He would come to be know as the most accomplished and powerful wizard in the history of Britain. His name: Merlin. And she would become known as Britain's most notorious sorceress. Her name: Morgan le Fay. Before they became legends however, bothe were young and free. And the two were lovers. bathed in the sunlight of one day in te distant past, the couple saved a kingdom. Dawn of Avalon is a stand-alone book from the universe of Anna Elliott's Twilight of Avalon.
Also by Anna Elliott: The Witch Queen's Secret
THE RAYS OF THE RISING SUN stained the heaps of broken building stones to crimson orange. As though Lugh, the sun god, cried rusty tears, or the earth of Britain itself leaked blood from a hundred wounds.
Gnarled and bent in his bull's-hide cloak and white robe, the old druid raised his hands towards the fiery horizon. The sun glinted in his sightless eye. "Britain lies besieged on all sides. The Picts to the north, the Irish sea raiders from the west. Now you, my lord, are betrayed by your Saxon allies, who gobble our lands in the east like a horde of rabid wolves and leave a trail of broken bodies and blood-soaked fields in their wake.
"You seek refuge in these hills, this stronghold of the Old Ones. But I say to you that your tower walls will never stand until they are watered by the blood of a fatherless child."
If this were a fire tale, I might begin it that way. And mayhap it did happen just as I have imagined it, I do not know.
The harpers who sing of Glass Isles and faerie-forged swords would say that the weaving of this tale began when the Roman legions had trampled over Britain's holy springs and sacred groves, driving our gods from the land.
They would speak of a great darkness sweeping like a flock of ravens over Britain's kingdoms. And say the days in which we now lived were just the lightest feathered tip of the first bird's wings.
Mayhap Bron did give the prophesy to Vortigern just as I've told, against the fiery backdrop of the rising sun; he had to utter it somehow and somewhere and in a way that would sway Vortigern and his warriors into believing the words.
But I never saw.
My part in the story began afterwards, helping a wounded and captive man vomit onto the straw covered floor.
"The shriek you hear is caused by the clash of two fighting dragons," I whis- pered through clenched teeth. "And every eve of Beltaine, they scream in pain and hurt."
There are those who claim me naught but a king's by-blow gotten on a whore; many more who say it is from thence my bad blood springs. But I may tell you that my mother was of the blood royal in her own land, and wedded to my father by earth, fire, and air before he had her killed.
Even Gamma, who took me in and taught me from the time I was four, was wont to say that I had a temper like a storm in summer. But I promise you that before that day, I had never had to clench my teeth to keep from smashing something when telling the story of Lludd and Llefelys and how they captured the two warring dragons who plagued Britain.
The prisoner heaved and retched again. I tightened my hand on the fold of rag I held, watching the knuckles whiten beneath the skin, even as I braced his shoulders with my free arm.
He was a young man, perhaps twenty, but surely no more, with a fall of di- sheveled, wheat-colored hair that reached to his broad shoulders.
And he had three ribs cracked, at least. Any of them might pierce a lung if he heaved too violently or curled himself forward too hard.
When he had stopped retching, I wiped his face with a fold of the rag, and he let out an involuntary sigh. But he didn't move, and he rolled onto his back, his eyes fixed on Vortigern.
Are you sure the boy knows his craft? Vortigern had just asked of Bron.
I scarcely heard Bron's answer, either, beyond vague awareness that his voice was stiff without the usual west-country lilt.
"You must dig a large pit, and in that pit, place a large cauldron brim-full of mead." I shaped the words almost soundlessly with my lips. Dipped the rag into a cup of water to wipe the prisoner's face again. "The dragons will be seen fighting in the sky, but in their exhaustion they will fall and become drunk on the mead. Then may you imprison them in a stone chamber deep beneath the ground."
A tale is a lie, and yet not a lie. And a man who hears it may be in pain, and yet not in pain, when caught up in a story where the past breathes and time is an endless curve.
And if my spirit was in those days somewhat soured on the romance of those tales harpers sing, I told them still when working over a man like the one before me now.
Three days ago, Vortigern's men had caught him on the edge of the fortress defenses and dragged him in, beaten and captive. Likely a warrior to one of the petty chieftains of Gwynedd, who had opposed Vortigern's bid for the throne. There surely was no shortage of those.
And Vortigern had crushed them all, before his Saxon allies rose up in revolt. Now Vortigern demanded that I keep the prisoner alive long enough that he could be forced into revealing whose man he was, which of the chieftains dared
still oppose Vortigern's reign. "None so bad."
The prisoner was still breathing unsteadily from Vortigern's kick, and his mouth was torn from a backhanded blow of Vortigern's fist. A trickle of blood dripped down his chin.
He was not handsome. Even beneath the mottled bruising and the dirt, his features were too sharply-angled and high-browed. But his eyes were beautiful, surely, thickly lashed, and a deep-blue in color, blue as the sea.
Now the sea-blue eyes were implacable and hard and fixed on Vortigern. "None so bad. Though you could use work on the follow-through after a
blow. From the shoulder, if you mind what I told you before. But well done, for a king who must seldom dirty his own--"
The words ended in a grunt as Vortigern drove another savage kick into the already cracked ribs.
Even the half-built walls of Vortigern's hill fortress seemed to press in around me. Walls of any kind were as yet passing strange to me still, and all the time Bron and I had been here I had felt as though the mere knowledge of the fort's defensive bounds was enough to peel my nerves raw.
Now my skin felt as though it would split open and the edges of my vision shivered red. Though I managed--just--to keep myself from turning to face Vortigern again.
I had seen hard sights before, the Goddess knew. On the journey here, to Vortigern's refuge, I had seen a settlement, burned and raided by one of the Saxon war parties that savaged our countryside. My father's people, or they once had