The King and Her Queen

Chapter 11:  Falling Petals


She knocked on the door.  There was no answer.  Bedivere placed the tray on the floor and opened the door.  Then she picked up the tray and went into Arturia's room.  She put the tray on a nearby bedside table and drew the curtains back.

"Time to rise, sleepy head."  she cajoled. 

Arturia turned away from Bedivere and pulled the covers over her head.  "Leave me be."

Bedivere sat down on the bed and watched Arturia's still form for a few seconds.  She sighed.  "And how long dost thou plan to stay here?"

"Until thou goeth away." came her tart reply.

Bedivere rubbed her forehead in exasperation.  Arturia was in a very foul mood.  She prayed to God that she would be patient enough to endure it.  "Well, I shall not until thou rise to greet the morn."

She poured herself some tea and buttered some muffins.  She bit into one and chewed noisily.  Then she picked up her tea and slurped it.  Her plan was simple.  The best way to get a lion's attention was through its stomach.

Halfway through her second muffin, she heard the muffled sound of a grumbling belly.  And yet, Arturia did not stir.  Bedivere had one more card to play.  She put her muffin down and lifted the silver cover to unveil the strawberry scones.  She broke a warm scone in half to let its fragrant contents spill into the air.  Then she made a show of sniffing it.

"Mmmm..."

There was a rustle behind her and a pillow smacked her on the head.

"Get out!"  yelled Arturia.

Bedivere grinned wickedly and put the scone down.  She picked up the pillow and smacked Arturia back.  Arturia sat up and whacked her with the pillow that she was lying on.  They exchanged blows until it escalated into a messy pillow fight which snowed downy feathers on the combatants. 

When the pillows were exhausted of their contents, Arturia hurled herself at Bedivere in a fierce charge.  Bedivere went limp and rolled with the impact, cradling Arturia so that she would not be injured when they hit the floor.  They lay on the floor panting from their battle.

Bedivere laughed heartily.  "I yield!"  She crawled away from Arturia and bowed with mock ceremony.  Then she marched out of the room and closed the door behind her.

With her anger deflated, Arturia stared at the door.  She sat there for a few moments to gather her wits.  Then she stood up slowly and made her way to the bed.  Her eyes fell on the broken scone half covered in feathers.  Her stomach grumbled at the sight.  She had not eaten anything for over a day.  Her hand brushed off the feathers and picked up the scone.  It was still warm and its scent of honey-baked strawberries enticed her.  She gave in to temptation and nibbled on a protruding strawberry.  Its sweet and sour taste melted in her mouth.  She took another bite and another.  Soon, she finished the whole scone. 

Her eyes scanned the tray and located a second teacup.  Damn Bedivere.  She had planned this all along.  But she was thirsty, so she poured herself some tea from the pot and sipped it.

"Dost thou want more?"  came Bedivere's muffled voice beyond the door.  "There is a second scone under the silver cover."

Arturia stared at the door with a bit of irritation, but her hand went toward the silver cover.  She pulled it back as if it was about to touch something forbidden. 

"And if thou refuse to eat it, I will."  threatened Bedivere. 

Before she could stop herself, her left hand lifted the cover while her right claimed the scone.  It was still warm, and most importantly, untouched.  She bit into it.  As she munched on the scone, her eyes fell on Bedivere's half eaten muffin.  Prudence dictated that food should not be wasted.  She walked to the door and opened it.  Bedivere was leaning on the wall next to the door. 

"Good morning."  said Bedivere casually.

"Good morning."  mumbled Arturia.  She left the door open and walked back to the bed to sit on it.  Then she picked up her cup and sipped her tea.  "Thou did not finish thy meal."

Careful not to let Arturia notice, Bedivere smiled slightly in triumph.  "How careless of me..."  She strode in, picked up her plate and dusted the feathers off the muffin.

They ate in silence for a while.  After Arturia finished her scone and tea, she faced Bedivere.  "Why dost thou love me?"

Bedivere almost dropped her cup.  That question was totally unexpected.  To buy some time to think of a good answer, she set her cup down slowly.  She debated within herself.  No, mere flattery would not be appropriate.  There was a hidden reason behind the question.  If she could find out what the reason was, she could give a more fitting answer.

"Why not?"

Arturia stared at the floor.  "Then thou art blind, for I am a wretched being who doth not deserve any affection."

"Thou art not!"  protested Bedivere.  "How didst thou come to this thinking?"

Arturia glared at her.  "Was I not conceived in sin?"  She stood up and paced.  "I studied the records in the library.  I was born seven months after mine father and mother were married."  A frown formed on her face.  "They were married five weeks after Morgan's mother died from a malignant fever."

"Many children art born before their time."  countered Bedivere.

