|My Fantasy Stories|
“Is it true? You’ve been to King Arthur’s Court?” one of the maidens in my care suddenly asked.
Startled I glanced up from my weaving and looked at her. “Why do you want to know?”
“It sure must have been glorious.” She exclaimed. And another added, “To actually have seen the noble King Arthur!” Her eyes sparkled.
“Noble?!” I snorted.
They looked at me shocked. Well, how should they know? Although it was Morgaine who had founded this refuge at the isle of Avalon, even here everyone believed the lies her brother and more especially Merlin with his magic had spread about her. I hadn’t been sworn to silence, still I had found it difficult to make anyone believe me and I had just given up years ago. I sighed. I was old now and soon the truth would die with me. Out of the blue I decided to try once more.
“Are you prepared to hear the truth?” I looked at the three girls who were surrounding me.
Eagerly they nodded.
I closed my eyes to bring some order into my memories of the events decades ago, took a deep breath and began. “Arthur, like his father Uther, – even before he became king – loved only two things: women and wine. Oh yes, you all know those stories about him being just a mere boy when he drew Excalibur out of the stone.” I shook my head and let my irritation – even after this many years – show. “This is just one of the many lies Merlin has spread about and enforced with his magic after he found out what had happened between Arthur and Morgaine.”
I let a bit of irony creep into my voice. “Because how could a mere boy have raped a girl – let alone his own sister?” I pressed my lips together as I remembered Morgaine’s shock at what had happened. “She was no older than the three of you are now. As both Arthur and Morgaine had been fostered out, they didn’t recognize each other. And Arthur wanted her from the moment he saw her.” I closed my eyes as I remembered how beautiful she had been. “I can’t hold that against him. With her raven black hair and her pale skin a saint would have fallen in love with her. But a saint would not have done what her brother did.” My face hardened. “When she refused him, he used force to get what he wanted. Afterwards he would even have married her but by then Merlin had found out that he had lain with his own sister. Instead of searching for another king who was truly chivalrous, the blame was placed on poor Morgaine’s shoulders and she was chased from court in disgrace. And Merlin misused his magic to make everyone believe it.”
My lower lip curled in disgust. I looked sternly at the three girls. “Promise me you will never use your magic for personal gains.”
They nodded with solemn faces.
“It was to me she fled,” I continued the story, “and together we found refuge here. But she had taken one thing with her from Court.” I smiled as I realized how eagerly the three girls hung on my every word, and I let my voice sink to a mere whisper to raise the suspense even more. “She had stolen Merlin’s Grimoire. I thought she was completely mad when she told me so but, her eyes blazing full of hate, she hissed: ‘I want revenge. Revenge on Arthur for how he treated me. And revenge on Merlin for making me, who was the victim, take the blame.’ She was not entirely sane when she said this. And maybe, just maybe I could have stopped her.” I closed my eyes in remembered pain. “I should have held her back somehow, brought her back to her senses. But I felt she needed this and only after she had had her revenge would she turn back into my friend that I had loved so dearly. The ruin of Arthur’s reign and all that followed is as much my fault as hers for not stopping her.”
The three girls looked at me anxiously. “What did she do? Is it true she seduced Merlin to weaken him? How did she learn the magic to defeat him?” “She studied the Grimoire and her hatred gave her the necessary focus to absorb all the spells as easily as breathing. And once she had learned everything there was to learn from the book, she went out to find Merlin. She challenged him, mage to mage. His fault was in underestimating her, a mere female.” Again irony tainted my voice. “All those stories about her seducing him are just that: stories because no one could believe she could just defeat him and change him into a tree. A mighty oak he has become, still for all to see in the middle of the forest. Then she targeted Arthur’s useless wife Gwenwyfar. She rendered her barren by witchcraft so Arthur would be without an heir. Then she cursed her to fall madly in love with Lancelot, Arthur’s best friend, so her brother would be publicly covered in shame – much as she had been.” I sighed. “That would have been the end of her revenge. If it had not raised another set of troubles: Now he tried to get an heir by every means it took, without caring if the women he lay with were willing or not. Not one of them conceived and the moment he tired of them, he simply sent them away. So our little refuge became soon the refuge of many more. That’s how the isle of Avalon became known as the refuge for all women.” I smiled at the girls. “And that’s how you came to be raised here as well.”
