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The Calling: Final Chapters/10-14

CHAPTER TEN

Month TWENTY

Struggles in Paradise

____________________________

     Master Zaichi together with the ever, mischievous Inari stood behind me, as I was blindfolded and waited in an attempt to discern where they were. As Zaichi taught me, I listened and used my senses to feel everything around me. I listened to the movement of the grass in the wind; felt the direction of the wind; listened for subtle movements of nature and those not of nature; felt the sun on my skin giving me the direction of the sun; and smelled for scents. I took all the information into my brain and decided to trust my instincts and turned to my left and swung with my bamboo sword at the air. Master Zaichi took a stone in his hand and threw it hitting me in the side of the head.

“Ouch!” I cried.

“Instincts are important but your senses are better, more dependable than instincts. That is why we have senses. Trust your senses and stop preferring your instincts,” he ordered then he stormed away towards the large wooden shelter where he, Lance, Benedict, and I now lived.

Inari chuckled: “Animals have better instincts than humans. Our senses are better, also.”

“Thank you for that insight, Inari. It’s real helpful to know right now,” I said rubbing my sore head.

“The fox is right, though. You should listen to her. She has great insight,” declared a black robed Merry, as he slowly strolled towards us.

“Merry,” I yelled, dropped my bamboo sword and went running to him.

We hugged for a moment then Merry stepped back to appraise me. He smiled at me as I stood in front of him. I knew that I had made great strides.

“You are no longer a boy, Bear, you are a young man. I would wager that you have grown another two inches and put on another ten pounds of lean muscle,” Merry said with appreciation then I whispered: “And caused all sorts of trouble here, too, Bear.”

“Sorry, Merry,” I said.

“Nothing to be sorry about, Bear. This place needs to have someone shake it up a bit and cause some good trouble for a change,” he replied then he looked at the Fox. “Inari, I presume.”

“Yes, Merlin.”

“Call me Merry.”

“I like Merry better than Merlin,” Inari said. “Merlin is serious and a legend. Merry is a potential friend.”

“Exactly how I feel, Inari,” agreed Merry. “May I speak to Sean in private for a few moments, Inari?”

“Of course, Merry. I will tell Master Zaichi that you are visiting and won’t mind Sean taking time with you.”

“Thank you, Inari.”

The fox trotted off to the hut. Merry draped his right arm around my shoulder, as we walked along the lake.

“The Lady is furious with you, and that I find amusing and encouraging at the same time,” Merry said.

“Why?”

“Because I think she is as mad about you taking her son away from the palace as well as causing trouble in her realm. Where are Lance and Benedict?”

“They are on a long jog. Master Zaichi has them running for not doing well in their morning training with him. Warriors are guarding them on their run. Lance is being trained by Master Zaichi and Benedict is being trained by Inari,” I informed him.

“Ahh, this is too good to believe. I could not have planned it better myself. How is Benedict doing in his studies?”

“Inari says someday after years of apprenticeship to you that he might be your equal in his spiritual arts. She has convinced him to let go of his barriers and feel his true spiritual powers,” I happily told him.

“Exactly, as I hoped. I knew that he had talent but I wasn’t sure how much talent and if he would ever release it. And Lance?”

“Lance is being trained by Master Zaichi, who says that he too can be a sword master. Lance is thrilled by this fact. Master Zaichi thinks he will be one by the time we leave, too,” I excitedly informed him.

“This is also excellent news. Sean, you have done wonders here. You have nine months to go and you have already shaken things up in Avalon. I had hoped for this, Bear—Druids always underestimate the human element and its great power. Very well done, Bear,” Merry enthused.

“You are happy about all of this, Merry.”

“Yes, I am.”

“All right, Merry, explain yourself. Why do you side with humans instead of druids?”

“You see, Sean, I am an outcaste in many ways. Avalon, druids, they look at me, he who trained the great Arthur, and think to themselves that he chose the ways of humans over us. It’s time I tell you a little something about Arthur, my friend and student. I often counseled Arthur to do what was best for all the realms not just Avalon and the Human Realm. I encouraged him to think of himself as the protector of all realms that stand in alliance with the Human Realm not a tool of Avalon. Unfortunately, at least in the eyes of Avalon, my counsel led to an invasion of the Avalon led by Medraut that eventually was repelled by Arthur at the cost of his own life and Medraut’s life. He felt great guilt that his decision led to Avalon’s fall to the Aes Sidhe. However, the alternative was the fall of the Human Realm, which I thought was more important than this one. I counseled the protection of the Human Realm over Avalon. I am seen as a traitor in the eyes of many here. As a matter of fact if it wasn’t for my prodigious gifts, I think they would shun me, but, alas, they still need me. Dux Maximi and Ualgargs are human beings, and I understand humanity much better than those who live here because I think of myself as merely a gifted human,” explained Merry.

“No wonder I get the feeling that people are both awed by the mention of your name, but also dislike you at the very same time.”

“Yes, I have that effect on them, especially the druids. The warriors think better of me. I elevated them from slave to the druids to warriors who deserved better treatment and rights. This is why I wear a black robe instead of a white one like the rest of the druids. It is the Lady’s way of saying that I am more warrior than druid. Silliness, but I actually prefer the black robe. It doesn’t get dirty easily like the white one does,” Merry smiled.

“Benedict has taken to wearing a black robe now in your honor,” I told him.

“Really. I knew that boy showed great potential and a good mind,” he said with a smile.

“How long are you here for?”

“Until I finish a favor for the Lady,” he told me.

“The Lady of the Lake wants you to repair the relationship between me, Lance, Benedict and her,” I guessed.

“Yes. It seems that you spend all your time with Master Zaichi and show her envoys little respect and say no to most requests that come from her.”

“But I do everything they ask of me without argument when I think it right,” I interjected.

“I bet you do. And I bet you do it with an attitude, too.”

“Is that really why you are here?”

“No, it is only one reason I am here. I missed you, Bear. I wanted to see you,” Merry admitted.

“And I missed you, Merry. How is…everyone?”

“Branwyn is fine. She is moody of course, as she misses you more than most, but fine. Morgana says that all she does is pine for you and practice her gifts, which are starting to flourish. I think she wants to show off that she became almost as gifted as any Fey for your return. I told her that I would give you this,” he said then he took a photograph of her in her overalls and T-shirt with long hair and a smile from his right sleeve and gave it to me.

“Thanks, Merry,” Sean said. “I wish I had a photograph to give her, but this realm allows no technology because they say it corrupts.”

“They are right,” Merry replied then looked around to make sure no one saw him. He took a disposable camera out of his other sleeve and took a picture of Sean. “Don’t tell anyone. And remind me to get a picture of Lance and Benedict later for their families.”

“You are the best, Merry.”

“Am I? That’s nice to hear,” he said and we began strolling along the lake again. “I am going to try to repair things a bit while I’m here, though, maybe, not quite the way the Lady expects them repaired. Why don’t we discuss a plan of action to make this help this realm?”

“Whatever you say, Merry.”

“I like the sounds of that.”

 

nnnn

“I’m glad we can have a meeting under civil conditions,” the Lady of the Lake stated with a less than civil tone.

Merry and I sat on large pillows at the table in the personal chamber of the Lady of the Lake. She, too, sat on a large soft pillow, as her table was only one foot six inches tall. On the table were mixed vegetables and fruits, as well as grass rice and drinks made from several fruits found only on Avalon.

“Receiving civility from Avalon is the best I can expect,” said Merry.

“I was speaking to he that would be the heir to Arthur,” The Lady retorted.

“I know whom you meant it for, yet I still managed to say what I did,” said Merry, who then took a grape and popped it into his mouth.

“I like what Master Zaichi serves for food better than this,” I commented.

“Really?” said Merry. “What does he serve?”

“Fish, fowl, and occasional deer,” I answered.

“Master Zaichi is the only one allowed to hunt for food here in Avalon,” stated the Lady.

“Yes. It is a shame. I like a good venison steak now and again, too,” commented Merry.

“You eat meat, Merlin?” asked the Lady with great horror.

“Yes, but only cooked and well-prepared meat. I especially like a Hardee’s cheeseburger.”

“That is just another difference between you and I, Merlin. We revere nature here and do not abuse her animals.”

“The last time I checked fruit and vegetables were part of nature, yet you eat them. As for abusing animals, animals eat other animals, so as long as you don’t hunt for pleasure but for food, I don’t think it abusive. It can be a sign of respect and I respect nature,” Merry countered her.

“Again, we disagree, Merlin. Now I understand why the boy who would be Arthur shows such disrespect for the Lady of the Lake.”

“Oh, Niniane, stop trying to be haughty and aloof like your sister. Vivianne was a very impressive Lady of the Lake until she turned traitor and joined the Aes Sidhe. Do you really want to be impersonating her?”

“Let us not speak of my sister in front of the child,” the Lady demanded.

“He already knows many of our secrets, including why I am so disdained here,” Merry said.

“I don’t show Avalon disrespect, or, at least, any more disrespect than Avalon has shown me, Lady,” I finally spoke up.

“What disrespect has been shown to you since you have been here?” demanded the Lady.

“Well, first, I’m a potential Cathal, not a new Arthur, at least, I don’t think of myself as a new Arthur. And, as far as I know, I am not an Ualgarg.”

“You feel pressure being compared to Arthur,” remarked the Lady.

“No, I feel annoyed by it. In my opinion I’d rather be like my father, a man I admired and loved, than like someone I never met,” I admitted.

“Liam was a very good man, but so was Arthur, Bear,” Merlin told me, as I could hear sadness of Arthur in his voice.

“Are you sure this boy will pass Bealtaine, Merlin?” asked the Lady.

“Yes, I am. I am as sure that he will pass as I was sure that his father would not,” Merry answered.

I glared at Merry. I didn’t like the idea of Merry having doubted my father.

“You didn’t believe in my father?” I asked Merry.

“I believed in Liam, as a person. I knew he wasn’t the Cathal.”

“Why, Merry?”

“Your father had the courage, the strength, even the insight to be the one, but he lacked something ineffable, a something that I believe you have.”

“And what is that ineffable something, Merlin?” asked the Lady.

“It is just a feeling, a silly little human feeling, something that you have cut yourself off from, Niniane. There is great power in silly little human feelings.”

“I am the Lady of the Lake.”

“And I am the Merlin, yet I get no respect for my position or from my people. I don’t whine about it.”

“Myrrydin, do you deserve such respect from us?” asked the Lady.

“As much as you do, Lady.”

A silence and a chill fell over the room. Merry and the Lady stared into each other’s eyes for several long moments. The long silence between them almost felt as though any second they would begin arguing in very loud voices.

“Sean, shall we inform the Lady what we have decided to do about things?”

“Of course, Merry.”

“Allow me to explain then,” Merry said then he took a sip of his drink. “Lance and Benedict will resume staying in the palace, as they are invited guests and do not need to be here but are here because of your good will. Benedict will spend morning with druid teachers and afternoons being instructed by Inari, who has made great strides with him. As for Lance he will train mornings with your warriors and afternoons being tutored by Zaichi along with Sean. As you know that is a great benefit for Lance.”

“What about our once and maybe Arthur here?” the Lady asked sardonically.

“He will stay with Zaichi for the duration of his time here. Master Zaichi believes this will benefit him. Sean will live and train with him and Inari, but once a month he will dine with the Lady of the Lake, as a sign of respect. If the Lady wishes to put him on display for a dinner with allies that will be fine; in addition, if she wishes to dine alone with him, or along with his companions and get to know the potential future Cathal, as well as a potential Merlin and her son that should be fine, as well. How does that sound?”

“It sounds satisfactory,” answered the Lady. “Benedict, may be a Merlin like you?”

“He may be a Merlin. I’m not sure if he will be one like me.”

She smiled for the first time for the evening. Merry noticed this and knew the reason why: “He is already corrupted by humanity, Niniane. He is loyal to Sean; he loves his parents; and I have already promised to mentor him when he returns from Avalon, as long as he makes the right strides. He was thrilled with that news, but agreed only to proceed if I let him train with warriors also. I agreed to it.”

“Why do you hate your own people so much, Merlin?”

“I don’t hate my people, Lady. I love humanity and always have. I just think it a shame that druids no longer consider themselves human. You are human. You know that deep down, even if you pretend otherwise.”

“We have lived in this Realm, we have lived on Avalon, since humanity turned their backs on us and chose to follow another path,” the Lady stated icily.

“Imagine that. They turned their backs on those who expected to be treated with reverence and awe. Most of humanity doesn’t take well to having to treat equals with reverence and awe,” Merlin goaded her.

