I fell. Through fire and water I fell. From the deepest dungeon to the highest peak I fought him. Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.
No wait. Sorry. That was Gandalf. Let me start again.
I fell. Battling my foe as we plummeted. I struck at him with my will, summoning weapons and armour from dream to aid me in my battle. I tried at first to flee, to fly from him, but as I moved from him reality asserted itself and again I fell. Into the fathomless depths I fell. We became separated and so alone I was washed through caverns measureless to man, and down to a sunless sea. I know not how I survived. Perhaps I fell into dream itself or slipped into the Agarthean depths of the Under, where the laws of science are but the dreams of children. I wandered for a time, lost, and every breath seemed like the passage of eons. Until I found myself passing through a tangle of roots, following a distant glimmer. Then, at last, I broke through into sunlight. I found myself in an enclosed glade within an orchard, tumbled stones all around me, the fallen walls of some ancient ruin. Further back in the bower I could hear the sound of running water. I became aware of my immense thirst and stumbled towards the sound where I found a spring bubbling up from a cairn of rocks and down into a glacially still pool. I bent and drank from the fountain as a drowning man gasping for air. Then I knew no more.
When my senses returned to me I found myself naked and reclined upon a daybed that rested upon the bower’s lawn. I awoke with start, raising myself up upon my elbows. A small slender hand upon my chest stopped me. Looking over at the hand’s owner I saw a beautiful full breasted but petite strawberry blond woman kneeling beside me on the mattress. She wore only a light coloured robe of fabric so thin it was practically transparent. It certainly left nothing to the imagination. I grabbed a nearby cushion to cover my embarrassment. She smiled.
“Welcome, traveller, to the Isle of Apples,” She said. She spoke with what sounded like a slight lisp; “Affells”. Although I personally have a tendency to pronounce much as “mush”. “I am the Lady Niniane,” she went one, “and you are welcome to rest here as long as you please.” She smiled coyly as I gazed at her face, trying very hard to not look anywhere lower than her chin. As my eyes ran across her delicate features they fell upon her graceful leaf-shaped ears that each rose to a elegant point. I gasped.
“Milady,” I lowered my gaze, closing my eyes so I wasn’t staring at her ample bosom, “I did not mean to intrude upon the privacy of a bean sidhe.” she chuckled, which was like the sound of rain falling upon leaves. Inside my heart wailed, I had drunk from the fountain; the rules of the damnable Fae were nigh immutable and I had taken without first giving… She cupped my chin with her fingers and lifted my head back up to meet her gaze.
“Do not fear, I said you are welcome here,” she said. I opened my mouth, she shushed it with a slender finger. “These are not the lands of my siblings; this is Avalon, an extension of your own world and a refuge for the warriors who come here. It is a place where they rest and recuperate between battles. It is rare for warriors to find their own way here, much as you have but it is not unknown.” She let her finger fall and trail through my chest hair. “So few who come here are still alive. It has certainly been a long time since we have had any new visitors” She said as much to herself. “I have dressed your wounds, even the one that will not heal.” She told me. She placed her hand upon mine that held the cushion to me and leaned in close, her hot breath upon my lips. I shook my head and pulled my hand from under hers.
“I am spoken for milady” I said waving my left hand before her, the band of titanium and jet black corian upon my ring finger glinted coolly in the diffuse light. Niniane’s eyes darkened slightly and I realised I was on dangerous ground; one does not scorn a bean sidhe lightly.
“Your wife is not here,” she reminded me, “I am.” For a brief fraction of a second I conceded.
“Do not be so sure of that dear Sister,” a woman’s voice said from across the bower. Niniane looked up and gasped. I turned my head to follow her gaze. We had been joined by another of the bean sidhe. This one a fuller hipped, broader shouldered, hard-bodied red head seemingly dressed in scraps of chainmail and carrying an improbably long blade sheathed at her side, looking for all the world like she’d stepped straight from the canvas of Larry Elmore. One band of mail crossed her bosom leaving a magnificent display of under-boob. The other hung as a skirt before and aft of her, leaving her hips and legs bare. Other than the belt from which her scabbard hung, the ancient helm she carried in her right hand and the raven feathers she wore beaded in her hair she wore little else.
“Morgana,” my hostess said, “What brings you here?” Wordlessly Morgana raised her hand from the hilt of her sword and pointed at me. Upon her ring finger, I could see with startling clarity, were the matching bands of my wife’s wedding and engagement rings.
“You lie!” Niniane protested petulantly, like a child caught with her hand in the sweetie jar. The cawing of raven’s from the trees around Morgana were her only reply. “He is not dead,” Niniane protested, “you cannot have him!” Morgana raised her hand to her face and pinched the bridge of her nose, a gesture I’d seen a thousand times before. Slowly things were peculating their way through my thick skull, aided by a return of blood from certain extremities as a shiver ran through me. Whatever name my hostess knew her visitor by, Morgana was not the name by which I was most familiar with her. I tore myself from Niniane’s grasp and leaped from the day bed to throw myself upon the turf, prostrate before my goddess.
“Milady” I said, “please forgive me.” Morgana, or whatever name she was using giggled, her ravens joining her in her amusement.
“Rise” she commanded and I did so, in every regard. “Living or dead he is one of mine dearest Niniane,” she said not taking her hungry eyes from me.
“It is not fair,” Niniane protested girlishly, “Why do you get all the good ones?”
“I’d hardly call him one of the good ones,” ‘Morgana’ sighed, “At least if we talk about warriors.” She smirked. “Well not in this life. Now please dear Niniane I may share him with you later, after you rejoin us with refreshments, but for now I’d like to be left alone…” Niniane rose and slipped quietly into the pool, barely disturbing the surface until she was gone. “…with my husband.”
