Much of the next—actually, I wasn’t sure. Couple of days? A fortnight?—were a blur. Moments of vivid clarity, but they didn’t seem to necessarily follow each other in rational order.
Morgan was right about one thing: I knew absolutely nothing about a woman’s pleasure. Sex is all about the guy, right? You find a willing woman, stick it in, thrust a few times while she makes appreciative noises, enjoy your explosive ending, and fall asleep. When you’re young you wake up wondering if you have enough coins to do it again; as you get older, you’re more likely to be planning an exit strategy. It’s more fun if she seems to like it, but really, does it matter all that much?
As it turns out, women have explosive endings too. Who knew? Except theirs aren’t necessarily endings, more like peaks. Under the right conditions, they can ride those peaks for what seems like a very long time, at least compared to a man. According to Morgan’s principles, it was up to the man to engender the right conditions. But getting it right takes a lot of practice.
We practiced a lot. I began to understand Galahaut’s dark circles and bloodshot eyes. Plus he’s at least a decade younger than I am.
Another thing I’d never had occasion to think about before. A woman’s nether regions have a distinctive, intoxicating smell—and taste—unlike anything I’d ever encoun-tered. A light, delicious musk that grows more intense with use. I found myself furtively passing my fingers beneath my nose to get another little jolt of olfactory pleasure. But I mean, who would even think to try such a thing? It’s like the first person who ate an oyster. Somebody had to look at that slimy mess in its misshapen shell and think, “Hmm. Wonder if that’s good to eat.” It’s all very strange.
The sun was well up the first morning—or at least, the first morning I can remember—when a light tapping on the door awakened me. Morgan was sprawled across most of the bed, looking, I was happy to note, well used. I examined her face closely, and under those perfect conditions, I could see some very vague signs of aging. The tiniest of crows’ feet lightly touching the surface of her skin. But nothing that would indicate her true age. I eased the covers down—she made a mild moan of protest but didn’t stir—and inspected the rest of her body. No sagging, no stretch marks, no pockets of that little crinkly fatty skin that older women collect and hate (but which really isn’t all that bad). Morgan le Fay, no matter who or what or how old she really was, had a perfect body.
Maybe it was all the exercise she gave it?
Someone—Geoffrey, I suppose—had left a tray outside the door. Eggs, a thick slab of ham, bread with jam, water scented with mint.
“Goddamn you all, each and every one of you miserable bastards rumored to be omnipotent. I hope you join Sisyphus, forever rolling that big-ass rock up the hill for all eternity, and the only thing you get to drink in the morning is Harpy piss.”
My rant woke Morgan. Well, it didn’t seem wise to let her sleep too long. She’d already shown a stamina far in excess of mine; no reason to let her rest up for the next time. I was sure there’d be a next time.
“For a man who’s been treated to the best sex in the British Isles, you sure bitch a lot. Whatever are you ranting about?”
“Kaffka. For someone powerful enough to stop the course of aging, enchant knights to perform at your beck and call, erect wards to keep intruders away, and whatever else you can accomplish with some strange words and a few arcane ingredients, it seems that here at least a man would be able to get a good cup of kaffka. Of course, then you’d never get rid of me, except that you probably have a spell for that too.”
Yeah, I’d figured out what Morgan had done to me. Not that knowing and being able to do anything about it were the same thing. And I knew that I should be pissed off about it, but I couldn’t even manage that. I could control my body, but my will was completely at the command of another. And my feelings too, it seemed. I couldn’t even get pissed off about not being pissed off. Strangest thing I’ve ever experienced.
“What in the world is kaffka?”
So I described it to her, in loving detail. The unmitigated pleasure of that first whiff of the fresh grounds, the unmatched taste, the immediate clarity of thought that followed one simple cup.
“Ah. It seems that my life will have meaning and purpose after all. Things were looking bleak after Arthur gave my kingdom away. The perfect quest. Want to come along? So much more significant than looking for a cup supposedly handled by some dead god a few hundred years ago. You say Merlin brought it from the Middle East?”
