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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
And that, he did. “Meher? I do not remember him.”
Morgaine curtseyed, as deep and gracious as I had, which surprised me. She didn’t look in the least like she was trying to be a smartass with him, and I realized she was afraid. The Merlin had her scared spitless. Either that or she was running mega-fangirl.
“My lord, Meher took the title from the ashes of your reign, some five hundred years after you were imprisoned, I believe. I wasn’t around at that time. There was a period in which the great Fae Lords prevented anyone from acting in your stance, and only then did they enthrone someone they could control. Meher was firmly in Otherworld’s pockets, until he got greedy and struck out on his own.”
Myrddin didn’t look very happy. “Only the Hunter may choose his High Priest. This Meher had no authority to act in my stead and the Fae Lords had no right to appoint him to the task.” He drew himself up, straightening his shoulders. “Is he still holding office?”
Morgaine shook her head. “I think there may be someone else in charge now, but I have no idea. There is no strength to the post any longer.”
Áine fluttered around Myrddin in a dizzying spiral. She then gently nudged Morgaine, and then, me. I wasn’t sure what she was doing. I knew better than to lose any respect for her, but I realized that I no longer feared her. Oh, she would be deadly if roused, but there was a gentleness to her, a softness that was both vulnerable and terribly strong at the same time. I shivered, thinking of how she’d been trapped in here, all that time, protecting her lover’s body as he slept.
Reaching out, I hesitantly held my hand up to her cheek. She purred like a cat and rubbed the feather-like scales along my fingers. I stroked her lightly, reveling in how smooth and warm her cheek was. She hiccupped then, a puff of smoke emerging from her nostrils to make me cough, and I laughed.
“She likes you.” Myrddin glanced at me. “She needs a friend. She’s been alone for so long.” He turned back to Morgaine, and then his gaze fell on Arturo. He beckoned him forward. Morgaine looked wary, but there was no way she could contradict the Merlin. Only Titania or Aeval would have the power to do that, and even they might be hesitant in going up against him.
“You are so lost . . .” Myrddin reached out to touch Arturo’s hand. He swiftly raised his gaze, staring into the Wounded King’s eyes. “You are lost and everything seems as if it’s in a dream.” With a wave of his hand, he swept his fingers lightly across Arturo’s temples. “Wake, old man, and remember your greatness. Wake, and remember your destiny.”
As Morgaine realized what he was doing, she let out a faint cry. Mordred sprang forth, but before he could reach them, Myrddin slapped his palm against Arturo’s forehead and the fog in the man’s eyes cleared. As we watched, he came to life once more, understanding flickering into his eyes. He woke, from centuries of lethargy, to Myrddin’s touch and as he did so, his shoulders straightened and his aura flared.
Arturo turned to see Mordred running toward him and he opened his arms. “My son. You are here. I’ve thought . . . I thought you existed only in my memories and even those were fading into distant songs and glimpses of the past.” And then, whirling, he saw Morgaine and the expression on his face crumpled into one of pain and loss. “You—what are you doing here?”
For a moment, Morgaine stared at him, uncertainty and fear crossing her face. “I saved your life when Lancelot would have taken it. I’ve kept you going all these years. That’s what I’m doing here.” Anger replaced anguish. “I took care of you, and fed you, and kept you out of trouble.”
Mordred fell into the mix looking confused. “Why are you mad at Aunt Morgaine? She tells the truth—she’s taken care of you.”
“I will not let her have you back! She would turn you to her side to spite me. I asked you for nothing, Morgaine—I wanted nothing from you!” Arturo’s pale and complacent look had taken on a sanguine, defiant expression. “And what do you mean, you saved my life? Mordred saved me.”
“He fought off Lancelot, but you were bleeding out. I did the only thing I could to save your ass. I fed you the Nectar of Life and took you back to Avalon at my own risk.” Morgaine was crying now. I’d never seen her so distraught and my first impulse was to take her side, but Morio held me back.
“What for? Did you think it would change my feelings? Did you think you could make me love you by saving my life? Did you think I’d give Mordred back to you just because you did your duty and saved your king?” Arturo was raging now, and in that moment, I realized that the villain here wasn’t Morgaine, and it wasn’t Mordred, but instead—ignorance and anger and denial.
