Avalon, S.C. — Cover Art!

I got the signed contract from Soul Mate Publishing today for Avalon, S.C.  And–you’d think this wouldn’t surprise me by now but it always does–the infamous cover art form.

I was SO disappointed to discover that they had removed the “Heroine: facial hair” line on the questionnaire.  I think we call all agree that Sabrina doesn’t have any facial hair.  I was all ready for that one.

It does still have:  HEAT Level:  (Erotic, Sensual, Sweet).  Hmm, that’s not quite as easy to answer as Strange Bedfellows.  What do you think?  Certainly doesn’t qualify as erotic, although maybe the Chapter 60 is slightly warmer than Sensual.

But in the end, none of that is really important.  I have firmly established myself as an author who prefers OBJECTS to PEOPLE on the cover.  Although Rick without a shirt would be a lot more appealing than Walter without a shirt.

But Avalon, S.C. is filled with significant objects.  How to choose, how to choose?

  • roman coinThe goddess pendant that George had made for Nimue?
  • The brooch, the divining rune, and the 3 Roman coins would make a nice tableau.
  • The island itself isn’t strictly an “object,” but it would make a nice background for a cover if done correctly.
  • The stones?
  • The painting of the pregnant golden-haired woman standing on the beach?  Framed, so it would obviously be a painting bombay-sapphireand not just a knocked-up heroine.
  • A bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, olives, and a shaker?  Perhaps sitting on top of a James Bond novel?
  • How about a taser and a roll of duct tape?

Accepting feedback and opinions from my blog community.  You got most of these images last week, but I’ll add a few more at the bottom for your amusement.

(Note: sorry I’m a day late posting.  Yesterday I had a very limited amount of time, and it was a choice of writing or blogging.  Which would normally have meant blog, but Sir Kay is hot on the trail of adventure right now.  He and Oswald are currently in Tintagel, the fortress where Arthur was conceived and the childhood home of his lady love, the princess Elaine (oldest sister of Morgan and Morgause).

Brooch-Irish-Celtic-6th-7th-centuryRare Celtic Brooch in brass from about the right era.  Used to hold a cloak together.

SONY DSCWhich they only used, because Duct Tape hadn’t been invented yet.  Hey!  I just realized I missed a great opportunity.  George could have left a roll of duct tape for Nimue back when he was courting her.


A Rose by Another Name?

FIRST, THE NEWS:  I have received a contract offer for Avalon, S.C.

(pausing a moment to allow you to celebrate wildly and raucously)

NEXT, THE QUESTION:  The Soul Mate Publishing Acquisitions Editor asked: “Is Avalon, S.C. the real title, or is it still a working title?”

Aha!  Good question.  I’d gotten so used to calling it that, I’d forgotten the possibility that there was going to be another name.  To be honest, I haven’t been able to think of one I like better.

But maybe you can.

So, blog community.  Submit your suggestions as comments here.  If the Acquisitions Editor and I see any we like better than Avalon, S.C., why, you’ll have the honor of naming the book!

To help you with your thinking process, I’m including a little photo montage of the novel.

Avalon 1Not Avalon, SC–there’s no hill!–but at least it gives the feel on an island off the coast of South Carolina

NimueShe’s not golden-haired, but I love the picture

???????????????????????????A wheel, ready for you to walk while you contemplate this question.

triple goddess jewelry3A triple goddess pendant, NOT worth $6000 nor nearly as classy as the one George designed.

altar and stone circle, beacons national park, walesAn altar with standing stones in the background

enlightened-chai-logoa salute to our favorite new-age cougar

BeltaneA child conceived on Beltane is blessed by the gods.  Maybe next year?

taserHell hath no fury . . . this one’s for you, JD

1362-Atlanta-FalconsMaybe next year.

Larry McMurtry’s Words of Wisdom

Back in 1971, I took a creative writing course from Larry McMurtry.  It wasn’t a great course, by any means.  He split time between reading from his new manuscript in final revision–All My Friends McMurtryAllMyFriends1Are Going to be Strangers–and telling us of the latest saga in acting as an adviser to the filming of his earlier novel, The Last Picture Show.  This was back before he published the Lonesome Dove series, which I consider to be his greatest accomplishment.  Each week we turned in something we’d written, and they came back with a red check and occasionally a cryptic comment.  Worse, I fancied myself a poet in those day.

