Except from Bel Nemeton

Prologue


The dream was over. Tears streaked down his wizened face as he surveyed the landscape. Bodies lie strewn throughout the Camlann Valley. Chill winds carried the stench of smoke and blood into his acute nostrils. He arrived too late, taking too long to escape the bewitching Nimue’s imprisonment. His escape was a tale worthy of Arthur and his best knights, but it didn’t matter. He had failed in his duty as his king’s advisor, wizard, and friend.

In his mind, Myrddin saw how the battle unfolded, as surely as if he had been there. Without the benefit of his counsel and his knowledge of tactics learned from the old Romans, Arthur and his men had simply charged, trusting that valor and strength of arms alone could carry the day against the traitorous Mordred and his Saxon allies.

He envisioned Camelot’s finest as they charged the Saxon’s fluttering banners along the broad, flat valley. Recent rains swelled the ancient River Cam, threatening to flood its banks. As the king and his company advanced, their formations grew ragtag and discipline frayed. Caring only about being first into the fray, the men ignored the high ground on either side of them. And so they remained ignorant of the surprise Morgana and Mordred concealed there. Myrddin would have done the same had he been in Mordred’s place. He shuddered at the thought.

Still, Arthur and his knights had turned the tables, won the battle, and destroyed themselves in the process. Britain’s king lingered for several hours afterward, so Myrddin was told. But the old man had not reached the Camlann in time to say goodbye.

He could not believe Arthur was gone. Arthur, whom, as a swaddled infant, Myrddin had cradled in his arms and sang to. Before Uther. Before even Ygrayne. Gone. Now, Brittan was without her king, the foe vanquished, and Mordred no more. Myrddin did not know if Morgana numbered among the living or the dead. He hoped it didn’t matter. Without Mordred, Morgana amounted to nothing. Didn’t she? But there would be another wave of Saxons. As far as Myrddin could tell, there would always be another wave of Saxons.

“Myrddin.”

He looked up, it was Cei. The solemn and sober knight numbered among the handful of Arthur’s host not only to survive the battle but remain, mostly, unscathed.

“Is it done?” Myrddin asked, wiping the tears from his face. Cei nodded gravely. Myrddin noticed the wound to the knight’s face. His cheek would always have a scar. It would match the one on his heart.

How strange that, at the end, it should come down to the two of them. There had been no love to lose between Myrddin and Cei. Neither made any secret of it. Myrddin found the old warrior tiresome, self-righteous, moralistic, and utterly mirthless. He could only imagine what Cei must think of him. Despite that, each man understood and trusted the other’s unconditional love for Arthur. That had been enough to unite them.

Cei surveyed his surroundings, searching. “Bedwyr?”

Myrddin shook his head. “Not yet returned,” he clarified, lest Cei should misunderstand him and fear another of their company had fallen. Cei had completed his task, as Myrddin knew he would. He hoped Bedwyr possessed the mettle for what he’d been assigned. The venerable cavalier reminded Myrddin more of a grandfatherly otter than a fearsome Knight of the Round Table. With his gentle voice and kind heart, Bedwyr deserved birth into a better time and place. And yet, they also gifted the knight a curious kind of power. Even dead-hearted Mordred had possessed a soft spot for Bedwyr.

Time moved in circles, Myrddin reflected. It had been the three of them, Cei, Bedwyr, and Myrddin, with Arthur at the beginning. And it was the three of them here, at the end. He had known it would be so. More years ago than Myrddin carried to count or admit, he had dreamed. The kind of dream that Bleys, his ancient mentor, taught him to always pay attention to. In his dream, Camelot burned. Stone. Mortar. The rock foundation itself. Everything consumed in flames. Camelot burned and it fell to the three of them to dispose of the ashes.

And so they had. His dream had come to pass.

Myrddin studied the knight, “What will you do now?”

Cei considered the question. “Stay here. Rally the others. Try to pick up the pieces. You?”

Myrddin, too, thought before answering. He plumbed the depths of logic and reason as well as his intuition for omens and portents. Though tempted by Cei’s answer, he could not allow himself to go there. “Darkness descends upon this land,” Myrddin pronounced, “and no man shall stop it. I shall walk the wide world searching for Arthur’s spirit. And, if I do not find it, I shall simply go home.”

“God be with you in your quest,” Cei said.

“And the gods be with you in yours.”

c. 2018 Jon Black