In case you missed in during all the news about who’s fighting who and who’s suing who, Avalon, S.C. was released on August 6th. Available for immediate download from Amazon to your device. And I know–you’ve already read it while I was posting chapters. But reading it like a regular book is a whole different experience. So in case you haven’t done so already, here is the link to buy.
Cover art for my third book has been quite a journey. But I have the finals now, which I’ll share with you after a little of the story.
Today’s post will be an update of the things going on in the writing world of Rusty Rhoad. As Jerry Lee Lewis would say, “There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
FIRST: The Adventures of Sir Kay. I will begin posting chapters TOMORROW, and continue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays until it’s done. The critical read and notes for rewrite are completed, as is the rewrite of Chapter 1. Tell all your friends.
Sir Kay will also be getting a real title soon. I think he’s due, don’t you? After bumbling along all these months on a makeshift title. My latest candidate (not the final choice, just my favorite so far) is: Kaffka, the almost-Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.
*** IF YOU HAVE READ STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, please post a review on Amazon shortly after it is released. Early reviews are important in how a book a touted, listed, etc.
I’ve ordered new business cards with both novels on them. Got word today they’ve shipped, so I should have them in time to hand out at the party this time. Party, crap. Add that to the list of things to do. Hey, if you get a book published, you should have a party. No excuses.
THIRD: I have made a decision that my next project will be to rework/update Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail. That novel has been sitting around far too long. I will be starting the critical read (the latest critical read–there have already been a half dozen) as soon as I press the “Publish” button for this blog.
FOURTH: Avalon, South Carolina (that is the final title, although the “South Carolina” will be in a smaller font) will be released this summer. Rick, Sabrina, and Chai are ready for their 15 minutes of fame.
FIFTH: Return from Avalon (and Points West) should be coming out in paperback within the next month. That means I can sign copies, make guest appearances, and all that stuff.
As part of the promotion package for Strange Bedfellows, Return from Avalon (and Points West) will be offered for free for 3 days next month. I’ll let you know, although all of you should already have a copy.
SIXTH: The combination of all those things means I’m going to have to get my web page up and running. I’ve have rustyrhoad.com reserved for more than a year now, but didn’t think it would add anything of value until I had two books out. So that moves way up the priority list.
SEVENTH: I have finally accepted the fact that I’m going to have to have a presence on Twitter (pardon me while I go get some water; I just threw up in my mouth a little bit). I still don’t get it. But I had some working sessions on building a web presence with somebody who knew a whole lot more about it than I do and, yes, Twitter is the next step.
I’m going to try to get by on 5 hours a week on social media, but frankly, I’m not optimistic.
So there’s a lot going on. But writing is still my first priority (if you’re a writer, it damn well better be).
See you with Sir Kay, installment one tomorrow.
For your entertainment, here’s a video of Jerry Lee Lewis at age 22 (1957), perfoming Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Last year this time–Thursday, November 1st, 2012–you were waking up a little queasy from a night of excess. Halloween always involves some excess. Taking the kids Trickertreating, sampling their candy, maybe just another little taste. Handing more out every time the doorbell rings, a little extra when the 5-year-old neighbor girl shows up as the most adorable zombie princess ever, and oh why not, I read somewhere that Halloween candy straight out of the bowl has fewer calories. Somebody threw a party–did you know that we spend more on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas?–and although it was the middle of the freaking week, you had an idea for this really cute costume and so you went and there was fuming punch that had quite a kick.
You stumbled into the kitchen a year ago this morning for a cup of strong coffee, along with a little hair of the dog (2 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).
How much difference a year can make.
Today is still the day after Halloween, but that’s not nearly as important as it being the day after Samhain. Last night, somewhere off the coast of South Carolina between Beaufort and Charleston, there was an misty island with a fire burning that shouldn’t have been there.
If you’d been in a boat nearby, you could have seen the fire because, on Samhain (not to mention Beltane), the boundaries between our world and the Otherworld are weak. On Samhain, druids used to summon spirits and other creatures from the Otherworld into ours to do their bidding. One thing for certain: you didn’t wander around with a carved gourd or a turnip.
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?
- The 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 and 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).
Which 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.