But it was a great experience, even if it wasn’t a great course.

Larry McMurtryLarry McMurtry circa 1971

Many years later, I read a touching bit of wisdom by Larry McMurtry.  I believe it was in the preface to Buffalo Girls, but I could be very wrong on that.  I can’t find it to quote it, so I’ll have to describe it from memory.  It went something like: every writer spends an inordinate amount of time reading the words of a single author: himself.  After awhile, you get where you don’t want to read another word that author has written.

Scary, in a way.  But at least something to be cautious of.  Burnout on yourself.

I haven’t been at this trade nearly as long as McMurtry has, and if I ever write a book as great as Lonesome Dove, I’ll post it here so you’ll be the first to know.  But the question still hangs out there: how do you keep from burning out on your own writing?  Can you still have moments where you impress yourself, even after years of reading and rereading your own words?

I mention this today because I’m in the final edit of Avalon, S.C., preparing it to send it off to the proofreader and then on to the publisher.  I’ve read those words a lot.  Between the various drafts, comments back from SusanH and others, chapters read at my writing groups, and Total Rereads (that’s where I start from the beginning and read the entire book cover to cover over the course of a few days), I’ve probably read it 6-8 times within the last year.

It’s not that good.

So I’m finishing up the last Total Reread (before it comes back from an editor with their comments).  And you know what?  There are moments that still delight me, no matter how many times I’ve read them.  It is good, dummy.

That absolutely qualifies as a small victory.  Tonight when I get home from choir rehearsal, I think I’ll open a bottle of champagne and celebrate like Sabrina would.


The World of Arthur: Rusty’s Partial Who’s Who

One of the features of contemporary Arthurian fiction is that it almost always has some twist to the “standard” story.  At this point, the canon is so broad that it’s almost impossible to say what the standard story is.  But the mainstream saga that runs through Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Chretien de Troyes’ romances, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King we’ll call the main branch.  In very brief summary:

Arthur is the son of Uther, taken away by Merlin at birth, raised by Sir Ector.  Arthur claims his birthright by pulling the sword from the stone, becomes the “high king of England,” establishes the company of the round table and a kingdom based on “right makes might” rather than the other way around.  His wife Guinevere has an affair with his greatest knight and best friend Lancelot.  Arthur has an illegitimate son, Mordred, with his half sister Morgause, through magic and/or deception (before he is married).  The young knights, led by Mordred, eventually expose the affair, split Lancelot off from the company of the round table, and fight the battle of Camlan.  Everyone dies or is grievously wounded.  Arthur is taken away by the Lady of the Lake to the isle of Avalon, to “rest and heal until the world once more has need of heroes.”

So how does Rusty’s World of Arthur compare?  That answer would comprise a dozen very long posts.  But here we’ll at least identify the characters that are SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than the standard version.

Guinevere: always a complex character.  Why does she have an affair with Lancelot?  A lot of ink has been spent on the mind and motivations of Guinevere.  She is complex in Rusty’s world too, but a lot more petty than usual.  She is irrationally jealous of Morgan and intentionally does her harm twice: getting her married off to the cruel Uriens, and insisting that Arthur appoint a regent to rule Gore in her stead while her son comes of age.  You’ve seen a lot of this story in Strange Bedfellows; more will come in Kay’s Saga.

Morgan le Fay:  Morgan was a healer in the original Welsh versions of the story, but by Malory she’d become thoroughly evil.  In our world, however, she is far more balanced.  She was one of the main characters, and I would without qualification use the word “hero,” of Strange Bedfellows.  A sympathetic character, although some have said that the possession of others, including Amy, is an inherently evil act.

Nimue:  In the standard version, Nimue seduces Merlin and/or causes him to fall in love with her, learns or steals his magic, and imprisons him for all eternity.  In Avalon, S.C., we learn much more of the true story.  Nimue is heroic, not evil.

Kay:  the butt of many jokes, misadventures, and failed quests in the standard version–with the “soul of an accountant,” as the Steinbeck tales puts it.  My Kay is heroic if geeky.

Gawain:  a great knight if headstrong, fiery-tempered, hopelessly addicted to women–he remains true to that in my world.  Every story needs a Gawain.

Lancelot:  Lancelot hasn’t really appeared in any of my stories so far.  In Kay’s Saga he is indeed having an extended affair with the queen, but nothing has been revealed about motivation, angst, etc.  Not sure it will be before the end–not really important to the story, I don’t think.

