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I absolutely love the title of Nicole Evelina’s new scholarly book The Once and Future Queen. Although there are no legends claiming Guinevere will return like there are of Arthur, she is Arthur’s counterpart and deserves equal treatment. To date, Guinevere has not received anywhere near the amount of attention, much less full-length studies of her character as Arthur has. In fact, the only full-length book on her I’m aware of, Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Guinevere, is a mish-mash of pseudo historicity that must be taken with a grain of salt. Nicole Evelina, however, doesn’t delve into trying to claim whether or not Guinevere was historical. Instead, she takes a more scholarly and practical approach by looking at how Guinevere has been treated throughout literature from the earliest Welsh Triads to present day novels, including her own.

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Evelina is herself the author of a trilogy about Guinevere, consisting of Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and the upcoming Mistress of Legend. Her interest in Guinevere, as she states, stems from a love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Mists of Avalon and her treatment of Morgan le Fay, but also from a dislike for how Bradley portrayed Guinevere.

Evelina makes some fascinating points about how Guinevere has been depicted in literature, pointing out the significance of Guinevere from the early mention in The Welsh Triads where it is clear that one of the causes for the Battle of Camlann was the blow she struck to her sister Gwenhwyvach. Not surprisingly, as Evelina surveys the medieval works about Guinevere, she is struck by how frequently sexist they are.

One point she makes when she gets to the works of the Renaissance—or lack of Arthurian works for this period—is that the lack of work probably stems from the Protestant Reformation and the effort to rid England of all things that reeked of Catholicism. The Holy Grail legends would certainly be included there, as well as Guinevere and Lancelot ending up in a nunnery and a monastery. I have always been aware that the Renaissance didn’t know what to do with King Arthur, but I had never considered why before, so I thought this point was very illuminating.

Evelina goes on to explore Guinevere’s treatment in more recent classics like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. For me, however, being a writer of Arthurian novels myself, the most interesting chapters were those on modern Arthurian fiction. While Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982) may be considered the mother of feminism in the Arthurian legend, not surprisingly, Evelina faults Bradley for not presenting Guinevere as a strong female character. Evelina also points out that, surprisingly, some other women novelists of the late twentieth century also failed to provide a positive depiction of Guinevere, including Nancy McKenzie and Mary Stewart.

Although I try to read every Arthurian novel I can, there were some authors included whom I have not yet read, including Rosalind Miles, Gillian Bradshaw, and Lavinia Collins, so I am now looking forward to reading their works. While many of the authors Evelina treats, such as Persia Wooley, (to whom she dedicated the book) provide positive and strong portraits of Guinevere, I have to say I was surprised by Lavinia Collins’ Guinevere—her novels sound more like bodice-rippers than true Arthurian romance.

If I would fault The Once and Future Queen in any way, it would be that Evelina didn’t discuss more of the recent male authors. She does mention Parke Godwin, whose Beloved Exile (1984) was the first novel to depict Guinevere after the Fall of Camelot and give her a new story for that period of her life, but she does not discuss male authors like Stephen Lawhead, Jack Whyte, or Bernard Cornwell. Honestly, though, it would be impossible to discuss every treatment of Guinevere in modern fiction—countless Arthurian novels are now being produced every year—and I honestly can’t remember much, if anything, of the Guineveres in those authors’ novels—granted I read them all nearly two decades ago, but they were also all heavily written from the male perspective.

Overall, I think The Once and Future Queen draws a positive light upon the need for more research into how Guinevere has been depicted in the past and how the often negative image of her as just an adulteress needs not only to be reassessed but turned around to show that she can be a positive role model for women of how a woman can be strong in a man’s world. It would be wonderful if The Once and Future Queen would inspire future research, including how Guinevere has been depicted in film and on TV—Evelina even includes a little guesswork about how multiculturalism and other forces in our culture will influence Guinevere’s future depictions. I welcome this addition to Arthurian scholarship, and I think anyone who is especially interested in modern Arthurian fiction will find it engrossing.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’s Love,and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Thomas Love Peacock was a writer of the Romantic Age known for his friendship with writers like Percy Bysshe Shelley and for books such as Nightmare Abbey (1818) a parody of Gothic novels. Being a lover of the Gothic, I read Nightmare Abbey many years ago, found its satire tedious, and never read another Peacock book until I heard that The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829) was an Arthurian novel.

An early edition of The Misfortunes of Elphin – note the peacock design – a tribute to the author’s name.

