by David Farland
It was late evening on a sultry summer's day when three riders appeared at the
edge of the woods on the road southwest of Tintagel castle. The sentries did not
see them riding up the muddy track that led from Beronsglade. The knights
merely appeared, just as the sun dipped below the sea, as if they'd coalesced from
mist near a line of beech trees.
The manner of their appearance did not seem odd, on that day of oddities. The
tide was very low, and the whole ocean lay as placid as a mountain pool. To the
castle's residents, who were used to the constant pounding of the surf upon the
craggy rocks outside the castle walls, the silence seemed thunderous. Even the
gulls had given up their incessant screeching and now huddled low on the rocks,
making an easy dinner of cockles and green kelp crabs.
All around the castle, the air was somber. Smoke from cooking fires and from the
candlers hung in a blue haze all about Tintagel's four towers. The air seemed
So it was that the sentries, when they spotted the three knights, frowned and
studied the men's unfamiliar garb. The leader of the trio wore a fantastical helm
shaped like a dragon's head, and his enameled mail glimmered red like a dragon's
scales. He rode a huge black destrier, and as for the device on his shield, he
carried only blank iron strapped to a pack on a palfrey.
Beside him rode a big fellow in oiled ringmail, while the third knight wore nothing
but a cuirass of boiled leather, yet carried himself with a calmness and certainty
that made him more frightening than if he rode at the head of a Saxon horde.
"'Tis Uther Pendragon!" one of the boys at the castle walls cried at first. The lad
hefted his halberd as if he would take a swing, but stepped back in fright.
Pendragon was of course the guards' worst nightmare. At the Easter feast, King
Uther Pendragon had made advances on the Duke Gorlois's wife, the Lady
Igraine. He had courted her in her husband's company with all the grace and
courtesy of a bull trying to mount a heifer. At last the duke felt constrained to flee
the king's presence. The king demanded that Gorlois return with his wife, but
Gorlois knew that if he ever set foot in the king's palace again, he'd lose his head.
So he locked his wife safely in Tintagel, began fortifying his castles, and prayed
that he could hire enough Irish mercenaries to back him before the king could
bring him down.
Last anyone had heard, Duke Gorlois was holed like a badger at his fortress in
Dimilioc, where Uther Pendragon had laid siege. It was said that Pendragon had
employed Welsh miners as sappers, vowing to dig down the castle walls and skin
Gorlois for his pelt within forty days.
So when the lad atop the castle wall thought he saw Pendragon, immediately
someone raised a horn and began to blow wildly, calling for reinforcements,
though none would likely be needed. Tintagel was a small keep, situated by the
sea on a pile of rocks that could only be reached over a narrow causeway. It was
said that three men could hold it from an army of any size, and no fewer than a two
dozen guards now manned the wall.
The captain of the guard, a stout old knight named Sir Ventias who could no
longer ride due to a game leg, squinted through the smoke that clung around the
castle. Something seemed afoul. He knew fat king Pendragon's features well, and
as he peered through the gloom and the smoke that burned his eyes, he saw
immediately that it was not Pendragon on the mount. It was a young man with a
flaxen beard and a hatchet face.
Ventias squinted, trying to pierce the haze until he felt sure: it was Duke Gorlois.
He rode in company with his true friend Sir Jordans and the stout knight Sir
Ventias smiled. "Tell the duchess that her husband is home."
The celebration that night was remarkable. The duke's pennant was hoisted on the
wall, and everywhere the people made merry. Sir Brastias himself told the
miraculous tale of their escape - how they had spied Pendragon leave the siege
and the duke had issued out from the castle with his knights. After a brief battle,
Gorlois had broken Pendragon's lines and had hurried toward Tintagel, only to
discover Pendragon himself a few miles up the road, frolicking with some maiden
in a pool. Since King Pendragon was naked and unarmed, it became an easy
matter to capture the lecher, both arms and armor, and force his surrender.
Thus Gorlois rode home in Pendragon's suit of mail.
So it was that the celebration began at Tintagel. Suckling pigs were spitted and
cooked over a bonfire in the lower bailey, while every lad who had a hand with the
pipe or the tambor made music as best he could. New ale flowed into mugs like
golden honey. Young squires fought mock combats to impress their lord and
entertain the audience. And everywhere the people began to dance.