“How…?” I said as The Morrigan began to stalk towards me, disrobing as she came. one by one the ravens took to the sky in a flutter of wings. Soon we were truly alone.
“Can I be your goddess and your wife?” she finished for me. “Foolish man,” she smiled, “All of your lovers, no matter their outward form, have been my vessels at one time or another. While you and I have been married time and again since before the first stones were raised in worship. When you and Cutty took your vows, I took them too. I am she just assuredly as you are mine and I am yours.” She stood naked before me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. A name, an ancient forgotten name rose in my mind. I opened my mouth to speak it but she silenced me with a kiss. She had far more pressing tasks for my tongue as our bodies melted together.
I awoke some time later sandwiched between two goddesses. Niniane had indeed rejoined us, just as my strength was flagging. The food and drink she provided had filled us with what felt like endless stamina. Stamina that I had soon again needed as my goddess had kept her word to our hostess. This cycle had repeated time and again, or so it had seemed; time here seemed misplaced, for it was either the twilight moments of dawn or dusk but never really day or night. So yet again the glory of my morning was only matched by my thirst and hunger. I slipped from between my lovers and approached the board. Again the platters and jugs seemed still full or had been replenished while I slept. I ate and drank my fill as I gazed upon the two goddesses in my bed and pondered upon which to waken first and how. As I did so I stroked my chin and was shocked when my fingers ran through a tangled of beard. I turned my attention to the pool and my reflection upon its surface. The face had gazed back had beard truly worthy of the title; a month’s growth at the very least, certainly more. As I examined myself closer I realised that my wounds had healed. The paunch of my belly had greatly diminished. Even the unhealing wound from the elf-shot in my shoulder had finally closed over, although it still aches and pains me to this day. I also realised how sticky I felt from the residue of love-making. I sighed and climbed into the pool. It looked bottomless but when Niniane had entered and left it, rising from it as dry as when she had went in, there had appeared to be a gentle slop. Instead, as I eased in, I found a stone step or seat at just the right height for me to sit with my shoulder’s just beneath the water’s surface. The water was cool, but not unpleasantly so. I took the time to clean myself ,as best I could before turning my attention to goblet of mead I’d left upon the bank. As I lowered the goblet from my lips I felt the sharp chill of a blade against my throat. Tilting my head back I gazed into the face of my goddess who regarded me coolly. I recalled then that she was a jealous and covetous goddess who slew those who betrayed her. Had I spent a little too long in the embrace of Niniane for my goddess’s tastes? I whispered then her secret name and she smiled. She slipped into the water with me, sitting upon astride my lap, although her dagger never moved from my throat. We kissed briefly before she pushed my head back again and began to shave me. This provided extra proof, as if it were needed, that she was as much my wife as my goddess, for none other can approach me with a sharp implement without my instincts screaming at me to defend myself. Once she had finished with my beard she began to tidy up my hair. Not long afterwards Niniane joined us in the pool.
As we later dried ourselves upon the bank I wondered aloud if there could be any more to life than this.
“Bored of us already?” I looked at my goddess and saw by the smile upon her lips she was teasing me.
“No my love; I could stay in your arms until the stars burn out and time itself comes to an end but I feel the pull of oaths, and the duties they bring about, upon me. My goddess nodded and stood.
“Niniane, bring my husband his sword.” The lady of the lake bowed and descended into the pool, returning with a blade so much like the sword that had been delivered to my desk at the DEAMA building that it could be it’s twin. That sword I had sent to the Vaults Major instead of Caladcholg. She also handed me a baldric for this new sword to hang from. I then recalled that it had been Niniane who had reforged Caladfwlch when it had been broken. She who it was said had forged each of the Caladbulic
“Niniane, I’m sorry I lost Caladcholg…” I said.
“No it rests in it’s sheath waiting for your return.” she smiled, “But you may prefer to keep Caladmae’r. It was forged for you.” I realised that this was not the twin of my sword but the sword itself. She placed her hand upon mine. “I understand your fear of the sword; it is a far greater blade than any that you wielded in ages past, but fret not. For it can never strike at that which its master loves. That is its strength and weakness. But that which you find in your heart to hate; that it will cut from the world at your bidding.”
“How did you..?”
“It was returned to me for restoration before being due to be stored until such time as it was needed. Your department thought it was Caladcholg but I will explain their error when the time is right.”
“They don’t know I’m here?”
“No she,” Niniane nodded towards my goddess here, “has seen to that.” I glanced over at my goddess and saw that she had recovered her sword belt from the tree bough where it had hung since her arrival. She stood to one side of the grove, nude, but for her weapon. I couldn’t say “naked” as nobody can both be naked and armed. Oh well, when in Avalon and all that.
“Helium be proud!” I said as I joined her in the clearing. She grinned and drew her sword in one swift motion. I did likewise. Then she attacked. Our blades met in a clash, we spun and twisted away from each other. I saw an opening but it closed before my blade could penetrate it, but in pursuing it I had left myself open. Before I could defend myself she had sent me tumbling to the turf. My goddess stalked away, the flat of her sword blade resting upon her shoulder. Niniane helped me to my feet.
“I see what she means about you not being at your best in this incarnation.” she said. I grinned and opened my mouth to say it was a lucky shot, although I knew it was anything but, but before I could speak my goddess turned and pointed her blade at me.
“Focus!” She commanded, and charged with a battle cry. You can be damn sure I focused.
So my days progressed, if I could be sure that they were days. A morning of lovemaking, lunch, bathing, an afternoon of swordplay, supper, another bath, more sex and then the sleep of the just. As the days passed I lost the fat around my midrift, my muscle tone returning and I found my stamina greatly improved.
To be Continued