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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 127: Hastings 84
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Morgana's place was a stone house built of bits of what was once the castle. She joked that she had always wanted to live in it, and now she got her wish. Making them tea without asking and conjuring some cakes to go with it, she invited them to sit on cushioned benches at her small table.
"When I was a girl," she said, "I wanted power. I was very upset that I was a girl, and could not have the power a man had. It did not seem fair. So much that I did was aimed at getting power. I did many very foolish things, and brought much grief to many people.
"But I did not understand how fleeting this world truly is. I could see nothing but the grandeur of the castle at Camelot and the dreams of being a queen over the people. Now the castle has crumbled, the people are dead, the land has returned to forest overrun by devils. Yet I remain. The true power has nothing to do with rulers and people, but with truth and kindness. It took me a long time to learn, and cost the lives of everyone I might have loved–my brother, my son. Call it a hard lesson, but I learned it.
"So, why are you back here in Camelot, Spellsbreath?"
"It's actually a crazy story, Morgana."
"We're looking for Merlin," Bethany cut in.
"Is that right?" Morgana seemed to be somewhere between impressed and amused. "I have not seen him for longer than I have not seen you. Surely he is dead."
"We don't know," Lauren resumed. "He was taken alive by Nimue, and it is said that those captured by the dryads do not age or know time until they are freed–although they are seldom freed. But Merlin once said something that suggested I might one day deliver him from Nimue. He seemed very vague about it, as if there were more to it than that–in fact, I think he said he couldn't see how it was going to work–but then, you know how he was."
"Aye. He often predicted part of something, and then pretended the rest should have been expected. It was one of the lessons he taught me."
"What was that?"
"Never let anyone know the true extent of your power. You will avoid more fights through the reputation of strength than through the actual display of it."
Lauren remembered trying to explain something like that to Raal once upon a time. "Yes," she said. "Often it isn't about what you can actually do, but about what they think you can do. Anyway, we were trying to locate the grove in which Nimue lived, to see whether her tree remained. Once we got that far, assuming we could, we were going to start working on how to tell whether Merlin was still alive somewhere, and how we might get him back. But we didn't really expect Camelot to be swarming with undead."
"It has gone downhill quite a bit since the old days," Morgana admitted. "I can tell you that Nimue is still alive, but she is ancient and tired now and will not last many more decades. Rest here tonight, and tomorrow I will set you on the path to reach her."
Lauren and Bethany accepted the hospitality, and offered to help; Morgana was insistent on treating them as honored guests. She did not get much company, she said, and it was good to have someone on whom she could practice kindness, as one tended to forget one's manners living alone. Dinner was good, and they slept comfortably, awaking fully rested for the first morning in many and enjoying a hearty breakfast before striking out again.
Morgana accompanied them to the top of the hill on which the castle once sat, and from that vantage gave them directions through the countryside. If they hurried they would enter the oak grove by evening; however, the dryads did not like intruders, so it would be better if they were to camp at the stream just south of their home and enter fresh in the morning. Even the vampires preferred not to mess with the dryads, so they should be safe from that threat once they entered the oak grove, and it was unlikely any would stumble upon them so close to that territory. "And," she concluded, "if anything happens to you, or you need any care, come back this way and I'll see to you. There's not much in these woods the vampires will not risk, but besides the dryads they still fear me."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #128: Character Gatherings. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: