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By Lake Bound

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So here you come, to hear the old tale told in new way, as it has never been told before-not much, I’d wager, for we all tell same tale different way, but ah well, mine is to narrate, not decide. Just please remember that there will be some anachronisms with names, because I doubt you are capable of understanding them all and because ones who bore them either don’t want them to be told ( and not even I will reveal you all of another’s secrets, at least not without price) while other s have forgotten them. Just so you know in case you hear it someday from first hand source and don’t blame me then.

Know however, that it isn’t whole story. After all, you are too short lived to know it-their story is everything, every piece of bread they ate and every breath they took, from when they were pushed out of womb to when they were lowered in grave. It would take far too long for me to tell it all to you. I can just shine light on few brief, tiny moments. After all, there are many sides and many truths and you would need to become thousands of people and live thousands of lives to understand but fragment of that truth.

Do not blame me for that. I could tell you whole story, of course, but again you would sooner waste away then we would have been finished.  Your kind lives so short and wastes away so soon-oh, how blessed you are! And price! Oh, price would have been so much higher.

As you are here, I suppose you know at least some of version (which are all true, in different times and eyes and realities). So, we shall start with what is rarely known, as not many heard it from him, and not many were there to witness it, at least among men.

Let me tell you, of how Camelot’s greatest knight and champion and traitor was raised beneath Faerie lake.

 


 

I

Beneath waters and shores

The Elaine of Benoic (her home, her kingdom, even if she was so far away from it, even if she wasn’t from French blood at all, even if it burnt to ground, it would always be her kingdom, her home, her people) knelt to ground alongside her servant Foliot to raise her husband’s body (her love, her king, her Ban the Blessed after which their kingdom was named) to horse, to give it at least semblance of respect in exile, as much as grace as they could muster in wilderness for king who died from pain of loss of his country.

She didn’t cry and weep, as Foliot did. He was loyal servant, and true gift to them-it was rare to see people so loyal to their kings (but then again, it was often king’s fault). He didn’t begrudge her silence or her dry eyes, as some would, and loose lying tongues would speak on and on about cold heart and betrayal and cruel, wicked woman...

It simply wasn’t her way of mourning, her grief finding other ways to show itself, waiting patient and slipping at edges of her mind alongside sorrow and dark memories, as her face would remain tight and empty, as she silently knelt and grasped her husband’s clothes, and hauled it on horse, securing body so it wouldn’t  fall, recalling path as she threw herself in plans and work, to wait for later time, when she was alone and free to sob and let tears slowly fall down her cheeks.

What simple thing to grasp, yet so hard for many men and woman to even bother trying. For that alone she was grateful to crying squire, who helped her lead horses through woods that seemed withered and rotten through spring was at bloom, and night that seemed so much deeper and darker though dawn was near, and stars tiny and flickering though they were bright and shining.

"Foliot, come at your own pace. I must go seek Lancelot, while I still have my child to be my joy. he will need me more at this moment anyway.’’ Servant nodded, and she led horse fast down steep hill, in way only people who lost everything can, when grasping at last hope as if it was final candle-flame left in cold, dark world, and tried hard not to think of what could have happened to her child, left alone in panic.

Now, certain readers may be ready to set it against her, for she has abandoned a small child, her own baby for quite some time in wilderness, and near lake at that! But please think before you judge, and know that this is woman who had her country assaulted and her kingdom dragged to war, who had to flee to foreign lands with nothing but her clothes on back, living in fear of enemies finding them as they dragged themselves through mood, as branches snapped at her and tore her hair and dress, as wind and rain brought cold illnesses, and at end heard news of her home burning down to ashes, her husband dying from shock and sorrow. It isn’t easy thing to take, and people have done much more worse things, stupid and dangerous things, then leaving babe that couldn’t walk under shade of tree in hurry.

Sun was rising in all of it’s glory, yet it seemed to come above her in centre of sky a little too fast as she crossed ring of trees to enter a meadow within which was a small lake contained, and  just as world seemed  far more darker and pitiful before, now it looked much grander and sweeter- colours were clearer, and flowers smelled rich and  pleasant but not too strong, and whole place seemed somehow clearer and purer (if, for some reason, tinted with blue when she looked out of corner of her eyes).

And there on edge of shores, where crystal clear water met weak grass and bore soft mud, stood a woman, holding Elaine’s child in her arms.

Though lady appeared to be Elaine’s size, exiled queen had feeling this woman was much, much bigger and greater then anything she had ever before seen. She had sense that this lady was in fact taller than trees and towers, as grand as mountain, and that Elaine only saw her from faraway, so that distance and her own eyes tricked her in thinking lady could compare to any human.

She was turned in such way that Elaine could only see her from profile, but she saw how Lancelot giggled and put his hand on cheek of this strange woman, in robe as green as pond-weeds and grass rolled in mud after rain, hair as dark as raven’s wings bound by red ribbons, and jewellery of something that might be silver or gold, so she ignored stab of fear that ran through her (something deeper and stronger then fear of mother who found her child in hands of stranger, fear all humans felt, fear of  kind that whispered this thing is Other), upon seeing her child smile for first time.

The queen Elaine came near shore and cried out in reverence, though she was monarch through and through ( of conquered kingdom, but still queen, yet she knelt before this woman as if lady was saint), guided by some strange instinct that filled her body.

‘’Lady, I pray you will give me my child back.’’ She said, weakly  in force but loud, hands hesitating as words left her mouth, half in jest, half in warning, and all in worry.

Woman didn’t move or turn-in second she stopped, frozen so that she looked like part of landscape, and in other her form rippled and broke, like when pebble is cast in water, a shapeless mix of colours, and then she reshaped herself, face and forehead emerging from where her cheek and temple  were, and Elaine realized this woman could have never benn mortal, and wondered how she mistook her for one.

For woman’s long hair was in fact billions and billions of drops of ink, and her ribbons were tiny streams of blood, floating and changing patterns each second. Her neck was adorned with necklace that changed from gold to silver, and metal that bent and flowed like mercury, set with emerald and opals that reflected  surface of water. Her posture and standing was graceful and yet too still, and her presence made Elaine’s skin crawl and screech and made her want to claw out her very eyes.

The lady’s face was white as ivory- not in way poets would compare lovely noble girl’s skin, but harsh and sturdy  head that seemed carved from tusks (so unlike fluid form she had before), white as cleansed bones with hints of cracks and yellow age brought.  It was beautiful, perfect face, that was neither too sharp or too soft, all of those things in perfect proportions that seared in brain and burned eyes, coupled with smile from swollen, blue-drowned lips that  bent in such strange way that Elaine couldn’t  determine what emotion woman felt-she got sense that woman smiled because somebody told her it was supposed to be done, but had no idea of it’s purpose.

But worst of it all were her eyes. Clear, shining cold black, without sclera or iris, hard and beautiful like jewels set in ivory, that seemed to look at Elaine and Lancelot at same time, and at trees and sky and water and Sun and Foliot behind and her husband’s body and Benoic burning and Albion and Heaven and Hell and whole of Creation at same time. But for all that, they seemed impossibly empty and lacking, void of some spark Elaine now realized all things possessed, but she never noticed because she was used to it.

She knew, without doubt, that this thing had no soul.

‘’ You will have your child back, lady, and soon shall it indeed be. But not now. I’d take him, and foster him, as it is done with princes among your people. If you would allow it of course.’’ Lady’s voice sounded like thousand songs, each of different melody, yet blending together in perfect harmony, and it was whisper of waves washing over pebbles, and sound of tears hitting dry sand. Lady spoke in informal way that nobles might have used to address commoners, and something in Elaine knew that even such speech was far below this creature, and that being called lady by this woman was laughable.

‘’ Lady, you would take him from me? I beg you, don’t. He is all I have in world, only joy life left me. I lost husband and home and my land in but a week. I plead you, don’t make me part from my child too.’’ She cried out, her lips dry and cracked, as hot pain seared through her chest. Yet Lady smiled, and Elaine let her eyes fall down and gasped, for she saw that Lady’s green robes were one with water, and near where her feet should have been water bubbled and frothed, and from light and foam formed a plump girl dressed in silver fish-scales, looking to be thirteen of age, skin of colour and texture of pearl,  long, voluminous hair swaying in wind as if it was alive, knotted and wet and tangled, and of colour of honey sunlight shone upon.

‘’Your enemies will search for him, and allies will either refuse to grant you safe home, to heir of their rival, or they will try to groom him as puppet king, and should he ever regain your kingdom they will always remind him that they granted him safe passage, and make him their pawn with it. But I see he has potential to become great knight, perhaps one of the greatest on this Earth, and have no need of human riches and lands. I would raise and train him and keep him safe, and let him return when he is of age.’’ Girl and lady spoke together, as if sharing  same mind, and same voice came out of them, and Elaine knew this was but one creature sharing several bodies, and that those two pairs of eyes, black as heftiest onyx and pink like tender newborn flesh could see past time and space and body, deep in fate and mind and soul, and that it spoke true when it said it saw spark of greatness within Lancelot that if nurtured correctly could become as bright as forest fire.

‘’I don’t care for that! Not when he too will be taken from me! Just give me my child back!’’ And now some would have called her selfish, and stupid, and  inconsiderate, but could you call a mother who lost everything stupid for wanting to keep her child, even if he had greatness ahead of him otherwise?

(Perhaps it would have been better. Perhaps what would come after would never have happened without him to trigger it, and perhaps he would have been happier with his own kind then this ancient, uncaring thing?

Perhaps it would have been for worse. Perhaps all lives saved and challenges  overcome and years of peace wouldn’t have been secured, perhaps he wouldn’t have lived past age of three.

So many paths that could have been taken, so many stories that may have happened different way. But they didn’t.)

‘’I would take him, yes, but only to return him later, stronger and wiser then he could have ever been otherwise. You would endure your sorrow little longer, and your kingdom will be restored, and his will be glorious life and deeds, as will be that of children who spring forth from his loins, and legends of glory of your house will be spoken for as long as mankind lasts.’’ And third woman formed from water, taller then previous, with skin as dark and beautiful as shade beneath ancient oaks, and hair like green weeds, eyes as white as clouds and hooded cloak same  dark blue as surface of lake in evening.

‘’Please, lady, I...’’ Elaine said, walking over to lake, cleaning in water and mud, attempting to grab edges of dress, to beg and scrape and plead, as thousand more women rose from lake, as if this thing was goddess (she was worshipped once as a deity, to some, she still is, and perhaps she could be called one in truth), but all women took a step back, and their clothes rippled and swirled like waves as they floated back, and one voice flowed from their mouths, saying same thing.

‘’Touch me not, for you are mortal, and I am of fey.’’ And when Lady spoke these words Elaine rose, jaws snapping and hands held tight in form of fists.

‘’Oh? So you dare think yourself superior, and me not worth touching your clothes with my dirty hands, you unholy child-snatcher...’’ She went on, unheeding fear that gripped her whole body and mind, unheeding warnings her memories whispered to her, of fates those who disrespected Fair Folk (thieves amoral changeling), and would have complained more, had not a leaf fallen on hand of aged Lady with skin like amber and eyes like corals and wrinkles like cracks on stone, dressed in lotus blossoms, and she watched it twist and bend and turn to stone and grow fangs and melt, and noticed that Lady did not in fact hold Lancelot, but that child levitated near her arms (she couldn’t say which of bodies held him now).

‘’We are not like you. What we touch we change, in spirit or flesh. Do not endanger yourself. And I ask you once again to think, of all I told you, and all I offer you.’’ And here Elaine stopped and pushed anger and worry out of her mind, and tried to think clear and straight. For she knew Lady spoke truth (as all of their kind must, thought they twist words so well), and that she was right of situation she would find herself in, and that it was true ban’s kingdom sent their princes to be fostered in other homes.

‘’Your kind never does anything for free, isn’t it so, Lady?’’  She asked though she knew answer, as Lady soon confirmed it by nodding with all her heads, and world was much sharper and bluer, and air felt like water, and they all floated to her, sometimes several bodies touching and melding in one, like when rain hits river.

‘’So it is. Whatever we do, we must pay for. Whether we give or take.’’ Lady confirmed, all soulless, empty eyes watching Elaine.

‘’What would you need my son’s skills for?’’ Elaine asked, trying to appear composed.

‘’ A dear mortal friend of mine, for what is to humans very long time indeed, has wish to unite Albion in peace, by means of prophesied king who will keep people together, curb injustice, and drive back Saxons and Romans, yet not turn to conquering himself. I would rear your son into a great knight, who would aid in such undertaking.’’ Lady spoke, and Elaine swore she could see flashes of future, of thousand kings gathered and joyous, and Benoic restored, and peace washed over all lands near.

‘’And he would be grateful for having such great knight aid him, and be ready to aid in retaking of Benoic, as my son would aid him in stabilizing land shaken by Uther’s death.’’ And should Lancelot be demanded to become knight only and never take throne, there would still be Hector to take it, and her lips curled in bitter disgust she squashed down- it wasn’t boy’s fault that Ban cheated.

‘’So you would help my son realize his potential, and that would involve taking him as yours to foster. Yet he would aid your friend, who would owe you, and that means you would be indebted to him, and through that to me.’’  She felt victorious at realizing fae would need to promise her something, though her head hurt from all loops and chains of debts she was beginning to see forming in her head.

‘’Yes. And for that I would promise you and your people who leave safe passage, and safe havens through years.’’ Lady seemed pleased with Elaine for realizing that.

‘’Safety through all of our exile, and return of Benoic.’’ Elaine spoke, eyes glistening with opportunity.

‘’If you wish so, though Benoic will be returned without my help, and your escape will be much riskier, and hiding much less comfortable.’’ Lady spoke true, as she must, and Elaine reconsidered opportunity offered her, and accepted, and from way Lady’s thousand lips quirked and shapes floated above her in great column she knew Lady heard her thoughts.

‘’And I promise, that I will pay for this opportunity by ensuring he is treated proper, as human must be.’’ Lady spoke again, and Elaine blinked.

‘’What opportunity? And what do you mean by that?’’ Panic once again shot through her.

‘’Opportunity to be mother again. And since I’m obviously not human, I will ask of mortals in my service and domain to provide help where I’m not able to.’’ Elaine listened, stunned.

‘’Do you have children?’’ She asked, knowing decision was already made ( She was but a Elaine, and world didn’t give her much room to rule, for stories stay in minds and bear trace on worlds, and what is now Elaine was once Helen, twisted and changed, and that means they are bound by wicked fate, even if they are less treasured and less cursed, and can only choose which evil they will damn themselves with).

‘’ Sometimes, when need or whim took me, I raised children as mother would do, thought I never bore one. But that was when world was far younger, and their names are lost, and they are less then dust now.’’ Lady spoke, and all heads closed their eyes. And Elaine of Benoic thought she saw glimpse of sorrow and loss in those alien eyes, and knew, with mixture of sympathetic pity and vengeful satisfaction, that this thing had felt what Elaine was going to feel, and billion times over and over.

‘’Why do you aid your friend?’’ What need would fae have of human kingdoms united and safe?

‘’Because that is what friends do, I suppose. And because I’m fonder of humanity then most of my people. I have desire to see them  free and realize their potentials, and see their hopes fulfilled.’’ And what pretty words those are, and true they may be, and Elaine may have agreed, but remember that Lady of the Lake is still one of Gentry, and knows nothing of mercy and trust. Bargain was struck, but one had much more to lose, and other was old and cunning enough to play mind properly like fiddle. And still that doesn’t make her wicked (what would you, my dears, be willing to sacrifice for freedom and prosperity of so many kingdoms, is easy to wonder).

‘’What am I to tell my people?’’  How to tell them, that their queen bargained away their heir to something cruel and eldritch like this?

‘’You could lie, as you are able to, though I’d prefer you don’t.  I would advise you to do what my kind is so fond of- tell a part of truth, and let others fill in blanks with what you are comfortable with. A fay woman rose from water, and took your child, smiling even as you begged and wept.’’ She was cruel, Lady of the Lake, but she is fair too. She knows well what she did.

‘’How will he change? I assume you can’t raise him in your lands without being touched by something of it.’’ She needed to know at least this.

‘’He will be bit more resilient in battle. More graceful. Age slower. Be resistant partially to magic and our glamour. Spot it, and creatures born from it, and illusions easier. ‘’That was good. She supposed so at least.

‘’Will I have to pay for my answers?’’ She asked.

‘’Yes. With kiss.’’ Lady said, and all bodies melded in one, beautiful and so great and beyond anything she could describe.

‘’Very well.’’  Let her see how she would be changed. She closed her eyes and waited. And yet she saw Lady advance, in eye of her mind, like tsunami, with mists trailing after her, and sleeves leaping like waterfalls. Lady bent down, and thousand colours and scents and sounds, thousand sensations and feeling and experiences humans couldn’t, nor should be able to grasp, and felt power, power equal to force and elements  like fluid and  thought and all souls of world and archangel and change go over and around and through her, as great and old and mighty as time and space, washing over her, making her pure and full and blessed...

She opened her eyes, after hearing her son laugh for last time, to see shade of Lady dissolve in water, and went back to her servant and husband and people, calm and composed and assured as she never was, and remained so for rest of her days.

She dreamed of Lake and it’s Lady, and grieved for that kiss till she died.


 

Now let us speak you little of ways of Faerie, and those who dwell there (and whether there is much difference is still to determined, for Fair Folk are strange and curious sort, and with them one can be a man and beast and land at once), and what it means to raise child there, or as much as you can understand, for to explain what Good People truly are is like trying to explain to night what it means to shine, or revenge to forgive, or to carnivore how to eat fruits, or deaf what music is.

Eldritch creatures,  lacking a soul, they come from outside of Creation, so far removed from worlds of living and dead and gods that they are utterly alien to all who dwell there, so when they wish to converse with beings of this world, they need to take on guise of it’s denizens, whether that means taking shape of a lady, or fish, or song , or perhaps storm cloud. And so they can converse with all, men and animals and plants and microbes, elements and ideas and spirits and deities, thought they can truly understand neither.

And it was so that in days of old, before any reality or dimension or multiverse that now is was even a shadow of twinkle of possibility, that one of the greatest of fay, whom some call Vivian and others Nyneve and some Niniane and billion others (for living things are fond of names, and those who don’t die tend to accumulate many), but most know as the Lady of the Lake, made grand friendship and truce with powers humanity knows as wet-liquid-water and space-area-there. And so it was that covenant was struck, that Lady could travel through all bodies of water, through and  in and out of Creation, lakes and rives and puddles, and became known as the chief of ladies of lake, for though many fey became friends and allies of various lakes, only she allied with, and gained dominion over Lake itself.

And so it was that she shaped her lands and domains in Faery (which may have very well been part of her, as such things go) in semblance of a Lake, and was widely hailed as one of Faerie realms most similar to human world. For it took form of a great lake, with no sky or surface in sight, beautiful as shore of a clean pond during shining dawn, and as terrible as dark, murky trenches of ocean (for Lady knew all of Lake, and drew her inspiration from all forms water could take). There water cloud be breathed and seen clearly through, though water was often sky blue and full of strong currents, and various islands could be found beneath waves, and fish and birds and men floated instead of walking.

In place where Lancelot was raised, which was as similar to human world as Lady could make it, there were never storms or mud, and peace and contentment dwelled in that valley, filled with fine sand and flowers of shapes and colours no bloom on Earth could surpass. Fine sand was ground from which castle of ivory and gold rose, of course bigger from inside then it seemed to be outside, and though light sometimes dimmed and weakened in way resembling cycle of day and night, none could tell what time there was, for it moved like whirlpool, fast and then slow and  then go  backwards, making past become future and other way, too.

And so it was that Lancelot grew here, though he was often taken to human world, and Lady did her best to limit his exposure to influence of Faerie, and forbade him from ever hearing it’s songs or tasting it’s food, and yet he was irrevocably changed, for mystery and power of Fair Lands entered in his soul and changed him thoroughly, so that he always seemed out of place in human world, like subject in colour in white and black photo, and had look and smile none could ever truly divine what it meant. But she took care to manage that magic of her home found it’s way in him slowly, and in small measures, so that he wouldn’t be changed beyond recognition, his nature twisted in way that made him unable and unwilling to depart from Lake-for Faery is ancient, hungry thing, yet steadfast and stunning, and what it sinks it’s claws into it never releases, until man cannot live without it, or until his presence warps nature beyond it’s laws.


 

‘’Lancelot, come to gardens. There is somebody for you to meet.’’ Voice of young leaves shivering on spring shower and pebbles stirring waves on surface of puddle whispered in his ear. Young boy put down stick he was practicing with as wooden dolls he was fighting against stopped moving and dissolved in bubbles.

He closed his eyes, spinning one around his left foot, letting his thick braid hit him in face as cool, pleasantly sharp current took him and carried him off to wherever gardens and water’s mistress were. In place like this, space was just as mutable as anything else-yesterday garden was inside his wardrobe, but day before that it was behind mountains left of castle.

The current took him, water spinning around and massaging him, gentle yellow light coming from who knows where prickling at his skin, as he was led out of castle through window, making him slightly dizzy. He wasn’t sure how long he travelled-it could have been second or century, and he made no attempt to open his eyes. Space here was undefined at best of times, but when travelling like this, it bent and twisted and broke until his eyeballs threatened to pop out from all shapes that shouldn’t have been and couldn’t exist.

He wondered who it could have been that Lady Vivian wanted him to meet. he doubted it was fey tutor- Vivian didn’t bring new fey here, for they could change form and behaviour as easily as blinking, and it would be too easy to trick and beguile and snap neck of human charge of one of greatest fey, a High Lady of Court, general of King himself. Such thing, such opportunity would be too glorious to miss. More likely it was another human who made bargain, some impossible favour of magic and price being  to serve, to tutor Lancelot in ways of combat and etiquette and politics.

Lancelot hoped that new visitor would be his age.

He opened his eyes when he felt that  his feet hit the ground, and found himself in valley full of crystal mountains and giant, colourful lilies.  Lady Vivian stood close, in five bodies- giant woman woman built like mountain dressed in hide of long extinct giant cat, her skin same shade of pale, drowned, bloated corpse, eyes torn out and bleeding.  A slip of girl, thin and grey, curled hair made of weeds. An elder woman with hair white and fluffy as cloud, amber body covered in wrinkles and tears and lotus petals. Creature of indeterminable age, small as finger, purple as twilight sky, coated in starlight. Queen with face like fresh, gentle loam and fields, bald and dressed in cloak of sunlight. half invisible, frozen shape, covered in black and purple frostbite and snow and snakeskins.

 And between her forms stood a man. Human. Lancelot let out little gasp upon seeing him better.

He wasn’t anything special in looks, ugly and unsightly thing next to Lady Vivian, contrast between them enough to hurt eyes-but then so were all humans. He was old, but not in way Fair Folk were old, deep and unfathomable and eternal, their age almost palpable, weight of their existences pressing on and choking mortals, but in way any human who has passed threshold of adult is old to a minor just on cusp of teen years.

 (Which is very blurry line, let me tell you, and often depends on diet, amount of sleep, geography, current law religion, parents and myriad other things, and seems to change every few years.

Unless it is war of course. Then, if a child is old enough to hold weapon without falling down under it’s weight, then it is old enough to march off and die).

He looked to be about thirty, perhaps few more years, which to Lancelot was an impossibly high number though he was regularly surrounded by beings older then stone and flame,  with rough, square like face. His mouth and eyebrows were particularly thin, with big nose that seemed to have been broken several times, his eyes big and unfocused, brown hair dark almost enough to mistake for black falling halfway down thick neck in wild, unkept mess.

 But it was his body, and what he wore, that attracted his attention. His torso was wide and muscled, mass born from life of fighting and practicing and riding, and his long, thick arms (with  misapproprietaly small and thick hands, fingers short and almost fat and calloused), one holding long, sharp jousting lance, other bearing helmet decorated with golden wings. Over his body was steel armour, with cotton shirt embroidered with signs of some noble house and wide golden belt. It could mean only one thing.

Knight.

A real, true knight, and noble one at that! Knight serving at royal court, fighting in wars and feuds and rebellions, against tyrants and Romans and monsters! He had experience, lifetime of experience, in duels and festivals and border skirmishes, and he could teach him all Lancelot needed, all small, tiny details and tricks of trade written in no book, who could make his lesson come alive, become real, so that knighthood would become part of his identity, and not just mask he would put on whenever there was need.

‘’Lancelot.’’ Lady Vivian speaks, without moving her lips. Her voice is waves breaking on shore and body falling down the lake and river washing over fields, and it shouldn’t sound like anything close to human words but it does, as if somebody took parts of those phenomenas, snatched half sounds and wove words from them.

‘’This is sir Pelleas, knows as The Gentle Knight. He has served as knight of The Round Table, in Camelot under high king Arthur Pendragon. He has decided to retire and live with us, and since you will fill his post he graciously accepted to train you.’’ He had many tutors, hand picked and chosen to train him in arts of swords and politics and ethics, but neither of them could truly make him knight without mentorship of another. Just as Lady Vivian, for all her age and wisdom and way to know men’s entire nature and fate by glance couldn’t teach him about human society.

‘’And I will be honored to have such successor, young Lancelot. My dear Nymue has told me much about you, and I am sure you are even more talented then she said. I hope we will become.... dear friends.’’  Pelleas spoke in gruff but warm voice, throwing nervous yet mischievous glances at Lady Vivian, whose five bodies swirled around him and giggled, and sparkle disappeared from lancelot’s eyes as he almost closed his eyelids and narrowed lips at his foster mother and new mentor.

‘’ Have you two been  banging each other?’’ Pelleas went red and let his mouth gape like that of fish as he stumbled, and almost fell or floated away.

‘’We-, we are n...Actually....Young man, what sort of language is that, and in front of damsel like...’’ Pelleas looked around, as if expecting somebody to swoop in and save him, while trying to spit out words. Lady Vivian, oblivious to his discomfort way only unnatural  immortal abomination from beyond Creation could, nodded.

‘’Yes. Hour ago, and  for some six Earth months in general.’’ She answered as Pelleas started to choke.


 

‘’That would be enough for now. Your aim has gotten better, and you manage to avoid clashing swords, but you still need to work on your balance.’’ Pelleas spoke, gasping and wiping his brow (he couldn’t really feel sweat under water- or this semblance of Lake Lady crafted) but still habit remained, as both he and Lancelot laid down their swords and sat on grass ( it took him effort to manage, to not float away and be carried away by currents, and it was strange to be in place where his position in space was determined by how hard he thought of where he should be).

Lancelot enthusiastically nodded, before sitting- or better said, sinking down- and willing his armour away, letting it disappear in blue light and green foam. The boy was left sitting down in some strange leather pants that went over his feet like socks, stickling to his legs like second skin, while his upper body was bare. In moment later, Pelleas conjured picture of clothes he would commonly wear in his mind, and watched his own armour change in them.

‘’So, how long would you say until I am to be made true knight, sir Pelleas?’’ Lancelot asked, shining with excitement, saying  title with mixture of longing, adoration and even little envy ( but not with respect and awe and fear all denizens of this place held for one he called Lady Nimue, not with that bone deep wonder and terror that entered Pelleas’s words whenever he spoke of her, words that always meant I am yours and I am grateful that you grant me attention and I will pray and worship and bare my throat as sacrifice to you).

‘’Soon, Lady says, in but a few years.’’ Both of them pretended it meant something, as Lady’s definition of soon stretched beyond lifespans of galaxies and because time couldn’t properly be counted  here, going by  without making them aware of it’s passage. Pelleas couldn’t truly be sure how long he had been living here, nor how old Lancelot was.

It was thing he couldn’t determine. Lady claimed Lancelot was young, teenager around fourteen, but she also said several times that universe was essentially an embryo so her judgement couldn’t be trusted. Boy looked to be between eleven and fifteen- fay magic that crept up his body and soul made it hard to guess, lines of his face seeming to be those of newborn and adult depending on light. He was of average height, with well developed and strong, but thin and lean muscles,  his skin tan and sunkissed, lips red as corals, raven hair bound in thick braid, face and waist androgynous enough for him to be mistaken for girl,  or resemble those of fay that were neither man or woman, accent hard to place.

 ‘’ I have been having problems with dreams again. Could you help me?’’  Pelleas asks boy, both for sake of excitement and pride that crosses his face, and because Lancelot is one of few that could help him. Lady Nymue saved his life, after he should have gone, by snatching his soul with might of her being and driving her fangs in death’s throat, and now piece of her lived in him, changed him in something else - she played medic, and did it well, with lodestone and bandages and herbs, but death couldn’t be warded away with such simple things, so she formed a piece of her being in crystal vial and blue elixir (as she could have formed it in animal, or river, or song), and let him drink it.

And  just as Lancelot was changed by magic, so was sir Pelleas, for so it is when mortal flesh mingles with essence of Faerie. And whereas Lancelot was changed slowly, and slightly, like water moulding sharp glass in something round and blunt, Pelleas was changed in a fast, instant moment, magic tearing through him like tsunami, breaking and reforging and bending his being.

And so it was that sir Pelleas shone with strange, singular light, that softly illuminated his form from below his skin,  and his form blurred at edges, like charcoal washed away by water, and he had that curious smile that men never figured out what it meant, as it grew neither more nor less, and always remained same.

And it was so that sir Pelleas could see city of azure and gold where others saw only lake, for he saw what was beyond, realm Lake was allied to in Faerie, and he could see magic that swirled in air, power from which all came and returned to, and immortal powers that walked unseen, fae and spirits and elementals and concepts and angels and demons,  and  catch glimpse great places of legend and truth where divine reigned and of which mortal world was but a shadow, and he could see dead among living, who always are present even if forgotten, and grasp winks of future and past, of things that were and shall be, and see in hearts and minds of men, feel their emotions and learn truth of their beings.

And so it was that sir Pelleas lived with feeling of something alien and wonderful and horrible pounding in his body alongside his heart, something that was crackle of thunderstorms and pressure of sea and thousand desperate cries that refused to die, feeling it day and night, and he felt borders between his own nature and that of others blur, sometimes grasping thoughts in his hands as if they were solid chains or feeling his legs melt into earth and become one with dust and soil, and in rare, monstrous moments his perspective would change, and he would hear and see what no man could nor should experience, especially when he was sleeping.

‘’Of course!’’ Lancelot almost screamed with pride only children who believe they are only ones capable of helping adult can muster. True, there were few other humans living in Lady’s domain, and most of them lived so long that they forgot how they dealt with period of adjustment to their changed nature, but still sir Pelleas, Gentle Knight, champion of Round Table, member of king Arthur’s court, lover of Lady of the Lake (and this was his highest and most outstanding achievement, for it is hard to survive loving such things like her) could have asked anybody. Yet he asked Lancelot.

As boy started rambling and dispersing advice, Pelleas grinned. If he was allowed moment of arrogance, he could say that mission  of bonding with his student, only other human relatively in his age gap and his lover’s foster son was going very well.


 

‘’ You have some few hours of free time, Lancelot. You don’t need to stay here and bore yourself if you don’t want. Go and have fun.’’ Lady Vivian’s voice, rumble of waves on open sea and river searing beneath ground comes through dark waters from several directions as her various bodies continue working.

‘’But I’m not bored. I want to watch you forging. It’s so exciting.’’ Boy answered,  resting his back on rough indigo walls of cavern, only light afforded by pale blue crystals decorating stone and  iridescent shine of lady Vivian’s bodies, faded and obscure in form like a draft of drawing, or mirage, or faraway reflection in water.

‘’Really? Very well then. But keep away from me as I work, lest something befalls and harms you. And if you are bored, go, but don’t complain for I warned you.’’ Lady said, and Lancelot thought she must have been pleased (or as much as any of fae can muster something resembling human emotion) that he showed interest in her craft.

Lady of the Lake was widely known among Faerie for her interest in human affairs, and love for all mortal creatures-or at least, if not love, then some benign, amused curiosity that led her to sometimes push chances and fates to allow them to prosper. And she was known to have a very good understanding of their kind, which given how old and powerful she was meant she could take shape that wouldn’t shatter universe and drive all who gazed upon it into madness, and hold conversation with humans without having them dedicate their souls to her, or tear out their own eyes. And she was also famous for her love of copying various aspects of human life, but only one or at best three at time, for she struggled mightily with managing several at once. So, as she took upon herself role of healer when she saved sir Pelleas, and role of mother when she raised Lancelot, she now took role of weapon smith, which was her oldest and best managed.

Now, while Lady of the Lake did imitate smiths mortals know, in that she had tools and material and anvil, and had to work for time to shape her creations, instead of simply willing them in existence, as all fae are capable of, she was still one of the Gentry, and one of the most powerful at that, so her work was not such as of humans, but far beyond their abilities, even those of rare forge-mages, or lost craftsmen of Atlantis, or legendary Wayland Smith, but akin to works of Gibil and Gobbannus, Credihne and Goibniu, Vulcan and Hephaestus, those great and wise gods who are fire and metal, anvil and hammer, forge and smith and process and product of creation, and even more akin to those ancient and forgotten gods who came before there was world to manage, and mortals to be worshipped by and to protect, and afterlife to enjoy and live and rule over.

And so Lancelot watched, as her various bodies brought materials she needed, and heated white and blue flames, like those of newborn star, to shine in cold and dark waters where no human could enter without warm blanket and winter clothes, and as she mixed various materials, like midwife preparing tincture for pregnant woman, or priestess brewing sacred drink, or brewer crafting beer, or witch making potions.

And around anvil, which was in strange shape of geometry that couldn’t exist in human world, and which Lancelot could only see from edges of his eyes (and were he to somehow catch full sight of it, it’s form would be blurry and misshapen and hurt his sight, and later he couldn’t recall it’s appearance, and were he a mundane man, not filled with Faerie magic he would have gone mad and screaming and dead right there and then), she placed various tiny bottles and vases, one body bringing each vial,  from each of which flowed a river of thick, colourful material, like molten glass, and Lancelot thought he could hear, if he stretched his sense of hearing very well, almost past his ability a whispered song coming from them, song in notes he never heard before, offering promises of their abilities and uses to Lady, fearful and frightened of her age and power, for she was as strong as world itself, and many times it’s elder.

And in wonder Lancelot watched, the inhuman grace with which his foster mother’s bodies turned and worked, as she followed rules and ways younger then her but older then stars and dreams, and almost caught words of power she spoke, in  forgotten eldritch language so old there were none alive to know it and speak it (and you would ask how she knew it, but let me tell you that no fay is truly alive, just as pebbles and nightmares aren’t, and least of all her, as great and old as deep space and cunning water), and traced impossible letters that existed before there was surface, or creature or tool to write them.

And he delighted in sound of her voices, which were song and scream and whisper and chant and storm, and in impossible grace of her movements, like parting of waves, and beauty of her form, which shone with colours brighter and purer then any among humans, beauty all would have loved ( for beauty of men, depends on eye of beholder, and can be beautiful to some and disgusting to others, but that of immortals is always fair and pleasant to look upon for all creatures of lands where death and life reigned), and how her tools and materials bent and shaped themselves under her will, and at timbre and echo of her bottomless power that went through him and whole of world, and he laughed like a tiny babe, and cried tears of wonder, and delighted in Lady’s beauty, and cowered from fear that came alongside it, for terror and wonder are always one with magic.

And finally Lady rose her hands, and slowly a sword floated above them, seemingly smoke made solid, dark but shining, gleaming and polished like rarest glass, of deep purple colour that bled into black and dark grey, with thin line if vibrant, bloody red going across half if blade.

