Daughter of the Morning by Kara Parsons - HTML preview
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hy did you wish to speak to me?” it was the first words Ceri had spoken since their greeting and her voice sounded unnaturally loud in the frosty silence.
“To inform you that the Dark now have full knowledge of who you are. My mission was to warn you to be on your guard, Lady.” Herne paused and then his golden eyes blazed triumph, “However, Ambrosius
recognised you and what is more important is that the other lords of this domain did likewise. I doubt that the Dark expected that. They will no longer be able to thwart you, or not for some time at any rate. My Lady, you are truly fit to hold the San greal.”
“So Sang real flows in my veins,” Cerian replied her blue eyes alight with laughter.
“Oh yes. The Grail made you truly Royal the moment you held it and promised to do your utmost to fulfill the quest to free me.” Herne replied with utter solemnity, “My liege, this is only a beginning and the end is not yet in sight. I believe that we now have a fighting chance.”
“And I must go forward in time,” Ceri remarked. “Come, my Lord.” Side by side they trotted forward and disappeared. Together the horses emerged onto the lawn behind the house. A cold wind whipped around them, making their mounts snort and stamp in protest,
“What now?” Ceri turned her eyes towards the Being on her left.
“It is almost time for the ceremony,” Herne seemed to be sitting straighter in the saddle and his voice had a deeper resonance. ”The days grow shorter and the winter solstice beckons. It is an important time for you - it will be your fifteenth birthday. We must be there for these ceremonies.”
“We?” Ceri queried softly.
“We, my liege.”
“I miss him,” Ceri said simply, staring at the house before her, “he was more of a friend than a father. We never really had time to know each other before I had to leave and yet - and yet I miss him. But I miss my own family too, and these people who took me in when I was but a babe I shall always regard as my first family for without them I may not have had the courtesy to address my true father.”
“I know that,” Herne’s voice was no more than a whisper. “All of the Ancient Ones will be at this festival Lady. The Beltane fire will be high and it may be that you will leap across those flames with your husband-to-be, you should come.”
Ceri flung back her head and laughed suddenly, “You have an ulterior motive, Lord Herne!” She dismounted still chuckling to herself and taking the horse’s reins over its head she handed them to Herne. “Call me when the time comes,” she instructed. Then she turned and walked to the house. At the door she paused and turned to look back.
Herne was still mounted on his horse and for a moment she thought that she saw pity in his gaze then it disappeared to be replaced by a grim smile, she saw him nod quickly and then he and the horses vanished from view. For what seemed a long while Ceri stood watching the spot where they had been.
She was sewing name tags into her blouses when her mother returned, Ceri kissed her firmly before settling down to her sewing again.
“Had a nice day?” her mother asked.
“Yes thanks,” Ceri replied, “quite quiet. Thought I’d get on with some sewing.”
Her mother inspected the work she’d done so far and replied, “Not brilliant but it’ll hold - still needlework was never your strong point. You haven’t been too bored?”
Ceri was tempted to reply, Bored! With Herne the Hunter appearing out of nowhere and suddenly discovering that out of all the myriad of peoples that exist in this universe I am the daughter of a King! Bored? Instead she replied, “A little, but I need the rest, its so frantic at school.”
“Holidays are almost over,” the woman said softly, “you’ll be returning in little less than a month - but you’ve had a nice time?”
“Oh yes!” Ceri hastened to assure her.
“I know I haven’t been around much-” her mother began but Ceri stopped her.
“Don’t worry about it, Mum. Its been nice to have some peace and quiet and some time to myself.”
Her mother slipped her arms around her and hugged her, for a moment Ceri remained rigid and then she relaxed and returned the hug. They parted and Ceri hugged her mother again. Her mother slipped from her embrace and a smile lit her features, “Are you looking forward to your baby brother or sister?”
“Mmmmm, sort of,” Ceri replied, “Though I’m not looking forward to all the nappies.”
“They can be a bit daunting at first,” her mother agreed, “but with practice it becomes easier.”
“I hope so,” Ceri smiled. She leant her elbows on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and said, “I want to help.”
“Don’t worry,” her mother slipped an arm around her and pulled her close, “we can make you chief nappy changer, bottle washer and cook if you want. We’ll count on your help sweetheart.”