In fact, The Misfortunes of Elphin may be not only the first modern Arthurian novel but the first historical Arthurian novel, a designation that often goes to Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset (1963). Actually, several other authors wrote historical Arthurian novels in between, including William H. Babcock (Clan of the Chariots, 1898), W. Barnard Faraday (Pendragon, 1930), Edward Frankland (The Bear of Britain, 1944), and John Masefield (Badon Parchments, 1947), but it wasn’t until Sutcliff that a real effort to create a historically accurate Arthurian world became popular.

Regardless, Peacock is the first to make the effort, though that is not to say that he uses the same criteria a historical novelist would today, but nor does he set Arthur in a vague medieval period in England. Instead, he goes back to the Welsh legends to create an Arthurian world akin to what we find in the Mabinogion. Not until Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Coming of the King (1988) would another author try to be so loyal to the Welsh legends in his depiction of the Arthurian story. For that reason alone, I find The Misfortunes of Elphin remarkable.

I was also surprised that Peacock does not mock his subject matter but treats it sincerely. The only really flaw in his style is that in a few places he has digressions where he compares the past to the present, thus breaking the fictional spell for the reader. Unfortunately, the story itself is a bit weak and disjointed, but Peacock’s use of the Welsh Triads and other Welsh sources still makes it of interest to the student of Arthurian literature.

The story begins with Gwythno, King of Caredigion, who has working for him Seithenyn, Lord of the Embankment. Seithenyn is not good about maintaining the embankment and eventually it fails and causes the land to flood, leading to the destruction of Gwythno’s kingdom. Gwythno’s son, Elphin, tries to prevent this from happening, but he is too late. Nevertheless, he falls in love with Seithenyn’s daughter, Angrahad, when he goes to speak with her father. Both Gwythno and Seithenyn feature in Welsh tradition (although Jenifer Westwood in Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain suggests that Gwythno is really Edward I “Longshanks”).

“She gave him a supper” an illustration from the novel. The scene shows a trick played by Angrahad to deceive Maelgon’s man into thinking she is not as virtuous as Elphin claims.

Living in new quarters because Gwythno’s castle has basically been destroyed—Elphin and Angrahad marry and Gwythno goes to live with them. After the destruction of the kingdom by the flooding, Elphin is reduced to fishing for a livelihood to feed his family. One day he rescues from the water the baby Taliesin, who will grow up to become a great bard. Elphin regrets rescuing the child because now there will be another mouth to feed, but Taliesin, who can talk as a baby, tells him someday he will rejoice for having done it. The rest of the novel shows why Taliesin is of value to the family.

One day, Maelgon, a neighboring king, raids the land but pretends to be a guest to Elphin. He then invites Elphin to his castle, but when Elphin returns the visit, trouble ensues when they argue over whose wife is better. In the end, Maelgon imprisons Elphin. By now, Taliesin is grown up. He goes to King Arthur, who is overlord of Britain, to ask for help to rescue Elphin, but Arthur has troubles of his own—Gwenyvar has been captured by Melvas. Taliesin aids Arthur in helping to negotiate Gwenyvar’s release. In exchange, Arthur then helps to free Elphin. All ends well, of course, and even Taliesin finds love to add to the happy ending.

For me, one of the most fascinating parts of the book is that Gwenvach is a character in the novel. She is Gwenyvar’s half-sister and Mordred’s wife in the novel. She makes a remark after Gwenyvar is rescued that suggests Gwenyvar was not virtuous while Melvas’ captive. As a result, Gwenyvar slaps her, which Peacock says is one of the Three Fatal Slaps that caused the battle of Camlann since it increased the enmity between Arthur and Mordred. I love this inclusion of Gwenvach because in my own Children of Arthur series, Gwenvach is the primary villain, also based on this statement from the Welsh Triads, although I spell her name Gwenhwyvach. Peacock is digging for legitimate legends here and not just making up his storyline like too many modern Arthurian novelists. Another scene refers to one of the Three Chaste Kisses of Britain, a kiss given by Taliesin.