‘’Well, this is fine work, finer then many I have done in ages, if I may say so. I’d like to see N try to outmatch it soon.’’ And if you think that human politics are complicated and cruel, you have no idea of Fair Ones, let me tell you. N was, Lancelot knew, rival, enemy, comrade and ally of Lady’s, as strong as her and older much, her counterpart and great competition,  serving The Queen as she served The King, and for many ages untold have they fought and aided each other, plotted and helped one against other, tearing at other with everything they had, teeth and magic and universes and weapons and armies and kissed and laughed and embraced each other as they rolled on hills and meadows. Mention of him was challenge and dare, and soon whole of Lady’s domain would be in upheaval, scrambling to prevent plot to outshine or shame her.

‘’I wanted this to be birthday surprise, but I suppose I can do it now too.’’ And sword floated to him, sword capable of slaying immortals and harming ideas and souls and flesh and fabric of reality and magic, right to Lancelot’s hands, feeling rough yet delicate like fur, heavy with power and purpose begging to be used.

Lancelot stood in awe, watching Lady, who smiled with hundred mouths and answered his question, not said but obviously written in his eyes and on his face.

‘’Just make sure to use it properly, and for just cause.’’ She said, as he run towards her, for nothing comes free in Faerie, even mother’s birthday gift to her child. All has price and all must be paid.

Afterwards, they hugged for  quite some time, though neither would admit to it, which is why I tell it to you now.


 

One of things Pelleas was immensely grateful for was that his and Lancelot’s relationship suffered no crisis after he and Lady stopped being together.

Now, you might think that there was some great fight, or that one cheated on other, but it was nothing like that at all. See, simple truth is that no love cannot sustain itself and remain without solid, healthy balance of power. And with Gentry that is impossible, for great is divide between immortal and mortal, between soulless and living, between Faerie magic and human, so that relationship with even smallest, weakest sprite ends in tears and blood and fear, bittersweet at best if not tragedy.

And what balance can there be, pray tell me, between any of mortal things, small and unlasting and born and dying and capable of being harmed, and High Lady of Good People, to whom part of all Faerie is sworn to, who came to be at beginning of time she rivals in power, and immediately slithered off to fight and conquer and trick others of her kind, who can not find partner even among her sort ( for High Lady is of magnificent power, and all others below fear and serve and plot against her, and should she find herself partnered with another Lord of her status, two of them would always be at war, mostly against themselves, united only against other enemies, so she is doomed to forever be alone- if it isn’t true, of course, that she and her nemesis N find respite and peace in each other’s arms, for lines between hatred and love are always thin and faded with their kind).

Now, what surprise him, and in honesty worried him greatly at night when he couldn’t banish  concerns away was that he didn’t feel a pain even a bit, nor mourn and pine as he did for Ettarde, and he could pretend that he was older and wiser and changed person now, and knew it was all simply due to fact that he was now not an ordinary man, but that Faerie lived in him, and so he didn’t anymore feel love or pain like man in truth- for to fae emotion is mask, a game to play, that couldn’t override duty and reason, and so no fae would pine after gone romance, when it knew such undertaking was dangerous and unwise. And so he consoled himself with loving her in way great poets love their muses, as an impossible ideal that touched him for moment and changed his life, one he would never know again but always cherish, for piece of her would stay with his being as long as he lived (and perhaps this was why people enjoyed faerie and were stricken with madness after leaving it, for there they learnt peace and lost sorrow for things they couldn’t affect, though there is much sorrow and pain in other parts of Faerie, as such worlds of power and fantasy and glory are sure to contain).

And because he was cultured, polite man, he held no anger for her, and never intruded on her privacy or inquired about her current love life, as some men are known to do. Friends they remained ( or maybe better, he remained one of her favourite pets, for to one such as her friendship is exploitation and manipulation and fangs tearing in throat), and of course she let him remain under her Lake, to live and enjoy

But to Lancelot it meant nothing, whether because he didn’t really notice or care, or because, living in Faerie he was used to and accustomed to marriages and couplings being another form of war and alliance, created and broken by and for sake of whims and  impossible to understand needs and aims of convoluted fay politics. Still he treated Pelleas as he did above, a worthy mentor, teacher he could joke with and confide in, a idol he was overjoyed to and bit hesitant to approach.

Pelleas hoped once, that boy would come to look at him as on father, or perhaps elder brother. That didn’t come to be, possibly because pelleas came into lancelot’s life little too late, but he didn’t pressure boy or be too forward for he was gentle and good man, and didn’t mourn for his fae touched mind and heart wouldn’t allow him to waste time, energy and feelings on something that couldn’t be changed.

Still, Lancelot, boy who would a knight be, came to him often for advice. He confided in him his fears of growing older and dying and being forgotten, and never again seeing Lady, or any of friends-acquaintances-  familiar fay he knew here ( he couldn’t truly call them friends, for he was aware fay had no friends among themselves, much less with mortals, which made him lesser in their eyes- for he was, as all men are less before fay as they are less before stars and death, but which saved him for they didn’t plot against  and seek to devour him as they might do to another fay), as they were immortal and undying, and creatures without soul were barred from entering afterlife, and should one of fay fall they wouldn’t die, but stop existing as if they never were.

And he came to Pelleas about his fears for future, asking what Camelot was like, for he knew it must be very different from Lake (warmer and more moral yes, but also more wicked, and dishonest), and dread he felt about being knight, whether he would succeed or fail and become laughingstock, whether he would fulfil all expectations of Lady, or fail and shame her and Pelleas and let all work they put in his training and raising go to waste.

And he came to him to confide about things all children going through puberty must feel and pass through such experience, for he knew what was happening as it was explained to him better then to any other in his time, for fey are old enough to remember when life on earth began, and wise enough to see and speak to things like progress and change and hormones, and can speak no lie and so only truth comes from them, such that Lancelot knew some things humans now don’t understand, and will not discover even after they all perish. But those things were explained to him by either fay, who have no bodies and experience no puberty (thankfully, for if one fae was going through what one  hormonal teenager experiences they would break world in half), or changeling humans who were changed so long ago they forgot what it was like, thing like voice growing deeper and cracking and pimples and acnes and lustful dreams that left mess in bed when he woke.

And so Pelleas consoled him as much as he could, and as good as he knew, and told him of all ways humans remembered and honoured their dead, and always loved and kept them in minds, even if they too couldn’t approach them, and assured him Lady would do same, and that would mean he would be remembered forever ( as so many others were, lost and gone and passed in oblivion, while she remained, eternal and endless and unchanging, remembering and holding them all to her long, long past).

And he told boy that he was sure Lancelot would be great knight, for he had talent and drive and worked hard and listened to his lessons, and that Pelleas was proud to have Lancelot as his heir, and that Lady would never be ashamed of him (true, for she knew nothing of shame), and that as long as he tried and remained moral and just and honourable he would be excellent knight.

And he gave boy all advice and tips he needed to hear and know, which are sometimes hidden from children because it is thought as filthy and unsavory, which they find out still at the end, but thankfully that didn’t exist in faerie, which was free of all prejudices humankind knows- oh it had it’s own taboos, and social conventions, but incomprehensible to man, such as noble being dethroned because it was found out they danced among roses in front of oak on fire after having sugar for lunch and writing a letter to their mother with purple ink and forgetting to anoint it with blood. And so it was that Pelleas found out, as he suspected for some time, that Lancelot’s affections indeed run more towards men then women ( mostly due to androgynous appearance and boy sometimes wearing strange clothes, ones from future that showed lot of skin and were tight, and dresses and jewellery sometimes, which despite stereotype wasn’t always case of correlation but now happened to be), and after bit of shock and embarrassment quickly got over it and said nothing, for he learnt well in faerie that it was no shame and has existed as long as there ahs been love and lust and affection and spouses, and never said word against it, but indeed encouraged Lancelot how to flirt and show interest.


 

Lancelot feels it the whole time. Everybody does, for whole land vibrates with sword’s power, an ever-present background hum, that never stops playing. Sometimes he dreams of it, of shapeless sword he cannot properly describe- it is not as much weapon as it is idea of one, hilt and blade and scabbard that look like all and none in world.

It dwells in depths of Lake, in hidden treasury known only to the Lady, like some sacred, ancient heirloom that must not be disturbed. But it calls and calls, and all feel it’s power.

He asks her once about it.

‘’ It is one of my masterpieces. I have crafted it many ages ago, and it has lain unused since then.’’ Lancelot guessed that, for something of such power and draw must have been great work even by Lady’s standards, and would have found user by now. Still, he was stunned as idea of sword so old it had been ages in Lady’s mind since it was created dawned on him.

‘’What can it do?’’ he asked, swinging his braid, now reaching halfway past back, for he knew all weapons of Faerie could do more then just cut when swung.

‘’Many things.  It can cut anything, and  replicate and reflect all attacks, and magnify power of wielder. I myself am not sure of full extent of it’s power, and think it might be growing. Scabbard too has it’s own considerable power, perhaps even greater, as it possesses the  ultimate power of defence and protection, so one who wields it cannot be harmed or defeated in battle.’’  A sword that like his own, could cut mortal and divine, physical and spiritual alike, but copy and reflect all offence, whether those be strike of lighting or hurtful words. And scabbard that wouldn’t allow it’s bearer to bleed, or death to claim them.

‘’What was it made from?’’ For swords of the Lady of the Lake were made from all kinds of things, or which meteorite iron was least rare, from stuff of dreams and fabric of time and bodies of fallen old gods. Now Lady looked around herself, and spoke to Lancelot in quiet voice that echoed in his head, in way not even other fey, who read minds easily as breathing might hear.

‘’Long ago it was, that my King gave present to His... companion.’’ And Lancelot shuddered, for he knew tales of King Lady Vivian served, one of His most loyal retainers and generals, and knew tales of great age and power of The Monarchs, who were endless and omnipotent.

‘’ And It, being what It is, received present and cast it down until it shattered in billion shards.’’ To fay, line between love and hatred was thin, and yet no fay knew for sure whether King and Queen were archenemies or each other’s true love, or both, only that King was obsessed with Queen, and attacked and fought it, as much as He heaped gifts on It and served It as slave, and that The Queen, who had neither emotion nor desire nor thought and cared for none, harmed and plotted against Him, yet always blessed him and sought that He accompany It ( Lancelot didn’t get how it was possible, if The Queen didn’t have feelings or wishes, yet it was another of things men couldn’t grasp).

‘’And so, I have traversed Faerie and fought and bargained, searched and plotted to gain one of gift’s pieces, and from tiniest shard I found I took piece as small as grain of dust, and forged sword and scabbard. And when time is right I will give it to deserving leader.’’ So she finished, and Lancelot pretended not to notice how Faerie trembled and shifted, as if afraid of tale, or if it was bending under attention of Monarchs.

’ But that is just too much history for you. Would you tell me about those new poems you read?’’ And in blink they were in library as big as galaxy, where no book  or carved stone or holodisc was harmed by water.


 

Sometimes, when he is training or hiding from it (rare but still happens, for all children make mistakes and all children get uppity and rebellious, especially as teenagers), or exploring for fun of it, he finds strange things in Lake he can’t properly describe. Rarely he finds them more then once, but there is one place he keeps coming to, almost enough times to call it often.

Water there is dark, and heavy, and cold. No light can permeate that thick darkness, no flame can warm that chill that turns water in clear ice, no thing can withstand that pressure, this he knows for his being slips from confines of body and tastes magic and world around it, as those of changelings are likely to do ( or so he thinks at least-power he feels  is much, much older and stronger then force or darkness or cold, it is only his poor, simple mortal brain that translates it in such way so he could understand and run without going mad, and that is so for one raised by High Lady in Faerie  for as long as they can remember). It feels, other things who are old enough  remember such times to tell him should he ask, like universe was before coming of stars and energy and light.

And yet, through darkness and ice he sees a structure as clearly as if he was in front of it, as if it’s power was such that it couldn’t be denied, that it must be witnessed, feeling more real then anything else. It seemed to resemble, though he couldn’t really be sure, some black and turquoise, teal and purple, with flashes of various shades of blue and green otherwise. It resembles stone circles he had sometimes seen, but in same way Lady’s anvil resembles normal ones (he doesn’t know it, but looking on circle he found would hurt fae too)- older and stronger and being just a shrapnel of thing that metaphorically serves same purpose as they.

It should scare him, but it doesn’t ( it never does, it never scares anybody). He likes it, delights whenever he sees darkness and ice rise in front of him, keeps enjoying it’s appearance, keeps feeling it call but not demand, more hesitantly ask that he come, and it feels so so so safe and good and guarded forever and lovely and caring  and nothing will ever harm you again.

And it isn’t abandoned.

Always, always Lancelot finds a man there, behind-inside-over-under-in front of- next to the stones, who seems to fill up darkness with his appearance. He is sometimes just as hard to look at as the stones and anvil, but other times he seems as mortal as Lancelot. He feels ancient beyond reckoning, but seems to appear young (or so it seems, for Lancelot cannot correctly distinguish his age, like with all older changelings stuck here, ones who didn’t come wrinkled and gnarled and grey and bent), a year older then Lancelot at most. His clothes are unlike any Lancelot had ever seen, and he saw many many strange ones, and he lacks words to describe them save for fact they are all in same colours like stones, as are his eyes.  His skin is golden, and there are icicles set on, or maybe growing from, his head in vague shape of crown. His hair is made of  dark, streaked with pale strands of other five colours beside black, and it melds in his giant cloak, filled with eyes and mouths and fangs.

He seems nice and interesting, though.

Lancelot always finds him, near and close yet distant and faraway, being within everything in darkness and ice, staring at stones and doing nothing. Sometimes he hums strange song Lancelot can’t properly hear, or giggle while crying. Yet his behaviour is not stunning, graceful and beautiful enough to rend hearts. It is mundane (or not really, given what he is used to, but to everybody their own is baseline and normal and mundane), common and real and as human as he was.

Sometimes, man-boy-thing would turn and Lancelot would see his golden face, undimmed by darkness and still not shining, stones reflected in golden surface.  His expression always so human and ordinary, was lost, awkward and confused. But always he would let out squeal of childish joy when he saw Lancelot, and energetically wave to him. After some time, Lancelot started waving back, which would make golden boy-man-thing jump and squeal.

Lancelot is boy, and teenager, and raised among things that can’t feel or love truly, just pretend and price for that imitation is that they bleed and tear apart those they love and see nothing wrong with it, even High Lords who are so ancient and wise. And children who feel attraction of such kind, whether  of emotion or purely of flesh or both are prone to falling in love, short and brilliant like burst of fire.

So, as he falls in love with thing-man-boy who he never talked to, he does same all children do when they are caught in shallow, burning crush they are consumed with, believing it can blossom in true love and horrible, fantastic romance and what not, which mainly consists of fantasizing about dates and trying to compose sweet poems  that are mostly corny copies of things they read in library, in between trying to find courage to walk up and talk with said, crush, as well as pleasuring himself in bed, reading bad erotica during lunch that makes Pelleas cough and joke, change sheets often and try to figure out most attractive combination of clothes, which in his case apparently means  ponytail, big gaudy jewellery, tight black leather pants, fingerless gloves, boots up the knees and some strange clothing from future that is attractive, useful for training and which gremlin he got it from asked only  for fifteen banana peels, string of beads and teeth and bottle full of firstborn’s tears called sports bra which he likes enough to keep.

He sees  thing-boy-man shouting and waving and thinks he is trying to compliment Lancelot, which leads to more waving, blushing and ducking.

There is still problem of boy being trapped inside ice, for which he hesitantly must involve Lady-not because he doesn’t trust her, well he doesn’t really in this case as he is well aware that whereas humans sometimes need permission of parents to date (who, yes, can help guide children as parents are older and wiser and may save them broken heart and useless as most of them claim when they are in good mood if they give explanations at all, for  hurtful relationship is quite dumb idea, yet often useless because no parent can, should or must dictate their child’s  heart how to love- and yes, thanks for reminding me, lies and abuse and exploitation aren’t love no matter how hidden they are in which parent is encouraged to intervene whether their child receives or gives out abuse and no, this isn’t preachiest I can get my darlings don’t tempt me), but as everything Fair Folk take it up the notch and adds murderous madness, so in order for two ( or more) people to date they must first face each other’s  relatives, or at least one (worth noting they don’t need to be blood-or what passes for parentage and genetics among fae- related, but just considered family by one another, which also contains duel to death in order to become family member), and defeat, preferably horribly kill  their opponent.

Lancelot thinks often he’d rather have Lady forbid him to have any sexual or romantic relationship then go through another discussion of encouraging questions and advices that ends with enthusiastic detailed gory description of just what she will do to his first partner.

He doesn’t dare imagine what High Lord of Seelie Court,  right hand of the High King, Lady of the Lake could do to what appears to be lonely, confused halfbreed. But still he asks, sure poor man is imprisoned within ice because of some slighted fae’s whim

He asks about darkness and ice, and circle of stones, and boy of gold and shadow who dwells within.

For first and last time in his life he sees Lady of the Lake terrified. She doesn’t scream or flinch or make any expression, but whole Lake trembles with anticipation and dread, almost as human and real as fae can make it. Billions upon billions of bodies, human and not, and all forms Lady ever took freeze and turn in room that is now wider then cosmos and look at him, faces blank and empty and cleansed of all pretence and emotions, their eyes void and soulless  as they mingle and meld in one and join with space around them as Lady, false water shape eldritch magic took, Faerie itself whispers to Lancelot whose eyes burn and almost bleed.

‘’That is The King’s shrine.’’ And here is what Lancelot knows about Monarchs.

They are eternal.

Their power cannot be quantified for it is limitless.

What they consider mean, passive aggressive teasing is enough to unmake multiverses from existence faster then thought.

The Seelie High King is the guardian, who protects all who come to him from everything forever.

He is too big to notice difference between even things like life and death, cold and hot, much less to understand what is beneficial and what harmful to human.

He is obsessed with The Queen.

Men raise shrines to earn favour of their gods, to communicate with them, revere them. Fae do so to keep Monarchs away, to ensure they don’t come near, to know where to avoid them.

Lancelot sees shrine once more. This time he sees past glamour, past his own ideas, past whatever magic draws him here- he sees eternity, and absolute might, and madness in King’s awkward smile, and knows this thing would end him without noticing.

He doesn’t cry, or mourn, or think of what could have been. What is Fair in him doesn’t allow him to think such nonsense, and what is mortal doesn’t allow him to find anything but fear and awe for that eldritch power that crafted  and carved out the very Faerie itself  in less than  a blink of eye, and could just as easily destroy all worlds without effort or notice.


 

He lies down after training, his back held against his favourite apple tree, frowning as he bandages bloodied wound on his forearm. It’s not deep or infected, just a scratch for all it looks as if he is going to bleed out to death, but still he grumbles. After all these years, he should have gotten used to that old trick, but not, he got overconfident and...

‘’Does it hurt a lot?’’ Voice asks him, rough and dreamy, sounding like rain against harsh stone. He turns to find a fae man, as tall as he is, skin and hair transparent and clear as spring water and tears save for few grey scars, dressed entirely in peasant clothing various shades of blue, brown pouch on belt, with giant wings riding from back, five mouths (one where mouth is on humans, two on cheeks, one on chest and one on stomach) as well as twelve eyes ( two on his face, two on palms, four on wings one on top of head, one on throat, two circling above him) and red blood dripping from severed feet.

As fae go, this one almost managed to get correct amount of various organs humans possess.

‘’Nope. Stings a little, but blood dirtying water is biggest problem.’’ he says, watching thick liquid disperse in water like mist. The fae floats over to him, using wings like fins.

‘’I could help you with that. Blood and wound both.’’ He says, lips quirking in small smile. Lancelot returns smile but shakes head.

‘’ No, I can’t. Not allowed to.’’ Lady Vivian rarely practiced magical healing, on account that it was rarely present in human world and Lancelot needed to get used to it as fast as possible so as not to stick out among ordinary humans, as well as not to mourn too much for Faerie.

‘’ Phhhh. I suppose it makes sense, what with life of knight and all. Still, I can clear blood around, and would ask only for an apple.’’  Of course, all fae on property knew why Lancelot was fostered, secret Lady Vivian kept from all but most trusted servants. Still for second his obedient nature thought of how Lady would react to knowing he made deal for clean up before devious bored teenager mind realized she only forbid healing and enhancement, and besides all that blood floating around was kind of gross.

‘’Deal.’’ He said, and boy smiled, teeth like sharp, translucent diamonds, and blood was gone without him noticing at all. Lancelot rose to try to climb before boy stopped.

‘’Hey, hey easy, little knight. I didn’t say you should bring me apple now. You are still hurt, it can wait for later.’’ Lancelot knew fae was likely saying that because prolonged time made debt greater, and because he didn’t want to face his mistress’s anger upon realizing possibility of Lancelot getting hurt was rather high should he climb with injured arm, but it still made him feel warm and good inside.

‘’Very well. I will give it to you later.’’ Boy nodded and Lancelot watched his various eyes open and blink, some seeming to disappear, other turning wholly blue.

‘’Tomorrow here, at same time?’’ Boy asked  then sat down like cat, and started twisting his eyes to look at all sides, as if there was something invisible to Lancelot, and there likely was.

‘’Yes, after practice can do. How should I call you?’’  Lancelot asked, wondering whether he would recognize fae’s alias or title. Boy seemed to think on it for some time.

‘’Hmmmm... That Which Rains Down From Above can work. But if that is too long, you can call me Storyteller. You?’’ was answer Lancelot received.

‘’Red. Or Swordshine.’’ He answered, using familiar aliases. Fae probably knew them, but asked for sake of politeness, which was nice but waste of debt ( as all questions and words in Faerie were either debts or promises), which in itself was unusually kind and caring.

‘’Very well. Well, now I have some duties to attend to, and I suppose you have your own, but let us meet tomorrow. Alright with that?’’ And well Lancelot nodded, boy smiled even wider with his five mouths and faded away.

And so they did meet tomorrow, and sat down together under apple tree and talked about meaningless, small and funny things that had them both rolling on floor with laughter ( Lancelot suspected Storyteller was just imitating his reactions, but it was good imitation, almost real and full of supernatural grace).

Lancelot told Storyteller of his training, of weapons he wielded and mastered and strikes he managed to get on Pelleas and other trainers, both living and not, sentient and constructs, and of sights he found and poems he read  as Storyteller clapped and eyes on his palm excitedly fluttered. And Storyteller told Lancelot of lands and times he visited, people and machines he saw, carts and cars, told him about treaties between neighbouring times in age after ice receded it’s hold on Earth and of wars raged between empires that dwelled among stars in their ships that flew through dark space.

‘’ You will make a good warrior and sir, boy who would a knight be, as long as you don’t let it get in your head and remember that you must always train and grow, even when it seems you are the best.’’ Storyteller told him, whenever he would get lazy and lay off training, with hands crossed and look like that of grumpy old man.

‘’ Do not push yourself beyond your limits. Know them, and know that once you go too far it is no longer your best. You just broke an d damaged something for some time in future.’’ He advised, whenever Lancelot tried to train and work more then he was scheduled to, needling him to rest with his five mouths speaking in five unmatched voices that caused headaches.

‘’So what if you can not write good poems? Not everybody has ability. You still can read them properly, and understand what author meant to say. And anyway, Not everybody can be good at everything, dear  Swordshine.’’ He spoke holding clawed, translucent hand around  Lancelot’s right shoulder.

‘’ Be careful with rushing in, little Red. You are still young and untried, and sex is never what it is described as in those erotic books of yours, especially for first time. You could get hurt easily. And yes, this isn’t preachiest I can get, do not tempt me.’’ He warned him when Lancelot  confessed some of his fantasies, running hand through raven hair he was braiding.

‘’No, I am sorry but we can not. You are still child, still young and easily led. I am too old and ancient for you, you might as well try to kiss sea, you would drown in me, you need somebody more your age and maturity.’’ Storyteller spoke, leaning back when Lancelot tried to kiss him.

‘’ Do not mourn that you are not like us. Yours is eternal soul, while we have not even that. You live and feel and know what is.... what is that word again, that weird thing...morality? Yes, you know that, and you can lie, and trust, and die and go on to afterlife. We are monsters and Other even among ourselves, and to know us is to know tragedy and doom. Why else do you think we pretend to be like creatures of your world? ’’  Storyteller told him, wherever Lancelot confessed that he envied fae.

‘’You know, I can lengthen time of your rest without anybody noticing.’’ He offered, and Lancelot, being tired teenager half in love, half awed and wholly grateful for friendship with Storyteller accepted, all for price of several new poems read in language he didn’t understand and that wouldn’t be born for another three thousand years.

And in many long night has Storyteller, as his name/alias/title demanded, told him various stories,  of strange places and past and future both, of people from all walks in life and all kinds of fates, in various styles of narration, so sometimes he told him of tragedy in city called Verona with ironic, tongue-in-cheek speech that had him laughing even as main characters killed themselves, and sometimes he told him fairy tale of wolf and seven goats in breathy, whispering and detailed voice that left him shivering and with eyes wide as if he was told some great truth about nature of existence.

 And it was once, that they were exploring-floating-swimming through empty deep waters of Lake, hairs swinging wildly around them as if alive that Lady of the Lake found them, her thousand bodies floating as  they came near, and to Lancelot she looked very pleased.

‘’Hello, my dear. And our honoured visitor, may I know why you have been interacting with my foster son, N?’’ And Lancelot freezes, and turns to Story- N, N, N enemy rival Queen’s eyes-  who floats up to Lady Vivan, each of her bodies somehow, looking incredibly gentle and caring.

‘’ Why, my beloved Lady, I just wanted to see boy for myself. You know how I like to meet  new people.’’ But how did he know? Lady kept him secret from other fae, and allowed no spies in...

‘’ I thought mortals hadn’t found favour with you for long time. Or have you reverted to your roots of defender?’’ There was no bite or poison in either  question or her body language- she was languid, comfortable and friendly unlike any other time Lancelot saw her.

‘’ Only if you had started drowning people and pulling ships down again. It has been so so long ago, and we are nothing like that anymore, right?’’ N asked, giggling sweetly and softly.

‘’So it has been. Why did you come without letting me know.’’ But it was impossible. Lady knew all that happened in her realm.

‘’I wanted to see your knight for myself. Nice boy for now, as they go. I can tell you he will truly become legend for ages, oh yes such a legend he  won’t even be able to guess.’’  N answered, swimming around Lady in what seemed to be alluring, charming dance. They locked eyes.

Lady was as before, her billion bodies nearby, but she was also pillar of light, mist with eyes and fanged mouths, horror of flesh and thousand limbs and organs, arms and mouths and eyes and ears and hearts like whole nation joined in one  creature, and she was glass orb burning with white flames hanging above and below and inside mist and lake which were sky and earth and islands floated through-around-next to her as did countless legendary swords.

And N held his form, but he was also endless water and cat with only blue eyes and no other colour, and he was ancient and wrinkled and broken genderless statue without face, and he was giant blob like monster without head, his tail ocean with thousand kinds of creatures in it, and his body was carved with alien letters that didn’t allow themselves to be read and twelve paths of light extended from them, and he had thousand and one tentacle surrounded with bracelets of eyes from which air came, and his wings were also sky from which temples and cathedrals hanged upside down, all blue blue blue blue blue.

It hurt, as it hurt looking on anvil, and shrine, tearing apart his mind and wrecking his body and peeling off strata of his soul, two powers so great only forces of nature could compare tearing him apart without noticing, just by their presence, and he knew he only saw surface of ocean, tip of iceberg, and that this has happened before, and shall happen again, that time will fall before two of them finish their rivalry.

And then N stepped away, and everything returned to normal, as he smiled and walked over to Lancelot-Lady Vivian stood, billion pairs of eyes watching N, knowing he wouldn’t dare breach laws of hospitality, but awaiting what he will do.

‘’It is me that harmed you.’’ His five voices murmured, rumble of sea, shuttering of glass, fall of rain, whisper next to bonfire, crack of bones. ‘’It is I who owe you healing.’’ and all Lancelot’s injuries were gone, and he wasn’t laying sobbing in pool of his own blood, trying to claw out his eyes as all he saw were shapes that should never be witnessed by men, and fear and pain he witnessed and experienced were a distant memory too.

‘’At least those of body and mind. I can not offer you something big for betrayed trust, Lancelot.’’ No fae would. Trust was meaningless among fae. You entered friendships expecting you would at very least be used then abandoned for sake of some plan. Most fae didn’t even know what trust was.

Fae would have wondered and panicked, how another knew it’s  true name. But to human children such things fade in importance next to broken faith and false friends.

‘’Perhaps some trinket, and words to tell you that you shall be a great knight and legend, and few if any will know of my involvement with you. One day you will fall in honest love too, love of sort that can shake kingdoms if it wills so. But this will serve you as well- after all, betrayal makes us all stronger and better.’’ Last words were said with wry mixture of adoration and tiredness. From his hands dropped blue jewel- a fae gem that could buy kingdoms and power rituals, precious to men but just a meaningless grain to fae, exactly sort of price trust would have.

‘’See you later, my Lady. Preferably on battlefield- we haven’t had chance to dance in aeons.’’ He said, and blew five kisses at countless bodies, then faded away in water. Lady Vivian hurried to Lancelot, dozens of arms raising and hugging him.

‘’W-why?’’ he asked through tears.

‘’To repay slight I made with crafting of your sword. I won it’s materials in gamble against him, and crafted great weapon I gave to human. So in return he betrayed you, and sent me message he can come in heart of my power without me noticing. Smart and cruel.’’ Lady Vivian said, as she embraced crying boy.

‘’I didn’t know...I’m sorry... Don’t send me away, please.’’ He sobbed, for foster son fraternizing with such personal enemy was at least grounds for three universes time of exile, and being seriously maimed.

‘’You didn’t. I didn’t teach you anything but his alias and position. And that name I gave you is not his most common either. He calls himself, and is called so by others, the Storyteller, for he is one who bore speech and tales in being, and That Which Rains From Above, for during wars of of old he dealt with enemies by  attacking them from great heights, and Witness for he knows every sin and wrongdoing, and Master of Crossroads, for he knows everything and all paths lead to his knowledge.’’ She spoke, thousand voices as one. She should have, were she not scared such tales would attract him, to leer and plot, to listen and judge, or to tell them himself. All fae grew with knowledge of their Monarch’s generals, but whereas King’s were known in way leaders and history is known, and could and were approached, Queen’s were legends and fearsome tales, things that crept and waited in places no fae dared approach if they didn’t have to.

‘’It is all my fault.’’ She said, and he believed it and said no, no no as they hugged, even though she didn’t manage to copy proper emotion of apology and regret human would.

They remained there for hours, hugging and crying all for sake of one cruel, vain whim.


 

‘’Are you ready, my dear?’’ Lady asked him, coming in triple body, a vague shade of water composed in form of woman, as Lancelot packed his things and dressed properly.

‘’I... I am not sure.’’ Young man admitted, for in Faerie they weren’t taught to cover up their doubts and thoughts with small lies of property and politeness (though they shouldn’t bring them out for all to hear and grasp and wound, for such is danger of Courts).

‘’And why would that be?’’ She asked in voice of clear water being spilled and rushing on earth moist after autumn rains, confused and amused and caring, but not in way men mix those emotions, but as if she wasn’t sure which one she should use.

‘’Will I be proper knight? i don’t know...’’ He began, as she was getting close, standing next to him, gliding through water of lake which shimmered and moved and as gentle cool current rippled across his face, like wind.

‘’Ah.’’ She said, as if she just now remembered humans have doubts, especially when they are young and going to drastically change their lives.

‘’Listen to me, my dear. Everybody would agree you are great knight in all but name now. Your prowess in battle is amazing, and your skill and strength are great, as is your beauty, and you are son of a king, with lineage as noble as any on Earth.’’ She spoke, touching his hair with fingers of ice and mist. Often Lancelot had battles bandits and constructs to test himself, and has surpassed Pelleas years ago- who didn’t grow older, but was even stronger then in his prime, and he knew well he was prince, and entire lineage of his house. That last bit didn’t matter to him too much- what power does it have, being descended from humans who carved out kingdom through treachery politics and conquering warmongering when he was raised by power that rivalled space and order and greatest of old gods?

‘’But that isn’t enough.  Some would say it is, but they are no proper knights-that one may not exist among men, but ideal should always be strived for. Your worthiness will be equal to your beauty, should  your courtesy and gentleness be as great as your prowess.

Today you shall go unto Camelot with King Arthur to make yourself known unto that famous Court of Chivalry. But do not tarry there, but, when the night comes, depart and go forth into the world to prove your. For I would not have you declare yourself to the world until you have proved your worthiness by your deeds. Wherefore, do not yourself proclaim your name, but wait until the world proclaims it; for it is better for the world calls you great then for yourself to do so.

So hold yourself ready to undertake any adventure whatsoever you come across, but never let any other man complete a task unto which you yourself have set your hand to." She spoke, as they sat on bed that wasn’t there moments ago, and Lancelot stared in those immortal, soulless eyes, and he felt awe as for moment she became centre of his world, only thing that mattered, greater then galaxies and as glorious as goddess (she faced them, and was hailed as one, once).

‘’And though this may just be my opinion, for it is single thing I understand as well, or better then men humans maybe when it comes to ideals, is that you always must believe and hold hope. For hope is that which moves kingdoms and armies, and when you are stricken down and fallen, hope must burn in your heart like a bonfire, or embers even, but still persist in whatever forms, and you shall arise stronger.’’ For Lady of the Lake learnt a one thing about humans, to feel hope like them, and beheld younger power in all it’s width, and dedicated herself to preserving and upholding it, as some of her peers felt other things, joy or anger or sorrow (Hope keeps and upholds, but betrayal is key to power-if it doesn’t shatter you, it makes you greater).

‘’I will. I will do so...mom.’’ He whispered, and she smiled, and kissed him on cheek and forehead, and put necklace of gold and silver, emeralds and opals around his neck.

‘’I know you will.’’ She said and they sat, four heads touching as they waited, smiling in silence.

‘’Where are we?’’ Asked Pelleas, looking at glorious table and dishes in front of them, while fae  and changeling servants danced and argued and reconciled and prepared for arrival for high king Arthur- Lady Vivian always had a taste for dramatics, and glorious richness of royal courts that drives greed of so many.

‘’In Middle. In human world, but place filled and changed by me, located between layers of existence, between that of humans and of gods, between surface and truth of Creation.’ ‘ Lady answered, her voice churning of wine and riverbed, whistle of reeds by lake and laughter of children playing in mud.

‘’Now, do you think this will suffice?’’ She asked, gesturing at fresh food that made all humans in attendance drool even as it didn’t taste as well as food grown/created/ conjured in faerie, or at least cooked by fae hands.  He looked at silken, embroidered fabric that covered tables hewn and carved from mighty oaks that still seemed as if they were living trees, vibrant and life like images on them moving. He looked at dishes, china and silver and diamonds that glistened in thousand colours, and ancient, beautiful forest around them, and shining clear stars and sky  that was noon and midnight, dawn and dusk, as if Lady ordered Sun and moon to attend feast, and they complied out of fear and interest, which honestly was likely.

‘’I think it will.’’ he answered, not sure whether Lady Nymue was joking or being honest. Fae had that awful habit of overdoing everything, good and bad equally, but she restrained herself this time.

They couldn’t have lord of Camelot abandon his country because he was enchanted by beauty of napkin.