“Do you accept the proposition that has been made here, Lady?” I asked trying to curtail their argument.

“I accept it under one condition,” she said.

“And that condition would be?” asked Merry.

“On the last day before he leaves we intend on asking representatives from the allied realms here for a great feast in Sean’s honor. You will come, Merlin, and be on your best behavior, as well as get your ward beside you to be on his. Is that acceptable?”

“You intend to show that Sean and I are your loyal subjects with this feast, don’t you, Lady?” said Merlin.

“I intend on a feast to show unity…”

“Under the druids,” Merlin finished the thought for her.

“Merlin, don’t you trust the Lady of the Lake?”

“It depends which one you speak of. There have been several I not only have trusted but I have loved, but that is another story.”

“And this is the end of another dinner,” the Lady stated then she stood up.

“No dessert?” Merry asked sarcastically.

“We have an understanding now. That will have to do for dessert for now.”

“Oh, yummy,” Merry smiled.

nnnn

Zaichi used just his sense of hearing and smell and easily blocked my attacks with a bamboo sword. I tried to attack from different positions, varying speeds, even different styles, but the sword master effortlessly blocked everything I attempted. Merry and Inari watched it all with great amusement.

“Is not Master Zaichi brilliant?” asked Inari.

We could hear them talk about us as we fought.

“He is experienced and gifted, but brilliant is such an overused word. I will call him expert and professional,” Merry countered her.

“I think him brilliant nonetheless.”

“How long have you known Master Zaichi?” asked Merry.

“Since he was a small boy and still had his sight. We are old friends.”

“How did he lose his vision, Inari?”

“When he was six a tengu invaded our realm to kill a dragon for sport. Since tengu are sneaky creatures, no one knew that it was there. Young Zaichi was feeding a hatchling while its mother watched over them when this tengu appeared. Being brave he didn’t run, but stood his ground to fight the tengu, which spat a poison into his eyes blinding him. I came along just as this evil creature was about to slay both the boy and the dragon and stopped it with my magic. I taught him how to see without seeing by using his sense. He taught himself the sword. The tengu hate him because he survived and became their bane,” explained Inari.

“You are proud of him,” remarked Merry.

“No more than you are of the boy you have trained,” said Inari. “He is good, your student.”

“Yes, he is,” Merry proudly agreed.

“Zaichi will have him ready for his test at Bealtaine. Your student will be like forged steel ready to succeed where so many have failed ahead of him,” Inari told him.

“No, no, no,” called out Zaichi drawing Inari and Merry’s attention. “You keep attacking me thinking only of your attacks, but not of your opponent. Think of me, young one. Think of what I am capable of; what skills I possess and base your attack on that?”

“What if your opponent’s skills are too formidable?” I asked.

“No enemy is without weakness, not even a Cathal. You must know your weakness, so it cannot be exploited, or that it might become a strength for you,” Zaichi stated. “What is my weakness?”

“You cannot see.”

“And have I turned it into a strength?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“So turn it back into a weakness,” commanded Zaichi.

I stopped for a moment and thought about Zaichi command. The sword master had a weakness and it was obvious, too. Blindness was his weakness, which he compensated for by honing his other senses. There was the answer: turn his senses against him.

I looked around me. There were yellow and sage flowers blooming not too far from me. Zaichi’s olfactory could be overwhelmed by their sent, but still his hearing and tastes remained. I needed to overwhelm him completely. Touch would not be a problem, as it would not get close enough for that. But there was something else about Zaichi. He had a certain instinct that was almost like a sense. How do you confuse instinct, I tried to think and then an answer occurred to me: surprise.

Running over to the blooming flowers I grabbed a handful and stuck them in my belt. Next, I ran towards a few rocks and stones and picked them up a decent size grey stone with some weight and held it in my left hand, while my sword occupied my right hand. I was now almost ready for my planned attack against my master.

Taking a few deep breaths, I readied myself. I placed my bamboo sword on the ground and removed the flowers from my belt then I moved as silently as I could towards Zaichi waiting for the right moment. A breeze came along and I crumbled the flowers in my hand releasing their scent into the air. I then moved silently to my left. Next, I took the stone and readied it for throwing while I removed from my belt a knife, which I kept in its sheath. I threw the stone hitting Inari in the butt causing her to yelp loudly and Zaichi to turn towards her to check what was wrong then I threw the sheathed knife hitting Zaichi in the shoulder.

“He cheated,” cried out Inari with great disappointment.

“He improvised. That isn’t cheating, it’s thinking,” Merry corrected her.

Zaichi turned and faced me. He had a broad smile on his face: “You learned; very good, student. It was not a killing blow, but you got by my defenses. Next time I will be ready for minor subterfuge.”

“So I will need major subterfuge the next time,” I said.

“Exactly. Though, I think now we will work on you beating me fairly. Our lesson is done for the day,” Zaichi happily told me.

“Thank you, master.”

Nodding his head in appreciation, Zaichi turned and strolled towards the lake so that he could meditate. Inari left Merry’s side and ran along side of him. The two continued side by side. Merry joined me.

“Well done, Bear,” he said to me.

“I was just using what I had been taught. You can tell Chota that I used more than a little of what he taught me against a sword master.”

“He will be proud to hear that.”

“Merry, I still have a long way to go.”

“I know that, Bear, though it is good to know that you know it,” Merry said. “I must leave today.”

“Why leave so soon?”

“The Lady has decided that it is time for me to leave. Though she agreed to our deal, she is more than a little peeved at both of us. Ladies of the Lake never liked being outmaneuvered. I hope some quality time with her son will rekindle her humanity, so to speak.”

Before we could say their goodbyes, two female druids in white robes approached Zaichi’s encampment. Merry smiled when he saw them, as he recognized them.

“Ahh, have you met Lance’s siblings, Bear?” asked Merry.

“No.”

“You will now. It appears that the Lady is going to try to butter you up. Is that the right expression?”

“It’s an expression, Merry.”

As they got closer I saw that the two druid females were close in age, only a few years older than me. One had blond hair down to her shoulder and delicate features and the other had raven black and strong features that reminded me of a much more attractive version of her mother. With them close, I saw the dark haired one was at least five feet eleven inches and the other almost two inches shorter. They finally reached us.

“Merlin and Sean McCoul,” the dark haired one greeted us with a sensuous voice, “a pleasure to see you.”

“Nan, a pleasure,” Merlin greeted her then looked at her sister, “and Tegan.”

“Merlin,” Tegan said shyly.

“Have you come to say goodbye?” asked Merry.

“Unfortunately, we have. Our mother has had us going through our final training, which meant six months in seclusion ending today. This is our first chance to meet Sean McCoul and to visit with you,” Nan said.

“Thank you for reuniting us with our brother,” added Tegan.

“Did your mother send you here?” asked Merry, who then listened carefully to the answer.

“Yes,” said Nan. “She thought our beauty would awe young Sean, who is not so young, and who I believe loves a Fey. What chance does a druid have against a Fey?”

Tegan flinched at the answer. This answer caused Merry to smile. Nan was not to be used by her mother. As for Tegan, she was sweet with a hint of duplicity.

“How did you know about the Fey?” I asked.

“I could sense a connection between you and a Fey. It is very strong,” said Nan.

“Her name is Branwyn and she is three quarters Fey.”

“Which makes her almost complete Fey,” said Tegan with a hint of disdain.

“She must be lovely,” commented Nan with sincerity.

“She is. Thank you. What does Nan stand for?” I asked her causing her to blush slightly.

“My mother has burdened me with a difficult name. Nan is short for Nantosuelta. I am named for a Goddess of fertility and water,” she answered. “Do you like it?”

“I like Nan better,” I replied.

“I do, too.”

“Sister, should we escort Merlin to a doorway? He is to leave today,” Tegan queried.

“Tegan is elder by twenty months,” Merry said, “but she likes to act as if she is the younger. It is her way of surprising people. Isn’t that right, Nan?”

“My sister does not like to give away too much information about herself. You have to work for it, if you want to know her,” Nan said with a smirk.

“Please, Tegan, escort me. Nan can stay here and get to know, Bear.”

“Bear?” I asked.

“It is my nickname.”

“I like it. Bear,” she said.

“But, sister, we should escort Merlin together. He deserves the respect,” Tegan stated.

“We do not escort out of respect, sister, but to make sure he leaves. You can do that alone,” Nan said then she walked up to me and lopped her right arm through my left arm. “Let us take a stroll and get to know each other.”

“Um, Merry, you are leaving,” I hesitated.

“Sean, I will be back in a few months. Go with Nan. I have a feeling she is going to be a good friend,” Merry told him and Sean and Nan walked slowly away from them. “Shall we be going, Tegan. Your mother will want a full report right away.”

“Yes, Let us go.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Month 26

An Enemy in Avalon

__________________________

It was September, yet another new season had passed in the Human Realm, but it remained summer in Avalon, always summer, and always perfect. I was tired of perfect and Avalon. Where Lance and Benedict had made great strides in there time in Avalon, mine were almost immeasurable, though certain things were measurable. I was now six foot three inches and looked like a gymnast in built. The bamboo swords were put away and now Zaichi and I used cane swords and katanas. Lance and Nan watched silently as Inari cheered Zaichi along.

“He has gotten better, but he still isn’t as good as you,” called out Inari. “Master Zaichi is still supreme! He is the greatest of sword masters.”

Neither Zaichi nor I paid the fox any attention. We were too engrossed in our sword match of skills and wits. My ability with the katana had grown enough so that I was the equal of many, maybe even the better of many, but Zaichi was still a sword master on a level, which few others had attained. The first to draw blood, even with a scratch, was the victor. Master Zaichi was a believer that a small scar could be a great educator.

Lance appeared to be almost in pain just sitting on the grass and watching me fight the master. He wanted to be up there protecting me more, even more than showing off his own skills, as he had sworn to be one of my protectors no matter what happened at Bealtaine. He just knew that I was born to lead and for him to be loyal to me. It wasn’t until I came along that Lance actually knew where he belonged.

“Brother,” Nan broke the silence, “has he gotten to be a good swordsman? From my point of view he looks as if he has improved a great deal.”

“Yes, very much. He has become an expert swordsman,” answered Lance.

“Is he as good as you, Lance?” Nan asked in a slightly teasing tone, which I heard.

Lance paused to think about what she had asked him. He had trained with a sword his whole life becoming proficient as a child. Just last week he did so well against Zaichi that the master applauded him for his skill. Yet, I was new to using a blade. I had grown playing sports, throwing a baseball and football, not swinging a blade. My childhood was strangely normal considering who I was. Yet I had so far to come and I had virtually overcome that inexperienced so quickly that it was almost miraculous. He doubted I could have improved as quickly as I had.

“I believe I am better right now with a sword, but I also believe he can be better in the future,” answered Lance. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” she laughed.

“You have a reason. What is it?”

“I have been debating asking permission to leave Avalon so that I may visit the Human Realm, brother. If Sean is the Cathal, I would like to join his fealty. I believe he could unite the realm and bring the peace that has been missing for far too long.”

“You must be invited to join a fealty,” Lance told her.

“You have been invited by him, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can put in a good word for me. I think I could be very useful for him,” she defended herself.

“It is worth considering,” Lance said with a smile.

“Are you teasing me, Lance?”

“Maybe,” he answered. She punched with her right hand on his left shoulder then they both laughed.

“Zaichi, you take it too easily on him,” yelled Inari. “He is a boy, so he can take harder hits. Punish him!”

I tried a quick combination attack with my katana, each strike stopped by Zaichi, who in turn did his own combination of strikes. The last blow of Zaichi’s combination almost caught me off guard so I had to do a back flip to avoid being hit by the master’s blade. I noticed that Zaichi had positioned me so that the sun was in my eyes blinding me. To counter this I did a sidesaddle flip to his left then a back flip, so the sun was out of my eyes. Zaichi laughed at this.

“So much work to avoid the sun when all you have to do is close your eyes,” he said to me with great amusement. “You have more than one sense you can use, Sean.”

“I know that, master. But I look really good doing acrobatics while I fight,” I told him, which made the master laugh some more.

It was then that a strange feeling came over me. It felt as if something icy cold had touched me sending a shiver down my spine. I looked up to see a red and black sparrow flying overhead. Suddenly, Zaichi stopped all motion and listened to the air. He too felt something, too.

“Sean, there is something here in this realm that doesn’t belong,” he said.

“I know, master. I feel it, also.”

