powerless. Now I have come back to myself. My mother was a great priestess till the day of her death, though she bore several children.

But, her mind answered her, her mother had borne those children in freedom, as a Tribeswoman should, to such fathers as she chose, not as a slave to some Roman whose customs gave him power over women and children. Impatiently, she dismissed such thoughts; did it matter whether she had the Sight or only seemed to have it, if it kept her servants properly in order?

She went slowly out to the courtyard, which Gorlois still liked to call the atrium, though it was nothing like the villa where he had lived until Ambrosius made him Duke of Cornwall. She found the riders dismounting, and her eyes went at once to the only woman among them, a woman smaller than herself and no longer young, wearing a man’s tunic and woolen breeches, and muffled in cloaks and shawls. Across the courtyard their eyes met in welcome, but Igraine went dutifully and bent before the tall, slender old man who was dismounting from a raw-boned mule. He wore the blue robes of a bard, and a harp was slung across his shoulder.

“I bid you welcome to Tintagel, Lord Messenger; you bestow a blessing upon our roof and honor it with your presence.”

“I thank you, Igraine,” said the resonant voice, and Taliesin, Merlin of Britain, Druid, Bard, clasped his hands before his face, then extended them to Igraine in blessing.

Her duty done for the instant, Igraine flew to her half-sister and would have bent for her blessing too; but Viviane bent and prevented her.

“No, no, child, this is a family visit, time enough later to do me honors if you must ... .” She clasped Igraine close and kissed her on the mouth. “And this is the babe? It is easy to see she has the blood of the Old People; she looks like our mother, Igraine.”

Viviane, Lady of the Lake and of the Holy Isle, was at this time in her thirties; eldest daughter of the ancient priestess of the Lake, she had succeeded to her mother’s holy office. She picked up Morgaine in her arms, dandling her with the experienced hands of a woman well accustomed to babies.

“She looks like you,” Igraine said, surprised, and then realizing that she should have realized this before. But it had been four years since she had seen Viviane, and then at her wedding. So much had happened, she had changed so much, since, a frightened girl of fifteen, she had been given into the hands of a man more than twice her age. “But come into the hall, Lord Merlin, sister. Come into the warm.”

Freed of her enwrapping cloaks and shawls, Viviane, Lady of Avalon, was a surprisingly little woman, no taller than a well-grown girl of eight or ten. In her loose tunic with its wrapped belt, a knife sheathed at her waist, and bulky woolen breeches, legs wrapped with thick leggings, she looked tiny, a child put into adult clothes. Her face was small, swarthy and triangular, the forehead low beneath hair dark as the shadows beneath the crags. Her eyes were dark, too, and large in her small face; Igraine had never realized how small she was.

A serving-woman brought the guest cup: hot wine, mixed with the last of the spices Gorlois had had sent to her from the markets in Londinium. Viviane took it between her hands, and Igraine blinked at her; with the gesture with which she took the cup, she was suddenly tall and imposing; it might have been the sacred chalice of the Holy Regalia. She set it between her hands and brought it slowly to her lips, murmuring a blessing. She tasted it, turned, and laid it in the hands of the Merlin. He took it with a grave bow and put it to his lips. Igraine, who had barely entered the Mysteries, somehow felt that she too was part of this beautiful ritual solemnity as in turn she took the cup from her guests, tasted it, and spoke formal words of welcome.

Then she put the cup aside and her sense of the moment dropped away; Viviane was only a small, tired-looking woman, the Merlin no more than a stooped old man. Igraine led them both quickly to the fire.

“It is a long journey from the shores of the Summer Sea in these days,” she said, remembering when she had travelled it, a new-made bride, frightened and silently hating, in the train of the strange husband who, as yet, was only a voice and a terror in the night. “What brings you here in the spring storms, my sister and my lady?”

And why could you not have come before, why did you leave me all alone, to learn to be a wife, to bear a child alone and in fear and homesickness? And since you could not have come before, why do you come at all, when it is too late and I am at last resigned into submission?

“The distance is indeed long,” Viviane said softly, and Igraine knew that the priestess had heard, as she always heard, the unspoken words as well as what Igraine had said. “And these are dangerous times, child. But you have grown into womanhood in these years, even if they have been lonely, as lonely as the years of isolation for the making of a bard-or,” she added, with the flicker of a reminiscent smile, “the making of a priestess. Had you chosen that path, you would have found it equally lonely, my Igraine. Yes, of course,” she said, reaching down, her face softening, “you may come up on my lap, little one.” She picked up Morgaine, and Igraine watched with wonder; Morgaine was, ordinarily, as shy as a wild rabbit. Half resentful, half falling again under the old spell, she watched the child settle into Viviane’s lap. Viviane looked almost too small to hold her securely. A fairy woman, indeed; a woman of the Old People. And indeed Morgaine would perhaps be very like her.

“And Morgause, how has she prospered since I sent her to you a year ago?” Viviane said, looking up at Morgause in her saffron gown, where she hung back resentfully in the shadows of the fire. “Come and kiss me, little sister. Ah, you will be tall like Igraine,” she said, raising her arms to embrace the girl, who came, sullen as a half-trained puppy, from the shadows. “Yes, sit there at my knee if you want to, child.” Morgause sat on the floor, leaning her head against Viviane’s lap, and Igraine saw that the sulky eyes were filled with tears.

She has us all in her hand. How can she have such power over us all? Or is it that she is the only mother Morgause has ever known? She was a grown woman when Morgause was born, she has always been mother, as well as sister, to both of us. Their mother, who had been really too old for childbearing, had died giving birth to Morgause. Viviane had borne a child of her own, earlier in the year; her child had died, and Viviane had taken Morgause to nurse.

Morgaine had snuggled tightly into Viviane’s lap; Morgause leaned her silky red head on Viviane’s knee. The priestess held the little one with one arm while her free hand stroked the half-grown girl’s long, silky hair.

“I would have come to you when Morgaine was born,” Viviane said, “but I was pregnant, too. I bore a son that year. I have put him out to nurse, and I think his foster-mother may send him to the monks. She is a Christian.”

“Don’t you mind his being reared as a Christian?” Morgause asked. “Is he pretty? What is his name?”

Viviane laughed. “I called him Balan,” she said, “and his foster-mother named her son Balin. They are only ten days apart in age, so they will be reared as twins, no doubt. And no, I do not mind that he is reared a Christian, his father was so, and Priscilla is a good woman. You said the journey here was long; believe me, child, it is longer now than it was when you were wedded to Gorlois. Not longer, perhaps, from the Isle of the Priests, where their Holy Thorn grows, but longer, far longer, from Avalon ...”

“And that is why we came here,” said the Merlin suddenly, and his voice was like the tolling of a great bell, so that Morgaine sat up suddenly and began to whimper in fright.

“I do not understand,” said Igraine, suddenly uneasy. “Surely the two lie close together ... .”

“The two are one,” said the Merlin, sitting very erect, “but the followers of Christ have chosen to say, not that they shall have no other Gods before their God, but that there is no other God save for their God; that he alone made the world, that he rules it alone, that he alone made the stars and the whole of creation.”

Igraine quickly made the holy sign against blasphemy.

“But that cannot be,” she insisted. “No single God can rule all things ... and what of the Goddess? What of the Mother ... ?”

“They believe,” said Viviane, in her smooth low voice, “that there is no Goddess; for the principle of woman, so they say, is the principle of all evil; through woman, so they say, Evil entered this world; there is some fantastic Jewish tale about an apple and a snake.”

“The Goddess will punish them,” Igraine said, shaken. “And yet you married me to one of them?”

“We did not know that their blasphemy was so all-encompassing,”

Merlin said, “for there have been followers of other Gods in our time. But they respected the Gods of others.”

“But what has this to do with the length of the road from Avalon?” asked Igraine.

“We come, then, to the reason for our visit,” said the Merlin, “for, as the Druids know, it is the belief of mankind which shapes the world, and all of reality. Long ago, when the followers of Christ first came to our isle, I knew that this was a powerful pivot in time, a moment to change the world.”

Morgause looked up at the old man, her eyes wide in awe.

“Are you so old, Venerable One?”

The Merlin smiled down at the girl and said, “Not in my own body. But I have read much in the great hall which is not in this world, there the Record of All Things is written. And also, I was living then. Those who are the Lords of this world permitted me to come back, but in another body of flesh.”

“These matters are too abstruse for the little one, Venerable Father,” Viviane said, gently rebuking him. “She is not a priestess. What the Merlin means, little sister, is that he was living when the Christians first came here, and that he chose, and was allowed, to reincarnate at once, to follow his work through. These are Mysteries, which you need not try to understand. Father, go on.”

“I knew that this was one of those moments where the history of all mankind would be changed,” the Merlin said. “The Christians seek to blot out all wisdom save their own; and in that strife they are banishing from this world all forms of mystery save that which will fit into their religious faith. They have pronounced it a heresy that men live more than one life -which every peasant knows to be true-”

“But if men do not believe in more than one life,” Igraine protested, shaken, “how will they avoid despair? What just God would create some men wretched, and others happy and prosperous, if one life were all that they could have?”

“I do not know,” said the Merlin. “Perhaps they wish men to despair at the harshness of fate, so that they may come on their knees to the Christ who will take them to heaven. I do not know what the followers of Christ believe, or what they hope for.” His eyes were closed for a moment, the lines of his face bitter. “But whatever it is that they believe, the views they hold are altering this world; not only in the spirit, but on the material plane. As they deny the world of the spirit, and the realms of Avalon, so those realms cease to exist for them. They still exist, of course; but not in the same world with the world of the followers of Christ. Avalon, the Holy Isle, is now no longer the same island as the Glastonbury where we of the Old Faith once allowed the monks to build their chapel and their monastery. For our wisdom and their wisdom-how much do you know of natural philosophy, Igraine?”

“Very little,” said the young woman, shaken, looking at the priestess and the great Druid. “I have never been taught.”

“A pity,” said the Merlin, “for you must understand this, Igraine. I will try to make it simple for you. Look you,” he said, and took the gold torque from his throat, then drew his dagger. “Can I put this bronze and this gold into the same place, at once?”

She blinked and stared, not understanding. “No, of course not. They can be side by side, but not in the same place unless you move one of them first.”

“And so it is with the Holy Isle,” said Merlin. “The priests swore an oath to us, four hundreds of years ago, before even the Romans came here and tried to conquer, that they would never rise against us and drive us forth with weapons; for we were here before them, and then they were suppliants, and weak. And they have honored that oath-so much I must give to them. But in spirit, in their prayers, they have never ceased to strive with us for their God to drive away our Gods, their wisdom to rule over our wisdom. In our world, Igraine, there is room enough for many Gods and many Goddesses. But in the universe of the Christians-how can I say this?-there is no room for our vision or our wisdom. In their world there is one God alone; not only must he conquer over all Gods, he must make it as if there were no other Gods, had never been any Gods but only false idols, the work of their Devil. So that, believing in him, all men may be saved in this one life. This is what they believe. And as men believe, so their world goes. And so the worlds which once were one are drifting apart.

“There are now two Britains, Igraine: their world under their One God and the Christ; and, beside it and behind it, the world where the Great Mother still rules, the world where the Old People have chosen to live and worship. This has happened before. There was the time when the fairy folk, the Shining Ones, withdrew from our world, going further and further into the mists, so that only an occasional wanderer now can spend a night within the elf-mounds, and if he should do so, time drifts on without him, and he may come out after a single night and find that his kinfolk are all dead and that a dozen years have gone by. And now, I tell you, Igraine, it is happening again. Our world-ruled by the Goddess and the Horned One, her consort, the world you know, the world of many truths-is being forced away from the mainstream course of time. Even now, Igraine, if a traveller sets out with no guide for the Isle of Avalon, unless he know the way very well, he cannot come there, but will find only the Isle of the Priests. To most men, our world is now lost in the mists of the Summer Sea. Even before the Romans left us, this was beginning to happen; now, as churches cover the whole of Britain, our world grows further and further away. That is why it took us so long to come here; fewer and fewer of the cities and roads of the Old People remain for our guide. The worlds still touch, still lie upon one another, close as lovers; but they are drifting apart, and if they are not stopped, one day there will be two worlds, and none can come and go between the two-”

“Let them go!” interrupted Viviane angrily. “I still think we should let them go! I do not want to live in a world of Christians, who deny the Mother-”

“But what of all the others, what of those who will live in despair?” The Merlin’s voice was like a great soft bell again. “No, a pathway must remain, even if it is secret. Parts of the world are still one. The Saxons raid in both worlds, but more and more of our warriors are followers of Christ. The Saxons-”

“The Saxons are barbarians, and cruel,” said Viviane. “The Tribes alone cannot drive them from these shores, and the Merlin and I have seen that Ambrosius is not long for this world, and that his war duke, the Pendragon-is it Uther they call him?-will succeed him. But there are many in this country who will not rally to the Pendragon. Whatever may befall our world in the spirit, neither of our worlds can long survive the fire and sword of the Saxons. Before we can fight the spiritual battle which will keep the worlds from moving further apart, we must save the very heart of Britain from being ravaged by Saxon fires. Not only the Saxons assault us, but Jutes, Scots, all the wild folk who are moving down from the North. Every place, even Rome itself, is being overpowered; there are so many of them. Your husband has been fighting all his life. Ambrosius, Duke of Britain, is a good man, but he can command loyalty only from those who once followed Rome; his father wore the purple, and Ambrosius too was ambitious to be emperor. But we must have a leader who will appeal to all the folk of Britain.”

“But-Rome remains,” Igraine protested. “Gorlois told me that when Rome had overcome her troubles in the Great City, the legions would return! Can we not look to Rome for help against the wild folk from the North? The Romans were the greatest fighters of the world, they built the great wall to the North to hold back the wild raiders-”

Merlin’s voice took on the empty sound that was like the tolling of a great bell. “I have seen it in the Holy Well,” he said. “The Eagle has flown, and shall never return to Britain.”

“Rome can do nothing,” Viviane said. “We must have our own leader, one who can command all of Britain. Otherwise, when they mass against us, all Britain will fall, and for hundreds and hundreds of years, we will lie in ruins beneath the Saxon barbarians. The worlds will drift irrevocably apart and the memory of Avalon will not remain even in legend, to give hope to mankind. No, we must have a leader who can command loyalty from all the people of both the Britains-the Britain of the priests, and the world of the mists, ruled from Avalon. Healed by this Great King”-her voice took on the clear, mystical ring of prophecy-”the worlds shall once again come together, a world with room for the Goddess and for the Christ, the cauldron and the cross. And this leader shall make us one.”

“But where shall we find such a king?” Igraine asked. “Who shall give us such a leader?”

And then, suddenly, she was afraid, felt ice pouring down her back, as the Merlin and the priestess turned to look at her, their eyes seeming to hold her motionless as a small bird under the shadow of a great hawk, and she understood why the messenger-prophet of the Druids was called the Merlin.

But when Viviane spoke her voice was very soft.

She said, “You, Igraine. You shall bear this Great King.”


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: Grainne, 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, Grainne. 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.”


It seemed to Igraine that she had been riding forever in the rain. The journey to Londinium was like a journey from the end of the world. She had travelled but little before, except, long ago, from Avalon to Tintagel. She contrasted the frightened, despairing child of that first journey with herself today. Now she rode at Gorlois’s side, and he went to some trouble to tell her something of the lands they passed through, and she laughed and teased him, and at night in their tent she went willingly to his bed. Now and again she missed Morgaine, wondering how the child would be faring-would she cry at night for her mother, would she eat at Morgause’s bidding? But it was pleasant to be free again, riding in this great company of men, conscious of their admiring looks and their deference- none of them would dare to approach Gorlois’s lady, except with an admiring glance. She was a girl again, but not, now, frightened and shrinking from the strange man who was her husband and whom she must somehow manage to please. She was a girl again without the childish awkwardness of her real girlhood, and she was enjoying it. She did not even mind the ceaseless rain that obscured the distant hills so that they rode within a little circle of mist.

We could lose our way in this mist, wander off into the realms of Fairy, and never return at all to this world, where the dying Ambrosius and the ambitious Uther plan for the salvation of Britain from the wild savages. Britain could sink like Rome, under the barbarians, and we need never know nor care ... .

“Are you weary, Igraine?” Gorlois’s voice was gentle and concerned. Really, he was not the ogre he had seemed during those first terrifying days four years ago! Now he was only an aging man, grey in his hair and beard (though he shaved himself carefully in Roman fashion), scarred from years of fighting, and touchingly eager to please her. Perhaps, if she had not been so frightened and rebellious in those days, she might have seen that he was eager to please her then, too. He had not been cruel to her, or if he was, it was only that he seemed to know little of women’s bodies and how to use them. Now it seemed only clumsiness, not cruelty; and if she told him he hurt her, he would caress her more gently. The younger Igraine had thought it inevitable, the hurt and the terror. Now she knew better.

She smiled at him now, gaily, and said, “No, not at all; I feel I could go on riding forever! But with so much mist, how do you know that we will not lose our way and never come to Londinium at all!”

“You need not fear that,” he said gravely. “My guides are very good, and they know every inch of the road. And before nightfall we will come to the old Roman road which leads into the very heart of the city. So we will sleep this night under a roof and in a proper bed.”

“I shall be glad to sleep again in a proper bed,” said Igraine demurely, and saw, as she had known she would see, the sudden heat rising in his face and eyes. But he turned his face away from her; it was almost as if he was afraid of her, and Igraine, having just discovered this power, delighted in it.

She rode on at his side, reflecting on the sudden kindness she felt for Gorlois, a kindness mixed with regret, as if he had become dear to her only now, when she knew she must lose him. One way or another, she knew her days at his side were numbered; and she remembered how she had first known that he would die.

She had had his messenger, warning her to prepare for his coming; he had sent one of his men, with suspicious eyes which peered everywhere, telling Igraine without words that if this man had had a young wife, he would have come home without warning, hoping to surprise some misconduct or extravagance. Igraine, knowing herself guiltless, her steward competent, her kitchen in order, had ignored the prying stares and bade the man welcome. Let him question her servants if he would, he would find that except for her sister and the Lord Merlin she had received no guests at Tintagel.

When the messenger had gone, Igraine, turning to cross the courtyard, had stopped, a shadow falling across her in full sunlight, stricken with causeless fear. And in that moment she saw Gorlois, wondering where was his horse, his entourage? He looked thinner and older, so that for a moment she hardly knew him, and his face was drawn and haggard. There was a sword cut on his cheek which she did not remember.

“My husband!” she cried. “Gorlois-” And then, stricken by the unspeakable grief in his face, she had forgotten her fear of him and the years of resentment, rushed toward him and spoken as she would have spoken to her child. “Oh, my dear, what has happened to you? What has brought you here like this, alone, unarmed-are you ill? Are you-” And then she stopped, her voice dying away among the echoes. For there was no one there, only the fitful light from clouds and sea and shadows, and the echo of her own voice.

She tried, all the rest of that day, to reassure herself that it was only a Sending, like the one that had warned her of Viviane’s coming. But she knew better: Gorlois had not the Sight, would not have used it or believed in it if he had had it. What she had seen-and she knew it even though she had never seen anything like it before-was her husband’s fetch, his double, the shadow and precursor of his death.

And when at last he arrived, whole and sound, she had tried to shrug away the memory, had told herself that it was only a trick of the light that made her see, behind him, the shadow she had seen, with the sword cut on his face and the unspeakable grief in his eyes. For Gorlois now was neither wounded nor disheartened; on the contrary, he was in high good humor, bringing gifts for her, and even a string of little coral beads for Morgaine. He had looked in the sacks of his Saxon plunder and given Morgause a red cloak.

“No doubt it belonged to some Saxon strumpet, some camp follower, or even one of the screaming swordswomen who fight alongside their men, half-naked on the field of war,” he said, laughing and chucking the girl under the chin, “so it is just as well it should be worn by a decent British maiden. The color becomes you, little sister. When you have grown a bit, you will be as pretty as my wife.” Morgause had simpered and giggled and tossed her head, posing in the new cloak, and later Gorlois had said sharply, as he and Igraine were making themselves ready for bed (Morgaine, howling, had been banished to Morgause’s room), “We must have that girl married as soon as can be arranged, Igraine. She is a puppy bitch with eyes hot for anything in the shape of a man; did you see how she cast her eyes not only on me but on my younger soldiers? I will not have such a one disgracing my family, nor influencing my daughter!”

Igraine had given him a soft answer. She could not forget that she had seen Gorlois’s death, and she would not argue with a condemned man. And she too had been annoyed by Morgause’s behavior.

So Gorlois is to die. Well, it takes not much prophecy to foresee that a man of five-and-forty, who has been fighting Saxons much of his life, will not live to see his little children grown. I shall not let it make me believe all the rest of the nonsense she spoke to me, or I shall be expecting Gorlois to take me to Londinium! But the next day, as they lingered over breaking their fast and she was mending a great rent in his best tunic, he spoke bluntly.

“Did you not wonder what brought me here so suddenly, Igraine?”

After the night past, she had the confidence to smile into his eyes.

“Should I question fortune, which has brought my husband home after a year’s absence? I hope it means that the Saxon Shores are free and in British hands again.”

He nodded absently, and smiled. Then the smile was gone. “Ambrosius Aurelianus is dying. The old eagle will soon be gone, and there is no hatchling to fly in his place. It is like the legions going again; he has been High King for all my days, and a good king for those of us who still hoped, as I did, for the return of Rome one day. Now I know that day will never come. The kings of Britain from near and far have been summoned to gather in Londinium to choose their High King and war leader, and I too must go. It was a long journey to stay so little time, for I must be off again within three days. But I would not come so near without seeing you and the child. It will be a great gathering, Igraine, and many of the dukes and kings will bring their ladies; would you like to come with me?”

“To Londinium?”

“Yes, if you will travel so far,” he said, “and if you can bring yourself to leave that child. I do not know why you should not. Morgaine is healthy and sound and there are enough women here to look after a dozen like her; and if I have managed to get you with child again”-he met her eyes in a smile she could hardly have imagined on his face-”it will not yet hinder you in riding.” There was a tenderness she had never guessed in his voice as he added, “I would rather not be parted from you again for a little while, at least; will you come, my wife?”

Somehow you must contrive to come to Londinium with him. Viviane had said it. And now Gorlois had made it unnecessary even to ask. Igraine had a sudden feeling of panic-as if she were on a runaway horse. She picked up a cup of beer and sipped at it, to cover her confusion. “Certainly I will come if you wish it.” Two days later they were on the road, riding eastward to Londinium and the encampment of Uther Pendragon and the dying Ambrosius, for the choosing of a High King ... .

In midafternoon they came to the Roman road, and could ride more swiftly; and late that day they could see the outskirts of Londinium, and smell the tidal river that washed its shores. Igraine had never guessed so many houses could be gathered together in one place; for a moment she felt, after the chill spaces of the southern moors, that she could not breathe, that the houses were closing in on her. She rode as if in a trance, feeling that the stone streets and walls cut her off from air and light and life itself.. .. How could people live behind walls this way?

“We will sleep this night at the home of one of my soldiers, who has a house in the city,” Gorlois said, “and tomorrow we will present ourselves at the court of Ambrosius.”

She asked him that night, seated before the fire (what luxury, she thought, a fire this near to Midsummer!), “Who, think you, will be the next High King?”

“What can it matter to a woman who rules the land?”

She smiled sidelong at him; she had taken down her hair for the night and she could feel him warming to the smile. “Even though I am a woman, Gorlois, I must live in this land, and I would like to know what manner of man my husband must follow in peace and war.”

“Peace! There will be no peace in my lifetime at least,” Gorlois said. “Not with all those wild folk coming to our rich shores; we must gather all our strength to defend ourselves. And there are many who would like to wear the mantle of Ambrosius and lead us in war. Lot of Orkney, for instance. A harsh man, but reliable, a strong leader, good at battle strategy. Still unmarried, though; no dynasty. He’s young for a High King, but ambitious, never knew a man of that age so ambitious. And Uriens of North Wales. No problems with dynasty, he already has sons. But the man has no imagination; wants to do everything as it’s always been done, says that it worked once and it will work again. And I suspect he’s no good Christian.”

“Which would be your choice?” Igraine asked.

He sighed. “Neither,” he said. “I have followed Ambrosius all my life, and I will follow the man Ambrosius has chosen; it’s a matter of honor, and Uther is Ambrosius’ man. It’s as simple as that. Not that I like Uther. He’s a lecherous man with a dozen bastards, no woman’s safe around him. He goes to mass because the army does, and because it’s the thing to do. I’d rather he was an honest pagan than a Christian for the benefits he can get from it.”

“Yet you support him-”

“Oh, yes. He’s soldier enough for a Caesar; the men will follow him through hell, if they have to. He spares no effort to be popular with the army-you know the kind of thing, going around the camp and munching on their rations to make sure they’re fit to eat, spending a day when he could be taking his ease in going to the quartermaster’s to get a discharge for an old toothless veteran, sleeping in the field with the men before a battle. The men would die for him-and they do. And he has both brains and imagination. He managed to make peace with the treaty troops and get them to fight alongside us last fall-he thinks a little too much like a Saxon for me, he knows how their minds work. Yes, I’ll support him. But that doesn’t mean I like the man.”

Igraine, listening, thought that Gorlois had revealed more of himself than of the other candidates for High King. She said at last, “Have you never thought-you are Duke of Cornwall, and Ambrosius values you; could you be chosen as High King?”

“Believe me, Igraine, I want no crown. Have you a wish to be queen?”

“I would not refuse it,” she said, recalling the Merlin’s prophecy. “You say that because you are too young to know what it means,” Gorlois said with a smile. “Would you truly like to rule a kingdom as you must rule over your servants at Tintagel, at everyone’s beck and call? There was a time when I was younger-but I do not want to spend the rest of my lifetime at war. Ambrosius gave me Tintagel years ago, Igraine; until four years ago I had not spent enough time there to bring home a wife! I will defend these shores as long as I can hold a sword, but I want a son to play with my daughter, and some time to spend in peace, fishing from the rocks, and hunting, and sitting in the sun watching the peasant folk bring in their crops, and time perhaps to make my peace with God, so that he may forgive me for all the things I have had to do in a life as a soldier. But even when there is peace in the land, the High King has no peace, for when the enemies leave our shore, why, then, his friends begin to fight, if only for his favor. No, there will be no crown for me, and when you are my age, you will be glad of it.”

Igraine felt a pricking behind her eyes as Gorlois spoke. So this harsh soldier, the somber man she had feared, now felt enough at ease with her to reveal something of his wishes. With all her heart she wished that he might have his last few years in the sun as he wished, his children playing about him; but even here, in the flickering of the fire, she thought she could see the ominous shadow of the doom that followed him.

It is my imagination, I have let the words of the Merlin make me imagine foolish things, she told herself, and when Gorlois yawned and stretched, saying that he was weary from riding, she went quickly to help him take off his clothes.

She hardly slept in the strange bed, turning and tossing as she listened to Gorlois’s quiet breathing; now and again he reached out for her in his sleep, and she soothed him against her breast as she would have done with her child. Perhaps, she thought, the Merlin and the Lady were frightened by their own shadows, perhaps Gorlois will indeed have time to grow old in the sun. Perhaps before he slept he had indeed planted in her womb the seed of the son they said he would never father. But toward morning she fell into fitful sleep, dreaming of a world in the mist, of the shoreline of the Holy Isle receding further and further in the mists; it seemed to Igraine that she was rowing on a barge, heavy and exhausted, seeking for the Isle of Avalon where the Goddess, wearing Viviane’s face, was waiting to ask her how well she had done what was required of her. But although the shoreline was familiar, and the groves of apple trees which had grown on the shore when she came up to the temple, a crucifix stood in the temple of her dream and a choir of the black-robed nuns of the Christians was singing one of their doleful hymns, and when she began to run, looking everywhere for her sister, the sound of church bells drowned out her cries. She woke with a stifled whimper, a sleeper’s scream, and sat up to hear the sound of church bells everywhere.

Gorlois sat up in bed beside her. “It is the church where Ambrosius goes to mass. Make haste to dress yourself, Igraine, and we will go together.”

While she was winding a woven silk girdle around her linen overdress, a strange serving-man knocked at the door, saying he would like to speak with the lady Igraine, wife of the Duke of Cornwall. Igraine went to the door and it seemed to her that she recognized the man. He bowed to her, and now she remembered that she had seen him, years ago, rowing Viviane’s barge. It made her remember her dream, and she felt cold inside.

“Your sister sends you this from the Merlin,” he said, “and bids you to wear it and remember your promise, no more.” He gave her a small parcel wrapped in silk.

“What is this, Igraine?” asked Gorlois, frowning, coming up behind her. “Who is sending you gifts? Do you recognize the messenger?”

“He is one of my sister’s men from the Isle of Avalon,” said Igraine, unwrapping the package; but Gorlois said sternly, “My wife does not receive gifts from messengers unknown to me,” and took it roughly from her. She opened her mouth in indignation, all her new tenderness for Gorlois vanishing in a single breath; how dared he?

“Why, it is the blue stone you wore when we were wedded,” Gorlois said, frowning. “What is this of a promise? How did your sister, if it is truly from her, come by the stone?”

Gathering her wits quickly, Igraine lied to him deliberately for the first time in her life. “When my sister visited me,” she said, “I gave her the stone and its chain to have the clasp put right; she knows of a goldsmith in Avalon who is better than any in Cornwall. And the promise she spoke of is that I will care better for my jewels, since I am now a grown woman and not a heedless child who cannot take proper care of precious things. May I have my necklace, my husband?”

He handed her the moonstone, frowning. “I have smiths in my employ who would have put it right for you without reading you a lesson your sister no longer has a right to give. Viviane takes too much upon herself; she may have stood in a mother’s place to you when you were a child, but you are not now in her care. You must strive to be more a grown woman, and less dependent upon your home.”

“Why, now I have had two lessons,” said Igraine crossly, putting the chain about her neck. “One from my sister and one from my husband, as if I were an unlessoned child indeed.”

Over his head it seemed that she could still see the shadow of his death, the dread fetch of the death-doomed. Suddenly she hoped, with a passionate hope, that he had not gotten her with child, that she did not bear a son to a doomed man ... she felt icy cold.

“Come, Igraine,” he coaxed, putting out his hand to stroke her hair, “do not be angry with me. I shall try to remember that you are a grown woman in your nineteenth year, not a mere child of fifteen! Come, we must be ready to go to the King’s mass, and the priests do not like it if there is much coming and going after the mass has started.”

The church was small, made of daub and wattle, and the lamps inside were lighted against the cold dankness; Igraine was glad of her thick woolen mantle. Gorlois whispered to her that the white-haired priest, venerable as any Druid, was Ambrosius’ own priest who travelled with the army, and that this was a service of thanksgiving for the King’s homecoming.

“Is the King here?”

“He is just coming into the church, at the seat over there before the altar,” Gorlois muttered, inclining his head.

She knew him at once by the dark red mantle, worn over a dark, heavily embroidered tunic, and the jewelled sword belt at his side. Ambrosius Aurelianus must, she thought, have been about sixty; a tall, spare man, shaven in the Roman fashion, but stooped, walking with a careful crouch as if he had some inner hurt. Once, perhaps, he had been handsome; now his face was lined and yellow, his dark moustache drooping, nearly all grey, and his hair grizzled. Beside him were two or three of his councillors or fellow kings; she wanted to know who they were, but the priest, seeing the King enter, had begun reading from his great book, and she bit her lip and was silent, listening to the service which even now, after four years in Father Columba’s instruction, she did not fully understand, nor care to. She knew it was ill-mannered to gaze about her in church, like a country bumpkin, but she peeped below the hood of her mantle at some of the men around the King: a man whom she supposed to be Uriens of North Wales, and a richly dressed man, slender and handsome, dark hair cut short in Roman fashion around his chin. She wondered if this was Uther, Ambrosius’ companion and heir apparent. He stood attentively at Ambrosius’ side all through the long service, and when the aging King stumbled, the slight dark man offered him an arm. He cast his eyes attentively on the priest; but Igraine, trained to read people’s thoughts in their faces, knew that he was not really listening to the priest or to the service, but that his thoughts ran inward on their own purposes. He raised his head, once, and looked straight at Gorlois, and briefly met Igraine’s eyes. His own eyes were dark beneath heavy dark brows, and Igraine felt an instantaneous shiver of revulsion. If this was Uther, she resolved, she would have nothing to do with him; a crown would be too dearly bought at his side. He must be older than he looked, for this man was surely no more than five-and-twenty.

Partway through the service there was a little stir near the door, and a tall, soldierly man, broad-shouldered but lanky, in a thick woven plaid like those the Northmen wore, came into the church, followed by four or five soldiers. The priest went on, unruffled, but the deacon who stood at his side raised his head from the Gospel book and scowled. The tall man uncovered his head, revealing fair hair already worn thin and balding on top. He moved through the standing congregation, the priest said, Let us pray, and as Igraine knelt she saw the tall, fair-haired man and his soldiers quite near them; his soldiers had knelt around Gorlois’s men and the man himself was at her side. When he had gotten himself down on his knees he gave one quick look round to see that all of his men were placed, then bent his head piously to listen to the prayer.

Through all the long service he did not raise his head; even when the congregation began to approach the altar for the consecrated bread and wine, he did not go. Gorlois touched Igraine’s shoulder, and she went at his side-the Christians held that a wife should follow her husband’s faith, so that God of theirs could just blame Gorlois if she went to the communion ill prepared. Father Columba had argued with her a long time about proper prayer and preparation, and Igraine had decided that she was never properly prepared for it. But Gorlois would be angry with her, and after all she could not interrupt the silence of the service to argue with him, even in a whisper.

Returning to her place, her teeth on edge from the coarse bread and the sourness of wine on an empty stomach, she saw the tall man raise his head. Gorlois gave him a curt nod and passed on. The man looked at Igraine, and it seemed for a moment that he was laughing at her, and at Gorlois too; she felt herself smile. Then at Gorlois’s repressive frown she followed him and knelt meekly at his side. But she could see the fair-haired man watching her. From his Northman’s plaid she supposed that this could be Lot of Orkney, the one Gorlois had called young and ambitious. Some of the Northmen too were fair as Saxons.

The final psalm had begun; she listened to the words without paying much attention to them.

He has sent redemption among his people in accordance with his eternal covenant ...

His name is holy and terrible; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Gorlois bowed his head for the benediction. She was learning so much about her husband in these few days. She had known he was a Christian when she married him; indeed most folk were Christian, in these days, or if they were not, they kept it most scrupulously to themselves, except near the Holy Isle where the Old Faith reigned, or among the Northern barbarians, or the Saxons. But she had not known that he was genuinely pious.

The benediction was over; the priest and his deacons departed bearing their long cross and the Holy Book. Igraine looked to where the King stood. He looked yellow and tired, and as he turned to leave the church, he leaned heavily on the arm of the dark young man who had stood next to him and supported him all through the service.

“Lot of Orkney loses no time, does he, my lord of Cornwall,” said the tall, fair-haired man in the Northman’s plaid. “He is ever at Ambrosius’ elbow these days, and not wanting in service!”

So, Igraine thought, this is not the Duke of Orkney as I thought.

Gorlois grunted assent.

“Your lady wife, Gorlois?”

Reluctantly, churlishly, Gorlois said, “Igraine, my dear, this is our war duke: Uther, whom the Tribes call Pendragon, from his banner.”

She dropped him a curtsey, blinking with astonishment. Uther Pen-dragon, this ungainly man, fair as a Saxon? Was this the courtier intended to succeed Ambrosius-this bumbling man who blundered in to disturb holy mass? Uther was staring-not, Igraine realized, at her face, but at something lower down, and Igraine, wondering if she had spilled communion wine on her gown, saw that he was staring at the moonstone on the breast of her mantle. She wondered sharply if he had never seen one before.

Gorlois, too, had noted the direction of his gaze. He said, “I would like to present my lady to the King; a good day to you, my lord Duke,” and left without waiting for Uther’s farewell. When they were out of earshot he said, “I like not the way he looks at you, Igraine. He is no man for a decent woman to know. Avoid him.”

Igraine said, “He was not looking at me, my husband, but at the jewel I wore. Is he greedy for riches?”

“He is greedy for all things,” Uther said shortly. Walking so swiftly that Igraine’s thin shoes stumbled on the stone street, they had overtaken the royal party.

Ambrosius, surrounded by his priests and councillors, looked like any other elderly sick man who had gone fasting to mass and was ready for his breakfast and a place to sit down. He walked with one hand held to his side, as if it hurt him. But he smiled at Gorlois with real friendliness, and Igraine knew why the whole of Britain had made up their quarrels to serve under this man and fight away the Saxons from their shores.

“Why, Gorlois, are you back so swiftly from Cornwall? I had little hope of seeing you here before the Council, or again in this world,” he said. His voice was thin, breathy, but he held out his arms to Gorlois, who embraced the old man carefully, then blurted out, “You are ill, my lord, you should have kept your bed!”

Ambrosius said, with a little smile, “I will keep it soon enough, and long enough, I fear. The bishop said as much, and would have brought me the holy things in my bed if I wished, but I wanted to show myself among you again. Come and breakfast with me, Gorlois, and tell me how all goes in your quiet countryside.”

The two men walked on, Igraine walking behind her husband. On the King’s other side was the slight, dark man, scarlet-clad: Lot of Orkney, she remembered. When they came into the King’s house and Ambrosius had been placed in a comfortable chair, the High King beckoned Igraine forward.

“Welcome to my court, lady Igraine. Your husband tells me you are a daughter of the Holy Isle.”

“It is so, sir,” Igraine said shyly.

“Some of your people are advisers at my court; my priests do not like it that your Druids should be placed on equal footing with them, but I tell them you both serve the Great Ones above us, by whatever name. And wisdom is wisdom, however come by. I sometimes think your Gods demand wiser men for their servants than our God for his,” Ambrosius said, smiling at her. “Come, Gorlois, sit here beside me at table.”

It seemed to Igraine, as she took her seat on the cushioned bench, that Lot of Orkney hovered near like a dog who has been kicked but who wants to slink back to his master. If Ambrosius had men about him who loved him, that was well. But did Lot love his king, or only wish to be near to the throne that its power might reflect on him? She noticed that Ambrosius, though he courteously urged his guests to eat the fine wheaten bread and honey and fresh fish set for his table, ate only sops of bread moistened in milk. She noticed, too, the faint yellow staining the whites of his eyes. Gorlois had said, Ambrosius is dying. She had seen enough dying men in her lifetime to know he spoke no more than simple truth, and Ambrosius, from his words, knew it too.

“Intelligence has reached me that the Saxons have made some sort of treaty, killed a horse and sworn on its blood or some such rubbish, with the Northmen,” Ambrosius said, “and the fighting may move into Cornwall this time. Uriens, you may have to guide our armies in the West land; you and Uther, who knows the Welsh hills as he knows the hilt of his own sword. The war may even come into your peaceful countryside, Gorlois.”

“But you are guarded, as we are in the North, by the coasts and the crags lying below your lands,” said Lot of Orkney in his smooth voice. “I do not think a horde of wild folk could come at Tintagel unless they knew the rocks and the harbors. And even from the land side, Tintagel could be defended, with that long causeway.”

“True,” Gorlois said, “but there are harbors, and shores where a boat can be beached, and even if they cannot reach the castle, there are farmsteads and rich lands and crops. I can defend the castle, but what of the countryside? I am their duke because I can defend my people.”

“It seems to me that a duke, or a king, should be something more than this,” Ambrosius said, “but I do not know what. I have never had peace to find out. Perhaps our sons will do so. It may come in your time, Lot, you are the youngest of us.”

There was a sudden stir in the outer room, and then the tall, fair-haired Uther came into the room. He had a pair of dogs on leash in his hand, and the leashes tangled as the dogs yapped and snarled. He stood at the door patiently untangling them, then gave the leashes to his servant and came into the room.

“You are disturbing us all this morning, Uther,” said Lot venomously, “first the priest at holy mass and then the King at his breakfast.”

“Have I disturbed you? I beg your forgiveness, my lord,” Uther said, smiling, and the King stretched out his hand, smiling as at a favorite child.

“You are forgiven, Uther, but send the dogs away, I pray you. Well, come and sit here, my boy,” Ambrosius said, rising clumsily, and Uther . embraced the King; Igraine saw that he did so carefully, deferentially. She thought, Why, Uther loves the King, it is not just ambition or a courtier’s currying of favor!

Gorlois would have given up his place next to Ambrosius, but the King motioned to him to sit still. Uther stretched his long leg across the bench and climbed across it, to slide into a seat beside Igraine. She drew her skirts aside, feeling awkward, as he stumbled-how clumsy he was! Like a big, friendly puppy! He had to put out a hand to save himself from falling directly on top of Igraine.

“Forgive my clumsiness, lady,” he said, smiling down at her. “I am all too big to sit in your lap!”

Against her will, she laughed up at him. “Even your dogs are too big for that, my lord Uther!”

He helped himself to bread and fish, offering her the honey as he spooned it out of the jar. She refused courteously.

“I do not like sweets,” she said.

“You have no need of them, my lady,” he said, and she noticed that he was staring at her bosom again. Had he never seen a moonstone before? Or was he staring at the curve of her breast beneath it? She was suddenly, acutely conscious that her breasts were no longer quite as high and firm as they had been before she had suckled Morgaine. Igraine felt the heat rising in her face and quickly took a sip of the fresh cold milk.

He was tall and fair, his skin firm and unwrinkled. She could smell his sweat, clean and fresh as a child’s. And yet he was not so very young, his light hair was already thinning over his sunburnt skull. She felt a curious unease, something she had never felt before; his thigh lay alongside hers on the bench and she was very conscious of it, as if it were a separate part of her own body. She cast her eyes down and took a nibble of buttered bread, listening to Gorlois and Lot talking about what would happen if the war were to come to the West country.

“The Saxons are fighters, yes,” Uther said, joining in, “but they fight in something like civilized warfare. The Northmen, the Scots, the wild folk from the lands beyond-they are madmen, they rush naked and screaming into battle, and the important thing is to train troops to hold firm against them and not break in fear of their charge.”

“That is where the legions had the advantage over our men,” Gorlois said, “for they were soldiers by choice, and disciplined, trained to fight, not farmers and countrymen called up to fight without knowledge of that business, and going back to their farms when the danger is past. What we need are legions for Britain. Perhaps if we appealed again to the emperor-”

“The emperor,” Ambrosius said, smiling a little, “has troubles enough of his own. We need horsemen, cavalry legions: but if we want legions for Britain, Uther, we will have to train them for ourselves.”

“It cannot be done,” Lot said positively, “for our men will fight in defense of their homes, and in loyalty to their own clan chiefs, but not for any High King or emperor. And what are they fighting for, if not to return to their homes and enjoy them in comfort afterward? The men who follow me, follow me-not some ideal of freedom. I have some trouble getting them to come this far south-they say with some justice that there are no Saxons where we are, so why should they fight away down here? They say, when the Saxons reach their homeland, time enough to fight then and defend it, but the lowlanders should look out for the defense of their own country.”

“Can’t they see, if they come to stop the Saxons here, the Saxons may never reach their country at all-” Uther began hotly, and Lot raised his slender hand, laughing.

“Peace, Uther! I know this-it is my men who do not know it! You will get no legions for Britain, nor any standing army, Ambrosius, from the men north of the great wall.”

Gorlois said huskily, “Perhaps Caesar had the right idea, then; perhaps we should regarrison the wall. Not, as he did, to keep the wild Northmen from the cities, but to keep the Saxons from your homeland, Lot.”

“We cannot spare troops for that,” said Uther impatiently. “We cannot spare any trained troops at all! We may have to let the treaty people defend the Saxon Shores, and set up our stand in the West country, against the Scots and Northmen. I think we should make our main stand in the Summer Country; then in winter they will not be able to come down to sack our camps as they did three years ago, for they will not know their way around the islands.”

Igraine listened sharply, for she had been born in the Summer Country and knew how, in winter, the seas moved inward and flooded the land. What was passable, though boggy, ground in summer, in the winter became lakes and long inland seas. Even an invading army would find it hard to come into that country, except in high summer.

“That is what the Merlin told me,” Ambrosius said, “and he has offered us place for our people to establish camp for our armies in the Summer Country.”

Uriens said in a rusty voice, “I do not like to abandon the Saxon Shores to the treaty troops. A Saxon is a Saxon, and he will keep an oath only while it suits him. I think the mistake of all our lives was when Constantine made compact with Vortigern-”

“No,” Ambrosius said, “a dog who is part wolf will fight more hardily against other wolves than any other dog. Constantine gave Vortigern’s Saxons their own land, and they fought to defend it. That is what a Saxon wants: land. They are farmers, and they will fight to the death to make their land safe. The treaty troops have fought valiantly against the Saxons who came to invade our shores-”

“But now there are so many of them,” Uriens said, “that they are demanding to enlarge their treaty lands, and they have threatened that if we will not give them more land, they will come and take it. So now, as if it were not enough to fight the Saxons from beyond the sea, we must fight those whom Constantine brought into our lands-”

“Enough,” said Ambrosius, raising a thin hand, and Igraine thought he looked terribly ill. “I cannot remedy mistakes, if they were mistakes, made by men who died before I was born; I have enough to do remedying my own mistakes, and I will not live long enough to set them all right. But I will do what I can while I live.”

“I think the first thing and best to do,” said Lot, “would be to drive forth the Saxons within our own kingdoms, and then fortify ourselves against their returning.”

Ambrosius said, “I do not think we can do that. They have lived here since their fathers’ and grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ time, some of them, and unless we are willing to kill them all, they will not leave the land they have a right to call their own; nor should we violate the treaty. If we fight among ourselves here within the shores of Britain, how will we have strength and weapons to fight when we are invaded from without? Also, some of the Saxons on the treaty shores are Christians, and will fight alongside us against the wild men and their heathen Gods.”

“I think,” Lot said, smiling in wry amusement, “that the bishops of Britain thought truly when they refused to send missionaries to save the souls of the Saxons on our shores, saying that if the Saxons were to be admitted to Heaven, they wanted no part of it for themselves! We have enough trouble on this earth with the Saxons, must we have their uncouth brawling in Heaven as well?”

“I think you mistake the nature of Heaven,” said a familiar voice, and Igraine felt a strange, hollow awareness within herself. She looked down the table at the speaker, who wore a plain grey robe, monkish in cut. She would not have recognized the Merlin in this garb, but his voice she would have known anywhere. “Do you really think mankind’s quarrels and imperfections will be carried on in Heaven, Lot?”

“Why, as to that, I have never spoken with anyone who has been in Heaven,” Lot said, “nor, I think, have you, Lord Merlin. But you are talking as wisely as any priest-have you taken Holy Orders in your old age, sir?”

The Merlin laughed and said, “I have one thing in common with your priests. I have spent much time trying to separate the things of man from those that belong to the Divine, and when I have done separating them, I find there is not so great a difference. Here on Earth, we cannot see that, but when we have put off this body we will know more, and know that our differences make no difference at all to God.”

“Then why are we fighting?” asked Uther, and grinned as if he were humoring the old man. “If all our differences will be resolved in Heaven, why do we not lay down our arms and embrace the Saxons as brethren?” The Merlin smiled again and said amiably, “When we are all perfected, it will be just so, Lord Uther, but they do not yet know it, any more than we do, and while human destiny provokes men to fight, well, we must do our part by playing the games of this mortal life. But we need peace in this land so that men may think of Heaven instead of battle and war.”

Uther said, laughing, “I have little taste for sitting and thinking of Heaven, old man; I will leave that to you and the other priests. I am a man of battle, I have been so all my days, and I pray to live all my life in war, as befits a man and not a monk!”

“Be careful what you pray for,” said Merlin, looking sharply at Uther, “for the Gods will certainly give it to you.”

“I do not want to be old, and think of Heaven and peace,” said Uther, “for they seem very dull to me. I want war and plunder and women-oh, yes, women-and the priests do not approve of any of those things.”

Gorlois said, “Why, then, you are not much better than the Saxons, are you, Uther?”

“Your very priests say we must love our enemies, Gorlois,” said Uther, laughing, and reaching across Igraine to clap her husband good-naturedly on the back, “and so I love the Saxon, for he gives me what I want from life! And so should you, for when we have peace like this for a little time, we’ can enjoy feasting and women, and then back to the fight, as befits a real man! Do you think women care for the kind of man who wants to sit by the fire and till his home acres? Do you think your beautiful lady here would be as happy with a plowman as she is happy with a duke and leader of men?”

Gorlois said soberly, “You are young enough to say so, Uther. When you are my age, you will be sick of war too.”

Uther chuckled and asked, “Are you sick of war, my lord Ambrosius?” Ambrosius smiled, but he looked very weary. He said, “It would not matter if I were sick of war, Uther; for God has chosen in his wisdom to send me war all my days, and so it shall be, according to his will. I will defend my people, and so must those who come after. Perhaps in your days, or the days of our sons, we will have enough time at peace to ask ourselves what we are fighting for.”

Lot of Orkney broke in, in his smooth equivocal voice, “Why, we are philosophers here, my lord Merlin, my king; even you, Uther, you have taken to philosophy. But none of this tells us what we are to do against the wild men who come at us from east and from west, and from the Saxons on our own shores. I think we all know that we will have no help from Rome; if we want legions we must train them, and I think we needs must have our own Caesar as well, for just as soldiers need their own captains and their own king, so all the kings in this island need someone to rule over them.”

“Why need we call our High King by the name of Caesar? Or think of him so?” asked a man Igraine had heard called by the name Ectorius. “The Caesars ruled Britain well enough in our day, but we see the fatal flaw of an empire thus-when there is trouble in their home city, they withdraw the legions and leave us to barbarians! Even Magnus Maximus-”

“He was no emperor,” said Ambrosius, smiling. “Magnus Maximus wished to be emperor, when he commanded the legions here-it is a common ambition for a war duke.” And Igraine saw the quick smile he gave Uther over their heads. “So he took his legions and marched on Rome, wishing to be proclaimed emperor-he would have been neither the first nor the last to do so, with the army to support him. But he never got so far as Rome, and all his ambitions came to nothing, except for some fine stories-in your Welsh hills, Uther, do they not talk still of Magnus the Great who will come again with his great sword, at the head of his legions, rescuing them from all invaders-”

“They do,” said Uther, laughing, “they have put upon him the old legend from time out of mind, of the king who was and the king who will come again to save his people when the need is dire. Why, if I could find such a sword as that, I could myself go into the hills of my country and raise as many legions as I wanted.”

“Perhaps,” said Ectorius somberly, “that is what we need, a king out of legend, if the king come, the sword will not be far to seek.”

“Your priest would say,” the Merlin said evenly, “that the only king who was and is and will be, is their Christ in Heaven, and that, following in his holy cause, you need no other.”

Ectorius laughed, a short harsh laugh. “Christ cannot lead us into battle. Nor-I intend no blasphemy, my lord King-would the soldiers follow a banner of the Prince of Peace.”

“Perhaps we should find a king who will put them in memory of the legends,” Uther said, and silence fell in the room. Igraine, who had never listened before to the councils of men, could still read enough thoughts to know what they were all hearing in the silence: the knowledge that the High King who sat before them now would not live to see another summer. Which of them would sit in his high seat, next year at this time?

Ambrosius leaned his head against the back of his chair, and that was Lot’s signal to say, in his eager jealous voice, “You are weary, sire; we have tired you. Let me call your chamberlain.”

Ambrosius smiled gently at him. “I will rest soon enough, cousin, and long enough-” but even the effort of speech was too much for him and he sighed, a long, shaking sound, letting Lot help him from the table. Behind him the men broke up into groups, talking, arguing in low tones.

The man called Ectorius came to join Gorlois. “My lord of Orkney loses no opportunity to plead his case, and disguise it as thoughtfulness for the King-now we are the evil men who have wearied Ambrosius and will shorten his life.”

“Lot does not care who is named High King,” Gorlois said, “so that Ambrosius has no opportunity to state his preference, by which many of us-I among them, I may as well tell you, Ectorius-would be bound.”

Ectorius said, “How not? Ambrosius has no son and cannot name an heir, but his wish must guide us, and he knows it. Uther is far too eager for the purple of a Caesar to suit me, but all in all he is better than Lot, so if it should come to a choice of sour apples ... “

Gorlois nodded, slowly. “Our men will follow Uther. But the Tribes, Bendigeid Vran and that crew, they will not follow any man so Roman as that; and we need the Tribes. They would follow Orkney-”

“Lot has not the stuff to make a High King,” Ectorius said. “Better we lose the support of the Tribes than the support of the entire countryside. Lot’s way is to split everyone up into warring factions so that only he has the confidence of all. Paugh!” He spat. “The man’s a snake and that’s all there is to it.”

“And yet he’s persuasive,” Gorlois said. “He has brains, and courage, and imagination-”

“So has Uther. And whether or not Ambrosius gets the chance to say so formally, Uther’s the man he wants.”

Gorlois set his teeth grimly and said, “True. True. I’m in honor bound to do Ambrosius’ will. Yet I wish his choice had fallen on a man whose moral character matched his courage and his leadership. I don’t trust Uther, and yet-” He shook his head, glanced at Igraine. “Child, this can be of no possible interest to you. I will have my man-at-arms escort you back to the house where we lay last night.”

Dismissed like a little girl, Igraine went homeward in the noontime without protest. She had a good deal to think about. So men too, even Gorlois, could be bound in honor to endure what they did not want to do. She had never thought of that before.

And Uther’s eyes, fixed on her, haunted her thoughts. How he had stared at her-no; not at her, at the moonstone. Had the Merlin enchanted it somehow so that Uther should be smitten with the woman who bore it?

Must I do the Merlin’s will, and Viviane’s, must I be given to Uther resistless, as I was given to Gorlois? The thought repelled her. And yet her mind perversely still felt Uther’s touch on her hand, the intensity of his grey eyes meeting her own.

I might as well believe that the Merlin enchanted the stone so that my mind would turn to Uther! They had reached her lodging, and she went inside and took off the moonstone, thrusting it into the pouch tied at her waist. How foolish, she thought, I do not believe in those old tales of love charms and love spells. She was a woman grown, nineteen years, not a passive child. She had a husband, she might even now be bearing in her womb the seed that would become the son he desired. And if her fancy should light on some man other than her husband, if she should wish to play the wanton, surely there were other men more appealing than that great boor, with his untidy hair like a Saxon’s and his Northman’s manners, upsetting mass, interrupting the High King’s breakfast. Why, she might as well take Gorlois’s man-at-arms, who was at least young and clear-skinned and handsome, to her bed. Not that she, as a virtuous wife, had any interest in taking any man whatsoever to her bed except her lawful husband.

And again, if she did, it would not be Uther. Why, he would be worse than Gorlois, a great clumsy oaf, even if his eyes were grey as the sea and his hands strong and unwrinkled ... . Igraine swore under her breath, took her distaff from the pack of her belongings, and sat down to spin. What was she doing daydreaming of Uther, as if she were seriously considering what Viviane had asked of her? Would Uther really be the next High King? She had seen the way he looked at her. But Gorlois said he was a lecher; might he look that way at any woman? If she must lose herself in daydreams, she might as well wonder something sensible, such as how Morgaine was faring without her mother, and if the housekeeper was keeping a watchful eye on Morgause so that she did not cast sheep’s eyes at the soldiers guarding the castle. Morgause, now, she might run about and lose her maidenhood to some handsome man without thought of honor and propriety; she hoped Father Columba would give the girl a good lecture.

My own mother chose what lovers she would, to father her children, and she was a great priestess of the Holy Isle. Viviane has done the same. Igraine let her spindle drop into her lap, frowning a little, thinking of Viviane’s prophecy that her child by Uther could be the great king that would heal the land and bring the warring peoples together in peace. What she had heard this morning at the King’s table convinced her that such a king was far to seek. She took up her spindle, in exasperation. They needed such a king now, not when some child not yet even conceived should grow to manhood. The Merlin was obsessed with old legends about kings-what was it one of the kings, was it Ectorius, had said, about Magnus the Great, the great war leader who had deserted Britain in quest of an emperor’s crown? Nonsense, to think a son of Uther could be this Magnus returned.

LATE THAT DAY a bell began to toll, and shortly after, Gorlois came into the house, looking sad and discouraged.

“Ambrosius died a few minutes ago,” he said. “The bell tolls for his passing.”

She saw the grief in his face and spoke to it.

“He was old,” she said, “and he was much loved. I met him only this day, but I can see he was the kind of man whom all those around him would love and follow.”

Gorlois sighed heavily. “True. And we have none such to come after him; he has gone and left us leaderless. I loved the man, Igraine, and I hated to see him suffer. If there were any successor worthy the name, I would rejoice that he has gone to his rest. But what will become of us now?”

A little later he asked her to set out his best clothing. “At sunset they will say a requiem mass for him, and I must be there. So should you, Igraine. Can you dress yourself with no woman to robe you, or shall I ask our host to send you a maid?”

“I can dress myself.” Igraine set about putting on her other gown, finely spun wool with embroidery at hem and sleeve, and braiding her silk ribbon into her hair. She ate a little bread and cheese; Gorlois would eat nothing, saying that with his king before the throne of God where his soul would be judged, he would fast and pray till he was buried.

Igraine, who had been taught in the Holy Isle that death was no more than the gateway to new birth, could not understand this; how could a Christian have such fear and trembling at going to his eternal peace? She remembered Father Columba chanting some of his doleful psalms. Yes, their God was supposed to be a God of fear and punishment as well. She could understand how a king, for the good of his people, might have to do some things which would lie heavy on his conscience. If even she could understand and forgive that, how could a merciful God be more bigoted and vengeful than the least of his mortals? She supposed it was one of their Mysteries.

She was still pondering these things when she went at Gorlois’s side to the mass, and listened to the priest singing dolefully about the judgment of God and the day of wrath when the soul should face eternal damnation. Halfway through this hymn she saw that Uther Pendragon, kneeling at the far end of the church, his face white above his pale tunic, lifted his hands to cover his face and conceal sobs; a few minutes later he got up and went out of the church. She realized that Gorlois was looking sharply at her, and lowered her eyes again to listen piously to the endless hymns.

But when the mass was over, the men clustered outside the church and Gorlois introduced her to the wife of King Uriens of North Wales, a plump, solemn matron, and to the wife of Ectorius, whose name was Flavilla, a smiling woman not a great deal older than Igraine. She chatted with the women for a moment, but their minds were all on what the death of Ambrosius would mean to the soldiers and to their husbands, and her mind wandered; she had little interest in women’s chatter, and their pious demeanor wearied her. Flavilla was about six moons pregnant, her belly beginning to bulge under her Roman-style tunics, and after a time their talk drifted to their families. Flavilla had borne two daughters who had died of the summer flux last year and she was hoping, this year, for a son. Uriens’ wife, Gwyneth, had a son about Morgaine’s age. They asked about Igraine’s child, and talked about the efficiency of bronze amulets against winter fevers, and the charm of laying a priest’s mass book in the cradle against the rickets.

“It is bad food which causes rickets,” Igraine said. “My sister, who is a healer-priestess, told me that no child who is suckled for two full years by a healthy mother ever suffers from rickets, but only if it is given to an ill-nourished wet nurse or weaned too soon and fed on gruel.”

“I call that foolish superstition,” Gwyneth said. “The mass book is holy and efficient against all illnesses, but particularly those of little children, who have been baptized against the sins of their fathers and have committed no sins of their own.”

Igraine shrugged impatiently, unwilling to argue such nonsense. The women went on talking about charms against childhood sicknesses, while she stood casting her eyes this way and that, waiting for an opportunity to leave them. After a time another woman joined them, whose name Igraine never knew; she too was bulging in late pregnancy, and the women immediately drew the newcomer into their talk, ignoring Igraine. After a time she slipped quietly away, saying (unheard) that she was going in search of Gorlois, and walked toward the back of the church.

There was a little graveyard there, and behind it an apple orchard, the branches whitened with blossom, pale in the twilight. The scent of the apple trees was fresh and welcome to Igraine, who found the smells of the city intrusive; dogs, and men too, relieved themselves in the stone streets. Behind every door was a smelly kitchen midden with everything from dirty rushes smelling of urine and rotting meat, to the contents of night pots. At Tintagel there was kitchen refuse and night soil too, but she had it buried every few weeks, and the clean smell of the sea washed away everything.

She walked slowly through the orchard. Some of the trees were very old, gnarled, with low-bending boughs. Then she heard a slight sound, and saw that on one of the low branches a man was sitting. He did not see Igraine; his head was bent, and his face was covered with his hands. But she knew, by the pale hair, that it was Uther Pendragon. She was about to turn and steal quietly away, knowing he would not want her to see his grief, but he had heard her light step and raised his head.

“Is it you, my lady of Cornwall?” His face twisted and looked wry. “Now you may run to tell the brave Gorlois that the war duke of Britain has hidden away to weep like a woman!”

She went swiftly to him, troubled by his angry, defensive face. She said, “Do you think Gorlois does not grieve, my lord? How cold and heartless any man should be, not to weep for the king he has loved all his days! If I were a man, I would not wish to follow any leader into war who would not weep for the dead whom he had loved, for fallen comrades or even for brave enemies.”

Uther drew a long breath, wiping his face with the embroidered sleeve of his tunic. He said, “Why, that’s true; when I was a young man, I slew the Saxon chief Horsa in the field, after many battles where he had challenged me and then escaped, and I wept for his death, because he was a gallant man. Even though he was a Saxon, I felt sorrow that we must be foemen instead of brothers and friends. But in the years between I have come to feel that I am too old to weep for what cannot be mended. And yet-when I heard the holy father in there, prating of judgment and eternal damnation before the throne of God, and I remembered how good and how pious a man Ambrosius was, and how he loved and feared God, and never skimped to do a kind or an honorable thing-sometimes I find this God of theirs too much to endure, and I almost wish I could listen without damnation to the wise Druids, who talk of no judgment but what a man brings on himself by the way he lives. If the holy bishop speaks sooth, Ambrosius now lies in the fires of Hell, not to be redeemed until the end of the world. I know little of Heaven, but I could wish to think my king there.”

She said, reaching out her hand to him, “I do not think the priests of Christ know any more of what comes after death than do any other mortal men. Only the Gods know. They tell us, in the Holy Isle where I was reared, that death is always the gateway to new life and further wisdom, and although I did not know Ambrosius well, I like to think he is now learning, at the feet of his God, what true wisdom can be. What wise God would consign a man to Hell for ignorance, instead of teaching him better in the afterlife?”

She felt Uther’s hand touch hers, and he said into the darkness, “Why, it is so. What is it their Apostle said-’Now I see as in a glass, darkly, but then I shall see face to face.’ Perhaps we do not know, not even the priests, what will befall beyond death. If God is all-wise, why should we imagine he will be less merciful than men? Christ, they say, was sent to us to show God’s love, not his judgment.”

They sat in silence for some time. Then Uther said, “Where did you learn such wisdom, Igraine? We have holy ladies in our church, but they are not married, nor do they move among us sinners.”

“I was born in the Isle of Avalon; and my mother was a priestess in the Great Temple there.”

“Avalon,” he said. “It lies in the Summer Sea, does it not? You were at the Council this morning; you know we are to go there. The Merlin has promised me that he will take me to King Leodegranz and introduce me to his court, although if Lot of Orkney has his way, Uriens and I will go back to Wales like dogs howling, with our tails between our legs; or we will fight in his train and pay him homage, which I will do when the sun rises over the western coast of Ireland.”

“Gorlois said you are sure to be the next High King,” Igraine said, and it struck her with sudden wonder that she was sitting here on a tree branch with the next High King of Britain, talking about religion and matters of state. He felt it too, she could sense it in the tone of his voice, when he said, “I never thought to discuss such matters with the wife of the Duke of Cornwall.”

“Do you truly think that women know nothing of state matters?” she asked. “My sister Viviane, like my mother before her, is the Lady of Avalon. King Leodegranz, and other kings, came often to consult with her about the fate of Britain-”

Uther said, smiling, “Perhaps I should consult with her on the best way to bring Leodegranz, and Ban of Less Britain, into my fellowship. For if they listen to her bidding, then all I must do is win her confidence. Tell me, is the Lady married, and is she handsome?”

Igraine giggled. “She is priestess, and priestesses of the Great Mother may not marry, nor make alliance with any mortal man. They belong to the Gods alone.” And then she remembered what Viviane had told her, and that this man sitting on the tree branch beside her was part of the prophecy; she stiffened, frightened of what she had done-was she walking on her own feet into the trap Viviane and the Merlin had set for her?

“What is it, Igraine? Are you cold? Are you frightened of war?” Uther asked.

She said, grasping at the first thing she could think of to say, “I have been talking to the wives of Uriens and sir Ectorius-they do not seem much concerned with matters of state. I think perhaps that is why Gorlois does not believe that I can know anything of them, either.”

Uther laughed. He said, “I know the ladies Flavilla and Gwyneth- they do indeed leave all things to their husbands, save those dealing with spinning and weaving and childbearing and such women’s things. Have you no interest in those things, or are you as young as you look, too young almost to be wedded, let alone have children to worry about?”

“I have been married four years,” Igraine said, “and I have a daughter who is three years old.”

“I could envy Gorlois that; every man wants children to succeed him. If Ambrosius had a son, we would not now be in this turmoil. Now-” Uther sighed. “I do not like to think of what will befall Britain if that toad of Orkney should come to be High King, nor Uriens, who thinks everything can be solved by sending a messenger to Rome.” Again his voice broke in a sob. “Men say I am ambitious to be High King, but I would give all my ambitions for Ambrosius to be sitting here on this tree branch beside us, or even a son of his, to be crowned in that church tonight! Ambrosius was frightened of what would befall when he was gone. He might have died last winter, but he hoped to make us agree on who should follow him-”

“How was it that he had no sons?”

“Oh, he had sons, two of them. One was slain by a Saxon; Constantine was his name, like to the king who converted this island. The other died of a wasting fever when he was but twelve years old. He said, often and often, that I had become the son he wanted.” He buried his face in his hands again, weeping. “He would have made me his heir as well, but that the other kings would not have it. They followed me as war duke, but others were jealous of my influence-Lot, damn him, was the worst. Not for ambition, Igraine, I swear it, but to finish what Ambrosius left undone!”

“I think everyone knows that,” she said, stroking his hand. She felt immobilized by his grief.

“I do not think Ambrosius could be happy, even in Heaven, if he looks down and sees the sorrow and confusion here, the kings already plotting, each one seeking to seize power for himself! I wonder if it would have been his will that I should murder Lot to take power? Once he made us swear the oath of blood brothers; I would not violate that,” Uther said. His face was wet with tears. Igraine, as she would have done with her child, took the light veil around her face and dried them.

“I know you will do what you must do in honor, Uther. No man Ambrosius trusted so much could do otherwise.”

The flare of a lighted torch suddenly struck across their eyes; she froze on the tree branch, her veil still at Uther’s face. Gorlois said sharply, “Is it you, my lord Pendragon? Have you seen-ah, madam, are you there?”

Igraine, feeling abashed and suddenly guilty at the sharpness of Gorlois’s voice, slipped off the tree branch. Her skirt caught on a projecting limb, hauled up above her knee so that she was bare to her linen drawers; she twitched it hastily down, and heard the fabric rip.

“I thought you lost-you were not in our lodging,” Gorlois said harshly. “What do you here, in Heaven’s name?”

Uther slipped off the tree branch. The man she had seen revealed, weeping for his lost king and foster-father, dismayed at the burden laid on him, had vanished in a moment; his voice was loud and hearty. “Why, Gorlois, I grew impatient at all the gabbling of that priest, and came out to find clear air with no pious mumblings; and your lady, who had found the blitherings of the good ladies not much more to her taste, happened upon me here. Madam, I thank you,” he said, with a distant bow, and strode away. She noticed he was careful to keep his face out of the torchlight.

Gorlois, alone with Igraine, looked at her with angry suspicion. He said, gesturing her to walk before him, “My lady, you should be more careful to avoid gossip; I told you to keep away from Uther. His reputation is such that no chaste woman should be seen in private conversation with him.”

Igraine turned and said angrily, “Is that what you think of me, that I am the sort of woman who will slip away to couple with a strange man like a beast in the field? Do you think I was lying with him on the branch of that tree, like some bird of the bough? Would you like to inspect my gown to see whether it is rumpled from lying with him on the ground?”

Gorlois lifted his hand and struck her, not very hard, across the mouth. “You will not play the shrew with me, madam! I told you to avoid him; obey me! I think you honest and chaste, but I would not trust you to that man, nor hear you made the subject of the tongues of women!”

“Surely there is no more evil mind than that of a good woman-unless perhaps it is the mind of a priest,” said Igraine wrathfully. She rubbed her mouth where Gorlois’s blow had knocked her lip against her teeth. “How dare you lay hands upon me? When I betray you, you may beat the flesh from off my bones, but I won’t be beaten for talk! Do you think, in the name of all the Gods, that we were talking of love?”

“And what were you talking about with that man, at this hour, in God’s name?”

“We talked of many things,” Igraine said, “and mostly of Ambrosius in Heaven, and-yes, of Heaven and what one could hope to find in the afterlife.”

Gorlois regarded her with a skeptical glare. “That I find unlikely, when he could not show respect for the dead by staying through the holy mass.”

“He was sickened-as I was-by all those doleful psalms, as if they were mourning the worst of men instead of the best of kings!”

“Before God all men are miserable sinners, Igraine, and in the eyes of Christ a king is no better than other mortals.”

“Yes, yes,” she said impatiently, “I have heard your priests say so, and also they spend much time and labor to tell us all that God is love and our goodly father in Heaven. Yet I notice they are very careful not to fall into his hands, and they mourn for those who go to their eternal peace, exactly as for those who go to be sacrificed on the blood altar of the Great Raven herself. I tell you, Uther and I were talking of what the priests know of Heaven, which I think is not very much!”

“If you and Uther spoke of religion, it is for certain the only time that man of blood ever did so!” Gorlois grumbled.

Igraine said, and now she was angry, “He was weeping, Gorlois; weeping for the king who had been as a father to him. And if it shows respect for the dead to sit and listen to the caterwauling of a priest, then may I never have such respect! I envied Uther, that he was a man and could come and go as he chose, and for sure, if I had been born a man, I would never have sat peacefully and hearkened to yonder foolishness in the church. But I was not free to go, being dragged thither at the word of a man who thinks more of priests and psalms than of the dead!”

They had reached the door of their lodging; Gorlois, his face turning dark with wrath, pushed her angrily within. “You will not speak to me in that voice, lady, or I shall beat you in earnest.”

Igraine realized that she had actually bared her teeth like a hunting cat, and her voice hissed as she said, “Touch me at your peril, Gorlois, or I shall teach you that a daughter of the Holy Isle is no man’s slave nor servant!”

Gorlois opened his mouth for an angry retort, and for a moment Igraine thought he would strike her again. Instead, with an effort, he mastered his anger and turned away from her. “It is not fitting that I stand here brawling when my king and my lord lies still unburied. You may sleep here tonight, if you are not afraid to be alone; if you are so, I shall have you escorted to the house of Ectorius, to sleep with Flavilla. My men and I will fast and pray until sunrise tomorrow, when Ambrosius will be laid in earth to rest.”

Igraine looked at him with surprise and a curious, growing contempt. So, for fear of the dead man’s shade-even though he called it by another name and thought of it as respect-he would not eat nor drink nor lie with a woman till his king was buried. Christians said they were free of the superstitions of the Druids, but they had their own, and Igraine felt that these were even more distressing, being separated from nature. Suddenly she was very glad that this night she need not lie with Gorlois. “No,” she said, “I am not afraid to be alone.”


Ambrosius was buried at sunrise. Igraine, escorted by a Gorlois still angry and silent, watched the ceremonies with a strange detachment. Four years she had struggled to compromise with the religion Gorlois followed. Now she knew that, while she would show his religion a courteous respect so as not to anger him-and indeed, her early teaching had taught her that all Gods were one, and no one should ever mock the name by which another found God-she would try no more to be as pious as he was. A wife should follow her husband’s Gods, and she would pretend to do so in a seemly and proper fashion, but she would never again fall prey to the fear that their all-seeing, all-vengeful God could have power over her.

She saw Uther during the ceremonies; he looked haggard and worn, his eyes red-rimmed, as if he, too, had fasted, sleepless; and somehow the sight touched her heart. Poor man, with none to care if he fasted, or to tell him what nonsense it was, as if the dead loitered near the living to see how they fared, and could be jealous of their eating and drinking! She would wager that King Uriens had committed no such folly; he looked fed and rested, and suddenly she wished that she were as old and wise as Uriens’ lady, who could speak to her husband and tell him what he should do in such matters.

After the burial Gorlois took Igraine back to their lodging and there broke his fast with her, but he was still silent and grim, and immediately afterward excused himself. “I must attend the Council,” he said. “Lot and Uther will be at one another’s throats, and somehow I must help them to recall what Ambrosius wanted. I am sorry to leave you alone here, but I will send a man to escort you around the city, if you wish.” He gave her a piece of coined money and bade her to buy herself a fairing at the market if she chose, and told her that his man would bear a purse as well, if she wished to choose spices and other things for the household in Cornwall. “For there is no reason for you to come so far, without purchasing some of the things it is needful for you to have. I am not a poor man, and you may buy whatever you need to keep a proper household, without consulting me; remember I trust you, Igraine,” he said, and laid his hands on either side of her face and kissed her. Although he did not say so, she knew he was in his own gruff way apologizing for his suspicions and his angry blow, and her heart warmed to him; she returned his kiss with real tenderness.

It was exciting to walk through the great markets of Londinium; dirty and smelly as the city was, it seemed like four or five harvest fairs all in one. The banner of Gorlois, borne by his man-at-arms, kept her from being jostled or pushed very much. Yet it was a little frightening to walk through the enormous market square, with a hundred vendors crying their wares. It seemed to her that everything she saw was new and beautiful, something she wished for, but she resolved to see all over the market before she made any purchases; and then she bought spices, and a length of fine woven wool from the islands, far finer than that of the Cornish sheep-Gorlois should have a new cloak this year; she would begin weaving a border for it as soon as she was back at Tintagel. And so she also bought for herself small hanks of dyed silks; it would be pleasant to weave on such brilliant colors, restful and fine to her hands after the coarseness of wool and flax. She would teach Morgause, too. And it would be high time, next year, to teach Morgaine to spin; if she indeed bore Uther another child, this time next year she would be heavy and ungainly and she could sit and teach her daughter to spin. Four years was certainly old enough to start learning to handle a spindle and twist the thread, even though the thread would not be good for much except tying up bundles of yarn for dyeing.

She also bought some colored ribbons; they would be handsome on Morgaine’s holiday gown, and they could be taken off each dress as the child outgrew it, and sewed at neck and sleeves of the new gown. It was only fitting, now that she was big enough not to soil her clothing, that she should be dressed suitably for the daughter of the Duke of Cornwall.

The market was doing a lavish business; at a distance she saw the wife of King Uriens, and other well-dressed ladies, and she wondered if every man in the Council who had a wife had sent her out to do her shopping in the markets of Londinium this morning while the debate raged. Igraine bought silver buckles for her shoes, even though she was sure she could have bought some just as fine in Cornwall, simply because it seemed a fine thing to have buckles to her shoes which had come all the way from Londinium. But when the man would have sold her a brooch with silver filigree all round an amber stone, she refused, shocked at spending all this money. She was very thirsty, and the display of men selling cider and hot pies tempted her, but it seemed an ugly thing to sit and eat in the open market like a dog. She told her man to come along back to the lodging, and resolved that there she would have some bread and cheese and beer. The man looked sullen, so she gave him one of the tiny coins left from her marketing and told him to buy himself a pot of cider or ale if he chose.

When she got back to her lodging, she was tired and sat listlessly looking over her purchases. She would have liked to begin work at once on the borders, but that must wait till she got back to her small loom. She had some spinning with her, but she felt too dull to do it, so she sat looking at her things until Gorlois, looking weary, came in.

He tried to take an interest in what she had bought, commending her frugality, but she could easily see that his mind was elsewhere, though he admired the ribbons for Morgaine’s dresses, and said that she had done well to buy the silver buckles. “You should have a silver comb, too, and perhaps a new mirror, your old bronze one is scratched. You can let Morgause have the old one, she is a grown girl now. Tomorrow you may go and choose one, if you will.”

“Will there be another meeting of the Council?”

“I fear so, and probably another and another, until we can argue Lot and the others into doing Ambrosius’ will and accepting Uther as High King.” Gorlois grunted. “Stubborn donkeys, all of them! Would that Ambrosius had left a son, then we could all swear him loyalty as High King and choose a war duke for his prowess in the field. There’d be no question then, it would be Uther; even Lot knows that. But Lot is damned ambitious to be High King, and sees only that it would be a fine thing to wear a crown and take oath from all of us. And there are men in the North who would rather have one of their own, and so they back up Lot-indeed, I think if Uther is chosen in the end, all the kings of the North, except perhaps Uriens, will ride away North with no fealty sworn at all. But even to keep the loyalty of the kings of the North, I’ll not swear to be Lot’s man. I trust him no further than I could kick his arse on a muddy day!” He shrugged. “This is dull hearing for a woman’s ears, Igraine. Set me some bread and cold meat, if you will. I slept not at all last night, and I am tired as if I had been on campaign all day; arguing is weary work.”

She started to say that she found it interesting, then shrugged to herself and let it be. She would not stoop to coax tales from him, as if she were a child begging for a nursery tale at bedtime. If she must learn what fared from the gossip of men in the marketplace, so be it. He would be weary this night, and wish for nothing but sleep.

She lay wakeful at his side, very late, and found herself thinking of Uther. How did it feel, to know he was the choice of Ambrosius for High King, and to know he must enforce that choice, probably at sword point? She twisted impatiently, wondering if the Merlin had indeed laid an enchantment on her, that she could not leave off thinking of Uther. At last she drifted into sleep, and in the country of sleep she found herself standing in the orchard where she had spoken with Uther, where she had dried his tears with her veil. Now, in the dream, he seized the end of her veil and drew her close to him with it, and laid his mouth to hers; and there was a sweetness in that kiss, a sweetness that she had never felt in all her years with Gorlois, and she found herself giving herself up to that kiss, felt her whole body melting with it. She looked into his blue eyes, and thought in the dream, I have always been a child, I have never known until this moment what it was to be a woman. She said, “I have never known what it was to love.” He drew her close to him, and laid his body over hers, and Igraine, feeling that warmth and sweetness suffusing her whole body, raised her lips to his again, and woke, with a start of amazement, to find that Gorlois had drawn her into his arms as he slept. The sweetness of the dream was still in her whole body, so that she put her arms round his neck with a drowsy compliance, but she quickly grew impatient, waiting till he should be done and had fallen again into a heavy, moaning sleep. And she lay awake, shaking, until dawn, wondering what had happened to her.

All that week the Council went on, and every night Gorlois came home pale and angry, worn out with wrangling. Once he burst out, “We sit here at talk, while on the shores the Saxon could be making ready to come to war against us! Don’t the fools know that our safety depends on the treaty troops’ holding the Saxon Shores, and that they will follow no man but Uther, or one of their own? Is Lot so prejudiced against Uther that he would rather follow a painted chief who serves the Horse God?”

Even the pleasures of the markets had paled; much of that week it rained, and Igraine, who had bought some needles on her second visit, sat and mended Gorlois’s clothes and her own, and wished she had her loom to do some fine weaving. She took some of the cloth she had bought and began to make some towels by hemming them and edging them with colored threads. In the second week her moon flux came on her, and she felt dismal and betrayed; Gorlois had not, after all, gotten on her the son he wanted. She was not yet twenty, she could hardly be barren already! She thought of an old tale she had heard, about a wife married to an elderly husband, who bore him no son until she slipped out one night and lay with a shepherd in his field, and her old husband was mighty pleased with the fine healthy boy. If she was barren, Igraine thought resentfully, it was more like than not to be Gorlois’s fault! He was the one who was old and his blood thinned with years of war and campaigns. And then she thought of her dream, between guilt and dismay. Merlin and Viviane had said it: she should bear a son to the High King, one who would heal the land of all this strife. Gorlois himself had said that if Ambrosius had left a son, there would not be all this wrangling. If Uther were chosen High King, it would indeed be needful for him to get a son at once.

And I am young and healthy, if I were his queen I could give him a son ... . And when she came again to this point she would weep with a sudden, trapped despair. I am married to an old man, and my life is over at nineteen. I might as well be an old, old woman, past caring whether I live or die, fit only to sit by the fire and think of Heaven! She took to her bed and told Gorlois she was ill.

Once during this week the Merlin came to her lodging while Gorlois was at the Council. She felt like flinging her rage and misery at him-he had begun this, she had been content and resigned to her fate until he had sent to waken her out of it! But it was unthinkable to speak rudely to the Merlin of Britain, father or no.

“Gorlois tells me you are ill, Igraine; can I do anything to help you with my healing arts?”

She looked at him in despair. “Only if you can make me young. I feel so old, Father, so old!”

He stroked her shining copper curls and said, “I see no grey in your hair nor wrinkles in your face, my child.”

“But my life is over, I am an old woman, the wife of an old man ... .”

“Hush, hush,” he soothed, “you are weary and ill, you will feel better when the moon changes again, surely. It is best like this, Igraine,” he said, looking sharply at her, and she suddenly knew that he read her thoughts; it was as if he spoke directly to her mind, repeating what he had said to her at Tintagel: You will bear Gorlois no son.

“I feel-trapped,” she said, and put her head down and wept and would not speak again.

He stroked her uncombed hair. “Sleep is the best medicine for your illness now, Igraine. And dreams are the true remedy for what ails you. I, who am master of dreams, will send one to cure you.” He stretched his hand over her in blessing and went away.

She wondered if something he had done, or some spell set by Viviane, was responsible-perhaps after all she had conceived Gorlois’s child and cast it from her; such things had happened. She could not imagine the Merlin sending to dose her beer with herbs or simples, but perhaps with his power he could ensure it with magic or spells. And then she thought perhaps it was for the best. Gorlois was old, she had seen the shadow of his death; did she want to rear a son of his to manhood alone? When Gorlois came back to their lodging that night, it seemed that once again she could see, hovering behind him, the shadow of the dreaded fetch, his death waiting, the sword cut over his eye, his face haggard with grief and despair; and she turned her face away from him, feeling, when he touched her, that she was embraced by a dead man, a corpse.

“Come, my dear one, you must not be so dismal,” Gorlois soothed, sitting on the bed beside her. “I know you are sick and wretched, you must be longing for your home and your child, but it will not be long now. I have news for you, listen and I’ll tell you.”

“Is the Council any nearer to their kingmaking?”

“It may be,” Gorlois said. “Did you hear a stir in the streets this afternoon? Well, Lot of Orkney and the kings of the North have departed; they have quite accepted it now, that we will not choose Lot to be High King until the sun and the moon rise together in the west, and so they have gone forth, leaving the rest of us to do what we know Ambrosius would have willed. If I were Uther-and I told him so much-I would not walk alone after sunset; Lot went away looking like a cur who’s had his tail cut off, and I wouldn’t think him incapable of curing his wronged pride by sending someone with a dirk on Other’s heels.”

She whispered, “Do you truly think Lot will try and kill Uther?”

“Well, he’s no match for Uther in a fight. A knife in the back, that would be Lot’s way. I’m as well pleased he’s not one of us, though it would ease my mind if Lot were sworn to keep the peace. An oath on some holy relic he dare not flout-and even then I’d watch him,” Gorlois said.

When they were in bed he turned to her, but she shook her head and pushed him away. “Yet another day,” she said, and, sighing, he turned away and fell almost instantly asleep. She could not, she thought, put him off much longer; yet a horror had come upon her, now that she saw again the doom-fetch hanging over him. She told herself that, whatever came, she should remain a dutiful wife to this honorable man who had been kind to her. And that brought back memory of the room where Viviane and the Merlin had shattered her security and all her peace. She felt tears surging up inside her, but tried to quiet her sobs, not wanting to wake Gorlois.

The Merlin had said that he would send her a dream to cure her misery, and yet all this had begun with a dream. She was afraid to sleep, fearing another dream would come to shatter such little peace as she had found. For she knew that this thing would shatter her life, if she allowed it; lay her promised word in shreds. And, although she was not herself a Christian, she had listened enough to their preaching to know that this was, by their standards, grave sin.

If Gorlois were dead ... Igraine caught her breath in a spasm of terror; for the first time, now, she had allowed herself to form that thought. How could she wish him dead-her husband, the father of her daughter? How could she know that, even if Gorlois were no longer standing between them, Uther would want her? How could she lie at one man’s side and long for another?

Viviane spoke as if this kind of thing happens often ... am I simply childish and naive, not to know?

I will not sleep lest I dream ... .

If she went on tossing about like this, Igraine thought, Gorlois would wake. If she wept, he would wish to know why. And what could she tell him? Silently Igraine slid from the bed, wrapped her long cloak about her naked body, and went to sit by the remnants of the dying fire. Why, she wondered, staring into the flames, should the Merlin of Britain, Druid priest, adviser of kings, Messenger of the Gods, meddle this way in the affairs of a young woman’s life? For that matter, what was a Druid priest doing as king’s councillor at a court supposedly Christian?

If I think the Merlin so wise, why am I not willing to do his will?

After a long time she felt her eyes tiring as she stared at the dying fire, and wondered if she should go back and lie down at Gorlois’s side, or if she should get up and walk about, lest she sleep and risk the Merlin’s promised dream.

She rose and walked silently across the room to the house door. In her present mood she was not altogether surprised to look back and see that her body still sat, cloak-wrapped, before the fire; she did not trouble to unbolt the door of the room, nor, later, the great front door of the house, but slipped through them both like a wraith.

And yet, outside, the courtyard of the house of Gorlois’s friend was gone. She stood on a great plain, where a ring of stones stood in a great circle, just touched by the rising light of dawn ... no; that light was not the sun, it was a great fire to the west, so that the sky stood all on fire.

To the west, where stood the lost lands of Lyonnesse and Ys and the great isle of Atlas-Alamesios, or Atlantis, the forgotten kingdom of the sea. There, indeed, had been the great fire, where the mountain had blown apart, and in a single night, a hundred thousand men and women and little children had perished.

“But the priests knew,” said a voice at her side. “For the past hundred years, they have been building the star temple here on the plains, so that they might not lose count of the tracking of the seasons, or of the coming of eclipses of the moon and sun. These people here, they know nothing of such things, but they know we are wise, priests and priestesses from over the sea, and they will build for us, as they did before ... .”

Igraine looked up, without surprise, at the blue-cloaked figure by her side, and although his face was very different, and he wore a strange high headdress crowned with serpent?, and golden serpents about his arms- torques or bracelets-his eyes were the eyes of Uther Pendragon.

The wind grew cold over the high windswept plain where the stone ring awaited the sun, rising over the heel stone. With the eyes of her living body Igraine had never seen the Temple of the Sun at Salisbury, for the Druids would not go near it. Who, they demanded, could worship the Greater Gods behind the Gods in a temple built by human hands? And so they held their rites within groves of trees, planted by the hands of the Gods. But when she was a girl, Viviane had told her of it, precisely calculated, by arts lost today, so that even those who did not know the secrets of the priests could tell when eclipses were to come, and trace the movements of stars and seasons.

Igraine knew that Uther, at her side-or was it indeed Uther, this tall man in the robe of a priesthood drowned centuries ago in a land now called legend?-was looking westward at the flaming sky.

“So at last it has come as they told us,” he said, and laid his arm about her shoulders. “I never truly believed it till this moment, Morgan.”

For a moment, Igraine, wife of Gorlois, wondered why this man should call her by the name of her child; yet even as she formed the question in her mind she knew that “Morgan” was not a name, but the title of a priestess, meaning no more than “woman come from the sea,” in a religion which even the Merlin of Britain would have found a legend and the shadow of a legend.

She heard herself say, without volition, “I too found it impossible, that Lyonnesse and Ahtarrath and Ruta should fall and vanish away as if they had never been. Do you believe it is true, that the Gods are punishing the land of Atlantis for their sins?”

“I do not believe the Gods work that way,” the man at her side said. “The land trembles in the great ocean beyond the ocean we know, and although the people of Atlantis spoke of the lost lands of Mu and Hy-Brasil, still I know that in the greatest ocean beyond the sunset, the land shakes, and islands rise and disappear even where the folk know nothing of sin or evil, but live as the innocent ones before the Gods gave us knowledge to choose good or ill. And if the earth Gods wreak vengeance on the sinless and the sinful alike, then this further destruction cannot be punishment for sins, but is in the way of all nature. I do not know if there is purpose in this destruction, or whether the land is not yet settled into its final form, even as we men and women are not yet perfected. Perhaps the land too struggles to evolve its soul and perfect itself. I do not know, Morgan. These things are matters for the highest Initiates. I know only that we have brought away the secrets of the temples, which we were pledged never to do, and thus we are forsworn.”

She said, shaking, “But the priests bade us to do so.”

“No priest can absolve us for that oath breaking, for a word sworn before the Gods resonates throughout time. And so we will suffer for it. It was not right that all the knowledge of our temples should be lost beneath the sea, and so we were sent away to bring the knowledge out, in full knowledge that we should suffer, life to life, for the breaking of that vow. It had to be, my sister.”

She said resentfully, “Why should we be punished beyond this life for what we were bidden to do? Did the priests think it right that we should suffer for obeying them?”

“No,” said the man, “but remember the oath we swore-” and his voice suddenly broke. “Swore in a temple now lost under the sea, where great Orion shall rule no more. We swore to share the lot of him who stole fire from heaven, that man should not live in darkness. Great good came of that gift of fire, but great evil too, for man learned misuse and wickedness ... and so he who stole the fire, even though his name is revered in every temple for bringing the light to mankind, suffers forever the torments where he is chained, with the vulture gnawing ever at his heart ... . These things are mysteries: that man can obey the priests blindly, and the laws they make, and live in ignorance, or he can disobey willfully, following the bringer of Light, and bear the sufferings of the Wheel of Rebirth. And look-” He pointed upward, to where the figure of the Greater-than-Gods swung, the three stars of purity and righteousness and choice in his belt. “He stands there still, though his temple is gone; and look, there the Wheel swings through his revolving path, even though the earth below may writhe in torment and cast temples and cities and mankind into a fiery death. And we have built here a new temple, so that his wisdom need never die.”

The man she knew to be Uther, within, laid his arm about her, and she knew that she was weeping. He pulled her face roughly up to his and kissed her, and she tasted salt from his own tears on his lips. He said, “I cannot regret it. They tell us in the temple that true joy is found only in freedom from the Wheel that is death and rebirth, that we must come to despise earthly joy and suffering, and long only for the peace of the presence of the eternal. Yet I love this life on Earth, Morgan, and I love you with a love that is stronger than death, and if sin is the price of binding us together, life after life across the ages, then I will sin joyfully and without regret, so that it brings me back to you, my beloved!”

Never in all her life had Igraine known a kiss such as this one, passionate, and yet it seemed as if some essence beyond mere lust held them bound to each other. At that moment memory flooded through her, of where she had first known this man-of the great marble pillars and golden stairs of the great Temple of Orion, and of the City of the Serpent below, with the avenue of sphinxes, beasts with bodies as of lions and faces of women, leading up the great road to the Temple ... here they stood on a barren plain, with a ring of undressed stones, and a fire to the west that was the dying light of the land of their birth, where they had dwelt together in the Temple since they were little children, and where they had been joined together in the holy fire, never to be parted while they should live. And now they had done that which would join them beyond death, too ... .

“I love this land,” he said violently again. “Here we stand where the temples are made with unhewn stone, and not with silver and gold and orichalcum, but already I love this land, so that I willingly give my life to keep it safe, this cold land where the sun never shines ... “ and he shivered beneath his cloak; but Igraine pulled him round, turning their backs on the dying fires of Atlantis.

“Look to the east,” she said, “for always, while the light dies in the west, there is the promise of rebirth from the east.” And they stood, clasped together, as the sun blazed, rising behind the eye of the great stone.

The man whispered, “This is indeed the great cycle of life and death ... “ and even as he spoke, he drew her to him. “A day will come when people will forget, and this will be no more than a ring of stones. But I will remember, and I will come back to you, beloved, I swear it.”

And then she heard the voice of the Merlin saying somberly, “Take care what you pray for, for you will certainly be given that.”

And silence; and Igraine found herself, naked, wrapped only in her cloak, huddled before the last cold ashes of the fire in her room in their lodging; and Gorlois snoring softly in the bed.

Shaking, she wrapped herself tightly in the shawl and crept, chilled to the bone, back to the bed, burrowing for some remnants of warmth. Morgan. Morgaine. Had she given her child that name because it was truly one she had borne? Was it only a bizarre dream sent by the Merlin, to convince her that once she had known Uther Pendragon in some former life?

But that had been no dream-dreams were confused, bizarre, a world where all is foolishness and illusion. She knew that somehow she had wandered into the Land of Truth, where the soul goes when the body is elsewhere, and somehow she had brought back not a dream but a memory.

One thing at least was made clear. If she and Uther had known each other, loved each other, in the past, it explained why she had this tremendous sense of familiarity with him, why he did not seem a stranger, why even his boorish-or boyish-manners seemed not offensive, but simply part of the person which he was and had always been. She remembered the tenderness with which she had dried his tears with her veil, knowing now that she had thought: yes, he was always so. Impulsive, boyish, rushing toward what he wanted, never weighing costs.

Had they truly brought the secrets of a vanished wisdom to this land, generations ago when the lost lands were newly vanished under the western ocean, and together incurred the penalties for that oathbreaking? Penalties? And then, not knowing why, she remembered that rebirth itself- human life-was supposed to be the penalty, life in a human body rather than endless peace. She curved her lips in a smile, thinking, Is it penalty, or reward, to live in this body? For thinking of the sudden wakening of her body in the arms of the man who was, or would be, or once had been, Uther Pendragon, she knew as she had never known before that, whatever the priests said, life, whether birth or rebirth, in this body, was reward enough.