 

Now, we are finished with that, though there were many adventures, and many things you should never learn about. Mortals can only get glimpse of that world, either by their own eyes or other’s words, before they are sucked in forever.

For such is way of Faerie. Not of simple, mortal stuff is it made, but of ancient magic that predates time and existence by far, and outside of Creation it exists, in ways you can’t grasp at all, so Other and Wrong it makes gods feel pain from grasping it’s truth, and when coated in form resembling those humans can grasp, it is of such wonder and terror and might and awe and majesty that  it’s beauty and fear repulses and claims humans, addicted to memory of it. Many have wasted, from tasting but a crumb of fay food, hearing but a note of fay music. For nothing else compares.

And you want me to tell this story, and have it written down (in whatever form) so that it might be read by anybody anywhere, so that any who searched or knew or stumbled upon or were given way could read and hear and know, and were I to speak of all that has happened in Faerie, you would have gone mad, and all else who read and knew and heard, and so on and so on. But enough of that for now.

Now it is time to turn to other actors of this tragedy, of how it began and prospered, while love was still fresh and young and blooming, before war and pain and treason stained it. I suppose you will like it most. It is reason why legend has persisted, simple and easy and without strange secrets you cannot uncover. Magic just adding touch to tale of human nature and justice, not being actor in it’s own right.

Unless you prefer tragic part, for which you will have to wait little. But only little.


 

 

II

Ride and claim glory

How all changed, with one sword lifted from stone and anvil.

Arthur wouldn’t have believed it had somebody else told him. After all, how could a piece of steel and rock know who would be good king? Though he held his tongue, for men needed hope, especially one they believed to be sent by Heavens,  for all Arthur wasn’t sure why God would be interested in Albion of all places, especially now.

King Uther died. So what? Kings died all the time. New one would arise, either through political scheming, joint decision of lords or hostile takeover. They needed no miracle to help them with that. Far more likely it was some sort of ruse, clever and cruel one exploiting poor and scared people, to get oneself installed as king with divine authority-as if every one didn’t claim so.

Then he pulled out the sword.

When people recount important events from their life, or tell fictional stories, often they mention moment when time stopped, as world slowed down and recognized importance of what happened (and when that seventh art is properly figured out, they will accompany it with proper corresponding music, as opera and ballet will do same music). That is only a story, of course-whereas one person might be forced to undergo grievous choice, or had been exposed to terrible truth, another might soundly sleep, or be disposing of their own waste. It is selfish to expect whole world to stop  for your sake, but ah humans are like that.

Yet sometimes stories are true. Arthur Pendragon pulls out the sword from the stone and Albion recognizes it’s king.

Time warps and slows down, whole of Albion’s Isles wrapped in tiny time bubble, as sword slowly and without sounds is freed from it’s confines of rock and anvil. Once blade escaped it’s prison, the wordless declaration echoes across every man and beast and plant of Albion, and all of them felt strange burning in chest as mantle of rightful king descended on Arthur, melting into his very nature.

Later, crown was put on his head but high king’s coronation, ordained by Isle itself happened then and there.


 

Arthur didn’t use to believe in magic.

He knew of cunning folk, who healed people and tended sick and divined weather and crops, and claimed to exorcise wicked spirits and demons. But that was just knowledge and hard work, mixed with bits of superstition in his mind.

And he knew fairy tales, about wizards and witches, wands and potions and spellbooks, who could turn man in frog or cast curse on entire family and thousand other misfortunes, but those were just stories to amuse and scare children.

He knows of rumors, that sorcerers have been getting more and more common, wandering earth and taking up domains of their own due to Uther’s death, carving out lands and fiefdoms by means of summoned storms, or using illusions and wards to serve kings and knights, all  rumors to him.

The he met Morgause.  Morgause,  born Anna, daughter of Gorlois and Igraine, called Orcades for her kingdom of Orkney she shared with her husband Lot, called Morcades and Morgawse and many other names, hiding her true name as all witches do. Mother, queen, witch, his half-sister ( and oh, lover, once, when they sinned and slept together, secret both of them will take to grave), who bursts with free, chaotic power, who can ensure man survives battle and send misfortune upon household with a minor rite, who can mesmerize minds with few blinks of eyes and wrap illusions and mirages around herself like cloak until they seem real.

Then he met Morgan. The youngest of three daughters of Igraine, and closest to him in age, raised in nunnery and later tutored by Merlin, who learnt arts of herbs and history and astrology (which then wasn’t quite different from astronomy), called mage and sorceress and enchantress, who was taught by nuns and priests of various other faiths ( Irish and Welsh and Roman and Brittany’s) and danced and sang with Good People, who can see future and summon dead with a piece of crystal, shift her form in horse or bird or tree or even a pebble with potions she brews and cloaks she weaves, who can piece back broken bond and mend burned skin with but a whisper.

Then he met Merlin, who prefers names Emrys or Myrddin but doesn’t use later when talking with French, patient if slow old man with beard falling below his waist and whiter then snow, with twinkling eyes and shaking, spotted hands and curled fingers, fountain of knowledge and wisdom and full of wry humor. Merlin who none know how old he is, who was known as and lived as madman and advisor and hermit and druid and priest, Merlin for whom they say has no father at all, who can make stones dance and travel over seas with his staff, who can burn down house  sigil written in floor, who can command animals with simple ritual, who sees past and future as one.

 Until he followed his mentor, his advisor, old Merlin, greatest of wizards and mages and witches, to wilds men rarely traversed, to untamed and rough place where best thing you might encounter is bandit or hungry beast, if not something worse, till they slipped in Middle and came to one of lakes that just might be any in the world, and there from water rose she who was called Nymue and Viviana and Niniane, Lady of The lake, a fay, creature from legends and nightmares that didn’t age and didn’t die, beautiful as angel and eyes empty of thought or soul, her presence making his bones melt and beg and scream as she handed him Excalibur and it’s scabbard, making him unbeatable.

And he had feeling it is all just the beginning.


 

Arthur has often read about troubles and woes of kings, and declared it all rubbish in his mind. Just how could being most powerful and important man in country be problem, aside from battlefields and rebellions of course?

He has inkling of thought that, if there is fate or gods or whatever decided way and future  of universe, that it was that doubt, and not his bastard, royal blood that convinced whatever entity or force rules over them that he was to be high king.

It is fitting, that he is king of most broken and chaotic land in world (as far as it is known to him, who thinks his tiny blue planet only one in importance, befitting of status of world when that word means so so much more).

Courtiers are problem. He learns soon that royal court is often as much hindrance as help, or even more. He was raised in noble household, but there is difference between home of minor knight and ruler of whole Albion, especially when most expected of you is to become another minor knight, leader of small soldier troop at most, and his training didn’t include dealing with vipers who are ready to betray king they choose themselves, much less hidden bastard ordained by magic sword and mysterious pagan priest/wizard/ madman/ prophet/whatever they are calling merlin nowdays.

Another problem he has to deal with are all other kings. Albion has broken in up to hundred small nations and kingdoms, each of which would like to sit at his place, each of which desires to keep their independence while desiring to see others subservient, prideful bunch who’d be all well with Arthur conquering and annexing everybody but them, which his advisors and courtiers constantly remind him of. He spends hours over desk, crafting ways to establish alliance where everybody is satisfied, all kingdoms part of greater nation.

Then there is problem of Romans. Damned bastards have left, leaving nothing but broken fortresses and overgrown paths in their wake, while still trying to influence their politics. He needs both to satisfy Rome and people who don’t wish to chafe under their boots, and return old working conditions to people who are used to goods Rome provided without them mistrusting him for believing in foreign concepts.

And there are Saxons, of course. Their hordes are constantly coming, marching and floating, by land and sea, foot and boat to lands to ravage and conquer and harass ( perhaps they would do so, if they had power too, and oh how would our dear Arthur weep to see horrible empire that would grow on these lands, all blood they would spill and all lives they would ruin), where before they just traded. Somebody needs to organize army, to prepare strategy and fight in battle, and that somebody is him.

And there is so many problems with their laws that he needs to fix. Laws that aren’t applied properly, or stacked against poor and women and commoners and even ones that permit slavery. And whole way he is fighting against nobles who wish for them to remain, either because they prosper from such state or because they fear change and progress.

Yet another trouble are bandits, outlaws and errant self-serving knights, preying on weak like wolves on sheep. And that is without getting in problems of lack of efficient communication, bad infrastructure and oh rogue sorcerers...

And he needs to fix all that to be afforded measure of consideration of possibility he can be king.

Well, what can he do but prove all his detractors wrong? Let them see what Pendragon is truly made of.


 

Arthur followed dwarf whose body was crafted from shifting jewels and lady made of moonlight upon their corpse like, milk white horses, followed by his nephew Yvain ( or Ewain, or Owen, or whatever name you would like, fine boy, though he never followed in his mother Morgan’s footsteps, but became simple prince and heir of Urien) and Ector de Maris (whom some called Hector, for it caused confusion with Arthur’s foster father, as if same names aren’t as common as pebbles and dime a dozen, but he liked it for it reminded him of great Hector, hero of Illiad, though I can tell you he could have chosen better role model, but then my perception and judgement may not be sound, for I am of mind that all mortals in that particular work are not fit for moral idols, though none can deny their accomplishments are as hero was understood then, but I am old and hateful and knew it all before and during and after that war).

As it is common fun for knights and noblemen and actually has some purpose, they went to the hunt (though it seems strange to use such name for that activity when you aren’t running and catching prey by your legs and teeth alone but perhaps I’m too old fashioned), in their joy and excitement going deeper and deeper in woods. But they forgot that it was Eve of Saint John, which as holy day carries it’s own power, and so close to Midsummer, it meant they slipped in Middle and attracted notice of fay.

Now, when silver damsel and jewelled dwarf came to them, on milky horses that stood still as statues and which strangely didn’t breathe at all ( and stood near hawthorn, and ancient, ruined shrine of things men and beasts all forgot for it was before their time, when other mortal races walked earth and worshipped different and same gods in other ways), and claimed they were messengers of Fair lady who saw herself as friend of Arthur’s, they listened, for while fay are troublesome when friends they are even more problem when they are slighted.

And so they came to meadow, where a tiny court was held, perhaps great to three humans but miniscule to fay who considered galaxies  best used as closets. And oh what court it was, how their breath was taken away! For it seemed to them it was more glorious then Heaven, and in some ways perhaps it was, just as in others it was more horrible then Hell.

As if they were charmed or drunk, they couldn’t properly remember the revel and all what transpired there, and for rest of their lives they caught only glimpses of memories, as if they spent time in some deep, bizarre dream.

They remembered that hidden knight who stood beside Lady who invited them was Sir Pelleas, for they recognized him after he removed his helmet, though he hadn’t aged and magic overtook him in half, and they could touch him for on such days it was safe to lay hand upon immortals with all the magic in air.

And they realized that Lady in wimple, who invited them, was no other but Lady of The Lake, whom Arthur called Niniane and Pelleas Nymue and Lancelot Vivian, and that she had lived though Sir balin had beheaded her ( for she spent some time as human and changeling, and Balin murdered human she learnt to call brother as she arranged for his mother to be burned, and she let be struck down, for she wanted to see what dying as human felt like, while Balin was left with cursed sword).

And third was young knight, of eighteen summers whom they took and knew only as the knight of the Lake, youth with long and curled silky black hair, and pouting coral red lips which were shaded with faint trace of moustaches, whose face was otherwise smooth and neither too dark or too pale, but tanned and ruddy, and very androgynous so at first sight Arthur wasn’t sure whether he was looking upon man or woman, and whose eyes were extraordinary black and shining, with strange gaze all of changelings held, and his eyebrows seemed so fine they looked as painted, and his muscles were lean and strong, and he was dressed first in simple white cloth, then in extraordinary armour of faerie.

Arthur was sure he had never seen such noble person save perhaps for Guinevere.


 

Lancelot breathed in human air, and laughed, and laughed, and cried and sobbed.

He was before in human world, and often at that, for he couldn’t have been allowed to get dependent on faerie, and needed tog et used to human world, yet now he would live there. he was taught not to mourn for loss of home he knew almost two decades (or more, depending how time ran in Faerie from day to day), and he didn’t, and his human side wouldn’t allow that, though he did miss it’s beauty and power.

This world seemed so smaller and less grand, so weaker and less true then beautiful, perilous Faerie, as unstable and flimsy as mist, or patch of snow on summer sun, more fantasy and lie then true world, lacking depth and weight of Faerie. It was ugly, disgusting, wretched in comparison.

But it was so full. He felt it, in each step and breath and moment, substance Faerie lacked, soul all things and creatures in human world possessed and none of Faerie had, spirit that called out to him, made him feel right and correct and proper as faerie never could, alien and unnatural and wrong forever.

Human world was disgusting and pathetic, but Lancelot was human and he adored it.


 

Arthur was delighted with his new knight, in more ways the one.

At first, he made court uneasy. Foreign knight-for they only knew he was  French which to some was worse then  devil from infernal pits- who was brought by one of Lords and Ladies, and apparently raised by them, refusing to give out his name? Oh yes, many were suspicious, and perhaps they were right to be so.

But he won them over soon. He was charming, and handsome, though in strange way that had many elder knights smirking and mocking ( and younger too, and perhaps in some other lands he wouldn’t even have been called androgynous, but you know how it is with humans and their cultures and norms), though ladies all loved him. And he proved charming and educated and courteous, though his accent was atrocious.

Day had barely passed, before  new knight set off on adventures, which were many and thoroughly cleansed countryside of pests and vermin and all sorts of criminals, bandits and corrupt nobles too, least of which was not his saving of Queen Guinevere.

Charming, brave, skilled, strong, educated, pretty and mysterious- Merlin sighed and waved his head when he saw look upon Arthur’s face.

Lady of the Lake’s gifts always brought either great joy or tragedy. Or both. They had to hope and make best of what they had.


 

If Arthur ever had chance to meet and ask one thing of some all knowing, omniscient entity it would be when and how did his life turn in chivalric romance (which to be honest can count as two question, so it is all dependent on how grumpy entity in question is).

In truth, he likely wouldn’t ask so because answer would most likely either be ‘’when you pulled sword from stone’’ or ‘’when your father used magic to win over his queen’’, so he would use his question for something more important, such as what is best way to defeat Saxons or how to root out corruption in country or when will be worst drought? But point still stands.

Arthur’s opinion on said.... works of art, to be politely called, was always rather low. His opinion on most of fiction was such, but chivalric romances and fairy tales held special place of hatred in his heart ( what a foolish thinking, though he is of course allowed it, but one such as he should pay attention to tales, and ones told to children most, and what advices and patterns they contain-it is terrible power inside them, that wise can benefit from), with all nonsenses and false hopes and thoughts they  put in people’s heads.

Lancelot just happens to be embodiment of knight errants come to life. He should have expected it, after whole mess he fell in with rightful king magically proclaimed and wizard advisors and enemies and even  Fair Folk offering their aid. Knight errants, going around Isles and helping towns with bandits and monsters were even step down if he was being honest.

He found out that he didn’t really mind. First, as much as he hated idea, it gave people hope and bolstered their approval of him. Second, as more and more knights were taking up that approach, land was getting healed from crime and chaos as they were all rather effective. And finally, he had to admit, though he would never voice it out, that all of them, and especially Lancelot and his nephew Gawain, looked rather amazing and extraordinary when they went off and returned from their Quests.

Even if he still couldn’t wrap his head around half stories he heard, which just inspired bards more.


 

 

 

Lancelot is beautiful. Even if he isn’t everybody’s type (whether by height, hair colour or body type or gender), everybody knows that. Doesn’t mean everybody finds that beauty desirable. Or even most.

He isn’t standard of beauty by any of hundred nations and tribes in Albion, or nearby (perhaps some other time, other place, for beauty to men is rather fuzzy concept that has more to do with money, that is excuse to own land and have others work for your food,  and social superiority-achieved through money and blood, of course, and prevalence of certain physiological features, whether it is common or rare ones that get prized, but in the end it all same, for tides and cycles of fashion are more merciless and inescapable then those of sea and seasons, some would agree).

It is strange beauty for them, for though he is finely formed and kept in all his parts, it is done in such strange way to them that people of Albion aren’t sure what to think. For his beauty is union of many others, though often leaning more towards pretty then handsome, in such careful way put that all those elements, which otherwise would be chaotic and mismatching, fot together and compliment each other neither  too much and none too few. Some would say that Faerie made him such way, but it is much more likely that good care, education and knowledge of it’s inhabitants made it, and taught him to nurture, tend and balance it.

Skin neither too dark or too pale, slightly rosy and ruddy, mix of cool and warm undertones. neither tall nor short, face that doesn’t age easily but got rid of childishness fast and soon (and this faerie empowered and pronounced). Muscles strong and developed, but slim and lean, evenly arranged and distributed across his entire body, less result of fighting and more of lifetime worth days  spent swimming. Entire body, strong and agile, limbs especially long and strong,  shoulders stretched and wide, waist thin and narrow like that of hourglass.

Lines, shapes and curves of his body too are many and varies, at turns round and soft in way that relaxes  and lulls eyes, at others sharp and angled of type that pricks and draws their attention to themselves. Shape of face, as with everything, is hard to determine, containing bits and pieces of all, but put in such way that nothing stands out or appears harshly  striking and ugly (though that too is but a construct of fashion, at least in way most human think of it), and almost symmetric. Small dimple on chin and cute ears. No wonder, some would say, and not realize how off putting and unnerving it sounds, that he was kidnapped as baby.  Hair long and silky, on head and cheeks both, strands and beard equally, as skin is smooth and shaved  shining and deep  colour like that of  raven’s wing, rich and sturdy, if bit wavy and untamed as much as his eyebrows and lashes are tamed and shaped as if they were painted on, and  if it has flaw it is that it is hard to to cut and comb, growing too fast and tangling too easily.

Flaws they would tell of him are those: that his hands are rough and calloused, more then those of knight and warrior, as that of stable hand and farmer (they had him do all sorts of work over there, for Lady believed in thorough, well stocked education, for several reasons but among primary being building of character, practical use and possibility that he might wish to live some other life then that of knight), for all he cares much for fingers and nails, or mouth too full and red and pouty, and way some of his muscles are hard and too defined and pronounceable,  or how it is hard at first glance to guess whether he is man or woman (this is primary one, that brought him much interest, good and bad, and disgust he learned and took in himself, hating mirrors and clothes that didn’t truly hide his body), and how close he stands at border between two, easily able to disguise himself as any when he wants. And all strange ways magic changed him, which we already numbered, I think, or we shall yet, for past and future aren’t so different for some of us.

Many hated them, and laughed and mocked, in those early days when he was nameless and not so renowned among others, for they found whole of it strange and unseemly and some even wicked and uncivilized, though many of them too were interested in him because of it, or were jealous because of interest he attracted in others, who either overlooked those flaws, or weighted that god of his flesh and body was better then it’s failings, or at least concluded strong, likely royal, skilled knight who harbored friendship with high king and queen, as well camaraderie with many of other knights, as well as sympathy of a Fair Lady was good catch either way.

Yet others cared not for them at all, and accepted them, or never saw them as flaws and failings  of body, and loved his appearance all more for them, as they did rest. And first time his king called him beautiful and pleasing to eye, he fretted and hid blush for rest of the day.


 

 

Lancelot was always taught that blood, when dealing with people, is of no importance unless you are making transfusion, checking genetic relation (which he keeps shut about because it still hasn’t been invented)  or need it for ritual ( which tend to be called morally questionable at best by most sorcerers, though fae see no problem with it-after all, blood is just bunch of molecules and particles stuck together, same as everything else, right), despite all importance humanity places on it.

Still, sometimes for moments he believes there is truly something great about Pendragon blood. Through history, every Pendragon king was marked by magnificent rule, personal tragedy, and chaos after their death, even Uther who was among least loved and capable of kings. It is suspect at least, and he sees how people could come to believe it to be superior line, ordained rulers of Isle, though that too could just be coincidence.

And yet, sometimes his eyes, used to Faerie and trained and changed to see magic and truth of world can glimpse greatness rolled around Arthur like cape or armour (colour and shape which humans shouldn’t grasp), can catch flash of gold in his veins and eyes, shadow of thousand crowns upon his head, threads of authority binding him to people and people to him, hear sound but not shape of words of dying woman’s voice as he stares, like curse or blessing...

He dismisses it soon,  and never mentions it, and rarely sees it and so rarely thinks about, but he is aware he is only one to grasp just how much of Arthur is truly king ( for blood brought it, but he refined it, like smith who crafted sword from ore of high quality).

He likes thought, of keeping it his secret, known only to him. Secrets are good, and powerful.


 

His suit in castle isn’t beautiful and impossible as place where he grew up, but it doesn’t bother him. even if he has to clean and keep it tidy ( when beds did it themselves in his home, and he has servants here for that, but still he cannot afford to live in complete disarray).

There is simply something about whole place that calls out to him, connection and bond he never experienced in Faerie, that makes him feel as if he is part of this world, and not something alien infringing upon unknown ( he has bond with faerie too, but it is bond of something hungry sinking it’s claws and jaws in him, something that was created, not born with). It is worth missing beauty and power and charm of Lake.

Still, often he will catch himself wondering why air in his mouth has no weight or volume to notice, and feel as if his skin is too dry, or that his limbs go  too fast, and miss feeling of water all around him.

( He can, should he wish so, dive and breathe water. It is one of changes faerie made, that he can breathe in sea and river and lake as well as on land, just as in his dreams he can converse with his foster mother. But he doesn’t do that- it isn’t proper in human court).


 

They take notice, how rarely he is in court. Some find it troublesome, others irresponsible. But most are amazed, thankful and fearful. For wherever he goes, it means that trouble is either arriving soon, or has been there for some time. It isn’t just words of Lady Vivian that cause him to seek out adventures

It is another of gifts he has gained while in the Faerie. An other sense (there are more then five, he knows, though he can never number all) he has been given.  More and less then eyes or taste or ability to sense change in temperatures, something inside him can feel problems, knows where injustice and danger to people dwell, and is driven to them like iron to lodestone, burning and itching like thorns growing beneath skin to ensure threat id dealt with. And once he acknowledges, it spreads and flows through his entire being, blood and muscle and breath and mind, as if his body is just host for that knowledge, narrows his vision until he can just focus on how long and where and how dangerous, until he defeats it.

(Rage that overtakes him, blood lust he displays in combat, desperate  berserker that comes out and tears everything in his path apart however, despite everything he would believe later in his life, was no product of fae, or any magic at all).


 

It isn’t something they admit,  for their king greatly loves  that old man (and wicked tongues say it is because wizard put him on throne, but Arthur for all his faults truly held love for men based on far more then what they did for him, which on it’s own can be true flaw)but most knights  fear and distrust Merlin, that old wizard with beard as white as snow,  long and strange to grasp, as if it was cloud or living thing, with his bent back and skin like marred, crumpled yellowed pages of ancient, torn book and eyes deep and watchful and wild as those of hawk, and knowledge about secrets and plots they all wish to remain hidden.

Gawain, son of Lot and Morgause, distrusts him mostly for what he heard from his parents, of too long life and too wise mind, of cunning to match snake and meddling none can ever uncover (they do not speak of Uther’s deception and violation,  Lot for he doesn’t think too much of it,  for he sees no reason why high queen would be dissatisfied with her fate, Morgause because she is too angry at Uther and Merlin and poor, blameless Igraine to speak of it), and how he has always aided Pendragons no matter what, and how he speaks in Arthur’s ear like true advisor. And perhaps there is smidgen of boyish jealously in great Gawain, some childish, little wish to be one whom his grand uncle Arthur trusts above all. He doesn’t trust Merlin, the advisor.

Yvain, born to old Urien and cunning Morgan, very loyal for son of once rebel who sought to seize throne for himself and always plotting sister ( but then, Urien  did what most kings would do, and is quite grateful to Arthur for being spared, and Morgan is still his sister, never half sister, and she helps as much as she harms), never showed interest at all for his mother’s profession, believing calling of knight more powerful, important and noble (which he has right to think, though man must always remember there is difference between sorcery and it’s spells and magic) nevertheless  is well taught of sorcerer’s history and legend (and who can know which is which), by his mother, once student of Merlin’s, and his power and wisdom. He doesn’t trust Myrddin, the great magician.

Lancelot has known of old man for several years, raised on tales of Lady Vivian, who has long since been friend and patron of his, ever since before, some say, he divined why tower cannot be built, and further taught by Pelleas, who like all knights mistrusted wizard-druid-unholy creature for multitudes of reasons, providing more human perspective. He knows tales of how incubus (or perhaps succubus, which may be one and same for such creatures aren’t overly concerned with gender)  raped his nun mother, and how she laid with pagan god, or elemental of forest, or a Gentry (perhaps lady who arose from lake), and sees something lacking in that hawk gaze, feels wall that stands between their natures, hidden remnants of something Other. He doesn’t trust Emrys, hybrid.

Merlin, as he always did, before Arthur or Uther or Ambrosius or Vortigern, smiles like kindly, sweet grandpa, even though that action will always be baring of teeth and challenge to his mind (unable to see, unable to understand so many things about men-perhaps knowing explanation, but unable to experience or feel in his heart full of twisted, strange blood that carries only his mother’s genes and is more like magical potion then fluid tissue), feel pride for their skills of observation, and love them like pack mates and Arthur’s dearest and servants of justice and defenders of Isles.


 

One thing Lancelot found truly hard to achieve was keeping his mouth shut about certain topics. Fair Folk,  as forces predating time, regularly interacting with elementals and gods, and having habit of travelling all over time and space, as well as for all their faults being much wiser then mortals, of course had knowledge unbefitting of that time (or any).

And so, though he wasn’t most science oriented, he had to keep his mouth well shut about all knowledge he picked up, about history and physics and geography and thousand other things that haven’t been invented yet, and still wouldn’t be by time some of you heard this story. It would be meddling with history, or something like that, and would earn him no friends should he speak at least a word.

Perhaps that was why Morgan’s presence was sometimes comfortable. Like somebody who ahd learnt and danced and bargained with Fair Folk, she knew what things like crossbow and printing press were, cars and high heels, spaceships and antigravity devices.

(Merlin surely  knew, for his gift of foresight was great and legendary, and he had been with Fair Folk longer then any, but Lancelot struck away from old man, half and half, aberration that shouldn’t exist, standing between impassable divide of mortal and everlasting, living and eldritch, human and primordial, flesh and magic, and no way to determine what his other side truly was).

Time would come, though, when he would confide in Arthur, and tell him stories of future, and watch wonder and sorrow alight in his eyes, of things humanity could achieve that he wouldn’t witness.


 

There is knock at his door. A thud, really, spreading through old and thick wood, weak and hesitant. Lancelot opens it, and finds sir  Ector  de Maris standing there.

‘’Welcome, sir Ector.’’ Lancelot says, as man blinks in second. Name Ector must feel strange to him to hear after all this time as it feels for Lancelot to speak- cold, harsh and dead, lacking warmth and bonds Hector brings, but deeper and older and tied to him for longer, by law and father’s word, if not by choice and familiar use.

Lancelot wonders how it can be, that such other name fits so good- Red and Swordshine  always felt shallow and fake. But then, he knows that name of heart isn’t sometimes, or even often,  name given at birth. Still, it feels strange to use Hector, for it carries familiarity that doesn’t exist between them, and it rises in Lancelot’s mind shadows of warrior prince, slaughtered and desecrated by son of sea that took upon itself form and flesh of a woman, and he doesn’t want to see spear raised, corpse tied to chariot, flash of wrathful eyes full of tides and waves and shipwrecks and tears and dead lovers.

‘’Yes. Thank you. May I come in, sir...of Lake?’’ There is something in his voice, in any voice, that changes on last word. As if he is speaking of lakes as idea and concept, but twisted, something else, carrying weight and tint to voice that makes it clear they are speaking about something Else.

‘’Of  course.’’ Lancelot answers, watching man before him, stepping aside as Ector enters and thanks him. He is younger then Lancelot, knight of Lake realizes, though is face and bearing make him look older in way that is very much intentional, and he is shorter then Lancelot, but not as much as he makes himself out to be, bent and hesitant.  Every step Ector takes speaks of trepidation and lack of sureness, as if he doesn’t know whether he should have come here or no.

‘’I apologize for disturbing you, sir.’’ Ector speaks out, as Lancelot takes out chair for him, while at same time gesturing at bed, which isn’t as comfortable as one in faerie, or as beautifully carved, but just putting hand on it makes every particle of his body sing with joy, so he can forgive lack of aesthetics.  Ector fusses , but after few minutes of almost wordless dialogue he sits on bed, nervously crossing his legs.

‘’No need for that, you aren’t bothering. Besides, I could use someone to talk to. It’s not as if there is lot of entertainment here.’’ Currently, everything was peaceful, and nobody was training, not even squires and pages. There was no river or lake in sight for him to bathe and swim in, and library was still being rebuilt and restocked, so he couldn’t come in and search for poetry books.

‘’Oh. Well thank you. I am glad for that. Not that you were bored, that is.’’ He isn’t often so nervous, at least that is what Lancelot got from him few times he saw Ector. Quiet but eloquent. Not quick and of short words.

‘’So, how can I help you?’’ Perhaps that was why Ector was so nervous, asking for help. Lancelot understood pride, and knew he would likely feel same in similar situation. Knights, after all, were expected to be able to deal with problems by themselves (which may or may not be good way of thinking, for knowing when to ask for help is important as long as you moderate it-but then, why should  it be me to talk about it, when I too know help comes with high price, often higher then one among men).

‘’It isn’t really to ask for aid. I actually just wanted to ask few questions.’’ At Lancelot’s nod, he continued.

‘’Sir Lake, i was told by sir  Yvain, who bathed you before ceremony,’’ for such was custom among knights, to be bathed by senior knight before ceremony, perhaps to symbolically clean oneself from sins, perhaps because most upcoming warriors had rather poor sense of hygiene, but we won’t dwell on that now ‘’ that upon your shoulder is a birthmark, in shape of golden star. Is it as he spoke?’’ He then fell silent, waiting for Lancelot’s reaction.

‘’Yes, that is true. What of it?’’ Knight of Lake asked, wondering why it would matter. perhaps there was some superstition, or rule about such things he was never imparted unto? For even one as old and wise as Lady of the Lake was still not mortal in slightest, and needed to go through  great trouble to understanding human reasoning and habit.

‘’Then please, good sir, tell me, is your name by chance Lancelot?’’ And there and then Lancelot stood in shock, for he didn’t understand how this man knew his true name, which seared through his bones like lighting, yet despite all that he learned in Faerie ( strike him down destroy him enemy captor nobody must know) he spoke calm and without raised voice, though wary and confused.

‘’It is. But how did you....’’ And he couldn’t say a word more, for Ector had broken in great weeping, and gathered taller man in his arms, and buried his face in Lancelot’s chest, and kissed his cheek with great might, and Lancelot, knowing not what to do, slowly and awkwardly returned hug and patted Ector on his back.

‘’You are mine own brother! For your mother and father are mine too, king Ban the Blessed and queen Elaine of Benoic!’’ he cried out, and Lancelot stood frozen and shocked, as image appeared before his eyes,  of blood that flowed through their veins, and red bindings that bound them by flesh and bone, and he saw one man and two women, faded almost to shadows,  standing behind two of them.

‘’No.’’ Lancelot whispered without thinking, for magic inside of him, being of always true if rarely honest Faerie saw through unintentional lie.

‘’What?’’ Asked crying Ector, stepping out of hug, afraid and confused.

‘’I-we are- but mothers... Not...’’ He answers,  without thinking, for images flash through his head, king and queen and noble lady by his side, both bearing one, queen raising second and then there is hand, hand rising from Lake and...

‘’Oh.’’ Ector’s face fell, head cast down in shame only noble bastards know ( how does it feel, that word of your heritage travels so fast, that shame in which you were conceived, betrayal in which you were born yet had no fault in reaches so far, cuts chance to have sibling even before they knew of you truly, if such knowing is possible? Oh, such delightful, powerful moment).

‘’I... I understand how you feel and get that this is...troublesome proclamation, to say at least, but I assure you, both of us-me and mot...queen Elaine feel so. Though  lady de Maris gave me birth, after she died, queen Elaine raised me as her own. I truly see her as my own mother.’’ And there was note of frustration and anger there, and threads of love and affection were deep and thick (and some could theorize they were maybe born from guilt and maybe some resentment on both sides, but still love, oh what delicious complication).

‘’Yes, I see. but I didn’t mean...I don’t. I don’t know her.’’ Lancelot admitted, and Ector stood there, looking at his older half brother in realization, all pieces falling together.

‘’The water sprite that stole you.. That was the Lady of the Lake, right?’’ He asked. he always had trouble picturing that creature, that being that arose from depths to carry his half brother below, that filled his mother with sorrow and rapture with each time she recalled that memory.

‘’Not stolen. Taken for fostering.  Arranged safe passage for our people in return.’’ How strange it felt on his mouth, our people whom he never knew, even as he was too busy correcting Ector.

‘’I thought king said Lady was one of... how are they called? Guraedd Anvyn?’’ He said, avoiding topic for now. Lancelot seemed to have liked living in the Lake, and Lady too seemed kind enough, but whether it was case of him growing to like his captors, enchantment or Elaine lying about circumstances of her lost son to escape prejudice and scorn she would receive were what Lancelot told true, he had still enough time to learn later.

‘’The Gwragged Annwn. That is how they call  Folk who inhabit lakes and rivers in Wales. They themselves have no name for their own. They don’t really use words at all.’’ Of which Lady was among foremost, both because of her power and deep friendship with water, being among first of fay to make treaties with water after N made first contact. Some said that all Gwragged Annwn- who, despite common belief, didn’t only come in form of women- were either her children, servants or pieces of her.

‘’Really? What language did you speak there?’’ Ector asked, interested for all legends he heard were either of trickery ways Fair Folk wielded their words, or reasons why they needed to leave out butter and milk. But  Gentry have no language nor need for it, or if they speak at all between themselves it is in way that would drive mortals to madness and leave gods confused.

And so, two of them spoke for some time, Lancelot of things he witnessed in  faerie, and Ector of his life and all things they loved in Albion, switching from various languages and dialects of Isles to language that would one day become French, from Latin to Greek, and of horses and combat and armours and ancient literature ( Ector shows preference for epics and prose, and Lancelot for lyrical works and emotional poetry, and they share hatred of drama and theatre).

And so they spoke on for hour and hour, bit stuff and awkward and afraid at first, wondering and blundering about, afraid to show themselves in bad light or to insult other, but soon they relaxed and words flew from their lips, like a great, lighting fast river strengthened and nourished by rain and storm clouds, and soon they cast of their forebodings and  discomfort like a snake shedding old skin, or knight getting rid of old, rusted and small broken armour, and were honest and warm with each other, and through years would just deepen that connection and trust.

‘’Now Hector, I have just one thing to ask of you, that you do not reveal mine name to anybody before time is right, as I have promised to Lady Vivian.’’  Asked at end Lancelot of his brother.

‘’Of course. Though, when time comes you will be one to explain it to Bors and Lionel.’’ Laughed  loud (or as loud as they could be, so some servant wouldn’t hear them) younger knight, thinking of how their cousins would lecture and pout  when they learnt the truth, and Lancelot joined him.