“Thanks, Mum.” Ceri smiled and then slipped off the stool. “Can I take Rufus for a walk?”
“Certainly,” her mother replied, “be back in an hour, all right?”
Ceri shoved her hands deep into the pocket of her anorak and trudged through the grey twilight, the earth was hard beneath her feet. Rufus came and nuzzled her leg, “I somehow think you can’t help this time Rufus,” Ceri sighed, she squatted so that she was level with the dog’s head and sighed again, “I feel that I’ve failed. Whatever I was supposed to do I haven’t done or couldn’t do it, and I think I’ve let Herne down. Oh Ruf, what am I going to do? I love my parents, but they’re not my parents, I can’t see my true father as my father, but more as a friend. The whole world is going mad around me and there’s nothing that I can do.”
Then it was as if she heard Herne’s voice in her ears again, “And who are you parents, Lady?”
Ceri shuffled her feet feeling ashamed, she looked up into the gathering dark and replied, “You are right, Lord. My parents belong to this time and to Ancient time. I stand between Times and claim both as my own!”
The warmth of the kitchen enveloped Ceri as she opened the back door, mingling with the smells of cooking. Her mother turned and smiled, “Have a nice walk?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ceri nodded rubbing her hands together, “its freezing out there.”
“I’m not surprised,” Mum said stirring the contents of a steaming casserole dish, “its almost Christmas, Winter begins soon, on the twenty-first of December. Then Christmas and you go back to school on the seventh of January.”
Ceri hung her coat up on the back of the door and went to stand behind her mother. “What’s for supper?”
“Chicken Casserole,” was the reply, “with rice, all right?”
“Fine,” Ceri replied, “anything I can do?”
“Not really,” she slipped the lid back onto the pot and replaced it in the oven, “should be ready in about an hour.”
“Mmmm,” Ceri replied and walked into the dining room. She curled up in a corner reading when she felt a shadow fall across her, “Mum!” she said, “what is it?”
“Nothing, darling, just wondered if you were feeling all right. You’re a bit quiet tonight.”
“Not over thrilled with going back to school,” Ceri lied, “I could quite happily spend the rest of my days lazing around doing nothing.”
“No I don’t think that you could,” Mum replied, “I think that after a week you’d be bored silly.”
“Maybe,” Ceri agreed. She smiled up at the woman and then returned her attention to her book. Her mother laid a gentle hand on her shoulder before returning to the kitchen.
Supper was eaten at the breakfast bar and as Ceri scraped her plate clean with her fork, Mum remarked, “I think someone was hungry.”
Ceri leant back and carefully undid the top button of her jeans, “I’ve eaten too much,” she remarked to no one in particular. Both her parents burst into amused laughter.
Later she helped to load the dishwasher and then they sat down in the lounge and watched the television for a while. Her thoughts flew back to the conversation between Mum and herself, Three days until the twenty-first, she mused, so that’s what Herne meant, the Winter Solstice, a little thrill ran through her, my fifteenth birthday!
“Dad,” she said quietly.
“Yes, sweetheart,” he replied looking up from his newspaper.
“Could we-I mean can we, can I have my birthday on Christmas Day. Then you can combine my Christmas Present with my Birthday one.”
“If that’s what you want my love,” Dad replied, “are you sure?”
“Please.” Ceri responded, “I know that we usually don’t celebrate my birthday until the fifth, but it’ll be really hectic trying to get all my packing done
- and I’d just like to have one day where I don’t have to worry about anything.”
Her father looked across the room at his wife and said, “That all right, love?”
“I don’t see why not,” Mum replied, “it means I only have to cook one meal instead of two. All right.”
Preparations for Christmas began in earnest that week and Ceri found herself being drawn more into the family circle. She found herself stirring puddings, making cakes, mince pies, she even helped her father to fetch the Yule Log. She was so busy that two days passed in a glut of preparations. She had just finished the fifth batch of mince pies and walked out onto the back lawn, it was only half past four, yet the sun was already a orange-red disc on the horizon.
“Our Lord, the Sun, leaves us for another year, we must light the fires to tell him to return to us soon, for the Dark has regained its foothold for a short span. Let there be rejoicing tonight, and let the Beltane fires burn high-” Ceri felt a little shiver run down her spine, there had been a resonance in that voice, as if another person spoke it, and not her father, “everything okay, Cerian?” he asked in a more normal tone of voice.