George:  Well, he’s in the world now.  Not mentioned in any of the medieval romances; not sure how they missed him.  Perhaps because he didn’t play a significant part in any adventure.  But then, there’s always something that needs fixing.

JD:  Might he still save Arthur’s kingdom?  Unlikely–surely some chronicler would have mentioned him before now if he had.  But again, who knows?

More to come on characters.  Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’ll also talk in some depth about the time period when Arthur lives in the various accounts.

sword in the stone


The World of Arthur, According to Rusty

I don’t write sequels.  Or at least, I’ve never seriously considered a sequel.  But the Arthurian world, which is “out there somewhere” is all my novels, has a consolidated history that all of the books follow, refer to, or build on.

In fact, the need to maintain a consistent history has caused me some difficulties with the idea of revising Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail.  The story in that book does not follow the others.  Morgan is one of the villains of the piece, along with her sister Morgause and their fellow witch Nimue.  But as we’ve learned later, Morgan is not really evil–“well-rounded, morally” is how I’d characterize her–and Nimue is absolutely not.  So that piece of the novel will have to be totally reworked.

Didn’t you like the kicker that I threw in at the end of Avalon, S.C.?  Sabrina considers herself “sort of” a priestess of Avalon, and she wants to go on a pilgrimage someday to “pay her respects” to the current Lady of the Lake.  Who we all know from Return from Avalon (and Points West) is Vivian, with Meg in training as her replacement.

I’m now considering a similar twist in the novel I’m working on now, and Life and Adventures of Sir Kay.  Kay is a mathematically-minded geek of a knight, never appreciated for his prowess because there isn’t anyone in the realm capable of appreciating them, since Merlin died.

Except there is: George Foster appeared from the future onto the island of Avalon three years before the story begins.

That’s a lot of temptation for one twisted author.

Should Kay meet George?  Should Nimue come to Camelot, bringing her quiet escort who accidentally overhears one of Kay’s math problems and solves it?  Is that too delicious NOT to write?



The Role of the Villain in Beta Male Fiction

So, who are some of your favorite villains?  Here are a few culled from various lists of favorite villains.

  • Voldemort, Harry Potter’s nemesis
  • Hannibal Lecter
  • The Joker
  • Norman Bates
  • Darth Vader
  • Dr. No
  • Sauron from The Lord of the Rings
  • Captain Hook
  • Long John Silver
  • Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Wicked Witch of the West
  • The Shark in Jaws

What do almost all of these great villains have in common?  It’s the quality of the hero!  You can’t be a great hero without a great villain, but the opposite is also true: you can’t be a great villain without a great hero.

So . . . what is the proper role of the villain in Beta Male Fiction?  Where the hero is not “great,” just some poor schmuck stumbling his way through life?  Occasionally driving the action, but just as often letting the action happen to him?

I struggle with this, now that I’ve identified my true genre as Beta Male fiction.  I’m trying to imagine any of my heroes beating up a villain.  Walter?  Well, at least he got a tattoo, so who knows what’s next.  Rick?  I thought he did OK just breaking JD’s hand with a gin bottle, although he did end up in the hospital.  He drinks martinis like James Bond, but he’s too timid to pick up a pistol.

Even those heroes who have to outsmart the hero because they can’t outfight him–Harry Potter, for one; Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island for another–at least take the fight to their enemy.  So for JD to be a great villain, Rick would have to track him down, or at least lay a trap; outwit him so at the moment of darkest despair he somehow manages to overcome JD, and rid the world of his sorry ass.  Instead, he lets his girlfriend defeat the dreaded villain.  Oh, what ignominy!

I can’t see changing my style–as an author, I think I pretty much am what I am.  So now what?

In my current novel, The Adventures of Sir Kay (description; not even a working title yet), I’m experimenting with a new type of villain.  Meet Count Meleagans, he of horrid tastes and random obstinacy.  He would never defy King Arthur, but he’s perhaps the perfect match for Sir Kay: a petty tyrant in his own fiefdom.  And the obstacle standing squarely between Sir Kay and the woman he loves.

I’m not sure Kay could ever take on Sauron or Hannibal Lector.  We’ll see how he does with Count Meleagans.