“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.
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.
George’s description of Beltane as basically an orgy with religious overtones was—typical of George—understated. Comparing Beltane with Easter, Christianity’s most sacred holiday, it’s hard to see how the new religion ever replaced the old. I mean, which would you rather do: get up at sunrise to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and watch your kids hunt colored eggs, or cast all inhibitions aside with some of the priestesses’ special brew, dance with abandon, pick a partner other than your spouse, and slip off into the woods for some church-sanctioned adultery? And then come back to the fire and do it all over again.
The only children present were Nimue’s two daughters, and they left before the festivities got going good. George’s speculation that Nimue had brought her daughter eight years earlier to discourage lustful behavior was totally in error: she was in attendance because she had already been marked by the goddess as the next Lady of the Lake. Niniane at ten was poised and serious, as befitted her lofty station in life. She curiously looked a lot like Adeline although they shared no genes—undoubtedly because her father Merlin so closely resembled Adeline’s father.
Nyla, a six-year-old spitting image of her older sister, wanted nothing to do with the strangers that had invaded her little world from who knows where. Or perhaps the concept of “sister” the same age as “mother” was too confusing. Only when Niniane gently led her over would she consent to meet her half-sister, and even then kept a safe distance. Well, there would be other visits, and her shyness was probably just a phase. Bribery couldn’t hurt either. A doll, picture books, plastic hair clips with flowers and ladybugs on them—something would be sure to delight her and begin to win her over.
Beltane Punch was decidedly different. On Imbolc, its chief characteristic had been to induce visions. Or at least that’s what I speculated about the hallucinogenic qualities. Beltane’s version had some of that but, more than anything else, it enflamed the passions while destroying the inhibitions. Couples moved off into the forest to satisfy the gods and themselves, but they didn’t necessarily go very far, and stumbling over a two-backed beast in the undergrowth—or being stumbled over—didn’t deter anyone’s quest for carnal self-actualization.
My own Beltane experience didn’t quite parallel that of the villagers. There were more than twice as many here as had attended Imbolc. The throb of the drums, heard for the first time in its sensual intensity, was undeniable. As dancers began to pair up, the dance became both more frenzied and more sensual. Couples disappeared, only to stagger back into the circle of the firelight five or fifteen minutes later, leaves in their hair and clothing awry, to begin the cycle again. Nimue contributed to the unreal sense of barbarity by voicing an atonal chant featuring long, held notes in loud, clear tones that rose and fell with the drums. One of the men began dancing with Adeline, and soon they disappeared. Hmm.
And then Sabrina sashayed her way over to where I was sort of swaying along in my urban white boy version of dancing, caught up in my fascination of observing people behaving in a manner I’d never before imagined. “OK, Rick Whittaker. Are you planning on fucking me tonight, or were you thinking about waiting until next year? Because the competition is looking better by the minute, and I’m about thirty seconds from heading off into the forest with one of them.”
“Oh, I dunno. Tonight sounds pretty good to me.”
Despite our growing urgency I took time to grab my pack, which had a blanket. Good thing, because I ended up on my back with Sabrina devouring my lips and nipping at my neck. Holding me down with one hand, she peeled off her top in one smooth motion with the other. Then she unhooked her bra with that most deliciously feminine of movements, flinging it to the side. Her body shone like ivory in the moonlight as she rubbed her fingers over her breasts, pinching her own nipples, head thrown back to the heavens.
“Don’t go anywhere,” she growled. Then she slid down my legs, pulled off my shoes without unlacing them, tugged my jeans and briefs off. She had a little trouble getting them over my erection, which felt about as long as my forearm and hard enough to drive nails with.
“I brought condoms,” I managed to choke out.
“You can’t use condoms on Beltane. The old gods would smite you impotent for the rest of your life at such a sacrilege.”
Sabrina hiked up her long skirt and settled herself down on top of me, sliding along my hardness. She was so wet, and her movements so slow, that there was barely any friction. She positioned herself for womankind’s ultimate down stroke, and then hovered there, motionless. Head thrown back again, eyes closed, chords showing on the sides of her neck, sucking in deep breaths and holding them before releasing each one with a loud sigh. Running the length of her middle fingers back and forth along her nipples, flicking them as the fingertips passed. Hips totally still, suspended in time and space.
