The Guinevere Trilogy (Book 2)
Author: Sharan Newman
2014 Reissue Edition
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail: $14.95US; 252pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-062-7 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-063-4 ebook
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The Guinevere Trilogy (Book 2)
Author: Sharan Newman
The misty, mysterious
coast of Britain had been visible for hours, but to the man who peered
at it through a blur of nausea, it did not appear to be getting any nearer.
He stumbled back amidship, where his horses, even more ill than he, were
hobbled and blindfolded so they could not tell what was happening to them.
On his way, the man fell against one of the sailors and mumbled his worry
that the island was receding constantly before them. The sailor pushed
him away with a sneer.
"Don't be an ass! We've been skirting the
coastline to land in Cornwall. It may take us as much as another day with
the winds running against us. We'll be tacking all the way there."
"But why can't we land there?"
the poor passenger moaned, pointing to the tantalizing shore.
"Fine with me, if you want your throat cut
by the Saxons. They control the whole southeastern part of Britain now
and no ships but their own dare come near it. Now, why don't you stop
lurching about in our way and take care of those animals you brought?
Phew! What a stink! I'd like to know what you paid the captain to let
you bring them aboard. Of all the fool ideas!"
The passenger was small, a full foot shorter than
the sailor, and had to listen to his harangue for several more minutes
before he could get away. At last he escaped and made it to the small
shelter on deck that had been set up for the horses. He entered it and
immediately slumped against the flank of the nearest one. He breathed
deeply of its familiar odor and felt better, strengthened by the musky
Caet Pretani had not been in Britain for almost
six years, not since he had run away from Leodegrance, his master, and
begged passage on a trading ship bound for Armorica. Then he had been
a boy, frightened, lovesick, and driven by a need to become something
great. Now he was a man. He had attached himself to one of the grand families
there and worked his way into a position of trust and honor. He had proven
himself a dozen times in battles against the Franks and other northmen
and made many friends among the British exiles, even the lords, who admired
his riding skill and knowledge of horses.
His dark good looks and taciturn manner had also
intrigued the women of the lord's house. The fact that he never made any
advances to them was fascinating and his shy surprise at their interest
very touching. Since he was never such a fool as to offend a lady with
rejection, he had learned a great deal about life as well as love from
the kind and often lonely women.
Certainly his life had been as successful as his
most ambitious dreams. So why was he returning to Britain, to a place
that offered him nothing, where he had been born only one generation out
of slavery? His friends had tried to keep him. His own lord had offered
to make him master of the horse, but he had refused. He had never meant
to stay away so long.
"They won't know me, anyway," he reassured
himself. "I've changed a lot, broadened in the shoulders if I'm no
taller, and the beard should disguise me well enough. Who will remember
me as I was then? They hardly looked at me. And I must go back. It is
my land much more than theirs and I know things that Arthur doesn't. And
she . . . she may need me."
He clutched at the small leather bag around his
neck. In it was an amulet, made and blessed for him by his greatgrandmother,
Flora, and around the amulet were woven five long strands that shone pure
gold when he allowed them to lie in the sun. But they were softer than
metal and finer than any goldsmith could work. He would not admit that
these were the real reason for his return. Whatever happened to him, even
to Britain, he had to see her again. Someday there might come a time when
she would. . . . He thrust the bag back under his robe. There was no point
in thinking it. There were some things that Caet Pretani did not even
dare to dream.
At last the ship reached land, anchoring in the
lee side of a cove on the Cornish coast. There was no town there, not
even a villa, but the ship's master knew that there were traders waiting
for him not far inland. The goods he had brought were lowered into boats
and rowed ashore. One man stayed to guard them while the others returned
for the difficult job of getting the horses back to land.
Caet had assured the captain that this would pose
no difficulty. "I've made them each a canvas sling with a hook on
the top. They can simply be lowered over the side as you do the other
With the animals standing placidly at the dock,
it had seemed logical. As they were hoisted into the air on the long wooden
crane, he wasn't so sure. The nostrils of the first one lowered were flared
in terror. As it landed in the rowboat, it snorted and reared. The sailors,
who were waiting to row them in, leaped overboard out of the way of the
hooves, leaving Caet in the boat alone. He managed to quiet it and released
The second horse was even more frightened
than the first and it had to be carefully placed next to the other to
keep the balance even. Caet heard the comments from the men hanging on
the side. He tried to ignore them. These animals were precious to him
and he was not about to take their suggestions seriously.