Hannibal Lector

Final Edit

Avalon S.C. moved from first edit into final edit yesterday.  I didn’t actually change any words (yet).  What I did accomplish was:

1)  Put all the chapters into a single word file.

2)  Collect all of the useful comments that you’ve posted into a single word file.  There are quite a few, by the way (I took time to appreciate all of the comments that said, “I’m really loving this book,” but I didn’t extract those).

3)  Move the comments into the word document in the appropriate place.

All ready to do some serious polishing now.  If I’ve done everything right up to this point, the final edit should be mostly polish, very little new/creative material.  I think that’s the case.

Most serious error that you caught: honors go to Bruce, who caught that Rick and Sabrina should not be able to hear the drums at Imbolc.

I also have to resolve Susan’s issue about what changed Sabrina’s mind about JD.  She says that I’ve been totally inadequate in addressing that; I feel like I’ve said enough.  But she’s usually right; should I trust her on this one?  Think I’m going to.  Thoughts?

My proofreader, Stephanie, has a long flight on Oct 26th.  So I have to have the final edit done in time for her to take it with her.  No sweat–that’s more than 2 weeks away.

And then there’s Sir Kay demanding more and more attention.   Ah, the writing life.

NOTE: Post days are now Tuesday and Friday until my current project is ready to start serializing.



Chapter 62: Avalon, S.C.

“Mmm.  You awake over there?”

I wasn’t, but “No, leave me alone” didn’t seem like an acceptable answer.  “Kind of.  What time is it?”

“I don’t know.  Sun’s not up, so it can’t be tomorrow yet.  Way past midnight, so it’s not yesterday either.  I’d say it’s halfway between Beltane and reality.  Seems like the perfect time for some of that investigating.”

Turns out, she was right.

After Sabrina drifted back to sleep I lay there nestled into her back, delighting in the delicious warm silky texture of her skin and thinking about how remarkable this whole incredible adventure has been.  When Mr. Sun finally showed up I flipped him the bird to let him know that for once he hadn’t woken me up, then slipped out of bed and headed for the coffee pot.

All that was visible of Adeline was a few stray stands of hair that had escaped the mound of blankets piled up on the couch.

I drank my coffee, got dressed, and had written a page and a half when Sabrina finally made an appearance.  Hair brushed, dressed in my robe, she looked fresh and full of life, none the worse for her adventures.

“Is this the perfect way to start the day or what?  Some early morning lovin’, sleep in past eight, somebody else makes coffee for you.  A girl could get spoiled by all this.”

“You mean Wanda doesn’t have coffee ready when you get to work?”

“Yeah, but one out of three just doesn’t cut it.”

I poured myself the last bit of coffee that Sabrina had left, put on a fresh pot, and led her out on the porch to savor life.  We had time for considerable savoring before Adeline stumbled out, still wrapped in a blanket.  Her hair wasn’t brushed, and she did appear much worse for the wear.  A lot closer to how I felt than how Sabrina looked.

“What the hell is everybody doing up so early?  Is there any more of that coffee?”

“And a happy day after Beltane to you too, boss lady.  Here, take my seat.  I’ll bring you a cup and get another chair.”

We sat in comfortable silence for a bit, with Sabrina’s hand on mine the only communication, other than the occasional mockingbird.

“Did all that really happen?”  Adeline finally broke the stillness.  “Did I really go back in time 1500 years only to traipse off in the bushes with a string of unwashed peasants and fuck like a mink on the cold, hard ground?  And not caring a fig that my long-lost father was watching me come and go?”  She shook her head.  “Seems more like a dream, but then where did all these bruises come from?”

“Guess you’d better be more prepared next year.  Bring an air mattress, maybe.”

“Next year.  Now there’s a scary thought.”  She looked up from her coffee cup and grinned.  “I have to wait an entire year?”

After Sabrina got dressed and Adeline showered and made what repairs she could to her hair, we sat down to a council of war.

First order of business—JD.  We agreed to keep our story simple and straightforward: we’d never seen him.  We combed the cottage to make sure there was no trace that he’d ever been there.  First opportunity I’d go into town and buy a reload for the Taser so I wouldn’t have to come up with an explanation about why I’d fired it.

Next item on the agenda was tidying up the finances.  Adeline wrote me a check for $25,000 and presented it with a flourish.  It was the most money I’d ever held in my hand, for sure.  “Thank you, ma’am.  This should keep me from having to take the first job that comes along.”