But Duke Gorlois could not relish it. Instead, he went to his great hall before the
festivities began and gazed upon his glorious young bride with a sultry stare. He
never even took his seat at the head of the table. Instead, he studied her for less
than a minute before he grabbed one of her breasts as if it were a third hand and
began to lead her to the bedchamber.
This he did in front of some eighty people. When the priest quietly complained
about this impropriety to the Duke, Gorlois, who was normally a very reserved
fellow, merely said, "Let the people frolic as they see fit, and I will frolic as I see
Though everyone was astonished at this crude display, no one other than the priest
dared speak against it. Even Sir Jordans, a man who could normally be counted on
to pass judgment fairly on any matter, merely sat in the great hall and did not eat.
Instead, he played with his heavy serpent-handled dagger, stabbing it over and
over again into the wooden table beside his trencher.
Then Duke Gorlois dragged his wife up the stairs against her will, stripping off his
armor as he went.
Or at least that is the way that my mother tells the tale, and she should know, for
she was a young woman who served tables there at Tintagel.
It seems surprising that no one found it odd.
The evening star that night shone as red as a bloodstone, and all the dogs
somehow quietly slipped from the castle gates.
There was a new horned moon, and though the people danced, they did not do so
long. Somehow their feet seemed heavy, and the celebration seemed more trouble
than it was worth, and so the crowds began to break off early.
Some went home, while most seemed more eager to drink themselves into a
stupor. Yet no one at the time remarked about the queer mood at Castle Tintagel.
Late that night, my mother found Sir Jordans still on his bench, where he'd sat
quietly for hours. He was letting the flame of a candle lick his left forefinger in a
display that left my mother horrified and set her heart to hammering.
Dozens of knights lay drunk and snoring on the floor around him, while a pair of
cats on the table gnawed the bones of a roast swan.
My mother wondered if Sir Jordans performed this remarkable feat for her benefit,
as young men often will when trying to impress a young woman.
If so, he'd gone too far. She feared for Sir Jordan's health, so she quietly scurried
to the long oaken table. She could not smell burning flesh above the scents of ale
and grease and fresh loaves, though Sir Jordans had been holding his finger under
the flame for a long minute.
"What are you doing?" my mother asked in astonishment. "If it's cooking yourself
that you're after, there's a bonfire still burning out in the bailey!"
Sir Jordans merely sat at the table, a hooded traveling robe pulled low over his
head, and held his finger beneath the flickering flame. Candlelight glimmered in
his eyes. My mother thought the silence odd, for in the past Sir Jordans had
always been such a garrulous fellow, a man whose laugh sounded like the winter's
surf booming on the escarpment at the base of the castle walls.
"Do you hear me? You'll lose the finger," my mother warned. "Are you drunk, or
fey?" she asked, and she thought of rousing some besotted knight from the floor to
help her subdue the man.
Sir Jordans looked up at her with a dreamy smile. "I'll not lose my finger, nor
burn it," he said. "I could hold it thus all night. It is a simple trick, really. I could
teach you - if you like?"
Something about his manner unnerved my mother. She was beautiful then.
Though she was a but a scullery maid, at the age of fourteen she was lovely - with
long raven hair, eyes of smoke, and a full figure that drew appreciative gazes from
men. Sir Jordans studied her now with open admiration, and she grew frightened.
She crossed herself. "This is no trick, this is sorcery!" my mother accused. "It's
evil! If the Father found out, he'd make you do penance."
But Sir Jordans merely smiled as if she were a child. He had a broad, pleasant face
that could give no insult. "It's not evil," he affirmed reasonably. "Did not God
save the three righteous Israelites when the infidels threw them into the fire?"
My mother wondered then. He was right, of course. Sir Jordans was a virtuous
man, she knew, and if god could save men who were thrown whole into a fire,
then surely Sir Jordans was upright enough so that god could spare his finger.
"Let me teach you," Sir Jordan's whispered.
My mother nodded, still frightened, but enticed by his gentle manner.
"The trick," Sir Jordans said, withdrawing his finger from the candle flame, "is to
learn to take the fire into yourself without getting burned."
