THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXII: Nimue
Within six months after the battle at Mount Baden, the Saxons signed a pact agreeing to stay within the old treaty boundaries and stop attacking the Britons. They were actually pretty good allies. Fiercely protective of what lands they had left, they had no sympathy—or mercy—for any newcomer hoping to establish a foothold in Britain.
And thus the peoples of Britain, Celt and Saxon alike, experienced the first real peace they’d known since the Romans left. The countryside exploded with new fields that would survive to be harvested instead of burned by some invader, a brand new expectation for most people. Arthur divided his time between his new wife Guinevere—they’d been married for five years but he’d spent so little time at home she’d not gotten pregnant yet—and establishing the legal basis for a new kind of kingdom. A kingdom in the mold of Merlin’s ideal where everyone, noble and peasant alike, obeyed the laws. Even the king, if you can believe it.
Merlin spent a few weeks in court every year, but there wasn’t much there to hold his interest. So we spent our time instead wandering throughout the countryside, working to restore the strength and standing of the old religion that had been beaten down pretty badly by the Christian Romans.
The last true stronghold was the Isle of Avalon. There a sisterhood of priestesses, ruled by the Lady of the Lake, had existed for hundreds of years before the coming of the Romans. New initiates were brought up in the mysteries of the faith, and the priestesses kept the flames of the old religion alive by officiating at the old rituals and holy days for any who wished to attend. Everyone who lived on the island itself—servant, farmer, soldier, or priestess—was a woman dedicated to the goddess.
Merlin, who hadn’t been to Avalon for more than a quarter century, deemed it long past time to pay a visit to that sacred shrine. And there he found something that he’d never before experienced in his life, something totally unexpected.
* * *
The first time Merlin saw the priestess Nimue, his magnificent brain stopped. Just quit working. And then up from the silence bubbled those old familiar crazed signals of human male love and lust that I hadn’t experienced since Jesus died.
“Merlin! What’s wrong?”
“It’s her! Oh my goddess. She’s haunted hundreds of my dreams, and I’ve never even known if she was real or just an avatar.”
The ‘her’ that he was babbling like a teenager about was an older woman, one of the high priestesses. Golden ringlets cascaded over her shoulders, unlike the closely cropped hair of most of the priestesses, framing the blue crescent of the goddess on her forehead. She was no Layla either, but the aura of serene dignity that encompassed her made her stand apart from the younger women around her.
And then she saw Merlin. Dropping the bundle she was carrying, her hands flew to her mouth as she took one step toward us and stared.
“It is you. You have come, as She foretold.”
“Uh, gosh lady, you’re awful pretty.”
At least that’s what the greatest mind I’ve ever known attempted to say. Fortunately, I was alert and on the job.
“Too old for maiden, too young for crone, not yet mother. The goddess of my dreams exists between times.” Maybe a little stilted, but he hadn’t given me much to work with. At least she wasn’t the goddess of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“Not yet mother because I was waiting for you.” She floated toward him, then reached up and touched his cheek. “Patiently, but less so every day. And now you are here.”
* * *
The Grail confessed to being a tad jealous at first. After all, she’d had Merlin’s most intimate thoughts to herself for more than two decades. But once she realized how happy he was, she’d reverted to the comfortable role of mother-in-law. Fussing over the love-birds, encouraging them to eat more, asking them when they were going to give her a grandchild.
“Nine months after Beltane,” Nimue answered when Merlin relayed that question to her. “The high priestesses of the goddess can only have relations with men during Beltane.”
According to the Grail, Merlin didn’t mind waiting, even though it was then only July (I have some doubts about that myself, but I’ll accept her account as accurate). He confided to her that he hadn’t lain with a woman for three-quarters of a century and was a wee bit nervous about the whole thing.
“Suppose I can’t do it anymore? I’ve more than a hundred winters, you know. That’s pretty old, even for a master druid.”
“Just relax. Nimue’s a high priestess. She’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Hope you’re right. It would be a pretty long wait for nothing otherwise.”
So the love-struck couple spoke lovely sentiments in fancy words and restrained embraces while waiting for Beltane to roll around. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, a storm that had been brewing in the North was heading our way.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXII: OUTTAKES
The Grail wanted to give me every painstaking detail about the love talk between Merlin and Nimue; it was all I could do to keep her on topic.
“Okay, I get it. Particularly since I’ve recently happened to experience a taste of that ‘magic of love’ business myself. I’m not all that comfortable with you inside my head sharing all the intimate details. So spare me the blow-by-blow account and give them a little privacy.”
You’re only saying that because you’re a man.
Wasn’t it you who were advocating just such privacy a few weeks ago?
And your point would be?
I couldn’t come up with a point.
I’ll bet Annie would like to hear. Maybe I’ll tell her all about Merlin and Nimue’s great love the next time we have a little chat.
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be delighted to find out how stumble-tongue her own boyfriend is by comparison. Particularly since she’s banned me from using you to improve my eloquence.”
She’s banned you from using me to talk her into anything—or more accurately, out of anything. That’s not the same.
“That’s irrelevant. Ultimately, compared with the combo of you and Merlin, I’m an oratory tyro.”
Believe me, Bradley. Annie doesn’t care a bit about that.
* * *
The ‘her’ that he was babbling like a teenager about was an older woman, one of the high priestesses.”Too old for maiden, too young for crone, not yet mother.”
“So how old are we talking about here?”
Mid thirties, maybe?
“Wow, a regular antique.”
Women in their mid-thirties looked pretty old in those days, particularly compared to now. Remember, most women got married at fourteen or fifteen and had a child every year or two until they just wore out. But women skilled in the arts of necromancy retained their youth better than most, and they could control their own fertility. You’ll meet a couple more of them very soon.
* * *
The Grail confessed to being a tad jealous at first. After all, she’d had Merlin’s most intimate thoughts essentially to herself for more than two decades. But once she realized how happy he was, she’d reverted to the comfortable role of mother-in-law.
Not to mention that I couldn’t give the poor man everything he needed. Since, in the final analysis, I’m made of metal instead of soft, warm, lubricated flesh. But wait ‘til next life!