"But that is not all.  Mine mother's former husband died in battle; a battle which mine father hath commanded him to go to."  She threw Bedivere a conspiratorial look.  "Coincidence?"

"The circumstances of thy birth art not under thy control.  Tis not a flaw on thy character."

"But there art things that I do have control o'er."  Arturia stopped pacing and looked at her hands.  "Thousands... these hands have slain thousands..."

"Tis them or our country, Arturia.  For each one slain, ten, nay a hundred wert saved from the sword, slavery or hunger.  Tis a small price to pay."

"What about Mordred's host?  They were Bryton!  I slew those whom I swore to protect!"

"Some were, but not all, Arturia.  Merlyn tells me that o'er half the host wert shades.  Besides, didst thou not entreat them to surrender?  They wert given a chance to follow thy banner, and yet they chose otherwise.  If thou hath not defeated her army, she would have rent our country in twain with civil war."  She paused.  "As for slaying her host, doth not forget that I hath done the same."

Arturia looked at her sadly.  "Yea.  And that is mine deep regret as well.  I hath dragged thee to hell with me."

Bedivere quickly went to her and hugged her.  "And gladly would I follow thee there!"  She kissed her golden hair and caressed its unruly tresses.  "Light of mine life, e'en if I were to relive mine life again, I would leap at the chance to be by thy side."

Arturia hugged her back tightly.  She did not feel so lonely anymore.  Her room felt so empty and lifeless last night.  Even in her dreams, she saw herself running and running with no sight of sanctuary.

But Morgan's parting words still haunted her.  How many sins did she commit?  Could she ever be forgiven?  Bedivere was here.  Maybe, she could give her some answers. 

"Dost the good of all weigh more than the sin of one?"  Arturia waited patiently for her reply. 

Bedivere cursed providence for giving her the most difficult questions.  Silently, she cried out to the heavens, "Why me?"  Frantically, she tried to think of a good answer, but found none.  Her battle instincts took over.  When faced with an overwhelming attack, one must dodge instead of blocking it.

"I fear that I lack the wisdom to answer thy question.  Mayhap, Merlyn can give thee an answer."

Arturia snorted.  "Merlyn?  She answers in riddles and leaves thee with more questions than answers."

"Yea... I agree with thee."

They laughed together.  When their laughter subsided, they held each other silently.  After a while, Arturia asked again, "Why dost thou love me?  Why would anyone want to love me?"

"Love needs no reason.  I simply love thee.  From the moment that Sir Ector hath brought thee to mine home, I hath begun to love thee.  Thou shone like a light in mine eyes.  As we studied together, I learned about thy quick mind and curiosity.  When we trained together, I fought thy unyielding bravery and determination, even in defeat.  As we played together, I received thy kindness and warmth.  There art many more reasons... too many in fact."  She cupped her cheek in her palm.  "I love everything about thee."

"I still doth not understand why thou would feel that way about me.  There art knights who art similar to me and uphold the same ideals as mine."

At her words, Bedivere made a startling discovery.  Although many loved her, Arturia did not understand the depth of the love given to her because she had never loved anyone just as much.  No, that was not a correct statement.  She did not allow herself to love.  As a king, she only cared to be obeyed.  She did not care to be loved.  It was her typical, brutal efficiency to exclude anything that seemed unnecessary. 

Her eyebrows knitted with thought.  With Rhynne, Arturia had skimmed the surface of love.  If she had taken the plunge, she would understand its depths.  Perhaps, therein lay her salvation.  Without this basic understanding, she could not recognize how much she was loved. 

It was no wonder that she felt so desolate and lonely.  Bedivere imagined a world without her children and without Arturia in it.  Without them, she would probably feel just as desolate and lonely.  The world would be lifeless, and her very existence would be without meaning. 

She closed her eyes.  It was too much to think about for one person.  She needed to talk to Wybrenne about it.  Maybe together, they could plan a course of action.

She stroked her head.  "Fret not.  I doth not expect thee to understand.  One day, surely, thou will.  Set aside these thoughts for now.  Merlyn wishes to speak with thee."

Arturia stiffened.  "What doth she want?"  she asked acidly.

Bedivere noted the venom in Arturia's voice.  She was devastated when Merlyn translocated Morgan's remains to God knows where.  She spoke calmly.  "Only she can answer that.  Will thou come with me to see her?"

There was nothing left that Merlyn could possibly take from her.  She grudgingly replied, "All right.  I will see her."

They walked to the Lily pond.  Merlyn, Wybrenne and Airianne were sitting at a table.  By the state of the plates and food on the table, they had just finished breakfast.

After exchanging greetings, they sat down at the table.  Arturia wasted no time.  She turned to Merlyn.