She burrowed her body down in the bed, and lay, not sleepy now, looking into the darkness, smiling. So Viviane and the Merlin had known, perhaps, what it was fated for her to know: that she was bound to Uther by a bond which made her tie to Gorlois merely superficial and momentary. She would do as they willed; it was part of her destiny. She and the man who now was Uther had bound themselves, many lives ago, to the fate of this land, where they had come when the Old Temple was buried. Now, when once again the Mysteries were imperilled, this time by hordes of barbarians and wild men from the North, they returned together. It was given to her to bring to birth one of the great heroes who, so it was said, came back to life when they were needed, the king who was, and is, and will come again to save his people ... even the Christians had a version of the story, saying that when their Jesus was born, his mother had had warnings and prophecies that she would bear a king. She smiled in the darkness, thinking of the fate that was reuniting her with the man she had loved so many centuries before. Gorlois? What had Gorlois to do with her fate, except to make her ready? Otherwise, she might have been too young to understand what was to happen to her.

In this life I am not a priestess. Yet I know that I am still the obedient child of my fate; as all men and women must be.

And for the priests and the priestesses there is no tie of marriage. They give themselves as they must, in the will of the Gods, to bring forth those who are pivotal to the fates of mankind.

She thought of the great constellation called the Wheel, in the north. The peasants called it the Wain, or the Great Bear, shambling ever round and round the northernmost of the stars; but Igraine knew it symbolized, in its coming and going, the endless Wheel of Birth and Death and Rebirth. And the Giant who strode across the sky, the sword hanging from his belt ... for a moment it seemed to Igraine that she saw the hero who was to come, with a great sword in his hand, the sword of the conqueror. The priests of the Holy Isle would make certain that he had a sword, a sword out of legends.

At her side Gorlois stirred and reached for her, and she went dutifully into his arms. Her revulsion had quite gone in tenderness and pity, nor did she have any fear that he would get her with his unwanted child. That was not her fate. Poor, doomed man, he had no part in that mystery. He was one of the once-born; or, if he was not, he did not remember, and she was glad he had the comfort of his simple faith.

Later, when they rose, she heard herself singing; and Gorlois watched her curiously.

“It seems that you are well again,” he said, and she smiled. “Why, yes,” she said, “I have never been better.”

“Then the Merlin’s medicine did you good,” Gorlois said, and she smiled, and did not answer.


It seemed that nothing else was talked of in the city for several days-that Lot of Orkney had withdrawn and gone away to the North. It was feared that this would delay the final choice; but only three days later, Gorlois returned to the lodging, where Igraine was putting the final stitches into a new gown from the woven cloth she had found in the market, to say that the Council of Ambrosius’ advisers had done as they had known, all along, that Ambrosius would have wished, and chosen Uther Pendragon to rule over all Britain as High King among the kings of the land.

“But what of the North?” she asked.

“Somehow he will bring Lot to terms, or else he will fight him,” Gorlois said. “I do not like Uther, but he is the best fighter we have. I am not afraid of Lot, and I am sure Uther does not fear him either.”

Igraine felt the old stirring of the Sight, knowing that Lot had much to do in the years to come ... but she kept her peace; Gorlois had made it obvious that he did not like to hear her speak of men’s affairs, and she would rather not quarrel with a doomed man in the little time remaining to him.

“I see your new gown is finished. You shall wear it, if you will, when Uther is made High King in the church and crowned, and afterward he will hold court for all his men and all their ladies, before he goes to the West country for their kingmaking,” he said. “He bears the name Pendragon, Greatest Dragon, from the banner he bears, and they have some superstitious ritual about dragons and kingship-”

“The dragon is the same as the serpent,” Igraine volunteered. “A symbol of wisdom; a Druidical symbol.”

Gorlois frowned, displeased, and said that he had no patience with such symbols in a Christian country. “The anointing by a bishop should be enough for them.”

“But all people are not fitted for the higher Mysteries,” Igraine said. She had learned this as a child on the Holy Isle, and since her dream of Atlantis it seemed to her that all the early teaching about the Mysteries, which she thought she had forgotten, had assumed a new meaning and depth in her mind. “Wise men know that symbols are not needed, but the common folk of the countryside, they need their dragons flying for the kingship, just as they need the Beltane fires, and the Great Marriage when a king is wedded to the land-”

“Those things are forbidden to a Christian,” Gorlois said austerely. “The Apostle has said it, there is only one name under Heaven by which we may be saved, and all those signs and symbols are wicked. I would not be surprised to hear it of Other, that unchaste man, that he entangles himself in these lewd rites of pagandom, pandering to the folly of ignorant men. One day I hope to see a High King in Britain who will keep to Christian rites alone!”

Igraine smiled and said, “I do not think either of us will live to see that day, my husband. Even the Apostle in your holy books wrote that there was milk for babes and meat for strong men, and the common folk, the once-born, have need for their Holy Wells and their spring garlands and dancing rites. It would be a sad day for Britain if no Yule fires burned and no garlands fell into the Holy Wells.”

“Even the devils can quote the holy words amiss,” Gorlois said, but not angrily. “Perhaps this is what the Apostle meant, when he said that women should keep silence in the churches, for they are prone to fall into those errors. When you are older and wiser, Igraine, you will know better. Meanwhile, you can make yourself as fine as you please for the services in the church and for the merrymaking afterward.”

Igraine put on her new gown and brushed her hair until it shone like fine copper; and when she looked at herself in the silver mirror-Gorlois had sent to the market for it, after all, and had it brought to her-she wondered with a sudden fit of despondency whether Uther would even notice her. She was beautiful, yes, but there were other women, beautiful as she was, and younger, not married women who had borne children-why should he want her, old and used as she was?

All through the long ceremonies in the church, she watched intently as Uther was sworn and anointed by their bishop. For once the psalms were not doleful hymns of God’s wrath and punishment, but joyful songs, praising and offering thanks, and the bells sounded joyous instead of wrathful. Afterward in the house which had been Ambrosius’ headquarters, there were delicacies and wine and much ceremony, as one by one, Ambrosius’ war chiefs swore allegiance to Uther.

Long before it was over, Igraine grew weary. But at last it was done, and while the chiefs and their ladies congregated around the wine and the food, she moved a little away, watching the bright gathering. And there, at last, as she had been half aware that he would, Uther found her.

“My lady of Cornwall.”

She made a deep curtsey. “My lord Pendragon, my king.”

He said roughly, “There is no need for such formalities between us now, lady,” and caught her shoulders, so much as he had done in her dream that she stared, half expecting that she would see on his arms the golden serpent torques.

But he only said, “You are not now wearing the moonstone. It was so strange, that stone. When first I saw you wearing it, it was like to a dream I had. ... I had fever, last spring, and the Merlin attended me, and I had a strange dream, and I know now it was in that dream I first beheld you, long before ever I laid eyes on your face. I must have stared like a country lout, Lady Igraine, for I found myself struggling again and again to remember my dream, and what part you played in that dream, and the moonstone at your throat.”

She said, “I have been told that one of the virtues of the jewel, moonstone, is to awaken the true memories of the soul. I too have dreamed ... .”

He laid a light hand on her arm. “I cannot remember. Why is it that I seem to see you wearing something gold about your wrists, Igraine? Have you a golden bracelet in the form of-of a dragon, perhaps?”

She shook her head. “Not now,” she said, paralyzed at the awareness that he had, somehow and without her full knowledge, shared that strange memory and dream.

“You will be thinking me a boor and beyond all courtesy, my lady of Cornwall. May I offer you some wine?”

Silently she shook her head. She knew that if she tried to take a cup in her hand she would shake and spill it all over herself.

“I do not know what is happening to me,” Uther said violently. “All that has happened in these days-the death of my father and king, the strife of all these kings, their choosing me for High King-it seems unreal, and you, Igraine, are the most unreal of all! Have you been to the West, where the great ring of stones stands on the plain? They say that in olden time it was a Druid temple, but the Merlin says not, it was built long before the Druids came to these lands. Have you been there?”

“Not in this life, my lord.”

“I wish I could show it to you, for I dreamed once I was there with you-oh, don’t think me a madman, Igraine, chattering always of dreams and prophecy,” he said with that sudden, boyish smile. “Let us talk very sedately of ordinary things. I am a poor Northern chief who has suddenly Wakened to find himself High King of Britain, and perhaps I am a little mad with the strain!”

“I shall be sedate and ordinary.” Igraine agreed with a smile. “And if you were a wedded man I would ask you how your wife did and if your oldest son had trouble with-oh, what is the most ordinary thing I could ask you-whether he was done teething before the hot weather, or if he had a skin rash from his swaddling clothes!”

He chuckled. “You will be thinking I am old not to be a married man,” he said. “I’ve had women enough, God knows. I should not say that, perhaps, to the wife of my most Christian of chiefs; Father Jerome would say I had had all too many women for the health of my soul! But I never saw one I cared for, when we rose from bedding, and I always feared that if I wedded some woman before we bedded, I would tire of her in such manner. It seemed to me always that there should be some tie stronger than that between man and women, though the Christians seem to think that is enough-what is it they say, it is better to marry than to burn? Well, I did not burn, for I slaked the fire, and when I had spent it, the fire went out, and yet I feel that there could be a burning which would not spend itself so quickly, and it should be such a one I could marry.” Abruptly he asked her, “Do you love Gorlois?”

Viviane had asked her this, and she had said that it did not matter. She had not known what she was saying. Now she said quietly, “No. I was given to him when I was too young to care what man I married.”

Uther turned away and paced angrily, saying at last, “And I can see you are no wench to tumble, and why in the name of all the Gods I must be bewitched by a woman who is wedded to one of my most loyal partisans-”

So the Merlin had worked his meddlesome magic on Uther too. But now Igraine did not resent it. It was their destiny, and what would come, must come. But she could not believe it was her destiny to betray Gorlois crudely, here like this. It was like a part of her dream of the great plain, so that she could almost see the shadow of the great ring of stones, when he laid his hand on her shoulder. But she was confused, No, that was another world, and another life. It seemed that her whole soul and body cried out within her for the reality of that kiss in their dream. She put her hands over her face and wept. He stared at her, dismayed and helpless, backing away a little.

“Igraine,” he whispered. “What can we do?”

“I don’t know,” she said, sobbing, “I don’t know.” Her certainty had become a miserable confusion. Had the dream been sent only to bewitch her, by magic, into a betrayal of Gorlois and her own honor and sworn word?

A hand fell on her shoulder, heavy and disapproving. Gorlois looked angry and suspicious.

“What is this unseemly matter, my lady? What have you been saying, my king, that my wife looks so wretched? I know you a man of lewd manners and little piety, but even so, sire, common decency should restrain you from approaching a vassal’s wife at your crowning!”

Igraine raised her face to him in anger. “Gorlois, I have not deserved this of you! What have I ever done that you should cast such an accusation at me in a public place?” For indeed heads were turning now, hearing angry words spoken.

“Then why, lady, do you weep, if he has said nothing unseemly to you?” His hand, gripping her wrist, felt as if he would crush it.

“As for that,” Uther said, “you must ask the lady why she weeps, for I do not know. But loose her arm, or I will make you. Husband or no, no one shall handle any woman roughly in my house.”

Gorlois let go of Igraine’s arm. She could see the marks of his fingers already reddening into dark bruises; she rubbed the marks, tears streaming down her face. Before the many faces surrounding them she was appalled, as if she had been taken and shamed; she covered her face with her veil and wept harder than ever. Gorlois pushed her before him. She did not hear what he said to Uther; only when they were outside in the street did she stare at him, amazed.

He said in a rage, “I will not accuse you before all men, Igraine, but God is my witness I should be justified in doing so. Uther looked at you just now as a man looks at a woman he has known as no Christian man has a right to know any other man’s wife!”

Igraine, feeling her heart pounding in her breast, knew it was true, and felt confusion and despair. In spite of the fact that she had seen Uther only four times, and dreamed twice of him, she knew that they had looked at each other and spoken to each other as if they had been lovers for many years, knowing all and more than all about each other, body and mind and heart. She recalled her dream, where it seemed that they had been bound for many years by a tie which, if it was not marriage, might as well have been so. Lovers, partners, priest to priestess-whatever it was called. How could she tell Gorlois that she had known Uther only in a dream, but that she had begun to think of him as the man she had loved so long ago that Igraine herself was not yet born, was a shadow; that the essence within her was one and the same with that woman who had loved that strange man who bore the serpents on his arms in gold ... . How could she say this to Gorlois, who knew, and wished to know, nothing of the Mysteries?

He pushed her ahead of him into their lodging. He was ready, she knew, to strike her if she had spoken; but her silence frustrated him even more. He shouted, “Have you nothing to say to me, my wife?” and gripped her already bruised arm so strongly that she cried out anew with the pain of his hand. “Did you think I did not see how you looked at your paramour?”

She wrenched her arm away from him, feeling as if he would actually tear it out of the socket. “If you saw that, then you saw me turn away from him when he would have had no more than a kiss! And did you not hear him say to me that you were his loyal supporter and he would not take the wife of his friend-”

“If I was ever his friend, I am so no more!” Gorlois said, his face dark with fury. “Do you truly think I shall support a man who would take my wife from me, in a public place, shaming me before all his assembled chiefs?”

“He did not!” Igraine cried out, weeping. “I have never so much as touched his lips!” It seemed all the more vicious since she had indeed desired Uther but had kept herself scrupulously away from him. Why, if I am to be accused of guilt when I am innocent of any wrongdoing even as he would call it so, why should I not have done what Uther wished?

“I saw how you looked at him! And you have kept apart from my bed since first you set eyes on Uther, you faithless whore!”

“How do you dare!” she gasped, raging, and caught up the silver mirror he had given her, flinging it at his head. “Take back that word, or I swear I will throw myself into the river before ever you touch me again! You lie, and you know you lie!”

Gorlois ducked his head and the mirror crashed against the wall. Igraine snatched off her amber necklace-another new gift from her husband-and flung it after the mirror; with hasty fingers tore off the fine new gown and hurled it at his head. “How dare you call me such names, who have loaded me with gifts as if I were one of your camp followers and fancy women? If you think me a whore, where are the gifts I have received from my lovers? All the gifts I have are given me by my husband, the whoreson foul-mouthed cullion who tries to buy my goodwill for his own lusts because the priests have made him half a eunuch! From now on I will wear the weaving of my own fingers, not your disgusting gifts, you knave whose mouth and mind are as foul as your filthy kisses!”

“Be silent, you evil-minded scold!” Gorlois shouted, striking her so hard that she fell to the ground. “Now get up and cover yourself decently as a Christian woman should, not tearing off your clothes so that I will go mad with looking at you like that! Is that how you seduced my king into your arms?”

She scrambled to her feet, kicking the ruins of the gown as far as she could, and rushed at him, striking his face again and again. He grabbed her, trying to hold her motionless; crushed her into his arms. Igraine was strong, but Gorlois was a big man and a warrior, and after a moment her struggles subsided, knowing they were useless.

He whispered, pushing her toward the bed, “I will teach you better than to look at any man that way except your rightful husband!”

She flung her head back in contempt and said, “Do you think I would ever look at you again except with the loathing I would feel for a snake? Oh, yes, you can take me to bed and force me to do your will, your Christian piety permits you to ravish your own wife! I do not care what you say to me, Gorlois, because I know in my own heart that I am innocent! Until this very moment I felt guilty that some witchcraft or spell had made me love Uther. Now I wish I had done what he begged of me, if only because you were as ready to believe lies of my guilt as the truth about my innocence, and while I was anxious for my own honor and yours, you were prepared to believe I would fling mine to the winds!”

The contempt in her voice made Gorlois drop his arms and stare at her. He said, his voice husky, “Do you mean that, Igraine? Are you truly innocent of wrongdoing?”

“Do you think I would stoop to lie about it? To you?”

“Igraine, Igraine,” he said humbly, “I know well I am too old for you, that you were given to me without love and without your will, but I thought, perhaps, in these days, you have come to think a little better of me, and when I saw you weeping before Uther-” His voice choked. “I could not bear it, that you should look like that at that lustful and vicious man, and look on me only with duty and resignation-forgive me, forgive me, I do beg it of you-if indeed I wronged you-”

“You wronged me,” she said, her voice stinging with ice, “and you do well to beg my pardon, which you shall not have until the hells rise and the Earth sinks beneath the western ocean! Better you should go and make your peace with Uther-do you truly think you can stand against the wrath of the High King of Britain? Or will you end by buying his favor as you sought to buy mine?”

“Be still!” Gorlois said angrily, his face flushing; he had humbled himself before her, and she knew he would never forgive her for that either. “Cover yourself!”

Igraine realized that she was still bare to the waist. She went to the bed where her old gown was lying and pulled it leisurely over her head, doing up the laces. He gathered up her amber necklace from the floor, and the silver mirror, and held them out to her, but she turned her eyes away and ignored them and after a while he laid them on the bed, where she let them lie without looking at them.

He stared at her for a moment, then pushed the door and went out.

Left alone, Igraine began to put her things into her saddlebags. She did not know what she meant to do; perhaps she would go and find the Merlin, take him into her confidence. It was he who had begun this train of events that had put her and Gorlois at such odds. At least she knew she would no longer dwell with complacency under Gorlois’s roof. A pain struck at her heart: they had been wedded under Roman law and by that law Gorlois had absolute power over their daughter, Morgaine. Somehow she must contrive to dissemble until she could get Morgaine away to a place of safety! She could perhaps send her to Viviane, at the Holy Isle, for fostering.

She left the jewels Gorlois had given her lying on the bed, packing with her only the gowns she had woven with her own hands at Tintagel, and for jewels, only the moonstone Viviane had given her. Later she realized it was this moment or two of delay which had cost her escape, for while she was laying out the gifts he had given her on the bed, separating her own things from them, Gorlois came back into the room. He cast one swift glance at her packed saddlebags, and nodded curtly. “Good,” he said, “you are making ready to ride. We will leave before sunset.”

“What do you mean, Gorlois?”

“I mean that I have cast back my oath in Uther’s face and told him what I should have told him at once. Henceforth we are enemies. I go now to organize the defense of the West against the Saxons and the Irish, should they come there; I have told him that if he seeks to bring his armies into my country I will hang him like the felon he is from any handy tree.”

She stared at him; at last she said, “You are mad, my husband. The men of Cornwall cannot hold the West country alone if the Saxons should come there in force. Ambrosius knew that; the Merlin knows that; God help me, I know it, and I am no more than a home-keeping woman! Will you strike down in one moment of madness everything that Ambrosius lived for and spent his last years struggling for because of some insane quarrel with Uther over your own mad jealousy?”

“You are quick to care for Uther!”

“I should be quick to pity the Saxon chief himself, if he lost his hardiest supporters in a quarrel with no foundation! In God’s name, Gorlois, for our very lives and the lives of the people who look to you for help if the Saxons come, I beg of you to amend this quarrel with Uther, and not to break up the alliance this way! Lot has already gone; if you go, there will be none but treaty troops and a few minor kings to follow him in the defense of Britain!” She shook her head in despair. “Would that I had thrown myself from the cliffs at Tintagel before ever I came to Londinium! I will take any oath you like, that I have never so much as touched Uther Pendragon’s lips! Will you break the alliance for which Ambrosius died, because of a woman?”

Gorlois glowered at her and said, “Even had Uther never set eyes on you, my lady, I should not in conscience follow a man of lewdness, so bad a Christian; I trust Lot not at all, but I now know that I should trust Uther less. I should have listened from the first to the voice of my conscience, and I would never have agreed to support him at all. Put my clothing into the other saddlebag. I have sent for the horses and our men-at-arms.”

She looked at his implacable face and knew that if she protested he would beat her again. Silently, with seething anger, she obeyed. Now she was trapped, she could not flee, not even to the Holy Isle under her sister’s protection-not while Gorlois held her daughter at Tintagel.

She was still laying folded shirts and tunics into the saddlebags when she heard alarm bells begin to ring. Gorlois said curtly, “Stay here!” and hurried out of the house.

Angry, Igraine hurried after him, only to find herself faced by a burly man-at-arms, one of Gorlois’s men she had not seen before. He thrust his pike sideways across the house door, preventing her from stepping across the sill. His Cornish dialect was so thick that she could hardly understand his words, but she made out that the Duke had commanded his lady was to keep safely within the house; he was there to see that she stayed so.

It would be beneath her dignity to struggle with the man, and she had a shrewd suspicion that if she did he would simply bundle her like a sack of meal across the threshold. In the end, she sighed and went back inside the house, finishing her packing. From the street she heard cries and clamor, the sounds of men running, bells ringing in the nearby church, although it was not the hour for services. Once she heard a clashing of swords and wondered if the Saxons were in the city and among them-it would indeed be a good time for an attack, when Ambrosius’ chiefs were all at odds! Well, that would solve one of her problems, but what would become of Morgaine, alone at Tintagel?

The day wore on, and near nightfall Igraine began to be afraid. Were the Saxons at the gates of the city, had Uther and Gorlois quarreled again, was one or the other of them dead? When at last Gorlois thrust open the door of the room, she was almost glad to see him. His face was drawn and distant, his jaw clenched as if in great grief, but his words to Igraine were brief and uncompromising.

“We ride at nightfall. Can you keep your saddle, or shall I have one of my men carry you on a pillion? We shall have no time to delay for a lady’s pace.”

She wanted to batter at him with a thousand questions, but she would not give him the satisfaction of seeming to care. “While you can ride, my husband, I can keep to my saddle.”

“See that you do, then, for we shall not halt long enough for you to change your mind. Wear your warmest cloak; it will be cold riding at night, and the sea fog is coming in.”

Igraine tied up her hair into a knot and wrapped her thick cloak over the tunic and breeches she always put on for riding. Gorlois lifted her to the horse’s back. The street was thickly clustered with the dark forms of men-at-arms with their long spears. Gorlois spoke in low tones to one of the captains, then strode back and mounted; there were a dozen horsemen and soldiers riding behind Gorlois and Igraine at their head. He took the reins of Igraine’s horse himself and said with an angry jerk of his head, “Come.”

She was not sure of the way; she rode in silence where Gorlois led, through the falling dusk. Somewhere against the sky there was fire, but Igraine did not know whether it was a soldier’s watch fire, or a house somewhere in flames, or simply the cooking fires of the travelling peddlers encamped in the marketplace. She had never learned her way through the thickly clustered houses and streets to the river, but as the thick fog began to blow in wisps across their path, she supposed they were coming to the riverbank, and after a time she heard the creaking of the rope windlass which controlled the heavy planking rafts of the ferry.

One of Gorlois’s men, dismounting, led her horse aboard; Gorlois rode at her side. A few of the men swam their horses. She realized it must be very late-at this time of year the light lingered long, and it was almost unheard of to ride at night. Then she heard a cry from the shore.

“They are going! They are going! First Lot, and then my lord of Cornwall, and we are unprotected!”

“All the soldiers are leaving the town! What will we do when the Saxons land on the south coast?”

“Cowards,” someone yelled from the shore as the ferry, with a great creaking, began to move away. “Cowards, running away with the countryside aflame!”

A stone came whizzing out of the dark. It struck one of the men-at-arms on his leather breastplate. He swore, but Gorlois spoke to him in a sharp undertone and he grumbled into silence. There were a few other insults hurled from the shore and a few more stones, but they were quickly out of range. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark Igraine could see Gorlois, his face pale and set like a marble statue. He did not speak to her all that night, although they rode till dawn, and even when the dawn came up red and dripping behind them, turning the world to crimson fog, they stopped only a little while for horses and men to rest. Gorlois laid a cloak for Igraine to lie down on for a little while, and brought her some hard bread and cheese and a cup of wine, soldier’s rations, but still he did not speak to her. She was weary and bruised from riding, and confused; she knew that Gorlois had quarreled with Uther and withdrawn his men, but nothing more. Would Uther have let him go without protest? Well, Lot had been let go.

After a short rest, Gorlois brought the horses again and would have lifted her into the saddle, but here Igraine rebelled.

“I will ride no further until you tell me where we ride, and why!” She kept her voice down, not wanting to shame Gorlois before his men, but she faced him fearlessly. “Why do we steal from Londinium like thieves in the night? Now you will tell me what is happening, unless you wish to have me tied to my horse’s back and carry me screaming aloud all the way to Cornwall!”

“Do you think I would not do that if I must?” Gorlois said. “Don’t seek to cross me, you for whom I have forsworn a lifetime of honor and oaths kept, and set the memory of my king at nothing!”

“How can you dare to blame me for that,” Igraine flung at him. “You did it not for me but for your own insane jealousy! I am innocent of whatever sins your evil mind believes I have committed-”

“Silence, woman! Uther, too, swore that you were innocent of wrong. But you are a woman and you put some enchantment on him, I suppose -I went to Uther, hoping to mend this quarrel, and do you know what proffer that evil and lustful man made to me? He demanded of me that I should divorce you and give you to him!”

Igraine stared at him with wide-open eyes. “If you think so evil of me, that I am adulteress, witch, all these ill things, why then did you not rejoice at the prospect of getting quit of me so simply?”

And inside her was a new rage, that even Uther should think of her as a woman to be given away without her own consent, that he went to Gorlois and besought him to give the unwanted woman, even as Gorlois himself had asked her of the Lady of Avalon! Was she a horse to be sold at the spring fair, then? One part of her quivered with a secret pleasure- Uther wanted her, he wanted her enough that he would quarrel with Gorlois and alienate his allies by this quarrel over a woman. And with another part of her being she was enraged. Why had he not besought her, of herself, that she should put away Gorlois and come to him of her free will?

But Gorlois was attending seriously to her question. “You swore to me that you were not an adulteress. And no Christian man may put his wife away save for the sole cause of adultery.”

Between impatience and sudden compunction, Igraine held her peace. She could not be grateful to him, but at least he had listened to what she said. Yet it occurred to her that it was mostly his pride; even if he believed she had betrayed him, he would not want his soldiers to think that his young wife preferred another man to himself. Perhaps he would even rather condone the sin of adultery than let them think he could not keep the loyalty of a young woman.

She said, “Gorlois-” but he silenced her with a gesture. “Enough. I have no patience to change many words with you. Once in Tintagel, there you may forget this folly at leisure. As for the Pendragon, he will have quite enough to do at war on the Saxon Shores. If you were glamoured by him, well, you are young and a woman, with small knowledge of the world or of men. I will reproach you no more; within a year or two, you will have a son’to take your mind from this man who has struck your fancy.”

In silence, Igraine allowed Gorlois to lift her to her horse. He must believe whatever it was that he believed, there was nothing she could say to penetrate that iron surface. Yet her mind went back stubbornly to what Viviane and the Merlin had said: that her destiny and Uther’s were bound. After her dream she believed it, she knew why they had come back together. She had begun to accept that this was the will of the Gods. Yet here she was, riding away from Londinium with Gorlois, the alliance in ruins, and Gorlois evidently determined that Uther never set eyes on her again. Certainly with a war on the Saxon Shores Uther would have no leisure to journey to the world’s end at Tintagel, and even if he could, there was no way he could make his way into that castle, which could be defended by only a few men until the sky fell. Gorlois could leave her there, and there she would stay till she was an old woman, shut up bleakly behind walls and the great chasms and crags of rock. Igraine put her cloak over her face and wept.

She would never see Uther again. All the plans of the Merlin were in wreck and ruin; she was bound to an old man she hated-she knew, now, that she hated him, which she had never before allowed herself to know- and the man she loved could think of nothing better to do than to try and bully the proud Gorlois into giving her up of his own free will! Later, she thought she must have wept all through the long journey, all the days and nights which they travelled across the moors and down through the valleys of Cornwall.

On the second night they camped and pitched tents for a proper rest. She welcomed hot food and a chance to sleep within a tent, even though she knew she could no longer avoid Gorlois’s bed. She could not cry out and struggle with him, not when they slept in a tent ringed about by his soldiers. She had been his wife four years; no one alive would believe a tale of ravishment. She would not have the strength to fight him, nor would she want to lose her dignity in a sordid struggle. She set her teeth and resolved to let him do as he would-although she wished she had some of the charms which were said to protect the maidens of the Goddess. When they lay with men at the Beltane fires, they conceived only when they willed it so. It seemed too bitter, that he should beget the son he wanted when she was humbled this way, beaten down utterly.

The Merlin had said it: You will bear Gorlois no son. But she did not trust to the Merlin’s prophecy, not now when she saw the wreck of all his plans. Cruel, scheming old man! He used her as men had always used their daughters since the Romans came, pawns who should marry this man or that as their fathers desired, chattels like a horse or a milk goat! She had found some peace with Gorlois, and that peace had been broken, cruelly and for nothing! She wept silently as she made ready for bed, resigned, despairing, not even confident enough of her own power to drive him away with angry words-she could see from his manner that he was ready to prove himself in possession of her, to drive away memories of any other man by forcing her to take heed of him in the only way he could enforce himself upon her.

His familiar hands on her, his face over her in the dark, were like those of a stranger. And yet, when he drew her to him, he was unable; limp and powerless, and although he pulled and clasped her, trying desperately to rouse himself, it came to nothing, and at last he let her go with a furious whispered curse.

“Have you put some spell upon my manhood, you accursed bitch?”

“I have not,” she said, low, with contempt, “although indeed, if I knew such spells I would have been glad to do so, my strong and gallant husband. Do you expect me to weep because you cannot take me by force? Try it, and I shall lie here and laugh into your face!”

For a moment he raised himself, clenching his fist.

“Yes,” she said, “strike me. It will not be the first time. And perhaps it will make you feel enough like a man that your spear will rise into action!”

With a furious oath, he turned his back on her and lay down again, but Igraine lay awake, shaking, knowing that she had had her revenge. And indeed, all the way to Cornwall, no matter how he tried, Gorlois found himself powerless to touch her, until at last Igraine began to wonder if indeed, without being aware of it, her very righteous wrath had indeed cast some enchantment on his manhood. Even then she knew, with the sure intuition of the priestess-trained, that he would never be potent with her again.


Cornwall seemed more than ever at the very end of the world.

In those first days, after Gorlois had left her there under guard-coldly silent now, and without a word for her, good or bad-Igraine had found herself wondering whether Tintagel existed at all in the real world anymore, or whether, like Avalon, it existed only in the mist kingdom, the fairy kingdom, bearing no relationship to the world she had visited in her one brief venture outside.

Even during this brief absence it seemed that Morgaine had grown from babe to small girl, a serious, quiet, small girl who questioned incessantly everything she saw. Morgause too had grown, her body rounding, her childish face taking on definition with its high cheekbones and long-lashed eyes under dark brows; she was, Igraine thought, beautiful, not aware that Morgause was the twin of herself at fourteen. Morgause was ecstatic with the gifts and fairings Igraine had brought her; she frisked around Igraine like a playful puppy, and around Gorlois too. She chattered to him excitedly, practiced sidelong looks, and tried to sit in his lap as if she were a child Morgaine’s age. Igraine saw that Gorlois did not laugh and push her off like a puppy, but stroked the long red hair, smiling, and pinched her cheek.

“You are too big for such foolishness, Morgause,” she said sharply. “Say your thanks to my lord of Cornwall and take your fairings to your room. And put away the silks, for you will not wear such things till you are grown. Don’t think to play the lady here just yet!”

Morgause gathered up the pretty things and went weeping to her room. Igraine saw that Gorlois followed the girl with his eyes. She thought, appalled, Morgause is only fourteen, then remembered in dismay that she herself had been but a year older when she was given to Gorlois as his bride.

Later she saw them together in the hall, Morgause laying her head confidingly on Gorlois’s shoulder, and saw the look in her husband’s eyes. Hard anger struck her, not so much for the girl as for Gorlois. She saw that they moved uneasily apart as she came into the hall, and when Gorlois had gone away, she looked at Morgause, her eyes unsparing, until Morgause giggled uneasily and stared at the floor.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Igraine? Are you afraid that Gorlois likes me better than you?”

“Gorlois was too old for me; is he not that much older than you? With you, he thinks he would have me back as he first knew me, too young to say him nay or to look at another man. I am no longer a pliant girl but a woman with a mind of her own, and perhaps he thinks you would be easier to deal with.”

“Perhaps, then,” Morgause said, insolent now, “you should look to keeping your own husband content, instead of complaining that some other woman can do for him what you cannot.”

Igraine raised her hand to slap the girl, then by sheer force of will, kept herself still. She said, summoning all her self-discipline, “Do you think it matters to me whom Gorlois takes to his bed? I am certain he has had his share of trollops, but I would rather my sister was not among them. I have no wish for his embraces, and if I hated you, I would give you to him willingly. But you are too young. As I was too young. And Gorlois is a Christian man; if you let him lie with you and he gets you with child, he will have no choice but to marry you off in haste to whatever man-at-arms will have used goods-these Romans are not like our own people, Morgause. Gorlois may be smitten with you, but he will not put me away and take you to wife, believe me. Among our own people, maidenhood is of no great consequence-a woman of proven fertility, swelling with a healthy child, is a most desirable wife. But it is not so with these Christians, I tell you; they will treat you as one shamed, and the man he persuades to marry you will make you suffer all your life long that he did not have the planting of the child you bear. Is that what you want, Morgause, who could marry a king if you chose? Will you throw yourself away, sister, to spite me?” Morgause went pale. “I had no idea-” she whispered. “Oh, no, I do not want to be shamed-Igraine, forgive me.”

Igraine kissed her and gave her the silver mirror and the amber necklace, and Morgause stared at her.

“But these are Gorlois’s gifts-”

“I have sworn I will never again wear his gifts,” she said. “They are yours, for that king the Merlin saw in your future, sister. But you must keep yourself chaste till he comes for you.”

“Have no fear,” Morgause said and smiled again. Igraine was glad that this reminder had caught Morgause’s ambition; Morgause was cool and calculating, she would never be swayed by emotion or impulse. Igraine wished, watching her, that she too had been born without the capacity to love.

I wish I could be content with Gorlois, or that I could seek coldly-as Morgause would surely do-to rid myself of Gorlois and be Uther’s queen.

Gorlois stayed at Tintagel only four days, and she was glad to see him go. He left a dozen men-at-arms at Tintagel, and when he left, he called her to him.

“You and the child will be safe here, and well guarded,” he said curtly. “I go to gather the men of Cornwall against Irish raiders or Northmen- or against Uther, should he seek to come and take what is not his own, woman or castle.”

“I think Uther will have too much to do in his own country for that,” Igraine said, tightening her mouth against despair.

“God grant it,” Gorlois said, “for we have enough enemies without him, too. But I could wish him to come, so that I might show him Cornwall is not his, as he thinks all else is his own for the taking!”

To that Igraine said nothing. Gorlois rode away with his men, and Igraine was left to set her house in order, to recover her old closeness with her child, to try to mend her broken friendship with her sister Morgause.

But the thought of Uther was always with her, busy herself as she might with domestic tasks. It was not even the real Uther who haunted her, the man she had seen in orchard and court and in the church, impulsive and a little boyish, even somewhat boorish and clumsy. That Uther, the Pen-dragon, the High King, frightened her a little-she thought she might even be a little afraid of him, as she had once been of Gorlois. When she thought of Uther the man, thought of kisses and embraces and what more he might desire of her, at times she felt that melting sweetness she had known in her dream, but at other times she was seized with a panic terror, like the ravished child who had risen the morning after her wedding, cold with fear and dread. The thought of the act of marriage seemed terrifying and even grotesque to her, as it had seemed then.

What came back to her, again and again, in the silence of the night when she lay with Morgaine sleeping at her side, or when she sat on the terrace by the sea and guided her daughter’s hands in her first clumsy attempts to spin, was the other Uther, the Uther she had known at the ring of stones outside time and ordinary place; the priest of Atlantis, with whom she had shared the Mysteries. That Uther she knew she would love as her own life, that she could never fear him or dread him, and whatever happened between them, it would be a sweetness, a joy greater than she had ever known. Quite simply, when she came near him, she knew that she had discovered some lost part of herself; with him she was whole. Whatever might happen between them as ordinary man and woman, something lay beyond it which would never die or lessen in its intensity. They shared a destiny, and somehow they must fulfill it together ... and often when she had come so far in her thoughts she would stop and stare at herself in disbelief. Was she mad, with her fancies of shared destiny and the other half of her soul? Surely the facts were simpler and less pretty. She, a married woman, a decent matron and the mother of a child, had simply grown besotted with a younger and handsomer man than her lawful husband, and had fallen into a daydream of him and thereby quarreled with the good and honorable man to whom she had been given. And she would sit and spin, gritting her teeth with frantic guilt, and wonder if her whole life was to be spent in atonement for a sin only half-consciously committed.

The spring wore away into summer, and the Beltane fires were long past. Heat spread its haze over the land, and the sea lay blue and so clear that it seemed, at times, that far away in the clouds Igraine could see the forgotten cities of Lyonnesse and Atlantis. The days had begun to shorten, and there was sometimes frost in the nights again, when Igraine heard the first far rumblings of war-the men-at-arms brought news from the market town that there had been Irish raiders on the coast, that they had burnt a village and a church and carried off one or two women, and there were armies, not those commanded by Gorlois, marching west into the Summer Country and north to Wales.

“What armies?” Igraine asked the man, and he said, “I don’t know, lady, for I didn’t see them; those who did said they bore eagles like the Roman legions of the old days, which is impossible. But he said, also, that they bore a red dragon on their banner.”

Uther! thought Igraine, with a pang, Uther is near, and he will not even know where I am! Only then did she ask for news of Gorlois, and the man told her that her husband, too, was in the Summer Country, and that the armies were making some sort of council there.

She gazed long into her old bronze mirror that night, wishing that it were the scrying glass of a priestess, that could see what was happening far away!

She longed to take counsel with Viviane, or with the Merlin. They had wrought all this trouble-had they abandoned her now? Why did they not come to see how their plans lay all in wreck? Had they found some other woman of the correct lineage, to throw her into Uther’s path, to bear this king who would one day heal all the land and all the warring peoples?

But no word or message came from Avalon, and Igraine was not allowed by the men-at-arms even to ride to the market town; Gorlois, so the men said respectfully, had forbidden it because of the state of the country. Once, looking from the high window, she saw a rider approaching, and on the inner causeway stop to parley with the head man of the guards. The rider looked angry, and seemed to Igraine to look up at the walls in frustration, but finally he turned his back and rode away, and Igraine wondered if this had been a messenger sent to her whom the guardsman would not allow access.

She was, then, a prisoner in her husband’s castle. He might say, or even believe, that he had placed her there for her own protection, against the turmoil in the land, but the truth was otherwise: his jealousy had led him to imprison her here. She tested her theory a few days later, calling the head of the guards to her.

“I wish to send a message to my sister, asking her to come and visit,” she said. “Will you send a man with a message to Avalon?”

It seemed to her that the man avoided her eyes. He said, “Well, now, lady, I can’t do that. My lord of Cornwall said very explicitly that all of us were to stay right here and protect Tintagel in case of a siege.”

“Can’t you hire a rider in the village then, to make the journey, if I paid the man well?”

“My lord wouldn’t like that, lady. I’m sorry.”

“I see,” she said, and sent him away. She had not yet come to the point of desperation at which she would try to bribe one of the men. But the more she pondered this, the angrier she grew. How dared Gorlois imprison her here, she who was sister to the Lady of Avalon? She was his wife, not his slave or servant! At last she resolved on a desperate step.

She had not been trained in the Sight; she had used it a little, spontaneously, as a girl, but except for her brief vision of Viviane, she had never used it at all as a grown woman, and since her vision of Gorlois as death-doomed she had closed herself firmly to further visions. That one, the Gods knew, had come to nothing, for Gorlois was still very much alive. Yet somehow, she supposed, she might now manage to see what was to happen. It was a dangerous step-she had been reared on tales of what befell those” who meddled in arts to which they were not trained, and at first she sought to compromise. As the first leaves began to turn yellow, she called the chief of the men-at-arms to her again.

“I cannot stay here forever, shut like a rat in a trap,” she said. “I must go to the market fair. We must buy dyes and there is need of a new milk goat, and of needles and pins, and many things for the winter which comes.”

“Lady, I have no orders to let you go abroad,” he said, and turned his eyes from her. “I take my orders from my lord, and I have heard nothing from him.”

“Then I will stay here and send one of my women,” she said. “Ettarr or Isotta shall go, and the lady Morgause with her-will that suffice?”

He looked relieved, as she had hit upon a solution to save him from disobeying his lord; for indeed it was necessary that someone from the household should visit a fair before the winter, and he knew it as well as she did. It was outrageous to keep the lady of the house from what was, after all, one of her proper duties.

Morgause was wildly happy when Igraine told her she was to go. Small wonder, Igraine thought. None of us has been abroad all this summer. The very shepherds are freer than we, for they at least take the sheep to graze on the mainland! She watched, frankly envious, as Morgause put on the crimson cloak Gorlois had given her, and, with the chaperonage of two men-at-arms as well as both Ettarr and Isotta and two of the kitchen women to carry packages and goods, set forth on her pony. She watched from the causeway, holding Morgaine by the hand, until they were out of sight, and felt that she could not endure to reenter the castle which had become a prison to her.

“Mother,” Morgaine asked at her side, “why can we not go to the market with Auntie?”

“Because your father does not wish us to go, my poppet.”

“Why does not he want us to go? Does he think we will be naughty?”

Igraine laughed and said, “Indeed, I think that is what he believes, daughter.”

Morgaine was silent-a small, quiet, self-possessed little creature, her dark hair now long enough to plait into a little braid halfway down her shoulder blades, but so fine and straight that it slipped out into loose elf locks around her shoulders. Her eyes were dark and serious, and her eyebrows straight and level, so heavy already that they were the most definite feature of her face. A little fairy woman, Igraine thought, not human at all; a pixie. She was no larger than the shepherd girl’s babe who was not yet quite two, though Morgaine was nearing four, and spoke as clearly and thoughtfully’ as a great girl of eight or nine. Igraine caught up the child in her arms and hugged her.

“My little changeling!”

Morgaine suffered the caress, and even kissed her mother in return, which surprised Igraine, for Morgaine was not a demonstrative child, but soon she began to stir fretfully-she was not the kind of child who wished to be held for long; she would do everything for herself. She had even begun to dress herself and buckle her own shoes on her feet. Igraine set her down and Morgaine walked sedately at her side back into the castle.

Igraine sat down at her loom, telling Morgaine to take her spindle and sit beside her. The little girl obeyed, and Igraine, setting her shuttle in motion, stopped for a moment to watch her. She was neat-handed and precise; her thread was clumsy, but she twirled the spindle deftly as if it were a toy, twisting it between her small fingers. If her hands were bigger, she would already spin as well as Morgause. After a time Morgaine said, “I do not remember my father, Mother. Where is he?”

“He is away with his soldiers in the Summer Country, daughter.’

“When will he come home?”

“I do not know, Morgaine. Do you want him to come home?”

She considered a moment. “No,” she said, “because when he was here-I remember it just a little-I had to go sleep in Auntie’s room and it was dark there and I was afraid at first. Of course I was very little then,” she added solemnly, and Igraine concealed a smile. After a minute’; she went on, “And I do not want him to come home because he made you cry.

Well, Viviane had said it; women did not give babes enough credit for understanding what was going on around them.

“Why do you not have another baby, Mother? Other women have a. baby as soon as the older one is weaned, and I am already four. I heard Isotta say you should have given me a baby brother. I think I would like to have a little brother to play with, or even a little sister.”

Igraine actually started to say, “Because your father Gorlois-” and then stopped herself. No matter how adult Morgaine might sound, she only four years old, and Igraine could not confide such things to h “Because the Mother Goddess did not see fit to send me a son, child.’

Father Columba came out on the terrace. He said austerely, “You should not talk to the child of Goddesses and superstition. Gorlois wishes her to be reared as a good Christian maiden. Morgaine, your mother did not have a son because your father was angry with her, and God withheld a son to punish her for her sinful will.”

Not for the first time, Igraine felt that she would like to throw her shuttle at this black crow of ill omen. Had Gorlois confessed to this man, was he aware of all that had passed between them? She had often wondered that, in the moons that had passed, but she had never had any excuse to ask and knew he would not tell her if she did. Suddenly Morgaine stood up and made a face at the priest, “Go away, old man,” she said clearly. “I don’t like you. You have made my mother cry. My mother knows more than you do, and if she says that it is the Goddess who did not send her a child, I will believe what she says, and not what you say, because my mother does not tell lies!”

Father Columba said angrily to Igraine, “Now you see what comes of your willfulness, my lady? That child should be beaten. Give her to me and I will punish her for her disrespect!”

And at this all Igraine’s rage and rebelliousness exploded. Father Columba had advanced toward Morgaine, who stood without flinching. Igraine stepped between them. “If you lay a hand on my daughter, priest,” she said, “I will kill you where you stand. My husband brought you here, and I cannot send you away, but on the day you come into my presence again, I will spit on you. Get out of my sight!”

He stood his ground. “My lord Gorlois entrusted me with the spiritual well-being of this entire household, my lady, and I am not given to pride, so I will forgive what you have said.”

“I care as little for your forgiveness as for that of the billy goat! Get out of my sight or I will call my serving-women and have you put out. Unless you want to be carried out of here, old man, get from here and do not presume to come into my presence until I send for you-and that will be when the sun rises over western Ireland! Go!”

The priest stared at her blazing eyes, at her uplifted hand, and scuttled out of the room.

Now that she had committed an act of open rebellion, she was paralyzed at her own temerity. But at least it had freed her from the priest, and freed Morgaine, too. She would not have her daughter brought up to feel shame at her own womanhood.

Morgause came back late that night from the fair, having chosen all her purchases carefully-Igraine knew she could not have done better herself-with a lump of loaf sugar for Morgaine to suck, which she had bought with her own pocket money, and full of tales from the marketplace. The sisters sat until midnight in Igraine’s room, talking long after Morgaine had fallen asleep, sucking on her sugar candy, her small face sticky and her hands still clutching it. Igraine took it away and wrapped it for her, and came back to ask further news of Morgause.

This is ignoble, that I must hear news from the marketplace about the doings of my own husband!

“There is a great gathering in the Summer Country,” Morgause said. “They say that the Merlin has made peace between Lot and Uther. They say, too, that Ban of Less Britain has allied with them, and is sending them horses brought from Spain-” She stumbled a little over the name. “Where is that, Igraine? Is it in Rome?”

“No, but it is far in the south, nearer than we to Rome by many, many leagues,” Igraine told her.

“There was a battle with the Saxons, and Uther was there with the dragon banner,” Morgause told her. “I heard a harper telling it like a ballad, how the Duke of Cornwall had imprisoned his lady in Tintagel-” In the darkness Igraine could see that the girl’s eyes were wide, her lips parted. “Igraine, tell me true, was Uther your lover?”

“He was not,” Igraine said, “but Gorlois believed he was, and that is why he quarreled with Uther. He did not believe me when I told him the truth.” Her throat choked tight with tears. “I wish now that it had been the truth.”

“They say King Lot is handsomer than Uther,” Morgause said, “and that he is seeking a wife, and it is whispered in gossip that he would challenge Uther to be High King, if he thought he could do so safely. Is he handsomer than Uther? Is Uther as godlike as they say, Igraine?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, Morgause.”

“Why, they say he was your lover-”

“I do not care what they say,” Igraine interrupted her, “but as for that, I suppose as the world reckons such things, both of them are fine-looking men, Lot dark, and Uther blond like a Northman. But it was not for his fair face that I thought Uther the better man.”

“What was it then?” asked Morgause, bright and inquisitive, and Igraine sighed, knowing the young girl would not understand. But the hunger to share at least a little of what she felt, and could never say to anyone, drove her to say, “Why-I hardly know. Only-it was as if I had known him from the beginning of the world, as if he could never be strange to me, whatever he did or whatever befell between us.”

“But if he never so much as kissed you ... “

“It does not matter,” Igraine said wearily, and then at last, weeping, said what she had known for a long time now, and had been unwilling to admit. “Even should I never again look upon his face in this life, I am bound to him and I shall be so bound until I die. And I cannot believe the Goddess would have wrought this upheaval in my life, if I was meant never again to see him.”

By the dim light she could see that Morgause was looking at her with awe and a measure of envy, as if in the younger girl’s eyes Igraine had suddenly become the heroine of some old romantic tale. She wanted to say to her, no, it is not like that, it is not romantic at all, it is simply what has happened, but she knew there was no way to say that, for Morgause had not the experience to tell romance from this sort of ultimate reality, rock-hard at the bottom of imagination or fantasy. Let her think it romance, then, if it pleases her, Igraine thought, and realized that this kind of reality would never come to Morgause: it was a different world she lived in.

Now she had taken the step of alienating the priest who was Gorlois’s man, and another step in confessing to Morgause that she loved Uther. Viviane had said something of worlds drawing apart one from the other, and it seemed to Igraine as if she had begun to dwell on some world apart from the ordinary one in which Gorlois perhaps had a right to expect that she be his faithful chattel, servant, slave-his wife. Only Morgaine now bound her to that world. She looked at the sticky-handed, sleeping child, her dark hair scattered wildly around her, and at her wide-eyed younger sister, and wondered if, at the call of this thing that had happened to her, she would abandon even these last hostages which held her to the real world.

The thought gave great pain, but inside herself she whispered, “Yes. Even that.”

AND SO THE NEXT STEP, which she had feared so greatly, became simple to her.

She lay awake that night between Morgause and her child, trying to decide what she must do. Should she run away and trust to Uther’s part in the vision to find her? Almost at once she rejected that thought. Should she send Morgause, with secret instructions to flee to Avalon and bear a message that she was imprisoned? No; if it was common talk-a ballad in the marketplace-that she was imprisoned, her sister would have come to her if she thought that it would help. And ever at her heart gnawed the silent voice of doubt and despair. Her vision had been a false one ... or perhaps, when she had not flung all aside for Uther, they had abandoned the plan, found another woman for Uther, and the saving of Britain, as, should the high priestess be ill for the great Celebration, they would choose another for her part.

Toward morning, as the sky was already paling, she fell into a dazed sleep. And there, when she had ceased to hope for it, she found guidance. Just as she woke, it was as if a voice said inside her mind, Rid yourself for this one day of the child, and the maiden, and you will know what to do.

The day dawned clear and shining, and as they broke their fast on goat’s cheese and new-baked bread, Morgause looked at the shining sea and said, “I am so weary of staying withindoors-I did not know till yesterday at the market how weary I am grown of this house!”

“Take Morgaine, then, and go out for the day with the shepherd women,” Igraine suggested. “She too would like to go abroad, I imagine.”

She wrapped up slices of meat and bread for them; to Morgaine it was like a festival. Igraine saw them go, hoping now for some way to evade the watchful eyes of Father Columba, for, although he followed her will and had not spoken to her, his eyes followed her everywhere. But at midmoming, as she sat weaving, he came into her presence and said, “Lady-”

She did not look up at him. “I bade you stay away from me, priest. Complain of me to Gorlois when he comes home if you will, but do not speak to me.”

“One of Gorlois’s men has been hurt in a fall from the cliffs. His comrades think he is dying, and have bidden me to come to him. You need not be afraid; you will be properly guarded.”

She had known that-it had never occurred to her that, if she could get rid of the priest, she might somehow make her escape. In any case, where could she go? This was Gorlois’s country and none of his people would shelter an escaped wife from his wrath. Simple flight had never been her intention. “Go and the Devil take you, so that you come not into my presence,” and turned her back.

“If you presume to curse me, woman-”

“Why should I waste my breath with a curse? I would as willingly bid you Godspeed to your own heaven, and may your God find more pleasure in your company than I do.”

Once he had gone, hurrying on his little donkey across the causeway, she knew why she had felt she must rid herself of the priest. In his own way he was an initiate of the Mysteries, though they were not her Mysteries, and he would be quick to know and to disapprove of what she meant to do. She went to Morgause’s room and found the silver mirror. Then she went down to the kitchens to ask the serving-women to make a fire in her room. They stared, for the day was not cold, but she repeated it as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and fetched herself a few other things from the kitchen: salt and a little oil, a bit of bread and a small flask of wine- these, no doubt, the women thought she wanted for her noon meal-and she took a bit of cheese too to conceal her intent, and later flung it to the sea gulls.

Outside in the garden she found lavender flowers and managed to find a few wild-rose hips. Boughs of juniper, too, she cut with her own small knife, only a few symbolic branches, and a small piece of hazel. Once in her room again she drew the bolt and stripped off her garments, standing naked and shivering before the fire. She had never done this, and knew Viviane would not approve, for those who were unskilled in the arts of sorcery could cause trouble for themselves by meddling with it. But with these things, she knew, she could conjure the Sight even if she had it not.

She cast the juniper on the fire, and as the smoke rose, bound the branch of hazel to her forehead. She laid fruit and flowers before the fire, then touched salt and oil to her breast, took a bite of the bread and a sip of the wine, then, trembling, laid the silver mirror where the firelight shone on it and, from the barrel which was kept for washing the women’s hair, poured clear rainwater across the silver surface of the mirror.

She whispered, “By common things and by uncommon, by water and fire, salt and oil and wine, by fruit and flowers together, I beg you, Goddess, let me see my sister Viviane.”

Slowly, the surface of the water stirred. Igraine, in a sudden icy wind, shivered, wondering for a moment if the spell would fail, if her sorcery were blasphemy as well. The blurred face forming in the mirror was first her own, then slowly it shifted, changed, was the awesome face of the Goddess, with the rowanberries bound about her brow. And then, as it cleared and steadied, Igraine saw; but not, as she had hoped and foreseen, into a living, speaking face. She looked into a room which she knew. It had once been the chamber of her mother at Avalon, and there were women there, in the dark robes of priestesses, and at first she looked in vain for her sister, for the women were coming and going, and moving back and forth, and there was confusion in the chamber. And then she saw her sister, Viviane; she looked weary and ill and drawn, and she was walking, walking back and forth, leaning on the arm of one of the other priestesses, and Igraine knew, in horror, what she saw. For Viviane, in her pale robe of undyed wool, was heavy with child, her belly swollen, her face dragged down with suffering, and ever she walked and walked, as, Igraine remembered, the midwives had made her do when she was in labor with Morgaine ... .

No, no! Oh, Mother Ceridwen, blessed Goddess, no ... our mother so died, but Viviane was so sure she was past childbearing ... and now she will die, she cannot bear a child at her age and live ... why, when she knew she had conceived, did she not take some potion to rid her of the child? This is the wreck of all their plans, then, it is the end ... .

I too have thrown my life into ruin with a dream ... and then Igraine was ashamed of herself that she could think of her own misery when Viviane was to lie down in childbed from which it could hardly be hoped that she would ever rise again. In horror, weeping in dread, she could not even turn from the mirror, and then Viviane raised her head, looking past the head of the priestess on whose arm she leaned, and into her dulled eyes, drawn with anguish, came recognition and tenderness. Igraine could not hear her, but it was as if Viviane spoke directly to her mind.

Little girl ... little sister ... Grainne ...

Igraine wanted to cry out to her, in sorrow and grief and fear, but she could not lay her own weight of sorrows upon Viviane now. She poured all her heart into a single outcry.

I hear you, my mother, my sister, my priestess, and my goddess ... .

Igraine, I tell you, even in this hour do not lose hope, do not despair! There is a pattern to all our sufferings, I have seen it ... do not despair ... and for a moment, her hair rising on her forearms, Igraine actually felt on her cheek a light touch, like the lightest of kisses, and Viviane whispered, “Little sister ... “ and then Igraine saw her sister’s face contorted with pain and she fell as if swooning into the arms of the priestess, and a wind ruffled the water of the mirror, and Igraine saw her own face, blurred with weeping, looking out through the water. She shivered, clutching some garment, anything to warm her, and flung the sorcerous mirror into the fire; then she threw herself down on her bed and wept.

Viviane told me not to despair. But how can I do other than despair, when she is dying?

She lay there, weeping herself into a stupor. At last, when she could not cry another tear, she rose wearily and washed her face in cold water. Viviane was dying, perhaps even dead. But her last words had been to bid Igraine not lose hope. She dressed herself and hung about her throat the moonstone Viviane had given her. And then, with a little stirring of the air before her, she saw Uther.

This time she knew it was a Sending, and not the man himself. Nothing human, certainly not Uther Pendragon, could have come into her guarded chamber without some man seeing and stopping him. He wore a heavy plaid about him, but on his arms-and this is why she knew it no dream-he wore the serpents she had seen when she dreamed of his life in Atlantis. Only they were not now golden torques, but live serpents, which raised their heads, hissing; only she did not fear them.

“My beloved,” he said, and although it was the very tone of his voice, the room was silent in the light of the flickering fire, and through the whispered voice she heard the small crackling of the juniper twigs. “I will come to you at Midwinter. I swear it, I will come to you, whatever may bar the way. Make ready for me at Midwinter-”

And then she was alone, with only the sun in the room, and the reflection of the sea outside, and in the courtyard below, the laughing voices of Morgause and her little daughter.

Igraine drew a long breath, calmly drank the rest of the wine. On an empty stomach, fasting, she felt it rise to her head with a sort of dizzy elation. Then she went quietly down the stairs to await the news she knew would come.


What happened first was that Gorlois came home. Still flustered with the elation of that moment of vision-and frightened, for she had never really thought that Viviane could die, and in spite of the words of hope, she could not imagine, now that Viviane could live-Igraine had expected something else; some magical news of Uther, or word that Gorlois was dead and that she was free. Gorlois himself, dust-covered and hungry and scowling, was half calculated to make Igraine think her vision no more than self-deception or a delusion of the Evil One.

Well, if it is so, there is good in that too, for it would mean that my sister lives and my vision of her was a delusion born of my own fears. And so she welcomed Gorlois calmly, with food and a bath and clean dry clothes, and only pleasant words. Let him think, if he would, that she was repenting her harshness and trying to curry his favor again. It no longer mattered to her what Gorlois thought or what he did. She no longer hated him or resented the early years of misery and despair. Her sufferings had made her ready for what would come after. She served Gorlois his food and drink, saw to the housing of his men as was suitable, and forbore to question him. She brought Morgaine for a moment, washed and combed and pretty, for her curtsey to her father, then had Isotta take her away to bed.

Gorlois sighed, pushing away his plate. “She grows good-looking; but she is like a fairy child, one of the folk of the hollow hills. Where came she by such blood? There is none of it among my people.”

“But my mother was of the old blood,” Igraine said, “and Viviane, too. I think her father must have been one of the fairy folk.”

Gorlois shivered and said, “And you don’t even know who fathered her-one thing that the Romans did well was to make an end of those folk. I fear no armed man that I can slay, but I fear those underground folk of the hollow hills, with their enchanted circles and their food that can lead you to wander a hundred years in enchantment, and their elf bolts which come out of the dark and strike a man down, unshriven, to send him to the hells ... . The Devil made them for the death of Christians, and it is the work of God to kill them, I think!”

Igraine thought of the herbs and simples which the women of the fairy folk brought even to their conquerors for healing; of the poison arrows that could bring down game which could be taken no other way; of her own mother, born of the fairy people, and of Viviane’s unknown father. And Gorlois, like the Romans, would make an end of these simple people in the name of his God? “Well,” she said, “that must be as God wills, I suppose.”

“Morgaine perhaps should be brought up in a convent of holy women, so that the great evil she has inherited from your old blood will never taint her,” Gorlois mused. “When she is old enough, we will see to it. A holy man told me once that women bear the blood of their mothers, and so it has been since the days of Eve, that what is within women, who are filled with sin, cannot be overcome by a woman-child; but that a son will bear his father’s blood even as Christ was made in the image of God his father. So if we have a son, Igraine, we need not fear that he will show the blood of the old evil folk of the hills.”

A surge of anger rippled through Igraine, but she had pledged herself not to anger him. “That too must be as your God wills.” For she knew, if he had forgotten, that he would never touch her again as a man touches a woman. It did not matter now what he said or did. “Tell me what has brought you home so unexpectedly, my husband.”

“Uther, of course,” Gorlois said. “There has been a great kingmaking on Dragon Island, which is near to Glastonbury of the priests-I know not why the priests allow it to stand there, for it is a heathen place, and there they have paid homage to their Horned One of the woods, and raised serpents, and such foolishness as it is not fitting should be done in a Christian land. King Leodegranz, who is king of the Summer Country, stands with me and has refused to make compact with Uther. Leodegranz likes Uther no more than I, but he will not make war on the Pendragon now; it is not fitting that we should war among ourselves with the Saxons gathering on the eastern shores. If the Scots come this summer, we will be caught between hammer and anvil. And now Uther has sent an ultimatum-that I must put my Cornishmen under his command, or he will come and force me to. And so I am here-we can hold Tintagel forever, if we must. But I have warned Uther that if he sets foot in Cornwall I will fight him. Leodegranz has made truce with Uther, until the Saxons are gone from this country, but I would not.”

“In God’s name, that is folly,” Igraine said, “for Leodegranz is right -the Saxons could not stand, if all men of Britain stood together. If you quarrel among yourselves, the Saxons can attack you one kingdom at a time, and before long all Britain will serve the Horse Gods!”

Gorlois pushed his dishes aside. “I do not expect a woman to know anything of honor, Igraine. Come to bed.”

SHE HAD THOUGHT it would not matter now what he did to her, that she was past caring; but she had not been prepared for the despairing struggle of Gorlois’s pride. At the last he had beaten her again, cursing. “You have put an enchantment on my manhood, you damned witch!”

When he had fallen into exhausted sleep, Igraine, her bruised face throbbing, lay awake, weeping quietly at his side. So this was the reward of her meekness, just as it had been the reward of her hard words? Now indeed she was justified in hating him, and in a way she was relieved to feel no guilt for her loathing. Suddenly, and with violence, she hoped Uther would kill him.

He rode away the next morning at daylight, taking all but a scant half-dozen men who were left to defend Tintagel. From the talk she heard in the hall before they went, she knew he was hoping to ambush Uther’s invading army as it came down from the moors into the valley. And all this for what he called honor; he would deprive all Britain of her High King, leave the land naked like a woman to be ravished by the Saxon hordes- all because he was not man enough for his wife and feared that Uther would be.

When he had gone, the days dragged along, rainy and silent. Then the first frosts came, with snow sweeping across the moors, and even the moors themselves were out of sight except on the clearest of days. She longed for news; she felt like a badger trapped in a winter burrow.

Midwinter. Uther had said he would come to her at Midwinter-but now she began to wonder if it had been only a dream. As the autumn days lagged by, dark and cold, she began to doubt the vision, yet she knew that any attempt to repeat it, to bring herself reassurance, would not help. She had been taught in her childhood that such dependence on magical art was wrong. It was allowed to search for a glimpse of light in the darkness, and that she had done; but magic must not become a child’s leading strings for walking, lest she become unable to take a single step without the need for supernatural guidance.

I have never been able to rely on myself, she thought bitterly. When she had been a child, she had looked for guidance to Viviane; but no sooner than she was grown to womanhood, she had been married to Gorlois, and he felt that she should look to him in all things, or in his absence turn to Father Columba for constant counsel.

So now, knowing she had the chance to begin to do her own thinking, she turned inward upon herself. She schooled her daughter in spinning, and began to teach her sister Morgause how to weave in colors; hoarded her supply of food, for it began to look as if the winter might be colder and longer than usual; and listened ravenously to such small scraps of news as came to her from the shepherds when they went to market, or from any travellers-but there were few of these, as the winter closed down over Tintagel.

It was past Samhain when a peddler woman came to the castle, wrapped in rags and torn shawls, weary and footsore. Her feet were bound in rags and she herself was none too clean, but Igraine brought her in and gave her a place by the fire and a ladle of rich goat’s-meat stew with the stale bread which would have been her ordinary portion. When she saw that the woman was limping from a stone bruise, she asked the cook to heat some water, and found a cleaner rag to bind it. She bought two needles from the woman’s pack-they were coarse enough, she had better ones, but they would do to teach Morgaine her first stitches. Then, feeling she had earned it, she asked the woman if there was any news from the North.

“Soldiers, lady,” said the old woman, sighing, “and Saxons gathering on the northern roads, too, and a battle ... and Uther with his dragon banner, Saxons to the north of him, and, they say, the Duke of Cornwall against him to the south. Battle everywhere, even to the Holy Isle-” Igraine demanded, “You have come from the Holy Isle?”

“Yes, lady, I was benighted by the lakes there, and lost in the mist. ... The priests gave me dry bread and bade me come to mass and be shriven, but what sins has an old woman like me? My sins are all done and over, all forgotten and forgiven and not even regretted anymore,” she said with her thin laughter; it seemed to Igraine that she had not much wit, and what little she had, had been scattered by hardship and solitude and long wandering. “And indeed there is little opportunity for the old and poor to sin, except to doubt God’s goodness, and if God cannot understand why we doubt that, then he is not as wise as his priests think, heh heh heh ... but I had no taste to listen to mass and it was colder inside their church than without, so I wandered in the mist and the fog, and then I saw a boat, and somehow I came to the Holy Isle, and there the women of the Lady gave me food and fire, like you ... heh heh heh ... .”

“You saw the.Lady?” Igraine demanded, leaning forward and looking into the woman’s face. “Oh, give me news of her, she is my sister ... .”

“Aye, she said as much to me, that her sister was wife to the Duke of Cornwall, if the Duke of Cornwall still lived, which she did not know about, heh heh heh ... . Oh, aye, she gave me a message for you, that is why I came here through moors and rocks where my poor feet were mangled by all the stones, heh heh heh ... now what did she say to me, poor me, I can’t remember, I think I lost the message in the mists around the Holy Isle, the priests, you know, they told me there was no Holy Isle, not never no more, they said, God had sunk it in the sea and if I thought I had been entertained there it was only witchcraft and the delusions of the devil ... .” She paused, bent and cackling; Igraine waited.

Finally she asked, “Tell me of the Lady of Avalon. Did you see her?”

“Oh, aye, I saw her, not like you she is, but like a fairy woman, little and dark....” The woman’s eyes brightened and then cleared. “Now I mind the message. She said, tell my sister Igraine that she should remember her dreams and not lose hope, and I laughed at that, heh heh heh, what good are dreams, except perhaps to you ladies in your great houses, not much good to those of us who wander the roads in the fog ... . Ah, yes, this too: she was delivered of a fine son at harvesttime, and she bade me say that she was well beyond all hopes and expectations, and that she had named the boy Galahad.”

Igraine let out a long sigh of relief. So Viviane had indeed, against all hope, survived childbed.

The peddler woman went on, “She also said, heh heh heh, that he was a king’s son and that it was fitting that one king’s son should serve another ... . Does this mean anything to you, my lady? It sounds like more dreams and moon shadows, heh heh heh. ...” And she collapsed into giggling, hunched in her rags, spreading her thin hands to the warmth of the fire.

But Igraine knew the meaning of the message. One king’s son should serve another. So Viviane had indeed borne a son to King Ban of Less Britain, after the rite of the Great Marriage. And if, in the prophecy she and the Merlin had made, Igraine should bear a son to Uther, High King of Britain, one should serve the other. For a moment she felt herself trembling on the edge of the same hysterical laughter as the demented old woman’s. The bride is not yet brought to bed and here we make arrangement for the fostering of the sons!

In her heightened state, Igraine saw these children, the born and the unborn, crowding round her like shadows; was Viviane’s son Galahad to be the dark twin, the bane of her unborn son by Uther? It seemed to Igraine that she could see them in the flickering of the fire: a dark, slender lad with Viviane’s eyes; a stripling with shining hair like a Northman’s....nd then, flashing in the firelight, she saw the Holy Regalia of the Druids, kept now at Avalon since the Romans burned the sacred groves-dish and cup and sword and spear, gleaming and flashing to the four elements: dish of earth, cup of water, sword of fire, and the spear or wand of air ... she thought, drowsily, stirring as the fire flashed and flickered, that there was a piece of the regalia for each of them. How fortunate.

Fiercely she blinked, drawing herself upright. The fire had died to coals; the old peddler woman slept, her feet tucked under the shawls and rags, as close as she could roll herself to the fire. The hall was all but empty. Her waiting-woman drowsed on a bench, wrapped tightly in shawl and cloak; the other serving folk had gone to bed. Had she slept here half the night by the fire and dreamed it all? She roused the sleeping waiting-woman, who grumbled off to her own bed. Leaving the old peddler woman to sleep by the fire, Igraine crept shivering to her own room, crawling in beside Morgaine and clutching the child tight, as if to ward off fantasies and fear. “

WINTER SET IN, then, in earnest. There was not much wood for fuel at Tintagel, only a kind of rock which would burn, but it smoked evilly and blackened doors and ceilings. Sometimes they had to burn dried seaweed, which made the whole castle stink of dead fish like the sea at low tide. And at last rumor began to speak of Uther’s armies, drawing near to Tintagel, ready to cross the great moors.

Under ordinary conditions, Uther’s army could beat Gorlois’s men into submission. But if they are ambushed? Uther does not know the country! He would feel himself threatened enough by the rocky and unfamiliar terrain, knowing Gorlois’s armies would be massed near Tintagel. Uther would not be expecting a nearer ambush!

She could do nothing but wait. It was a woman’s fate to sit at home, in castle or cot-it had been so since the Romans came. Before that, the Celtic Tribes had followed the counsel of their women, and far to the north there had been an island of women warriors who made weapons and tutored the war chiefs in the use of arms ... .

Igraine lay awake night after night, thinking of her husband and of her lover. If, she thought, you can call a man your lover when you have never exchanged a single kiss. Uther had sworn he would come to her at Midwinter, but how could he cross the moors and break through the trap of Gorlois, lying in wait for him ... ?

If only she were a trained sorceress or a priestess like Viviane. She had been reared on tales of the evil involved in using sorcery to enforce one’s own will on the Gods. Was it, then, a good thing to allow Uther to be waylaid and his men murdered? She told herself Uther would have spies and scouts and needed no woman’s help. Still she felt, disconsolate, that there must be something better for her to do than to sit and wait.

A few days before Midwinter-night, a storm blew up and raged for two days, so fiercely that Igraine knew that northward, on the moors, nothing which was not burrowed like a rabbit in its hole could possibly live. Even safely within the castle, people crouched near the few fires and listened, trembling, to the raging of the wind. During the day it was so dark, with snow and sleet, that Igraine could not even see to spin. The supply of rushlights was so limited that she did not dare exhaust it further, for there was still a long weight of winter to bear, so most of the time they sat in the dark, and Igraine tried to remember old stories from Avalon, to keep Morgaine amused and quiet and Morgause from fretting with boredom and weariness.

But when at last the child and the young girl had fallen asleep, Igraine sat wrapped in her cloak before the remnants of the small fire, too tense to lie down, knowing that if she did, she would lie wakeful, staring with aching eyes into the darkness, trying to send her thoughts over the leagues that lay between ... where? To Gorlois, to find where his treachery had led? For it was treachery: he had sworn alliance with Uther as his High King, and then, because of his own jealousy and mistrust, broken his word.

Or to Uther, trying to make camp on these unfamiliar moors, battered by the storm, lost, blinded?

How could she reach Uther? She gathered to herself all the memories of what small training she had had in magic when she was a girl in Avalon. Body and soul, she had been taught, were not firmly bonded; in sleep the soul left the body and went to the country of dreams, where all was illusion and folly, and sometimes, in the Druid-trained, to the country of truth, where Merlin’s leading had taken her in dream that one time.

... Once, when Morgaine was being born, and the pains seemed to have gone on forever, she had briefly left her body, seen herself lying down below, a racked thing fussed over by the midwives and encouraged by her women, while she floated, free of pain and elated, somewhere above; then someone had bent over her, urgently telling her that now she must work harder, for they could see the crown of the baby’s head, and she had come back to renewed pain and fierce effort, and she had forgotten. But if she could do it then, she could do it now. Shivering in her cloak, Igraine stared at the fire, and willed herself, abruptly, to be elsewhere ... .

She had done it. She seemed to stand before herself, her whole awareness sharply focused. The main change was that she could no longer hear the wild wailing of the storm outside the walls of the castle. She did not look back-she had been told that when you left your body, you must never look back, for the body will draw back the soul-but somehow she could see without eyes, all round her, and knew that her body was still sitting motionless before the dying fire. Now that she had done it she felt frightened, thinking, I should mend the fire first-but she knew if she went back into her body she would never have the courage to try this again.

She thought of Morgaine, the living bond between herself and Gorlois -even though he now rejected it, spoke scathingly of the child, still the bond was there, and she could find Gorlois if she sought him. Even as the thought formed in her mind, she was ... elsewhere.

... Where was she? There was the flare of a small lamp, and by its fitful light she saw her husband, surrounded by a cluster of heads: men huddled together in one of the small stone huts on the moors.

Gorlois was saying, “I have fought beside Uther for many years, under Ambrosius, and if I know him at all, he will count on courage and surprise.

His people do not know our Cornish weather, and it will not occur to them that if the sun sets in raging storm, it will clear soon after midnight; so they will not move till the sun rises, but he will be out and about the moment the sun is above the horizon, hoping to fall on us while it is still early. But if we can surround his camp in those hours between the clearing of the sky and the sunrise, then as they break camp we can surprise them. They will be prepared for a march, not a battle. With just a little luck we can take them before they have their weapons well out of the sheath! Once Uther’s army is cut to pieces, if he himself is not killed, he will at least turn tail and get out of Cornwall, never to return.” By the dim lamp, Igraine saw Gorlois bare his teeth like an animal. “And if he is killed, his armies will scatter like a beehive when someone kills their queen!”

Igraine felt herself shrink back; even bodiless, a wraith, it seemed that Gorlois must see her hovering there. And indeed, he raised his head and frowned, brushing at his cheek. “I felt a draught-it’s cold in here,” he muttered.

“And how could it be otherwise? It’s cold here as the pit, with the snow raging like this,” one of his men growled-but even before he got the words out, Igraine was away from there, hovering in bodiless limbo, shivering, resisting the strong pull to return to Tintagel. She longed for the feel of flesh, of fire, not to go wandering between worlds, like some flittering wraith of the dead ... .

How could she come to Uther, to warn him? There was no bond between them; she had never exchanged with him so much as a kiss of passion, which would bind their bodies of flesh and so bind the bodiless spirit she was now. Gorlois had accused her of adultery; frantic, Igraine wished again that it were so. She was blind in the dark, bodiless, nowhere; she knew that the flicker of a thought would take her back to the room at Tintagel where her body, cramped and icy cold, slumped before the dead fire. She fought to remain in this deathly blind darkness, struggling, praying wordlessly, Let me come to Uther, while knowing that the curious laws of the world she was in now made it impossible; in this body she had no bond with Uther.

But my bond with Uther is stronger than the bond of flesh because it has endured for more lives than one, Igraine felt herself arguing with something impalpable, as if appealing to a higher judge than whatever it was that made the laws for this life. The darkness seemed to press on her now, and she felt that she could not breathe, that somewhere below her the body she had abandoned was chilled, iced over, breath failing. Something in her cried out, Return, return, Uther is a grown man, he does not need you to care for him, and she answered herself, struggling, fighting to stay out where she was, He is only a man, he is not proof against treachery!

Now in the pressing darkness there was a deeper darkness, and Igraine knew she looked not on her own invisible self, but on some Other. Chilling, trembling, racked, she did not hear with her bodily ears, but felt in every nerve of her whole being the command: “Go back. You must go back. You have no right to be here. The laws are made and fixed; you cannot remain here without penalty.”

She heard herself say to the strange darkness, “If I, must, I will pay the penalty that is exacted.”

“Why do you seek to go where it is forbidden to go?”

“I must warn him,” she said frantically, and then, suddenly, like a moth spreading its wings over the cocoon, something in Igraine that was greater than herself opened and spread its wings and the darkness around her was gone, and the fearsome shape warning her was no more than a veiled shape, a woman like herself, a priestess, certainly not a Goddess nor the Old Death-crone. Igraine said steadily, “We are bound and sworn, life to life and beyond; you have no right to forbid.” Suddenly Igraine saw that about her arms were twining the golden serpents which she had worn in her strange dream of the ring stones. She raised her arms and cried out a word in a strange language. She could never, afterward, remember more than half a syllable, only that it began with a great “Aaahhh ... “ and that it was a word of power; nor did she know how the word had come to her in this extremity, to her who was not even a priestess in this life. The forbidding shape before her was gone, and Igraine saw light, light like the rising sun ... .

No, it was the dimmest of lantern lights, a rushlight shielded crudely with a thin slice of horn in a wooden box, no more than a glimmer in the icy shadows of a small, stone-walled hut, tumbledown and roughly repaired with bundles of reeds. But by some curious, nonexistent light-or did she, bodiless, see in the dark without eyes?-she could make out a few faces in the shadows, faces she had seen around Uther in Londinium: kings and chiefs and soldiers. Exhausted and icy cold, they crouched around the tiny lantern as if its flickering fire could somehow warm them. And Uther was among them, gaunt and exhausted, his hands bleeding with chilblains, his woolen plaid drawn up closely over his head and around his chin. This was not the proud and kingly priest-lover she had seen in her first vision, not even the clumsy and boorish young man who had come into church disturbing them all; but this weary, haggard man, damp hair straggling around his nose, reddened with the cold, somehow seemed to her more real, more handsome than ever before. Igraine, aching with pity, longing to take him in her arms and warm him, felt as if she had cried out Uther!

She knew he heard, for she saw him raise his head and look all about the cold shelter, shivering as if some colder wind stirred there; and then she saw, through the cloaks and plaids huddled around his body, the serpents twining about his arms. They were not real; they writhed like living snakes where no snake ever known to humanity would leave its burrow in such weather. But she saw them, and somehow Uther saw her, and opened his mouth to speak. Imperatively, she gestured him to silence.

You must arouse, and make ready to march, or you are doomed! The message did not form itself in her mind as words, but she knew that it moved directly from her thoughts to his. The snow will cease soon after midnight. Gorlois and his soldiers think you are pinned down where you are now, and they will fall upon you and cut you to pieces! You must be ready to meet their attack.

The words pressed upon him, soundless, with her last remnant of strength. And even as they formed, she knew that the strength of will which had brought her here across the gulf, against the laws of this world, was fading. She was not accustomed to this work, and she struggled, not wanting to leave with her warning unspoken. Would they believe him, would they be ready to meet Gorlois? Or would they stay there, motionless in the darkness after the storm, and Gorlois find them like hens huddled on their roost for the fox? But she could do no more. A deathly cold, the faintness of utter exhaustion, came over her; she felt herself fading into icy cold and darkness, as if the storm were raging through her entire body ...

... she was lying on the stone floor, before the cold ashes of the fire. Over her an icy wind was blowing, as if the storm which had followed her all through her vision was raging here too, inside her body ... . No, it was not that. The wooden shutters of the room had blown open in the dying frenzy of the storm; they were slamming back and forth, and slashes of icy rain were blowing into the room.

She was cold. She was so cold she felt she would never move again, that she would lie there and freeze and that the cold of her body would gradually change to the sleep of death. At the moment she did not care.

There must be punishment for breaking a taboo; that is the law. I have done the forbidden thing, and I cannot emerge scatheless from it. If Uther is safe, I accept it, even if my punishment be death ... and indeed, Igraine, huddling and trying to cover herself with the inadequate warmth of her cloak, felt that death would be merciful. At least she would not feel the cold ... .

But Morgaine, Morgaine who slept in the bed near to that window, if the window were not closed she would take a chill and perhaps have the lung fever ... . Igraine would not, for her own sake, have moved. But for her child and her innocent sister she forced herself painfully to stir, to make her numbed hands and feet move. Clumsy, moving as if drunken, she stumbled to the window and fumbled with her frozen hands to draw it closed. The wind twice tore it from her fingers, and she heard herself sobbing as she wrestled with it. She could not feel, but she knew she had torn away a fingernail in the struggle with the shutter, which fought her like a living thing. At last, capturing the clasp between her hands, she drew it shut by main force, pinching a finger, cold and blue, in the frame, as she managed to fasten the wooden hasp.

It was still cold in the room, cold as ice, and she knew that without the fire, Morgaine, and Morgause too, would be ill... she wanted nothing more than to creep into bed between them, still wrapped in her cloak, warm herself between their young warm bodies, but it was hours till morning, and she had been the one who left the fire untended. Shivering, pulling her cloak close, she took a fire pan from the hearth and stole down the stairs, feeling her icy feet bruised as they stumbled on the stone. In the kitchen, three serving women curled close like dogs in front of the banked fire; it was warm there, and a steaming pot hung on a long hook over the fire-gruel for the morning meal, no doubt. Well, it was her own kitchen and her own gruel. Igraine dipped a cup into the pot and drank the hot, unsalted oatmeal broth, but even that could not warm her. Then she filled the fire pan with red-hot coals and covered the fire, covered the fire pan, and, holding it in a fold of her skirt, went up the stairs again. She was weak and shaking, and, despite the hot drink, shuddering so hard she feared she would fall. I must not fall, for if I fall I will never get up again, and the fire pan will set something afire ... .

She knelt before the cold hearth in her room, feeling the great shudders take her body and rack her with pain in her chest; but she was not cold now, she felt hot throughout her body. She fed the coals patiently with bits of tinder from the bin, then with small sticks; at last the log caught and roared up toward the ceiling. Igraine was so hot now that she flung off her cloak, stumbling toward the bed; lifted Morgaine and lay down with the child in her arms; but she did not know whether she slept or died.

NO, SHE WAS NOT DEAD. Death would not bring this racking, shuddering heat and cold.... She knew that she lay a long time, wrapped in steaming cloths, which grew cold and were taken away and renewed; she knew that they forced hot drinks down her throat, sometimes nauseous herbal mixtures against fever and sometimes strong spirits mixed with hot water. Days, weeks, years, centuries, passed over her while she lay and burned and shivered and suffered the horrid stuff they poured down her throat when she was too weak even to vomit it up. Once Morgause came and asked her fretfully, “If you were ill, Igraine, why did you not wake me and send me to mend the fire?” The dark shape who had forbidden her the road was standing in one corner of the room, and now Igraine could see her face: it was the Death-crone who guards the doors of the forbidden, and now would punish her ... . Morgaine came and looked down at her, her small, somber face frightened, and Igraine wanted to reassure her daughter, but she was too weak to speak aloud. And Uther was there too, but she knew that no one else could see him, and it was not seemly to call out any man’s name save that of her own wedded husband ... no one would think worse of her if she should call out Gorlois’s name. But even if she was dying, she did not want to call out the name of Gorlois, she wanted no more of him, in life or in death.

Had she betrayed Gorlois, with her forbidden sorcery? Or had that been only a dream, no more real than her attempt to warn Uther? Had she saved him? It seemed that she was wandering in the icy spaces again, trying blindly to force herself through the storm to give her warning, and once Father Columba came and mumbled Latin at her, and she was frantic. By what right did he come to worry her with the last rites when she could not defend herself? She had meddled in sorcery, by his standards she was an evil woman, and he would condemn her for betraying Gorlois, he would come to avenge his master. The storm was back again, raging through her, she was wandering endlessly in the storm, trying to find Morgaine who was lost in it, only Morgause was there, wearing a crown, the crown of the High Kings of all Britain. Then Morgaine was standing at the prow of the barge which passed over the Summer Sea to the shores of Avalon, Morgaine wearing the robes of a priestess, the robes Viviane wore ... and then all was darkness and silence.

And then there was sunlight in the room and Igraine stirred, only to discover that she could not sit up.

“Lie still, my lady,” said Isotta, “in a little while I will bring you your medicine.”

Igraine said, and was surprised to find herself whispering, “If I have lived through your herb drinks, I will probably live through this, too. What day is this?”

“Only ten days till Midwinter-night, my lady, and as for what happened, well, all we know is that the fire in your room must have gone out during the night, and your window blown open. The lady Morgause said she woke to see you closing it, and that you went out afterward, and came back with a fire pan. But you did not speak, and mended the fire, so she did not know you were ill till morning, when you were burning with fever and did not know her, or the child.”

That was the simple explanation. Only Igraine knew that her illness was more, was punishment for attempting sorcery far beyond her strength, so that body and spirit were drained almost past returning.

“What of-” Igraine stopped herself; she could not inquire of Uther, what was she thinking of? “Is there news of my lord Duke?”

“None, my lady. We know there was a battle, but no news will come until the roads are cleared after the great storm,” the serving-woman said. “But now you must not talk anymore, lady, you must have some hot gruel and He down to sleep.”

Patiently Igraine drank the hot broth they brought her, and slept. News would come when the time was ripe.


On midwinter-eve, the weather broke again and turned fine. All day snow was melting and dripping, the roads ran mud, and fog came in and lay softly over the sea and courtyard, so that voices and whispers seemed to echo endlessly when anyone spoke. For a little while in the early afternoon, the sun came out, and Igraine went into the courtyard for the first time since her illness. She felt quite recovered now, but she fretted, as they all did, for news.

Uther had sworn he would come at Midwinter-night. How would he manage it, with Gorlois’s army lying between? All day she was silent and abstracted; she even spoke sharply to Morgaine, running about like a wild thing with the joy of being free after the confinement and cold of the winter weather.

I should not be harsh with my child because my mind is with my lover! Igraine thought, and, angry with herself, called Morgaine to her and kissed her. A chill went through her as she laid her lips to the soft cheek; by her forbidden sorcery, warning her lover of Gorlois’s ambush, she might have condemned the father of her child to death ...

... but no. Gorlois had betrayed his High King; whatever she, Igraine, had done or left undone, Gorlois was marked for death, and by his treason he had deserved it. Unless, indeed, he should compound his betrayal by killing that man whom his sworn king, Ambrosius, had marked for the defense of all Britain.

Father Columba came to her, insisting that she forbid her women and serving-men to light Midwinter fires. “And you yourself should set them a good example by coming tonight to mass,” he insisted. “It has been long, my lady, since you received the sacraments.”

“I have been ill,” she said indifferently, “and as for the sacraments, I seem to remember that you gave me the last rites when I lay sick. Although I may have dreamed it-I dreamed many things.”

“Many of them,” said the priest, “such things as no Christian woman should dream. It was for my lord’s sake, lady, that I gave you the sacraments when you had had no opportunity to confess yourself and receive them worthily.”

“Aye-I know well it was not for my own sake,” said Igraine, with a faint curl of her lip.

“I do not presume to set limits on God’s mercy,” the priest said, and Igraine knew the unspoken part of his thought: he would err if needed on the side of mercy, because Gorlois, for some reason, cared about this woman, and leave it to God to be harsh with her, as no doubt God would be ... .

But at last she said that she would come to mass. Little as she liked this new religion, Ambrosius had been a Christian, Christianity was the religion of the civilized people of Britain and would inevitably become more so; Uther would bow to the public observance, whatever his private views on religion. She did not really know-she had had no opportunity to know how he really felt about matters of conscience. Would she ever know? He swore he would come to me at Midwinter. But Igraine lowered her eyes and tried to pay strict attention to the mass.

Dusk had fallen, and Igraine was speaking in the kitchen house to her women, when she heard a commotion at the end of the causeway and the sound of riders, then a cry in the courtyard. She flung her hood over her shoulders and ran out, Morgause behind her. At the gateway were men in Roman cloaks such as Gorlois wore, but the guards were barring their way with the long spears they carried.

“My lord Gorlois left orders; no one but the Duke himself to go inside in his absence.”

One of the men at the center of the group of newcomers drew himself up, immensely tall.

“I am the Merlin of Britain,” he said, his resounding voice ringing through the dusk and fog. “Stand back, man, will you deny passage to me?”

The guardsman drew back in instinctive deference, but Father Columba stepped forward, with an imperative gesture of refusal.

“I will deny you. My lord the Duke of Cornwall has said particularly that you, old sorcerer, are to have no entrance here at any time.” The soldiers gaped, and Igraine, despite her anger-stupid, meddlesome priest!-had to admire his courage. It was not an easy thing to defy the Merlin of all Britain.

Father Columba held up the big wooden cross at his belt. “In the name of the Christ, I bid you begone! In God’s name, return to the realms of darkness whence you came!”

The Merlin’s ringing laugh raised echoes from the looming walls. “Good brother in Christ,” he said, “your God and my God are one and the same. Do you really think I will vanish away at your exorcism? Or do you think I am some foul fiend from the darkness? No, not unless you call the falling of God’s night the coming of darkness! I come from a land no darker than the Summer Country, and look, these men with me bear the ring of his lordship the Duke of Cornwall himself. Look.” The torchlight flashed as one of the cloaked men thrust out a bare hand. On the first finger glinted Gorlois’s ring.

“Now let us in, Father, for we are not fiends, but mortal men who are cold and weary, and we have ridden for a long way. Or must we cross ourselves and repeat a prayer to prove that to you?”

Igraine came forward, wetting her lips with nervousness. What was happening here? How did they come to bear Gorlois’s ring, unless they were his messengers? Certainly one of them would have appealed to her. She saw no one she recognized, nor would Gorlois have chosen the Merlin for his messenger. Was Gorlois dead then, and was it news of his death being brought to her in this fashion? She said abruptly, her voice sounding harsh, “Let me see the ring. Is this truly his token or a forgery?”

“It is truly his ring, lady Igraine,” said a voice she knew, and Igraine, bending her eyes to see the ring in the torchlight, saw familiar hands, big, broad and callused; and above them, what she had seen only in vision. Around Uther’s hairy arms, tattooed there in blue woad, writhed two serpents, one on either wrist. She thought that her knees would give way and that she would sink down on the stones of the courtyard.

He had sworn it: I will come to you at Midwinter. And he had come, wearing Gorlois’s ring!

“My lord Duke!” said Father Columba impulsively, stepping forward, but the Merlin raised a hand to forbid the words.

“Hush! The messenger is secret,” he said. “Speak no word.” And the priest fell back, thinking the cloaked man was Gorlois, puzzled but obedient.

Igraine dropped a curtsey, still struggling against disbelief and dismay. She said, “My lord, come in,” and Uther, still concealing his face beneath the cloak, reached out with the ringed hand and gripped her fingers. Her own felt like ice beneath them, but his hand was warm and firm and steadied her as they stepped into the hall.

She took refuge in banalities. “Shall I fetch some wine, my lord, or send for food?”

He murmured close to her ear, “In God’s name, Igraine, find some way we can be alone. The priest has sharp eyes, even in the dark, and I want it thought it is Gorlois, indeed, who has come here.”

She said to Isotta, “Bring food and some beer to the soldiers here in the hall, and to the Lord Merlin. Bring them water for washing, and all they desire. I will speak with my lord in our chambers. Have food and wine sent there at once.”

The servants went scurrying in all directions to do her will. The Merlin let a man take his cloak, and set his harp carefully on one of the benches. Morgause came into the doorway, peering boldly at the soldiers. Her eyes fell on Uther’s tall form, and she dropped a curtsey.

“My lord Gorlois! Welcome, dear brother!” she said, and started toward him. Uther made a slight forbidding movement and Igraine stepped quickly in front of him. She thought, frowning, This is ridiculous; even cloaked, Uther looks no more like Gorlois than do I!

She said sharply, “My lord is weary, Morgause, and in no mood for the chatter of children. Take Morgaine to your chamber and keep her; she will sleep there with you this night.”

Frowning, sullen, Morgause picked up Morgaine and carried her away up the stairs. Keeping well behind them, Igraine reached for Uther’s hand and held it as they climbed. What manner of trickery was this, and why? Her heart was pounding until she thought she would faint away as she led him into the chamber she had shared with Gorlois and shut the door.

Inside, his arms were stretched to sweep her into his embrace; he shoved back the hood and stood there, his hair and beard wet with fog, holding out his arms, but she did not move toward him.

“My lord King! What is this, why do they think you are Gorlois?”

“A small magic of the Merlin,” Uther said, “mostly a matter of a cloak and a ring, but a small glamour too; nothing that would hold if they should see me in full light, or uncloaked. I see that you were not deceived; I had not expected it. It is a seeming, not a Sending. I swore I would come to you, Igraine, at Midwinter, and I have kept my vow. Do I not even get a kiss for all my travail?”

She came and took the cloak from him, but she evaded his touch.

“My lord King, how came you by Gorlois’s ring?”

His face hardened. “That? I cut it from his hand in battle, but the oathbreaker turned tail and fled. Mistake me not, Igraine, I come here by right, not as a thief in the night; the glamour is to save your reputation in the eyes of the world, no more. I would not have my promised wife branded adulteress. But I come here by right; the life of Gorlois is forfeit to me. He held Tintagel as the sworn vassal of Ambrosius Aurelianus; that oath he renewed to me, and now that, too, is forfeit. Surely you understand this, Lady Igraine? No king can stand if his sworn men may break oath with impunity and stand under arms against their king.”

She bowed her head in acknowledgment.

“Already he has cost me the wreck of a year’s work against the Saxon. When he left London with his men I could not stand against them, and I had to step aside, flee, and let them pillage the town. My people, whom I am sworn to defend.” His face was bitter. “Lot, I can forgive; he refused to take the oath. A score I have to settle with Lot, indeed-he will make peace with me or I will see him off his throne and hanged- but he is not oathbreaker or betrayer. Gorlois I trusted; he took oath and forswore it, and so I am left in the wreck of the work Ambrosius spent his life to accomplish, with all of it to do again. Gorlois cost me that, and I am come to have Tintagel at his hands. And I will have his life, too, and he knows it.”

His face was like stone.

Igraine swallowed hard. “And you will have his lady, too-by conquest and by right, as you have Tintagel?”

“Ah, Igraine,” he said, drawing her to him with his two hands, “I know well what choice you made, when I saw you the night of the great storm. If you had not warned me, I would have lost my best men, and, no doubt, my life as well. Thanks to you, when Gorlois came against me, I was ready for him. It was then I took the ring from his finger, and would have taken the hand, and the head too, but he escaped me.”