It’s also noteworthy that Peacock intersperses a lot of poetry throughout the novel. It is not great poetry, and most of it is sung by Taliesin, including a song of Ceridwen’s Cauldron. The poetry takes up a huge portion of the book and acts like filler for the undeveloped plot. It largely reminded me of opera, with a little plot, and then a bunch of songs that don’t really advance the plot, but it is an interesting mix of poetry and storyline anyway, and also a bit reminiscent of Mrs. Radcliffe’s use of poetry in her novels. Peacock was just as well known for his poetry as his novels, and he had already published a longer Arthurian poem, “The Round Table, or King Arthur’s Feast” (1817) in which King Arthur is in Avalon and Merlin allows him to view all the monarchs who have sat on his throne up to the time of George III. The poem can be read online at: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/peacock-round-table.

Thomas Love Peacock, known today chiefly as a satirist and friend to Percy Shelley.

Ultimately, Peacock ends up being a mediocre poet and a mediocre novelist, but his writing is not completely without interest. The Misfortunes of Elphin is not a masterly novel, even though some critics have said it is Peacock’s best. I can’t say it has made me eager to read more of Peacock, but I think it a remarkable novel nonetheless for its early treatment of Welsh legends. It may seem surprising to us that it gives such a historical treatment to the Arthurian legend, considering no other writer will do so for another 130 years; however, it really isn’t that surprising given that Peacock was writing in the age of Sir Walter Scott, the great antiquary who not only wrote some of the first and most popular historical novels but collected ballads and legend and folklore, and so Peacock is following in his footsteps. It also predates the popular translations of the Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest (1838-1845), which shows Peacock likely read the early Pughe translations of 1795 and 1821 and early translations of the Welsh Triads by Iolo Morganwg published in 1801-1807. The Misfortunes of Elphin, then, is very much an Arthurian novel ahead of its time and yet of its time as ancient Welsh literature was being rediscovered in the early nineteenth century.

(Note, I am indebted to Howard Wiseman for providing me with the list of early writers of historical Arthurian novels between Peacock and Sutcliff.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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Few people know, and few Arthurian works mention, that Guinevere had a sister. She was named Gwenhwyvach, but she has been written out of the legend over the centuries. In fact, I believe I’m the only modern novelist to include her in my novels, where she is a major character.

But just who was Gwenhwyvach? We really don’t know anything about her other than that she was Guinevere’s sister.

She is mentioned in the Mabinogion tale Culhwch and Olwen, in which her name is included among the 200 men, women, dogs, and horses invoked by Culhwch when he makes his request of King Arthur to help him win his love Olwen. But this reference really tells us nothing of Gwenhwyvach.

Another reference isn’t much more helpful. In The Welsh Triads, it states:

“One of the reasons for the Battle of Camlann was the blow Guinevere struck to her sister Gwenhwyvach.”

N.C. Wyeth's depiction of Arthur and Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, which Gwenhwyvach may have helped to cause.

N.C. Wyeth’s depiction of Arthur and Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, which Gwenhwyvach may have helped to cause.

This statement is obscure, but it’s obvious that Gwenhwyvach must have had a major role in the early legends, or perhaps in history itself, if she influenced the Battle of Camlann where Arthur and Mordred fought each other and died. At least one writer, Thomas Love Peacock, in his novel The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829), decided that Gwenhwyvach was Mordred’s wife, which seems a plausible conclusion based on this statement.

The only other reference to Guinevere having a sister is in the thirteenth century Prose Lancelot where Guinevere has a sister, known as the False Guinevere, who tries to take the place of Guinevere the night she weds Arthur.

In writing Arthur’s Legacy, my curiosity about Gwenhwyvach and the False Guinevere led to my combining the two to create a major villain not just in this novel but the entire The Children of Arthur series. Following is the scene from Arthur’s Legacy where Gwenhwyvach reveals her past to Constantine, whom he hopes to enlist in her desire for revenge:

“Do you know what this is, Constantine, Cador’s son?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, shrinking back at the sight of the foul mark.

“This brand is the reason you never knew of my existence. Arthur banished me as a traitor, though I am not one. He decreed it a crime for anyone even to utter my name.”

Constantine hesitated to associate with a criminal, but his curiosity would not yet permit him to flee from her enticing gaze.

“What is your name, lady?” he asked.

“Gwenhwyvach,” she replied. “I am the rightful heir to King Leodagraunce of Northgallis, and more importantly, the rightful Queen of Britain, Arthur’s lawful wife.”

“How?” Constantine asked. He wondered whether her desire for revenge included her seeking the throne of Britain. But how could she? No woman could rule a kingdom.

