THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXIV: The Death of Merlin
Drysi would have been banished from Avalon except that she had persistent blurry vision, which she might have been faking, and a fractured left wrist that she definitely wasn’t. Vivian wasn’t cruel enough to send her packing under those circumstances. Nimue almost left over it, but in the end agreed to honor her vows if Drysi was kept under guard and away from Merlin and her. Nimue had given much better than she’d received in the fight—she was sporting a nice shiner and some deep scratches, but nothing disabling—so I doubt Drysi took much persuasion.
Merlin was as good as new in a couple of days. Not sure how they countered the effects of the love potion, and whether it was Merlin or the priestesses who did it, but he showed no lingering attraction to Drysi. Just disgust at his own performance—and/or his lack of performance—and chagrin that he had to wait an entire year for another chance.
But he wasn’t as good as new. He hadn’t told anybody yet, not even The Grail—I guess he was a typical guy in that respect—but he knew something was clearly wrong.
Nimue finally noticed that something was amiss when Merlin more or less stopped eating. The high priestesses all wanted to try healing him, but basically he wouldn’t allow it. Said that when a sorcerer died, it was Creation telling him it was time to go. Probably cancer, but out in the barbaric fringes of civilization, cancer was barely known, much less understood. Dyscracia, they called it.
I was devastated. With Jesus, there had been no hint of his death coming, and I’d had to mourn after the fact. But with Merlin, the knowledge of his death was a constant presence. My only remotely-similar experience had been Layla, and it’s hard to be sad for someone who basically screws themselves to death. And since Merlin was unlikely to last until Beltane, he wouldn’t even get that bit of comfort.
Nimue spent a lot of hours at the stone circle; while she was gone, Merlin would often sit with me in his hands, saying little but just letting me be there in the warm coziness of his mind. When Nimue was home, they spent a lot of time talking and a lot more just holding each other while I stood guard.
“I’m going to tell her about you, old friend,” he told me one evening. “And then I’m going to give you to her.” If I had eyes, I would have wept huge tears at that pronouncement.
When Nimue came home, Merlin said he had a surprise for her. He then proceeded to tell her about me, even going so far as to let her hold me. Her mind was as different from his as you could imagine. Like a lush meadow with a single ancient oak in the middle with a pool beneath its spreading branches, calm and peaceful above all else. The voice in her mind was low and melodic.
Then she put me down beside the bed. “I have a surprise for you too, my love. I’m going to have your daughter.”
Merlin laughed. “If you know some trick that will keep me alive until Beltane, you’re even more remarkable than I suspected.”
“We’re not waiting until Beltane. I’m fertile right now.”
“But your vows, my love.”
“Fuck my vows.”
Nimue reached over and stroked me gently before draping a cloth over me.
* * *
After that, Merlin seemed to recover a little. His appetite returned, and the three of us began to take short walks in the forest, letting him savor the wonders of the virgin groves he loved best.
About that time we had another visitor to Avalon: Morgan le Fay. Her husband, King Uriens of Gore, had recently died, but she didn’t seem all that upset about it. Very pregnant, she’d come to Avalon to have her child.
Morgan had lived for four years on the island a few years before, studying under Vivian. She called herself a witch—I assumed that meant she had some of the same powers but hadn’t taken vows like the others had. But whatever the case, when those three women—Vivian, Nimue, and Morgan—were together, they radiated raw power. Like the sizzle and smell of electricity in a lightning storm. It was unlike anything I’d seen since Atlantis.
Morgan spent long hours talking with Merlin—as many hours as Nimue was willing to share him. Occasionally she joined our walks, although she was very sensitive to and respectful of Merlin and Nimue’s time alone. I liked her a lot, what little I got to know of her. In addition to everything else, she was stunningly beautiful. Before she’d come to Avalon she’d spent seventeen years on Fairie, so although she was in her forties, you would never had guessed she was past twenty. Made my mother’s instinct just bubble over.
* * *
As April turned the earth warm and fecund, Merlin began to fade again, more quickly this time. Holding onto his sense of humor until the end, he joked that since he’d help break Nimue’s vows, the goddess wasn’t going to allow him to live until Beltane. At least she hadn’t taken it out on their daughter. Nimue wasn’t showing yet, but had no doubts that she was with child.
I hesitate to even write this section, since it is so nebulous. As Merlin lay on his deathbed, The Grail watched Nimue, Morgan, and Vivian participate in a long, occasionally-heated discussion about whether to let Merlin die or not. She specifically used the word ‘technical,’ and indicated that she hadn’t understood a lot of what they were talking about.
What she did know was that the next day, after giving her some time with Merlin to say goodbye, the women participated in a long, complex, and demanding ritual. When they were done, all three were staggering on their feet and Merlin wasn’t breathing any more. When Nimue took The Grail to put her away, she’d asked, Is he dead? Nimue had shrugged and answered, Sort of.
* * *
I asked Nimue if I could stay with him for a while. She was gracious and accommodating, leaving me alone in the chamber with seven candles spaced around the body.
The candles had almost burned out when Drysi slipped into the room. “Well, you managed to get away from me, you bastard,” she muttered, staring down into his motionless face. She pinched his cheek, and when there was no response, slapped him. Then she shed a few tears before gently kissing his lips.
As she turned to leave she noticed me standing there among the candles. “Ah, Merlin’s special cup. There’s something secret about you, isn’t there? Why don’t you just come with me?”
Then she scooped me up, dropped me in a sack, and fled into the night.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXIV: OUTTAKES
After mating with Nimue, Merlin seemed to recover a little. His appetite returned, and the three of us began to take short walks in the forest.
“Good sex, the secret of longevity. If Merlin hadn’t gone without for seventy-five years, he’d probably still be alive.”
Speaking of which, you’re doing nothing to promote your own longevity.
“Well, I seem to be in between at the moment. So you’ll help me seduce Annie after all? Strictly for the good of my own health?”
I never even remotely implied that.
“Wait, you can’t take both sides of the same argument.”
Of course I can. I’m a woman.
* * *
I liked Morgan a lot, what little I got to know of her. She made my mother’s instinct just bubble over.
“You know, of course, that she’s the villain of the King Arthur stories?”
I don’t actually know much about them. We’ll have to read them sometimes. But if she’s the villainess, they’ve taken wild liberties with the facts.
“You think you knew her that well, as little time as you spent together?”
Some people you trust instinctively from the very beginning. You, for example.
“Wow. So you’re saying I’m as trustworthy as Morgan le Fay?”
Take it any way you want to, dear.