When the second horse touched the rocking
boat, both of them seemed to go mad. They stamped and plunged in terror
and one of them leaped into the sea, kicking a large hole in the side
of the boat as it did. Caet jumped in beside it as it floundered and removed
the blindfold, allowing the animal to see and swim for the shore. Caet
then shouted for someone to unseal the eyes of the remaining horse. One
man managed to pull the cloth away as the second animal entered the water,
capsizing the boat.
The captain stood in the prow of the ship, shaking
his fist in fury and telling Caet in no uncertain terms what his fate
would be when he was caught. Caet could not make out the words above the
wash of the waves, but he knew that it would be well if he and his mounts
were far away by the time the sailors managed to land.
They came ashore somewhat west of the place where
the trading goods had been left and so avoided the guards. Caet hurried
the horses away from the coast, up a narrow rocky trail. A few hundred
yards away, the forest began. Even within its shelter, Caet feared discovery.
He led the animals farther into the woods, avoiding the traveled paths
for several hours, although he knew they were exhausted from the swim
and dangerously cold and wet. Finally, he realized that they could go
no farther. He had begun to search for some form of shelter when he smelled
a campfire nearby. The thought of warmth drove him to risk investigating
He saw only one man, sitting on a log near the
fire. His dinner of freshly caught rabbit was sizzling on a spit made
of his short sword. Caet peered around, looking for evidence of companions,
but there seemed to be no one else. The aroma of the meat reminded him
that he hadn't been able to eat anything in the whole three days of the
channel crossing. He studied the man. He was big, well muscled, and held
himself as if he were used to sudden action. But he was whistling merrily
and that decided Caet. He stepped into the clearing, faced the man, and
raised his hand in the old salute.
"Hail, friend," he called and his voice
sounded as waterlogged as his boots. "I am a fellow traveler, in
need of company and a warm fire. Will you share yours?"
The stranger looked up at him and smiled broadly.
"Surely, friend, you appear to have waded a river up to your neck.
Come and dry yourself. I've a spare cloak in my pack. Wrap yourself in
that and lay your things by the fire. There is meat enough for two. I
shall be glad of company, but I would be grateful if you would give me
your word that you will not entertain me with song. I have journeyed for
the last month with one who never stops singing and I am willing to do
almost anything else to pass the time."
Caet grinned and began settling his horses and
himself. "You needn't fear. I have been told that my voice is preferable
only to that of a toad; therefore, I take the hint and only play the part
of audience to music."
"An important part and highly underrated.
We should get on well. Those are fine animals you have with you. Are you
planning to sell them? I know where you could get a fair price."
Caet was busily rubbing down the horses and covering
them. Their harnesses and the packs he had tied to them had not been lost.
The leather bags had protected the blankets and they were wet only in
places. His careful attention displayed how much he loved them.
"They are excellently bred. They will look
even better when they are rested and combed. But, no, I had not thought
to sell them to anyone. This one, Cheo, is mine. I helped him into the
world, set him on his legs, trained him. I could not part with him. The
other, Nera, I raised as carefully. She is intended for a lady to ride.
I had thought to use them both, perhaps to catch the attention of Arthur
the King. I would make Nera a gift to him if he would consider hiring
me as part of his court."
The man regarded him with interest. "So,
are you one of those who hopes to join Arthur's mysterious Knights of
the Round Table? He hasn't officially started it yet, you know, though
hundreds of men have come to him in hopes of being selected. It is said
that he is waiting until his new city of Camelot is built, at which time
Master Merlin will somehow cause the table to appear from its hiding place
and this society will commence. I don't know about that part, but I do
know that most of those who come to Arthur are not kept on, but told to
search for abandoned homes in towns and villas and rebuild them, to reclaim
the lands that have been lost. Nera is beautiful, but I don't think she
would be accepted as a bribe. Arthur does not even consider them."
