Dark Moon of Avalon
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been the dullest of stars.
I have been a course, I have been an eagle.
I have been a coracle in the seas.
Little more than the words remains, now, of the wisdom of the Old Ones. A wisdom that once allowed men to read the future in the flight of birds, or walk unharmed across a bed of burning coals. All that remains of Avalon, now no place in this world, but only a name in a harper's tale. A faint, mist-shrouded echo of what once was Britain's most sacred ground. Hidden like the Otherworld behind a veil of glass.
Once the gods of Britain ruled this land. Cernunnos, the horned god of the forests, father of all life. And his consort, the great mother goddess, known by many names: Arianhod, mistress of stars, mistress of the silver wheel. Donn, goddess of sea and air. Morrigan, mistress of night. Of battle, of prophesy, of magic and revenge.
Some say it is from her that I take my name. Morgan.
Men have given me many names besides, in my time. Sorceress . . . witch . . . whore.
And now I stand at a cliff's edge, looking across the battle that will soon be fought to my own end.
Camlann, the battle will be called. The last bloody fight between Arthur, High King of Britain, and Modred, his traitor heir. Between Arthur, my brother, and Modred, my son as well as Arthur's own. All because Modred seized the throne of Britain, and with it Arthur's wife Gwynefar.
Or is it because I myself could not let go of a hurt years old? Though I kept my word to Arthur and never named him the father of my child. That was the price I paid to have Modred raised as Arthur's heir: allowing Morgan, as much the daughter of Uther the Pendragon as Arthur is son, to be branded harlot, slut, devil's mistress.
I never spoke aloud the ugly truth of how Arthur's son was forced on me, in drunken violence after a battle fought and won.
Never spoke it aloud to any, at least, except my own son. If I had not--
Too late, now, for such questions. Too late to alter the course of any of our lives.
But it would be good, as I look down at the raven dark head of my son's only daughter, to believe that the power of Britain's gods was not broken, when Roman sandals first trampled Britain's soil. When the Legions in their silver fish-scale armor defiled the druids' sacred groves, fouled the sacred pools and built their straight roads and marble temples like scars on the land.
It would be good, on this eve of battle, to believe that the voice of the goddess and her consort the horned one can still be heard, like the silent echo after thunder.
A gift of those same gods, I have always thought the Sight. The power to hear the voice of all living things. To catch glimpses of may be or will be in scrying waters like those before me now.
Again and again, those waters have shown me the battle to come on the fields of Camlann. And once I cared for nothing else. Nothing but the fight that would witness Arthur's final downfall.
But now I see beyond the battle a shadow of blackness rising across Britain like the dark of the moon.
And my own end will not be slow to follow. I have seen the signs. A vision of a woman, death-pale and clad in white, who crouches at a fast-moving river and washes a bloodied gown I know is mine. A great black hound that stands by my bed at night and watches me with red and glowing eyes.
I do not fear my own death. Indeed, I would welcome it at times. But now, as I look from the scrying waters to the girl at my side, I am afraid. Coldly afraid. No use in denying it now.
My granddaughter. Daughter of Modred and Gwynefar. Isolde, her name is. Beautiful one in the old tongue. And she is beautiful. Frighteningly so, even at twelve. White skin with the luminous gleam of the moon. Delicate, finely shaped features. Softly curling black hair and widely spaced gray eyes. A shining girl, beautiful indeed.
Her face is grave, composed as she binds up a cut across the palm of her hand. A cut I made, payment in blood for the power to keep her safe in the midst of rising dark.
But at this moment I would give a hundred times that payment in my own blood to know that the charm of protection would do any good at all.
Isolde. She has been my light in the darkness these last twelve years. But what will be hers, when I am gone?
My gaze turns to the scrying bowl, with its chased pattern of serpents. Dragons of eternity, forever swallowing their tails. And slowly, slowly, an image appears on the waters' surface. Wavering, swirling, shivering then growing steadily clear. A boy's face, though already it holds the promise of the man he will be in a short year or two's time. A lean, handsome face, with a determined jaw and steady, intensely blue eyes set under slanted gold-brown brows. A good face. I see no cruelty in him. And that is far rarer than one might suppose.
I had not meant to let Isolde see the vision the scrying waters have granted me this time. But before the image has faded, she looks up from the bandage she has tied across her hand--a neat job, I have taught her well--and catches sight of the boy's face. I can see her gaze take in the shadow at the back of his blue eyes, the grim-set line of his flexible mouth.
She doesn't question why the boy's face should appear, now, where shadows of Arthur and Modred and Gwynefar have gone before, but only nods. "That's very like him. He almost never smiles."
Neither might she, were her father Marche of Cornwall. Neither might I.
Marche of Cornwall, who will soon betray my son and lose for him the battle at Camlann. At least I need not bear the guilt of my son's death and Britain's downfall entirely alone.
I feel sympathy for few, in this life, where so many bemoan sorrows wrought entirely by their own hands. But this boy, son of Marche, does stir me to compassion. Sadness, even. Though he would scarcely be glad to know it. He has pride, I think, as well as strength of character and reserve beyond his years.
But I have guessed at the bruises he has carried beneath his clothes--marks of his father's fists--from the time he numbered less than half of his now fifteen summers. I know he tries to protect his mother from Marche's anger, as much as he can. Though his mother is far too much of a broken, empty shell to notice, much, or to care.
Still, compassion or no, I answer in a voice entirely unlike my own. As though I were suddenly one of the foolish girls who come and beg love potions from me before lying with their young men in the woods at Beltane. Age must be making me soft, indeed.
"It's because he has no one in his life to love him," I hear myself tell the girl at my side.
"I do." Her face is so serious, her gray eyes very grave, though she can scarcely be old enough to understand the meaning of what she says. Not even old enough for the words to make her afraid. "I will."
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