“I know well you had no choice as to that, my lord King,” Igraine said, but at that moment there was a knock on the door. One of the serving-women brought in a tray with food and a jug of wine, and muttered “My lord,” dropping a curtsey. Mechanically Igraine freed herself from Uther’s hands, took the food and wine, shut the door behind the woman. She took Uther’s cloak, which was, after all, not so very different from the one Gorlois wore, and hung it on the bedpost to dry; bent and helped him off with his boots; took his sword belt from him, Like a dutiful lady and wife, a voice remarked in her mind, but she knew she had made her choice. It was even as Uther said: Tintagel belonged to the High King of Britain; so did its lady, and it was at her own will. She had given her allegiance to the King’s own self.

The women had brought dried meat seethed with lentils, a loaf of new-baked bread, some soft cheese, and wine. Uther ate like a man starving, saying, “I have been in the field these two moons past, thanks to that damnable traitor you call husband; this is the first meal I have eaten under a roof since Samhain-the good Father down there, no doubt, would remind me to say All Souls.”

“It is only what was cooking for the servants’ supper and mine, my lord King, not at all fitting-”

“It seems to me good enough for the keeping of Christmas, after what I have been eating in the cold,” he said, chewing noisily, tearing the bread asunder with strong fingers and cutting a chunk of cheese with his knife. “And am I to have no word from you save my lord King? I have dreamed so of this moment, Igraine,” he said, laying down the cheese and staring up at her. He took hold of her round the waist and drew her close to his chair.

“Have you no word of love for me?- Can it be that you are still loyal to Gorlois?”

Igraine let him draw her against him. She said it aloud. “I have made my choice.”

“I have waited so long-” he whispered, pulling her down so that she half-knelt against his knee, and tracing the lines of her face with his hand. “I had begun to fear it would never come, and now you have no word of love or look of kindness for me-Igraine, Igraine, did I dream it, after all, that you loved me, wanted me? Should I have left you in peace?”

She felt cold, she was shaking from head to foot. She whispered, “No, no-or if it was a dream, then I too dreamed.” She looked up at him, not knowing what else to say or do. She did not fear him, as she had feared Gorlois, but now that the moment was at hand she wondered, with a sudden wild panic, why she had come so far. He still held her within the curve of his arm. Now he pulled her down on his knee, and she let him draw her back, her head against his breast.

He said, encircling her narrow wrist in his big hand, “I had not realized how slight you were. You are tall; I thought you a big woman, queenly -and after all you are a little thing, I could break you with my two hands, little bones like a bird’s-” He closed the fingers around her wrist. “And you are so young-”

“I am not so young as all that,” she said, laughing suddenly. “I have been married five years and I have a child.”

“You seem too young for that,” Uther said. “Was that the little one I saw downstairs?”

“My daughter. Morgaine,” Igraine said. And suddenly she realized that’ he, too, was ill at ease, delaying. Instinctively she realized that for all his thirty-odd years, his experience of women was only with such women as could be had for the asking, and that a chaste woman of his own station was something new to him. She wished, with a sudden ache, that she knew the right thing to do or say.

Still temporizing, she drew her free hand along the tattooed serpents twining around his wrists. “I had not seen these before ... .”

“No,” he said, “they were given me at my kingmaking on Dragon Island. I would you could have been with me, my queen,” he whispered, and took her face between his hands, tilting it back to kiss her on the lips.

“I do not want to frighten you,” he whispered, “but I have dreamed so long of this moment, so long ... “

Shaking, she let him kiss her, feeling the strangeness of it stirring something deep in her body. It had never been like this with Gorlois ... and suddenly she was afraid again. With Gorlois it had always been something done to her in which she had no part, something from which she could stand aside, watching with detachment. She had always been herself, Igraine. Now, with the touch of Uther’s lips, she knew she could no longer remain apart, that she would never again be the self she had known. The thought terrified her. And yet the knowledge of how much he wanted her was racing through her veins. Her hand tightened about the blue serpents at his wrists. “I saw these in a dream ....ut I thought it was only a dream.”

He nodded soberly. “I dreamed of them before ever I wore them. And it was in my mind that you had something like to them, too, about your arms ... “ He picked up her slender wrist again and traced along it. “Only they were golden.”

She felt the hairs rise on her back. Indeed it had been no dream, but a vision from the Country of Truth.

“I cannot remember all the dream,” Uther said, staring over her shoulder. “Only that we stood together on a great plain, and there was something like to the ring stones ... . What does it mean, Igraine, that we share one another’s dreams?”

She said, feeling her voice catch in her throat as if she were about to weep, “Perhaps it means only that we are fated for one another, my king ... and my lord ... and my love.”

“My queen, and my love ... “ He met her eyes suddenly, a long look and a long question. “Surely the time for dreaming is over, Igraine.” He thrust his hands into her hair, pulling out the pins, letting it tumble down over her embroidered collar and over his face; smoothed the long locks down with trembling hands. He rose to his feet, still holding her in his arms. She had never guessed at the strength in his hands. He crossed the room in two great strides, and laid her down on the bed. Kneeling at her side, he bent and kissed her again.

“My queen,” he murmured. “I would you could have been crowned at my side at my kingmaking.... There were rites there such as no Christian man should know; but the Old People, who were here long before ever the Romans came to these isles, would not acknowledge me king without them. It was a long road I took to come there, and some of it, I am sure, was not anywhere in this world I know.”

This reminded her of what Viviane had told her about the drifting of the worlds, apart in the mists. And thinking about Viviane brought to mind what Viviane had asked of her, and how reluctant she had been.

I did not know. I was so young then, and untried, I knew nothing, I did not know how all of me could be dissolved, torn, swept away ... .

“Did they ask of you that you should make the Great Marriage with the land, as was done in the old days? I know that King Ban of Benwick in Less Britain was so required ... “ and a sudden, violent stab of jealousy went through her, that some woman or priestess might have symbolized for him the land he was sworn to defend.

“No,” he said. “And I am not sure I would have done so, but it was not asked of me. The Merlin said, too, that it is he, as with every Merlin of Britain, who is sworn to die if need be, in sacrifice for his people-” Uther broke off. “But this can mean little to you.”

“You have forgotten,” she said, “I was reared in Avalon; my mother was priestess there and my eldest sister is now the Lady of the Lake.”

“Are you a priestess too, Igraine?”

She shook her head, starting to say a simple no; then said, “Not in this life.”

“I wonder ... “ Again he traced the line of the imaginary serpents, touching his own with his other hand. “I have always known, I think, that I lived before-it seems to me that life is too great a thing to live it only once and then be snuffed out like a lamp when the wind blows. And why, when first I looked upon your face, did I feel that I had known you before the world was made? These things are mysteries, and I think it may be that you know more of them than I. You say you are no priestess, yet you had sorcery enough to come to me, the night of the great storm, and warn me. ... I think perhaps I should ask no more, lest I might hear from you what no Christian man should know. As for these”-again, with a fingertip, he touched the serpents-”if I wore them before this life, then perhaps that is why the old man, when he pricked them into my wrists the night of my kingmaking, told me that they were mine by right. I have heard that the Christian priests have driven all such serpents from our isles ... but I do not fear the dragons, and I wear them in token that I will spread my protection over this land like the dragon’s wings.”

“In that case,” she whispered, “surely you will be the greatest of kings, my lord.”

“Call me not so!” he interrupted fiercely, bending over her where she lay and covering her mouth with his.

“Uther,” she whispered, as if in a dream.

His hands moved at her throat, and he bent to kiss her bare shoulder. But when he began to pull off her gown, she flinched and shrank away. Tears flooded her eyes and she couldn’t speak, but he laid his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes.

He said softly, “Have you been so mishandled, my beloved? God strike me if you ever have anything to fear from me, now or ever. I wish with all my heart that you had never been Gorlois’s wife. Had I found you first ... but what is done is done. But I swear to you, my queen: you will never have anything to fear from me.” In the flickering light of the lamp, his eyes seemed dark, although she knew they were blue. “Igraine, I have-I have taken this for granted, because somehow I believed you must know how I feel. I know very little about your kind of woman. You are my love, my wife, my queen. I swear to you by my crown and by my manhood, you shall be my queen and I will never take another woman before you, or put you aside. Did you think I was treating you as a wanton?” His voice was trembling, and Igraine knew that he was stricken with fear-the fear of losing her. Knowing that he could fear too, knowing that he too was vulnerable, her own fear was gone. She put her arms around his neck and said clearly, “You are my love and my lord and my king, and I will love you as long as I live, and as long thereafter as God wills.”

And this time she let him pull away her gown, and, naked, came willingly into his arms. Never, never had she guessed that it could be like this. Until this moment, despite five years of marriage and the birth of a child, she had been an innocent, a virgin, an unknowing girl. Now body and mind and heart blended, making her one with Uther as she had never been with Gorlois. She thought, fleetingly, that not even a child in its mother’s womb could be so close ... .

He lay weary on her shoulder, his coarse fair hair tickling her breasts. He murmured, “I love you, Igraine. Whatever comes of this, I love you. And if Gorlois should come here, I will kill him before he can touch you again.”

She did not want to think of Gorlois. She smoothed the light hair across his brow and murmured, “Sleep, my love. Sleep.”

She did not want to sleep. Even after his breathing became heavy and slow, she lay wakeful, caressing him softly so as not to wake him. His chest was almost as smooth as her own, with only a little light, fair hair; she had somehow thought all men were heavy and hairy. The scent of his body was sweet, though heavy with sweat and the juices of love. She felt she could never have enough of touching him. At one and the same time she longed for him to waken and take her again in his arms, and jealously guarded his exhausted sleep. She felt no fear now, and no shame; what had been with Gorlois duty and acceptance had become delight almost unendurable, as if she had been reunited with some hidden part of her own body and soul.

At last she did sleep a little, fitfully, curled into the curve of his body. She had slept perhaps an hour when she was roused abruptly by commotion in the courtyard. She sat up, flinging her long hair back. Uther pulled her sleepily down.

“Lie still, dear love, dawn is still far away.”

“No,” she said, with sure instinct, “we dare not linger now.” She flung on a gown and kirtle, twisting her hair up with shaking hands. The lamp had gone out and she could not find the pin in the darkness. At last she caught up a veil to throw over it, slid her feet into her shoes, and ran down the stairs. It was still far too dark to see clearly. In the great hall there was only a little glimmer of light from the banked fire. And then she came up sharp before a little stirring of the air, and stopped dead.

Gorlois stood there, a great sword cut on his face, looking upon her with unutterable grief and reproach and dismay. It was the Sending she had seen before, the fetch, the death-doom; he raised his hand, and she could see that the ring and three fingers had been cut away. His face bore a ghastly pallor, but he looked at her with grief and love, and his lips moved in what she knew was her name, although she could not hear in the frozen silence around them. And in that moment she knew that he, too, had loved her, in his own harsh way, and whatever he had done to hurt her had been done for love. Indeed, for her love he had quarreled with Uther, flung away honor and dukedom both. And she had returned his love with nothing but hatred and impatience; only now could she understand that even as she felt for Uther, so Gorlois had felt for her. Her throat cramped with anguish and she would have cried out his name, but the dead air moved and he was gone; had never been there at all. And at that moment the frozen silence around her was lifted and she heard men shouting in the courtyard.

“Make way!” they were crying. “Make way! Lights, here, lights!” Father Columba came into the hall, thrust a torch into the banked fire and set it ablaze. He hastened to fling the door wide. “What is this outcry-”

“Your duke is slain, men of Cornwall,” someone shouted. “We bring the Duke’s body! Make way! Gorlois of Cornwall lies dead and we bring his body for burying!”

Igraine felt Uther’s arms holding her up from behind, else she would have fallen. Father Columba protested loudly, “No! This cannot be! Why, the Duke came home last night with a few of his men, he’s asleep upstairs now in his lady’s chamber-”

“No.” It was the voice of the Merlin, quiet, but ringing to the farthest corners of the court. He took one of the torches and thrust it against Father Columba’s torch, then gave it to one of the soldiers to hold. “The oath-breaker Duke came never to Tintagel as a living man. Your lady stands here with your overlord and your High King, Uther Pendragon. You shall marry them today, Father.”

There were cries and mutterings among the men, and the servants who had come running stood numbly watching as the rough bier, animal skins sewn into a litter, was borne into the hall. Igraine shrank away from the covered face and body. Father Columba bent over, briefly uncovered the face, made the sign of the cross, then turned away again. His face was grieved and angry.

“This is sorcery, this is witchcraft.” He spat, brandishing the cross between them. “This foul illusion was your doing, old wizard!”

Igraine said, “You will not speak so to my father, priest!”

Merlin lifted his hand. “I need no woman’s protection-nor no man’s, my lord Uther,” he said. “And it was no sorcery. You saw what you willed to see-your lord come home. Only your lord was not the oathbreaker Gorlois, who had forfeited Tintagel, but the true High King and lord who came here to take what was his own. Keep you to your priestcraft, Father, there is need of a burying, and when that is done, of a nuptial mass for your king and for my lady whom he has chosen queen.”

Igraine stood within the curve of Uther’s arm. She met the resentful, contemptuous look in Father Columba’s eyes; she knew that he would have turned on her, called her harlot and witch, but his fear of Uther kept him silent. The priest turned away from her and knelt beside Gorlois’s body; he was praying. After a moment Uther knelt too, his fair hair gleaming in the torchlight. Igraine went to kneel at his side. Poor Gorlois. He was dead, he had met a traitor’s death; he had richly deserved it, but he had loved her, and he had died.

A hand on her shoulder prevented her. The Merlin looked into her eyes for a moment, and said gently, “So it has come, Grainne. Your fate, as it was foretold. See that you meet it with such courage as you may.”

Kneeling at Gorlois’s side, she prayed-for Gorlois, and then, weeping, for herself; for the unknown fate that lay before them now. Had it indeed been ordained from the beginning of the world, or had it been brought about by the sorcery of the Merlin, and of Avalon, and by her own use of sorcery? Now Gorlois lay dead, and as she looked on Uther’s face, already beloved and dear, she knew that soon others would come and he would take up the burdens of his kingdom, and that never again would he be wholly hers as he had been on this one night. Kneeling there between her dead husband and the man she would love all her life, she fought the temptation to play upon his love for her, to turn him, as she knew she could do, from thoughts of kingdom and state to think only of her. But the Merlin had not brought them together for her own joy. She knew that if she sought to keep it, she would rebel against the very fate that had brought them together, and thus destroy it. As Father Columba rose from the dead man’s side and signalled to the soldiers to carry the body into the chapel, she touched his arm. He turned impatiently.

“My lady?”

“I have much to confess to you, Father, before my lord the Duke is laid to rest-and before I am married. Will you hear my confession?”

He looked at her, frowning, surprised. At last he said, “At daybreak, lady,” and went away. The Merlin followed Igraine with his eyes as she came back to him. She looked into his face and said, “Here and now, my father, from this moment, be witness that I have done forever with sorcery. What God wills be done.”

The Merlin looked tenderly into her ravaged face. His voice was gentler than she had ever heard it. “Do you think that all our sorcery could bring about anything other than God’s will, my child?”

Catching at some small self-possession-if she did not, she knew, she would weep like a child before all these men-she said, “I will go and robe myself, Father, and make myself seemly.”

“You must greet the day as befits a queen, my daughter.”

Queen. The word sent shudders through her body. But it was for this | that she had done all that she had done, it was for this that she had been born. She went slowly up the stairs. She must waken Morgaine and tell her that her father was dead; fortunately the child was too young to remember him, or to grieve.

And as she called her women, and had them bring her finest robes and] jewelry and dress her hair, she laid her hand wonderingly over her belly. Somehow, with the last fleeting touch of magic before she renounced it forever, she knew that from this one night, when they had been only lovers and not yet king and queen, she would bear Uther’s son. She wondered the Merlin knew.


I think that my first real memory is of my mother’s wedding to Uther Pendragon. I remember my father only a little. When I was unhappy as a little girl, I seemed to remember him, a heavyset man with a dark beard and dark hair I remember playing with a chain he wore about his neck. I remember that as a little maiden when I was unhappy, when I was chidden by my mother or my teachers, or when Uther-rarely-noticed me to disapprove of me, I used to comfort myself by thinking that if my own father were alive, he would have been fond of me and taken me on his knee and brought me pretty things. Now that I am older and know what manner of man he was, I think it more likely he would have put me into a nunnery as soon as I had a brother, and never thought more about me.

Not that Uther was ever unkind to me; it was simply that he had no particular interest in a girl child. My mother was always at the center of his heart, and he at hers, and so I resented that-that I had lost my mother to this great fair-hair boorish man. When Uther was away in battle-and there was battle a good deal of the time when I was a maiden-my mother Igraine cherished me and petted me, and taught me to spin with her own hands and to weave in colors. But when Uther’s men were sighted, then I went back into my rooms and was forgotten until he went away again. Is it any wonder I hated him and resented, with all my heart, the sight of the dragon banner on any horsemen approaching Tintagel?

And when my brother was born it was worse. For there was this crying thing, all pink and white, at my mother’s breast; and it was worse that she expected me to care as much for him as she did. “This is your little brother,” she said, “take good care of him, Morgaine, and love him.” Love him? I hated him with all my heart, for now when I came near her she would pull away and tell me that I was a big girl, too big to be sitting in her lap, too big to bring my ribbons to her for tying, too big to come and lay my head on her knees for comfort. I would have pinched him, except that she would have hated me for it. I sometimes thought she hated me anyhow. And Uther made much of my brother. But I think he always hoped for another son. I was never told, but somehow I knew-maybe I heard the women talking, maybe I was gifted even then with more of the Sight than I realized -that he had first lain with my mother when she was still wedded to Gorlois, and there were still those who believed that this son was not Uther’s but the son of the Duke of Cornwall.

How they could believe that, I could not then understand, for Gorlois, they said, was dark and aquiline, and my brother was like Uther, fair-haired, with grey eyes.

Even during the lifetime of my brother, who was crowned king as Arthur, I heard all kinds of tales about how he came by his name. Even the tale that it was from Arth-Uther, Uther’s bear; but it was not so. When he was a babe, he was called Gwydion-bright one-because of his shining hair; the same name his son bore later-but that is another story. The facts are simple: when Gwydion was six years old he was sent to be fostered by Ectorius, one of Uther’s vassals in the North country near Eboracum, and Uther would have it that my brother should be baptized as a Christian. And so he was given the name of Arthur.

But from his birth until he was six years old, he was forever at my heels; as soon as he was weaned, my mother, Igraine, handed him over to me and said, “This is your little brother and you must love him and care for him.” And I would have killed the crying thing and thrown him over the cliffs, and run after my mother begging that she should be all mine again, except that my mother cared what happened to him.

Once, when Uther came and she decked herself in her best gown, as she always did, with her amber and moonstone necklaces, and looked down on me with a careless kiss for me and one for my little brother, ready to run down to Uther, I looked at her glowing cheeks-heightened with color, her breathing quickened with delight that her man had come-and hated both Uther and my brother. And while I stood weeping at the top of the stairs, waiting for our nurse to come and take us away, he began to toddle down after her, crying out, “Mother, Mother” -he could hardly talk, then-and fell and cut his chin on the stair. I screamed for my mother, but she was on her way to the King, and she called back angrily, Morgaine, I told you, look after the baby,” and hurried on.

I picked him up, bawling, and wiped his chin with my veil. He had cut his lip on his tooth-I think he had only eight or ten, then-and he kept on wailing and calling out for my mother, but when she did not come, I sat down on the step with him in my lap, and he put up his little arms around my neck and buried his face in my tunic and after a time he sobbed himself to sleep there. He was heavy on my lap, and his hair felt soft and damp; he was damp elsewhere, too, but I found I did not mind much, and in the way he clung to me I realized that in his sleep he had forgotten he was not in his mother’s arms. I thought, Igraine has forgotten both of us, abandoned him as she abandoned me. Now I must be his mother, I suppose.

And so I shook him a little, and when he woke, he put up his little arms around my neck to be carried, and I slung him across my hip as I had seen my nurse do.

“Don’t cry,” I said, “I’ll take you to nurse.”

“Mother,” he whimpered.

“Mother’s gone, she’s with the King,” I said, “but I’ll take care of you, brother.” And with his chubby hand in mine I knew what Igraine meant; I was too big a girl to cry or whimper for my mother, because I had a little one to look after now.

I think I was all of seven years old.

WHEN MY MOTHER’S SISTER Morgause was married to King Lot of Orkney, I knew only that I had my first grown-up gown, and an amber necklace with silver. I loved Morgause well, for she often had time for me when Mother did not, and she told me stories of my father-after his death, I think Igraine never spoke his name. But even though I loved Morgause, I feared her, for sometimes she would pinch me and tug my hair and call me tiresome brat, and it was she who first taunted me with the taunt which then made me weep, though now I take pride in it: “You are born of the fairy folk. Why not paint your face blue and wear deerskins, Morgaine of the Fairies!”

I knew only a little about the reasons for the wedding, or why Morgause was to be married so young. I knew my mother was glad to have her married and away, for she fancied Morgause looked on Uther lustfully; she was probably not aware that Morgause looked lustfully on all men she came by. She was a bitch dog in heat, though indeed I suppose it was because she had no one to care what she did. At the wedding, in my new holiday gown, I heard them speak of how fortunate it was that Uther had made haste to amend his quarrel with Lot of Orkney, even giving him his own sister-in-law in marriage. I found Lot charming; only Uther, I think, was ever immune to that charm. Certainly Morgause seemed to love him -or perhaps only found it expedient to act as if she did.

It was there, I think, that I first remember meeting with the Lady of Avalon. Like Morgause, she was my aunt, my mother’s sister, and she was also of the ancient folk - small, and dark, and glowing, with crimson ribbons braided in her dark hair. She was not young, even then, but I thought her, as I always thought her, beautiful; and her voice was rich and low. What I liked best about her was that she spoke to me always as if I were a woman of her own age, not with the cooing falsity with which most grown-up people spoke to a child.

I came into the hall a little late, for my nurse had not been able to manage braiding my hair with ribbons, and in the end I did it myself; I have always been neat-handed, and could do well and swiftly things which grown-up people did only slowly. Already I could spin as well as my mother and better than Morgause ever did. I was very proud of myself, in my saffron gown with ribbons edged with gold, and an amber necklace instead of the baby corals I had outgrown. But there was no seat at the high table, and I circled it in disappointment, knowing that any moment now Mother would banish me to a lower table, or call my nurse to take me away, or call attention to me by sending a serving-woman to fetch a chair. And while I was a princess in Cornwall, at Uther’s court in Caerleon I was only the Queen’s daughter by a man who had been traitor to his High King.

And then I saw a small, dark woman-so small, in fact, that at first I thought she was a girl only a little older than I-sitting on an embroidered stool. She put out her arms and said, “Come here, Morgaine. Do you remember me?”

I did not, but I looked at the dark, glowing face, and felt as if I had known her from the beginning of time.

But I pouted a little, because I was afraid she would tell me to come and sit on her lap, as if I were a baby. Instead, she smiled and moved to one side of her stool. I could see now that she was not a girl, but a lady.

“We are neither of us very big,” she said. “I think this one stool will hold us both, since it was made for bigger people.”

From that moment I loved her, so much I sometimes felt guilty because Father Columba, my mother’s confessor, told me I should honor my mother and my father above all others.

So I sat beside Viviane through the wedding feast, and I learned that she was Morgause’s foster-mother-their mother had died at Morgause’s birth and Viviane suckled her as her own. Which fascinated me, because I had been angry when Igraine refused to give my new brother up to a wet nurse and fed him from her own breasts. Uther said it was unseemly for a queen, and I had agreed with him; I had hated seeing Gwydion at Igraine’s breasts. I suppose the truth is that l was jealous, though I would have been ashamed to say so.

“Was your mother, and Igraine’s, a queen, then? “ For she was robed as richly as Igraine, or any of the queens of the North.

“No, Morgaine, she was not a queen, but a great priestess, the Lady of the Lake; and I am Lady of Avalon in her place. One day, perhaps, you will be a priestess too. You have the old blood, and perhaps you have the Sight.”

“What is the Sight?”

She frowned. “Igraine has not told you? Tell me, Morgaine, do you ever see things that others cannot see?”

“All the time,” I said, realizing that this lady understood all about me. “Only Father Columba says it is the work of the Devil. And Mother says that I should be silent about it, and never speak of it to anyone, even to her, because these things are not suitable for a Christian court and if Uther knew of them he would send me into a nunnery. I do not think I want to go into a nunnery and wear black clothes and never laugh again.”

Viviane said a word for which nurse had washed my mouth out with the harsh lye soap the kitchen people used for scrubbing floors. “Listen to me, Morgaine. Your mother is right that you should never speak of these things to Father Columba-”

“But God will be angry with me if I lie to a priest.”

She said the bad word again. “Listen, dear child: a priest will be angry if you lie to him, and say it is his God who is angry. But the Great Creator has better things to do than to be angry with young people, and this is a matter for your own conscience. Trust me, Morgaine: never say any more to Father Columba than you must, but always believe what the Sight tells you, for it comes to you directly from the Goddess.”

“Is the Goddess the same as the Virgin Mary, Mother of God?”

She frowned. “All the Gods are one God and all the Goddesses are one Goddess. The Great Goddess will not be angry if you call her by the name of Mary, who was good and loved mankind. Listen, my dear, this is no talk for a festival. But I swear you shall never go into a nunnery while there is life and breath in my body, no matter what Uther may say. Now that I know you have the Sight, I will move Heaven and Earth if I must, to bring you to Avalon. Shall this be a secret between us, Morgaine? Will you promise me?”

“I promise,” I said, and she leaned down and kissed my cheek. “Listen, the harpers are beginning to play for the dancing. Is Morgause not beautiful in her blue gown?”


On a spring day in the seventh year of the reign of Uther Pendragon at Caerleon, Viviane, priestess of Avalon and Lady of the Lake, went out at twilight to look into her magic mirror.

Although the tradition in which the Lady was priestess was older than the Druids, she shared one of the great tenets of the Druid faith: that the great forces which created the Universe could not be fitly worshipped in a house made with human hands, nor the Infinite contained within any man-made thing. And therefore the Lady’s mirror was not of bronze or even silver.

Behind her rose the grey stone walls of the ancient Temple of the Sun, built by the Shining Ones who had come there from Atlantis, centuries before. Before her lay the great lake, surrounded by tall, waving reeds, and swathed in the mist which, even on fine days, lay now across the land of Avalon. But beyond the Lake lay islands and more lakes, all through the whole of what was called the Summer Country. It lay mostly underwater, bog and salt marsh, but in the height of summer, the pools and some of the brackish lakes would dry in the sun and the lands would lie there, fertile for grazing and rich with grass and weeds.

Here, in fact, the inland sea was receding, year by year giving way to dry land; one day this would all be rich farmland ... but not in Avalon. Avalon now lay eternally surrounded in the mists, hidden from all but the faithful, and when men came and went in pilgrimage to the monastery which the Christian monks called Glass Town, the Temple of the Sun was invisible to them, lying in some strange otherworld; Viviane could see, when she bent her Sight upon it, the church they had built there.

It had been there for a long time, she knew, though she had never set foot upon its grounds. Centuries ago-so the Merlin had told her, and she believed him-a little band of priests had come here from the south, and with them had been their Nazarene prophet for schooling; and the story went that Jesus himself had been schooled there, in the dwelling place of the Druids where once the Temple of the Sun had risen, and had learned all of their wisdom. And years later, when-so the story ran-their Christ had been brought to sacrifice, playing out in his life the old Mystery of the Sacrificed God which was older than Britain’s very self, one of his kinsmen returned here, and struck his staff into the ground on the Holy Hill, and it had blossomed forth into the thorn tree which blossoms, not only with the other thorn, in Midsummer, but in the depth of the winter snow. And the Druids, in memory of the gentle prophet whom they too had known and loved, consented that Joseph of Arimathea should build, in the very grounds of the Holy Isle, a chapel and a monastery to their God; for all the Gods are one.

But that had been long ago. For a time, Christian and Druid had dwelt side by side, worshipping the One, but then the Romans had come to the Isle, and, although they were widely known for tolerating local deities, against the Druids they had been ruthless, cutting and burning down their sacred groves, trumping up lies that the Druids committed human sacrifice. Their real crime, of course, had been that they heartened the people not to accept the Roman laws and the Roman peace. And then, in one great act of Druid magic, to protect the last precious refuge of their school, they had made the last great change hi the world; that change which removed the Island of Avalon from the world of mankind. Now it lay hidden in the mist which concealed it, except from those initiates who had been schooled there or those who were shown the secret ways through the Lake. The Tribesmen knew it was there, and there they worshipped. The Romans, Christian since the days of Constantine, who had converted his legions wholesale on the grounds of some vision he had seen in a battle, believed that the Druids had been vanquished by their Christ, not knowing that the few remaining Druids lived and passed on their ancient wisdom in the hidden land.

Viviane could see, if she chose, with doubled Sight, for she was High Priestess of Avalon. When she chose she could see the tower they had built atop the very Tor, on the Holy Mountain of Initiation; a tower dedicated to Michael, one of their Jewish angels whose ancient function was to keep down the inferior world of demons. This struck Viviane as a blasphemy, even now, but she comforted herself with the thought that it was not in her world at all; if the narrow-minded Christians wished to think of the great old Gods as demons, the Christians would be the poorer for it. The Goddess lived, whatever the Christians thought of her. She turned her thoughts to her own business, which was to look into her magic mirror while the new moon still stood in the sky.

Although it was still light enough to see perfectly well, the Lady had carried with her a little lamp with a tiny flickering flame. She turned her back on the reeds and salt marsh, and walked inland along the path, climbing slowly along the reedy shore, passing the ancient rotted pilings of the dwellers who had built their houses there at the edge of the Lake in time long past.

Her small lamp flickered, becoming more and more visible in the darkness, and above the trees the pure, slim crescent of the virgin moon, barely visible, shone like the silver torque about the Lady’s throat. She went along the ancient processional way, climbing slowly-for, although she was still strong and vigorous, she was not a young woman-until she came to the mirror pool, lying clear between standing stones of enormous antiquity.

The water was clear, reflecting the moonlight and, as she bent over it, springing into flame at the Lady’s tiny lamp. She bent, dipped her hand in the water, and drank-it was forbidden to dip any man-made object into the pool, though above them, where the water bubbled into a spring, pilgrims might come with bottles and jugs and take away what they would from the flow. She tasted the clear, metallic-tasting water, and as always felt the stir of awe: this spring had been flowing since the beginning of the world, and it would flow forever, generous and magical, and free to all people. Surely such a spring as this was the gift of the Great Goddess, and Viviane knelt as she drank, raising her face to the slender crescent in the sky.

But after that momentary renewal of awe, which she had observed since first she came here, a novice of the House of Maidens, she turned back to her business. She set the lamp on a flat rock near the lip of the mirror pool, so that its light would reflect, as would the crescent moon, into the water. Now there were present the four elements: fire, in her lamp; water, from which she had drunk; the earth where she stood; and as she invoked the powers of air, she saw, as always during this invocation, a vagrant breeze ripple across the surface.

She sat for a moment in meditation. Then at last she formulated to herself the question for which she would consult the magical mirror.

How is it with Britain? How is it with my sister, and her daughter who is priestess-born, and with the son who is the hope of Britain?

For a moment, as the wind stirred the surface of the mirror pool, she saw only confused images, flowing-were they within her mind, or on the restless surface of the pool? She caught glimpses of battles, blurred by the restless water; she saw Uther’s dragon banner and saw her Tribesmen fighting at his side. She saw Igraine robed and crowned, as she had seen her in the flesh. And then, in a flash that made her heart pound faster, she saw Morgaine weeping; and in a second and terrifying flash of Sight, she saw a fair-haired child lying senseless, motionless-dead or alive?

Then the moon sank out of sight beyond the mist, and the vision was gone, and try as she might, Viviane could summon nothing back except mocking glimpses: Morgause holding her second son, Lot and Uther pacing in a great hall and hurling angry words, and the confused memory of the bruised and dying child. But had these things been, or were they only a warning of things yet to come?

Biting her lip, Viviane bent and picked up her mirror. She cast the remaining drops of pure oil into the surface of the pool-oil burned for the Sight must never be used for mundane purpose-and went swiftly in the falling darkness along the processional way and to the dwelling of the priestesses.

Once there, she summoned her waiting-woman. “Make all ready to ride at first dawn,” she said, “and let my novice make ready to serve at full moon, for before it waxes another day, I must be in Caerleon. Send to tell the Merlin.”


They travelled mostly in the early hours, lying hidden at midday and riding again at dusk. The country was for the moment peaceful-the war was away to the east. But stray bands of marauding Northmen or Saxons had been known before this to fall upon villages or isolated country villas. Travellers, too, unless protected by armed men, went warily and trusted no one.

Viviane had half expected to find Uther’s court deserted, abandoned to women and children and those who could not fight, but from a distance she saw the dragon banner flying, which meant that the King was in residence. Her lips tightened; Uther neither liked nor trusted the Druids of the Holy Isle. Yet she had set this man whom she disliked on his throne, because he was the best of the leaders who had risen in the island, and now, somehow, she must work with him. At least he was not such a dedicated Christian that he would set himself to the task of wiping out other religions. Better, she thought, to have an ungodly man for High King than a religious fanatic.

Since she had been last at Uther’s court the fortified wall had risen higher, and there were sentries on the wall, who called out to challenge her party. She had instructed her men to use none of her titles, but to say only that the Queen’s sister had come. It was not the time to demand that they give respect to her as the Lady of Avalon; her present mission was too urgent for that.

They were led through the grass-grown enclosure, past all the clutter of an enclosed fort. She could hear somewhere the sound of an armorer or blacksmith beating on his anvil. Some herdswomen clad roughly in skin tunics were driving sheep inside for the night. Viviane, recognizing all these preparations for a siege, raised her eyelids slightly.

A scant few years before, Igraine had run to meet her in the courtyard at Tintagel. Now a solemn chamberlain, richly clad, and having but one arm -no doubt, a veteran of Uther’s service-welcomed her with a solemn bow and conducted her to an upper chamber. “I am sorry, Lady,” he said, “we are short of living space here. You must share this room with two of the Queen’s ladies.”

“I shall be honored,” she said gravely.

“I will send you a serving-woman. You have only to ask her for anything you require.”

“All I require,” said Viviane, “is a little water for washing, and to know when I can see my sister.”

“Lady, I am certain the Queen will receive you at the proper time ... .”

“Does Uther keep state like the Caesars, then? Listen to me, fellow, I am the Lady of Avalon, and I am not accustomed to be kept waiting. But if Igraine has grown to such high state as all this, then I beg you to send the lady Morgaine to me as quickly as is possible!”

The one-armed veteran shrank back, but when he spoke his voice was less formal and more human. “Lady, I am sure the Queen would receive you willingly, at once, but you have come at a time of trouble and danger.

The young prince Gwydion fell this morning from a horse no one should have let him ride, and the Queen won’t leave his side, not for an instant.”

“By the Goddess! I came too late, then!” Viviane whispered to herself.

Aloud, she said, “Take me to them, at once. I am skilled in all the healing arts, and I am sure Igraine would have sent for me if she knew I were here.”

He bowed and said, “Come this way, Lady.”

Following him, Viviane realized that she had not even had time to remove her cloak or the men’s breeches she wore for riding; and she had meant to present herself in all the dignity of Avalon. Well, this was more important.

Outside the door, the chamberlain paused. “It would be as much as my head’s worth to disturb the Queen. She won’t even let her ladies bring her food or drink-”

Viviane pushed the heavy door and went into the room. Dead silence; it was uncannily like a death chamber. Igraine, pale and wan, her headcloth rumpled, knelt like a stone figure beside the bed. A black-robed priest stood motionless, muttering prayers under his breath. Softly as she moved, Igraine heard her.

“How dare you-” she began in a furious whisper, and broke off. “Viviane! God must have sent you to me!”

“I had a warning that you might need me,” said Viviane. This was no time to speak of magical visions. “No, Igraine, you can do no good by weeping,” she added. “Let me look at him and see how serious this is.”

“The King’s physician-”

“Is probably an old fool who knows nothing but potions of goat’s dung,” said Viviane calmly. “I was healing wounds of this kind before you were out of swaddlings, Igraine. Let me see the child.”

She had seen Uther’s son only once, briefly; he had been about three years old, and looked like any other fair-haired, blue-eyed toddler. Now he had stretched out to unusual tallness for his age-thin, but well-muscled arms and legs, much scratched by briars and brambles like any active boy’s. She put aside the covers and saw the great livid bruises on his body. “Did he cough any blood at all?”

“Not even a little. The blood on his mouth was where a tooth was knocked out, but it was loose anyway.”

And indeed Viviane could see the contused lip and the extra gap in his mouth. More serious was the bruise on the temple, and Viviane knew a moment of real fear. Had all their planning come to this?

She ran her small fingers across his head. She could see him flinch when she touched the bruise, and that was the best sign she could possibly have had. If he had been bleeding inside the skull, he would by this time have been so deep in coma that no possible pain could reach him. She reached down and pinched his thigh, very hard, and he whimpered in his sleep.

Igraine protested. “You are hurting him!”

“No,” Viviane said, “I am trying to find out if he will live or die. Believe me, he will live.” She slapped his cheek gently and he opened his eyes for a moment.

“Bring me the candle,” Viviane said, and moved it slowly across his field of vision. He followed it for a moment before his eyes fell shut again, with a whimper of pain.

Viviane rose from his side. “Make sure he’s kept quiet, and nothing but water or soup, nothing solid to eat for a day or two. And don’t sop his bread in wine; only in soup or milk. He’ll be running all over the place in three days.”

“How do you know?” demanded the priest.

“Because I am trained in healing, how do you think?”

“Are you not a sorceress from the Island of Witches?”

Viviane laughed softly. “By no means, Father. I am a woman who, like yourself, has spent her life in the study of holy things, and God has seen fit to give me skill at healing.” She could, she reflected, turn their own jargon against them; she knew, if he did not, that the God they both worshipped was greater and less bigoted than any priesthood.

“Igraine, I must talk to you. Come away-”

“I must be here when he wakes again, he will want me-”

“Nonsense; send his nurse to him. This is a matter of importance!”

Igraine glared at her. “Bring Isotta to sit beside him,” she said to one of the women, with an angry look, and followed Viviane into the hall.

“Igraine, how did this happen?”

“I am not sure-some tale about riding his father’s stallion-I am confused. I only know that they carried him in like one dead-”

“And it was only your good fortune that he was not dead,” Viviane said bluntly. “Is it thus that Uther safeguards the life of his only son?”

“Viviane, don’t reproach me-I have tried to give him others,” Igraine said, and her voice shook. “But I think I am being punished for my adultery, that I can give Uther no other son-”

“Are you mad, Igraine?” Viviane burst out, then stopped herself. It was not fair to upbraid her sister when she was distracted from watching at the bedside of her sick child. “I came because I foresaw some danger to you or the child. But we can talk of that later. Call your women, put on fresh clothing-and when did you last eat anything?” she asked shrewdly.

“I can’t remember-I think I had a little bread and wine last night-”

“Then call your women, and break your fast,” Viviane said impatiently. “I am still dusty from riding. Let me go and wash off the dirt of travel, and clothe myself as is seemly for a lady inside the walls, and then we will talk.”

“Are you angry with me, Viviane?”

Viviane patted her on the shoulder. “I am angry, if it is anger, only at the way fate seems to fall, and that is foolish of me. Go and dress, Igraine, and eat something. The child’s come to no harm this time.”

Inside her room a fire had been built, and on a small stool before it, she saw an undersized female, dressed in a robe so dark and plain that for a moment Viviane thought it was one of the serving wenches. Then, she saw that the simple gown was of the finest stuff, the headcloth embroidered linen, and she recognized Igraine’s daughter.

“Morgaine,” she said, and kissed her. The girl was almost as tall now as Viviane herself. “Why, I think of you as a child, but you are almost a woman ... .”

“I heard you had come, Aunt, and came to welcome you, but they told me you had gone at once to my brother’s bedside. How does he, Lady?”

“He’s badly bruised and banged about, but he’ll be well again with no treatment but rest,” Viviane said. “When he wakes, I must somehow convince Igraine and Uther to keep the physicians and their stupid potions away from him; if they make him vomit, he’ll be worse. I got nothing from your mother but weeping and wailing. Can you tell me how this came to happen? Is there no one here who can guard a child properly?”

Morgaine twisted her small fingers together. “I am not sure how it happened. My brother’s a brave child and always wants to ride horses which are too fast and too strong for him, but Uther has given orders that he’s only to ride with a groom. His pony was lame that day, and he asked for another horse, but how he came to take out Uther’s stallion, no one knows; all the grooms know that he’s never allowed to go near Thunder, and everyone denied seeing him. Uther swore he’d hang the groom who allowed it, but that groom has put the river between Uther and himself by now, I should imagine. Still, they say Gwydion stuck on Thunder’s back like a sheep in a thorn thicket until someone loosed a breeding mare in the stallion’s path, and we cannot find out who loosed the mare, either. So of course the stallion was off after the mare, and my brother was off the stallion, in the blink of an eyelash!” Her face, small and dark and plain, quivered. “He’s really going to live?”

“He’s really going to live.”

“Has anyone yet sent word to Uther? Mother and the priest said he could do no good in the sickroom-”

“No doubt Igraine will attend to that.”

“No doubt,” Morgaine said, and Viviane surprised a cynical smile on her face. Morgaine, evidently, bore no love to Uther, and thought no more of her mother for her love to her husband. Yet she had been conscientious enough to remember that Uther should be sent word about his son’s life. This was no ordinary young girl.

“How old are you now, Morgaine? The years go by so fast, I no longer remember, as I grow old.”

“I shall be eleven at Midsummer.”

Old enough, Viviane thought, to be trained as a priestess. She looked down and realized she was still wearing her travel-stained clothing. “Morgaine, will you have the serving-women bring me some water for washing, and send someone to help me robe myself properly to appear before the King and Queen?”

“Water I have sent for; it is there, in the cauldron by the fire,” Morgaine said, and then hesitated and added shyly, “I would be honored to attend on you myself, Lady.”

“If you wish.” Viviane let Morgaine help her remove her outer garments and wash off the dust of travel. Her saddlebags had been sent up too, and she put on a green gown; Morgaine touched the cloth with admiring fingers.

“This is a fine green dye. Our women can make no green as fine as this. Tell me, what do you use to make it?”

“Woad, no more.”

“I thought that made only blue dyes.”

“No. This is prepared differently, boiled and fixed-I will talk of dyes with you later, if you are interested in herb lore,” Viviane said. “Now we have other matters on our mind. Tell me, is your brother given to escapades like this?”

“Not really. He is strong and hardy, but he’s usually biddable enough,” Morgaine said. “Once someone taunted him about riding so small a pony, and he said that he was to be a warrior and a soldier’s first duty is to obey orders, and that his father had forbidden him to ride a horse beyond his strength. So I can’t imagine how he came to ride Thunder. But still, he wouldn’t have been hurt unless ... “

Viviane nodded. “I would like to know who loosed that mare, and why.”

Morgaine’s eyes widened as she took in the implications of this. Watching her, Viviane said, “Think. Has he had any other narrow escapes from death, Morgaine?”

Morgaine said, hesitating, “He had the summer fever-but then, all the children had that last year. Uther said he should not have been allowed to play with the shepherd’s boys. He caught the fever from them, I think -four of them died. But there was the time when he was poisoned-”


“Isotta-and I would trust her with my life, Lady-swears that she put only wholesome herbs into his soup. Yet he was as sick as if a death-cup mushroom had found its way into his porridge. And yet how could that be? She knows wholesome ones from the poisonous, and she is not yet old and her eyesight is good.” Again Morgaine’s eyes widened. “Lady Viviane, do you think there are people plotting against my brother’s life?”

Viviane drew the girl down to her side. “I came here because I had a warning of this. I have not yet inquired whence the danger comes, I had no time. Do you have the Sight still, Morgaine? When last I spoke with you, you said-”

The girl colored and looked down at her shoes. “You bade me not speak of it. And Igraine says I should turn my thoughts to real things and not daydreams, and so I have tried ... .”

“Igraine is right thus far: that you should not speak idly of these things to the once-born,” Viviane said. “But to me, you may always speak freely, I promise you. My Sight can show me only such things as are relevant to the safety of the Holy Isle and the continuance of Avalon, but Uther’s son is your own mother’s son, and by that tie, your Sight will find him and be able to tell who is trying to compass his death. Uther has enemies enough, all the Gods know.”

“But I do not know how to use the Sight.”

“I will show you, if you wish it,” said Viviane.

The girl looked up at her, her face taut with fear. “Uther has forbidden sorceries in his court.”

“Uther is not my master,” Viviane said slowly, “and no one can rule over another’s conscience. Yet-do you think it an offense to God, to try to discover whether someone is plotting against your brother’s life, or whether it is only bad luck?”

Morgaine said unsteadily, “No, I don’t think it wicked.” She stopped and swallowed and finally said, “And I do not think you would lead me into anything that was wrong, Aunt.”

A sudden pain clutched at Viviane’s heart. What had she done to earn this trust? With all her heart she wished that this small solemn girl was her own daughter, the daughter she owed the Holy Isle and had never been able to bear. Even though she had risked a belated childbearing, of which she had nearly died, she had borne only sons. And here, it seemed, was the successor the Goddess had sent her, a kinswoman with the Sight, and the girl was looking up at her with complete trust. For a moment she could not speak.

Am I prepared to be ruthless with this girl too? Can I train her, never sparing, or will my love make me less harsh than I must be to train a High Priestess?

Can I use her love for me, which I have in no way deserved, to bring her to the feet of the Goddess?

But with the discipline of years, she waited until her voice was clear and perfectly steady. “Be it so, then. Bring me a silver or bronze basin, perfectly clean and scoured with sand, and fill it with fresh rainwater, not water drawn from the well. Be sure that you speak to no man or woman after you have filled the basin.”

She waited, composed, seated by her fire, until at last Morgaine returned.

“I had to scrub it myself,” she said, but the basin she held out was shining and brilliant, filled to the brim with clear water. “Now, unbind your hair, Morgaine.”

The girl looked at her curiously, but Viviane said, low and stern, “No questions.”

Morgaine pulled out the bone hairpin, and her long locks, dark and coarse and perfectly straight, came tumbling down around her shoulders. “Now, if you are wearing any jewelry, take it off, and set it over there, so that it will not be near the basin.”

Morgaine tugged off two little gilt rings she had on her finger, and | unpinned the brooch from her overdress. Without the pin holding it, the overdress fell around her shoulders, and without comment, Viviane helped her pull it off, so that she stood in her undergown alone. Then Viviane opened a little bag she wore about her neck and took out a small quantity of crushed herbs, which wafted a sweetish-musty scent through the chamber. She sifted only a few grains into the basin of water before saying in a low, neutral voice, “Look into the water, Morgaine. Make your mind perfectly still, and tell me what you see.”

Morgaine came and knelt before the basin of water, looking intently into its clear surface. The room was very silent, so still that Viviane could I hear the small chirping of some insect outside. Then Morgaine said, in a wandering, unfocused voice, “I see a boat. It is draped with black and there I are four women in it ... four queens, for they wear crowns ... and one J of them is you ... or is it me?”

“It is the barge of Avalon,” Viviane said, low. “I know what you see.”

She passed her hand lightly over the water and saw the ripples follow her hand. “Look again, Morgaine. Tell me what you see.”

This time the silence was longer. Finally the girl said, in that same strange tone, “I see deer-a great herd of deer, and a man among them with his body painted-they put the antlers on him-oh, he is down, they will kill him-” Her voice trembled and again Viviane passed her hand above the surface of the water, and the ripples passed over the surface. “Enough,” she commanded. “Now see your brother.” Silence, again, a silence that stretched and dragged; Viviane felt her body cramped with the tension of stillness but she did not move, with the long discipline of her training. At last Morgaine murmured, “How still he lies ... but he is breathing, soon he will wake. I see my mother ... no, it is not Mother, it is my aunt Morgause, and all of her children are with her ... there are four of them ... how strange, they are all wearing crowns ... and there is another, he is holding a dagger ... why is he so young? Is he her son? Oh, he will kill him, he will kill him-ah, no!” Her voice rose to a shriek. Viviane touched her shoulder. “Enough,” she said. “Wake, Morgaine.”

The girl shook her head like a puppy stretching after sleep. “Did I see anything?” she asked.

Viviane nodded. “Some day you will learn to see and to remember,” she said. “For now it is enough.”

Now she was armed to confront Uther and Igraine. Lot of Orkney was, as far as she knew, an honorable man, and had taken oath to support Uther. But should Uther die without an heir ... Morgause had borne two sons already and there were likely to be more-Morgaine had seen four, and there was no way in which the little Kingdom of Orkney would support four princes. The brothers, when they grew to manhood, were likely to be at one another’s throats. And Morgause ... sighing, Viviane remembered Morgause’s vaulting ambition. If Uther died without an heir, then Lot, married to the Queen’s own sister, would be a logical choice for the throne. And the succession would be Lot as High King, Lot’s sons heirs to the smaller kingdoms ... .

Would Morgause stoop to plot against the life of a child? Viviane did not like to think that of the girl she had nursed at her own breasts. But Morgause and Lot, together, with their ambitions!

Easy enough, perhaps, to bribe a groom or insinuate one of her own men into Uther’s court, with orders to lead the child into danger as often as possible. Not so easy, of course, to get past a faithful nurse who was his own mother’s faithful waiting-woman, but she could be drugged, or given stronger drink than usual, to make her confused, so that something deadly found its way past her vigilance. And no matter how well a child rode, it would take more strength than any six-year-old had to hold a stallion who scented a mare in season.

All our plans could have come to ruin in a moment ... .

At suppertime she found Uther alone at the high table, while the vassals and serving-men ate their bread and bacon at a lower table in the hall. He rose and saluted her courteously.

“Igraine is still at her son’s side, sister-in-law; I begged her to go and sleep, but she said she would sleep after he wakened and knew her.”

“I have already spoken with Igraine, Uther.”

“Oh, yes, she told me, she said you have given your word that he would live. Was that wise? If he dies after that-”

Uther’s face was drawn and worried. He looked no older than when he had married Igraine; his hair was so fair, Viviane thought, that no one could see whether it was greyed or not. He was richly dressed in the Roman fashion, and he was clean-shaven, too, like a Roman. He wore no crown, but around his upper arms he had two torques of pure gold, and a rich gold collar.

“He won’t die this time. I have some experience with head wounds. And the injuries to the body haven’t penetrated the lungs. He’ll be running around in a day or two.”

Uther’s face relaxed somewhat. “If I ever find out who loosed that mare ... I should beat the boy senseless for riding Thunder!”

“There would be no point in that. He has already paid the price of his rashness, and I am sure it will teach him whatever lesson is needed,” Viviane said. “But you should set better guard on your son.”

“I cannot guard him night and day.” Uther’s face was haggard. “I am away so often at the wars, and I cannot keep so big a boy tied to his nurse’s apron! And we have come near to losing him before this-”

“Morgaine told me.”

“Bad luck, bad luck. The man with only one son walks always at the mercy of any stroke of bad luck,” said Uther. “But I am remiss in courtesy, kinswoman. Here, sit beside me, share my dish if you will. I know Igraine longed to send to you, and I gave her leave to send a messenger, but you have come more swiftly than any of us dreamed-is it true, then, that the witches of the Holy Islands can fly?”

Viviane chuckled. “Would that I could! I would not have spoiled two pair of good shoes in the mire! Alas, the folk of Avalon, and the Merlin himself, must walk or ride, even as common folk.” She took a piece of the wheaten loaf and helped herself to butter from a small wooden cask. “You who wear the serpents at your wrists should know better than to credit those old fables! But there is a bond of blood between us. Igraine is my mother’s daughter, and I know when she has need of me.”

Uther set his lips tight. “I have had dreams and sorceries enough, I want no more of them in my life.”

This, as it was intended to do, silenced Viviane. She allowed one of the serving-men to help her to salted mutton, and spoke amiably about the fresh boiled herbs, the first of the year. When she had eaten sparingly, she set down her knife and said, “However I came here, Uther, it was by good fortune, and a sign to me that your child is guarded by the Gods, for he is needed.”

“I cannot bear much more of such fortune,” Uther said, and his voice was taut. “If you are a sorceress indeed, sister-in-law, I would beg you to give Igraine a charm against barrenness. I thought when we were wedded that she would give me many children, since she had already borne a daughter to old Gorlois, but we have only one, and already he is six years old.”

It is written in the stars that you shall have no other son. But Viviane forbore to say this to the man before her. Instead she said, “I will speak with Igraine, and be sure whether it is not some sickness in her which keeps her from conceiving.”

“Oh, she conceives right enough, but she can carry the child no more than a moon or two, and the one she brought to birth bled to death when his navel string was cut,” Uther said grimly. “He was misshapen, so perhaps it was as well, but if you could give her some charm for a healthy child -I do not know whether I believe in such things, but I am ready to grasp at any straw!”

“I have no such charms,” Viviane said, honestly pitying him. “I am not the Great Goddess, to give or withhold children from you, and I would not if I could. I cannot meddle with what the fates have decreed. Does not your own priest say as much to you?”

“Oh, aye, Father Columba speaks about submitting myself to the will of God; but the priest has not a kingdom to rule, which will fall into chaos if I die without an heir,” Uther said. “I cannot believe that is what God wants!”

“None of us knows what God wants,” Viviane said, “not you, nor I, nor even Father Columba. But it seems certain to me, and it heeds neither magic nor sorcery to see it, that you must guard the life of this little one, since he must come to the throne.”

Uther’s mouth tightened. “God avert that fate,” he said. “I should grieve for Igraine’s sake if her son died, and even for my own-he is a fine and promising child-but he cannot be heir to the High King of Britain. There is no man in all the length and breadth of this kingdom who does not know that he was begotten while Igraine was still wife to Gorlois, and he came to birth a whole moon sooner than he should have been born, to be my son. True, he was small and puny, and babes are cast forth from the womb before their proper time, but I cannot go around and tell all those in the kingdom who were counting on their fingers, can I? He will be Duke of Cornwall when he is grown, but I cannot hope to make him High King after me. Even if he lives to grow up, which with his luck is unlikely.”

“He looks enough like you,” Viviane said. “Do you think everyone at court is blind?”

“But what of all those who have never come to court? No, I must get myself an heir on whose birth there can be no stain. Igraine must bear me a son.

“Well, God grant it be so,” Viviane said, “but you cannot force your will on God either, nor allow Gwydion’s life to be thrown away. Why not: send him to fosterage at Tintagel? That is so remote, and if you put him in charge of your most trusted vassal, sending him there would convince everyone that he was truly Cornwall’s son and you have no intention of J making him High King; perhaps then they would not bother to plot against J him.”

Uther frowned. “His life would not be safe till after Igraine had borne me another son,” he said, “even if I sent him as far as Rome, or to the | country of the Goths!”

“And with the hazards of the road, that is not practical,” Viviane agreed. “I have, then, another suggestion. Send him to me, to be fostered: in Avalon. None can come there except the faithful who serve the Holy Isle. My own youngest son is already seven, but soon he will be sent to King Ban in Less Britain, to be fostered as suits a nobleman’s son. Ban has other sons, so Galahad is not his heir, but Ban acknowledges him, and has given him lands and estates, and will have him at court as a page, and a soldier when he is grown. At Avalon, your son will learn all that he needs to know about the history of his land, and his destiny ... and the destiny of Britain Uther, none of your enemies knows where Avalon lies, and no harm could come near him.”

“It would keep him safe. But for practical reasons, it is not possible. My son must be reared as a Christian; the church is powerful. They would never accept any king-”

“I thought you said he could not be king after you,” Viviane said dryly.

“Well, there is always the possibility,” Uther said in despair, “if Igraine should have no other son. If he has been fostered among the Druids and their magic-the priests would call that evil.”

“Do I seem evil to you, Uther? Or does the Merlin?” She looked straight into his eyes and Uther let his gaze fall.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why will you not entrust Igraine’s son to his wisdom and mine, Uther?”

“Because I too distrust the magic of Avalon,” said Uther at last. With a nervous gesture he touched the tattooed serpents around his arms. “I saw such things on yonder island as would make any good Christian turn pale and by the time my son is grown, this isle will be all Christian. There will be no need for a king to deal in such things.”

Viviane felt like raging, Fool, it was the Merlin and I who set you on that throne, not your Christian priests and bishops. But there was no good to be gained in arguing with Uther.

“You must do as your own conscience bids you, Uther. But I beg you to send him somewhere for fostering, and let that place be secret. Give it out that you are sending him out to be brought up in obscurity, away from the flattery of a prince at court-that’s common enough-and let people think he’s going to Less Britain, where he has cousins at Ban’s court. Then send him to one of your poorer vassals-one of Ambrosius’ old courtiers, perhaps: Uriens, Ectorius, someone very obscure and very trustworthy.”

Uther nodded slowly. “It will be a wrench to Igraine to part with the child,” he said, “but a prince must be fostered as suits his future destiny, and schooled in military strength. I will not tell even you, sister-in-law, where he is to go.”

Viviane smiled to herself, thinking, Do you really think you can keep it secret from me, Uther, if I wish to know? But she was too diplomatic to say it aloud.

“I have another boon to ask of you, brother-in-law,” she said. “Give me Morgaine to foster in Avalon.”

Uther stared a moment, then shook his head. “Impossible.”

“What is impossible to a High King, Pendragon?”

“There are only two fates for Morgaine,” said Uther. “She must marry a man completely sworn to me, one I trust. Or if I can find no such strong ally to give her, she’s for the nunnery and the veil. She’ll raise up no Cornwall party in this kingdom.”

“She does not seem pious enough for a good nun.”

Uther shrugged. “For the dower I can give her, any convent will be glad to take her.”

And suddenly Viviane was angry. She fixed Uther with her gaze and said, “And do you think you can keep this kingdom long without the good will of the Tribes, Uther? They care nothing for your Christ or your religion. They look to Avalon, and when these-” She put out a finger and touched his tattooed wrists. He drew nervously away, but she went on. When these were set on your arms, they swore to obey the Pendragon. If Avalon withdraws its support from you-as high as we set you, Uther, that low can we bring you.”

“Fine words, Lady. But can you do as you threaten?” Uther retorted. “Would you do that for a girl and Cornwall’s daughter at that?”

“Test me.” Her gaze was unflinching. This time he did not lower his eyes from her; he was angry enough to meet her stare equally, and she thought, Goddess! Had I been ten years younger, how this man and I could have ruled! In all her life she had known but one or two men who were her equal in strength; but Uther was an antagonist worthy of her steel. And he would need to be, to keep this kingdom together until the predestined king should grow to manhood. Even for Morgaine she could not endanger that. But she thought she could make him see reason.

“Uther, listen to me. The girl has the Sight; she was born to it. There’s no way she can escape the Unseen, it will follow her wherever she goes, and in playing about with such things, she’ll come to be shunned for a witch, and despised. Is that what you want for a princess at your court?”

“Do you doubt Igraine’s ability to rear her daughter as befits a Christian woman? At worst, she could do no harm behind convent walls-”

“No!” Viviane said, so loudly that some of the folk in the lower hall raised their heads and stared round at her. “Uther, the girl’s priestess-born. Put her behind convent walls and she’ll pine like a caged skua gull. Could you send Igraine’s child to death or lifelong misery? I truly believe-and I’ve spoken with the girl-that she’d kill herself there.”

She could see that argument had reached him, and quickly pressed her point.

“She’s born to it. Let her be properly trained to her gifts. Uther, is she so happy here, or such an ornament to your court, that you would be sorry to see her leave it?”

Slowly, he shook his head. “I have tried to love her for Igraine’s sake. But she’s-uncanny,” he said. “Morgause used to tease her and say she was one of the fairy folk, and if I did not know her parentage I’d well believe it.”

Viviane’s smile was taut. “True. She is like me, and like our mother. She’s not for the convent or the church bell.”

“Yet how can I take both Igraine’s children from her at once?” Uther demanded, despairing. That struck Viviane as well with a pang of grief, almost of guilt, but she shook her head.

“Igraine too is priestess-born. She will abide her destiny as you, Uther, abide yours. And if you fear the anger of your house priest,” she added, striking shrewdly at a guess and saw, in his eyes, that she had hit home, “then tell no one where you have sent her. Put it about, if you wish, that you have sent her for schooling in a nunnery. She is too wise and sober for the ways of the court, small flirtations and womanish gossip. And Igraine, if she knows her children are safe and happy, growing toward their own fates, will be content while she has you.”

Uther bowed his head. “So be it,” he said. “The boy to be fostered with my trustiest and most obscure vassal-but how can I send him there unknown? Will the danger not follow him?”

“He can be sent by hidden ways, and under a glamour, as you yourself came to Tintagel,” Viviane said. “You trust me not, but will you trust the Merlin?”

“With my very life,” Uther said. “Let the Merlin take him. And Morgaine, then, to Avalon.” He leaned his head in his hands, as if the burden he bore were too great for endurance. “You are wise,” he said, then raised his head and stared at her with unflinching hatred. “I wish you were a foolish woman I could despise, damn you!”

“If your priests are right,” said Viviane calmly, “I am already thoroughly damned and you may save your breath.”


The sun was setting as they came to the Lake. Viviane twisted on her pony to look at Morgaine, who rode a little behind her. The girl’s face was drawn with weariness and hunger, but she had not complained, and Viviane, who had deliberately set a hard pace to try her stamina, was satisfied. The life of a priestess of Avalon was not an easy one, and she needed to know that Morgaine could endure fatigue and hardship. She slowed her pony now, and let Morgaine draw abreast of her.

“There lies the Lake,” she said. “In a little while we will be within walls, and there will be fire, and food and drink.”

“I shall be glad of all three,” Morgaine said. Are you tired, Morgaine?”

“A little,” the girl said diffidently, “but I am sorry to see this journey end, I like seeing new things, and I have never gone anywhere before.”

They halted their horses at the water’s edge, and Viviane tried to see the familiar shore as it would appear to a stranger-the dull greyed waters of the Lake, the tall reeds edging the shore, silent, low-hanging clouds, and tufts of weed in the water. It was a silent scene, and Viviane could hear the girl’s thoughts: It is lonely here, and dark, and dismal.

“How do we get to Avalon? There is no bridge-surely we do not have to swim the horses?” Morgaine asked her, and Viviane, remembering how they had had to do just that at a ford swollen by spring rains, reassured her quickly.

“No; I will call the boat.”

She raised her two hands to cover her face, shut out unwanted sight and sound, and sent out the silent call. Within moments, over the greying surface of the Lake, a low barge appeared. Draped at one end in black and silver, it glided so silently that it seemed to skim over the water like some waterfowl-there was no sound of oars, but as it came nearer they could see the silent oarsmen, wielding their paddles without the slightest splash or sound. They were dark little men, half naked, their skins tattooed with blue woad in magical patterns, and Viviane saw Morgaine’s eyes widen at the sight; but she said nothing.

She accepts all this too calmly, Viviane thought. She is young enough that she does not see the mystery of what we do; somehow I must make her aware of it.

The silent little men moored the boat, securing it with a curiously woven rope of plaited reed. Viviane signalled to the girl to dismount, and the horses were led on board. One of the tattooed men held out his hand to Morgaine to help her step on board, she half expected it to be insubstantial, a vision like the boat, but instead his hand felt callused, hard as horn. Last, Viviane took her place at the prow, and the barge moved out, slowly and silently, into the Lake.

Ahead of them rose the Isle and the Tor with its tall tower to Saint Michael; over the silent water, the sound of church bells rang a soft Angelus. Morgaine, from habit, crossed herself, and one of the little men gave her so sharp a frown that she flinched and dropped her hand. As the boat skimmed over the water through the overgrown reeds she could make out the walls of the church and the monastery. Viviane could sense the young girl’s sudden fear-were they going, after all, to the Isle of the Priests, where convent walls would close about her forever?

“Are we going to the Island church, Aunt?”

“We will not come to the church,” Viviane replied tranquilly, “though it is true that an ordinary traveller, or you yourself, if you set out upon the Lake alone, would never come to Avalon. Wait and see, and ask no questions; that is to be your lot while you are in training.”

Rebuked, Morgaine fell silent. Her eyes were still dilated with fear. She said in a low voice, “It is like the folktale of the fairy barge, which sets sail from the islands to the Land of Youth ... .”

Viviane paid no attention. She stood in the prow of the boat, breathing deeply, summoning her strength for the magical act she was about to perform; for a moment she wondered if she still had the strength for it.

I am old, she thought with momentary panic, yet I must live until Morgaine and her brother are grown. The peace of all this land depends on what I can do to safeguard them!

She cut off the thought; doubt was fatal. She reminded herself that she had done this almost every day of her adult life and by now it was so natural to her that she could have done it in her sleep or if she were dying. She stood still, rigid, locked into the tension of magic, then stretched out her arms, extending them full length, raising them high above her head, palms toward the sky. Then, with a swiftly exhaled breath, she brought them down -and with them fell the mists, so that the sight of the church was wiped out, and the shores of the Isle of the Priests, and even the Tor. The boat glided through thick, impenetrable fog, dark as night around them, and in the darkness she could hear Morgaine, breathing quickly like a small, scared animal. She began to speak-to reassure the girl that there was nothing to fear-then, deliberately, held her peace. Morgaine was now a priestess in training and must learn to conquer fear as she conquered fatigue and hardship and hunger.

The boat began to glide through the mists. Swiftly and surely-for there were no other boats on this Lake-the boat poled through the thick, clinging damp; Viviane felt it on her hair and eyebrows, soaking through her woolen shawl. Morgaine was shivering with the sudden cold.

Then, like a curtain being pulled back, the mist vanished, and before them lay a sunlit stretch of water and a green shore. The Tor was there, but Viviane heard the young girl in the boat catch her breath in shock and astonishment. Atop the Tor stood a circle of standing stones, brilliant in the sunlight. Toward it led the great processional way, winding upward in a spiral around the immense hill. At the foot of the Tor lay the buildings where the priests were housed, and on the slope she could see the Sacred Well and the silver flash of the mirror pool below. Along the shore were groves of apple trees and beyond them great oaks, with the golden shoots of mistletoe clinging to their branches in midair.

Morgaine whispered, “It is beautiful ... “ and Viviane could hear the awe in her voice. “Lady, is it real?”

“It is more real than any other place you have ever seen,” Viviane told her, “and soon you will know it.”

The barge moved toward the shore and scraped heavily on the sandy edge; the silent oarsmen moored it with a rope, and assisted the Lady to step on shore. Then they led the horses to land, and Morgaine was left to step on shore by herself.

She was never to forget that first sight of Avalon in the sunset. Green lawns sloped down to the edge of the reeds along the Lake, and swans glided, silent as the barge, over the waters. Beneath the groves of oak and apple trees rose a low building of grey stone, and Morgaine could see white-robed forms pacing slowly along the colonnaded walk. From somewhere, very softly, she could hear the sound of a harp. The low, slanting light-could it be the same sun she knew?-flooded the land with gold and silence, and she felt her throat tighten with tears. She thought, without knowing why, I am coming home, even though all the years of her life had been spent at Tintagel and at Caerleon and she had never seen this fair country before. Viviane finished giving directions about the horses, and turned to Morgaine again. She saw the look of wonder and awe on the girl’s face, and forbore to speak until Morgaine drew a shaking breath, as if waking from sleep. Women, robed in dark-dyed dresses with overtunics of deerskin, some of them with a crescent moon tattooed in blue between their brows, came down the path toward them; some were like Morgaine and Viviane herself, small and dark, of the Pictish people, but a few were tall and slender, with fair or reddish-brown hair, and there were two or three who bore the unmistakable stamp of Roman ancestry. They bent before Viviane in silent respect and she raised her hand in a gesture of benediction.

“This is my kinswoman,” Viviane said. “Her name is Morgaine. She will be one of you. Take her-” Then she looked at the young girl, who stood shivering as the sun sank and darkness dropped grey, draining the fantastic colors from the landscape. The child was weary and frightened. There were enough trials and ordeals before her; she need not begin them at this moment.

“Tomorrow,” she said to Morgaine, “you will go to the House of Maidens. It will make no difference there that you are my kinswoman and a princess, you will have no name and no favors except what you can earn for yourself. But for tonight only, come with me; we have had little time to talk together on this journey.”

Morgaine felt her knees wobbling with the sudden relief. The women facing her, all strange and with their alien dress and the blue markings on their brows, frightened her more than the whole court of Uther assembled. She saw Viviane make a little dismissing motion, and the priestesses-for so she supposed they were-turned and went away. Viviane held out her hand, and Morgaine took it, feeling the fingers reassuringly cool and solid. Once again Viviane was the kinswoman she knew, yet at the same time she was the awesome figure who had brought down the mists. Once again Morgaine felt the impulse to make the sign of the cross, and wondered if all this country would vanish away as Father Columba said all demonwork and sorceries must vanish at that sign.

But she did not cross herself; she knew suddenly that she would never do so again. That world lay behind her forever.

At the edge of the apple grove, between two trees just coming into blossom, stood a little house of wattle and daub. Inside, a fire was burning, and a young woman-like the others she had seen, in dark dress and deerskin tunic-welcomed them with a silent bow.

“Do not speak to her,” said Viviane. “She is, at present, under a vow of silence. She is a priestess in her fourth year, and her name is Raven.”

In silence, Raven stripped off Viviane’s outer garments and her muddy and travel-worn shoes; at a sign from Viviane she did the same for Morgaine. She brought them water for washing, and later, food: barley bread and dried meat. For drink there was only cold water, but it was fresh and delicious, unlike any water Morgaine had ever tasted.

“It is the water of the Sacred Well,” Viviane said. “We drink nothing else here; it brings vision and clear sight. And the honey is from our own hives. Eat your meat and enjoy it, for you will taste no more for years; the priestesses eat no meat until they have finished their training.”

“Why is that, Lady?” Morgaine could not say “Aunt” or “kinswoman.” Standing between her and the familiar names was the memory of the Goddess-like figure summoning the mists. “Is it wrong to eat meat?”

“Surely not and a day will come when you may eat whatever food conies to you. But a diet free of animal flesh produces a high level of consciousness, and this you must have while you are learning to use the Sight and to control your magical powers rather than letting them control you. Like the Druids in the early years of their training, the priestesses eat only bread and fruit, and sometimes a little fish from the lake, and drink only water from the Well.”

Morgaine said shyly, “You drank wine at Caerleon, Lady.”

“Certainly, and so may you, when you know the proper times to eat and drink, and the proper times to abstain,” said Viviane curtly. That silenced Morgaine, and she sat nibbling at her bread and honey. But although she was hungry, it seemed to stick in her throat.

“Have you had enough to eat?” Viviane asked. “Good, then let Raven take the dishes-you should sleep, child. But sit here beside me before the fire and talk a little, for tomorrow Raven will take you to the House of Maidens, and you will see me no more, save at the rites, until you are trained to take your turn with the older priestesses, to sleep in my house and care for me as a serving-woman. And at that time you too may well be under a vow of silence, neither to speak nor answer. But for tonight, you are only my kinswoman, not yet vowed to the service of the Goddess, and you may ask me whatever you will.”

She held out her hand, and Morgaine came to join her on the bench before the fire. Viviane turned and said, “Will you take the pin from my hair, Morgaine? Raven has gone to her rest, and I do not want to disturb her again.”

Morgaine pulled the carven pin of bone from the older woman’s hair, and it came down with a rush, long and dark with a streak of white at one temple. Viviane sighed, stretching her bare feet to the fire.

“It is good to be home again-I have had to travel overmuch in late years,” she said, “and I am no longer strong enough to find it a pleasure.”

“You said I might ask you questions,” Morgaine said timidly. “Why do some of the women have blue signs on their brows, and others not?”

“The blue crescent is a sign that they are vowed to the service of the Goddess, to live and die at her will,” Viviane said. “Those who are here only for some schooling in the Sight do not take such vows.”

“Am I to take vows?”

“That will be your own choice,” Viviane said. “The Goddess will tell you whether she wishes to set her hand upon you. Only the Christians use the cloister as a kitchen midden for their unwanted daughters and widows.”

“But how will I know if the Goddess wants me?”

Viviane smiled in the darkness. “She will call you in a voice you cannot fail to understand. If you have heard that call, there will be nowhere in the world to hide from her voice.”

Morgaine wondered, but was too timid to ask, if Viviane had been vowed so. Of course! She is the High Priestess, the Lady of Avalon ... .

“I was so vowed,” Viviane said quietly, with the trick she had of answering an unspoken question, “but the mark has worn away with time ... if you look closely, I think you can still see a little of it at the edge of my hair, there.”

“Yes, a little ... what does it mean to be vowed to the Goddess, Lady? Who is this Goddess? I asked Father Columba once if God had any other name, and he said, no, there was only one Name by which we could be saved and that was Jesus the Christ, but-” She broke off, abashed. “I am very ignorant about such things.”

“To know you are ignorant is the beginning of wisdom,” Viviane said. “Then, when you begin to learn, you will not have to forget all the things you think you know. God is called by many names, but is everywhere One; and so, when you pray to Mary, mother of Jesus, you pray, without knowing it, to the World Mother in one of her many forms. The God of the priests and the Great One of the Druids is the same One, and that is why the Merlin sometimes takes his place among the Christian councillors of the High King; he knows, if they do not, that God is One.”

“Your mother was priestess here before you, my mother said-”

“That is true, but it was not a matter of blood alone. Rather that I had inherited her gift of the Sight, and vowed myself to the Goddess of my free will. The Goddess did not call your mother, nor Morgause. So I sent Igraine to be married to your father and then to Uther, and Morgause to be married as the King should decree. Igraine’s marriage served the Goddess; over Morgause, she had no power and no call.”

“Are the priestesses called by the Goddess never married then?”

“Usually not. They do not vow themselves to any man, except for the Great Marriage, where priest and priestess join in symbol of God and Goddess, and children so born are children to no mortal man, but to the Goddess. This is a Mystery, and you will learn it at the proper time. I was so born, and have no earthly father ... .”

Morgaine stared at her and whispered, “Do you mean that-that your mother lay with a God?”

“No, of course not. Only a priest, overshadowed by the power of the God; probably a priest whose name she never knew, because at that moment or in that time, the God came into him and possessed him so that the man was forgotten and unknown.” Her face was distant, remembering strange things; Morgaine could see them moving across her brow. It seemed that the fire made pictures in the room, a great figure of a Horned One .....he shivered suddenly and pulled her cloak about her.

“Are you weary, child? You should sleep-”

But Morgaine was curious again. “Were you born in Avalon?”

“Yes, though I was fostered on the Druid Isle, far to the north, in the Islands. And when I was grown to womanhood, the Goddess set her hand upon me-the blood of the priestess-born ran true in me, as I think it does in you, my child.” Her voice was distant; she rose and stood looking into the fire.

“I am trying to remember how many years ago it was that I came here with the old woman ... the moon was farther south then, for it was harvesttime, and the dark days of Samhain coming on, in the dying of the year. It was a bitter winter, even at Avalon; we heard wolves in the night, and snow lay deep, and we hungered here, for no one could make the passage through the storms, and some of the little children at the breast died when milk failed ... . Then the Lake froze, and they brought us food on sledges. I was a maiden then, my breasts had not grown, and now I am old, an old woman, a crone ... so many years, child.”

Morgaine could feel the older woman’s hand trembling; she held it hard in her own. After a moment Viviane drew the girl to her side and stood, her arm around her waist.

“So many moons, so many Midsummers ... and now it seems that Samhain follows hard upon Beltane-eve more swiftly than the moon waxed from maiden to full when I was young. And you too will stand here before the fire, and grow old as I have grown old, unless the Mother has other tasks for you ... ah, Morgaine, Morgaine, little one, I should have left you in Your mother’s house ... .”

Morgaine flung her arms fiercely around the priestess. “I could not stay there! I would rather have died. ...”

“I knew that,” Viviane said, sighing. “I think the Mother has laid her hand on you too, child. But you have come from a life of ease into a hard life and a bitter one, Morgaine, and it may be that I will have tasks for you as cruel as those the Great Mother has laid on me. Now you think only of learning to use the Sight, and of living in the beautiful land of Avalon, but it is no easy thing to serve the will of Ceridwen, my daughter; she is not only the Great Mother of Love and Birth, she is also the Lady of Darkness and Death.” Sighing, she stroked the girl’s soft hair. “She is also the Morrigan, the messenger of strife, the Great Raven ... oh, Morgaine, Morgaine, I would you had been my own child, but even so I could not spare you, I must use you for her purposes as I was myself used.” She bowed her head, laid it for a moment on the young girl’s shoulder. “Believe that I love you, Morgaine, for a time will come when you will hate me as much as you love me now-”

Morgaine fell impulsively to her knees. “Never,” she whispered. “I am in the hands of the Goddess ... and in yours ... “

“May she grant that you never regret those words,” Viviane said. She stretched out her hands to the fire. They were small, and strong, and a little swollen with age. “With these hands I have brought children to birth; and I have seen a man’s lifeblood flow from them. Once I betrayed a man to his death, a man who had lain in my arms and I had sworn to love. I destroyed your mother’s peace, and now I have taken her children from her. Do you not hate me and fear me, Morgaine?”

“I fear you,” said the girl, still kneeling at her feet, her dark, intense, small face glowing with firelight, “but I could never hate you.”

Viviane sighed deeply, thrusting away foresight and dread. “And it is not me you fear,” she said, “but her. We are both in her hands, child. Your virginity is sacred to the Goddess. See you keep it so till the Mother makes her will known.”

Morgaine laid her small hands over Viviane’s. “Be it so,” she whispered. “I swear it.”

The next day she went to the House of the Maidens, and there she remained for many years.


How do you write of the making of a priestess? What is not obvious is secret. Those who have walked that road will know, and those who have not will never know though I should write down all the forbidden things. Seven times Beltane-eve came and went; seven times the winters shrivelled us all with cold. The Sight came easily; Viviane had said I was priestess-born. It was not so easy to bid it come when I willed and only when I willed, and to close the gates of the Sight when it was not fitting I should see.

It was the small magics which came hardest, forcing the mind first to walk in unaccustomed paths. To call the fire and raise it at command, to call the mists, to bring rain-all these were simple, but to know when to bring rain or mist and when to leave it in the hands of the Gods, that was not so simple. Other lessons there were, at which my knowledge of the Sight helped me not at all: the herb lore, and the lore of healing, the long songs of which not a single word might ever be committed to writing, for how can the knowledge of the Great Ones be committed to anything made by human hands? Some of the lessons were pure joy, for I was allowed to learn to play upon the harp and to fashion my own, using sacred woods and the gut of an animal killed in ritual; and some lessons were of terror.

Hardest of all, perhaps, to look within myself, under the spell of the drugs which loosed the mind from the body, sick and retching, while the mind soared free past the limits of time and space, and to read in the pages of the past and the future. But of that I may say nothing. At last, the day when I was cast out of Avalon, clad only in my shift, and unarmed save for the little dagger of a priestess, to return-if I could. I knew that if I did not, they would mourn me as one dead, but the gates would never again be opened to me unless I could bid them open at my own will and command. And when the mists closed around me, I wandered long on the shores of the alien Lake, hearing only the bells and the doleful chanting of the monks. And at last I broke through the mists, and called upon her, my feet upon the earth and my head among the stars, stretching from horizon to horizon, and cried aloud the great word of Power ... .

And the mists parted and I saw before me the same sunlit shore where the Lady had brought me seven years before, and I set my feet on the solid earth of my own home, and I wept as I had done when first I came there as a frightened child. And then the mark of the crescent moon was set between my brows by the hand of the Goddess herself ... but this is a Mystery of which it is forbidden to write. Those who have felt their brow burned with the kiss ofCeridwen will know whereof I speak.

It was in the second spring after that, when I had been released from the silence, that Galahad, who was already skilled at fighting the Saxons under his own father, King Ban of Less Britain, returned to Avalon.


The priestesses above a certain grade took it in turns to serve the Lady of the Lake, and at this season when the Lady was very busy with preparations for the approaching Midsummer festival, one of them always slept in the little wattled house, so that the Lady might have someone at her call night and day. It was so early that the sun still hid in the mist at the edge of the horizon when Viviane stepped into the room beyond her own, where her attendant slept, and beckoned quietly to awaken her.

The woman sat up in bed, flinging her deerskin tunic over her under-gown.

“Tell the bargemen to be ready. And go and ask my kinswoman Morgaine to attend upon me.”

A few minutes later, Morgaine paused respectfully before the entrance where Viviane was kneeling to build up her fire. She made no sound; after nine years of training in the priestess arts, she moved so silently that no footfall or even a breath of air marked her passing. But after those years, too, the ways of the priestesses were so well known to her that she was not surprised when Viviane turned as she reached the door, and said, “Come in, Morgaine.”

Rather contrary to her usual custom, however, Viviane did not invite her kinswoman to sit, but kept her standing there, regarding her evenly for a moment.

Morgaine was not tall; she would never be that, and in these years in Avalon she had grown as tall as she would ever be, a scant inch taller than the Lady. Her dark hair was plaited down the back of her neck and wrapped with a deerskin thong; she wore the dark-dyed blue dress and deerskin overtunic of any priestess, and the blue crescent shone darkly between her brows. Nevertheless, smooth and anonymous as she was among them, there was a glint in her eyes which answered to Viviane’s cool stare, and Viviane knew from experience that, small and delicately made as she was, when she wished she could throw & glamour over herself that made her appear not only tall but majestic. Already she appeared ageless, and she would, Viviane knew, look much the same even when white appeared in her dark hair.

She thought, with a flicker of relief, No, she is not beautiful, then wondered why it should matter to her. No doubt Morgaine, like all young women, even a priestess vowed lifelong to the service of the Goddess, would prefer to be beautiful, and was intensely unhappy because she was not. She thought, with a slight curl of her lip, When you are my age, my girl, it will not matter whether or no you are beautiful, for everyone you know will believe that you are a great beauty whenever you wish them to believe it; and when you do not, you can sit back and pretend to be a simple old woman long past such thoughts. She had fought her own battle more than twenty years ago, when she saw Igraine growing to womanhood with the tawny and russet beauty for which Viviane, still young, would gladly have bartered her soul and all her power. Sometimes, in moments of self-doubt, she wondered if she had thrust Igraine into marriage with Gorlois so that she need not be endlessly taunted with the younger woman’s loveliness, mocking her own dark severity. But I brought her to the love of the man destined for her before the ring stones of Salisbury plain were piled one upon another, she thought.

She realized that Morgaine was still standing quietly, awaiting her word, and smiled.

“Truly I grow old,” she said. “I was lost, for a moment, in memories. You are not the child who came here many years ago; but there are times when I forget it, my Morgaine.”

Morgaine smiled and the smile transformed her face, which in repose was rather sullen. Like Morgause, Viviane thought, though otherwise they are nothing alike. It is Taliesin’s blood.

Morgaine said, “I think you forget nothing, kinswoman.”

“Perhaps not. Have you broken your fast, child?”

“No. But I am not hungry.”

“Very well. I want you to go in the barge.”

Morgaine, who had grown used to silence, answered only with a gesture of respect and assent.

It was not, of course, a request unusual in any way-the barge from Avalon must always* be guided by a priestess who knew the secret way through the mists.

“It is a family mission,” Viviane said, “for it is my son who is approaching the island, and I thought it well to send a kinswoman to welcome him here.”

Morgaine smiled. “Balan?” she said. “Will his foster-brother Balin not fear for his soul if he goes beyond the sound of church bells?”

A glint of humor lighted Viviane’s eyes, and she said, “Both of them are proud men and dedicated warriors, and they live blameless lives, even by the standards of the Druids, harming none and oppressing none, and ever seeking to right a wrong when they find it. I doubt not that the Saxons find them four times as fearsome when they fight side by side. In fact, they are afraid of nothing, except the evil magic of that wicked sorceress who is mother to one of them ... “ and she giggled like a young woman, and Morgaine giggled with her.

Then, sobering, she said, “Well, I do not regret sending Balan to fosterage in the outer world. He had no call to become a Druid, and he would have made a very bad one, and if he is lost to the Goddess, no doubt she will watch over him in her own way, even if he prays to her with beads and calls upon her as Mary the Virgin. No, Balan is away on the coast, fighting against the Saxons at Uther’s side, and I am content to have it so. It is of my younger son I spoke.”

“I thought Galahad still in Brittany.”

“So did I, but last night with the Sight I saw him ... he is here. When last I saw him, he was but twelve years old. He is grown considerably, I should say; he must now be sixteen or more, and ready for his arms, but I do not know for certain that he is to bear arms at all.”

Morgaine smiled, and Viviane remembered that when Morgaine had first come here, a lonely child, she had sometimes been allowed to spend her free time with the only other child fostered here, Galahad.

“Ban of Benwick must be old now,” Morgaine remarked.

“Old, yes; and he has many sons, so that my son, among them, is just one more of the king’s unregarded bastards. But his half-brothers fear him and would rather he went elsewhere, and a child of the Great Marriage cannot be treated like any other bastard.” Viviane answered the unspoken question. “His father would give him land and estates in Brittany, but I saw to it before he was six years old that Galahad’s heart would always be here, at the Lake.” She saw the glint in Morgaine’s eyes and answered, again, the unspoken.

“Cruel, to make him ever discontent? Perhaps. It was not I that was cruel, but the Goddess. His destiny lies in Avalon, and I have seen him with the Sight, kneeling before the Holy Chalice ... .”

Again, with an ironic inflection, Morgaine made the little gesture of assent with which a priestess under vows of silence would have acquiesced to a command.

Suddenly Viviane was angry with herself. I sit here justifying what I have done with my life, and the lives of my sons, to a chit of a girl! I owe her no explanations! She said, and her voice was chilled with sudden distance, “Go with the barge, Morgaine, and bring him to me.”

A third time the silent gesture of assent and Morgaine turned to go.

“One moment,” Viviane said. “You will break your fast here with us when you bring him back to me; he is your cousin and kinsman too.”

When Morgaine smiled again, Viviane realized that she had been trying to make the girl smile, and was surprised at herself.

MORGAINE WENT down along the path toward the edge of the Lake. Her heart was still beating faster than usual; often, these days, when she spoke with the Lady, anger was mixed with affection, to neither of which she was allowed to give voice, and this did strange things to her mind. She wondered at herself, because she had been taught to control her emotions as she controlled her words and even her thoughts.

Galahad she remembered from her first years in Avalon-a scrawny, dark, intense boy. She had not liked him much, but because her heart hungered for her own small brother, she had let the lonely boy run about after her. Then he had been sent away to fosterage and she had seen him only once since, when he was twelve years old, all eyes and teeth and bones thrusting through outgrown clothes. He had grown into an intense disdain of anything female, and she had been occupied with the most difficult part of her training, so she had paid him little heed.

The small, dark men who poled the barge bent before her in silent respect to the Goddess whose form the higher priestesses were supposed to wear, and she signed to them without speaking and took her place in the prow.

Swiftly and silently the draped barge glided out into the mist. Morgaine felt the dampness coalescing on her brow and clinging to her hair; she was hungry, and chilled to the bone, but she had been taught to ignore that too. When they came out of the mist, the sun had risen on the far shore, and she could see a horse and rider waiting there. The barge continued its slow strokes forward, but Morgaine, in a rare moment of self-forgetfulness, stood unguarded, looking at the horseman there.

He was slightly built, his face aquiline and darkly handsome, set off by the crimson cap with an eagle feather in its band and the wide crimson cloak that fell gracefully around him. When he dismounted, the natural grace with which he moved, a dancer’s grace, took her breath away. Had she ever wished to be fair and rounded, when dark and slender could show this beauty? His eyes were dark too, glinting with a touch of mischief- mischief which alone gave Morgaine awareness of who this must be, although, otherwise, not a single feature remained of the scrawny boy with the bony legs and enormous feet.

“Galahad,” she said, pitching her voice low to keep it from trembling -a priestess-trick. “I would not have recognized you.”

He bowed smoothly, the cape swirling as he moved-had she ever despised that as an acrobat’s trick? Here it seemed to grow from his body.

“Lady,” he said.

He has not recognized me either. Keep it so.

Why at this moment did she remember Viviane’s words? Your virginity is sacred to the Goddess. See you keep it so till the Mother makes her will known. Startled, Morgaine recognized that for the first time in her life, she had looked on a man with desire. Knowing that such things were not for her, but that she was to use her life as the Goddess should decree, she had looked on men with scorn as the natural prey of the Goddess in the form of her priestesses, to be taken or denied as seemed right at the moment. Viviane had commanded that this year she need not take part in the Beltane fire rituals, from which some of her fellow priestesses emerged with child by the will of the Goddess, children who were either born, or cast forth by the knowledge of herb lore and drugs she had been taught-an unpleasant process, which if not followed inevitably brought on the even more unpleasant and dangerous process of birth, and tiresome children who were reared or sent to fosterage as the Lady decreed. Morgaine had been glad enough to escape this time, knowing that Viviane had other plans for her.

She gestured him to step on board. Never lay hands upon an outsider- the words of the old priestess who had schooled her; a priestess of Avalon must be even as a visitor from the otherworld. She wondered why she had to stop her hand from reaching out to touch his wrist. She knew, with a sureness that made the blood beat hard in her temples, that under the smooth skin would lie hard muscle, pulsing with life, and she hungered to meet his eyes again. She turned away, trying to master herself.

His voice was deep and musical as he said, “Why, now you move your hands, I know you-everything else about you has changed. Priestess, were you not once my kinswoman, called Morgaine?” The dark eyes glinted. “Nothing else is the same as when I used to call you Morgaine of the Fairies ... .”

“I was, and I am. But years have passed,” she said, turning away, gesturing to the silent servants of the barge to pole it away from the shore.

“But the magic of Avalon never changes,” he murmured, and she knew he was not speaking to her. “The mist and the reeds and the cry of water birds ... and then the barge, like magic, gliding from the silent shore ... I know there is nothing for me here, and yet, somehow, I always return ... .”

The barge moved silently across the Lake. Even now, after years of knowing that it was no magic, but intensive training in silencing the oars, Morgaine was still impressed by the mystical silence through which they moved. She turned to call the mists, and was conscious of the young man behind her. He stood, easily balanced beside his horse, one arm flung across the saddle blanket, shifting his weight easily without motion, so that he did not visibly sway or lose balance as the boat moved and turned. Morgaine did this herself from long training, but he managed it, it seemed, by his own natural grace.

It seemed that she could feel his dark eyes like a palpable warmth on her back as she stepped to the prow and raised her arms, the long sleeves trailing. She drew a deep breath, charging herself for the magical act, knowing she must concentrate all her strength, intensely angry at herself for her own awareness of the man’s eyes on her.

Let him see, then! Let him fear me and know me as the Goddess-self! She knew some rebel part of herself, long stifled, was crying out, No, I want him to see the woman, not the Goddess, not even the priestess, but another deep breath and even the memory of that wish was exhaled.

Up went her arms into the arch of the sky; down, with the mists following the sweep of her trailing sleeves. Mist and silence hung dark around them. Morgaine stood motionless, feeling the young man’s body warmth very close to her. If she moved even a little, she would touch his hand, and knew how his hand would feel, scalding against her own. She moved away with a little swirling of her robes, and collected distance about herself as with a veil. And all the time she was astonished at herself, saying within her mind somewhere, this is only my cousin, it is Viviane’s son who used to sit in my lap when he was little and lonely! Deliberately she summoned the picture of that awkward boy covered with bramble scratches, but when they sailed out of the mist the dark eyes were smiling at her, and she felt dizzy.

Of course I am faint, I have not yet broken my fast, she told herself, and watched the hunger in Galahad’s eyes as he looked on Avalon. She saw him cross himself. Viviane would be angry if she had seen that.

“It is indeed the land of the fairy folk,” he said, low, “and you are Morgaine of the Fairies, as always ... but you are a woman, now, and beautiful, kinswoman.”

She thought, impatient, I am not beautiful, what he sees is the glamour of Avalon. And something rebellious in her said, I want him to think me beautiful-myself, not the glamour! She set her mouth tightly and knew that she looked stern, forbidding, all priestess again.

“This way,” she said curtly and, as the barge’s bottom scraped silently on the sandy edge, signalled for the bargemen to attend to his horse.

“By your leave, lady,” he said, “I will attend to it myself. It is not an ordinary saddle.”

“As you like,” Morgaine said, and stood and watched while he unsaddled his horse himself. But she was too intensely curious about everything concerning him to stand silent.

“Why, it is indeed a strange saddle ... what are the long leather strappings?”

“The Scythians wear them-they are called stirrups. My foster-father took me on pilgrimage, and I saw them in their country. Even the Roman legions had no such cavalry, for the Scythians with these can control and stop their horses in mid charge, and that way they can fight from horseback,” he said, “and even in the light armor the horsemen wear, an equestrian knight is invincible against anyone on foot.” He smiled, the dark, intense face lighting up. “The Saxons call me Alfgar-the elf-arrow which comes out of darkness and strikes unseen. At Ban’s court they have taken up the name and call me Lancelet, which is as near as they can come to it. Some day I will have a legion of horses equipped this way, and then let the Saxons beware!”

“Your mother told me you were already a warrior,” Morgaine said, forgetting to pitch her voice low, and he smiled again at her.

“And now I know your voice, Morgaine of the Fairies ... how dare you come upon me as a priestess, kinswoman? Well, I suppose it is the Lady’s will. But I like you better like this than solemn as a Goddess,” he said, with the familiar mischief, as if they had parted but the day before.

Clasping at shreds of her dignity, Morgaine said, “Yes, the Lady awaits us, and we must not keep her waiting.”

“Oh yes,” he mocked, “always we must scurry to do her will. ... I suppose you are one of those who hurry to fetch and carry, and hang trembling on her every word.”