Caet finished covering the horses and stood between
them, his arms resting upon their necks. He frowned.
"'Bribe' is a cruel word, and untrue. I would
not shame myself with such a deed. But every man needs something which
will help him to stand apart from others and, when one is as small as
I, it is not a bad idea to be seen astride a horse of great strength and
The man shrugged. "Perhaps Arthur will agree
with you. What name will you give him when you ride up?"
Caet puzzled for a moment. The man seemed to be
giving him a chance to hide his identity. Why? He studied his companion:
dirty, with torn trews and scuffed boots. Probably a wanderer of no account.
Still. . . .
"My name is Briacu," Caet answered.
"I am from Armorica."
The other man held out his hand. "Gawain,"
he said, "of Cornwall."
They shook hands solemnly. Then Gawain yawned.
"This rabbit must be done by now. Would you
care to share it with me? The sun is getting low and I am ready for my
Caet, now Briacu, was more than ready for his
and they spoke little as the small animal was split between them. Gawain
leaned back on the log, picking his teeth with a bone splinter. He stared
curiously at Caet.
"You don't have the look of one from Armorica,"
he decided. "You seem more like the oldest ones, the Britains who
were here before the Romans."
Caet seemed surprised. "Do I?"
Gawain yawned again. "Autumn is coming. Darkness
falls earlier every day." He pulled out blankets from his pack and
wrapped himself in them.
"If you want to keep watch tonight, it's
fine with me, although there isn't much around to bother us," he
murmured tiredly. "We'll talk again in the morning. Good night!"
"But the sun has barely set!" Caet exclaimed.
"Do you not wish to share the fire and talk?"
There was no answer from the blankets. Caet knelt
by him and tried to shake Gawain into a response, but got nothing but
a soft snore for his trouble. He moved to the other side of the fire.
Whatever was being said about the old ones and their gods dying out, he
was sure from the oddness of the man across from him that there were still
many strange creatures left in Britain. He began to wonder if his decision
to return had been wise, after all.
Caet awoke early the next morning to find Gawain
already about and loading his own horse for travel. He scrambled up, annoyed
that this vagabond was going to leave him with no word. Gawain heard the
movement and turned to him with a wide smile. The look on Caet's face
betrayed his suspicions. Gawain laughed.
"I have stolen nothing from you, friend Briacu.
As a matter of fact, you seem to have nothing to steal. And, if you don't
mind making a meal of cold meat and stale bread, you are more than welcome
to share them and to accompany me to Caerleon."
"Caerleon?" Caet echoed, still not fully
awake. "What is there? Do you have business there?"
Gawain laughed again. "I may be given some
when I arrive. My aunt and uncle live there and I intend to visit them
for a while. When the days grow short, I prefer to make my bed by a warm
hearth, tended by friends. And if you still mean to submit yourself to
Arthur, then that is your direction, too. He keeps winter court at Caerleon."
Caet pulled himself up and realized that his horses
had been loaded and were ready to leave. What an irritating fellow this
Gawain was! Why should he assume that Caet would go with him? Still, Caet
wasn't sure that he remembered the roads in this part of Britain and he
had never been as far west as Caerleon. He could look on the man as simply
a guide. He had a few coins sewn into the belt of his trews. When they
reached Caerleon, he could pay the man off and that way end the relationship.
If the man truly had family at Caerleon, he wouldn't need to presume upon
the acquaintanceship. Oh, how Caet's body ached! Fortunately, the muscles
used in riding were not the ones he had exercised aboard ship. But his
legs were still weak and his insides raw from retching. He took the food
Gawain held out and ate it quickly, then wrapped up his meager pack and
climbed onto his horse. The familiarity of the mount beneath him eased
his anxiety, but he longed to reach the court of Arthur, to place his
gift before the Queen and, this time, to serve her with honor.
Guinevere loved Caerleon.
