“My word.” Peredur spoke first. The elf maiden had fallen on top of him and appeared content to lay her head on his chest and smile.
“Up, girl,” Macreedy said. “He may be injured.”
“I don’t think so,” Peredur said quickly.
“Everyone present?” Arthur asked.
“All present, sir,” Bedivere said. He already made the count.
“I say, though. I never knew there was a hole in the old Tor. What is this place we have gotten to?” Mesalwig asked. He seemed to have ruled Ireland out as impossible.
“Tara,” Trevor said, not doubting in the slightest as his eyes got big.
“Tara,” Uwaine said with plain certainty.
“Tara,” Gwynyvar said, a bit breathless.
“Dusty,” Gerraint said and wiped his fingers across one column.
“What say you, Macreedy?” Gwillim asked, and then wished he hadn’t. The glamour that made Macreedy appear as a man had gone. His true elf nature showed fully evident, creepily evident as Trevor’s shriek indicated. The same was true of the elf maidens. Bedivere looked startled, even though he knew better. Arthur and Gwynyvar already knew, and Lancelot surmised as much. He had long since ceased to question such things. Uwaine did not bat an eye, but Peredur asked sweetly if he could touch his lady’s ears. She blushed as he did. Gwillim looked at least momentarily terrified.
“Are we all being transfigured?” Gwillim wondered and touched his person over and over. “What bewitchery is this?”
Mesalwig surprised Gerraint by finally accepting things at face value. “So, this is Tara,” he admitted at last, and he poked his finger at Gerraint. “I always suspected there was something about you. Meryddin suggested as much more than once.”
Before Gerraint could respond, there came a flash of blinding light, and fires burst up all around, though no one got burnt. They heard the woman’s voice.
“Who dares desecrate the halls of Tara with mortal flesh?” The goddess appeared, and in such glory even the great men of Christ felt the need to humble themselves on their knees. Only Gwynyvar remained standing, though that may have been because she became petrified. Gerraint stood, but he simply looked cross.
“Bridgid.” Gerraint named the goddess. “Come here.” His voice sounded stern and clearly the goddess looked taken aback by this unprecedented response to her glorious presence. “Come here.” Gerraint spoke with some force. The goddess hesitated, and then walked slowly in Gerraint’s direction, a most curious expression on her face.
“Why are you still here?” Gerraint asked the question, and then he got more direct. “You should have crossed over long ago with the others. The time of Dissolution is passed.”
“What do you know of such things?” Bridgid wondered.
“Rebellious child,” Gerraint said. He saw her back arch.
“Who are you? I am the goddess. I decide what will be. My will be done.” Her ire was rising and the others, including the little spirits cowered. But by then she got in Gerraint’s face, and he did not hesitate. He slapped her hard enough to knock her to the ground, and the shock of her feeling his slap only got tempered by the sting in her cheek.
“Get thee to a nunnery, Ophelia,” Gerraint said, even as he went away and the Danna came to stand in his place.
“Mother?” Bridgid looked up. “Manannan said. But I didn’t believe him. Mother?” Danna opened her arms and Bridgid rushed into them and immediately began to cry on Danna’s chest. “I’ve been so alone, but for the Formor of few words and no grace. Mother, help me. I am tired. I cannot keep the way any longer. I want to go home. Please.” And Danna remembered how Bridgid had been left to guard the way to Avalon, and she understood in that moment what Gerraint had not understood.
“You failed, child,” Danna said and stroked Bridged’s hair gently from her eyes. “But all is not lost. I will close the way,” she said, firmly. “And you must have a child. Yes. Kildare, I believe. Then you will understand the value of a child in the hands of evil men”
“Hush. Then you can go home. I promise, only make sure your child is a true child of the church.”
“Mother?” It felt hard to say if Bridgid objected or became offended.
“I mean it.” Danna shook her finger at the girl. “You failed. It is the only way.”