For that Morgaine found no answer except to say, “Come this way.”

“I remember the way,” he said, and walked quietly at her side instead of following behind with proper respect. “I too used to run to her and wait upon her will and tremble at her frown, until I found she was not just my mother, but thought herself greater than any queen.”

“And so she is,” Morgaine said sharply.

“No doubt, but I have lived in a world where men do not come and go at a woman’s beckoning.” She saw that his jaw was set and that the mischief was gone from his eyes. “I would rather have a loving mother than a stern Goddess whose every breath bids men live and die at her will.”

To that Morgaine found nothing whatever to say. She set a swift pace that meant he must scurry at her heels to keep up.

Raven, still silent-for she had bound herself by vows of perpetual silence, save when she spoke tranced as a prophetess-let them into the dwelling with an inclination of the head. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, Morgaine saw that Viviane, seated by the fire, had chosen to greet her son not in the ordinary dark dress and deerskin tunic of a priestess, but had put on a dress of crimson and done her hair high on her forehead with gems glittering there. Even Morgaine, who knew the tricks of glamour for herself, gasped at the magnificence of Viviane. She was like the Goddess welcoming a petitioner to her underworld shrine.

Morgaine could see that Galahad’s chin was set and that the cords in his knuckles stood out, white, against his dark fists. She could hear him breathing, and guessed at the effort with which he steadied his voice, as he rose from his bow.

“My lady and mother, I give you greeting.”

“Galahad,” she said. “Come, sit here beside me.”

He took a seat across from her instead. Morgaine hovered near the door and Viviane beckoned her to come and seat herself too.

“I waited to breakfast with you both. Here, join me.”

There was fresh-cooked fish from the Lake, scented with herbs and dripping butter; there was hot, fresh barley bread, and fresh fruit, such food as Morgaine seldom tasted in the austere dwelling of the priestesses. She, and Viviane too, ate sparingly, but Galahad helped himself to everything with the healthy hunger of a youth still growing. “Why, you have set a meal fit for a king, Mother.”

“How does your father, and how does Brittany?”

“Well enough, though I have not spent much time there in the last year. He sent me on a far journey, to learn for his court about the new cavalry of the Scythian peoples. I do not think even the soldiers of Rome, such as they are, have any such horsemen now. We have herds of Iberian horses-but you are not interested in the doings of the stud farms. Now I have come to bring word to the Pendragon’s court of a new massing of Saxon armies; I doubt not they will strike in full force before Midsummer. Would that I had time and enough gold to train a legion of these horsemen!

“You love horses,” Viviane said in surprise.

“Does that surprise you, madam? With beasts you always know precisely what they think, for they cannot lie, nor pretend to be other than they are,” he said.

“The ways of nature will all be open to you,” Viviane said, “when you return to Avalon in the life of a Druid.”

He said, “Still the same old song, Lady? I thought I gave you my answer when last I saw you.”

“Galahad,” she said, “you were twelve years old. That is too young to know the better part of life.”

He moved his hand impatiently. “No one calls me Galahad now, save you alone, and the Druid who gave me that name. In Brittany and in the field I am Lancelet.”

She smiled and said, “Do you think I care for what the soldiers say?”

“So you would bid me sit still in Avalon and play the harp while outside in the real world the struggle goes on for life and death, my lady?”

Viviane looked angry. “Are you trying to say this world is not real, my son?”

“It is real,” said Lancelet, with an impatient movement of his hand, “but real in a different way, cut off from the struggle outside. Fairyland, eternal peace-oh, yes, it is home to me, you saw to that, Lady. But it seems that even the sun shines differently here. And this is not where the real struggles of life are taking place. Even the Merlin has the wit to know that.”

“The Merlin came to be as he is through years when he learned to know the real from the unreal,” said Viviane, “and so must you. There are warriors enough in the world, my son. Yours is the task to see farther than any, and perhaps to bid the warriors come and go.”

He shook his head. “No! Lady, say no more, that path is not mine.”

“You are still not grown to know what you want,” Viviane said flatly. “Will you give us seven years, as you gave your father, to know whether this is your road in life?”

“In seven years,” said Lancelet, smiling, “I hope to see the Saxons driven from our shores, and I hope to have a hand in their driving. I have no time for the magics and mysteries of the Druids, Lady, and would not if I could. No, my mother, I beg you to give me your blessing and send me forth from Avalon, for to tell the truth, Lady, I will go with your blessing or without it. I have lived in a world where men do not wait for a woman’s bidding to go and come.”

Morgaine shrank away as she saw the white of rage sweep over Viviane’s face. The priestess rose from her seat, a small woman but given height and majesty by her fury.

“You defy the Lady of Avalon, Galahad of the Lake?”

He did not shrink before her. Morgaine, seeing him pale under the dark tanning of his skin, knew that inside the softness and grace was steel to match the Lady’s own. He said quietly, “Had you bidden me this when I still starved for your love and approval, madam, no doubt I would have done even as you commanded. But I am not a child, my lady and mother, and the sooner we acknowledge that, then the sooner we shall be in harmony and cease from quarrelling. The life of a Druid is not for me.”

“Have you become a Christian?” she asked, hissing with anger.

He sighed and shook his head. “Not really. Even that comfort is denied me, though in Ban’s court I could pass as one when I wished. I think I have no faith in any God but this.” He laid his hand on his sword.

The Lady sank down on her bench and sighed. She drew a long breath and then smiled.

“So,” she said, “you are a man and there is no compelling you. Although I wish you would speak of this to the Merlin.”

Morgaine, watching unregarded, saw the tension relax in the young man’s hands. She thought, He thinks she has given way; he does not know her well enough to know that she is angrier than ever. Lancelet was young enough to let the relief show in his voice. “I’m grateful to you for understanding, madam. And I will willingly seek counsel of the Merlin, if it pleases you. But even the Christian priests know that a vocation to the service of God is God’s gift and not anything that comes because one wants it or does not. God, or the Gods if you will, has not called me, or even given me any proof that He-or They-exist.”

Morgaine thought of Viviane’s words to her, many years ago: it is too heavy a burden to be borne unconsenting. But for the first time she wondered, What would Viviane really have done if at any time during these years I had come to her and told her that I wished to depart? The Lady is all too sure that she knows the will of the Goddess. Such heretical thoughts disturbed her, and quickly she thrust them from her mind, resting her eyes again on Lancelet. At first she had only been dazzled by his dark handsomeness, the grace of his body. Now she saw specific things: the first down of beard along his chin-he had not time, or had not chosen, to shave his face in the Roman fashion; his slender hands, exquisitely shaped, fashioned for harp strings or weapons, but callused just a little across palm and the insides of the fingers, more on the right hand than the left. There was a small scar on one forearm, a whitish seam that looked as if it had been there for many years, and another, crescent-shaped, on the left cheek. His lashes were as long as a girl’s. But he did not have the androgynous, boy-girl look of many boys before their beards have grown; he was like a young stag. Morgaine thought she had never seen so masculine a creature before. Because her mind had been trained to such thoughts, she thought, There is nothing of the softness of a woman’s training in him, to make him pliable to any woman. He has denied the touch of the Goddess in himself; one day he will have trouble with her ... . And again her mind leaped, thinking that one day she would play the role of the Goddess at one of the great festivals, and she thought, feeling a pleasant heat in her body, Would that he might be the God ... . Lost in her daydream, she did not hear what Lancelet and the Lady were saying until she was recalled by hearing Viviane speak her name, and she came back to herself as if she had been wandering somewhere out of the world.

“Morgaine?” the Lady repeated. “My son has been long away from Avalon. Take him away, spend the day on the shores if you will, you are freed for this day from duties. When you were children both, I remember, you liked it well, to walk on the shores of the Lake. Tonight, Galahad, you shall sup with the Merlin, and shall be housed among the young priests who are not under the silence. And tomorrow, if you still wish for it, you shall go with my blessing.”

He bowed profoundly, and they went out.

The sun was high, and Morgaine realized that she had missed the sunrise salutations; well, she had the Lady’s permission to absent herself, and in any case she was no longer one of the younger priestesses for whom the missing of such a service was a matter for penances and guilt. Today she had intended to supervise a few of the younger women in preparing dyes for ritual robes-nothing that could not wait another day or a handful of days.

“I will go to the kitchens,” she said, “and fetch us some bread to take with us. We can hunt for waterfowl, if you like-are you fond of hunting?”

He nodded and smiled at her. “Perhaps if I bring my mother a present of some waterfowl she will be less angry with me. I would like to make my peace with her,” he said, almost laughing. “When she is angry she is still frightening-when I was little, I used to believe that when I was not with her she took off her mortality and was the Goddess indeed. But I should not speak like that about her-I can see that you are very devoted to her.”

“She has been as devoted to me as a foster-mother,” Morgaine said slowly.

“Why should she not be? She is your kinswoman, is she not? Your mother-if I recall rightly-was the wife of Cornwall, and is now the wife of the Pendragon ... is it so?”

Morgaine nodded. It had been so long that she could only half remember Igraine, and now sometimes it seemed to her that she had been long motherless. She had learned to live without need of any mother save the I Goddess, and she had many sisters among the priestesses, so she had no need of any earthly mother. “I have not seen her for many years.”

“I saw Uther’s queen but once, from a distance-she is very beautiful, but she seems cold and distant too.” Lancelet laughed uneasily. “At my father’s court I grew used to women who were interested only in pretty gowns and jewels and their little children, and sometimes, if they were not I married, in finding a husband.... I do not know much about women. You are not like them either. You seem unlike any woman I have ever known.”

Morgaine felt herself blushing. She said low, reminding him, “I am a priestess like your mother-”

“Oh,” he said, “but you are as different from her as night from She is great and terrible and beautiful, and one can only love and adore and I fear her, but you, I feel you are flesh and blood and still real, in spite off all these mysteries around you! You dress like a priestess, and you look like one of them, but when I look into your eyes I see a real woman there whom I could touch.” He was laughing and intense, and she thrust her hands into his, and laughed back at him.

“Oh, yes, I am real, as real as the ground under your feet or the birds in that tree. ...”

They walked together down by the waterside, Morgaine leading I along a little path, carefully skirting the edges of the processional way.

“Is it a sacred place?” he asked. “Is it forbidden to climb the Tor unless you are a priestess or a Druid?”

“Only at the great festivals is it forbidden,” she said, “and you certainly come with me. I may go where I will. There is no one on the Tor now except sheep grazing. Would you like to climb it?”

“Yes,” he said. “I remember once when I was a child I climbed it. I thought it was forbidden, and so I was sure that if anyone knew I had been there I would be punished. I still remember the view from the height. I wonder if it was as enormous as it seemed to me when I was a little lad.”

“We can climb the processional way, if you will. It is not so steep, because it winds round and round the Tor, but it is longer.”

“No,” he said. “I would like to climb straight up the slope-but”- he hesitated-”is it too long and steep for a girl? I have climbed in rougher country, hunting, but can you manage in your long skirts?”

She laughed and told him that she had climbed it often. “And as for the skirts, I am used to them,” she said, “but if they get into my way I will not hesitate to tuck them up above my knees.”

His smile was slow and delightful. “Most women I know would think themselves too modest to show their bare legs.”

Morgaine flushed. “I have never thought modesty had much to do with bared legs for climbing-surely men know that women have legs like their own. It cannot be so much of an offense of modesty to see what they must be able to imagine. I know some of the Christian priests speak so, but they seem to think the human body is the work of some devil, not of God, and that no one could possibly see a woman’s body without going all into a rage to possess it.”

He looked away from her, and she realized that beneath the outward assurance he was still shy, and that pleased her. Together they set off upward, Morgaine, who was strong and hardy from much running and walking, setting a pace which astonished him and which, after the first few moments, he found it difficult to match. About halfway up the slope Morgaine paused, and it was a definite satisfaction to her to hear him breathing hard when her own breath still came easily, unforced. She wound the loose folds of her skirt up around her waist, letting only a single drape hang to her knees, and went on along the steeper, rockier part of the slope. She had never before had the slightest hesitation in baring her legs, but now, when she knew he was looking at them, she could not keep from remembering that they were shapely and strong, and she wondered if he really thought her immodest after all. At the top, she climbed up over the rim of the hill and sat down in the shadow of the ring stones. A minute or two later he came over the edge behind her and flung himself down, panting.

When he could speak again, he said, “I suppose I have been riding too much and not walking and climbing enough! You, you are not even short of breath.”

“Well, but I am accustomed to coming up here, and I do not always stop to go round by the processional way,” she said.

“And on the priests’ Isle there is not even a shadow of the ring stones,” he said, and pointed.

“No,” she said. “In their world there is only their church and its tower. If we wanted to listen with the ears of the spirit we could hear the church bells ... they are shadows here, and in their world, we should be shadows. I sometimes wonder if that is why they avoid the church and keep great fasts and vigils on our holy days-because it would be too uncanny to feel all around them the shadow of the ring stones and perhaps even, for those who still had some shadow of the Sight, to feel and sense all around them the comings and goings of the Druids and hear the whisper of their hymns.”

Lancelet shivered and it seemed that a cloud covered the sun for a moment., “And you, you have the Sight? You can see beyond the veil that separates the worlds?”

“Everyone has it,” Morgaine said, “but I am trained to it beyond most women. Would you see, Galahad?”

He shivered again and said, “I beg you, do not call me by that name, cousin.”

She laughed. “So even though you live among Christians, you have that old belief of the fairy folk, that one who knows your true name can command your spirit if he will? You know my name, cousin. What would you have me call you? Lance, then?”

“What you will, save for the name my mother gave me. I still fear her voice when she speaks that name in a certain tone. I seem to have drunk in that fear from her breasts ... .”

She reached over to him and laid her fingertip over the spot between his brows which was sensitive to the Sight. She breathed softly on it, and heard his gasp of astonishment, for the ring stones above them seemed to melt away into shadows. Before them now the whole top of the Tor stretched, with a little wattle-and-daub church rising beneath a low stone tower which bore a crude painting of an angel.

Lancelet crossed himself swiftly as a line of grey-clad forms came toward them, as it seemed.

“Can they see us, Morgaine?” His voice was a rough whisper.

“Some of them, perhaps, can see us as shadows. A few may think we are some of their own people, or that their eyes are dazzled with the sun and they see what is not there,” she said, with a catch of breath, for what she told him was a Mystery which she really should not have spoken to an uninitiated person. But she had never in her life felt so close to anyone; she felt she could not bear it, to keep secrets from him, and made him this gift, telling herself that the Lady wanted him for Avalon. What a Merlin he would make!

She could hear the soft sound of singing: O thou lamb of God, who drawest away from us all evil of this world, Lord Christ, show us thy mercy ... .

He was singing it softly under his breath, as the church vanished and the ring stones towered again above them.

She said quietly, “Please. It is an offense to the Great Goddess to sing that here; the world she has made is not evil, and no priestess of hers will allow man to call it so.”

“As you will.” He was silent, and again the shadow of cloud passed over his face. His voice was musical, so sweet that when he ceased singing she longed to hear it again.

“Do you play the harp, Lance? Your voice is beautiful enough for a bard.”

“As a child, I was taught. After, I had only the usual training befitting a nobleman’s son,” said Lancelet. “I learned only so great a love of music as to be discontented with my own sounds.”

“Is it so? A Druid in training must be a bard before he is a priest, for music is one of the keys to the laws of the universe.”

Lancelet sighed. “A temptation, that; one of the few reasons I can see for embracing that vocation. But my mother would have me sit in Avalon and play the harp while the world falls apart around us and the Saxons and the wild Northmen burn and ravage and pillage-have you ever seen a village sacked by the Saxons, Morgaine?” Quickly, he answered his own question. “No, you have not, you are sheltered here in Avalon, outside of the world where these things are happening, but I must think of them. I am a soldier, and it seems to me that in these times, defending this beautiful land against their burning and looting is the only work befitting a man.” His face was indrawn, looking on dreadful things.

“If war is so evil,” Morgaine said, “why not shelter from it here? So many of the old Druids died in that last of great magics which removed this holy place from profanation, and we have not enough sons to train in their place.”

He sighed. “Avalon is beautiful, and if I could make all kingdoms as peaceful as Avalon, then I would gladly stay here forever, and spend my days in harping and making music and speaking with the spirits of the great trees... but it seems to me no work for a man, to skulk here in safety when others outside must suffer. Morgaine, let us not speak of it now. For today, I beg you, let me forget. The world outside is filled with strife, and I came here for a day or two of peace; will you not give it to me?” His voice, musical and deep, trembled a little, and the pain in it hurt her so profoundly she thought for a moment that she would weep. She reached for his hand and pressed it.

“Come,” she said. “You wanted to see if the view was as you remembered. ...”

She led him from the ring stones and they looked out over the Lake. Bright water, rippling softly in the sunlight, stretched all around the Island; far below, a little boat, no larger at this height than a fish leaping, streaked the surface. Other islands, indistinct in the mist, rose as dim shapes, blurred by distance and by the magical veil which removed Avalon from the world.

“Not very far from here,” he said, “there is an old fairy fort at the top of a hill, and the view from the wall is such that standing there, a man can see the Tor, and the Lake, and there is an island which is like the shape of a coiled dragon-” He gestured with his shapely hand.

“I know the place,” Morgaine said. “It is on one of the old magical lines of power which crisscross the earth; I was brought there once to feel the earth powers there. The fairy people knew those things-I can sense them a little, feel the earth and the air tingling. Can you feel it? You too are of that blood, being Viviane’s son.”

He said in a low voice, “It is easy to feel the earth and air tingling with power, here in this magical isle.”

He turned away from the view, saying as he yawned and stretched, “That climb must have taxed me more than I thought; and I rode much of the night. I am ready to sit in the sun and eat some of that bread you carried here for us!”

Morgaine led him into the very center of the ring stones. If he was sensitive at all, she thought, he would be aware of the immense power here.

“Lie back on the earth and she will fill you with her strength,” she said, and handed him a piece of the bread, which she had spread thickly with butter and comb honey before wrapping it in a bit of deerskin. They ate slowly, licking their fingers free of the honey, and he reached for her hand, taking it up playfully and sucking a bit of honey off her finger.

“How sweet you are, cousin,” he said, laughing, and she felt her whole body alive with the touch. She picked up his hand to return the gesture, and suddenly dropped it as if it had burned her; to him it was only a game, perhaps, but it could never be so to her. She turned away, hiding her burning face in the grass. Power from the earth seemed to flow up through her, filling her with the strength of the very Goddess herself.

“You are a child of the Goddess,” she said at last. “Do you know nothing of her Mysteries?”

“Very little, though my father once told me how I was begotten- a child of the Great Marriage between the king and the land. And so, I suppose, he thought I should be loyal to the very land of Brittany which is mother and father to me. ... I have been at the great center of the old Mysteries, the great Avenue of Stones at Karnak, where once was the ancient Temple; that is a place of power, like to this one. I can feel the power here,” he said. He turned over and looked up into her face. “You are like the Goddess of this place,” he said wonderingly. “In the old worship, I know, men and women come together under her power, though the priests would like to forbid it, as they would like to tear down all the ancient stones like these above us, and the great ones of Karnak ... . They have already torn down a part of them, but the task is too great.”

“The Goddess will prevent them,” said Morgaine simply.

“Maybe so,” Lancelet said, and reached up to touch the blue crescent on her forehead. “It is here that you touched me when you made me see into the other world. Has this to do with the Sight, Morgaine, or is that another of your Mysteries of which you may not speak? Well, I’ll not ask you, then. But I feel as if I had been ravished into one of the old fairy forts where, they say, a hundred years can pass in a night.”

“Not so long as that,” Morgaine said, laughing, “though it is true that time runs differently there. But some of the bards, I have heard, can still come and go from the elf country ... it has moved further than Avalon into the mists, that is all.” And as she spoke, she shivered.

Lancelet said, “Maybe when I go back to the real world, the Saxons will all have been vanquished ... and gone.”

“And will you weep because there is no longer any reason for your life?”

He laughed and shook his head, holding her hand in his. After a minute he said in a low voice, “Have you, then, gone to the Beltane fires to serve the Goddess?”

“No,” said Morgaine quietly. “I am virgin while the Goddess wills; most likely I am to be kept for the Great Marriage ... Viviane has not made her will or the will of the Goddess known to me.” She bent her head and let her hair fall across her face, feeling shy before him, as if he could read her thoughts and know the desire which swept through her like a sudden flame. Would she indeed lay down that guarded virginity if he should ask it of her? Never before had the prohibition seemed a hardship; now it seemed that a sword of fire was laid between them. There was a long silence, while the shadows passed across the sun, and there was no sound except the chirping of small insects in the grass. At last Lancelet reached up and drew her down, laying a soft kiss, which burned like fire, on the crescent on her brow. His voice was soft and intense.

“All the Gods together forbid I should trespass where the Goddess has marked you for her own, my dear cousin. I hold you sacred as the Goddess herself.” He held her close; she could feel that he was shaking, and a happiness so intense that it was pain flooded through her.

She had never known what it was to be happy, not since she was a small and heedless child; happiness was something she dimly remembered before her mother had burdened her with the weight of her little brother. And here in the Island, life had soared into the free spaces of the spirit and she had known exaltation and the delights of power as well as the suffering and struggle of the pain and the ordeals; but never the pure happiness she knew now. The sun seemed to burn more brightly, the clouds to move through the sky like great wings against the dazzling, sparkling air, every bud of clover in the grass shimmered with its own interior light, a light that seemed to shine out from her as well. She saw herself mirrored in Lancelet’s eyes and knew that she was beautiful, and that he desired her, and that his love and respect for her were so great that he would even hold his own desire within bounds. She felt she would burst with her joy.

Time stopped. She swam in delight. He did no more than stroke her cheek with the gentlest of feather-light caresses, and neither of them wanted more. She played softly with his fingers, feeling the calluses on his palms.

After a long time, he drew her against him and spread the edges of his cloak over her. They lay side by side, barely touching, letting the power of the sun and the earth and the air move through them in harmony, and she dropped into a dreamless sleep through which she was still conscious of their intertwined hands. It seemed that some time, a very long time ago, they had lain like this, content, timeless, in an endless joyful peace, as if they were part of the standing stones which had stood here forever; as if she both experienced and remembered being with him here. Later she woke and saw him sleeping, and sat memorizing every line of his face with a fierce tenderness.

The sun had declined from noon when he woke, smiling into her eyes, and stretched like a cat. Still enclosed in the bubble of her joy, she heard him say, “We were going down to hunt waterfowl. I would like to make peace with my mother-I am so happy I cannot bear to think of being at odds with any living thing today, but perhaps the spirits of nature will send us some waterfowl whose given destiny is to make us a happy meal ... .”

She laughed, clasping his hand. “I will take you where the water birds hunt and fish, and if it is the will of the Goddess, we will catch nothing, so we need not feel guilt about disturbing their destiny. But it is very muddy, so you must take off those boots you have for riding, and I will have to tuck up my dress again. Do you use a throwing stick like the Picts, or their little arrows with poison, or do you snare them and wring their necks?”

“I think they suffer less when they are quickly netted and their necks broken at once,” Lancelet said thoughtfully, and she nodded.

“I will bring a net and snare-”

They saw no one as they climbed down the Tor, sliding in a few minutes down what had taken them more than an hour to climb. Morgaine slipped into the building where nets and snares were kept and brought out two; they went quietly along the shore and found the reeds at the far side of the Island. Barefoot, they waded into the water, hiding in the reeds and spreading the nets. They were in the great shadow of the Tor, and the air felt chill; the water birds were already beginning to descend in numbers to feed. After a moment a bird began to struggle and flap, its feet caught in Morgaine’s snare; she moved swiftly, seized it and, within seconds, broke its neck. Soon Lancelet caught one, then another; he tied their necks together with a band of reeds.

“That is enough,” he said. “It is good sport, but on such a day as this I would rather not kill anything needlessly, and there is one for my mother and two for the Merlin. Do you want one for yourself?”

She shook her head. “I eat no flesh,” she said.

“You are so tiny,” he said, “I suppose you need little food. I am big and I hunger quickly.”

“Are you hungry now? It is too early for most berries, but we might find some haws from the winter-”

“No,” he said, “not now, not really; my supper will be all the more welcome for a little hunger.” They came up on the shore, soaked. Morgaine pulled off her deerskin overtunic to dry it on a bush, for it would stiffen, and pulled off her skirt too, wringing out the water, standing unselfconsciously in her undershift of unbleached linen. They found where they had left their shoes, but they did not put them on, only sitting on the grass, holding hands quietly and watching the waterfowl swimming, suddenly upending their tails and diving for small fish.

“How still it is,” Lancelet said. “It is as if we were the only people alive in all the world today, outside time and space and all cares and troubles, or thoughts of war or battle or kingdoms or strife ... .”

She said, her voice shaking as the thought struck her that this golden time must end, “I wish this day could last forever!”

“Morgaine, are you weeping?” he asked in sudden solicitude.

“No,” she said fiercely, shaking a single rebellious drop from her lashes, seeing the world burst into prism colors. She had never been able to weep; had never shed a single tear in fear or pain, through all the years of ordeals in the making of a priestess.

“Cousin, kinswoman ... Morgaine,” he said, holding her against him, stroking her cheek. She turned and clung to him, burying her face in the front of his tunic. He felt warm; she could feel the steady beat of his heart.

After a moment he bent and laid one hand under her chin, raising her face, and their lips met.

He whispered, “I would you were not pledged to the Goddess.”

“I, too,” she said softly.

“Come here, come here-let me hold you, like this-I have sworn I will not ... trespass.”

She closed her eyes; she no longer cared. Her oath seemed a thousand leagues and a thousand years distant, and not even the thought of Viviane’s anger could have deterred her. Years afterward, she wondered what would have happened if they had stayed like that even a few more minutes; no doubt the Goddess in whose hands they lay would have had her will with them. But even as their lips joined again, Lancelet stiffened a little, as if hearing something just outside the range of hearing.

Morgaine pulled away and sat up.

“Morgaine, what is that?”

“I hear nothing,” she said, straining to hear beyond the sound of soft water lapping in the Lake, wind rustling in the reeds, and the occasional sound of a fish jumping. And then it came again, like a soft sighing ... like someone weeping.

“Someone is crying,” said Lancelet, and unfolded his long legs quickly to stand up. “Over there ... someone is hurt or lost, it sounds like a little girl ... .”

Morgaine followed quickly, barefoot, leaving her skirt and tunic on the bush. It was just possible that one of the younger priestesses might have become lost here, though they were not supposed to leave the enclosure near the House of Maidens. Still, young girls were young girls, and could not yet be trusted not to break rules; one of the old priestesses had once said that the House of Maidens was for little girls whose whole duty in life was to spill things, break things, and forget things, the rules of their daily life among them, until they had spilled, broken, and forgotten everything they could, and thus made room in their lives for a little wisdom. And now that Morgaine was a full priestess, she had begun to instruct the young, and sometimes she felt the old priestess had been right: surely she had never been so silly and empty-headed as the girls who were now in the House of Maidens.

They followed the sound. It was hazy, now fading out for minutes altogether, and then coming back, quite clear. Mist was beginning to drift in from the Lake in thick tendrils, and Morgaine was not quite sure whether it was ordinary fog born of the dampness and the approaching sunset, or whether it was the outlying mist of the veil surrounding the magical realm.

“There,” said Lancelet, plunging suddenly into the mist. Morgaine followed him and saw dimly, fading from shadow into reality and back again, the figure of a young girl standing in the water up to her ankles, and crying.

Yes, Morgaine realized, she’s really there; and, No, this is no priestess. She was very young and dazzlingly pretty; she seemed all white and gold, her skin pale as ivory just stained with coral, her eyes palest sky-blue, her hair long and pale and shining through the mist like living gold. She wore a white dress which she was trying unsuccessfully to hold out of the water. And somehow she seemed to shed tears without any ugly distortion of her face, so that, weeping, she only looked prettier than ever.

Morgaine said, “What is the matter, child? Are you lost?”

She stared at them as they came closer, and whispered, “Who are you? I didn’t think anyone could hear me here-I called out to the sisters, but none of them could hear me, and then the land started to move, and where it had been all solid, suddenly I was standing here in the water and the reeds were all around me and I was afraid ... . What is this place? I never saw it before, and I have been in the convent for almost a year now ... .” And she crossed herself.

Suddenly Morgaine knew what had happened. The veil had thinned, as it did occasionally in spots of such concentrated power, and somehow this girl had had enough sensitivity to be aware of it. This happened, sometimes, as a momentary vision, so that someone could see the other world as a shadow or a brief vision; but to move through into the other world was rare.

The girl took a step toward them, but under her feet the marshy surface swayed, and she stopped in panic.

“Stand still,” Morgaine said gently. “The ground is a little unsafe here. I know the paths. I’ll help you out, dear.”

But even as she moved forward, her hand extended, Lancelet stepped in front of her, picked up the young girl, and carried her to dry land, setting her down.

“Your shoes are wet,” he said, for they squelched as she moved. “Take them off and you can dry them.”

She looked at him in wonder; she had stopped crying. “You’re very strong. Not even my father is as strong as that. And I think I have seen you somewhere, haven’t I?”

“I don’t know,” Lancelet said. “Who are you? Who is your father?”

“My father is King Leodegranz,” she said, “but I am here at school in the convent.. ..” Her voice began to shake again. “Where is it? I cannot even see the building anywhere, or the church-”

“Don’t cry,” Morgaine said, stepping forward, and the young girl drew back a little.

“Are you one of the fairy people? You have that blue sign on your forehead-” and she raised her hand and crossed herself again. “No,” she said doubtfully, “you cannot be a demoness, you do not vanish when I cross myself, as the sisters say any demon must do-but you are little and ugly like the fairy people-”

Lancelet said firmly, “No, of course neither of us is a demon, and I think we can find the way back to your convent for you.” Morgaine, her heart sinking, saw that he now looked upon the stranger as he had looked on her only minutes before, with love, desire, almost worship. As he turned back to Morgaine, saying eagerly, “We can help her, can’t we?” Morgaine saw herself as she must look to Lancelet and to the strange golden maiden -small, dark, with the barbarian blue sign on her forehead, her shift muddy to the knees, her arms immodestly bare and her feet filthy, her hair coming down. Little and ugly like one of the fairy folk. Morgaine of the Fairies. So they had taunted her since childhood. She felt a surge of self-hatred, of loathing for her small, dark body, her half-naked limbs, the muddy deerskin. She snatched her damp skirt off the bush and put it on, conscious suddenly of her bare limbs; she wound the filthy deerskin tunic over it. For a moment, as Lancelet looked at her, she felt that he too must think her ugly, barbarian, alien; this exquisite golden creature belonged to his own world.

He came and gently took the stranger girl’s hand, with a respectful bow. “Come, we can show you the way back.”

“Yes,” said Morgaine dully, “I will show you the way. Follow me, and stay close, because the ground is treacherous and you could mire yourself and not get out for a long time.” For a furious moment she was tempted to lead them both into the impassable mire-she could do it, she knew the way-lead them out there and leave them to drown or wander forever in the mists.

Lancelet asked, “What is your name?”

The fair girl said, “My name is Gwenhwyfar,” and she heard Lancelet murmuring, “What a lovely name, fitting to the lady who bears it.” Morgaine felt a surge of hatred so great she thought that she would faint with its force. She felt it would be with her until she died, and in that molten instant she actually longed for death. All the color had gone from the day, into the mist and the mire and the dismal reeds, and all her happiness had gone with it.

“Come,” she repeated in a leaden voice, “and I will show you the way.

As she turned to go she heard them laughing together behind her and wondered, through the dull surge of hatred, if they were laughing at her. She heard Gwenhwyfar’s girlish voice saying, “But you don’t belong to this horrible place, do you? You don’t look like one of the fairy folk, you’re not little and ugly.”

No, she thought, no, he was beautiful, and she-little and ugly. The words burned into her heart; she forgot that she looked like Viviane, and that, to her, Viviane was beautiful. She heard Lancelet saying, “No, no, I would love to come back with you-really, I would-but I am promised to dine with a relative this night, and my mother is angry enough with me already, I don’t want to make the old gentleman angry too. But no, I don’t belong to Avalon ... “ and, after a minute, “No, she’s-well, a cousin of my mother’s, or .something like that, we knew each other when we were children, that’s all.” And now she knew that he was speaking of her. So quickly, then, all that had been between them had been reduced to a distant family tie. Fiercely fighting back a surge of tears that made her throat ache, knowing that weeping would make her uglier than ever in their eyes, she stepped on dry land. “There lies your convent, Gwenhwyfar. Be careful to keep to the path, or you may lose yourself in the mists again.”

She saw that the girl had been holding Lancelet’s hand. It seemed to

Morgaine that he let it go reluctantly. The girl said, “Thank you, oh, thank you!”

“It is Morgaine you should thank,” Lancelet reminded her. “It is she who knows the paths in and out of Avalon.” The girl gave her a shy sidelong look. She dropped a little polite curtsey. “I thank you, mistress Morgaine.”

Morgaine drew a deep breath, drawing the mantle of a priestess around her again, the glamour she could summon when she would; despite her filthy and torn clothing, her bare feet, the hair that straggled in wet locks around her shoulders, she knew that suddenly she looked tall and imposing. She made a remote gesture of blessing and turned, silent, summoning Lancelet with another gesture. She knew, even though she did not see, that the awe and fright had returned to the girl’s eyes, but she moved silently away, with the noiseless gliding of a priestess of Avalon, Lancelet’s steps, reluctant, following her own silent ones.

After a moment she looked back, but the mists had closed and the girl had vanished within them. Lancelet said, shaken, “How did you do that, Morgaine?”

“How did I do what?” she asked.

“Suddenly look so-so-like my mother. All tall and distant and remote and-and not quite real. Like a female demon. You frightened the poor girl, you shouldn’t have done it!”

Morgaine bit her tongue with her sudden wrath. She said in a remote and enigmatic voice, “Cousin, I am what I am,” and turned, hurrying up the path ahead of him. She was cold and weary and sick with an inner sickness; she longed for the solitude of the House of Maidens. Lancelet seemed a long way behind her, but she no longer cared. He could find his own way from here.


In the spring of the year after this, through a drenching late-winter storm, the Merlin came late one night to Avalon. When word was brought to the Lady, she stared in astonishment.

“A night such as this would drown the very frogs,” she said. “What brings him out in such weather?”

“I do not know, Lady,” said the young apprentice Druid who had brought the word. “He did not even send for the barge, but made his own way by the hidden paths, and said that he must see you this night before you slept. I sent him for dry clothing-his own was in such a state as you can imagine. I would have brought him food and wine as well, but he asked if he might sup with you.”

“Tell him he is welcome,” Viviane said, keeping her face carefully neutral-she had learned very well the art of concealing her thoughts-but when the young man had gone, she allowed herself to stare in amazement, and to frown.

She sent for her attendant women, and bade them bring not her usual spare supper, but food and wine for the Merlin, and to build up the fire anew.

After a time she heard his step outside, and when he came in, he went directly to the fire. Taliesin was stooped now, his hair and beard all white, and he looked somewhat incongruous in the green robe of a novice bard, far too short for him, so that his scrawny ankles protruded from the lower edge of the garment. She seated him near the fire-he was still, she noticed, shivering-and set a plate of food and a cup of wine, good apple wine from Avalon itself, in a chased silver cup, at his side.

Then she seated herself on a small stool nearby and tasted her bread and dried fruit as she watched him eat. When he had pushed the plate aside and sat sipping at the wine, she said, “Now tell me everything, Father.”

The old man smiled at her. “I never thought to hear you call me so, Viviane. Or do you think I have taken the holy orders of the church in my dotage?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, “but you were the lover of my mother who was Lady here before me, and you fathered two of my sisters. Together we have served the Goddess and Avalon for more years than I can number, and perhaps I long for the comfort of a father’s voice this night ... I do not know. I feel very old this night, Fa-Taliesin. Is it that you think me too old to be your daughter?”

The old Druid smiled. “Never that, Viviane. You are ageless. I know how old you are-or I could reckon up your age if I chose-but still you seem a girl to me. You might even now have as many lovers as you chose, if you willed it.”

She dismissed that with a gesture. “Be sure I have never found any man who meant more to me than necessity, or duty, or a night’s pleasure,” she said. “And only once, I think, any man save yourself who came near to matching me in strength-” She laughed. “Though, had I been ten years younger-how, think you, would I have befitted the throne as the High King’s queen, and my son the throne?”

“I do not think Galahad-what is it he would have you call him now? Lancelet?-I do not think he is the stuff of which kings are made. He is a visionary, a reed shaken by the wind.”

“But if he had been fathered by Uther Pendragon-” Taliesin shook his head. “He is a follower, Viviane, not a leader.”

“Even so. That comes from being reared at Ban’s court, as a bastard. Had he been reared as a king’s son ... “

“And who would have ruled Avalon in those years, had you chosen a crown in the Christian lands outside?”

“If I had ruled them at Uther’s side,” she said, “they would not have been Christian lands. I thought Igraine would have power over him, and use it for Avalon ... .”

He shook his head. “There is no use in fretting after last winter’s snow, Viviane. It is of Uther I came to speak. He is dying.”

She raised her head and stared at him. “So it has come already.” She felt her heart racing. “He is too young to die ... .”

“He leads his men into battle, where a wiser man of his years might leave it to his generals; he took a wound, and fever set in. I offered my services as healer, but Igraine forbade it, as did the priests. I could have done nothing anyway; his time has come. I saw it in his eyes.”

“How does Igraine as queen?”

“Very much as you would have foreseen,” said the old Druid. “She is beautiful, and dignified, and pious, and goes always in mourning for the children she has lost. She bore another son at All Hallows; he lived four days, no more. And her house priest has convinced her it is the punishment for her sins. No breath of scandal has ever touched her since she married Uther-save for the birth of that first child, so soon. But that was enough. I asked her what would become of her after Uther’s death, and when she had done weeping for that, she said she would retire into a convent. I offered her the shelter of Avalon, where she could be near to her daughter, but she said it would not be seemly for a Christian queen.”

Viviane’s smile hardened a little. “I never thought to hear that of Igraine.”

“Viviane, you must not blame her, even in thought, for what you yourself have wrought. Avalon cast her out when most she needed it; would you chide the girl because she has found comfort in a simpler faith than ours?”

“I doubt it not-you are the only man in all of Britain who could speak of the High Queen as a girl!”

“To me, Viviane, even you are a little girl at times-that same little girl who used to climb on my knee and touch the strings of my harp.”

“And now I can hardly play. My fingers lose their suppleness with the years,” Viviane said.

He shook his head. “Ah, no, my dear,” he said, holding out his own thin, gnarled old fingers. “Next to this, your hands are young, yet daily I speak to my harp with them, and you could have done so as well. Your hands chose to wield power, not song.”

“And what would have become of Britain if I had not?” she flared at him.

“Viviane,” he said, with a touch of sternness, “I did not censure you. I merely spoke the thing which is.”

She sighed and leaned her chin in her hands. “I spoke well when I said that this night I was in need of a father. So it has come upon us already, the thing we feared and have wrought for all these years. What of Uther’s son, my father? Is he ready?”

“He must be ready,” said the Merlin. “Uther will not live till Midsummer-day. And already the carrion crows gather, as they did when Ambrosius lay dying. As for the boy-have you not seen him?”

“Now and again, I see a glimpse of him in the magic mirror,” she said. “He looks healthy and strong, but that tells me nothing except that he can look the part of a king when it comes to that. You have visited him, have you not?”

“At Uther’s will, I went now and again to see how he grew. I saw that he had those same books in Latin and Greek which taught your son so much of strategy and warfare; Ectorius is Roman to the core, and the conquests of Caesar and the exploits of Alexander are part of his very being. He is an educated man, and has trained both his sons for warfare. Young Caius was blooded in battle last year; Arthur fretted that he could not go, but he is an obedient son to Ectorius and did as he was told.”

“If he is so much Roman,” Viviane asked, “will Arthur be willing to be subject to Avalon? For he must rule the Tribes, as well, and the Pictish folk, remember.”

“I saw to that,” said the Merlin, “for I induced him to meet some of the little people, saying that they were the allies of Uther’s soldiers in this war to defend our island. With them he has learned to shoot their elf bolts, and to move silently in the heather and over the moors, and-” He hesitated and said significantly, “He can stalk the deer and does not fear to go among them.”

Viviane closed her eyes for a moment. “He is so young ... “

“The Goddess chooses always the youngest and strongest of men to lead her warriors,” said Taliesin.

Viviane bowed her head. “Be it so,” she said. “He shall be tested. Bring him here if you can before Uther dies.”

“Here?” The Merlin shook his head. “Not till the testing is done. Only then can we show him the road to Avalon and the two realms over which he must rule.”

Again Viviane bowed her head. “To Dragon Island, then.”

“It will be the ancient challenge? Uther was not tested so at his king-making-”

“Uther was a warrior; it was enough to make him lord over the dragon,” Viviane said. “This boy is young and unblooded. He must be tested and proven.”

“And if he fails ... “

Viviane gritted her teeth. “He must not fail!”

Taliesin waited until she met his eyes again and repeated, “And if he fails ... “

She sighed. “No doubt Lot is ready, if that should come.”

“You should have taken one of Morgause’s sons and fostered him here at Avalon,” the Merlin said. “Gawaine is a likely boy. Hotheaded, quarrelsome-a bull, where Uther’s boy is a stag. But there is the stuff of a king in Gawaine, I think, and he also is Goddess-born-Morgause too was your mother’s daughter, and her sons have the royal blood.”

“I do not trust Lot,” said the Lady vehemently, “and I trust Morgause less than that!”

“Yet Lot holds the clansmen to the north, and I think the Tribes would accept him-”

“But those who hold to Rome-never,” said the Lady, “and then there would be two kingdoms in Britain, ever warring, and neither strong enough to hold off the Saxons and the wild Northmen. No. Uther’s son it must be, he must not fail!”

“That must be as the Goddess wills,” said the Merlin sternly. “See you mistake not your own will for hers.”

Viviane covered her face with her hands. “If he fails-if he fails it will all have been for nothing,” she said wildly, “-all that I have done to Igraine, all I have done to all those I love. Father, have you foreseen that it will fail?”

The old man shook his white head and his voice was compassionate.

“The Goddess does not make her will known to me,” he said, “and it was you who foresaw that this boy would have the powers to lead all of Britain. I caution you against pride, Viviane-thinking you know the best for every man and woman living. You have ruled well in Avalon-”

“But I am old,” she said, raising her face, and she could see the pity in his eyes, “and one day soon ... “

The Merlin bowed his head; he too lived under that law. “When that time comes, you will know; it is not yet, Viviane.”

“No,” she said, struggling against the sudden despair which had come, as it sometimes did now, a heat in her body, a torment in her mind, “when it comes, when I can no longer see what lies ahead, then I will know it is time to give over the rulership of Avalon to another. Morgaine is still young, and Raven, whom I love well, has given herself to silence and the voice of the Goddess. It has not yet come; but if it comes too soon-”

“Whenever it comes, Viviane, that will be the right time,” the Merlin said. He stood up, tall and unsteady, and Viviane saw that he leaned heavily on his stick. “I will bring the boy to Dragon Island then, at the spring thaw, and we will see whether he is ready to be made king. And then you will give him the sword and the cup, in token that there is an eternal link between Avalon and the world outside-”

“The sword, at least,” Viviane said. “The cup-I do not know.”

The Merlin bowed his head. “That I leave to your wisdom. You, not I, are the voice of the Goddess. Yet you will not be the Goddess for him-”

Viviane shook her head. “He will meet the Mother when he is triumphant,” she said, “and from her hand he will take the sword of victory. But first he must prove his own, and must meet first with the Maiden Huntress. ...” A flicker of a smile crossed her face. “And no matter what happens after that,” she said, “we will take no such chance as we did with Uther and Igraine. We shall make certain of the royal blood, whatever comes of it later.”

WHEN THE MERLIN had gone away, she sat for a long time, watching pictures in the fire, seeing into the past alone, not seeking to look through the mist of time toward the future.

She too, years ago, so many years that she could not now remember how many, had laid down her maidenhood to the Horned God, the Great Hunter, the Lord of the living spiral dance. She hardly spared a thought for the virgin who would take this part in the kingmaking which was to come, but she let her mind stray into the past, and the other times she had played the part of the Goddess in the Great Marriage ...

... never had it been more to her than duty; sometimes pleasant, sometimes distasteful, but always bidden, possessed by the Great Mother who had ruled her life since first she had come here. Suddenly she envied Igraine, and a detached part of her mind wondered why she envied a woman who had lost all her children to death or fosterage, and now was to suffer widowhood and end her life behind convent walls.

What I envy her is the love she has known ... . I have no daughters, my sons are strangers and alien to me ... . I have never loved, she thought. Nor have I known what it is to be loved. Fear, awe, reverence ... these have been given me. Never love. And there are times when I think I would give it all for one look from any human being such as Uther gave Igraine at their wedding.

She sighed bleakly, repeating half aloud what the Merlin had said. “Well, there is no use fretting after last year’s snowfall.” She raised her head, and her attendant came on noiseless feet.


“Bring me-no,” she said, changing her mind abruptly; let the girl sleep. It is not true that I have never loved or been loved. I love Morgaine beyond all measuring, and she loves me.

Now that, too, might come to an end. But that too must be as the Goddess willed it.


The palest splinter of new moon stood to the west of Avalon. Morgaine paced slowly upward, her bare feet treading out the spiral pathway, noiseless and pale as the virgin moon. Her hair was unbound, her single garment uncinctured. She knew that guards and priestesses watched her, silent, lest some unauthorized person disturb her silence with an unconsecrated word. Behind the dark curtain of her hair, her eyelids were lowered. She moved unerringly on the path, without need for sight. Raven moved silently behind her, like Morgaine barefoot, ungirdled, her unbound hair curtaining her face.

Upward and upward in the darkening twilight, with a few stars pale in the indigo dome above them. The ring stones were grey and shadowy, a single pallid flicker within them-not fire; some will-o’-the-wisp, witch fire, sorcery, gleaming out from within the magical circle.

By the last flicker of the setting moon, reflected for a moment in the shining Lake below, a silent maiden priestess moved toward them, only a little girl, robed in undyed wool, her shorn hair no more than a wisp of darkness. She offered Morgaine a cup and Morgaine accepted it and drank in silence, then handed the cup to Raven, who drained its last drops. Silver and gold gleamed in the dying light. Morgaine took, from unseen hands, the great cross-handled sword, gasping a little at the unexpected weight. Barefoot, cold but not aware of it, she traced out the circle under the ring stones. Behind her, Raven took the long spear, thrust it into the heart of the witch fire. Light sprang up on the bit of tow there and she carried it, after Morgaine, all around the circle, a dim line of pale witch fire springing up around the dimness. Returning to the center by the dimmest of pale lights, they saw the face of Viviane; ageless, timeless, floating in midair disembodied-the face of the Goddess, shining. Although Morgaine knew that the effect was produced by a luminous substance smeared on cheeks and brow against the darkness of the circle and the dark garments, it never failed to make her catch her breath.

Bodiless, shining hands laid something in Morgaine’s hands, then in Raven’s. Morgaine bit into the sharp wooden bitterness, forced herself, past sickness, to swallow. Silence descended. Eyes gleamed in the dark, but no faces could be seen. She felt as if she were standing among multitudes beyond multitudes thronging the top of the Tor, but she could see no single face among them. Even Viviane’s bodiless face had vanished into the dark. She could feel the warmth of Raven’s body near hers, though they nowhere touched one another. She tried to keep her mind still, in meditation, moving into the schooled silence, not sure why she had been brought here.

Time passed; stars brightened against the ever-darkening sky. Time, Morgaine thought, time runs differently in Avalon, or perhaps it does not exist. Many nights during the long years she had traced out the spiral paths up the Tor, probing the mysteries of time and space within the circle of the ring stones. Yet tonight seemed stranger, darker, somehow more weighted with mystery; never before had she been called out from the other priestesses to play the major part in ritual. She knew that what she had been given the magical feast, was an herb used to strengthen the sight; that did not diminish its power or its magic.

After a time, in the darkness, she began to see pictures in her mind, small colored pictures as if at a very great distance. She saw a herd of deer running. She saw again the great darkness that had descended upon the land when the sun went out and a cold wind blew, and she had been afraid that the world was ending; but the older priestesses had explained to her, as they gathered in the courtyard, that the Moon God was effacing the brightness of the Goddess, and she ran out with them joyously to join in the shrieks of the women to frighten him away. Later it had been explained to her how the sun and moon moved, and why, now and again, one of them crossed the face of the other; that it was in the way of nature, and the common people’s beliefs about the face of the Gods were symbols which these people, at the current state of their evolution, needed to visualize the great truths. Some day all men and women would know the inner truths, but now they needed them not.

She watched in the inner Sight, as she had done in life, while again and again the cycles of the year swung around the great ring stones; she watched the birth and fecundity and at last the dying of the God; she saw the great processions winding up the spiral toward the oak grove before the ring stones had been set here ... time was transparent, it ceased to have meaning as the little painted people came and ripened and were cut down, and then the Tribes, and after them the Romans in their turn, and tall strangers from the coast of Gaul, and after them ... time ceased, and she only saw the movement of peoples and the overgrowth of the world, ice came and receded and came again, she saw the great temples of Atlantis now drowned forever between the covering oceans, saw new worlds rising and setting ... and silence and beyond the night the great stars wheeled and swung ... .

Behind her she heard an eerie wailing cry and her skin iced. Raven cried out, Raven whose voice she had never heard; Raven, who once, when they were serving together in the Temple, had caught a lamp about to overflow, and, scalded with the burning oil, had sat smothering her screams with her two hands while her burns were bandaged, that she might not break the vow which had given her voice to the Goddess. She would always bear the scars; once, looking at her, Morgaine had thought, The vow I made was a little thing next to that, and yet I came so near to breaking it for a dark and sweet-voiced man.

And now Raven, in the moonless night, screamed aloud, a high, eldritch crying, like a woman in childbed. Three times the shrill cry trembled over the Tor, and Morgaine shivered again, knowing that even the priests on the other island that lay corresponding to their own must waken in their solitary cells and cross themselves, hearing that haunted cry that rang between the worlds.

After the cry, silence, a silence which seemed to Morgaine filled with breathing, with held breath even, from the unseen initiates who now surrounded the dreadful solitude inhabited only by the three motionless priestesses. Then, gasping and choking, as if her voice were long disabled from the silence, Raven cried out:

“Ah-seven times the Wheel, the Wheel with thirteen spokes, has turned about in the sky ... seven times the Mother has given birth to her dark son ... .”

Again the silence, deepening in contrast, except for the choking gasps of the entranced prophetess. She cried out, “Ah-ah-I burn-I burn-it is time, it is time ... “ and lapsed again into the clotted silence, pregnant with terror.

“They run! They run in the spring rutting, they run-they fight, they choose their king-ah, the blood, the blood-and the greatest of them all, he runs, and there is blood on the antlers of his pride ... .”

Again the silence lengthened, and Morgaine, seeing in the darkness behind her eyelids the spring running of the deer, saw again what she had seen in a half-forgotten glimpse in the silver bowl-a man among the deer, struggling, fighting ... .

“It is the child of the Goddess, he runs, he runs ... the Horned One must die ... and the Horned One must be crowned ... the Virgin Huntress must call the king to her, she must lay down her maidenhood to the God ... ah, the old sacrifice, the old sacrifice ... I burn, I burn ... “ and the words began to choke over one another and die in a long, sobbing scream. Behind her, through her closed eyes, Morgaine saw Raven fall senseless to the ground and lie there, gasping, her gasps the only sound in the deepening silence.

Somewhere an owl called; once, twice, three times.

Out of the darkness, priestesses came, silent and dark, blue gleams on their brow. They lifted Raven tenderly and bore her away. They lifted Morgaine too, and she felt her throbbing head tenderly held to a woman’s breast as they carried her away. Then she knew no more.

THREE DAYS LATER, when she had recovered her strength somewhat, Viviane sent for her.

Morgaine rose and tried to dress herself, but she was still weak, and accepted the help of one of the young priestesses, grateful that the girl was under silence and did not speak to her. The long fasting, the terrible sickness brought on by the ritual herbs, the strung tension of the ritual, still gripped at her body; she had eaten a little soup the night before, and some bread soaked in milk this morning, but she still felt sick and empty after the long strain, and her head throbbed, and her moon-dark bleeding had seized her with a violence never felt before; this too, she knew, might be the aftereffect of the sacred herbs. Sick and incurious, she wished that Viviane had left her to recover in peace, but she did Viviane’s will as she would have done that of the Goddess, had the Goddess leaned down from Heaven and spoken a wish aloud. When she was dressed, and had braided her hair and wound it with a deerskin thong, and painted the blue crescent on her forehead with fresh blue dye, she went along the trail to the house where the High Priestess lived.

As was now her privilege, she entered without knocking or announcing her presence. Somehow in this house she always visualized Viviane waiting for her, seated in the thronelike chair as if she were the Goddess on her dark throne, but today Viviane was moving about at the back of the room, and the fire was not lighted, but dark and cold. Viviane wore her simple robe of undyed wool with a hood tied over her hair, and for the first time it came sharply on Morgaine that Viviane was priestess, not now of the Maiden or of the Mother, but of the ancient wise-woman-who was also the Old Death-crone. Her face looked lined and haggard, and Morgaine thought, Of course, if the rites made Raven ill, and myself, and we are both young and strong, what must it have done to Viviane, who has grown old in the service of her whom we serve?

Then Viviane turned and smiled at her, a loving smile, and Morgaine felt again the old surge of love and tenderness. But as was fitting a younger priestess in the presence of the Lady, she waited for Viviane to speak first.

Viviane gestured to her to sit. “Have you recovered, child?”

Morgaine let herself drop to the bench, and knew that even from the short walk she was exhausted. She shook her head.

“I know,” Viviane said. “Sometimes, when they do not know how you will react, they give you too much. Next time, do not take all they give you-judge how much you can take-enough to give you the Sight, but not enough to make you so very ill. You have that right, now; you have reached a stage where obedience may be tempered with your own judgment.”

For some reason those words rang again and again in Morgaine’s mind: tempered with your own judgment, tempered with your own judgment. She thought, I am still sick from the drugs they gave me, and shook her head, impatient, to clear away the sound and listen to Viviane.

“How much did you understand of Raven’s prophecy?”

“Very little,” Morgaine confessed. “It was mysterious to me. I am not sure why I was there.”

“Partly,” Viviane said, “to lend your strength to her; she is not strong. She is still abed, and I am concerned about her. She knows how much of the herb she can take, yet even that little seemed to be too much; she vomited blood, and is passing more. But she will not die.”

Morgaine put out a hand to steady herself; she felt hollow, and a sudden wave of sickness passed over her again, leaving her pale and giddy. Without excuse she stood up, staggered outside and vomited, bringing up the bread and milk she had swallowed that morning. She heard Viviane speak her name, and when she had done and stood clutching the doorframe, retching, she found one of the young attendant priestesses there with a cloth to wipe her face; it was wet and smelled faintly of sweet herbs. Viviane steadied her step as she came back inside, then handed her a small cup.

“Sip it slowly,” she said.

It burned her tongue and for a moment exaggerated the feeling of sickness-it was the strong spirit distilled by the northern Tribes, water-of-life they called it. She had tasted it only once or twice. But when it was down she felt a strong warmth spreading out from her empty stomach, and after a few minutes she felt better, steadier, almost euphoric.

“A little more,” Viviane said. “It will strengthen your heart. Now, do you feel better?”

Morgaine nodded. “Thank you.”

“Tonight you will be able to eat,” said Viviane, and in Morgaine’s strange state it sounded like a command, as if Viviane could command her very stomach to behave itself. “So. Let us talk of Raven’s prophecy. In the ancient days, long before the wisdom and the religion of the Druids came here from the sunken temples in the western continent, the fairy people- of whom we are both born, you and I, my Morgaine-lived here on the shores of the inland sea, and before they learned how to plant the barley and reap it again, they lived by gathering the fruits of the land, and by hunting the deer. And in those days there was no king among them, but only a queen who was their mother, though they had not yet learned to think of her as the Goddess. And since they lived by hunting, their queen and priestess learned to call the deer to her, and ask of their spirits that they sacrifice themselves and die for the life of the Tribe. But sacrifice must be given for sacrifice-the deer died for the Tribe, and one of the Tribe must in turn die for the life of the deer, or at least take the chance that the deer could, if they chose, take his life in exchange for their own. So the balance was kept. Do you understand this, my darling?”

Morgaine heard the unaccustomed endearment, and wondered dimly in her sick and drunken state, Is she telling me that I am to be the sacrifice? Is my life chosen for the Tribe?

It does not matter. I am given to the Goddess for life or for death.

“I understand, Mother. At least, I think I do.”

“So the Mother of the Tribe chose, every year, her consort. And since he had agreed to give his life for the Tribe, the Tribe gave him of their lives. Even if little children at the breast starved, he always had abundance, and all the women of the Tribe were his to lie with, so that he, the strongest and best, might sire their children. Besides, the Mother of the Tribe was often old past childbearing, and so he must have the choice of the young maidens, too, and no man of the Tribe would interfere with what he wanted. And then, when the year was past-every year in those times-he would put on the antlers of the deer, and wear a robe of untanned deerskin so that the deer would think him one of their own, and he would run with the herd as the Mother Huntress put the spell upon them to run. But by this time the herd had chosen their King Stag, and sometimes the King Stag would smell a stranger, and turn on him. And then the Horned One would die.”

Morgaine felt again the ice down her spine that she had felt when, on the Tor, this ritual had been enacted before her eyes. The year’s king is to die for the life of his people. Was the drug still working in her mind, that she could see it all so clearly?

“Well, time has moved on, Morgaine,” Viviane told her quietly, “and now those old rites are no longer needed, for the barley grows and the sacrifice is bloodless. Only in times of great peril does the Tribe demand such a leader. And Raven has foreseen that this is a time of such peril. So once again there will be a testing of one who runs the risk of death for his chosen people, so that they will follow him unto death.

“You have heard me speak of the Great Marriage?”

Morgaine nodded; of this, Lancelet had been born.

“The Tribes of the fairy folk, and all the Tribes of the North, have been given a great leader, and the chosen one will be tested by the ancient rite. And if he survives the testing-which will, to some extent, depend on the strength with which the Maiden Huntress can enchant the deer-then he will become the Horned One, the King Stag, consort of the Virgin Huntress, crowned with the antlers of the God. Morgaine, I told you years ago that your maidenhood belongs to the Goddess. Now she calls for it in sacrifice to the Horned God. You are to be the Virgin Huntress, and the bride of the Horned One. You have been chosen for this service.”

It was very still in the room, as if they stood again in the center of the ring stones in ritual. Morgaine dared not break the silence. At last, knowing that Viviane was waiting for some word of consent-what had the words been, so long ago? I(is too heavy a burden to be borne unconsenting -she bowed her head.

“My body and my soul belong to her, to do with as she will,” she whispered. “And your will is her will, Mother. Let it be so.”


Since she had come there, Morgaine had left Avalon only two or three times, and then only for short journeys into the countryside at the edges of the Summer Sea, so that she could become aware of the nearby sites which retained, despite disuse, their old power.

Time and place were now none of her concern. She had been taken from the Island at dawn in silence, cloaked and veiled so that no unpriestly eye might see the consecrated one, and carried in a closed litter so that not even the sun might shine on her face. In less than a day’s journeying from the enclosure of the sacred island she had lost all awareness of time and space and direction, lost in meditation, dimly aware of the beginning of the magical trance. There had been times when she had fought against the onset of the ecstatic state. Now she welcomed it, opening her mind full to the Goddess, inwardly imploring the Goddess to come into herself, the instrument, and possess her, body and soul, so that she might act in all things as the Goddess herself.

Nightfall; a moon nearly at full came dimly between the curtains of the litter. When the runners stopped, she felt it bathing her in cold light, like the kiss of the Goddess, and felt faint with the beginnings of ecstasy. She did not know where she was, nor did she care. She went where they led her, passive, blinded, tranced, knowing only that she went to meet her destiny.

She was inside a house, then she was put into the hands of a strange woman, who brought her bread and honey, which Morgaine did not touch -she would not break her fast again until she did so with the ritual meal -and water, which she drank thirstily. There was a bed, so placed that the moon fell upon her; the strange woman moved to draw the wooden shutters closed and Morgaine stopped her with an imperious gesture. She lay much of the night tranced, feeling the moonlight like a visible touch. At last she slept, but fitfully, wandering in and out of sleep like an uneasy traveller, strange images flickering in her mind-her mother, bending over the fair hair of the intruder Gwydion, her white breasts and coppery hair somehow forbidding instead of welcoming; Viviane, only somehow she was a sacrificial beast and the Lady of Avalon was leading her somewhere on the end of a rope, and she heard herself say fretfully, You needn’t pull, I am coming; Raven, soundlessly screaming. A great horned figure, half man, half animal, suddenly thrusting aside a curtain and striding into her room-she woke and half sat up, but there was no one there, only the moonlight, and the stranger woman sleeping quietly at her side. Quickly she lay down again and slept, this time dreamlessly and deep.

About an hour before dawn they awakened her. Now, in contrast to the tranced unawareness of the previous day, she was wide awake and sharply aware of everything-the cold fresh air, the mists stained with pink where soon the sun would rise, the strong smell of the little dark women in their garments of badly tanned skins. Everything was clean-edged and brilliantly colored, as if fresh this moment from the hand of the Goddess. The dark women whispered among themselves, not presuming to disturb the strange priestess; she heard them, but she knew only a few words of their language.

After a time the eldest of them-the one who had welcomed her and led her inside on the previous night, and whose bed she had shared-came to Morgaine and brought her fresh water. Morgaine bowed to thank her, the salute, priestess to priestess, and then wondered why. The woman was old; her hair, long and tangled and fastened with a clasp of bone, was almost all white, and her dark skin bore faded blue stains. Her garment was of the same imperfectly dyed skin of the others, but over it she wore a cloak of deerskin, the hair still clinging to it, painted with magical symbols; and about her neck were two necklaces, one of beautiful amber beads-Viviane herself owned none finer-and the other of bits of horn alternating with exquisitely chased gold bars. She carried herself with the authority of Viviane herself, and Morgaine knew that this was the tribal Mother and priestess of the people.

With her own hands, the woman began to prepare Morgaine for the ritual. She stripped her naked, and painted the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands with blue dye, and renewed the crescent moon on her brow; on her breast and belly she outlined the full moon, and just above the dark patch of Morgaine’s body hair she painted the dark moon. Briefly, almost perfunctorily, she parted the girl’s legs and probed a little: Morgaine, beyond embarrassment, knew why she was searching. For this rite, the priestess must be a virgin. But the tribal priestess would find nothing wrong; Morgaine was untouched, but she felt a sudden half-pleasurable moment of fear, and at the same moment she was conscious that she was almost fiercely hungry. Well, she was trained to ignore hunger, and after a time the hunger left her.

The sun Was rising as they led her outdoors, robed in a cloak like the old woman’s, with the magical signs painted on it-the moon, the antlers of the deer. She was aware of the stiff astringency of her painted body, and some part of her mind, very far away, stared with amazement and a moment’s contempt at these symbols of a mystery far older than the Druidic wisdom in which she had been so carefully schooled. That was momentary and vanished at once; the belief of generations ancient past knowing invested this rite with its own power and holiness. She saw the round stone house behind her; across from her was another, and they were leading forth a young man. She could not see him clearly; the rising sun was in her eyes, and she could see only that he was tall, with a shock of fair hair, and strongly built. He is not one of their own people, then? But it was not for her to question. The men of the tribe-and especially an old man, with the gnarled swollen muscles of a smith, blackened like his own forge-were painting the youth’s body from head to foot with the blue woad, covering him with a cloak of untanned raw skins, smearing his body with the deer fat. On his head they fixed antlers; at a low word of command, he swung his head to make certain they could not be dislodged, no matter how he moved.

Morgaine looked up to see the proud swing of that young head, and suddenly she felt a ripple of awareness run down her body, cramping her calves, running into the secret parts of her body.

This is the Horned One, this the God, this the consort of the Virgin Huntress.

They wound her hair in a garland of crimson berries and crowned her with the first of the spring flowers. The precious necklace of gold and bone was reverently taken from the neck of the Mother of the tribe and placed around her own; she felt its weight like the very weight of magic. Her eyes were dazzled with the rising sun. They placed something in her hand-a drum, taut skin stretched over a hooped frame.

As if it came from somewhere else, she heard her own hand strike it.

They stood on a hillside, overlooking a valley filled to the brim with thick forest, empty and silent, but within it she could sense the life in the forest-the deer moving on silent, slender feet, the animals climbing in the trees, and the birds nesting, darting, moving, asurge with the life of the first running tide of the full moon of spring. She turned for a moment and looked behind, on the hillside. Above them, carved white in the chalk, was a monstrous figure, human or animal she could not tell, her eyes were blurred; was it a running deer, was it a striding man, phallus erect and filled with the spring tide, too?

She could not see the young man at her side, only the surge of the life in him. There was a solemn, waiting hush all over the hillside. Time ceased, was again transparent, something in which she moved, bathed, stepped freely. The drum was in the old crone’s hands again, but she had no awareness of having given it over to her. Her eyes were dazed with sun as she felt the God’s head between her hands, blessing him. Something in the face ... of course: before these hills were raised, she had known this face, this man, her consort, from before the beginning of the world ... . She did not hear her own ritual words, only the surge of force behind them: Go forth and conquer ... run with the deer ... swift and strong as the very tides of the spring ... forever blessed be the feet that brought you here ... . She was not conscious of speech, only of the power, of her own hands blessing, of the force that streamed out of her body, through her body as if the very strength of the sun poured through her and into the man before her. Now the power of the winter is broken and the new life of the spring shall go with you and bring you to victory ... life of the Goddess, life of the world, blood of the earth our Mother, shed for her people ... .

She raised her hands, casting the blessing on the forest, on the earth, feeling the surges of power rushing through her hands like visible light. The young man’s body was glowing like her own in the sunlight; around them none dared speak until, pulling her hands back with a rush, she felt the surge of power flung over them all, releasing the chant that rose around them. She could not hear the words, only the thrum of power within them:

Life surges in the spring, the deer run in the forest, and our life runs with them. The King Stag of the world shall bring them down, the King Stag, the Horned One blessed by the Mother shall triumph ... .

She was drawn to the last notch of tension, a strung bow pregnant with the arrow of power that must be sped. She touched the Horned One, releasing the power, and as if it sped through them all, they were off, running like the wind down the hillside, racing as if the very spring tides bore them. Behind them, feeling the power leave her, Morgaine crumpled and lay silent on the earth, feeling its damp chill strike up through her body. But she was unaware, tranced in the Sight.

She lay as if lifeless, but a part of her went with them, raced with them, speeding down the hillside, racing with the men of the tribe, flooding after the Horned One. Barking cries, as if they were hounds, sped after them, and a part of her knew that the women were crying out, speeding on the chase.

Higher in the sky the sun rose, the great Wheel of Life spinning in the heavens, fruitlessly speeding after her divine consort, the Dark Son ... .

The life of the earth, the pounding tides of the spring, flooded and pounded in the hearts of the running men. Then, as the ebb followed the flow, from the sunlit hillside the darkness of forest closed over them and swallowed them, and from running they moved swiftly on noiseless feet, imitating the delicate step of the deer; they were the deer, following the antlers of their Horned One, wearing the cloaks which held the deer spellbound, the necklaces signifying life as endless chain, live and feed and bear and die and be eaten in turn to feed the children of the Mother.

... hold thy children, Mother, thy King Stag must die to feed the life of her Dark Son ...

Darkness, the inner life of the forest closing around them; silence, the silence of the deer ... . Morgaine, aware now of the forest as life and the deer as the heart of the forest, cast her power and her blessing through and over the forest. A part of her lay on the sunlit hillside, tranced, exhausted, letting the life of the sun flood through her, body and blood and inner being, and a part of her ran with deer and men until both were one ... blending into one ... the surges of life that were the quiet deer in their thicket, the little does, smooth and slender, the life racing in them as it raced in her body, the surges of life that were the men, slipping silent and intent through the shadows ... .

Somewhere in the forest she felt the King Stag fling up his head, sniffing the wind, aware for the scent of an enemy, one of his own, one of the alien tribe of life ... she did not know whether it was the four-footed King Stag or the two-legged one she had blessed, they were one in the life of the Mother Earth, and their lot was in the hands of the Goddess. Antlers answered the toss of antlers, the sniffing breath taking in the life of the forest, searching it for alien, for prey, for predator, for rival where there could be none.

Ah, Goddess ... they were off, crashing through the underbrush, men fleet behind them only more silent, running, running ... run till the heart throbs like bursting in the chest, run till the life of the body overwhelms all knowledge and thought, fleet, searching and being sought, run with the deer who flee and the men who pursue, run with the spinning life of the great sun and the surge of the spring tides, run with the flow of life ... .

Lying motionless, her face pressed into the earth and the flooding sun burning her back, time crawling and racing by turns, Morgaine began to see-and from very far off it seemed that she had seen this before, in vision, sometime, somewhere, a very long time ago-the tall, sinewy youth, gripping his knife, falling, falling among the deer, among the slashing hooves -she knew she screamed aloud, and simultaneously knew that her cry had rung everywhere, so that even the King Stag paused in mid charge, appalled, hearing the shriek. There was a moment when everything stopped, and in that terrible moment of silence she saw that he scrambled to his feet, panting, charging with his head down, swinging his antlers, locking head-on, as he swayed and struggled, wrestling the deer with his strong hands and young body ... a knife slashed upward; blood spilled on the earth, and he was bleeding too, the Horned One, blood on his hands, blood from a long slash on his side, the blood spilling on the earth, sacrifice spilled to the Mother that life should feed on her blood ... and then the blood of the King Stag went over him in a gush as his blade found the heart, and the men around him rushed in with their spears ... .

She saw him carried back, covered in the blood of his twin and rival, the King Stag. All around him the little dark men were slashing, putting the raw, warm hide over his shoulders. Back they came in triumph, fires rising in the gathering dusk, and when the women lifted Morgaine she saw without surprise that the sun was setting, and she staggered, as if she too had run all day with the hunt and the deer.

They crowned her again with the crimson of triumph. The Horned One was brought before her, bleeding, and she blessed him and marked his forehead with the blood of the deer. The head was taken with the antlers which would bring down the next King Stag; the antlers which the Horned One had worn this day, broken and splintered, were cast into the fire. Soon there was a smell of burning flesh and she wondered if it was the flesh of man or stag ... .

They seated them side by side, and brought the first meats to them, dripping still with blood and the fat juices. Morgaine felt her head swimming, the rich taste of the meat overpowering her after her long fast; she was afraid for a moment that she would be sick again. Next to her he was eating hungrily, and she noticed by firelight that he had fine strong hands ... she blinked, seeing in a strange moment of doubled vision that serpents twined around them, then they were gone again. All around them the men and women of the Tribe were sharing in the ritual feast, the hymn of triumph, sung in an old language Morgaine could only half understand;

“He has triumphed, he has slain ...

... the blood of our Mother is shed upon the earth ...

... the blood of the God is spilled upon the earth ...

... and he shall rise and reign forever ...

... he has triumphed, he shall triumph forever, until the

end of the world ...”

The old priestess who had painted and decked her this morning held a silver cup to her lips; she felt the strong liquor sting her throat and burn all the way down. Fire, with a strong taste of honey behind it. Already she was drunk with the blood of the meat-she had tasted meat only a few times in the last seven years. Her head was swimming as they bore her away, stripped her and bedecked her naked body with more paint and garlands, marking her nipples and brow with the blood of the slain deer.

The Goddess receives her consort and she will slay him again at the end of time, she shall give birth to her Dark Son who will bring the King Stag down ... .

A little girl, painted blue from head to foot and bearing a broad dish, ran across the plowed fields, scattering dark drops as she ran, and Morgaine heard the great cry that went up behind her.

“The fields are blessed; give us food, O our Mother!”

And for an instant, some small part of Morgaine, dizzy and drunk and only half in her body at all, remarked coldly that she certainly must be mad; she, a civilized and educated woman, princess and priestess and kin to the royal line of Avalon, Druid-taught, here painted like a savage and smelling of freshly shed blood, enduring this barbarian mummery ...

....hen it was all gone again, as the full moon, serene and proud, rose over the clouds that had barriered it from sight. Bathed naked in the moonlight, Morgaine felt the light of the Goddess streaming over, through her ... she was Morgaine no more, she was nameless, priestess and maiden and mother ... they strung a garland of crimson berries about her loins; the crude symbolism struck her with sudden fear, and she felt the full weight of virginity pouring and flooding through her like the spring tide. A torch flared in her eyes and they led her into darkness, echoing silences above and beyond her, a cave. All round her, on the walls, she could see the sacred symbols, painted there from the beginnings of time, the stag and antlers, the man with the horns on his brow, the swollen belly and full breasts of She Who Gives Life ... .

The priestess laid Morgaine on the couch of deerskins. For a moment she felt cold and frightened, and she shivered, and the old woman’s brow wrinkled in compassion; she drew Morgaine into her arms and kissed her on the lips, and Morgaine clung for a moment to the old woman, hugging her in sudden terror, as if the woman’s sheltering arms were her mother’s own ... then the woman smiled at her and kissed her again and touched her breasts in blessing and went away.

She lay there, feeling the life of the earth around her; she seemed to expand, to fill all the cave, the little scribbled drawings were painted on her breasts and her belly, and above her the great chalk figure, man or deer, strode with erect phallus ... the invisible moon outside the cave flooding her body with light as the Goddess surged inside her, body and soul. She stretched out her arms, and at her command she knew that outside the cave, in the light of the fecundating fires, man and woman, drawn one to the other by the pulsating surges of life, came together. The little blue-painted girl who had borne the fertilizing blood was drawn down into the arms of a sinewy old hunter, and Morgaine saw her briefly struggle and cry out, go down under his body, her legs opening to the irresistible force of nature in them. She saw without sight, her eyes closed against the glare of the torch, hearing the cries.

Now he was in the door of the cave, the antlers gone from his brow, his hair streaked, his body smeared blue and stained with blood, white skin like the white chalk of the body of the huge figure above the cave ... the Horned One, the consort. He moved dizzily, too, naked, except for a garland like her own about his loins, and she could see the erect life surging in him like that of the chalk figure. He knelt by her side, and by the torchlight, dazzled, she could see that he was no more than a boy, not one of the little dark people, but tall and fair ... . Why have they chosen a king who is not one of their own? The thought darted across her mind like a moonbeam and was gone; she was not thinking at all.

Now it is the time for the Goddess to welcome the Horned One-he was kneeling at the edge of the deerskin couch, swaying, blinking by the light of the torch. She reached up to him, gripped his hands, drew him down to her, feeling the soft warmth and weight of his body. She had to guide him. I am the Great Mother who knows all things, who is maiden and mother and all-wise, guiding the virgin and her consort ... dazed, terrified, exalted, only half conscious, she felt the life force take them both, moving her body without volition, moving him too, guiding him fiercely into her, till they were both moving without knowledge of what force gripped them. She heard herself crying out as if from a great distance, heard his voice high and shaken in the silence, never knowing what either of them cried out at that moment. The torch guttered and went out in the darkness as all the fierce fury of his young life burst and spurted into her womb.

He moaned and fell forward across her, lifeless except for his hoarse breathing. She eased him away, cradling his weight in her arms, holding him with weary warmth. She felt him kiss her naked breast. Then slowly, tiredly, his breathing quieted to normal, and after a moment she knew that he slept in her arms. She kissed his hair and his soft cheek with a wild tenderness, and then she too slept.

WHEN SHE WOKE the night was far advanced; moonlight had crept into the cave. She was utterly weary, her whole body aching, and she felt between her legs and knew that she was bleeding. She flung her damp hair back, looking down by the moonlight at the sprawled pale body still sleeping the sleep of long exhaustion beside her. He was tall and strong and beautiful, though by moonlight she could not see his features clearly, and the magical Sight had deserted her; now there was only the moon’s light and brilliance, no longer the compelling face of the Goddess. She was Morgaine again, not the shadow of the Great Mother; she was herself again, clear in her mind about what had happened.

She thought for a moment of Lancelet, whom she had loved, and to whom she had hungered to give this gift. Now it had come, not to a lover but to a faceless stranger ... no, she must not think like that. She was not a woman, she was a priestess, and she had given the force of the Virgin to the Horned One, as had been ordained for her fate before the walls of the world were laid. She had accepted her destiny as a priestess of Avalon must do, and she sensed that something of shattering importance had happened here in the night past.

She was cold and lay down, covering herself with the deerskin coverlet. She wrinkled her nose a little at its rankness; they had strewn it with sweet herbs, so at least there would not be fleas. Experienced at judging the tides, she guessed it was about an hour before sunrise. At her side the boy felt her stir and sat up sleepily.

“Where are we?” he asked. “Oh yes, I remember. In the cave. Why, it’s already getting light.” He smiled and reached for her; she let him pull her down and kiss her, wrapping her in strong arms. “Last night you were the Goddess,” he murmured, “but I wake and I find you are a woman.”

She laughed softly. “And you are not the God, but a man?”

“I think I have had enough of being a God, and besides, it seems to me that it is presumptuous for a man of flesh and blood,” he said, holding her against him. “I am content to be no more than a man.”

She said, “Perhaps there is a time to be Goddess and God, and a time to be no more than flesh and blood.”

“I was afraid of you last night,” he confessed. “I thought you the Goddess, all larger than life ... and you are such a little thing!” Suddenly he blinked and said, “Why, you speak my language, I had not noticed- you are not one of this tribe, then?”

“I am a priestess from the Holy Isle.”

“And the priestess is a woman,” he said, his hands gently exploring her breasts, which stirred into sudden life and hunger at his touch. “Do you think the Goddess will be angry with me if I like the woman better?”

She laughed and said, “The Goddess is wise in the ways of men.”

“And is her priestess?”

Suddenly she felt shy. “No-I have never known a man before this,” she said, “and it was not I, but the Goddess-”

He said in the dimness, drawing her close to him, “Since the God and the Goddess have known pleasure, should not the man and the woman know it also?” His hands were growing bolder, and she pulled him down to her. “It seems only fitting,” she said.

This time in full awareness she could savor it, the softness and hardness, the strong young hands and the surprising gentleness behind his bold approach. She laughed in delight at the unexpected pleasure, fully open to him, sensing his enjoyment as her own. She had never been so happy in her life. Spent, they lay, limbs twined, caressing each other in a pleasant fatigue.

At last, in the growing light, he sighed.

“They will be coming for me soon,” he said, “and there is much more of this-I am to be taken somewhere and given a sword, and many other things.” He sat up and smiled at her. “And I would like to wash, and have clothes befitting a civilized man, and free myself of all this blood and blue dye ... how everything passes! Last night I did not even know I was all smeared with blood-look, you too are covered with the stag’s blood where I lay on you-”

“I think when they come for me, they will bathe me and give me fresh garments,” she said, “and you too, in a running stream.”

He sighed with a gentle, boyish melancholy. His voice was breaking, an uncertain baritone; how could he be so young, this young giant who had fought the King Stag and killed him with his flint knife?

“I do not suppose I will ever meet you again,” he said, “for you are a priestess and dedicated to the Goddess. But I want to say this to you-” and he leaned down and kissed her between her breasts. “You were the very first. No matter how many women I may have, for all my life I will always remember you and love you and bless you. I promise you that.”

There were tears on his cheek. Morgaine reached for her garment and tenderly dried the tears, cradling his head against her.

At the gesture he seemed to stop breathing.

“Your voice,” he whispered, “and what you just did-why do I seem to know you? Is it because you are the Goddess, and in her all women are the same? No-” He stiffened, raised himself, took her face between his hands. In the growing light she saw the boyish features strengthened into the lines of a man. Still only half aware of why she seemed to know him, she heard his hoarse cry. “Morgaine! You are Morgaine! Morgaine, my sister! Ah, God, Mary Virgin, what have we done?”

She put her hands up to her eyes, slowly. “My brother,” she whispered. “Ah, Goddess! Brother! Gwydion-”

“Arthur,” he muttered.

She held him tight, and after a moment he sobbed, still holding her. “No wonder it seemed to me that I have known you since before the world was made,” he said, weeping. “I have always loved you, and this-ah, God, what have we done-”

“Don’t cry,” she said, helplessly, “don’t cry. We are in the hands of her who brought us here. It doesn’t matter. We are not brother and sister here, we are man and woman before the Goddess, no more.”

And I never knew you again. My brother, my baby, the one who lay on my breast like a little child. Morgaine, Morgaine, I told you to take care of the baby, as she went away and left us, and he cried himself to sleep in my arms. And I did not know.

“It’s all right,” she said again, rocking him, “don’t cry, my brother, my beloved, my little one, don’t cry, it’s all right.”

But even as she soothed him, despair beat at her.

Why did you do this to us? Great Mother, Lady, why?

And she did not know whether she was calling to Viviane, or to the Goddess.


All the long road to Avalon, Morgaine lay in her litter, her head throbbing, and that question beating in her mind: Why? She was exhausted after the three days of fasting and the long day of ritual. She knew vaguely that the night’s feasting and lovemaking had been intended to release that force, and they would have done so, returning her to normal, except for the morning’s shock.

She knew herself well enough to know that when the shock and exhaustion wore off, they would be followed by rage, and she wished that she could reach Viviane before the rage exploded, while she could still maintain some semblance of calm.

They took the Lake route this time, and she was allowed, at her own earnest request, to walk a part of the way; she was no longer the ritually shielded Maiden of the ceremony, but only one of the priestess attendants of the Lady of the Lake. Returning with the barge across the Lake, she was asked to summon the mists for the making of the gateway to Avalon; she rose to do so almost perfunctorily, so much had she come to take this Mystery for granted as a part of her life.

Yet as she raised her arms for the summoning, she had a sudden, paralyzing moment of doubt. The change within her seemed so great, did she still retain the force to make the gateway? So great was her rebellion that for an instant she hesitated, and the men in the boat looked at her in polite concern. She felt pierced by their eyes, and by a moment of intense shame, as if all that had befallen her the night before must somehow be printed on her face in the language of lust. The sound of church bells rang out quietly over the Lake, and suddenly Morgaine was back in childhood, listening to Father Columba speaking earnestly of chastity as the greatest; approach to the holiness of Mary, Mother of God, who by miracle had borne her Son without even a momentary stain of the world’s sin. Even at the time, Morgaine had thought, What great nonsense that is, how could any woman bear a child without knowing a man? But at the sound of the holy bells, something within her seemed to crumple and fold itself away, and she felt tears suddenly streaming down her face.

“Lady, are you ill?”

She shook her head, saying firmly, “No, I felt faint for a moment.” She drew a deep breath. Arthur was not in the boat-no, of course not, he had been taken by the Merlin on the Hidden Way. The Goddess is One- Mary the Virgin, the Great Mother, the Huntress ... and I have a part in Her greatness. She made a banishing gesture and raised her arms again, swiftly drawing down the curtain of the mist through which they would reach Avalon.

Night was falling, but, although Morgaine was hungry and weary, she made her way at once toward the Lady’s house. But at the door, a priestess stopped her when she would have entered.

“The Lady can see no one at present.”

“Nonsense,” Morgaine said, feeling the beginnings of anger through the merciful numbness and hoping it would hold until she had confronted Viviane. “I am her kinswoman; ask if I may come to her.”

The priestess went away and quickly returned, saying, “The Lady said: ‘Tell Morgaine to go at once to the House of Maidens, and I will speak to her when the proper time comes.’ “

For a moment, anger surged in Morgaine so great that she came near to shoving the woman out of the way and forcing herself into Viviane’s house. But awe still held her. She did not know what the penalty would be for a priestess who defied her sworn obedience, but through her flooding anger, a small, cold rational voice told her that she really did not want to find out this way. She drew a long breath, composing her face into the proper demeanor for a priestess, bowed obediently, and went away. The tears she had forced back, hearing church bells on the Lake, were beginning to break through, and for a moment she wished, wearily, that she could let them come. Now at long last, alone in the House of Maidens, in her own quiet room, she could weep if she must; but the tears would not come, only bafflement and pain and the anger which she had no way to express. It was as if her entire body and soul were locked into one great knot of anguish.

IT WAS TEN DAYS before Viviane sent for her; the full moon that had shone on the triumph of the Horned One had dwindled in the sky to a sickly dying splinter. By the time one of the young priestesses brought a message that Viviane required her presence, Morgaine had given way to smoldering anger.

She has played upon me as I would play upon the harp. The words rang so in her mind that at first, hearing harp music from inside Viviane’s dwelling, she thought it the echo of her own bitter thoughts. Then she thought that Viviane was playing. But in the years she had been in Avalon she had learned much of music, and she knew the sound of Viviane’s harp; the older woman was, at best, an indifferent player.

She listened now, wondering in spite of herself who the musician was. Taliesin? Before he was the Merlin, she knew, he had been the greatest of bards, renowned throughout the length of Britain. She had heard him play often enough on the great feast days, and for the most solemn of rituals; but now his hands were old. Their skill was not diminished, but even at his best he had never made such sounds as these-this was a new harper, one she knew she had never heard before. And she knew, even before she saw it, that this was a larger harp than even Taliesin played, and the strange Musician’s fingers spoke to the strings as if he had enchanted them.

Viviane had once told her some old tale from a far-off country, a tale of a bard whose strings had made the ring stones circle in their own dance and the trees drop their leaves in mourning, and when he went down into the country of the dead, the stern judges there relented and let his beloved dead go forth. Morgaine stood motionless outside the door as everything that was in her faded into the music. Suddenly she felt that all the weeping she had held back in the ten days past might come upon her again, that her rage might dissolve, if she let it, into tears which would wash it all away, leaving her weak as any girl. Abruptly she thrust the door back and entered without ceremony.

Taliesin the Merlin was there, but he was not playing; his hands were clasped attentively in his lap as he bent forward, listening. Viviane too, in her simple house robes, was seated, not in her accustomed seat, but further from the fire; she had given the seat of honor to the strange harper.

He was a young man, in the green robe of a bard; smooth-shaven in the Roman fashion, his curling hair darker than rusted iron. His eyes were deep-set under a forehead which seemed almost too big for him, and though Morgaine for some reason had expected them to be dark, they were instead an unexpected piercing blue. He frowned at the interruption, his hands stopping in the middle of a chord.

Viviane too looked displeased, but ignored the discourtesy. “Come here, Morgaine, and sit by me. I know you are fond of music, and I thought you would like to hear Kevin the Bard.”

“I was listening outside.”

The Merlin smiled. “Come and listen, then. He is new to Avalon, but I think perhaps he may have much to teach us.”

Morgaine went and sat on the little seat beside Viviane. The Lady of the Lake said, “My kinswoman Morgaine, sir; she too is of the royal line of Avalon. You see before you, Kevin, she who will be Lady here in years to come.”

Morgaine made a startled movement; never before had she known that this was what Viviane planned for her. But anger drowned out her rush of gratification. She thinks she can say a kind or flattering word and I will rush to lick her feet like a bitch puppy!

“May that day be far distant, Lady of Avalon, and may your wisdom long continue to guide us,” said Kevin smoothly. He spoke their language as if he had learned it well-she could just tell that it was not his own; a little hesitation and thought before the words, although the accent was almost flawless. Well, he had a musician’s ear, after all. He was, Morgaine surmised, about thirty, perhaps a little more. But she did not look too closely at him after that first quick surprise at the blueness of his eyes; her gaze was bent on the great harp at his knee.

As she had guessed, it was somewhat larger than even the harp Taliesin played at the great festivals. It was made of a dark-reddish, gleaming wood, completely unlike the pale willow wood from which the harps of Avalon were fashioned, and she wondered if it was this which had given it the silken brilliant tone. The bowed edge curved in a line as graceful as a cloud, the pegs were carved of a curious pale bone, and it was painted and adorned with runic letters strange to Morgaine, who had learned, like any educated woman, to read and write in Greek characters. Kevin followed her close scrutiny and looked somewhat less displeased as he said, “You are admiring my lady.” He ran his hands caressingly over the dark wood. “I named her so when she was built for me-she was the gift of a king. She is the only woman, whether maiden or matron, whose caresses never weary me and of whose voice I never tire.”

Viviane smiled at the harper. “Few men can boast of so loyal a mistress.”

His smile was a cynical twist. “Oh, like all women, she will respond to whatever hand caresses her, but I think she knows that I can best make her thrill to my touch, and being like all women lecherous, I am sure she loves me best.”

Viviane said, “It sounds to me as if you had no good opinion of women who are flesh and blood.”

“Why, so I have not, Lady. Save for the Goddess-” He spoke the words with a faint lilt, not quite mockery. “I am content to have no mistress but My Lady here, who never chides me if I neglect her, but is always the same sweet paramour.”

“Perhaps,” said Morgaine, raising her eyes, “you treat her rather better than you treat a woman of flesh and blood, and she rewards you as is your due.”

Viviane frowned, and Morgaine knew she had trespassed by this bold speech. Kevin raised his head suddenly from the harp and met Morgaine’s eyes. For a moment he held her gaze, and she was astonished at his bitter hostility and with it, the sense that he understood something of her rage, had known his own and fought through it.

He might have spoken, but Taliesin nodded to him, and he bent his face again over the harp. Now she noticed that he played it differently from most harpers, who held their small instruments across their body, playing with the left hand. He set his harp between his knees, and leaned forward to it. It startled her, but as the music began to fill the room, like moonlight rippling from the strings, she forgot the strangeness of it, saw his face change and grow quiet and distant, without the mockery of his words. She decided that she liked him better when he played than when he spoke.

There was no other sound in the room, only the harping that filled it to the rafters, as if the listeners had stilled even their breathing. The sound swept away all else, and Morgaine dropped her veil over her face and let the tears come. It seemed that in the music she could hear the flooding of the spring tides, the sweet awareness that had filled her body as she lay that night in the moonlight, awaiting the coming of the dawn. Viviane reached out to her and, as she had done when Morgaine was only a child, took her hand, gently stroking her fingers one after another. Morgaine could not stop her tears. She raised Viviane’s hand to her lips and kissed it. She thought, with a crushing sense of loss, Why, she is old, she has grown old since I came here ... always before this, Viviane had seemed to her ageless, unchanging, like the very Goddess herself. Ah, but I too have changed, I am no longer a child ... once she told me, when I came here, that a day would come when I would hate her as much as I loved her, and I could not believe it then ... . She struggled against her weeping, afraid she would make some sound which would betray her and, even more, interrupt the flood of music. She thought, No, I cannot hate Viviane, and all her rage melted into sorrow so great that for a moment she thought she would break into the fiercest weeping. For herself, for the changes in herself, for Viviane who had been so beautiful, the very face of the Goddess, and who was now nearer to the Death-crone, and for the knowledge that she too, like Viviane, with the relentless years would one day herself come to stand as the crone; for the day she had climbed the Tor with Lancelet and lain there in the sun, hungering for his touch without clearly knowing what it was she wanted; and for something which had gone from her, irrevocably. Not virginity alone, but a trust and belief she would never know again. And Morgaine knew that beside her Viviane, too, was weeping silently behind her veil.

She glanced up. Kevin was motionless, only his fingers alive on the strings; then the sighing madness of the music shivered into silence, he raised his head, and his fingers swept the strings, plucking them gaily to a merry tune, one sung by the barley sowers in the fields, with a dancing rhythm, and words that were far from decorous. This time he sang. His voice was strong and clear, and Morgaine, under cover of the dancing music, sat up and began to watch his hands, pushing her veil aside and contriving to wipe away the betraying tears as she did so.

Then she noticed that for all their skill, there was something strangely amiss with his hands. They seemed somehow misshapen, and studying them, she noted that one or two of the fingers lacked a second joint, so that he played deftly with the stubs, and that the little finger was missing entirely from his left hand; and all along the hands, beautiful and supple as they seemed when he moved them, were odd discolorations. As he set down the harp, leaning to steady it, his sleeve fell away from his wrist, and she could see hideous white patches there, like the scars of burns or some ghastly mutilating wounds. Now that she looked on him closely, she could see that his face had a fine network of scars along chin and jawline. He saw her staring and raised his head, meeting her eyes again and holding them with a hard, angry stare. Morgaine looked away, flushing; after the music which had searched her very soul, she would not have wounded his feelings.

“Well,” Kevin said abruptly, “My lady and I are always glad to sing to those who love her voice, but I do not suppose you called me here entirely to entertain you, madam; nor you, my lord Merlin.”

“Not entirely,” said Viviane in her rich, low voice, “but you have given us a delight I shall remember for many years.”

“And I,” Morgaine said. She felt as shy now before him as she had been bold before. Nevertheless she went forward, to look more closely at the great harp, and said, “I have never seen one made after this fashion.”

“That I can well believe,” Kevin said, “for I had it made after my own design. The harper who taught me my craft threw up his hands in horror as if I had blasphemed his Gods, and swore it would make an unholy clamor, fit only to frighten away enemies. Like the great war harps, twice as tall as a man, that were dragged on carts up the hills in Gaul, and left there in the wind to make ghostly noises, so that they say even the legions of Rome were frightened. Well, I played one of those war harps, and a grateful king gave me leave to have a harp made exactly as I chose-”

Taliesin broke in. “He speaks the truth,” he said to Viviane, “though I did not believe it when I heard it first-what man and mortal could play one of those monsters?”

“I did it,” Kevin said, “and so the king had my lady made for me. I have a smaller one to the same design, but not so fine.”

“Indeed it is beautiful,” Morgaine said. “What are the pegs? Are they seal bone?”

He shook his head. “They are carved, so I am told, from the teeth of a great beast that lives in the warm countries far to the south,” he said. “I only know that the material is fine and smooth, yet hard and durable. It is more costly than gold, though less gaudy.”

