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                        HOW THE YOUNG ARTHUR WAS CURSED
                                             by Clarise Samuels

      Arthur as a young man was strong and blond-haired, with eyes as blue as the faraway mountain
ranges and pale skin that nonetheless retained a ruddy hue about the cheeks. At twenty-one, he 
had already pulled Excalibur from its resting place in the stone, but his legendary feats in battle,
to be sung one day by the bards, still lay in the remote future.  On this spring morning in Britannia, 
the young king with the lion's mane of flaxen locks and exquisite physique was trotting slowly through
the woods on his white mount, a sublime mare named Llamrei, a charger of impeccable lineage.
Arthur was in a bit of a trance, letting Llamrei wander down the path as she pleased while Arthur,
still unwed and with romantic notions always dancing about his head, daydreamed and contentedly
breathed in the scent of morning dew and spring flowers. A raven sat in the branches above,
screeching intermittently, and hopping from tree to tree as it observed Arthur and his horse through
the branches of the forest foliage below.
     Arthur paid no heed to the intrusive cries of the raven with the midnight blue feathers. Had he 
been more attentive, he would have noticed that the raven disappeared at precisely the same moment
that a stunningly beautiful maid became evident in the distance, standing squarely in the middle of the
path. Arthur, still preoccupied with his sentimental thoughts and lulled into a meditative state by the 
tranquility of the morning, was nearly upon the lass before he reined Llamrei back and brought the 
horse to an abrupt halt.
     "Dear lady!" Arthur exclaimed in dismay. "Do forgive me, for I nearly overran you in my distraction." 
     "Not at all, my lord," she answered with a curtsey. "there is no need to make excuses. It is my fault
for standing so boldly in your path."
     Arthur's distress was quickly replaced by his awe of the young lady's beauty. She had a thick head of 
chestnut brown hair whose golden highlights caught every nuance of the morning rays of the sun. Her
green eyes were accentuated by dramatically dark brows and long, dark lashes, and her mouth was as red
as berries. Arthur was temporarily mesmerized, but he feared his open admiration would be deemed too
artless and uncivil, so he fought to retain his composure.
     Dismounting Llamrei, Arthur approached the unknown woman with a courtly air, bowing briefly and in
a dignified fashion before he asked her most earnestly, "Are you stranded, my dear lady, or are you in need
of help of any kind?"
     "My dear lord, yes, could you help me? I was picking berries, and I tripped on a stone and have apparently
sprained my ankle. I am in great pain," she acknowledged. Only then did he notice she was leaning on a branch
and trying not to put weight on her injured foot. Arthur did not hesitate for a moment; he slipped one arm around
her waist and another around her legs, lifting her effortlessly as he carried her to a flat stone off the road. He gently
laid her down and then examined her bruised and swollen ankle with the confidence of a man who was well
educated in medical matters
    "We need to get you back to the castle," he murmured with some concern. "The ankle has to be soaked in warm
water and properly bandaged. With a few days' rest, you should feel much better. You shall ride with me, and I
shall take you back to he castle."
    "Oh, sire, I cannot ride just yet. Please sit here with me and keep me company - such a handsome young man as
yourself, surely you know other ways to keep a young woman from dwelling on pain?" she asked him in a bemusing
way as she lifted a finger and pushed aside a wisp of hair hanging in his eyes. Arthur was bewildered at first, for he was
sure she was a true lady of noble birth, given her aristocratic bearing and her elegant dress. Nevertheless, her insinuation 
was improper. and he attributed her unseemly behavior to the ignorance of youth. 
   "Nay, nay, my sweet young thing you are too innocent and naive to understand what fires you tamper with," Arthur 
rebuked her mildly. "Now, come, we must mount Llamrei and return you to the castle, or to your home if you prefer."
   But the lass was defiant, and with a startling gesture, she pulled he gown off her shoulders and arms, exposing her 
dazzling nakedness to Arthur's manly eyes. He nearly reeled at the sight of her perfection, and a part of him became 