"What do ye wish to speak to me about?"

"In two days, King Constantine will hold the eulogy for those who hath lost their lives at Camlann.  Bedivere, me and ye will attend."

"Why me?"  asked Bedivere and Arturia at the same time.  They looked at each other in surprise.

"Bedivere must go to honor the Knights of the Round Table.  And ye will do the same."  Her gaze softened as she looked at Bedivere.  "I'm sure that he would appreciate that."

Bedivere turned pale and nodded.  She had tried to forget, but now it was time to face reality.  Her heart ached as she remembered that grim battlefield.  So many familiar faces joined God in heaven on that day.

"Wait a moment..."  said Arturia.  "Is King Constantine the High King?"

"Aye."

"Then... who was I?"

"Ye wert the High King before him."

Arturia was baffled.  "Did he overthrow me?"

"Nay.  Ye died, so the lords chose him as the new High King."

"I died?"  said Arturia incredulously.  "How can that be, when I am still here?"

Bedivere hung her head.  Merlyn waited for her to explain, but she kept silent.  She cleared her throat to answer.

"The Lady of the Lake took ye to Avalon to heal yer wounds.  Unfortunately, she dinna take ye back.  For two weeks, the lords searched fer ye at Camlann and at the lake."

Arturia was even more puzzled.  "I doth not recall meeting the Lady of the Lake again.  Did ye take me to her?"

"Nay... I did."  answered Bedivere.  "Forgive me, Arturia!  I hath dreamt of the Lady of the Lake, but twas an illusion cast by Syrowe.  So anxious was I to have thee healed that I put thee on a boat upon the lake and let that boat float away with thee.  But twas not thee upon the boat.  Twas a log enchanted by Syrowe.  I should have realized it when a splinter caught upon mine lip."

Despite the gravity of the situation, a small smile escaped to Merlyn's lips.  She cleared her throat again and tried to sound serious.  "Bedivere told the tale to Sir Bors, who hath returned with four dozen knights and soldiers to aid ye in battle.  Since there was no one to fight, they searched fer ye in the battlefield and on the lake.  Of course, they dinna find ye."

"Because I... I was with Syrowe and..." Arturia paused as a deep pang penetrated her heart.  Finally, she said it softly.  "and Rhynne..."  She looked around her.  "Whither is Rhynne?"

"She is resting.  Her injuries wert grave."  replied Merlyn.  Although Rhynne's injuries were beyond the skill of a normal physic, Merlyn was confident that she could restore her to her previous health.  However, she decided to exclude this information, so that she could observe Arturia's reaction.

A sense of dread filled Arturia.  She wanted to see her, but she should not see her.  Images of the battle replayed in her mind:  flames rising over a dark pit and her sister burning before her eyes.  Like a devil incarnate, Rhynne dispensed judgment, her face contorted with malice.  Her hands clenched with anger at the memory.  The Code of Chivalry stated that she had every right to avenge her sister's unnatural death. 

But still, a part of her heart ached to know her current condition, so she asked, "Can ye heal her?"

Merlyn sighed dramatically.  "She will live, but her injuries exhaust mine skill.  I will do what I can to heal her."

Merlyn's reply did nothing to ease her anxiety.  In fact, it made it worse.  The urge to see her was stronger now.  "Whither is she?"

Arturia was obviously worried.  Merlyn decided to change the conversation.  "In her bed, resting.  As ye know well enough, healing requires much rest."  She stood up and pulled Wybrenne's chair away from the table.  "I have much to prepare.  The Aerie's defenses have been breached, and I must secure it before leaving."  She eyed them both.  "Dinna leave the Aerie until we leave.  As usual, ye art welcome to avail the hospitality of mine home." 

Still seated, they watched Merlyn, Wybrenne and Airianne leave.  Bedivere rose.  Although she had promised to watch Arturia, a sense of foreboding crept into her mind, and she feared the questions that Arturia would ask.  She would have to watch her discreetly.  "I shall prepare as well."  She strode out of the Lily Pond as fast as she can.

What did she need to prepare for?  Arturia could not think of anything.  All she could tell was that Bedivere was leaving her alone.  She stood up hastily.  "Wait..." 

But Bedivere was already closing the door behind her.  She ran to the door and opened it.  The hallway was empty.  She cursed herself.  She ran through the hallway and started looking for Bedivere.  To her great consternation, she could not find her.  She cursed again.  This meant that Bedivere did not want to be found.