“You do not hold it as I have ever seen a harp played-”

“No,” Kevin said with his twisted smile, “I have but small strength in my arms, and I had to experiment to find how I could best do so. I saw you look at my hands. When I was six years old, the house where I lived was burned over my head by the Saxons, and I was pulled out too late. No one thought I would live, but I surprised them all, and since I could neither walk nor fight, they set me in a corner and decided that with my broken hands”-he spread them out quite dispassionately before him-”perhaps I could learn to spin and weave among the women. But I showed small disposition for that, and so one day an old harper came by, and in return for a bowl of soup, set himself to amuse a cripple. When he showed me the strings, I tried to play. And I did make music, after a fashion, so he got his bread that winter and the next by schooling me to play and sing, and said he could put me in the way of earning a livelihood with my music. And so for ten years I did nothing but sit in the corner and play, until my legs at length grew strong enough that I could learn to walk again.” He shrugged, and pulled a length of cloth from behind him, wrapping up the harp in it and sliding it into a leather case embroidered with signs. “And then I became harper to a village, and at length to a king. When the old king died, his son had no ear for music, and I thought it best to get well out of the kingdom before he began to look covetously at the gold on my harp. Then I came to the Druid isle, and there I studied bardcraft, and at last I was sent to Avalon-and here I find myself,” he added, with a final shrug, “but still you have not told me why you bade me attend you, Lord Merlin, nor these ladies.”

“Because,” said the Merlin, “I am old, and the events we set in motion this night may not come into their full flower for another generation. And when that time comes, I shall be gone.”

Viviane leaned forward and said, “Have you had warning, Father?”

“No, no, my dear. I would not waste the Sight on such a matter; we do not consult the Gods to tell if the next winter will bring snowfalls. And as you brought Morgaine here, so I brought Kevin the Bard, so that there may be one younger than myself to follow what may happen when I am gone. So hear my news: Uther Pendragon lies dying at Caerleon, and where the lion falls, there the kites will gather. And we have had word brought to us that there is a great army massing in the Kentish countries, where the treaty people have decided that now is the moment to rise and take the rest of Britain from us. They have sent for mercenaries from the mainland, north of Gaul, to join them in overthrowing our people and undoing what Uther has done. And this is the time for all our people to fight behind the banner we have worked so many years to raise. There is not much time-they must have their king and have him now. There is not another moon to waste, or they will be upon us. Lot wants the throne, but the Southmen will not follow him. There are others-Duke Marcus from Cornwall, Uriens in North Wales-but not one of them can gain the support outside his own lands, and we could well be like the donkey who starved to death between two bales of fodder, not knowing which to eat first ... . We must have the Pendragon’s son, young though he is.”

Kevin said, “I had never heard that the Pendragon had a son. Or has he recognized that son his wife bore to Cornwall, soon after they were married? Uther must have been in unseemly haste to marry, if he could not even wait until she bore her child before taking her to his bed-”

Viviane raised her hand. “The young prince is the son of Uther,” she said, “none may doubt it, nor will doubt it when they see him.”

“Is it so? Then Uther did well to hide him away,” Kevin said, “for his son by another man’s wife-”

Viviane gestured him to silence. “Igraine is my sister, and she is of the royal line of Avalon. This son of Uther and Igraine is the one whose coming was foretold, the king who was and will be. Already he has taken the antlers and been crowned over the Tribes-”

“What king in Britain, do you think, will accept some boy of seventeen to be High King?” Kevin asked skeptically. “He could be brave as the fabled Cuchulain and they would want a warrior of greater skill.”

“As for that, he has been schooled to war, and to the work of a king’s son,” Taliesin said, “though he knows not that his blood is royal. But I think the full moon just past gave him a sense of his destiny. Uther was honored above any king before his time; this lad Arthur will set his state even higher. I have seen him on the throne. The question is not, will they accept him, but what can we do to set him about with all the majesty of the High King, so all the warring kings will join hands against the Saxon instead of against one another!”

“I have found the way to do that,” Viviane said, “and at the new moon it shall be done. I have a sword for him, a sword out of legend, never before wielded by a living hero.” She paused a moment, then said slowly, “And for that sword, I shall exact from him a pledge. I shall swear him to be true to Avalon, despite whatever the Christians may do. Then perhaps the tide will turn, and Avalon will return from the mists, and it is the monks and their dead God who will go into the shadows and the mists, while Avalon shines again in the light of the outer world.”

“An ambitious plan,” said Kevin, “but if in truth the High King of Britain were sworn to Avalon-”

“This has been planned since before he was born.”

Taliesin said slowly, “The boy has been fostered a Christian. Will he take such an oath?”

“How real is the talk of Gods to a boy, compared to a legendary sword with which to lead his people, and the fame of great deeds?” Viviane shrugged. “Whatever may come of it, we have gone too far to stop now; we are all committed. In three days the moon will be new again, and at that auspicious time he shall have the sword.”

THERE WAS LITTLE MORE to say. Morgaine sat quietly listening, both excited and appalled. She had been in Avalon too long, she thought, too long concealed among the priestesses with her mind on holy things and the secret wisdom. She had forgotten that there was a world outside. Somehow it had never really come home to her that Uther Pendragon, her mother’s husband, was High King of all Britain, and that her brother would be so some day. Even, she thought with a twist of that new cynicism, with the stain of doubt on his birth. Perhaps the rival kings would even welcome a candidate who had no loyalty to any of their parties and factions, a son of the Pendragon, handsome and modest, who could serve as a symbol round whom they all rallied. A candidate, for High King moreover, who had already been accepted by the Tribes, and by the Pict folk, and by Avalon ... and then Morgaine flinched, remembering the part she had had in that. This brought her anger back, so that when Taliesin and Kevin rose to go, she remembered why she had wanted, ten days ago, when it was fresh in her mind, to confront Viviane with her rage.

Kevin’s harp in its ornamented leather bag was difficult to carry, being so much larger than other harps, and when he was burdened with its weight he looked awkward, one knee stiff and a foot dragging. Ugly, she thought, an ugly grotesque man; but when he plays, who would think so? There is more to this man than any of us knows. And then she remembered what Taliesin had said; she knew that she looked on the next Merlin of Britain, as Viviane had called her next Lady of the Lake. The pronouncement brought no elation, although if Viviane had said it before that journey which had changed her life, she would have been proud and excited. Now it seemed shadowed by the thing which had happened to her.

With my brother, my brother. It did not matter when we were priest and priestess, God and Goddess joining under the power of ritual. But in the morning, when we wakened and were man and woman together ... that was real, that was in.

Viviane was standing at the door, watching them move away. “For a man with such injuries, he moves well. It is fortunate for the world that he survived them and that he was not set as a beggar in the street, or to weaving rush mats in the market. Such skill as that one has should not be hidden in obscurity, or even in the court of a king. A voice and hands like that belong to the Gods.”

“He is gifted, certainly,” Morgaine said, “but I wonder-is he wise? The Merlin of Britain must be not only learned and gifted but wise as well. And-virtuous.”

“I leave that to Taliesin,” Viviane said. “What shall be, must be; it is not mine to order.”

And suddenly Morgaine’s wrath overflowed. “Are you truly acknowledging that there is anything on the face of this earth which you feel is not yours to order, Lady? I thought you believed that your will was the will of the Goddess, and all of us puppets to serve you!”

“You must not talk this way, my child,” Viviane said, looking at her in astonishment. “You can hardly mean to be so insolent to me.”

If Viviane had responded to her words with arrogance, it would have hardened Morgaine’s anger into explosion; the gentleness baffled her. She said, “Viviane, why?” and felt, shamefully, that tears would rise again to choke her.

Now Viviane’s voice was cold. “Did I leave you for too long among the Christians, after all, with their talk of sin?” she said. “Think, child. You are of the royal line of Avalon; so too is he. Could I have given you to a commoner? Or, could the High King to come be so given?”

“And I believed you when you said-I believed it was the doing of the Goddess-”

“Why, so it was,” said Viviane gently, not understanding, “but even so, I could not give you to anyone unworthy of you, my Morgaine.” Her voice was tender. “He was so young when you parted-I thought he would never have recognized you. I regret that you recognized him, but after all, you would have had to know sooner or later. And he need not know for a long time.”

Morgaine said, tightening her body against rage, “He knows already. He knows. And he was more horrified, I think, than I was.”

Viviane sighed. “Well, there is nothing we can do about that now,” she said. “Done is done. And at this moment the hope of Britain is more important than your feelings.”

Morgaine turned away and did not wait to hear more.


The moon was dark in the sky; at this time, so the young priestesses were told in the House of Maidens, the Goddess veils her face from mankind, taking counsel of the heavens themselves and the Gods which lie behind the Gods we know. Viviane too kept seclusion at moon-dark, her privacy guarded by two young priestesses.

Most of that day she kept her bed, lying with closed eyes, and wondering if she was, after all, what Morgaine thought her-drunk with power, believing that all things were at her command to play with as she thought good.

What I have done, she thought, I have done to save this land and its people from rapine and destruction, a reversion to barbarism, a sacking greater than Rome suffered from of the Goths.

She longed to send for Morgaine, hungering for their old closeness. If indeed the girl came to hate her, it would be the heaviest price she would ever pay for anything she had done. Morgaine was the one human being she had ever wholly loved. She is the daughter I owed the Goddess. But, done is done and cannot be called back. The royal line of Avalon must not be contaminated by commoner blood. She thought of Morgaine with a sorrowful hope that one day the young woman would understand; but whether or no, Viviane knew she had done what she must, no more.

She slept little that night, sliding off into chaotic dreams and visions, thinking of the sons she had distanced from her, of the world outside into which the young Arthur had ridden at Merlin’s side; had he come in time to his dying father? For six weeks Uther Pendragon had lain ill in Caerleon, sinking, then rallying; but it seemed unlikely that he could live much longer.

As the dawn neared, she rose and dressed herself, so silently that neither of her attendant priestesses stirred. Did Morgaine sleep in the House of Maidens, or did she too lie awake with heavy heart, or weep? Morgaine had never wept before her, until that day when Kevin’s harp had stirred their hearts, and even then she had concealed her tears.

Done is done! I cannot spare her. But with all my heart I wish there had been some other way ... .

She went out silently into the garden behind her dwelling. Birds were waking; apple blossoms, soft and sweet-scented, drifted from the trees which had given Avalon its name.

They will bear fruit in time to come, as what I do now will bear fruit in its own season. But I shall blossom nor bear fruit no more. The burden of the years lay heavy on her mind. I grow old; even now, at times, the Sight fails me, the Sight I am given to guide this land.

Her own mother had not lived to be so old. The time would come -indeed, was almost upon her-when she must lay down her burden and her holy office, giving over the real rulership of Avalon to the next Lady, standing behind her in shadows as the wise-woman-or the Old Deathcrone herself.

Morgaine is not yet ready. She still lives by the world’s time, and she can still tremble and weep for what cannot be avoided. Her mind ran over the roster of priestesses, the young and the old, in Avalon. There was none to whom she could entrust the rulership of this land. Morgaine would some day grow to that stature; but not yet. Raven-Raven might have had that strength.. But Raven had given her voice to the Gods; Raven was for the divine madness of the worlds beyond, not for the sober counsel and judgment of this one. What would come to Britain, if she should die before Morgaine ‘ was grown to her full powers?

Overhead the sky was still dark, although in the east the mist was lightening with the dawn. As she watched, the light grew; the red clouds formed slowly, twisting into the shape of a red dragon, coiling along the whole horizon. Then a great shooting star flamed along the sky, paling the form of the red dragon; its brilliance blinded Viviane for a moment, and when she could see again, the red dragon was gone and the shifting clouds were white with the rising sun.

Viviane felt shivers raking her spine. A portent like this was not seen twice in a lifetime-the whole of Britain must be alive with it. So passes Uther, she thought. Farewell to the dragon who has spread his wings over our coast. Now will the Saxons be loosed upon us.

She sighed and then, without warning, there was a ripple in the air, and a man stood before her in the garden. She trembled, not with the fear which a house-bred woman might feel of an intruder-Viviane had no fear of any man living-but because it had been long since she had experienced a true Sending of this kind. A vision which intruded on her, unsummoned, must be of great power.

Power like the shooting star, a portent such as has not been seen in my lifetime ...

For a moment she did not recognize the man who stood before her; wasting illness had greyed the fair hair, shrunk the broad shoulders, and stooped the spine; the skin was yellowed and the eyes sunken with pain. Even thus, Uther Pendragon seemed, as always, larger than most men; and though there was little sound in the enclosed garden, so that she heard the twittering birds through his voice-yes, and saw the blossoming trees through his body-it seemed that he spoke as always to her, harshly, without warmth.

So, Viviane, we meet for the last time. There is a bond between us, not one I would have desired; we have not been friends, sister-in-law. But I trust to your vision, for what you spoke came always true. And you are the only one to make it sure that the next High King of Britain can take what is rightfully his.

Now she saw that across his breast was the mark of a great wound. How had it come about that Uther Pendragon, lying sick in Caerleon, had died of a wound and not of his long illness?

I died as a warrior would die; the treaty troops broke their faith again, and my armies could not stand against them until I had myself carried, to show myself on the field. Then they rallied, but Aesc, the Saxons’ chief-I will not grant that wild savage the name of king-broke through, and slew three of my guard; and I killed him before his bodyguard could kill me. But we won that battle. The next battle will be for my son. If he comes to the throne.

Viviane heard herself say aloud, through the silence, “Arthur is King through the old royal line of Avalon. He needs no Pendragon blood to take as rightful place as High King.”

But this, which would have made the living Uther burst out in wrath, only called forth the wry smile, and for the last time she seemed to hear his voice.

I doubt not it would take more even than your magic, sister-in-law, to make the lesser kings of Britain see that. You may think scorn of the Pendragon’s blood, but it is upon that Merlin must call to put Arthur on my throne.

And then, before her eyes, the form of Uther Pendragon faded, and before her stood another man whom the living Viviane had seen only in dreams. And in a searing moment, Viviane knew why no man had ever been more to her than duty, or a path to power, or a night’s pleasure; for a moment she stood in a land drowned before the ring stones on the Tor were raised, and about her arms she wore twining golden serpents ... the faded crescent burned like a great horned moon between her brows, and she knew him, with a knowledge that went beyond time or space.... She cried aloud, with a great mourning cry for all that she had never known in this life, and the agony of a bereavement unguessed till this moment. Then the garden was empty and birds twittered mindlessly in the damp silence of the mists that concealed the rising sun.

And far away in Caerleon, Igraine, knowing herself widowed, cries out for her love... it is hers to mourn him now.... Viviane caught for support against the dew-drenched bark of the great tree, and leaned against it, wrung with unexpected sorrow. He had never known her. He had disliked her, had never trusted her until the very moment of his death, when the mortal disguise of one lifetime fell away. Goddess be merciful ... a lifetime gone and I never knew him ... gone, gone again, and will I know him again when we meet or will we walk blinded again, passing each other by as strangers? But there was no answer, only silence, and Viviane could not even weep.

Igraine will weep for him ... I cannot ... .

Quickly she collected herself. This was no time to stand and mourn for a love like a dream within a dream; time began to move for her again, and she looked back on the vision with a faint dismay. She could find no grief in her now for the dead man, nor anything except exasperation; she might have known that he would manage to die at the most inconvenient time possible, before he had time to proclaim his son to the rival kinglets all striving for the crown of the High King. Why had he not stayed in Caerleon, why had he given in to the pride which had led him to show himself one more time in battle? Had he even seen his son, had the Merlin arrived in time?

The Sending had gone beyond recall; there was no way to summon it back and ask mundane questions. Uther had indeed come to her at the moment of his death-it was just as well Igraine would never know that. But he was gone.

Viviane glanced skyward. There was no sign yet of the crescent moon in the sky; perhaps she still might see something in her mirror. Should she call Raven? No, there was no time for that, and Raven might not consent to break her silence for a vision of affairs in the world outside. Morgaine? She shrank from meeting Morgaine’s eyes.

Will she live all her life as I have done, with a heart dead inside her body?

She drew a long shuddering breath and turned to leave the garden. It was still very damp and cold; the sunrise was still hidden in mist. There was none to see as she walked swiftly up the secret way toward the Holy Well where she bent to drink, flinging her hair back, cupping her hands to the water. Then she went to the mirror pool. For so many years she had served the shrine here that she had come to take for granted her power of vision; but now, unlike herself, she prayed.

Goddess, do not take the power from me, not yet, not for a little while. Mother, you know I do not ask it for myself, only that this land may be safe until I can place it into the hands which I have prepared to safeguard it.

For a moment, she saw only the ripples across the pool’s water and clenched her hands as if she could force vision. Then, slowly, images began to form: she saw the Merlin going up and down the length of the land on his hidden ways, now as a Druid and Bard, as befitted the Messenger of the Gods; now as an old beggar or peddler, or as a simple harper. The face began to shift and change, and she saw Kevin the Bard, now in the white robes of the Messenger of Avalon, now in a nobleman’s dress, confronting the Christian priests ... and there was a shadow behind his head, he was circled in shadows, the shadow of the oak grove, the shadow of the cross; she saw him with the sacred cup of the Druid regalia ... she saw the young Arthur, his brow still stained with the blood of the stag he had fought and slain, and Morgaine laughing, crowned with flowers, her face marked with blood. ... She did not want to see it, and willed ferociously to turn her eyes away, but dared not break the flow of the visions. She saw a Roman villa, and Arthur standing between two boys-one was her own Lancelet, her younger son; she supposed the older was Arthur’s foster-brother, Caius, the son of Ectorius ... she saw Morgause surrounded by her sons; one by one they knelt at Arthur’s feet. Then she saw the Avalon barge, draped in black like a pall, and Morgaine in the prow, only Morgaine was older ... older, and weeping.

Impatiently, Viviane passed her hand over the surface of the water. This was no time to stand here, seeking guidance from visions which seemed to bear no meaning for the moment. She walked quickly down the hill toward her dwelling and summoned her attendant priestesses.

“Dress me,” she said curtly, “and send for the Merlin; he must ride for Caerleon, and bring the young Arthur to me here before the moon is more than a day old in the sky. There is no time to waste.”


But Arthur did not come with the new moon to Avalon.

Morgaine, in the House of Maidens, saw the new moon born, but she did not break the moon-dark fast. She felt faint, and knew that if she ate she would only be sick. Well, perhaps it was to be expected. She sometimes felt this way when her monthly courses were about to begin; later she would feel better. And later in the day she did feel better, and drank a little milk, and ate some bread; and that afternoon, Viviane sent for her.

“Uther lies dead in Caerleon,” she said. “If you feel you must go to your mother-”

For a short time Morgaine considered that, but at last she shook her head. “I had no love for Uther,” she said, “and Igraine knows it well. The Goddess grant that some of her priestly counselors may comfort her better than I could.”

Viviane sighed. She looked tired and worn, and Morgaine wondered if she, too, felt sick with the aftermath of the stressful time of the moon’s darkening. Viviane said, “Sorrow that I must say it, but I fear you are right. I would have spared you to her, if need be. There would be time for you to return to Avalon, before-” She broke off and then said, “You know that Uther, in his lifetime, kept the Saxons at bay, though with constant battle; we have not had more than a few moons of peace at any time. Now, I fear, it will be worse; they may come even to the doors of Avalon. Morgaine, you are full priestess, you have seen the sacred weapons-”

Morgaine replied with a sign, and Viviane nodded and said, “A day may come when that sword must be lifted in defense of Avalon and of all of Britain too.”

Morgaine thought, Why say this to me? I am priestess, not warrior; I cannot take the sword in defense of Avalon.

“You remember the sword.”

Barefoot, cold, tracing the circle with the weight of the sword in her hand, hearing Raven, the silent, cry aloud in terror ...

“I remember.”

“Then I have a task for you,” Viviane said. “When that sword is carried into battle, it must be circled with all the magic we have. You are to fashion a scabbard for the sword, Morgaine, and set into it every spell 1 you know, that he who bears it into battle shall lose no blood. Can you do that?”

I had forgotten, Morgaine thought, that there might be a task for a priestess as well as a warrior. And, with her trick of following a thought, Viviane said, “So you, too, shall have a part in the battle to defend our country.”

“So be it,” Morgaine said, wondering why Viviane, who was the great priestess of Avalon, did not take this task for herself. The older woman gave her no answer, but said, “For this you must work with the sword before you; come, and Raven shall serve you, within the silence of magic.”

Although she tried to remember that she was only a vessel of power and not the power itself, that the power itself came from the Goddess, Morgaine was young enough to feel exalted when she was conducted in silence to the secret place where work like this must be done, and surrounded by the priestesses who were to anticipate her every need so that she might not break the silence which would build the necessary power for the setting of spells. The sword was laid on a linen cloth before her; beside it, the low-brimmed chalice, fashioned of silver with gold beading around the edge. It was filled with water from the Holy Well; not for drinking-food and water were set aside for her-but that she might look into it and see within it such things as were needful for the work she must do.

On the first day, she cut, using the sword itself, an undersheath of thin doeskin. It was the first time she had had fine tools to work with, and she took pleasure in the special iron needle she had been given to stitch the sheath together; she took a pride which she knew was childish in that when she pricked her finger once or twice she did not utter even a momentary cry. She could not restrain a little caught breath of pure pleasure when she was shown the priceless piece of deepest crimson velvet, dyed with colors which, she had once been told, cost more money for an ounce than would buy a villa and hire men to work the land on it for a year. This would cover the doeskin, and on it she must work, in the golden and silken threads provided, the magical spells and their symbols.

Fashioning the shapes of doeskin sheath and velvet to cover it, she spent the first day; and before she slept, deep in the meditation of what she must do, almost in trance, she cut her arm a little and smeared the doeskin with her blood.

Goddess! Great Raven! Blood has been shed upon this scabbard, so that none need be spilt upon it when it is carried into battle.

She slept fitfully, dreaming that she sat on a high hill overlooking all of Britain and stitched spells, weaving them like visible light into the fabric of the earth itself. Below her the King Stag was running, and a man came striding up the hill to her, and took the sword from her hand ... .

She woke with a start, thinking: Arthur! It is Arthur who will bear the sword, he is the son ofPendragon ... and as she lay in the darkness, she thought that was why Viviane had given it to her, to make the magical scabbard for the sword he should bear in symbol of all his people. It was Arthur who had shed the blood of her virginity, and it was she, also of the sacred line of Avalon, who must fashion the spell-scabbard of his safety, guarding the royal blood.

All that day, in silence, she worked, gazing into the chalice, letting the images rise, now and then stopping to wait for inspiration in the meditative flow; she worked the horned moon, so that the Goddess should always watch over the sword and guard the sacred blood of Avalon. She was so wrapped in the magical silence that every object on which her eyes gazed, every movement of her consecrated hands, became power for the spell; it seemed at times as if visible light followed her fingers as she followed the horned moon with the full moon, and then with the dark moon, for all things must follow in season. Then, because she knew that a High King in Britain must rule in a Christian land, and because when first the followers of the Christ had come to Britain they had come here to the Druids, she worked in the symbol of Christian and Druid in friendship, the cross within the three-winged circle. She worked into the crimson velvet the signs of the magical elements, of earth and air and water and fire, and then figured the low-handled cup before her, in which visions moved and entwined, coming in and out of darkness: wand and earth platter, serpent of healing and wings of wisdom and the flaming sword of power ... there were times when it seemed that needle and thread moved through her own flesh or through the flesh of the land, piercing earth and sky and her own blood and body ... sign upon sign and symbol upon symbol, each marked with her blood and with the water of the Holy Well. Three days in all she worked, sleeping little, eating only a few bites of dried fruit, drinking only the water of the Well. There were times when, from a great distance within her own mind, she seemed to look out on her fingers working without any conscious choice, the spells wove themselves, blood and bone of the land, blood of her maidenhood, strength of the King Stag who had died and shed his blood so that the champion might not die ... .

By sunset of the third day it was finished, every inch of the scabbard covered with twining symbols, some of which she did not even recognize; surely they had come directly from the hand of the Goddess through her hands? She lifted it, slid the sword into it; weighted it in her hands; then said aloud, breaking the ritual silence, “It is done.”

Now that the long tension was broken she was aware that she was exhausted, shaken and sick. Ritual and prolonged use of the Sight could do this; it had, no doubt, interrupted her courses too, for they usually came on at moon-dark. This was said to be lucky, for the priestesses went apart to shield their power at this time, and it was the same as the ritual seclusion of the dark moon, when the Goddess herself secluded herself to safeguard the source of power.

Viviane came and took the scabbard. She could not suppress a little cry of astonishment as she looked upon it, and indeed it seemed even to Morgaine, who knew her own hands had fashioned it, to be a thing surpassing human work, pregnant with magic. Viviane touched it only briefly before wrapping it in a long, white silken cloth.

“You have done well,” she said, and Morgaine thought, her mind spinning, How is it that she thinks she can judge me? I too am a priestess, I have gone beyond her teaching ... and was shocked at her own thought.

Viviane touched her cheek gently. “Go and sleep, my dearest; you have wearied yourself in this great work.”

Morgaine slept deeply and long, without dreams; but after midnight, suddenly, she woke to the sudden wild clamor of alarm bells, alarm bells, church bells, a terror out of childhood, The Saxons are upon us! Get up and arm yourselves!

It seemed that she woke out of a start, and she was not in the House of Maidens, but in a church, and on the altar stone of the church lay a set of weapons; and on a trestle nearby lay a man in armor, covered with a pall. Above her head the warning was still pealing and clamoring, fit to wake the dead ... no, for the dead knight did not stir, and with a sudden prayer for forgiveness, she snatched up the sword ... and woke fully this time, to light in her room, and quiet. Not even the church bells from the other island penetrated the quiet of her stone-floored chamber. She had dreamed the bells, the dead knight, and the chapel with burning tapers, the arms on the altar, the sword, all of it. How did I come to see that? The Sight never comes upon me undesired ... was it just a dream then?

Later that day, she was summoned; with her conscious mind, she remembered some of the visions which had floated half-seen through her mind as she wrought the scabbard with the sword before her. Fallen to earth in a falling star, a clap of thunder, a great burst of light; dragged still smoking to be forged by the little dark smiths who had dwelled on the chalk before the ring stones were raised; powerful, a weapon for a king, broken and reforged this time into the long, leaf-shaped blade, tooled and annealed in blood and fire, hardened ... a sword three times forged, never ripped out of the earth’s womb, and thus twice holy ... .

She had been told the name of the sword: Excalibur, which meant cut steel. Swords of meteorite iron were rare and precious; this one might well be the price of a kingdom.

Viviane bade her cover herself with her veil and come. As they moved slowly down the hillside, she saw the tall figure of Taliesin, the Merlin, Kevin the Bard at his side, moving with his hesitant, grotesque walk. He seemed more than ever clumsy and ugly, as out of place as a lump of tallow clinging to the edge of a fine-wrought silver candlestick. And at their side -Morgaine froze, recognizing that slender muscular body, that shining silver-gilt hair.

Arthur. But of course she had known the sword was for him. What was more natural than that he should come here to receive it?

He is a warrior, a king. The little brother I held upon my lap. It seemed unreal to her. But through that Arthur, and the solemn-faced boy who walked now between the two Druids, she saw some trace of the youth who had taken upon himself the antlers of the Horned God; quiet and grave as he was, she saw the swing of the antlers, the deadly desperate fight, and how he had come to her bloodied with the stag’s blood-no child but a man, a warrior, a king.

At a whisper from the Merlin he bent the knee before the Lady of the Lake. His face was reverential. No, of course, she thought, he has not seen Viviane before, only me, and I was in darkness.

But he saw Morgaine next; she saw recognition move across his mobile features. He bowed to her too-at least, she thought irrelevantly, where he was fostered they taught him manners befitting a king’s son-and murmured, “Morgaine.”

She bowed her head to him. He had known her even through the veil. Perhaps she should kneel to the King. But a Lady of Avalon bends the knee to no human power. Merlin would kneel, and so would Kevin if he were asked; Viviane, never, for she was not only the priestess of the Goddess, but incorporated the Goddess within herself in a way the man-priests of male Gods could never know or understand. And so Morgaine also would never kneel again.

The Lady of the Lake held out her hand to him, bidding him rise. “You have had a long journey,” she said, “and you are wearied. Morgaine, take him to my house and give him something to eat before we do this.”

He smiled then, not a king in the making, nor a Chosen One, but just a hungry boy. “I thank you, Lady.”

Inside Viviane’s house he thanked the priestesses who brought him food, and fell to hungrily. When he had satisfied his first hunger, he asked Morgaine, “Do you live here too?”

“The Lady dwells alone, but she is attended by the priestesses who serve her in turns. I have dwelt here with her when it was my turn to serve.”

“You, a queen’s daughter! You serve?”

She said austerely, “We must serve before we command. She herself served in her youth, and in her I serve the Goddess.”

He considered that. “I do not know this Great Goddess,” he said at last. “The Merlin told me that the Lady was your ... our ... kinswoman.”

“She is sister to Igraine, our mother.”

“Why then, she is my aunt,” Arthur said, trying the words oat on his tongue as if they didn’t quite fit. “All of this is so strange to me. Somehow I always tried to think of Ectorius as my father and Flavilla my mother; Of course I knew there was some secret; and because Ectorius wouldn’t talk to me about it, I thought it must be something shameful, that I was a bastard or worse. I don’t remember Uther-my father; not at all. Nor my mother, not really, though sometimes, when Flavilla punished me, I used to dream I lived somewhere else, with a woman who petted me, then pushed me away -is Igraine our mother much like you?”

“No, she is tall, red-haired,” Morgaine said.

Arthur sighed. “Then 1 suppose I do not remember her at all. For in my dreams it was someone like you-it was you-”

He broke off, his voice had been trembling. Dangerous ground, Morgaine thought, we dare not talk about that. She said calmly, “Have another apple; they are grown on the island.”

“Thank you.” He took one and bit into it. “It’s all so new and strange. So many things have happened to me since-since-” His voice faltered. “I think of you all the time. I cannot help myself. It was true what I said, Morgaine-that all my life I shall remember you because you were the first, and I shall always think of you and love you-”

She knew she should say something hard and hurtful. Instead she made her words kind, but distant. “You must not think of me in that way. For you I am not a woman, but a representative of the Goddess who came to you, and it is blasphemy to remember me as if I were only a mortal woman. Forget me and remember the Goddess.”

“I have tried-” He broke off, clenching his fists, then said gravely, “You are right. That is the way to think of it-only one more of the strange things that have come to me since I was sent for from Ectorius’ house. Mysterious, magical things. Like the battle with the Saxons-” He held out his arm, rolling back the tunic to reveal a bandage thickly smeared with pine-pitch already blackened. “I was wounded there. Only it was like a dream, my first battle. King Uther-” He looked down and swallowed. “I came too late. I never knew him. He lay in state in the church, and I saw him dead, his weapons lying on the altar-they told me it was the custom, that when a brave knight lay dead, his arms should watch with him. And then, even while the priest was chanting the Nunc Dimittis, all the alarm bells rang, there was a Saxon attack-the watchmen came right into the church and snatched the bell ropes out of the hands of the monk who was tolling the passing bell to ring the alarm, and all the King’s men caught up their arms and ran out. I had no sword, only my dagger, but I snatched up a spear from one of the soldiers. My first battle, I thought, but then Cai-my foster-brother, Caius, Ectorius’ son-he told me he had left his sword behind at their lodging, and I should run and fetch it for him. And I knew this was just a way to get me out of the battle; Cai and my foster-father said I was not yet ready to be blooded. So instead of running back to the lodging house I went into the church and snatched the King’s sword off the stone bier ... . Well,” he defended himself, “he fought Saxons with it for twenty years, he’d certainly be glad to have it fight them again, instead of lying useless on an old stone! So I ran off and was going to give it to Cai as we were all gathering against the attack, and then I saw the Merlin, and he said in the biggest voice I have ever heard,

‘Where got you that sword, boy?’

“And I was angry because he’d called me boy, after what I’d done on Dragon Island, and I told him it was a sword for fighting Saxons, not for lying around on old stones, and then Ectorius came up and saw me with the sword in my hand, and then he and Cai both knelt down in front of me, just like that! I felt so strange-I said to him, ‘Father, why are you kneeling, why do you make my brother kneel like that? Oh, get up, this is terrible,’ and the Merlin said in that awful voice, ‘He is the King, it is right he should have the sword.’ And then the Saxons came over the wall-we heard their horns-and there was no time to talk about swords or anything else; Cai grabbed up the spear and I hung on to the sword and off we went. I don’t remember much about the battle-I suppose you never do. Cai was hurt-badly hurt in the leg. Afterward, while the Merlin was bandaging up my arm, he told me who I really was. Who my father had been, that is. And Ectorius came and knelt and said he would be a good knight to me as he had to my father and to Ambrosius, and I was so embarrassed ... and the only thing he asked me was that I’d make Cai my chamberlain when I had a court. And of course I said I’d be glad to-after all, he’s my brother. I mean, I’ll always think of him as my brother. There was a lot of fuss about the sword, but the Merlin told all the kings that it was fate that had made me take it from the stone, and I tell you, they listened to him.” He smiled, and Morgaine felt a surge of love and pity at his confusion.

The bells that had waked her . .. she had seen, but she had not known what she saw.

She dropped her eyes. There would always be a bond between them now. Would any blow which struck him always fall like this, a sword into her naked heart?

“And now it seems I am to get another sword,” Arthur said. “From having no sword at all, suddenly I have two special ones!” He sighed and said almost plaintively, “I don’t see what all this has to do with being a king.”

AS OFTEN AS she had seen Viviane in the robes of the High Priestess of Avalon, Morgaine had never grown used to the sight. She saw Arthur look back and forth between them, and saw the likeness mirrored in his eyes. He was silent, awed once more. At least, thought Morgaine, feeling an empty sickness again, they did not make him keep the magical fast. Perhaps she should have eaten with him, but the thought of food made her feel queasy. Prolonged work with magic could do that; no wonder Viviane was so emaciated.

“Come,” Viviane said, and leading the way-the Lady of Avalon, in her own place, preceded even a king-she passed from the house and along the shores of the Lake and into the building where the priests were housed. Arthur walked quietly at Morgaine’s side, and for an instant she half expected him to reach out his hand as he had done when he was very little, clinging to hers ... but now that little hand she had held was a warrior’s hand, bigger than her own, hardened with long practice at sword play and with other weapons. Behind Arthur and Morgaine came the Merlin, and at his side Kevin.

Down a narrow flight of steps they went, and the dank smell of underground surrounded them. Morgaine did not see anyone strike a light, but suddenly there was a tiny glow in the darkness and a pale light flared around them. Viviane stopped, so abruptly that they jostled into her, and for an instant Morgaine was surprised that she felt simply soft and small, an ordinary woman’s body, not a remote image of the Goddess. The Lady reached out and took Arthur’s wrist in her small dark hand; it did not come near to reaching around his.

“Arthur, son of Igraine of Avalon and of Pendragon, rightful King of all Britain,” she said, “behold the most sacred things in all your land.”

The light flared on gold and jewels in cup and platter, the long spear, the crimson and gold and silver threads of the scabbard. And from the scabbard, Viviane drew forth the long, dark blade. Dimly, stones glinted in its hilt.

“The sword of the Sacred Regalia of the Druids,” she said quietly. “Swear now to me, Arthur Pendragon, King of Britain, that when you come to your crown, you will deal fairly with Druid as with Christian, and that you will be guided by the sacred magic of those who have set you on this throne.”

Arthur reached for the sword, his eyes wide; Morgaine could see it in his eyes-that he knew what manner of sword this was. Viviane made a quick gesture, preventing him.

It is death to touch the holy things unprepared,” she said. “Arthur, swear. With this sword in your hand, there is no chieftain or king, pagan or Christian, who will stand against you. But this is no sword for a king who is bound to hear only the Christian priests. If you will not swear, you may depart now, bearing such weapons as you can get from your Christian followers, and the folk who look to Avalon for their rule shall follow you only when we bid them to do so. Or will you swear, and have their allegiance through the sacred weapons of Avalon? Choose, Arthur.”

He stared at her, frowning a little, the pale light glinting on his hair,| which looked almost white. He said, “There can be only one ruler in this land; I must not be ruled from Avalon.”

“Nor must you be ruled by the priests who would make you a pawn of their dead God,” said Viviane quietly. “But we will not urge you. Choose whether or no you will take this sword, or refuse it and rule in your own name, despising the help of the Old Gods.”

Morgaine saw that strike home-the day when he had run among the deer and the Old Gods had given him victory, so that he was acclaimed king| among these people, the first to acclaim him. He said quickly, “God forbid I should despise-” and stopped, swallowing hard. “What must I swear, Lady?”

“Only this: to deal fairly with all men, whether or no they follow the God of the Christians, and always to reverence the Gods of Avalon. For whatever the Christians say, Arthur Pendragon, and whatever they may call their God, all the Gods are as one God, and all the Goddesses but one Goddess. Swear only to be true to that truth, and not to cling to one and despise another.”

“You have seen,” said the Merlin, his voice deep and resonant in the’ silence, “that I do truly reverence the Christ and that I have knelt at the altar and shared their sacred meal.”

Arthur said, troubled, “Why, that’s true, my lord Merlin. And you, I think, are the councillor I shall trust more than any other. Do you bid me swear, then?”

“My lord and king,” said Taliesin, “you are young for this rule, and perhaps your priests and bishops would presume to keep the conscience even of a king. But I am not a priest; I am a Druid. And I say only that wisdom and truth are not the special property of any priest. Ask your own conscience, Arthur, if it would be wrong to swear to deal fairly with all men and whatever Gods they worship, instead of swearing allegiance to one only.”

Arthur said quietly, “Well then, I will swear, and take the sword.”

“Kneel, then,” Viviane said, “in token that a king is but a man, and a priestess, even a high priestess, no more than a woman, but that the Gods are over us all.”

Arthur knelt. The light on his fair hair, Morgaine thought, was like a crown. Viviane laid the sword in his hand; his fists closed around the hilt. He drew a long breath.

“Take this sword, my king,” Viviane said, “and bear it injustice. This sword was not made of iron raped from the body of the earth, our mother; it is holy, forged of metal which fell from the heavens, so long ago that even the tradition of the Druids keeps no accurate account of the years, for it was forged before there were Druids in these islands.”

Arthur rose, the sword in his hand.

“Which do you like better?” asked Viviane. “The sword or the scabbard?”

Arthur looked admiringly at the richly worked scabbard, but he said, “I am a warrior, my lady. The scabbard is beautiful, but I like the sword better.”

“Even so,” Viviane said, “keep the scabbard always by you; it was wrought with all the magic of Avalon. While you bear that scabbard, even though you take a wound, you will not shed enough blood to endanger your life; it is set about with blood-stanching spells. It is a rare and precious thing, and magical.”

He smiled, saying-almost laughing with the breaking of the long tension-”Would I had had it when I took this wound against the Saxons; I bled like a sheep in the slaughterhouse!”

“You were not then a king, my lord. But now the magical scabbard will protect you.”

“Even so, my king,” said the melodious voice of Kevin the Bard, shadowed behind the Merlin, “however much you trust in the scabbard, I advise you to get yourself arms masters and cease not to practice with weapons!”

Arthur chuckled as he belted on sword and scabbard. “Never doubt it, sir. My foster-father had me taught to read by an old priest who read to me from one of the Gospels, how the Devil tempted the Lord Jesus, telling him that God had given him angels to watch over him; and Jesus said that it was ill done to tempt God. And a king is no more than flesh and blood-remember, I took my first sword from where Uther was lying dead. Don’t think I shall tempt God that way, Lord Druid.”

Somehow, with the sword of the Sacred Regalia belted at his waist, Arthur seemed taller, more impressive. Morgaine could see him crowned and robed as a king, seated upon his high seat... and for a moment, around him, it seemed that the small room was thronged with other men, shadowy, armed, richly clad, noble, standing around him closely, his Companions ... then they were gone, and he was only a young man again, smiling uncertainly, wearing his rank a little uneasily as yet.

They turned and left the underground chapel. But before they passed completely out of the room, Arthur turned back for a moment to look at the other things of the regalia, lying in shadow. His uncertainty could be seen on his face, the almost visible question, Did I do right, am I blaspheming (he God I was taught to worship as the only One?

The voice of Taliesin was low and gentle. “Know you my dearest wish, my lord and king?”

“What, Lord Merlin?”

“That one day-not now, for the land is not yet ready for it, and neither are those who follow Christ-but one day, Druid and priest should worship as one; that within their great church, their sacred Eucharist should be celebrated with yonder cup and dish to hold their bread and wine, in token that all the Gods are as One.”

Arthur crossed himself, and said, almost in a whisper, “Amen to that, Lord Merlin, and Holy Jesus make it possible one day in these islands.”

Morgaine felt the prickling up and down her forearms, and heard herself say, without knowing that she spoke until the Sight spoke through her, “That day will come, Arthur, but not as you think. Beware about how you bring that day to pass, for it may be a sign to you that your work is done.”

Arthur said, in a hushed voice, “If that day should ever come to pass, Lady, then indeed it will be a sign to me that I have done what I came to the throne to do, and I am content to have it so.”

“Beware what you speak,” said the Merlin very softly, “for indeed the words we speak make shadows of what is to come, and by speaking them we bring them to pass, my king.”

Morgaine blinked as they came into the sunlight. She swayed on her feet and Kevin reached out a hand to steady her.

“Are you ill, my lady?”

She shook her head impatiently, willing the blurring behind her eyes to vanish. Arthur looked at her, troubled. But then they were all in the sunshine, and his mind returned to the business at hand.

“I am to be crowned at Glastonbury, on the Isle of the Priests. If it is possible for you to leave Avalon, Lady, will you be there?”

Viviane smiled at him and said, “I think not. But the Merlin shall go with you. And Morgaine shall see your crowning if you wish, and she wishes,” she added, and Morgaine wondered why the Lady spoke so, and why she was smiling. “Morgaine, my child, will you go with them in the barge?”

Morgaine bowed. She stood in the prow as the boat moved toward shore, bearing now only Arthur and the Merlin, and as it neared shore, she saw several armed men awaiting him. She saw the awe in their eyes as the draped boat of Avalon appeared quite suddenly from the mists, and one of them she recognized. Lancelet had not changed from that day two years ago, only he was taller, more handsome, dressed richly in dark crimson, bearing sword and shield.

He recognized her as well, and bowed. “Cousin,” he said.

“You know my sister, the lady Morgaine, Duchess of Cornwall, priestess of Avalon,” said Arthur. “Morgaine, this is my dearest friend, our cousin.”

“We have met.” Lancelet bent over her hand, and again, through the uneasy sickness in her, Morgaine felt a sudden thrust of that longing that would never really leave her.

He and I were meant, one for the other; I should have had the courage that day, even though it meant the breaking of a vow ... she could see in his eyes that he remembered, in the tenderness with which he touched her hand.

Then she sighed, raised her eyes, and was introduced to the others.

“My foster-brother Cai,” Arthur said. Cai was big and dark and Roman to the core, and she saw as he spoke to Arthur, with natural deference and affection, that here indeed Arthur had two strong chiefs to lead his armies. The other knights were introduced as Bedwyr, Lucan, and Balin, which name made Morgaine, and the Merlin too, lift their eyes in surprise: this was foster-brother to Viviane’s older son, Balan. Balin was fair-haired and broad-shouldered, in ragged clothing, but he moved as gracefully as his half-brother Lancelet. His dress was poor but his weapons and armor were bright and well kept, and looked well used.

Morgaine was content to leave Arthur to his knights; but first he raised her hand to his lips ceremoniously and kissed it.

“Come to my crowning if you can, sister,” he said.


A few days later Morgaine went forth, with a few of the people of Avalon, to the crowning of Arthur. Never, in all her years upon Avalon -except for the few moments when she had opened the mists to allow Gwenhwyfar to find her convent again-had she set foot on the earth of the Isle of the Priests, Ynis Witrin, the Isle of Glass. It seemed to her that the sun shone with a curious harshness, unlike the soft and misty sunlight of Avalon. She had to remind herself that to almost all the people of Britain, this was the real world, and the land of Avalon only an enchanted dream, as if it were the very kingdom of fairy. To her, Avalon alone was real, and this last but a harsh dream from which, for some reason, she did not now waken.

All the space before the church seemed to have sprouted colorful tents and pavilions, like strange mushrooms. To Morgaine it seemed that the bells of the churches rang day and night, hour upon hour, a jangling sound that oppressed her nerves. Arthur greeted her, and for the first time she Ectorius, the good knight and warrior who had fostered her brother his wife, Flavilla.

For this venture into the world outside, at Viviane’s advice, Morgaine had laid aside the blue robes of an Avalon priestess and the spotted deerskin overtunic, and had put on a simple dress of black wool, with linen underdress in white, and a white veil over her braided hair. Soon she realized that this made her look like a matron; among the British women, young maidens went with their hair unbound and wore dresses dyed in bright colors. They all took her for one of the women from the nunnery on Ynis Witrin, near to the church, where the sisters wore such somber robes; Morgaine said nothing to undeceive them. Nor, although he lifted his eyebrows and grinned at her, did Arthur.

To Flavilla he said, “Foster-mother, too many things are to be done -the priests want to speak to me of my soul, and the King of Orkney and the King of North Wales want audience with me. Will you take my sister to our mother, then?”

To our mother, Morgaine thought; but that mother has become a stranger to us both. She looked in her mind for any joy in this meeting and found none. Igraine had been content to let both her children go, the child of her first joyless marriage, the love child of her second; what manner of woman could she be then? Morgaine found that she was stiffening her mind and heart against the first sight of Igraine. I do not, she thought, even remember her face.

Yet when she did see Igraine, she realized that she would have known her anywhere.

“Morgaine!” She had forgotten, or remembered only in dreams, how rich and warm was Igraine’s voice. “My darling child! Why, you are a woman grown, I see you always in my heart as a little maiden-and how worn and sleepless you look-has all this ceremony been heavy on you Morgaine?”

Morgaine kissed her mother, again feeling tears choking at the back of her throat. Igraine was beautiful, and she herself-again words from a half-memory flooded her mind: little and ugly like one of the fairy folk-did Igraine think her ugly too?

“But what is this?” Igraine’s light hands touched the crescent on her brow. “Painted like one of the fairy people-is this seemly, Morgaine?”

Morgaine’s voice was stiff. “I am a priestess of Avalon, and I wear the mark of the Goddess with pride.”

“Fold your veil over it then, child, or you will offend the abbess. You are to lodge with me in the nunnery.”

Morgaine set her mouth hard. Would the abbess, if she came to Avalon keep her cross out of sight for fear of offending me, or the Lady? “I do not wish to offend you, Mother, but it would not be suitable for me to lodge within the walls of a nunnery; the abbess would not like it, nor would the Lady, and I am under the Lady’s orders and live under her laws.” The thought of dwelling within those walls even for the three nights of the crowning, called to come and go, night and day, by the hellish jangling of those bells, made her blood run cold.

Igraine looked troubled. “Well, it shall be as you wish. Perhaps you could be lodged with my sister, the Queen of Orkney. Do you remember Morgause?”

“I will be glad to have my kinswoman Morgaine,” said a soft voice, and Morgaine looked up to see the very image of her own mother as she remembered her from her own childhood: stately, robed richly in bright silks, with jewels and hair braided into a bright coronal on her brow. “Why, you were such a little girl, and now you are grown, and a priestess!” Morgaine was folded into a warm and scented embrace. “Welcome, kinswoman, come here and sit by me. How does our sister Viviane? We hear great things of her, that she is the moving force behind all the great events which have brought Igraine’s son to the throne. Even Lot could not stand against one backed by the Merlin and the fairy folk and all the Tribes and all the Romans. And so your little brother is to be king! Will you come to court, Morgaine, and advise him, as Uther would have been well advised to have the Lady of Avalon do?”

Morgaine laughed, relaxing into Morgause’s embrace. “A king will do as seems good to him, that is the first lesson which all who come near him must know. I suppose Arthur is like enough to Uther to learn that without much lessoning.”

“Aye, there is not much doubt who had his fathering now, for all the talk there was about it then,” Morgause said, and drew breath in swift compunction. “No, Igraine, you must not weep again-it should be joy to you, not sorrow, that your son is so much like his father, and accepted everywhere in all of Britain because he has pledged himself to rule all the lands and peoples.”

Igraine blinked; she had, Morgaine thought, been doing overmuch weeping in the last days. She said, “I am happy for Arthur-” but her voice choked and she could not speak again. Morgaine stroked her mother’s arm, but she felt impatient; always, always, ever since she could remember, her mother had had no thought for her children, only for Uther, Uther ... . Even now when he was dead and lay in his grave, her mother would push her and Arthur aside for the memory of the man she had loved enough to make her forget everything else. With relief she turned back to Morgause.

“Viviane said you had sons-”

“True,” Morgause said, “though most of them are still young enough to be here among the women. But the oldest is here to pledge loyalty to his king. Should Arthur die in battle-and not even Uther was immune to that fate-my Gawaine is his nearest kinsman, unless you already have a son, Morgaine-no? Have the priestesses of Avalon embraced chastity like nuns, then, that at your age you have given the Goddess neither son nor daughter? Or have you shared your mother’s fate and lost many children at birth? Forgive me, Igraine-I did not mean to remind you-”

Igraine blinked back tears. “I should not weep against God’s will; I have more than many women. I have a daughter who serves the Goddess to whom I was reared, and a son who will tomorrow be crowned with his father’s crown. My other children are- in the bosom of Christ.”

Name of the Goddess, thought Morgaine, what a way to think of a God, with all the generations of the dead dinging to him! She knew it was only a way of speaking, a comfort to a sorrowing mother, yet the blasphemy of the idea troubled her. She remembered that Morgause had asked her a question and shook her head.

“No, I have borne no children, Morgause-until this year at Beltane I was kept virgin for the Goddess.” She stopped abruptly; she should say no more. Igraine, who was more Christian than Morgaine could have believed, would have been horrified at the thought of the rite in which she had played the part of the Goddess for her own brother.

And then a second horror swept over her, worse than the first, so that she felt a wave of sickness follow in its wake. It had come about at full moon, and though the moon had waned and filled and waned again, her moon-dark bleeding had not yet come upon her, nor showed any sign it was about to do so. She had been relieved that she would not have this nuisance at the crowning, and had thought it was reaction to the great magic; no other explanation had suggested itself to her until this moment.

A rite for the renewal and fertility of crops and land, and of the wombs of the women of the tribe. She had known that. Yet such had been her blindness and her pride, she had thought that perhaps the priestess, the Goddess, would be exempted from the purpose of this ritual. Yet she had seen other young priestesses sicken and grow pale after these rites, until they began to bloom with their own ripening fruit; she had seen the children born, had brought some of them to birth with her own trained priestess-hands. Yet never once, in her stupid blindness, had it entered her mind that she too might come away from the ritual with a womb grown heavy.

She saw Morgause’s sharp eyes on her, and deliberately drew a long breath and yawned to cover her silence. “I have been travelling since daybreak,” she said, “and have not breakfasted; I am hungry.” And Igraine apologized and sent her women for bread and barley beer which Morgaine forced herself to eat, though the food made her feel faintly sick and now she knew why.

Goddess! Mother Goddess! Viviane knew this might come about, yet she did not spare me! She knew what must be done, and done as quickly as possible; yet it could not be done in the three days of Arthur’s crowning, for she had no access to the roots and herbs she could find in Avalon, and furthermore she dared not be sick now. She felt herself shrinking from the violence and sickness, yet it must be done, and done without delay, or in Midwinter she would bear a son to her own mother’s son. Furthermore, Igraine must know nothing of it-the thought would strike her as evil beyond imagining. Morgaine forced herself to eat, and to talk of small things, and gossip like any woman.

But her mind did not rest as she talked. Yes, the fine linen she wore had been woven in Avalon, there was no linen anywhere like it, perhaps it was the flax of the Lake, which grew stronger, longer fibers, and whiter than anywhere else. But in her heart she was thinking, Arthur, he must never know, he has enough to weigh his heart at this crowning. If I can bear this burden and keep silence to give his heart ease, I will do so. Yes, she had been taught to play the harp-why, how foolish, Mother, to think it was wrong for a woman to make music. Even if one of the Scriptures did say that women were to keep silence in the church, it was shocking to think that the ears of God could be offended with the voice of a woman singing his praises; had not his own Mother lifted up her voice to sing praises when she knew she was to bear a child by the Holy Spirit? Then, when Morgaine took the harp in her hands and sang for her mother, beneath the refrain lay despair, for she knew as well as Viviane that she was to be the next Lady of Avalon, and she owed the Goddess a daughter at least. It was impious to cast out a child conceived under the Great Marriage. But how could she do anything else? The Mother of the Christian God had rejoiced in the God that had given her a child, but Morgaine could only rage in silent bitterness against the God who had taken the form of her unknown brother ... . She was used to living her life on two levels at once, but even so the effort made her lips pale and her voice strained, and she was glad when Morgause cut her short.

“Morgaine, your voice is lovely, I hope to hear it at my own court. And Igraine, I hope to see you many times before the crowning feast is ended, but I must return and see how my babe is cared for. I have no love for convent bells and much praying, either, and Morgaine looks weary with travelling. I think I shall take her away to my tents and make her lie down, so she will be fresh in the morning to see Arthur crowned.”

Igraine hardly troubled to conceal her relief. “Yes, I should be at the noonday office,” she said. “You know, both of you, that when Arthur is crowned I shall dwell in the nunnery at Tintagel in Cornwall. Arthur asked me to remain with him, but soon, I hope, he will have a queen of his own, and no need of me.”

Yes, they would insist that Arthur be wedded, and soon. Morgaine wondered which of these petty kings would manage the honor of being the king’s father-in-law. And my son might have been the heir to a crown ... no. No, I will not even think of that.

And again bitter anger overcame her, like choking; why, why had Viviane done this to her? To set all this in motion, so that they two, Arthur and Morgaine, might play out some mummery of Gods and Goddesses ... was it no more than that?

Igraine kissed and embraced them both, promising to see them again afterward. As they walked along the path toward the brilliant array of pavilions, Morgause said, “Igraine is so changed I would not have known her-who would ever have thought she would grow so pious? No doubt she will end her days as the terror of a whole sisterhood of nuns, and, although I grieve to say it, I must rejoice I am not one of them. I have no call to a nunnery.”

Morgaine forced herself to smile and say, “No, I suppose not; marriage and motherhood seem to have agreed with you. You blossom like the wild roses of the hedge, Aunt.”

Morgause smiled lazily. “My husband is good to me, and it suits me well to be a queen,” she said. “He is one of the Northmen, and so he does not think it wrong to take counsel of a woman, as these fools of Romans do. I hope Arthur has not been all spoilt by dwelling in a Roman household -it might have made him mighty in war, but if he despises the Tribes he will not rule. Even Uther was wise enough to know that and to have himself crowned on Dragon Island.”

“So was Arthur,” said Morgaine. It was all she could say.

“True. I have heard something of that, and I think he is wise. As for me, I am ambitious; Lot seeks my counsel, and all goes well in our land. The priests are very sour about me and say I do not keep my place as befits a woman-no doubt they think I am some kind of evil sorceress or witch, because I do not sit modestly at my spinning and weaving. But Lot thinks little of the priests though his people are Christian enough ... to tell the truth, most of them care not whether the God of this land is the white Christ, or the Goddess, or the Horned One, or the Horse God of the Saxons, so long as their crops grow and their bellies are full. I think that is just as well -a land ruled by priests is a land filled with tyrants on Earth and in Heaven. Uther leaned a bit too far in that direction these last years, if you ask me. The Goddess grant that Arthur has more sense.”

“He swore to deal justly by the Gods of Avalon, before Viviane gave him the sword of the Druids.”

“Did she so?” Morgause said. “Now I wonder what brought that to her mind? But enough of Gods and kings and all of that-Morgaine, what ails you?” And, when Morgaine did not answer, “Do you think I can’t tell a breeding woman when I see one? Igraine did not see it, but she has eyes now only for her grief.”

Morgaine forced herself to say lightly, “Well, it might be so; I went to the rites at Beltane.”

Morgause chuckled. “If that was your first time, you might not know for a moon or so, but good fortune to you. You are already past your best childbearing years-at your age I had three. I would not advise telling Igraine-she is far too Christian to accept a child to the Goddess now. Ah well, I suppose all women grow old in time. Viviane too must be well on in years now. I have not seen her since Gawaine was born.”

“She seems much the same to me as always,” Morgaine said.

“And so she did not come to Arthur’s crowning. Well, we can manage without her. But I do not think she will be content to stay long in the background. One day, I doubt it not, she will put her will to seeing the cauldron of the Goddess rather than the sharing-cup of the Christian’s love feast on our altar at court, and I won’t weep when that day comes, either.”

Morgaine felt a prophetic shiver as she saw in her mind the robed priest raising the cup of the Mysteries before the altar of Christ; and clearly before her eyes then she saw Lancelet, kneeling, a light on his face such as she had never seen ... she shook her head to clear it of the unwanted Sight.

THE DAY OF ARTHUR’S CROWNING dawned brilliant and shining. All night they had come, from the length and breadth of Britain, to see the High King crowned here on the Isle of the Priests. There were crowds of the little dark people; Tribesmen clad in skins and checkered cloth and adorned with the dull-colored stones from the North, red-haired and tall and bearded; and more than any other, the Roman peoples of the civilized lands. And there were tall, fair, broad-shouldered men, Angles and Saxons from the treaty troops who had been settled south in Kent, and had come to renew the broken allegiance. The slopes were lined solid; even at Beltane festivals Morgaine had never seen so many people in one place, and she felt frightened.

She herself had a privileged place, with Igraine, Lot, Morgause and her sons, and the family of Ectorius. King Lot, slender and dark and charming, bent over her hand and embraced her and made a great show of calling her kinswoman” and “niece,” but Morgaine, looking behind the superficial smile, saw the sullen bitterness in Lot’s eyes. He had schemed and intrigued to prevent this day. Now his son Gawaine was to be proclaimed Arthur’s nearest heir; would that satisfy his ambition, or would he continue to work to undermine the authority of the High King? Morgaine slitted her eyes at Lot and discovered she did not like him at all.

Then the bells rang from the church and a cry went up all along the slopes overlooking the flat land before the church, and out of the church door a slender youth was walking, the sun glinting on his shining hair. Arthur, thought Morgaine. Their young king, like a hero out of legend, with that great sword in his hand. Although she could hear no words from where she sat, she saw the priest place on his head Uther’s slender golden circlet.

Arthur raised the sword in his hand and said something she could not hear. But it was repeated from mouth to mouth, and when she heard it, Morgaine felt the same thrill she had felt, seeing him come victorious and crowned from the victory over the King Stag.

For all the peoples of Britain, he had said, my sword for your protection, and my hand for justice.

The Merlin came forward in his white robes of state; next to the venerable Bishop of Glastonbury, he looked mild and gentle. Arthur bowed briefly to them both, taking each of them by the hand. The Goddess put it into his head to do that, Morgaine thought-and in a moment she heard Lot saying as much.

“Damned clever, that, to set the Merlin and the Bishop side by side, in token that he’ll be advised by both!”

Morgause said, “I don’t know who had the teaching of him, but believe me, Uther had no foolish son.”

“It is our turn,” Lot said, rising to his feet, holding out his hand to Morgause. “Come, Lady; don’t mind worrying that old crew of greybeards and priests. I’ve no shame to confess you sit at my side as my equal in all things. Shame to Uther that he didn’t do likewise with your sister.”

Morgause’s smile twisted. “Perhaps it is our good fortune that Igraine had not the strength of will to insist on it.”

Morgaine rose to her feet, driven by a sudden impulse, and went forward with them. Lot and Morgause motioned her courteously to precede them. Though she did not kneel, she bowed her head slightly. “I bring you the homage of Avalon, my lord Arthur, and of those who serve the Goddess.” Behind her she could hear the priests murmuring, see Igraine among the black-robed sisters from the convent. She heard Igraine as if her mother had spoken: Bold, forward, she was headstrong even as a child. She forced herself not to hear. She was a priestess of Avalon, not one of those housebound hens of God!

“I welcome you, for yourself and for Avalon, Morgaine.” Arthur took her by the hand, and placed her near where he stood. “I do you all honor as the only other child of my mother, and Duchess of Cornwall in your own right, dear sister.” He released her hand and she bent her head to keep herself from fainting, because her eyes had blurred and her head swam. Why must I feel like this now? Arthur’s doing. No, not his, the doing of the Goddess. It is her will, not ours.

Lot stepped forward, kneeling before Arthur, and Arthur raised him. “Welcome, dear Uncle.”

That same dear Uncle, Morgaine thought, who if I am not mistaken would gladly have seen him die as an infant.

“Lot of Orkney, will you keep your shores against the Northmen, and come to my aid if the shores of Britain are threatened?”

“I will, kinsman, I swear it.”

“Then I bid you keep the throne of Orkney and Lothian in peace, and never will I claim it or fight against you for it,” said Arthur, and bent slightly to kiss Lot on the cheek. “May you and your lady rule well and long in the North, kinsman.”

Lot, rising, said, “I beg leave to present you a knight for your company; I beg you to make him one of your Companions, Lord Arthur. My son Gawaine-”

Gawaine was big, tall and strongly built, rather like a male version of Igraine and Morgause herself. Red curls crowned his head, and though he was not much older than Arthur himself-in fact, Morgaine thought, he must have been a little younger, for Morgause had not wedded Lot until Arthur was born-he was already a young giant, six feet tall. He knelt before Arthur, and Arthur raised him and embraced him.

“Welcome, cousin. I will gladly make you the first of my Companions; I hope you will join and be welcomed by my dearest friends,” he said, and nodded to the three young men standing at one side. “Lancelet, Gawaine is our cousin. This is Cai, and this Bedwyr; they are my foster-brothers. Now I have Companions, even as did that Alexander of the Greeks.”

Morgaine stood and watched all that day as kings from all over Britain came to pledge fealty to the throne of the High King and swear to join him in war and to defend their shores. Fair-haired King Pellinore, lord of the Lake Country, came to bend the knee before Arthur and beg to take leave even before the end of the feasting.

“What, Pellinore?” said Arthur, laughing. “You, who I thought would be my staunchest supporter here, to desert me so soon?”

“I have had news from my homeland, Lord, that a dragon is raging there; I would swear to follow it until I have killed it.”

Arthur embraced him and handed him a gold ring. “I will keep no king from his own people when they have need of him. Go and see to the killing of the dragon, then, and bring me its head when you have killed it.”

It was nearing sunset when at last all the .kings and gobies who had come to swear allegiance to their High King had finished. Arthur was no more than a boy, but he stood through the long afternoon with unflagging courtesy, speaking to each person who came as if he had been the first. Only Morgaine, trained in Avalon to read faces, could see the traces of weariness. But at last it was over, and servants began to bring the feast.

Morgaine had expected Arthur to sit down to dine among the circle of youths he had appointed as his Companions; it had been a long day he was young, and he had done his duty with concentrated attention all day. Instead, he sat among the bishops and eldest kings of his father’s Council - Morgaine was pleased to see that the Merlin was among them. After all, Taliesin was his own grandsire, although she was not sure that Arthur knew that. When he had eaten (and he stuffed himself like a hungry boy who was still growing)-he rose and began to make his way among the guests.

In his plain white tunic, adorned only with the slender gold coronet, he stood out among the brightly dressed kings and nobles like a white deer in the dark forest. His Companions came at his side: the huge young Gawaine, and Cai, dark, with Roman, hawklike features and a sardonic smile-as he came closer Morgaine saw chat he had a scar at the corner of his mouth, still red and ugly, which drew his face up into an ugly leer. I was a pity; he had probably been good-looking before that Lancelet, next to him, looked pretty as a girl-no; something fierce, masculine and beautiful, perhaps a wild cat. Morgause looke at him with a greedy eye.

“Morgaine, who is that beautiful young man-the one beside Cai and Gawaine, the one in crimson?”

Morgaine laughed. “Your nephew, Aunt; Viviane’s son Galahad. But the Saxons named him Elf-arrow, and mostly he is called Lancelet.”

“Who would have thought that Viviane, who is so plain, should have such a handsome son! Her older son Balan - now he is not handsome; rugged, strong and hearty, and trustworthy as an old dog, but he is like Viviane. No one alive could call her beautiful!

The words cut Morgaine to the heart. I am said to be like Viviane; does , everyone think me ugly, then? That girl said, little and ugly as one of the fairy folk. She said coldly, “I think Viviane very beautiful.”

Morgause snickered. “It is easy to see you have been reared m Avalon, which is even more isolated than most nunneries. I do not think you know what men desire for beauty in a woman.”

“Come now,” said Igraine soothingly, “there are virtues other than beauty. This Lancelet has his mother’s eyes, and no one has ever denied that Viviane’s eyes are beautiful; Viviane has so much charm that no one knows or cares whether or no she is beautiful, only that she has pleased them with her beautiful eyes and her fine voice. Beauty is not only in queenly stature and a fair complexion and golden curls, Morgause.”

Morgause said, “Ah, you too are unworldly, Igraine. You are a queen, and everyone thinks a queen is beautiful. And you were married to the man you loved well. Most of us are not so fortunate, and it’s a comfort to know that other men admire one’s beauty. If you had lived all your life with old Gorlois, you too would be glad of your fair face and beautiful hair, and take pains to outshine those women who have nothing but charm and nice eyes and a sweet voice. Men are like babies-they see only the first thing they want, a full breast-”

“Sister!” said Igraine, and Morgause said, with a wry smile, “Ah well, it has been easy for you to be virtuous, sister, since the man you loved was a king. Most of us are not so fortunate.”

“Do you not love Lot after all these years, Morgause?” Morgause shrugged. “Love is a diversion for the bower and the winter fireside. Lot takes counsel of me in all things, and leaves the ruling of his household to me in time of war; and whenever he has plunder of gold or jewels or fine garments, I have first choice. So I am grateful to him, and he has never had the shadow of cause to think he rears another man’s son. But that does not mean I must be blind when a young man has fine features and shoulders like a young bull, either-or an eye for his queen.”

I doubt not, thought Morgaine, faintly disgusted, that to Morgause this seems great virtue and she thinks of herself as a very virtuous queen. For the first time in many years she felt confused, knowing that virtue could not be so simply defined. The Christians valued chastity above all other virtues, while on Avalon the highest virtue was to give over your body to the God or Goddess in union with all of the flow of nature; to each, the virtue of the other was the blackest sin and ingratitude to their own God. If one of them was right, the other was of necessity evil. It seemed to her that the Christians were rejecting the holiest of the things under heaven, but to them, she would not be considered much better than a harlot. If she should speak of the Beltane fires as a sacred duty to the Goddess, even Igraine, who had been reared in Avalon, would stare and think that some fiend spoke through her.

She turned her eyes back to the young men approaching: Arthur, fair and grey-eyed; Lancelet, slender, graceful; and the huge, red-haired Gawaine, who towered over the others like a bull over a pair of fine Spanish horses. Arthur came and bowed to his mother.

“My lady.” He recollected himself. “Mother, has this day been long for you?”

“No longer than for you, my son. Will you sit here?”

“For a moment, Mother.” As he seated himself, Arthur, though he had eaten well, absentmindedly took a handful of the sweets that Morgaine had put aside from her plate. It made Morgaine realize again how very young Arthur was. Still munching on almond paste, he said, “Mother, do you want to marry again? If you do, I will find the very richest-and the very kindest -of the kings to marry you. King Uriens of Northern Wales is widowed; I have no doubt he would be happy to have a good wife.”

Igraine smiled. “Thank you, dear son. But after being wife to the High King, I do not want to be wife to a lesser man. And I loved your father well; I have no wish to replace him.”

“Well, Mother, let it be as you wish,” said Arthur, “only I was afraid you would be lonely.”

“It is hard to be lonely in a nunnery, son, with other women. And God is there.”

Morgause said, “I would rather dwell in a hermitage in the forest than in a house full of chattering ladies! If God is there, it must be hard for him to get a word in edgewise!”

For a moment Morgaine saw the sprightly mother of her own childhood as Igraine retorted, “I imagine, like any henpecked husband, he spends more time in listening to his brides than in speaking to them-but if one listens hard enough for the voice of God it is not far away. But have you ever been quiet enough to listen and hear him, Morgause?”

Laughing, Morgause made a gesture, as a fighter who acknowledges a hit. “And what of you, Lancelet?” she asked, smiling enticingly. “Are you betrothed yet, or even married?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Ah, no, Aunt. No doubt my father, King Ban, would find me a wife. But as yet I wish to follow my king and serve him.”

Arthur, smiling up at his friend, clapped a hand on his shoulder. “With my two strong cousins here, I am guarded as well, I make no doubt, as any of those old Caesars themselves!”

Igraine said softly, “Arthur, I think Cai is jealous; say something kind to him,” and Morgaine, hearing this, looked up at the sullen-looking, scarred Cai. Hard for him, indeed; after years of thinking Arthur his father’s unregarded fosterling, now to be supplanted by a younger brother-a younger brother become king-and to find that brother surrounded by two new friends to whom his heart was given.

Arthur said, “When this land is at peace we shall find wives and castles for all of you, no doubt. But you, Cai, shall keep mine for me as my own chamberlain.”

“I am content with that, foster-brother-forgive me, I should say, my lord and king-”

“No,” said Arthur, turning right round to embrace Cai. “God strike me if I ever ask that you, brother, should call me any such thing!”

Igraine swallowed hard. “Arthur, when you speak so, sometimes it seems to me that I hear your father’s very voice.”

“I wish for my own sake, madam, that I could have known him better. But I know, too, that a king cannot always do as he chooses, nor a queen.” He lifted Igraine’s hand and kissed it, and Morgaine thought: So he has already learned that much of king craft.

“I suppose,” Igraine said, “that they have already set about telling you that you should be married.”

“Oh, I suppose so,” Arthur said, with a shrug. “Every king, I suppose, has a daughter he would like to marry to the High King. I think I will ask the Merlin which one I ought to marry.” His eyes sought Morgaine’s and for a moment it seemed they held a terrible vulnerability. “I don’t know so very much about women, after all.”

Lancelet said gaily, “Why then, we must find you the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, and the highest born.”

“No,” Cai said slowly, “since Arthur says very sensibly that all women are alike to him, find him the one with the best dowry.”

Arthur chuckled. “I’ll leave it to you then, Cai, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be as well wed as I am crowned. I’d suggest you take counsel of the Merlin and no doubt His Holiness the Archbishop will want some say in the matter. And what of you, Morgaine? Shall I find you a husband, or will you be one of my queen’s ladies-in-waiting? Who should be higher in the kingdom than the daughter of my mother?”

Morgaine found her voice. “My lord and king, I am content in Avalon. Pray don’t trouble yourself with finding me a husband.” Not even, she thought fiercely, not even if I am with child! Not even then!

“So be it, sister, though I doubt not. His Holiness will have something to say about it-he will have it that the women of Avalon are evil sorceresses or harpies, all.”

Morgaine did not answer, and Arthur glanced back almost guiltily at the other kings and councillors; the Merlin was looking at him, and he said, “I see, I have spent all the time I am allowed with my mother and my sister and my Companions; I must go back to the business of being a king again. Madam.” He bowed to Igraine, more formally to Morgause, but as he approached Morgaine he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. She stiffened.

Mother, Goddess, what a tangle we have made. He says he will always love me and long for me, and that is the one thing he must not do! If Lancelet only felt so ... She sighed, and Igraine came and took her hand.

“You are tired, daughter. That long standing in the sun this morning has wearied you. You are sure you would not rather come back with me to the convent where it is so quiet? No? Well, then, Morgause, take her back to your tent, if you will.”

“Yes, dear sister, go and rest.” She watched the young men walk away, Arthur tactfully tempering his pace to Cai’s halting step.

MORGAINE RETURNED with Morgause to their tent; she was weary, but she had to remain alert and courteous while Lot talked of some plan Arthur had spoken of-fighting on horseback, with attack tactics which could strike down armed bands of Saxon raiders and foot soldiers, most of whom were not trained battle troops.

“The boy’s a master of strategy,” Lot said. “It might well work; after all, it was bands of Picts and Scots, and the Tribes, fighting from cover, who could demoralize the legions, so I am told-the Romans were so used to orderly fighting by the rules, and to foes who stood to give battle. Horsemen always have an advantage over any foot soldiers; the Roman cavalry units, I have been told, were always the ones who had the greater victories.”

Morgaine remembered Lancelet, talking with passion of his theories of fighting. If Arthur shared that enthusiasm and was willing to work with Lancelet to build cavalry units, then a time might come, indeed, when all the Saxon hordes were driven from this land. Then peace would reign, greater than the legendary two hundred years of the Pax Romana. And if Arthur bore the sword of Avalon and the Druid regalia, then indeed the ensuing time might be a reign of wonder ... . Viviane had spoken once of Arthur as a king come out of legend, bearing a legendary sword. And the Goddess might rule again in this land, not the dead God of the Christians with his suffering and death.... She drifted into daydream, waking to reality only when Morgause shook her shoulder lightly.

“Why, my dear, you are half asleep, go to your bed; we will excuse you,” she said, and sent her own waiting-woman to help Morgaine from her garments, to wash her feet and braid her hair.

She slept long and deeply, without dreams, the weariness of many days suddenly descending on her. But when she waked, she hardly knew where she was or what had happened, only that she was deathly sick and must stumble outside the tent to vomit. When she straightened up, her head ringing, Morgause was there, a firm and kindly hand to help her back inside. So Morgaine remembered her from earliest childhood, Morgause intermittently kind and sharp. Now she wiped Morgaine’s sweating forehead with a wet towel and then sat beside her, telling the waiting-woman to bring her kinswoman a cup of wine.

“No, no, I don’t want it, I shall be sick again-”

“Drink it,” Morgause said sternly, “and try to eat this piece of bread, it is hard and won’t sicken you-you need something in your belly at these times.” She laughed. “Indeed, something in the belly is what brings all this trouble on you.”

Humiliated, Morgaine looked away from her.

Morgause’s voice was kind again. “Come, girl, we’ve all been through it. So you’re breeding-what of it? You’re not the first or the last. Who is the father, or shouldn’t I ask? I saw you looking at Viviane’s handsome son-was he the lucky one? Who could blame you? No? A child of the Beltane fires, then? I’d have thought as much. And why not?”

Morgaine clenched her fists against Morgause’s well-meant briskness. “I won’t have it; when I return to Avalon, I know what to do.”

Morgause looked at her, troubled. “Oh, my dear, must you? In Avalon they would welcome a child to the God, and you’re of the royal Avalon line. I won’t say I’ve never done the same-I told you I had been very careful never to bear a child which was not Lot’s, which does not mean I slept alone all the time when he was away on his wars. Well, why should I? I don’t suppose he always lay down alone! But an old midwife told me once, and she knew her business well, I must say-she told me that a woman should never try to cast out the first child she conceives, for if she did, it might injure her womb so that she could never bear another.”

“I am a priestess, and Viviane grows old; I do not want it to interfere with my duties in the temple.” And even as she spoke, she knew she was hiding her truth; there were women in Avalon who pursued their work to the last few months of their pregnancies, and then the other women cheerfully divided their tasks so that they could rest before the birth; and afterward, they even had time to nurse their babies before they were sent to fostering. Indeed, some of their daughters were priestess-reared, as Igraine had been. Morgause herself had been reared to her twelfth year in Avalon as Viviane’s foster-daughter.

Morgause looked at her shrewdly. “Yes, I think every woman feels like that when first she carries a babe in her womb-trapped, angry, something she can’t change and is afraid of. I know it was so with Igraine, it was so with me, I suppose it is so with every woman.” Her arms went out and circled Morgaine, holding her close. “But, dear child, the Goddess is kind. As the child grows quick within you, the Goddess will put love in your heart for him, even if you care nothing for the man who put him there. Child, I was married at fifteen to a man far older; and on the day I knew I was with child I was ready to cast myself into the sea-it seemed the end of my youth, the end of my life. Ah, don’t cry,” she added, stroking Morgaine’s soft hair, “you’ll feel better soon. I have no liking for going about with a big belly and piddling like a babe in breechclouts all the day long, but the time will pass, and a babe at the breast is as much pleasure as the bearing is pain. I have borne four and would willingly have another- so often I had wished one of my sons had been a daughter. If you’d rather not foster your babe in Avalon, I’ll foster him for you-what do you think of that?”

Morgaine drew a long, sobbing breath, raising her head from Morgause’s shoulder. “I am sorry-I have wept all over your fine gown.”

Morgause shrugged. “If nothing worse should happen to it, it is well. See? The sickness passes and for the rest of the day you will feel well. Do you think Viviane would spare you for a visit to me? You can return to Lothian with us, if you will-you have not seen the Orkneys, and a change will do you good.”

Morgaine thanked her, but said that she must return to Avalon, and that before she went, she must go and pay her respects to Igraine.

“I would not counsel you to confide in her,” Morgause said. “She has grown so holy she would be shocked, or think it her duty to be so.”

Morgaine smiled weakly-she had no intention of confiding in Igraine, nor for that matter in anyone else. Before Viviane could know, there would no longer be anything for her to know. She was grateful for Morgause’s advice, and for her goodwill and good advice, but she did not intend to heed it. She told herself fiercely that it was her own privilege to choose: she was a priestess, and whatsoever she did should be tempered with her own judgment.

All through the leavetaking with Igraine, which was strained-and interrupted, more than once, by that damnable bell calling the nuns to their duties-she was thinking that Morgause was more like the mother she remembered than Igraine herself. Igraine had grown old and hard and pious, it seemed to Morgaine, and she bade her farewell with relief. Returning to Avalon, she knew, she was returning home; now she had no other home anywhere in the world.

But if Avalon was no longer home to her, what then?


It was early in the day when Morgaine slipped quietly out of the House of Maidens and into the wild marsh behind the Lake. She skirted the Tor and came out into the patch of forest; with luck she could find what she wanted here without wandering into the mists.

She knew the things she needed-a single root and then the bark of a bush, and two herbs. They were all to be found in Avalon. She could have taken them from the storerooms in the House of the Maidens, but she would have had to explain why she wanted them, and she shrank from that. She wanted neither the teasing nor the sympathy of the other women; better to find them herself. She knew something of herb lore, and of the midwife’s skill. She need not place herself, for this, at the mercy of any other person.

One herb she wanted grew in the garden in Avalon; she had picked it unnoticed. For the others she must go afield, and she went a considerable distance before she noticed that she had not yet gone into the mists. Looking about, she realized that she had wandered into a part of Avalon she did not know-and that was utter madness. She had lived in Avalon for ten years or more, she knew every rise and knoll, every path and almost every tree. It was impossible that she could be lost in Avalon, and yet it was true; she had wandered into a thicker patch of forest, where the trees were older and closer than any she had seen, and there were bushes and herbs and trees on which she had never laid eyes.

Could it be that she had somehow strayed through the mists without knowing it, and was now on the mainland surrounding the Lake and the Island? No; she mentally retraced every step of her journey. There had been no mist. In any case, Avalon was almost an island, and if she had trespassed its borders, she would have come only to the water of the Lake. There was the hidden, almost dry, horse path, but she was nowhere near to that.

Even on that day when she and Lancelet had found Gwenhwyfar in the mists, they had been surrounded by marsh, not forest. No, she was not on the Isle of the Priests, and unless she had somehow developed the magical ability to walk over the Lake without swimming, she was not on the mainland either. Nor was she in any part of Avalon. She glanced up, looking to take her bearings by the sun, but she could not see the sun anywhere; it was full day now, but the light was like a soft radiance in the sky, seeming to come from everywhere at once.

Morgaine began to feel the coldness of fear. She was nowhere, then, in the world she knew. Was it possible that within the Druid magic which had removed Avalon from the very world, there was a further unknown country, a world around or past Avalon? Glancing at the thick trees, the ancient oaks and hazel, fern and willow, she knew she was not in any world she had ever seen. There was a single gnarled oak, old past guessing, that she could not possibly have failed to see and know. Certainly, so old and venerable a tree would have been marked as holy by the Druids. “By the Goddess! Where am I?”

Wherever she might be, she could not simply stay. Either she would wander into a part of the world that was familiar to her again, find some landmark back to where she intended to go, or she would come to a place where the mists began and she could return to her own place that way.

She moved slowly in the thickening forest. There seemed to be a clearing ahead which she moved toward. It was surrounded by hazel trees, none of which, she knew instinctively, had ever been touched, even by the metal of a Druid knife, to cut the divining wands which could find water, hidden treasure, or poisonous things. There was a hazel grove on the island of Avalon, but she knew the trees there; had cut her own divining stick there, years ago when she was first learning such things. This was not the place. At the very edge of the grove she saw a small patch of one of the herbs she wanted. Well, she might as well take it now, she might as well get some good for coming here. She went and knelt, folding her skirts to make a pad under her knees for working, and began digging for the root.

Twice, as she grubbed in the earth, she had the sense that she was being watched, that little prickle in her back which comes to all who have lived t among wild things. But when she raised her eyes, although there was a shadow of movement in the trees, she could see no one watching.

The third time she delayed raising her eyes as long as she could, telling herself that no one would be there. She wrested the herb free from the earth and began stripping the root, murmuring the charm appointed for this use -a prayer to the Goddess to restore life to the bush uprooted, that while she took this one bush, others might grow in its place always. But the sense of being watched grew stronger, and at last Morgaine raised her eyes. Almost invisible at the edge of the trees, standing in shadow, a woman was watching her.

She was not one of the priestesses; she was not anyone Morgaine had ever seen before. She wore a gown of shadowy grey-green, the color of willow leaves when they grow old and dusty in late summer, and some kind of dark cloak. There was a tiny glimmer of gold at her throat. At first glance Morgaine thought she was one of the little dark people with whom she had awaited the killing of the King Stag. But the woman’s bearing made her look quite unlike those small hunted people; she carried herself like a priestess or a queen. Morgaine had no idea of her age, but the deep-set eyes and the lines around them told her that the woman was not young.

“What are you doing, Morgaine of the Fairies?”

Ice prickled all along her spine. How did the woman know her name? But, concealing her fear with the skill of a priestess, she said, “If you know my name, lady, surely you can see what I am doing.” Firmly she wrenched her eyes away from the dark gaze bent on her own, and returned to peeling the bark. Then she looked up again, half expecting that the strange woman would have disappeared as quickly as she had come, but she was still there, regarding Morgaine’s work dispassionately. She said, her eyes now resting on Morgaine’s grubby hands, die nail she had broken in her rooting, “Yes, I can see what you are doing, and what you intend to do. Why?”

“What is that to you?”

“Life is precious to my people,” the woman said, “though we neither bear nor die as easily as your kind. But it is a marvel to me that you, Morgaine, who bear the royal line of the Old People, and thus are my far kinswoman, would seek to cast away the only child you will ever bear.”

Morgaine swallowed hard. She scrambled to her feet, conscious of her grubby earth-covered hands, the half-stripped roots in her hand, her skirt wrinkled with kneeling on the damp muddy earth-like a goose girl before a High Priestess. She said defiantly, “What makes you say that? I am still young. Why do you think that if I cast this child forth I should not bear a dozen others?”

“I had forgotten that where the fairy blood is dilute, the Sight comes down to you maimed and incomplete,” the stranger said. “Let it be enough to say: I have seen. Think twice, Morgaine, before you refuse what the Goddess sent you from the King Stag.”

Suddenly Morgaine began to weep again. She said, stammering, “I don’t want it! I didn’t want it! Why did the Goddess do this to me? If you come from her, can you answer that, then?”

The strange woman looked at her sadly. “I am not the Goddess, Morgaine, nor even her emissary. My kind know neither Gods nor Goddesses, but only the breast of our mother who is beneath our feet and above our heads, from whom we come and to whom we go when our time is ended. Therefore we cherish life and weep to see it cast aside.” She stepped forward and took the root from Morgaine’s hand. She said, “You do not want this,” and cast it aside on the ground.

“What is your name?” Morgaine cried. “What is this place?”

“You could not say my name in your language,” said the lady, and suddenly Morgaine wondered what language they were speaking. “As for this place, it is the hazel grove, and it is what it is. It leads to my place, and the path yonder-” she pointed-”will lead you to your own place, in Avalon.”

Morgaine followed her pointing finger with her eyes. Yes, there was a path there; she would have taken oath it had not been there when she came first into the grove.

The lady was still standing near her. There was a strange smell to her, not the strong smell of an unwashed body as it had been with the old tribal priestess, but a curious indefinable fragrance, as of some unfamiliar herb or leaf, a strange, fresh, almost bitter scent. Like the ritual herbs for the Sight, it made Morgaine feel as if there was some spell on her eyes so that she saw more than she saw at any other time, as if everything was new and clean, not the ordinary things of every day.

The lady said in a low, mesmerizing voice, “You can stay here with me if you will; I will make you sleep so that you will bear your child without pain, and I will take him for the strong life that is in him, and he will live longer than he would with your kind. For I see a destiny for him, in your world-he will try to do good, and like most of your kind, he will do only harm. But if he stays here among my people, he will live long and long-almost, you would say, forever-perhaps a magician or enchanter among us, living with trees and wild things that were never tamed by man. Stay here, little one; give me the babe you do not want to bear, then return to your people, knowing he is happy and will come to no harm.”

Morgaine felt a sudden deathly chill. She knew that this woman confronting her was not wholly human; she herself bore some such taint of this ancient elf-blood-Morgaine of the Fairies, the old name with which Lancelet had taunted her. She pulled away from the fairy woman’s hand and ran, ran toward the path she had pointed out, ran wildly as if pursued by a demon. Behind her the woman called, “Cast out your child, then, or strangle him at birth, Morgaine of the Fairies, for your people have their own fate, and what befalls the son of the King Stag? The king must die and be cast down in his turn ...” But her voice died away as Morgaine plunged into the mists, racing, stumbling, briars catching at her and pulling her down as she fled in panic flight, until she broke through the mists into glaring sun and silence and knew that she stood again on the familiar shores of Avalon.

THE MOON WAS DARK in the sky again. Avalon was covered in mist and summer fog, but Viviane had been priestess for so many years that she knew the moon’s changes as if they ran in the tides of her own blood. She paced the floor of her house silently, and after a time told one of the priestesses, “Bring me my harp.” But when she sat with the pale willow-wood harp on her knee, she only touched the strings idly, without the will or the heart to make music.

As the night began to pale toward morning, Viviane rose and took a tiny lamp. Her attendant priestess came swiftly from the inner room where she slept, but Viviane shook her head without speaking and gestured the woman to return to her bed. She went, silent as a wraith, down the pathway to the House of Maidens, and stole inside, treading more silently than any cat.

In the room where Morgaine slept, she went to the bedside and looked down on the sleeping face so like her own. Morgaine, sleeping, had the face of the little girl who had come to Avalon so many years ago and who had entered into Viviane’s inmost heart. Under the dark lashes, there were patches of darkness like bruises, and the edges of the eyelids were red, as if Morgaine had wept before sleeping.

Holding the lamp high, she looked long on her young kinswoman. She loved Morgaine as she had never loved Igraine, or Morgause whom she had nursed at her own breasts; as she had never loved any of the men who had shared her bed for a night or for a season. Not even Raven, whom she had schooled to the ways of a priestess since the age of seven, had she loved like this. Only once had she felt this fierce love, this inner pain as if every breath of the beloved were agony-for the daughter she had borne in her first year as sworn priestess, who had lived a scant six months and whom, weeping for the last time, Viviane had buried before she had completed her fifteenth year. From the moment they had laid that daughter in her arms, until the frail child’s last breath had ceased, Viviane had drawn her every breath in a kind of mingled delirium of love and pain, as if the beloved child were a part of her own body, whose every moment of contentment or suffering was her own. That had been a lifetime ago, and Viviane knew that the woman she had been born to be had been buried within the hazel grove in Avalon. The woman who walked tearlessly away from that tiny grave had been another person altogether, holding herself aloof from every human emotion. Kind, yes; content, even happy, at times; but not the same woman. She had loved her sons, but from the moment of their birth she had been resigned to the thought of giving them up to foster-mothers.

Raven she had let herself love a little ... but there were times when Viviane had felt in the innermost depths of her heart that her own dead daughter had been sent back to her by the Goddess in the form of Igraine’s child.

Now she weeps, and it is as if every tear burns into my heart. Goddess, you gave me this child to love, and yet I must give her up to this torment ... . All of mankind suffers, the Earth herself cries out under the torment of her sons. In our suffering, Mother Ceridwen, we grow nearer to thee ... . Viviane raised her hand swiftly to her eyes, shaking her head so that the single tear vanished without trace. She too is vowed to what must be; her suffering has not yet begun.

Morgaine stirred and turned on her side, and Viviane, suddenly fearful that Morgaine would wake and that she must confront again the accusation of those eyes, stole quickly out of the room and silently returned to her own dwelling.

She lay down on her bed and tried to sleep, but she did not close her eyes. Once, toward morning, she saw a shadow move across the wall, and in the dimness she made out a face; it was the Death-crone, waiting for her, in the form of an old woman clothed in rags and tatters of shadow.

Mother, have you come for me?

Not yet, my daughter and my other self, I wait here that you may remember I await you, as I await every other mortal ... .

Viviane blinked, and when she opened her eyes again the corner was dark and empty. Surely I need no reminding that she awaits me now ... .

She lay silent, waiting as she had been trained to wait, until at last the dawn stole into the room. Even then she waited until she had dressed herself, though she would not break the moon-dark fast until the crescent could be seen tonight in the evening sky. Then she called her attendant priestess and said, “Bring the lady Morgaine to me.”

When Morgaine came, she noted that the younger woman had dressed herself in the garb of a priestess of the highest rank, her hair high and braided, the small sickle-shaped knife hanging from its black cord. Viviane’s mouth moved in a dry smile, and when they had greeted each other and Morgaine sat beside her, she said, “Twice now the moon has darkened; tell me, Morgaine, has the Horned One of the grove quickened your womb?”

Morgaine looked quickly at her, the glance of some small frightened thing in a snare. Then the younger woman said, angry and defiant, “You told me yourself that I should use my own judgment; I have cast it forth.”

“You have not,” said Viviane, steadying her voice to complete detachment. “Why should you lie to me? I say you shall not.”

“I will!”

Viviane felt the power in the girl; for a moment, as Morgaine rose swiftly from the bench, it seemed to her that she had grown suddenly tall and imposing. But it was a priestess-trick and Viviane knew it too.

She has outstripped me, I cannot overawe her any longer. Nevertheless she said, summoning all her old authority, “You shall not. The royal blood of Avalon is not to be cast aside.”

Suddenly Morgaine fell to the ground, and for an instant Viviane feared the girl would break into wild sobbing. “Why did you do this to me, Viviane? Why did you use me this way? I thought you loved me!” Her face worked, though she did not weep.

“The Goddess knows, child, I love you as I have never loved any other human being, on earth,” Viviane said steadily, through the knifing pain in her heart. “But when I brought you here, I told you: a time would come when you might hate me as much as you loved me then. I am Lady of Avalon; I do not give reasons for what I do. I do what I must, no more and no less, and so will you when the day comes.”

“That day will never come!” Morgaine cried out, “for here and now, I tell you that you have worked upon me and played with me like a puppet for the last time! Never again-never!”

Viviane kept her voice even, the voice of the trained priestess who would remain calm though the heavens should fall upon her. “Take care how you curse me, Morgaine; words flung in anger have an evil way of returning when you love them least.”

“Curse you-I thought not of it,” Morgaine said quickly. “But I will no longer be your toy and plaything. As for this child which you moved Heaven and Earth to bring to the light, I will not bear him in Avalon for you to gloat at what you have done.”

“Morgaine-” Viviane said, holding out her hand to the younger woman, but Morgaine stepped back. She said into the silence, “May the Goddess deal with you as you have done with me, Lady.”

Without another word she turned and left the room, not waiting for dismissal. Viviane sat frozen, as if Morgaine’s parting words had been a curse indeed.

When finally she could think clearly, she summoned one of the priestesses; already it was late in the day, and the moon, the thinnest paring of a crescent, was visible, slim and silver-edged, in the western sky. “Tell my kinswoman, the lady Morgaine, to attend upon me; I did not give her leave to go.”

The priestess went away, but she did not return for a long time; it was already dark, and Viviane had summoned the other attendant to bring food to break her long fast, when the first returned.

“Lady,” she said and bowed, and her face was white.

Viviane’s throat tightened, and for some reason she remembered how a long time ago a priestess in deep despair, after the birth of a child she had not wanted, had hanged herself by her girdle from one of the trees in the oak grove. Morgaine! Was it of this the Death-crone came to warn me? Would she lay hands on her own life? She said through dry lips, “I bade you bring the lady Morgaine to me.”

“Lady, I cannot.”

Viviane rose from the seat and her face was terrible; the young priestess backed away so swiftly that she almost fell over her skirt. “What has” happened to the lady Morgaine?”

“Lady-” the young woman said stammering, “she-she was not in her room, and I asked everywhere. I found-I found this in her room,” she said, holding out the veil and deerskin tunic, the silver crescent and the little sickle knife which Morgaine had been given at her initiation. “And they told me on the shore that she had summoned the barge and gone away to the mainland. They thought she went by your orders.”

Viviane drew a long breath, reached out and took the dagger and crescent from the priestess. She looked at the food on the table and a terrible sense of weakness assailed her; she sat down and quickly ate some bread and drank a cup of water from the Holy Well. Then she said, “It is not your fault, I am sorry I spoke harshly to you.” She stood with her hand on Morgaine’s little knife and for the first time in her life, as she looked down at her hand, she saw the pulsing of the vein there and thought how easily she could draw the knife across it and watch her life spurt forth. Then would the Death-crone have come for me, and not for Morgaine. If she must have blood, let her have mine. But Morgaine had left the knife; she would not hang herself or cut her wrists. She had, no doubt, gone to her mother for comfort and counsel. She would come back one day, and if not, it was in the hands of the Goddess.