Despite my determination not to be the first to give in, a groan escaped my lips.
And then in that sacred motion more ancient than humanity, she took me deeply and savagely into herself.
With two months of foreplay, enhanced by the intoxicants and the dancing and driven by the urgency of Sabrina’s thrusts, it should have been over quickly. But astonishingly, it wasn’t. With a perversity born from who knows where my body decided, Hey! This is cosmic! Don’t stop yet. Sabrina found her own tempo and her own pleasures. Stopping to savor and linger over each orgasm, and then back into the rhythm.
And then she opened her throat wide and out came a long sustained note, just as Nimue had done. Perhaps not quite as unwavering, considering the relentless pounding she was inflicting on herself. But unwavering enough. My soul and my voice rose with hers and we exploded and collapsed with a finality that probably caused a supernova or a black hole out there somewhere.
We lay there in a heap for a long while, gasping. I could feel her heart gradually beginning to slow, as mine was doing.
After a bit, Sabrina kissed my eyelids, tugged at my bottom lip with her teeth, nipped my earlobe. And slowly began the tiniest of movements with her hips.
“So, big boy. You want to wander on back to the fire, get another drink of that home brew, dance a little, and pick out a new partner?”
“Think I’ve got a shot at the golden-haired high priestess? That’d be pretty hard to turn down.”
“If you can only get laid once a year, I don’t imagine you’d be sharing with your guests, no matter how hospitable you were feeling.”
“Well, in that case, I think I’ll just stick with the one I’ve got. Seemed to work out OK the first time.”
“OK?! OK?!!” She nipped me again. “I’ll show you OK.” Her hips increased their movements a little and began to rotate.
“I like what you’re doing a lot. But you’re not controlling the show this time. You’ve had your fun, woman. My turn to be on top.”
“Yes sir. Think we can roll over without disconnecting?”
“Probably. But I’ve got something else in mind.”
The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, finally disappearing altogether. Over on the mainland, if you were outside at this time of day, you’d better have on a liberal application of insect repellant. But mosquitoes were just another of those species of wildlife that didn’t live on Avalon. The thought crossed my mind: I wonder if the island is for sale? How cool would it be to have a home here? Knowing as soon as I thought it that a 21st century McMansion would surely destroy the link between here and wherever.
The wine was gone, as well as the grapes and cheese I’d brought. Sabrina left to walk the wheel. It was getting darker by the minute. Adeline and I sat in a comfortable near silence. JD was silent as well; I guess he took Sabrina’s threat seriously. I sure as hell would have.
Then a tiny flame appeared over where the fire would be, catching a handful of kindling and flaring up. In the sudden light I could see the stacked logs of the laid bonfire where a moment before there had been nothing.
Apparently the lighting of the fire triggered the passageway, for as its illumination grew I could see the seven tending it or bending over the cauldron. And the stones, now catching the light, now dancing in flickering shadows.
The fire grew rapidly, the flames now twice my height. I felt the heat on my face, less welcome than it would have been in February. Confirming what George had written in his journal: on Beltane, we were not to be detached observers.
One of the women noticed us and pointed us out to the others. Nimue stopped supervising the brew and glided over to us. I noted again how gracefully she moved, how totally in harmony with the spirit of the place.
She took both my hands in hers and spoke in a clear, melodic voice in a language so full of consonants that only she could make it pleasant.
“It is good for us to be here.” It sounded pretty lame, but I didn’t figure it mattered all that much what I said. “Thank you for hosting us, Nimue.” She reacted slightly at my use of her name, narrowing her eyes just a touch and staring at me.
Nimue repeated her greeting to Adeline, who responded with a simple, “Thank you.”
Sabrina was coming back from the wheel. With her long skirt and light top, in the firelight she looked a lot like the seven did. I wondered if that had been intentional. I also noted that she had some of the same flowing grace that Nimue did. Could that merely be from years of waiting tables, or had she perhaps taken dance lessons as a girl? Even after the preceding months of investigative chastity, I still had much to learn.