She paced back and forth.  Even if she could not find Bedivere, maybe she could find where Rhynne was resting.  She did not need to talk to her.  To see her would be enough.  For the rest of the day, she searched the Aerie from top to bottom.  After dinner, she resumed her search.  Time passed quickly, and soon the bell struck twelve.  With a weary heart, she returned to the west wing.  She went into Rhynne's room to search one more time.  Empty.  It was so empty.  Her eyes leapt toward the table where she found the garland of dried flowers.  The table and floor had been swept clean.

She flopped down on the bed.  Her eyes grew wide as her hand sank into the pillow.  She picked up the pillow and hugged it tightly.  The faint scent of camellia was still on it.  Her eyes watered with tears and she bawled into it, clutching the only thing that belonged to Rhynne.


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Instead of going to the main gathering, Merlyn and Arturia rode to a distant hilltop.  From there, they could see a platform erected at the shores of the lake.  Barges of various sizes were tethered to temporary docks and were adorned with ribbons and flowers.  Large tents were erected on the small meadow by the lake.  A banner with the dragon standard flew over the most elaborate tent, and announced the presence of the High King.

Merlyn noted the height of the sun in the sky.  She gestured to Arturia.  "Tis almost time.  Follow me."  They rode to a forested enclosure and dismounted.  Merlyn put her hands on Arturia's shoulders.  "Anifail Cyfnewidiad."

Suddenly, Arturia felt her insides churn.  She screamed in fright, but only heard a shrill squawking sound from her throat.  The trees spun around her and she flailed to catch a branch.  When the world stopped spinning, she found herself inches from the ground.  She lifted her head and saw a large eagle standing next to her.  Merlyn's voice echoed in her ears.

"Come this way.  If ye fly now, ye will only get caught in yon branches."  The eagle waddled towards a space between the bushes.

Arturia gaped in horror, or at least, tried to.  Her eyes wandered over her feathered body.  She tried to move her arms and felt the gush of flapping wings.

Merlyn eyed her across the space between the bushes.  "When ye art done flapping about, follow me.  Birds dinna stay too long on the ground.  There art too many snakes and weasels about."  With that said, Merlyn flew up to a nearby branch.

The feathers on top of Arturia's head flared at the thought of snakes and weasels.  She waddled clumsily out of the enclosure and flew haphazardly to Merlyn's branch.  She gripped the branch tightly with her talons as she tried to balance herself on it.

Merlyn's voice advised her.  "Use yer tail feathers... flare them out... that's the way."

"Ye should have warned me!" replied Arturia angrily.  "Do ye expect me to fly too?"

Merlyn winced.  "Dinna shout!  Even yer whispers art loud enough.  And aye, we shall fly.  Art ye ready?"

"Do I have a choice?"  asked Arturia sarcastically.

Merlyn shrugged her wings.  "Nay."  She launched herself off the branch and with powerful strokes, soared into the sky.

Arturia tried to do the same and nearly fell to the ground.  She managed to stay aloft at the last moment.

"Dinna try so hard.  Tis like walking.  Relax yer wings and feel the air."

After several nerve-wracking moments, Arturia figured out how to flap properly.  Slowly, she rose to where Merlyn circled about.

"We shall go to Bedivere now."

As they flew to Bedivere, Arturia saw the world in a new perspective.  Her eyes could see farther than normal.  Despite the great distance between them and the crowd, she could still see the details on armor and flags.  As the wind rustled through her feathers, she luxuriated in the sensation.  Gliding through the air was actually very calming. 

When Merlyn dove down, she followed her reluctantly.  Her keen eyes singled out Bedivere among the throng.  Bedivere seemed to know that they were coming.  She lifted her left arm horizontally.  But Merlyn did not land on her arm.  With amazing grace, she descended and perched on Bedivere's shoulder. 

The arm was for her.  Arturia tried to slow down and land like Merlyn, but she came in too fast and Bedivere's arm sagged on impact.  Her talons dug deep into her arm and felt the hardness of steel under her clothes.  She was wearing her bracer and gauntlet.  Arturia perched precariously for a few moments before she regained some balance.

"Ho!  What have ye here, Sir Bedivere?"  A barrel chested knight with a scar on his forehead approached them. 

"Mine eagles have come to pay homage, Sir Bors."  replied Bedivere.

Bors poked his thumb toward Merlyn.  "Tis Cloud Dancer, is it not?"

"Yea."

"And this one?"

"Saxon Scourge."

Arturia laughed at her name, but only a squawk escaped her beak. 

"Tis a lively one!  Is it male or female?"

Before she realized what he intended to do, she found herself trapped in Bors' strong arms.  His hand ruffled her tail feathers.

"Tis female!"  Bors lifted her up in his wide hands.  "What green eyes!  I hath ne'er seen such intense hue."

Bedivere laughed heartily.  "Yea.  She is quite unique, is she not?"