It was old, Roman, and comfortable. It had been the permanent headquarters
of the Second Augusta for two hundred years and the legion had wanted
the best when it was home. But all the soldiers had been called away,
almost a hundred years before, withdrawn by a terrified emperor to help
support his crumbling throne. Or had they gone with one of the British
generals who claimed the purple, like Macson Wledig? Guinevere could never
remember. But they had gone and the fortress at Caerleon had lain empty,
lonely, haunted, perhaps. Until Arthur had remembered it and set to work
to restore it as his winter capital, it had been just another enigmatic
relic of a greater age. Arthur had seen it with the same military viewpoint
the first centurions must have had. The strategic reason for building
it had not changed. It lay at the mouth of the Usk river, cloaked by hills
and fog. The Usk valley drifted farther west to Brecon, should retreat
become necessary. One of the finest of the Romans' roads stretched almost
intact to the east and the heart of the Saxons' territory. Caerleon was
easily defended and well built.
The last was all that concerned Guinevere. It
was a wonderful home. Everything was there: living quarters designed for
various ranks, granaries, kitchens, workshops, and bathhouses, two of
which were still in working order. The rooms were solid and warm. And
in the valley below there was a town which had somehow managed to survive
the abandonment of the legion. Guinevere leaned over the edge of the tower
to admire it again. Just a few streets lay below, but it was neatly planned,
with a forum in the center and a church at the far end of the main road.
There were even shops there! Guinevere had never been to a town except
for her marriage in London, and shops amazed and delighted her. People
living down there made pots and pewterware and wove cloth and baked sweet
cakes. She could wander through the shops and choose whatever she wanted.
On her father's estate these things had been done to order, often by itinerant
There had been little chance to select. Here whole
families worked at their trades and grew in skill from childhood. It was
wonderful to go down there and wander through the forum, hearing the sellers'
cries, watching a juggler or tumbler. Since Arthur had brought business
back again, the old roadhouse had been refurbished, with public baths
behind. When emissaries began to come, they would know that they were
not dealing with some upstart general, but a real king.
Guinevere sighed. She pushed a lock of hair behind
her ear. It was a perfect capital. Why then was Arthur still intent on
building another city, where none had ever been before? This was so lovely
and so suitable. Why was he obsessed by Camelot? He had tried to explain
to her many times. "I must have a place that is mine, that no other
lord has set his mark upon. I will not be lost among the hundreds of rulers,
names on a list in a saga, nothing more than a row of candles in which,
if one be blown out, the light would not diminish. There must be a sign
for the ages to come that Arthur ruled here, that my dreams did not simply
flow into thousands of others and drown. Camelot will be my city, the
symbol of all that I am trying to accomplish in Britain. And it is there
that I will set the Round Table."
She could hear him now, even above the wind and
the calls of the birds. She couldn't understand it. He was a great king,
why should it matter where? Dimly she felt that his need for a visible
manifestation of his reign was somehow tied to her and her failure. Five
years they had been married and still they had no children. Guinevere
did not wish to think of that. It embarrassed her that so many people
had such a vital interest in the workings of her body. And it angered
her that she had done nothing she knew of to deserve such divine punishment.
She knew it was her duty to provide Arthur with children and, though she
hadn't cared much for the process, she had obeyed as best she could. But
nothing had happened. They had consulted doctors, witches, oracles, and
priests, but no one could help them. Although Arthur swore that they were
still young and he had not given up hope, he had become more and more
determined to build his city as each month passed. He was at Camelot now,
checking plans and inspecting the work with Merlin. They were both probably
Guinevere shivered and pulled her cloak more tightly
about her. Then she threw it open and leaned dangerously over the edge
of the tower. Had she seen it? Yes! She was sure. A blaze of yellow and
an old checked cloak. Gawain was back! At last, someone to play with.
She waved to him, but he was too far away to notice her. He and a companion
were picking their way through the vendors, leading another horse behind
theirs. Who was that with him? Not Geraldus. Guinevere knew his old nag
from any distance and this man rode a horse as strong and elegant as any
she had seen. Perhaps he was one of those come to try for a place in Arthur's
special cadre. "The Knights of the Round Table" had sounded
very silly when she had first heard Arthur explain it. What was a knight,
anyway? But she had finally agreed that Arthur had been right. As soon
as men heard that it was a select group of the best Britain could offer,
they came from all over the island to attempt to gain admittance. Even
the sons of some of the lesser kings, who refused to recognize Arthur
as overlord, appeared at Caerleon, willing to relinquish their inheritances
to become knights. There were even some who came, not from Britain, but
from Armorica and even farther east. How they had heard of Arthur, she
didn't know, but they swarmed to Caerleon and to London, begging for a
chance to see him. Now Gawain was bringing another. Guinevere wondered
idly where he had come from. Odd. There was something familiar about the
way he sat on his horse. Could he have visited her family before she married?