Nimue greeted Sabrina, then slipped her arms around her and hugged her long enough that there had to be something more there than mere womanly friendship. Then they held hands and walked over to where JD was sitting, talking as though they could understand each other.
“Looks like we’re not going to need those writing pads tonight.”
“My God, you’re right. Sometime in the not too distant future, I’m going to be able to ask him right to his face, ‘Why the hell did you run off and leave me.” She must have seen the . . . what, dismay? Disapproval? . . . in my face, because she added, “No, you’re right. What would that gain me? A cheap thrill at best. The kind of daughter who would ask that after all these years is exactly the kind of daughter he should leave.”
“Seems I’m not the only one who’s changed since we first met. Would you like to go walk the wheel while we’re waiting?”
“I’ve only done it that one time at your place. Do you think I’m ready for this? What the hell, let’s do it.”
And so we did. I moved slowly and mindfully, but still finished quite a bit before she did. Afterwards we just stood there in the center, gazing at the altar and the stones standing guard behind it.
We turned and there he was, standing right behind us.
“Addy? Praise the goddess, it is you!” George threw his arms around his daughter.
“Daddy.” With Adeline’s face buried in her father’s neck, it was a little hard to make out her words. “Daddy, I’ve missed you so.” Words much more precious than recriminations.
“I love you, Addy.”
I left them there and walked back to the fire.
Two of the priestesses, as I now assumed the seven to be, were picking through a basket of mushrooms, one sorting them into two piles, the other slicing one of the piles into the cauldron. Aha. ‘Shrooms. There was the little psychoactive culprit, or at least one of them. One of the women offered me a slice, but I took the prudent path for once and declined.
The prep work was completed and the brew bubbling away long before the five of us got back together. Nimue tasted the spoon and nodded before leading us to a spot away from the fire, gesturing for us to sit in a little circle. Adeline and George sat holding hands, making no attempt to hide that they’d both been crying. Whatever else happened tonight, Adeline would be leaving with her catharsis.
Nimue spoke to George, who in turn spoke to us. “Let us introduce ourselves. As you’ve obviously figured out, I’m George Foster, Adeline’s long-lost father. This is my mate Nimue, the present day Lady of the Lake.” Nimue began to speak, pausing between sentences while George translated. “I welcome you to Avalon for the holy feast of Beltane. Here we renew the fertility of the land, the plants, and the creatures that live on it, fly above it, or swim in the seas that surround it. We do not get many visitors from other times.” George changed his voice to indicate that he wasn’t translating and told us that he had been the first in recorded times, and that we were only the second.
I blurted out the question most burning in my mind. “Is this then the Avalon of legend? Does Arthur still reign?”
George didn’t wait for Nimue to answer. “Arthur is indeed the High King of Wales, Cornwall, and the western portions of England as far as the Salisbury plains. But troubled times are upon us, the very same strife that has survived the intervening centuries in stories. There is open warfare between Arthur and his nephew Mordred. Arthur offered Mordred rule over all the lands east of Wales, but he spurned the offer and demanded Guinevere as his queen. She is dead by her own hand, and the land mourns her passing. There is drought and blight; calves are born dead, and the people are hungry.”
He turned to Nimue and spoke to her, probably recapping what he’d told us. They exchanged some words before he turned back to us. “The old gods have demanded the blood of the king to restore the land. But it is a fool’s bargain, for if the king is dead, the land will be torn apart by war.”
Nimue spoke again, and George again translated. “But that is our problem for another time. Perhaps we can appease the gods for a little while longer with our rituals and our sacrifices. You didn’t finish the introductions.”
Adeline spoke. “I am George’s daughter, Adeline Foster. This is Rick Whittaker, the clever young journalist who tracked you down.”
“Ah.” George acknowledged the accomplishment with a bow of his head before translating for Nimue. “You have my deepest appreciation, Mr. Whittaker. Once I discovered that I was indeed alive in a different time and place, I had no way of getting word back to my daughter that I’d arrived safely.”
“You left plenty of clues, although we might have gotten here quicker had you been a little less cryptic. All in all, however, I suppose I didn’t start looking soon enough to get here last Samhain. So we got here as quickly as we could. This woman is Sabrina Jenkins, a dear friend from White Sands, who came out with me on Imbolc.”
