It flickers in and out of view;
lit fitfully by lightning, battered by wind and rain,
a bleak, Imposing fortress, secured landward
by craggy stone, seaward by waves
crashing against a wild and barren coast.
at a high window above a scene
of sky and sea of a matching, leaden hue,
stands Ygrainne, strong, spirited, royal;
sad, dutiful wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall.
She waits alone, until the arrival of her husband
returned from the wars, old, weathered; a soldier,
who, consumed with battlelust, will take her to his bed.
She does not love him,
but dreams of another, seen only once,
indelibly printed on her heart.
The king brooded.
Irritated, frustrated, he needed to be moving.
Never hesitant after a decision was made,
he chafed at the delay. Then, there it was.
The echo of steel on steel and men shouting, screaming!
The sounds of battle rang faintly, muted by distance.
The wizard moved his mount forward.
Now! was his whispered command.
The king nodded, and in a sudden flash of lightning,
he was revealed to the men around him.
His face, yet not the one they knew;
the countenance changed, distorted.
Gray hair could not disguise the ruddy look of youth,
and the eyes; they were the hawk-sharp icy blue of the king.
He wore anothers colors and badge.
Tightening his lips and his hands on the reins,
he spurred his horse savagely, tugging her head around,
Urging her into a gallop, toward the castle and the tryst.
Lets get it done, he snarled to his companions,
and, silent, they followed.
Ygrainne paced, her age-ed lady-in-waiting, Sara,
With a guttural cry of pain,
the Duchess sprawled gracelessly
onto the window seat and glared out at the heaving sea.
Her breast heaving as well, her eyes blazing.
She leaned her head back and cried, When?!
Sara was quickly at her side. She chafed the younger womans hands.
Soon, My Lady, soon. He will come.
He must come! Ygrainne whispered hoarsely.
If he does not come, she looked up, I believe I will die.
She rested her head upon her hands, but she did not weep.
Oh, no. Ygrainne was too proud, to strong for that,
but her eyes were on fire.
Through the stormy night the five men rode,
the sound of battle receding in the distance.
The only sound was the echoing of the horses hooves on the stones,
and the tell-tale ragged breathing of the King.
The magician heard his muttering under his breath
as he rode, Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry!
The words were repeated in time to the hoof beats of his mount.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry!
The castle loomed closer and the Kings eyes
Were drawn to the high window that his beloved had described.
A long sigh escaped him and he glanced at the wizard.
Finally. Curt and tense. Your powers move slowly.
The magician raised an eyebrow and a wry smile appeared.
You should be in a better mood, my Lord, he said.
The goal is at hand. The King blinked, and then
he kicked his horse into a faster gallop.
A high, wild laugh resounded off the steep cliff walls
and Uthers voice rang out startling the men at arms riding at his back.
Ygrainne! He shouted the name again and, laughing,
beckoned to his men to follow him up the path to Tintagel
The fighting was fierce, Gorlois in the thick of it,
He, never a man to stay behind the battle lines,
swung his sword in a wide arc and took his foes head clean off.
Not seeing the pike that crashed against his helm, turning stunned eyes just in time to see the swarthy, sweating, grinning face,
to hear the grunt as the man stabbed upward,
to feel the sword pierce his heart,
to fall, dead before he hit the ground.
No time to think, no time for pride or regret, or love.
A company of his men swarmed to gather around their fallen lord,
regrouping, defending his corpse ferociously.
The front line pressed forward with a roar
and pushed the enemy back toward the sea.
In the dimming light, the day was won, with many a loss,
none more dreadful than the loss of Gorlois,
Lord and Liege, Duke of Cornwall,
cold and dead on the scrub above the sand;
killed in the service of his sovereign,
Uther Pendragon, High King of Britain.
There would be bonfires burned this night.
The captain motioned to his herald. Word must be sent to Tintagel;
grim news to inform the Lady Ygrainne
that she was become a widow. Her task
prepare for the arrival of the body of her husband.