 

‘’ She is waiting for you, good sire.’’ Abbess told him, her matronly face hidden by black veil and white strands of thinning hair, almost hiding raw, red burned scars that covered half her face (people flinched from them, or tended to ask too much about how she got them, while Arthur said nothing for he cared not a bit, for her past and her face weren’t his business, and isn’t it sad something so basic is so rare).

‘’Thank you, my lady.’’ Arthur said, almost bowing to the abbess, something in his bones telling him to bow before this woman , whose eyes were so, so much older then her wrinkled face and half-bald head, for all he was high king and not greatly interested in any aspect of religion. But so it was with all mortals looking upon her, caught between deeply buried terror (fear not fear not fear not) and laying their head upon her knees to tell her their fears and secrets while she gently gave advice and compassion they needed, full of grace and spirit.

‘’Just remember that she may not want to speak at first. And if she wishes you to leave, please do so.’’ She wasn’t mother superior, but was treated as one by generations and generations of nuns across convent (which may not have been just that one, but all of them), her voice like heavenly fire and calm breeze, though they could never truly recall her face save for that scar, black and red as if scorched by hellfire.

‘’Of course. Thank you, my lady.’’ He said, as abbess bowed and went away, fading in shadows dark as her robes, which flapped around her body like great wings.

Arthur stood there for several second, or minutes, or perhaps half of a hour, before he took deep breath and knocked on old door of chamber.

‘’My lady, may I be allowed to come in?’’ He asked, softly, waiting for response.

‘’Enter.’’ Weary, soft, whispering voice answered him. After second he gripped iron doorknob and came inside chamber. It is dark, for windows are closed and curtains half pulled over them, but not enough he can’t see well, as he checks room around himself and breathes in crisp, fresh air, rooms obviously winded and cleaned thoroughly some time ago.

The stone chamber is tiny, perhaps smaller then any rooms he ever saw, walls and floor composed of rough, uneven, concave grey and brown stones stuck together by whitish  mortar, with only wardrobe, chest and bed and chamber pot inside. Yet it’s inhabitant’s identity is obvious if one looks better- wood from which all furniture inside is made of is of shockingly  good quality, newly made and without hint of rot or decay, beautifully and masterfully made. Royal markings were tastefully etched in chest and wardrobe, sigils and heraldic shields carved and painted, hems of velvet and samite dresses and jewelery og gold and precious stones peeking through not completely closed doors and lid, fabrics at bed heavy, soft and warm, deeply painted, whole setting, though sparse, obviously showing royal past and noble heritage.

There, seated at edge of window, staring out at pastures and sky, seated was one called Eigyr in childhood, one of several children of minor Welsh king Amlawdd Wledig, then as Igerna of Tintagel, duchess of  Cornwall, wife of Romanized duke Gorlois,   and finally as Igraine, wife of high king Uther, for whose sake he brought war upon country, princess and duchess and queen and nun finally. Always a mother, whether to her younger cousins, or now as holy woman and bride of Christ (perhaps, someday, when new queen joins them, mother superior, though never venerated and feared as nameless, scarred abbess).

Mother of Elaine.

Mother of Morgause.

Mother of Morgan.

His mother.

Igraine sits at windowsill, awkward looking but obviously comfortable, and there is something reassuringly real and safe and beautiful about that. She is not blank faced, perfectly beautiful woman from tapestries and rare portrait, more ornament then person at his fath-predecessor’s side. She is too round in some places and too sharp in others, her face, or as much as he can see of it is wrinkled and stained with age and exhaustion, her black robes crumpled and few tangled hairs refusing to get under her veil, escaping it without regret.

There is silver there, but they are ginger, fire orange of Gawain’s hair, shining like his own (Uther had brown, Igraine ginger. He wonders whether those two mixed to produce his bronze strands, or perhaps it is gift from some older ancestor, far away back enough to be unimportant and forgotten).

‘’Thank you, my lady.’’ Arthur says, watching her-or better said, watching space between her hands and her face, refusing to meet eyes of woman though she is halfway turned with her back onto him. Igraine hums lowly and answers only after some time.

‘’Why don’t you address me by my name?’’  She asks, trying to appear disinterested, but her voice is brittle and sharp, as she doesn’t pay morsel of attention and respect befitting king (or at least how most holding that title think they deserve simply by their existence no matter their deeds. But that is entitlement and feudal system for you).

‘’I wasn’t sure which one would you prefer. I didn’t want to offend you, my lady.’’ Would she like to be called Eigyr, her first name, remnant of royal blood she came from, when she was small and powerless child so long ago? Would she like to be  called by Igerna, proper, respected wife and mother, duchess whose life was ruined, or Igraine, high queen, most adored and respected woman in all of Albion, seated at side of man who claimed her like thing or animal.

‘’Heh. Nobody thought of that in decades. Let it be Igraine- I got used to it most over years.’’ Her thin, pale mouth formed a small, wry smile. her eyes remained as hard as before.

‘’So why did you come? Don’t you have better things to do then indulge old, spoiled, spiteful woman?’’ Queen Igraine was always known for her silence, her serenity, her amazing politeness. mask that cracked like porcelain now.

‘’I- i wanted to meet you. At least once. To Apologize. Lady Igraine.’’ He said. Ector’s wife had died when he was teen, and had been very good mother, though she showed obvious preference towards  Kay, treating Arthur in true fostering fashion as more of student or guest,  and still he missed her. But he wanted to meet Igraine, to get to know her at least for moment, to say-she deserved that much at least.

‘’And for what? You did nothing to me.’’ She said, turning  so that she could finally face him. There was no hatred, no rage in her gaze, only cool amusement and perhaps hint of fear and wariness.

‘’No. But great ill was done to you, and I’m proof of that. I know it can’t erase past but if there is some way i could try to..’’ And oh, how her eyes widened, and how surprise flew across her face, like a quick footed rabbit, how low her mouth hanged!

‘’You spared my grandchildren. Made sure my daughters are happy with husbands they were given to. They tell me they like you, that you are good man. Morgan especially. She utterly  adores you.’’ Igraine admitted, utterly honest and clueless of how interactions of two of them tended to go. Morgan tended to hiss and throw barely veiled insults his way, when she wasn’t sowing discord among his ranks, and cast few or three curses on his home every once in while. He honestly didn’t want to find out what she did with enemies.

But she was also good queen, and listened to people, and provided help with food and trade when needed, and healed him personally whenever she caught chance, singing old lullabies when she thought he couldn’t hear. Better then he hoped for.

‘’I-I am glad for that. She is very clever and skilled. it is good to have her near me.’’ Mostly because dagger in back was becoming almost expected at this point, but still. Igraine’s eyebrows furrowed in way that showed exactly that her trust in Morgan didn’t come above ‘’pretentious, cheeky and big head  too full of stupid ideas.’’

‘’I’d like to rest now. Go please. And preferably never visit me again.’’ Igraine commanded, looking at him, seeing Uther, that pompous, bloody bastard, adored and worshipped by all, thousand lord and ladies congratulating and envying her, telling her she was so lucky and oh it must have been so romantic, saw Myrddin,  monstrous accomplice that made it all possible, that disgusting heathen foreigner, with his infernal magic, treating kings and peasants alike, getting up even after  rowdy knights stoned him without trouble.

Perhaps once, when she gave birth to him, when she was still bound by pain and delirium and instinct she could have loved him, or learnt to with raising him, but it didn’t happen so. It was in past, and she might have drowned him all the same.  And perhaps they could have made up and got to know each other, but she had friends here and no wish to be queen dowager after more then two decades as high queen  and besides it was all what ifs. No need to worry over that when she had dinner to prepare for.

‘’Of course. Thank you, lady Igraine and I apologize for bothering you. I hope have good night and peaceful days.’’ Arthur said, bowing slightly before turning to walk out.

‘’Do you think your father was as great king as they say he was?’’ It flew out of her mouth before  her brain had chance for doing some proper thinking.

‘’Sir Ector is many things, but he isn’t king in any shape or form. Uther Pendragon now? Not at all, lady Igraine. I wouldn’t even say he was passable king.’’ Uther was taken by some to be pinnacle of Pendragons, kings, warriors, men and all other categories worth of notice in Isles, greatness distilled in one man. Unparalleled tactical genius, incredibly savvy politician, almost inhumanly skilled in both arts of persuasion and fighting, he had held off Saxon hordes and managed entire country to heights unseen since peak of Roman Empire.

‘’You are aware of his deeds? Of what he accomplished? What he did for this Isle?’’  It felt like bile and poison to defend him, defend Uther, defend that thrice damned bastard in any shape or form, but surprise and wonder that made her think she was dreaming propelled her too fast to close her mouth and think what Arthur would like to hear, as she had done those last several  decades of her life, before Uther died, before Arthur was revealed and she run away to convent rather then face another Pendragon. Uther was horrible man, but as loath as she was, even she had to admit he was amazing ruler.

‘’I am. And that is reason why i speak so. How can he be good king after what he did to you, lady Igraine?’’ Arthur spoke and departed, neither of them sharing another word, another glance, shedding one tear or spending one gasp of pain and sorrow and regret. It was painful and ugly, but it was closure after all.

Igraine smiled that night,  and next, and whenever some rare moment caught her wondering about one of two times she saw man she was forced to birth, king at golden throne with his magical swords at side, brother of her daughters and uncle of her grandsons, thinking of that encounter- for all she could never see more then Uther’s shadow in his face and step and crown she knew one thing.

He will be better king then this land has ever known, or ever will again.


 

‘’I dreamed of them.’’ Evaine says. She is pale and sickly, time and worry having eroded away her already plain features- she was always mousy, ordinary one, compared to beautiful, charming Elaine. yet sisters never cared for that, despite what some (mostly men) would say-of rivalry and fighting and envy.

Perhaps not so ordinary after all, still. For it is Evaine’s prerogative and power to dream of things that are currently happening in world, so far away, and her gift and  blessing that names of subjects of her dreams appear written on her palm. Some would have termed it witchcraft, but few nuns who knew, and fewer who saw it work of hell, were convinced by Evaine’s goodness and ancient abess’s words (her face scarred, her voice loving and kind and calm like fluttering of dove wings, her face seeming to resemble that of their mother) that they were gift from God. And perhaps they were- isn’t it God who decides how and why men are born, delighting in all of His creations, and when would something infernal survive in nunnery like this?

‘’I saw them, Bors and Lionel both. They have grown to be fine knights.’’ Separated for so long, unable to travel because of dangers on paths and Evaine’s ailing health and Claudas’s wish to see line of Bors and Ban utterly extinguished, only comfort Evaine ever had were dreams of her sons.

‘’Promise me Elaine, please, that if-when it comes...’’ She dozes off to sleep, and doesn’t finish sentence. she doesn’t need to-Elaine would cross earth and sea to tell her nephews how much their mother worried, how she loved them and prayed for their health.

(That if she ever made bargain, she would not be able to give up her sons, anything else, whether whole world burned for it, and if she did she would feel smidgen of regret, unlike her accursed sister).

‘’I saw him too. Just as Merlin promised.’’ Old sorcerer passed through nunnery for some work, stepping almost uncomfortably but curiously excited  around images of angels, stepping back from and bowing to abbess, looking at faces of nuns as if he searched for one lost long ago. In moment of careless, thoughtless kindness- as common as, if not even more, then his manipulations and cruelties-he told Elaine that she would live old enough to see her son.

To face him for what she did.

‘’Shhhh, don’t push yourself, my sweetest sister.’’ She had only one, as Evaine reminded her when they joked. ‘’ Sleep. It will be better. It is always so much better when you nap a little, for the morning is far wiser then evening, dawn brighter then dusk, and day smarter then dull old night.’’ And with roll of eyes and wry smile of attention, love and tiredness from all that cheesiness, Evaine closed her eyes as Elaine cried silently.

In the noon of following day, she was gone.


 

She did as she promised. News of great battle, of king Arthur’s knights defeating Claudas carried to convent, and she quickly hurried off to see members of her family, ready to run barefoot across Gannes if she needed to.

She found her nephews, Lionel and Bors, wounded but lively. Oh how they laughed and cried, sharing stories and jokes, talking about each other, bitter sweet memories revealed with each word, making feast in Evaine’s honour, to point she almost forgot why she was called queen of great sorrow ( by herself, Evaine reminded her, rolling her eyes).

She found Hector, and kissed him and sat with him, listened to his exploits and adventures, of how he felt about and loved Camelot, and of boring but important things she did at nunnery (for place so full of women has lot of work cut out for them, and for all it is devalued  so much it is work that keeps society afloat). Even if it was years since they saw each other, barring few letters secretly exchanged  (so Claudas wouldn’t find them), they fell in same behaviour as before, mother and son in truth for all they started out rocky ( and some might say it was guilt and seeking replacement goldfish for her son on her side, and shame and desperate need for love on his, but people believe what they choose to believe).

And then she went, and found her son. Lancelot stood there, her  husband and father’s  colours and features, but so many of hers and her mother’s  that for moment she didn’t know whether she was looking at rather slender and delicate knight, or girl in man’s clothes, or some creature in between, for all he was toned and muscled as if he spent whole life fighting and swimming (and for some reason she knew had he grew with  her, those masculine traits would have been rather neglected, for it seemed her blood and what it carried were far more stronger, such an intense training was needed so that he would look like some in between creature, not confused for woman when clothed).

It was old abbess, healing sick like angel of mercy at bedside of dying that introduced them, for Elaine had no strength to go alone for fear she would shrink from his gaze ( but he looked in air, as if he saw things she could not, bond of blood and womb between them, and all thousand shapes abbess wore to whoever looked at her, from  glorious golden queen to ash covered slave, and shadow of what existed behind those white, shining paradise blessed eyes, flicker of wings and halo and darkness and starlight and fire and gold and rivers and plague driven away and brandished burning sword as legions approached stars).

She was stunned, by how beautiful he was, his edges almost seeming to mesh and fade, as if disturbed by weak, flickering and glazed light, and how strong he appeared, as if something was burning inside and through him, his strength and might she heard as spoken of as highest among high almost physical, leaking from him like breath or sweat or shadow,  and by quirk his mouth made, smile whose purpose she couldn’t divine, and his coal black eyes,  brilliant and clear  like gemstones, with sight and look she couldn’t understand, something changed and alien and other within it.

They spoke nothing at all. They looked at each other, and she knew his childhood had been loved and good as it could have been,  maybe better then many and that he didn’t miss parental affection beyond some what-ifs, just as she was sure he knew she loved him as much as her heart could, and that she sought to give him best possible conditions for growing up while preserving her kingdom and it’s people, and that she didn’t regret her deeds beyond some what-ifs.

They left, and never talked or met again except perhaps sometimes in dream, and whether it was real or not or both in some way didn’t matter, and they never thought of it much.

Perhaps, were it different life and fate, she would have acted other way, like her sister, ready to burn herself and world for her children. But it didn’t happen, and she didn’t regret it, for all it changed her whole life, and how could she?

When time came for her to die and go on, she closed her eyes with only most important and valuable memory of her life, one that filled her with joy and sorrow, love and pain, fear and awe above all.

That of the Lady of the Lake, rising, flowing, speaking, taking her son, being in her impossible, perfect presence. And she died more content then any man had right to be.

For the Lady kissed her.


 

The funeral is modest, or as modest as it is possible for men to allow themselves, for they still remember that good nun who was devout, kind and dutiful as bride of Christ should always be, and helped many, was in fact a queen once, so even if it isn’t lavish and ornamented, every single thing about it is of high, rare quality, as if to apologise for fact that death doesn’t care about status and prestige and royalty, taking them all equally and irrevocably.

Lancelot stands with his brother, holding him by shoulder as Hector weeps in his chest. Nuns wail around them, not in calm, ethereal choir, but discordant cacophony of grieving voices for their dearest friend. the bishops and priests have lowered heads, and like with all people of Benoic present, tears trail down their eyes. Lionel looks away, angry and red in eyes, willing to fight death for his mother’s soul.

Guinevere and Arthur are there, clad in mourning clothes, and people both shy away  from and are attracted to them, feeling honoured  simply by being in their presence, and thinking funeral made even glorious by their attendance, as if Sun isn’t still too hot, as if there isn’t mud sticking to boots beneath , as if clothes aren’t scratchy and uncomfortable, as if dead, yellow leaves of autumn, half crushed and wet do not litter grounds around them.

Only ones who don’t weep are old abbess, gone and busy, as if she has to lead the souls elsewhere, Merlin, standing in shadows as priests cast wicked, angry looks at him, staring at hundred nuns, and without anybody noticing, clutching his hand so it doesn’t rise to caress  painted faces of angels (too human too ordinary too lovely), and Lancelot, hiding his face behind helmet.

So many people. So many lives and tears. So many bonds and memories, so many people who loved her, whom she loved, all here truly weeping for her, and not because it is expected, not because they think they will gain somebody’s respect for mourning most after the queen. And yet, even as Hector’s tears soak in his shirt, he can’t force himself to pour water and salt  down his face, and can’t regret not knowing her.

Later, Arthur comes near him, after spending time with and comforting rest of his cousins about their aunt’s death, and Hector of his mother’s passing,  and they stand next to walls of nunnery, backs pressed  at rough, cold walls, gazing at horizon and stars above and so far, far away.

‘’Well, it seems neither of us has much luck with lost mothers.’’ Arthur says, and grimly they laugh.


 

Lionel is short as they come to be, though not miniature by any means, and he makes up for it with his personality more then enough. He marches in, golden-orange mane swaying, shoulders tense and set, eyes narrowed like in a predator with tunnel vision, with such face it would be no wonder if hot steam  blew from them.

‘’You jerk.’’ He growls, quietly as he corners Lancelot in corridor and bumps his fists in Lancelot’s arms, move that  would seem random and emotion propelled if armoured knuckles hadn’t hit exactly most sensitive nerve, before pulling him in quick, bone crushing hug.

‘’Couldn’t have told us your name, huh couldn’t you. We have been known each other for year and  it is not until now that I find out you are my long lost cousin!’’ Given how well practiced punch and speech seem to be, Lancelot would, unless Lionel is very skilled man, give him about week of preparation for both, but especially way he dramatically speaks and over detailed manner he moves his hands.

Lancelot, of course, is wise enough to keep his mouth shut. next one might be in the nose.

‘’So? What’s your excuse? Let me hear.’’ His voice is good natured as he lets taller knight out of crushing grip.

‘’I promised that..’’ He begins, but is quickly cut off.

‘’Yes, yes, Hector told us about that. But surely your foster mother wouldn’t have been angry with you if you weren’t so literal, at least with your family.’’ Lancelot had to stifle laugh at thought of any fae being anything other then literal. Anybody who had dealings with Them wouldn’t have believed that Lionel, alongside Bors and several of their tutors had been living under protection of one of Lady of the Lake’s servants.

But then, Seraide was very young, barely predating written word, and quite fond of mortals, and understood their customs better then most of her kind. And she tried at being friendly, so she probably never had extracted some oath or promise from Lionel.

‘’Now come. We have years  of family bonding to catch upon!’’ And Lancelot followed, sure Lionel would somehow manage to drag him away if he didn’t.


 

‘’It wasn’t nice of you not to tell us. At all.’’ Spoke Bors as two of them sat down, his round face red and panting from training.

‘’Ugh. We have been over this already. Will you ever let it go?’’ Asked Lancelot, looking at shorter man, built like a bear.

‘’I know, I know. Still, you could have given us a hint.’’ Bors continued as he took water and fruit from satchel he carried.

‘’ Hint? You knew I was taken by water Folk who took me near shores of lake. You and Lionel were saved by one of Good People  arising from lake, telling you she was sent by the Lady of the Lake, Vivian, a  mistress of hers  with vested interest in protecting out family. Then you heard about new, French, Gentry raised knight who was sent by The Lady Vivian, calling himself Du Lac. And you didn’t connect the odds.’’ He never figured out why the Lady helped Lionel and Bors. Because she treated it as part of bargain struck with Elaine? Because she hoped for debt? Saw something important in them?  Or as favour to Lancelot?

‘’Well, you are putting it too blatantly. Besides, you know I don’t hold with such magical explanations. I don’t know how you find all those songs easy to believe.’’ Bors huffed.

‘’ Our king was recognized when he pulled sword out of rock which miraculously appeared in church, his advisor is sorcerer, as are his sisters, we regularly deal with dragons and witches and ghosts, and I was raised underwater by one of Lords and Ladies.’’ Lancelot pointed out.

‘’I know! But still, can you blame me for being sceptic?’’ Bors went on.

‘’With scared people proclaiming there are monsters in woods? Old women being proclaimed witches? Ill man accused of being possessed? No. With obvious evidence and stubborn, irrational refusal to admit truth? Yes.’’ Lancelot spoke, without smiling, polishing his sword.

‘’Oh come on! name one evidence of something like that!’’ Bors crossed his arms.

‘’ You still argue with Lionel sometimes if Seraide can be human.’’ First time he heard claim, Lancelot’s brain froze at  such impossible thought, and not only because Seraide, like all Folk, excluded aura of awe and fear and was beautiful beyond measure and Other and Wrong.

‘’Well, she could have been! What’s proof otherwise?’’ Except fact neither of them could recall their memories properly after being too near her, charmed and dreamy with greatness of her presence.

‘’ I don’t know. Hooves, horns, hair of leaves, eyes at back, four arms. Would that suffice?’’ Bors refused to dignify him with response.


 

‘’Wait. So let me repeat, if I got it right-you grew underwater?’’ Hector asked  as they sparred, something between hesitation and disbelief in his eyes, while he concentrated on avoiding Lancelot’s sword.

‘’Yes. I guess it may seems strange to you, though.’’ Lancelot answered, trying tog et close enough to hurl blade at his brother.

‘’You have no idea. How did you survive? How did you see anything?’’ Hector was fast and like a bee or butterfly jumped out of his reach every time.

‘’I simply did. I don’t know how. Either Lady Vivian made it so that people can survive there, or had me changed so I could breathe underwater.’’ He was never sure what came first, ability to breathe or Lake. Did he survive there because of gift, or did he gain it as result of living beneath waters.

‘’What do you mean by that?’’ Hector asked, while trying to hit Lancelot at shoulder.

‘’By what?’’ Knight of Lake responded, moving out of the way.

‘’That Lady made it possible. Or had you changed.’’ Quickly Hector jumped away, to stay out of Lancelot’s reach.

‘’Ah. Well it is pretty simple. She could have just, you know, make it so anybody can survive under the water. And whoever goes in Fair Lands is changed bit by magic there, so as it is her domain she could have influenced what change would happen with me so I could breathe underwater. or both.’’ he didn’t mention likely possibility that Lake itself was probably just another of Lady’s forms. No need to confuse Hector even more.

‘’And you now can live in water?  Like a fish?’’ Hector’s sword came down towards Lancelot’s helmet.

‘’ Not exactly like fish but close enough.’’ Shield raised, blade blocked.

‘’Were you ever up on surface?’’ Sword raised, flying towards his torso.

‘’What surface?’’ Sword cast away, but not from hand, still held.

‘’Surface. You know, like here and now, air and land above water?’’ Hector goes on defensive.

‘’Oh? There wasn’t any.’’ Sword almost flies, sunlight glinting off steel  in blinding white.

‘’What??’’ He almost doesn’t evade the blade.

‘’Yes. ‘’ Now Lancelot returns, retreats, ready to defend himself.

‘’How?’’ He runs forward.

‘’ There wasn’t air. Or land. Or sky. Just water. Water everywhere.’’ Lancelot leaps.

‘’But how...’’  Sword against shield, too fast, too strong to stop.

‘’ No land. No planets. No stars. Neither Sun or Moon. Just water, everywhere- a whole cosmos, eternally drowning.’’ Hector’s sword goes flying up in air.

‘’And this is why you shouldn’t talk while sparring. Until you are at least able to recite whole Illiad backwards while doing it.’’ Hector blinked  slowly like owl, then laughed.


 

‘’I am not sure this is such good idea.’’ Hector mumbles, watching left and right as they ride.

‘’Oh come on. It will be fun meeting the Lady Vivian.’’ Lionel speaks. People have died and been put  through worse fates for smaller and smarter approaches to Faerie.

‘’Lancelot, I hate to contradict you, but as far as I know, and maps show, there isn’t even a shack next to that lake, much less whole city.’’ Nobody dignifies Bors with response, unsure whether he is just being stubborn for sake of it, or if he is enjoying irritating them.

‘’No need to worry. We just need to go under the water now.’’ Lancelot responds as they approach closest lake, leading his horse down from shore.

‘’Ummm...’’Lake is nothing more then pond but they stand, watching.

‘’You can come, or you can be dragged. Your choice.’’ Lancelot informs his family after small sigh.

‘’Would like to see it try.’’ Lionel has to mumble, and giant wave rises, more water in it then there should be in the pond, and before they have even so much time to  move a finger it falls on them, dragging the four to the bottom-or so it would seem  to somebody watching from the side. For four of them, it is as if they are moving through sea, inside of wave bigger then ocean-for they are travelling through all of water, of whole world, locations disconnected by space but bound by nature and resemblance. They are in polar ice and morning dew and mist rolling over hill and first snowflake of winter that won’t come for three years and tear  of their grandmother and all rivers of world.

It didn’t hurt. Not as water  fell and crashed upon them, tinged their eyes, flowed in their lungs, filled their mouth, passing through small slits of lips,  and nostrils and ears. Nothing hurt, for they breathed and saw as if on land.

Bors and Lionel and Hector closed their mouths on instinct, even when no pain came, even when their horses too were calm though hesitant, eyes open and wide in wonder

Lancelot threw his mouth open as far as he could, like a starved, gargantuan beast unhinging it’s maws to ready to feast and devour and gorge itself until it dies, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

So they went down, and up, and through and over, passing from layers of existence, to place called Middle, where reality meshes and where all stands in between .A region between simple, shallow  existence of men, and true essence o world, where gods dwell and fair Folk visit when they come to human world

His family, even Hector who has once been here before is in awe. everything feels stronger, fresher, more real- sharper and greater and truer, as if they finally see true colours of world after living in faded, washed out image, or tasting true food after being fed ash and dust and dirt and sand whole life.

They wouldn’t have survived in Faerie. they would have either been devoured, or left, unable to leave, to grow old, to die, only marvel and gaze at it’s beauty and horror.

‘’Welcome my dear.’’ Familiar voice echoes through his head, his bones, his mind, his soul. It is pond’s silence disturbed, the echo of cave buried by dripping water carving and ornamenting stone walls in stalagmites and stalactites, the rumbling of newly  born sea, the swirling of foamy whirlpool, the crack of creation, folding of space, hum of smithy, the rebirth of hope.

The Lady Vivian floats, fifty and more figures, floating and flowing, first seemingly young and tiny child like first fresh hour of dawn, last bent and wrinkled, creaking bones and white, scraggly hair. her clothes are of thousand cultures and times, thousand paths of life, all shifting colours like rainbow as she floats and gently kisses him on forehead-he doesn’t truly see with which body, though it feels like all of them. Giggling, he floats up, moving through water still so familiar after all, seeming to dance with her.

His family stands there, frozen with shock, mouth hanging open, eyes following her every movement. She tired to make herself as human and ordinary as she could, but still, still her presence and being takes up all of their brain’s attention, still they would be ready to tear out their heart were she to command so.

(They do not notice, of course, for humans are very flighty and rather  inattentive  sort  of creatures, how frozen and frightful horses are, for it is easy to scare them but they are much smarter then men).

She floats to them, fifty bodies surrounding them in ring, and oh how their eyes shine, how they shudder and wring and writhe, how they beg  and plead without words, desperate to lean in and allow her to grasp them, and how they twitch and freeze, how they shiver and shake, terrified of her presence, every ancestral memory screaming danger and power and ancient and Other and Wrong.

She stares, examining their forms and faces with multitudes of empty, soulless eyes (that alone none of Them can mask, what they lack), and they don’t dare meet them, as she looks over them with different expressions, that of rival examining enemy, mother exploring child, predator judging meal, blessed one gazing at miracle, scientist exploring bug, and something other which they will never figure out, expression any mortal  face shouldn’t  and thankfully can’t make.

‘’Your teeth are so similar!’’ She suddenly gasps, and they feel as if somebody warm and sweetly smelling hugged them, and something almost like lovely grin breaks out on her faces, so nobody comments as she starts questioning them all, leading them to party she and her servants have prepared.


 

They returned, after the feast unlike any they witnessed before, and tournament and dance (but never with any of Lords and Ladies, for they would have danced for eternity). Food cooked by spiders with deer heads and carried by four armed men, served by pale, wine made by children with bones of the trees, almost translucent women with three faces-all changelings, people who were in Faerie so long it utterly changed them.

They revel in it, of course. It is in human nature to admire and be attracted to and become curious about things different then themselves, of which there is hardly something more strange and without any similarity then Faerie’s own, and so they dance and laugh and joke and delight, talking with those strange people, experiencing life that was almost ordinary for their cousin and brother (but never fully, for that is kicker, nothing ever becomes common and usual, it is always as fantastic and beautiful and horrible as first time, because divide between living and magic, mortal and eternal, human and soulless is too deep and far away to ever cross, even for halfbreeds).

It feels like a deep, lovely dream, or as if they are in their first love, or very very drunk, or intoxicated in some other way. memories are blurry, and feelings are stronger and more pronounced, and inhibitions lower and even Bors has to admit that this is magic, this is beautiful, this is a dream come true.

Bors tries to come up with explanations, but quickly fails before speaking word and laughs, as Lionel stares fascinated at Folk around them, and Hector talks and talks with Lady for what seems like ages.

They return at same time they left, not moment passed, and are silent but smiling when they come home, and quickly all go to sleep.

Lancelot smiles-he misses eldritch magic, and feel of water against and inside him, but here world calls to him, and here his family is.


 

It is, to Arthur’s indignation, that they continue to bond over stories. Oh, he doesn’t call them so at first, but please tell me, what are history and gossip but fairy tales with more details and names (and less morals and accuracy of course)? Quips and mentions become talks and chats, which become discussions and exchange of books.

Arthur asks for history, and philosophy, and lessons on customs of various people of different places and ages,  hungry for knowledge and understanding, for king must understand and wield well history of all of his people, context and cultural bias and feuds they possess but maybe even they don’t realize.

He asks Lancelot, who has lived with immortals and people snatched and preserved from past, about stories he was told and taught (rather then Merlin, who was there for some of incidents and events Arthur is interested in, but ah boy needs more human perspective sometimes, and well it is nice way to grow closer).

Lancelot in return asks for books few take, those of poetry of Greeks and Romans and Arabs and Welsh and Irish and Scots, from folk songs so old none remember who sung first verse (mayhaps it isn’t original, perhaps there were several authors, and that is half of fun) as well as ancient works of greatest artists.

(When they are older, and more tired, Arthur, bound to his seat at throne and heart of Camelot, will ask for things Lancelot and other errant knights have seen, from cheap taverns to empty hills.

And Lancelot, respected, adored, accomplished knight, known for his virtue and piety, will ask for Arthur’s half remembered childhood tales of Tylwyth Teg and Gwaragged Annwn most of all.)


 

‘’Auch! Can’t you take care with that?’’ Lionel whines as Lancelot holds his ginger mane and continues combing it, pale and merciless teeth of comb tearing apart strands and knots like unshakeable, persistent soldier fighting invaders of his motherland.

‘’I am. Which is why it hurts.’’ Lancelot, damned cold hearted bastard, doesn’t show ounce of pity and sympathy for his poor, tortured cousin, continuing his onslaught.

‘’What-ouch!-sort of explanation is that?’’ Lionel murmurs,  glancing to look at knights around him containing giggles and laughter, taking comfort in knowing they will soon go through same torment.

‘’Because it means I’m finally sorting out this mess. If you don’t want to bother with this then you need to keep better care of your hair.’’ Lionel would usually make remark that he would like to see fool who commented on unfortunate state of his hair try keeping such long thing clean, which would get him question of why don’t you then cut it, answer not applicable to Lancelot who somehow keeps his hip length, naturally curly hair straight and clean.

‘’Here. It is finished. Now get lost, i will make you braid later, I have beards to get in order. Next!’’  He shouts and Lionel scrambles as line of particularly tall and menacing looking knights moves up to Lancelot, gulping as they take look on wretched comb, more afraid of it then of bloodied axe.

Arthur chuckled, watching sudden trepidation and discipline that overtook his knights as they prepared for official duty and parade, which meant flawless glistening armours, perfect clothes and dreamy appearance were mandatory. Half of good public image was built on glamour, and with kind of money, material and qualified people looking for jobs they were going to have best reception knight order received in centuries.

‘’Your Highness, please. It is your turn.’’ Arthur smiled, calmly sitting down on chair so Lancelot could work his miracle while watching horrified and awed reactions of his knights, while thinking of how they needed to find barber soon.


 

Lack of payment for beauty services wasn’t worth enduring Lancelot’s horrifying skill with hair and beards.

‘’It is August.’’ Arthur speaks, looking at Lancelot, sitting under three and fiddling with flower crown.

‘’I am aware of that, fortunately.’’ Knight of lake says to the king as he unwraps stems and leaves, separating branches and vines without looking up.

‘’Roses don’t bloom now.’’ Especially not like this, giant fat red flowers on thick, steel strong stems, with petals and leaves soft but not weak, with scent that fills air around for metres, making entire wing of castle smell deliciously.

‘’ You speak as if that would stop my foster mother.’’  Lancelot laughs, taking few flowers freed from crown, twisting and bending them.

‘’What does she have to do with this?’’ Arthur asks, trace of wonder and fear and sheer confusion in voice. After all, roses and lakes don’t usually go together (but then again, neither do swords and chivalry, even less then plants and flowers that feed and grow thanks to waters, yet here we are).

‘’When I was five I started to wear rose wreaths. I liked it very much, so Lady made sure that each day one appears next to me after I wake up. Magic doesn’t care about blooming period.’’ Magic didn’t care about many things, and so it was that whenever Lancelot woke up he found fresh, beautiful wreath, though none even if they spent entire night by his bedside, awake and without blinking would notice who brought it, or when it appeared.

‘’So why are you tearing it apart?’’  Arthur asked, worried about who would clean up mess, though he had no need for such fear-just as they came to be, wreaths disappeared suddenly, leaving not a single petal behind.

‘’ I am not. Well, not really. I am making more of them.’’ And Arthur saw that Lancelot was indeed weaving several wreaths, dozens of flowers and stems coming from one, as if it was replicating itself.

‘’And to whom are you planning to give them?’’ The high  king joked, wondering in back of his head (for king must always run several streams of thought) that not a trace of thorns was present, before deciding it was just magic likely, disregarding good old laws of nature and paying no regards to how plants actually worked (why create thorns in first place if you are  just going to cut them away).

‘’Lionel. Bors.  They like them very much. Hector too.’’ Seraide came out of lake, when Bors and Lionel were imprisoned by Claudas, one who slaughtered their fathers and took over their kingdoms, and gave them flower crowns as gift because that is appropriated accessory when you escape confinement and kill your enemy’s son to avenge your father’s murder.

‘’That is very nice of you.’’ Guinevere loved making wreaths and wearing flower crowns as well. Or, better said, she loved having her handmaidens make them and bring to every family member and potential object of affection, because neither her nor Arthur were skilled at making such fine things (their fingers were for different things, harder and more dreadful it would seem then such sweet delightful things, for separating rations and scribing laws and  handling sword) , and because she loved starting tradition.

‘’And some others, of course.’’ Then, completely calm and collected, Lancelot rose and took one wreath, and placed it on king’s head with twinkle of passion in eye.