He held up his finger for her inspection, and my mother drew close, trying to see it
in the dim light, to make sure that it was not oozing or blistered.
"Once you learn how to hold the fire within," Sir Jordans whispered, "you must
then learn to release the flames when - and how - you will. Like this . . ."
He reached out his finger then and touched between my mother's ample breasts.
His finger itself was cold to the touch, so cold that it startled her. Yet after he
drew it away, she felt as if flames began to build inside her, pulsing through her
breasts in waves, sending cinders of pleasure to burn hot in the back of her brain.
Unimaginable embers, as hot as coals from a blacksmith's forge, flared to life in
As the flames took her, she gasped in astonishment, so thoroughly inflamed by lust
that she dropped to her knees in agony, barely able to suppress her screams.
Sir Jordans smiled at her and asked playfully, "You're a virgin, aren't you?"
Numb with pain, my mother nodded, and knelt before him, sweating and panting
from desire. This is hell, she thought. This is how it will be, me burning with
desires so staggering that they can never be sated. This is my destiny now and
"I could teach you more," Sir Jordans whispered, leaning close. "I could teach
you how to make love, how to satisfy every sensual desire. There are arts to be
learned - pleasurable beyond your keenest imagining. Only when I teach you, can
the flames inside you be quenched."
My mother merely nodded, struck dumb with grief and lust. She would have
given anything for one moment of release, for any degree of satisfaction. Sir
Jordans smiled and leaned forward, until his lips met hers.
At dawn, my mother woke outside the castle. She found herself sprawled dazed
and naked like some human sacrifice upon a black rock on the ocean's shore.
The whole world was silent, with a silence so profound that it seemed to weigh
like an ingot of lead on her chest. The only noise came from the cries of gulls that
winged about the castle towers, as if afraid to land.
She searched for a long while until she found her clothes, then made her way back
to the castle.
Two hours later, riders came charging hard from Dimilioc. They bore the ill
tidings that Duke Gorlois had been slain in battle the day before. Among the dead
were found Sir Brastias and Sir Jordans.
Everyone at Tintagel took the news in awe, speaking well only because they
feared to speak ill.
"'Twas a shade," they said. "Duke Gorlois so loved his wife, that he came at
sunset to see her one last time."
Even the Lady Igraine repeated this tale of shades as if it were true, for her
husband had slipped from her bed before dawn, as if he were indeed a shade, as
had the other dead men who walked in his retinue.
But my mother did not believe the tale. The man she'd slept with the night before
had been clothed in flesh, and she felt his living seed burn her womb. She knew
that she had been seduced by sorcery, under the horned moon.
Two children were conceived on that fell night. I was one of them, the girl.
You have surely heard of the boy.
King Uther Pendragon soon forced the widowed Igraine to be his wife and
removed her to Canterbury. When the boy was born, Pendragon ripped the
newborn son from its mother's breast and gave it to a pale-eyed Welsh sorcerer
who slung it over his back and carried it like a bundle of firewood into the forest.
I have heard it said that Igraine feared that the sorcerer would bury the infant alive,
so she prayed ceaselessly that God would soften the sorcerer's heart, so that he
would abandon it rather than do it harm.
Some say that in time Igraine became deluded into believing that her son was
being raised by peasants or wolves. She was often seen wandering the fairs,
looking deep into the eyes of boy children, as if trying to find something of herself
or Duke Gorlois there.
As for my mother, she fled Tintagel well before her stomach began to bulge. She
loved a stableboy in Tintagel, and had even promised herself to him in marriage,
so it was a hard thing for her to leave, and she slunk away one night without
saying any goodbyes.
For she constantly feared that the false Sir Jordans would return. It is well known,
after all, that devils cannot leave their own offspring alone.
My mother went into labor three hundred and thirty-three days later, after a term
so long that she knew there would be something wrong with me.
My mother took no midwife, for she rightly feared what I would look like. I
would have a tail, she thought, and a goat's pelt, and cloven hooves for feet. She
feared that I might even be born with horns that would rip her as I came through
the birth canal.
No priest would have baptized a bastard and a monstrosity, she knew, and she
hoped that I would be born dead, or would die soon, so that she could rid herself
of the evidence of her sin.