Bors looked away to reply to Bedivere.  "Definitely!  I have an eagle of mine own.  May I borrow her?"

That did it.  She lunged forward and pecked Bors with all her might.  With a yelp of pain, Bors loosened his grip.  She spread out her wings and quickly rose into the sky.  She began to curse loudly, but only managed to put out shrill shrieks.

Bors took out his handkerchief and pressed it on his wound to stanch the bleeding.  "She hath a temper."

Bedivere's eyes followed Arturia as she circled above them.  She laughed again.  "Thou handled her roughly.  She is very displeased."

Bors smiled widely.  "But such spirit!  Will ye let me breed her?"

Bedivere's smile melted.  "Nay."

"I'll joust ye fer her."

At this point, Merlyn swooped down and pecked Bors several times on the head.  Arms raised, Bors backed away. 

"Pray, withdraw thy challenge, lest Cloud Dancer turn thy head into a pin cushion."

"All right, all right!"  cried Bors.  "I withdraw."  He peeked under his arm.  "But if ye e'er change yer mind..."

Merlyn switched to clawing this time, and Bors ran away to the safety of a nearby tent.  With Bors out of her reach, Merlyn flew to Arturia and calmed her down. 

Merlyn's voice echoed in Bedivere's mind.  "We art going over to a tree to watch."

"All right.  I will be here if thou require assistance."

Merlyn and Arturia perched on a nearby tree which was close to the platform.  From their vantage point, they could see and hear everyone.  Arturia's keen eyes scanned a nearby barge.  She noticed that each ribbon had a name.  She read some of them:  Ualraig, Aodhan, Caldwell, Coinneach, Fletcher, Domnall, Tames...  Since she did not recognize any of them, she looked at the next barge which was curiously shaped like a circle.  She read the ribbons:  Sir Gareth, Sir Danielle, Sir Agravaine, Sir Kay...

Arturia did not read anymore and stared at the barge in horror.  There were too many ribbons on the barge.  It was more than she wanted to see.  She closed her eyes to banish it from her sight.

"Nay, lass... look.  Tis about to begin."  said Merlyn softly.

A procession of priests approached the platform and took their places on it.  By the voluminous robes of the priest who stood behind the altar, Arturia guessed that it was an archbishop.  The archbishop began the mass.

At the end of the mass, a knight came forward and declared that he was going to announce the names of the soldiers who had lost their lives in battle.  Arturia heard some of the names that she read off the ribbons. 

After he was done, Bedivere stood up.  Arturia cringed and bowed her head in shame as Bedivere announced each name.  Each name pierced her heart.  What kind of king was she to have them throw their lives away for her? 

Suddenly, Bedivere paused.  Arturia looked at her closely.  Her face was lifted towards to the heavens and a tear trickled from her closed eyes.  Then Bedivere spoke softly.

"Farewell, dear brother.  I will miss thee sorely.  Until the time of our reunion, may thou rest in peace."

Her heart wrenched in sorrow over Bedivere's loss.  Her vision blurred.  She pitched forward.  Merlyn's wing draped over her and steadied her on the branch. 

"Be strong, lass.  Tis not o'er yet."

Bedivere left the stage and everyone stood up from their seats.  A tall middle-aged man with blonde hair and a rich mantle approached the platform.  He was Constantine.  He stood on the platform and faced the crowd.

"Friends, we hath all keenly felt the loss of such brave and noble warriors."  He paused.  "But above all, Britain hath lost the greatest light that hath e'er shone upon its lands.  As an instrument of God's grace, that guiding light hath rid our dear country of the Saxon plague and led us into a glorious age of peace and prosperity.  Let us join our hands in prayer to remember our most noble King Arthur."

Arturia's eyes grew wide after hearing Constantine's speech.  As each person in the crowd reached out to his or her neighbor to join hands, his words began to sink into her consciousness.  Constantine clasped the hand of his queen with his right and Bors with his left.  Then he raised his clasped hands to the sky.  The crowd raised their hands in turn and those hands rose like a ripple spreading across a pond.  The entire crowd was joined as one.

His voice boomed to reach the ears of everyone in the crowd.  "God in heaven, we ask thee to show King Arthur mercy when he appears before thee for thy judgment."

"Amen."  answered the crowd.

"God in heaven, we ask thee to deliver the love in our hearts to him. 

"Amen." 

"God in heaven, give us the strength and wisdom to continue King Arthur's work upon these lands.  Show us the way to continued peace and prosperity."

"Amen."

"King Arthur, may thou find peace in the love of God."

"Amen."