Inari started to run towards us when the sparrow turned from a bird into a large human form. Its human form shocked me to see, too. It had rough red skin, great yellow eyes with black dots for cornea, and a large, eight-inch long nose with a cruel smile on its face and long white hair along with wings. It wore blue pants and a loose blue shirt, but no shoes on its overly large red feet. In one hand it had a large thick bladed sword and in the other what appeared to be a lightening bolt, which it released and hit the running Inari, sending the fox into the air and landing hard on the ground. Inari just lay there unmoving. I hoped she was alive.

“Tengu,” called out Zaichi with vengeance.

The tengu released another lightening bolt, which Zaichi caught with his sword before it could hit his chest, but catching the bolt sent a strong electric current through his body causing him to loose consciousness. He fell to the ground. Lance got to his feet and grabbed his own katana, which lay beside him, and ran towards me along with his sister. The tengu continued down to the ground landing gently on its large feet. Its wings disappeared into thin air. Turning to face Lance and Nan it tossed another lightening bolt at them. Nan pushed her brother aside and attempted to absorb the bolt. She was forced to her knees from the power of it, as she tried to let her body absorb the electricity.

Lance continued towards the raging tengu, while I attacked from the other side. The two of us reached the creature at the same time and we each attempted to cut it down with our blades, but the tengu parried one then the other with great speed. I immediately sensed that this creature had the advantage of speed and strength over Lance and I, which meant he needed to find its weakness to exploit. Lance attacked again with several strong slashes, each easily stopped and returned by the red creature.

“So young to die. So young but so what? Some are meant to die young,” the tengu said.

“You are the one who is going to die,” Lance retorted making the tengu laugh.

“I have known many brave warriors; each one brave, each one dead. You are neither brave nor a warrior, but you will be dead,” it said.

I sensed its arrogance and found a weakness to exploit. Arrogance led to underestimating your opponent and overestimating yourself, or so Alkimos had told him. I needed to bide my time and find a way to use the arrogance against him. I joined Lance in the fight against the tengu, although he knew they were overmatched right now.

“Little boys with sharp toys. Be careful little boys, you might cut yourself,” the tengu mocked them. “Sharp toys will be the end of little boys. I want to cut you, so be careful not to ruin my fun.”

“Shut up, you big nose, red butted baboon,” I ridiculed it.

“You don’t like my nose. It is a full nose, proud and large, a noble nose,” the tengu said.

This was an angry response. I had found something, chink in the tengu’s armor. It didn’t like to be teased.

“It is ugly, just like you are,” I retorted then I laughed, which caused the tengu to angrily kick Lance away sending him about six feet away where he landed and tumbled another five feet. I could see that he was knocked out cold from the blow.

“Ugly. I am beautiful, one of the most beautiful to behold,” the tengu stated.

And vain another weakness to exploit: “Beautiful if you think the moon ugly and flowers horrible to look at. Beautiful only in an upside down world.”

“You are insulting me. I don’t like that,” the tengu accused me with hurt feelings.

“Yet, you are still ugly,” I said then I defended myself against a vicious attack.

The tengu’s blade seemed to be everywhere at once now, as he struck out at me in anger. I was just barely parrying the blows, as they came in a blur. The tengu continued his onslaught. I received a cut on my right thigh, superficial, but it bled badly. I then received a deeper cut across my left ribs, which caused bleeding and pain, but I would not lose my focus. Pain was pain. Master Zaichi taught me how to deal with this. Pain existed and could be dealt with. All my focus needed to be on my opponent and nothing else.

“Where are your lightening bolts? You’re sword won’t get to me, though your face is starting to make me sick to my stomach,” I taunted it.

“All out of bolts and soon you will be all out of blood.”

“You’ll still be ugly, though,” I teased it.

This caused even more anger from the tengu. It was a seething cauldron of anger now. The speed of its attack even increased more, which surprised me. Never had I seen a sword moving so fast. I managed to again block most of the blows, but I received a deep cut across my right forearm and another shallow one across my chest ripping my clothes and skin. I assumed I looked much worse than I felt and decided to use that to my advantage. The tengu took a dramatic step back to see the effect of his workmanship.

As the tengu admired how he had bloodied me, I noticed that Lance was struggling to get up. If Lance charged it, the tengu in his current state would cut him down. I knew I needed to act now. I fell to one knee and started to breathe heavily wanting to make the tengu believe that I had reached my limit and was ready to fall.

“Tired and weak, human,” the tengu taunted me. “Don’t worry you won’t be tired much longer, though you will be weak, even in the afterlife.”

“Ugly,” I spat.

“I am tired of your insults,” the tengu said then raised it sword and charged me.

When the tengu was but a foot away, I did a roll and came up with my katana aimed at the tengu’s midsection. With all my strength I stood up and drove my sword through the tengu causing the creature’s face to take on an expression of utter shock then its yellow eyes closed, as it fell to the ground. I had managed to slay it.

A doorway suddenly opened not too far from me. Merry stepped through it dressed in his tweed jackets and corduroy pants, as if he had been teaching. He surveyed the scene and came running to me. I knelt down on the ground feeling tired and weak from blood loss. Lance was up and he, too, ran to me along with his sister, who had finally recovered from the lightening bolt.

“Bear, you killed a tengu,” Merry said to me in his gentlest voice.

“He was ugly, so I had to do something with him,” I said, as I lay on the ground.

“And he was a very formidable foe for you. Impressive, Bear,” added Merry. “Branwyn sends her best. She knew you needed me. When it comes to you, that girl is uncanny. I’ll attend to your wounds.”

I lay on the grass. I turned my head to see that Inari had recovered and was licking Zaichi’s face trying to wake him up. I then looked at those staring at me. Lance had a grave expression on his face, while Merry and Nan appeared calm and encouraging. I closed my eyes.

“That’s right, Bear. Go to sleep for now. I’ll have you on your feet in no time,” Merry’s voice said then I allowed myself to be enveloped by blackness.

 

nnnn

 

 

I lay in my bed in the wooden shelter I shared with Zaichi. Nan had brought me some vegetable soup for my recovery. She tried to feed me some, but I didn’t want any. Nan was persistent and finally forced fed me some of the soup. Once done eating I wanted out of bed, but Nan wouldn’t allow it. She was my acting nurse.

“I’ve already lost a full day of training,” I told her. “I can’t afford to lose any more.”

“Merlin says you need one more day of bed rest,” Nan said. “Anyways, Master Zaichi still needs another day of rest. His body absorbed a great deal of electricity, as did Inari. They are both in need of rest.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize that,” I said then paused. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” said Nan. “You did very well Arthur Sean McCoul.”

“Arthur. You like the name Arthur, don’t you?” I asked Nan.

“It is a noble name with great meaning to many in the realms.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. It’s not that bad a name, I guess,” I mused.

I thought about it: Arthur was a name that meant a great deal to the realms. The name was a symbol, a useful symbol. I had to keep that in mind.

“My mother wishes to visit you here to apologize for allowing a creature of evil into this realm. It is a great dishonor to her that you were attacked.”

“Tell her it is okay. It’s nobody’s fault or anything,” I mumbled.

“Sean, I know that you don’t trust my mother, but you have to allow her a chance to apologize. She is truly embarrassed that a tengu entered this ream,” Nan told me.

“She doesn’t have to be. What does Lance think I should do?” I asked her knowing that Lance’s answer would probably be the same as my own.

“I’m not a member of your fealty, yet, Arthur Sean McCoul, so I don’t have to take your teasing. I can tease back or worse. My mother may be a difficult woman, but she is my mother and the Lady of the Lake and deserves some respect. I want you to give her some respect, Sean,” Nan scolded me.

“All right. I’ll see her, especially since you have been good to me.”

“Good. I’m glad that you’ve come around to seeing it my way. She is visiting with Zaichi right now. I’ll escort her in when she’s done,” Nan said then exited my small bedroom.

I threw my legs over the side of the bed and looked about the bedroom. The wooden walls had no decoration, except the one photograph of Branwyn. Aside from the bed and a night table with a candle, it had no other furnishing. It was simple, plain, and Zaichi’s idea of perfect for living. I missed my books and some clutter.

It didn’t take too long, but the bedroom door opened and Nan escorted in the Lady of the Lake, whose face wore an expression of great regret. Nan stood by the door while her mother came into the middle of the room.

“I owe you an apology, young warrior,” she said with respect in her voice.

“There is no need to apologize for the actions of the Aes Sidhe and their allies,” I told her.

“Yes, there is. Aes Sidhe and their allies know you are here training, so it was to be expected that they would attempt to get to you here. Unfortunately, we underestimated their determination to get to you.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Several oni and shadow wraith attacked the castle as well as the area of isolation for novitiates. Six of our warriors died defending the palace and novitiates,” she explained to him. “You will be happy to know that your fealty member and companion, Benedict, performed admirably in defense of the palace. He used both strong druid skills, as well as warrior skills.”

“I’m glad Benedict could help and I am sorry about your fallen warriors, Lady.”

“Their deaths are not an excuse for our laxity in protecting you. You are a guest, an important one. It is our duty to protect you.”

“Lady, the tengu did not succeed. All that it accomplished was to sharpen my skills with experience and to alert you for further attacks. I think apologizes are unnecessary now, but I thank you nonetheless,” I said.

“You show maturity for your age, Sean McCoul,” the Lady said.

“Is that good?”

“It is surprising. When you first arrived here, I did not expect too much from you. But now I understand why Merlin has such faith in you.”

“I hope not to let Merry down. Is he still here?” I asked.

“He has not left yet but he will be leaving soon. I will have him see you now,” the Lady told us then Nan opened the bedroom door and the Lady left. Before following her mother out of the room, Nan gave me an optimistic smile.

I contemplated standing up. Fighting the tengu had not encouraged me because I prevailed, but it made me worry that I didn’t have enough skills to prevail the next time. I won this battle on my wits and brains, which had made Master Zaichi so happy.

Merry entered the bedroom. He was still dressed in his tweed jacket and corduroy pants. He looked completely out of place in this realm.

“Hello, Bear,” Merry greeted me.

“Hey, Merry.”

“I can tell by the way she looked that the Lady of the Lake was impressed by you. Well done, Bear.”

“Thanks.”

“So, I’m on my way home. You are well enough for me to leave,” Merry told me.

“Do you have to leave so soon?”

“Yes, I do. I have students with empty minds that need filling.”

“But…”

“It is almost over, Bear. Soon the Lady will be calling you to the palace for her final formal dinner and then you come home for a month,” Merry said encouragingly.

“Four more months, Merry. I know I need to finish my training, but it seems so long.”

“Oh, how you have grown, Sean, but how much more growing up you have to do,” Merry sighed.

“How are Kieran and Fintain and Lucan?”

“They are well.”

“And Chota? How is he?”

“He lives in Kieran’s house and visits me occasionally. He is a happy man and it is because of you,” Merry told me.

“And Morgana and Branwyn?”

“Well, Morgana and Kieran are dating in the open now, much to Branwyn’s delight and Fintain’s embarrassment. He said just the other day that he isn’t dating but his father is.”

“That’s great,” I laughed.

“And Branwyn, of course, pines for you. She misses you greatly. It seems no one can take your place either. Last month Chota and I took them into Elizabethton for the day to shop and I noticed how some schoolboys were greatly attracted to her, but she paid them no attention at all. She only has eyes for you, Bear.”

“You know that makes me feel better, don’t you?”

“You’re human. And I mean that as a compliment. Now, Master Zaichi asked me to tell you that tomorrow you and he will get your battered bodies back to work. And, as for me, I am leaving now,” Merry said then turned to leave. He paused at the door, though and turned back. “What do you think of Nan?”

“She wants to join my fealty some day,” I answered.

“Yes, I know. But what do you think of her?”

“She is wonderful. I wish her mother was more like her.”

“Yes, as do I.”

“Why do you ask about her, Merry?”

“I think she has possibilities. That’s all. Be well Bear. I’ll see you soon,” he said then left.

I sat back in the bed. All I had to do was wait for four more months and I’d be able to go home. 120 or so days were all that I had left. Yet, there were times when one single day seemed like a month. A single day could drag on and on never seeming to end, while a week could buzz along as if it passed all too soon. Time was funny that way. One day could seem an eternity and a week pass in a flash. Four months was all I had left here. It wasn’t that long. Four more months, I kept repeating, which would be made up of single day eternities.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

Month Thirty

Time for Going Home

_____________________________

My last month on Avalon had at last arrived. In less than thirty-one days it would be February, and I’d return home to prepare for Bealtaine in May. The formal feast for all of the allied realms was to take place in three days and all of Avalon was preparing, except for Lance, Benedict, and me, who were going through a final day of training with Zaichi. The three of us stood in our black ghees with our katanas in hand waiting for orders.

“Lance of the Lake, also known as Lance Lake, please step forward,” Zaichi said.