“But here’s the thing, Rick.  I’m going to have to make arrangements to get out to the island on feast days, plus some trips in between to come to terms with the place.  And I want to keep the cottage up so I have somewhere to stay when I’m in transit.  So if you’re interested, I’ll pay $1800 a month for a caretaker/nautical chauffeur, and go ahead and buy that boat you’ve been renting.”

I hadn’t figured out how I was going to keep up my new romance while getting a job somewhere out there on the other end of the road from hell.  The pay wasn’t nearly as generous as it had been, but it was plenty.  Besides, turning Adeline down after seeing Sabrina’s face light up at the idea would have been the beginning of the end for said romance.  So I accepted without further negotiations.

The last item to decide was what we were going to tell the world at large about the island.

“Not a goddamn thing,” was Adeline’s firm opinion.  “In fact, why don’t you turn those newly-idled investigative powers of your to finding out who owns it, and we’ll see if we can buy the place.”

Well, there went my best shot at a Pulitzer.  But nobody would have believed it anyway, without taking teams of scientists and historians out to the island to observe, and then it would become a zoo on sabbats and eventually break the link.  So I eagerly agreed.

Hey, maybe I’d find a place for Avalon, S.C. in a novel someday.

Two days later, Sheriff Tate swung by with the news that JD’s truck had been discovered by a couple of teenagers parking on a dirt road about a half mile from the cottage.  “I have no idea what to make of that,” he confessed.  “Seems like bizarre behavior, even for a man for whom no behavior is truly bizarre.”

“Any idea how long it’s been there?”

“Not really, although I doubt it could’ve sat for a week without somebody finding it.”

“Maybe he was coming by to visit last night and got lost.”

“Good an explanation as any.  Or passed out drunk on the way.  I’m having a K-9 team sent over from Beaufort to scour the woods.  You keep your eyes open in the meantime.”

“You bet.  Thanks for the warning.”

Three deputies and a dog searched for most of the afternoon without finding any sign of JD.  I felt sorry for letting them go through all that hassle, but I didn’t see any other option.  Spouting out, “Oh, don’t bother, Deputy.  We took him over to an island far out in the sound and left him there to become a Sacred King and possibly save King Arthur,” didn’t seem very attractive as an alternative.

It’s a month later and, as incredible as it may sound, JD still hasn’t turned up.  The current leading theory over at Peckerwoods’ is that he made it down to the water, decided to go in for some reason—maybe sneak up on me by swimming over to the cottage—drowned, and floated out to sea.  I carry the Taser around openly in public sometimes so everybody can see that I’m still a little worried about it.

The other opinion spoken often and loudly at breakfast is that Sabrina and I ought to get engaged.  Which is definitely rushing things a little, but the way we get along, the idea isn’t completely horrible.  I think our secret is, we’re both pretty laid back people.  Give each other plenty of room, kid around a lot.  Plus the fall-off in both the quality and the quantity of post-Beltane sex hasn’t been significant.  Making love on the island is still the best, but any horizontal surface seems to do in a pinch.  And it doesn’t really even have to be horizontal.

Adeline and I cleaned out George’s studio and turned it into a guest bedroom.  Donated the painting supplies to the art department of Davy’s school.  Adeline insisted that we hang the unfinished painting of the golden-haired woman and her daughter ‘waving at her father,’ as she puts it, over ‘her bed.’  Samantha loves it too, even more than the pelican painting, and sleeps there whenever Sabrina brings them over, relegating Davy to the couch.  I finally gave in and got the satellite fixed, since I have a fair amount of company these days.  But I still hardly ever watch it when I’m by myself.

I’m almost 70,000 words into my novel now.  It’s not great.  There are moments of what I consider—well, not real brilliance, but at least real pretty goodness—scattered in and amongst pages of solidly pedestrian writing.  But I’m getting better.  I found an on-line critique group that’s helping a lot, although they were pretty brutal for the first week or two.

The other thing I’ve been spending my spare time doing is learning to fix stuff.  I’ve lived most of my life about as mechanically minded as a call girl.  But I’ve got George’s entire library of “How to Fix Nearly Everything without Smashing Your Fingers” books, as well as his tools.  So far I’ve successfully repaired a sagging step at Peckerwoods’, a leaking toilet valve at Sabrina’s house, and Mrs. Ellis’ doorbell, for which I charged her a buck.  Plus changed my own oil and oil filter.  Not exactly credentials for a bachelor’s in the science of home repair, but it’s a start.