When she was alone again, she went out of her house and, by the pale shimmer of the newborn moon, climbed along the path to her mirror.

Arthur is crowned and a king, she thought; all that I have wrought for in the last twenty years has come to pass. Yet I am here alone and bereft. Let it be as the Goddess wills with me, but let me see once again the face of my daughter, my only child, before I die; let me know that it will be well with her. Mother, in your name.

But the face of the mirror showed only silence, and shadows, and behind and through it all, a sword in the hands of her own son, Balan.


The little dark oarsmen had not looked twice at me; they were used to Viviane’s comings and goings in such garb as she chose, and whatever a priestess chose to do was good in their eyes. None of them presumed to speak to me, and as for me, I kept my face resolutely turned to the outside world.

I could have stolen from Avalon by the hidden path. This way, taking the boat, Viviane was sure to hear that I had gone forth ... but even to myself I was afraid to admit the fear that kept me from the hidden path, that my steps would take me not to the mainland, but to that unknown country where strange flowers and trees grew untouched by mankind, and the sun shone never, and the mocking eyes of the fairy woman saw clearly into my very soul. I still bore the herbs, tied in a little pouch at my waist, but as the boat moved on silent oars into the mists of the Lake, I untied the bag and let it fall into the water. It seemed that something gleamed there under the surface of the Lake, like a shadow ... a glimmer of gold, perhaps jewels; but I looked away, knowing that the oarsmen were waiting for me to raise the mists.

Avalon lay behind me, renounced; the Island lay fair in the rising sun, but I did not turn to look my last on the Tor or the ring stones.

I would not be a pawn for Viviane, giving a son to my brother for some secret purpose of the Lady of the Lake. Somehow I never doubted that it would be a son. Had I believed I would bear a daughter, I would have stayed in Avalon, giving the Goddess the daughter I owed to her shrine. Never, in all the years since, have I ceased to regret that the Goddess sent me a son, rather than a daughter to serve her in temple and grove.

And so I spoke the magical words for the last time, as I believed then, and the mists drew back, and we came to the shores of the Lake. I felt as if I were waking from a long dream. I had asked, looking for the first time upon Avalon, “Is it real?” and I remembered what Viviane had answered me: “It is more real than any other place.” But it was real no more. I looked on the dismal reeds and thought, this only is real, and the years in Avalon no more than a dream which will fade and be gone as I wake.

Rain was falling; the drops splashed coldly into the Lake. I put my heavy cloak over my head and stepped onto the real shore, watching for a moment as the boat faded again into the mists, then resolutely turning away.

I never doubted where I should go. Not to Cornwall, though my whole soul longed for the country of my childhood, the long arms of rock stretching into the dark sea, the deep and shadowed valleys lying between slate cliffs, the beloved and half-forgotten shoreline of Tintagel. Igraine would have welcomed me there. But she was content within convent walls, and it seemed good to me that she should stay there untroubled. Nor did I ever think of going to Arthur, although I have no doubt he would have pitied and sheltered me.

The Goddess had had her way with us. I felt some of the shared regret for what had happened that morning-what we had done as Goddess and God had been ordained by ritual, but what had happened at sunrise, that had been for ourselves. But that, too, was as the Goddess would have it. It is only humankind who make these distinctions of blood times and kindred; the beast-kind know nothing of such things, and after all, man and woman are of the beast-kind. But in kindness to Arthur, who had been reared as a Christian, he should never know that he had fathered a son in what he would call grievous sin.

As for me, I was not priest-bred or priest-ridden. The child now in my womb -I resolved this firmly-had not been gotten by any mortal man. He had been sent to me by the King Stag, the Horned One, as was lawful for the first child of a sworn priestess.

So I turned my steps toward the North, without fear of the long journey over moorland and fell which would bring me at last to the kingdom of Orkney, and to my kinswoman Morgause.

Book Two: The High Queen


Far to the north, where Lot was king, the snow lay deep on the fells, and ‘even at midday there was often no more than a twilit fog. On the rare days when the sun shone, the men could get out for some hunting, but the women were imprisoned in the castle. Morgause, idly twirling her spindle-she hated spinning as much as ever, but the room was too dark for any finer work-felt an icy draft from the opened door and looked up. She said in mild reproof, “It is too cold for that, Morgaine, and you have been complaining of the cold all day; now would you turn us all into icicles?”

“I was not complaining,” said Morgaine. “Did I say a word? The room is as stuffy as a privy, and the smoke stinks. I want to breathe-no more!” She pushed the door shut and went back to the fire, rubbing her hands and shivering. “I have not once been warm since Midsummer.”

“I doubt that not at all,” said Morgause. “Your little passenger in there steals all the heat from your bones-he is warm and snug, and his mother shivers. It is always so.”

“At least Midwinter is now past, the light comes earlier and stays later,” said one of Morgause’s women. “And perhaps in another fortnight, you will have your babe with you ... .”

Morgaine did not answer but stood shivering near the fire, chafing her hands as if they ached. Morgause thought that the girl looked like her own ghost, her face sharpened and fined to deathly thinness, her hands bony as skeleton sticks contrasted with the huge bulging of her pregnant belly. There were great dark circles under her eyes, and the lids were red as if sore with long weeping; but in all the moons Morgaine had been in this house, Morgause had not seen the younger woman shed a single tear.

I would comfort her, but how can I, if she does not weep?

Morgaine was wearing an old gown of Morgause’s own, a faded and threadbare kirtle of dark blue, grotesquely too long. She looked clumsy, almost slatternly, and it exasperated Morgause that her kinswoman had not even troubled to take needle and thread and shorten the dress somewhat. Her ankles, too, were swollen so that they bulged over her shoe tops; that was from having only salt fish and coarse vegetables to eat at this time of year. They all needed fresh food, which was not easy to come by in this weather. Well, perhaps the men would have some luck at hunting and she could induce Morgaine to eat some of the fresh meat; after four pregnancies of her own, Morgause knew the near-starvation of late pregnancy. Once, she remembered, when she was pregnant with Gawaine, she had gone into the dairy and eaten some of the clay they kept for whitening it. An old midwife had told her that when a pregnant woman cannot keep herself from eating such strange things, it is the child that hungers and she should feed him whatever he wishes for. Maybe tomorrow there would be fresh herbs by the mountain stream-that was something every pregnant woman craved, especially in late winter like this. Morgaine’s beautiful dark hair was tangled, too, in a loose braid-it looked as if she hadn’t combed or rebraided it for weeks. She turned from the fire now, took down a comb that was kept on the shelf, picked up one, of Morgause’s little lapdogs and began combing it. Morgause thought, You would be better occupied at combing your own hair, but she held her peace; Morgaine had been so edgy lately that there was no speaking to her at all. It was natural enough, so near her time, she thought, watching the younger woman’s bony hands pulling the comb through the matted hair; the little dog yelped and whined, and Morgaine hushed him in a softer voice than, she ever used to anything human these days.

“It cannot be long now, Morgaine,” Morgause said gently. “By Candlemas, surely, you will be delivered.”

“It cannot be too soon for me.” Morgaine gave the dog a final pat and set him on the floor. “There, now you are decent to be among ladies, puppy ... how fine you are, with your hair all smooth!”

“I will make up the fire,” said one of the women, whose name was Beth, putting aside her spindle and thrusting the distaff into a basket of loose; wool. “The men will be home, surely-it is already dark.” She went over to the fire, tripped on a loose stick, and half fell on the hearth. “Gareth, you little wretch, will you clear away this rubbish?” She flung the stick into fire, and five-year-old Gareth, who had been pushing the sticks about prattling to them in an undertone, set up a howl of outrage-the sticks were his armies!

“Well, Gareth, it is night, and your armies must go to their tents,” said Morgause briskly. Pouting, the little boy pushed the array of small sticks into a corner, but one or two he put carefully into a fold of his tunic-they were thicker ones, which Morgaine, earlier that year, had carved into the crude likeness of men in helmets and armor, dyed with berry juice for their crimson tunics.

“Will you make me another Roman knight, Morgaine?”

“Not now, Gareth,” she said. “My hands ache with the cold. Tomorrow, perhaps.”

He came and scowled, standing at her knee, demanding, “When will I be old enough to go hunting with Father and Agravaine?”

“It will be a few years still, I suppose,” said Morgaine, smiling. “Not until you are tall enough not to be lost in a snowdrift!”

“I’m big!” he said, drawing himself up to his full height, “Look, when you’re sitting down I’m taller than you are, Morgaine!” He kicked restlessly at the chair. “There’s nothing to do in here!”

“Well,” said Morgaine, “I could always teach you to spin, and then you need not be idle.” She picked up Beth’s abandoned distaff and held it out to him, but he made a face and started back.

“I’m going to be a knight! Knights don’t have to spin!”

“That’s a pity,” Beth said sourly. “Perhaps they would not wear out so many cloaks and tunics if they knew what toil it is to spin them!”

“Yet there was a knight who did spin, so the tale says,” Morgaine said, holding out her arms to the little boy. “Come here. No, sit on the bench, Gareth, you are all too heavy now for me to hold you on my lap like a sucking babe. There was in the old days, before the Romans came, a knight named Achilles, and he was under a curse; an old sorceress told his mother that he would die in battle, and so she put him into skirts and hid him among the women, where he learned to spin and to weave and do all that was fitting for a maiden.”

“And did he die in battle?”

“He did indeed, for when the city of Troy was besieged, they called on all the knights and warriors to come and take it, and Achilles went with the rest, and he was the best of all the knights. It was told of him that he was offered a choice, he could live long in safety, then die an old man in his bed and be forgotten, or he could live a short life and die young with great glory, and he chose the glory; so men still tell of his story in the sagas. He fought with a knight in Troy called Hector-Ectorius, that is, in our tongue-”

“Was it that same sir Ectorius who fostered our king Arthur?” asked the little boy, wide-eyed.

“To be sure it was not, for it was many hundred years ago, but it might have been one of his forefathers.”

“When I am at court, and one of Arthur’s Companions,” said Gareth, his eyes round as saucers, “I will be the best fighter in war, and I will win all the prizes when there are games. What happened to Achilles?”

“I remember it not-it was long ago, at Uther’s court, I heard the tale,” Morgaine said, pressing her hands against her back as if it hurt her.

“Tell me about Arthur’s knights, Morgaine. You have really seen Lancelet, have you not? I saw him, that day at the King’s crowning-has he killed any dragons? Tell me, Morgaine-”

“Don’t plague her, Gareth, she’s not well,” said Morgause. “Run out to the kitchens and see if they can find you some bannock.”

The child looked sulky, but he took his carved knight out of his tunic and went off, talking to it in an undertone. “So, sir Lancelet, we will go out and we will kill all the dragons in the Lake. ...”

“That one, he talks only of war and fighting,” said Morgause impatiently, “and his precious Lancelet, as if it were not enough to have Gawaine away with Arthur at the wars! I hope that when Gareth is old enough, there will be peace in the land!”

“There will be peace,” Morgaine said absently, “but it will not matter, for he will die at the hands of his dearest friend-”

“What?” cried Morgause staring, but the younger woman’s eyes were vacant and unfocused; Morgause shook her gently and demanded, “Morgaine! Morgaine, are you ill?”

Morgaine blinked and shook her head. “I am sorry-what did you say to me?”

“What did I say to you? What, rather, did you say to me? “ Morgause demanded, but at the look of distress in Morgaine’s eyes, her skin prickled. She stroked the younger woman’s hand, dismissing the grim words as delirium. “I think you must have been dreaming with your eyes wide open.” She found that she did not want to think that Morgaine might have had’ a moment of the Sight. “You must care for yourself better, Morgaine, you hardly eat, you don’t sleep-”

“Food sickens me,” Morgaine said, sighing. “Would it were summer, that I might have some fruit ... last night I dreamed I ate of the apples of Avalon-” Her voice trembled, and she lowered her head so that Morgause would not see the tears hanging from her lashes; but she clenched her hands and did not weep.

“We are all weary of salt fish and smoked bacon,” said Morgause, “but if Lot has had good hunting, you must eat some of the fresh meat. Morgaine, she thought, had been trained in Avalon to ignore hunger and thirst and fatigue; now, pregnant, when she should relax her austerities somewhat, she took pride in enduring everything without complaint.

“You are priestess-trained, Morgaine, hardened to fasting, but yout child cannot endure hunger and thirst, and you are far too thin-”

“Don’t mock me!” Morgaine said angrily, gesturing at her enormously swollen belly.

“But your hands and face are like bare bone,” said Morgause. “You must not starve yourself like this, you have a child and you must consider him!”

“I will consider his welfare when he considers mine!” Morgaine said, rising abruptly, but Morgause took her hands and drew her down again. “Dear child, I know what you are going through, I have borne four children, remember? These last few days are worse than all the long months combined!”

“I should have had the sense to be rid of it while there was time!”

Morgause opened her mouth for a sharp answer, then sighed and said, “It’s too late to say you should have done so or so; ten days more will bring it to an end.” She took her own comb from her tunic folds and began to unravel Morgaine’s tangled braid.

“Let it be-” said Morgaine restlessly, pulling her head away from the comb. “I will do it myself tomorrow. I have been too weary to think of it. But if you are sick of looking at me all bedraggled like this-well, give me the comb!”

“Sit still, lennavan,” said Morgause. “Don’t you remember, when you were a little girl at Tintagel, you used to cry for me to comb your hair because your nurse-what was her name? ... Now I remember: Gwennis, that was it-she used to pull your hair so, and you would say, ‘Let Aunt Morgause do it?’ “ She teased the comb through the tangles, smoothing out strand after strand, and stroked Morgaine’s head affectionately. “You have lovely hair.”

“Dark and coarse as a pony’s mane in winter!”

“No, fine as the wool of a black sheep, and shining like silk,” Morgause said, still stroking the dark strands. “Hold still, I will plait it for you ... . Always I have wished for a girl-child, so that I could dress her finely and plait her hair like this ... but the Goddess sent me only sons, and so you must just be my little daughter now when you need me ... .” She pulled the dark head against her breast, and Morgaine lay there, shaking with the tears she could not shed. “Ah, there, there, my little one, don’t cry, it won’t be long now, there, there ... you have not been taking good care of yourself, you need a mother’s care, my little girl ... .”

“It is only ... it is so dark here ... I long so for the sun ... .”

“In the summer we have more than our share of sunlight, it is light even to midnight,” said Morgause, “and so in winter we get so little.” Morgaine was still shaking with uncontrollable sobs, and Morgause held her close, rocking her gently. “There, little one, lennavan, there, I know how you feel ...I bore Gawaine in the darkest time of winter. It was dark and stormy like this, and I was only sixteen years old then, and very frightened, I knew so little of bearing children. I wished then that I had stayed to be priestess at Avalon, or at Uther’s court, or anywhere but here. Lot was away at the wars, I hated my big body, I was sick all the time and my back hurt, and I was all alone with only strange women. Would you believe, all that winter, I kept my old doll secretly in my bed, and held her, and cried myself every night to sleep? Such a baby I was! You at least are a woman grown, Morgaine.”

Morgaine said, choking, “I know I am too old to be such a baby . ..” but still she clung to Morgause, while the older woman petted and stroked her hair.

“And now that same babe I bore even before I was a grown woman is away fighting with the Saxons,” she said, “and you, whom I held on my lap like a doll, you are to have a babe of your own. Ah, yes, I knew there was news I meant to tell you; the cook’s wife Marged has borne her child-no doubt that was why the porridge was so full of husks this morning-so there will be a wet nurse ready at hand for yours. Though indeed, when you see him, I doubt not you will want to suckle him yourself.”

Morgaine made a gesture of revulsion, and Morgause smiled. “So I felt myself, before each of my sons was born, but when I looked once on their faces, I felt I could never let them out of my arms.” She felt the younger woman flinch. “What is it, Morgaine?”

“My back aches; I have been sitting too long, that is all,” Morgaine said, rising restlessly and wandering around the room, her hands clasped at the small of her back. Morgause narrowed her eyes thoughtfully; yes, in the last few days the girl’s bulging belly was carried lower, it could not be long now. She should have the women’s hall filled with fresh straw and speak to the midwives to be at hand for the lying-in.

LOT’S MEN HAD FOUND a deer on the hills; skinned and cleaned, the smell roasting over the great fire filled the whole of the castle, and even Morgaine did not refuse a slice of the raw liver, dripping blood-by custom this food was saved for such of the women as were with child.

Morgause could see her grimace with revulsion, as she herself had done when such things were given to her in her own pregnancies, but Morgaine, as Morgause had done, sucked at ft with avidity, her body demanding the nourishment even as her mind revolted. Later, though, when the meat was cooked and carvers were slicing it and carrying it around, she gestured refusal. Morgause took a slice of meat and laid it on Morgaine’s dish.

“Eat it,” she commanded. “No, Morgaine, I will be obeyed, you cannot starve yourself and your child this way.”

“I cannot,” said Morgaine in a low voice. “I will be sick-put it by and I will try to eat it later.”

“What is wrong?”

Morgaine lowered her head and muttered, “I cannot eat-the meat of deer-I ate it at Beltane when-and now the very smell sickens me-” And this child was gotten at Beltane at the ritual fires. What is it that troubles her so? That memory should be a pleasant one, Morgause thought, smiling at the memory of the Beltane license. She wondered if the girl had fallen into the hands of some particularly brutish man and had undergone something like rape-that would account for her rage and despair at this pregnancy. Still, done was done, and Morgaine was old enough to know that not all men were brutes, even if she had once fallen into the hands of one who was neither gentle nor skilled with women.

Morgause took a slice of oatcake and sopped it in the meat juice in the dish. “Eat this, then-you will get the good of the meat so,” she said, “and I have made you some tea with the hips of roses; it is sour and will taste good to you. I remember how I craved sour things when I was breeding.”

Morgaine ate obediently, and it seemed to Morgause that a little color came into her face. She made a face at the sourness of the drink, but drank it down thirstily nonetheless. “I do not like it,” she said, “but how strange, I cannot stop drinking it.”

“Your child craves it,” said Morgause seriously. “Babes in the womb know what is good for them, and they demand it of us.”

Lot, sitting at his ease between two of his huntsmen, smiled amiably at his sister-in-law. “An old skinny animal, but a good dinner for late winter,” he said, “and I’m just as glad we didn’t get a breeding doe. We saw two or three of them, but I told my men to let them be, and even called off the dogs-I want the deer to drop their fawns in peace, and I could see that time is near, so many of them were heavy.” He yawned, taking up small Gareth, whose face was greasy and shining with the meat. “Soon you’ll be big enough to go hunting with us,” he said. “You and the little Duke of Cornwall, no doubt.”

“Who is the Duke of Cornwall, Father?” Gareth asked.

“Why, the babe Morgaine carries,” Lot replied, smiling, and Gareth stared at Morgaine. “I don t see any baby. Where is your baby, Morgaine?”

Morgaine chuckled uneasily. “Next month at this time I shall show him to you.”

“Will the spring maiden bring it to you?”

“You could say so,” Morgaine said, smiling despite herself.

“How can a baby be a duke?”

“My father was Duke of Cornwall. I am his only child in marriage. When Arthur came to reign, he gave Tintagel back to Igraine; it will pass from her to me and to my sons, if I have any.”

Morgause, looking at the young woman, thought: Her son stands nearer the throne than my own Gawaine. I am full sister to Igraine, and Viviane but her half-sister, so Gawaine is nearer kin than Lancelet. But Morgaine’s son will be Arthur’s nephew. I wonder if Morgaine has thought of that?

“Certainly, then, Morgaine, your son is Duke of Cornwall-”

“Or Duchess,” said Morgaine, smiling again.

“No, I can tell by the way you carry, low and broad, that it will be a son,” said Morgause. “I have borne four, and I have watched my women through pregnancies ... .” She grinned maliciously at Lot and said, “My husband takes very seriously that old writing which says that a king should be father to his people!”

Lot said good-naturedly, “I think it only right for my true-born sons’ by my queen to have many foster-brothers; bare is back, they say, without brother, and my sons are many ... . Come, kinswoman, will you take the harp and sing for us?”

Morgaine pushed aside the remnant of gravy-soaked oatcake. “I haves,’ eaten too much for singing,” she said, frowning, and began to pace the hall again, and Morgause again saw her hands pressed to her back. Gareth came; and tugged at her skirt.

“Sing to me. Sing me that song about the dragon, Morgaine.”

“It is too long for tonight-you must be away to your bed,” she said, but she went to the corner, took up the small harp that stood there, and sat on a bench. She plucked a few notes at random, bent to adjust one of the’ strings, then broke into a rowdy drinking song of the armies.

Lot joined in the chorus, as did his men, their raucous voices ringing up to the smoky beams:

“The Saxons came in dark of night,

With all the folk asleep,

They killed off all the women, for-

They’d rather rape the sheep!”

“You never learned that song in Avalon, kinswoman,” Lot said, grinning, as Morgaine rose to replace the harp.

“Sing again,” Gareth teased, but she shook her head.

“I am too short of breath now for singing,” she said. She put the harp down and took up her spindle, but after a moment or two put it aside and-j once more began pacing the hall.

“What ails you, girl?” Lot asked. “You’re restless as a caged bear!”

“My back aches with sitting,” she said, “and that meat my aunt would have me eat has given me a bellyache after all.” She held her hands again to her back and bent over suddenly as if with a cramp; then, suddenly, she gave a startled cry, and Morgause, watching, saw the too-long kirtle turn dark and wet, soaking her to the knees.

“Oh, Morgaine, you’ve wet yourself,” Gareth cried out. “You’re too big to wet your clothes-my nurse would beat me for that!”

“Hush, Gareth!” Morgause said sharply, and hurried to Morgaine, who stood bent over, her face crimson with astonishment and shame.

“It’s all right, Morgaine,” she said, taking her by the arm. “Does it hurt you here-and here? I thought as much. You are in labor, that is all, didn’t you know?” But how should the girl know? It was her first, and she was never one for listening to women’s gossip, so she would not know the signs. For much of this day she must have been feeling the first pains. She called Beth and said, “Take the Duchess of Cornwall to the women’s hall and call Megan and Branwen. And take down her hair; she must have nothing knotted or bound about her or her clothing.” She added, stroking Morgaine’s hair, “I would that I had known this sooner this day when I braided your hair-I will come down soon and stay with you, Morgaine.”

She watched the girl go out, leaning heavily on the nurse’s arm. She said to Lot, “I must go and stay with her. It is her first time, and she will be frightened, poor girl.”

“There’s no hurry,” Lot said idly. “If it’s her first, she’ll be in labor all this night, and you’ll have time to hold her hand.” He gave his wife a good-natured smile. “You are quick to bring our Gawaine’s rival into the world!”

“What do you mean?” she asked, low.

“Only this-that Arthur and Morgaine were born of one womb, and her son stands nearer the throne than ours.”

“Arthur is young,” Morgause said coldly, “and has time enough to father a dozen sons. Why should you think he has need of an heir?”

Lot shrugged. “Fate is fickle,” he said. “Arthur bears a charmed life in battle-and I doubt not that the Lady of the Lake had something to do with that, damn her-and Gawaine is all too loyal to his king. But fate may turn away from Arthur, and if that day should come, I would like to know that Gawaine stood closest to the throne. Think well, Morgause; the life of an infant is uncertain. You might do well to beseech your Goddess that the little Duke of Cornwall should not draw a second breath.”

“How could I do that to Morgaine? She is like my own daughter!”

Lot chucked his wife affectionately under the chin. He said, “You are a loving mother, Morgause, and I wouldn’t have you otherwise. But I doubt if Morgaine is so eager to have a child in her arms. I have heard her say that she wished she had cast forth her child-”

“She was ill and weary,” said Morgause angrily. “Do you think I did not say as much, when I was weary of dragging around a great belly? Any woman says such things in the last few moons of her pregnancy.”

“Still, if Morgaine’s child should be born without breath, I do not think she would grieve overmuch. Nor-this is what I am saying-should you.”

Morgause defended her kinswoman: “She is good to our Gareth, has made him toys and playthings and told him tales. I am sure she will be just as good a mother to her own.”

“Yet, it is not to our interest or our son’s that Morgaine should think of her son as Arthur’s heir.” He put his arm around his wife, “Look sweeting, you and I have four sons, and no doubt when they’re all grown they’ll be at one another’s throats-Lothian is not so big a kingdom as all that! But if Gawaine were High King, then there would be kingdom enough for them all.”

She nodded slowly. Lot had no love for Arthur, as he had had none for Uther; but she had not thought him quite so ruthless as this. “Are you asking me to kill her child as it comes forth?”

“She is our kinswoman and my guest,” Lot said, “and thus sacred, I would not invoke the curse of a kinslayer. I said only-the lives of newborn babes are frail, unless they are very carefully tended, and if Morgaine has a difficult time of it, it might be well that none has leisure to tend the babe.”

Morgause set her teeth and turned away from Lot. “I must go my to kinswoman.”

Behind her Lot smiled. “Think well on what I have said, my wife.”

Down in the little hall, a fire had been lighted for the women; a kettle of gruel was boiling on the hearth, for it would be a long night. Fresh straw had been spread. Morgause had forgotten, as women happy with their children do, the dread of birth, but the sight of the fresh straw made her teeth clench and a shudder go down her back. Morgaine had been put into a loose shift, and her hair, unbound, was hanging loose down her back; she was walking up and down in the room, leaning on Megan’s arm. It all had the air of a festival, and so indeed it was for the other women. Morgause went up to her kinswoman and took her arm.

“Come now, you can walk with me a bit, and Megan can go and prepare the swaddlings for your child,” she said. Morgaine looked at her and Morgause thought the younger woman’s eyes were like those of a wild animal in a snare, awaiting the hunter’s hand which will cut its throat.

“Will it be long, Aunt?”

“Now, now, you must not think ahead,” said Morgause tenderly “Think, if you must, that you have been in labor most of this day, so it will go all the faster now.” But to herself she thought, It will not be easy for her, she is so small, and she is reluctant to bear this child; no doubt there is a long hard night ahead of her ... .

And then she remembered that Morgaine had the Sight, and that it was useless to lie to her. She patted Morgaine’s pale cheek. “No matter, child, we will take good care of you. It is always long with a first child-they are loath to leave their snug nest-but we will do all we can. Did anyone bring a cat into the room?”

“A cat? Yes, she is there, but why, Aunt?” Morgaine asked.

“Because, little one, if you have seen a cat kittening, you know that the cat bears her children purring, not crying out in pain, and so perhaps her pleasure in bearing will help you to feel the pains less,” Morgause said, stroking the small furry creature. “It is a form of birth magic that perhaps you do not know in Avalon. Yes, you may sit down now, and rest for a little, and hold the cat in your lap.” She watched Morgaine stroking the cat in a moment of respite, but then she doubled over again with the sharp cramps, and Morgause urged her to get up again and keep walking. “As long as you can bear it-it goes quicker so,” she said.

“I am so tired, so tired ... “ Morgaine said, moaning a little.

You will be more tired before this is over, Morgause thought, but she only came and put her arms around the younger woman. “Here. Lean on me, child ... .”

“You are so like my mother ...” Morgaine said, clinging to Morgause, her face contorted as if she were about to cry. “I wish my mother were here ... “ and then she bit her lip as if she regretted her moment of weakness, and began slowly walking, walking up and down the crowded room.

The hours dragged slowly by. Some of the women slept, but there were plenty to take their turn in walking with Morgaine, who grew more and more frightened and pale as time wore on. The sun rose, and still the midwives had not said Morgaine might lie down in the straw, though she was so weary that she stumbled and could hardly put one foot before another. One moment she said she was cold and clutched her warm fur cloak about her; another time she thrust it from her, saying that she was burning up. Again and again she retched and vomited, at last bringing up nothing but green bile; but she could not seem to stop retching, though they forced her to drink hot herb drinks, which she gulped down thirstily. But then she would begin retching again, and Morgause, watching her, her mind full of what Lot had said, wondered if it would make any difference what she did or did not do ... it might well be that Morgaine could not survive this birth.

At last she could walk no more, and they let her lie down, gasping and biting her lips against the recurrent pains; Morgause knelt beside her, holding her hand as the hours wore on. A long time past noon, Morgause asked her quietly, “Was he-the child’s father-much bigger than you? Sometimes when a baby takes so long to be born, it means the child takes after his father and is too big for the mother.”

She wondered, as she had wondered before, who was this child’s father? She had seen Morgaine looking on Lancelet at Arthur’s crowning; if Morgaine had gotten herself with child by Lancelet, that might well explain why Viviane had been so angered that poor Morgaine had had to flee from Avalon.... In all of these months, Morgaine had said nothing of her reasons for leaving the temple, and of her child, no more than that it was gotten at Beltane fires. Viviane was so tender of Morgaine, she would not have allowed her to bear a child to just anyone ... .

But if Morgaine, rebelling against her chosen destiny, had taken Lancelet for lover, or had seduced him into the Beltane grove, then it might explain why Viviane’s chosen priestess, her successor as Lady of the Lake, fled from Avalon.

But Morgaine said only, “I did not see his face; he came to me as the Horned One,” and Morgause knew, with her own faint trace of the Sight, that the younger woman was lying. Why?

THE HOURS DRAGGED BY. Once Morgause went into the main hall, where Lot’s men were playing at knucklebones. Lot sat watching, one of Morgause’s younger waiting-women on his lap and his hand playing casually with her breasts; as Morgause came in, the woman looked up apprehensively and started to slide from his knees, but Morgause shrugged. “Stay where you are; we have no need of you among the midwives, and tonight at least I shall be with my kinswoman and have no leisure to argue with you over a place in his bed. Tomorrow it might be another matter.” The young woman bent her head, blushing. Lot said, “How goes it with Morgaine, sweeting?”

“Not well,” Morgause said. “It was never so hard for me.” Then she cried out in a rage, “Did you ill-wish my kinswoman that she might never rise from childbed?”

Lot shook his head. “You have the charms and magic in this kingdom, lady. I wish Morgaine no ill. God knows, that would be grievous waste of a pretty woman-and Morgaine’s handsome enough, for all her sharp tongue! Though that she comes by honest enough from your side of the family, does she not, sweeting, and it adds salt to the dish ... .”

Morgause smiled affectionately at her husband. Whatever pretty toys he might choose for his bed-and the girl on his lap was just one more of them-she knew that she suited him well.

“Where is Morgaine, Mother?” Gareth asked. “She said that today she would carve me another knight to play with!”

“She is sick, little son.” Morgause drew a long breath, the weight of anxiety settling over her again.

“She will be well soon,” Lot said, “and then you will have a little cousin to play with. He shall be your foster-brother and your friend-we have a saying that kin ties last for three generations and foster ties for seven, and since Morgaine’s son will be both to you, he will be more than your own brother.”

“I will be glad to have a friend,” said Gareth. “Agravaine mocks me and calls me a silly baby, saying I am too old for wooden knights!”

“Well, Morgaine’s son will be your friend, when he is grown a bit,” said Morgause. “At first he will be like a puppy with his eyes not open, but in a year or two he will be old enough to play with you. But the Goddess hears the prayers of little children, son, so you must pray to the Goddess that she will hear you and bring Morgaine a strong son and health, and not come to her as the Death-crone-” and suddenly she began to cry. With astonishment, Gareth watched his mother weep, and Lot said, “As bad as that, sweetheart?”

Morgause nodded. But there was no need to frighten the child. She wiped her eyes with her kirtle.

Gareth looked upward and said, “Please, dear Goddess, bring my cousin Morgaine a strong son, so we can grow up and be knights together.”

Against her will, Morgause laughed and stroked the chubby cheek. “Such a prayer I am sure the Goddess will hear. Now I must go back to Morgaine.”

But she felt Lot’s eyes on her as she left the hall, and remembered what he had said to her earlier-that it might be better for them all if Morgaine’s son did not survive.

I shall be content if Morgaine comes alive through this, she thought, and almost for the first time, she regretted that she had learned so little of the great magics of Avalon, now, when she needed some charm or spell that could ease this struggle for Morgaine. It had gone so hard, so frightfully hard with the girl, her own childbed had been nothing to this ... .

She came back into the women’s hall. The midwives had Morgaine kneeling upright in the straw now, to help the child slip from the womb; but she was slumping between them like a lifeless thing, so that two of them had to hold her upright. She was crying out now in gasps, then biting her lip against the cries, trying to be brave. Morgause went and knelt before Morgaine in the blood-flecked straw; she held out her hands, and Morgaine gripped them, looking at Morgause almost without recognition.

“Mother!” she cried out. “Mother, I knew you would come-”

Then her face convulsed again and she flung back her head, her mouth squared with unvoiced screams. Megan said, “Hold her, my lady-no, behind her like that, hold her upright-” and Morgause, gripping Morgaine beneath the arms, felt the girl shaking, retching, sobbing as she fought and struggled, blindly, to get away from them. She was no longer capable of; helping them or even letting them do what they must, but screamed aloud when they touched her. Morgause shut her eyes, unwilling to see, holding Morgaine’s frail convulsing body with all her strength. She screamed again, “Mother! Mother!” but Morgaine did not know whether she was calling ‘1 on Igraine or on the Goddess. Then she slumped backward into Morgaine’s arms, all but unconscious; there was the sharp smell of blood in the room, and Megan held up something dark and shrivelled-looking.

“Look, lady Morgaine,” she said, “you have a fine son-” then she bent over him, breathing into the little mouth. There was a sharp, outraged sound, the cry of a newborn shrieking with fury at the cold world into which he had come.

But Morgaine lay collapsed in Morgause’s arms, utterly exhausted, and could not even open her eyes to look at her child.

THE BABE HAD BEEN washed and swaddled; Morgaine had swallowed a cup of hot milk with honey in it, and herbs against the bleeding, and now she lay drowsing, weary, not even stirring as Morgause bent to kiss her lightly on the brow.

She would live and heal, though Morgause had never seen a woman struggle so hard, and yet live, with a living child. And the midwife said that after all they had had to do to deliver this one alive, it was unlikely Morgaine would ever bear another. Which, Morgause thought, was just as well. She realized now that her own birthings, which had not been easy, had been nothing to this.

She picked up the swaddled child, looking down at the small features. He seemed to be breathing well enough, though sometimes, when a child did not cry at once and it was necessary to breathe into his mouth, the breathing would fail again later and he would die. But he was a healthy pink, even the tiny nails rosy. Dark hair, perfectly straight, dark, fine down on the small arms and legs-yes, this one was fairy-born, like Morgaine herself. It might indeed be Lancelet’s son, and so doubly near to Arthur’s throne.

The child should be given to a wet nurse at once ... and then Morgause hesitated. No doubt, when she was a little rested, Morgaine would want to hold and suckle her child; it always happened that way, no matter how difficult the birth. And the harder the birth, the more joy the mother seemed to have in nursing her babe; the worse the struggle, the more was the love and delight when the babe was actually put to her breast.

And then she thought, against her will, of Lot’s words. If I want to see Gawaine on the throne, this child stands in his way. She had not wanted to listen when Lot said it, but with the child actually in her hands, she could not help thinking it would not be so evil a thing if this child were overlaid by his nurse, or too weak to take suck. And if Morgaine had never held him or suckled him, she would not feel as much grief; if it was the will of the Goddess that he should not live ...

I want only to spare her sorrow ... .

Morgaine’s child, probably by Lancelet, both of the old royal line of Avalon ... should harm come to Arthur, the people would accept this child for his throne.

But she was not even sure it was Lancelet’s child.

And although Morgause had borne four sons, Morgaine was the little girl she had petted and cared for like a doll, carried in her arms; she had brushed her hair and washed her and brought her gifts. Could she do this to Morgaine’s own child? Who was to say Arthur would not have a dozen sons by his queen, whoever she was?

But Lancelet’s son ... yes, Lancelet’s son she could abandon to death without a qualm. Lancelet was no closer kin to Arthur than Gawaine, yet Arthur preferred him, turned to Lancelet in everything. Just as she herself had always stood in Viviane’s shadow, the unregarded sister, passed over for High Queen-she had never forgiven Viviane that she had chosen Igraine for Uther-just so, the loyal Gawaine would always stand in the shadow of the more flamboyant Lancelet. If Lancelet had played with Morgaine or dishonored her, all the more reason to hate him.

For there was no reason Morgaine should bear Lancelet’s bastard child in secrecy and sorrow. Did Viviane think her precious son too good for Morgaine, perhaps? Morgause had seen that the girl wept in secret all during these long months; was she sick with love and abandonment?

Viviane, damn her, uses lives like knucklebones to be cast in play! She flung Igraine into Uther’s arms without thought for Gorlois, she claimed Morgaine for Avalon; will she make wreck of Morgaine’s life too?

If she could only be sure it was Lancelet’s child!

As she had regretted, when Morgaine was in labor, that she had not enough magic to ease the birth, so now she regretted how little she knew of magic. She had not, when she dwelt in Avalon, had the interest nor the persistence to study the Druid lore. But still, as Viviane’s fosterling, she had learned one thing and another from the priestesses, who had petted and spoilt her; offhand and good-naturedly, as one indulges a child, they had shown her certain simple spells and magics.

Well, now she would use them. She shut the doors of the chamber and lighted a new fire; she clipped three hairs from the silky down on the child’s head, and bending over the sleeping Morgaine, cut a few of her hairs too. She pricked the child’s finger with her bodkin, rocking him after to hush the fitful squalling; then, casting secret herbs on the fire with the hairs and blood, she whispered a word she had been taught, and stared into the flames. And caught her breath in silence as the flames swirled, died, and for a moment a face looked out at her-a young face, crowned with fair hair and shadowed by antlers casting a darkness over the blue eyes that were like Uther’s ... .

Morgaine had spoken truth when she said he had come to her as the Horned God; yet she had lied. ....orgause should have known; they had made the Great Marriage for Arthur, then, before his crowning. Had Viviane planned this too, a child that should be born of the two royal lines? There was a small sound behind her and she looked up, to see that Morgaine had struggled to her feet and was standing there, clinging to the bed frame, her face white as death.

Her lips hardly moved; only her dark eyes, sunken deep in her head with suffering, flickered from the fire to the sorcerous things on the floor before the hearth. “Morgause,” she said, “swear to me-if you love me, swear to me-that you will speak nothing of this to Lot or to any other! Swear it, or I will curse you with all the curses I know!”

Morgause laid the child in the cradle and turned to Morgaine, taking her arm and leading her back to the bed.

“Come, lie down, rest, little one-we must talk about this. Arthur! Why? Was it Viviane’s doing?”

Morgaine repeated, even more agitated, “Swear to say nothing! Swear never to speak of it again! Swear it! Swear it!” Her eyes glittered wildly. Morgause, looking at her, was afraid she would work herself into a fever. “Morgaine, child-”

“Swear! Or I curse you by wind and fire, sea and stone-” “No!” Morgause interrupted her, taking her hands to try to calm her. “See, I swear it, I swear.”

She had not wanted to swear. She thought, I should have refused, I should talk of this with Lot ... but it was too late, now she had sworn ... and Morgause had no wish to be cursed by a priestess of Avalon.

“Lie still, now,” she said quietly. “You must sleep, Morgaine.” The younger woman closed her eyes, and Morgause sat petting her hand and thinking. Gawaine is Arthur’s man, whatever happens. Lot would get no good from Gawaine on the throne. This-no matter how many sons Arthur may have, this is his first Arthur was reared Christian and makes much of being king over Christians; he would think this child of incest his shame. It is just as well to know some evil secret of a king. Even of Lot, though I love him well, I have made it my business to know certain details of his sins and lecheries.

The cradled child woke and squalled. Morgaine, as all mothers when a child cries, opened her eyes at the sound. She was almost too weak to move, but she whispered, “My baby-is that my baby? Morgause, I want to hold my baby.”

Morgause bent and started to put the swaddled bundle into her arms. Then she hesitated; if Morgaine once held the child, she would wish to suckle him, she would love him, she would concern herself about his welfare. But if he was put to a wet nurse before she ever looked on his face ... well, then, she would not feel anything much for him, and he would be truly the child of his foster-parents. It was just as well to have Arthur’s firstborn son, the son he dared not acknowledge, feel the highest loyalty to Lot and Morgause as his truest parents; that Lot’s sons should be his brothers, rather than any sons Arthur might have when he should marry.

Tears were sliding weakly down Morgaine’s face. She begged, “Give me my baby, Morgause, let me hold my baby, I want him-”

Morgause said tenderly but relentlessly, “No, Morgaine; you are not strong enough to hold him and suckle him, and”-she groped quickly for a lie which the girl, unskilled in midwifery, would believe-”if you hold him even once, he will not suck from his wet nurse’s breasts, so he must be given to her right away. You can hold him when you are a little stronger and he is feeding well.” And, though Morgaine began to cry and held out her arms, sobbing, Morgause carried the child out of the room. Now, she thought, this will be Lot’s fosterling, and we will always have a weapon against the High King. And now I have made certain that Morgaine, when she is well enough, will care little for him and be content to leave him to me.


Gwenhwyfar, daughter of King Leodegranz, sat on the high wall of the enclosed garden, clinging to the stones with both hands and watching the horses in the paddock below.

Behind her was the sweet smell of kitchen herbs and pot herbs, the still-room herbs her father’s wife used to make medicines and simples. The garden was one of her favorite places, perhaps the only outdoor place Gwenhwyfar really liked. She felt safer indoors, as a rule, or when securely enclosed-the walls around the kitchen garden made it nearly as safe as inside the castle. Up here, on top of the wall, she could see out over the valley, and there was so much of it, stretching farther than the eye could see ... . Gwenhwyfar turned her look back to the safety of the garden for a moment, for her hands were beginning to tingle with the numbness again, and her breath felt tight in her throat. Here, right on the very wall which enclosed her own garden, here it was safe; if she began to feel the strangling panic again she could turn and slide down the wall arid be safe again inside the garden.

Her father’s wife, Alienor, had asked her once in exasperation, when she said something like this, “Safe from what, child? The Saxons never come so far west as this. Where we are on the hill, we could see them three leagues off if they should come-it’s the long view we have here that makes us safe, in heaven’s name!”

Gwenhwyfar could never explain. Put like that it sounded sensible. How could she tell the sensible, practical Alienor that it was the very weight of all that sky and the wide lands which frightened her? There was nothing to be frightened of, and it was foolish to be frightened.

But that did not stop her from gasping and breathing hard and feeling the numbness rising up from her belly into her throat, her sweating hands losing all feeling. They were all exasperated with her-the house priest telling her that there was nothing out there but God’s good green lands, her father shouting that he’d have none of that womanish nonsense in his house -and so she had learned never to whisper it aloud. Only in the convent had anyone understood. Oh, the dear convent where she had felt as snug as a mouse in her hole, and never, never having to go out of doors at all, except into the enclosed cloister garden. She would like to be back there, but now she was a woman grown, and her stepmother had little children and needed Gwenhwyfar.

The thought of marrying made her afraid, too. But then she should have her own house where she could do as she would and she would be the mistress; no one would dare to make fun of her!

Down below, the horses were running, but Gwenhwyfar’s eyes were focused on the slender man in red, with dark curls shading his tanned brow, who moved among them. As swift he was as the horses themselves; she could well understand the name his Saxon foes gave him: Elf-arrow. Someone had whispered to her that he himself had fairy blood. Lancelet of the Lake, he called himself, and she had seen him in the magical Lake, that dreadful day when she had been lost, in the company of the terrible fairy woman.

Lancelet had caught the horse he wanted; one or two of her father’s men shouted a warning, and Gwenhwyfar drew a breath of terror, herself wanting to cry out in dismay; that horse not even the king rode, only one or two of his best trainers. Lancelet, laughing, gestured disdain of their warning; he let the trainer come and hold the horse while he strapped the saddle on it. She could just hear his laughing voice.

“What good would it do to ride a lady’s palfrey, which anyone could ride with a bridle of plaited straw? I want you to see-with leathers fitted like this, I can control the fiercest horse you have, and make him into a battle steed! Here, this way-” He gave a tug to a buckle somewhere under the horse, then swung himself up one-handed. The horse reared up; Gwenhwyfar watched with her mouth open as he leaned into it, forcing the horse down and under control, making it walk sedately. The spirited animal fidgeted, stepping sideways, and Lancelet gestured for one of the king’s foot soldiers to give him a long pike.

“Now see-” he shouted. “Supposing that bale of straw there is a Saxon coming at me with one of those great blunt swords of theirs ... “ and he let the horse go, pounding hard across the paddock; the other horses scattered as he came sweeping down on the straw bale and impaling it on the long pike, then snatching his sword from its scabbard as he whirled, checking the horse in mid gallop, swinging the sword about him in great circles. Even the king stepped back as he thundered toward them. He brought the animal to a full stop before the king, slid off and bowed.

“My lord! I ask for leave to train horses and men, so that you may lead them into battle when the Saxons come again, to defeat them as he did at Celidon Wood last summer. We have had victories, but one day there will be a mighty battle which will decide for all time whether Saxon or Roman will rule this land. We are training all the horses we can get, but yours are better than those we can buy or breed.”

“I have not sworn allegiance to Arthur,” her father said. “Uther was another matter; he was a tried soldier and Ambrosius’ man. Arthur is little more than a boy-”

“You still believe that, after the battles he has won?” Lancelet asked. “He has held his throne now for more than a year, he is your High King, sir. Whether you have sworn or not, every battle he fights against the Saxons protects you, too. Horses and men-that is little enough to ask.”

Leodegranz nodded. “This is no place to discuss the strategy of a kingdom, sir Lancelet. I have seen what you can do with the horse. He is yours, my guest.”

Lancelet bowed low and thanked King Leodegranz formally, but Gwenhwyfar saw his eyes shine like those of a delighted boy. Gwenhwyfar wondered how old he was.

“Come within my hall,” her father said, “we will drink together, and I will make you an offer.”

Gwenhwyfar slid down from the wall and ran through the garden to the kitchens, where her father’s wife was supervising the baking women. “Madam, my father will be coming in with the High King’s emissary, Lancelet; they will want food and drink.”

Alienor gave her a startled glance. “Thank you, Gwenhwyfar. Go and make yourself tidy and you may serve the wine. I am far too busy.”

Gwenhwyfar ran to her room, pulled her best gown on over the simple kirtle she wore, and hung a string of coral beads about her neck. She unbraided her fair hair and let it fall, rippled from the tight braiding. Then she put on the little gold maiden’s circlet she wore, and went down, composing her steps and moving lightly; she knew the blue gown became her as no other color, no matter how costly, could do.

She fetched a bronze basin, filled it with warmed water from the kettle hanging near the fire, and strewed rose leaves in it; she came into the hall as her father and Lancelet were entering. She set down her basin, took their cloaks and hung them on the peg, then came and offered them the warmed, scented water to wash their hands. Lancelet smiled, and she knew he had recognized her.

“Did we not meet on the Isle of the Priests, lady?”

“You have met my daughter, sir?”

Lancelet nodded, and Gwenhwyfar said, in her shyest little voice-she had found, long ago, that it displeased her father if she spoke out boldly ‘ -”Father, he showed me the way to my convent door when I was lost.”

Leodegranz smiled at her indulgently. “My little featherhead, if she goes three steps from her own doorway, she is lost. Well, sir Lancelet, what do you think of my horses?”

“I have told you-they are better than any we can buy or breed,” he said. “We have some from the Moorish realms down in Spain, and we have bred them with the highland ponies, so we have horses that are sturdy and can endure our climate, but are swift and brave. But we need more. We can breed only so many. You have more than enough, and I can show you how to train them so you can lead them into battle-”

“No,” the king interrupted, “I am an old man. I have no desire to learn new battle methods. I have been four times married, but all my former wives bore only sickly girls who die before they are weaned, sometimes before they are baptized. I have daughters; when the eldest marries, her husband will lead my men into battle, and can train them as he will. Tell your High King to come here, and we will discuss the matter.”

Lancelet said, a little stiffly, “I am my lord Arthur’s cousin and his captain, sire, but even I do not tell him to come and go.”

“Beseech him, then, to come to an old man who does not want to ride out from his own fireside,” the king said, a little wryly. “If he will not come for me, perhaps he will come to know how I will dispose of my horses and the armed men to ride them.”

Lancelet bowed. “No doubt he will.”

“Enough of this, then; pour us some wine, daughter,” the king said, and Gwenhwyfar came shyly and poured wine into their cups. “Now run along, my girl, so that my guest and I may talk together.”

Gwenhwyfar, dismissed, waited in the garden until a servant came out and called for the lord Lancelet’s horse and armor. The horse he had ridden here and the horse her father had given him were brought to the door, and she watched from the shadow of the wall until she saw him ride away; then she stepped out and stood waiting. Her heart pounded-would he think her too bold? But he saw her and smiled, and the smile seized her very heart.

“Are you not afraid of that great fierce horse?”

Lancelet shook his head. “My lady, I do not believe the horse was ever foaled that I cannot ride.”

She said, almost whispering, “Is it true that you control horses with your magic?”

He threw back his head with a ringing laugh. “By no means, lady; I have no magic. I like horses and I understand their ways and the way their minds work-that is all. Do I look to you like a sorcerer?”

“But-they say you have fairy blood,” she said, and his laughter grew grave. He said, “My mother was indeed one of the old race who ruled this land before the Roman people ever came here, or even the northern Tribesmen. She is priestess on the Isle of Avalon, and a very wise woman.”

“I can see that you would not want to speak ill of your mother,” Gwenhwyfar said, “but the sisters on Ynis Witrin said that the women of Avalon were evil witches and served the devils ... .”

He shook his head, still grave. “Not so,” he said. “I do not know my mother well; I was fostered elsewhere. I fear her, as much as I love. But I can tell you she is no evil woman. She brought my lord Arthur to the throne, and gave him his sword to stand against the Saxons-does that sound so evil to you? As for her magic-it is only the ignorant among them who say she is a sorceress. I think it well that a woman should be wise.”

Gwenhwyfar hung her head. “I am not wise; I am very stupid. Even among the sisters, I learned only enough to read my way through the mass book, which they said was all I needed of learning, and then such things as women learn-cookery and herbs and simples and the binding of wounds-”

“For me, all that would be a greater mystery than the training of horses, which you think magic,” Lancelet said, with his wide smile. Then he leaned down from his horse and touched her cheek. “If God is good and the Saxons hold off a few moons yet, I will see you again, when I come here in the High King’s train. Say a prayer for me, lady.”

He rode away, and Gwenhwyfar stood watching, her heart pounding, but this time the sensation was almost pleasant. He would come again, he wanted to come again. And her father had said she should be married to someone who could lead horses and men into battle; who better than the High King’s cousin and his captain of horse? Was he thinking, then, to marry her to Lancelet? She felt herself blush with delight and happiness. For the first time she felt pretty and bold and brave.

But inside the hall, her father said, “A handsome man, this Elf-arrow, and good with horses, but far too handsome to be reckoned more than that.”

Gwenhwyfar said, surprised at her own boldness, “If the High King has made him his first of captains, he must be the best of fighters!”

Leodegranz shrugged. “The King’s cousin, he could hardly be left without some post in his armies. Has he tried to win your heart-or,” he added, with the scowl that frightened her, “your maidenhead?”

She felt herself blushing again and was hopelessly angry at herself. “No, he is an honorable man, and what he has said to me is no more than he could have said in your presence, Father.”

“Well, don’t get any ideas into that featherhead of yours,” Leodegranz said gruffly. “You can look higher than that one. He’s no more than one of King Ban’s bastards by God-knows-who, some damsel of Avalon!”

“His mother is the Lady of Avalon, the great High Priestess of the Old People-and he is himself a king’s son-”

“Ban of Benwick! Ban has half a dozen legitimate sons,” said her father. “Why marry a king’s captain? If all goes as I plan, you’ll wed the High King himself!”

Gwenhwyfar shrank away, saying, “I’d be afraid to be the High Queen!”

“You’re afraid of everything, anyway,” her father said brutally. “That’s why you need a man to take care of you, and better the King than the King’s captain!” He saw her mouth trembling and said, genial again, “There, there, my girl, don’t cry. You must trust me to know what’s best for you. That’s what I’m here for, to look after you and make a good marriage with a trusty man to look after my pretty little featherhead.”

If he had raged at her, Gwenhwyfar could have held on to her rebellion. But how, she thought wildly, can I complain of the best of fathers, who has only my own welfare at heart?


On a day in early spring, in the year following Arthur’s crowning, the lady Igraine sat in her cloister, bent over a set of embroidered altar linens. All her life she had loved this fine work, but as a young girl, and later, married to Gorlois, she had been kept busy-like all women-with the weaving and spinning and sewing of clothes for her household. As Uther’s queen, with a household of servants, she had been able to spend her time on fine broideries and weaving of borders and ribbons in silk; and here in the nunnery she put her skill to good use. Otherwise, she thought a little ruefully, it would be for her as it was with so many of the nuns, the weaving only of the dark plain woolen dresses which all of them, including Igraine herself, wore, or the smooth, but boring, white linens for veils and coifs and altar cloths. Only two or three of the sisters could weave with silks or do fine embroidering, and of them Igraine was the cleverest.

She was a little troubled. Again, as she sat down at her frame this morning, she thought she heard the cry, and jerked around before she could stop herself; it seemed to her that somewhere Morgaine cried out “Mother!” and the cry was one of agony and despair. But the cloister was quiet and empty around her, and after a moment Igraine made the sign of the cross and sat down again to her work.

Still ... resolutely she banished the temptation. Long ago she had renounced the Sight as the work of the fiend; with sorcery she would have no doings. She did not believe Viviane was evil in herself, but the Old Gods of Avalon were certainly allied to the Devil or they could not maintain their force in a Christian land. And she had given her daughter to those Old Gods. Late last summer Viviane had sent her a message saying, If Morgaine is with you, tell her that all is well. Troubled, Igraine had sent a reply that she had not seen Morgaine since Arthur’s crowning; she had thought her still safe at Avalon. The Mother Superior of the convent had been dismayed at the thought of a messenger from Avalon to one of her ladies; even when Igraine explained that it was a message from her sister, the lady had still been displeased and said firmly that there could be no coming and going, even of messages, with that ungodly place.

Igraine, then, had been deeply troubled-if Morgaine had left Avalon, she must have quarrelled with Viviane. It was unheard of for a sworn priestess of the highest rank to leave the Island except upon the business of Avalon. For Morgaine to leave without the knowledge or permission of the Lady was so unprecedented that it made her blood run cold. Where could she have gone? Had she run away with some paramour, was she living a lawless life without the rites either of Avalon or the church? Had she gone to Morgause? Was she lying somewhere dead? Nevertheless, although she prayed continually for her daughter, Igraine had resolutely refused the constant temptation to use the Sight.

Still, much of this winter, it seemed that Morgaine had walked at her side; not the pale, somber priestess she had seen at the crowning, but the little girl who had been the only comfort, those desperate, lonely years in Cornwall, of the frightened child-wife, child-mother she had been. Little Morgaine, in a saffron gown and ribbons, a solemn child, dark-eyed in her crimson cloak; Morgaine with her little brother in her arms-her two children sleeping, dark head and golden close together on the one pillow. How often, she wondered, had she neglected Morgaine after she had come to her beloved Uther, and had borne him a son and heir to his kingdom? Morgaine had not been happy at Uther’s court, nor had she ever had much love for Uther. And it was for that reason, as much as from Viviane’s entreaty, that she had let Morgaine go to be fostered at Avalon.

Only now she felt guilty; had she not been overquick to send her daughter away, so that she might give all her thought to Uther and his children? Against her will, an old saying of Avalon rang in Igraine’s mind: the Goddess does not shower her gifts on those who reject them ... in sending her own children away, one to fosterage (for his own safety, she reminded herself, remembering Arthur lying white as death after the fall from the stallion) and the other to Avalon-in sending them away, had she herself sown the seed of loss? Was the Goddess unwilling to give her another child when she had let the first go so willingly? She had discussed this with her confessor, more than once, and he had reassured her that it was just as well to send Arthur away, every boy must go for fostering sooner or later; but, he said, she should not have sent Morgaine to Avalon. If the child was unhappy in Uther’s court, she should have been sent to school in a nunnery somewhere.

She had thought, after hearing that Morgaine was not in Avalon, of sending a messenger to King Lot’s court, to find out if she was there; but then the winter settled in in earnest, and every day was a new battle against cold, chilblains, the vicious dampness everywhere; even the sisters went hungry in the depths of winter, sharing what food they had with beggars and peasants.

And once in the hard weeks of winter, she thought she heard Morgaine’s voice, crying-crying out for her in anguish: “Mother! Mother!” Morgaine, alone and terrified-Morgaine dying? Where, ah God, where? Her fingers clenched the cross which, like all the sisters of the convent, she wore at her belt. Lord Jesus, keep and guard her, Mary, Mother divine, even if she is a sinner and a sorceress ... pity her, Jesus, as you pitied the dame of Magdala who was worse than she ... .

In dismay, she realized that a tear had dripped down on the fine work she was doing; it might spot the work. She wiped her eyes with her linen veil and held the embroidery frame further away, narrowing her eyes to see better-ah, she was getting old, her sight blurred a little from time to time; or was it tears that blurred her vision?

She bent resolutely over her embroidery again, but Morgaine’s face seemed again to be before her, and she could hear in her imagination that despairing shriek, as if Morgaine’s soul were being torn from her body. She herself had cried out like that, for the mother she could hardly remember, when Morgaine was born ... did all women in childbirth cry out for their mothers? Terror gripped her. Morgaine in that desperate winter, giving birth somewhere ... Morgause had made some such jest at Arthur’s crowning, saying Morgaine was as squeamish with her food as a breeding woman. Against her will, Igraine found herself counting on her fingers; yes, if it had been so with her, Morgaine would have borne her child in the dead of winter. And now, even in that soft spring, she seemed to hear again that cry; she longed to go to her daughter, but where, where?

There was a step behind her and a tentative cough, and one of the young girls fostered in the nunnery said, “Lady, there are visitors for you in the outer room; one of them is a churchman, the Archbishop himself!”

Igraine put her embroidery aside. After all, it was not spotted; all the tears women shed, they leave no mark on the world, she thought in bitterness. “Why does the Archbishop, of all men living, wish to see me?”

“He did not tell me, lady, and I do not think he told the Mother Superior either,” said the little girl, not at all unwilling to gossip for a minute, “but did you not send gifts to the church there at the time of the High King’s crowning?”

Igraine had, but she did not think the Archbishop would have come here to speak of a past charity. Perhaps he wanted something more. Priests were seldom greedy for themselves but all priests, especially those from rich churches, were greedy for silver and gold for their altars.

“Who are the others?” she asked, knowing that the young girl was eager to talk.

“Lady, I do not know, but I do know that the Mother Superior wanted to forbid one of them, because”-her eyes grew wide-”he is a wizard and sorcerer, so she said, and a Druid!”

Igraine rose. “It is the Merlin of Britain, for he is my father, and he is no wizard, child, but a scholar trained in the crafts of the wise. Even the church fathers say that the Druids are good and noble men, and worship with them in harmony, since they acknowledge God in all things, and Christ as one of many prophets of God.”

The little girl dropped a small curtsey, acknowledging correction, as Igraine put away the embroidery work and adjusted her veil smoothly around her face.

When she came into the outer room, she saw not only the Merlin and a strange, austere man in the dark dress which churchmen were beginning to adopt to set them off from seculars, but a third man she hardly recognized, even when he turned; for a moment it was as if she looked into Other’s face.

“Gwydion!” she exclaimed, then, quickly amending, “Arthur. Forgive me; I forgot.” She would have knelt before the High King but he reached out quickly and prevented her.

“Mother, never kneel in my presence. I forbid it.”

Igraine bowed to the Merlin and to the dour, austere-looking Archbishop.

“This is my mother, Uther’s queen,” Arthur said, and the Archbishop responded, stretching his lips in what Igraine supposed was meant for a smile. “But now she has a higher honor than royalty, in that she is a bride of Christ.”

Hardly a bride, Igraine thought, simply a widow who has taken refuge in his house. But she did not say so, and bowed her head.

Arthur said, “Lady, this is Patricius, Archbishop of the Isle of the Priests, now called Glastonbury, who has newly come there.”

“Aye, by God’s will,” the Archbishop said, “having lately driven out all the evil magicians from Ireland, I am come to drive them forth from all Christian lands. I found in Glastonbury a corrupt lot of priests, tolerating among them even the common worship with the Druids, at which our Lord who died for us would have wept tears of blood!”

Taliesin the Merlin said in his soft voice, “Why, then, you would be harsher than Christ himself, brother? For he, I seem to remember, was greatly chided that he consorted with outcasts and sinners and even tax collectors, and such ladies as the Magdalen, when they would have had him a Nazarite like to John the Baptizer. And at last, even when he hung dying on his cross, he did promise the thief that that same night he would join him in Paradise-no?”

“I think too many people presume to read the divine Scriptures, and fall into just such errors as this,” said Patricius sternly. “Those who presume on their learning will learn, I trust, to listen to their priests for the true interpretations.”

The Merlin smiled gently. “I cannot join you in that wish, brother. I am dedicated to the belief that it is God’s will that all men should strive for wisdom in themselves, not look to it from some other. Babes, perhaps, must have their food chewed for them by a nurse, but men may drink and eat of wisdom for themselves.”

“Come, come!” Arthur interrupted with a smile. “I will have no controversies between my two dearest councillors. Lord Merlin’s wisdom is indispensable to me; he set me on my throne.”

“Sir,” said the Archbishop, “God set you there.”

“With the help of the Merlin,” said Arthur, “and I pledged to him I would listen to his counsel always. Would you have me forsworn, Father Patricius?” He spoke the name with the North country accent of the lands where he had been fostered. “Come, Mother, sit down and let us talk.”

“First let me send for wine to refresh you after your long ride here.”

“Thank you, Mother, and if you will, send some, too, to Cai and Gawaine, who rode hither with me. They would not have me come unguarded. They insist on doing for me the service of chamberlains and grooms, as if I could not lift a hand for myself. I can do for myself as well as any soldier, with only the help of an ordinary groom or two, but they will not have it-”

“Your Companions shall have the best,” Igraine said, and went to give orders for food and wine to be served the strangers and all their retinue. Wine was brought for the guests, and Igraine poured it.

“How is it with you, my son?” Looking him over, he seemed ten years older than the slightly built boy who had been crowned last summer. He had grown, it seemed, half a hand’s span, and his shoulders were broader. There was a red seam on his face; it was already drawing cleanly together, God be praised ... well, no soldier could escape a wound or two.

“As you see, Mother, I have been fighting, but God has spared me,” he said. “And now I come here on a peaceful mission. But how is it with you here?”

She smiled. “Oh, nothing happens here,” she said. “But I had word from Avalon that Morgaine had left the Island. Is she at your court?”

He shook his head. “Why, no, Mother, I’ve hardly a court worth the name,” he said. “Cai keeps my castle-I had to force it on him, he’d rather ride with me to war, but I bade him stay and keep my house secure. And two or three of Father’s old knights, too old to ride, are there with their wives and youngest sons. Morgaine’s at the court of Lot-Gawaine told me as much when his brother came south to fight in my armies, young Agravaine. He said Morgaine had come to attend on his mother; he’d only seen her a time or two, but she was well and seemed in good spirits; she plays on the harp for Morgause, and keeps the keys of her spice cupboard. I gather Agravaine was quite charmed with her.” A look of pain passed over his face, and Igraine wondered at it but said nothing.

“God be thanked that Morgaine is safe among kindred. I have been frightened for her.” This was not the time, certainly not with churchmen present, to inquire whether Morgaine had borne a child. “When did Agravaine come south?”

“It was early in the fall, was it not, Lord Merlin?”

“I believe it was.”

Then Agravaine would have known nothing; she herself had seen Morgaine and never guessed. If indeed it had been so with Morgaine, and not a fantasy born of her own imaginings.

“Well, Mother, I came to speak of women’s affairs, at that-it seems I should be married. I have no heir but Gawaine-”

“I like not that,” Igraine said. “Lot has been waiting for that all these many years. Don’t trust his son behind you.”

Arthur’s eyes blazed with anger. “Even you shall not speak so of my cousin Gawaine, Mother! He is my sworn Companion, and I love him as the brother I never had, even as I love Lancelet! If Gawaine wished for my throne, he need only have relaxed his vigilance for five minutes, and I would have a split neck, not this slash on my face, and Gawaine would be High King! I would trust him with life and honor!”

Igraine was amazed at his vehemence. “Then I am glad you have so loyal and trusty a follower, my son.” She added, with a caustic smile, “That must be a grief indeed to Lot, that his sons love you so well!”

“I know not what I have done that they should wish me so well, but they do, for which I consider myself blessed.”

“Aye,” Taliesin said, “Gawaine will be staunch and loyal to death, Arthur, and beyond if God wills.”

The Archbishop said austerely, “Man cannot presume to know God’s will-”

Taliesin ignored him and said, “More trusty even than Lancelet, Arthur, though it grieves me to say so.”

Arthur smiled, and Igraine thought, with a pang at heart, he has all of Uther’s charm, he too can inspire great loyalty in his followers! How like his father he is! Arthur said, “Come, I will chide even you, Lord Merlin, if you speak so of my dearest friend. Lancelet too I would trust with my life and my honor.”

Merlin said, with a sigh, “Oh, yes, with your life you may trust him, I am sure. ... I am not sure he will not break in the final test, but certainly he loves you well and would guard your life beyond his own.”

Patricius said, “Certainly Gawaine is a good Christian, but I am not so sure about Lancelet. A time will come, I trust, when all these folk who call themselves Christian and are not may be revealed as the demon worshippers they are in truth. Whosoever will not accept the authority of Holy Church about the will of God are even as Christ says-’Ye who are not for me are against me.’ Yet all over Britain there are those who are little better than pagans. In Tara I dealt with these, when I lighted the Paschal fires for Easter on one of their unholy hills, and the king’s Druids could not stand against me. Yet even in the hallowed Isle of Glastonbury, where the sainted Joseph of Arimathea walked, I find the very priests worshipping a sacred well! This is heathendom! I will close it if I must appeal to the Bishop of Rome himself!”

Arthur smiled and said, “I cannot imagine that the Bishop of Rome would have the slightest idea what is going on in Britain.”

Taliesin said gently, “Father Patricius, you would do a great disservice to the people of this land if you close their sacred well. It is a gift from God-”

“It is a part of pagan worship.” The eyes of the Archbishop glowed with the austere fire of the fanatic.

“It comes from God,” the old Druid insisted, “because there is nothing in this universe which does not come from God, and simple people need simple signs and symbols. If they worship God in the waters which flow from his bounty, how is that evil?”

“God cannot be worshipped in symbols which are made by man-”

“There you are in total agreement with me, my brother,” said the Merlin, “for a part of the Druid wisdom lies in the saying that God, who is beyond all, cannot be worshipped in any dwelling made by human hands, but only under his own sky. And yet you build churches and deck them richly with gold and silver. Wherefore, then, is the evil in drinking from the sacred springs which God has made and blessed with vision and healing?”

“The Devil gives you your knowledge of such things,” Patricius said sternly, and Taliesin laughed.

“Ah, but God makes doubts and the Devil too, and in the end of time they will all come to him and obey his will.”

Arthur interrupted, before Patricius could answer, “Good fathers, we came here not to argue theology!”

“True,” said Igraine, relieved. “We were speaking of Gawaine, and Morgause’s other son-Agravaine, is it? And of your marriage.”

“Pity,” Arthur said, “that since Lot’s sons love me well, and Lot-I doubt it not-is eager to have his household heir with me to the High Kingship, that Morgause has not a daughter, so that I could be his son-in-law and he would know that his daughter’s son was my heir.”

“That would suit well,” Taliesin said, “for you are both of the royal line of Avalon.”

Patricius frowned. “Is not Morgause your mother’s sister, my lord Arthur? To wed with her daughter would be little better than bedding your own sister!”

Arthur looked troubled. Igraine said, “I agree; even if Morgause had a daughter, it is not even to be thought of.”

Arthur said, plaintively, “I should find it easy to be fond of a sister of Gawaine. The idea of marrying a stranger doesn’t please me all that much, and I wouldn’t think the girl would be pleased either!”

“It happens to every woman,” Igraine said, and was surprised to hear herself-was she still bitter over what was so long past? “Marriages must be arranged by those with wiser heads than any young maiden could have.”

Arthur sighed. He said, “King Leodegranz has offered me his daughter -I forget her name-and has offered, too, that her dowry shall be a hundred of his best men, all armed and-hear this, Mother-each with the good horses he breeds, so that Lancelet may train them. This was one of the secrets of the Caesars, that their best cohorts fought on horseback; before them, none but the Scythians ever used horses except to move supplies and sometimes for riders to send messages. If I had four hundred men who could fight as cavalry-well, Mother, I could drive the Saxons back to their shores yelping like their own hounds!”

Igraine laughed. “That hardly seems reason to marry, my son. Horses can be bought, and men hired.”

“But,” Arthur said, “Leodegranz is of no mind to sell. I think he has it in his mind that in return for this dowry-and it is a kingly dowry, doubt not-he would like it well to be bound by kinship’s ties to the High King. Not that he is the only one, but he has offered more than any other will offer.

“What I wished to ask you, Mother-I am unwilling to send any ordinary messenger to tell the king that I’ll take his daughter and he should bundle her up like a package and send her to my court. Would you go and give my answer to the king, and escort her to my court?”

Igraine started to nod her agreement, then remembered that she had taken vows in this place. “Can you not send one of your trusty men, Gawaine or Lancelet?”

“Gawaine is a wencher. I am not so sure I want him within reach of my bride,” Arthur said, laughing. “Let it be Lancelet.”

The Merlin said somberly, “Igraine, I feel you should go.”

“Why, Grandfather,” Arthur said, “has Lancelet such charms that you fear my bride will love him instead?”

Taliesin sighed. Igraine said quickly, “I will go, if the abbess of this place gives me leave.” The Mother Superior, she thought, could not refuse her leave to attend her son’s wedding. And she realized that after years of being a queen, it was not easy to sit quietly behind walls and await tidings of the great events moving in the land. That was, perhaps, every woman’s lot, but she would avoid it as long as she could.


Gwenhwyfar felt the familiar nausea gripping the pit of her stomach; she began to wonder if before they set forth she would have to run at once to the privy. What would she do if the need came on her after she had mounted and ridden out? She looked at Igraine, who stood tall and composed, rather like the Mother Superior of her old convent. Igraine had seemed kind and motherly on that first visit, a year ago, when the marriage had been arranged. Now, come to escort Gwenhwyfar to her bridal, she seemed stern and demanding, with no trace of the terror that gripped at Gwenhwyfar. How could she be so calm? Gwenhwyfar ventured, in a small voice, peering at the waiting horses and litter, “Aren’t you afraid? It’s so far-”

“Afraid? Why, no,” said Igraine, “I have been to Caerleon many times, and it’s not likely the Saxons are on the road to war this time. Travelling in winter is troublesome, with mud and rain, but better that than fall into the hands of the barbarians.”

Gwenhwyfar felt the shock and shame gripping her, and clenched her fists, looking down at her sturdy, ugly travelling shoes.

Igraine reached out and took her hand, smoothing the small fingers. “I had forgotten, you have never been from home before, except to and from your convent. You were in Glastonbury, were you not?”

Gwenhwyfar nodded. “I wish I were going back there-”

She felt Igraine’s sharp eyes on her for a moment, and quailed; perhaps the lady would know she was unhappy at marrying her son, and come to dislike her ... but Igraine only said, holding her hand firmly, “I was not happy when I went first to be wedded to the Duke of Cornwall, I was not happy until I held my daughter in my arms. But I had scarce completed my fifteenth year; you are almost eighteen, are you not?”

Clinging to Igraine’s hand, Gwenhwyfar felt a little less panic; but even so, as she stepped outside the gate, it seemed that the sky overhead was a vast menace, threatening, low, filled with rainclouds. The path before the house was a sea of mud where the horses had been trampling. Now they were being drawn up into riding order with more men, it seemed to Gwenhwyfar, than she had ever seen together in her life, shouting and calling to each other, the horses neighing and the yard full of confusion. But Igraine held her hand tightly and Gwenhwyfar, shrinking, followed her.

“I am grateful that you came to escort me, lady-”

Igraine smiled. “I am all too worldly-I like a chance to travel beyond convent walls.” She made a long step to avoid a pile of horse dung which steamed in the mud. “Mind your step, there, child-look, your father has set aside these two fine ponies for us. Do you like riding?”

Gwenhwyfar shook her head, and whispered, “I thought I could ride in a litter-”

“Why, so you can, if you wish,” Igraine said, looking at her wonderingly, “but you will grow very weary of it, I should think. When my sister Viviane went on her travels, she used to wear men’s breeches. I should have found you a pair, though at my age it would hardly be seemly.”

Gwenhwyfar blushed scarlet. “I couldn’t,” she said, shaking, “it’s forbidden for a woman to put on the clothes of a man, so it says in Holy Writ-”

Igraine chuckled. “The Apostle seemed to know little of the North country. It is hot where he lived,” she said, “and I have heard that the men in that country where our Lord lived knew nothing of breeches, but wore long gowns as some Roman men did and do still. I think it meant only that women were not to wear the garb of some particular man, not that they were not to wear clothing fashioned in a man’s style. And certainly my sister Viviane is the most modest of women; she is a priestess of Avalon.” Gwenhwyfar’s eyes were wide. “Is she a witch, madam?”

“No, no, she is a wise-woman, learned in herbs and medicines, and having the Sight, but she has sworn a vow never to hurt man nor beast. She does not even eat flesh food,” Igraine said. “She lives as austerely as any abbess. Look,” she said, and pointed, “there is Lancelet, Arthur’s chief Companion. He has come to escort us, and to bring back the horses and men-” Gwenhwyfar smiled, feeling a blush spread to her cheeks. She said, “I know Lancelet, he came to show my father what he could do with the horses.”

Igraine said, “Aye; he rides like one of those centaurs the ancients used to speak of, half horse and half man!”

Lancelet swung down from his horse. His cheeks were as crimson with the cold as the Roman cloak he wore; the collar was turned high around his face. He bowed to the ladies.

“Madam,” he said to Igraine, “are you ready to ride?”

“I think so. The princess’s luggage is already loaded on that cart, I think,” Igraine said, looking at the bulky wagon loaded high and covered with skins: a bed frame and furnishings, a great carved chest, a large and a small loom, pots and kettles.

“Aye. I hope it does not get mired in all this mud,” Lancelet said, looking at the yoke of oxen hauling it. “It is not that wagon I am worried about, but the other-the king’s wedding gift to Arthur,” he added, without enthusiasm, looking at the second, much larger cart. “I would have thought it better to have a table built for the King’s house in Caerleon, if Uther had not left tables and furniture enough-not that I begrudge my lady her bride furniture,” he added, with a quick smile at Gwenhwyfar that made her cheeks glow, “but a table, as if my Lord Arthur had not enough furniture for his hall?”

“Ah, but that table is one of my father’s treasures,” said Gwenhwyfar. “It was a prize of war from one of the kings of Tara, where my grandsire fought him and carried off his best mead-hall table ... it is round, you see, so a bard can sit at the center to sing to them, or the servants pass round to pour wine or beer. And when he entertained his fellow kings he need not set one higher than another ... so my father thought it fitting for a High King, who must also seat his well-born Companions without preferring one above the other.”

“It is truly a king’s gift,” Lancelet said politely, “but it takes three yoke of oxen to haul it, lady, and God alone knows how many joiners and carpenters to put it together again when we have come there, so that instead of travelling at the pace of a company of horse we must plod along at the pace of the slowest ox. Ah well, the wedding cannot begin until you get there, my lady.” He cocked up his head, listened and shouted, “I will come in a minute, man! I cannot be everywhere at once!” He bowed. “Ladies, I must get this army moving! Can I help you to your horses?”

“I think Gwenhwyfar wants to travel in the litter,” said Igraine.

Lancelet said, with a smile, “Why, it is as if the sun went behind a cloud then-but you do as you will, lady. I hope you will shine out on us again another day perhaps.”

Gwenhwyfar felt pleasantly embarrassed, as she always did when Lancelet made his pretty speeches. She never knew whether he was serious or whether he was teasing her. Suddenly, as he rode away, she felt afraid again. The horses towering around her, the hordes of men coming and going -it was as if they really were the army Lancelet had called them, and she no more than an unregarded piece of luggage, almost a prize of war. Silent, she let Igraine help her into the litter, which was covered with cushions and a fur rug, and she curled up in a corner of it.

“Shall I leave the curtains of the litter open so we can have some light and air?” Igraine asked, settling herself comfortably in the cushions.

“No!” said Gwenhwyfar in a choking voice. “I-I feel better with them closed.”

With a shrug, Igraine closed the curtains. She looked out through a crack, watching the first of the horsemen ride out, the wagons swing into line. A kingly dowry, indeed, all these men. Armed horsemen, with weapons and gear, to be added to Arthur’s armies-it was almost like what she had heard of a Roman legion.

Gwenhwyfar’s head was on the pillows, her face white, her eyes shut.

“Are you sick?” Igraine asked in wonder.

Gwenhwyfar shook her head. “It’s just-so big-” she said. “I’m- I m afraid,” she whispered.

“Afraid? But my dear child-” Igraine broke off, and after a moment said, “Well, you’ll feel better soon.”

Gwenhwyfar, her arms crossed over her eyes, hardly knew it when the litter began moving; she had willed herself into a state of half-sleep in which she could hold the panic at bay. Where was she going, under that huge all-covering sky, over the wide moors and through so many hills? The knot of panic in her belly pulled tighter and tighter. All round her she heard the sounds of horses and men, an army on the march. She was merely part of the furniture of the horses and men and their gear and a mead table. She was only a bride with all that properly belonged to her, clothes and gowns and jewels and a loom and a kettle and some combs and hackles for spinning flax. She was not herself, there was nothing for herself, she was only some property of a High King who had not even bothered to come and see the woman they were sending along with all the horses and gear. She was another mare, a brood mare this time for the High King’s stud service, hopefully to provide a royal son.

Gwenhwyfar thought she would smother with the rage that was choking her. But no, she must not be angry, it was not seemly to be angry; the Mother Superior had told her in the convent that it was a woman’s proper business to be married and bear children. She had wanted to be a nun and stay in the convent and learn to read and make beautiful letters with 1 her clever pen and brush, but that was not suitable for a princess; she must obey her father’s will as if it were the will of God. Women had to be’ especially careful to do the will of God because it was through a woman I that mankind had fallen into Original Sin, and every woman must be aware 1 that it was her work to atone for that Original Sin in Eden. No woman could ever be really good except for Mary the Mother of Christ; all other women were evil, they had never had any chance to be anything but evil. This was her punishment for being like Eve, sinful, filled with rage and rebellion against the will of God. She whispered a prayer and willed herself into semiconsciousness again.

Igraine, resigning herself to riding behind closed curtains although| craving fresh air, wondered what in the world was wrong with the girl. She had not said a word against the marriage-well, she, Igraine, had not rebelled against her marriage to Gorlois, either; remembering the angry and terrified child she had been, she sympathized with Gwenhwyfar. But, why should the girl huddle behind curtains instead of going with her head up to meet her new life? What was she afraid of? Did Arthur seem such monster? It was not as if she were marrying an old man, three times her age; Arthur was young, quite ready to give her honor and respect.

They slept that night in a tent pitched on a carefully chosen dry spot listening to the winds and the rain moaning and pelting down. Igraine wok once in the night to hear Gwenhwyfar whimper.

“What is the matter, child? Are you sick?”

“No-lady, do you think Arthur will like me?”

“There is no reason he should not,” Igraine said gently. “You certainly know you are beautiful.”

“Am I?” In her soft voice, it sounded only naive, not the self-conscious or coy plea for compliment or reassurance that it would have been in another. “Lady Alienor said my nose was too big, and that I had freckles like a cowherd.”

“Lady Alienor-” Igraine reminded herself to be charitable; Alienor was not much older than Gwenhwyfar, and had borne four children in six years. “I think perhaps she is a little shortsighted. You are lovely indeed. You have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen.”

“I don’t think Arthur cares for beauty,” Gwenhwyfar said. “He did not even send to inquire if I were cross-eyed or one-legged or had a squint or a harelip.”

“Gwenhwyfar,” said Igraine gently, “every woman is wedded for her dowry, but a High King, too, must marry as his councillors bid him. Do you not think he is lying wakeful of nights, wondering what fortune the lottery has cast him, and that he will not greet you with gratitude and joy because you bring him beauty and good temper and learning as well? He was resigned to taking whatever he must, but he will be all the happier when he discovers that you are not-what was it?-harelipped or pockmarked or cross-eyed. He is young, and has not much experience with women. And Lancelet, I am sure, has told him that you are beautiful and virtuous.”

Gwenhwyfar let out her breath. “Lancelet is Arthur’s cousin, is he not?”

“True. He is son to Ban of Benwick by my sister, who is the Great Priestess of Avalon. He was born in the Great Marriage-know you anything of that? In Less Britain, some of the people call for the old pagan rites,” Igraine said. “Even Uther, when he was made High King, was taken to Dragon Island and crowned by the old rites there, though they did not demand of him that he marry the land; in Britain, that is done by the Merlin, so that he is sacrifice for the King if need be ... .”

Gwenhwyfar said, “I did not know these old pagan rites were still known in Britain. Was-was Arthur crowned so?”

“If he was,” said Igraine, “he has not told me. Perhaps by now things have changed, and he is content that the Merlin should be only his chiefest of councillors.”

“Do you know the Merlin, lady?”

“He is my father.”

“Is it so?” Gwenhwyfar stared at her in the dark. “Lady, is it true that when Uther Pendragon came to you before you were wedded to him, he came to you by the Merlin’s arts in the magical disguise of Gorlois, so that you lay with him thinking he was Duke of Cornwall and you still a chaste and faithful wife?”

Igraine blinked; she had heard rumors of tales that she had borne Uther’s son with unseemly haste, but this story she had never heard. “They say that?”

“Sometimes, lady. There are bards’ tales about it.”

“Well, it is not true,” said Igraine. “He wore Gorlois’s cloak and bore Gorlois’s ring which he had taken when they fought-Gorlois was traitor to his High King and his life forfeit. But whatever tales they tell, I knew perfectly well that it was Uther and no other.” Her throat closed; even now, it seemed only as if Uther were still alive somewhere, away on campaign.

“You loved Uther? It was not, then, the Merlin’s magic?”

“No,” Igraine said, “I loved him well, though I think at first he chose to marry me because I was of the old royal line of Avalon. And so, you see, a marriage made for the good of the kingdom can come to be happy. I loved Uther; I could wish just such good fortune for you, that you and my son may come to love one another that way.”

“I hope that too.” Gwenhwyfar clutched again at Igraine’s hand. To Igraine the fingers felt small and soft, easily crushed, unlike her own strong, competent ones. This was not a hand for tending babes or wounded men, but for fine needlework or prayer. Leodegranz should have left this child in her convent, and Arthur sought elsewhere for a bride. Things would go as God had ordained; she was sorry for Gwenhwyfar’s fright, but she was also sorry for Arthur, with a bride so childish and unwilling.

Yet, she herself had been no better when she was sent to Gorlois; perhaps the girl’s strength would grow with the years.

With the first rays of the sun the camp was astir, making ready for the day’s march that would bring them to Caerleon. Gwenhwyfar looked white and weak and when she tried to get up, she turned on her side and retched. For a moment Igraine entertained an uncharitable suspicion, then put it aside; the girl, cloistered and timid, was ill with fright, no more. She said briskly, “I told you the closed litter would make you queasy. Today you must get on your horse and take the fresh air, or we shall have you coming to your bridal with pale cheeks instead of roses.” She added to herself, And if I must ride behind closed curtains for another day I shall certainly go mad; that would be a wedding to remember indeed, with a bride sick and pale, and the mother of the bridegroom raving. “Come, if you will get up and ride, Lancelet shall ride with you, to gossip with you and cheer you.”

Gwenhwyfar braided her hair, and even gave some thought to the arranging of her veil; she ate little, but she did sip a little barley beer and put a bit of bread in her pocket, saying that she would eat it later, as she rode.

Lancelet had been out and about since first light. When Igraine suggested, “You must ride with my lady. She is moping, she has never been from home before,” his eyes lighted up and he smiled. “It will be my pleasure, madam.”

Igraine rode alone behind the young people, glad of the solitude for her own thoughts. How handsome they were-Lancelet so dark and spirited and Gwenhwyfar all golden and white. Arthur was fair, too, their children would be dazzling. She realized with some surprise that she was looking forward to being a grandmother. It would be pleasant to have little children about, to pet them and play with them, but children who were not her own, over whom she need not worry and fret and trouble herself. She rode in a pleasant daydream; she had grown used to daydreaming a great deal in the convent. Looking ahead to the young people riding side by side, she saw that the girl sat her horse upright and had some color in her face and was smiling. Igraine had done right, to get her out into the air.

And then she saw how they were looking at each other.

Dear God! Uther looked so at me when I was Gorlois’s wife-as if he were starving and I were food high out of his reach ... . What can possibly come of it if they love one another? Lancelet is honorable, and Gwenhwyfar, I would swear, virtuous, so what can possibly come of it except misery? Then she reproved herself for her suspicions; they were riding at a decent distance from one another, they did not seek to touch hands, they were smiling because they were young and it was a fair day; Gwenhwyfar rode to her wedding, and Lancelet brought horses and men to his king, his cousin, and friend. Why should they not be happy and talk with one another gaily and joyously? I am an evil-minded old woman. But she still felt troubled.

What will come of this? Dear God, would it be traitorous to you to pray for a moment of the Sight? And then she wondered-was there yet any honorable way for Arthur to get out of this marriage? For the High King to wed a woman whose heart was already given, that would be a tragedy. Britain was filled with maidens ready to love him and wed him. But the dowry price was paid, the bride had left her father’s house, the subject kings and liegemen were assembling to see their young King married.

Igraine resolved to speak to the Merlin. As Arthur’s chiefest councillor, perhaps he could yet prevent this marriage-but could even he prevent it without war and ruin? It would be a pity, too, for Gwenhwyfar to be publicly rejected like this, in the presence of all Britain. No, it was too late, the wedding must take place as it was fated. Igraine sighed and rode on, her head lowered and all the beauty gone from the bright day. She told herself, angrily, that all her doubts and fears were meaningless, an idle old woman’s imaginings; or that all of these fantasies were sent of the Devil to tempt her into using the Sight she had renounced, and becoming again a tool of wickedness and sorcery.

Yet as she rode, her eyes kept returning to Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet, and to the almost visible haze that seemed to hover between them, an aura of hunger and desire and longing.

They arrived at Caerleon shortly before sunset. The castle stood on a hill, the site of an old Roman fort, and some of the old Roman stonework was still in place-it looked, Igraine thought, very much as it must have looked in Roman days. For a moment, seeing the slopes covered with tents and people, she wondered dizzily if the place were under siege, but then she realized that all these folk must have come to see the High King married. Seeing the crowd, Gwenhwyfar had turned pale and terrified again; Lancelet was trying to arrange the long draggled column into some vestige of dignity, and Gwenhwyfar put her veil down over her face and rode silent by Igraine.

“It is a pity they must all see you worn and travel-weary,” Igraine agreed, “but look, there is Arthur, come out to meet us.”

The girl was so weary she hardly raised her head. Arthur, in a long blue tunic, his sword in its preciously worked crimson scabbard swinging at his side, had stopped to speak for a moment to Lancelet, at the head of the column; then, die crowding men and riders separating as he walked through them, he came toward Igraine and Gwenhwyfar.

He bowed to his mother. “Had you a good journey, madam?” But he had raised his eyes to Gwenhwyfar, and Igraine saw his eyes widen at her beauty, and could almost read the younger girl’s thoughts.

Yes, I am beautiful, Lancelet thinks me beautiful, will my lord Arthur be pleased with me?

Arthur held out his hand to support her as she dismounted; she tottered a little, and he stretched out both arms to her.

“My lady and wife, welcome to your home and to my house. May you be happy here, and may this day be as joyous for you as for me.”

Gwenhwyfar felt the crimson rising in her cheeks. Yes, Arthur was handsome, she told herself fiercely, with that fair hair and the serious, level grey eyes. How different he seemed from Lancelet’s madcap gaiety and mischief! And how differently he looked at her-Lancelet looked at her as if she were the statue of the Virgin on the altar at church, but Arthur was looking at her soberly, tentatively, as if she were a stranger and he was not yet sure whether friend or foe.

She said, “I thank you, my husband and my lord. As you can see, I have brought you the promised dowry of men and horses-”

“How many horses?” he asked quickly. Gwenhwyfar was confused. What did she know about his precious horses? Did he have to make it so clear that it was the horses and not herself which he awaited in this wedding business? She drew herself to her full height-she was taller than some men, and for a woman she was a good height-and said with dignity, “I do not know, my lord Arthur, I have not counted them. You must ask your captain of horse. I am sure the lord Lancelet could tell you their number, to the last mare and the last foal at suck.”

Oh, good girl, Igraine thought, seeing the color rise in Arthur’s pale cheeks at the reproof. He smiled, ruefully. “Forgive me, my lady, no one expects of you that you should concern yourself with such things. I am sure Lancelet will tell me all of this at the proper time. I was thinking, also, of the men who came with you-it seems fit that I should welcome them as my new subjects, as well as welcoming their lady and my queen.” For a moment he looked almost as young as he was. He looked around at the milling crowd of men, horses, carts, oxen, and drovers, and spread his hands helplessly. “In all this hullabaloo, I doubt they could hear me anyway. Allow me to conduct you to the castle gates.” He took her hand and led her along the path, searching for the driest places. “I am afraid this is a dismal old place. It was my father’s stronghold, but I never lived here after I was old enough to remember. Perhaps some year, if the Saxons let us alone for a time, we can find some place better suited for our home, but for the moment this must suit.”

As he led her through the gates Gwenhwyfar reached out and touched the wall. It was thick, secure Roman stone, piled high and standing as if it had been there since the beginning of the world; here all was safe. She ran her finger almost lovingly along the wall. “I think it is beautiful. I am sure it will be safe-I mean, I am sure I will be happy here.”

“I hope so, lady-Gwenhwyfar,” he said, using her name for the first time, speaking it with a strange accent. She wondered suddenly where he had been reared. “I am very young to be in charge of all these-all these men and kingdoms. I will be glad to have a helpmeet.” She heard his voice tremble as if he were afraid-but what in the world could a man have to be afraid of? “My uncle by marriage-Lot, King of Orkney-he is married to my mother’s sister, Morgause, and Lot has said that his wife rules as well as he, when he is absent in war or council. I am willing to do you such honor, lady, and let you rule at my side.”

Panic clutched again at Gwenhwyfar’s stomach. How could he expect that of her? How could it be a woman’s place to rule? What did she care what the wild barbarians, these northern Tribesmen, did, or their barbarian women? She said, in a shaky little voice, “I could never presume so far, my lord and my king.”

Igraine said firmly, “Arthur, my son, what are you thinking of? The girl has been riding for two days and she is exhausted! This is no time to plot the strategy of kingdoms, with the mud of the road still on our shoes! I beg you, turn us over to your chamberlains, and there will be time enough to acquaint yourself with your bride tomorrow!”

Arthur’s skin, Gwenhwyfar thought, was fairer than her own; this was the second time she had seen him blush like a scolded child. “I am sorry, Mother; and you, my lady.” He raised his arm, signalling, and a dark, slender young man, with a scarred face and a pronounced limp, came unevenly toward them.

“My foster-brother, Cai, and my chamberlain,” Arthur said. “Cai, this is Gwenhwyfar, my lady and queen.”

Cai bowed to her, with a smile. “I am at your service.”

“As you can see,” Arthur said, “my lady has brought her furniture and belongings. Lady, I welcome you to your own house. Give Cai whatever orders seem good to you, about where to bestow your things. For now, I beg you give me leave to go; I must see to the men and horses and gear.” He bowed low again, and it seemed to Gwenhwyfar that she could see relief on his face. She wondered if he was disappointed in her, or whether his only interest in this marriage was really in the dowry of horses and men, as she had thought. Well, she had been prepared for that; but still, some welcome for her personally would have been pleasant. She realized that the dark, scarred young man he called Cai was waiting expectantly for her word. He was gentle and deferential-she need not be afraid of him.

She sighed, reaching out again to touch the strong walls around her as if for reassurance and to steady her voice, so that when she spoke she would sound like a queen. “In the greatest of carts, sir Cai, there is an Irish mead-hall table. It is my father’s wedding gift to my lord Arthur. It is a prize of war, and very old and very valuable. See to it that it is assembled in Arthur’s largest feasting hall. But before that, please see to it that a room is made ready for my lady Igraine, and someone to wait on her tonight.” Distantly she was surprised-she thought to herself that she sounded quite like a queen. Nor did Cai sound at all reluctant to accept her as one. He bowed very low, and said, “It shall be done at once, my lady and queen.”


All through the night, groups of travellers had been assembling before the castle; it was barely daylight when Gwenhwyfar looked out to see the whole slope of the hill, leading up to the castle, covered with horses and tents and with crowds of men and women.

“It looks like a festival,” she said to Igraine, who had shared her bed on this last night of her maidenhood, and the older woman smiled.

“When the High King takes a wife, child, that is as much a festival as anything happening in this island. Look, those men are the followers of Lot of Orkney.” She thought, but did not say aloud, Perhaps Morgaine will be with them. As a young woman she had voiced every thought that crossed her mind, but no longer.