Arthur smiled, thanked and left without blushing at all.


 

One of Arthur’s more prominent traits, which is still under inspection to determine and evaluate whether it is admirable, if sometimes economically unwise virtue, or foolish, somehow positive flaw is his love of giving people gifts.

It is, some of his advisors and noble brethren argue, foolish and dangerous to waste treasury and money on that, for knights and servants should always do their best. But what good  king doesn’t appreciate loyalty, and give rewards for outstanding achievements, especially to his friends and family?

(Being in question being king, not The King, and his people being mortal, not Other. There are things that know neither love nor loyalty, neither hatred or envy, and can only be dissuaded by true danger,  and there are They who are above All, and have no need of any, so if loyalty isn’t given, then trepidation shall keep Monarchs at bay).

Guinevere, his shining, golden queen, delights in jewels he brings her, gold necklaces and bracelets and earrings beset with round, smooth rubies and emeralds of deep, clear colour like blood and forests, and of detailed, ancient maps of lands and cities far away in both time and miles, and in new chess sets, carved with artistry and figures amazingly detailed.

Kay,  his beloved brother, for never has lack of shared blood been issue with them, smiles softly but warmly at sight of all gifts Arthur brings him, mundane and practical and everyday and useful, missing pieces of armour and leather straps of doeskin, parchments and  feathers and inks to write upon on and on and on.

Gawain, his boisterous nephew, tall and burly and built strong as bear, with laughter loud enough to match,  is most pleased by new weapons, steel swords and heavy iron axes, almost shouting with gratitude as he receives them, and runs off to try them out, though he is just as much pleased by food and equipment for his horses.

Morgause, his sly sister (half doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean anything, not after that night, not after what happened under cover of shadows, Anna and Arthur cried out again and again), pretends she doesn’t need gifts or any other sort of attention even as her eyes go wide and hungry at sight of foreign calendars and horoscope charts, and Arthur smiles and says nothing.

Morgan, his confusing, complicated sister is on the other hand much more receptive and fond of presents, even if she is just as likely to criticize their quality as she is to kiss him on cheek,  nonetheless is overjoyed when he brings her incenses for all he finds it silly, and stones with holes in middle, and whatever rare bundle of herbs she wants.

Merlin, his mysterious benefactor, is among hardest to shower and spoil. Old man has no problem with sleeping in cellars and caves, and he truly seems to make no distinction between greatest chambers in castle and fox lairs, as long as he has floor to sleep on and food to nibble. Only luxury he seems to indulge in are religious images (once Arthur gives him two dragon skulls and Merlin cries).

Lancelot, his greatest, famous knight is like Gawain appreciative of weapons, and like Guinevere fond of perfumes and jewellery, and enjoys poetry and old prose. Yet it is bit disconcerting, how his smile is always so thin and alien, how look in his eyes is never clear and human(once, Arthur makes fountain close to his rooms, and Lancelot’s eyes shine with wonder) but Arthur never talks of it.


 

It is surprising, to say at the least, how often person easiest to speak to is Arthur’s greatest ally and nuisance, Lady Morgan (suspiciously similar to morgen, name humans have for branch of Folk that choose to explore seas, of which Dahut of Ys is said to have become part of-not true, for no man can become one of Them just as Gentry can’t become human,  though she may have struck some deal with Them. Lancelot doubts such sorceress doesn’t hide her true name, especially with all fey she bargains with, and doesn’t doubt she  chose her alias in honour of complicated woman like Dahut).

She is twisted, cunning, chaotic, slightly (if he is being  nice and understating it) messed up in head, and her hobbies mainly consist of betraying Arthur,  endangering lives of his knights, and holding out hope that if she imprisons him inside enough towers he will accept to be her lover and husband once Urien finally loses last breath (which would probably happen sooner if Morgan wasn’t administering his diet and checking his health, because despite what people said she wasn’t heartless venomous snake).

But still. There is some strange, deep set and burning loyalty within Morgan, dedicated solely to Arthur, loyalty that makes her go after most sorcerers who dare try to harm him, that has her waiting for him after every skirmish and border battle in his rooms to mend his wounds and heal his flesh until not scar remains. It is loyalty that for all her plotting and occasional treachery, will never be extinguished,  that ensures that even if Camelot falls and burns and they are all lost and destroyed   and dead she will be there, clutching his body, trying to save him.

It is worryingly and comfortingly similar of how fay operate.

It is what they bond over in the end, to be honest. Even if they were  each other’s greatest nemesis, despising other so much they were willing to sacrifice all they had and loved to watch them burn, they would still sometimes sit down and talk.

There is nobody in whole Albion for them to communicate with, nobody who can understand what it means, things they have seen and conversed with, Lancelot raised in Faerie, Elphame, Fair Land, Morgan calling on gentry, bargaining and learning (there is Merlin for Lancelot in Camelot, and scarred abbess for Morgan in convent she was educated at, but both too removed and Other,-though neither of them can determine what kind- too detached and Else for them to truly grasp how humans see it, pure magic flowing alongside blood for such things). And even if there are things they disagree and don’t understand, Lancelot sure Morgan is disregarding how inhuman They are, Morgan not seeing why Lancelot doesn’t try to understand and learn magic, there is connection in that, in sitting down in dark room and letting few words and grasping breaths come out as you remember that stronger, prettier, truer, greater world, and without speaking know what music and revel other is remembering.


 

They can lie here.

He knows that, has always been told so about humans. But knowing and experiencing is altogether different thing.

This world is built on lies. Lies of politics, of family, of treachery, of love. No lie, whether to hide betrayal plotted (but then, could it truly be betrayal, if nobody expects trust in first place, and even N’s horrible play didn’t contain so much deceit), or to spare somebody painful truth, such as fact that their baby is truly ugly. Existence where one doesn’t have to doubt truth, but where one always has to shoulder pain of sharp truth.

Here it is different. Here, one can tell friend his fencing is atrocious, as is his lady’s gown, and one must fear false promises, and fear that friend who told them he was at tavern last night wasn’t plotting their downfall. It is disgusting yet intoxicating, so unknown to him but so human.

(And yet, his tongue, raised in Faeries, curls and blackens with each lie until he vomits blood).


 

‘’You have crush on him.’’  Guinevere says, spinning wheel before preparing to work at loom, her face calm, composed and perfectly neutral and obedient at first sight, were it not for taunting, mischievous quirk of her lips.

‘’Who?’’ Arthur asks, not turning to face her, as neither did she, his voice gentle and self-assured, his face seemingly confused and softly smiling, as maelstrom brews inside of his head.

‘’Please, stop with that.’’ Guinevere snorts, waving her head, letting golden brown locks fly, her movements making clicking and sound of wheel slower, unbalanced, screeching.

‘’With what?’’ He continues, not even chuckling at image of familiar frustrated face Guinevere must be making, one eye blown wide and other squinted, mouth curling and teeth bared, ready to bite, nose and cheeks turned pink like sheep tongue.

‘’’That annoying false obliviousness. You sound as if I accused you of who knows what. Anybody can see what you feel about Lancelot-anybody with functioning brain, at least.’’ She grumbles, turning to level gaze like lighting strike on him.

‘’Guanhumara, I would never...’’ A Latin name, given to her by few remaining Romans, that she likes because history and power of Rome attract her, but doesn’t use because high queen can’t parade around wearing name given to her by people who held her land in horrible grip for centuries  (and she is never Gwenhwyfar, for though she is proud of her country and heritage, she would never bear name of spirits and dead and fairies and magic upon her).

‘’I know silly. I’d never accuse you of adultery. You are too loyal and honest for that.’’  To be honest, it isn’t that noticeable, both because people can be quite dumb and because Arthur is sneakily subtle, a legacy of kinghood and centuries of political scheming in his very blood, mask to hide feelings like second skin to him. Perhaps only Guinevere (and damned, pagan, inhuman Merlin) can see way he looks at Lancelot when he fights, can hear subtle shadow of note of other sort of attention and care and passion in his voice when giving congratulations, can notice way his fingers linger bit too slow on knight’s shoulder when he is playfully slapped, can divine meaning of gifts given  and their hidden messages.

‘’I...Thank you for your faith. ‘’ He answers, only a second of hesitation between words.

‘’Please, without that humility. It isn’t fit for us. And it isn’t as if not all of us admire him in that way, more or less.’’ Guinevere said, taking her thread off and starting to put it in basket next to spinning wheel as Arthur came to kiss her forehead.

 


 

 

Guinevere roared with laughter. Like a lioness or some other great, dignified predator she laughed so hard it seemed like battle cry, calling doom down upon her  enemies,  seemingly shaking mountains and bending trees with force it unleashed. It was wonder that she didn’t lose breath-though she seemed close to it, cheeks puffy and pink, back bent and curled, holding and clutching her stomach as tears threatened to fall down.

Arthur stood near, composed and calm as always, seeming almost innocent as he watched his wife’s outburst and knight who was laid out at bed of their summer palace’s suite, amused smile almost unnoticeable.

‘’Stop that. It’s not so funny at all.’’ Lancelot grumbled, face  buried down in pillows, fingers grasping sheets, fabric almost screeching under leather of his gloves.  Thankfully, neither has blood seeped in coverings of bed, nor could they see his face, to know intensity of embarrassment knotting in his stomach, and...other things he felt, splayed out like this before them, in such shameful position (which just made him more excited, for closely were shame and attraction knitted together in him).

‘’Don’t...don’t be like child, sir Lancelot.’’ Spoke queen Guinevere, finally calming down to speak to her husband and champion, two men she may love most in her life, even above her father  (but then, to be daughter is always to be sort of disappointment  in those lands, and dangerous and risky to keep affection, especially for noble girls) and already knowing she will love them above whatever son she bears (it is now, at the beginning, a different sort of love she holds for both. But still, one day, it will be so hard to make choice, make difference, and she won’t and that is where it will all start).

‘’Well, I must admit that huntress has really good eye.’’ Arthur spoke, mirth and teasing evident in his voice, and Lancelot focused on not thinking of possibilities, painfully aware what would happen  otherwise on the royal bed and instead focusing on how Arthur cunningly helped several young ladies escape  and become pseudo Amazons, not thinking of what their muscles and fighting skills must be now

‘’Shut up and bring Morgan.’’  Lancelot gritted out, voice like childish whine, grateful that his annoyance didn’t express itself in trying to swat away the high king (mostly because Arthur was too far away for that and Lancelot couldn’t stand with head of arrow burred in his firm, prominent backside), because even if they were friends he was sure it counted as treason.

‘’..Are you sure? We have other  healers. ‘’ Arthur spoke, as Guinevere got up, snorted and angrily marched out, casting a glare at both of them (  wicked traitor untrustworthy  liar madwoman poisoner sorceress pagan adulteress disrespectful) at very mention of name, while Arthur watched Lancelot with concern and worry.

‘’Please don’t worry. Nothing will happen.’’ Morgan, thankfully has always been rather professional when it came with healing, not once making one of her unwelcome advances at him ( he may have accepted them if they were purely physical in nature, but she always wanted something else, romantic and full of love and care he could not muster for her in such way), even when he was about two thirds nude before her.

Whatever part of her mind led her to think groping and unasked for hugging, too direct advances and comments, and too complicated plots to kidnap and imprison him until he accepts to become her lover turned off as soon as she saw injury. She wouldn’t try anything, even in such embarrassing situation and him kneeling on all fours bared before her.

And focus on not thinking of what that situation woke in him.

Still it was fun vacation.


 

 

‘’Rather impressive castle. Good, sturdy walls. Great location. Enough space for massive storage of food rations and weapons. Fantastic stables. Nearby river and woods to provide water and food, as well as irrigation system and source of firewood and herbs. This fortress has been well maintained, making it an excellent keep in case of attack. However, it is too easy to approach, and hard to escape from.’’ Arthur spoke, looking around, measuring and checking Lancelot’s new home.

‘’Stop Please. You will make me blush.’’  Arthur’s best knight answered, while continuing to give his guests tour of his new home.

‘’Dear husband, if you will speak so then you should write a book about various advantages and failings of castles across Albion. Talk of war isn’t supposed to be brought up during moving in, but that of decorating.’’ Guinevere rebuked him, tracing her finger over old tapestries, nose curling in disgust.

‘’That’s what castles are for, my queen. You must think of it’s efficiency and practical use first.’’ Arthur, Pendragon to bone, spoke, thousand plans and opportunities twisting and brewing in his mind. Guinevere subtly rolled her eyes and judgingly looked down on him.

Lancelot turned away his eyes from two spouses.

‘’Well, leave it for later. We need to get some proper furniture here. And priest, to deal with whatever might have remained of the enchantment.’’ Last word was spoken with grimace and tone as if she swallowed poison, or hot lead. Guinevere forbid Arthur from calling Merlin, or Morgan, or even Morgause to see if any spell remained on castle. Nothing of magic could cleanse or help, only corrupt and sicken (Lancelot thought not of Lake, and Folk that raised him, and magic dwelling in him).

‘’It is really beautiful place, sir Lancelot. How will you call it. Dolorous doesn’t suit it anymore with you here.’’ She said with twinkle in her eye. Lancelot thought not of tomb with his name he found in bowels of castle-carved by enemy, as taunt, or brought by something Else, sign and omen?

‘’Joyous. Joyous Gard.’’ He answers, and lets them laugh at unimaginable name.

 


 

‘’So, I will finally be graced to visit place you grew up.’’ Arthur says, as they ride through the woods to closest lake, not that far away from fortress they are renovating.

‘’Not really. Just place in Middle where Lady Vivian has temporary sway.’’  Taking adult man to Faerie...It would kill him, drive him mad, devour him. Anything or all of those. Should he return he’d be addicted to it, unable to survive in human world anymore (already he had trouble, feeling comfortable gripping any other blade beside Excalibur, sword-eldritch artefact-almost  like divine shard of King’s power calling to his very soul).

It was dangerous even with Lancelot, who was reared there and in Middle and always went to human world for brief periods of time. Lancelot who was raised by one of it’s High Lords, who could to great extent calculate and manipulate how to raise and change and feed him magic, at metaphysical cosmic border of Faery, without fay food or music. There was no guarantee he would be able to leave, nothing but the hope.

‘’Ah.’’ Arthur breathes out in grumbling, sharp way that makes Lancelot wonder how much sarcasm this man can put out in one not even true word, while keeping honest face.

‘’Think of it like estate she has in foreign country.’’ He translates in gross political oversimplification, but it will suffice- Arthur has no time nor patience for cosmology and metaphysics.

‘’That makes sense now. You should have said so at beginning.’’ In truth it doesn’t make sense to Lancelot, because how can it be reasonable if it isn’t true and real? But how can he explain to Arthur about separated worlds and bargains struck between forces of world and alien powers of Faery in chaos that predated thousand multiverses.

‘’So, what is her exact position in Faery hierarchy?’’ Arthur asks as they ride, recalling legends he read, of  Ireland  and hundred aos si Courts underneath hills, of Scotland and Albany’s Seelie and Unseelie Courts, of Wales’s tribes and races of Tylwyth Teg. He wonders which now is true- even magical creatures need hierarchy and politics.

‘’Her official title is High Lord.’’ Lancelot answers, wondering if it could be counted lie. Faery doesn’t have hierarchy like humans, more common are sorts of groups similar to packs and swarms and pods, wild beasts gathered together, or  truly,  existence akin to solar system, smaller powers attracted and bound to greater as side effect of ancient fay’s power, like planets drawn and moved by Sun’s gravity and orbit.

‘’Lord?’’ Arthur asks, eyebrows slightly raised. He is aware that women of fay aren’t as limited as mortal ones (though he and Guinevere have been working on fixing and helping many problems with that, both in laws and public’s opinion) but he sees no reason why they would bear male titles then, as sometimes queens who find themselves regents are proclaimed kings.

‘’ In original it isn’t gendered at all. But I translated it so. Bit unfair but easier to say then High Lords and Ladies, and lords as word  carry more connotations of power and authority  then ladies. And also then it doesn’t get confused with one of more respectful names for the Folk. ’’ Of course, Arthur thinks, that they use other language.  Lancelot too doesn’t tell him that They have no language or need for it, or if they do he has thankfully never heard it, for such thing cannot be healthy for mortal  mind and soul, or that Fair Folk have no true body or social constructs and gender (which are tied together but not the same), simply shallowly adopting something like that for human convenience.

‘’So she is highest among the nobles there?’’  Nobles. Family doesn’t exist for fay in same way as it does for men. At best, it is loose alliance of rivals who work together against other groups, hiding each other’s secrets, exploiting weaknesses and waiting for moment to strike. Most fay don’t see what family would be worth for other then nice way to use sympathetic magic.

(Nor is it based on heritage and descent, if fae can be born at all. You don’t become family member by being born in it. You challenge somebody, demand that you be accepted in their family  if you win, then are either devoured or mutilate them.)

‘’Better said highest among queens. Faery is like Earth, divided in countless kingdoms. But like Albion, in the end they all bow down to High Monarchs. My foster mother is one of most powerful rulers, and general of High King.’’ Titles bring chill down their spines, and world seems to darken and tremble, and they don’t comment on it. The less is said of greatest powers of faery the better.

Age, strength, power. Cunning, wisdom, knowledge. Debts, feats, bargains. What are you willing to sacrifice, how many you have destroyed on way to your goal, how many avoid your displeasure or attention at all.

Those are things that determine what makes a fay rise above others, to become what humans would term nobles, to stand  side by side with Powers That Be of human world, to make all other of their kind kneel. And on top of that chain, just below omnipotent, unstoppable, eternal and unapproachable High Monarchs are High Lords, who cannot be cast down and who must be obeyed, as fate and order must be.

(How can such thing love is question he doesn’t ask).

‘’Here we are!’’ Lancelot almost shouts, before Arthur can ask more, before memories that burn are recalled  and titles that attract attention of things that shouldn’t be called are spoken, and instead  quickly led his horse to the border of lake.

‘’Here, come on.’’ He told to Arthur, who stood worried and sceptic for moment, gazing at surface of water, before seeing Lancelot’s wide smile and leading his horse to it.

And then water dragged them down, down, down.


 

‘’Lancelot? Where are you?’’ Arthur asked, and was met with silence. He couldn’t see nothing, hear nothing, surrounded by endless silver mist. His horse made no sound, and somehow Arthur knew that there was nothing below it’s feet, that it walked on fog.

‘’You won’t find him here.’’ A voice suddenly called out from all sides, low and quiet and hissing, spoken by something old and with throat that has been scarred time and time again. Voice that was gentle fall of rain, and rise of moon, and mountain forming out of magma, and death of thousand butterflies, and shattering of glass and first breath of kittens, voice so ugly and alluring tears came to Arthur’s eyes.

And then there was Fay before him and... no, he was before  fay. The space had been changed and rearranged so that he would stand in front of this being,  so beautiful and terrible that Arthur trembled and gasped.

A creature size of boy, whose presence almost crushed him with weight of it’s age,  as if all oceans of world tenfold were pressed upon him. Skin of fay before him was translucent, like crystal or water, save for grey scars, and feet bloodied red and raw and dripping. He had blue clothes and wings, and twelve blue eyes all over him, hands and wings and some even  floating over his head, a brown pouch on his side, and five mouths.

‘Why?’’ Arthur asked, after seconds, minutes, hours, days, centuries of staring in wonder. Fay cocked it’s head, and suddenly Arthur was seated in comfortable chair made of water, and his horse was feasting on carrots.

‘’Because you aren’t at Lady of the Lake’s domain. You got bit lost.’’ Creature’s quiet, broken voice that holds all glory and fear of nature rattles Arthur to his sinews, his blood carrying memories of his ancestors, and their ancestors, all back to day when things that would once become mankind gathered around fire for blue many eyes thing with five mouths to teach them to speak.

‘’Really? Can you lead me to your mistress then? The Lady expects me to arrive with her foster son.’’ he wasn’t sure how one could get lost while travelling with magic, but he supposed more possibilities included more complications as well.

‘’My mistress? Oh, little king, you do not want to meet That which I serve. Nobody does. Even if they think they do. And let me tell you, what you did now was very, very stupid. Implying I serve another of my kind... Some other, less patient and understanding of my peers would have already slaughtered you and your entire kingdom. Even your patron would have been displeased with you for such suggestion, though she would like being first to get one of us under her control, for all trouble it would bring..’’ Five mouths stretched, longer then world, deeper then greatest cave, translucent fangs like jagged, sharp diamonds.

‘’Your peers? Are you then another of High Lords?’’ Arthur asked, not even having time to fear retribution. His whole mind was focused on creature before him, on it’s words, knowledge, it’s beauty.

‘’Yes, you smart boy. Such trouble you could have gotten in... Imagine if you told one of your brothers in law that they were subservient to another. And that you were not high king, but not even mere peasant, barely akin to bug. That is trouble you could have started.’’  The creature was bending, laying down on mists, twirling, jumping, like a bored cat.

‘’I see. But wouldn’t such wide spread destruction be too much.’’ Poor man, taken by alien magic, didn’t even consider what it would look like, didn’t even spare anything but curiosity on possibility of having his whole life and world destroyed for slight told to creature he learnt something of but a minutes ago, by his counting at least.

‘’ Perhaps. It wouldn’t warrant war, of course, but Lords like us are much more...cosmic in thinking, and humans are so fragile and easy to  crush. Such small, fragile things.’’ Eyes twisted, something hungry and envious shining in them.

‘’So, are allies fighting in Faery as they do among men? Nobles who should stand together competing against each other.’’ Arthur asked, feeling strange sort of joy he couldn’t show with body appear inside him. he just wanted to ask and ask and ask and learn.

‘’Allies? They called me and Lady many things-lovers and comrades and siblings in arms and rivals and opposites and enemies, but never allies. No, not at all. We could never be so.’’ Stupid, foolish boy, if he only knew how deep was debt he was making. each question a link in chain, and earlier offence...If somebody thought to use it....

‘’Why?’’ Arthur asked, eyes locked on creature that was flying in air, balancing itself on invisible rope, jumping, giggling.

’Many things.  So many things, so many reasons, which is why we go together so well, when we dance, and when we poison each other, and best when we do it together.’’ It spoke, jumping up and up, with arms held horizontal, as it took dainty steps, voice murmur of water  caused by small wind and fall of ashes, a melody of eerie, sorrowful lullaby.

‘’She drowned, I saved living to understand them, once so long ago.

 She cherishes mortals, I despise you.

 She helps you reach your potential, I record your misdeeds to be witness for Judgement that cannot be bought and corrupted.

She imitates, I create.

She has her weapons, me my stories.

She knows to hope and carve way to optimism, I know sorrow and how to be plunged in despair.

She likes her grand kingdoms and societies, I my little people and individuals.

She gives gifts and lessons, me stories and implications.

She crafts champions out of  her knights and great heroes, I my nameless and little ash girls.

Like children and brats we fight over affections of Wet, with which she has more bargains, but remembers it was me that struck first contact in age before ages, when I defeated it.’’

And with each word, Arthur saw and heard and smelled and tasted and felt glimpses of things that happened long ago, and will happen far away in future, battles and treaties and plots and revelations, and he lived them for small moment, being sword and champion and castle and chicken and air.

’But mostly, it is because we are so old-me especially, and our kind is naturally muddles so, and when you get to this age, well we fight and stand by each other all the time.

And of course, above all, it is because she is the High King’s, and I’m the High Queen’s.’’   And at last words, Arthur was stricken by great weight, feeling of something that was dark and cold and loving and hateful and pained and overjoyed at same time, and something bottomless, eternal, without either beginning or the end at all, and unknown and uninterested, uncaring and all knowing and emotionless and unmovable.

‘’And difference is?’’ He asked, hungry for it, willing to do anything as long as he heard more, while debt grew and grew.

‘’The High King Of Us, That Which Sees Two As One, The Broken Husband, The  Devoured Sacrifice, The Unbeatable Defender  Of All, Who  doesn’t find difference between extremes and opposites, Who hates and loves more then your God’s agape can encompass, Who chooses and is chosen in turn, who searched and found best of best and offered  strength and power and when accepted He made them High Lords, Who makes himself in offering for His bride-nemesis-point of existence.’’

That is nature of  those  that serve The King,  His generals and ambassadors and spies, foremost in his service, leaders in fighting and wisdom and governing, kings and queens and lords and ladies, hoarding lands and titles, bound in tangle of politics, of intrigue and alliance and scheming and rivalry surpassing all others, who are of many kinds.

The High Queen Of Them, The Warfield Of Failure, that brews destruction and fans the wars, She who brings pain and mutilates soul and body equally, served is by warriors of highest note, greatest of fighters and champions of martial arts to point they are almost artists of sorts, who wander through Faery, appreciating each other’s skills and forever in combat against each other, bound together by Power they must listen to or else...

The High King Of Them, The Bow That Never Misses, Pursuer That can Not Be Escaped, Relentless Hunter, Who sees greatest of Lords and Powers and Old Gods as simplest prey, Whose Wild Hunt never stops, Who eternally hunts and defeats All, Who is beast and hunting ground and weapon and skilled tactician at once, championed is by apex predators, biggest fishes in ocean that is Faery- those who were hunted by Him and chose to become part of his pack for now (for what is eternity to likes of Him), standing together through all though they when alone try to devour each other, wandering for prey in several areas to their liking.

And...

‘’The High Queen Of Us, The Empty Existence, Their Masked Majesty, who feels nothing and cares for none not even Itself, Who is chosen and chooses in turn, to whom we crawl and beg and eternally serve as price.’’   There is finally some trace of true, almost human emotion in it’s voice, desperate and fanatical worship and desire, sorrow and respect and dread and fulfilment.

The final Lords are monsters, things that go bump in night, those that are to fay what fay are to humans, some crafted and created by their Queen and others willingly entered in service, those who are mysteries and whispered tales, filled with nothing but desperate wish to spread vision of It’s glory.

‘’Fascinating.’’ Arthur says, mouth agape wide, eyes tearful and shining and not even blinking.

‘’Do you want to hear more?’’ Asks creature, as five mouth softly smile, and Arthur nods, and debt grows.


 

‘’Where is he? Where is he? Where is he just tell me already?!’’ Lancelot screams,  shouts and yells  and screeches, his throat raw and hurting, his nose and eyes and cheeks puffy and pink and bloated, running with thick liquid dirt, roses almost utterly torn apart as he pick his hair in frustration, his mortality more obvious then ever before in front of blank, hard faces of Folk.

‘’ Lancelot, please calm down. We will find what happened soon, just please, breathe deep, wait, for panic to pass..’’ Lady Vivian speaks, hundred voices and arms ready to hug him hold him, offering instructions and advices to get him better.

‘’I don’t want to calm down! I don’t want to stop.! Just-do something! Do anything! Where is he!’’ He shouts and in rage and panic and fear roughly shoves away one of her bodies.

Changelings and mortal servants gasp. Lancelot’s eyes go wide and lips tremble, his whole body shaking with fear, something that is more then just him, but fear of everything livign and mortal and human that realizes some aspect of it dared lay down hands on High Lord and he is ready, full of dread and panic to get down and beg and accept to be beheaded for his failure, his wrongdoing, his mistake, his stupidity, his transgression.

Folk watch, their faces blank and frozen, their eyes empty and uncaring.

Lady still speaks and moves, like actress determined not to go against script, even as weight of debt settles on them all.

‘’There. Now we need to solve this. i think I may have idea.’’ Lady says, after finishing comforting speech he doesn’t really remember but which helped because he doesn’t cry (crying underwater is always interesting thing to see, believe me), before he rises, and she hugs him and there are no words strong and powerful enough to say what he thinks but they aren’t necessary, she feels and rinks in his apology as he softly sobs in her chest and it may have been second, minutes, hours, days, centuries before she speaks again.

’I know where he is. This is N’s doing.’’ She says and Lancelot grits his teeth, eyes almost burning, as Folk around them retreat ( King’s people known most stories of Queen’s own, and would have feared them most if fay were capable of that.

For humans are right that Faery is inhabited by several kinds of creatures, though not in way they think. Goblins and sidhe and  dwarves and peri and vilas and nymphs are all just choices and cosmetic changes, roles they play for some time. But though humans may not be able to understand, there are things that are of Faery but not fay, same way dragons aren’t same as humans for all they live on earth and have bones and may sometimes communicate with other inhabitants of their world.

There are, after all, fay, and then there are Queen’s own).

‘’Well, what are we waiting for. We have king to save from bastard.’’ Lancelot says.


 

‘’You want to be hero. To be good, and help others, and build perfect kingdom. It is sweet dream, lovely dream, dearly held dream. But it is foolish. You are all humans.’’ Creature speaks, and Arthur listens.

‘’Yes.’’ Arthur answers.

’You are built upon cruelty, and hatred, and malice. Compassion is painful to you.  How can you expect something good to prosper from such a creatures?’’ Creature asks.

‘’You are not monsters. Not like us. We neither hate nor love, but try to imitate both, and fail and meld them. But we do not hide our hungers, or try to call ourselves righteous, and neither do we hate others simply for existing in different way from others, or create society that provides massive disadvantages to some, and gives great power to few. ‘’ The thing muses.

‘’You are right.’’ Arthur says.

’And it is only you that behaves so, you and damned fools that your kind calls fiends and fallen angels. And even they don’t hate and abuse same way as you do. Some animals, like dolphins, even learned such behaviour from your kind. You taught them. Smart enough to make tools-yet you needed something to inspire you, teach you, something Other-yet dumb enough not to see that difference can exist.  Such evil, dumb creatures.’’ It goes on, in five voices.

‘’You think yourself good. Perhaps you are better then others, but that is not much, is it? You are human, with all your passions and flaws as race.  But you are king, and there can be no goodness with kings and rulers. You lie and manipulate and analyse people despite that mask of honesty you present.  You live for that damned country, damned society and damned people. You would offer sympathy to troubled human who fell off what they call righteous part. You trust fools and corrupt. And you are Pendragon, which is why so many follow you-a legacy born from war and lies, from bloodshed and manipulations called justice and law.’’ Now don’t let yourself think it hates only humans, as much as fae  can hate. It hates dragons and giant and aliens and vampires, all mortal creatures that think so and form societies. Plants, animals and microbes, and that is perfect for all, isn’t it.

‘’And those you have surrounded yourself with, righteous and chivalrous men in your opinion, are they any better. Warriors and nobles, all killing, all fighting and serving, all willing to betray anything for you, to abandon law for sake of friendship and family and love.’’ It raises it’s clawed hands (claws aren’t good enough word, for it’s hands end in sharp points without nails and knuckles, like ten icicles)) and starts tearing and scratching at itself.

‘’That queen of yours, that you find so lovely and wise, you can stand her? All proud and mighty, two faced hypocrite, hateful of those that oppose her, seeing all other faiths as blasphemy. How can kingdom be good, when half of it’s leadership has such hatred planted inside it. And so selfish and spiteful, envious little thing that would betray you after passion strikes her, for all oaths of trust she gave you. You think she wouldn’t sacrifice world for her happiness?’’ Scars, grey like distant stormy skies and clouds full of rain appear  on invisible skin.

‘’And your beloved, dear sisters? Morgause the liar, opportunistic manipulator, guilt tripper, selfish woman willing to do anything to satisfy her own hedonism. Morgan, the scheming, arrogant  fool, who betrays everybody’s trust moment she gains it, flighty and unstable, hungry for respect and excessing in cruelty? Elaine, who prides herself on not harming anybody despite not helping others, a bore who doesn’t try to achieve anything, lazy fool who would stand by side and let any wrongdoing be done as long as it doesn’t befall her?’’ It is clawing on it’s face now.

‘’And that knight with you. He is same as you all, for all he was raised among us.  A glory hound, fool who can’t think with his own brain, berserker brute  full of arrogance and idiocy, who can’t critically think at all, just blindly follow rules and norms, prone to self loathing. He will betray you, in the end, for sake of his wishes and passions, because feelings always triumph above ideals with such people.’’ Clawing and scratching get worse and worse, grey lines criss-crossing it’s whole body.

‘’That brother of yours?  Dumb, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed idiot who likes confusing people, and harassing everybody who doesn’t work as he does, and can’t communicate properly and openly, but always causes ruckus and confusion. Loves you, loves you so much he would rather sin for your sake then stop you should you decide to torment your people.’’ It is tearing apart it’s throat now.

‘’And sorcerer that serves you? For all his Primordial heritage he is still a man.  Liar and plotter, always in service of others yet pulling so many threads. How many lives do you think he has sacrificed and destroyed, to serve ideal of perfect nation.’’ His voice never rises or wavers. It is always perfectly calm, maybe even little cheerful.

‘’And for sake of what? A nation of humans, horrible, useless creatures that seek to hate and conquer and oppress. Creatures who feed off prejudice and conquest, rather  then turn their minds to peaceful and helpful progress. Each of my kind has turned on and destroyed more lives then thousands upon thousands of humans, but we have always done it openly. Devour, destroy, curse. never conquest and enslave and violate, never justify or lie or blame the victim. And our opponents could always fight back. And we are monsters. You are worse then that, for you do not confess your misdeeds.’’ His claws move slowly, in orchestrated way, as if he was artist, or conducting some sort of experiment, or has torn himself apart so many times he already tried out all combinations.

‘’And what understanding you have was always given to you. Freedom and fire and language, because things like us thought you had potential to be great. And what did you make of it? Such travesties, time and time again, and always you ask for more help, and complain of your limited time in this world, unaware of how blessed you are.’’ Wings flutter, as it gets closer, until Arthur looks in it’s blue, blue, blue soulless eyes, getting near claws sharp and strong enough to tear apart existence itself.

‘’What do you want?’’ Arthur asked it, feeling he had, needed to know reason that moved this thing.

‘’To properly serve my Queen, first and foremost. And beyond that...the end.’’ Not death. Death is state of being. Fae things, soulless and predating it, aren’t granted such boon. They are, and then in point they are not anymore, and they have never been.

(Not even for other Primordials is death so easy. Less dying, and more falling apart in what they were composed of, waiting to be changed in something. There are few ways to achieve it, wither through great amount of magic, special rituals and conditions, and being destroyed by equal or greater power.

For High Lords, this means another of essential Powers like themselves,  their peers and forces like basic components of nature and widest and greatest concepts, highest among spirits or divine messengers, or mightiest of Old Gods.

But each High Lord is special, in some way then others, and this one can feel sorrow and knows everything and more and is endless).

In second, creature jumps away, gliding through air, Arthur’s wonder-struck eyes following him, and with great clap they are not alone, and there are hundreds of creatures, mortal and fay alike, filling the space around them, and at forefront are three woman who are one, first with chalk pale scrapped raw skin with grows growing out of her face, bald and crowned with bones, dress of rising mud with hem made of burgundy leaves moving on their own and grey eyes like leaden autumn pools, second with skin deep dark or beautiful, slightly burnt bread and damp soil, her thick curly hair woven with butterfly, dressed in crystalline armour petals, pastel green and rose, and tall and gaunt creature wrapped in spider silk, skin colour of twilight, gleaming with stars and setting suns, eyes changing colours and shades, mouth empty of teeth.

Beside her, a young knight.

‘’Hmm, what nice welcome. My dearest enemy, vilest friend, and her sweet foster son-oh, now a queen’s champion, mm what delicious irony. I have had a nice talk with your patronee and ruler-quite thirsty for knowledge for such young thing, especially for arcane and eldritch lore. Wouldn’t have guessed him to be interested in that.’’ None can speak, none but Lady, who glares and awaits N’s response, it’s  will keeping them all silent.