instantly enraptured, though he understood instinctively that such comportment was beneath him. Nevertheless, his most
primitive instincts were overpowering him, and for an insane moment, he was almost conquered by the temptation to
let the woodland nymph seduce him. But Arthur summoned up every ounce of his intellectual acumen, every philosophical
and ethical precept he ever held, in order to control himself. His face drained of color and he trembled, for he was, indeed, 
stricken by the sight of her. 
   Slowly Arthur stood up and spoke in an unwavering voice, "I cannot, dear lady, though your beauty ushers me on like a
glittering star in a moonless sky, and as part of me yearns to become your slave, beholden to your every command to give
you the pleasure you seek from me. But I am an anointed king, and must approach such matters with the highest purity
and the deepest commitment. Such an alliance is a matter of great sanctity; it must be blessed by the priests, and the entire
kingdom must rejoice in the holy bond with the woman I have chosen to be my mate. Forgive me, but I cannot dishonor
myself in this way. I cannot appease the beast within me, for the beast is a stranger to me, and if I wink at the fiend, I 
shall become a stranger to myself."
   "Are you resisting me then, my lord?" asked the young temptress.
   "Yes," Arthur conceded, "because I must. Now, please let us leave this place. You are injured, I will get you help."
   Then the seductress was upon him, clinging to him, sinking her soft mouth into his, wildly insisting he succumb to her
demands. Arthur reacted with a strength that welled up from the deepest part of him, for the inviolate sense of royal destiny
within him was offended by the brazen advances of the girl, no matter how great her beauty and no matter how beguiling
her appeal. He disengaged her arms and legs, and with a brutal force, he threw her onto the ground where she howled
with pain.
   Something unforeseen began to occur. The lovely waif started to metamorphose into that which was at first not identifiable.
and Arthur suspected for a moment that his eyes could not be trusted and he was suffering from a hallucination.  Her lustrous
head of hair turned gray and frazzled; her nubile skin was slowly transformed into the wrinkled, spotted and leathery hide 
of an old hag. Her beautiful white gown had become a dirty and tattered rag. What lay before him was no siren, but an aged
witch of mean and ghastly disposition.
   Arthur stepped back in shock, his eyes wide with astonishment. "In the name of the heavens," he shouted, "who are you?"
   She laughed hysterically, shrieking with delight as she arose from the ground with the help of her stick. "I am known by many
names - Morrigan, Anu, Badb, Macha, to mention a few. I am your tormentor and your opponent," she cackled. I am the force
that keeps humans searching for some unnameable essence of life; I am the erotic nature of all mortals, and I cause them their
greatest ecstasy and their most profound shame. Few can thwart me as you have, my king, and I admire you for your conviction.
But you have angered me with your cruelty, for I did truly love you, fleeting though it was, and you have shattered my dreams.
I might have become human if you had graced me with your regal perfection, if you had compromised your high principles for 
my sake, nut you have condemned me once again to resume this form, which I loathe with all my being.
   "I curse you!" she hissed at him. "I curse you with all my heart! You will never find happiness in love, and you will be betrayed
by those whom you hold dearest. As for the holy bond you seek in matrimony, my king, know this - your wife will be an
adulteress!"
   Arthur withdrew from her in pure horror, and realizing he had no power over this unnatural entity, he mounted his horse and
raced away. The old crone stood in the middle of the road and watched him until he disappeared in the distance.  Sobbing with
self-pity, she slowly disintegrated into a blazing flame of glistening molecules. 

Clarise Samuels is a Montreal author who has published poetry, fiction, articles, book reviews, and translations. Her first novel, 
Loving Brynhild, is a retelling of Norse mythology and is now in press with an independent publisher in Utah. 
Clarise has a Rutgers PhD in German literature, and her scholarly tome on the Holocaust poet Paul Celan can be found 
in most major university libraries.

Submitted January 2009


 
             

 

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