Inari ran back and forth with excitement watching, while Nan and a recently arrived Merry, as well as the Lady of the Lake herself stood and watched. Using his cane Zaichi measured the distance between himself and his student.

“I will call out the stances and you will illustrate them perfectly,” instructed Zaichi. “Through hearing your motions, feeling the shifting of breezes, the sound of your feet and hands, and my sense of instincts, I will know if you have done it. Are you ready?”

“Yes, master,” Lance responded calmly.

“Seigan no kamae,” Zaichi barked.

Lance’s feet went wide, his sword pointed eye level, with his weight on the rear foot. Zaichi smiled to himself.

“Chidan no kamae,” he called out.

Lance’s sword became level at his waist with his weight not shifting.

“Gedan no kamae,” Zaichi called out next.

Lance moved his sword to below his waist now.

“Hasso no kamae,” Zaichi called out.

Lance moved his feet together, his body straight as a ruler, and his elbows in close to his body. His sword was held high and upright with the edge facing forward.

“Kasumi no kamae,” Zaichi barked out the stance.

Lance’s right foot moved to the side, weight shifted to his left. His sword was brought to eye level with his edge up and his elbows held close to his body.

“Daijodan no kamae,” Zaichi yelled out the next stance.

Lance shifted his weight from left to right foot with his body now shifted towards the left. He raised his blade above his head at a forty-five degree angle.

“Finally, Tenchi no kamae,” Zaichi called out.

Lance shifted his legs apart with his weight on his right foot. His blade was held over his right knee pointing straight up.

“You may now relax,” Zaichi told his student and Lance took a relaxed posture, as he placed his katana properly into its scabbard.

Zaichi ambled up to him and patted him on the shoulder. He nodded his head then turned and faced those who were there to watch.

“I announce that Lance of the Lake is the youngest sword master I have ever trained. He is a master of all stances and trained by me in the use of the blade,” Zaichi stated.

The Lady of the Lake smiled and applauded her son. Merry and Nan also applauded him, while Inari howled in appreciation. Zaichi motioned Lance to join those who watched. Lance jogged over and stood beside his mother, who proudly kissed him on the cheek. Lance blushed.

“Now Sean and Benedict. For you I have another task. Sean, to be a sword master is meaningless for you, as you have a more important role to play in life. As for you Benedict, you are a druid, but a druid, who can use a sword. For your graduation I will have a match between you and me.”

“Are you sure about that, master?” I asked with grimace.

“Do you doubt me, student?” asked Zaichi.

“No, I doubt me.”

“Good answer, my student,” Zaichi said. “Lance, get us the bamboo swords.”

Lance rushed off and retrieved the bamboo swords. He handed one to Zaichi then one to me and finally to Benedict. Benedict and I placed our katana on the grass then we prepared ourselves to battle Zaichi. Once ready we moved towards the sword master, who held the bamboo sword lightly in his hand, while cane sword lay at his feet.

“Come. I do not have all day to show you up,” Zaichi goaded them.

With those words Benedict was the first to move in on Zaichi. Excitement at this chance to show his skill overtook his good sense. He took a straightforward attack trying to be bold and show off what he had learned. Zaichi quickly disarmed him and poked him hard in the belly with the bamboo. Benedict exhaled in anger and stormed off the field to stand next to Lance. Shaking his head in frustration, Benedict knew he was capable of a better showing than that.

“I hope you use what I have taught you better than that,” Inari told him then she took a position near Merry to watch Sean and Zaichi.

“As a swordsman, you make a great druid, my student,” laughed Zaichi, who then turned his attention to me.

I did not move, as I knew that the master swordsman knew where I was based on hearing and scent, as well as his amazing instincts, but I had decided on a new tactic. Too often I acted as the aggressor against my master, so that this time I decided to act as the silent, passive one in hopes that the master would attack me.

Passively, breathing smoothly in and smoothly out, I waited for Zaichi to make the first move. For his part, the wise sword master stood passively, serene and calm, and waited, also. We continued this for a half an hour, which soon became an hour and still neither one of us moved.

“Merlin, this is usual, isn’t it?” the Lady asked.

“Yes,” he smiled. “Ask your son?”

“Lance, why is Sean not moving?” she asked him.

“He is using one of the master’s strength against him: patience.”

“Will this work?”

“Only time will tell,” he answered.

“This is strangely suspenseful,” Nan stated.

Lance understood my strategy. An hour became ninety minutes and neither of us moved. My legs started to hurt slightly from not moving and standing still so long, but I knew I could ignore that pain and much more. Master Zaichi waited with a smile on his face. Ninety minutes became two hours.

“I’m sorry to say I can’t stay to see how this ends,” the Lady said. “There is so much that needs to be prepared for the feast. I have to go.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” Merry told her.

“Mother, may I stay?” asked Nan.

“Yes, of course. Stay with you brother and watch how this ends.”

The Lady of the Lake left them and neither Zaichi nor I moved. I continued my smooth breathing. Closing my eyes now I allowed my other senses to listen for the master to make a move. Master Zaichi didn’t move, though. Two hours became three hours. Those who remained watching now sat on the grass and watched. Inari sat in Merry’s lap, while he stroked her fur. Nan, Benedict and Lance drank some fruit wine and ate fruit, which they got from Master Zaichi’s shelter.

“I have never seen my master so proud of a student,” Inari told Merry, who continued to stroke the fur on her back.

“He is surprised by Sean’s tactic?”

“He is happy with it. It shows that he has learned,” Inari contentedly said.

“How long do you think this can last?” Merry asked.

“Many more hours,” answered Inari.

Three hours became four hours and the afternoon lingered on. I continued to stand with my eyes shut, while Master Zaichi remained unmoving, serene and calm. We almost became like breathing statues. Inari now was in the shelter taking a nap out of the way of the sun, while Benedict snoozed on the grass. Lance, Nan, and Merry, though, were hypnotized by what they saw. It was a battle of wills with teacher and student showing no sign of breaking.

Six hours and still neither one of us moved. I began to wish that I held my sword at my side, like Master Zaichi did. My arms were tiring along with my legs that were becoming stiff. Yet, he knew he could continue this for hours. Master Zaichi appeared unchanged.

“I am thinking of biting his ankle,” Inari told Merry.

“Whose ankle?”

“Sean’s,” she answered.

“I can’t allow you to do that,” Merry said with a smile as he sat and watched us.

“Merry?”

“Yes, Lance.”

“Do you think we can get some dinner? I am starting to get hungry.”

“Well, I was hoping for Sean or Master Zaichi would have a preference tonight, but I can see what you mean. The light will fade in another hour or two.”

“I could go back to the palace and get some food and bring it back,” Nan offered.

“That won’t be necessary. I have an idea. Who wants Chinese takeout?” asked Merry.

“What is that?” asked Inari excitedly.

“Oh, that’s right you live in the Dragon Realm, so you actually eat real Japanese and Chinese food. Let me introduce you to a treat,” Merry said then he stood up. “I will be back in no time.”

Merry opened up a doorway and stepped through. While Merry went to get Chinese food, we continued our dead patient game of chess. A half hour passed and the doorway re-opened and Merry came through carrying a large brown paper bag filled with boxes of Chinese takeout food. He placed the bag on the grass, opened it up and began to dole out white boxes of Chinese food.

He handed Lance his favorite of Beef and Broccoli; Benedict got a box of Sweet and Sour Chicken; for Nan he got her mixed vegetables in garlic sauce; for Inari he got her an order of steamed dumplings; and finally for himself he got an order of sesame noodles. Using plastic forks they began to eat their dinner, while continuing to watch us.

“I like this Chinese takeout, Merry,” Inari stated.

“I got you two orders of dumplings, if you wish,” Merry said.

“Thank you,” Inari said excitedly.

Merry took out the other order of dumplings and placed them on the grass. Inari dug into her second order.

“Merlin, this is good. Can I get the recipe,” asked Nan.

“I don’t know how they conjure this up. But I will gladly get Chinese for you when you come to the Human Realm,” he answered.

“It is a deal.”

Another hour passed. My back was starting to ache slightly. I ignored it. Master Zaichi had taught me well enough so that pain now helped to deepen my focus instead of ruin it. This was one of the accomplishments I was most proud of.

The sun began to set. Merry and Nan lit torches for them and they continued to watch.

“You know this is kind of epic,” said Benedict. “Don’t you think so, Lance?”

“It’s amazing. The discipline on display is awe inspiring,” Lance said.

“I’m bored,” yawned Inari.

“I want to go back to the palace, but I can’t take my eyes off of them,” Nan stated.

Several more hours passed and night fell. It was dark. I now added tiredness to go along with the pain. But I had set on this course of action against Zaichi and I was going to stick with it. Master Zaichi remained unmoving.

More time passed. Benedict slept, as did Inari and Nan. Only Lance and Merry remained awake watching us play out their chess game of patience. Merry asked Lance: “Do you think I should make it rain on them?”

“No, Merry. Let them finish this properly. I’m starting to think Sean might win.”

“He already has, Lance. He has lasted this long against Master Zaichi. This will be talked about no matter who wins and people will be impressed with Sean.”

“I didn’t think about that,” Lance said with a smile.

Finally, I had to go to the bathroom. I could ignore it, but I was having trouble ignoring it. I wanted to go to the bathroom. Slowly taking a deep breath, I raised my bamboo sword above my head in a quick motion, which made Master Zaichi quickly come alive. Zaichi brought his bamboo up to his waist and then he moved quickly at me. I managed to block his strike, jumped up into the air, and over the sword. When I came down he rolled and started to run towards the shelter.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I yelled.

In a state of shock Lance and Merry watched me. Master Zaichi called back: “I am right behind you. I have to go, also.”

Using the bamboo cane as a cane, Zaichi headed towards the shelter, as he passed Lance and Merry and spoke: “I hope you saved some of this Chinese takeout for my student and I.”

“Don’t worry, I did,” Merry said as he watched the blind master and me hustle into his home.

nnnn

This was my second visit to the lady of the Lake’s throne room. Unlike the last time, though, there were no guards to intimidate, and only Nimue, Nan, and Tegan awaited me. Walking down the middle of the room towards the marble throne, I saw that Tegan and Nimue stood to the right of the throne while Nan stood to the left. I stopped in front of the throne and nodded.

The red curtain pulled behind the throne moved aside and the Lady of the Lake entered the room. With deliberate speed and motions, she made her way to the throne and sat down. I bowed to her.

“Thank you for coming per my request,” the Lady said to me.

“There is no need to thank me for something I am willing do, Lady,” I said.

Once again she was struck at how composed I was. She still judged me on my age rather than on all that I had learned.

“My daughter has made a request to visit the Human Realm when you return there. I do not take this request lightly, as my daughter has the bloodline and right of succession to the Lady of the Lake. She is a powerful druid. Your realm fascinates her so I called you here to ask you for your opinion, Arthur Sean McCoul. Should I let my daughter visit your realm?”

I paused to think about his answer. The Lady of the Lake did nothing without a greater purpose. If she was asking for my opinion, there was a deeper reason for that. “Honesty, son, try always to be honest.” I heard my father’s voice inside me say, as I remembered his words so clearly.

“Yes, she should be allowed. Druids have spent too much time away from a realm that was once home to them. It is time that some of your kind visit again and come to know humanity again,” he answered.

“What can she learn from your realm?” the Lady asked.

“She can learn whatever she is open to learn. The Human Realm offers both the wonderful and horrors, just like human beings. Nan is smart enough to know what is worth learning from humanity and what isn’t. In the end whatever she learns will be up to her,” I said.

The Lady posed with steepled fingers and placed them in front of her mouth in order to hide a slight smile. In my short time on Avalon I had actually taught her a thing or two, but most of all I gave her the time to get to know her son Lance. It was still a difficult relationship, but she was glad to have started making changes in their relationship. Lance was an extraordinary male.

“Nan,” she addressed her daughter.

“Yes, Lady.”

“If he will have you as part of his fealty, you may go to the Human Realm until you are recalled to Avalon by me, or until you grow tired of it,” the Lady announced.

“Yes, Lady,” replied Nan with her face breaking out into a giant half moon shaped smile.

“Arthur Sean McCoul,” the Lady turned her attention back to me. “For the feast I am going to invite some of your clan from the Human Realm. Do you have anyone in particular that I should invite?”

“Lady, I would love to see whomever you invite, though there is someone I miss greatly,” I said.

“Who is this person?”

“Branwyn Fey.”

“Well then, along with Thomas Lake, Kieran McCoul, Fintain McCoul, and Benedict’s parents, I shall invite this Branwyn Fey and her mother. Will that satisfy you?”

