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Then Sir Bedevere took the king upon his back, and so went with him to the water side. And when they were at the water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me in the barge." said the king.
And so he did softly; and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so they set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head.  And that queen said,
"Ah, my dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me?"
                         Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte D'Arthur, Book xxi, Chapter 5

"Will you walk into my parlour said a spider to a fly?"
                                                                Mary Howitt: The Spider and the Fly


Night flight

      Oh see, my brother, how the moon glides fair above the sea,
      And lights a silvered pathway there upon the rising wave.
      There must we follow you and I and at its ending be
      At last secure and safe within the sanctuary you crave.
      For we shall be at Avalon.

      Lie safe, my brother, for this urgent wind will take us there,
      Beyond the strife and broken promises of yesterday.
      There in the calm and quiet of that island's gentle air,
      The terrors and the pains of combat soon will fall away,
      When we have come to Avalon.

      Be strong, my brother, let your courage keep your fears at bay.
      They have no rightful place beside the honour of your name,
      Nor shall their substance stand against the dawning light of day.
      Beyond these dreadful moments only eminence and fame
      Shall stay with you in Avalon.

      Hold fast, my brother, be that Arthur still who drew the world
      To Camelot and made its covenant with chivalry.
      Keep still the resolution that adversities unfurled
      Within your soul, and take it forward as their legacy
      To be with you in Avalon.

      And oh, my brother, do not falter in your confidence,
      And in your heart believe that you shall ever be the king,
      For it is written in your fate, and you in consequence,
      Whatever state or circumstance the centuries may bring,
      Shall always reign in Avalon.

      Now rest, my brother, there are hours yet before we find
      The shore, but every minute passing is a minute won
      Towards our goal. Each further leaves your enemies behind,
      And in the coming morning's light and with this journey done,
      You shall find peace in Avalon.


I    Throughout the night the oarsmen kept their course
      To Avalon; their guide the distant cap
      Of Glastonbury's tor lit fitfully
      By moonlight high above the marsh ringed sea.
      It drew those only to the island's shores
      Who sought a place of special secrecy,
      Yet never questioned their intention nor
      Their need. It neither welcomed nor forbade
      Their passage, was indifferent to the fears
      And hopes of those the vessel brought, and they
      Who came with it were neither granted aid
      Nor set impediments to bar their way,
      For only those who knew the passages
      To follow through the marsh, beneath the gaunt
      And tow'ring peak, would safely make the shore.

      So passed the night, and through the marsh's secret
      Ways the oarsmen kept their pace towards
      The isle, and as the moonlight slid away
      To rest before its next encounter with
      The dark, they steered the vessel to a bay,
      Where in the breaking morning light was stood
      The Abbot of the island sanctuary,
      Silently waiting with his followers,
      Each stoled and hooded as his brothers on
      The barge. Then as the last drawn stroke of oar
      Righted the oaken flank against the stone,
      The Queen of Northgales, summoning the priest,
      Stepped to the shore.
                                       "Lord Abbot, in the name
      Of God I ask your blessing on this day
      Above all others. Here Morgana has
      Her brother ferried, Arthur, King of Logre,
      Commending into your care and the grace
      Of that most gentle Queen of Heaven for
      An aid to bring God's comfort to his soul."

      "Madam," the Abbot answered, "were this day
      The utmost day upon this earth, I doubt
      Not but that it were blessed already in
      The Father's name. The battle's done. Camlann
      Is even now set into history.
      Soon with the grace of God there will become
      A moment in this tapestry of time
      When those who follow after us will have
      Forgot the very place of it and thrust
      Away the recollection of the day.
      The strife of yesterday wrought nothing less
      In focus than our inability
      To live by God's commandments, and so now
      The circumstances of your Lady's grief
      Are also more than pain enough for me."

      Then did the Abbot pass on to the barge
      To come before the King  who lay full dressed
      In armour still, his helmet and his gauntlets
      But removed. Where with great gentleness
      The Queen Morgana and the Queen of Waste
      Lands ministered such comfort as they could.