At his words, Arturia was crying internally.  Her heart felt so relieved to know that she was not hated.  Once again, she felt Merlyn's steady wing over her.  When she calmed down, she saw that the barges were being paddled across the lake.  A black standard with a golden dragon flew over the largest barge.  When the barge was in the middle of the lake, the crew dismantled the tent on the center of the barge to unveil a statue made of flowers and wood.  The statue resembled her when she wore her armor and mantle.  The crews on each barge moved to a rowboat and paddled back to shore.  The barges began to sink.  The flowers on them floated on the lake's surface, spreading petals across the lake.

Merlyn's voice interrupted her.  "Come.  There is one more who pays homage to ye."

She followed Merlyn across the lake and to a distant hilltop.  On it, she beheld a knight on horseback.  He was throwing petals into the wind from a basket.  She knew who he was by his dark curly locks and his chiseled handsome features. 

"Merlyn... let me be mine self."

Merlyn tossed her a warning look.

"Please."

Merlyn nodded and dove toward a grove of trees.  They transformed back.  Arturia quickly sped up the hill.  He must have sensed her since he wheeled his horse around at her approach.  His jaw fell and he dropped the basket.
 
"Milord!"

"Lancelot."  Arturia inclined her head in acknowledgement.

He leapt off the horse and knelt before her, extending his hand.

"Stop that, Lancelot."

Lancelot stood up, abashed.  "Forgive mine habit.  Milord is dressed like a maid."

"I know."  Arturia raised her hand in the customary courtly greeting.  Lancelot caught it firmly.  They exchanged a short and chaste kiss.

Arturia drew away.  "Mine time is short.  I hath come to ask a boon of thee."

"Name it, and if tis in mine power, I shall do it."

"Care for Guinevere and meet thy child."

Lancelot's jaw dropped again.  "Child?"

Arturia turned to Merlyn.  "Merlyn will explain."

Merlyn sighed.  Arturia was right.  He had to know, so she told him about her role in exchanging Mordred for his son.

Lancelot glared at Merlyn.  His bulging neck muscles showed his restraint.  "Whither is mine son now?"

"With Morgan's kin in Lot's fief."  She conjured a scroll and handed it to him.  "Herein lies instruction on where he is."

"His name?"

"Mellant.  He is a fine man."

"Mine thanks."

"We must go now."  declared Arturia.  She lowered her voice and spoke menacingly.  "Tell no one of this visit.  And, if thou doth not keep thy promise, I will haunt thee till thy death."

Lancelot swallowed visibly.  "Consider it done, Milord."  He paused.  "Will I e'er see thee again, Milord?"

She shook her head sadly.  "Nay."

Lancelot took a step toward her and hesitated.  She understood what he meant to do and opened her arms.  He smiled and embraced her in a tight bear hug.  He released her and turned to Merlyn.  Merlyn sighed and reluctantly held out her arms as well.  He hugged her just as tight.

Tears began to pool in his eyes.  "I am truly sorry for all the trouble that I hath caused thee.  Wherever thy journey will take thee, be well."

"Farewell, Lancelot."

"Farewell, King Arthur."

They went back into the grove and transformed into eagles.  As they rose in the sky, she saw Lancelot raise his sword to the sky in salute.  Then he rode away into the forest.  Later, they met up with Bedivere at the village inn where they were staying. 

"Art we done here?"  asked Arturia.

"Yea."  replied Merlyn.  She was pleased with the remarkable change over Arturia.  She seemed calmer and less depressed.

"Then let us go home in most haste."

Merlyn nodded.  "And so we shall."


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Rin was studying with Merlyn when Bedivere came marching in.  She tossed a basket on a nearby table. 

"Merlyn, methinks we may have a problem."  She grabbed Merlyn's hand and put it on her forehead.  She closed her eyes and concentrated on an image. 

Merlyn understood that Bedivere wanted her to read her mind.  She opened her mind and inhaled sharply at what she saw.

"What is it, Master?" asked Rin.

Merlyn put her hand on Rhynne's forehead.  "See fer yerself."

Rin lowered her defenses and let Merlyn project the image into her mind.  She saw a dimly lit church.  A couple of workmen were trying to hang a portrait.   She sucked in her breath when she saw the man in the portrait.  He bore an unusual resemblance to Kotomine.  The image faded.

"Who is he?" asked Rin.

"The new archbishop of Gwent."  replied Bedivere.  "The workmen saith that the previous archbishop died of fever about a week ago."

Gwent sounded familiar.  She tried to think where she heard about it.

"Ye and Rhynne must go.  I cannae leave here when Wybrenne is ill."  said Merlyn.  "Dinna meet him.  Talk to Brother Jacob instead.  Make sure that the Grail is safe."

Rin broke out in goose bumps when Merlyn mentioned the Grail.  A thought occurred to her. 

"Master, will Syrowe pass Gwent on his way here?"