“Lady, it will delight me,” I said.

“Now I must ask you, Arthur Sean McCoul, for one other favor,” the Lady stated.

“What is it, Lady?”

“Your name. I know you prefer Sean, but I request that you consider using Arthur, if you should pass the test at Bealtaine. Will you consider it?”

Arthur. I had heard that name often in my time here. For many it was a name that conjured up images of greatness. Arthur. Was I willing to live with that name and all its history? If my father had succeeded at Bealtaine, would he have taken the name Arthur and put away Liam? My father never had the chance to make that decision. Arthur, it was officially my first name, just as it was my father’s, and his father’s and so on and so forth down the line.

So many in the realms revered the name that I was sure he could live up to the name. Using Sean I could forge my own history, my own legend, and my own identity, but as Arthur I could only add to another’s legend. The original Arthur and I would become almost indistinguishable in time. Was that the way it was supposed to be, though? I remembered reading in a book somewhere that Arthur was: Hic Iacet Arturus Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus. Merry told me when he read that in a book that those words were the most important words in the book. Was this the true meaning behind Arthur being the once and future king?

Was Merry trying to tell me how important the name Arthur was as a symbol? Each succeeding Cathal would be called Arthur and add to the lore of the first Arthur. It made sense. Rex Quondam rexque Futurus. Was I the once and future king? By taking the name Arthur I could be keeping the symbol alive and symbols were so important to people of all races. Maybe the greatest importance of the Cathal was a symbol, as the once and future king? Arthur.

“Lady, I shall take the name Arthur if I succeed at Bealtaine. Arthur is my name, so I might as well use it proudly,” I stated.

“You will take the name?” she said with surprise.

“Yes, I will. It is important that Arthur always be the Cathal,” I said.

Her eyes lit up, as if to say that he understands. Merlin was right about this one; he is special. I had surprised her and in doing so I had passed some sort of test she had for me.

“You have shown wisdom greater than your years here,” the Lady said. “I shall request from the elves that they begin to prepare a sword for you, a battle sword worthy of Excalibur. It will take more than a year to prepare.”

Tegan glared at me. She didn’t trust anyone from the Human Realm and was shocked to see that her mother seemed to be, now trusting me. Her mother was falling under the charm of me, she thought, and she didn’t like it.

“I will accept a sword only after I have earned it,” I told her.

“If you succeed at Bealtaine, you will be the Cathal, but to earn your battle sword. You will need another test to earn the sword, though.”

“What test will that be?”

“I shall tell you after Bealtaine,” she answered me with a sincere smile lighting her face. “Now you must be fitted for a proper robe and clothes for the feast. Nan will show you to a tailor.”

“Thank you, Lady,” I bowed.

Nan left her mother’s side and escorted me out of the throne room. Once the door was closed, Nan gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“What is that for?” I asked her.

“For letting me join your fealty and for winning my mother over.”

“I haven’t won anyone over just yet, so you aren’t part of any fealty yet,” I protested.

“Yes, you have. You have won over my mother. You made her very happy back there. If you succeed you will be known as Arthur. Sean, this is remarkable; it is wonderful. The realms will be thrilled, at least, some realms. You will never make everyone happy. No one can. It’s been tried and it has been failed.”

Nan was in an excited mood, as she joined me. She began to escort down a long hallway: “Now let’s get you measured for some proper robes and clothes. This is going to be truly a great feast.”

“Let’s not get carried away. I still haven’t succeeded at Bealtaine.”

“You have to succeed now,” Nan teased me. “I want to have some more Chinese takeout. Merlin promised me more if I got to the Human Realm, so I want to get there and stay for a while. I don’t want to make this just a short visit.”

“Well, I guess I have to succeed now. You need to you’re your Chinese takeout addiction fed,” I laughed.

“See, things can be broken down to their very simplest. I like Chinese takeout food, so you have to succeed at Bealtaine that way I can stay in the Human Realm until I get tired of it. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? Just forget about all the other reasons you need to succeed. It’s all about the Chinese takeout,” Nan said and the two of us laughed as we continued down the hall.

nnnn

The feast was to be held by the great lake. In the open fields near the lake great white tents were set up. Some of the tents had tables of food and drink under them. One tent had musicians playing stringed instruments. A large tent, whose sides were enclosed in gauze, was set up for the Lady of the Lake and other dignitaries so that they could sit and view the proceedings. Long torches were stuck into the ground giving light.

On the lake itself great fires floated. Also, floating on the lake were rafts and walkways that allowed people to walk out to the rafts. On one large raft a band of horn and stringed playing musicians made more music. Avalon had been turned into a light an airy realm for the night. Benedict wore a black hooded robe with white clothing beneath it to honor his druid nature. Lance was attired in all black, his robe more similar to a kimono like Master Zaichi’s with a red belt tied around it where he now wore a katana and a the shorter wakizashi. I was dressed in a black hooded robe whose cuffs and hem were gilt. The color scheme underneath my robe had a little more color. I had black boots that came to my knees, black pants with a royal blue shirt that had a red dragon over my breast. In my belt I had two swords, the short sword gift from Alkimos and the katana, which was a gift from Zaichi and Inari. The dragon was not only a tribute to my teacher of the sword, but to his historic roots: I was part of the Pendragon bloodline.

Female druids and a few male druids greeted guests as they came. All about Lance, Benedict, and I silver doorways opened as Huldra, Nisse, Fey, Nixes, Slyphids, Celtae warriors, Galli warriors and other races that I had not met yet exited the doorways. It was astounding to see.

“This is something,” Benedict whispered.

“Yeah,” agreed Lance.

I felt slightly different about it, as every guest made sure to look for me once they were past the doorway. I was on display once again.

“I can’t wait for our clan to come. It’s been too long,” I stated.

“Yeah, it has been,” agreed Benedict.

“I do miss my father and the mountains,” Lance said.

Just then a doorway opened in front of us and Merry exited in his black robe. He bowed to me then with his left hand he motioned to the doorway and Branwyn exited. Dressed in a light white dress that went down to her calf, she looked radiant in my eyes. Her red hair fell now to her shoulder blades and when she saw me she ran to me. I picked her up in my arms and kissed her. Branwyn began to glow yellow.

“Don’t crush my daughter, you brute. She looks like a rabbit snuggling with a great bear,” Morgana stated as she exited the doorway, dressed in a blue version of Branwyn’s dress.

“Ma,” protested Branwyn.

I put Branwyn down. A smile lit my face: “I would never hurt her.”

“I’m not sure about that. You’ve gotten so big you might crush her by accident. What do they feed you here?” Morgana said to me.

“Hard work,” I answered.

The next through the doorway was Kieran then Fintain. After that came Benedict’s parents and finally Thomas Lake. Unexpectedly, after Thomas Lake exited the doorway, the lady of the Lake with her two male warrior bodyguards came over to us. She extended a hand to Merry, who kissed it. Everyone else bowed. She then walked over to Thomas Lake and kissed his cheek: “You have raised our son to be a wonderful young man.”

“Thank you, Lady,” he replied. “It has been a long time since I’ve seen you.”

“You and Lance must join me in my tent later,” she said then she left us along with her bodyguards.

“So this is the great feast in honor of realm unity,” said Merry. “It looks more like a chance for everyone to see Sean before his next test to me. I hate events like this, but I will say better you than me, Bear”

“It feels like I’m on display, too,” I said with Branwyn at my side.

“Well, we might as well make this an event to celebrate,” Kieran said.

“How?” I asked.

“I think we have a way,” he said then he looked at Morgana.

“Do you want me to tell them?” she asked him.

He nodded yes.

“Okay, coward,” she said then she looked at everyone. “Kieran and I are going to marry.”

Branwyn cried out with delight, while Fintain slapped his father on the back. Merry, the Wise’s, and Thomas Lake moved in next for embraces and kisses. When they were done, I went to Morgana first and kissed her cheek then I moved over to Kieran shook his hand then I hugged him.

“When will the marriage take place?” I asked.

“After Midsummer’s next. We thought that would be the best time,” Kieran answered.

“We wanted to wait til after everything was done and there was a chance to breathe,” Morgana said.

“Yes, well, I expect to give away the bride,” Merry said changing the subject quickly.

Midsummer, I thought, what happens at Midsummer? Dear God, I hope it doesn’t involve me.

“Happy people all around. What has happened to Avalon?” called out Inari.

Inari excitedly made her way towards us with Master Zaichi, who wore a formal kimono. They approached us with Inari leading the blind sword master holding her tail, so that he could make his way through the large gathering crowd.

“I liked Avalon better when it was less filled with people,” he said. “Though, I am honored to meet you.”

“My master is happy so I am happy,” Inari stated.

“Master Zaichi, it is always a pleasure,” Merry said. “Let me introduce everyone.”

While Merry introduced each person to Zaichi and Inari, I took my chance to pull Branwyn aside and kiss her again. I had missed her more than I was willing to admit.

“You’ve gotten taller,” she said as she stared into my chest.

“It was bound to happen,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll admit. I missed you. You’re easy on the eyes,” she told me.

“Yeah, me, too, I missed you, too,” I agreed.

“If my mother moves into Kieran’s house after they’re married, we’ll get plenty of time to see each other then,” she said.

“We’ll get plenty of time before that happens. I want to spend time with you before Bealtaine,” I told her.

“I’m not sure about that,” she said softly. “You still have a lot to prove. And you still have to get ready for Bealtaine. I don’t want you to screw up because of me.”

“Bealtaine will be soon,” he stated.

“Bealtaine is only the start of it for you, Sean,” she sighed.

“Tell me more,” he inquired.

“I can’t. You’ll find out, Sean,” she told me then she pulled me down so that she could kiss me. “Let’s not think about those things know. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Master Zaichi and Inari along with Merry walked over to the couple. Inari howled at us.

“Young love, old ways, you two make a beautiful couple, though he is too large for you,” Inari chortled.

“Inari, be nice,” cautioned Master Zaichi.

“Come visit us in the Dragon Realm someday,” Inari said to me. “You will like it there.”

“I hope to visit there someday soon, Inari.”

“You have made me proud, Sean, very proud,” Master Zaichi said to me.

“And you, master, have made me a better man and pretty good with the sword,” I replied.

“Now, that is a compliment. A better man. Don’t you think, Merlin?” asked Master Zaichi.

“It is the best of compliments,” Merry agreed.

“Inari and I will leave now, though, I expect a visit from you in the Dragon Realm sometime after Bealtaine. I will not be there for your first test, as I know you will conquer it. Be well, and remember what I have taught you,” Zaichi said then he offered his right hand.

I shook his hand then I watched as Inari opened a doorway and led Mast Zaichi away.

“The Lady of the Lake will expect you to make a visit to her tent, Bear,” Merry told me.

The evening continued on to great fanfare. I was paraded in front of important people from other realms, some of who like King Arawn and King Gywnn Nudd I already knew. Everyone had advice to give me, words of wisdom to share, and insights that couldn’t wait. I smiled and shook hands, received good wishes and words then I was allowed to seek out my own guests. Finally, I caught up with Branwyn at a food tent with Fintain.

“The food here isn’t bad. This meat pie is a little too spicy, but not bad,” Fintain commented.

“They’ve pulled out all the stops for the guest, even making meat dishes for those races that eat meat,” I told him. “It’s usually just vegetables and fruits.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to live here then. I like ribs, grillin’, and barbecue,” he replied as he took another mouthful of a meat pie.

“Do you mind if I steal her?” I asked Fintain.

“Nay.”

Taking Branwyn by the hand we found our way to one of the floating pathways then we made our way out to an empty square raft that could have fit six couples. As Nixes swam in the lake water near us and the music drifted through the air I held Branwyn close and started to dance with her.

“Your katana is poking me,” she giggled.

“Sorry,” I said, as a flush of embarrassment reddened my cheeks then I adjusted my katana, so it wouldn’t poke her. I resumed dancing with her.

“That’s better,” she commented.

“I can’t believe I finally get to go home with you guys tonight,” I said.

“I know. It’s great. Maybe we can convince Merry to give us a few days off. He’s been a taskmaster teaching us since you’ve been gone.”

“Well, Avalon hasn’t been easy, either.”

“Has Avalon been that bad?”

“Not bad, just not home,” I admitted to her.

“Home hasn’t been home without you,” she told me.

We continued to dance to the melodic music. Nixes swam close by their raft, stood up in the water then bowed towards me. They dove back into the water and disappeared.

“You have admirers,” teased Branwyn.

“I think they were bowing to you because you’re so beautiful,” I teased back.

“Don’t try and charm me,” Branwyn warned me.