Oh, well. It didn't matter. Why was Gawain taking so long? He could have
come up the side road, bypassed the town, and been there by now. The riders
finally disappeared into the shadow of the fort. Finally he was coming
to the gates. Guinevere picked up her skirts and ran down joyfully to
Caet was becoming
annoyed. This man clearly intended to accompany him all the way to the
presence of Arthur. He had been grateful for the company on the road,
but had tried to let him know when they came in sight of the fortress
that his services were no longer needed. He didn't want to be seen with
some craftsman's son, not when he had spent so long in covering the stigma
of his birth. Gawain continued to lead the way through the town. Caet
kept hoping that he would stop at some shop or other to greet his relatives.
But, no, he ambled through the streets, tossing greetings to the tradesmen
and receiving enthusiastic welcomes from an amazing number of pretty women.
It was increasingly embarrassing. Caet tried once more to rid himself
of his guide. He eased his horse forward until they were nearly parallel.
"I am grateful to you for taking me so far.
Thank you. But there is no need for you to accompany me any longer. You
must be eager to see your aunt and uncle."
Gawain grinned wickedly. "I am. My dear old
aunt especially simply dotes on me. You needn't worry. You aren't taking
me out of my way at all."
They were almost at the entrance to the fortress.
Caet tried to pull back so that it would not appear that they were together.
"Who's at the gate today?" Gawain peered
up at the watchtower. "Joelin? Yes, it is. Halloo! Joelin! You should
keep better watch than that. We haven't even been challenged!"
They were at the gates. The guard beamed at Gawain
and laughed. "If I had missed you, Lord Gawain, I'd be replaced by
nightfall. I've been watching you since you started up the main road.
Welcome back! The King is at Camelot with Master Merlin, but they are
expected home soon. The Queen is somewhere about. I'll have her told you're
Gawain laughed back and pointed behind the guard
at a gold and blue figure streaking toward them. "No need, Joelin."
Caet looked up sharply. He caught his breath with
such suddenness that he nearly choked. Guinevere! She had not aged or
changed at all, though her radiance was more intense. And she was running
toward him! It was a wonder beyond his dreams. He dismounted and began
to move toward her. Then, with an icy shock, he realized that she didn't
even see him. It was Gawain she was running toward. He was stabbed by
his bitterness, sharper than ever because he thought he had conquered
it. Nothing had changed. There he was standing by the horses, invisible
to everyone as she was swept into someone else's arms. Gawain was swinging
her around as they both laughed and babbled like children. Caet felt as
sick now as he had on the ship.
"Gawain," Guinevere was gasping, "put
me down now! Show me some respect!"
"Very well." He set her on the ground,
went back several paces, and approached again, bowing and fumbling in
the manner of so many of the hopeful knights.
She started laughing again. "Oh, Gawain,
it is so good to have you back. Will you stay the winter? Will Geraldus
be with us, too? When are your brothers coming? Where did you get those
"Yes, yes, in the spring or summer and these
horses are not mine. They belong to this man, Briacu. I met him on the
road. He has come from Armorica to join Arthur, he says."
Guinevere turned her gaze from the horses to the
man. Caet was startled at suddenly being noticed and made his best bow
to hide a moment before he showed his face. She smiled, but there was
no recognition in her glance. He was not sure if he was relieved or sorry.
"Briacu?" she asked. He nodded. "Those
are magnificent animals. If they are an example of your skill at breeding
and raising horses, I'm sure my husband will be delighted to welcome you
to Caerleon and will certainly find a place for you here. Please join
us. He will return in a few days' time. I'm sure we can find room for
you among the soldiers until he decides your position."
He mumbled something in reply and hoped it was
correct. He stood awkwardly, one hand still holding the reins, not certain
what to do next.