Merlyn paused in thought.  She looked at the map on the wall and pointed at it.  A long glowing white line appeared on it and a red spot appeared a short distance away from the line.

"The start of the line indicates where we were when I received Airianne's message.  I told Syrowe to take these marked roads back to Eryri.  Yonder red spot is Gwent.  Tis about half a day's ride from a marked road to Gwent.  I told him to ride as fast as he can."

"Only half a day's ride!" exclaimed Rin.  "Master, ye don't know Syrowe as much as I do.  He will definitely go there!  Tis been five days since yer return."

Merlyn paled.  She had a sinking feeling that she was right.  "Then both of ye must go at once.  Bedivere, meet us at the Eagle's tower."  Bedivere nodded and ran. 

Merlyn reached for the basket that Bedivere brought in.  She extracted a small bottle from it.  "Tis a potion that can help heal yer eye.  I shall put some on before ye leave."  Rhynne flinched slightly as she reached out to undo the bandage.  "Dinna move, lass."

Rhynne obeyed and she took off the bandage.  She held her hand in front of her eye to check it.  Her eyebrows knitted with anger. 

"What have ye done, lass!?"  she bellowed.  She pressed her palm over Rhynne's eye and dispelled the low level barrier that was preventing the healing process to occur.

"Master, please!  Let it be!"  Rin grasped Merlyn's wrist tightly, but she did not pull her hand away from her eye.

"Nay!  Ye will go blind!  How can ye do this after all I've done fer ye?"

"So that I will remember!"  yelled Rin.  "To remind mine self not to kill again!"

"Do ye think that this will help Arturia?  Tis a useless gesture!"  Merlyn began to apply mana over her eye, but felt resistance.  "Stop that!"

"Tis not for Arturia!  Tis for me!  Tis mine punishment!"

"To disfigure yerself?  Have ye learned nothing from me?"  Her other hand pushed against Rhynne's chest.

Rin felt a surge of mana erupt from Merlyn's hand on her chest.  Suddenly, she could not move.  Her breathing became very shallow.  It was high-level petrification spell.  She tried to gather her mana but she could not sense any.  It was just as she feared.  The spell also slowed down the flow of mana. 

Another surge of mana welled over her eye.  Her eye began to itch, which indicated that it was healing.  There was another surge of mana.  From the feel of it, the flow seemed very complex.

"I will grant yer wish, girl.  Ye will be blind, but only because I have sealed the sight in yer eye.  Yer eye can still heal beneath the seal, but ye cannae see from it unless ye break the seal.  If ye want to remember something, then remember this:  ne'er do anything that ye cannae undo.  Do yer best t' find another way."

Merlyn took her hands away and picked up the bottle.  Rin slumped into the chair as she was released from the spell. 

"Tilt yer head back and let me put some of this on yer eye."

Rin did as she was told.  The cool liquid coated her unseeing eye.  She shut her eye when she saw the bandage in front of her face. 

Merlyn finished bandaging her eye.  She stood up, walked to the cabinet full of crystals and began rummaging through it.  "Take what ye need to prepare for the worse.  Meet me in the hallway.  We shall go to the Eagle's tower together."

Rin nodded and spoke contritely.  "Mine apologies, master, for mine conduct.  And I thank ye for yer kindness."

Merlyn waved her away.  "Just go.  We shall speak of it when ye return."


----------------------------


They flew as fast as they could.  Finally, they arrived at the monastery.  They circled over it and chose to land on one of the towers to transform.  Rin transformed first and then she dispelled the spell on Bedivere.  She sat down to catch her breath.  They had flown for four hours.  Her arms felt like lead. 

Bedivere seemed to be in the same condition.  Drops of sweat fell from her temple and down her cheek.  Bedivere wiped the sweat away with the back of her hand.  Then she detached the small water skin from her belt and handed it to Rin.

Rin gratefully accepted the water skin and drank her fill.  She handed it back to Bedivere who emptied it. 

"Canst thou go on?" asked Bedivere.

"Yea." Using the wall for support, Rin stood up cautiously.  She looked around her and below for signs of people.  A few monks strolled in the main courtyard.  Another monk was working in a small vegetable garden.  As she shifted her gaze around the tower, something caught her eye in the distance.  She had noticed a silvery flicker.  She stared at the place where she thought she saw it.  A few moments later, she saw it again:  a silvery outline against the blue sky. 

"A kekkai!"  exclaimed Rin.  "Bedivere, I think I know where Syrowe is.  Follow me."  Rin transformed Bedivere and then herself.  She launched herself from the tower and flew toward the kekkai.

They flew as close as they can to the kekkai then they landed and transformed.  Rin reached into her robe and detached the jewel in her necklace. 