‘’ But now I must go. I’m grateful for company, and delightful approach. As for you, little king, know you will someday be betrayed, and await it-treason makes us all stronger and better. I await your fall.’’ N says, and none can know whether it is speaking to Lady or Arthur, or both and neither, or to all of them, or random changeling who has potential to become good chef and war surgeon. With wave of hand, N disappears, without light or dramatics, simply fading away, and Arthur falls.

Lancelot rushes, catches him, diving through the mists, and holds king-now sleeping in his arms, cradling him like child. When he wakes, he won’t remember anything, like a fleeting dream, nothing but sense of wonder and fear and rapture he won’t truly be able to recall.

(had he listened to the advice given him, things would have been much different. For better, maybe, or worse, just as likely, but much different, and in some timelines it happened and others not, but that isn’t this story, this time, this thread of fate).

Lady looks on, and Lancelot raises his head, and looks between her and Arthur, and with tears speaks.

‘’I don’t think we will be staying here.’’ Here, where man’s soul and mind are put in danger to get debt that will never be used, to irritate peer.

He seats Arthur on still, scared horse, and they ride away, to human world.

(Not home, at least for one of them).


 

So, how was it? Was it to your liking, or did you expect something else, something grander, or perhaps something lesser?

For they were people,  a ordinary example with all of their flaws and virtues, as they come and go. So complicate are they, your kind (forgive me if I assume you are all humans, it is to my understanding this Earth is rather void of other creatures, but then I may be mixing up things, and who can know what hides in shadows).

But then, boring, ordinary tales that reduce them to characters of one note and trait do contain piece of truth. They were special, and extraordinary, these people, so much that they were claimed as symbols and ideals and images of ideas and cliches, their very natures almost-Almost!- being those of king and knight and traitor and wizard.

But they were humans, in world and kingdom inhabited by such, and something like Camelot couldn’t have survived and persisted for more then three generations at most (depending how you count them of course). A cesspool of hatred and weakness and mortal nature was Camelot built on, it’s crops watered by it, it’s people bathing in them, and for sake of human error it had to fall.

So, let me tell you of those last days of Camelot’s glory,  before winter claimed their hearts and last suture holding it together snapped open.


 

III

Where Memories  Are All Lying

 

Where did it start, some would ask, and others would answer, with this or or other or that one legend. But I think that isn’t very important (though to some people and creatures and beings, especially those concerned with truth and order and analysis, it likely is). Failure was present from beginning, in odds and idea and veins. For  it is unlikely to defeat hatred and greed in hearts of various people that were united, and for good country to prosper and thrive when all men seek ways to pervert and twist and corrupt laws for their own gain, and in Pendragon blood that brings both tragedy and doom with capability and talent.

You could try asking them, the players themselves, but I do not recommend it. Even if you find them, and manage to get them to open about most traumatic and shameful events of their life, it would be utterly useless. Centuries and guilt and longing have tainted and broken their memories, until each of them held and nursed and fed different version of history in their heart,  and none can fit together, or barely, like shards of mirror shattered by war hammer, of which some are small as grain of sand, and others lost, and covered in dirt or blood, and frame has ben melted and discarded.

Until all and only thing they could remember was that once, there was a kingdom they built that was little better then any other, and that they lived and loved there, and that they had been friends and family,  and that he led them, and now it was gone and destroyed by their own hands.

And who will accept blame for something like that? Who will shoulder sentence and punishment alone, who will step up and say, I know, I am aware, I admit, I confess, I am responsible, my fault, my mistake, my crime, my failure, my sin that doomed you all.

And who would dare to look and hear that and stand and keep their own crimes hidden?

None.


 

‘’Damned country of Gore. Damned Sword Bridge. Damned madmen and their quests and damned Meliagrant and damned queen G....Ow!’’ Lionel cried out, after Lancelot slapped him on upside of head, hand heavy and strong enough to fracture skull.

‘’What is your problem?’’ Lionel asked, while rubbing sore spot.

‘’No cursing our lady queen for being abducted. I’m sure it can count as treason in some way.’’ Lancelot said.

‘’I’m not sure how true that is but I agree with sentiment. ‘’ Bors commented. He remained silent for few moments, muscles of face and eyes twitching and curling befor he finally asked dreadful question.

‘’Now, we need to see if this is true castle, or another enchantment.  Lancelot?’’ Bors turned to look at him, and for second his cousin gazed in confusion, before catching on (and not paying attention to derisive tone Bors said last word).

‘’Ah! Of course! Wait a little.’’ And after some fumbling, he took a ring given to him by his foster mother, not paying attention when his family shuddered at sight of  ring he took out. Small, black thing with purple stone as single ornament (though it could have fit anybody’s finger, if they were allowed), it had them shuddering in revulsion, feeling as if it wasn’t the true thing, but form something otherworldly and repulsive took in world it shouldn’t exist (and in truth, at points, when they looked at it from corner of eye, it seemed to shift and slowly, lazily, like a slothful serpent enjoying time in sun’s light, change shape in something akin to smoke, or mist, or perhaps cloud, a trails of black slowly floating, while world around them became blurry and slower, as if watching through falling water, and something seemed to hiss and sing and whisper and promise).

Lancelot took the ring, and raised it above his head, and looked through hole as if he was peering through hag stone, or adder stone as they are sometimes called, or hundred other numerous, local, tiny and often forgotten names given by superstitious peasants believing it would allow them to glimpse something Other.

He raised it, and held it tight, though at moments it seemed unsubstantial, or as if it was trying to escape, or climb onto or meld with and into hid fingers (and sometimes, it flashed in after image similar to that of his foster mother’s anvil, something magical and old and dangerous, carved with strange letters and shapes that broke mind). And holding it, he let it’s power dance and cry out, to go through him and into world, and in a rather low, whispery voice, called upon it’s power of unraveling and unmaking, to help him divide truth from illusion, reality from lie, and to break an enchantment if there was any present.

‘’ Great ring, ring of breaking, ring of world’s laws, ring that hates sorcery, ring of magic that forged laws upon which covenants that crafted rules of nature were written upon, ring given to me as gift and inheritance by my foster mother, my godmother, my Lady, aid me now.’’ Words were simple, if unnecessary ( for ring would work without them, but such old magic could turn spiteful and wicked should it not be treated with respect and politeness) but his voice was full of reverence and wonder, as if he was speaking to relic given unto him by deities themselves.

‘’My foster mother, my High Lady, greatest among Ours, general of The High King, crafter of divine weapons, my Fair Mistress, Lady of the Lake, aid me now I beg.

God, you who are our father in Heaven, whose salvation is to deliver, Creator, Lord of All, Highest, the Almighty Judge, grace me with your aid.’’ He spoke, for he knew such acts often benefited from help of higher power.

And the ring answered. A great wave of power passed through whole castle, that men and animals and plants and microbes felt in their bones, searching, judging, determining, before Lancelot saw nothing changed.

‘’True castle. It will have to be old fashioned way.’’ easier and harder in different ways. He took it as good news and smiled.

Yet when he turned he found his family pale, eyes big and wide and bloodshot, trembling and horrified.

‘’What happened?’’ Asked he, looking from Bors, to hector, to Lionel.

‘’L-Lance, did you...Did you just invoke name of our Creator in conjecture to her?’’ Asked Hector, and his brother remained silent and confused, staring at shock and disgust in his brother’s eyes.


 

Lancelot enters chapel.

He is alone, of course. And of course, he visited smallest, most abandoned chapel on grounds. Such sprawling castle-fortress-almost city state in itself, like an ancient polis-crown jewel of Albion-crown of Britain must have several churches, but he can’t go to main one, greatest, always filled with at least five people.

The sensation is strange. There is but a subtle hint of something  more and other  (but not Other) in here, something strong and comforting, wise and righteous. Such that he believes even completely ordinary human can feel it.

But every stone, every symbol, makes him uncomfortable. He recalls shrine he found as child, darkness and ice and standing stones and pain and madness and boy-abomination-all powerful-greatest-impossible-thing he found there.

This he knows and remembers: Faerie has Monarchs, Existence has Creators.

It feels wrong, strange, dangerous to enter. This is shrine and temple, offering and monument to glory, plea and house of Power so great it is demeaning to call it strong. Things like that aren’t meant to be known about or kept and cared for, much less  visited and mandatory  and near living populace oh damned idiots are they insane there are children here.

(Taken, torn, experimented on, made soldiers.

Hunted, terrified, consumed in entirety.

Mind shattered, kept as eternal toys.

...Better not think of it.)

But obviously, it is not so here. Here, at least once a week everybody fills church, and there are holidays where you must go, children and elders, rich and poor (there are divisions, it is horrifying to think, that anybody would think to play politics in front of such power, invoke vanity in face of such compassion, even if Arthur works on breaking that, to happiness of most priests and irritation of several nobles) and  those who don’t come are deemed fiend and monster and unholy.

(‘’Fay trick.’’ They hiss.

‘’Demon’s brat.’’ They say.

‘’Wicked sorcerer.’’ They speak.

‘’Cursed, damned, unholy.’’ They whisper.

‘’He doesn’t know basic prayers.’’ They gossip.

‘’He fears entering, it will burn him.’’ They gasp.)

He must try. He isn’t what they say, he can’t allow himself to be that, he must be best knight, he mustn’t stain honour of Camelot, he can not endanger his family and friends and others by such horrible association, he can’t be anything but Albionian and Christian and human.

So he comes here, in this empty and silent place, searching for enlightenment in empty, meaningless drivel he doesn’t understand, in symbols that mean nothing to him, words and phrases and sayings he known nothing of. He must seek understanding.

He sits, waits, explores, reads, thinks, contemplates for hours, but for all shadow of highest power is palpable here, he doesn’t feel it spark and glow and call out to and within him. No matter what he does.

And that can’t be allowed.

‘’Strange to see you here, sir Lancelot.’’ Speaks warm, teasing voice, and he turns to see his mistress and lady ( but not, never Lady, just as she can never be beautiful and fair and awe-striking and terrible and powerful), Guinevere, golden and resplendent and alluring and gorgeous.

‘’Your Majesty! I didn’t know...’’ He scrambles, to get up, hold out his own hand and kiss hers, kneel, but he only gets to bend head before she holds out hand and stops him.

‘’I come here sometimes, when I want to be alone and contemplate. It is strange to see you here, when, if I’m correct, you have never been inside church?’’ She speaks, and her cotton gown drags over floor, white as first spring’s wild daisies, azure  belt and cloak behind, gold crown set upon blonde streaked auburn hair. he notices, how hard and trained and warm are her eyes, like those of archer and soldier, and how quiet and planned and skilled are her steps, like that of a patient predator.

‘’I-Yes, Your Majesty. I wasn’t really taught of such matters..’’ he confesses, and her eyes harden more then usual, though her face remains sweet and caring.

‘’Ah, I guessed. Another of unfortunate aspects of being raised...in such place.’’ She says, this time without sneer, and his head goes even lower, hair swishing and swirling, bangs covering eyes and forehead. he doesn’t contemplate what she must now be thinking of Pelleas.

‘’I-yes. That is why I came here I...wanted to educate myself properly. But I’m having some difficulties.’’ He admits, casting glance to old, withered Bible at his side, almost missing how at moment her eyes go soft and pitying, and how more relaxed yet stronger her stance becomes.

‘’ That is very brave and wise of you. Of course, as expected from a honest knight. But it isn’t shame to have some difficulties with religious study. Even wisest of monks do often have same problem. Which is why I am here, if you would allow. I was often told that I have quite the gift for understanding sacred passages, if I can boast of such thing,  even by Arthur, so I can assure you it wasn’t lie told to a innocent princess.’’ Excited, Lancelot, only gazes and nods as she sits next to him, Bible in lap.


 

Queen Guinevere speaks of history, and parables, and mystery, and of miracles and faith and good, and Lancelot learns to perform sign of cross, and pronounce names of apostles, and recognize Lord and saints painted on walls of abbeys, and recite prayers, and play out rites of holy days, and how to kneel.

They continue having lessons. When they have time, they are together, in small, abandoned chapel (for they must always hide from prying, hungry eyes, and that is both familiar and strange-at Court too are Folk interested in doings of others, but they plan ambushes and plant spies to find secrets, don’t throw unwarranted accusations and invent gossip). Arthur is aware, of course, but still Lancelot plans routes using hidden ways and calculated hours of meeting, where there is least chance they will be caught, and she, Guinevere, crafts stories and excuses and arranges they are confirmed, and softly and unnoticeably, like assassin that  threads through shadows to reach it’s target.

She teaches him of God, and His nature, and His all encompassing love and mercy and care, and it feels beautiful and comfortable even if it sounds so strange and alien-to think that something of such power, without beginning or the end, would care for such measly creatures like humans, that it’s attention would be called for, that it’s presence brought good is almost madness (but then, fay and humans are much different, and Powers that govern them are such too. Strange is, also, thought of omniscient being having mercy and being called upon, for in Faerie only craziest and most desperate would seek out such things, The Storyteller and what It serves. For knowledge has a price, and one who knows all can demand anything).

She teaches him of history, one recorded in the Good Book and other holy texts, and sometimes it intersects with what he learned, but some details are lacking or unknown to him or perspective has been flipped. She teaches him of times of past, of Garden and Old Testament and wonders that came as men waited for Saviour, and of tragedy and Passion of Christ, and Salvation and resurrection that followed. She tells him of how Christians struggled under yoke of Rome but prevailed, how they travelled and tamed and educated and saved lands they overtook, stamping out heathens and civilizing poor people they found, and she tells him of kings that sinned against God  and how they fell, and lives of great, loyal saints.

And she teaches him of rites and customs, for faith isn’t enough, it is never enough, for it must be formulated and followed (and of course there are rules, as there always must be, for religion is philosophy and way of life too, but there are laws born of society that must be respected), in accordance to greater plan, and so she shows him which words he must never utter, and how he should answer at questions, and what days are holy, and not just because of how nature changed at them but of deeds that were done and saints that were venerated at those days, and what clothes he had to wear and which foods he shouldn’t be allowed to consume, which he listened most keenly to and which saved him from greater troubles.

And when she thought that he had developed well, and had learned good and true, so that he could follow customs without thought but on instinct, and almost recall passages from Bible so correct that it sounded as if he had book in front of himself and dedicated all mental functions, even those of breathing and blinking to correctly, fluently and eloquently read letters from pages without stopping until he finished, and that her ability to teach and knowledge of material had run dry, she again showed her champion great  honour by getting best priest in Camelot, with whom she regularly conversed, to train Lancelot better, and rein in any unseemly parts and ideas.

And so old  Father came, and Lancelot began his lessons with him, which were most strange and curious he ever had so far, for like sorcerers, which attempted to understand magic, and learnt to imitate what immortals accomplished with will by way of spells and rituals for at least seconds, so too priests struggled to comprehend divinity, and managed to put together some measly explanation. Trying to understand things bigger then him, and thinking how to offer some semblance of understanding was alien to Lancelot, but he tried, for all every bone of his body screamed it was dangerous and foolish.

‘’I am beyond grateful for respect you have shown me, Your Majesty.’’ Old priest spoke, bowing, so that his flesh jiggled and sunlight reflected off his tonsure, and Lancelot was taken back by true, honest respect and warmth in man’s voice, and saw how broadly Guinevere smiled, as if she was shown honour by an important uncle or sage, and knew he had to impressive man, and so he just as good student, so not make this harshly crafted classes useless and make priest’s efforts worthless.

‘’There is big trouble in you, sir Lancelot, but circumstances of our life can never prevent one who is faithful and of strong will. Queen Guinevere has tamed the taint within you, and you show willingness to learn and change. It will be done soon.’’ Man says, soft and quiet, half-talking to himself, though sometimes his eyes turn sharp and fiery, like when he is looking at Merlin and Morgan ( magic monsters unholy demonic fay lie sin corruption), yet that too is gone when next day Lancelot comes  to lesson without his rose wreath.

‘’Knight shouldn’t serve himself. Not hunger for greed or glory, but for love of his king, and justice unto God.’’ And this Lancelot understood very well, for all he liked glory he earned, for he knew such calling demanded him to serve higher purpose.

‘’Evil is easy to  confuse for good, and to fall in, and like snake it sneaks inside men, brought by demons wearing fair faces.’’ Man warned, and Lancelot tried not to recoil, for it felt like betrayal of his benefactor, his guardian (his...no, he couldn’t call her so, it wouldn’t be right to name himself kin of such things), for thought he knew of monstrosity of Folk, of their snarled bargains, of children stolen and years spent out of time and madness that overtook those who looked too deep he knew of their kindness too,  of favours always repaid, of promises forever kept, of lives saved for sake of crumb given to hungry beggar, and didn’t say he was sure that They y weren’t denizens of evil or fallen angels or fiends or whatever  if only because being such demanded understanding good and having soul in first place.

‘’Magic, even when it seems benign, is at best ruse, and at worst a honey covered trap, a bait to destroy man and snuff out good in him.’’ Priest  warned him, and he thought of Morgan, alone in crowd, cold one moment and snarling other, depending on whispers, and he thought of Merlin, always skulking in shadows and abandoned paths, hood drawn over face, hiding from spitting and jeering, and he thought of how others saw him, shrinking from his gaze or meeting him with wrathful eyes, taking away their children at great speed, and started burning rose crowns from that day onward, or stamping them or throwing them in dirt and air (but never water), till last day of his life.

 ‘’Power to bend nature can only come from God, or is lie bestowed by Devil. Which is why none must spread false rumours of our king consorting with queens of fey, who are brides of Devil.’’ And Lancelot said nothing of potential that dwelled inside all men, to briefly manage pale imitation of Primordial power, and nothing of Excalibur’s origin, nor that fay weren’t demons or pagan souls or fallen angels too good for Hell trapped on Earth, nor that they weren’t of Creation and it’s Creators at all, and never again indulged children or younger (or even elder, senile and lovely people)who asked for fantastic tales of Faerie.

‘’What do you think of this?’’ Priest would ask, pointing at this and that passage, this and that parable, this and that hagiography, then shake head and in same kind voice he comforted widows and played with children (and it could be booming and terrifying, like when he stopped former smith from beating his youngest daughter, or tax collector from humiliating sick farmer who couldn’t pay his debts, before running off to tell Arthur to send help to victims and punish perpetuators) when Lancelot answered what Guinevere taught him, and would wait until some time passed for him to listen to other people and blend their opinions (for either because theology didn’t provoke him to think, or he felt touch of God in other way, which was good as his opinion never was outlandish or unheard before).

And Lancelot was taught of sin, and all ways he had erred in life, that he never heard of in faerie but sometimes saw shadow of these opinions on Pelleas’s face, too young to understand and guess which they might be, and how law and church had joined in great marriage that determined lives of people, and he was trained  how to behave and how to find sin and wickedness within himself, and learnt it was easier when said pleasure was different from norm, and how to set himself to path of curing himself of those things.

And he learnt how to present pure and clean front, and how to understand and internalise guilt that dwelled inside him from beginning, since he came to Camelot and made some minor breach of protocol he couldn’t remember, and  how to feed and strengthen and help it thrive and prosper until he accepted and repented and purged himself of it, and learnt to hate himself for his wicked and deviant mistakes and weaknesses, and set about correcting them, and how it was constant work where smallest moment of leniency could destroy him.

He learnt how to be so good he was outstanding, yet how not to let his individuality make stand out too much, and learnt to bury it all deep and dark.


 

For first time, he goes at mass. It is wonderful. It is horrible. It makes him think it is supposed to be so ( even if fear and awe he grew up with were two sides of one feeling, single emotion interpreted different way, drawn from same source and  waking same thoughts, not two feelings existing within him for entirely different reasons, pressing at two sides of his heart).

He sits with common people, and that wins him approval from them (equal to fear they have of changeling, of proof of reason why they leave fresh  milk at thresholds and iron scissors open above cribs), as well as from priest, and it is worth ridicule some nobles have in store for him, while thinking it is great foreigner knows his place.

The words begin, and he already knows how and when to join in, eyes closed in concentration and silent lips flying as he repeats prayer, and he almost glows from pride and so do Guinevere and Arthur and oh how wide his family smiles, and even priest is proud, and after moment of surprise when he doesn’t burst in flame, people continue with their prayers, though eyeing him from corner of their eyes, waiting for slip up or something dramatic to happen.

He is quiet while priest holds lesson. He follows along while they all pray. Calmest, quietest and most interested (for people are people, and there will always be bored friends  and whispers exchanged in secret and inside jokes and giggles others don’t understand) and they call him pious for that. Even his Latin, much worse when spoken then when written isn’t so bad (he is more familiar with strange, broken dialects of peasants that walked in hills and circles and were spirited away and chose to stay, then that of emperors and philosophers, and anyway Arthur is trying to make Bibles and holy word accessible in common languages of Albion).

It all makes sense, after all. There is God and He is good and just and merciful, and they are sinners waiting to prove themselves. There is order in world and they all play out their true natures. There is Arthur, anointed and ordained by Heavens, and Lancelot is knight sworn to Arthur, to Pendragon, and so to Albion and it’s people and Christ.

It doesn’t matter all other religions, ones they call and invoke with words such as  pagan and idolatry and heathen and false and infernal here make just as much sense, and that he would follow them equally were he in other temple, other land, other culture.

It doesn’t matter that he notices some of people who follow Christ, who demands mercy and compassion and love and understanding and humility speak cruel and harsh, of vengeance and pain, and their eyes are filled with greed, but he doesn’t speak because nobody else does.

It doesn’t matter that he feels presence that fills church, caring and mighty and gentle and Other, but it remains passive and external and alien to him, instead of active and reaching out and filling him up as it does most pious here, like young priest and old woman next to him and shy noblewoman and Arthur’s nephew’s squire.

He forgets it all, and focuses on following words and getting sentence pronounced right.


 

Worst and hardest to manage are holy days.

There are rules. There are always rules, everywhere. He is used to that. Even if here they do not need (must-have to be) explained. They are just followed, because disobeying is wrong. And so he does-he learns them perfect, and follows them to last letter (because that is what always remains with him, even in those last days, when hew as old and everything was dark and lonely and terrible, strength of words, and power of letters if not spirit and meaning remained with him as first and last lesson).He must, because to do otherwise, to show he doesn’t understand and follow properly... No, that can’t happen.

He tries not to notice that it isn’t same as everybody. Holydays are still just days, and people are people. They might change their behaviour little, but it’s nature cannot be mitigated. regardless of what day it is, people will be people, and they will cry and laugh and mourn and rejoice and joke and use it as excuse to drink more beer. Tradition is after all made up of decisions of people, and every custom is done different way by other people, depending on effort put and resources afforded.

(He doesn’t envy, it isn’t Christian.

He doesn’t resent them.

He doesn’t think how his behaviour would be interpreted otherwise.

He doesn’t work on his performance of rites, like actor training day and night.

Over time, he abandons fae learned habit of ignoring how other people live, in favour of showing them the way).

The last he fears, and knows he must never reveal. These days are holy for more then just because church decided so (and that means they are all right, doesn’t it?). There is power afloat at those days, magic stirring and flowing (they would hunt him down  if they knew), a presence of Divine that remains inert and outer to him-and he never says this, for he knows what punishment would be, but he feels other powers, those who share those times to celebrate-pagan gods of Albion, and gods of other lands, other stars, other universes, and he feels very power of nature shift and change as seasons and hours turn (and aren’t they one and same as divine, some would ask, and it remains to be theorized).

But it all right. He has nothing to fear. He doesn’t celebrate Midsummer Eve with Fair Folk anymore.


 

He needs to beware of his dreams.

Dreams are dangerous places, where mind wanders aimless, wild and capricious and frees. Dreaming mind barely thinks, and does so on impulse, guided by wicked, foolish passions. Sleeping mind is open door and sign to  impure and dishonourable forces to work their sinful designs (sleep is necessary, but indulging in it, like as with everything else in human world, is sin).

Sometimes, perhaps, angel might visit to bring message from God, but other times...To dream is to invite fiends. So he pushes away his own dreams, pushes away memories and might have beens and what are maybe mental trips, pushes away dreams of Faerie, of magic and mystery hoping it will stop feeling familiar (it never does, although in time he stops dreaming it all together but for few rare, dangerous moments, where and when he is alone and broke and yearns for beauty and magic and home, and then lets them shorten and fade until they are all gone again over time).

He hopes that instead, he will be met with darkness and void and empty blackness, just empty sleep that will refresh his body and not tempt him. But nightmares come, jumbled, horrible messes full of paranoia and pain, showing him battles he fought, but in grimier details, and have him lose, and show him Camelot and people he loves lost, and sometimes he is alone and wandering, and other times sucubii (...and incubi) are beset upon him, and feed him with horrible, sinful dreams, and when he wakes up...

No. He can’t allow that. He must pray, and repent, and train his mind, and forget dreams of place that raised him.


 

Superstition is not to be tolerated.

Despite what some say, claim or lie, the church doesn’t see evil everywhere. It doesn’t accuse every educated man or every midwife of witchcraft, in fact it provides rather clear laws and rules against such things. They know very well that there are true sorcerers in world, and that true wicked power doesn’t rest in books written by, though fallible and sinful, still earthly and worthy of redemption, men, or in herbs, created by God himself when he shaped Earth.

(Lancelot doesn’t speak, of what he was taught, about how life began and prospered and evolved, doesn’t speak of hundred legends/histories/theories/accounts of birth of certain plants, such as narcissus, for they acknowledge existence of other powers and gods.)

Everything comes from God or Devil, after all, and devil only knows how to lie, and befuddle, and imitate and craft poor cheap knock-offs of existence. No plant or stone can hold magical property, therefore.

(They call Arthur’s sword, Arthur’s scabbard, crafted and delivered by his Lady, a divine sword, a heavenly scabbard, holy weapon and shield.

Lancelot feels anger and disgust at thought, even at his dear Arthur who never claims so but doesn’t beat back rumours and doesn’t understand why truth matters, and so Lancelot hides those feelings ,he hides them  because that is stupid and pagan behaviour and would land his king in danger, and yet...

Even when he forgets faerie, forgets what he was raised with, truth and debts and exchange, or tries to at least, he dreads anybody who would call something origination from gift by mad, twisted King meant for.... monstrous bride  that bastard serves heavenly for all their power is Equal to Allmighty, and that may be sacrilege but so is equating anything of Monarch’s works with Him, he thinks, for God is good and Monarchs...are not to be called upon, he remembers as world shudders and shifts before them all).

And so they distain offering left, those of milk and alcohol, of butter and cheese, honey and flowers.  To do so is foolish at best, and dangerous invitation to forces of Hell. And anyway, if there are fae, they would not come this close, to city and castle, and such good one at that (as if Folk don’t go where they want how they want, be it cellars or black holes, be they brownies or sprites, weak or strong, almost not so old or ancient).

So he stops, and priests don’t squint at him and people don’t deride him and all of his friends are silently more pleased for that (whether because they don’t believe in Folk or that offerings can’t bind them, like Bors and Arthur, or because they see it as dangerous and corrupt, like Kay and Guinevere).

He feels presence of familiar, helpful if eldritch and alien power in his rooms lessen and disappear and leave him to drown in too mortal-world, sees thousand minor favours and gifts disappear ( there are no curses, because Folk are Folk and see it not breaking of friendship but deal, and he doesn’t know if it is worse or better, or whether he should think about how they aren’t vindictive for all tales that are told or how human would have cared and confronted him about that, and whether he should be grateful or sorrowful) and he knows that somewhere, beyond and outside of time and space, they are saying how Lady Vivian’s foster son abandoned her, and he doesn’t know whether she sees it as betrayal or way things were meant to go.

And he never asks.


 

He does not use the ring as much as he could.

It could save him much trouble, really. Magic and spells and sorcery cannot be truly defied, just as you can’t unmake sword by wishing or deny rain of arrows out of existence, for all they temporally  destroy laws of nature (small scale, but they do. And still, what established those laws but magic? older, deeper, greater, higher, divine magic, but still magic). There are some things in nature that can aid you, whether because spell was crafted to fail against such things (diamond to break spell of invisibility, daffodil to end curse of infertility, because what can be broken resists more, remains stronger when it is active) and there are things in nature that can effect all spells-light of fool moon that breaks illusions and reverses transformation, silver that breaks spells back into pure magic,  water that twists and mutates and brings chaos caster couldn’t predict.

But the ring of the Lake is something else all together. It is the ancient magic, primordial magic, magic of immortal Folk, crafted by his foster mother, Lady of the Lake, weapon just like his sword and Excalibur and it’s scabbard and thousand commissions gods made of her, and it obeys no laws, mundane or arcane, celestial or earthly, divine or infernal but it’s own will.

His Lady, as great and powerful as forces of time and will, as mightiest of spirits and gods and angels and fiends,  has willed it that no sorcery will harm him as long as he wars that ring (and he shall wear it as long as he wants, for ring will not allow itself to be stolen, and neither trickery or force or power of mystery shall take it from him, not even if his finger was cut off, it would always be by his side as long as he desires it there).

And should he desire so, he can moderate and change what spells it will defend him against. he can ask for ring to allow spells of healing, or ones spoken in rhyme, or ones cast under the full moon, or rituals done in summer with amethyst as focus, or any other criterion, or he can ask that no sorcery at all will effect him, magic forced and bound and listening to will of power born from it at dawn of Beginning.

But he doesn’t.

That ring is magic, and Faerie thing, work of unholy, wicked forces, and to use it is to sin, to let evil sink it’s claws ad fangs in flesh and soul, because all magic does is tempt and corrupt and trick, and even when it claims it is used for benefit of others it is just lie, deceit, a wicked scheme to bring man to Hell.

Yet he never throws it out, no matter how much priests advise him to do so.


 

He learns to fear water.

Water, and wine, and soup and blood and molten metal. Anything liquid and wet and moist.

That is force/power/element/aspect of nature/fragment of world Lady made greatest friendship with after hope and space and weapon-making (it is N’s, forever and always, no matter how much she tries to steal it away, Wet always remembers, who  first reached out for contact, in war and peace both).

Through it she can see, and it through her,  and ways can be opened, from mortal dwellings to Faerie.

So he learns to fear it.

Fears water.

Fears tears.

Fears wine.

Fears mists.

Fears ice.

Fears mud.

Fears soup.

He drinks only as much as he has, even if he becomes dehydrated.

He doesn’t bathe as often as he did before (even if he does so more then others), and when he does he wears cross pendant with him.

He doesn’t go out when it rains if he doesn’t have to.

He never again goes for swim.

He avoids sea, rivers, boats, marshes and puddles and fountains (it breaks Arthur’s heart, just a little, to see Lancelot avoid their fountain) and lakes most of all.

He can’t allow himself to be tempted anymore.

(He doesn’t know, whether voice that calls out to him in whisper is lady’s, or his own imagination).


 

It was Christmas.

It was Christmas, which meant many things, religious and not. In this case he decided to focus on mundane, secular and earthly aspects of holiday, specifically that Arthur was organizing feast, which was main reason why Lancelot clung to shadows and run like a terrified rabbit hiding from some mutated monster created from melding of ravenous hunting hounds and  rabies-carrying vixens.

Arthur was high king of Albion, which meant that he had to make the great feast and invite all other lesser monarchs and rulers of Albion. He was also sensible, practical and kind, which meant he had months ago stored enough food ( secured thanks to his excellent agricultural reforms and policies) so he could serve and invite people from whole Camelot, as well as families of lords. He was also very forgiving and loyal person, which meant he of course invited his family (which also happened to be same as family of his subordinated allies, but those were two different motivations), and that meant...

‘’Sir Lancelot! What a pleasant surprise.’’ Morgan calls out, and Lancelot turns to glare at her. Noble ladies generally don’t happen to just wander in crumbling hidden passages, but then neither do they generally possess knowledge of tracking spells ( he got rid of all clothes and hair and anything else she might use to trace him, which means she ahs developed and grew stronger in their use, as she surely didn’t come in his rooms, or at least he hoped so.

It would be scandal, to have Urien’s wife openly sneak in his suite, but then Morgan could have used spells of invisibility, memory alternation or transformation to come in after all

It is still worth not using the ring.)

‘’Lady Morgan. Really, what a strange surprise. I didn’t expect you here.’’ He manages to say, drawing thin words out through his teeth, looking at Morgan’s sweated brow and flushed cheeks and dust on her dress, cursing his luck for being stuck with sorceress queen willing to climb up to tower with her bare hands in order to pursue him.

‘’Are you sure, my good sir? You should know I just couldn’t have waited to check out place like this.’’ She says, trying to make her breathing even, and he must concede she has point. Hidden passage and abandoned towers are places where she would first search for somebody hiding, but it is not as if he could have hidden in kitchens or stables.

‘’I’m afraid I failed to remember so, lady. There was much hassle and important duties around feast, that you slipped from my mind.’’ It hurts, his throat swells and feels like it might just close up, and his tongue burns and teeth feel like they will shatter, because that is lie, it is dishonest, it is not true, he spent three weeks preparing how to avoid her, and most of work was done by Guinevere and kitchen staff, but it is worth moment of harsh, venomous look in Morgan’s eyes.

‘’Well, I can’t fault you for that, can I now?  I know how taxing duties can be. But now it is time to celebrate.’’ She advanced towards him, and he noted how her hair was now rich auburn, where before it was  raven dark, and how jewels at her throat were of cut none in world could make (men believed it magic, but dye and gifts were brought by fae she bargained with from other times, other universes).

‘’I’m glad and grateful for that, lady. Perhaps we could go to chapel and confess our sins?’’ he smiles when he sees how her eyes narrow and how she scoffs, a short lived satisfaction since she immediately puts arm over his own.

‘’Thank you for invitation, sir Lancelot. I’m sure it will be delightful experience.’’ She says, with big and thin smile, and Lancelot huffs as they move forward, going on for hours.

It is hard and dangerous to thread, because it is an old passageway, cunningly hidden, that has been forgotten and untended for decades, maybe centuries. Everything is covered in dirt and dust, crumbling and broken. Each step has to be measured so they don’t fall and break their necks.

‘’You... uh.. couldn’t have chosen more dangerous place to run to, could you?’’ She puffed, almost running out of breath as they carefully walk on floor that’s missing half of pavement (she refused to fix it with magic , and Lancelot would have said no if she offered anyway. Truly).

‘’As I recall, nobody harassed you to go on hunt for me, did they?’’ He spoke, jumping across hole in stone floor to other, whole side, then helping her cross. He was halfway sure she is not using magic in hope for ‘’romantic moment’’, which will either include two of them getting captured together, or one of them falling and being saved by other (all engineered by her, of course).

‘’I wouldn’t have chased if you hadn’t run.’’ She said, smile thin and coquettish. He looked at her lips, and saw they are rough, cracked and bitten to point it must sting when saliva hits them. Lips of an old woman, panicked spinster, not young, powerful queen.

‘’That is very disturbing line of thought.’’ He spoke after some time, still staring at those dry, ruined lips (Guinevere’s were soft and lustrous and beautiful, because she never  bit or licked them, and tended greatly to her whole appearance. But Arthur, Arthur’s lips were same...).

That made her quiet, and for some ten or fifteen minutes they walked, before they finally were too tired for it, and sat down, dust and cobwebs piling on their fine clothes.

‘’They must already be gossiping.’’ Lancelot mumbled to himself. A young, royal knight and young queen , both close to Arthur and with connections to faerie, with Morgan being wife of old man, and famous (more like derided and mocked behind her back) for her attraction to accomplished knights? Somebody probably already made up entire love story and fifty two secret meetings.

