- A new take on the Arthurian legends
Include: Avalon, crossbow, orphan, list, comrade, corruption, lake, enfold, disgraceful, grass
Bridgette’s Tale of Week 1 (my writing partner, and collaborator on this project.)
The fog swirls around my feet as I walk along the edge of the lake. There are shadows, swirling in the mist, light that moves and fades.
It has been so many years since I have seen the shores of my home, of Avalon. I was made priestess here; the blue woad has faded from my brow and I no longer remember how to call the little men on the barge. I don’t remember how to lift the fog.
When I came to the water’s edge, I thought, perhaps,I would find the words to lift the veil. I have only gotten myself further lost among the grasses and the reeds. Perhaps Avalon itself will take pity on me and allow me to slip, unnoticed, into the village of the maidens where I can sleep among them one more time in this life.
I am no longer a maiden. My hands are swollen and can no longer weave or embroider. I rub them together, trying to bring some warmth into my red and angry flesh. My fingers have become tight and brittle, crone hands. I have lost those I loved, made an orphan through my own anger and stubbornness.
The mist moves before me and I see the shadow of a boy standing at the edge of the lake. His hair is golden and there is a glint of excitement in his eyes. He turns to run back into the fog and I call out to him, trying to run after him, but my feet are slowly being suckled by the mud.
“Wait, boy! I am lost!”
The boy stops. I can see him just on the edge of vision. As he turns back to me, I see that he is not a boy at all. He is tall and strong and wears the antlers of the stag upon his head.
“Arthur,” I whisper.
Arthur, my brother, grown young again. Arthur as he came to me when we knew each other not. When we performed the rites of the ancient people. When he was made King. Arthur, the son of my mother who was dedicated in her love to Uther, not her children. So I was his mother. His mother until we were each taken to be raised as our position dictated; me in the land of Avalon as a priestess and Arthur as a foster in a trusted vassal’s home. Arthur was the only child of a contested King, his life lay in a delicate balance, and even he was not told who he was. He was light and I was dark; him the son of the Pendragon, me the daughter of Roman rule and the old bloodlines.
His tunic is covered in blood. Is it that of the great stag or of my maidenhood? I stagger towards him and when I am within reach, I see that there is a deep gash across his forehead and the blood on his tunic is coming from him. His stomach has been laid open.
“Why did you kill me, Morgaine?”
“Oh my brother!” I cry and stumble forward, falling at his feet.
“Forgive me,” I say, “Forgive me the sin we committed.”
I look up at my brother but he is no longer the stag, no longer the youth I loved as both brother and partner in the great marriage to the earth. Now he is King. His eyes are lined and his hair has gone grey. The great sword of Avalon hangs in the scabbard I fashioned for him long ago. I worked magic into that scabbard; magic that kept him from ever losing more than a drop of blood. And then I took it from him, took it when he refused to keep his promise. Took it when he put the Christian god before the Mother, whom he had sworn to protect in all things.
“How,” I asked, scrambling away from him, cowering. The mud squished between my fingers through bundles of grass, wrapping around my hands like wool on the wheel. “I took the magic back! I threw the sword into the lake; gave it back to the lady.”
Arthur pulled the sword from the scabbard and held it to the sky. I heard the bells of Glastonbury, the Christian bells, coming though the mist. I was blinded by the sound and when I opened my eyes again, the sword was melting away in the swirling white. Arther clasped the wound in his side, blood pouring like a fountain between his fingers. He fell to his knees and reached out to me, his blood mixing with the earth.
“Why did you kill me, Sister?”
His words fill my head as his human form begins to dissipate, translucent and non-permanent. My brother, the great King of the land, the King of legend. The father of my only child was but dew on the grass.
The silence of the fog surrounds me, deafens me, pressing inward. I find my feet and stumble, straighten, and continue along the edge of the lake. I am lost in the swirling silence of the fog, hoping to perhaps hear those bells again—the Christian bells—to know that I am still of this world; to know that I have not wandered into the world of the fairy as I did so many years ago.
Something is laying ahead of me, half buried in the mud, peeking out between the rushes, faint in the fog. It is a crossbow, broken at the lathe, the cord unraveling. There are muffled sobs echoing in the dense air.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
The cries go quiet. There is no response.
I step over the crossbow, tentatively, wondering what the mist is hiding from me.
The shape appears from the fog; a form huddled on the ground, laying over something large. A shuddering cry fills the air and I see the shadow shaking. A man, bent protectively over a giant deer. I see it’s antlers, a massive stag. The stag is struggling to breathe but an arrow pierces it’s chest and it’s life blood is puddling around the knees of the figure.