So she went into the forest while the labor pains wracked her, and she gouged a
little hole to bury me in, and she laid a huge rock beside it to crush me with, if it
came to that.
Then she squatted in the ferns beneath an oak. Thus I dropped into the world, and
the only cries to ring from the woods that day came from my mother.
For when I touched the soil, I merely lay quietly gazing about. My mother looked
down between her legs in trepidation and saw at once that I was no common girl.
I was not as homely as her sin. I was not born with a pelt or a twisted visage.
Instead, she said that I was radiant, with skin that smelled of honeysuckle and eyes
as pale as ice. I did not have the cheesy covering of a newborn, and my mother's
blood did not cling to me.
I looked out at her, as if I were very old and wise and knowing, and I did not cry.
Instead, I reached out and grasped her bloody heel, as if to comfort her, and I
When my mother was a little girl herself, she said that she told me that she had
often tried to visualize angels who were so pure and good, wise and beautiful, so
innocent and powerful that the mind revolted from trying to imagine them. Now a
newborn angel grasped her heel, and it broke my mother's heart.
No human child had ever had a skin so pale, or hair that so nearly matched the
blush of a rose.
Thus my mother knew that I was fairy child as well as a bastard born under the
horned moon, and though she loved me, she dared not name me. Instead, though I
bore no lump like a hunchback or no disfigurement of any kind that made me seem
monstrous or ill-favored, she merely called me "Mooncalfe."
If beauty and wisdom can be said to be curses, no one was more accursed than I.
My mother feared for me. She feared what lusty men might do to me if ever I
So she fled from villages and castles into an abandoned cottage deep in the
wooded hills, and perhaps that was for the best. The Saxons were moving north,
and on her rare trips to the nearest village, she came back distressed by the news.
At nights I could hear her lying awake, the beads of her rosary clacking as she
muttered prayers to her vengeful god, hoping that he would heal me. I knew even
then that she prayed in vain, that her god had nothing to do with me.
Mother raised me alone. Time and again she would plead, "Don't wander from
the cottage. Never let your face be seen, and never let any man touch you!"
She loved me fiercely, and well. She taught me games and fed me as best she
could. She punished me when I did wrong, and she slept with me wrapped in her
arms at night.
But if she let me outside to play at all, she did so only briefly, and even then I was
forced to cover myself with a robe and a shawl, so that I might hide my face.
Sometimes, at night, she would kneel beneath a cross she had planted in front of
the cottage and raise her voice, pleading with her god and his mother. She begged
forgiveness, and asked him that I might be healed and made like any other child.
She would sometimes she cut herself or pull out her own hair, or beat herself
mercilessly, hoping that her god would show pity on her for such self-abuse.
I admit that at times, I too prayed to the Blessed Virgin, but never for myself -
only for my mother's comfort.
She sought to cure me of my affliction. She rubbed me with healing leaves, like
evening star and wizard's violet.
When I was three, my mother took a long journey of several days, the first and
only one she ever took with me. She had learned in the village that a holy man
had died, a Bishop who was everywhere named a man of good report, and she
badly wanted his bones to burn for me.
So she bundled me up and carried me through the endless woods. Her prayers
poured out from her as copiously as did her sweat.
We skirted villages and towns for nearly a week, traveling mostly at night by the
light of the stars and a waxing moon, until at last we reached an abbey. My
mother found his tomb, and had work prying the stone from his grave. If the
bishop was truly a good man, I do not know. His spirit had already fled the place.
But we found his rotting corpse, and my mother severed his hand, and then we
scurried away into the night. The abbot must have set his hounds on us, for I
remember my mother splashing through the creek, me clinging to her back, while
the hounds bayed.
Two nights later, when the moon had waxed full, we found a hilltop far from any
habitation, and she set the bone fire.
We piled up tree limbs and wadded grass into a great circle, and all the time that
we did so, mother prayed to her god in my behalf.
"God can heal you, Mooncalfe," she would mutter. "God loves you and can heal
you. He can make you look like a common child, I am sure. But in order to gain
his greatest blessings, you must say your prayers and walk through the fire of
bones. Only then, as the smoke ascends into heaven, will the Father and his
handmaid Mary hear your most heartfelt prayer."