‘’And when do they not? Gossiping and lying and judging, that is all they know.’’ Morgan spat out, bristling at mere implication.

‘’Wouldn’t that please you?’’ He asked, looking at her sideways.

‘’For their lies to be true? Oh, of course. But for them to speak of that, to bother old Urien and Arthur and Yvain and give more reasons to my brother’s wretched wife to hate me?  What do I look like to you? Idiot or viper? or both?’’ She hissed out, like bird ruffling feathers, or an angry cat.

‘’Do not speak so of our queen.’’ He snapped.

‘’Why? What am I speaking but a truth?’’ Morgan asked, looking at him with delighted spite in eyes.

‘’She  is good woman. Good queen. Better then both of us.’’  he almost snarled.

‘’Bah. I’m as educated as her, and just as good at politics. We both aid our husbands, and I understand the Scripture as well as she-I was fostered at convent, remember.  She can make men trust her, but I can bring them from border of death. And I’m not as hypocritical as she is, though she is more pious, I will grant her that, for all it is worth.’’ She snickered.

‘’To be loyal to God is greatest of virtues. To show gratitude to one who died at cross for our sins is greatest strength. To refuse faith is greatest sin.’’ He recited.

‘’So she put you through her school. Pity. Your confused ramblings on nature of church were quite fun to listen.’’ She half mocked, half sighed.

‘’Is that why you won’t leave me in peace?’’ He hoped so. Perhaps faith truly did drive away arcane practitioners.

‘’Maybe. Maybe I liked what you knew about history and various cultures. Maybe it was that changeling charm of yours. Maybe I am just a mundane woman who fell for beautiful and brave knight.’’ Any religion was strange to Morgan.  Even without all baggage it bought, thinking of there being out some higher power, who at best could be appeased, but never influenced, who might not reveal itself ever but could punish you forever, whose rules might inconvenience your life... Mere idea filled her with rage and fear.

‘’I would say you are nothing  like other women.’’ he commented.

‘’Aww. And how should I take it? Compliment? Insult? To me or women in general? Bit of everything?’’ They told her that often, either meaning to say that she was aberration unto maidens, or that she was rational and wise, which was uncanny and unlikely in women by opinion of men.

‘’However you want to understand it.’’ He answered after some time. it was stupid thing to say, but Morgan really wasn’t person he would direct apologies to, especially after latest incident which involved being kidnapped (while he slept, and it may have been dangerous to sleep outside but he was tired and what sort of person kidnapped random sleepers) and held prisoner at her castle until he agreed to take her on  as paramour.

‘’’So you can be spiteful still. Glad they didn’t beat that out of you to.’’ She commented, in low, faraway voice.

‘’Nobody beat anything out of me. I just grew up.’’ They should have went on and returned to feasting  already.

‘’If you say so...’’ She snickered.

Lancelot looked at her. She was bit above his age, but still young. mature and beautiful, with bit of acne scars on very top of her left cheek. Everything on her was cold, and soft and flowing, and her eyes sparkled with sharp intelligence and defiant malice, and her stance, subtle but confident, like everything else about her, and magic that surrounded and burned around her, and those dry, worried lips... It would be lie to say that he hadn’t dreamed of her, among others, on nights when fiends harassed him with dirty thoughts, one of few women to take part his dreams, at least those of such kind.

‘’This time only.’’ He said as he got up.

‘’What?’’ Morgan asked him, looking around as if disoriented.

‘’The... joining. Fulfilment  of earthly desire. Passion of flesh. We can do it. Now.’’ He spat out.

‘’Oh....You...You mean sex?’’ She asked, before bursting in laughter, loud, undignified, clutching her stomach with one hand and covering mouth with another. Lancelot blushed then frowned.

‘’If you don’t want to take advantage of this miracle then we can leave.’’ And that immediately makes her stop and she rises to her feet, something almost like wonder in her eyes.

‘’So arguing gets you off? Or should I dirty my castle for you next time’’ Oh dear. Oh my. What am I going to do. he accepted here, oh this will be horrible....

‘’Stop with teasing please. How do you want to do it?’’ He asked, crossing arms.

‘’...What do you mean?’’  Oh no, please don’t let it be that there are some horrible Gentry rituals he thinks apply to humans, what if...

‘’How. Do. You. Like. It. What do you want to do, how, which position, any special request?’’  There is more to sex then lying back and letting man ram it in?

‘’I...What positions exist?’’ He was fostered in Faerie. I at convent. of course he isn’t some boring prude.

‘’Honestly? Ugh, what fools did you sleep with?’’ He said, before putting his hand on her shoulder, and hers on his waist.

‘’Here. Explore, move, cuddle bit. Go with flow, tell me what you like, find what pleases you best.’’ Lancelot said, as he brought her near his own body, so close she could feel his breath and heat, touch his chest with hers, as they ran hands over each other.

‘’Can you return the hand to shoulders? And continue...whatever you were doing.’’ He did so, raising, slowly of course, his hands from her back to her shoulder, treading them through hair, before starting slowly to massage them, rubbing and almost squeezing. She blushed.

‘’May I...’’ She asked as she run her own fingers up his back, bringing them to his hair. He smiled and nodded. Calm down, go on...How am I to please him, this is nothing like what I imagined, it is so slow, but nice...

She trailed her fingers through his silky, slightly curvy hair, glossy, shining black, running them over his scalp, at first hesitant, then stronger, more assertive, when she saw how soft and pleased his face was, tinting red and eyes closed.

In moment of instinct, not well thought out, but primal and fast, she brought down her nails like arrows, driving them in skin, scratching lightly.

Lancelot shuddered, and she stopped. Oh no, I messed up, now he will... But all thoughts stopped when she saw rest of his reaction: a slight, trembling shudder that run through him, minor but important, shaking his body as he let out small moan and then threw his head down.

 Her first thought was: I have never heard man moan like that. Scratch it, to moan at all.

Her second was: He looks as if he is bowing.

Her third was: I like that.

‘’Is this good?’’ Perhaps I am not complete fool when it comes to this.

‘’Yes.’’ He breathed out, almost a whisper, low and sultry voice that shot thrills of pleasure through her.

‘’Should I continue?’’ Scratching him, what could be arousing in that?

‘’More.’’ He said, and she listened. She dragged her hands down, pulled his hair by strands, scratched at his face and neck, and listened to whines he let out, pleading and excited. It is fun, taking it so  slow, playing for bit. He knows what he is doing.

‘’So, you like bit of pain? Interesting.’’ Weird. But beautiful. Seeing him like that, squirming and whining, waiting for her to take initiative, to do with him as she please...It was doing wonders for her heart, making it skip beat and jump, and she felt heat pull at her thighs.

Let’s experiment bit. She dragged her down his chest, tapping at his chest with her nails, softly rubbing it letting her arms drag over his body, burying head in his neck, kissing and licking and biting slightly as he let out short, erotic breaths and heated, quivering moans, whining like bitch in heat.

‘’Are you aware how you look?’’ Fool! Don’t bring it up, you know how men are vain. He will stop now.

‘’Yes. Weak.’’ What? He spat out word with anger, but not directed at her. He snarled at himself and avoided her eyes, but continued quivering and moaning, reacting at her slightest touches, starting to hug her, drive his body in hers, so she might do with him as she wished.

‘’Yes, that is good way to put it. But I would say better way would to say...powerless. No, wait, not powerless. Pathetic. Utterly pathetic, worse then foolish virgin stable boys who think me a slut willing to spread legs for any man.  But only slut here is you, moaning and quivering like that. You should be grateful  I gave you this opportunity.’’ Where is that coming from? What idiocy did I just spew? Now he will surely leave.

‘’Aaaa- aaah!’’ And they both cried out at that, their voices high and pitched and full of lust, coming from depths of their throats, such that it stung, him from her words, and her, from seeing him like that, flushed and red, with mouth open in pleasure and tongue twisting and squirming from arousal, making lewdest face she had ever seen, such that for moment she thought she would not need intercourse at all to be satisfied that night.

Just touching and talk, and awkward one at that, and he is more pleasurable then Urien in his prime! She giggled.

Then she cast down look, below on his crotch, and she saw a bulge, rising, visible even through fabric of his tunic, with smear of precum darkening it. First she thought this: Oh good heavens, how is that...thing supposed to fit in me, he will cleave me in half! And then she though: No way he is already getting off!

‘’Hey!’’ She snarled, bringing down hand to grip his sack. ‘’ Don’t you dare finish this off now, when I did all the work! You can’t come so fast, you can’t come before  do! Is this all you need? Bit of touching and insulting and then you are spent, like some twelve year old! How can you call yourself man at all!’’ He doesn’t really look like one, to be honest. Could call him boyish, if I was charitable. He was muscled, more then most, and of wide shoulders and sharp  face, but that face was fine and  smooth and lips full and red as if they were  painted, as if unto some woman, and his waist was more slender and pretty then in most girls.

‘’Listen to me, bitch! You aren’t going to leave me here turned on and unsatisfied, even if I have to curse seventy five generations of your family for that! So restrain yourself and behave like a man, not as a cheap street whore! What would your queen and comrades and pastors say if you saw you like this now?’’ And to think I saw him as prude for moment. Without thinking, almost as if she was born with such instinct, she squeezed his balls, grip strong and heavy.

‘’AAAA- aaaahh yes more please!’’  Lancelot cried out, panting and shaking like leaf on wind, as he threw his head back and let out sounds that made her ashamed. They started struggling and thrusting, and one his leg was put around her hips, and then in crazed moment she rose her knee and hit him.

‘’Ughh!’’ With cry, he fell down on his knees, coming and ejaculating, darkening his pants, drops of semen pouring through pants to her hand.

‘’What did I just say?’’ She grumbled, but stopped when he almost jumped, catching her fingers with his mouths, lapping at them, sucking and kissing and getting them all wet and tingly in curious pleasant way as he ate up his own seed. Perhaps there is truth in rumours, that he prefers men...

‘’And what am I supposed to do? Since you are already spent?’’ She bit out, coldly looking at him, and for moment he seemed horrified and ashamed, before he turned away his head and murmured.

‘’Penetration is boring and overrated anyway.’’ If you have to perform, I suppose.

‘’And how am I supposed to be satisfied otherwise? She asked, crossing her arms, looking down on him like judge and executioner, he kneeling before her like peasant before rightful queen.

‘’You never heard of oral?’’ Her eyes went wide and she gritted her teeth, palming her fists.

‘’If you think I will put my mouth near your...’’ Disgusting, awful pig! How could I have been so stupid.

‘’Not you. Me.’’ What?...Oh. Oh. No way, it was just fantasy, he wouldn’t.. But if he would, then.. Can’t miss chance like this.

Morgan put her back on wall, raised her skirts and threw down her undergarments, and with single finger gestured to him to come. Lancelot, panting and smiling, crawled to her on all fours, and she could only think of how beautiful he would look nude (save perhaps for a bunch of jewellery and loincloth), chained to her side, crawling like excited dog after her.

How is he waking all this fantasies with just one night? Oh my, if he ever became my lover, I would truly become unholy pervert for rest of my life.

‘’Do you know what you are doing?’’ She asked him, in low, condescending voice, sharp and crisp, barely looking at him. In response, Lancelot dived down. And Morgan screamed.

Lancelot kissed her, licked her, sucked her, worshipped her. He touched depths of her with tongue rather then his penis, her labia, her clitoris, burying his nose in her pubic hairs, twisting his lips and tongue with skill of master artists, somebody who knew every trick in book and added some. She couldn’t think, at least not properly- even if this was her first time, she was sure she got rarest of rare, man willing to orally pleasure woman, and who actually knew what he was doing instead of just hitting what was in front of him.

It started out as small thing, few light, tingling touches, that seemed to light her up from inside, teasing just as she was before, but soft and gentle where she was painful and cruel. They seemed to bring her on edge, then back down, and start again, and she panted and groaned, but never whined or begged, for she wouldn’t allow herself that, no matter in what circumstances she was, and especially not now, when she saw that object of her lust and affection  since long ago had no intention of dominating or being pleased by women, and that only active role he would take, would be of one worshipping his partner in position that was more then scandalous and humiliating for any man, much less one of his status.

Slowly and gradually, he continued pleasuring her, more and more, until she was hot and wet to such point that she was sure she would melt. His touches became more sure, stronger and deeper, though never to point to hurt, and twists and swirls of his tongue had gotten more intricate and complicated, exploring and hitting when he was not kissing and sucking, seeming to drink in her, to point Morgan wondered whether he could breathe at all, in half of moment she had some reason left.

She was sure that she was seeing stars. She felt as if she had been filled with energy, with fire strong enough to burn down stones, to scorch earth and air and melt very  bones and skin and render flesh in ooze, and she felt as if she had breathed or drunk for very first time in her life, for she had no idea anybody, much less a woman could be so stimulated. Panting, groaning and almost yawling like a cat, she held his skull strong enough to crush it, fingers woven in and holding at strands of hair like man in a sea storm desperately holding on thin rock, and had orgasm several times, to point she stopped counting, until at final climax she burst and squirted on his face for last time, throwing him away and falling down, tired like archer who had shot hundred arrows in single hour.

‘’How long do you need to rest?’’ He asked, and she turned to look at him in complete surprise.

‘’Several days at least. There is no way we are doing this again now. What gave you such idea?’’ She managed to say, giddy as if she was drunk, barely managing to breathe.

‘’Ah yes. I always forget that humans aren’t so...durable.’’ He says, while licking her fluids off his face, and perhaps she would have been able to concentrate on it if he didn’t have that same strange smile she sometimes made after she got too deep with bargains, and that strange look in those onyx eyes she could never understand.

She thought of him, for moment, in Faerie, pleasuring innumerable sidhe and goblin and thousand other kinds of Fair Ladies, and imagined him kept as mortal pet by one, perhaps given as present for impressive behaviour by his foster mother, kept for his human prettiness and softness, to be toyed with and to pleasure and serve and be fucked, forever making that wanton, lewd faces, then imagining herself as his mistress.

‘’Oh no.’’ He suddenly rose and let out, and she followed him, though she was slower because she had to dress herself, in much more complicated outfit.

‘’What is it?’’ She asked, as he turned to explain.

‘’The feast. We must attend, but how will we...like this?’’ Dirty, fleshed, smelling of sex, hair messy and tangled, him with fluids all over face and pants-How many times did he ejaculate?

‘’Ah. I think I can fix this. But only this time.’’ With whispered, secret word, and movement of ringers and clang of rings on them, she gathered magic in her palm, and sent it out in cleaning wave, a breeze of power that washed them and made them presentable.

‘’...Thank you.’’ Lancelot said, and Morgan laughed, before, slapping him on his very fine backside, causing another moan out of him.

‘’No need for that. Just make sure you don’t mess yourself up by thinking of me over night. Now let us find way out and invent excuses for why we were not present that have nothing to do with this.’’ She said, and went off, with him following.

‘’You will not tell anybody of this?’’ Bright knight asked treacherous sorceress, already remembering what punishments were for infidelity and adultery (too late) adding them on his list of sins he had to confess and atone for.

‘’Of course not. It would jeopardize my reputation too.’’ This meeting, she knew, would actually  quell rumours of her being serial adulteress, if only because now she saw how horribly stupid  and selfish most men were when it came to bedding women, causing her to raise her standards.

And Lancelot would find himself much more beloved by women, even more then before, when news of his abilities and willingness spread from unknown source.

Before they departed, they kissed once, her lips chapped and rough, his soft and full, her tongue down his mouth as he whimpered.

‘’Good boy.’’ She told him, smirking after she pulled away, knowing that he found her desirable,  at least physically. Which was starting step, as she could ensure that lust grow in another sort of desire.

After all, Rome wasn’t built in single day, was it now?


 

Sodomy.

That was one  of newer words he learned while living with humans, a sin of flesh that was utter aberration to nature.

So he had to get  rid of it too.  To remember that love, and affection, attraction and desire, lust and marriage were all things that could only exist between men and women, because opposites attracted and because since beginning it was Adam and Eve.

Folk were not right. Folk were monster, and otherworldly, and unholy, wicked forces, and even they themselves admitted they were unnatural. Besides, for them form and gender were a play, game, illusion they took on whim to imitate life, and could change in second by thought, and they had no true laws, no rules, no society or religion. They knew nothing of goodness and morality and righteousness, lacking very soul and ability to understand such concepts in the first place. What he was taught (or better yet said, not taught, raised and shown and never pointed out, learning to take it as normal, accept without thought).

People who lived there too couldn’t be trusted. They were sinners, twisted and mutated by taint of Faerie, and either became such after coming to Faerie, or came to it in first place because of their wrong nature (a work of demons, of fiends, of evil spirits, of hell, of Devil, who dwelled within men and led him in sin, and he needed to be loyal and faithful and repentant to cleanse himself), or because they came from heathen and barbarian lands of times past, which knew nothing of glory of Christ, and as such allowed thousand sins to go on and prosper unpunished.

It hurt, of course, which meant he was doing it correct, since sin is tempting and pleasurable, and salvation is harsh and suffering. Path to Hell is that of lilies, and to Heaven that of thorns (and no, there isn’t third path, bony, wild, grass covered path that leads to beyond good and evil, life and death, beyond Gods and Divine and Creators).

So he needs to forget, and get rid of excitement he feels for strong, handsome men, and focus only-in chaste, respectable way, of course-only on passion he feels towards women (which is, when compared, rare, for though women are attractive too, his taste in men is far less picky).  A male form must never be attractive, in any sense, even aesthetical, and he should like all women but lust after none.

He must never lie down, legs spread and cast over shoulders of another man, as hands clench him on hips and waist and clench and hit his member and forbid him to come,, and his face is alight and drooling as he rises and impales himself on another man’s cock, and covers himself in his and other’s seed, and moans when he is referred as wanton and high maintenance and his hole as cunt and man-puss and thousand other vulgarities.

He needs to forget and abandon feelings of admiration and desire he feels for courageous and wise men, and wish not for closeness between them, never wish to hold their hand and spend time with them out of romantic notions only at best respect and friendship.  never must he allowed to fantasize about meeting great heroes, or fear stumbling when talking to wise king, or find blushing joy  in being near other knights and almost conquerors, nor seek to invite them to his home and give them subtle compliments, and be gifted and treasured and courted by another.

It isn’t right. It is unnatural, and wrong, and unlike God’s plan for men.  They all say so.

He doesn’t want to be mocked. He doesn’t want to go to Hell. He doesn’t want to be abandoned.


 

‘’Your cousin is really taking his time.’’ One knight rumbles.

‘’Hey! Watch your words!’’  Lionel shouts, and knight would have wondered how was he heard so keenly were he not in too bad of mood to lose time upon such things.

‘’He is right.’’ Says another.

‘’I agree..’’ Speaks third.

‘’It is as they say.’’ Calls out the fourth.

‘’You know, when he comes, I could tell him to leave you all here.’’ Lionel threatens.

‘’If he ever comes. Or if he doesn’t get chained here like us.’’ Says knight next to Lionel, earning rather painful shove in ribs by means of good aimed foot.

‘’Augh!  What was that for?’’ His neighbour complains.

‘’You deserved that. Better late to rescue then early to captivity. Now does anybody have something better to paly then ‘’I spy with my little eye’’...’’ Which promptly causes another argument amongst knights, at least until heavy iron doors of dungeon open, stone floor screeching as they move across it, and light shines upon them and knight on top of staircase.

‘’Lancelot!’’ Lionel screams out, in what starts out as delighted shout, then ends in horrified gasp. For there is his cousin, Lancelot, smeared and covered in blood. Streaks of it dye his hair, and run down his eyes like tears, and paint his eyebrows and mouths, and his hands are covered in it, his white and silver armour turned brown with dried out blood.

‘’Hi Lionel. Sorry I’m late.’’ He says, smiling, and oh how wrong it is, that smile, closest in resemblance to animal baring teeth, but not even that, something other and alien in way his face moves, his pearl white teeth red as if he had dinned upon raw flesh.

‘’What is with that face, cousin? Oh. Blood.’’ Lionel nods, silent and mouth gaping, watching sir Turquine’s blood fall down his cousin’s hair, his back, on floor.

‘’Well don’t worry. Not a drop of it is mine.’’ He says, as his smile falters, and face becomes human and ashamed and alight with realization, but eyes, those onyx eyes remain faraway and squinting in strange way forever more.


 

He doesn’t fights. He plays.

He doesn’t defeat. He breaks.

He doesn’t murder. He kills.

It is the difference between him and every other knight  of the Round Table, difference that becomes horribly obvious only when they fight together, or worse-when they are on opposing sides.

It is not quite the warp spasm that overtook Cú Chulainn, but it is neither really berserker rage that overtook Viking warriors (who won’t descend from North to ravage for some time yet, whether that is a day or century, depending on how you are looking at such things), both of which he heard of and saw –there (home peace wonder beauty terror alien other ).

He would like to blame it for that, to blame Faerie once again, to claim and name and call it another of changes done to him, as he dwelled below-inside-through Lake, but he knows he can not, knows blame for that, for that monstrosity, that sin, lies solely within him, a blemish upon Arthur’s court, and Guinevere’s honour, and his family’s lineage (proclaimed holy, proclaimed sacred, claiming descent from saints and holy figures, and is it truth, or lie made to give royal family further authority over commoners, or foreshadowing of what and who will come, it’s last son and fruit, he wonders and blames then himself for thinking so).

It overtakes him in midst of battle, that cursed state, that sinful joy, savage monstrosity. It dwells within him, his mind and heart, from very first moment he dons heavy armour upon his body, very first moment he grasps weapon in his hands, from very first moment he sets sight upon the enemy, very first moment he steps foot on the battlefield.

It isn’t immediate, not at first at least. Slowly, gradually, like a stem of plant growing from rich, fertile soil that is his wretched body, watered by death and bloodshed as if it was clean, pure rain water, madness buried like seed deep within him blossoms in corruption, great and strong as ancient oak, and he becomes nothing but vessel for it, of it, existing for sake of one thing only.

To cut down whatever stands in his way.

He doesn’t think, doesn’t see, doesn’t plan. Red covers his eyes and his mind and all of his senses, and like a puppet he moves, as if he is nothing but weapon by which death is brought about and wielded through. No hesitance, no consideration, no recognizing of either friends or foes.

Just weapon swinging, and fists hitting, and silence, and screams of his victims, and blood, red blood pooling like lake around him, to knees, till it seems everything is red and drowning.

He prays and hits himself for it and confesses and knows he is sinner.


 

Chapel where he began his journey becomes his sanctuary.

When he feels alone, when world seems too complicated and unsure, not like his new lessons, when it seems to him he might slip in anything, he goes here, to feel holy power within, remember weight symbols contained within carry for him, recall warnings of priests, to make him sure of his purpose.

He probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when he found out queen Guinevere thought same.

She is there, looking like tormented saint, defaced icon as light falls on her and lights her whole up, golden and glorious. Tears flow down her face, glinting like crystals on her cheeks, and it seems to him that this whole chapel was built for her, to be venerated as saint she will one day be canonized as.

(Memories speak there, wonder and awe-struck love come later, when face is far away, and young one even more, and false memories rain down upon him, that he thinks her beautiful even as she was crying, which otherwise would be rather sick thought, wouldn’t you agree-and of course, after he beats himself enough with fact that even in his most idolizing, most maddened devoted days he couldn’t squash down awful worm of thought She can be said to be good looking...for mortal at least.

But first, he runs to ask her what is wrong.)

‘’My queen, do you ..’’ He doesn’t truly sprint and run, so as not to scare her, but he doesn’t get to ask if she needs anything, if she wants him to leave, because her face twists and she stares down on him, with face that would make Boudicca’s guts twist with fear, promising doom and beheading to all who dared to witness her caught in moment of weakness.

‘’Stop.’’ She spoke out, harsher then she intended, and he did, like a well trained dog, kneeling before her when realizing how improper he was.  Even though not all respected it, he was knight, and she was high queen, and he was her champion and she his mistress, and he had to kneel ( one of rare times old and new rules of his life agreed).

‘’...’’ He barely makes a sound, a half breath, before she raises hand and he ducks his head. They sit in silence for some time before she speaks.

‘’You can go. Or stay. Just...Just, don’t speak, please.’’ And he doesn’t. He is silent, even as he prays, or tries to at least (sinner unfaithful liar distracted by earthly forbidden shameful), glancing at her, quietly sobbing.

‘’I am sorry. I didn’t mean to react so.’’ She says after some time, and he just smiles.

‘’I am just...It is too tiring sometimes, you know? Playing the role all the time, staying within it’s confines. Sacrificing who I am to be wife and queen. to bury myself for sake of people and duty... But he can’t understand. I can’t tell him. He does it perfectly. but then we can’t all be a Pendragon, can we?

I am sorry for troubling you with my woes. I just... He is the king. What do rules matter? He is rules, he can do whatever he wants. But no. He just finds ways to limit his power, to make himself in slave to people... He would die for it. And he doesn’t ask me to, but they all expect me to be same. But I can’t. I won’t.’’ At last she lets out broken, sardonic laugh. Lancelot raises his hands and grasps hers.

‘’Thank you.’’ She says.


 

‘’We can’t. It is treason.’’ Says one, when guilt is too much, when knowledge of what they have done, who they have betrayed becomes far too much to bear, so they don’t return kisses, shove away hugs, don’t allow pettings.

‘’We can. We love each other.’’ Answers other, consumed by desire, by love, by loneliness and frustration, thought they never kiss first without acceptance, though they always wait. Sometimes first wins and sometimes they falter.

Opposites attract, they say. Here and now they don’t. Two souls, tired of duty, masking themselves to fit people’s ideal, passion making blood run fast and bold and burning, heart beating furious, as they embrace in each other.


 

‘’Sir Lancelot! I am glad to find you here.’’ Galehaut  smiled and walked towards him, sound of his steps and laughter and words more akin to hulking and roaring of a bear then man. Lancelot’s expression remained strange and relaxed as it often was, but his eyes flashed and twinkled, and he looked down demurely.

‘’Good day to you too, sir Galehaut. I am myself glad to see you. How was your voyage.?’’ Lancelot asked, and Galehaut smiled even wider, giving him a goblet of wine.

‘’It was harsh and hard. Treacherous was water, and traitorous were mists, yet I went on through sea and fog, to this land and it’s horrid climate, waiting to see your face. And how my heart sings  when I  hear your voice, asking after me!’’ The giant man exclaimed, almost loud enough to garner attention from ever ready and gossip hungry courtiers, and while Lancelot was busying his mind imagining stormy, angry sea, Galehaut bent down (and still he was almost for head higher then Lancelot) and picked up his fine hand in his own giant palm, softly kissing it.

‘’You... You are quite the jokester, sir Galehaut.’’ Spoke out Lancelot, after glancing left and right to see if anybody noticed.

‘’I am sorry, Lance. I got carried overboard.’’ Galehaut spoke, letting down Lancelot’s hands as two of them walked away, to Galehaut’s suite.

‘’ No need to apologize. Joke isn’t  crime. And there has been none of that. No murder, no thieving, no treason, no sodomy.’’ He said, and at idea of that being sodomy Galehaut’s forehead frowned bit, but he let it rest for time.

‘’No sodomy.’’ He agreed, thinking of two of them riding together, things they said to each other in depths of night, things they did on bed, their joint breakfasts, their dances.

‘’There is tournament coming up, I heard.’’ Galehaut asked.

‘’Will you participate?’’ Lancelot asked, for moment remembering half giant on battlefield, cutting down Arthur’s knights, laughing all the while (just as Galehaut remembers small man deadlier then arrow, skilled beyond any other knight, coldly cutting down all who came before him, sharpened and transformed in death’s executor).

‘’Perhaps. Will you?’’ Galehaut asked, recalling Lancelot preparing for fights,  winning them, and coming sore and sweated and tired after them.

‘’Yes. I will stand as my lady’s champion.’’ His companion answered.

‘’So will I, for sake of my raven mast-mistress I mean.’’ Galehaut said and giggled when he saw Lancelot’s pout and blush, on idea of being lady in this courtly love.

‘’I am sure you will be stunning.’’ Lancelot said,  already planning on excuse  if Galehaut somehow won and happened to give award to him, crowning him as King of Beauty at tournament.. Everybody would gossip but he would have good excuse anyway.

‘’ And I will be even more, if I am given token of my love’s affection.’’ Galehaut said, and Lancelot rolled his eyes, taking out handkerchief.


 

Galehaut’s servants and  courtiers gossip, as people always do.

They are more used to idea of their master’s affections (made rather blatant) then at Camelot, though less approving.  There it is embarrassing secret, something mocked and ridiculed, as it is done with widows seeking younger men, and  impoverished nobles desperately covering up their growing poverty, but rarely brought up in conversation, and alien to most (Arthur’s influence, allowing men and women of such persuasion more and more to live together, wicked accusers and attackers cracked down onto, though situation is still far from ideal).

At Galehaut’s court, they are all much more aware of such things, and it is almost impossible to meet man or lady who doesn’t know such thing exists, or is ignorant how it could be possible. But they are harsher, with words razor sharp- and prone to name calling, and ostracizing, and denying work and products when asked, and attacking.

They do not dare attack Galehaut, of course. Privilege offers protection, as does noble blood, and over two meters of height, and status of ruler, and heavy sword swinging down on attacker. People are bought and cowed by fear and respect, by his soldiers and skill in war, by his just ruling, and strict punishments, and money, and knowledge nobles believe themselves God appointed and are more then willing to destroy life of whoever dares offend them.

Still, they do love to talk about their lord’s love lives.

They wonder about man who has their lord smiling sweetly and dazedly, pining pathetically.

Who has him writing awful sonnets and love songs mostly copied from pathetic, trashy novels and romances.

Who has him go on and proclaim how he fights for sake and honour of his love.

For whose sake he goes on quests, to defeat wicked wizards and slay dragons and hunt down outlaws.

Who can cheer up his day with a handkerchief.

Whose promise of strand of hair could convince Galehaut to burn down the world.

Few wonder if he finally came to love a woman-perhaps, given how much he copies chivalric books and behaves according to courtly love,  perhaps a married noblewoman, two of them unable to even meet out of large social gatherings, pining away for each other and exclaiming lvoe by grand deeds and beautiful arts (in theory at least).

Then he brings Lancelot home.

Lancelot, a foreign knight, who nonetheless defeated their own king. Lancelot, whose face and form muddles line between man and woman in their minds. Lancelot, changeling raised by things from beneath hills that guard homes and curse fields depending on whim and amount of milk left out for them as offering.

They sneer at him, and laugh behind his back loud enough to hear, and smile false smiles, when Galehaut isn’t around at least.  They laugh at his trouble to speak words of their language, and unfamiliarity with customs of their land, and spit on his appearance. They watch with hunger honour he is afforded by Galehaut, and dream of having his position in Camelot, and are envious of his piety. They dread seeing him fight with sword or spear or shield, and are frightened of challenging him after he broke nose and kicked out all teeth and broke ribs and  gave concussions to last five men who attacked him (he said nothing, utterly silent, hitting and hitting as they whimpered on floor and as blood washed on cobblestones, eyes cold and faraway as if he was dreaming, and had to be dragged away by Galehaut  and three other men to leave them alive) and they cross themselves when they catch his eyes and fay look in them.

There are those in Galehaut’s country that distain his mixed blood, and those  who are honoured to be ruled over by half giant. But Lancelot, though more human than him in flesh isn’t afforded  any treatment of such kind, but much worse. Giants are flesh and blood and bone, born and living and dying, they feel and think and understand like humans. Fair Folk are magic and unnatural , alien and otherworldly, eternal and ancient,  no soul and no feelings and too Other to be ever understood.

Better giant whore’s child then fay harlot’s fosterling, they say (and their fields know flood and drought, and their weapon fail and homes shatter, and their families die ill and they have nightmares that wake them shaking and quivering but never remember them really for rest of life).

It is ironic then, that what really earns him semblance of respect is how he take being fucked by Galehaut (always so, for because of some strange reason Lancelot’s attempts to top always end in unmitigated disasters for both him and his partner-last time he tried, with Gawain who was also exclusive bottom, both were left bored and irritated, and Gawain flipped him and drove him in mattress on instinct).

See, Galehaut, as it is common with giants and their descendants, who as good work of Mother Nature (good because they aren’t nightmarish terrors who somehow survive and go on to be terrifying without humans realizing until it is too late, as it is case with most of sea life, meaning She had been feeling particularly good when designing them) are proportional creatures, meaning Galehaut was particularly well endowed, which actually caused him more problems with lovers then one would expect, due to trepidation, time needed to prepare and open said lover, and mishaps  that are far too likely to happen during sex with organ of that size.

Lancelot deepthroated it whole, jumped and rode on it up and down at great speed, for whole month of his stay. Insisting at least fifteen rounds each day.

Then he got up, washed himself off, commented how Galehaut was building up stamina, and went to ride horse for hours while his lover remained dazed in bed, and then he went to train sword fighting with fifteen men at once, which is general result of letting kids go through puberty and sexual awakening around eternal immortals that need no rest or food and letting said kid lose virginity to a gancanagh.

Which, for all their derision, was something they had to take hat off in respect. especially those who had intimate knowledge of what bedding Galehaut consisted of.


 

‘’ You do have manners. That is nice.’’ Galehaut’s mother says in voice as heavy and crushing as rockslide, and utterly monotone, one eyebrow raised as he squints on Lancelot and his family.

‘’Thank you, lady.’’ Lancelot answers, his voice same as always, calm as if she hasn’t spent half hour insulting him and everybody he is related to, face composed and pleasant but not smiling. Galehaut sighs, Bors frowns, Hector’s brow furrows and Lionel seems ready to kill her with fork.

‘’It is something we take for granted here. But I understand you might think such concept alien over there.’’  Galehaut gives her severe glance, and Bors chokes as Hector stares astonished, and Lionel needs to be calmed down by his brother so not to throw goblet at her head. Three of them have been raised in Albion, lived so long their  father’s blood is overlooked, and now people of Camelot do not distrust French, or any other foreigners so much, some not at all. They do no truly know, or remember weight of such insult.

But Lancelot is changeling, Lake fostered, Folk raised. he will forever be foreigner.

‘’I would say it is harsh accusation to level, given you never visited Albion, or any other land. especially if you don’t consider that what may seem rude to you is polite in other lands.’’ He speaks before continuing to eat, and Galehaut grins as his mother frowns.

‘’So you call your own stupid men?’’ She asks. She is beautiful woman, and miniature for giant-barely four meters, strong and respectable and harsh and of wide hips and belly, with long, flaxen hair. It isn’t strange at all why Galehaut’s father, and many others, fell in love with her. Known as fair giantess for reason, she is.

Not even as vain as stories make her out. But her eyes look at Lancelot as if he was snake, because she is fair but he has known Fair Ones- her kind has been born before men, and now fades, and one day, centuries, millennia in future she will be old and weathered and wrinkles and white, and her flesh will feed many worms and her bones will turn in dust, but there are many  those among Folk who will barely have blinked in that whole time, and he is reminder of that.

‘’Not at all. I just say that sometimes customs are different, because people and land are different, and that is just way things are.’’ He speaks, things he wouldn’t dare whisper if you asked him about different religions and moral codes, and he looks in eyes without awe or wonder and fear, because to him she is just larger human, and nothing like terrors and beauties larger then galaxies he witnessed.