"Auntie, would you like me to show Briacu
where he can stable his excellent horses and leave his belongings?"
"Yes. I will expect you both at dinner. Oh,
and Gawain, stop calling me 'Auntie'!"
She turned her back on them and swept away with
Amidst many confusing impressions, it slowly dawned
on Caet that he had been made a fool of by his ragged traveling companion.
Even worse, he realized that it was partially his own fault for making
assumptions. This on top of everything else made him furious and he stomped
after Gawain with a firm idea of rubbing his face in the dirt.
"Why didn't you tell me you knew the Queen?"
he whispered savagely.
Gawain grinned and shrugged. "I don't like
to flaunt my rich relations before my friends."
Caet refused to be pacified. "Don't tell
me she's your aunt. You are almost as old as she is."
"She is my aunt, my irritated friend, because
she married my uncle, who is somewhat younger than his sister, my mother.
Is that clear enough or must I give you the whole family tree? Look, I'm
sorry. I didn't mean to startle you like that. I apologize. All right?
You may as well know that I have no intention of fighting you. It's too
late in the day for me to win and in the morning I might kill you without
meaning to. So why don't we just forget the whole thing and be friends?"
He held out his hand. Grudgingly Caet extended
his. He reminded himself that Gawain could not have known how deeply he
had been hurt. After all Gawain was not the only one who had been secretive
about his past.
Guinevere did not take her dinner in the hall
with the rest of the residents, but Gawain took Caet to her rooms. She
greeted them eagerly.
"I don't like to eat in the hall when Arthur
isn't here," she explained. "It's noisy and rough there and
I think that the soldiers and their ladies are uncomfortable with me watching
them. It's really much nicer to eat in my room, but lonely."
Gawain sat next to her and squeezed her hand.
"Arthur will be back soon. He can't continue
his building much longer unless Master Merlin has found a way to hold
back the winter. Geraldus will be with us in a month or two. He had to
go visit Mark and Alswytha first. There was a summons from Alswytha, not
to Geraldus, he said, but to his 'green lady.' She wanted to borrow her
for a while. Does that mean anything to you?"
Guinevere laughed. "Yes, I know the green
lady well. I hadn't thought of her as a midwife, but she is probably very
comforting. So, Alswytha is having another baby."
Gawain remembered too late that Guinevere would
not care to hear about other people's babies. He hastily switched the
conversation to stories of his recent travels. Guinevere seemed to enjoy
them and asked questions which spun the tales even longer. Things seemed
to happen to Gawain, especially when he became involved with women. No
one ever seemed to take him seriously enough to get hurt, but his lifelong
problem of falling sound asleep from sunset to dawn and then becoming
progressively stronger until noon, when he began weakening again, tended
to cause confusion among those who did not know him well. Usually stories
about him furnished much of the amusement during winter tale-telling.
It was nearly sunset when Gawain rose to leave.
Caet had been silent most of the afternoon and thought Guinevere had not
even noticed him. He got up to accompany Gawain. But Guinevere held out
her hand to him and asked him to stay a minute.
"I did not have a chance to ask you about
your horses. Would you mind telling me something about them now?"
Gawain was starting to nod.
"You'll excuse me if I don't wait for you.
I can almost hear my bed calling. I hope I have time to get there. If
you should trip over me on your way out, Briacu, I would appreciate a
pillow and a blanket."
When he had gone, Caet became nervous again. Now
that he had had time to study her, he realized that Guinevere had changed.
Her body had finished maturing. She had reached her full height and was
now taller than he, but she was more beautiful than ever and her eyes
held the same innocent joy that had conquered him when they both had been
children. She questioned him about the horses: where he had gotten them,
how he had fed and trained them. He relaxed as he spoke with assurance
on a topic he knew well. It wasn't until he was ready to leave that she
shattered all his hard-earned composure.
"Caet. Why did you run away?" she asked.
He stumbled on a crack in the floor.
"My lady, you have made a mistake."
She ignored him. "Father and mother were
very worried about you. Father couldn't trace you anywhere and you sent
no word for so long."
"I tell you, I don't know what you are saying.
I do not know your family!"
She drew a chain from inside her dress. "I
still have the pearl you sent me, see? Didn't you get my answer? Arthur
made me a chain for it. I am never without it."