It seemed a lot of trouble to me. I was happy and carefree as a child. My greatest
concern was for my mother. Having seen all the work she had done, I consented at
When the fire burned its brightest, and columns of smoke lit the sky, my mother
threw the bishop's severed hand atop the mix, and we waited until we could smell
his charred flesh.
Then my mother and I said our prayers, and my mother bid me to leap through the
I did so, begging the blessing of the Virgin and leaping through the flames seven
Even as a child, I never burned. Until that time, I had thought myself fortunate.
But though the fire was so hot that my mother dared not approach it, I leapt
through unharmed, untouched by the heat.
On my last attempt, when I saw that the bone fire had still not made me look
human, I merely leapt into the conflagration and stood.
I hoped that the flames would blister me and scar me, so that I might look more
like a mortal.
My mother screamed in terror and kept trying to draw near, to pull me from the
fire, but it burned her badly.
I cried aloud to the Virgin, begging her blessing, but though the flames licked the
clothing from my flesh, so that my skirts and cloak all turned to stringy ashes, I
took no hurt.
I waited for nearly an hour for the flames to die low before I wearied of the game.
Then I helped my mother down to the stream, to bathe her own fire-blistered flesh
and ease her torment.
She wept and prayed bitterly, and by dawn she was not fit for travel. She had
great black welts on her face, and bubbles beneath the skin, and her skin had gone
all red - all because she sought to save me from the flames. But as for me, my
skin was unblemished. If anything, it looked more translucent. My mother
sobbed and confirmed my fears. "You look more pure than before."
So it was that I foraged for us both, and after several days we began to amble
home in defeat.
After that, mother seemed to lose all hope of ever healing me. She confided a few
days later, "I will raise you until you are thirteen," she said, "but I can do no more
She wanted a life for herself.
She took to making trips to the village more, and I knew that she fell in love, for
often when she returned, she would mention a young miller who lived there, a man
named Andelin, and she would sometimes fall silent and stare off into the distance
I am sure that she never mentioned her accursed daughter to him, and I suppose
that he could not have helped but love my mother in kind.
One night, late in the summer, my mother returned from the village crying. I
asked her why she wept, and she said that Andelin had begged for her hand in
marriage, but she had spurned him.
She did not say why. She thought I was still too young to understand how I stood
in the way of her love.
Later that night, Andelin himself rode into the woods, and called for my mother,
seeking our cottage. But it was far from the lonely track that ran through the
wood, and my mother was careful not to leave a trail, and so he never found us.
Though I felt sorry for my mother, I was glad when Andelin gave up looking for
The thought terrified me that my mother might leave someday. She was my truest
companion, my best friend.
But if I was raised alone as a child, the truth is that I seldom felt lonely. In a dark
glen not a quarter mile from my home, was a barren place where a woodsman's
cottage had once stood. A young boy, Daffyth, had died in the cottage, and his
shade still hovered near the spot, for he longed for his mother who would never
I could speak with him on all but the sunniest of days, and he taught me many
games and rhymes that he'd learned at his mother's knee. He was a desolate boy,
lost and frightened. He needed my comfort more than I ever needed his.
For in addition to conversing with him and my mother, I could also speak to
animals. I listened to the hungry confabulations of trout in the stream, or the
useless prattle of squirrels, or the fearful musings of mice. The rooks that lived
against the chimney of our cottage often berated me, accusing me of pilfering their
food, but then they would chortle even louder when they managed to snatch a
bright piece of blue string from my frock to add to their nests.
But it was not the small animals that gave me the most pleasure. As a child of
four, I learned to love a shaggy old wolf bitch who was kind and companionable,
and who would warn me when hunters or outlaws roamed the forest.
When, as a small girl, I told my mother what the birds or foxes were saying, she
refused to believe me. I was lonely she thought, and therefore given to vain
imaginings. Like any other child, I tended to chatter incessantly, and it was only
natural that I would take what company I could find.
Or maybe she feared to admit even to herself that she knew what I could do.
Certainly, she had to have had an intimation.
I know that she believed me when I turned five, for that was the year that I met the
white hart. He was old and venerable and wiser than even the wolf or owls. He
was the one who first taught me to walk invisibly, and showed me the luminous
pathways in the air that led toward the Bright Lady.