The man wails, the sound haunting as it seems to come from everywhere at once. I feel his grief and begin to shake. I want to give him his peace and turn to walk away. I want to comfort him and so take no steps at all. I am afraid to go back to where I have been. I am afraid to leave the shore and never find my way from the fog. More, I am afraid, terrified, of this man crying over the stag. I take a single step away and he hears the sound of my feet pulling from the mud.
I turn back to look at the man on the ground. My son, my Mordred.
He turned his face to me, rage written around his eyes and mouth.
“Why didn’t you love me, Mother?”
In that moment, everything else disappears. There is no fog, no lake, no stag. There is only me, my son, and his utter hatred.
Tears run down his face and drip to the stag as it takes it’s last shuttering breath.
My son. The child I almost died in birthing. The child I should have given to the fairy folk. The child I saw as my own corruption, lets out a wail and my heart shatters.
“Why did you make me kill him, Mother? Why did you birth me if my only role was to kill my father? Why did you refuse to raise me? Were you so disgraced, Mother? My comrades trusted me and I betrayed them, because of you.”
I reach out to him, the words stuck in my throat. I wish I had been able to love him. Perhaps, if I had, it would have made the difference. Perhaps I would have had a voice in Arthur’s ear instead of that insipid Guinevere; always speaking of their Jesus and their piety. How she looked at me. How she punished Arthur when she learned of our sin.
Sin! What is sin? Was I such the silly child that I could not see how the Goddess had placed me on a path to keep Her in Arthur’s court? It was not sin, only the Great Marriage. I did not know Arthur to be my brother then, only that he was the King of the land by the rites old and new.
“Mordred,” I whisper as he cries over the flesh. His body swirls in the mist and he is wrapped in a shifting white shroud; he and the stag disappear before me.
I lower my arm, not knowing if these are the ghosts of Avalon or only the tricks of the mist on my ancient eyes, now cloudy and grey.
I begin to walk again, my old legs trembling, past what has been my son, now only shadow. I hear a bird’s call echo from the lake to my right.
The voice is lilting, feminine, haunting. It fills me. I look for it’s source, but see nothing through the dense white air. It is etherial and forever. It brings a memory from my youth, one that I cannot quite grasp.
“Morgaine, have you finally come to the land of the fairy? Have you come to your home?”
I am overcome with exhaustion and slowly feel my legs give way beneath me, collapsing into the mud.
“Is that you, Lady? The Land of Fairy was never my home. Why should you say it is so?”
“You have always known you are of us, Morgan le Fay.”
“But I am of Avalon as well, and of this earth, while you have gone beyond the mists.”
“Perhaps it is so,” answers the Lady. “It has been many years since you have come to our land.”
“Long ago, you asked to take my unborn son and when I refused, you told me to cast him out, for he would cause only hurt and harm. I should have listened to you, but the fates intervened.” I see a flash of her blue-dyed tunic through the shifting light.
“Dear Morgaine, do you wish to join us here? The sun shines on this side of the veil. And while time does not run backward, you will have no pain. The well is sweet and you will be treated as a queen. When your death comes, it will be an easy one. But it will not come soon, for you know the time in fairy runs long.”
I see her then, before me on the path, as she steps toward me extending her hand. She is still young and blindingly beautiful. Her hair is long and dark, her face unlined.
I think about life with her, life in the land of fairy, life full of pleasures. I think about my death, how I would simply fade away like winter, the snow of my life to water the fields.
“No, Lady,” I say. My voice is cracked and ancient and it hurts my throat to speak. “My home was never in the Land of Fairy. I will find my way to Avalon, or I will die in the fog along these shores. It will be soon. I know that now. I do not want to simply wait in your world for it to come.”
She steps forward and touches the spot between my eyes where I once wore the blue sickle.
“Bless you child, may you find what you are looking for.”
She steps back into the fog, leaving me crumpled and old in the wet mist.
The cold moisture sinks deeply into my knees; the wet mud saturating the wool of my overdress. Sleep is calling me and I lay my head on a pillow of reeds, looking up at the swirling white above my head. I can see light shimmering through the fog and slowly, the shape of the full moon appears, bathing me in it’s silver light. She calls to me; mother, goddess.
A new voice, grounded and strong, come through the mist. A voice of my youth, of my soul.
“Morgaine,” he says, and I see the man that I have loved in this life and the next, Lancelot. He slips through the mist with assurance and kneels at my side, lifting me into his arms. He is grey and lined but still beautiful. He holds me in his arms like a baby.
“You have always been like a tiny bird, Morgaine.”
I lay my head against his chest and hear the living beat of his heart, strong and confident.
“Will you take me to Avalon,” I say. My voice is no longer my own, it is the voice of time; of unused memories.
“I am taking you home,” he says.