The clatter of footsteps up the stone steps brought Ygrainne to her feet.
Sara gestured for quiet and went to the heavy door,
Unlatched it, pulling it open. The page boy stood breathing hard.
They come. He wheezed. Riders! Galloping up the landward road!
It is the Duke, returned from the battle!
The lady-in-waiting was short in her reply and closed the door.
Ygrainne sank back down at the window.
Sara spoke. It will be alright, my Lady. You will see. The wizard
The Duchess rose and cast a haughty glare in Saras direction.
Speak not to me of wizards! I am bewitched! I, Ygrainne!
She paced, like a tigress in a cage.
I was living out my life, here in the desolate place, a dutiful wife,
when my Lord took me up to the Royal Court.
I would that he had left me behind that day! she cried.
She paced walked back and forth agitatedly.
I was the young new bride of one of his Knights.
It was a lovely day, bright and sunny. She paused, remembering.
The King strode into the Great Hall. He was so powerful and vibrant.
Here she turned to look at the old woman and her fiery eyes softened.
And he was beautiful. Here, she sighed.
And then he turned; his eyes met mine, and I was lost.
I have been in a fever since that day.
She rested her head in her hands.
Every excuse I could think of I used so as not to lie with Gorlois.
When we did couple, I would see Uthers face in my minds eye;
Without having ever shared words or space with the King,
I became a faithless wife.
She gazed at the silent servant,
then resumed her pacing.
With a clatter of horses hooves sending sparks off the stone,
the King pulled his horse up and vaulted out of the saddle.
The door opened and a sleep-bemused page held a lantern aloft.
My Lord Duke, he stammered. we looked for you on the morrow.
The King, disguised by guile and the hand of magic,
and wearing the robes and markings of the Duke,
brushed past the boy with nary a word,
and took the steep stairs three at a time.
The three men-at-arms took position,
one inside the small anteroom and two without.
The boy blinked sleepily and straightened his shoulders,
but before he could speak, the other man, a stranger, spoke to him.
Be off with you to bed now, lad.
The Duke will be with his lady for but a short time
and then we must ride away again.
The youngster blushed and, nodding went off.
The man threw back his cloak and leaned against the wall.
All this would be worth it, he told himself firmly.
All this deceit and, yes, treachery, would be worth it.
Everything was happening as it must.
The child would be begotten this night.
Merlin, seer, magician, oracle and First Advisor to the King,
sighed tiredly, folded his arms, and settled down to wait.
Ygrainne sat bolt upright. The horses! He was here!
She gestured to Sara, who hesitated and then curtsied and exited
as the main door slammed back against the wall and he was in the room.
Two strides took him to her side, and Uther took Ygrainne
in his arms, and bent and captured her lips,
searing them, bruising them.
She arched her back and he leaned closer, tightening his embrace,
until she thought her very bones would crack.
She kissed him hungrily, eagerly,
her tongue meeting his, testing, tasting.
His hands tore at her dress and he freed her breasts.
Stroking lightly, he lowered his lips and suckled.
She groaned, a sound echoed by his own answering moan.
They broke apart and gazed at each other,
the King surprised at the prickle in his throat, the sting of tears.
He smiled suddenly and laughed like a child.
She took a shuddering breath and kissed his cheek smiling at him.
Then Uthers, his ice chip blue eyes shining,
swept her up and took her to the bed.
There, wrapped in each others arms, perfectly matched,
ignited by a passion neither could withstand,
they lay together at last.
She stood at the window, gazing out at the sea,
Idly watching the night turn toward dawn,
the sky just beginning to lighten, a rosy color tinting the foam.
The King was dressing now and would soon be on his way, leaving her.
He came up behind her and gently turned her to face him.
Dressed for travel, his cloak as yet unfastened, he kissed her.
After a moments response she dropped her head to his chest.
He clasped her to him and held her tightly,
then let her go, stepping back.
I must go, a bare whisper, but firm. Daylight is soon upon us.