“Do not fear. I have no desire for a crown, although I could build an empire if I so wished. All I want is to destroy Arthur and Guinevere. I don’t care what becomes of Britain after that. I will make you its next king if you will assist me in my enemies’ destruction.”

Constantine was flattered and his eyes lit with excitement at the prospect of being king, but he was too conniving to agree at once. He would first determine how useful an ally this evil wench might be.

“Before I agree to anything,” he said, “you must tell me your full story.”

“You will help me no matter what I say,” she replied, “but I will tell you my past if only to relieve my own misery.”

She picked up a stick and poked at the fire while muttering under her breath. The sparks flew up into the air, and as Constantine raised his eyes to follow their path to the cave’s ceiling, Gwenhwyvach began her tale.

“My father, King Leodagraunce of Northgallis, conceived me upon my mother, who was his lawful wife, Queen Elen. That same night, he afterwards left his marital bedchamber, drunk as he usually was, and made his way to the room of my mother’s young handmaiden, whom he raped. Nine months later, upon the same full moon, Guinevere and I were born.

“My mother, the queen, died in childbirth, as did her handmaiden. The handmaiden’s mother assisted as midwife at the births of Guinevere and myself. We were born only an hour apart, and being half-sisters through our father’s royal blood, we have always looked immensely alike. The old midwife, partly out of love for her newborn granddaughter, Guinevere, and partly to revenge her daughter’s rape and death caused by my father, switched the two babes the same night they were born. Guinevere, the bastard child, was raised as King Leodagraunce’s rightful daughter, while I, born of a king and queen and conceived in holy matrimony, grew up as a household servant.

“Being the same age and living in the same household, Guinevere and I were playmates before we could even talk. The old woman, who claimed to be my grandmother, encouraged our friendship because it allowed her to see her true granddaughter more often. I grew up envying Guinevere for having a father, while I had no parents. I had heard rumors from the other servants that I was the king’s bastard child, and although still not knowing the whole truth, I began to believe these tales, for the king clearly displayed an aversion toward me, while he always expressed great love for Guinevere. As I grew older, I found myself resenting the princess. I believed I had as much right to our father’s love as she did. It was not my fault I was a bastard.

“Then as we approached womanhood, King Leodagraunce died, and Guinevere went to live in Cornwall, under your father’s protection. Because we had been close friends, or so I let her believe, she allowed me to accompany her, as well as the old woman who claimed to be my grandmother. All the eligible lords in the kingdom now began to court Guinevere, some for her beauty, while others merely wished to rule her kingdom. Even several royal princes sought her hand. I envied her, for the only man interested in me was a shepherd, and he had nothing to offer me except a hut and a stench I could not tolerate.

“One afternoon, I was walking with Guinevere in the gardens at Tintagel when she told me a messenger had arrived that morning from Camelot. He had come bearing a marriage proposal to her from King Arthur.

“Although she had never seen the High King, Guinevere had fallen in love with the stories told of him, so she did not hesitate to accept the proposal. I could not bear the jealousy I felt over her good fortune. Perhaps I was selfish, but it was unfair that one sister marry a High King while the other could find no husband of worth. I fled from the garden, ignoring Guinevere’s shouts for my return. I did not stop until I was deep in the forest, and then I slumped down beneath a tree and spent several hours crying and wishing my life were different. I felt I could no longer remain at Tintagel. I dreaded having to watch Arthur’s men bear Guinevere off to become High Queen of Britain, so I decided to return to my grandmother’s hut after the old woman had gone to sleep. Then I planned to gather my few belongings and depart forever. Perhaps even depart from Britain, for nowhere in the land would my sister’s name not be known, and I knew the mere mention of it would henceforth be intolerable to me.

“But when I returned to the hut, I found several of our neighbors gathered outside the door, and when they saw me, they all began asking where I had been. Then they told me to go inside and see my grandmother because she had suffered from some sort of dizzy spell and collapsed in the street. She was lying down now, but awake, though she probably would not live through the night. For the last several hours, she had been calling my name, and entreating the neighbors to find me.