We continued to dance atop of the black water. A floating fire passed by us highlighting our movements with its light. For me this was a good way to say goodbye to Avalon.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Month Thirty-one

Almost Bealtaine

___________________________

I awoke in my bed, for the first time in a very long time, in Kieran’s house. It was February 1st. My birthday would be coming up soon then in May I had the test of Bealtaine. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I heard shuffling and clanking in the kitchen and smelled bacon being cooked. Getting out of bed, I slipped on a T-shirt to go along with my sweat pants, which I borrowed from Kieran, and ventured into the kitchen.

“Morning, Bear,” Lucan said as he whipped up some breakfast.

“Good to see you, Lucan.”

“Lot more of you to see,” Lucan retorted.

I sat down at the kitchen table. Before my butt could even warm up the chair, Chota strolled into the kitchen. I smiled and pulled out the chair beside me for Chota to sit. As he passed by me, Chota rubbed his head then he sat.

“I’m glad to see you have long hair,” Chota said. “We have long hair in our tribe.”

“Yeah, I trimmed it once or twice but that’s all.”

“I’m going to have to give you an Indian name soon,” Chota mused, “maybe I’ll call you Red Headed Bear.”

“Sean sounds nice,” I offered.

“Here you go,” Lucan said as he placed a mug of coffee in front of each of us.

“I haven’t had coffee since I left,” I commented.

“I bet you missed it,” Lucan said.

“Yeah, especially for the first three days.”

“I’ve given up coffee more times than I can remember,” Chota said, “the interesting thing is that it’s never for more than a couple of weeks.”

“Coffee is powerful stuff,” Lucan agreed.

Nan, who came back to the Human Realm with them the night before, sauntered into the kitchen wearing one of Morgana’s nightgowns and a bathrobe. She looked natural, attractive, and very much at ease. I noticed that the expression on Chota’s face turned from amused to captivated. His eyes followed as she walked over to the chair across from me and sat down.

“Care for some coffee, pretty lady?” Lucan asked her.

“I’ve never had coffee. Is it good?”

“With some cream and sugar it’s a little heaven on earth.”

“Well, that sounds good. I’ll try it,” said Nan.

Lucan prepared her a mug of coffee then he gave it to her. Tentatively, she took a sip. A smile of appreciation creased her lips making Lucan happy and further captivating Chota.

“See, it’s as good as I said, right?” said Lucan.

“I like it.”

“I like coffee, too,” said Chota.

“That’s nice,” Nan replied to him. She looked straight into his eyes, which made him spill a little of his coffee.

“Shoot!” he exclaimed, as he grabbed some napkins and started mopping up his mess.

“Careful there,” she said to him. “My name is Nan.”

“Howdy. I’m Chota,” he responded without making eye contact this time.

“Oh, you’re the dogman, aren’t you?”

“You like dogs?” he asked her.

“We don’t have any in Avalon.”

“I could change into one for you if you want.”

“Oh, thank you. Maybe later,” she said.

“Any time,” he answered.

Lucan placed a platter of eggs, bacon, and potatoes with toast in front of Chota and me. He then appraised Nan for a moment: “You ain’t one of the vegetarian druids, are you?”

“Only the warriors eat meat in our realm.”

“I bet they are the only ones who smile, too,” he said. “Can you eat eggs?”

“Um…you know, I’ll have the eggs and toast,” she said.

“That’s the attitude,” Lucan said. “We’ll make a meat eater out of you yet.”

“You’ve made him happy. He complains a lot but he likes to cook for people,” I told her.

“Not a bad cook, either,” added Chota.

“Oh. It is considered an honor to serve people in Avalon. Maybe I can learn how to cook,” she said.

“I’ll teach you,” Chota quickly said.

“Oh, you know how to cook?” asked Nan.

“Not that well, but…you better let Lucan teach you. If you’re going to learn, you might as well learn how to cook well.”

Nan laughed at this. Chota peered down at his plate of food and started noshing. The next person to enter the kitchen was Kieran, who seemed well rested.

“Good morning,” he greeted everyone. He sat down and was immediately served a mug of black coffee by Lucan.

“Lucan, you’re a prince,” he thanked him.

“Nay, I’m a serf at best.”

“Do you still have serfs in the Human Realm,” asked Nan.

Everyone in the kitchen paused and stared at her for a moment. First Kieran then Lucan followed me and finally Chota laughed. She blushed.

“You have a lot to learn about us, don’t you?” asked Kieran.

“Yes.”

“Maybe she should sit on Merry’s class with the kids,” suggested Lucan.

“That’s not a bad idea.”

“Merlin teaches here,” she said with awe.

“Yeah, he has always been a teacher,” Kieran told her.

“That is wonderful. I would love to sit and watch him teach.”

“Little old for high school, aren’t you?” asked Chota.

“I am nineteen. I will be twenty on…I believe you would call it the month of February on the 12th day.”

“Hey, my birthday is the 13th. We can have a combined birthday party for Nan and me. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds like a reason to celebrate,” commented Kieran.

“Heck, I better start cooking for this one now,” Lucan stated.

“I will help you,” Nan said to him.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. You go watch Merry teach after breakfast,” he said then he placed some scrambled eggs and toast in front of her.

With great caution she picked up a fork and sampled the yellow, steaming hot scrambled eggs. After the first cautious bite she took another large forkful.

“I guess she likes it,” Lucan said.

Kieran looked at me. I had grown so much in just a year. It wasn’t just the hair or the muscles, but much more than that. I had become so much like my father. Tears began to cloud his eyes. Without being noticed he wiped them away.

“It’s good to have you home, Sean,” he said.

“It is good to be home.”

nnnn

Nan enjoyed sitting in on Merry’s classes. For her they were insight into the Human Realm. For the class she was a wonderful distraction, especially since Merry felt the end to explain everything to her instead of the class. After class each student had to spend two hours practicing their skill. Branwyn and Etain worked under Morgana using exercises supplied by Merry. Everyone else now worked with Lucan and Kieran being pushed hard to get their skills where they needed to be. Everyone was anticipating my test at Bealtaine.

For Lance, Benedict, and I, we did not rejoin our classmates or partake in their exercises. Lance was now a sword master, so he no longer needed training. He chose something more important for himself, which was to be my fulltime bodyguard, even if I didn’t want one. Benedict had come far with the help of Inari and the druids and his skills were now even more polished and stronger than Branwyn, who used to be the strongest of their group. Merry had him working in seclusion on his ability to focus and communicate with nature during the day. It was the subtleties that he still had trouble with and Merry expected him to conquer his weakness, especially if he was going to train with Merry to learn the ways of a Merlin.

For me the days were now a time to mentally prepare myself for Bealtaine. The months would go quickly until May and a return to Avalon. I had no idea what the test I was going to be that I’d face; only that I wanted to pass it. Yes, I wanted to pass it. Finally, I admitted to myself that I wanted to be the Cathal. I wanted to succeed where my father failed; I wanted to live up to my potential; and I wanted to be the next Arthur. There was no more denying it for me. I did not want all that I had gone through up until now to be for nothing.

My father must have been devastated to fail becoming Cathal. All those years of hard work and people’s expectations wasted. If I failed I would have wasted but a few short years and goodwill, but my father had wasted so much more time and goodwill being the potential next one. I didn’t want to have wasted any time, or anything. Like a stray thought that came while concentrating on an important matter, a memory of my father entered my head.

I had taken karate lessons for a month when I was nine. My parents thought it would be a good way for me to build confidence. Unlike most of the kids in class, I didn’t want to be there. I was blissfully happy with myself as I was. After only the first day I thought I was sure I wasn’t good enough in comparison to everyone else which upset me for reasons I couldn’t understand at nine, so I asked my mother if I could quit. She said yes and I did. When we got home, my father, who wasn’t angry but seemed slightly sad, took me aside and told me: “Never fear failure. It is only part of life; do not fear ever having tried, or ever having given it your all. Failure is only a lesson, but never giving it your all is a way of cheating yourself. Don’t cheat yourself, son.”

My father probably saw that I was afraid of failing in front of all those other kids my own age. I didn’t want to cheat myself this time. I wanted to give it my all; I wanted to succeed. It was no longer a difficult thing to admit to for me, but I wanted to be the Cathal. I didn’t want to cheat myself. Now for the next few months I needed to not cheat myself and to prepare to succeed.

nnnn

We decided on the 12th to be the combined birthday party for Nan and me. Again the backyard was filled with four Chimineas to warm it up for everyone. Two grills were set up for roasting vegetables and hot dogs, burgers, sausages, and more. Morgana convinced Kieran to string white Christmas lights on trees in the backyard, as well on the house so that the party could proceed into the night. This was more than birthday celebrations for two it was a letting off of steam for all before the next test, which if successful would be followed by more.

“So we were in Elizabethton last week,” Cedric was telling me, as I sat beside Branwyn.

“Who is we?” I asked.

“Me, Fintain, Wayne. Garth was off doing something on his own. I mean you took Lance and Benedict with you,” he answered.

“I’m still not sure that I’m going to forgive you not taking me,” Wayne said to me.

“Sorry about that,” I replied.

“Well, I thank you for it,” Benedict said and raised his can of soda in a toast to me.

“Yeah, you would be happy. You come home a freakin’ wizard or mage almost and Lance comes back a sword master,” harumpfed Fintain.

Etain, who sat across from Benedict asked him: “Could you show me some of what you’ve learned?”

“Sure,” answered Benedict.

“Okay, back to my story,” Cedric demanded. “We were in Elizabethton when six of the kids from the high school decided to give us a hard time. Well, I know we are supposed to ignore stuff like that, but they irritated me…”

“When someone irritates you, Cedric, it usually means that you got someone else to show them-up,” Benedict chided him.

“Well, I found out that they were on the wrestling team in their high school, so I made a bet that Fintain could pin their best wrestler.”

“How much was the bet for?” I asked.

“Fifteen bucks.”

“What did you spend it all on?” asked Lance.

“A movie,” he answered. “I guess you know that Fintain pinned him in seconds. No three of them could pin Fintain. It was a beautiful sight.”

“Well, done, Fintain,” I said to him then I caught out of the corner of my eye Nan standing at the grill grilling up some squash and ears of corn. Chota stood near her acting as her personal assistant. Whatever she needed he got for her.

At the other grill Lucan along with Thomas Lake grilled up the meat. A white cooked meat smelling puff of smoke drifted into the air when he opened up the grill top to check on the food.

“We’ll have food soon. I hope everyone is hungry,” called out Lucan.

Many voices called back to him telling him of their deep desire to eat. I laughed to myself. I had missed this sort of thing in Avalon, this gathering of family.

“Hey,” Branwyn said to me. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing much. I’m just happy.”

“I’m glad about that.”

With Thomas Lake prepping the buns, Lucan prepared a platter of burgers for what he called the kiddie table. Thomas brought the platter over and placed it down in the middle of the table then he left and Fintain and Cedric were the first to grab a burger. Lance passed Branwyn and I burgers then he took one for himself.

Just then a flash of unexpected lightning lit the sky and a silver doorway opened. Merry, who sat with Kieran and Morgana, quickly stood up and was ready for battle. Coming through the doorway was a sensuous looking woman, dressed in black leather pants and a black shirt that seemed to have a long train in the back, came through the doorway followed by a striking teenage girl, who looked enough like the woman to be her daughter. The teenage girl was dressed in a similar fashion.

“Vivianne, this is a surprise,” Merry said with great calm.

Vivianne scanned the proceedings. When she saw Nan, a feline smile passed across her lips: “My sister’s daughter. What a pleasure to see you, Nan.”

“I wish I could reciprocate the sentiment, Aunt,” Nan said.

“It’s a shame that manners have died along with chivalry,” Vivianne stated then she motioned for the teenage girl to step forward.

“This is Agrona. She is in direct descent of Medraut’s line. I thought it would be nice for her to meet her cousin, once or twice removed.”

“Agrona, the Celtic Goddess of strife and war. How darling,” said Merry. “Welcome Agrona. I hope you have a nickname you prefer.”

“Rona,” she said with a sweet sound voice meant for temptation.

“So which one is the descendant of Arthur’s goodie-two-shoe side of the family?” asked Vivianne.

I stood up, even though Branwyn tried to keep me down: “I am Arthur Sean McCoul.”

“Fintain McCoul,” said Fintain as he stood up, also. This brought a smile to Kieran’s lips.

“Fintain McCoul. A strong name but you cannot be the Cathal. Anyway, Arthur Sean looks so much like the original Arthur, a big red bear, strong and broad shoulder, and even handsome. A hero born, a legend reborn,” Vivianne stated.