"You are one of them," he said. "In time, you must go to her." But I did not feel
the Goddess's call at that early age.
It was that very year that my mother became ill one drear midwinter's day -
deathly ill, though I did not understand death. Flecks of blood sprayed from her
mouth when she coughed, and though her flesh burned with inner fire, she
shivered violently, even though I piled all of our coats and blankets on her and left
her beside the roaring fire.
"Listen to me," my mother cried one night after a bout of coughing had left her
blankets all red around her throat. "I am going to die," she said. "I'm going to
die, my sweet Mooncalfe, and I'm afraid you'll die because of it."
I had seen death of course. I'd seen the cold bodies of squirrels, but I'd also seen
their shades hopping about merrily in the trees afterward, completely unconcerned.
I did not share my mother's fear.
"All right," I said, accepting death.
"No!" my mother shouted, fighting for breath. Tears coursed from her eyes. "It's
not all right." Her voice sounded marvelously hoarse and full of pain. "You must
promise me to stay alive. Food. We have plenty of food. But you must keep the
fire lit, stay warm. In the spring, you must go north to the nunnery at the edge of
"All right," I answered with equanimity, prepared to live or die as she willed.
She grew weak quickly.
In those days, I knew little of herb lore or magic. If I'd known then what I do
now, perhaps I would have walked the path to the Endless Summer and gathered
lungwort and elderflower to combat her cough, and willow and catmint to help
ease her pain and gently sweat out the fever.
But as a child I only prayed with her. She prayed to live, I prayed for a quick
cessation of her agony.
Her god granted my prayer - the only one that he ever granted me - and she died
But death did not end my mother's torment. Her shade was restless and longed to
watch over me. She thought me abused because of her sin.
So she remained with me in that house, wailing her grief. Each night was a new
beginning to her, for like most shades, she would forget all that had happened the
night before. I took her to see Daffyth on some occasions, hoping that they might
comfort one another, but she gained nothing from it.
She cursed herself for her weakness in allowing herself to be seduced by Sir
Jordans, and she often breathed out threats of vengeance.
She loved me and wept over me, and I could not comfort her. Nor did I ever seek
out the nunnery, for my mother seemed as alive to me as ever.
I lived and grew. The she-wolf brought me hares and piglets and young deer to
eat, until she herself grew old and died. I gathered mushrooms from the forest
floor, and the white hart showed me where an old orchard still stood, so that I
filled up stores of plums and apples to help last me through each winter.
I foraged and fed myself. As I did, I began to roam the woods and explore. I
would leave the old cottage for days at a time, letting my mother stay alone in her
torment. On such occasions, she wandered too, searching for her little lost girl.
I found her once, there at the edge of the village, staring at Andelin's house. The
miller had grown older, and had married some girl who was not my mother's
equal. Their child cried within, and my mother dared not disturb them.
Yet, like me, she stood there at the edge of the forest, craving another person's
I often kept myself invisible on my journeys, and at times I confess that I enjoyed
sneaking up on the poachers and outlaws that hid in the wood, merely to watch
them, to see what common people looked like, how they acted when they thought
But in my fourteenth summer, I once made the mistake of stepping on a twig as I
watched a handsome young man stalking the white hart through tall ferns. The
boy spun and released his bow so fast that I did not have time to dodge his shot.
The cold iron tip of his arrow only nicked my arm. Though the wound was slight,
still the iron dispelled my charms, and I suddenly found myself standing before
him naked (for I had no need of clothes). My heart pounded in terror and desire.
I suddenly imagined what the boy would do, having seen me. I imagined his lips
against mine, and his hands pressing firmly into my buttocks, and that he would
ravish me. After all, night after night my mother had warned me what men would
do if they saw me.
So I anticipated his advances. In fact, in that moment I imagined that I might
actually be in love, and so determined that I would endure his passion if not enjoy
But to my dismay, when he saw me suddenly standing there naked, he merely
fainted. Though I tried to revive him for nearly an hour, each time I did so, he
gazed at me in awe and then passed out again.
When night came, I wrapped myself in a cloak of invisibility and let him regain his
wits. Then I followed him to his home at the edge of a village. He kept listening
for me, and he begged me not to follow, thinking me a succubus or some other
He made the sign of the cross against me, and I begged him to tarry. But he shot
arrows at me and seemed so frightened that I dared not follow him farther, for his
sake as well as mine.