George spoke with Nimue, and then turned to us again. “We have only a few more minutes before the villagers start to arrive. I know you have hours’ worth of questions to cram into those few minutes. We will answer whatever we can.”
A few minutes? I could have easily spent the entire month of May asking questions before my curiosity was satisfied. What did I want to know most?
“Is the little girl in the picture Merlin’s daughter? Doesn’t seem to fit with the Nimue from the stories that have survived.”
George spoke briefly with Nimue and they both laughed. “Yes, Merlin was Nimue’s mate before me. The Lady of the Lake must remain chaste except on Beltane, and is free to decide whether or not to conceive from her sacred coupling. Once Nimue discovered that Merlin was dying, probably of cancer from the sounds of it, she chose to bear his daughter, even though the timing required that she stretch her vows to do so. She also attempted to save him by holding his essence is stasis, but even sharing his knowledge, she was not powerful enough to defeat the disease.” George looked a little embarrassed. “Since the Lady of the Lake must stay celibate the rest of the year, this is kind of a big day for us. I know you’ve come a long way to see us, but you’re going to have to give us a little time to ourselves.”
Adeline looked down, and then back at her father with a big smile. “You got it, Daddy.”
I was deciding what to ask next when Adeline spoke back up. “Here’s what I want to know. That passage from your journal, where you saw each other the first time. It was such a life changing experience for both of you. Do you know what happened? Was it magic?”
Nimue and George shared some words and a little laugh. “As you say, I was clearly smitten and my life was never the same afterward. Of course, there’s always magic when love is involved. What else can explain it? As for the Lady of the Lake, it is said that her consorts are summoned by the old gods and paraded for her to choose. But the other explanation is a little more mundane.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “It seems that I happen to look a lot like Merlin.”
The babble of voices moving toward the clearing intruded on our conversation. “Ah, they have arrived. Adeline, come meet your sister.”
Adeline called and said she was running late and would meet us at the boat ramp. Which suited me just fine, since it would put off a lot of questions that I didn’t really want to answer right then.
We fixed JD up with a hood, then tied a rope around his neck and another one between his feet so he could walk taking little baby steps. As soon as I cut the duct tape on his legs, he started kicking.
Sabrina whipped the Taser right up next to his neck and pulled the trigger. When his groaning let us know he’d regained some of his faculties, she got right up next to where his ear was under the hood. “You remember that wallop you gave me last time I saw you? I had a shiner for two weeks, and my face swole up and turned all purple and yellow, and my teeth were so loose and sore I could hardly chew. I got 11 reloads for this puppy, and each reload has three shots. So in case you can’t do the math, I can do that 34 more times. I figure we’ll be about even at that point. So why don’t you keep making a fuss and give me some more excuses. You pissed your pants, by the way.”
I didn’t see how JD could have suspected we didn’t have any reloads, and that exactly one more shot was all we had left. I made a note never to play poker with Sabrina. Except maybe strip poker, where there are no losers.
When the time came we led him over to the boat by the rope, leaned him over the gunwale, picked up his feet and sort of dumped him in. Gentle as we could manage. He was as meek as a lamb. I tied the other end of the rope around his neck to a cleat, covered him up with a tarp, threw our stuff in, and off we went.
Adeline didn’t even notice him until we’d pulled away from the ramp and I helped him up onto a seat.
“Who the hell is that?”
“That’s my ex-boyfriend. The guy that put Rick in the hospital last Christmas. He dropped by today and attacked him with a tire iron. Can’t seem to learn to leave well enough alone. We’re taking him along so he doesn’t get into any more trouble.”
“So what are you planning to do to him?”
I fielded that one. “Sabrina has a plan that she hatched up with Nimue. I decided I didn’t really want to know. Plausible deniability and all that. I suggest you consider doing the same thing.”
Adeline narrowed her eyes and looked long and hard at Sabrina before shrugging. “None of my business, I guess. As long as you don’t throw him in the ocean while I’m watching, I can live with it.”
I eased the throttle forward, and the motor noise made further discussion impossible.
