M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 1 of 4

“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”

“But…”

“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.

“You lived as the Danu.”  Gwynyvar gasped as she understood what had been hidden from her.

“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.

“And Gwyn?”  Bridgid started to speak, but quickly bit her tongue.

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.”

“I thought it was given to Manannan,” Trevor interrupted.

“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.

M3 Gerraint: Glastonbury Tor, part 3 of 3

Macreedy led them along in a zigzag pattern, but always stayed within the bounds of the path.   They could see the lightning crashing across the sky and charging into the tree tops as if trying to get at them.  It became slow going for this short leg of the journey, but they could not go faster as the elements all seemed arrayed against them.  No one spoke, though they could hardly hear each other above the thunder.  Then again, by that point no one seemed in the mood to speak.

There were no mishaps.  After the mud, everyone felt perfectly willing to follow Macreedy’s path; but then just before the seventh and last turn, when the rain slackened to a drizzle, the bugs, dust and mud had become only nominally annoying, and the wind dropped to tolerable levels, Macreedy himself got surprised.

“You shall not pass.”

It looked like a man, armored, sword drawn; except that he stood a good seven feet tall and skinny as a pole.  He looked almost like bones to which a small bit of flesh barely clung.  Every man there got ready to draw sword against the enemy.  Gerraint had to yell fast.

“Hold to your charges!  Do not let go, no matter what!”

Everyone stopped.  They could hardly fight and still hold on to an elf maiden.  Macreedy, at the same time, kept Arthur’s sword arm pinned.

“Damn it, man,” Arthur swore, but Macreedy would not let go.

“What right have you to keep me from my home?”  Gerraint spoke boldly as he drew Wyrd, the sword of fate.

“Your home?”  The tall man laughed.  The swords rang once against each other and the men began to circle to gauge their opponent and look for a weak point to attack.  Clearly, both knew the craft, and well.

“Of course it is my home.  I took it.  I built it,” Gerraint said.  The swords rang again, and the circling continued. “I cleaned out the Formor vermin.”

The circling stopped.  The giant roared and advanced suddenly.  Gerraint got caught by surprise, but he was too much of a seasoned soldier to go down to a berserker.  Anger is generally not a good tactic.  Gerraint parried, side stepped and ran his sword along the man’s stomach and arm.  He did not make a deep wound, hardly life threatening, but it was first blood.

The giant stopped, hand on stomach.  It lifted its’ hand as if utterly surprised by the blood.  It looked at the drips with incomprehension in its eyes, and spoke at last.  “I’m bleeding,” the giant said.  “In twice times two thousand years I have never been bled.”  It spun to face Gerraint.  “Who are you?”

Gerraint now looked puzzled.  “Who are you?”

“I am Damien.  Last of the Formor.  But I’m bleeding.”  Damien could just not grasp the concept.

“But you should not be here,” Gerraint said, quickly.  “Why haven’t you passed over to the other side?  The time for dissolution is near five hundred years gone.  Why are you still here?”

Damien had to struggle a minute to answer.  “To protect the beauty of loveliness,” Damien said.

“What?”

“Who.”  Damien started coming to his senses.  “She who remains of Tara.”

“Rhiannon?”  Gerraint guessed, but the Formor shook his head.  “You mean there is another one?  God preserve me from all my disobedient children!”

“Your children?”  The Formor stared at him, and it was not a kindly look.  The stomach still dripped, but the arm already started crusting over.

“I am the Kairos,” Gerraint said, with a glimpse at his companions.  “That is all you need to know, but maybe you can figure out the rest for yourself.”

The Formor opened his mouth and shut it almost as quickly, finally lowered his eyes.  Gerraint wiped and sheathed his sword.  The Formor lunged, but found Gerraint’s long knife planted deep in the giant’s chest.

“She will not be far behind you,” Gerraint said, as the giant’s eyes rolled up and the Formor collapsed to the ground.  The flesh and blood and bone that had been, decayed rapidly and became dust to be carried off on the wind.  Gerraint retrieved his blade.

“Treachery of the highest order,” Macreedy said.

“Unknowing and innocent, perhaps,” Gerraint felt gracious.  “But now we must hurry.”

“Clearly,” Arthur agreed.  No one wanted to say outright that she who was left at Tara, whoever the beauty of loveliness was, might very well have helped the others find their way to Avalon.

They turned the seventh turn, and all went calm, but it became like the stillness before the tornado.  “Get down.” Several voices rang at once, but they were hardly heard above the din.  It sounded to Gerraint like the train had leapt from the tracks.

“Hold on!  Before and behind!”  People linked up like their own little train and inched forward.

“Damn, disobedient, teen-aged, doofuses, dipsticks.”  Gerraint moved forward with each word, dragged Macreedy along as Macreedy had hold of Gerraint’s ankle with his free hand.  His other hand was still clamped around Arthur’s arm while Arthur got preoccupied holding on to his boot where Mesalwig seemed to have a death grip.

“Dern, indifferent, indescribable, daughter!”

The wind began to whip Gwynyvar’s dress into her legs and cause sharp pain, and once it appeared to grab her and tried to lift her from the ground altogether.  Luckless and Lancelot both had to grab her to keep her grounded, and Lancelot’s elf maiden had to wrap her arms around Lancelot’s neck to ride on his back.

“There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home,” Gerraint shouted.

“You’re weird,” Arthur shouted back.

“Thank you,” Gerraint said, and he almost lost his grip on the dirt.  “Stop it!”  He began to shout.  “Stop it!”  The force of the wind arrayed against them became unbearable.  He yelled a third time, “Stop it!”  And the wind stopped, suddenly and absolutely, and everyone fell forward into a hole and landed in the dirt with a thump.