She moved out of his embrace. Go, then, she stated,
and turned again to the window,
drawing herself to her full height, which almost matched his.
You know I must, Ygrainne, he said. We will see each other soon..
Do not promise what you cannot give, my Lord, she answered,
still facing away from him.
My husband was already jealous of mere
looks exchanged between us. He will not leave me often alone.
I love you, he said. Do not doubt that, my Lady.
This uttered with conviction, his eyes caressing her.
At this she turned.
That is the only thing I do know, she replied.
Now, go. You must hurry, love. She kissed him gently,
slapping his shoulder, bestowing the gift of a dazzling smile.
His teeth flashed in response. I will see you again, Ygrainne.
He moved to the door. We will find a way.
Then he was gone. She moved again to the window,
and one tear fell, staining the stone for a brief moment ,
before it dried and was gone, as if it never was.
She stood tall, beautifully regal, and sad,
and watched the endless sea.
Merlin roused himself from his slouched position against the wall
as he heard the door open and close and the footsteps on the stone steps.
The King came into view.
He looked tired, but the anxious, irritable look
he had worn for the last moon was gone.
A look of peace had settled on his features.
Well, it seems the night was a good one, Merlin said.
The King glanced at him, a sharp retort dying on his lips.
After all, he owed this man some kind of thanks for this feeling of bliss.
Mmmm. Was his noncommittal answer.
Merlin simply nodded. We need to get moving.
The magical disguise of the night before was gone
and the King and his men could not be found here in this place.
They moved out into the courtyard where the three men-at-arms waited.
All five men mounted and rode single file
out of the courtyard and onto the landward path.
The King kicked his horse into a gallop, the others following.
They rode in silence.
It was nearing daybreak.
Suddenly, Merlin rode up next to Uther and touched his shoulder.
What? Uther slowed his mount.
Shhh, Merlin motioned for silence.
Take cover, someone comes.
The King bristled at the need to hide,
but nodded and guided his steed off the road, into the trees,
his men trailing behind.
Merlin rode out to the crossroads and waited.
A horse came galloping over the rise, its rider pulling up short as he realized that someone was blocking the path.
Give way! he raggedly cried.
I have urgent business with the Duchess!
Merlin held his ground. Tell me. He demanded.
The courier was about to refuse; then blurted,
My Lord, the Duke, is fallen in battle! A breath.
He is dead.
The man reined in his stamping mount. Now give way!
As he made to ride past, Merlin reached out and took hold of the reins,
stopping him again.
When, he asked hoarsely. When did he die?
Last evening, just before sunset, the courier answered.
Merlin let go the reins and backed his horse off the narrow path,
allowing the courier to pass.
The King moved up next to him.
I suppose you heard? asked Merlin.
Uther did not speak, but only stared at his companion,
a steely look in his eyes.
So! he spat. All the time I was laying with his wife,
my good Duke Gorlois was dead!
Where is your art?
He let loose his anger and his voice rose to a shout.
This deception was needless! I had but to wait a day or two and
I could have taken her by law as my own, as her liege lord.
He paused for breath.
I ask again. Where is your power? Could you not see this?
Merlin was at a loss for words. He had not seen this.
His complete attention had been on the child to come.
The child you made this night, he began.
Will be a bastard! finished the King angrily.
Uther spurred his horse and when Merlin moved to follow,
He shook his head savagely.
No! You stay away from me, Wizard! he mocked.
You see no more than what you want to see!
I will have no more of your advice!
He breathed fast, his face flushed, his eyes hard.
I will wait the mourning period out and then come to Ygrainne
and take her as my wife; my Queen.
It will be as if this night had never happened.
With that, the King turned his horse toward the far off spires of his castle, his mind already turned to other things.
Alone, Merlin rode slowly , deep in thought.
But this night did happen, my King. And a child was conceived.
A golden child who will unite all of Britain.
And he will be a king as no other, before or since.
The young magician pulled
the hood of his cloak
Up against the cold, salty wind,
and rode contentedly toward home.
© Ellie Maziekien
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