How strange it was, Igraine thought; all through the childbearing years, a woman is taught to think first and only of her sons. If she thinks of her daughters at all, it is only that when they are grown, they will go forth into the hands of another, they are being reared for another family. Was it only that Morgaine had been her firstborn, always closest to her heart? Arthur had returned physically after his long absence, but as all men do, he had grown so far from her that there was no longer any way to reach across that distance. But to Morgaine-she had discovered this at Arthur’s crowning-she was bound with a tie of the soul which would never break. Was it only that Morgaine had shared her own heritage of Avalon? Was this why every priestess longed to bear a daughter, who would follow in her footsteps and never be lost to her?

“There are so many people,” Gwenhwyfar said. “I did not know there were so many people in all of Britain.”

“And you to be High Queen over them all-it is frightening, I know,” said Igraine. “I felt so when I was married to Uther.”

And for a moment it seemed to her that Arthur had chosen ill in his queen. Gwenhwyfar had beauty, yes, and good temper, and learning, but a queen must be able to take her place at the forefront of the court. Perhaps Gwenhwyfar was all too shy and retiring.

When you put it into the simplest terms, the queen was the king’s lady; not only his hostess and keeper of his house-any chamberlain or housekeeper could do that-but, like the priestess of Avalon, a symbol of all the realities of life, a reminder that life was more than fighting and war and dominion. A king, when all was said and done, fought for the protection of those who were unable to fight for themselves, the childbearing women and little children and old people, aged men and grandmothers. Among the Tribes, indeed, the stronger women had fought at the side of the men-there had been, of old, a battle-college kept by women-but from the beginning of civilization it had been the work of men to hunt for food and to keep off invaders from the hearth-fire where their pregnant women and little children and old folk were sheltered; and the work of women to keep that hearth safe for them. As the King was joined to the High Priestess in the symbolic marriage to the land in token that he would bring strength to his kingdom, so the Queen, in a similar joining to the King, created a symbol of the central strength behind all the armies and the wars-the home and the center for which the men rallied their strength ... . Igraine shook her head impatiently. All this of symbols and inner truths was fit, perhaps, for a priestess of Avalon, but she, Igraine, had been queen enough without any such thoughts, and there would be time enough for Gwenhwyfar to think of these things when she was an old woman and no longer needed them! In these civilized days, a queen was not a priestess over villagers tending their barley fields, any more than a king was the great hunter who ranged among the deer!

“Come, Gwenhwyfar, Cai left serving-women to wait on you, but as your husband’s mother it is suitable that I should dress you for your wedding, since your own mother cannot be here to make you ready on this day.”

The younger woman looked like an angel when she was clothed; her fine hair floated like spun gold in the sunlight, almost dimming the radiance of the golden garland she had put on. Her dress was of a white woven stuff, as fine as spiderweb; Gwenhwyfar told Igraine, with shy pride, that the fabric had been brought from a far country, further even than Rome, and was more costly than gold. Her father had gotten a length for the altar stone of their church and a little piece to hold a holy relic, and he had given her a piece, too, of which she had made her wedding gown. There was more for a holiday tunic for Arthur-it was her own wedding gift to him.

Lancelet came to conduct them to the early mass which would precede the wedding; afterward all the day could be given to feasting and revelry. He was resplendent in the crimson cloak he had worn before, but he was dressed for riding.

“Do you go from us, Lancelet?”

“No,” he said soberly, but he was looking only at Gwenhwyfar. “As one of the entertainments of this day, the new horsemen-and Arthur’s cavalry-will display what they can do: I am one of the horsemen who will show you these games this afternoon. Arthur feels it is time to make his plans known to his people.”

And again Igraine saw that hopeless, transfixed look in his eyes when he looked on Gwenhwyfar, and the brilliance of the girl’s smile as she looked up to him. She could not hear now what they were saying to each other -she had no doubt it was innocent enough. But they needed no words. Igraine felt again the despairing awareness that this would come to no good, but only to misery.

They walked down through the corridors, joined as they went by serving-people, noblemen, all those clustering to the early mass. On the steps of the chapel they were joined by two young men who wore, like Lancelet himself, long black feathers in their caps; Cai, she recalled, had worn one too. Was it some badge of Arthur’s Companions?

Lancelet asked, “Where is Cai, brother? Should he not be here to escort my lady to the church?”

One of the newcomers, a big, sturdy man who, Gwenhwyfar thought, had nevertheless a look of Lancelet, said, “Cai, and Gawaine too, are dressing Arthur for his wedding. Indeed, I had thought you would be among them, you three are like brothers to Arthur. He sent me to take their place, as the lady Igraine’s kinsman-madam,” he said to Igraine, bowing, “can it be that you do not recognize me? I am the son of the Lady of the Lake. My name is Balan, and this is our foster-brother Balin.”

Gwenhwyfar nodded courteously to them. She thought: Can this big, coarse Balan truly be Lancelot’s brother? It is as if a bull should call himself brother to the finest of southern stallions! Balin, his foster-brother, was short and red-faced, with hair as yellow as a Saxon’s, and bearded like a Saxon too. She said, “Lancelet, if it is your will to be with my lord and king-”

“I think you ought to go to him, Lancelet,” said Balan with a laugh. “Like all men about to wed, Arthur is mad with nervousness. Our lord may fight like Pendragon himself on the field of battle, but this morning when he is being readied for his bride, he seems no more than the boy he is!”

Poor Arthur, thought Gwenhwyfar, this marriage is more of an ordeal for him than for me-at least I have nothing to do but obey the will of my father and king! A ripple of amusement went over her, quickly stifled; poor Arthur, he would have had to take her for the good of his kingdom, even if she really had been old or ugly or pockmarked. It was just another of his painful duties, like leading his men into battle against the Saxons. At least he knew what he could expect of the Saxons! She said gently, “My lord Lancelet, would you rather be at my lord Arthur’s side?”

His eyes told her clearly that he did not want to leave her; she had become, in only a day or two, adept at reading those messages unspoken. She had never exchanged with Lancelet one word that could not have been shouted aloud in the presence of Igraine and her father and all the bishops of Britain assembled. But for the first time he seemed torn by conflicting desires.

“The last thing I wish is to leave your side, madam, but Arthur is my friend and my cousin-”

“God forbid that I should ever come between you kinsman,” she said, and held out her small hand to him to kiss. “By this marriage you are my loyal kinsman too, and my cousin. Go to my lord the king and tell him-” She hesitated, startled at her own boldness; would it be seemly to say this? God help them all, within the hour she would be Arthur’s wife, what did it matter if it sounded overbold, when what she spoke were words of proper concern for her own lord? “Tell him I gladly return to him his most loyal captain, and that I await him with love and obedience, sir.”

Lancelet smiled. It seemed that smile stretched a string somewhere deep inside her, that she felt her own mouth moving with it. How could she feel so much a part of him? Her whole life seemed to have filtered down into the touch of his lips on her fingers. She swallowed, and suddenly she knew what it was she felt. In spite of her dutiful messages of love and obedience to Arthur, it seemed that she would sell her soul if time would only turn back and she could tell her father that she would marry no man but Lancelet. That was something as real as the sun around her and the grass under her feet, as real-she swallowed again-as real as Arthur, now being readied for the wedding, for which she must go to Holy Mass to prepare herself. Is it one of God’s cruel jokes that I did not know this was what I felt until it was too late? Or is this some wicked trick of the fend, to seduce me from my duty to my father and to my husband? She did not hear what Lancelet said; she was only conscious that his hand had released hers and that he had turned his back and was walking away. She hardly heard the polite words of those two foster-brothers, Balin and Balan-which of them was the son of the priestess of the Lake, then? Balan; Lancelet’s brother, but no more like him than a raven is like a great eagle.

She became aware that Igraine was speaking to her. “I leave you to the Companions, my dear. I wish to speak with the Merlin before the mass.”

Belatedly, it occurred to Gwenhwyfar that Igraine was awaiting her permission to go. Already her rank as High Queen was a reality. She hardly heard her own words to Igraine as the older woman withdrew.

Igraine crossed the courtyard, murmuring excuses to the people she jostled, trying to reach Taliesin through the crowd. Everyone was clad in bright festival clothing, but he wore his usual somber grey robes. “Father-”

“Igraine, child.” Taliesin looked down at her, and Igraine found it obscurely comforting that the old Druid spoke to her as he would have spoken to her when she was fourteen. “I had thought you would be in attendance upon our bride. How beautiful she is! Arthur has found himself a treasure. I have heard that she is clever, too, and learned, and also that she is pious, which will please the bishop.”

“Father,” Igraine appealed, lowering her voice so that no one in the crowd would hear, “I must ask you this-is there any honorable way for Arthur to avoid this marriage?”

Taliesin blinked in consternation. “No, I do not think so. Not when all is readied to join them together after the mass. God help us, have we all been deceived, is she barren, or unchaste, or-” The Merlin shook his head in dismay. “Unless she were secretly a leper, or actually with child by another man, there could be no way at all to stop it; and even then, no way without scandal or offense, or making an enemy of Leodegranz. Why do you ask, Igraine?”

“I believe her virtuous. But I have seen the way she looks at Lancelet and he at her. Can anything come of it but misery, when the bride is besotted with another, and that other the groom’s dearest friend?”

The Merlin looked at her sharply; his old eyes were as seeing as ever. “Oh, it is like that, is it? I have always thought our Lancelet had too much good looks and charm for his own welfare. Yet he is an honorable lad, after all; it may be nothing but youthful fancies, and when the bridal pair are wedded and bedded, they will forget it, or think of it only with a little sadness, as something that might have been.”

“In nine cases out of ten, I would say you were right,” Igraine said, “but you have not seen them, and I have.”

The Merlin sighed again. “Igraine, Igraine, I do not say you are wrong, but when all’s done, what can we do about it? Leodegranz would find it such an insult that he would go to war against Arthur, and Arthur has already enough to challenge his kingship-or have you not heard of yonder northern king who sent word to Arthur that he had skinned the beards of eleven kings to make himself a cloak, and Arthur should send him tribute or he would come and take Arthur’s beard too?”

“What did Arthur do?”

The Merlin said, “Why, he sent the older king word that as for his beard, it was scarce grown yet, and it would do him no good for his cloak; but that if he wanted it, he could come and try to take it, if he could find his way through the bodies of dead Saxons. And he sent him the head of one of the Saxons-he had just come back from a raiding party-and said its beard was better for lining a cloak than the beard of a friend at whose side he would rather be fighting. And finally he said he would send a fellow king a present, but he exacted no tribute from his friends, and paid none. So that all came to nothing; but as you can see, Arthur cannot afford more enemies, and Leodegranz would be a bad one. He’d better marry the girl, and I think I would say the same even if he’d found her in bed with Lancelet -which he hasn’t and isn’t likely to.”

Igraine discovered that she was twisting her hands together. “What shall we do?”

The Merlin touched her cheek, very lightly. “We will do what we have always done, Igraine-what we must, what the Gods order. We will do the best we can. We are none of us embarked on this course for our own happiness, my child. You, who were reared in Avalon, you know that. Whatever we may do to try and shape our destiny, the end is with the Gods -or, as the bishop would no doubt prefer me to say, with God. The older I grow, the more I become certain that it makes no difference what words we use to tell the same truths.”

“The Lady would not be pleased to hear you speak such words,” said a dark, thin-faced man behind him, in dark robes which could have been those of a priest or a Druid. Taliesin turned half round and smiled.

“Nevertheless, Viviane knows they are true, as I do ... . Igraine, I do not think you know our newest of chief bards-I have brought him hither to sing and play for Arthur’s wedding. Kevin, madam.”

Kevin bowed low. Igraine noticed that he walked leaning on a carven stick; his harp in its case was carried by a boy of twelve or thirteen. Many bards or harpers who were not Druids were blind or lamed-it was rare that any ablebodied lad would be given time and leisure to learn such arts, in these days of war-but usually the Druids chose among those who were sound of body as well as being keen of mind. It was rare for a man with any deformity to be allowed into the Druid teachings-it was felt that the Gods marked inner faults in this way. But it would have been inexcusably rude to speak of this; she could only imagine that his gifts were so great that he had been accepted in despite of all else.

He had diverted her mind from her purpose, but when she thought back, Taliesin was right. There was no way to stop this wedding without scandal and probably war. Inside the wattle-and-daub building that was the church, lights blazed and the bell had begun to ring. Igraine walked into the church. Taliesin knelt stiffly down; so did the boy carrying Kevin’s harp, but Kevin himself did not kneel-for a moment Igraine wondered if, not being a Christian, he was defying the services, as Uther had once seemed to do. Then she decided, seeing the awkwardness of his gait, that he probably had a stiff leg and could not bend the knee at all. She saw the bishop look his way, frowning.

“Listen to the words of Jesus Christ our Lord,” the bishop began. “Behold, where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I among ye, and whatsoever thing ye ask in my name, so it shall be done ... .”

Igraine knelt, drawing her veil around her face, but she was conscious, nevertheless, of Arthur, who had come into the church with Cai and Lancelet and Gawaine, wearing a fine white tunic and a blue cloak, with no ornament but the slender golden coronet of his crowning, and the crimson and jewels in the scabbard of his great sword. It seemed as if, without eyes, she could see Gwenhwyfar, in her fragile white gown, like Arthur all white and gold, kneeling between Balin and Balan. Lot, greying and thin, knelt between Morgause and one of his younger sons; and behind him-it was as if a harp had sounded some high, forbidden note through the chanting of the priest. She raised her head, cautiously, and tried to see, knowing who knelt there. The face and form of Morgaine were hidden behind Morgause.

Yet it seemed that she could sense her there, like a wrong note in the harmony of the sacred service. After all these years, was she reading thoughts again? In any case, what was a priestess of Avalon doing in the church? When Viviane had visited her and Uther in the years of their marriage, the priestess had either absented herself from divine service, or attended, listening and watching with the polite, grave attention she would have given to a child playing at a feast for her dolls. Yet now she could see Morgaine- she had changed, she was thinner, more beautiful, simply clad in a dress of fine dark wool, with a proper white coif around her head. She was not doing anything; she knelt with her head bent and her eyes lowered, the picture of respectful attention. Yet even the priest, it seemed, could sense the disruption and impatience emanating from her; he stopped twice and looked at her, although there was no way he could have accused her of doing anything that was not completely seemly and proper, and so after a moment he went on with the service.

But Igraine’s attention, too, had been distracted. She tried to keep her mind on the service, she murmured the proper responses, but she could not think about the priest’s words, nor of her son who was being married, nor of Gwenhwyfar who was, she could sense without seeing, looking around under the cover of her veil for Lancelet at Arthur’s side. Now she could think only of her daughter. When the service was over, and the wedding, she would see her, and know where she had gone and what had befallen her.

Then, raising her eyes just a moment, as the priest’s man was reading aloud the story of the wedding in Cana, she looked round at Arthur; and she saw that his eyes, too, were fixed on Morgaine.


Seated among Morgause’s ladies, Morgaine listened quietly to the services, her head bent and her face wearing a polite mask of respect. Inwardly she was all impatience. Such nonsense-as if a house built by the hands of man could be converted by the words of some priest into an abiding place for the Spirit which was not of man’s making at all. Her mind ran unruly. She was weary of Morgause’s court; now she was back in the mainstream of events, and it was as if she had been cast from a backwater of stagnant pond-water into the channel of a racing river. She felt alive again. Even at Avalon, quiet and secluded as it was, she had had the sense of being in touch with the flow of life; but among the women of Morgause she felt she was idle, stagnant, useless. Now she was moving once more, whereas since the birth of her son she had been standing still. She thought for a moment of her little son, Gwydion. He hardly knew her now; when she would have picked him up and petted him, he fought and struggled to go to his foster-mother. Even now, the memory of his small arms winding about her neck made her feel weak and regretful, but she forced the memory away. He did not even know he was her son, he would grow up to think himself one of Morgause’s brood. Morgaine was content to have it so, but she could not stifle her reluctant sorrow.

Well, she supposed that all women felt such regret when they must leave their child; but all women must endure it, except for homekeeping women who were content to do for their babes what any foster-mother or servant girl could do, and have no greater work measured to their hands. Even a cowherd must leave her babes to tend her flocks; how much more so a queen or a priestess? Even Viviane had given up her children. As had Igraine.

Arthur looked manly and handsome; he had grown, his shoulders broadened-he was no longer the slender boy who had come to her with the deer’s blood on his face. There had been power, not these tame mouthings of the doings of their God who had meddled about, turning water into wine, which would be blasphemy anyway to the gifts of the Goddess. Or did the tale mean that to the joining of man and woman in wedlock, the ferment of the Spirit would transform their coupling into a sacred thing, as in the Great Marriage? For Arthur’s sake she hoped it would be so with this woman, whoever she was; she could see, from where she knelt behind Morgause, only a cloud of pale golden hair, crowned with the paler gold of a bridal coronet, and a white robe of some fine and precious fabric. Arthur raised his eyes to look on his bride, and his gaze fell on Morgaine. She saw his face change, and thought, with a stir of awareness, So, he recognized me. I cannot have changed so much as he has changed; he has grown from boy to man, and I-I was already a woman, and it has not changed me as much as that.

She hoped that Arthur’s bride would love him, and that he would love her well. In her mind rang Arthur’s desolate words, For all my life I will always remember you and love you and bless you. But it must not be so. He must forget, he must come to see the Goddess only in his chosen wife. There stood Lancelet beside him. How could the years have changed and sobered Arthur so much, and left Lancelet untouched, unchanged? No, he had changed too: he looked sad, there was a long scar on his face which ran up into his hair and left a small white streak in it. Cai was thinner and more stooped, his limp more pronounced; he looked on Arthur as a devoted hound looks at his master. Half hoping, half fearing, Morgaine looked about to see if Viviane had come to see Arthur wedded as she had seen him crowned. But the Lady of the Lake was not here. There was the Merlin, his grey head bent in what almost looked like prayer, and behind him, standing-a tall shadow with too much of sense to bend the knee to this stupid mummery-was Kevin the Bard; good for him!

The mass concluded; the bishop, a tall, ascetic-looking man with a sour face, was pronouncing the words of dismissal. Even Morgaine bent her head -Viviane had taught her to show at least outward respect to the manifestations of another’s faith, since, as she said, all faith was of the Gods. The only head unbent in the church was that of Kevin, standing proudly erect. Morgaine wished she had the courage to get up and stand beside him, head unbowed. Why was Arthur so reverential? Had he not sworn a solemn oath to regard Avalon as well as the priests? Must a day come when she, or Kevin, must remind Arthur of the vow? Surely that white, pious church angel he was marrying would do nothing to help. They should have married Arthur to a woman of Avalon; it would not be the first time a sworn priestess had been joined to a king. The idea shook her, and she stifled her unease with a quick picture of Raven as High Queen. At least she would have the Christian virtue of silence ... Morgaine bent her head and bit her lip, suddenly afraid she would giggle aloud.

The mass came to an end; the people began to stream toward the doorway. Arthur and his Companions stayed where they were, and, at a gesture from Cai, Lot and Morgause approached him, Morgaine moving along behind them. She saw that Igraine and the Merlin and the silent harper remained as well. She raised her eyes and met her mother’s glance; she knew, with something as poignant as the Sight, that except for the presence of the bishop she would even now be clasped in Igraine’s arms. She flushed a little, turning away from Igraine’s eager eyes.

She had thought as little as she could of Igraine, conscious only that in her presence she must guard the one thing Igraine must never know, who had fathered her child ... . Once, in that long desperate struggle which she could hardly remember, she thought she had cried aloud, like a child, for her mother, but she had never been sure. Even now, she feared any contact with the mother who had once had the Sight, who knew the ways of Avalon; Morgaine might manage to put aside all her childhood training and guilt, but would Igraine chide her for what had not, after all, been her own choice?

Lot now came to bend the knee before Arthur, and Arthur, his young face serious and kindly, raised Lot and kissed him on both cheeks. “I am glad you could come to my wedding, Uncle. I am glad I have so faithful a friend and kinsman to guard my northern shores, and your son Gawaine is my dear friend and closest Companion. And you, Aunt. I owe you a debt of thanks for giving me your son for so loyal a Companion.”

Morgause smiled. She was, Morgaine thought, still beautiful-far more so than Igraine. “Well, sire, you will have cause to thank me again soon enough, for I have younger sons who talk of nothing but the time when they may come to serve the High King.”

“They will be as welcome as their elder brother,” Arthur said courteously, and looked past Morgause to where Morgaine knelt.

“Welcome, sister. At my crowning I made you a promise, which now I shall redeem. Come.” He stretched out his hand to her. Morgaine rose, feeling the clasp of his hand and the tension in it. He did not meet her eyes, but led her past the others to where the white-clad woman knelt in the cloud of her golden hair.

“My lady,” he said softly, and for a moment Morgaine was not sure to which of them he was speaking; he looked from one to the other, and as Gwenhwyfar rose and looked up, her eyes met Morgaine’s in a moment of shocked recognition.

“Gwenhwyfar, this is my sister Morgaine, Duchess of Cornwall. It is my wish that she should be first among your ladies-in-waiting, as she is highest in rank here among them.”

Morgaine saw Gwenhwyfar moisten her lips with her small pink tongue, like a kitten’s. “My lord and king, the lady Morgaine and I have met.

“What? Where?” Arthur demanded, smiling.

Morgaine said, just as stiffly, “It was while she was at school in a nunnery on Glastonbury, my lord. She lost her way in the mists and blundered onto the shores of Avalon.” As on that faraway day, it seemed suddenly as if something grey and dismal, like ash, had covered and choked the fine day. Morgaine felt, in spite of her fine decent gown and beautifully woven veil, as if she were some gross, dwarfish, earthly creature before the ethereal whiteness and precious gold of Gwenhwyfar. It lasted only a moment, then Gwenhwyfar stepped forward and embraced her, kissing her on the cheek as was seemly for a kinswoman. Morgaine, returning the embrace, felt that Gwenhwyfar was fragile as precious glass, unlike her own gnarled-wood solidness; felt herself shrinking back, shy and stiff, so that she might not feel Gwenhwyfar shrink from her. Her lips felt coarse against the rose-leaf softness of the other girl’s cheek.

Gwenhwyfar said softly, “I shall welcome the sister of my lord and husband, my lady of Cornwall-may I call you Morgaine, sister?”

Morgaine drew a long breath and muttered, “As it pleases you, my lady.” When she had said it, she knew that she sounded ungracious, but she did not know what she should have said instead. Standing next to Arthur, she looked up to see Gawaine regarding her with a faint frown. Lot was a Christian only because it was expedient, but Gawaine was genuinely devout in his blunt way. His disapproving glance stiffened Morgaine’s back; she had as good a right to be here as Gawaine himself. It would be amusing to see some of these stiff-necked Companions of Arthur lose their proper manners around a Beltane fire! Well, Arthur had sworn to honor the people of Avalon as well as the Christians that might yet come about here at Arthur’s court. Perhaps that was why she herself was here.

Gwenhwyfar said, “I hope we shall be friends, lady. I remember that you and the lord Lancelet set me on my way when I was lost in those dreadful mists-even now I shudder at the memory of that terrible place,” she said, and raised her eyes to Lancelet, where he stood behind Arthur. Morgaine, attuned to the mood around them, followed her eyes and wondered why Gwenhwyfar spoke to him now; then realized that the other woman could not help it, she was bound as if on a string by Lancelet’s eyes ... and Lancelet was looking at Gwenhwyfar as a hungry dog looks at a dripping bone. If Morgaine had to meet this pink-and-white precious creature again in Lancelet’s presence, it was well for them both that it was just as Gwenhwyfar was about to be married to someone else. She sensed Arthur’s hand still in hers, and that troubled her too; that bond, too, would be broken, when he had taken Gwenhwyfar to bed. Gwenhwyfar would become the Goddess to Arthur and he would not look at Morgaine anymore in that way that troubled her so. She was Arthur’s sister, not his lover; she was the mother not of his son, but the son of the Horned One, and so it must be.

But I have not broken that bond, either. True, I was ill after my son was born, and I had no will to fall like a ripe apple into Lot’s bed, so I played Lady Chastity herself wherever Lot could see me. But she looked at Lancelet, hoping to intercept the glance between his eyes and Gwenhwyfar’s.

He smiled, but he looked past her. Gwenhwyfar took Morgaine’s hand in one of hers, reached to Igraine with the other. “Soon you will be as my own sister and my own mother,” she said, “for I have neither mother nor sister living. Come and stand beside me as we are joined in marriage, mother and sister.”

Stiffen her heart as she might against Gwenhwyfar’s charm, Morgaine was warmed by those spontaneous words, and she returned the pressure of the girl’s warm little fingers. Igraine reached past Gwenhwyfar to touch Morgaine’s hand, and Morgaine said, “I have not had time to greet you properly, my mother,” and let go of Gwenhwyfar’s hand for a moment to kiss Igraine. She thought, as for a moment the three of them stood in a brief embrace, All women, indeed, are sisters under the Goddess.

“Well, come then,” said the Merlin pleasantly. “Let us have the marriage signed and witnessed, and then for feasting and revelry.”

Morgaine thought the bishop looked sober, but he too said amiably enough, “Now that our spirits are all lifted up and in charity, indeed, let us make merry as is suitable for Christian folk on such a day of good omen.”

Standing beside Gwenhwyfar at the ceremony, Morgaine sensed that the girl was trembling. Her mind went back to the day of the deer hunting. At least she herself had been stimulated and exalted by ritual, but even so she had been frightened, she had clung to the old priestess. Suddenly, with an impulse of kindness, she wished she could give to Gwenhwyfar, who after all had been convent-reared and had none of the old wisdom, some of the instruction given to the younger priestesses. Then she would know how to let the life currents of sun and summer and earth and life flood through her. She could truly become the Goddess to Arthur and he the God to her, so that their marriage would not be an empty form, but a true inner binding on all the levels of life.... She almost found herself searching for the words, then remembered that Gwenhwyfar was a Christian, and would not thank Morgaine for such teaching. She sighed, frustrated, knowing she would not speak.

She raised her eyes and met Lancelet’s, and for a moment he held her glance; she found herself remembering that sun-flooded moment on the Tor, when they should have been bound as man and woman, Goddess to God . .. she knew he was remembering too. But he dropped his eyes and looked away, signing himself, as the priest had done, with the cross.

The simple ceremony was over. Morgaine affixed her name as witness to the marriage contract, noting how smooth and flowing her own hand was next to Arthur’s sprawling signature, Gwenhwyfar’s clumsy and childish letters-had the nuns of Glastonbury so little learning? Lancelet signed, too, and Gawaine, and King Bors of Brittany, who had come as witness, and Lot, and Ectorius, and King Pellinore, whose sister had been Gwenhwyfar’s mother. Pellinore had a young daughter with him, whom he solemnly beckoned forward.

“My daughter, Elaine-your cousin, my lady and queen. I beg you to accept her service.”

“I shall be happy for her company among my ladies,” Gwenhwyfar said, smiling. Morgaine thought that Pellinore’s daughter was very like Gwenhwyfar, pink and golden, though a little dimmer than Gwenhwyfar’s bright radiance, and wearing simple linen dyed with saffron, which dulled the coppery gold of her hair. “What is your name, cousin? How old are you?”

“Elaine, my lady, and I am thirteen years old.” She dropped a deep curtsey, so deep that she stumbled and Lancelet caught her to steady her. She blushed deeply and hid her face behind her veil. Lancelet smiled indulgently, and Morgaine felt a sickening pang of jealousy. He would not look at her, he would look only at these pale gold-white angels; no doubt he too thought her little and ugly. And at that moment all her kindness for Gwenhwyfar faded into anger, and she had to turn her face away.

Gwenhwyfar had to spend the next hours welcoming, it seemed, every king in the whole of Britain, and being presented to their wives, sisters, and daughters. When it came time to sit at the feast, in addition to Morgaine and Elaine and Igraine and Morgause, she had to show courtesy and graciousness to Flavilla, Arthur’s foster-mother and mother of Sir Cai; to the queen of North Wales, who had her own name, Gwenhwyfar, but was dark and Roman-looking; and to half a dozen others. She whispered to Morgaine, “I do not know how I am ever to remember all their names! Shall I simply call them all ‘my lady’ and hope they don’t know why?”

Morgaine whispered back, momentarily sharing the sense of fun in her voice, “That is one thing about being a High Queen, madam, no one will dare to ask you why! Whatever you do, they will think it well done! Or if they do not, they will not dare to tell you so!”

Gwenhwyfar giggled a little. “But you must call me by my name, Morgaine-not just madam. When you say madam, I look about for some stout old lady like Dame Flavilla, or King Pellinore’s queen!”

At last the feast began. Morgaine had more appetite now than she had had at Arthur’s crowning. She sat between Gwenhwyfar and Igraine, and ate with a good appetite; the abstemious ways of Avalon seemed far behind her. She even ate some meat, though she did not like it, and, since there was no water on the table and beer mostly for the servants, drank the wine she really disliked. It made her head swim a little, though it was not as fiery as the strong barley liquors common at the court of Orkney, which she hated and never touched.

After a time Kevin came forward to play, and the conversation died. Morgaine, who had not heard a fine harper since leaving Avalon, listened, letting the past slip away. Suddenly she longed for Viviane. Even when she raised her eyes and saw Lancelet-who, as Arthur’s closest Companion, sat nearer to him than any other, even Gawaine his heir, and shared his dish -she thought of him only as the companion of those years at the Lake.

Viviane, not Igraine, is my real mother, and it was for her I cried out ... . She bent her head, blinking back tears she did not know how to shed.

The music died away, and she heard Kevin’s rich voice. “We have another musician here,” he said. “Will the lady Morgaine sing for this company?”

How, she wondered, did he know I was pining for the touch of my harp? “It will be a pleasure to play your harp, sir. But I have not touched a fine one for many years, only a makeshift at Lot’s court.”

Arthur said, and sounded ill-pleased, “What, my sister, sing like a hired musician for all these people?”

Kevin looked offended, as well he might, thought Morgaine. In a sudden rage, she rose from her seat, saying, “What the Master Harper of Avalon condescends to do, I am honored to do! In music, the Gods only are served!” She took the harp from his hand, seating herself on a bench. It was larger than her own harp and for a moment her hands fumbled on the strings; then she found the set and her hands moved more surely, playing a northern song she had heard at Lot’s court. She was suddenly grateful for the wine that had cleared her throat; she heard her own voice rich and sweet -it had come back as strong as ever, though she had not recognized it till this moment. Her voice was contralto, deep and strong, trained by the bards at Avalon, and she was proud, again. Gwenhwyfar may be beautiful, but I have the voice of a bard.

And even Gwenhwyfar crowded close when she was done, to say, “Your voice is very lovely, sister. Did you learn to sing so well in Avalon?”

“Why yes, madam, music is sacred-did you not learn the harp in your nunnery?”

Gwenhwyfar shrank. “No, it is unseemly for a woman to raise her voice before the Lord ... .”

Morgaine chuckled. “You Christians are overfond of that word unseemly, especially when it relates to women,” she said. “If music is evil, then it is evil for men as well; and if it is a good thing, should not women do all the good things they can do, to make up for their supposed sin at the beginning of the world?”

“Still, I would not have been allowed-once I was beaten for touching a harp,” said Gwenhwyfar wistfully. “But you have cast a spell over us, and I cannot think but this magic is good.”

Kevin said, “All the men and women of Avalon learn something of music; but few have such gifts as the lady Morgaine. A fine voice is born, not trained. And if it is a gift of God, then seems it to me that it is arrogant to look down and think little of such a gift, be it given to man or woman. We cannot believe God has made a mistake in giving such a gift to a woman, since God makes no mistakes, so we must accept it wherever it is found.”

“I cannot argue theology with a Druid,” said Ectorius, “but if I had a daughter born with such a gift, I would hold it a temptation, that she would be tempted to step beyond the place appointed to a woman. We are not told that Mary, the Mother of our Lord, sang or danced-”

The Merlin said softly, “Though we are told that when the Holy Ghost descended upon her, she lifted up her voice and sang, My soul hath magnified the Lord ...” But he said it in Greek: Megalynei he psyche1 mou ton Kyrion ... .

Only Ectorius and Lancelet and the bishop recognized the Greek words, although Morgaine too had heard them more than once. The bishop said firmly, “But she sang in the presence of God alone. Only Mary the Magdalene is said to have sung or danced before men, and only before our Redeemer saved her soul for God, for it was part of her wicked ways.”

Igraine said with a flicker of mischief, “King David was a singer and played, we are told, upon the harp. Do you suppose he beat any of his wives or daughters for playing on the harp?”

Morgaine flashed, “If Mary of Magdala-I mind the story-played on the harp and danced, still she came to be saved, and we are nowhere told that Jesus told her to sit meekly and be silent! If she poured precious balm on the head of Jesus and he would not let his Companions rebuke her, he may well have enjoyed her other gifts as well! The Gods give of their best, not their worst, to men!”

Patricius said stiffly, “If this is the form of religion which is known here in Britain, we are well in need of such councils as our church has called together!” He scowled, and Morgaine, already regretting her hasty words, lowered her head-it was hardly suitable to pick a quarrel between Avalon and the church at Arthur’s wedding. But why did Arthur not speak out? All at once everyone began to talk all together, and Kevin, taking the harp again, began to play a lively air, under cover of which the servants went around with fresh delicacies which nobody wanted by now.

After a time Kevin put by the harp, and Morgaine, as she would have done in Avalon, poured him wine and knelt to offer it to him. He smiled and took it, gesturing to her to rise and sit by him.

“Lady Morgaine, my thanks.”

“It is my duty and my pleasure to serve such a bard, Master Harper. Are you recently come from Avalon? Is my kinswoman Viviane well?”

“Well, but much aged,” he said quietly. “And, I think, pining for you -you should return.”

Morgaine felt again the surge of unforgotten despair; she looked away from him. “I cannot. But give me news of my home.”

“If you wish more news of Avalon you will have to go there. I have not returned myself for a year, since I am required to give news of all the kingdom to the Lady-Taliesin is too old now for a Messenger of the Gods.”

“Well,” Morgaine said, “you will have something to tell her of this marriage.”

“I will tell her that you are alive and well,” said Kevin, “since she has mourned you. She has not now the Sight to see for herself. And I shall tell her of her younger son who is Arthur’s chiefest Companion; indeed,” he said, his lips curving in a sarcastic smile, “watching him with Arthur, I think him like that youngest disciple who leaned at dinner upon the bosom of Christ ... .”

Morgaine could not keep back a small chuckle. “Yonder bishop would have you whipped for blasphemy, no doubt, if he heard you say so.”

“Well, there sits Arthur like to Jesus with his Apostles, defending Christianity to all the land,” Kevin said. “As for yonder bishop, he is an ignorant man.”

“What, because he has no ear for music?” Morgaine had not realized how she had starved for the banter of casual equals like this; Morgause and the gossip of her ladies were so small, so bound by little things!

“I would say that any man without an ear for music is an ignorant ass indeed, since without it he does not speak but brays,” Kevin retorted, “but it is more than that. Is this any time for a wedding?”

Morgaine had been so long away from Avalon that for a moment she did not know what he meant; but he pointed to the sky.

“The moon is waning from the full. This augurs ill for a wedding, and the lord Taliesin told them so. But the bishop would have it a little after the full so that all these people would have light to travel to their homes, and because it is the feast of one of their saints-I know not which! The Merlin spoke to Arthur as well, to tell him this marriage would bring him no joy-I know not why. But there was no honorable way to stop it, it seemed, all had gone too far.”

Morgaine knew instinctively what the old Druid had meant; she too had seen the way in which Gwenhwyfar looked upon Lancelet. Was it a flash of the Sight which had caused her to shrink from Gwenhwyfar, that day upon Avalon?

She took Lancelet from me forever on that day, Morgaine thought, then, remembering that she had been under a vow to keep her maidenhood for the Goddess, looked within, in dull astonishment. Would she have been forsworn for his sake? She lowered her head in shame, almost fearing, for a moment, that Kevin could read her thoughts.

Viviane had said to her that a priestess must temper everything with her own judgment. It had been a right instinct, vows or no vows, which had led her to desire Lancelet ... would have done better, even by Avalon, to take Lancelet then; then would Arthur’s queen have come to him with her heart untouched, for Lancelet would have formed that mystical bond with me, and the child I bore would have been born of the ancient royal line of Avalon ... .

But they had had other plans for her, and in the wreck of that she had left Avalon forever, borne a child who had destroyed any hope that she could ever give the Goddess a daughter to her shrine: after Gwydion, she could carry no other to life. If she had trusted her own instinct and judgment, Viviane would have been angry, but they would have found someone suitable for Arthur, somehow ... .

By doing right I did wrong; by obeying Viviane’s word I helped with the wreck and disaster of this marriage, for wreck I now know it will be ... .

“Lady Morgaine,” Kevin said gently, “you are troubled. Can I do anything to help you?”

Morgaine shook her head, biting back tears again. She wondered if he knew she had been given to Arthur in the kingmaking. She could not accept his pity. “Nothing, lord Druid. Perhaps I share your fears for this marriage made in a waning moon. I am concerned for my brother, no more. And I do pity the woman he has wedded.” And as she spoke the words she knew they were true; for all her fear of Gwenhwyfar, not unmixed with hatred, she knew that she did pity her-marrying a man who did not love her, loving a man she could not wed.

If I take Lancelet from Gwenhwyfar, then I do my brother a service, and his wife as well, for if I take him away she will forget him. She had been trained to examine her own motives in Avalon, and now she cringed inwardly; she was not being honest with herself. If she took Lancelet from Gwenhwyfar, it would not be for her brother’s sake nor for the sake of the kingdom, but purely and solely because she desired Lancelet herself.

Not for yourself. For the sake of another you could use your magic; but you must not deceive yourself. She knew love charms enough. It would be for Arthur’s good! It would work to the advantage of the kingdom, she told herself repeatedly, if she took Lancelet from her brother’s wife; but the unsparing conscience of a priestess kept saying: This you may not. It is forbidden to use your magic to make the universe do your will.

So, still, she would try; but she must do it unassisted, with no more than her own woman’s wiles. She told herself fiercely that Lancelet had desired her once, without the aid of magic; she could certainly make him desire her again!

GWENHWYFAR WAS WEARY of the feasting. She had eaten more than she wanted, and although she had sipped only one glass of wine, she felt overly hot, and slid her veil back, fanning herself. Arthur had come to speak to many of his guests, moving slowly toward the table where she sat with the ladies, and finally reaching her; with him, Lancelet and Gawaine. The women slid along the benches, making room, and Arthur sat beside her.

“It is the first moment I have really had to speak to you, my wife.” She held out her small hand to him. “I understand. This is more like a council than a wedding feast, my husband and my lord.”

He laughed, somewhat ruefully. “All events in my life now seem to become so. A king does nothing in private. Well,” he amended, smiling, seeing the flush that spread over her face, “almost nothing-I think there will be a few exceptions, my wife. The law requires that they must see us put to bed together, but what happens after that need concern no one but ourselves, I trust.”

She lowered her eyes, knowing that he had seen her blush. Once again, with the flood of shame, she realized that she had forgotten him again, that she had been watching Lancelet and thinking, with the drowsy sweetness of a dream, how very much she wished it had been to him she had been joined in marriage this day-what damnable fate had made her a High Queen? His eyes fell on her with that hungry look, and she dared not look up at him. She saw him turn his eyes from her even before the shadow fell over them and the lady Morgaine stood there; Arthur made room for her at his side.

“Come and sit with us, my sister, there is always room for you here,” he said, his voice so languorous that Gwenhwyfar wondered for a moment how much he had drunk. “When the feast has worn away a little, see, we have prepared something more for entertainment, perhaps something more stirring than the bard’s music, beautiful though it is. I did not know you were a singer, my sister. I knew you were an enchantress, but not that you were a musician as well. Have you enchanted us all?”

“I hope not,” Morgaine said, laughing, “else I would never dare sing again-what is that old saga, about the bard who sang the evil giants into a circle of ring stones, and there they stand, cold and stone to this day?”

“That one I have never heard,” said Gwenhwyfar, “though in my convent there was a tale that these were evil folk who mocked the Christ on his way to his cross, and a saint raised his hand and turned them into crows who fly over the world crying out wailing jests forever ... and another tale of a saint who transformed a circle of sorceresses, at their evil rites, into a circle of stones.”

Lancelet said lazily, “If I had leisure to study philosophy instead of being warrior or councillor or horseman, I think I would try to find who built the ring stones and why.”

Morgaine laughed. “That is known in Avalon. Viviane could tell you if she would.”

“But,” said Lancelet, “what the priestesses and the Druids say may be no more truth than your pious nun’s fables, Gwenhwyfar-forgive me, I should say, my lady and queen; Arthur, forgive me, I meant no disrespect to your lady, but I called her by her name when she was younger and not yet a queen-” but Morgaine knew that he was simply seeking an excuse to speak her name aloud.

Arthur yawned. “My dear friend, I do not mind if my lady does not. God forbid I should be the kind of husband who wishes to keep his wife locked away in a cage from all other human beings. A husband who cannot keep his wife’s kind regards and faithfulness probably does not deserve them.” He leaned over and took Gwenhwyfar’s hand in his own. “I think this feasting long. Lancelet, how long before the riders are ready?”

“I think they will be ready soon,” Lancelet said, deliberately looking away from Gwenhwyfar. “Does my lord and king wish me to go and see?”

Morgaine thought, He is torturing himself, he cannot bear to look on Gwenhwyfar with Arthur, he cannot bear to leave her alone with him. She said, deliberately making a joke of a truth, “I think, Lancelet, our bridal couple wishes to have a few moments to talk together alone. Why do we not leave them here and go down and see ourselves whether the riders are ready.”

Lancelet said, “My lord-” and as Gwenhwyfar opened her mouth to protest, he said roughly, “Give me leave to go.”

Arthur nodded permission, and Morgaine took his hand. He let her draw him along, but she saw him turn his head halfway, as if he could not take his eyes from Gwenhwyfar. Her heart was wrung; at one and the same time it seemed that she could not bear his pain, and that she would do anything to get him away so that she need not see him look at Gwenhwyfar. Behind her she heard Arthur say, “Until yesterday evening I had no idea that the fates, in sending me a bride, had sent me a beautiful one,” and Gwenhwyfar answer, “But it was not the fates, my lord, it was my father.” Before Morgaine could hear what Arthur answered, they were out of earshot.

“I remember,” Morgaine said, “once, years ago, at Avalon, you spoke of cavalry as the key to victory over the Saxons-that and a disciplined army, like to the Romans. I suppose that is what you plan for these horsemen.”

“It is true that I have been training them. I had not imagined that a woman would remember a point of military strategy, cousin.”

Morgaine laughed. “I live under fear of the Saxons, like every other woman in these islands. I passed through a village once where a band of them had passed over, and every woman from little girls of five years old to old grandmothers in their nineties with no teeth and no hair had been raped. Whatever offers hope to rid us of them once and for all is meaningful to me, perhaps more than to men and soldiers, who need to fear only death.”

“I had not thought of that,” Lancelet said soberly. “Uther Pendragon’s troops were not above scouring the countryside for willing women-nor are Arthur’s-but in general, there is no rape. And I had forgotten, Morgaine, you were trained at Avalon and you think often on things which mean little or nothing to other women.” He looked up and clasped her hand in his. “I had forgotten the harps of Avalon. I thought I hated the place, that I never wished to go back. And yet-sometimes-some little thing will take me back there. The sound of a harp. Sunlight on ring stones. The scent of apples and the sound of bees in the sun. Fish splashing in the lake, and the cries of water birds at sunset-”

“Do you remember,” she asked softly, “the day we climbed the Tor?”

“I remember.” With sudden bitterness he said, “I would to God you had not been sworn to the Goddess, that day.”

She said in a low voice, “I have wished it almost as long as I can remember.” Her voice suddenly broke, and Lancelet looked with apprehension into her eyes.

“Morgaine, Morgaine-kinswoman, I have never seen you weep.”

“Are you like so many men, afraid of a woman’s tears?”

He shook his head, and his arm went around her shoulders. “No,” he confessed in a low voice, “it makes them seem so much more real, so much more vulnerable-women who never weep frighten me, because I know they are stronger than I, and I am always a little afraid of what they will do. I was always afraid of-Viviane.” She sensed that he had been about to say my mother, and had shrunk from the words.

They were passing under the low lintel of the stables; the long line of horses, tied there, shadowed the day. There was a pleasant smell of hay and straw. Outside, she saw men moving back and forth, erecting piles of hay, standing up mannikins of stuffed leather, and men were coming in and out, saddling their horses.

Someone caught sight of Lancelet and shouted, “Will the High King and their lordships be ready for us soon, sir? We don’t want to bring the horses out and keep them standing to get restless.”

“Soon,” Lancelet called back.

The soldier behind the horse resolved himself into Gawaine. “Ah, cousin,” he said to Morgaine. “Lance, don’t bring her in here, it’s no place for a lady, a few of these damned beasts are still unbroken. Are you still resolved to take out that white stallion?”

“I’m resolved to have him ready for Arthur to ride into battle next time, if I break my own neck for it!”

“Don’t jest about things like that,” Gawaine said. “Who says I am jesting? If Arthur can’t ride him, I’ll ride him myself in battle, and I’ll show him this afternoon in honor of the Queen!”

“Lancelet,” Morgaine said, “don’t risk your neck for that. Gwenhwyfar doesn’t know one horse from another, she’d be as impressed if you rode a hobbyhorse from one end of the yard to another as by the feats of the centaur himself!”

The look he gave her was, for a moment, almost contemptuous, but she could read it clearly: How could she understand his need to show himself undamaged by this day?

“Go and get saddled, Gawaine, and give the word on the field, we’ll be ready in half an hour,” said Lancelet, “and ask Cai if he wants to start.”

“Don’t tell me Cai’s going to ride, wi’ that crippled leg o’ his?” demanded one of the men who spoke in a strange accent. Gawaine turned on the stranger and said fiercely, “Would you grudge him that-the one military exercise where that leg makes no difference and he’s not tied to the kitchens and the ladies’ bowers?”

“Na, na, I see what ye mean,” said the strange soldier, and turned to saddling his own horse. Morgaine touched Lancelet’s hand; he looked down at her, the mischief back in his eyes. Here, she thought, arranging something, risking his neck, doing something for Arthur, he has forgotten about love, he is happy again. If he could only keep himself busy here, he would not need to moon after Gwenhwyfar or any other woman.

She said, “Show me this dangerous horse you are going to ride.” He led her down between the rows of tied steeds. She saw the pale silvery nose, the long mane like linen floss-a big horse, tall as Lancelet himself across the shoulders. The creature tossed his head, and the snort was like a dream of dragons breathing fire.

“Oh, you beauty,” said Lancelet, laying his hand alongside the horse’s nose; he sidled and stepped away. He said to Morgaine, “This one I trained with my own hands to bit and stirrup-it was my wedding present to Arthur, who has no leisure to break a horse for his own use. I swore it would be ready on his wedding day, for him to ride, and gentle as a house pet.”

“A thoughtful gift,” said Morgaine.

“No, the only thing I could give,” Lancelet said. “I am not rich. And anyway, he has no need of jewels or gold, he is showered with those things. This was a gift only I could give him.”

“A gift of yourself,” said Morgaine, and thought, How he loves Arthur; this is why he is so tormented. It is not that he desires Gwenhwyfar that tortures him; it is that he loves Arthur no less. If he were simply a wencher like Gawaine I would not even pity him; Gwenhwyfar is virtuous, and I could take pleasure in seeing her turn him away.

She said, “I would like to ride him. There is no horse I fear.” He laughed. “Morgaine, you fear nothing, do you?”

“Oh, no, my kinsman,” she said, suddenly sober, “I fear many things.”

“Well, I am not as fearless even as you, I am afraid of battle and I fear the Saxons and I fear I will be killed before I have tasted all there is to life,” he said. “And so I never dare shrink from any challenge ... . And I fear lest both Avalon and the Christians are wrong, and there should be no Gods and no Heaven and no afterlife, so that when I die I will perish forever. So I fear to die before I have savored my fill of life.”

“It does not seem to me you have left much untasted,” Morgaine said.

“Ah, but I have, Morgaine, there are so many things I long for, and whenever I pass one by I regret it so bitterly, and wonder what weakness or folly prevents me from doing what I will ... “ he said, and suddenly he turned in the horse lanes and put his arms hungrily round her, pulling her close.

Desperation, she thought bitterly; it is not me he wants, it is a moment of forgetfulness of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar in one another’s arms this night. His hands moved, with a detached, practiced deftness, over her breasts; he pressed his lips to hers, and she could feel the whole hard length of his body pushing against her. She stood in his arms, motionless, feeling languor and a rising hunger that was like pain; she was hardly conscious of her small movements, to fit her body against his. Her mouth opened under his lips, his hands were over her. But when he moved with her toward one of the piles of hay, she roused to a dim protest.

“My dear, you are mad, there are half a hundred of Arthur’s soldiers and riders swarming in this stable-”

“Do you mind,” he whispered, and she murmured, shaking with excitement, “No. No!” She let him push her down. Through the back of her mind, in bitterness, was the thought, a princess, Duchess of Cornwall, a priestess of Avalon, tumbled in the stables like some dairymaid, without even the excuse of the Beltane fires. But she closed it away from her mind and let his hands move on her as they would, unresisting. Better this than break Arthur’s heart. She did not know whether it was her own thought or that of the man whose body was somehow all over hers, whose fierce furious hands were bruising her; his kisses were almost savage, driving into her mouth in a rage. She felt him pull at her dress and moved to loosen it for him.

And then there were voices, clamoring, shouting, a noise like hammering, a frightened scream, and suddenly a dozen voices were all yelling. “Captain! Lord Lancelet! Where is he? Captain!

“Down here, I thought-” One of the younger soldiers ran down between the horse lines. Swearing savagely under his breath, Lancelet thrust his body between Morgaine and the young soldier, while she buried her face in her veil and hunched herself, half-naked already, into the straw so that she would not be seen.

“Damnation! Can’t I be out of the way for a moment-” “Oh, sir, come quickly, one of the strange horses-there was a mare in season, and two of the stallions began fighting, and I think one of them’s broken a leg-”

“Hell and furies!” Lancelet was swiftly tucking garments into place, rising and towering over the lad who had interrupted them. “I’ll come-”

The young man had caught sight of Morgaine; she hoped in a moment of horror that he had not recognized her-that would be a fine juicy morsel of gossip for the court indeed. Not as bad as what they do not know ... that I bore my brother’s child.

“Did I interrupt anything, sir?” the young man said, trying to peer around Lancelet, almost sniggering. Morgaine wondered disconsolate, What will this do to his reputation? Or is it to a man’s credit to be caught in the hay? Lancelet did not even answer; he shoved the youngster along before him, so that he almost fell. “Go and find Cai, and the farrier, get along with you.” He came swiftly back, a whirlwind, kissed Morgaine who had staggered somehow to her feet. “Gods! Of all the damnable-” He pressed her hard against him, with hungry fingers, kissed her so hard that she felt the brand of it was scalding red on her face. “Gods! Tonight-swear it! Swear!”

She couldn’t speak. She could only nod, dazed, numb, her whole body screaming for the interrupted fulfillment, as she saw him rush away. A minute or two later a young man came up to her deferentially and bowed, while soldiers began rushing back and forth and somewhere there was the terrible, almost human scream of a dying animal.

“Lady Morgaine? I am Griflet. The lord Lancelet sent me to escort you to the pavilions. He told me he had brought you down here to see the horse he is training for my lord the king, but that you had slipped and fallen in the hay, and that he was trying to see if you had hurt yourself when they began shrieking for him-when this fight broke out with King Pellinore’s horse. And he begs you to excuse him and return to the castle-”

Well, she thought, at least it explained her kirtle crushed and stained with hay and her hair and headcloth filled with hayseed. She need not go before Gwenhwyfar and her mother looking like the woman in Scriptures, the one taken in adultery; young Griflet held out his arm and she leaned on it heavily, saying, “I think my ankle is twisted,” and limped all the way up to the castle. It would explain the hay, if she had had a hurt and fallen hard. One part of her was glad of Lancelet’s quick thinking; the other, desolate, cried out for him to acknowledge and shelter her.

Arthur had gone off with Cai to the stables, distressed at the accident to the horses. She let Gwenhwyfar fuss over her and Igraine send for cold water and linen strips to bandage her ankle, and she accepted a place at Igraine’s side, in the shade, when horses and men rode out to display their exercises. Arthur made a little speech about the new legion of Caerleon which would revive the glories of the days of Rome, and save the countryside. His foster-father, Ectorius, was beaming. Then a dozen riders rode out, displaying the new skills with which the horses could stop in mid gallop, pull up, wheel, move together.

“After this,” Arthur declared grandly, “no one will ever again say that horses are fit for nothing but to move wagons!” He smiled at Gwenhwyfar. “How do you like my knights, my lady? I have called them after the old Roman equites-noblemen who could own and fit out their own horse.”

“Cai rides as well as a centaur,” Igraine said to Ectorius, and the old man smiled with pleasure. “Arthur, you never did a kinder thing than when you gave Cai one of the best of the horses.”

“Cai is too good a soldier, and too good a friend, to wither in the house,” said Arthur decisively.

Gwenhwyfar said, “Is he not your foster-brother?”

“True. He was wounded in his first battle, and feared he would skulk at home with the women forever after that,” said Arthur. “A frightful fate for a soldier. But on horseback he fights as well as any.”

“Look,” exclaimed Igraine, “the legion has smashed down that whole series of targets-I have never seen such riding!”

“I don’t think anything could stand against that attack,” said King Pellinore. “What a pity Uther Pendragon could not live to see this, my boy -excuse me-my lord and king-”

Arthur said warmly, “My father’s friend may call me whatever he wishes, dear Pellinore! But the credit must go to my friend and captain, Lancelet.”

Morgause’s son Gaheris bobbed in a bow to Arthur. “My lord, may I go down to the stables and see them unsaddled?” He was a bright, merry-looking boy of fourteen or so.

“You may,” said Arthur. “When will he come to join Gawaine and Agravaine at our side, Aunt?”

“This year, perhaps, if his brothers can teach him soldierly arts and keep him close,” Morgause said, then raised her voice: “No! Not you, Gareth!” and made a snatch at the chubby six-year-old. “Gaheris! Bring him back here!”

Arthur spread his hands with a laugh. “Don’t worry about it-boys run to stables like fleas to dogs. I have been told how I rode my father’s stallion when I was scarce six years old! I don’t remember; it was only a little before I went to be fostered with Ectorius,” he said, and Morgaine shivered suddenly, remembering a fair-haired child lying like death and something like a shadow in a bowl of water-no, it was gone.

“Does your ankle pain you much, sister?” Gwenhwyfar asked solicitously. “Here, lean against me-”

“Gawaine will look after him,” Arthur said offhandedly. “I think he’s the best man we have at training the young knights and riders.”

“Better than the lord Lancelet?” asked Gwenhwyfar. Morgaine thought, She only wants to speak his name. But it is me he wanted, not long ago, and tonight it will be too late ... better that than break Arthur’s heart. I will tell Gwenhwyfar if I must.

Arthur said, “Lancelet? He’s our best rider, though too much of a daredevil for my taste. The lads all adore him, of course-look, there’s your little Gareth, Aunt, tagging after him like a puppy-they’ll do anything for a kind word from him. But he’s not as good at teaching the boys their business as Gawaine; he’s too flamboyant and he likes to show off. Gawaine takes them slow and easy and makes them learn the art step by step, and they never get hurt through carelessness-Gawaine’s my best arms master. Look, there’s Lancelet on that horse he’s training for me-” He burst into a laugh, and Igraine said, “That little devil!”

For Gareth had swung like a monkey from the saddle leather, and Lancelet, laughing, scooped up the boy in front of him on his saddle and broke into a fast gallop, racing directly up the hill toward the sheltered place where the royal party sat watching. They raced at breakneck speed straight toward them, so that even Arthur gasped and Igraine stepped back, her face white. Lancelet pulled up the horse so that it reared into the air and wheeled it round.

“Your horse, lord Arthur,” he said with a flourish, holding the reins with one hand, “and your cousin. Aunt Morgause, take this little scapegrace and tan his breeches for him!” he added, letting Gareth slide down almost into Morgause’s lap. “He could have been killed under the stallion’s feet like that!”

Gareth heard not a word of Morgause’s scolding, looking up at Lancelet, his blue eyes wide with adoration.

“When you get older,” Arthur said, laughing, aiming a playful cuff at the child, “I will make you a knight and you shall ride out to conquer giants and evil raiders, and rescue fair ladies.”

“Oh no, my lord Arthur,” said the child, his eyes still fastened on the white horse which Lancelet was riding up and down. “The lord Lancelet shall make me a knight, and we will go on a quest together.”

Ectorius chuckled and said, “Young Achilles has found his Patroclus, so it would seem.”

“I am quite in the shade,” Arthur said good-naturedly. “Even my new-made wife cannot take her eyes from Lancelet, and begs him to call her by her Christian name, and now little Gareth would rather be made knight by him! If Lance were not my closest friend, I should be mad with jealousy.”

Pellinore was watching the rider cantering up and down. He said, “That damnable dragon is still hiding in a lake on my lands, and coming out to kill my tenants or their cows. Perhaps if I had a horse like that, who would stand to fight ... I think I will train a battle horse and go after it again. Last time I barely got away with my life.”

“A dragon, sir?” asked little Gareth. “Did it breathe fire?”

“No, lad, but it had an almighty stench and a noise like sixty packs of hounds all baying together from his belly,” said Pellinore, and Ectorius said, “Dragons do not breathe fire, my lad. That comes from the old way of calling a shooting star a dragon, for they have a long tail of fire-there may have been dragons once who breathed fire, but not in the memory of any living man.”

Morgaine was not listening, though she wondered how much of Pellinore’s tale was true, and how much exaggerated to impress the child. Her eyes were on Lancelet, putting the horse through its paces.

Arthur said to Gwenhwyfar, “I could never train a horse like that- Lancelet is training it to battle for me. Look, two months ago that one was wild as one of Pellinore’s dragons, and now look at him!”

“He seems still wild to me,” said Gwenhwyfar. “But then, I am afraid even of the gentlest horses.”

“A horse to be ridden in battle must not be meek as a lady’s palfrey,” said Arthur. “He must have spirit-God in heaven!” he cried out, rising up suddenly. From somewhere there was a blur of white; a bird of some kind, a goose perhaps, had suddenly flapped upward, right under the horse’s hooves. Lancelet, riding at ease, his vigilance relaxed, started as the horse reared upright with a frantic whicker; fought for control, slid off almost under the hooves; half senseless, managed to roll away.

Gwenhwyfar screamed. Morgause and the other ladies echoed the scream, while Morgaine, quite forgetting she was supposed to have an injured ankle, leaped up and ran toward Lancelet, dragging him out from under the horse’s hooves. Arthur too dashed for the horse’s bridle, grabbing it, wrestling the horse by main force away from where Lancelet sprawled unconscious. Morgaine knelt beside him, quickly feeling his temple, where a bruise already darkened and a trickle of blood mingled with the dust. “Is he dead?” Gwenhwyfar cried. “Is he dead?”

“No,” Morgaine said with asperity. “Bring some cold water, and there ought to be some of that bandage linen left. He’s broken his wrist, I think; he broke his fall with it so as not to break his neck! And the clout on his head-” She bent down, laying her ear against his chest, feeling the warm rise and fall of it. She took the basin of cold water Pellinore’s daughter handed her, sponging his brow with a bit of linen. “Someone catch that goose and wring its neck-and give the goose boy a good thrashing. The lord Lancelet could have broken his head, or damaged the High King’s horse.”

Gawaine came and led the horse back to the stables. The near tragedy had dampened the festivities, and one by one the guests began to drift away to their own pavilions and quarters. Morgaine bound up Lancelet’s head and his broken wrist, mercifully completing the work of splinting the wrist before he stirred and moaned and clutched at it in agony; then, in conference with the housekeeper, sent Cai for some herbs which would make him sleep and had him carried to bed. She stayed with him, though he did not know her, only moaned and stared about with eyes that refused to stay in focus. Once he stared at her, and muttered “Mother-” and her heart sank. After a while he fell into a heavy, restless sleep, and when he woke, he knew her.

“Morgaine? Cousin? What happened?”

“You fell off a horse.”

“A horse? What horse?” he asked, confused, and when she told him he said positively, “That’s ridiculous. I don’t fall off horses,” and dropped off to sleep again.

Morgaine sat beside him, letting him clutch at her hand, and felt that her heart would break. The mark of his kisses was still on her mouth, on her aching breasts. Yet the moment had passed, and she knew it. Even if he should remember, he would not want her; he had never wanted her, except to dull the agony of thinking of Gwenhwyfar and of his love for his king and cousin.

It was growing dark; far away in the castle she heard sounds of music again-Kevin was harping. There was laughter, singing, festivity. Suddenly the door opened, and Arthur himself, carrying a torch in his hand, came in.

“Sister, how does Lancelet?”

“He’ll live; his head’s too hard to break,” she said with a hard flippancy.

“We wanted you among the witnesses when the bride was put to bed, as you witnessed the marriage contract,” said Arthur. “But I suppose he should not be left alone, and I wouldn’t want him left to a chamberlain, not even to Cai. He’s fortunate he has you with him. You are his foster-sister, are you not?”

“No,” said Morgaine, with unexpected anger.

Arthur came to the bedside and picked up Lancelet’s limp hand. The injured man moaned, stirred, and looked up, blinking. “Arthur?”

“I’m here, my friend,” said Arthur, and Morgaine thought she had never heard a man’s voice so tender.

“Is your horse-all right?”

“The horse is fine. Damn the horse,” Arthur said. “If you’d been killed, what good would a horse be to me?” He was almost weeping.

“How did it-happen?”

“A damned goose flew up. The goose boy’s in hiding. I think he knows he’ll be beaten within an inch of his life!”

“Don’t do that,” Lancelet said. “He’s only a poor stupid creature without all his wits. He’s not to blame that the geese are cleverer than he is, and one wandered loose. Promise me, Gwydion.” She was astonished that he used the old name. Arthur pressed his hand, and bent down to kiss Lancelet on the cheek, carefully avoiding the bruised side.

“I promise, Galahad. Sleep, now.”

Lancelet gripped his hand hard. “I came close to wrecking your wedding night, didn’t I?” he said, with something Morgaine recognized as her own hard irony.

“Believe you did-my bride has wept so hard over you, I wonder what she would do if 7 had broken my head?” Arthur demanded, laughing.

Morgaine said fiercely, “Arthur, even if you are the King, he must be kept quiet!”

“Right.” Arthur straightened. “I will send the Merlin to look in at him tomorrow; he should not be left alone tonight, though-”

“I’ll stay with him,” she said angrily.

“Well, if you are sure-”

“Go you back to Gwenhwyfar! Your bride is waiting for you!”

Arthur sighed, subdued. After a moment he said, “I don’t know what to say to her. Or what to do.”

This is ridiculous-does he expect me to instruct him, or to instruct his bride? At the look in his eyes she lowered her own. She said, very gently, “Arthur, it is simple. Do as the Goddess prompts you.”

He looked like a stricken child. At last he said, hoarsely, fighting the words, “She-she isn’t the Goddess. She’s just a girl, and she’s-she’s frightened.” After a moment he blurted out, “Morgaine, don’t you know that I still-”

She could not bear what he might be going to say. “No!” she said violently, holding up her hand, commanding silence. “Arthur, remember one thing at least. To her you will always be the God. Come to her as the Horned One ... .”

Arthur crossed himself and shivered. He whispered at last, “God forgive me; this is the punishment ... “ and fell silent. They stood, looking at each other, unable to speak. Finally he said, “Morgaine, I have no right -will you kiss me once?”

“My brother-” She sighed, stood on tiptoe and kissed his forehead. Then she signed his head with the sign of the Goddess. “Bless you,” she whispered. “Arthur, go to her, go to your bride. I promise you, I promise in the name of the Goddess, it will be well, I swear it to you.”

He swallowed-she saw the muscles in his throat move. Then he broke away from her eyes and muttered, “God bless you, sister.” The door closed behind him.

Morgaine dropped down on a chair, and sat, unmoving, staring at Lancelet’s sleep, tormented by pictures in her mind. Lancelet’s face, smiling at her in sunlight on the Tor. Gwenhwyfar, water-draggled, her skirts soaked, clinging to Lancelet’s hand. The Horned God, his face smeared with deer’s blood, drawing aside the curtain at the mouth of the cave. Lancelet’s mouth frantic on her breasts-had it been only a few hours ago?

“At least,” she muttered aloud fiercely, “he will not spend Arthur’s bridal night dreaming of Gwenhwyfar.” She laid herself down along the edge of the bed, pressing her body carefully against the hurt man’s body; she lay there silent, not even weeping, sunk in a despairing misery too deep for tears. But she did not close her eyes that night, fighting the Sight, fighting dreams, struggling for the silence and the numb absence of thought she had been taught in Avalon.

And far away, in the furthest wing of the castle, Gwenhwyfar lay awake, looking in guilty tenderness at Arthur’s hair shining in the moonlight, his chest that rose and fell with his quiet breathing. Tears trickled slowly down her cheeks.

I want so much to love him, she thought, and then she prayed. “Oh, God, holy Mary Virgin, help me to love him as I ought to do, he is my king and my lord and he is so good, he deserves someone who will love him more than I can love.” All around her, it seemed, the night breathed sadness and despair.

But why, she wondered. Arthur is happy. He has nothing with which to reproach me. Whence comes this sorrow in the very air?


On a day in late summer, Queen Gwenhwyfar, with several of her ladies, sat in the hall at Caerleon. It was afternoon and very hot; most of them were making a pretense of spinning, or of carding the last of that spring’s wool for spinning, but the spindles moved sluggishly, and even the Queen, who was the best needlewoman among them, had ceased to set stitches in the fine altar cloth she was making for the bishop.

Morgaine laid aside the carded wool for spinning and sighed. At this season of the year she was always homesick, longing for the mists that crept in from the sea over the cliffs at Tintagel ... she had not seen them since she was a little child.

Arthur and his men, with the Caerleon legion, had ridden out to the southern coast, to examine the new fort that the Saxons of the treaty troops had built there. This summer had brought no raid, and it might well be that the Saxons, except for those who had made treaty with Arthur and were living peacefully in the Kentish country, would give up Britain for lost. Two years of Arthur’s horse legion had reduced the Saxon fighting to a sporadic summer exercise; but Arthur had taken this season of quiet to fortify all the defenses of the coasts.

“I am thirsty again,” said Pellinore’s daughter, Elaine. “May I go, my lady, and ask for more pitchers of water to be sent?”

“Call Cai-he will attend to it,” Gwenhwyfar said.

Morgaine thought: She has grown a great deal; from a scared and timid child she has become a queen.

“You should have married Cai when the King wished for it, lady Morgaine,” said Elaine, returning from her errand and sitting down on the bench beside Morgaine. “He is the only man under sixty in the castle, and| his wife will never lie alone for half a year at a time.”

“You are welcome to him, if you want him,” Morgaine said amiably.

“I still wonder that you did not,” Gwenhwyfar said, as if it were an | old grievance. “It would have been so suitable-Cai, the King’s foster-brother and high in his favor, and you, Arthur’s sister and Duchess of Cornwall in your own right, now that the lady Igraine never leaves her nunnery!”

Drusilla, daughter of one of the petty kings to the east, snickered. “Tell me, if the King’s sister and brother marry, how is it other than incest?”

“Half-sister and foster-brother, you goose,” said Elaine. “But tell me, lady Morgaine, was it only his scars and lameness that deterred you? Cai is no beauty, certainly, but he would be a good husband.”

“I am not deceived by you,” Morgaine retorted, pretending a good humor she did not feel-did these women think of nothing but marriages? “You care nothing for my wedded happiness with Cai, you merely wished for a wedding to break the monotony of the summer. But you should not be greedy. Sir Griflet was married to Meleas last spring, and that should be weddings enough for now.” She glanced at Meleas, whose dress had already begun to grow tight over her pregnant body. “You will even have a babe to fuss and coo over this time next year.”

“But you are long unmarried, lady Morgaine,” said Alienor of Galis. “And you could hardly have hoped for a better match than the King’s own foster-brother!”

“I am in no great haste to be wed, and Cai had no more mind to me than I to him.”

Gwenhwyfar chuckled. “True. He has a tongue near as waspish as your own, and no sweet temper-his wife will need more patience than the saintly Brigid, and you, Morgaine, are ever ready with a sharp answer.”

“And besides, if she should marry, she would have to spin for her household,” Meleas said. “As usual, Morgaine is shirking her share of the spinning!” Her own spindle began to twirl again, and the reel sank slowly toward the floor.

Morgaine shrugged. “It is true I had rather card wool, but there is no more to card,” she said, and reluctantly took up the drop spindle.

“You are the best spinner among us, though,” said Gwenhwyfar. “Your thread is always even and never breaks. Mine breaks if one looks at”

“I have always been neat-handed. Perhaps I am simply tired of spinning, since my mother taught me when I was so young,” Morgaine conceded, and began, reluctantly, to turn the thread in her fingers.

True-she hated spinning and shirked it when she could ... twisting, turning the thread in her fingers, willing her body to stillness with only her fingers twisting as the reel turned and turned, sinking to the floor . .. down and then up, twist and twist between her hands ... all too easy it was to sink into trance. The women were gossiping over the little affairs of the day, Meleas and her morning sickness, a woman who had come from Lot’s court with scandalous tales of Lot’s lechery ... I could tell them much if I would, not even his wife’s niece escaped his lecherous hands.... It took me all my thought and sharp tongue to keep out of his bed; he cares not, maiden or matron, duchess or dairy maid, so it wears a skirt ... twist the thread, twist again, watch the spindle turning, turning. Gwydion must be a great boy by now, three years old, ready for a toy sword and wooden knights such as she had made for Gareth, instead of pet kittens and knucklebones. She remembered Arthur’s weight on her lap when she was a little girl here at Caerleon in Uther’s court ... how fortunate it was that Gwydion did not resemble his father; a small replica of Arthur at Lot’s court would have made tongues wag indeed. Soon or late, someone would still put together reel and spindle and spin the right thread to the answer ... . Morgaine jerked her head up angrily. It was all too easy to fall into trance at the spinning, but she must do her share, there must be thread to weave this winter, and the ladies were making a cloth for banquets ... . Cai was not the only man under fifty in the castle; there was Kevin the Bard, who had come here with news from the Summer Country ... how slowly the spindle moved toward the floor ... twist, twist the thread, as if her fingers had life of their own, apart from her own life .. even in Avalon she had hated to spin ... in Avalon among the priestesses she had tried to take more than her share of the work among the dye pots, to avoid the hated spinning, which sent her mind roaming as her fingers moved ... as the thread turned, it was like the spiral dance along the Tor, round and round, as the world turned round the sun in the sky, though ignorant folk thought it was the other way ... . Things were not always as they seemed, it might be that the reel went round the thread, as the thread went round itself over and over, spinning like a serpent ... like a dragon in the sky... if she were a man and could ride out with the Caerleon legion, at least she need not sit and spin, spin, spin, round and round ... but even

the Caerleon legion went round the Saxons, and the Saxons went round them, round and round, as the blood went round in their veins, red blood flooding, flooding ... spilling over the hearth-

Morgaine heard her own shriek only after it had shattered the silence in the room. She dropped the spindle, which rolled away into the blood which flooded crimson, spilling, spurting over the hearth ... .

“Morgaine! Sister, did you prick your hand on the reel? What ails you?”

“Blood on the hearth-” Morgaine stammered. “See, there, there, just before the King’s high seat, slain there like a slaughtered sheep before the King ... “

Elame shook her; dizzied, Morgaine passed her hand before her eyes. There was no blood, only the slow crawl of the afternoon sun.

“Sister, what did you see?” asked Gwenhwyfar gently.

Mother Goddess! It has happened again! Morgaine tried to steady her breathing. “Nothing, nothing ... I must have fallen asleep and dreamed for a moment.”

“Didn’t you see anything?” Calla, the fat wife of the steward, peered avidly at Morgaine. Morgaine remembered the last time, more than a year ago, when she had gone into trance over her spinning and foreseen that Cai’s favorite horse had broken its leg in the stables and must have its throat cut. She said impatiently, “No, nothing but a dream-I dreamed last night of eating goose and I have not tasted it since Easter! Must every dream be a portent?”

“If you are going to prophesy, Morgaine,” teased Elaine, “you should tell us something sensible, like, when will the men be home so we may have the wine warmed, or whether Meleas is making swaddling bands for a girl or a boy, or when the Queen will get pregnant!”

“Shut up, you beast,” hissed Calla, for Gwenhwyfar’s eyes had filled with tears. Morgaine’s head was splitting with the aftermath of unsought trance; it seemed that little lights were crawling before her eyes, pale shining worms of color that would grow and spread over her whole field of vision. She knew she should let it pass, but even as that knowledge crossed her mind, she exploded, “I am so weary of that old jest! I am no village wise-woman, to meddle with birth charms and love potions and foretellings and spells. I am a priestess, not a witch!”

“Come, come,” Meleas said peacefully. “Let Morgaine be. This sun is enough to make anyone see things that are not there; even if she did see blood spilt on the hearth, it is just as like that some lack-witted serving-man will overset a half-roasted joint here, and the red gravy spill down! Will you drink, lady?” She went to the bucket of water, dipped the ladle and held it out, and Morgaine drank thirstily. “I never heard that most prophecy came to aught-one might as well ask her when Elaine’s father will finally catch and slay that dragon he goes off to pursue, in and out of season.”

Predictably, the diversion worked. Calla jested, “If there was ever a dragon at all, and he was not merely seeking an excuse to go abroad from home when he was weary of the hearth!”

“If I were a man, and wedded to Pellinore’s lady,” Alienor said, “I might well prefer the company of a dragon I could not find, to the company of one in my bed.”

“Tell me, Elaine,” asked Meleas, “is there truly a dragon, or does your father follow it because it is simpler than seeing to his cows? Men need not sit and spin when there is war, but when there is peace, they may grow weary of the fowlyard and the pastures, I suppose.”

“I have never seen the dragon,” Elaine said. “God forbid. But something takes the cows from time to time, and once I did see a great slime trail in the fields, and smell the stench; and a cow lay there quite eaten away, and covered with a foul slime. Not the work of a wolf, that, nor even a glutton.”

“Cows vanishing,” jeered Calla. “The fairy folk are not, I suppose, too good Christians to steal a cow now and then, when the deer are not to be found.”

“And speaking of cows,” Gwenhwyfar said firmly, “I think I must ask Cai whether there is a sheep or a kid for slaughter. We need meat. Should the men come home this night or tomorrow, we cannot feed them all on porridge and buttered bread! And even the butter is beginning to fail in this heat. Come with me, Morgaine. I would that your Sight could tell me when we shall have rain! All of you, clear the thread and wool from the benches here, and put the work away. Elaine, child, take my embroidery work to my chamber and see that nothing spots it.”

As they went toward the hallway, she said, low, “Did you truly see blood, Morgaine?”

“I dreamed,” repeated Morgaine stubbornly.

Gwenhwyfar looked at her sharply, but there was real affection between them sometimes, and she did not pursue the subject. “If you did, God grant it be Saxon blood, and spilt far from this hearth. Come, let us ask Cai about the stock kept for meat. It is no season for hunting, and I have no wish to have the men about and hunting here when they come again.” She yawned. “I wish the heat would break. We might yet have a thunderstorm -the milk was soured this morning. I should tell the maids to make clabber cheese with what’s left of it, not throw it to the pigs.”

“You are a notable housewife, Gwenhwyfar,” Morgaine said wryly. “I would not have thought of that, so that it was out of my sight; but the smell of curd cheese clings so to the dairies! I would rather have the pigs well fattened.”

“They are fat enough in this weather, with all the acorns ripe,” said Gwenhwyfar, looking at the sky again. “Look, is that a flash of lightning?” Morgaine followed her eyes, seeing the streak of glare across the sky. “Aye. The men will come home wet and cold, we should have hot wine ready for them,” she said absentmindedly, then started, as Gwenhwyfar blinked.

“Now do I believe, indeed, that you have the Sight-certainly there is no sound of hooves nor no word from the watchtower,” Gwenhwyfar said. “I will tell Cai to be sure there is meat, anyway.” And she went along the yard, while Morgaine stood, pressing her aching head with one hand.

This is not good. At Avalon she had learned to control the Sight, not let it slip upon her unawares, when she was not attending ... . Soon she would be a village witch indeed, peddling charms and prophesying boy- or girl-children and new lovers for the maidens, from sheer boredom at the pettiness of life among the women. The gossip bored her to spinning, the spinning beguiled her into trance ... . One day, no doubt, I would sink low enough to give Gwenhwyfar the charm she wants, so that she may bear Arthur a son ... barrenness is a heavy burden for a queen, and only once in these two years has she shown any sign of breeding.

Yet she found Gwenhwyfar’s company, and Elaine’s, endurable; most of the other women had never had a single thought beyond the next meal or the next reel of thread spun. Gwenhwyfar and Elaine had had some learning, and occasionally, sitting at ease with them, she could almost imagine herself peacefully among the priestesses in the House of Maidens. The storm broke just before sunset-there was hail that clattered in the courtyard and bounced on the stones, there was drenching rain; and when the watchtower called down the news of riders, Morgaine never doubted that it was Arthur and his men. Gwenhwyfar called for torches to light the courtyard, and shortly after, the walls of Caerleon were bulging with men and horses. Gwenhwyfar had conferred with Cai and he had slaughtered not a kid, but sheep, so there was meat roasting and hot broth for the men. Most of the legion camped all through the outer court and the field, and like any commander, Arthur saw to the encampment of his men and the stabling of their horses before he came into the courtyard where Gwenhwyfar awaited him.

His head was bandaged under his helmet, and he leaned a little on Lancelet’s arm, but he brushed away her anxious query.

“A skirmish-Jute raiders along the coast. The Saxons of the treaty troops had already cleaned most of them away before we came there. Ha! I smell roast mutton-is this magic, when you did not know we were coming?”

“Morgaine told me you would come, and there is hot wine as well,” said Gwenhwyfar.

“Well, well, it is a boon to a hungry man to have a sister who is gifted with the Sight,” said Arthur, with a jovial smile at Morgaine which rasped on her aching head and raw nerves. He kissed her, and turned back to Gwenhwyfar.

“You are hurt, my husband, let me see to it-”

“No, no, I tell you it is nothing. I never lose much blood, you know that, not while I bear this scabbard about me,” he said, “but how is it with you, lady, after these many months? I had thought ... “

Her eyes filled slowly with tears. “I was wrong again. Oh, my lord, this time I was so sure, so sure ... “

He took her hand in his, unable to express his own disappointment in the face of his wife’s pain. “Well, well, we must certainly get Morgaine to give you a charm,” he said; but he watched, his face momentarily setting into grim lines, as Meleas welcomed Griflet with a wifely kiss, holding her young swollen body proudly forward. “We are not yet old folk, my Gwenhwyfar.”

But, Gwenhwyfar thought, I am not so young either. Most of the women I know, save for Morgaine and Elaine who are yet unwedded, have great boys and girls by the time they are twenty; Igraine bore Morgaine when she was full fifteen, and Meleas is fourteen and a half, no more! She tried to look calm and unconcerned, but guilt gnawed within her. Whatever else a queen might do for her lord, her first duty was to give him a son, and she had not done that duty, though she had prayed till her knees ached.

“How does my dear lady?” Lancelet bowed before her, smiling, and she held him out her hand to kiss. “Once again we return home and find you only more beautiful than ever. You are the only lady whose beauty never fades. I begin to think God has ordered it so, that when all other women age and grow old and thick and worn, you shall be ever beautiful.”

She smiled at him and felt comforted. Perhaps it was just as well that she was not pregnant and ugly ... she saw that he looked on Meleas with a faint scornful smile, and she felt that she could not bear to be ugly before Lancelet. Even Arthur looked shabby, as if he had slept in the same crumpled tunic all through the campaign, and wrapped himself, in mud and rain and weather, in his fine, much-worn cloak; but Lancelet looked as crisp and new, his cloak and tunic as well brushed, as if he had dressed himself for an Easter feast-his hair trimmed and combed smooth, his leather belt polished, and even the eagle feathers in his cap standing up dry and unwilted. He looked, Gwenhwyfar thought, more like a king than Arthur himself did.

As the serving-maidens carried round platters of meat and bread, Arthur drew Gwenhwyfar to his side.

“Come sit here between Lancelet and me, Gwen, and we will talk- it seems long since I heard a voice that was not rough and male, or smelled the scent of a woman’s gown.” He passed his hand over her braid. “Come you too, Morgaine, and sit by me-I am weary of campaigning, I want to hear small gossip, not the talk of the camp!” He bit into a chunk of bread with eager hunger. “And it is good to eat new-baked bread; I am tired of hard-baked army bread, and meat gone bad by keeping!”

Lancelet had turned to smile at Morgaine.

“And you, how is it with you, kinswoman? I suppose there is no news from the Summer Country, or from Avalon? There is another here who is eager to hear it, if there is-my brother Balan rode with us.”

“I have no news from Avalon,” said Morgaine, feeling Gwenhwyfar watching her-or was she looking at Lancelet? “But I have not seen Balan for many years-I suppose he would have later news than mine?”

“He is there,” Lancelet said, gesturing toward the men in the hall. “Arthur bid him to dine here as my kinsman, and it would be a kindness in you, Morgaine, to take him a cup of wine from the high table. Like all men, he too is eager for a welcome from some woman, even if it be a kinswoman and not a sweetheart.”

Morgaine took one of the drinking cups, horn bound with wood, that sat on the high table, and beckoned a servant to pour wine into it; then she raised it between her hands and went around the table among the knights. She was pleasantly conscious of their regard, even though she knew they would look like this at any well-bred, finely dressed woman after so many months of campaign; it was not a particular compliment to her beauty. At least Balan, who was a cousin, almost a brother, would not eye her so hungrily.

“I greet you, kinsman. Lancelet, your brother, sent you some wine from the King’s table.”

“I beg you to sip it first, lady,” he said, then blinked. “Morgaine, is it you? I hardly knew you, you have grown so fine. I think of you always in the dress of Avalon, but you are like to my mother, indeed. How does the Lady?”

Morgaine set the cup to her lips-mere courtesy at this court, but perhaps stemming from a time when gifts from the King were tasted before a guest, when the poisoning of rival kings was not unknown. She handed it to him, and Balan drank a long draught before looking up at her again.

“I had hoped to have news of Viviane from you, kinsman-I have not returned to Avalon for many years,” she said.

“Aye, I knew that you were in Lot’s court,” he said. “Did you quarrel with Morgause? I hear that is easy done by any woman ... .”

Morgaine shook her head. “No; but I wished to be far enough away to stay out of Lot’s bed, and that is not easy done. The distance between Orkney and Caerleon is hardly far enough.”

“And so you came to Arthur’s court to be waiting-woman to his queen,” said Balan. “It is a more seemly court than that of Morgause, I dare say. Gwenhwyfar guards her maidens well, and makes good marriages for them, too-I see Griflet’s lady is already big with her first. Has she not found you a husband, kinswoman?”

Morgaine forced herself to say gaily, “Are you making an offer for me, sir Balan?”

He chuckled. “You are all too close kin to me, Morgaine, or I should accept your offer. But I heard some gossip that Arthur had intended you for Cai, and that seemed a good match to me, since you have left Avalon after all.”

“Cai had no more mind to me than I to him,” said Morgaine sharply, “and I have never said I would not return to Avalon, but only on that day when Viviane sends for me to come thither.”

“When I was but a lad,” Balan said-and for a moment, his dark eyes resting on Morgaine, she thought that indeed she could see the resemblance to Lancelet even in this great coarse man-”I thought ill of the Lady-of Viviane, that she did not love me as it was fit for a mother to do. But I think better of it now. As a priestess, she could not have had leisure to rear a son. And so she gave me into the hands of one who had no other work than that, and she gave me my foster-brother Balin ... . Oh, yes, as a lad I felt guilty about that too, that I cared more for Balin than for our Lancelet, who is of my own flesh and blood. But now I know Balin is truly my own heart’s brother, and Lancelet, though I admire him for the fine knight he is, will always be a stranger to me. And too,” Balan said seriously, “when Viviane gave me up to Dame Priscilla for fostering, she put me into a household where I would come to know the true God apd Christ. It seems to me strange, that if I had dwelt in Avalon with my own kin, I should be a heathen, even as Lancelet is ... .”

Morgaine smiled a little. “Well,” she said, “there I cannot share your gratitude, for I think it ill done of the Lady that her own son should abandon her Gods. But even Viviane has often said to me that men should have such manner of religious and spiritual counsel as liked them best, that which she could give, or other. Had I been truly pious and Christian at heart, no doubt, she would have let me live by the faith which was strong in my heart. Yet, though I was reared till I was eleven by Igraine, who was as good a Christian as any, I think perhaps it was ordained that I should see the things of the spirit as they come to us from the Goddess.”

“Balin would be able to argue that with you better than I,” said Balan, ‘for he is more pious than I and a better Christian. I should probably say to you what no doubt the priests have said, that there is only one true faith in which man and woman may trust. But you are my kinswoman, and I know my mother to be a good woman, and I have faith that even Christ will take her goodness into account on the last day. As for the rest, I am no priest and I see not why I should not leave all those matters to the priests who are schooled in them. I love Balin well, but he should have been a priest, not a warrior, if he is so tender of faith and conscience.” He looked toward the high table and said, “Tell me, foster-sister, you know him better than I-what lies so heavy on our brother Lancelet’s heart?”

Morgaine bent her head and said, “If I knew, Balan, it is not my secret to tell.”

“You are right to bid me mind my own affairs,” said Balan, “but I hate seeing him miserable, and miserable he is. I thought ill of our mother, as I said, because she sent me so young from home, but she gave me a loving foster-mother, and a brother of my own age, reared at my side and as one with me in all things, and a home. She did less well by Lancelet. He was never at home-neither in Avalon nor yet at the court of Ban of Ben-wick, where he was dragged up as just another of the king’s unregarded bastards ... . Viviane did ill by him indeed, and I wish Arthur would give him a wife, so he might have a home at last.”

“Well,” said Morgaine lightly, “if the King wishes me to wed Lance-let, he need only name the day.”

“You and Lancelet? Are you not too close kin for that?” Balan asked, then thought for a moment. “No, I suppose not-Igraine and Viviane were but half-sisters, and Gorlois and Ban of Ben wick are not in any way akin. Though some of the church folk say foster-kin should be treated as blood kin for marriage ... well, Morgaine, I will drink to your wedding with pleasure on that day Arthur gives you to my brother, and bids you love him and care for him as Viviane never did! And neither of you need leave court-you the Queen’s favorite lady and Lancelet our King’s dearest friend. I hope it comes to pass!” His eyes dwelt on her with kindly concern. “You too are well past the age when Arthur should give you to some man.”

And why should it be for the King to give me, as if I were one of his horses or dogs? Morgaine wondered, but shrugged; she had lived long in Avalon, she forgot at times that the Romans had made this the common law, that women were the chattels of their menfolk. The world had changed and there was no point in rebelling against what could not be altered.

Soon after she began to skirt the edges of the great mead table which had been Gwenhwyfar’s wedding gift to Arthur. The great hall here in Caerleon, large as it was, was not really large enough; at one point she had to clamber over the benches because the table pushed them so close to the wall, to get by the great curve of it. The pot boys and kitchen boys, too, had to sidle past with their smoking platters and cups.

“Is Kevin not here?” asked Arthur. “Then we must have Morgaine to sing for us-I am hungry too for harps and all the things of civilized men. I am not surprised the Saxons spend all their time in making war. I have heard the dismal howling of their singers, and they have no reason to stay home!”

Morgaine asked one of Cai’s helpers around the castle to fetch her harp from her chamber. He had to climb around the curve of the bench, and lost his footing; only the quickness of Lancelet, reaching out to steady boy and harp, kept the instrument from falling.

Arthur frowned. “It was good of my father-in-law to send me this great round mead table,” he said, “but there is no chamber in Caerleon large enough for it. When the Saxons are driven away for good, I think I must build a hall just to hold it!”

“Then will it never be built.” Cai laughed. “To say ‘when the Saxons are driven away for good’ is like to saying ‘when Jesus shall come again’ or ‘when Hell freezes’ or ‘when raspberries grow on the apple trees of Glastonbury.’ “

“Or when King Pellinore catches his dragon,” Meleas giggled.

Arthur smiled. “You must not make fun of Pellinore’s dragon,” he said, “for there is word it has been seen again, and he is off to find it and slay it this time-indeed, he asked the Merlin if he knew any dragon-catching spells!”

“Oh, aye, it has been seen-like a troll on the hills, turned to stone by daylight, or the ring stones dancing on the night of the full moon,” Lancelet gibed. “There are always people who see whatever vision they will -some see saints and miracles, and some see dragons or the old fairy folk. But never did I know of living man or woman who had seen either dragon or fairy.”

Morgaine remembered, against her will, the day in Avalon when she had gone searching for roots and herbs and strayed into the strange country where the fairy woman had spoken with her and had sought to foster her child ... what, indeed, had she seen? Or had it been only the sick fantasy of a breeding woman?

“You say that, when you were yourself fostered as Lancelet of the Lake?” she asked quietly, and Lancelet turned round to her. He said, “There are times when that seems unreal to me-is it not so for you, sister?”

She said, “It is true indeed, but at times I am homesick for Avalon ... .”

“Aye, and I too, kinswoman,” he said. Never since that night of Arthur’s marriage, by word or look had he implied that he had ever felt anything more for her than for a childhood companion and foster-sister. She had thought she had long accepted the pain of that, but it struck her anew as his dark, beautiful eyes met hers in such kindness.

Soon or late, it must seem even as Balan said: we are both unmarried, the King’s sister and his best friend ... .

Arthur said, “Well, when the Saxons are driven away for good-and do not laugh as if that were a fabulous event! It can be done, now, and I think they know it-then I shall build myself a castle, and a great hall big enough for even this table. I have already chosen the site-it is a hill fort which was there long before Roman times, looking down on the Lake itself, and near to your father’s island kingdom, Gwenhwyfar. You know the place, where the river flows into the Lake-”

“I know,” she said. “When I was a small child I went there one day to pick strawberries. There was an old ruined well, and we found elf bolts there. The old folk who lived on the chalk had left their arrows.” How strange, Gwenhwyfar thought, to remember that there had been a time when she had liked to go abroad under the wide, high sky, not even caring whether there was a wall or the safety of an enclosure; and now she grew sick and dizzy if she went out from the walls, where she could not see or touch them. Sometimes now she felt the lump of fear in her belly even when she walked across the courtyard, and had to hurry to touch the safety of the wall again.

“It is an easy place to fortify,” Arthur said, “though I hope, when we are done with the Saxons, we may have leisure and peace in this island.”

“An ignoble wish for a warrior, brother,” said Cai. “What will you do in time of peace?”

“I will call Kevin the Bard to make songs, and I will break my own horses and ride them for pleasure,” Arthur said. “My Companions and I will raise our sons without putting a sword in every little hand before it is full grown to manhood! And I need not fear they will be lamed or slain before they are full grown. Cai-would it not be better if you need not have been sent to war before you were old enough to guard yourself? Sometimes I feel it wrong that it was you, not I, who was lamed, because Ectorius wanted me kept safe for Uther!” He looked with concern and affection at his foster-brother, and Cai grinned back at him.

“And,” said Lancelet, “we will keep the arts of war alive by holding games, as they did in the days of the ancients, and crown the winner of the games with laurel wreaths-what is laurel, Arthur, and does it grow in these islands? Or is it only in the land of Achilles and Alexander?”

“The Merlin could tell you that,” Morgaine said, when Arthur looked perplexed’. “I know not either, but whether or no we have laurel, there are plants enough to make wreaths for the victors at your games.”

“And we will give garlands to harpers too,” Lancelet said. “Sing, Morgaine.”

“I had better sing for you now,” Morgaine said, “for I do not suppose, when you men hold your games, you will let women sing.” She took up the harp and began to play. She was sitting nearly where she had been sitting this afternoon when she saw blood spilled forth on the King’s hearth ... would it truly come to pass, or was it fantasy? Why, indeed, should she think she still possessed the Sight? It never came upon her now save in these unwelcome trances ... .

She began to sing an ancient lament which she had heard at Tintagel, a lament of a fisherwoman who had seen the boats swept out to sea. She knew that she held them all with her voice, and in the silence of the hall she fell to singing old songs of the islands, which she had heard at Lot’s court: a legend of the seal woman who had come out of the sea to find a mortal lover, songs of the solitary women herders, songs for spinning and for carding flax. Even when her voice grew weary they called for more, but she held up her hand in protest.

“Enough-no, truly, I can sing no more. I am hoarse as any raven.”

Soon after, Arthur called the servants to extinguish the torches in the hall and light the guests to bed. It was one of Morgaine’s tasks to see that the unmarried women who waited on the Queen were safely put to sleep in the long loft room behind the Queen’s own chamber, at the opposite end of the building from the soldiers and armsmen. But she lingered a moment, her eyes on Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who were bidding Lancelet good night.

“I have told the women to prepare the best spare bed for you, Lancelet,” said Gwenhwyfar, but he laughed and shook his head.

“I am a soldier-it is my duty to see horses and men bedded safe for the night before I sleep.”

Arthur chuckled, his arm around Gwenhwyfar’s waist. “We must get you married, Lance, then you will not spend your nights so cold. I made you my captain of horse, but you need not spend your nights lying down among them!”

Gwenhwyfar felt a pain within her breast as she met Lancelet’s eyes. It seemed to her that she could almost read his thoughts, that he would say aloud again, as he had said once, My heart is so full of my queen I have no room therefor any other lady.... She held her breath, but Lancelet only sighed and smiled at her, and she thought, No, lama wedded wife, a Christian woman, it is sin even to think such thoughts; I must do penance. And then, feeling her throat so tight she could not swallow, she felt the thought come unbidden. Penance enough that I must be apart from the one I love ... and she gasped aloud, so that Arthur turned startled eyes on her.