"Raging Soul."  she whispered.  She transformed into her mage battle suit.  She clipped her staff to her belt then she put her hand near the boundary of the kekkai and warned Bedivere.  "Prepare thy sword, Sir Bedivere.  I cannot see what is within.  We may be attacked as soon as we go in.  Give me thy left hand."

Bedivere stared at the empty air where Rhynne held her hand up.  Try as she might, she could see nothing unusual.  She would have to trust Rhynne's skill.  She drew her sword and extended her left hand.

Rin felt the hardness of steel under the glove.  It would not do.  "I beg thy pardon."  She pulled Bedivere's sleeve up and gripped her forearm.  "I require direct contact with thy body." 

With Bedivere in tow, Rin concentrated mana on her hand and pushed against the kekkai.  If it were Shiro's, then it would be easy to breach since she was the one who taught it to him.  To her great relief, her hand melted into the boundary.  She walked in and tugged Bedivere behind her.

She was not prepared for what she saw.  The sky was a cloudy shade of red.  Gray mist and large metal gears hung lazily in the air.  Instead of a meadow, they stood on a sun-baked field littered with dozens of swords.

In the distance, they heard the clash of swords.  They raced to the sound, avoiding swords and sizzling gray puddles.

They found Shiro battling about thirty shades.  Kansho and Bakuya flashed about, ripping shades with each strike.  Bedivere charged in with a battle cry.  Rin shot shades as fast as she could.

Shiro sidestepped an attack.  Suddenly, a fallen shade grabbed his ankle and drove his dagger into Shiro's leg.  Rin aimed anyway and hoped that she was not too late.  She was.

To her great astonishment, the dagger plunged deep into Shiro's leg, but Shiro did not cry out in pain.  Instead, he leapt away and grabbed a nearby sword.  He threw the sword and impaled the shade, causing it to melt into a puddle of ooze.

Rin was not sure what had happened.  She resumed shooting more shades.  There were only half a dozen more shades left.  Then it happened.  Shiro dropped his swords and collapsed. 

"Shiro!"  cried Rin in alarm.  She went to his side as soon as she could and cast a barrier around them.  She knelt beside him.  He was pale and breathing heavily.  She put her hand over him to scan for injuries.  When she did not sense anything, she tried again.  To her great horror, Shiro began to fade in and out.  She put her hand on his shoulder and applied mana.  His shoulder began to solidify.

"S'no good..."  whispered Shiro hoarsely in Japanese.  "Don't waste it..."  Shiro turned himself over.  The whites of his eyes were streaked with swollen red veins.  "Take care of Sakura for me..."

"It'll be okay!  Hold on."  She was not going to lose him.  Rin grabbed his hand and applied mana.  His hand solidified.  He yanked his hand away. 

"Don't Rin.  S'kay...  I have to go anyway."  He began to dissolve into mist.  His eyes pleaded with her.  "Let me go..."

The barren ground was becoming translucent.  Just beyond it, she could see long weeds.  The kekkai was being dispelled. 

"As if!"  yelled Rin.  "You stupid ass!  Use Avalon!"

"Can't... gave it to Merlyn..."

"What!!!   Why?!"

Shiro's mouth moved but no sound came from them. 

"No!"  cried Rin.  She put her hands on his body and poured as much mana as she could.  Shiro's hand flew to her chest and a strong force pushed her back ten feet away.  The swords around Shiro rose in the air and formed a barricade around him.

Rin scrambled to her feet and fired shots like a machine gun to destroy the barricade.  Swirling red and silver mist rose in the air and the swords turned into mist as well.  She sprinted toward it and reached out, hoping to grab Shiro.  Instead, she grabbed empty air.  He was gone. 

Tears stung her eyes.  "You will all pay!"  Orbs began to multiply around her.

Bedivere saw the orbs and retreated as far as she could.  She assumed a defensive stance in Rhynne's direction.

Rin screamed in rage and sorrow.  "Sunburst!"

The orbs flew to the remaining shades and incinerated them.  Their remains burned the weeds underneath them.  Rin raised her tear-streaked face to the cloudless blue sky and cried, "Why God?!  Why?"

 
--------------------------


Airianne's panicked voice rang loudly in her mind.  "Mother!  She's disappearing!"

Merlyn quickly teleported to Airianne's location.  Arturia was slumped over the kitchen table.  She was turning into mist.





Chapter 12 Omake

Wybrenne:  I haven't done anything useful!  Am I just an ornamental character?  I know... I'll teach you about sex.
Arturia:  ...
Arturia:  No, thank you.  I already know.
Wybrenne:  ...
Wybrenne:  Oh, fiddlesticks...


Chapter 12
Table of Contents

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