“And what happened then?” One of the girls asked excitedly. “How did the big battle between Mordred and Arthur come to pass?”
I sighed and a single tear crept down my cheek. “This is the one thing where I think Morgaine went too far. How could she have done something like this to an innocent child, her own son, sweet Mordred? He was the beloved favourite of the whole isle. And when Arthur demanded him – as he was his sole heir – Morgaine refused at first. Of course. I would have done so, too. Arthur wasn’t fit to raise a kitten, let alone a boy. And his wife Gwenwyfar only cared for Lancelot by then. Till a plan occurred to her.” I closed my eyes for a moment and pinched my lips together so as not to let out the keening sound that threatened to escape me. “She sent Mordred to his father – as he had requested. Alas, not before filling his mind with hatred, hatred against his father. And a hating beast was what Arthur got.” I shook my head. “That was the cruellest thing Morgaine did and the one thing she really shouldn’t have done. And Mordred was raised at Arthur’s Court, like a poisonous snake he was.”
I shook my head, completely caught up in my memory. “Mordred managed to convince enough knights that it was Morgaine who had been wronged, not Arthur, while the Knights of the Round Table stayed loyal to their King. That’s how it finally came to the big battle at the Lake, between father and son who should have loved each other. In hatred they killed each other.”
“And Morgaine? What happened to her? Was she finally satisfied?”
“I know not.” I replied sadly. “As soon as they both lay dying, her brother whom she should have loved and protected and her only child whom she had loved as a toddler, she grabbed Excalibur – instead of trying to heal either one – and disappeared, never to be seen again. She might have killed herself in the Lake, she might have changed herself to a tree to share Merlin’s fate, she might have been cursed by the dying to ever wander lost, she might even have become a captive of the faeries. I know not.”
The three girls stayed silent for a long time. Then one of them raised her head and I saw that tears ran down her cheeks. “I vow that I will never use my magic to harm anybody – whatever the provocation! Never!” And the other two followed suit.
And to this day the magic of the Druids is used for Healing and Protection, but never for Harm or Death.
A hooded woman walked proudly through the town when a little girl ran up to her: “Lady, why do you wear a hood? It’s such a beautiful day. The sun’s shining and it’s not even windy.”
Deirdre smiled down at the child, “Well, little one, there are other reasons to wear hoods. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone with the way I look.”
A boy hearing those words ran close. “I want to see, I want to see.”
Deirdre shook her head. “I don’t think you should.”
He insisted, “If it’s scary, I want to see. And if it’s not scary, why hide yourself?”
Deirdre sighed. She knew she shouldn’t give in but she loved children and couldn’t help indulging them. “So be it.” she replied and pushed back the hood. “Ooh!” said the boy. “You’ve got a horn like a unicorn. You aren’t scary at all! May I touch it?”
“What beautiful hair you’ve got!” exclaimed the girl. “I wish mine was as long and silky. And such a beautiful colour! I’ve never ever seen anybody with red hair! Doesn’t it burn you?”
Deirdre laughed. “No, my hair doesn’t burn me. And yes, you may touch my horn.” She bowed down so the boy could reach up to it.
But the little white horn with the golden point wasn’t the only thing that was odd about her. Her voice, sounding like that of an old woman, was at odds with her youthful face. But the youth of that face, however, was belied again by her old dark blue eyes. And her laughter was crystal clear, like the sound of silver bells.
Another child approached slowly. He looked shabby, the child of a poor family. Very shyly he asked: “My Lady, I’ve never seen one such as you…” He didn’t quite dare ask but she still heard the curiosity out of his half-formulated phrase. “Very well then,” she said with another smile, “I’ll tell you my tale. Come with me into the shadows of yon tree. Then I’ll tell you how I came to be as you see me now.” She gathered her skirts around her and sat down with her back to the tree trunk and looked around. Some more children had come to hear the tale and she waited till all had settled down before starting to talk: “I was human once, a foolish girl, a bit older than you, who dreamed of adventures. I knew nothing of the world, nothing of warfare, little of weapons and concerning magic all I knew was just the handful of spells that the local wisewoman had been able to teach me. Well, foolish as I was I left home only with my dagger, a bit of food and the scant knowledge I possessed.” She closed her eyes for a moment in remembrance before she started to talk again.