Bridgid lowered her eyes. Her mouth did not have to say, “Yes mother.” The sentiment was there. Danna, meanwhile, had blunted the awesome nature of the goddess so the others were beginning to stir.
“The Don.” Lancelot gave the continental name for the goddess.
“That explains a bit,” Arthur said, though he knew this already.
“Yes, well I was hoping I would not have to make my presence known,” Danna said. “This is Gerraint’s life after all, and you must remember, he is as ordinary and mortal as any of you.”
“Not quite, I think,” Gwillim said. He really had a hard time swallowing all that was happening.
“Oh, but mother. Oh dear!” Bridgid interrupted and then got quiet. Danna became Gerraint once more and he leaned over and tenderly kissed Bridgid’s hot cheek, the one he had slapped in his unthinking anger. It had been his fear for Enid and Guimier that ruled him for a moment, and Bridgid accepted that, even if she did not entirely understand it. Bridgid’s mouth opened. “But mother.” She still called Gerraint by that name. “I have done the most terrible thing. I see that now. I did not understand. But that Abraxas asked so kindly. I let the others through ahead of you.” Bridgid braced herself, half expecting to be slapped again.
Gerraint merely stroked her cheek, gently. “I know,” he said. Danna had figured it out. “Enid?” It became a question.
“Oh, the Lady and child are fine. Lovely. I am so happy for you.” Bridgid felt genuine about that.
“Go on.” Gerraint said and let her go. “Only raise your child in the Lord as well. Then you will understand. Then you can pass over.”
Bridgid had to swallow hard before she said, “I will.” It was as near to a promise as one ever got from a god.
“Go on. Rhiannon and Manannan will follow after,” Gerraint said.
Gerraint almost slapped his hand to his face. Another one?
“Pleased to meet all of you,” Bridgid said quickly, though they had not been introduced. She gave everyone her best smile and decided the better part for her was to back away. She vanished, but that did not prevent Gerraint from shouting.
“Kildare!” Perhaps she was still listening.
“I didn’t follow all of that.” Bedivere admitted what most felt.
Gerraint sighed before he explained what he could. “She was to guard the way to Avalon of the Apples to be sure it stayed closed to all but the gods,” he said. “She failed at the end, when it mattered the most and let the others through ahead of us.”
“Kildare is penance.” Arthur grasped at understanding.
Gerraint nodded. “It is the only way.”
“But say.” Gwillim had a question. “Why have you been calling it Avalon of the Apples?”
“Because the real Avalon is an island apart. This Avalon, the island of the apples is the island given to the children of Danna when the Celts first came up into the land.” Gerraint said. He began to walk down the long columned hall and the others followed. The evidence that this place had been virtually abandoned for centuries was everywhere in the dark and dank hall. “The Irish call the island Tir na-nOg.”
“The island of the living, the promises, the young, courage and honor; the land over the sea, the land over the water. It has many names.” Luckless spoke up.
“Hy Brassail,” Macreedy added.
“The treasures the men seek are called Celtic treasures, but in reality, they are not. They are ever so much older than the Celts. In fact, they were first put away when the Celts came up into the land. The Gods also backed away from daily life among the people. Some went underground, but some came to the island in the second heavens which had been given to them. Avalon of the Apples.”
“Well, it is surrounded by the sea,” Gerraint responded, but he explained no further. Then he shrugged. “This was common in the last five hundred years or so before the time of dissolution. Olympus was not seen much after Troy. The Egyptians were not much in evidence after the collapse of the New kingdom. The Middle East withdrew after Babylon fell to the Persians.”
“Dissolution?” Gwillim was the one to ask.
“When the gods of old gave up their flesh and blood,” Gerraint said. “The spirits remain active, but now they are deaf, dumb and blind, and work only as directed by the Spirit of the Most-High God.”
“The Lord has come.” Once again, Arthur grasped at understanding.
“And so have we,” Gerraint said.