Soon thereafter I met Wiglan, the wise woman of the barrow. She was a lumpy
old thing, almost like a tree trunk with arms. She had been dead for four hundred
years, and still her spirit had not flickered out and faded, as so many do, but
instead had ripened into something warped and strange and eerie. Moreover, she
did not grow forgetful during the days as my mother's shade did, and so she
offered me a more-even level of companionship.
One night under the bright eternal stars, I told Wiglan of my problem, of how my
mother longed for me to look mortal, and how I now longed for it too. I could no
longer take comfort in the company of cold shades or in conversations with
animals. I craved the touch of real flesh against mine, the kiss of warm lips, the
touch of hands, and the thrust of hips.
"Perhaps," Wiglan said, "you should seek out the healing pools up north. If the
goddess can heal you at all, there is where you will find her blessing."
"What pools?" I asked, heart pounding with a hope that I had never felt so keenly
"There are ancient pools in Wales," she said, "called the Maiden's Fount. While I
yet lived, the Romans built a city there, called Caerleon. I heard that they
enclosed the fount and built a temple to their goddess Minerva. The fount has
great powers, and the Romans honored the goddess in their way, but even then it
was a sin, for in honoring the goddess, they sought to hedge her in."
"That was hundreds of years ago," I said. "Are you sure that the fount still springs
"It is a sacred place to the Lady and all of her kin," Wiglan said. "It will still be
there. Go by the light of a horned moon and ask of her what you will. Make an
offering of water lilies and lavender. Perhaps your petition will be granted."
Bursting with hope, I made off at once. I set my course by the River or Stars, and
journeyed for many days over fields and hills, through dank forest and over the
fetid bogs. At night I would sometimes seek directions from the dead, who were
plentiful in those days of unrest, until at last after many weeks I reached the
The Saxons had been to Caerleon and burned the city a few years before. A castle
stood not far from the ancient temple, but the villages around Caerleon had been
burned and looted, their citizens murdered. Little remained of it, and for the
moment the castle was staffed by a handful of soldiers who huddled on its walls in
The temple on the hills above the fortress was in worse condition than was the
castle. Some of the temple's pillars had been knocked down, and moon disk
above its façade lay broken and in ruins. Perhaps the Saxons had sensed the
Lady's power here and sought to put an end to it, or at least sully it.
The pools were overgrown and reedy, while owls hooted and flew on silent wings
among the few standing pillars.
There I took my offerings and went to bathe under the crescent moon.
I knelt in the damp mud above the warm pool, cast out a handful of lavender into
the brackish water, and stood with a white water lily cupped in my left palm. I
whispered my prayers to the Goddess, thanking her for the gifts that the Earth gave
me, for her breasts that were hills, for the fruit of the fields and of the forest. I
pleaded with her and named my desire before making my final offering of lily.
As I prayed, a man's voice spoke up behind me. "She's not that strong anymore.
The new god is gaining power over this land, and the Great Mother hides. You
seek a powerful magic, one that will change the very essence of what you are -
and that is beyond her power. Perhaps you should seek a smaller blessing, ask her
to do something easy, like change the future?
"Still pray to her as you will. It hurts nothing, and I'm glad that some still talk to
I turned and looked into the ice-pale eyes of a Welshman, recognized at once my
features in his face. He was my father. I did not feel surprised to meet him here.
After all, my mother had taught me well that demons always seek out and torment
their own children.
He stared right at me, his eyes caressing my naked flesh, even though I had been
"Sir Jordans?" I asked. "Or do you have a truer name?"
The fellow smiled wistfully, drew back his hood so that I could see his silvered
hair in the moonlight. "I called myself that - but only once. How is your mother?
Well, I hope."
"Dead," I answered, then waited in the cold silence for him to show some reaction.
When he saw that he must speak, he finally said, "Well, that happens."
I demanded, "By the Bright Lady, what is your name?" I do not know if the
Goddess forced him to reveal it because we were at the pool, or if he would have
told me anyway, but he answered.
"Merlin. Some call me Merlin the Prophet, or Merlin the Seer. Others name me a
"Not Merlin the Procurer? Not Merlin the Seducer? Not Merlin the Merciless?"