When we got to Avalon I dropped the ignition key into my pocket—better safe than sorry; if JD somehow managed to get loose, where could he go? Then I pushed and lifted and eventually got him out of the boat, although both of us ended up with our shoes soaked in the process. He kept making noises under the tape like he wanted to say something, but really, what could he possibly say that would make any difference? “Praise the Lord, I found Jesus, if you just set me free I promise I’ll go and sin no more?” Can’t imagine anybody buying that enough to take the tape and ropes off. I didn’t even remove the hood until we’d made our way up the path to the hilltop and I’d secured him to a tree.
“So how are you doing?” It was the first chance I’d had to talk to Adeline, so preoccupied had I been with my nemesis. “Are you excited? Nervous? Scared? Want some wine? I brought a bottle.”
“You know, Rick, I am excited. And a little nervous, too. But really, what is there to be nervous about? I came to get closure, and I’m leaving with closure no matter what else happens. And yes, I think I will have some wine.”
After I’d poured the three of us a cup, she continued. “I mean, what is he going to say? ‘I fell in love and decided she was worth leaving you and everything else behind for.’ I already know that. And it hurts a little, but as distant as we were, whose fault was it? Maybe the real secret is, I’d like to find a love like that someday.”
A tear leaked out of one eye. I started to say something, but Sabrina got up and knelt down in front of her and wrapped her up in a big hug. And just held her. They stayed that way for a while. When Sabrina finally let go, Adeline’s face was a little red but she was smiling.
“So, I never asked. What came of your evening with Chai? You can tell me it’s none of my business, by the way.”
Adeline laughed. “She was shamelessly trying to take advantage of my intoxication to get me to agree to invite her along tonight as my guest. There was some kissing involved but nothing more, at least that I remember. I probably did agree, under such gentle duress, but I didn’t remember anything about it the next morning. And when she tried to get me to keep my word, I told her that vows given when inebriated only were good until the booze wore off. And that it wouldn’t be fair to you, or especially to Sabrina.”
“Thank you for thinking about me, even though you hadn’t even met me yet.” Sabrina’s voice was soft and low.
“No, I hadn’t met you yet. But I’ve seen a lot of changes in Rick from that brash boy he was when I first interviewed him. And some of those had to be your doing.”
I poured a little of my wine out on the ground before taking a sip. Adeline watched me with a puzzled expression. She didn’t ask what I was doing, but copied my moves before drinking again.
“But the truth is, I liked her, Rick. And she was certainly good natured about the whole thing.”
“I like her too, Adeline. And we shared some deep, life-altering experiences that neither of us will ever forget.” No pun intended, of course.
“I’m glad you feel that way. Because I did say we’d bring her another time if at all possible.”
“I can live with that,” Sabrina answered before I could open my mouth. “There’s another one of these feasts in three more months. If in three months she can take Rick away, then she deserves him. Or they deserve each other, rather.”
I’d only brought two bottles of wine. If we were partaking from the cauldron tonight, I didn’t want to get too buzzed before the festivities started. When I opened the second bottle, Sabrina poured her cup full and took it over to where JD was sitting. She stood there talking to him, and after awhile he was nodding his head yes and shaking it no to her questions. In a bit she set the cup down and started working on the tape. I wouldn’t have risked it, but she was a grown woman capable of making her own choices. He might get his teeth into her, but with his hands taped and his neck tied to the tree, I didn’t see that he would do all that much damage before I could get there. But apparently he was done fighting. Or else whatever she’d promised if he bit her scared the fight out of him. After witnessing how cold she could be back at my place, I sure as hell didn’t want her mad at me.
Eventually she got the tape loose enough so he could drink and held the cup up for him to finish. She didn’t even try to get the mess out of his hair, just left the tape dangling there.
“I think our boy is a mite concerned,” Sabrina said when she got back to where we were sitting. “But he sure is happy to have that tape off his mouth. I told him I’d leave it off unless he started yelling, in which case I’d have to Taze him again, in the crotch this time, and put it back on. But all he could say was to keep asking me what I was going to do with him.”
“What are you going to do with him?” This from Adeline; I was sticking with the commitment I’d made not to ask, no matter what.
“I’m going to give him to Nimue.”