When Sabrina started her period a couple of weeks after Beltane, I was much relieved.  Particularly when I did the math and figured out that she’d likely been fertile the one occasion we hadn’t practiced birth control.

“Guess we were pretty lucky, huh?”  I remarked during an intimate interlude.

“Not exactly luck,” Sabrina whispered, snuggling in so that her mouth was close to my ear.  “Don’t you remember what Nimue told us?  Priestesses are free to decide whether or not to conceive from their sacred coupling on Beltane.”

That jolted me out of my gentle reverie.  I pulled her up so I could look at her as we talked.  “What do you mean?  You’re a priestess?  How and of what?”

“I’m not exactly sure, but yes.  I’m the caretaker of the island, which makes me sort of a priestess.  Or at least that’s how Nimue explained it.”

“Back on Beltane?  Or do you still talk to her?”

“Of course I still talk to her.  Whenever I need advice I ask her while I’m walking the wheel, and she always answers.  Plus occasionally she visits in a dream.”

Well, why should I be surprised?  In my own mind I thought of the adventure as over.  But nothing had really changed except that we’d found George.

“I sure hope that doesn’t mean you can only have sex on Beltane.”

Sabrina laughed.  “Of course not, silly.  That only applies to the Lady of the Lake.  There’s one of those already.  She lives in Wales.  We have to go meet her sometime soon and pay our respects.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time replaying that conversation in my head while sitting on the back porch or out walking the wheel.  What I’ve discovered, hiding way down in the deep dark recesses of my subconscious, is that in addition to being relieved that Sabrina isn’t pregnant, I’m also a little disappointed.  What the hell?  The very idea of being a father scares the crap out of me.  Being an indulgent father figure to Sabrina’s kids is more than enough for now.

One thing for sure: I’m not sharing that thought with Sabrina.  Women can get you in a lot of trouble.  No matter what else changes, that remains the same.

But the books all say that a child conceived on Beltane is blessed by the goddess.

Well, as Adeline says, there’s always next year.

The End


Near the end . . .

So, are you one of those who, when you approach the end of a novel, stretch it out as much as possible?  Or once you’re within reach, do you greedily drive forward to the last page.

I’m pretty much a drive to the last page sort of reader.  If I’m 30 pages away and it’s midnight, I’ll sit in my wife’s make-up chair in the bathroom and finish.  Kate, on the other hand, is a “oh, no!  I’m not ready for this book to end” kind of reader.

I guess, when it comes right down to it, it depends on the book.

One of the characteristics of a serialized book is that you don’t have the luxury of driving through to the end.  You could read a couple of paragraphs a day of the last chapter and make it stretch out if you wanted to, but it doesn’t really lend itself to that treatment either.

Fear not: it’ll be available as a complete work before you know it.  I have a few dozen comments to incorporate and then off to my proofreader to catch the last few bugs.  “Few” being an exaggeration; there are at least a couple of hundred, and Stephanie will lovingly point out them all.

Just a last few loose ends remain to be tied up.

Tomorrow . . .


Chapter 61: Avalon, S.C.

Although Beltane Punch enhanced passion (aka horniness) it did not promote drowsiness, so we didn’t have to worry about falling asleep and ending up stuck in the Otherworld forever.  Nonetheless, as it is written, all good things must end.  And so a bruised, filthy, sore, totally sated pair of lovers made our way hand-in-hand back to the bonfire, which was burning considerably lower than when we had left the dance.

Our love-worn appearance didn’t make us stand out among the celebrants by any means.  An occasional pair of weary villagers stumbled out of the woods, skirted the clearing, and disappeared down the path.  Adeline was dancing alone in front of the fire, although the drums had long since gone silent.  The last traces of her carefully coiffed veneer of civilization had been stripped away, leaving behind some wild woodland creature moving to a melody only she could hear.  I wondered which part of the experience would change her the most: reconnecting with her father or celebrating Beltane in the manner of the old gods.

Only Nimue and George appeared untouched by the excesses of the evening.  Perhaps Nimue’s lips were a touch swollen, but her gown was unsoiled and her hair neatly combed.  Maybe that was the leading qualification to become high priestess: the ability to copulate for hours and still appear unmussed.