      Seeing the noble monarch lying still,
      Eyes closed and with no colour on his face
      Except the ruby blood that drew down through
      His silvered hair to lie upon his brow,
      The Abbot spoke no word, but knelt to pray
      God's mercy on his soul.  Then in a tone
      That told of his distress, he spoke.
                                          "Great Queen,
      I cannot answer for our heavenly Lord
      Excepting as the holy scriptures teach,
      But if the King comes hither to this isle
      In true repentance of the mighty wrong
      He has permitted to befall upon
      The noblest princes of this realm and so
      Beyond, he shall be shriven of his sins
      In Jesu's name."
                               Morgana spoke, "This king,
      My Lord and brother Arthur, is not dead,
      Nor all his last accomplishments are done.
      Is it by word of scripture he survives
      These hours, or is it fate that brings him here?
      Take care! To you befalls the reckoning
      If sanctuary shall come to him or no,
      And here no less is there entrusted to
      Your holy island than a king, a man
      In whom are strengths and weaknesses combined
      In portions that we cannot even guess
      Upon, and would not understand if so
      We could. And will you now, as never have
      You done before in other days, require
      A sin to say that this is Arthur's wound,
      Or penitence as payment that the King
      Shall live?"
                    "Madam," the priest replied, "you judge
      Me hard. For if it would be so that I
      Dispute the King's identity, or else
      Ignore the blood upon his brow, I would
      As easily deny the changing of
      The darkness into day, or even more,
      That everlasting life shall follow death,
      But as a priest I look not only on
      The King and on his wounds, but more upon
      The man and on his soul - the manner of
      His life and death."
                                  Then spoke the Queen again,
      "My Lord, the days of Arthur's life that have
      Preceded this are his alone to give
      Accountings for, and neither you nor I
      Has yet perceived the measure of them all.
      So let you not upon this moment seek
      To make a judgement of this man before
      Accepting that in such pronouncement shall
      You show the measure of yourself.  He lives
      These endmost hours of life as he decreed,
      And hither comes in peace. Of evidence,
      No sword, no knight, no man at arms is here,
      No charm or ancient magic heals his wound,
      Although it is not yet beyond the reach
      Of my authority to remedy
      His suffering if he would so consent.
      Whatever majesty describes the man
      Who lies before you now has no regard
      Of state or station.  He whom you behold
      Is such a man as seldom comes into
      The lives of other men, to save or seek
      Salvation as the hour commands. Therefore
      Be certain how you wait upon his soul."

      Well knowing of her reputation in
      The ways of dark and ancient magic arts,
      And how they lay in conflict with his own
      Beliefs, the Abbot stood in silence for
      A moment's time before replying to
      The challenge of the words Morgana spoke.
      "Madam, as you have comforted his wound,
      So would I also succour to his soul.
      Here upon earth the rightest state of man
      Declares itself as it has been prepared
      By man alone, and every acts creates
      Its recompense in Heaven or in Hell.
      I seek to make no judgement of the King,
      For that is by himself already done,
      But standing as ambassador before
      The gates of Paradise, I speak upon
      The need for every man to recognise
      The outline of his true identity
      Before he shall declare himself to God.
      And so it shall with Arthur also be
      That in these final hours of his life
      He shall attend upon such circumstance."

      "Yet even as we speak, the morning air
      Descends unkindly here upon his wounds,
      And better comfort lies within the walls
      Of our retreat. So let us take him there."
      And signalling his followers to bear
      Their royal charge, The Abbot with the Queen
      Beside him gravely led a slow procession
      For the dying King.