“I don’t know that I ever loved the old woman, but I had always believed her to be my grandmother, so I at least felt some respect for her. I wanted to leave Tintagel as quickly as possible, but I could not desert her in her last moments. Deciding I would not leave until after she had died, I entered the hut and went to her bedside. The old woman was pale, yet she nearly shouted my name when she saw me. It was there on her death bed that she told me the truth, that I was the daughter of King Leodagraunce and his late queen, meaning I was the true Princess Guinevere. She also admitted it was her fault my birthright had been taken from me because she had switched my half-sister and me in our beds the night we were born. She begged my forgiveness, but after so many years of living in poverty when I could have lived royally and had any of my heart’s desires, any lingering of Christian mercy deserted me. I spat in her face and uttered a series of curses that made her tremble and seek her grave all the sooner. When the life had left her, her face held a terrible look of fear beyond what anyone could imagine. I believe she saw the gates of Hell opening for her. She deserved no lesser fate.”

Gwenhwyvach’s brow steamed with hatred as she repeated her tale; Constantine’s selfish soul pitied this woman because, like him, what was rightfully hers had been stolen from her.

“Did you go to Guinevere and tell her the truth?” he asked.

“How could I have proven it? The old woman had made certain no one knew her secret until moments before her death. If I had told anyone, the story would have been passed off as the deathbed ravings of a crazy old woman, or worse, I might have been accused of lying and rebelling against my queen.”

“But then why did Arthur banish you from Britain?”

“I was determined to get my revenge. If I were the rightful daughter of King Leodagraunce and Queen Elen, I believed it was my right to wed King Arthur.”

Constantine squirmed in his seat. He sympathized with Gwenhwyvach, but he also wondered whether she did not make up this tale, and if she had made it up, how much of it had she convinced herself was true? Still, if she hated Arthur and Guinevere as much as he did, her hatred could make her an invaluable ally.

Whether or not she noticed Constantine’s puzzled look, Gwenhwyvach continued her tale.

“Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding ceremony took place without interruption. But I had laid my plans for that evening. When Guinevere went to her bedchamber to prepare for the consummation of her marriage, she changed into her nightgown, then stepped out into the garden to relieve herself before Arthur entered the bridal chamber. I had found myself a lover in the village, one Bertolais, a strong, hulking man but weak in his desires for a woman. I convinced him to help me, and then he convinced his friends to do the same with my promise to reward them all later. That night, we hid in Guinevere’s garden. Bertolais and his friends were to kidnap the bride, and then murder her after they had carried her far enough away from the castle. Meanwhile, I would take Guinevere’s place as Arthur’s wife.

“But that foul old druid Merlin learned of my plans by the use of his black arts. Arthur’s soldiers stormed into the garden just before we grabbed Guinevere. Then Arthur ordered that Bertolais and I be banished. My lover was sent to Gaul, forbidden ever to return, while I was imprisoned in Hengest’s Tower in the middle of the Saxon Lake. Instead of marrying the High King of Britain as was my rightful and intended destiny, I spent the next fifteen years enchained in that prison. That is why I will hate Arthur and Guinevere until they are both dead.”

“But then how did you escape from the tower, my lady?”

“The jailer became ill one day, and a naïve, young man came to take his place. Within a week, I had the fool hopelessly in love with me. I offered myself to him, but the mere pleasure of holding me exhausted him, and he fell asleep.” Gwenhwyvach laughed as she recalled the event. “I then extracted the key from his belt, imprisoned him in my cell, and made my escape. Five years have since passed, so if Arthur has ever learned of my absence and made a search for me, by now he must have given up all hope of my recapture.

“Since my escape, I have had to live like an animal in hiding, foraging for berries in the forest, fishing with my bare hands, and taking shelter under trees and in caves. No human being has ever had a more unfortunate and miserable existence than what I have suffered. You have no idea what it is to sleep in a cave without even an animal fur to cover you on a cold winter night. That is why I must have my revenge on those who caused my misery even if it means killing every soldier in Britain before I can reach Arthur and Guinevere. And if they succeed in destroying me first, my spirit will return to haunt Britain for centuries to come. Nothing is too powerful to stop me!”

Gwenhwyvach’s eyes flared with heat that could burn down a forest. Constantine could not help being mesmerized by them.

“Will you assist me in bringing about Arthur and Guinevere’s destruction?” Gwenhwyvach asked. “When it is completed, I will make you the most powerful man in the world. I learned much of the black arts while in my prison, for I was not denied reading material, and my jailers were illiterate, so they never realized how harmful were the books they innocently brought me from the ruins of a nearby monastery. My powers as a sorceress will set you on the throne of Britain, and I shall ask nothing more of you, but that I may continually reward you for the good services you performed in helping to vindicate me. All that belonged to Arthur and Guinevere will be yours. I shall ask no share. What is your answer, Constantine, Cador’s son?”