I glanced at Chota. She used the same description he had used for an Indian name for me. How did she do that? How was she spying on them? I winked at him and Chota smiled.

“He’s attractive,” said Rona.

“Yes, he is. Too bad he is going to be our blood enemy,” Vivianne said.

“This is unusually bold for you Vivianne. Why do you visit?” asked Merry.

“Because I think you finally have a contender and I wanted to size him up with my eyes…”

“Instead of your spying,” I finished her sentenced. “Do you have cat sidhe keeping an eye on us, or is there something else you have spying on us?”

“Distrustful, isn’t he?” said Rona.

Her black eyes met my blue eyes. We stared at each other for several moments. Merry had warned me that Medraut’s line would be trained to hate me and want me dead. I saw in her eyes the expression of a cat playing with a mouse. I did not like being a mouse.

“Hopefully she has something more than looks to defeat me with,” I remarked.

“Oh, she does. She is druid…”

“She is not druid,” corrected Nan.

“If you say so,” replied Vivianne. “She is a mage then. It doesn’t matter what you call it, just as long as you realize it is a power greater than the one you possess.”

I yawned then I sat back down and started to eat my burger. Fintain did the same. Lance, who had his hand on his sword, which he wore always now, relaxed. I was not going to be baited or provoked.

“Vivianne, would you and Rona care to join us?” asked Merry. “We were just about to eat. Afterwards we plan on having cake and ice cream. I think you’ll enjoy yourself.”

“Do you mock me, Merlin?” asked Vivianne.

“No, I don’t mock you. I choose to ignore you and your belligerence. There is nothing you can do here and,” he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A pulse escaped Merry’s body. Everyone felt it, especially Vivianne and Rona, who flinched with pain. But more than them felt it. A few cries of pain could be heard in the trees and in the grass. Suddenly, seven small green and black newts morphed into small grey colored pudgy garden gnomes with razor sharp teeth. They shivered with fear.

“Take your Alp-luachra spies with you when you leave before I feed them salt and they die of thirst,” Merry stated.

“You are getting old Merlin. I would have thought you discovered my spies earlier,” she said.

“Maybe I knew they were there. I find the best way to deal with darkness is light and truth. We have nothing to hide here, Vivianne,” he told her.

“Come, Rona, take a last look at the one who might be your rival,” Vivianne said to Rona.

The Alp-luachra stayed close to Rona, who stroked one of their heads. Leaving the Alp-luachra behind her, she sauntered slowly over to the table. I looked about me and saw everyone was on guard, except Lance, who seemed distracted by her. She came up to our table and smiled at me, causing Branwyn to snare at her. Turning to leave, she ran one of the long black painted fingernails of her right hand across Lance’s neck causing him to shrug and roll his neck. Lance couldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was, as if he was enchanted by her. I noted this. Rona returned to Vivianne’s side.

“He isn’t much,” she said to Vivianne.

“They never are,” replied Vivianne.

“Yet, they always seem to succeed,” Merry interjected.

“Yes,” Vivianne said then she turned and opened up a doorway and entered through it with Rona, who waved goodbye to Sean. The Alp-luachra followed quickly behind them.

“I don’t know about you, but I hope Sean is the future Cathal so we can kick some dark butt,” Denara exclaimed.

A titter of laughter escaped everyone. Merry took in a deep breath of air filling of his lungs then with a force few had ever seen him exert he blew a great wind at the trees which surrounded them. The sound of whimpering could just be heard above the great wind. Whatever was in the woods either spying or stalking us was forcibly removed.

“I want no more Aes Sidhe or their minions to bother this party. I have been looking forward to this cake and ice cream for days,” he stated then he sat back down.

“You know you can be scary sometimes, Merry,” said Kieran.

“I know,” replied Merry.

“Who wants sausages and hot dogs?” called out Lucan.

Hands were raised. Not thinking about it I raised my hand. My mind was now on Rona. The thought of her being raised to think of nothing but hating me and wanting me dead, sent a chill down my spine. She didn’t even really know me. We shared a similar bloodline, yet she played in the dark and I played in the light. If they had gotten to me the night my parents were murdered would they have killed me or taken me to the Sidhe? I was a clean slate. They could have taken me away and tried to make me their pawn. And what if we had gotten to Medraut’s descendants first, could we have made them good instead of evil?

I got up from my seat. Branwyn started to get up also, but I kissed her forehead: “Stay. I need to talk to Merry in private.

“Okay.”

Walking over to Merry’s table and I waved to him to join him. Merry picked up his hot dog with everything on it and then motioned Nan to join us. She was sampling her first sausage. Nan liked it enough to take it with her to join us. We walked down to the lake’s edge.

“I still prefer veggies and fruits but this is tempting,” she said then she took another bite.

“Yes, Sean.”

“Merry, do we know how to find those who are part of Medraut’s bloodline?”

“Well, that is an interesting question. Nan would you like to explain,” Merry said to her.

“In Avalon there are records that have been kept of that bloodline but those records stop with our contact with the Human Realm around 800 A.D. or so.”

“Do the Protector Clans have any records?” I asked.

“Some,” replied Merry as he ate his hot dog. “Why, Bear?”

“We need to get to them before the Aes Sidhe do. Just because they have Medraut’s bloodline in them, it doesn’t make them evil. We might be able to stop them from falling into darkness, if we reach them first.”

Merry’s face lit up with joy: “Exactly what I have been saying for years.”

“The Lady of the Lake will not allow it,” said Nan.

“If I am the Cathal, I don’t have to listen to her, do I?”

“No, you don’t,” Nan replied and she softly laughed. “I can help. My skills are excellent at seeking out bloodlines once I have a sample of either their hair or blood.”

“How do we get a sample?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about that, Bear. I can manage that when the time comes. You just go do well at Bealtaine, so that we can shake things up. I mean things haven’t been shaken up in so long that it’s about time. Stagnancy, like entropy, just isn’t good for anyone.”

“Okay, Merry, I will do well at Bealtaine, so we can shake things up.”

“I’m really glad I’ll be part of your fealty,” Nan said then she finished off her sausage. “I want another.”

“Go ask Chota. I have no doubt he’ll supply another for you,” Merry told her.

“Okay,” Nan said and she went off.

“I feel the wind of change coming, Bear. And it is going to be blowing hard and for a long time.”

“And where is this wind coming from?” I asked.

“You,” he answered. “Now, let’s celebrate.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Month Thirty-four

Bealtaine

_______________

May had arrived. Although Bealtaine officially started on the first day of May, I was not due for my test in Avalon for another three days. The weather for May 1st was spectacular, neither cold nor hot. Wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans I strolled along the lake with an overall wearing Branwyn. Staying not too far behind them was Lance and Wayne, who had started taking sword lessons from Lance.

“Nervous?” asked Branwyn.

“I feel anxious more than nervous. I just want to get this over with,” I replied.

“It’ll be great to get this over with,” she agreed.

“Branwyn, do you know the history of Bealtaine?”

“I do. It’s an ancient time, a time of bonfires, purification and transition for many in the Human Realm. It also a time of hope for the coming harvest and it is a time when we perform ritual acts and enchantments to protect ourselves for the year from those in the other worlds, or Realms, as we know it. Most people today don’t understand the importance of Bealtaine, but we Protector Clans keep the old ways and protections alive. If we didn’t our realm would be overrun by otherworld darkness,” she explained to me.

“Merry told me that I was the embodiment of the ritual protection of this realm.”

“That’s a nice way to view it,” she said with a smile. “The people of Wicce…”

“Wicce?” I asked.

“I keep forgetting you weren’t born being raised on all of this. Wicce, white witches and their covens: They are aware of the realms and all of this, but they try very hard to remain neutral. This is as opposed to Warlocks and oathbreakers who are black witches. They’re a nasty piece of work. They are also in league with the Aes Sidhe.”

“I could have guessed that one,” I sighed.

“Unfortunately, the Aes Sidhe gets around.”

“Okay, interesting to know. I wonder when Merry was going to tell me about them.”

“Maybe he expects me and others to start filling you in,” she suggested.

“Maybe,” I smiled.

“As I was saying the people of Wicce think of you as, or I should say, the Cathal as a fulcrum. He is the support who causes change. They don’t judge the change as good or bad, just as change.”

“You sound like you like the white witches a little bit,” I said to her.

“I respect them. They have great skills and they are very respectful and fond of the Fey.”

“So, are you my little white witch then?” I teased her.

“Be careful or I’ll change you into a toad. I am a Fey,” she laughed.

Suddenly, my expression darkened: “I have still so much to learn, Branwyn.”

“You know, Sean, I think that isn’t a bad thing. The less you know about these things the fewer preconceptions you have about them. Maybe Merry planned it that way with you.”

“Hey, when did you get so smart?”

“My mother keeps me on my toes. She thinks I have a lot to offer.”

“I know that you do,” I told her. “You have more to offer than I think I deserve.”

“I don’t think so,” she corrected me. “I think I have exactly what I need.”

All of a sudden a red fox ran from the bushes. Lance immediately drew his sword and ran to my side, but I motioned him to put his sword away.

“Hello Inari,” I said to the fox. “What are you doing here?”

“I have come to wish you luck, young one, and to warn you,” Inari replied.

“Thank you for wishing me luck. I hope you don’t mind if I’m more interested in your warning.”

“You would disappoint me if you weren’t more interested in my warning,” the fox said then she sat down on her butt and looked up at me like a dog waiting for snack. “Do you have food? I am hungry.”

“Sorry, I have nothing,” I said.

Wayne came forward, unwrapped a Three Musketeers bar and tossed it at Inari, who snapped it out of the air. After a few chews and a swallow, Inari smiled.

“I like your food in this realm,” Inari told us.

“That was a candy bar,” I told her.

“Good.”

“Inari, you have a warning for me,” I pushed her to talk.

“Yes, yes. Master Zaichi forgot to warn you about the tests of Bealtaine. He said that the enemy you face is never a simple, straight, forward battle. The druids and other at Bealtaine are testing more than skill. He warns if you fight it like a battle, you will fail.”

“Did he say how I should fight it?” I asked.

“He said that you must look at yourself and not at your opponent,” Inari stated then she stood up on all fours. “I will go now, but next time we meet I will expect more of those candy bars.”

Inari ran back into the bushes and disappeared.

“It’s never easy, is it?” I expressed my inner thoughts.

“Something’s are,” she said then took me by the hand and we started walking again.

nnnn

Bealtaine on Avalon had more in common with the Superbowl than it did with an ancient ritual in my opinion. In the short time I had been gone the druids built a large wooden stadium. And now all around that newly built stadium there were food stalls, musicians playing music, acrobats, and dancers entertaining a throng of representatives of races from the realms.

Morgana had taken everyone to Avalon early in the day, where they had a box waiting for them in the stadium. Dressed in our robes and formal attire for Avalon Merry and I were the last to arrive walking through a doorway that placed us in the middle of the chaos. It was late afternoon and a festival atmosphere reigned.

“Ahh, we do love Bealtaine,” Merry declared.

If the feast introduced me to some of the races from realms I hadn’t visited yet, this event added even more races for me to get to know. There were actual trolls and red haired creatures of spectral form that the Japanese called Shojo. Aside from Nixes in the lake, I spotted merfolk swimming along side them. Merry pointed to a small group of eleven white round headed fluffy bodied beings: “Those are Kodama, tree spirits.”

“Oh,” was my reply, as I spied kitsune, some with white fur, some with brown, and others with red fur like Inari. I then saw several pure white skinned, black haired women wearing white ice dresses. Sean pointed at them: “Who are they?”

“Yuki-Onna. Snow women of the Sniwan Realm.”

“I bet Caillech Bhuerr likes them.”

“No, she doesn’t. They are competition,” commented Merry. “They have really shown up for this one.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

“I better get you to the stadium to get ready for your test.”

“Are all these races here to watch me?”

“Yes, Sean. They are.”

As Merry escorted me through the crowd, everyone parted allowing us to pass. Some pointed and whispered and others merely nodded their heads, or what I hoped was a head. It was overwhelming. But I couldn’t let it overwhelm me, though. I needed to be focused just as I had been taught. Inhaling deep I brought as much air into my lungs, as I could then slowly released it. Now, in my mind there was no one else there, just me and my opponent.

In front of the stadium a giant bonfire blazed away. It was fifteen feet in heights and twice as wide and it burned away. People as they passed by it threw whatever was handy into it to keep the flame burning red and orange and hot. Merry and I entertained the stadium. Merry lead me in a different direction then everyone else. We walked down a long hallway where at the end of it was a single bolted door. Merry stopped me at the door.