‘’It proves my point.’’ She bellows out, even after Galehaut whispers to her to stop.

‘’If you are determined to see it that way, then let it be so. I think Albion, France and Distant Isles are equally lovely, each in their own way.’’ None as much , never as much as Faer- as Heaven, he thinks.

‘’I suppose so, if you are willing to settle for somebody  strange. We have quite good amount of men here, all proper and respectable.’’  She says, and Bors and Hector have to hold down Lionel, who is ready to slaughter giantess, and Lancelot is still calm, because he understands- he is human, and that is quite a blow to mother who comes from nearly dead people, but he is following in her footsteps-but she chose man who was nobody’s servant, not prince who willingly chose to serve another King, tall and strong  and great man (not as big as her, of course, and Lancelot doesn’t want to think how it went on while aware he had stranger intercourse as teen), not pretty and unseemly and androgynous, and man who made her queen, not knight who slaughtered half her army, prevented their kingdom from expanding and made Galehaut in another vassal of Arthur’s empire.

‘’Mother . That is enough.’’ Galehaut coldly says, and Lancelot reaches in his tunic and grips red rose within (it is February but they still come each morning).

Galehaut’s reaction earns him horrified gasp and they start bickering already familiar argument, which Lancelot really can’t listen to as he feels shame curdle in him at thought of causing strife between mother and son. But at least Lionel is having fun.

‘’What if Arthur had his changeling charm you in obedience? Would you risk risk  all of our lives for sake of that thing?’’ She shouts, and Lancelot’s eyes snap wide open and he sees red, red, red as his snarls and grips rose as rage flows through him like magma.

And then there is explosion.

The space shatters and tears itself apart, as if cut with sword and then hit by forge hammer, and it twists and melts and grows and expands and mutates, until it is just twirling, chaotic mass, more similar to ocean and whatever ancient chemical soup life crawled from ( God, Creation, seven days, body of clay far away back in his mind).

They are swept up in it, in chaotic, almost liquid mass that bleeds and tears itself apart until it is less space, less nature, less existence and more magic. It carries them, but keeps away from them, shielding them in sphere to keep them safe and...

And they aren’t in human world anymore.

It looks like outer space, but it isn’t. It is just semblance, a faerie clothed in shape humans can understand, eldritch magic they are shielded from due to thin layer of world and power around them. They watch space around them turn from black to red to something between rose purple and green with victory dots, and all strange, bizarre, impossible colours they never saw before. galaxies form and twist and burn out around them, planets rise and fall like comets, stars dance and spell out names, solar winds and cold of void battle for dominance then kiss, and moon explode and turn in magma and in pollen in matter of seconds, and billion creatures die and are reborn and destroyed and transformed,  black holes cry and beg and laugh and promise, and whole thing is spinning and changing and crying with energy and activity.

And then part of space grows and rises and forms itself in woman, woman so big that galaxies are just freckles on Her, and She is many, thousand different women who are all same , and space is part of Her, of magic, and Her voice and song come from planets, Her eyes appear on stars, nebulas are Her hair and...

And Lady of the Lake raises her sword.

His companions scream.

Cry.

Laugh

Gasp.

They beg.

Pray.

Thank.

Ask.

They kneel.

Crawl.

Dance.

Jump.

Mad frenzy overtakes them, kind not even Maenads could match. Energy flows through them, as they shout and sing and offer themselves as sacrifice with more force in emotion then they ever experienced before. Hector is rolling on ground in front of Patron  who gifted Excalibur to his king, Bors squirms like worm before his Saviour whose influence saved him and Lionel, Lionel tries to tear out his eyes because any other beauty won’t compare to that of Mistress because She is immortal and majestic and they all owe Her lives for letting them see Her beauty, Galehaut giggles before sight of Lady who is castle and war and sea and family and whole world, his mother is frozen in front of Goddess her people worshipped when they walked world in their youth.

Only Lancelot  remains calm, slightly smiling-after all, this is what he knew his entire youth.

And then it is gone, and they are back in dining room, but all save for him are haggard and crying and shaking, and he glows with blue light that seems filtered through water, and he hangs his head in shame as his family trembles and Galehaut’s mother scrambles away apologizing and Galehaut remains frozen in wonder.


 

‘’And here and now, I swear you to Lancelot, and him to you.’’ Guinevere proclaims, as they stand in abandoned chapel.  It irks her a little, to see somebody else in their place, but she can’t deny that Galehaut deserves it most of all. He helped them so much, sopping them from pining as much as they should, as he pines away for Lancelot.

‘’I give him in your safekeeping, and offer you all parts of his heart, save for one that belongs to me.’’ She admits. It can work like this, she tells herself over and over. Part of her to Lancelot, part to Arthur. Part of Lancelot to her, part to Galehaut.

Two of them squeeze each other’s hand. It isn’t same, not really, not yet. Not like formally secret ceremonies some priests do, but it must serve it’s purpose. It feels wrong, without priest and all proper vows, like betrayal,  as it felt when Arthur proposed idea of civil, secular workers doing job of priests, ceremony being optional. But it doesn’t matter so much.

Feeling is there after all.


 

Galehaut is precious.

This thought occurs to him one night, as they are fornicating. He is seated on Galehaut’ s knees, driven up and down, moaning and whining as man so tall he could crush him drives in him, and kisses his neck, and speaks praises.

(Sometimes, when he slept with men who just discovered their preferences, they closed eyes and imagined they slept with woman, they admitted. He used to wonder if Galehaut imagined somebody who was-more male, better man, right kind of man.

Now he just smiles and hugs him and thanks).

And as they do it, Galehaut  never takes eyes off him, never stops watching him, never turns his eyes off Lancelot, staring him straight in eye, though it hurts, though it freezes his bones, raises hair over all his body, to watch those eyes and be watched by their strange look, that changeling eyes, proof of sin he will never wash away.

‘’You are golden.’’ Says Lancelot, clinging to him as if he will drown otherwise.


 

Galehaut is dead.

Dead.

Lost.

Gone.

No more.

His fault. It is all his fault. He died because of him, he was agent, fuse of his death, he is dead and it is all Lancelot’s fault. He is dead and gone and buried in Lancelot’s family tomb, in Joyous Garde, because he wished so, because his people and family didn’t dare cross madman/ Arthur’s knight/ berserker/ Guinevere’s champion/changeling.

He deserves to die. More then anybody. Certainly more then Galehaut. Suicide, what is one sin more? End life, end misery, and all is over and good. He doesn’t listen to anybody, not even Arthur or Hector.

And then they bring Seraide.

He doesn’t know her all that well, as none like her may be known by him, too much of life and choices to get. But magic she was born from is one that raised him, and when she throws off her glamour, when she wraps her four arms and scarred body and leaf hair around him, like man in desert that found river he jumps in her, and it feels like he hasn’t been breathing for ages.

She holds him as he cries and screams and tries to stab himself, while his family watches, until he calms down and sobs in matter of seconds, simply because of tasting again power of Good Folk, of Faerie, of home.

It still feels like betrayal to Galehaut.


 

He is changeling.

Human flesh. Human bone. Human blood. Human life. Human soul.

But he is changeling, infused and changed by Fair magic, and that means he will not age as men do. Decades have passed, and though grey is in his hair, his face is unmarred by wrinkles, and it cannot be guessed whether he is seventeen or forty by it’s shape and form.

Great Arthur Pendragon. Powerful Guinevere. Loving Hector. Wise Bors. Strong Lionel. Funny Dinadan. Sweet Tristan. Loyal Kay. All dead and gone and lost, while he remains young and is chased away and hated for it.

What will he do then?


 

He prays.

He prays, over and over, for forgiveness, for Elaine’s soul, for salvation.

She is dead. The lily has wilted, the tower has shattered down to foundation, the maiden has floated down river. She is dead and it is his fault. She healed him, tended him, and now she is dead. He broke her heart and he murdered her. (It helps things with Guinevere, who realizes he hadn’t had other woman, but what does it matter when an innocent is dead)?

He pays for her funeral. It is most lavish in entire Camelot, perhaps whole Albion. But that is least he can do, and what does it matter? body is just a corpse, a shell, and stricken soul is gone.

Advised by priests, he knows least he can do is pray.


 

He is rejected by Grail.

Of course he is. How would something like that, something so good and holy, accept him? He is sinner, he is liar, he is traitor, he is disgusting, he is changeling.

It hurts still, rejection made not in words, and fact he understood it, understood way angel looked at him and knew what it told without speaking, just as it’s vision hurt, shining eyes within eyes of paradise, wings and halo and darkness and starlight and burning sword that bested legions of fallen in battles amidst stars.

Well, at least he has it now confirmed that he is cursed, wretched soul.

(Does he think, that perhaps Grail, touched by Son of God, Divine made human flesh, mortal and Other at same time completely, at last night of His life, simply can not be taken my ordinary human?

Does he think that he is rejected because he murdered so many not because he believed it right, but simply because it was other side and he only followed orders, because he hungers for glory and hates parts of himself and harms others with it, because he doesn’t believe in God  but in recital of words based on Him?

Of course not.)


 

They never consummate their relationship, not truly. Not as it is expected at last.

Courtly love. What an interesting concept. Faithful yet adulterous. Sexual yet platonic. Erotic but spiritual. definition shifts from one side of scale to another depending o person, but it is right to say that in practice it was never so ideal and...pure (or as pure as indignant would term it, for what is truly unclean and what pure with human life), but never so passionate and arousing as some imagine it. More like clutter of both.

There is no intercourse, so some wouldn’t call it sex. Of course not, since such thing would get rather complicated and hard to hide, and both are too scared and paranoid to try something like that. Too dangerous, too risky-and above all, too much, too big of betrayal.

But it is sexual, mundane made erotic by their hidden jokes. Subtle  allusions woven in mundane compliments, language of flowers and stones and other symbols used to convey desire, chess games that put one through catharsis. Queen tucking and grasping her champion’s hair little too roughly. Him applying her make up, helping her get dressed and be made pretty (and maybe, in shame and delight, trying some of it on), because his taste and skill are very high with it. Her coolly watching him train and fight. Him kneeling before her.

Of course there is something, ah, more. Him nude, bent and sprawled below her, wiggling and squirming and moving at her every word, sucking  and lightly kissing her fingers, telling her how beautiful and strong and important she is, being bitten and kisses and cuddled and hit and slapped on scrotum, nipples twisted and tongue shoved in mouth as his own hangs out in panted breath, called good boy and favourite pet and little puppy as he barks and yelps and snivels, calling her mistress and queen and Guanhumara (true name, name chosen and beloved).


 

Arthur catches them once.

He knows. Of course he does. he is smart man, both in matters of logic and heart. He knows he can’t give them what they want, and he allows them comfort and freedom when he could have them executed for treason, and tries to heal his own heart by pretending they are loyal.

Then he catches them kissing in his bed.

His face is shocked, broken eyes and vulnerable expression, and he looks so much younger and not majestic at all. And then it is gone, and Arthur is no more, leaving only Pendragon, the high king, commander of arms, anger as deadly and hard as steel of blade.

They try to explain, they do, but he runs away, leaves, short furious steps, and they do not follow, because they are scared somebody will figure out what happened.

And later in night, Arthur comes to Lancelot’s suite, just as expected. He isn’t drunk, but he is red and swollen and crying, and furious and raw in way had never seen him. he is still like still, but molten and still not forged (was this boy who one day drew sword from stone and became king? Is it finally time to meet him, as he met lonely, beautiful and silent girl who was smarter then everybody around her and more arrogant and cutting?

He can’t allow them to find out who he was before, a boy who was always lesser by nature then those around him and never had it commented on, boy who waited for adventure and was immature and called Fairest Lady his mother).

They fight. Of course they do. He wouldn’t hit Guanhumara, who can’t fight back, but he can Lancelot, the best knight, knight who lives for his king, just as for night he can be silent and merciless and utterly ignorant to Guanhumara’s attention. It is cruel, and painful, what he does to them, and they deserve it.

Few words are thrown, and they are insults, idiot and bastard and son of a bitch. There is spit and anger and roaring, and fists, flying, and wrestling on floor, and crying as they head butt and hug at same time. And at end, there is kiss, sloppy and wet and full and biting, and whining and moaning as Lancelot throws himself down, kneels on all fours, and Arthur tears down his pants and takes him from behind like dog, so loose he doesn’t need oil -Arthur tries to take it, but Lancelot jumps and drags him and goes on , rubbing himself like a starved whore, desperate to be full and broken and covered in come, balls hitting balls and Arthur’s dick is smaller then Lancelot’s, smaller then Lancelotimagined but still quite big but Lancelot takes him dry and moans and begs for it, pink and drooling in face, full of energy and desire, fucking himself on Arthur and coming several times onto his own pants.

In morning they will apologize and cry and avoid each other’s eyes.


 

Once, they sleep together.

Well, not really of course.  It is, as with everything complicated. It is winter and Camelot is mostly deserted and they are quiet and come to brilliant, fantastic, mad, idiotic idea together. They lay nude in furs and blankets, next to hearth fire, and do it.

Arthur and Guanhumara go first. They are married after all. It is normal, and good. Arthur knows what he is doing. He makes love like he rules: he leads and serves with understanding and cunning. He rocks Guanhumara, presses in her, soft and powerful, and leads it in way he knows she would love, loves, as she moans and cries out, made soft and sweet, as Lancelot kneels, nude and locked in metal belt distrustful husbands put on their wives (redesigned for man of course, though Arthur had no need to fear of Lancelot penetrating his wife or well anybody), drooling and crying whole time.

Guanhumara and Lancelot are second, traitors showing their king extent of their crime. Soft words and harsh touches, edging and teasing, Guanhumara revelling in Arthur’s considerate, questioning face, Lancelot filled with shame and fear and arousal and lust at play he is caught in, at king seeing it (Morgan likes voyeurism too, and perhaps they inherited it from Igraine, which is rather disturbing thought), seeing him be bitten and played with like a tiny puppy, seeing what degenerate defilement Lancelot enjoys, seeing how lesser is man trying to put horns on his head, fingers grasping sheets.

Finally Arthur and Lancelot do it, friends and comrades in arms, high king and his greatest warrior, a fitting punishment to see arrogant knight realize he is still servant forever and ever no matter what, while queen watches her husband, watches her champion, to see which man is more worth, more fit of her or any other woman’s love, watches Lancelot spread out and screaming and begging as he never does with her, lewd and whiny, begging to be fucked over and over again, as pathetic as virgin and filthy like a slut, unable to achieve release thanks to metal ring on him, teeth buried in pillow.

At end, they fall asleep, three of them together. For moment, it seems perfect. Of course it can’t last.


 

Neither knows how to comfort Arthur when Merlin is lost.

Old man knew what would happen, and allowed Nimue to do it. He didn’t try to save himself, as he tried to save Arthur at that May Day years ago (some wonder if that set prophecy off, and perhaps it contributed, but here is problem with half breeds-they do not see future, but fate. Difference is much more then you might think.

One sees possible timelines, things that can be changed by nail or butterfly. Other sees action that can’t be prevented, so he sought to stop traitor from living.

Camelot would have been salvaged. At cost of an innocent baby.

When he learnt of what happened, Arthur sent search and banished old man).

Nimue is strange thing, young and powerful, loyal to Guinevere though they clash, criticizing Arthur even as she watches her king with awe, interested in changeling knight though she avoids him. She understands human reactions and feelings because she is one, but she has same hang for seeing people as puppets and pawn living and existing for sake of greater good, future of Camelot, perfect kingdom-but unlike merlin, whether due to age, personality or nature she doesn’t take in account all possibilities necessary to follow her plans through.

She is young woman, rumoured to have grasped power of wizardry by seducing old man and betraying him, and she is smart woman with power and agenda, so she is distrusted. But she is young, and beautiful, and warmer, and despite varying rumours of godly descent and siren blood she is human, and that makes her more beloved then merlin could have ever been, even if he was saint of saints.

Yet Arthur cries after him like after  most beloved uncle, or the dearest grandfather, and none can comfort him.


 

Lancelot knows what it is.

The curse, the doom of Pendragon,  tearing through land to ravage it, grasping as throat of Camelot like sadist at throat of prey, seeking to see it bloodied and destroyed.

It is curse, curse of chaos and blood found in Pendragon veins, bound to land and people, ensuring that no prosperity, no peace will be rewarded, but destroyed and thwarted. And yet none of it comes from Arthur.

King and lords, allies, unsatisfied with being made equal, each seeking to reach for throne, even if they might shatter whole Albion as price.

A sister, wild and mad, always scheming, always plotting, betraying and lying and healing and saving.

A son-nephew, bastard of incest, full of rage and hunger, with eyes for throne he can’t manage.

Wife and best friend and lover(s), betraying, traitors like sister, because they can’t sacrifice themselves like he.

And who can he tell,and be believed, and not laughed at best and chased like devil-worker at worst, and how could it help at all?


 

He is lost to wilderness.

Guanhamara caught him...saw him...she didn’t understand...didn’t realize, trick, lie, same as with Bors, and she cast him out and he broke, he is no more, he is shattered, he is no no no...

He runs through woods, screaming and crying and silent and void, living like wild man, like animal going deeper and deeper in Woods, until he is less of man and more of beast. he knows how to dig hole and where thick branches hide from rain and where rabbits make burrows and where wolves have their lairs, and he runs, runs, runs.

‘’You poor, poor boy.’’ One day voice says, and oh how it vibrates through him, how it feels him with dread and rapture until he sobs.

‘’What happened, quite horrible thing, no wonder you are like this.’’ It comes from everywhere, from earth and sky and trees and leaves crinkling beneath his feet and his own body and stars above and rivers beneath earth and laws on which universe was founded on.

‘’You could easily get hurt like this.’’ He doesn’t know language it is speaking in, doesn’t know if it is language, but meaning, purpose made plain to his heart.

‘’That would make your foster mother sad.’’ He will forget it later, forget it forever. Now he cries out at thought of her, in latest face of hers he saw, woman who was space and sword and everything, keening with loss and desire.

‘’Can not heal you, not my place and choice and would cost too much, but can gift you safety as long as you are like this, so off you go.’’ And it is gone, but world trembles with mighty magic, and he will be safe and survive.

He runs  and only thing in his mind is blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.


 

People don’t like Galahad.

Galahad is strange.  Galahad is wonderful.  Galahad is Other. Smidgen of Fair and whole lot of Holy, and he shines with power and purpose, and his eyes have strange look in them. Humans fear such goodness, idea of saint almost made flesh, and invent other reason ( bastard-unknown son-cursed kingdom-nun raised-too nice).

‘’Adapt, please, try to fit in.’’ Lancelot says, because he sees Galahad, touched by Holiness and Heaven and Michael like Lancelot is touched by Eldritch and Faerie and Lady of the Lake, and knows pain of not fitting in, and knows his son doesn’t deserve that.

‘’ I am who I am. I shouldn’t have to change that for them.’’ He says calmly and softly to his father, father who left them and is always criticizing, father who is such because of wrongdoing, father who is only one that doesn’t look down on him with either keen interest of bored scientist or disgust.

‘’Why do you argue with priests so much?’’ Asks Lancelot, exasperated, at his holy son causing scandals by successfully arguing with archbishop.

‘’Only with some, and somebody must-they make  His words in device of their own will.’’ Says Lancelot, who doesn’t call himself religious even as he constantly prays, who is not truly Christian but knows voice of God in his ear.

‘’Why do you endanger yourself with Mordred when you could easily try things with some girl?’’ Asks Lancelot, terrified, seeing himself in his son, young and without anybody to advise him and protect him, to see his holiness saved from sin Lancelot passed down, with blood and seed and his old name.

‘’There is nothing wrong with us, nor with him seeking my affection.  I thank you for advices, and I will keep it hidden, but I will not do anything for sake of trying to uphold somebody else’s idea of normalcy.’’  Answers Galahad, who is still figuring out things, who was taught by Voice in his dreams and angels and ancient abbess and dear old nuns that all men are created equal, and knows God cares not for any kind of prejudice, and has been laughed at by others and criticized by his father, whom he has held tight as as Lancelot raged at himself, when Galahad walked on him.

This is what happens at end with their bond: Lancelot sees his sins and others in Galahad and tries to protect him from them, and Galahad is holy and knows truth and neither speaks of what will happen once he reaches Grail.


 

He and queen are found out.

He kills his friends to escape and save them both.

Children he knew, saw be born and raised and knighted, falling on his blade, gutted like fishes.

He doesn’t even notice.

Saves her from bonfire others light.

Round table breaks

Treason is complete.

Sides are taken.

Curse stirs and expands and grows.

War upon war, friend against friend, love against love.

Prophecy is fulfilled.

Chaos.

Despair.

Complete failure of Albion, greater then loss of Rome.

Camelot is shattered.

War and mayhem for all.

No safety anywhere.

Doom of Pendragon is complete.

Arthur is gone, lost to nightmare forever.


 

And so it happened, as it always does. Nothing so great and beautiful can last forever. It must be ruined, since something built on foundations of humanity always rots.

But legend remains. It is small victory, I suppose. It remains, and changes and transforms, until memory and truth of people is lost, and all that remains is symbol.

And perhaps that is good thing, or bad thing. People live and die for their symbols, and try to reach vision of that ideal-but how successfully they interpreted it is another thing completely. We all know humans are far from reasonable.

But this tale isn’t over (if any ever is), is it? The king is gone but living, waiting in Other places, beyond the reach of humans, at Avalon and Lake and Lady’s keep. And when time is right he will return.

But what happens in meanwhile? Well, let me tell you-thing with stories is that they repeat.


 

IV

Fallen among corpses and  ruins

The war is over.

The war is never over.

There are Saxons. Remnants of Mordred’s army. Stupid feudal lords seeking to use chaos to gain prestige and power.

Former friends, turned rivals.

He sees Guanhamara only once again, before she swears herself to convent.

He lives with his family, a ghost of long distant past (it ahs barely been years), sorrow bringing out Other in his eyes.

He clings to walls of his castle, avoids bodies of water, and goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but nothing works. He can never wash away his sin.

(Did he die after all of his family became dust? Or did he take his life on it’s own? Who can be sure, only that he lies in tomb next to Galehaut).


 

‘’What?’’ He asks.

‘’How?’’ Looks at world around him, at empty fields and blue sky, feeling as if he woke from long dream. At edges mists gather.

‘’I am dead!’’ He says to woman next to him, scarred and Paradise touched, magic dwelling between bone and soul.

He panics, as expected. He sees memories of other lives, and feels earth below him and breathes air and hears his own heart beating as guardian comforts and holds him and explains.

Stories endure. They are retold, over and over, and believed, and memory of man is wrapped in idea, in concept. And belief fuels idea, and so idea empowers soul, and stories repeat. And for that they need characters.

Reborn. Resurrected. Living anew. To repeat same mistakes, same sins,  to ruin other lives over and over.

To imitate The Lord.


 

He stays in neither Albion nor in France. It hurts, hurts, each hill  and meadow steeped in memories, as bright as blood on steel.

He leaves for other lands, trying to find way to cross over without sea travel,  without hearing voice ( lady? Devil? Or guilt?) crying out for him. There nobody knows him, nobody he remembers, and nobody is connected to his legend (his life) as they are there where it played out, even scholars- fallout of his treason didn’t affect ancestors of ancestors of their ancestors.

(Other lands, other rules, other beliefs. He adapts and changed like snake shedding old skin).


 

Customs change.

This is what he realizes, as he watches world change over and over in his lives. As technology marches on and history is written and wars are fought and rulers are brought and thrown down and empires rise and fall, he sees norms he took for laws transform and become too different.

It hurts, to try to keep up. To remember what this colour means, if this length of hair is appropriate for man, how respectful merchant behaves versus obedient farmer, but he tries and fails and fails.


 

Memories are hard.

Even for changeling, he isn’t mean to live this long. He isn’t meant to be rough back and back, again and again. Humans are too small for such life, for so many memories. It is easy to confuse them, to get lost, to mix lives and facts and legends and things he wants to have happened (for each memory is only recalling of what happened, destroyed and remade, and human brain easily changes details to fit one vision heart desires).

Until he truly doesn’t know what actually happened.


 

He rarely meets his peers.

They are bound to places of their birth and legend, and he travels far, far, far. It is better this way. There is too much  bad blood, too much feuds, for it to end peacefully. And as centuries pass, their skills with different weapons, their charisma, their cunning just grows.

Enough of them together would spell out war.

Sometimes he meets his family. They leave together, drunken and lost and despairing, in numb, cold existence. Still family is family, however cursed he made them with his choices and his taint.

Rarely he meets Galehaut and Guanhamara. he starts avoiding them after first few attempts, and wants to believe they do same.

Tales repeat. And they never end well.


 

Language is hardest.

There is always new one. And they change and change over ages, and it is hard to learn after everything he already knows, even when he has motivation. Best he can manage is learning tow rite well, but talking, pronunciation? he can never get it right from beginning, and he is too familiar with looks he receives.

(Filthy foreigner. Always and forever, even if people now don’t believe in changelings, the Otherness in him is rooted in his very soul, and subconsciously all sense it, and it fuels their hatred.)

So he speaks lowly, slower, trying not to attract attention, trying to get it right. but all he gets is scorn and laughter. Now he is dumb too (Do they realize how well he speaks in his own language, that he knows several more then them? No, and he doesn’t either. language of his youth died with him and all other of his people).

So, after some time, he stops speaking at all, and lets himself be rendered and thought as dumb muscle (and weird, embarrassing face).

He learns sign language, but rarely uses it.  So few know it, and when they see him use it, they are disgusted, angered, as if fact he lacks voice means he lacks heart or soul.

He agrees with that.


 

Always, he finds temple and faith.

Often it is church, but sometimes it is some other god’s home.  The god, in the end, isn’t important. What matters is that people see that he prays like they do, for different religion or none are greatly scorned among all of men, no matter that gods disapprove of such thing.

And always, he finds rabid, hateful priests to listen to and follow.


 

To survive, sometimes, to his greatest shame when in lands where priests disapprove of such things , of course, he uses magic.

There are several ways to gain such power among men. To be born with it, or learn it. To draw power from  inside, from life and feelings, or from others, from outside. To use magical items, or rituals, or sigils.

Or to bargain.

A changeling, fae raised, he knows how to call out to Primordials, to immortals, to Others.  Elementals and concepts, rarely gods and fae. He calls and summons, using old words and old ways, and they come and they bargain.

A short lived blessing, an answer, a minor power,  an artefact, a favour.

Sometimes they demand item that requires Quest, or favour, or story, or memory. But most often what he gives is his night and his body.

It is, to be honest, only sex that can properly satisfy him. Growing up with The Gentry gave him stamina humans really can’t match, and only immortals can properly fuck him. But with them it is more then sex, it is almost holy.

They take more then just bit of sweaty fun from it. They taste his emotions, and his energy, and even nab little on his soul, and for moment they experience him full, and imagine what being mortal feels like. He too, is touched by them, and knows bit of fundamental nature they are born from-he is covered by frost, or thinks like fish, or sees through eyes of all soldiers in nearest war, or knows how every envious person nearby feels and why at same time.

It is he, and not Morgan or Morgause or Nimue or Merlin that consorts with wicked spirits, as priests claimed. Perhaps that was why Galahad was so holy, because his father was so dirty-all pure in Lancelot left came into his son.


 

He doesn’t fall in love anymore.

Not that he tries much. He avoids chances as if he was snow and relationship flame. He lives alone and goes out only for work, and sleeps and remembers most of time.

He remains dirty though. Sex, that carnal pleasure, filthy sin of body, and his is perverted and twisted, shameful,  out of wedlock, with men who use him as toy as he imagines Arthur and Galehaut and immortal and laugh as he cried out other names.

And then leave. He isn’t sad about it, they agreed to casual with stranger, and he chooses rough ones, arrogant ones-he deserves no comfort.


 

Several times, he lays in bathtub, and closes eyes, and sinks down with open mouth and udnefended lungs.

He breaths and his eyes don’t hurt and it feels almost like home.

Quickly he gets out.


 

 

There is woman passing near. She looks nothing special, sharp and thin, modestly dressed, with small acne scars on cheek.

‘’Morgan!’’ He cries out, recognition searing through his brain, like sharpened knife or burning arrow, and she turns and gasps and runs.

They chase each other, until he finds her in alley (She could have used magic, easily run away, but why? was it panic, or did she want to be caught).

‘’You-You are here.’’  His voice is raw and torn and broken, not used for fifty years by now.

‘’Yes.’’ She answers in old, dead language, that stopped being used centuries ago.  It fits in her mouth strangely, familiar but stretched and worn down.

‘’How-How is he?’’ Lancelot asks, because he must know, must learn.

‘’Why are you asking? You are reason it all happened.’’ She snarls, eyes spitting poison.

‘’I need to know.’’ He presses on, not denying truth.

‘’Why? Cant you visit? Oh, I forget, it is sin. But adultery and treason aren’t.’’ She looks ready to spit at him, looks like dog with foam coming on mouth, thinks of him and arrogant, mighty golden queen and how they dared break her brother’s heart, betray his trust after everything.

‘’I..’’ And he is silent, because he could have, because he knows way to faerie, to Avalon, how to step out of this world in faerie, but he never does.

‘’Yes you, you disgusting bastard! How dare you betray him, break his trust of all people? Traitor!’’ And at this he snaps and shouts and she might have cast spell to keep world silent and nobody notice what they are doing.

‘’Who are you calling traitor?’’ He almost screams.

‘’Oh, and you aren’t one?’’ She could have killed him, taken his life with thought and flick of finger in so many ways (perhaps she knows the ring is still on his body he thinks).

‘’I am. But I am not only one.’’ It seems steam will rise from his ears.

‘’Of course not. You and your entire wretched family and that bitch. You all conspired against him.’’ He looks ready to punch her, and she to stab him with dagger she holds in purse (she always carried one).

‘’And what about you?’’ He asks, looking at her with his black other eyes (so are hers, in some ways, but his are more, so much more then hers, for all she spent more time in Faery-but then time passes slower there, and Morgan isn’t changeling).

‘’Don’t you dare lump me in with you! I was never like any of you!’’ She screams, crying and red, as if his words singed her.

‘’How many times you betrayed him? How many times you allied with his enemies? How many times you plotted against him? Fickle as wind, he was only one that trusted you!’’ As many times as she saved them, provided advice, healed people, willing to move Heaven and Earth for him,  but anger speaks and it is never fair.

‘’I was never like you! if it wasn’t for you and her Camlann wouldn’t have happened!’’ And it is half true, and her tongue is singed and burnt by those words, but still she speaks them.

‘’And if you hadn’t stolen the scabbard nothing would have hurt him!’’ And she screams and they throw themselves at each other, shouting and crying and slapping and pulling hair, sobbing and barely breathing and hugging and grasping at each other, apologizing and insulting at same time.

That night, after she is spent and finished and has unleashed her fury, he full of hickeys and bruises and blood, they lay in bed and speak, of memories, of what happened after, of him, of their dreams, and of beauty of Avalon.


 

‘’Mmmmm, ended up as expected.’’ N is there, sauntering at counter like cat and breeze, voice shattering of glass and whispering of children and rushing of sea. Lancelot snarls but can’t tear his eyes off him. The High Lord has habit of inspecting legends, of visiting them and mocking and consoling, as only Storyteller.

‘’It was doomed from beginning, you know.’’ His translucent body twists in air as he swirls, and bubbles that look more real then his apartment  swim in view, as N talks, each word growth of  wheat, mewl of cat, flow of river, telling stories upon stories, and Lancelot sees and hears and feels, and for moment becomes people of those tales.

( ‘’And so, dear aunt, it is finished.’’ The king says with smirk that shows off his large teeth to dying nun, his cousins giggling behind him, her last child left, eldest and strangest, bound by blood and magic to serve.

The old woman doesn’t have strength even to frown, but her eyes are full of hatred, and she raises her hands, like knobbed branches of bared tree, and they shake but she locks them together in prayer.

‘’M... Ma- May y...you..ur rule be ...glorious..’’ She says, low on breath and strength, coughing as she speaks, as her nephew, king of wales looks on, smiling but confused.

‘’And ...and may it be so for, for your children, and their...and entire line, and all descendants...’’ And they all feel power gather, feels storm begin to be born here, feel might of whatever she is calling upon, her own spell (for all can be taught and grasp it even alone if they are desperate enough),  whoever sired bound, beaten, rag clothed and dirty and scarred man clutching hem of her robes like wild animal trying to get out of trap, or God Himself.

‘’And, and ...may your and their’ s and everybody’s rule... end... be as great and horrible!’’ She finally says, and her last breath leaves, but not before she spits him in eye, and in moment of her death, her nephew and family fall on knees, as room is blown away as if by great wind, and spasm in pain. Slowly, as it settles, they get up and leave, trying not to look hurried and pale faced and wide eyes, and  Emrys, Myrddin Wyllth, half born bastard, child of no father, Vortigern’ s boy prophet follows his Pendragon cousins.)

‘’Even if you contributed greatly to it.’’ His voice is fall of beads, scrapping of claws on clay, slow approach of clouds. Lancelot would try to spit on Him if he could, knowing what retribution it would bring, looking at twelve eyes look on all sides.

‘’But story still isn’t finished-king has yet to come back and forgive and join all of his family and friends.’’ A fall of feathers, steps of pups, melting of snow. He is great and wide and sea great as space and full of treasures and heavens  and horrors and dooms and blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.

‘’You will have to wait for it of course- we can never get what we want and need fast enough.’’ A raindrop, scream of mother in labor and baby both, sigh  of suicidal man. Lancelot closes his eyes and drifts in dream carried by blue voice and wet laugh, as It leaves to bother and aid and torment and give hope to some other fool, for what are human troubles and woes and kingdoms to piece of such Highest Power?

Lancelot dreams, and imagines future, and smiles.


 

And so it is. I told you that this story could last long, and it could, even longer, for it hasn’t yet ended. It unfolds, always on and on, and now is just pause before day of greatest need of Britain.

And when it comes, from mists and lakes will Lady return a high king, Excalibur and scabbard on sides, in boat of queens, and he will find all he loves and knows gathered to protect their home, even as they have often worked against it when it stretched it’s claws too long.

And whether they live or die, they will be together, and finally at one place, and whether they win or lose for second they will be illusion of perfect kingdom, knights and family and friends and court and sorcerers.

And there they will all meet, and make up, and befriend and fall in love and deserve and be given forgiveness, and stand joined together, champions of hope, for better future, for justice, for love, for peace, for honourable world of chivalry and equality. And until then, they all dream.

And now and before and after, Lancelot dreams,  of his king commanding and judging and rewarding, of his queen laughing and playing and dancing, of broken families gathered and healed, son and nephew and enemy and murderer embraced as much as traitor and liar and honourless and cheater because they aren’t that anymore, of dead living and laughing and loving again, of all loves joined and known as pure and true no matter what, of sorcerers standing and delighting and being accepted and helping, of his son looking from edges with paradise blessed eyes and holiness upon brow and kind smile and in him is face of merciful God.

Of Folk gathered and watching and learning and being there for it’s sorceresses and changelings and sons, from smallest sprites to Highest Lords observing, of Lady of the Lake smiling and  smiling and crafting and blessing and hugging, of ancient Teacher crawling and breaking and seeking death, of The Warfield of Failure brewing and searching, of The Relentless Hunter pursuing and  tearing apart, of The Broken Husband waving and following as his point, his everything, The Empty Existence walks away and away and away and away and away and away and away and away and away and away...