“Why are you yelling at her?” Mordred tugged at his arm, looking terribly confused. “Father—your sister saved your life. You should be grateful.”
Arturo petulantly waved him off. “Sister? You still believe she is your aunt. You mean you did not tell him all of this time?” He turned a cold eye on Morgaine. “Then perhaps you didn’t care as much as you protested.”
Without moving a muscle, without letting Morgaine out of his gaze, Arturo dropped the bomb. “Morgaine is your mother, Mordred. She’s the sister of my half brother. She’s not of my blood. In a drunken fit, I spent a night with her and she gave birth to you. I took you in order to give you the upbringing you deserved—after all, you are the son of a king. Morgaine . . .” He turned to her, a snide look filling his eyes. “Morgaine made the mistake of falling in love with me, though I told her it was futile. And . . . apparently, she’s dragged me around the world like a dog on a leash all these years.”
Mordred froze. He turned from Arturo to Morgaine. “Is he telling the truth? Are you my real mother and not Gwenyfyr?”
Morgaine stretched out one hand. “Mordred—how could I tell you when you grew up believing I was your aunt? Arthur refused to let me tell you as you grew up. Didn’t you ever wonder where you got your Fae heritage from?”
“I thought Gwenyfyr had it in her bloodline.” His face cold and devoid of reason, Mordred turned on Arturo. “You took me from my mother to give to another woman? You turned me against her and then let me throw my life on the line for you? And yet you denied me a place in line for the throne? Lancelot was right—you have no honor! Everything I believed about you was a lie.” He drew his sword, fury surrounding him like a cloak.
“Stop—you have to stop now!” Delilah jumped forward, but Tanne grabbed her arm, pulling her out of the way.
“This is between them,” he said.
I had no clue what to do. I whirled on one heel to face Myrddin. “You started this. What do you intend to do about it?”
The High Priest of the Hunter shook his head, an imperturbable look on his face. “This was frozen in time for too long. It must be reconciled for destiny to move forward. I can—and will—do nothing to stop whatever will be.”
Morio slid his arm around me, and I turned to him, feeling helpless. Even Bran, standing next to me, looked alarmed.
Crying, Morgaine crumpled to the floor, her hands pressed against her face. Arturo stared at his son. Mordred was standing tall, his hair streaming back. He held his sword out, waiting.
“Well, then, now you fight for your mother’s honor?” Arturo lifted his own sword. “How quickly your allegiance changes. I meet your challenge.”
Mordred hesitated, and the world seemed to pause with him. Then, with one quick thrust, he lunged toward Arturo, who dropped his sword and opened his arms to the blade. Taken by surprise at the sudden surrender, Mordred couldn’t stop. His sword sliced neatly through Arturo’s stomach, emerging from the back.
As Morgaine let out a scream, the blood began to pour, running a river to pool at Arturo’s feet. Mordred stumbled back, leaving his sword embedded in Arturo’s gut. He began to stutter, then turned to Morgaine, who crouched weeping and broken like the stem of a reed. Mordred stuttered out a garbled word that we couldn’t understand as the door of the tomb crashed open, slamming against the back wall. He turned and raced outside.
Arturo stared down at the blade piercing his gut, then, with a look of wonder, let out a croak of laughter, and dropped where he stood. Morgaine scrambled on her hands and knees to hover over him, frantically feeling for a pulse. But there would be no heartbeat. Not even Nectar of Life could heal an attack so deadly. She looked over to the door and whispered, “Mordred,” and then fainted. Outside, the light of the cavern never wavered.
Bran hurried over to the door, but shook his head. “I don’t see him anywhere.”
“The boat!” If he took the boat we were in trouble.
Bran vanished out the door, Tanne following. Delilah crouched beside Morgaine, but she was out cold. With Morio’s help, my sister moved her out of the way so Arturo’s blood wouldn’t stain her clothing. That would just make everything so much worse.
I turned to the Merlin. “So this is your idea of letting destiny unfold?”