“The stadium is filled with twelve thousand souls wanting to see you succeed, not fail,” Merry. “Forget about them. They are meaningless. If you are here for them then this is folly. You must be here to fulfill your own destiny and no one else’s. So I say to you, Arthur Sean McCoul, do this for you, and, if I may add, do it for your father.”

“I will. Thank you, Merry.”

Merry opened the door to the stadium. It was a great grass field. In the middle of the field stood the Lady of the Lake, a male Fey, Inari, and Caillech Bhuerr. Merry and I proceeded to them. When we arrived in the middle, Merry broke away from my side and joined the small group who were waiting for me. The lady of the Lake raised her hands to quiet the gathered crowd.

As people started to quiet down, I looked about me at the many gathered to watch me be tested. On grass level there were boxes set up for some to view. I saw one box filled with those I cared for. Branwyn was in Fey mode and was glowing a light blue. I laughed. She was worried. Chota gave me a big thumbs-up, while Lance, Wayne, Garth, Cedric, Benedict, and Fintain gave me a Romanesque salute. The women in the box, except Denara, waved to me. Etain looked like she was on the verge of tears. The moment had finally come. Everyone was finally quiet.

“We are here to test Arthur Sean McCoul,” called out the Lady of the Lake. “We will find out today if he has within him the ability to be the Cathal.”

A great roar came over the crowd, which was deafening. I thought I recognized some of those I had met from the Highland games in the crowd. For a moment I thought of waving, but then I decided that a wave could wait until after I had succeeded. The crowd quieted down.

“Each potential Cathal has been tested in a similar way. They must defeat an opponent, their greatest opponent in fact. It is in defeating this opponent that they may truly know their limitations and know themselves. We gathered on this feel will now conjure Arthur Sean McCoul’s opponent,” she told the crowd then she stepped back.

Combining their powers Merry, the Lady, Inari, the male Fey, and Caillech Bhuerr combined their powers. A short distance away from me a patch of ground began to crumble. Grass and dirt started piling on top of itself until there was a mound equal to me in height and mass then a cloud of dust formed around this mound. I watched and waited to see what they conjured as my greatest opponent.

Slowly, the dust began to settle and a figure could be made out. When the figure became visible; I saw that I was looking at myself, a perfect duplicate of me right down to my robe, red hair and swords that I wore. The crowd roared with appreciation. The Lady of the Lake stepped forward again.

“This is your opponent,” she said to me in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone. “Conquer him and you are the Cathal.”

The Lady of the Lake turned and left, as did the Fey and Inari. Merry hesitated for a moment, smiled then he waved goodbye and left. The only one left was Caillech Bhuerr. She strode over to me.

“If you succeed, I will owe the Cathal a favor, which I don’t mind. But if you don’t, I will owe a measly warrior, which irritates me. Keep that in mind,” she told me then strode off the field.

With her exit I was alone on the field with myself. It was a dizzying proposition. I hoped that this duplicate was merely a duplicate that looked like me and not one that actual thought and fought like me. Battles were hard enough against strangers.

I took off my hooded robe and tossed it aside. When I looked over at my opponent I saw that my duplicate had done the same thing. I decided to start with drawing my katana, as did my opponent. How can I defeat an opponent who knows what I am going to do? His moves are exactly like mine. This is becoming annoying.

Needing to test if the duplicate was more than just a duplicate, I raised the katana above my head and charged. The duplicate did the same. We struck at the same time our blades causing a loud metal on metal sound to pierce the air then we each backed away. I was now sure that this conjured opponent was a duplicate of myself made from a bit of combined magic. We started circling each other.

The thought occurred to me that surprise might work, although I wasn’t sure how to surprise myself. Continuing to circle each other, I quickly grabbed my short sword and tossed it at the duplicate. As my sword hit the duplicate in the left shoulder, the duplicate’s short sword stuck me in my left shoulder causing me to flinch in great pain. Carefully, I pulled the sword out while keeping an eye on my opponent. It was then that I noticed the difference between the two of us. While he bled, dirt merely escaped my opponent’s wounds. As I tossed the short sword back to my opponent he did the same.

My short sword landed at my feet. I bent down and picked it up and put it back in its sheath. The one difference I thought between me and my duplicate was that I bled, which meant that too many wounds would weaken me. They would not weaken my opponent, though. I searched my brain for a way to deal with my opponent who happens to be me. Then I remembered Inari’s warning and her advice. I had to look within myself to beat my opponent. Look within yourself, I thought. Was the answer to be found in insight or was Inari being playful?

I wielded my katana with a flourish, as did my duplicate. Just to take time until I figured out a new method or strategy, I attacked the duplicate. The exchanged blow after blow, each deflecting the other, until ten exhausting minutes had passed and I backed away. My opponent did the same. My left shoulder ached from the early wound and I saw that his shirt in that area was wet with blood. Taking a moment, I tore some material from my other sleeve and stuck it in the wounds to stop the blood flow. When I looked at my duplicate, as it did the same thing, except when it tore material from its sleeve it exposed grass and dirt on its arm instead of skin.

Look within yourself for the answer, I thought. I was made of flesh, bone, and blood and my duplicate was made of dirt and grass. We were different after all. So far my duplicate had done everything I had done. I wondered if that would continue, so I tested it. I took my short sword out of its sheath again and threw it to the ground. It stuck in the ground with its handle facing the sky. My duplicate did the same thing. I laughed, so did the duplicate.

I now knew what to do. Taking my katana I stuck it into the ground, also. The duplicate did the same thing. Now I was ready for the most important part of my plan. Taking several deep breaths I got up a head of steam and ran at the duplicate. The duplicate did the same. In the middle of the field we collided, dirt and grass against flesh, bone, muscle, and blood. It was painful, like tackling a wall, but as I rolled away from myself I saw that I had dented the duplicate.

Another deep breath and I attacked myself again. Judo wouldn’t work for this, I thought, I needed brute force. Closing my hands into fists I began to pummel myself, just as the duplicate began to pummel me. I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to sustain the beating, but I knew I needed to put cracks and dents in the duplicates surface. Enough dents and cracks and I guessed that a Sean made of dirt and grass would begin to crumble away.

I wasn’t sure how much of this I could take, but I knew it was my only chance at success. Finally, I stumbled back to see what damaged I had done. I was less than happy with the outcome. Where I knew I had a bloody lip, a black eye, a bruised face and body, the duplicate seemed to only have a few dents in its body and one on its face on the right side on its mouth. It had come out of the exchange better than I had.

I started to doubt my plan of action. Wiping some blood from my nose, I watched my duplicate do the same thing, though it wasn’t bleeding. The sun wouldn’t be setting anytime soon in Avalon, I thought, so I didn’t know how much time had passed. I listened to the crowd. For a moment I thought I could hear them breathing then I realized that I was merely hearing my own heavy breathing.

“You are really annoying,” I shouted to my duplicate.

Then I noticed something. The duplicate couldn’t speak, but it merely mouthed the words. When it mouthed the words, though, the dent on the right side of its mouth crumbled a little exposing the brown dirt underneath. Finally, I had a crack in the façade, something I could focus on and exploit. Centering myself for an attack I gathered up all my energy and charged the duplicate. When I got close enough I unloaded a right to the crack in the face, while the duplicate hit me with a right to the mouth. I followed the right with a left and another right then I stumbled back as the duplicate had almost taken my head off.

Once my vision cleared and I could see my duplicate a smile cracked my swollen lips. The face and head had started to crumble. My duplicate was starting to fall apart. First the head crumbled then the torso began to crack. Not wanting to wait too long for the rest of the body to dissipate, I ran at the crumbling me and applied a well place kick to its chest. The duplicate fell back to a mound of dirt and grass and the stadium broke out in the loudest cheers and applause I had ever heard.

Looking all about me, I saw everyone in the stadium standing and cheering for me. Though I thought my eyes were playing tricks, I thought I saw a smile on Caillech Bhuerr’s face. I had succeeded. I was the Cathal. I looked to the box with my family and friends and saw tears, cheers and pandemonium had broke out as they hugged, high fived each other shed and tears of joy.

“Calm and quiet,” he heard the Lady of the Lake call out. “Calm and quiet.”

I looked behind me to see the Lady of the Lake, a truly happy Merry, a glowing yellow male Fey, a tail waging Inari, and a now chilly Cailech Bhuerr walking towards me. With reluctance and difficulty the crowd began to subside.

“We have a Cathal,” she announced and the cheer broke out again. This time the Lady waited for the noise to die on its own. “I have special news about our Cathal, too. He has told me that he will be known by the name Arthur.”

This was the loudest cheer of all. My ears actually hurt. I looked over at Merry, who had tears in his eyes. He gave me a thumbs-up.

“So let us welcome Arthur, Cathal, by having a great festival. Light the bonfires, eat, drink, celebrate, and dance, for this is a great Bealtaine, the greatest Bealtaine since the time of the first Arthur.”

Again, the anarchy of joy and celebration broke out in the stands. The people of the realm began to pour out of their seats towards the new Arthur. Arawn and Gywnn Nudd reached me first and lifted me up on their giant shoulders and began to parade me around as if I was a prize that was just earned. I, the new Arthur smiled.

nnnn

The sun had finally set on Avalon. Bonfires were lit and the people of the realms celebrated their new Cathal. In a dining tent I sat a table with Branwyn on my left and the Lady of the Lake on my right. Also, at the table were Merry, Inari, Master Zaichi, Kieran, and several others. As I sipped some fruit wine, Branwyn dabbed a cloth in cold water and cleaned some of my wounds.

“This is the beginning for you, Arthur,” the Lady of the Lake told me.

“How so, Lady?”

“At Midsummer next year we will meet in the Human Realm at a location to be chosen. There you will be tested for your battle sword which is being made now by the elves.”
“I look forward…ouch, Branwyn, that hurts,” I said to Branwyn, who was checking my shoulder wound.

“Sorry, but it needs to be done,” she told me.

“Please, be careful.”

She kissed me on the cheek: “I’ll try.”

“For the next year you will visit the Protector Clans in your realm getting to know them and beginning to choose your most important fealty. This fealty will be your leaders and your personal guard. It will be a time of politics and hard choices,” she told me.

“Not all the choices will be hard,” I said. “Nan is part of the fealty.”

“This is true,” the Lady said with a smile.

“How large can this fealty be?”

“As large as need be. As I said this will be a time of politics and hard choices for you, Arthur.” She said my name with a mix of pride and smugness, as if she had won a battle by me taking the name Arthur.

“Lady may I have some time with our new Arthur and Branwyn?” Merry asked.

“Of course, Merlin.”

Branwyn and I got up from our seats and followed Merry out of the tent. When a crowd of frolickers by a bonfire saw me they cheered. I was now their leader in many ways. Merry led us to a less crowded area.

“You didn’t tell me that you were taking the name Arthur,” he said to me.

“Arthur is the once and future king, Merry.”

“Too true. I had hoped you would, but I never wanted to pressure you. The Lady believes that you taking the name will be a boon for the druids, but I know that it is deeper than that. The name is a symbol and symbols have great magic. Well done, Bear,” he said.

“Thank you, Merry.”

“The first thing I have to say is that when I see the two of you I see real love. Don’t lose that. Put Branwyn on your fealty and keep her close. She is powerful and bright and will be of great use to you.”

“I shall, Merry.”

“Thank you, Merry,” Branwyn said.

“Good. I’m glad. When it comes time to pick the rest of your fealty rely on Nan and Branwyn. They each have gifts and instincts so use them.”

“Why can’t I use your insight?” I asked.

“Because I will be taking Benedict to my isle for some intensive training. I hope to give you another Merlin at your disposal,” he told me.

“But…”

“Don’t argue. This needs to be done.”

“I won’t argue,” I said.

“Benedict and I will be leaving tonight. School is out for all of you. Now is the time for preparation. Be careful, my new Arthur, and be smart. You will find pettiness between the clans, as well as the realms. Your duty will be to lead them beyond that pettiness with a mix of intelligence and cleverness. Alkimos was here today. He watched you. Before he left he told me that you have the potential to be greater than my Arthur. I agreed. Now you must live up to that burden,” he said then paused. “If you need me, you know where I am.”

Merry hugged Branwyn then me. He then turned with a dramatic flair and strolled into the darkness leaving me with Branwyn. In the background we could hear lovely music playing. She smiled then she turned me sideways and offered herself up for dancing.

“Branwyn, I don’t think I have time to dance,” I said to her.

“Arthur, this might be your last chance to dance. So dance with me and forget all about your duties and burdens,” she said.

Branwyn and I then began to dance, as the bonfires burned and the people celebrated a new Cathal, a new Arthur, once and present king.

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