The sight of the lustrous pearl did make him pause.
It had cost him dearly in pride and honor and, seeing it again, he felt
a flush of shame rush through him. He wondered if she would treasure it
if she knew what he had done to get it.
"But she has worn it all this time,"
he thought. "It has lain on her skin, near her heart. She has cleansed
and redeemed it. I can regret nothing."
He said only, "It is lovely, my lady, but
my name is not Caet and I know nothing of such a gift. May I go now?"
She looked puzzled as she put the jewel back beneath
the cloth. "I will call you Briacu if that is what you wish. But
I do not understand. Yes. You may go."
Caet walked back to the sleeping area, where he
had left his possessions. Snores indicated that Gawain had managed to
make his way to bed. It was early, but Caet had no wish to join those
in the main hall who were drinking and talking. He unrolled his bedding
and lay down. He was awake when the sound of the voices drifted from shouts
and laughter to murmurs and then silence. Even when the night was still,
he continued to gaze into the darkness, wide-eyed with worry. Guinevere
hadn't believed him. What if she told Arthur? Would the king accept a
runaway servant as a knight or even a horsemaster? Would he let him stay
at all? He gave the bag of odd clothes he used as a pillow one last punch
and settled down. He could only wait.
Arthur was not one
for waiting. It was taking all of Merlin's persuasion to keep him from
setting out for Caerleon that evening.
"I want to see Guinevere!" Arthur complained.
"If I start now, I can be there in two days."
"Only if you kill your horse, Arthur."
"I can change horses on the way, Merlin."
Arthur controlled himself with an effort. After
all, he was the king now. He could not indulge in anger. He must put duty
before his feelings. But he had had enough.
"Merlin, I have been frustrated at every
turning all the time we have been here. 'I'm sorry, Your Majesty, the
floors will not lay smoothly. We cannot build the fortifications; we always
hit water. We cannot put baths on the top of the tor; the water is too
far down.' No one remembers how to work a pump, how to lay tile, how to
erect a building of more than two stories. We don't even know how to mix
mortar! Merlin, how can we have forgotten how to stick stones together?"
"Arthur. . . ."
"And now you tell me to sit here another
night and stare at what cannot be done when all I want to do is go home
to my wife! I have been gone a month, Merlin."
Merlin shrugged. "There are many women here,
my King. Your father would have made do."
Arthur slammed the plans he had been holding hard
upon the ground. The roll tore across. He began fastening his breastplate
and then his cloak, his fingers fumbling in his fury.
"My father did not have a wife like mine,
Merlin. No man ever has! You can pack our things and follow me in the
morning. I'm leaving now!"
"Arthur!" Merlin called. "You can't
ride alone. You are the King!"
But Arthur was already mounted.
"Not tonight, Merlin. Tonight I am no man
and I am going home. I will be King again at Caerleon! Good-bye, Merlin!"
He was gone.
Merlin pounded his fist into the nearest tree,
then cursed himself; it hurt. Camelot would never be finished as long
Guinevere held Arthur's attention. He could put
his mind to work only when she was within reach or when he knew she was
safe and away from whatever fighting there might be. And what had he,
Merlin, the great wizard, become since Arthur's marriage? A lackey, picking
up the scattered belongings of his master. Savagely he stooped for the
torn roll of plans. He had waited and worked too long to have it all ruined
by one selfish woman. He was so tired. He would be glad when it was over
for him and he could at least rest with a calm mind. He studied a bit
of the ripped scroll. It would be built. It was going to be a magnificent
fortress, a city in the clouds. Guinevere could not stop it for long.
It was an hour before
dawn two days later. Guinevere slept soundly. Beside the bed a candle
glowed. She always had light by her when she slept alone. In a dream she
heard the sound of a horse galloping through the town below and racing
to the gates. Then there was a rush of air as if the horse had taken wing
and flown through her window. She opened her eyes.
There stood Arthur, muddy, sweaty, too tired to
unclasp his cloak. He stared at her as if she were the dream. Guinevere
smiled and held out her arms.
"Welcome home," she said. "Let
me help you."
©2014 Sharan Newman