“What is it, love, have you hurt yourself?”

“A-a pin pricked me,” she said, and turned her eyes away, pretending to hunt for the pin at the folds of her dress. She saw Morgaine watching her, and bit her lip. She is always watching me ... and she has the Sight; does she know all my sinful thoughts? Is that why she looks on me so scornfully?

Yet Morgaine had never shown her anything but a sister’s kindness. And when she had been pregnant, in the first year of their marriage-when she had taken a fever and miscarried the child within five months-she could not bear to have any of her ladies about her, and Morgaine had cared for her almost like a mother. Why, now, was she so ungrateful?

Lancelet bade them good night again, and withdrew. Gwenhwyfar was almost painfully conscious of Arthur’s arm around her waist, the frank eagerness in his eyes. Well, they had been apart a long time. But she felt a sudden, sharp resentment. Not once, since that time, have I been pregnant -can he not even give me a child?

Oh, but surely that was her own fault-one of the midwives had told her it was like a sickness in cattle when they cast their calves unborn, time after time, and sometimes women took that sickness too, so they could not carry a child more than a month or two, three at the most. Somehow, through carelessness, she must have taken that illness, gone perhaps into the dairy at the wrong time, or drunk of milk from a cow who had cast her calf, and so the life of her lord’s son and heir had been forfeit, and it was all her doing. ... Torn with guilt, she followed Arthur into their chamber.

“It is more than a jest, Gwen,” said Arthur, sitting to draw off his leather hose. “We must get Lancelet married. Have you seen how all the lads run to him, and how good he is with them? He should have sons of his own. I have it, Gwen! We will marry him to Morgaine!”

“No!” The word was torn from her before she thought, and Arthur looked at her, startled.

“What is the matter with you? Does it not seem perfect, the right choice? My dear sister and my best friend? And their children, mark you, would be next heirs to our throne in any case, if it should be that the Gods send us no children ... . No, no, don’t cry, my love,” he begged, and Gwenhwyfar knew, humiliated and shamed, that her face had twisted with weeping. “I meant not to reproach you, my dearest love, children come when the Goddess wills, but only she knows when we will have children, or if we will ever have them at all. And although Gawaine is dear to me, I have no will to put a son of Lot on the throne if I should die. Morgaine is my own mother’s child, and Lancelet my cousin-”

“Surely it cannot matter to Lancelet whether or no he has sons,” said Gwenhwyfar. “He is fifth-or is it sixth-son to King Ban, and bastard-born at that.”

“I never thought to hear you, of all people, reproach my kinsman and dearest friend with his birth,” Arthur said. “And he is no ordinary bastard, but son to the grove and the Great Marriage-”

“Pagan harlotries! If I were King Ban, I would clean all such sorcerous filth from my kingdom-and so should you!”

Arthur shifted uneasily, clambering under the bed cover. “Lancelet would have little cause to love me if I drove his mother from this kingdom. And I am sworn to honor Avalon, by the sword they gave me at my kingmaking.”

Gwenhwyfar looked at the great sword Excalibur, where it hung over the edge of the bed in its magical scabbard covered with mystical symbols that seemed to shine with pale silver and mock at her. She put out the light and lay down beside Arthur, saying, “Our Lord Jesus would safeguard you better than any such wicked enchantments. You did not have to do with any of their vile Goddesses and sorcery before you were made King, did you? I know such things were done in Uther’s day, but this is a Christian land!”

Arthur shifted uneasily and said, “There are many folk in this land, the Old People who dwelt here long before Rome came to us-we cannot take their Gods from them. And-what befell before my crowning-well, that touches you not, my Gwenhwyfar.”

“Men cannot serve two masters,” said Gwenhwyfar, surprised at her own daring. “I would have you altogether a Christian king, my lord.”

“I owe allegiance to all my people,” said Arthur, “not those alone who follow Christ-”

“It seems to me,” said Gwenhwyfar, “that those are your enemies, not the Saxons. The true warfare for a Christian king is only against those who do not follow Christ.”

Arthur laughed uneasily at that. “Now do you sound like the bishop Patricius. He would have us Christianize the Saxons rather than putting them to the sword, so that we may live at peace with them. For my part I am like to the priests who were here in the older days, who were asked to send missionaries to the Saxons-know you what they said, my wife?”

“No, I have never heard-”

“They said, they would send no missionaries to the Saxons, lest they be forced to meet them in peace, even before God’s throne.” Arthur laughed heartily, but Gwenhwyfar did not smile, and after a time he sighed.

“Well, think on it, my Gwenhwyfar. It seems to me the best possible marriage-my dearest friend and my sister. Then would he be my brother and his sons my heirs ... .”

In the darkness his arms went round her, and he added, “But now we must strive to make it come to pass that we will need no other heirs, you and I, my love, but those you can give to me.”

“God grant it,” whispered Gwenhwyfar, moving into his arms, and tried to close away everything out of her mind but Arthur, here in her arms.

MORGAINE, lingering after she had seen the women to bed, stood near the. window, restless. Elaine, who shared her bed, murmured to her, “Come and sleep, Morgaine; it is late, you must be weary.”

She shook her head. “I think it is the moon that has gotten into my blood tonight-I am not sleepy.” She was unwilling to lie down and close her eyes; even if she had not the Sight, it was her imagination which would torment her. All round her the newly returned men joined with their wives -she thought, with a wry smile in the darkness, it is like to Beltane in Avalon ... even the soldiers who were not wedded, she was sure, had somehow found women for this night. Everyone, from the King with his wife down to the stablemen, lay in someone’s arms tonight, except for the Queen’s maidens; Gwenhwyfar thought it her duty to guard their chastity, even as Balan had said. And I am guarded with the Queen’s maidens.

Lancelet, at Arthur’s wedding ... that had come to nothing, through no fault of their own. And Lancelet has stayed away from the court as often as he might ... no doubt, so that he need not see Gwenhwyfar in Arthur’s arms! But he is here now ... and like herself, he was alone this night, among soldiers and horsemen, no doubt dreaming of the Queen, of the one woman in the kingdom he could not have. For surely every other woman at court, wedded or maiden, was as willing to have him as she herself. Save for bad fortune at Arthur’s wedding, she would have had him; and honorable as he was, if he^had made her pregnant, he would have married her.

Not that it is likely I would have conceived, with the harm I suffered at Gwydion’s birth ... but I need not have told him that. And I could have made him happy, even if I could not bear him a son. There was a time he wanted me, before ever he saw Gwenhwyfar, and after too ... save for mischance, I would have made him forget her in my arms ... .

And I am not so undesirable as that ... when I was singing tonight, many of the knights looked on me with desire ... .

I could make Lancelet desire me ... .

Elaine said impatiently, “Will you not come to bed, Morgaine?”

“Not yet awhile ... I think I will walk a little out of doors,” said Morgaine, though this was forbidden to the Queen’s women, and Elaine shrank back, with that timidity which so exasperated Morgaine. She wondered if Elaine had caught it from the Queen like a fever, or a new fashion in wearing veils.

“Are you not afraid with all the men encamped about?” Morgaine laughed. “Well, think you not I am weary of lying alone?” But she saw that the jest offended Elaine and said, more gently, “I am the King’s sister. None would touch me against my will. Do you really think me so tempting no man could resist me? I am six-and-twenty, not a dainty young virgin like yourself, Elaine.”

Morgaine lay down, without undressing, beside Elaine. In the darkness and silence, as she had feared, her imagination-or was it the Sight?-made pictures: Arthur with Gwenhwyfar, men with women all round her throughout the castle, joined in love or simple lust.

And Lancelet, was he alone too? Memory attacked her again, more intense than imagination, and she remembered that day, bright sunlight on the Tor, Lancelet’s kisses running that first awakening knife-sharp through her body; and the bitterness of regret that she was pledged elsewhere. And then, when Arthur was wedded to Gwenhwyfar, and he had come near to tearing off her clothes and having her there in the stables-he had wanted her then ... .

Now, sharp as the Sight, the picture came to her mind, Lancelet walking in the courtyard, alone, his face empty with loneliness and frustration ... I have not used the Sight nor my own magic to draw him to me in selfish purpose ... if came to me unsought ... .

Silently, moving quietly so as not to waken the younger girl, she freed herself from Elaine’s arm, slid gently from the bed. She had taken off only her shoes; she stooped now to draw them on, then silently went from the room, moving as noiselessly as a wraith from Avalon.

If it is a dream born of my own imagination, if he is not there, I will walk a little in the moonlight to cool my fever and then go back to my bed, there will be no harm done. But the picture persisted in her mind and she knew that Lancelet was there alone, like herself wakeful.

He too was of Avalon... the sun tides run in his blood too.... Morgaine, slipping quietly out of the door past the drowsing watchman, cast a glance at the sky. The moon, a quarter full, flooded down brightly into the stone-flagged space before the stables. No, not here; around to the side ... . For a moment Morgaine thought, He is not here, it was a dream, it was my own fantasy. She almost turned about to go back to her bed, suddenly flooded with shame; suppose the watchman should come upon her here, and all would know that the King’s sister crept about the house after all honest folk were asleep, no doubt bent on harlotries-

“Who is it? Stand, show yourself!” The voice was low and harsh; Lancelet’s voice. Suddenly, for all her exultation, Morgaine was afraid; her Sight had shown truly, but what now? Lancelet’s hand had gone to his sword; he looked very tall and thin in the shadows.

“Morgaine,” she said softly, and he let his hand fall from his sword. “Cousin, is it you?”

She came out of the shadows, and his face, keen and troubled, softened as he looked at her.

“So late? Did you come to seek me-is there trouble within? Arthur -the Queen-”

Even now he thinks only of the Queen, Morgaine thought, and felt it like a tingling in her fingertips and the calves of her legs, anger and excitement. She said, “No, all is well-as far as I know. I am not privy to the secrets of the royal bedchamber!”

He flushed, just a shadow on his face in the darkness, and looked away from her. She said, “I could not sleep ... how is it you ask me what I am doing here when you yourself are not in your bed? Or has Arthur made you his night watchman?”

She could sense Lancelet smile. “No more than you. I was restless when all around me slept-I think perhaps the moon has gotten into my blood.” It was the same phrase she had used to Elaine, and somehow it struck her as a good omen, a symbol that their minds worked in tune and that they responded one to the call of the other as a silent harp vibrates when a note on another is struck.

Lancelet went on, speaking softly into the darkness at her side, “I am restless these nights, thinking of so many nights of battle-” “And you wish yourself back in battle like all soldiers?” He sighed. “No. Although perhaps it is unworthy of a soldier to dream early and late of peace.”

“I do not think so,” Morgaine said softly. “For what do you make war, except that peace may come for all our people? If a soldier loves his trade overmuch, then he becomes no more than a weapon for killing. What else brought the Romans to our peaceful isle, but the love of conquest and battle for its own sake?”

Lancelet smiled. “Your father was one of those Romans, cousin. So was mine.”

“Yet I think more of the peaceful Tribes, who wanted no more than to till their barley crops in peace and worship the Goddess. I am of my mother’s people-and yours.”

“Aye, but those mighty heroes of old we spoke of before-Achilles, Alexander-they all felt war and battle the proper business of a man, and even now, in these islands, it has come to be that all men think of battle first and peace as no more than a quiet and womanly interlude.” He sighed. “These are heavy thoughts-it is no wonder sleep is far from us, Morgaine. Tonight I would give all the great weapons ever forged, and all the gallant songs of your Achilles and Alexanders for an apple from the branches of Avalon ... .” He turned his head away. Morgaine slipped her hand within his own.

“So would I, cousin.”

“I do not know why I am homesick for Avalon-I did not live long there,” Lancelet said, musing. “And yet I think it is the fairest place on all earth-if indeed it is on this earth at all. The old Druid magic, I think, took it from this world, because it was all too fair for us imperfect men, and must be like a dream of Heaven, impossible ...” He recalled himself with a little laugh. “My confessor would not like to hear me say these things!”

Morgaine chuckled, low. “Have you become a Christian then, Lance?”

“Not a good one, I fear,” he said. “Yet their faith seems to me so simple and good, I wish I could believe it-they say: believe what you have not seen, profess what you do not know, that is more virtuous than believing what you have seen. Even Jesus, they say, when he rose from the dead, chided a man who would have thrust his hands into the Christ’s wounds to see that he was not a ghost or a spirit, for it was more blessed to believe without seeing.”

“But we shall all rise again,” said Morgaine, very low, “and again and again and again. We do not come once and go to Heaven or their Hell, but live again and again until we are even as the Gods.”

He lowered his head. Now that her eyes were accustomed to the dimness of the moonlight, she could see him clearly, the delicate line of temple curving inward at the eye, the long, narrow sweep of the jaw, the soft darkness of his brows and his hair curling over it. Again his beauty made a pain in her heart. He said, “I had forgotten you were a priestess, and you believe ... .”

Their hands were clasped lightly; she felt his stir within her own and loosed it. “Sometimes I do not know what I believe. Perhaps I have been too long away from Avalon.”

“Nor do I know what I believe,” he said, “but I have seen so many men die, and women and little children in this long, long war, it seems that I have been fighting since I grew tall enough to hold a sword. And when I see them die, I think faith is an illusion, and the truth is that we all die as the beasts die, and are no more ever-like grass cut down, and last year’s snow.”

“But these things too return again,” Morgaine whispered.

“Do they? Or is this the illusion?” His voice sounded bitter. “I think perhaps there is no meaning in any of it-all the talk of Gods and the Goddess are fables to comfort children. Ah, God, Morgaine, why are we talking like this? You should go to your rest, cousin, and so should I-’

“I will go if you wish it,” she said, and even as she turned away, happiness surged through her because he reached for her hand.

“No, no-when I am alone I fall prey to these fancies and wretched doubts, and if they must come I would rather speak them aloud so I can hear what folly they are. Stay with me, Morgaine-”

“As long as you wish,” she whispered, and felt tears in her eyes. She reached out and put her arms around his waist; his strong arms tightened about her, then loosened, remorsefully.

“You are so little-I had forgotten how little you are-I could break you with my two hands, cousin ... .” His hands strayed to her hair, which she had bundled loose under her veil. He stroked it; twined an end of it around his fingers. “Morgaine, Morgaine, sometimes it seems to me that you are one of the few things in my life which is all good-like one of those old fairy folk they tell of in legends, the elf-woman who comes from the unknown land to speak words of beauty and hope to a mortal, then departs again for the islands of the West and is never seen again-”

“But I will not depart,” she whispered.

“No.” At one side of the flagged yard there was a block where sometimes men sat waiting for their horses; he drew her toward it and said, “Sit here beside me-” then hesitated. “No, this is no place for a lady-” and started to laugh. “Nor was the stable that day-do you remember, Morgaine?”

“I thought you had forgotten, after that devil horse threw you-”

“You should not call him devil. He has saved Arthur’s life in battle more than once, and Arthur would think him guardian angel instead,” Lancelet said. “Ah, that was a day of wretchedness. I would have wronged you, cousin, to take you like that. I have often longed to beg your pardon and hear you grant me forgiveness and say you bore me no malice-”

“Malice?” She looked up at him and felt suddenly dizzied by the rush of intense emotion. “Malice? Only, perhaps, to those who interrupted us-

“Is it so?” His voice was soft. He took her face between his hands and bent, deliberately, laying his lips against hers. Morgaine let herself go soft against him, opening her mouth beneath his lips. He was clean-shaven, in the Roman fashion, and she felt the prickly softness of his face against her cheek, the warm sweetness of his tongue probing her mouth. He drew her closer, almost lifting her from her feet, making a soft murmuring sound. The kiss went on until she finally, reluctantly, had to move her mouth to breathe, and he laughed softly, a sound of wonder.

“So here we are again ... it seems we have been here before ... and this time I will cut off the head of any that interrupts us ... but we stand here kissing in the stable yard like serving-man and kitchen wench! What now, Morgaine? Where do we go?”

She did not know-there was not any place, it seemed, secure for them. She could not take him to her room where she slept with Elaine and four of Gwenhwyfar’s maidens, and Lancelet himself had said he preferred to sleep among the soldiers. And something at the back of her mind told her that this was not the way; the King’s sister and the King’s friend should not go seeking a hayloft. The proper way, if truly they felt this about each other, was to wait until dawn and ask Arthur’s permission to marry ... .

Yet in her heart, hidden away so that she need not look at it, she knew that this was not what Lancelet wanted; in a moment of passion he might desire her indeed, but no more. And for a moment of passion, would she entrap him into a lifelong pledge? The way of the tribal festivals was more honest, that man and woman should come together with the sun tides and moon tides in their blood, as the Goddess willed; and only if they wished, later, to share a home and rear children was marriage thought upon. She knew in her heart, too, that she had no real wish to marry Lancelet or any other-even though she felt, for his own sake, and Arthur’s, and even for Gwenhwyfar’s, it would be best to remove him from the court.

But that was a fleeting thought. She was dizzy with his closeness, the sound of his heart pounding against her cheek-he wanted her; there was not, now, in his heart, any thought of Gwenhwyfar or anyone but herself.

Let it be with us as the Goddess wills, man and woman-

“I know,” she whispered, and caught at his hand. Around behind the stables and the forge there was a path leading to the orchard. The grass was thick and soft and sometimes the women sat there on a bright afternoon.

Lancelet spread his cloak in the grass. Around them was the indefinable scent of green apples and grass, and Morgaine thought, Almost, we might be in Avalon. With that trick he had of catching up her thoughts, he murmured, “We have found ourselves a corner of Avalon this night-” and drew her down beside him. He took off her veil, stroking her hair, but he seemed in no haste for more, holding her gently, now and again leaning down to kiss her on cheek or forehead.

“The grass is dry-no dew has fallen. Like enough there will be rain before morning,” he murmured, caressing her shoulder and her small hands. She felt his hand, sword-callused and hard, so hard that it startled her to remember he was full four years younger than she was herself. She had heard the story-he had been born when Viviane thought herself well beyond childbearing. His long fingers could encircle her whole hand and conceal it there; he toyed with her fingers, playing with her rings, moving his hand to the breast of her gown, and unlacing it there. She felt dizzied, shaken, passion sweeping through her like the tide surging in and covering a beach, so that she went under and drowned in his kisses. He murmured something that she could not hear, but she did not ask what he had said, she was beyond listening to words.

He had to help her out of her gown. The dresses worn at court were more elaborate than the simple robes she had worn as a priestess, and she felt clumsy, awkward. Would he like her? Her breasts seemed so soft and limp, they had been so since Gwydion’s birth; she remembered how they had been when he first touched her, tiny and hard.

But he seemed to notice nothing, fondling her breasts, taking the nipples between his fingers and then, gently, between his lips and his teeth. Then she lost thought altogether, nothing existing in the world for her except his hands touching her, the pulse of awareness in her own fingers running down the smoothness of his shoulders, his back, the fine dark softness of the hair there ... somehow she had thought the hair on a man’s chest would be wiry and coarse, but it was not so with him, it was soft and silky as her own hair, curling so fine and close. In a daze she remembered that the first time for her had been with a youth no more than seventeen who scarce knew what he was about, so that she had had to guide him, to show him what to do ... and for her that had been the only time, so that she came almost virgin to Lancelet. ... In a rush of grief she wished that for her it was the first time, so that it might have been so blissful for her to remember; it should have been like this, this was how it should have been. ... She moved her body against his, clinging in entreaty, moaning, she could not bear, now, to wait any longer ... .

It seemed he was not yet ready, though she was all alive to him, her body flowing with the pulse of life and desire in her. She moved against him, hungry, her mouth avid, entreating. She whispered his name, begging now, almost afraid. He went on kissing her gently, his hands moving to stroke and soothe her, but she did not want to be soothed now, her body was crying out for completion, it was starvation, agony. She tried to speak, to beg him, but it came out a sobbing whimper.

He held her gently against him, still stroking her. “Hush, no, hush, Morgaine, wait, no more now-I do not want to hurt or dishonor you, never think that-here, lie here by me, let me hold you, I will content you ... “ and in despair and confusion she let him do what he would, but even while her body cried out for the pleasure he gave her, a curious anger was growing. What of the flow of life between their two bodies, male and female, the tides of the Goddess rising and compelling them? Somehow it seemed to her that he was stemming that tide, that he was making her love for him a mockery and a game, a pretense. And he did not seem to mind, it seemed to him that this was the way it should be, so that they were both pleasured ... as if nothing mattered but their bodies, that there was no greater joining with all of life. To the priestess, reared in Avalon and attuned to the greater tides of life and eternity, this careful, sensuous, deliberate lovemaking seemed almost blasphemy, a refusal to give themselves up to the will of the Goddess.

And then, in the depths of mingled pleasure and humiliation she began to excuse him. He had not been reared as she was in Avalon, but thrown about from fosterage to court to military camp; he had been a soldier almost as long as he had been old enough to lift a sword, his life had been spent in the field, perhaps he did not know, or perhaps he was accustomed only to such women as would give him no more than a moment’s ease for his body, or such women as wanted to toy with love-making and give nothing ... he had said, I do not want to hurt or dishonor you, as if he truly believed there could be something wrong or dishonorable in this coming together. Spent, now, he was turned a little away from her, but he was still touching her, toying with her, drawing his fingers through the fine hair at her thighs, kissing her neck and breasts. She closed her eyes, holding herself to him, angry and desolate-well, well, perhaps it was no more than she deserved, she had played the harlot in coming to him like this, perhaps it was no more than her due that he should treat her as one ... and she was so besotted that she had let him take her like this, she would have let him do whatever he would, knowing that if she asked for more she would lose even this, and she longed for him, she still hungered for him with an intolerable ache that would never be wholly slaked. And he wanted her not at all ... still in his heart he hungered for Gwenhwyfar, or for some woman he could have without giving more of himself than this empty touching of skins ... a woman who could be content to give herself and ask nothing more of him than pleasure. Through the ache and hunger of her love, a faint strain of contempt was threading, and it was the greatest agony of all-that she loved him no less, that she knew she would love him always, no less than at this moment of hunger and despair.

She sat up, drawing her gown toward her, fastening it over her shoulders with shaking fingers. He sat silent, watching her, stretching out his hands to help her adjust it. After a long time he said sorrowfully, “We have done wrong, my Morgaine, you and I. Are you angry with me?”

She could not speak; her throat was too tight with pain. At last she said, straining her voice to form the words, “No, not angry,” and she knew that she should raise her voice and scream at him, demand what he could not give her-nor any woman, perhaps.

“You are my cousin, my kinswoman-but there is no harm done-” he said, and his voice was shaking. “At least I have not that to blame myself- that I could bring you to dishonor before all the court-I would not do so for the world-believe me, cousin, I love you well-”

She could not keep back her sobs now. “Lancelet, I beg you, in the name of the Goddess, speak not so-what harm is done? It was in the way of the Goddess, what we both desired-”

He made a gesture of distress. “You speak so, of the Goddess and such heathen things ... . Almost you frighten me, kinswoman, when I would keep myself from sin, and yet I have looked on you with lust and wickedness, knowing it was wrong.” He drew on his clothes with trembling hands. At last he said, almost choking, “The sin seems to me more deadly, I suppose, than it is-I would you were not so like to my mother, Morgaine-”

It was like a blow in the face, like a cruel and treacherous blow. For a moment she could not speak. Then, for an instant, it seemed that the full rage of the Goddess angered possessed her and she felt herself rising, towering, she knew it was the glamour of the Goddess coming upon her as it had done in the Avalon barge; she felt herself, small and insignificant as she was, looming over him, and saw the powerful knight, the captain of the King’s horse, shrink away small and frightened, as all men are small in the sight of the Goddess.

“You are-you are a contemptible fool, Lancelet,” she said. “You are not even worth cursing!” She turned and fled from him, leaving him sitting there with his breeches half-fastened, staring after her in astonishment and shame. She felt her heart pounding. Half of her had wanted to scream at him, shrewish as a skua gull; the other half wanted to break down and weep in agony, in despair, begging for the deeper love he had denied her and rejected, refusing the Goddess in her ... . Fragments of thought flickered in her mind, an old tale of the Goddess surprised and refused by a man and how the Goddess had had him torn to shreds by the hounds who ran hunting with her ... and there was sorrow that she had what she had dreamed of all these long years and it was dust and ashes to her.

A priest would say this was the wages of sin. I heard such, often enough, from Igraine’s house priest before I went to be fostered in Avalon. At heart am I more of a Christian than I know? And again it seemed to her that her heart must break from the wreck and disaster of her love.

In Avalon this could never have come to pass-those who came to the Goddess in this way would never have so refused her power ... . She paced up and down, a raging fire unslaked in her veins, knowing that no one could possibly understand how she felt except for another priestess of the Goddess. Viviane, she thought with longing, Viviane would understand, or Raven, or any of us reared in the House of Maidens ... what have I been doing all these long years, away from my Goddess?


Three days later I got leave from Arthur to depart from his court and ride to Avalon; I said only that I was homesick for the Isle and for Viviane, my foster-mother. And in those days I had no speech with Lancelet save for the small courtesies of every day when we could not avoid meeting. Even in those I marked that he would not meet my eyes, and I felt angry and shamed, and went out of my way that I might not come face to face with him at all.

So I took horse, and rode eastward through the hills; nor did I return to Caerleon for many years, nor knew I anything of what befell in Arthur’s court ... but that is a tale for another time.


In the summer of the next year, the Saxons were massing off the coast, and Arthur and his men spent all the year in gathering an army for the battle they knew must come. Arthur led his men into battle and drove the Saxons back, but it was not the decisive battle and victory for which he had hoped; they were damaged indeed, and it would take them more than a year to recover, but he had not enough horses and men to defeat them firmly and for all time, as he hoped to do. At this battle he took a wound, which seemed not serious; but it festered and inflamed and he had to spend much of the autumn bedfast-the first snow flurries were coming over the walls of Caerleon before he could walk a little about the courtyard, leaning on a stick, and he would bear the scars to his grave.

“It will be full spring before I can sit a horse again,” he observed gloomily to Gwenhwyfar, who stood close to the courtyard wall, her blue cloak wrapped tight around her.

“It may well be,” Lancelet said, “and longer, my dear lord, if you take cold in your wound before it is full healed. Come within doors, I beg you -look, there is snow on Gwenhwyfar’s cloak.”

“And in your beard, Lance-or is that only the first grey?” Arthur asked, teasing, and Lancelet laughed.

“Both, I suppose-there you have the advantage of me, my king, your beard is so fair the grey will not show when it conies. Here, lean on my arm.”

Arthur would have waved him away, but Gwenhwyfar said, “No, take his arm, Arthur, you will undo all our fine leechcraft if you fall-and the stones are slippery underfoot, with this snow melting as it comes down.”

Arthur sighed and leaned on his friend’s arm. “Now have I had a taste of what it must be like to be old.” Gwenhwyfar came and took his other arm, and he laughed. “Will you love me and uphold me like this when indeed there is grey in my beard and hair and when I go on a stick like the Merlin?”

“Even when you are ninety, my lord,” said Lancelet, laughing with him. “I can see it well, Gwenhwyfar holding you by one arm and I by the other as our ancient steps totter toward your throne-we will all be ninety or thereabout!” Abruptly he sobered. “I am troubled about Taliesin, my lord, he grows feeble and his eyes are failing. Should he not go back to Avalon and rest his last years in peace?”

“No doubt he should,” said Arthur. “But he says he will not leave me alone, with only the priests for councillors-”

“What better councillors than the priests could you have, my lord?” Gwenhwyfar flared. She resented the unearthly word Avalon; it frightened her to think that Arthur was sworn to protect their heathenish ways.

They came into the hall where a fire was burning, and Arthur made a gesture of annoyance as Lancelet eased him into his chair. “Aye, set the old man by the fire and give him his posset-I marvel that you let me wear shoes and hose instead of a bedgown!”

“My dear lord-” Gwenhwyfar began, but Lancelet laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t fret yourself, kinswoman, all men are so, peevish when they are ill-he knows not when he is well off, being nursed by fair women and tended with dainty foods and clean linen and those possets he scorns. ... I have lain with a wound in a field camp, nursed by a sour old man too lame to fight, and lying in my own shit because I could not shift myself and no one came near to help me, with nothing brought but some sour beer and hard bread to soak in it. Stop grumbling, Arthur, or I shall try to see to it that you nurse your wound in manly fashion as befits a true soldier!”

“Aye, and he would do it, too,” said Arthur, with an affectionate smile at his friend. “You go not in much fear of your king, Prince Galahad-” He took the horn spoon from his wife’s hand and began to eat the concoction of warmed wine with bread and honey soaked in it. “Aye, this is good and warming-it has spices in it, has it not, those same spices you bade me send for from Londinium ... .”

Cai came to them, when Arthur had finished, and said, “So, how goes the wound after an hour of walking on it, my lord? Is there still much pain?”

“Not as much as the last time, and that is all I can say,” Arthur said. “It is the first time I have known what real fear was, fear I might die with my work still undone.”

“God would not have it so,” Gwenhwyfar said.

Arthur patted her hand. “I told myself that, but a voice within kept saying to me that this was the great sin of pride, fearing that I or any man could not be spared from what God wishes to be done-I have thought long about such things while I lay unable to set foot to the ground.”

“I cannot see that you have so much undone, save for the final victory over the Saxons, my lord,” said Cai, “but now you must go to your bed, you are weary with the out of doors.”

When Arthur was stretched out on the bed, Cai took his clothes away and examined the great wound which still, faintly, oozed matter through the cloths. Cai said, “I will send for the women, and you must have hot cloths on this again-you have strained it. It is well you did not break it open while you were walking.” When the women had brought steaming kettles and mixed the compresses of herbs and hot water, laying folded cloths upon the wound so hot that Arthur winced and roared, Cai said, “Aye, but you were lucky even so, Arthur. Had that sword struck you a hand span to one side, Gwenhwyfar would have even more cause to grieve, and you would be known far and wide as the gelded king ... as in that old legend! Know you not the tale-the king wounded in the thigh and as his powers fade, so fades the land and withers, till some youth comes who can make it spring fertile anew ... .”

Gwenhwyfar shuddered, and Arthur said testily, shifting in pain under the heat of the compress, “This is no tale to tell a wounded man!”

“I should think it would make you more aware of your good fortune, that your land will not wither and be sterile,” Cai said. “By Easter, I dare say, the Queen’s womb could be quick again, if you are fortunate-”

“God grant it,” Arthur said, but the woman winced and turned away. Once again she had conceived, and once again all had gone awry, so quickly that she had scarce known she had been with child-would it be so always with her? Was she barren, was it the punishment of God on her that she did not strive early and late to bring her husband to be a better Christian?

One of the women took away the cloth and would have replaced it; Arthur reached for Gwenhwyfar. “No, let my lady do it, her hands are gentler-” he said, and Gwenhwyfar took the steaming hot cloth-so hot it was she burned her fingers, but she welcomed the pain as penance. It was her fault, all her fault; he should put her away as barren, and take a wife who could give him a child. It was wrong that he should ever have married her-she had been eighteen, and already past her most fruitful years. Perhaps ...

If only Morgaine were here, I would indeed beseech her for that charm which could make me fruitful ... .

“It seems to me now that we have need of Morgaine’s leechcraft,” she said. “Arthur’s wound goes not as it should, and she is a notable mistress of healing arts, as is the Lady of Avalon herself. Why do we not send to Avalon and beseech one of them to come?”

Cai frowned at her and said, “I do not see that there is need of that. Arthur’s wound goes on well enough-I have seen much worse come to full healing.”

“Still, I would be glad to see my good sister,” said Arthur, “or my friend and benefactor, the Lady of the Lake. But from what Morgaine has told me, I do not think I will see them together ... .”

Lancelet said, “I will send a message to Avalon and beg my mother to come, if you will have it, Arthur,” but it was at Gwenhwyfar he looked, and their eyes met for a moment. In these months of Arthur’s illness, it seemed he had been ever at her side, and such a rock of strength to her that she knew not what she would have done without him; in those first days, when none believed that Arthur could live, he had watched with her, tireless, his love for Arthur making her ashamed of her thoughts. He is Arthur’s cousin, even as Gawaine, he stands as near to the throne, the son of Igraine’s own sister; if aught came to Arthur, then would he be as much a king as we have need of... in the old days the king was naught but the husband of the queen ... .

“Shall we send, then, for the Lady Viviane?” Gwenhwyfar asked.

“Only if you have a wish to see the Lady,” said Arthur, with a sigh. “I think now, all I need is a greater share of that patience to which the bishop counselled me when I spoke last with him. God was good to me indeed, that I lay not thus disabled when the Saxons first came, and if he goes on showing me his grace, I will be able to ride when they come again. Gawaine is off gathering the men to the north, is he not, for Lot and Pellinore?”

“Aye.” Lancelet laughed. “He has told Pellinore that his dragon must wait till we have dealt with the white horse ... he must bring all his men and come when we summon him. And Lot will come too, though he grows old-he will not let pass any chance that the kingdom might still go to his sons.”

It will go to his sons indeed, if I give Arthur no son, Gwenhwyfar thought; it seemed that every word anyone spoke, of whatever matter, was an arrow, a taunt aimed into her heart for failing the first duty of a queen. Arthur liked her well, they could have been happy, could she only have felt free for one moment of the guilt of her childlessness. Almost, for a time, she had welcomed this wound, for he could not think of lying with any woman, and there was no reproach to her; she could care for him and cosset him, have him to herself as a wife could so seldom do when her husband belonged not to her but to a kingdom. She could love him, and not think always of her guilt; when he touched her, think of their love, not only of her fear and her desperate hope, This time will he at last get me with child; and if he does, will it go well with me or will I cast forth the precious hope of the kingdom? She had cared for him, nursed him night and day as a mother nurses a sickly child, and when he began to grow strong she had sat beside him, talked to him, sung to him-though she had not Morgaine’s sweet voice for singing -gone herself to the kitchens and cooked for him such things as a sick man might be tempted to eat, so that he would put on flesh after the ghastly sickness and wasting away of the early summer.

Yet what good is all my care if I do not ensure that there will be an heir to his kingdom?

“I would that Kevin were here,” Arthur said. “I would like to hear some music-or Morgaine; we have no fitting minstrels at court now!”

“Kevin has gone back to Avalon,” Lancelet said. “The Merlin told me he had gone for some priestly doings there, so secret he could tell me no more-I wonder the priests allow these Druid mysteries to go on in a Christian land.”

Arthur shrugged. “I command no man’s conscience, King or no.”

Gwenhwyfar said sternly, “God will be worshipped as he wills, Arthur, not as men choose, and therefore he sent the Christ to us.”

“But he sent him not to this land,” Arthur said, “and when the holy Joseph came to Glastonbury, and thrust his staff there in the earth and it bloomed, then the Druids welcomed him and he did not scorn to share their worship.”

“Bishop Patricius says that is an evil and heretical tale,” Gwenhwyfar insisted, “and the priests who worship in common with the Druids should be stripped of their priesthood and driven forth as he drove the Druids themselves!”

“He will not do it during my time,” said Arthur firmly. “I have sworn my protection to Avalon.” He smiled and stretched out his hand to where the great sword Excalibur hung in its crimson-velvet scabbard. “And you have reason to be grateful for that magic, Gwenhwyfar-had I not had this scabbard about me, nothing could have saved me. Even as it was, I came near to bleeding to death, and only its magic stanched the bleeding. Would I not be worse than an ingrate if I betrayed their goodwill?”

“You believe that?” Gwenhwyfar asked. “You would put magic and sorceries above God’s will?”

“Why, sweetheart,” Arthur said, and touched her fair hair, “do you believe that anything man can do is in despite of God’s will? If this scabbard kept me indeed from bleeding to death, then it could not have been God’s will that I should die. It seems to me that my faith is closer to God than yours, if you fear that some wizard could undo what God wishes. We are all in God’s hands.”

Gwenhwyfar looked quickly at Lancelet; there was a smile on his face, and it seemed for a moment that he was mocking them, but it passed and the woman thought it must have been no more than a little shadow. “Well, if you wish for music, Arthur, Taliesin will come and play for you, I suppose; though he grows old and his voice is nothing for singing, his hands still have great skill at harping.”

“Call for him, then,” said Arthur, and laughed. “In Scripture we are told that the old King Saul called for his young harper to play and ease his mind, but here I am, a young king who has need of his old harper to play and cheer his soul!”

Lancelet went in search of the Merlin, and when he came with his harp, they sat for a long time in the hall listening to the music.

Gwenhwyfar thought of Morgaine, playing there. Would that she were here, to give me a charm-but not before my lord recovers ....nd then, looking across the fire at Lancelet, she felt sinking in her body. He sat on a bench, leaning back and listening to the music, his hands tucked behind his head, his long legs stretched out to the fire. The other men and women had gathered close to listen to the music; Elaine, Pellinore’s daughter, had been bold enough to come and crowd onto the bench beside Lancelet, but he sat without paying any heed to her.

Lancelet would be the better for a wife. I should bestir myself and write to King Pellinore, that he should give Elaine to Lancelet; she is my cousin and not unlike me, she is marriageable-but she knew she would not; she told herself it would be time enough for that on the day Lancelet told them that he was seeking to be wedded.

If Arthur should not recover ...

Oh, no, no, never will I think of that ... . She crossed herself in secret. But, she thought, it was long since she had been in Arthur’s arms, and it was likely he could not give her a child anyway ... . She found herself wondering what it would be like to lie with Lancelet-could he give her the child she wished for? Suppose she took Lancelet as lover? She knew there were women who did such things ... Morgause now made no secret of it; now that she was past childbearing, her harlotries were as scandalous as Lot’s wenching. She felt the color creeping up in her cheeks and hoped no one had seen as she looked at Lancelet’s hands lying quiet in his lap and wondered what it would be like to feel them caressing her-no, she dared not think of that.

When women took lovers they must take care not to be made pregnant, not to bear a child who could disgrace them or bring shame on their husbands, so if she was barren then it would not matter ... it would be her good fortune.... In God’s name, how could she, a chaste and Christian woman, have such evil thoughts? Once before she had thought this, and when she told it in confession, the priest had said only that it was no more than reason that with her husband so long sick, her thoughts should turn to such things; she must not feel guilty, but pray much and care for her husband and think only that it was harder still for him. And Gwenhwyfar had known that this was good and sensible and kindly counsel, but she felt he had not understood it in full, just how sinful a woman she was and how evil and foul her thoughts. Otherwise, surely, he would have berated her, and given her heavy penance, and then she would have felt better and more free ... .

Lancelet would never reproach her that she was barren-

She became aware that someone had spoken her name, and raised her head in confusion as if her thoughts were open to all.

“No, no more music, my lord Merlin,” Arthur said. “Look, it grows dark, and my lady is asleep where she sits. She is worn out with nursing me, most likely ... . Cai, have the men set the dinner, but I will go to my bed and have some meat there.”

Gwenhwyfar rose, went to Elaine, and asked her to take her place in the hall; she would stay with her lord. Cai went to see to the servants, and Lancelet stayed to give Arthur a hand as he limped, with the help of his stick, to his chamber. Lancelet helped to settle Arthur in bed as tenderly as any nurse.

“If he needs anything in the night, see that you have them call for me, you know where I sleep,” he said low, to Gwenhwyfar. “I can lift him more easily than any other-”

“Oh, no, no, I think there will be no need now,” she said, “but I thank “ you.

He was so tall as he stood next her; he laid his hand gently on her cheek. “If you want to go and sleep among your women, I will stay and watch with him-you look as if you were wanting a long night of unbroken sleep. You are like a nursing mother who has no rest till her babe can sleep through the night without stirring. I can care for Arthur-there is no need for you to watch with him now! I can stay in the room within earshot.”

“You are so good to me,” she said, “but I would rather be near him.”

“But send for me if he needs me. Do not try to lift him yourself,” Lancelet said, “promise me, Gwenhwyfar.”

How sweet her name sounded on his lips; sweeter than when he said my queen or my lady. ... “I promise you, my friend.”

He bent, gave her just the flicker of a light kiss on her forehead. “You look so overwearied,” he said. “Go you to bed and sleep well.” His hand lingered still a moment on her cheek and when he took it away she felt as if her cheek would be cold and ache as if she had a toothache there. She went and laid herself down beside Arthur.

For a time she thought he slept. But at last he said into the darkness, “He has been a good friend to us, has he not, my wife?”

“No brother could have been kinder.”

“Cai and I were reared as brothers, and I love him well, but it is true what they say, blood is thicker than water, and blood kin brings a closeness I had not imagined till I came to know some of my own blood....” Arthur shifted in bed, uneasily, sighing. “Gwenhwyfar, there is something I would say to you-”

She was frightened, her heart pounding-had he seen Lancelet kiss her, would he charge her with unfaithfulness?

He said, “Promise me that you will not weep again, I cannot bear it. I swear it to you, I have no thought of reproaching you-but we have been wedded now for many years, and only twice in that time have you had even the hope of a child-no, no, I beg you, do not cry, let me speak,” he pleaded. “It may be that it is not your fault, but mine. I have had other women, as do all men. But though I never made any attempt to conceal who I was, not in all these years has any woman come to me, nor her kinfolk, and said, such and such a woman bore you a bastard child. It may be that it is I whose seed has no life, so that when you conceive, the child comes not even to quickening ... .”

She lowered her head, letting the curtain of her hair hide her face. Did he reproach himself as well?

“My Gwenhwyfar, listen to me-a child there must be for this kingdom. If it should come about at any time that you give a child to the throne, be assured that I will never question. So far as I am concerned, any child you bear, I will acknowledge it mine and bring it up as my heir.”

She thought that the burning in her face would make her burst into flame. Could he think her capable of betraying him? “Never, never could I do so, my lord and my king-”

“You know the ways of Avalon-no, my wife, do not interrupt me, let me speak-where when a man and woman come together in this wise, the child is said even to be born of the God. Gwenhwyfar, I would like it well if God sent us a child, whoever should work God’s will in fathering him-do you understand me? And if it should so happen that the one who so did the will of heaven were my dearest of friends and the closest of kinsmen to me, then would I bless him, and the child you bore. No, no, do not weep, I will say no more,” he said, sighing, reaching out his arms to her, letting her lie against his shoulder. “I am not worthy that you should love me so well.”

After a time he slept, but Gwenhwyfar lay awake, tears rolling down her face. Oh, no, she thought, my dear love, my dearest lord, it is I who am not worthy of your love, and now you have all but given me leave that I should betray you. Suddenly and for the first time in her life she envied both Arthur and Lancelet. They were men, they lived lives of activity, they must go out into the world and risk death or worse in battle, but men were free of these terrifying decisions. Whatever thing she did, whenever she made any decision, however small, if it was of more weight than kid or dried beef for dinner, then was that weight on her soul, that from what she should decide the fate of kingdoms could rest. Now it was her own choice, and not simply the will of God, that she should give an heir to the kingdom or no; one who was of Uther Pendragon’s blood or-or otherwise. How could she, a woman, make that decision? Gwenhwyfar pulled the fur coverlet over her head and curled herself into a ball and lay there.

Only this evening she had sat there and watched Lancelet listening to the harper, and the thought had come stealing into her mind. She had loved him long, but now she began to know it was that she desired him; in her heart she was no better than Morgause, who played the whore when she would, with her husband’s knights and even, the story was whispered in scandal, with handsome pages or servant men. Arthur was so good, and she had come to love him well; she had found safety here in Caerleon. It was not to be borne that the folk about the castle and countryside might come to whisper scandal of her as they did of Morgause.

Gwenhwyfar wished to be good, to keep her soul clean and her virtue whole, but also it meant much to her that people should see her virtue and think of her as a good and spotless queen; she herself knew nothing evil of Morgaine, for instance, she had lived at her side for three years, and Morgaine was, so far as she knew, as virtuous as herself. Yet it was rumored that Morgaine was a witch because she had lived in Avalon, and had some wisdom and knowledge of healing herbs and of sendings, and so the people of the court and of the country roundabout had whispered that Morgaine was in league with the fairy folk or the Devil; and even she herself, knowing Morgaine as she did, sometimes wondered how what so many people said could be all untrue.

And tomorrow she must face Lancelet and go about her work by Arthur’s side, knowing that he had all but given her leave-how could she ever again look into Lancelet’s eyes? He was of the blood of Avalon, he was son to the Lady of the Lake, it could be that he too could read thoughts a little, that he could see into her eyes and know what she was thinking.

And then anger, so violent that it frightened her, swept through her trembling body like a flood. Gwenhwyfar, lying there angry and afraid, thought that she would never dare to go out of doors again for fear of what she might choose to do. Every woman in the court wanted Lancelet-yes, even Morgaine herself; she had seen her sister-in-law looking at him, and for that reason, when once a long time ago Arthur had said they should marry, she had been distressed-Lancelet would surely find Morgaine too bold. And perhaps they had quarrelled, for the last day or two before Morgaine had departed for Avalon, she noted that they spoke less to each other than usual, and did not turn their eyes to each other.

She missed Morgaine, yes ... but all in all she was glad Morgaine was not at court, and she would not send to Tintagel to hear news of her if she was there. She fancied herself repeating to Morgaine what Arthur had just said; she would die of shame, and yet she suspected that Morgaine would laugh at her: Morgaine would surely say it was for her to choose whether or no she would take Lancelet as a lover; or perhaps, even, that it was for Lancelet to say.

Then it was as if a burning flame passed through her, like the fires of hell, that she might offer herself to Lancelet and he might say to her no. Then, surely, she would die of shame. She did not know how she could ever bear to look at Lancelet again, or at Arthur, or at any of her ladies who had never been so tempted. Even to the priests she would think it shame to speak about this, for they would know Arthur was less a Christian than he ought to be. How could she ever bear to go out of doors again, or to leave the safe, protected space of this very room and this very bed? Here, nothing wrong could come to her or harm her.

She did feel somewhat ill. Tomorrow she would tell her ladies that, and they would think only, as Lancelet would think, that she was overwearied with nursing Arthur night and day. She would continue to be, as she was always, a good and virtuous queen and a Christian woman-she could never even think of being anything else. Arthur was distressed from his wound and his long inactivity, that was all; when he was well and sound he could never think such a thing, and no doubt he would be grateful to her that she had not listened to his folly and had saved them both from a fearful sin.

But just as she was about to drop into an exhausted sleep, she remembered something that one of her women had said, long ago-it was a few days before Morgaine left the court. She had said that Morgaine should give her a charm.... Well, and so she should; if Morgaine enchanted her so that she had no choice but to love Lancelet, then she would be freed of that fearful choice ... . When Morgaine returns, she thought, I will speak of it to her. But Morgaine had not been at court now for almost two years, and it might be that she would never return.


I grow too old for these journeys, Viviane thought as she rode through the late-winter rain, head bowed, her cloak wrapped tight around her body. And then resentment surged through her: This should now be Morgaine’s task, it is she who was to be Lady after me in Avalon.

Taliesin had told her, four years ago now, that Morgaine had been in Caerleon for Arthur’s wedding, and had been given to Gwenhwyfar for one of her ladies, and had tarried there. The Lady of the Lake, waiting-woman to a queen? How dared Morgaine forsake her true and appointed path in this way? And yet when she had sent a message to Caerleon with word that Morgaine should return to Avalon, the messenger had returned to say that Morgaine had left the court ... they thought for Avalon.

But she is not in Avalon. Nor is she in Tintagel with Igraine, nor yet at the court of Lot in Orkney. Where then has she gone?

Some harm could have come to her on one of her solitary journeys. She might have been captured by one of the marauders or masterless men who throng the country-she might have lost her memory or have been raped, murdered, flung into a ditch somewhere and her bones never been found ... . Oh no, Viviane thought, if harm had come to her, I would surely have seen it in the mirror ... or with the Sight ... .

Yet she could not be certain. The Sight was erratic in her now, and often when she sought to see beyond, nothing came but a maddening grey fog before her eyes, the veil of the unknown which she dared not try to pierce. And Morgaine’s fate was concealed somewhere within that veil.

Goddess, she prayed as she had done so often before, Mother, I have given you my life, bring back my child to me while I yet live ... but even as she spoke, she knew that there would be no answer, only grey rain like the veil of the unknown, the answer of the Goddess hidden in the unyielding sky.

Had it wearied her so much as this when last she made this journey, half a year ago? It seemed now to her that she had always ridden, before this, as lightly as a girl, and now the jolting of her donkey seemed to rattle every bone in her thin body, while the cold crept into her and gnawed at her with little icy teeth.

One of her escort turned back and said, “Lady, I can see the farmstead below. We will be there before nightfall, it seems.”

Viviane thanked the man, trying not to sound as grateful as she felt. She could not betray weakness before her escort.

Gawan met her in the narrow barnyard as she was dismounting from her donkey, steadying her so that she did not step into the midden. “Welcome, Lady,” he said, “as always, it is my pleasure to see you. My son Balin and your son will be here with the morrow-I sent to Caerleon that they might be here.”

“Is it as grave as that, old friend?” Viviane asked, and Gawan nodded. He said, “You will scarcely know her, Lady. She is fallen away to nothing now, and if she eats or drinks ever so little, she says it is as if a fire were lighted in her vitals. It cannot be much longer now, for all your medicines.”

Viviane nodded and sighed. “I feared as much,” she said. “When this illness once has hold on anyone, it never lets loose its claw. Perhaps I can give her some ease.”

“God grant it,” said Gawan, “for the medicines you left us when you were last here do little now. She wakes and cries in the night like a little child, when she thinks the serving-women and I do not hear. I have not even the heart to pray that she shall be spared to us for any more suffering, Lady.”

Viviane sighed again. When last she had come this way, half a year ago, she had left her strongest drugs and medicines, and she had half wished that Priscilla might take a fever in the autumn and die quickly, before the medicines lost their effect. There was little more that she could do. She let Gawan lead her into the house, seat her before the fire, and the serving-woman dished her up a hot bowl of soup from a kettle near the fire.

“You have been riding long in the rain, Lady,” he said. “Sit and rest, and you shall see my wife after the evening meal-sometimes she sleeps a little at this time of day.”

“If she can rest even a little, it is blessed, and I shall not disturb her,” Viviane said, folding her chilled hands around the soup bowl, and letting herself slump down on the backless bench. One of the serving-women drew off her boots and cloak, another came with a warmed towel to dry her feet, and Viviane, turning her skirts back so that her bony knees felt the fire, rested for a moment in mindless comfort, forgetting her grim errand. Then a thin wailing cry was heard from an inner room, and the serving-woman started and trembled. She said to Viviane, “It is the mistress, poor thing- she must be awake. I hoped she would sleep till we had set the night meal. I must go to her.”

“I will come too,” said Viviane, and followed the woman to the inner chamber. Gawan was seated by the fire, and she saw the look of dread on his face as that thin cry died away.

Always before, since Priscilla had fallen ill, Viviane had found some trace in the woman of her old buxom prettiness, some resemblance to the jolly young woman who had fostered her son Balan. Now face and lips and faded hair were all the same yellowed grey, and even the blue eyes seemed faded, as if the sickness had leached all the color from the woman. When last she had come, too, Priscilla had been up and about a part of every day; now she could see that this woman had been bedfast for months ... half a year had made this much change. And always before, Viviane’s medicines and herb potions had given ease and comfort and partial recovery. Now, she knew, it was too late for any further help.

For a moment the faded eyes drifted unfocused around the room, the lips moving faintly over the fallen-in jaw. Then Priscilla saw Viviane, blinked a little, and said in a whisper, “Is it you, Lady?”

Viviane went to her side and carefully took her withered hand. She said, “I am sorry to see you so ill. How is it with you, my dear friend?”

The faded, cracked lips drew back in a grimace which Viviane, for a moment, thought to be a movement of pain; then she realized it was meant for a smile. “I hardly know how it could be more ill,” she whispered. “I think God and his Mother have forgotten me. Yet I am glad to see you again, and I hope to live long enough to look again on my dear sons and bless them ... .” She sighed wearily, trying to shift her body a little. “My back aches so with lying here, and yet whenever I am touched, it is like knives thrusting into me. And I am so thirsty, yet I dare not drink for fear of the pain ... .”

“I will make you as comfortable as I can,” Viviane said, and, telling the servants what she wanted, she dressed the sores that came from lying in the bed and washed out Priscilla’s mouth with a cooling lotion, so that even though she did not drink, her mouth would not torment her so with dryness. Then she sat near her, holding her hand, not troubling the sick woman with words. Some time after dark, there was a sound in the courtyard, and Priscilla, starting up again, her eyes feverish in the lamplight, cried out, “It is my sons!”

And indeed, after a little time, Balan and his foster-brother, Balin, Gawan’s son, came into the room, stooping under the low ceiling.

“Mother,” Balan said, and stooped to kiss Priscilla’s hand, only then turning to Viviane to bow before her. “My lady.”

Viviane reached out and touched her elder son’s cheek. He was not as handsome as Lancelet, this one; he was a huge burly man, but his eyes were dark and fine like her own, or Lancelet’s. Balin was smaller, a sturdy, grey-eyed man. He was, she knew, just ten days older than her own son. He looked as Priscilla had once looked, fair-haired and red-cheeked.

“My poor mother,” he murmured, stroking Priscilla’s hand, “but now the Lady Viviane has come to help you, then you will be well again very soon, will you not? But you are so thin, Mother, you must try to eat more and be strong and well again ... .”

“No,” she whispered, “I shall never be strong more until I sup with Jesus in Heaven, dear son.”

“Oh, no, Mother, you must not say so-” Balin cried, and Balan, meeting Viviane’s eyes, sighed.

He said in so low a tone that neither Priscilla nor her son could hear, “He cannot see that she is dying, my lady-my mother. Always he insists that she can recover. I had truly hoped that she would go in the autumn, when we all took the fever, but she has always been so strong-” Balan shook his head, and his thick neck was flushed. Viviane saw that tears were standing in his eyes; he dashed them quickly away. And after a little, she said that they must all go out and let the sick woman rest again.

“Say farewell to your sons, Priscilla, and bless them,” she said, and Priscilla’s eyes brightened a little. “I would it should truly be farewell, before it grows worse-I would not have them see me as I was this morning,” she murmured, and Viviane saw the terror in her eyes. She bent over Priscilla and said gently, “I think I can promise you no more pain, my dear, if that is how you wish it to end.”

“Please,” whispered the dying woman, and Viviane felt the clawlike hand tighten on hers in entreaty.

“I will leave you here with your sons, then,” Viviane said gently, “for they are both your sons, my dear, even though you bore but one of them.” She went out into the other room and found Gawan there.

“Bring me my saddlebags,” she said; and when this had been done, she searched in a pocket for a moment. Then she turned to the man. “She is at ease for a moment now, but I can do little more, save to put an end to her suffering. I think this is what she wishes.”

“There is no hope then-none at all?”

“No. There is nothing left for her but suffering, and I cannot think that your God wills it that she should suffer more.”

Gawan said, shaken, “She has said often-that she wished she had had courage to throw herself into the river while she could still walk thither-”

“It is time, then, that she should go in peace,” Viviane said quietly, “but I wanted you to know that whatever I do, it is by her own will-”

“Lady,” Gawan replied, “I have trusted you always, and my wife loves you well and trusts you. I ask no more. If her sufferings end here, I know she will bless you.” But his face was drawn with grief. He followed Viviane into the inner room again. Priscilla had been speaking quietly to Balin; now she released his hand, and he went, weeping, to his father. She held out her thin hand to Balan and said in her shaking voice, “You too have been a good son to me, my lad. Always look after your foster-brother, and I beg you to pray for my soul.”

“I will, my mother,” said Balan, and bent to embrace her, but she gave a. little trembling cry of pain and fear as he moved toward her, and so he only picked up her withered hand and pressed his fingers to it.

“Now I have your medicine for you, Priscilla,” said Viviane. “Say good night, and sleep ... .”

“I am so weary,” the dying woman whispered, “I shall be glad to sleep ... bless you, Lady, and your Goddess too ... .”

“In her name, who gives mercy,” Viviane murmured, and held Pris-cilla’s head up so that she could swallow.

“I am afraid to drink-it is bitter, and whenever I swallow anything there is pain-” Priscilla whispered.

“I swear to you, my sister, that when you have drunk this, there will be no more pain at all,” Viviane said steadily, and tipped the cup. Priscilla swallowed and raised her weak hand to touch Viviane’s face.

“Kiss me in farewell, too, Lady,” she said, with that ghastly smile again, and Viviane pressed her lips to the skull-like brow.

I have brought life and now I come as the Death-crone ... . Mother, I do for her only what I would that one might do for me one day, Viviane thought, and shivered again, raising her eyes to meet Balin’s frowning gaze.

“Come,” she said quietly, “let her rest.”

They went out into the other room. Gawan remained behind, his hand in his wife’s; it was only fitting, Viviane thought, that he should remain with her.

The serving-women had set the evening meal and Viviane went to her place and ate and drank, for she was weary after the long ride.

“Have you ridden from Arthur’s court at Caerleon all in this day, my boys?” she asked, then smiled-these “boys” were men!

“Aye, from Caerleon-” Balan said, “and a wretched ride it was, in cold and rain!” He helped himself to salt fish and spread butter on his bread, then handed the wooden dish to Balin. “You are eating nothing, my brother.”

Balin shuddered. “I have not the heart to eat when our mother lies like that. But God be thanked now you have come, Lady, she will soon be all well again, will she not? Your medicines did her so much good last time, it was like a miracle, and now again she will be better, will she not?”

Viviane stared at him-was it possible that he did not understand? She said quietly, “The best end of all is that she might go to join her God in the hereafter, Balin.”

He looked up at her, his ruddy face stricken. “No! She must not die,” he cried. “Lady, tell me that you will help her, that you will not let her die-”

Viviane said severely, “I am not your God, and life and death are not in my keeping, Balin. Would you have her linger in such misery for much longer?”

“But you are skilled in all manner of magic lore,” Balin protested angrily. “Why came you here, if not to cure her again? I heard you say but now, that you could put an end to her pain-”

“There is only one cure for such an illness as has taken your mother,” Viviane said, laying a compassionate hand on Balm’s shoulder, “and that is merciful.”

“Balin, have done,” Balan said, going to put his big callused hand on his foster-brother’s. “Would you truly have her suffer more?”

But Balin jerked up his head and glared at Viviane. “So you used your sorcery tricks to cure her when it was honor to your evil fiend-Goddess,” he shouted, “and now when you can get no more good of it you will let her die-”

“Be still, man,” Balan said, and now his voice was rough and strained. “Marked you not-our mother blessed and kissed her farewell, it was what she wished for-”

But Balin was staring at Viviane, and then he raised his hand as if to strike her. “Judas!” he shouted. “You too betrayed with a kiss-” And he whirled and ran toward the inner room. “What have you done? Murderess! Foul murderess! Father! Father, here’s murder and evil sorcery-!”

Gawan, white-faced, appeared in the chamber door, anxiously gesturing for silence, but Balin shoved him aside and burst into the room. Viviane followed, and she saw that Gawan had closed the dead woman’s eyes.

Balin saw also, and he turned on her, shouting incoherently, “Murder! Treachery, sorcery-! Foul, murdering witch-!”

Gawan wrapped restraining arms around his son. “You will not speak so over your mother’s very body to one she trusted and loved!”

But Balin raved and shouted, straining to come at Viviane. She tried to speak, to quiet him, but he would not hear. At last she went out into the kitchen and sat by the fire.

Balan came and took her hand and said, “I’m sorry he is receiving it in this way, my lady. He knows better, and when the shock is past he’ll be grateful to you as I am-poor little mother, she suffered so, and now ‘tis ended, and I bless you too.” He lowered his head, trying not to sob aloud. “She was-was like mother to me too-”

“I know, my son, I know,” Viviane murmured, patting his head as if he were the clumsy little boy he had been more than twenty years ago. “It’s only right you should weep for your foster-mother, you would be heartless if you did not-” and he broke down and sobbed, kneeling at her side, his face buried in her lap.

Balin came and stood over them, his face drawn with fury. “You know she killed our mother, Balan, and yet you come to her for comfort?”

Balan raised his head, snuffling back sobs. “She did our mother’s will. Are you such a fool you could not see-even with God’s help our mother could not have lived another fortnight, do you grudge her that last pain she was spared?”

But Balin only cried desolately, “My mother, my mother is dead!”

“Be still, she was my foster-mother, my mother too,” said Balan angrily, and then his face softened. “Ah, brother, brother, I grieve too, why should we quarrel? Come now, drink some wine, her suffering is ended and she is with God-better we should pray for her than be all at odds this way. Come, brother, come and eat and rest, you are weary too.”

“No,” cried Balin, “I will not rest under the roof that shelters the foul sorceress who slew my mother!”

Gawan came, pale and angry, and struck Balin across the mouth. He said, “Peace! The Lady of Avalon is our guest and our friend! You shall not sully the hospitality of this roof with such blasphemous words! Sit down, my son, and eat, or you will speak words we shall all regret!”

But Balin stared about him like a wild animal. “I will neither eat nor rest under this roof while it holds that-that woman.”

Balan demanded, “Dare you offer insult to my mother?” And Balin cried, “You are all against me, then-I shall go forth from this roof which shelters my mother’s slayer!” He turned his back and ran from the house. Viviane sank down in a chair, and Balan came to offer his arm and Gawan to pour her a cup of wine.

“Drink, Lady-and accept my apologies for my son,” he said. “He is beside himself; he will come soon enough to sanity.”

“Shall I go after him, Father, for fear he should do himself some hurt?” Balan asked, but Gawan shook his head.

“No-no, son, stay here with your mother. Words will do him little good now.”

Trembling, Viviane sipped at her wine. She, too, was overcome with sorrow for Priscilla, and for the time when they had been young women together, each with her baby son in her arms.... Priscilla had been so pretty and merry, they had laughed together and played with their babies, and now Priscilla lay dead after a wasting illness, and Viviane’s own hand had held the cup of her death. That she had done Priscilla’s own will only eased her conscience, it did not blunt her sadness.

We were young together, and now she lies dead and I am old, old as the Death-crone’s very self; and those pretty babies who played about our feet, one has grey in his own hair, and the other would kill me if he could, as afoul sorceress and murderer. ... It seemed to Viviane that her very bones rattled with an icy grief. She stood near to the fire, but still she shivered and could not get warm. She clutched her shawl about her, and Balan came and led her to the best seat, tucked a cushion behind her back, set a cup of heated wine in her hands.

“Ah, you loved her too,” he said. “Don’t trouble yourself about Balin, Lady, he will regain his reason in time. When he can think clear again, he’ll know that what you did was great mercy to our mother-” He broke off, slow red creeping up his heavy jowls. “Are you angry with me, Lady, that still I think of my mother as she who died but now?”

“It is no more than reason,” said Viviane, sipping at the hot wine, and caressing her son’s hardened hand. Once, she thought, it had been so little and tender that she could enfold it within her own, like a curled rosebud, and now her own hand was quite lost within his. “The Goddess knows, she was more mother to you than ever I was.”

“Aye, I should have known that you would understand that,” said Balan. “Morgaine said as much to me when I saw her last at Arthur’s court.”

“Morgaine? Is she at Arthur’s court now, my son? Was she there when you came away?”

Balan shook his head regretfully. “No, I saw her last-it was years gone, Lady. She left Arthur’s court, let me think ... it was before Arthur had his great wound ... why, ‘tis three years come Midsummer. I thought she was with you in Avalon.”

Viviane shook her head and steadied herself against the arm of the high seat. “I have not seen Morgaine since Arthur’s wedding.” And then she thought, perhaps she is gone over the seas. She asked Balan, “What of your brother Lancelet? Is he at court or has he gone back to Less Britain?”

“He will not do that, I think, while Arthur lives,” Balan said, “though he is not often at court now ...” and Viviane, with a fragment of the Sight, heard the unspoken words Balan bit back, unwilling to speak gossip or scandal: When Lancelet is at court, men mark how he never takes his eyes from Queen Gwenhwyfar, and twice he has refused Arthur when Arthur would have had him wedded. Balan went on hastily, “Lancelet has said he will set all things in order in Arthur’s kingdom, and so he is always out and about the lands, he has killed more marauding brigands and raiding bands than any other of Arthur’s Companions. They say of him that he is an entire legion in himself, Lady-” and Balan raised his head and looked ruefully at Viviane. “Your younger son, Mother, is a great knight, such a knight as that old Alexander of the legends. There are those who say, even, that he is a better knight than Arthur’s self. I have brought no such glory on you, my lady.”

“We all do such things as the Gods give us to do, my son,” Viviane said gently. “I am only glad to see that you do not bear malice toward your brother for that he is a better knight than you.”

Balan shook his head. “Why, that would be like bearing malice toward Arthur that I am not the King, Mother,” he said. “And Lancelet is modest and good to all men, and pious as a maiden too-knew you not that he had become a Christian, Lady?”

Viviane shook her head. “It surprises me not,” she said, with a trace of scorn she did not know would be in her voice until she had spoken. “Always your brother fears those things he cannot understand, and the faith of Christ is a fitting faith for slaves who think themselves sinners and humble-” Then she stopped herself and said, “I am sorry, my son. I meant not to belittle. I know it is your faith too.”

Balan blinked and smiled. “Now has a miracle come to pass, madam, that you ask pardon of any for any word you ever spoke!”

Viviane bit her lip. “Is that truly how you see me, my son?”

He nodded. “Aye, ever you have seemed to me the proudest of women-and it seemed to me right that you should be exactly as you are,” he said. And Viviane mocked herself that she had come to this, seeking a word of approval from her son! She cast about to find something new to speak of.

“You told me Lancelet has twice refused to marry? For what, do you think, is he waiting? Does he want more of a dowry than any maiden can bring him?”

Again it seemed that she heard Balan’s unspoken thoughts: He cannot have the one he would have, for she is wedded to his king ... but her son said only, “He says he has no mind to marry any woman, and jests that he is fonder of his horse than he could be of any woman who could not ride with him into battle-he says in jest that one day he will take one of the Saxon shield maidens to wife. None can match him at arms, either, nor in the games Arthur holds at Caerleon. Sometimes he will take some handicap, ride without a shield, or change horses with another, so he will not have too much of the advantage. Balin challenged him once and won a course against him, but he refused a prize for it, because he found out it was because Lancelet’s saddle girths broke.”

“So Balin too is a courteous and good knight?” Viviane said.

“Oh, yes, Mother, you must not judge my brother by tonight,” Balan said eagerly. “When he rode against Lancelet, truly I knew not which of them to cheer on. Lancelet offered him the prize, saying he had won it fairly, since he should not have lost control of his horse-so he said! But Balin would not take it, and they stood disputing with one another in courtesy like two heroes from the ancient sagas Taliesin used to tell us when we were lads!”

“So you can be proud of both your brothers,” Viviane said, and the talk passed to other things, and after a little time she said she should go and help with the laying-out. But when she went into the chamber, she saw that the women were all in awe of her, and a priest had come, too, from the village. He welcomed her courteously indeed, but Viviane could tell by his words that he thought her one of the sisters from the nunnery nearby- indeed, her dark travel dress made her look so, and she had no wish to confront him this night. So, when they entreated her to go to the best guest bed, she went, and at last she slept. But all that she had spoken of with Balan seemed to come and go in her head, through her dreams, and at one moment it seemed that she saw Morgaine through grey and thinning mists, running away into a wood of strange trees and crowned with flowers such as never grew in Avalon, and she said in her dreams, and again to herself when she woke, I must delay no longer, I must seek for her with the Sight, or what remains to me of the Sight.

The next morning she stood by while Priscilla was laid in earth. Balin had returned and stood weeping by the graveside, and after the burial was done and the other folk had gone into the house to drink ale, she approached him and said gently, “Will you not embrace me and exchange forgiveness with me, foster-son? Believe me, I share your grief. We have been friends all our lives, Dame Priscilla and I, or would I have given her my own son to nurse? And I am your foster-brother’s mother.” She held out her arms, but Balin’s face drew hard and cold, and he turned his back on her and walked away.

Gawan besought her to stay for a day or two and rest there, but Viviane asked for her donkey to be brought; she must return to Avalon, she said, and she saw that Gawan, though his hospitality had been sincere, was relieved-if someone had told the priest who she was, there might have been awkwardness he had no mind to, during his wife’s funeral feast. Balan, too, asked, “Will you have me to ride with you to Avalon, madam? There are sometimes brigands and evil folk on the road.”

“No,” she said, giving him her hand and smiling. “I look not as if I had gold about me, and the men who ride with me are of the Tribesmen -we could hide in the hills, should we be attacked. Nor am I any temptation to any man who might seek to take a woman.” She laughed and said, “And with Lancelet questing to kill all the brigands in this country, it will soon be as it was said once it was, that a virgin of fifteen bearing a purse of gold might ride from one end of the land to the other with no man to offer her insult! Stay here, my son, and mourn your mother, and make peace with your foster-brother. You must not quarrel with him for my sake, Balan.” And then she shuddered suddenly as if with cold, for a picture had come into her mind, and it seemed to her as if there was the clash of swords and her son bleeding from a great wound ... .

“What is it, Lady?” he asked her softly.

“Nothing, my son-only promise to me that you will not break the peace with your brother Balin.”

He bent his head. “I will not, Mother. And I will tell him that you have said this, so he will not think you bear him any grudge, either.”

“By the Lady, I do not,” said Viviane, but still she felt icy cold, though the winter sun was warm on her back. “May she bless you, my son, and your brother too, though I doubt he wishes for the blessing of any God but his own. Will you take the Lady’s blessing, Balan?”

“I will,” he said, bending to kiss Viviane’s hand, and he stood looking after her as she rode away.

She told herself, as she rode toward Avalon that surely what she had seen had come of her own weariness and fear; and in any case Balan was one of Arthur’s Companions, and it could not be looked for, in this war with the Saxons, that he should escape a wound. But the picture persisted in her mind, that Balan and his foster-brother should somehow quarrel in her name, until at last she made a stern banishing gesture and willed to see her son’s face no more in her mind till she should look on it again in the flesh!

She was troubled too about Lancelet. He was long past the age when a man should marry. Yet there were men enough who had no mind to women, seeking only for the companionship of their brothers and comrades under arms, and she had wondered often enough if Ban’s son were one of them. Well, Lancelet should take his own road; she had consented to that when he left Avalon. If he professed great devotion to the Queen, no doubt, it was only that his comrades should not mock at him as a lover of boys.

But she dismissed her sons from her mind. Neither of them was as near to her heart as Morgaine, and Morgaine ... where was Morgaine? She had been disquieted before this, but now, hearing Balan’s news, she feared for Morgaine’s very life. Before this day was ended, she should send out messengers from Avalon to Tintagel, where Igraine dwelt, and northward to Lot’s court where Morgaine might have gone to be with her child ... . She had seen the young Gwydion, once or twice, in her mirror, but had paid him little heed, as long as he grew and thrived. Morgause was kindly to all little children, having a brood of her own, and there would be time enough to look to Gwydion when he came of an age for fostering. Then should he come to Avalon ... .

With the iron discipline of years, she managed to put even Morgaine from her mind and to ride home to Avalon in a mood befitting a priestess who had just taken the part of the Death-crone for her oldest friend- sobered indeed, but without great grief, for death was only the beginning of new life.

Priscilla was a Christian. She believed she would now be with her God in Heaven. Yet she too will be born again on this imperfect world, to seek the perfection of the Gods, again and yet again ... . Balan and I parted as strangers, and so it must be. I am no more the Mother, and I should feel no more grief than when I ceased to be the Maiden for her ... yet her heart was filled with rebellion.

Truly, the time had come for her to give up her rulership of Avalon, that a younger woman might be Lady of the Lake and she herself no more than one of the wise-women, offering counsel and advice, but carrying no more that fearsome power. She had long known that the Sight was leaving her. Yet she would not lay down her power until she could place it in the hands of that one she had prepared to take it from her. She had felt that she could wait until Morgaine had outgrown her bitterness and returned to Avalon.

Yet if anything has befallen Morgaine ... and even if it has not, have I the right to continue as Lady when the Sight has left me?

For a moment, when she came to the Lake, she was so cold and wet that when the boat’s crew turned to her to call down the mists, she could not force herself to remember the spell. Indeed it is time and more than time that I should lay down my powers ... . Then the words of power came back into her mind and she spoke them, but much of that night she lay wakeful, in dread.

When the morning had come, she studied the sky; the moon was darkening, and it would do no good to consult the mirror at this time. Will it ever profit me anything to look into that mirror again, now the Sight has departed from me? With iron discipline, she forced herself to say nothing of any of this to her attendant priestesses. But later that day she met with the other wise-women and asked them, “Is there anyone in the House of Maidens who is still virgin and has never yet gone to the grove or to the fires?”

“There is Taliesin’s little daughter,” said one of the women. For a moment Viviane was confused-surely Igraine was grown and wedded and widowed, mother of the High King in Caerleon, and Morgause too was wedded and the mother of many sons. Then she recalled herself and said, “I knew not that he had a daughter in the House of Maidens.” A time had been, she thought, when no girl had been taken into the Maiden House without her own knowledge, and it had been her hand that had tested each one for the Sight and for her fitness for the Druid lore. But in the last years, she had let this slip from her.

“Tell me. How old is she? What is her name? When did she come to us?”

“Her name is Niniane,” said the old priestess. “She is the daughter of Branwen-do you remember? Branwen said that Taliesin had fathered this child at Beltane fire. It seems it was only a little while ago, but she must be eleven or twelve, perhaps more. She was fostered away in the North somewhere, but she came to us five or six seasons ago. She is a good child and biddable enough, and there are not now so many maidens who come to us that we can afford to pick and choose among them, Lady! There are none now like Raven or your fosterling Morgaine. And where is Morgaine now, Lady? She should return to us!”

Viviane said, “She should return to us indeed,” and felt ashamed to say that she did not even know where Morgaine was, or even whether she was alive or dead. How have I the insolence to be Lady of Avalon when I know not even the name of my successor, nor who dwells in the House of Maidens? But if this Niniane was daughter to Taliesin and to a priestess of Avalon, surely she must have the Sight. And even if she had it not herself, Viviane could compel her to see, if she was a maiden still.

She said, “See that Niniane is sent to me before dawn, three days from now,” and, although she saw a dozen questions in the eyes of the old priestess, she marked with a certain satisfaction that she was still unquestioned Lady of Avalon, for the woman asked her nothing.

NINIANE CAME TO HER an hour before dawn, at the end of the moon-dark seclusion; Viviane, sleepless, had spent much of the night in restless self-questioning. She knew herself reluctant to set aside her own position of authority, yet if she could lay it into Morgaine’s hands, she would do so without regrets. She turned over in her hand the little sickle knife which Morgaine had abandoned when she fled from Avalon, then put it aside and raised her face to look at Taliesin’s daughter.

The old priestess, even as I myself, loses track of time; surely she is more than eleven or twelve. The girl was trembling in awe, and Viviane recalled how Morgaine too had trembled when she first saw her as Lady of Avalon. She said gently, “You are Niniane? Who are your parents?”

“I am Branwen’s daughter, Lady, but I do not know my father’s name. She said only that I was Beltane-gotten.” Well, that was reasonable enough.

“How old are you, Niniane?”

“I shall have finished fourteen winters this year.”

“And you, have you been to the fires, child?”

The girl shook her head. She said, “I have not been called thither.”

“Have you the Sight?”

“Only a little, I think, Lady,” she said, and Viviane sighed and said, “Well, we shall see, child; come with me,” and she led the way out of her isolated house, upwards along the hidden path to the Sacred Well. The girl was taller than she herself, slender and fair-haired, with violet eyes-she was not unlike Igraine at that age, Viviane thought, though Igraine’s hair had been nearer red than golden. Suddenly it seemed that she could see this Niniane crowned and robed as the Lady, and she shook her head impatiently, to clear it of unwanted vision. Surely this was only wandering daydream ... .

She brought Niniane to the pool, then stopped for a moment to look at the sky. She handed her the sickle knife which had been given to Morgaine when she had been made priestess, and said to her quietly, “Look into the mirror, my child, and see where she who held this dwells now.”

Niniane looked at her hesitantly and said, “Lady, I told you-I have little of the Sight-”

Viviane suddenly understood-the girl was frightened of failure. “It does not matter. You will see with the Sight that once was mine. Be not afraid, child, but look for me into the mirror.”

Silence, while Viviane watched the girl’s bent head. In the surface of the pool it seemed only that wind came and ruffled the surface, as always. Then Niniane said in a quiet, wandering voice, “Ah, see ... she sleeps in the arms of the grey king ... “ and was still.

What can she mean? Viviane could make nothing of the words. She wanted to cry out to Niniane, to force the Sight upon her undesired, yet she compelled herself, by the greatest effort of her life, to keep still, knowing that even her restless thoughts could blur the Sight for the maiden. She said, hardly above a whisper, “Tell me, Niniane, do you see that day when Morgaine shall return to Avalon?”

Again the empty silence. A little breeze-the dawn wind-had sprung up, and again the riffle of wind came and went across the glassy surface of the water. At last Niniane said softly, “She stands in the boat ... her hair is all grey now ... “ and again she was still, sighing as if with pain.

“Do you see more, Niniane? Speak, tell me-”

Pain and terror crossed the girl’s face and she whispered, “Ah, the cross ... the light burns me, the cauldron between her hands-Raven! Raven, will you leave us now?” She gave a sharp indrawn breath of shock and dismay, and crumpled fainting to the ground.

Viviane stood motionless, her hands clenched, and then, with a long sigh, she bent to raise the girl. She dipped her hand in the pool, sprinkled water on Niniane’s slack face. After a moment the girl opened her eyes, stared at Viviane in fright, and began to cry.

“I am sorry, Lady-I could see nothing,” she whimpered.

So. She spoke, but she remembers nothing of what she saw. I might well have spared her this, for all the good it has done. It was pointless to be angry with her-she had done no more than she was commanded. Viviane stroked the fair hair back from Niniane’s forehead and said gently, “Don’t cry; I am not angry with you. Does your head ache? So-go and rest, my child.”

The Goddess bestows her gifts as she will. But why, Mother of all, do you send me to do your will with imperfect instruments? You have taken from me the power to do your will; why, then, have you taken from me the one who should serve you when I am no longer here? Niniane, her hands pressed to her forehead, went slowly down the path toward the House of Maidens, and after a time, Viviane followed.

Had Niniane’s words been nothing but raving? She did not think so -she was sure the girl had seen something. But Viviane could make nothing of what Niniane had seen, and the girl’s few attempts to put it into words meant nothing to Viviane. And now Niniane had forgotten it all, so that she could not be questioned further.

She sleeps in the arms of the grey king. Did that mean Morgaine was lying in the arms of death?

Would Morgaine return to them? Niniane had said only, She stands in the boat... so Morgaine would return to Avalon. Her hair is all grey now. So the return would not come soon, if at all. That, at least, was unequivocal.

The cross. The light burns me. Raven, Raven, the cauldron between her hands. That was certainly no more than delirium, an attempt to put some tenuous vision into words. Raven would bear the cauldron, the magical weapon of water and of the Goddess ... yes, Raven was empowered to handle the Great Regalia. Viviane sat staring at the wall of her chamber, wondering if this meant that now Morgaine was gone from them, Raven should bear the power of the Lady of the Lake. It seemed to her that there was no other way to interpret the girl’s words. And even so, they might mean nothing.

Whatever I do now, I am in the dark-I might better have gone to Raven, who would have answered me only with silence!

But if Morgaine had indeed gone into the arms of death, or was lost to Avalon forever, there was no other priestess fit to carry the weight. Raven had given her voice to the Goddess in prophecy ... was the place of the Goddess to go unserved because Raven had chosen her silent path?

Viviane sat alone in her dwelling, staring at the wall, pondering Niniane’s cryptic words again and again in her heart. Once she rose and went alone up the silent path to stare again into the unmoving waters, but they were grey, grey as the unyielding sky. Once indeed it seemed to her that something moved there, and Viviane whispered, “Morgaine?” and looked deep into the silence of the pool.

But the face that looked out at her was not Morgaine’s face-it was still, dispassionate as the Goddess herself, crowned with bare wicker-withes ... .

... Is it my own reflection I see, or the Death-crone? ...

At last, weary, she turned away.

This I have known since first I trod the path-a time comes when there is only despair, when you seek to tear the veil from the shrine, and you cry out to her and know that she will not answer because she is not there, because she was never there, there is no Goddess but only yourself, and you are alone in the mockery of echoes from an empty shrine ... .

There is no one there, there was never anyone there, and all the Sight is but dreams and delusions ... .

As she trudged wearily down the hill, she saw that the new moon stood in the sky. But now it meant nothing to her save that this ritual silence and seclusion were done for the time.

What have I to do with this mockery of a Goddess? The fate of Avalon lies in my hands, and Morgaine is gone, and I am alone with old women and children and half-trained girls . .. alone, all alone! And I am old and weary and my death awaits me ... .

Within her dwelling the women had lighted a fire, and a cup of warmed wine sat steaming beside her usual chair so that she might break the moon-dark fast. She sank down wearily, and one of her attendant priestesses came silently to draw off her shoes and put a warm shawl about her shoulders.

There is no one but I. But I have still my daughters, I am not wholly alone. “Thank you, my children,” she said, with unaccustomed warmth, and one of the attendants bowed her head shyly without speaking. Viviane did not know the girl’s name-why am I thus neglectful?-but she thought she must be under a vow of silence for the time. The second said softly, “It is our privilege to serve you, Mother. Will you go to rest?”

“Not yet awhile,” Viviane said, and then on an impulse said, “Go and ask the priestess Raven to attend me.”

It seemed a long time before, with silent step, Raven came into the room. Viviane greeted her with a bending of the head, and Raven came and bowed, then, following Viviane’s gesture, went to the seat across from Viviane’s own. Viviane handed her the cup, still half filled with the hot wine, and Raven sipped, smiling thanks, and put it from her.

At last Viviane said in entreaty, “My daughter, you broke your silence once before Morgaine left us. Now I seek for her and she cannot be found. She is not in Caerleon, nor in Tintagel, nor with Lot and Morgause in Lothian ... and I grow old. There is none to serve. ... I ask of you as I would inquire of the oracle of the Goddess: will Morgaine return?”

Raven was silent. At last she shook her head and Viviane demanded, “Do you mean that Morgaine will not return? Or do you mean that you do not know?” But the younger priestess made an odd gesture of helplessness and questioning.

“Raven,” said Viviane, “you know that I must lay down my place, and there is no other to bear it, none who has the old training of a priestess, none who has gone so far-only you. If Morgaine does not return to us, you must be Lady of the Lake. Your oath was given to silence, and you have borne it faithfully. Now it is time to lay it aside, and take from my hands the guardianship of this place-there is no other way.”

Raven shook her head. She was a tall woman, slightly built, and, Viviane thought, no longer young; she was certainly ten years older than Morgaine-she must be nearing her fortieth year. And she came here as a little maiden with her breasts not yet budded. Her hair was long and dark, and her face dark and sallow, her eyes large beneath dark, thick brows. She looked worn and austere.

Viviane covered her face with her hands and said in a hoarse voice, through tears she could not shed, “I-cannot, Raven.”

After a moment, her face covered, she felt a gentle touch on her cheek. Raven had risen and was bending over her. She did not speak, only took Viviane into a close embrace and held her for a moment, and Viviane, feeling the warmth of the younger woman pressed against her, began to sob, and felt that she would weep and weep with no will ever to cease. And at last, when in sheer exhaustion Viviane was silent, Raven kissed her on the cheek and went silently away.


Once Igraine had said to Gwenhwyfar that Cornwall was at the world’s end. So it seemed to Gwenhwyfar-there might never have been such things as marauding Saxons or a High King. Or a High Queen. Here in this distant Cornish convent, even though on a clear day she could look out toward the sea and see the stark line of Tintagel castle, she and Igraine were no more than two Christian ladies. Gwenhwyfar thought, surprising herself, I am glad I came.

Yet when Arthur had asked her to go, she had been afraid to leave the enclosing walls of Caerleon. The journey had seemed a long nightmare to her, even the swift and comfortable ride along the Roman road south; when they left the Roman road and began to travel across the high, exposed moors, Gwenhwyfar had huddled in panic within her litter, hardly able to tell which was more of a terror to her, the high open sky or the long, long vistas of grass, treeless, where the rocks thrust up stark and cold like the very bones of the earth. Then for a time no living creature could be seen except the ravens that circled high, waiting for something to die, or, far away, one of the wild moorland ponies, stopping to throw up a shaggy head before bolting away.

Yet here in this distant Cornish convent, all was still and peaceful; a soft-toned bell rang the hours, and roses grew in the enclosed cloister garden and twined into crannies of the crumbling brick wall. Once it had been a Roman villa. The sisters had taken up the floor of one big room, they said, because it had portrayed some scandalous pagan scene-Gwenhwyfar was curious as to what it was, but no one told her and she was ashamed to ask. All around the edges of the room were lovely little tiled dolphins and curious fish, and at the center, common bricks had been laid. She sat there with the sisters sometimes in the afternoons and stitched at her sewing, while Igraine was resting.

Igraine was dying. Two months since, the message had come to Caerleon. Arthur had had to travel north to Eboracum to see to the fortification of the Roman wall there and could not go, nor was Morgaine there. And since Arthur could not go, and it could not be looked for that Viviane, at her age, could make the long journey, Arthur had begged Gwenhwyfar to go and stay with his mother; and after much persuasion she had agreed.

Gwenhwyfar knew little about tending the sick. Whatever illness had seized on Igraine, at least it was painless-but she was short of breath and could not walk far without coughing and gasping. The sister who cared for her said it was congestion in the lungs, yet there was no coughing of blood and she had no fever and flushing. Her lips were pale and her nails blue, and her ankles were swollen to where she could hardly walk on them; she seemed almost too weary to speak and kept her bed most of the time. She seemed not so very ill to Gwenhwyfar, but the sister said she was dying indeed, and now it could not be more than a week at most.

It was the fairest part of the summer, and this morning Gwenhwyfar brought a white rose from the convent garden and laid it on Igraine’s pillow. Igraine had struggled to her feet last night to go to evensong, but this morning she had been so weary and without strength she could not rise. Yet she smiled up at Gwenhwyfar and said in her wheezing voice, “Thank you, dear daughter.” She put the flower to her face, sniffing delicately at the petals. “Always I wanted roses at Tintagel, but the soil there was so poor, little would grow. ... I dwelt there five years and never did I cease from trying to make some sort of garden.”

“When you came to take me to be wedded, you saw the garden at my home,” Gwenhwyfar said, with a sudden twinge of homesickness for that faraway walled garden.

“I remember how beautiful it was-it put me in mind of Avalon. The flowers are so beautiful there, in the courts of the House of Maidens.” She was silent for a moment. “A message was sent to Morgaine at Avalon?”

“A message was sent, Mother. But Taliesin told us Morgaine had not been seen in Avalon,” said Gwenhwyfar. “No doubt she is with Queen Morgause in Lothian, and in these times it takes forever for a messenger to come and go.”

Igraine drew a heavy sigh and began to struggle with a cough again, and Gwenhwyfar helped her to sit upright. After a time Igraine murmured, “Yet the Sight should have bidden Morgaine to come to me-you would come if you knew your mother was dying, would you not? Yes, for you came, and I am not even your own mother. Why has Morgaine not come?”

It is nothing to her that I have come, Gwenhwyfar thought, it is not me she wants here. There is no one who cares whether I am here or elsewhere. And it seemed as if her very heart was bruised. But Igraine was looking at her expectantly, and she said, “Perhaps Morgaine has received no message. Perhaps she has gone into a convent somewhere and become a Christian and renounced the Sight.”

“It may be so.... I did so when I married Uther,” Igraine murmured. “Yet now and again it thrust itself on me undesired, and I think if Morgaine was ill or dying I would know it.” Her voice was fretful. “The Sight came upon me before you were married ... tell me, Gwenhwyfar, do you love my son?”

Gwenhwyfar shrank from the sick woman’s clear grey eyes; could Igraine see into her very soul? “I love him well and I am his faithful queen, lady.”

“Aye, I believe you are ... and you are happy together?” Igraine held Gwenhwyfar’s slender hands in her own for a moment and suddenly smiled. “Why, so you must be. And will be happier yet, since you are bearing his son at last.”

Gwenhwyfar’s mouth dropped open and she stared at Igraine. “I-I -I did not know.”

Igraine smiled again, a tender and radiant smile, so that Gwenhwyfar thought, Yes, I can believe it, that when she was young, she was beautiful enough for Uther to cast aside all caution and seek her with spells and charms.

Igraine said, “It is often so, though you are not really so young-I am surprised you have not already had a child.”

“It was not for lack of wanting, no, nor praying for it either, lady,” Gwenhwyfar said, so shaken that she hardly knew what she was saying. Was the old Queen falling into delirium? This was too cruel for jesting. “How -what makes you think I am-am with child?”

Igraine said, “I forgot, you have not the Sight-it has deserted me for long and long I renounced it, but as I say, it steals upon me unawares, and never has it played me false.” Gwenhwyfar began to weep, and Igraine, troubled, reached out her thin hand and laid it over the younger woman’s.

“Why, how is this, that I give you good news and you weep, child?”

Now she will think I do not want a child, and I cannot bear to have her think ill of me ... . Gwenhwyfar said shakily, “Only twice in all the years I have been married have I had any cause to think myself pregnant, and then I carried the child only a month or two. Tell me, lady, do you-” Her throat closed and she dared not speak the words. Tell me, Igraine, shall I bear this child, have you seen me then with Arthur’s child at my breast? What would her priest think of this compromise with sorcery?

Igraine patted her hand. “I wish I might tell you more, but the Sight comes and goes as it will. God grant it come to a good end, my dear; it may be that I can see no more because by the time your child is born, I shall not be here to see-no, no, child, do not weep,” she begged. “I have been ready to leave this life ever since I saw Arthur wedded. I would like to see your son, I would like to hold a child of Morgaine’s in my arms, should that day ever come, but Uther is gone and it is well with my children. It may be that Uther waits for me beyond death, or the other children I lost at birth. And if they do not-” She shrugged. “I shall never know.”

Igraine’s eyes closed, and Gwenhwyfar thought, I have wearied her. She sat silent until the older woman slept, then rose and went quietly into the garden.

She felt numbed; it had truly not seemed to her that she might be pregnant. If she had thought anything at all about it, it was that the stress of travel had delayed her courses ... for the first three years of her marriage, every time it had been late, she had thought herself with child. Then, in the year in which Arthur had been, first, away for the battle of Celidon Wood and the long campaign before it, then wounded and too weak to touch her, the same pattern had persisted. And finally she had realized that her monthly rhythms were inconstant-there was no way to keep track of them by the moon, for sometimes two or three months might pass with no sign.

But now that Igraine had spoken, she wondered why she had not thought of this before; it never occurred to her to doubt the Queen. Something inside Gwenhwyfar said, Sorcery, and there was a small voice that persisted in reminding her, All these things are of the Devil, and have no place in this house of holy women. But something else said, How could it be wicked to tell me this? It was more, she thought, as when the angel was sent to Mary the Virgin to tell her of the birth of her son ... and then for a moment Gwenhwyfar was struck with awe at her own presumption; and then she began softly to giggle, at the incongruity of Igraine, old and dying, as an angel of God.

At that moment the bell rang in the cloister for prayers, and Gwenhwyfar, though here as a guest, and without obligation, turned and went into the sisters’ chapel, kneeling in her accustomed place among the visitors. But she heard little of the service, for her whole heart and mind were caught up in the most fervent prayer of her entire life.

It has come, the answer to all my prayers. Oh, thank you, God and Christ and our Blessed Lady!

Arthur was wrong. It was not he who failed. There was no need ... and once again she was filled with the paralyzing shame she had felt when he had said that thing to her, all but giving her leave to betray him ... and what a wicked woman I was then, that I could even have considered it ... . But now in the very midst of her wickedness God had rewarded her when she deserved it now. Gwenhwyfar raised her head and began to sing the Magnificat with the rest, so fervently that the abbess raised her head and looked sharply at her.

They do not know why I am thankful ... they do not know how much I have to be thankful for ... .

But they do not know how wicked I was either, for I was thinking here in this holy place of the one I love ... .

And then, even through her joy, suddenly it was like pain again: Now he will look upon me big with Arthur’s child, and he will think me ugly and gross and never look on me again with love and longing. And even through the joy in her heart, she felt small and cramped and joyless.

Arthur gave me leave, and we could have had each other, at least once, and now never ... never ... never ... .

She put her face into her hands and wept behind them, silently, and no longer cared that the abbess was watching her.

THAT NIGHT IGRAINE’S BREATHING was so labored that she could not even lower her head to rest; she had to sit bolt upright, propped up on many cushions, to breathe at all, and she wheezed and coughed without end. The abbess gave her a draught of something which would clear the lungs, but it only made her queasy, she said, and she could take no more of it.

Gwenhwyfar sat beside her, drowsing a little now and then, but alert whenever the sick woman stirred, to give her a sip of water, to shift her pillows so that she could find a little ease. There was only a small lamp in the room, but there was brilliant moonlight, and the night was so warm that the door stood open into the garden. And through it all there was the ever-present muffled sound of the sea beyond the garden, beating at the rocks.

“Strange,” Igraine murmured at last in a faraway voice, “never would I have thought I would come here to die. ... I remember how dreary I felt, how alone, when first I came to Tintagel, as if I had come to the very end of the world. Avalon was so fair, so beautiful, so filled with flowers ... “

“There are flowers here,” Gwenhwyfar said.

“But not like the flowers of my home. It is so barren here, so rocky,” she said. “Have you been in the Island, child?”

“I was schooled in the convent on Ynis Witrin, madam.”

“It is beautiful on the Island. And when I travelled here over the moors, it was so high and barren and deserted, I was afraid-”

Igraine made a weak movement toward her, and Gwenhwyfar took her hand and was alarmed by its coldness.