*

To find out Constantine’s answer and how I also incorporated the reference to The Welsh Triad in the novel, read Arthur’s Legacy, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and watch for its sequel Melusine’s Gift, coming in January 2015.

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Here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of my new novel, Arthur’s Legacy, which retells the tale of Camelot from a perspective that alleges not only that Mordred was not a traitor, but that King Arthur’s descendants live among us today. Enjoy!

 

PROLOGUE

 “For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings.”

— William Shakespeare, Richard II

Meleon had never thought it would come to this. He knew he and his brother, Prince Morgant, were far from the great knights that their grandfather, King Arthur, or even their father, Prince Mordred, had been, so if those two great men had not succeeded in defeating the usurper Constantine, how could he and Morgant? Yet, Meleon had hoped the good Lord above would aid them in their battle.

But it had been a slaughter, a hopeless slaughter. The brave and loyal men of Britain, those left who had not been slain at Camlann and many more—farmers, millers, merchants, all able bodied men who remained loyal to Arthur’s blood—had done their best. But what could they do against a tyrant who was aided by a witch?

Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One – the first in a five book Arthurian historical fantasy series

Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One – the first in a five book Arthurian historical fantasy series

The men had fought valiantly all that afternoon, but when the ravens began to flock above the battlefield with the decline of day and Meleon looked about him, having just run his blade through one of Constantine’s men, he saw that few of his own army remained on the field, and if they did not retreat now, those few would also fall by the sword.

“Meleon!” cried Morgant. “It’s hopeless! Hurry! We must get away!”

Meleon hated to turn and run, but he knew his brother was right. His father and grandfather would not have thought it cowardly if he sought to save his own life. Then perhaps he could make it safely to Lesser Britain, to their distant cousins there, to raise a new army, to seek out Merlin, the great wizard who had disappeared from Britain years before, but who might be the only one alive now who could fight against the witch. Meleon, however, had never even met Merlin, only heard tales of him, so how could he know whether the wizard were still alive? But sightings of him had been rumored over the years, and what other hope was there?

No time to think of Merlin now. Meleon turned and rushed after his brother, joined by a couple of dozen fellow soldiers as the enemy’s army tried to pursue them. They ran over the nearby hill and into the forest, the enemy cutting down half of them along the way, the blood of his comrades spraying onto Meleon’s face as he fought to try to save them. But once his men reached the forest, the enemy failed to pursue them farther, and Meleon and Morgant led their loyal handful of followers into the woods.

They were hardly worth pursuing now. Doubtless, Constantine and his men would find them if he wanted their lives, and they were bleeding so profusely from their many wounds that they could not run far.

Still, they managed to make their way through the forest as the sky darkened, and after a couple of miles, as night finally fell, they emerged into a clearing where stood a small monastery, one Meleon knew well—it was where the great Sir Bedwyr had retreated after the fatal Battle of Camlann where Arthur and Mordred had been slain.

Just that morning, Meleon’s men had camped at the monastery before going to face Constantine, and Meleon had then begged Sir Bedwyr to join them in battle, even declaring that as Arthur’s heir, he, Meleon, was now Bedwyr’s king, so it was his duty to obey him.

But Bedwyr had calmly said, “No. All the trouble that has come upon Britain is my fault. It is God’s punishment for my and Queen Guinevere’s sins. I am not wise, nor good, but I can hold off causing more pain and bloodshed.”

Meleon could not believe the knight’s words. Never had there ever been a braver man in all the history of Britain than Sir Bedwyr, so how could he desert them now?

“It is desertion, you know,” Meleon had said, trying to incite the knight to anger so he would join them. “You are being disloyal to Arthur. If you wish to make penance for your sins, the best way is to take up arms against he who has usurped Arthur’s throne.”

But Bedwyr would have none of it. “My king is in heaven now,” he said. Meleon did not know whether by “my king” Bedwyr meant his deceased grandfather or God himself, but either way, it would not help Britain.

“God does not want an evil witch to sit on the throne of Britain,” Meleon had argued.

“God takes no interest in the wars of humans,” Bedwyr had replied. “He cares only for their salvation, and war, in any form and for any reason, works against that salvation.”

Now as Meleon struggled across the meadow to the monastery’s door, he wondered whether Bedwyr would even give him and his men sanctuary.

He need not have wondered, however, for the monks had been watching for their return, and without surprise at their greatly reduced numbers, the holy brothers quickly rushed outdoors to help them inside to treat their wounds.