************************

MONDAY

Everyone lands in Tara only to be confronted by the guardian goddess, and she is not happy with having intruders in her home.  Monday: Tara to Avalon.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Gerraint: Kidnapped, part 2 of 3

A few days later, Uwaine found Gerraint on the southern wall, watching the snow flurries.  Winter’s last gasp blustered before the spring, the mud, and the rains came that would keep things muddy for a long time.

“I am sure she is thinking of you, too,” Uwaine said.

“Eh?”  Gerraint did not really listen.

“Enid,” Uwaine said.  “I am sure she is missing you, too.”

“Eh?  Yes, yes.”  Gerraint looked up.  “But I was thinking, Urien is going to try again, only I can’t imagine when or how.”

“Oh,” Uwaine said no more and raised his gloved hand to catch a flake or two.  He understood.  Gerraint did not want to have to kill the man.

“But now, the Lady of the Lake has closed down that path.  And Manannan has made his position clear, where else has he to go?”  Gerraint wondered out loud.

“He went to Iona,” Uwaine reminded him.

“No real help there,” Gerraint told him.  “The druids have the reputation, but Avalon and the treasures are just as cut off from them as they are from any mortal men.”

“Surry?”  Uwaine tried again.

Gerraint shook his head.  “He doesn’t have the key, and no little one will ever help him.”

Uwaine nodded.  “I understand, but you said there are other forces at work here, far more powerful and dangerous than your little ones.”

“Yes.”  Gerraint spoke softly.  “And that is what has me worried.”

After that, Gerraint began to push until they left that place and headed south.  With every mile, he pushed them harder.  They spent the night with any number of Lords and Chiefs in the North, the Midlands and Leogria, though they found neither sign nor word of Urien in his home.  Pelenor also appeared mysteriously absent from his home, and Gerraint’s worry began to turn serious.  He pushed everyone after that so they rode like they were trying to catch Kai’s courier.

They turned, neither South to Gwillim’s brother Thomas, nor West to Arthur and Caerleon.  Something seemed dreadfully wrong and Gerraint could feel it in his gut.  They were still three days out, in the Summer Country, when Bedivere found them.  The Lady Rhiannon came with him.

“They’ve taken Enid and Guimier!”  Bedivere shouted, though he was right with them.  “I failed you.”  He dropped to his knees and put his face in his hands.

The Lady put a gentle hand on his head.  “Courage,” she said.  “The story is not ended.”  She looked at Gerraint.  “I failed also,” she said.  “I placed my protection around them which was not my place to do.  The old man and his companion would never hurt them, but the Raven is no gentleman.”  She paused before she finished.  “Do not make me fail twice by telling you where they have gone.”

“Tara,” Gerraint said.  He did not guess.  The Lady said nothing, but looked to the ground and faded from sight until she was no longer there.

“Where did she go?”  Gwillim asked and looked around the trees.

“Tara?”  Uwaine asked.

“Ireland,” Gerraint said.  “The old, now deserted home of the Gods.”

“I would not give us a sneeze of a chance of crossing that island,” Trevor said.

“No, but Urien has likely worked things out with the druids.  They will probably have no trouble.”

“But, hey,” Gwillim objected.  “What can the druids do?  The Irish may be pirates and scoundrels, but at least they are Christian scoundrels since Patrick.”

“Not entirely,” Gerraint said.  “Like here, the old ways are just a scratch beneath the surface.”  And he remembered the book about how Celtic Christianity and the Irish in particular saved civilization, and he became more determined than ever to make sure the old ways did not reassert themselves.  “Damn Merlin,” he added, under his breath.

“How long?”  Uwaine asked.

“They’ve been gone a week,” Bedivere said.  “I would have been after them, with troops, but they took to the water and would have been too hard to track at sea.  I thought it best to wait for your return since word came that you had survived your trials in the North.”

“Good choice,” Gerraint said.  He paced, thinking hard.  He was with Trevor as far as it went.  He could not imagine crossing all of those miles to the heart of Ireland in one piece.

“Surry?”  Uwaine tried once again like he read Gerraint’s mind; but that door led through Avalon to the continent.  He needed to catch them at Tara before they crossed over, if possible, and as soon as possible.

“Where’s Arthur?” he asked.

“Cadbury,” Bedivere answered.

“Lady Gwynyvar’s penchant is to visit that fort in the spring.”  Gwillim said off-handedly.

Gerraint merely nodded and mounted.  The others followed as he set the course for Cadbury, and rode at a terrific pace.

“No.”  Arthur was not being negative.  But he was the Pendragon and they had to respect his decision in such matters.  Arthur could not imagine any way to Tara other than fighting their way in, and that would have required a full-scale invasion of Ireland.  “The Irish have been quelled and relatively quiet for many years now.  The chiefs on the Welsh coast have taken their places there to maintain the shaky peace.  I’ll not ask them to break their oaths now by invading the island, even if we had hope of victory, which is hardly guaranteed.”

Gerraint stood by the window.  Lancelot argued for the fight.  He threw his glove to the table, but he had finished arguing.

“I cannot believe my old friend has become such a doddering fool,” Peredur said for about the tenth time.

“No fool,” Uwaine interjected.  He understood the treasures were real and that there was real power in those artifacts, and now he felt he understood some of Gerraint’s fanaticism about making sure they stayed buried.  Even if he did not understand all of the ramifications Gerraint spoke about, he could see that no good would come from bringing such things back into the world of men.

“Glastonbury,” Gerraint said at last.