“That’s what he said. I never caught him in a lie all those years, although much of what he said I didn’t understand.”
Morgan sighed. “I wish I had gotten to spend more time with him. He was a truly amazing man. I only met him once, when he was very near the end. He was on Avalon when I went there to give birth to my son. Before I met him, I was convinced the legends were much bigger than the man, but nothing could have been further from the truth. We spent part of three weeks together, with me soaking in everything he was willing to share.” She laughed. “That’s not all that easy to do when you’re swollen up like a leviathan and ready to pop. Not to mention waddling to the privy every few minutes. But Yvain held out just long enough for us to have that much time together.”
Her words brought back a lot of sorrow. I’d spent seven years with Merlin, much more than Morgan had gotten, but it still hadn’t been nearly enough. He was the only person who’d ever genuinely appreciated my mind. Oh, Arthur was willing to put my skills to good use. But the joy of understanding the intricacies of a universe best described in mathematical terms—that only Merlin and I shared. My father would have been far happier if I’d been a better swordsman.
Maybe Elaine understands mathematics.
Mary and Leda and all the other human mothers of gods, I haven’t thought of Elaine since I saw her in the bowl. Oops, she doesn’t like me to swear. Guess I’m going to have to reform.
Before I could ponder what that might look like, another off the wall through intruded. Maybe Morgan understands mathematics.
I started to make up some problem about a knight riding forth from Camelot at three miles an hour, but thought better of it. Instead I changed the subject.
“Did Nimue really steal all his knowledge and trap him inside the earth?”
Morgan erupted. “Why is it that all rumors about powerful women are so vicious?” she spat out. “You men hold all the fucking power. Isn’t that enough without putting us down at every opportunity?”
I held up both hands to indicate surrender. I hadn’t done anything, except maybe I had. I’d heard the stories and halfway believed them without finding out for sure.
Morgan needed no encouragement to continue. “Merlin was dying, and none of us could cure him. Nimue loved him so much she broke her own vows and slept with him when it wasn’t even Beltane so she could bear his child. And then she and Vivian placed him in a suspended state so that he wouldn’t die until somebody comes up with a cure.”
I was stunned. “You mean he’s not really dead?”
“Well, he’s not technically dead, but you can’t tell the difference just by looking. We probably should eat those eggs before they get cold.”
I suppose the best thing you could say about breakfast is that it was much better than I’d had since we got to Maleagans’ place. The eggs were a little runny but edible; the ham unartfully sliced so it was difficult to cut; the bread was missing that crusty chewiness that separates the perfect loaf from just another meal. Morgan caught me looking slightly down my nose and made the connection about the same time I did.
“I’ll bet you can do a lot better than this, being Artie’s seneschal.”
I merely shrugged.
“Well, tomorrow morning is a long ways off. For now, back to your lessons.”
Another time I was lying on my back, head propped up on pillows, totally spent, concentrating on staying awake because Morgan had lectured me sternly on what constituted proper manners after I was finished. She was kneeling on top of me, holding me inside her and occasionally giving me a little squeeze with muscles I didn’t know a woman had. Putting me in a perfect position to examine her breasts. Some men like them big and floppy, but I confess I’ve never seen the attraction. Morgan’s were a perfect fit for my cupped hand, with just a hint of a downward curve on the underneath side. Her nipples were more pink than brown, and if they were ever not pebble hard, well, I hadn’t seen it. Not a trace of a droop, a wrinkle, or a hair.
I caressed them with my thumbs, to which she purred her appreciation.
“So, Morgan, how come you don’t get old like everybody else? Don’t give me the technical stuff, just the layman’s explanation.”