He carries me along the bank, the fog beginning to thin. A large white crane watches us from the edge; there is a splash as a frog leaps into the still water. Pink light begins to replace the silver light of the moon in the mist.
I feel stronger now, and when I try to speak, my voice is clearer.
“I can walk now, Lance.”
“You were the only one to ever call me that.”
Gently, he sets me on my feet and it is true, I can walk. My legs feel strong. He keeps his hand in mine and I feel it’s power. I feel his calluses against the palm of my hand. I feel his warmth moving up my arm.
We are no longer at the shore, we are climbing.
I remember. I remember this place and they day we climbed the Tor. I remember how I had wanted to give myself to him, give him my maidenhood. Had he asked, I would have, even though I had sworn myself to the Mother, to wait until it was asked of me for divine purpose.
If only I had given of myself freely, I would not have been used as a pawn in Lady Vivianne’s game of chess. I could have ruled next to Arthur as the Lady of the Lake instead of hiding my face in disgrace in that oh-so-Christian court. The list of my life would have followed a new path.
My legs are stronger now and Lancelot turns to look at me. He is once again the boy I remember, his eyes laughing. My hand in his is no longer knotted and my hair which hangs about my waist is no longer grey and brittle; it shimmers like black silk.
I meet Lancelot at his side and surpass him, laughing joyously, letting go of his hand as I run up the hill. It is still misty, but I see the predawn light in the east.
He runs to keep up with me and when we reached the tor, he pulls me down into the grass, pulls me down at his side, and covers my face in his kisses.
This time, I choose to kiss him back with full longing; longing to finally make the choice that had been taken from me so long ago. He buries his face in my hair and I feel his tears on my forehead. I feel his body, strong, against mine. This time, I do not shy away.
I give of myself freely, opening to him, the merging of the Goddess and the God. I give myself to the earth, to the mother, to my fate.
After, enfolded in each other’s arms, we watch the sun as it lingers on the horizon and then begins to rise over the tor. The tattooed snakes of a time long before, wind about his arms, wind about mine, as I have only seen in vision.
It is as if we sit at the edge of time, the edge of existence, looking out over our fates.
“Will we have to do it all again?” he asked.
I smile, kissing him deeply.
“Yes, I suppose we will. Until we get it right.”
I was working on my story, unsure on what to use as a photo, hoping to get a drawing done, when the fog slowly enveloped the hills, swallowing our home. I ran to my daughter’s room and bribed her to put on this vintage Gunne Sax dress from my college years. The fog was biting and the wind was whipping through her.
Avalon – Avalon, for me, is directly connected to “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It is, and will always be, one of my favorite books. For me, Avalon is a place that centers of the wisdom of the early pagan beliefs. It is woman centered, it is focused on not losing the early religions to the mists, not losing the pagan traditions to the rising tides of Christianity. It is magic, but not in a fairy tale way. It is magic the way the moon is magic, the way fog seems to make things closer yet further, it is intuition and connecting with the inner self, it is maiden, mother, and crone.
Crossbow – War and hunting are what come to mind. To me, the crossbow feels more masculine. It’s not the act of archery, archery has a long history in use by women, but rather how the crossbow was manipulated to make it stronger, faster, and more deadly. It is more of a war machine. I am also influenced by the 2011 film, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” in which the crossbow become an important character of the film.
Orphan – To be alone. To lose everything you love at some point in your life. We often think of children losing their parents, but I think it goes deeper to times when we people have no one to turn to, they’ve lost their support systems.
List – Ordered, numbered, sequence, things we need to remember.
Comrade -Often reflected on as Russian, or fellow soldiers, but also friends and companions, those you have a bond with.
Corruption – Illegal, dishonest, especially in positions of power where the behavior is used to put others at a disadvantage while raising their own interests and giving themselves the benefit.
Lake – A still body of water, a place that is peaceful for me, although tension is under the water in that there are things we can not see or know. Symbolically, it is emotion.
Enfold – To wrap, to surround.
Disgraceful – Something which has brought shame upon someone.
Grass – Growth. I pulled an oracle card just this morning, and the message was growth and the image and word it used was grass. The card and the word seem to be working in my direction around my writing. I love a beautiful field of grass, the tenderness of the growth.
Initial thoughts–The body of Arthur lies beneath the lake, holding on to the sword of the lady. He lies in his chainmail and Morgain finds herself orphaned, wandering the shores of the lake, his ghost in the fog. She is visited by Lancelot, a ghost himself. Perhaps she will enfold him in her arms as she chooses to go to her own death? Enfolded by the fog?
Next Week’s Prompt
Week 2 –
Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep
Include: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker
Prompts from “Write the Story” by Piccadilly Inc.