      Long hours of day and darkness drew away
      In Glastonbury's halls, their silences
      But gently breached by prayer. Within a room
      Enclosured from the light and sounds of day,
      One set apart to give a place of rest
      To those who visited on pilgrimage,
      A meagre place of residence, but yet
      A room of simple comfort, ands a place
      Of quiet refuge and of privacy,
      The King lay in a troubled rest and near
      To death. Even his armour now removed,
      So that his only garment was a rough
      Made shirt of wool, he bore a majesty
      And might that marked him royal, compelling those
      Who came into the chamber to a pause,
      As though expecting to receive by word
      Or glance the King's permission to proceed,
      That singular acknowledgement of his
      Approval and consent that ever was
      The first of all the prized distinctions in
      The gilded court of Camelot. But never
      Once a word was spoken, never once
      A glance exchanged. Although his eyes were wide
      As if awake, they took no note of what
      Was visible to others, but were fixed
      Upon some awful vision in his mind.
      At times, as if awake, he stirred to raise
      An arm above his head as in a sign,
      Or as a man might try to keep the sun
      Out of his eyes, or as a knight may do
      Upon the field of war to ward away
      A blow. But never once his gaze averted,
      Never once a sound was made. Whatever
      Demons occupied his dreams were his
      Alone to battle with, the conflict silent,
      Private, but immense, excluding the
      Realities of where he lay.
                                           Close by
      Morgana sat. At times alone, at times
      Her vigil shared or briefly trusted to
      One of the other queens, she noted closely
      Every movement, kept herself advised
      Of any word the King might speak. To those
      Who saw her, now attentive, now concerned,
      Now with a gentleness to bathe his wounds,
      Or lay a cooling hand upon his brow,
      She gave an evidence of care and love
      That none could question. None who saw could doubt
      Her motive was the King's survival. Oh,
      But in her heart another purpose lay.

      Well hidden, born of envy and a deep
      Resentment of her brother's fame and power,
      A treachery consumed her thoughts. She knew
      From secret messengers that all abroad
      The kingdom lay in waste, its monarch and
      His rule destroyed, its honour lost, its laws
      Denied the surety of rightful cause,
      Its peace usurped, its people leaderless,
      Its few remaining nobles split in their
      Allegiances and prey to factious greed.
      It had become a place of tyrannies
      Within a time that was itself corrupt
      With ills, and where alone the citadel
      Of Camelot survived untouched among
      The debris of the land, for none as yet
      Had dared intrude upon its privacy.
      None dared as yet proclaim himself its lord.

      It was the dream Morgana had embraced
      Throughout her sleeping nights and wakened days,
      The very circumstance she had conspired
      So long to bring about. Throughout the years
      Of Arthur's reign she had pursued one end,
      Engaged one savage purpose in her mind;
      His fall from fame and power and her own
      Ascent to it.  The tie of kin that bound
      Them counted naught against her lust for might
      And sovereignty. Therefore with cunning in
      Her traitorous heart, she had been quick to take
      Advantage of a rift between the King
      And Launcelot, a quarrel that had drawn
      The King abroad, and left the kingdom in
      The care of Mordred. She had with rumour fed
      Her nephew's discontent, fuelled with lies
      His dream to be the king, encouraged him
      To seize the throne and make himself by force
      The lord of Camelot and master of
      The Queen. Now with a turn of fate that left
      Him still and cold upon the battlefield,
      And rendered king and country powerless
      To act against whoever had the will
      And means to dominate the day, there was
      An opportunity that she could grasp
      And wield to her intent. No person knew
      Outside of Glastonbury's walls, if still
      The King survived or not. Some claimed to have
      Been witness to his fall beneath the sword
      Of Mordred, others to have seen him leave
      The battlefield, but none could say for sure.
      There was no sign of him among the slain,
      Nor any news that proved him still alive,
      And none could say if he would yet return.

      Morgana knew how this uncertainty
      Held others back who might yet seek to take
      The crown, for no one dared as yet believe
      King Arthur dead. It left a slender space
      Of time and chance for her to realise
      Her dream. She would not, could not bring herself
      To kill the King. That, when the moment came,
      Would be a deed for other hands. For now,
      It was her purpose to secure him there
      And by her skills prolong his final hours
      For long enough to learn of any plan
      He may have made to hold his kingdom safe
      If he had met defeat at Mordred's hand.
      Such knowledge could provide her with the key
      To lock the door of opportunity
      Against those loyal to his name and cause.
      But there was pressing urgency to act,
      Days only at the most before the chance
      Would be usurped and taken from her grasp,
      And if the King should not recover to
      Disclose his strategies or speak unwittingly
      Of them while still confused within
      His mind before the seventh day had passed
      Beyond the battle, all the disarray
      Of war would be repaired, the mourning done,
      And in the absence of the rightful king,
      There would be some would seek to fill the vacuum.
      Those who were left with power and ambition
      Would not be long content to leave the prize
      Unclaimed. By then, Morgana understood,
      There would be no more time to stay her drive
      To seize this final chance, and nothing of
      Her purpose left to keep the King alive.

        To be continued


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