Bedwyr greeted the princes, separating them from their men and telling them to come with him into the chapel.

“We will pray,” said Bedwyr, “for those whose lives were lost this day, both those of your own men and those of Constantine’s.”

“Pray for the souls of traitors!” spat out Morgant.

“Before your grandfather Arthur went to Avalon to be healed, he told me to pray for him and the souls of all men,” said Bedwyr calmly. And then he turned and walked to the chapel, and the princes, too exhausted to argue, decided it was best to follow and get the praying over with so Bedwyr might find them a meal and aid them in further escape.

“We cannot stay long,” said Meleon. “My wife Rachel will be grief-stricken with worry. We must find a boat and sail to Rheged so I can warn her of what has happened.”

“There is no need,” said Bedwyr, “this morning after your army left, a messenger arrived to bring news of your wife. He journeyed all night and was exhausted; he is resting inside the monastery, waiting to give you the news, but for now, it is enough to tell you that Princess Rachel gave birth two days ago to your son, whom she named Arthur after your grandfather, and this morning, she embarked with the child and several knights of her father, King Accolon, for Lesser Britain to find safety there, for Constantine has sent another army against Rheged. The messenger barely escaped them as they marched toward the castle just an hour after Princess Rachel and the child made their escape.”

“Thank God for her safety,” said Meleon as they entered the chapel. “I will pray then that God be with her, as well as with my father-in-law, King Accolon, and his people.”

Bedwyr bid the princes follow him to the altar in the small chapel, and there the three knelt and spoke silently to God of what troubled their hearts.

But their prayers were not to be finished. Not three minutes after they knelt, the chapel door was flung open and in strode Constantine with half-a-dozen of his armed men and the Witch Queen following him.

Bedwyr jumped up, instinctively reaching for his sword, but there was none by his side.

Morgant only had time to half-draw his sword before Constantine’s own sword swung through the air, severing the prince’s head.

“No!” cried Meleon, his sword drawn to engage his enemy in combat.

Constantine’s men, however, quickly surrounded the prince. One of them, having not a shred of honor, struck Meleon a blow in the back, which did not pierce his armor but sent the prince to the floor. A second later, Constantine’s sword rested against Meleon’s throat.

“Sacrilege!” shouted Bedwyr, who had been grabbed by three burly knights, now struggling to hold him, his old fighting spirit having been raised by the attack. “Would you shed blood in the House of God?”

“Silence!” screamed the Witch Queen, she who was named Gwenhwyvach and who claimed to be sister to Guinevere and the true Queen of Britain. Stepping up to Bedwyr, she laughed in his face. “Fool knight, you who thought yourself invincible—look at you now, a beggar monk. To such humility I have driven the strongest man in Britain. You are just like every other man since the time of Adam himself. Weak, foolish, a coward, afraid of women, afraid of my power, afraid of your very self.”

“My lady,” said Constantine, drawing her attention, “with this sword blow, I now do claim all Britain as wholly ours.”

And with those words and before Gwenhwyvach even could speak, he plunged his sword through Meleon’s throat.

Meleon could not believe the agonizing sting of the metal as it severed his flesh. He struggled for breath, his body going into panic mode.

“Fool!” screeched Gwenhwyvach at her consort. “Did I tell you to slay him? First I must know where the rings are!”

“What rings?” asked Constantine.

“Where are the rings?” Gwenhwyvach demanded, staring down at Meleon with piercing eyes.

But Meleon closed his eyes, for he had heard that the Witch Queen could read the very secrets of a man’s soul in his eyes. He knew which rings she meant—the royal rings of Avalon, the rings his grandfather and grandmother had always worn. Once, when he had been a small boy, he had sat on his grandfather’s lap and played with his ring and his grandfather had said, “This ring holds incredible power such that even I don’t know how fully to use it or all its secrets. But one day it shall be yours, and you shall pass it to all the Kings of Britain who shall come after you.” Meleon had always wondered what power it held, but he had never dared to ask his grandfather more. Neither his grandfather nor grandmother ever would have taken those rings from their fingers, so if…as Sir Bedwyr had told him…Morgana had…had taken…. Meleon could barely think…hated that he was dying…would never again…see Rachel or his son…. But if Morgana had taken…King Arthur to Avalon…the rings were there…and safe until his son….

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One, to be released in June 2014. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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