Morgan was pretty thoroughly disgusted when I told her what I suspected about the Holy Grail. “I guess I’m not surprised that people were fooled. Knights are not known for their intellect—present company excepted, of course. But sweet Gaia! Wishes and fairy tales. You can’t build a better world on wishes and fairy tales. Have they all regressed back to childhood?”
“As far as I can tell, only Arthur and I saw through the plot.”
“The only two men alive raised by Merlin to question and use critical judgment. Unfortunately.”
“I thought exactly the same thing. Merlin, where are you? We need you now.” As I said it, I realized that I meant it in more ways than one.
The circumstances were very similar to when I’d been here before. The only significant difference is that I was possessed of my own will. And although she’d brought the brazier, she wasn’t feeding it with any thaumaturgic lumps. That plus we were both wearing all our clothes. So far.
“Kay, I fear this new religion. All new religions bring misguided fervor, an utter conviction that everyone else is wrong, and often a willingness to kill for whatever new god they worship. After awhile the new converts settle down and become tolerable. But this one seems different somehow. Better organized. More hateful in the name of love. A more vicious vision of hell for those who hear but don’t obey.”
“I have a friend who is both a Christian priest and a very good, very wise man. But the system does seem fertile for the abuse of power.”
“So, what do you want me to do about it?”
When I told her, she was amazed and amused at the same time. “Kay, you sly devil! What a devious plan. I never suspected you of possessing that sort of mind. Frankly, from your last visit, I took you for more the honest, straightforward sort. This seems more worthy of me than of you.” She cackled, with an edge of—what, evil?—to her laughter. “Well, centuries from now, they’ll probably tell tales about how this was all my doing.”
“If we succeed. Otherwise, Arthur’s reign will merely be a forgotten footnote to the history of the Christianization of the British isles.”
“I’ll admit, that part causes me some hesitation. I would seem to be helping Arthur, something I’ve sworn by all I hold sacred never to do. But, in this case, hurting him would be hurting myself as well. So, OK. I’ll do it. Assuming you’re prepared to pay the price.”
I’d suspected what was coming, but feigned ignorance rather than assume. “The price, your Majesty?”
Morgan began to unfasten her gown which, unlike the last one I’d experienced firsthand, was laced in front. “Yes, the price, you overgrown puppy. There always has to be a price. Otherwise, I’d be performing an act for the betterment of mankind pro bono. Think of my reputation!”
“Morgan le Fey risking being thought of as a good witch? Oh, the horror.” I began to remove my tunic, then stopped.
“Does it bother you at all that I’m in love with your sister?”
Morgan had worked one arm free of her dress; one mostly bare perfect shoulder held up the strap of a translucent white shift that strained to constrain one taut breast tipped by one rock hard nipple.
“Let me think. You’ve asked me to work against my own vow to save Arthur’s realm and reputation. The same Arthur who stole my kingdom for no better reason than his jealous wife asked him to. And I’ve agreed, for the laughably low price of one evening of the best sex you’ve ever had.”
She worked her other arm free and wriggled the dress down over her hips, letting it fall to the floor. “Ah, but I should feel guilty for betraying my own sister. Who might possibly be in love with a man she’s spent an hour alone with. One hour! Is she still as besotted as you seem to be? Was she ever? How is one to know such things?”
Picking up the dress, she laid it gently across a chair.
“Strangely enough, I do. A little. Not enough to deny myself your pleasure. But it’s definitely here.” She touched her heart and struck a pose, then laughed. “Bah. Fortunately, I’m a very strong woman who can control such useless feelings.”
She grasped the bottom hem of her shift and raised it past her waist, revealing a glimpse of the perfection of the world’s finest fifty-year-old body, before shaking her head and letting it fall again.
“What? Should I consider a compromise? Morgan! You fool. You are becoming mentally feeble.”
Morgan padded over to a far table, took up her silver basin, and brought it to where we’d been sitting. Adding lumps to the brazier, blowing on it until it blazed. Speaking words low under her breath. That familiar smell assaulting my nostrils.
This was her compromise? Enchant me so I wouldn’t have to betray my love of my own volition? Well, I guess that was something. At least, if last time was any indication, I wouldn’t suffer intrusive thoughts of Elaine at grossly inappropriate times.
Suck it up, Kay. It’s for a good cause. You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it.
Meanwhile, Morgan was still working away over her bowl and her brazier, droning away as she did. So I consoled myself with a new line of thought: imagining the discomfort of Father Ignatius. The destruction of his carefully wrought plan. The look on his face as I denounced that hateful little man as a power-hungry fanatic and unmasked him as a fraud. And by extension, casting one small vote for the Father Gascons of the world.
“Come, Kay. Come and look.”
And there in the bowl was Elaine. In her own chamber, standing beside her bed. Wearing a long white nightgown that revealed nothing below her slender neck that I longed to kiss, unimposing though it might be beside Morgan’s perfection. Her hair was down and freshly brushed, and her eyes glowed in the candlelight.
“I must have a soft spot for you the size of a melon, Kay.” Morgan’s voice from over my shoulder was scarce louder than a whisper. “Why else would I do this? Well, enjoy your evening.”
Morgan spoke five harsh words, clapped her hands three times, and then one final word. A flash and a clap of sound crashed into my senses. The image in the basin disappeared as the water roiled and slopped over the lip and onto the table.
I turned toward Morgan, except it wasn’t Morgan. Instead, Elaine stood there in front of me with a slightly confused expression as she saw me. “Kay?”
“Oh, Kay. You’ve come.”
Didn’t sound quite as elegant as I would have expected Elaine to be. But I attributed it to surprise and confusion. My first thought was no better, not to mention totally inappropriate: No, not yet I haven’t. But before thought could become words Elaine’s lips were on mine, ending the conversation and saving irreparable damage to my reputation for suave oration.