“It was late at night when I came upon a girl tied to a tree who held a golden bridle. She was not really aware of her surroundings. I soon figured out she was not only drugged but also bespelled. Only when I heard the hunt I understood: she was to be the bait in a hunt for...” Deirdre gulped as her memory got a hold on me. “...a unicorn. The hunters meant to slay the beautiful beast and take her precious horn. The maiden should call the unicorn here and was bespelled to place the bridle onto her so the hunters could despoil the beast at their leisure. I bit my lips. What was I to do? I couldn't let them slay a unicorn. And yet I wasn’t powerful enough to break the spells holding her. And I had to be quick before the hunt came near enough to see me. Panic caught hold of me. What to do? Finally I had an idea: I hastily cut a hole into the bridle and hid myself, hoping it would be enough..."
At this point of her tale she looked around to see what effect the tale on her audience had. The children hang on her very word. She smiled slightly and continued:
“Soon the unicorn broke through the bushes. Her sides were flecked with sweat, and she was full of blood for the hunters had driven her with whips. But still she was beautiful! I fell into dreaming the moment I saw her. Fortunately I had already done all I could by breaking the bridle, for if the rescue had depended on my acting now, it’d have failed. I was completely unable to move. The unicorn ran towards the maiden who - spellbound as she was - lifted the bridle to chain the unicorn. I held my breath. Had my small action been enough? Maybe I could have done more! I certainly should have done more! I should have tried to break the girl’s bonds… Yes! The unicorn broke free, and delivered from the spell that drove her towards the maiden through the broken bridle, she ran off. I sighed with relief and fainted from the tension.”
As she recounted that, she blushed slightly. It wasn’t very heroic after all to faint but it was the truth. And if she was telling her tale – even if it was only to children – she would tell the complete und unadorned truth.
“Well anyway, when I woke, the hunters were gone. And so was the maiden. I'm sure they must have been angry and I hope they didn't hurt her. But much as I tried, I never could find out.” She bit her lips as she remembered she was talking to children and therefore shouldn’t speculate aloud on what might have happened to the poor girl. So she quickly continued with her own part of the tale: “As I tried to traverse the forest, suddenly the unicorn sprang out between the trees, stopping in front of me and said something. It took me a while to figure out it was the unicorn speaking.” She laughed again with that crystal clear laughter that sounded like silver bells. “I remember every word she said, as if it had been yesterday only: ‘Young maiden, I know it was thee who saved my life yesterday. Thou art very brave and I thank thee for my life. Ask anything of me, if it’s in my power to give, I’ll grant thee any wish you may have.’ Well, you all know unicorns are mages and I'd always dreamed of being a powerful mage, so that’s what I wished for. ‘I want to be mage as powerful as you.’, I said.”
She looked around at her listeners. “Today I know that my wish was foolish. There was but one way the unicorn could grant it to me, and this is not a way I'd willingly go again. It set me apart from my kind forever.” She said this with tears in her eyes. Oh, how much she longed to be a mere human again. She wondered if the children could and would understand. Yet, it was not a feeling she could properly explain, so she didn’t even try and instead finished her tale: “Well, the unicorn tried to persuade me to wish for something else, yet I wouldn’t let myself be deterred from it. And so finally she said with a sigh, ‘It is indeed a wish that I can grant thee. Foolish as it is and much as thou wilt rue the day thou made it and I gave it, I will grant it to thee.’ And...” Now she hesitated. She had intended to tell the full truth, the horrifying truth that it was a spell cast in blood. Three drops of the blood from the unicorn, three drops of blood from her, mingled with many herbs and water from a healing well made into a potion that both the unicorn and her finally drank, making blood sisters of them. But somehow now she had come to this point she still didn't quite dare say it. A unicorn's blood was sacrosanct. And moreover she couldn’t tell this to children. “And thus I became more than mortal – such as you see me now.”