"What I did, I did only once," Merlin said, as if that should buy a measure of
forgiveness. "The omens were good that night, for one who wished to produce
offspring strong in the old powers. It was the first horned moon of the new
summer, after all."
"Is that the only reason you took my mother, because the moon was right?"
"I was not at Tintagel on my own errand," Merlin defended himself. "Uther
Pendragon wanted to bed the Duchess Igraine, and he would have killed her
husband for the chance. Call me a procurer if you will, but I tried only to save the
duke's life - and I foresaw in the process that Pendragon's loins would produce a
son who could be a truer and greater king than Uther could ever be."
"Igraine's son? You did not kill the boy?"
"No, Arthur lives with me now, and follows me in my travels. In a year or two, he
will learn his destiny," Merlin said. "He will unite all of England and drive back
the Saxons, and he will rule this stubborn realm with a gentle hand. . . ." He
hunched down in the tall grass beside the pool, stared thoughtfully into water that
reflected moon and stars.
"So you helped seduce the Lady Igraine for a noble cause. But why did you bed
"For you!" Merlin said in surprise, as if it were obvious. "I saw that night that
your mother had fey blood, and all of the omens were right. I saw that you would
be wise and beautiful, and the thought came to me that Arthur would need a fair
maiden by his side. The old blood is strong in you, both from me and your
mother. If you marry Arthur Pendragon, perhaps together we can build a realm
where the old gods are worshipped beside the new."
"Didn't you think before you mounted her?" I asked. "Didn't you think about how
it would destroy her?"
Merlin said, "I looked down the path of her future. She would have married a
stableboy and borne him five fine sons and a brace of daughters. She would have
been happier, perhaps - but she would not have had you!"
"My mother died in torment because of you!" I shouted. "She died alone in the
woods, because she feared letting anyone see me alive. She died friendless,
because I was too young and silly to know how to save her. Her spirit is in
"Yes, yes," Merlin cajoled as if I did not quite see some greater point, "I'm sure it
all seems a tragedy. But you are here, are you not? You -"
I saw then that he would not listen, that my mother's suffering, her loneliness and
shame, all meant nothing to him. She was but a pawn in his hand, a piece to be
sacrificed for the sake of some greater game.
I knew then that I hated him, and that I could never allow Merlin to use his powers
against a woman this way again. And suddenly I glanced up at a shooting star,
and I knew that I had the power, that the old blood was strong enough in me, that I
could stop him.
"Father," I interrupted him, holding the lily high in my left hand. Merlin shut his
mouth. "In the name of the Bright Lady I curse you: though you shall love a
woman fiercely, the greater your desire for her grows, the more lame shall be your
groin. Never shall you sire a child again. Never shall you use a woman as your
pawn, or your seed as a tool."
I stepped through the rushes to the side of the warm pool at Minerva's failing
temple, felt the living power of the Goddess there as my toe touched the water.
"No!" Merlin shouted and raised his hand with little finger and thumb splayed in a
horn as he tried to ward off my spell.
But either he was too late, or the spell was too strong for him. In any case, I
tossed the white lily into the still waters.
As the wavelets rolled away from the lily, bouncing against the edges of the pool,
Merlin screamed in agony and put his hands over his face.
I believe that he was peering into his own bleak future as the cried in horror, "No!
I knelt and dipped my hand in the pool seven times, cupping the water and letting
it run down my breasts and between my legs.
Then I stood and merely walked away.
Sometimes near dawn, I waken and think that I can still hear Merlin's cries ringing
in my ears. I listen then, and smile a fey smile.
In time I made it back to my cottage in the woods, and I told the shade of my
mother about all that had transpired. She seemed more at peace that night than
ever before, and so before daybreak, I introduced her to the child Daffyth once
I told Daffyth that she was his mother, and convinced my mother's shade that
Daffyth was a forgotten son, born from her love for a man named Andelin.
In the still night I coaxed them to the edge of the woods, and let them go.
When last I saw them, they were walking hand-in-hand on the road to Tintagel.
As for me, I learned in time to praise the Goddess for her goodness and for what I
am and always hope to be - a mooncalfe, and no sorcerer's pawn.