“How about another cup of punch, Sabrina darling?”

“Oh God, no thank you.  Get behind me, Satan.  Unless we can pour some in one of those empty wine bottles and take it with us.  Put a shot in our morning coffee tomorrow.  Or it’s probably already tomorrow, so maybe the day after.  Or better yet: I could pour some in the coffeepot at Peckerwoods’.  Wouldn’t that give the town something to talk about?”

Soon the last of the villagers were gone and it was down to just us, George, Adeline, and the Seven.  Even JD wasn’t tied to his tree anymore.  I patted my pocket to make sure that the boat key was still there, and slipped the Taser out of the backpack and stuck it in my belt.

George must have seen me, because he said something to Nimue and they strolled over to where we were standing.

“Your friend has been taken care of and is comfortable.  Two of the priestesses were his consorts during the festivities.  I daresay he enjoyed his Beltane far more than he expected at the beginning.”

Far more than I had expected him to enjoy it, for sure.  “So, what happens to him?”

George and Nimue held an extended conversation before he answered.  “When the last of the fire is extinguished, any who are still on the island will be here in our time for the rest of their lives.”  He held up his palms, indicating himself as an example.  “I’m damned lucky I didn’t accidently end up stuck here by mistake during one of my trips.”  He spoke briefly to Nimue again.  “Nimue promises that if you choose to return during Samhain, he will be kept away so as to cause you no further discomfort.”

“In my vision Nimue said, ‘Bring him to me,’” Sabrina interjected.  “It didn’t sound exactly like she meant, ‘Oh, just drop him off on the island, we’ll take good care of him.’  So I did.  Now I think I deserve to know what’s going to happen to him.  You don’t have to patronize me.  I’m a big girl—I can handle it.”

George translated for Nimue, who merely shrugged.

“The druids have long been unfairly condemned for the practice of human sacrifice.  Human sacrifice here has always been so rare as to be practically non-existent.  Part of the reason is that the old gods have no interest in the death of commoners.  Only the blood of kings is worthy of them, and kings aren’t usually available.  And of course, now that Arthur has granted favored religious status to the Christians, he would be forced to remove his protection from the island and expel us from his realm were we to suggest such a barbaric ritual.”

He glanced at Nimue before continuing.  “But there is an ancient rite far older than the druids, used when the land is dying and desperate for redemption.  A commoner is chosen and agrees to become the Sacred King.  For a year he is treated as royalty with the best of food and drink, women at his beck and call, all the comforts and privileges that can be provided.  And then at the end of the year, he is offered to the gods.  Nimue hopes that by taking this desperate step, Wales can be reborn and Arthur will be around a few more years to protect us from the Saxons.”

Sabrina looked dubious.  “But you said he has to agree.  JD would never do that.”

“Actually, he already did.  Perhaps he didn’t really believe what I explained to him.  Perhaps the combination of the sacred drink and two young bare-breasted priestesses were more than he could resist.  Or maybe he just lives in the moment, like many people do.  This is now, that’s a year away.  Well, if he somehow manages to escape to the life of a 6th century bandit, we won’t have a lot invested in him.”

“I’ll be damned.  Wouldn’t Mama be surprised?  She always predicted JD’d end up either in jail or dead alongside the highway without a damned thing to show for it, and maybe take me along with him.  And now there’s a chance he might save King Arthur!  Who’d have thunk it.  Don’t think I’ll tell Mama, though.”

* * * * *

The Seven filed over to the circle to complete their part of the ritual.  George and Adeline slipped off to spend the rest of their time together.  Sabrina and I were left to our own devices by the dying bonfire.

I stood behind her with my arms around her, hands up under her top and resting on the warm skin of her belly, fingertips just below the waistband of her skirt.  “You know, it probably will never be that good again.”

“Well, if you’re trying to talk me into one more little piece, forget it.  I’m done, mister.”  She moved one of my hands up until I was cupping her breast—her bra was safely in the backpack so she couldn’t be accused of littering—and pushed the other one down until I was just grazing the edge of her pubic hair.  “We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow and then do some investigation.”

“Almost as good would still be pretty amazing.”

Sabrina answered that by turning her head far enough to kiss me.  And then one thing led to another and what with the residual effects of the Beltane Punch I probably could have talked her into one more little piece if I’d had any interest.  Except that by then the Seven had finished their ritual and it was time to go.