He shrugged. “I don’t make destiny, I just help enable it.” With a soft voice, he added, “I don’t enjoy seeing people hurt, but sometimes there are no winners.”
I was about to ask if he could help Morgaine like he had Arturo, but he held up his hand.
“There’s nothing I can do for her,” Myrddin said. “Her wound is emotional, not physical. I can help heal physical problems, but injuries of the heart are not my forte.”
I knelt beside Morgaine and brushed her hair away from her face. For all of her faults, she didn’t deserve this. Losing the man she had loved and taken care of all these years, and losing her son in the same moment? Not fair.
As I glanced over at Arturo, I realized I now despised him instead of pitying him. Myrddin should have left him in his fog. He’d been happy and Morgaine had—in her own way—been content with the life she’d carved out. But then again, she’d been seeking the Merlin herself, looking for answers. Now, she had them, even if they weren’t the ones she’d hoped for.
She was still unconscious and I had the feeling she’d remain so for a while. I turned back to Myrddin. He was standing, watching the scene impassively.
“We need your help. We tracked you down for a reason.” I wasn’t entirely sure that we were making the right move, but there was no help for it now. He was awake, and we’d already seen fallout from his return.
“What do you want?”
“An ancient wyrm is waking. Yvarr. The Fae Lords imprisoned their allies as well as their enemies. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out of his prison. Can you help?” I didn’t ask will you . . . he might choose to say no, but I wasn’t going to offer up the choice. If he wanted to be the bad guy, it would be on his own head.
But he surprised me. “I can. And I will.” His smile suggested he’d either read my expression or my thoughts, and I sincerely hoped it was the former. Either way, though, at least this gods-awful trip had some positive results.
“We still have daylight with us, so we’d better get moving, before it gets too late. We’re nearly out of food, though, so I hope you don’t get too hungry before we’re out of here.” I told him where we were—in the realm of the Elder Fae—and he at least had the courtesy to look alarmed.
“I concur. The sooner we leave this place, the better. The Elder Fae have always been capricious, and I doubt they have mellowed any in the time I’ve been asleep.” Myrddin motioned to Áine and she flowed up beside him. “But with my lovely by our side, I doubt if many will bother us on the return trip.”
By then, Morgaine was beginning to wake up, but she wasn’t all there, and could barely speak. Instead, she let us lead her, and I realized she’d be no use in navigating back the way we’d come. I’d have to take over.
“Delilah, please watch her? Tanne, cover our butt. Myrddin, you and Áine take your place right before Tanne please. Morio, follow me. And Delilah can follow Morio, bringing Morgaine.” I turned to Bran. As much as I didn’t want to interact with him, now was not the time to be choosy. “You—up front with me, please.”
He, too, seemed quiet. With a long look at Morgaine, he fell in beside me. We made sure we had all our gear. We’d plundered Arturo’s body for what we could salvage, feeling guilty with everything we took. But he wouldn’t need his things now, and there was nothing to be gained by forfeiting them.
Since there was no way to take his body back with us, we placed him in the crystal coffin and gently shut the lid. Morgaine stared at it mutely, then pressed her lips to the cool crystal and hung her head as Delilah led her away.
“What about Mordred?” Tanne asked.
“We can’t go chasing after him. We don’t know where he went, and we don’t have the resources to find him. It would be too easy to get lost in this place.” I shook my head. “We have no choice. We have to leave him behind.”
Myrddin spoke. “His destiny lies elsewhere, I fear.” He opened his mouth to say something else. Afraid of what might be coming, I shook my head.
“Shut the f**k up, please.” I nodded toward Morgaine. “Have some pity.”
With a shrug, he closed his mouth and, crooking his finger to Áine, he fell in line and we set off. By the time we got to the shore, Mordred was nowhere to be seen, but the boat was there. If he was still on the island, he had to have found some sort of cover we couldn’t see. If he’d chanced swimming, then he was dead. It was simply too cold for human or Fae to make it across the lake. Silently, we took our places in the boat. This time, Bran, Tanne, Delilah, and Morio rowed while I looked after Morgaine. Áine swept along beside us as we traversed the water, the only sound the swish of our oars.