“They are nice, aren’t they?” She pinched her own nipples, turning them rosy. “Magic that deals with life forces is called necromancy. I’m the best in all of Britain. Maybe even in the world, although there are probably some pretty good ones in the east I don’t know about. A necromancer can’t stop the flow of time altogether, but you can certainly slow it down. Particularly your own body’s flow of time.”
I switched to the back of my hands, drawing my nails away from her nipples and down the sides of her breasts. “So how long will you live? A thousand years?”
Morgan chuckled. “Unfortunately, not that long. But there’s something else at play here. I spent seventeen years of my life in Faerie. Singing, studying magic, and not getting any older. So my body is almost two decades younger than my birth age. I was pretty horny by the time Vivian rescued me; climbing the walls by the time she finally let me go. Four years in a nunnery, seventeen in Faerie, four more on Avalon—all without so much as a kiss. Maybe that’s why I keep trying to make up for lost time.”
She had a seemingly endless ability to shock me. “You were in Faerie? What was that like?”
“Well, Kay. Perhaps we can discuss it another time. For now, I think you need to practice that long-stroke-and-flick maneuver with your tongue some more.”
Yet another memory—it was late evening, but I’m not sure of the day—was of massaging her back. Apparently I’d gotten much better with practice, since she hadn’t felt the need to correct me even once. The oil I was using smelled fresh and clean, and yet underlying that was a musk that kept my passions lightly on edge.
“So, Morgan. What is this place? Why am I here, along with Galahaut and who knows who else?” I dribbled some oil on her splendid buttocks and began to work it in, kneading with circular strokes.
“Why, this is my valley of no return.” Morgan’s voice was husky, as if she were on the edge of sleep. If she fell asleep, I could just walk out except of course I couldn’t. I would continue massaging her until I was done, and then lie down beside her until she awoke and gave me new instructions. “Arthur summoned me to present my son at court, and then stole my kingdom when I got here. Appointed a regent to look after affairs until Ywain came of age. Thanked me, but said a woman couldn’t really be trusted with such an important region.” Morgan’s voice dripped with scorn. And bitterness. “Oh, I’m sure Guinevere’s hand was involved in that little mischief. She’s hated me since we first met. The bitch. Married to the high king and still jealous of my little kingdom and the fact that somebody else besides her can be beautiful. But my people love me, and more than that, they need me!” Morgan’s muscles tensed up as she was speaking. I rubbed some more oil between my palms and went back to work on her neck and shoulders.
“So this is vengeance on Arthur?”
It was a while before she answered, although I knew she wasn’t asleep because her breathing hadn’t changed.
“Perhaps. Or my own amusement. Or maybe just having a safe place of my own. Perhaps all of those. I’d much rather be thinking about the welfare of my subjects than my own pleasures, but it’s better than being bored.”
“And will I be here forever?”
“No, of course not. That would be evil, don’t you think? As more knights trickle in, I’ll release the ones who have been my guests for the longest.”
“Aren’t you concerned that we’ll inform Arthur?”
“Your memories won’t be perfectly intact when you leave. Oh, I won’t wipe your mind clean. What a waste it would be to have to teach you everything all over again, when you’re getting to be so proficient. Not to mention that you’d never get a chance to show off what you’ve learned to my sister. But you’ll remember it as a nice little stay as a treasured guest.”
Elaine! I tried to cling to her in my mind but she slipped away as I began working on Morgan’s legs, lingering over the soft skin on her inner thighs, taking an occasional opportunity to brush against the folds that peeked out from beneath her pubic tangle.
“Oh, that’s good Kay. You are so much cleverer than Galahaut. Maybe I’ll keep you after all. No, that wouldn’t be fair. Maybe you’ll come back to visit me again on your own. In the meanwhile, slide one of those pillows under my hips. That should adjust your angle nicely.”
I think of myself as a creative man, but that hadn’t even occurred to me. It was going to take a long time for Morgan to teach me everything she knew if I didn’t start making some leaps on my own. On the other hand, as she’d promised, it wasn’t really unpleasant duty.