“Yes, Dad,” Ceri smiled up at him, “what were you quoting?”
“Its a compilation of legend and myth,” he replied, “the ancient Britons believed that the forces of Light and Dark held sway over all countries. They believed that the Sun was not just a source of light, but also their god of Light, so when the hours of light became shorter in wintertime they lit fires in the hope that this would induce him to return. After a while it became customary for the fires to be lit on one special day, the twenty-first of December as this was the true heralding of winter.” He paused and then smiled at his daughter, “they were great fires in those days, and it was said that if a betrothed couple jumped over the flames, hand in hand it prophesied long life and healthy sons.”
“No daughters?” queried Ceri.
“Daughters were not looked upon with favour by the Ancient Briton, all he saw was mouths to feed and dowries to pay to prospective husbands who would take them off their hands. Happily we have modified our approach somewhat and daughters are seen in a more favourable light.”
“Sometimes only a woman may accomplish that which a man cannot.” Ceri remarked.
He replied softly, “Perhaps, but I still believe that woman are the weaker sex and therefore need protection more than men, a man may take care of himself it is harder for a woman. Looking forward to Christmas Ceri?”
“I suppose so, Dad.” Ceri sighed, “I just don’t want to go back to school.”
“I know,” her father took her hand and gently shook it, “but unfortunately its the law, we have to send you to have some sort of schooling.”
“Couldn’t I choose what form of schooling I want?” Ceri queried.
“No.” Her father sighed, “not yet, but when you’re older you may decide what form of education you want to do. You like English, so perhaps you’ll want to study only English, or History, or any other subject.”
“But why can’t I do that now?” Cerian implored.
“Because you need a basic education in all subjects so that the Government can say that they’ve taught you a little about everything. Even if,” he paused at the scowl on Ceri’s face, “you don’t understand any of it. That’s where the system falls down, they check to make sure that you are taught certain subjects, but they fail to check whether the pupils adequately understand them.”
Ceri looked thoughtful and then she said, “Could I study Journalism?”
“Yes,” her father replied, “if you want to be a newspaper reporter, or an Editor of a magazine. Or even if you want to become a writer. Who knows,” his eyes danced wickedly, “you might even win a Nobel Prize for Literature.”
“I might,” Ceri forced a smile to her numb lips, because she knew that whatever power she held within her frame would take her away from those she loved before she could even begin to think of further schooling.
She slept fitfully that night and woke suddenly, as if a well remembered voice had called her from sleep. The night was pitch dark, Ceri pulled a robe around herself and pulled open the curtains. Every blade of grass glittered like a sharpened pilum in the lamplight from the road, a chill wind blew across the grass but the blades did not bend and Ceri was reminded of an army, waiting, waiting for its leader. A whisper touched Ceri’s face and coiled around the curtains making them sway, then Ceri saw him. Herne stood on the lawn clad in armour, he held out his hand and spoke the one word, “Come.”
Without hesitation Ceri stepped through the wall and onto the lawn, she felt him grasp her hand and it was as if she’d truly come home. “My liege,” he said softly, “Art thou ready?”
“This time, yes, Lord.”
Herne gazed down upon her and spoke, “Then come, my Lady.” He took her other hand and kissed her knuckles, as he did so the breeze became stronger and seemed to be blowing them away for they became fainter with each passing moment until there was only the frost on the grass and the mournful note of the night air as it moaned above the garden.
The Abbey’s windows were lit for the feast, in the courtyard a great fire blazed brightly. Herne regarded Ceri’s form with some distaste, “Lady, I suggest that you change, I do not think that you will be regarded with much favour if you appear before the Ancient Ones dressed like that.”
Ceri looked down at herself, her dressing gown looked old and shabby, fluffy pink slippers poked out from beneath it. She wiggled her toes experimentally and then raised her head and grinned up at Herne, “You have a point,” she replied, “If you’ll show me to my room I’ll get changed.”
Herne nodded courteously and one arm around her waist guided her into the building and up the stairs into one of the smaller cells. “Dress quickly,” Herne said as he left her. “And wear this.”
He handed her a medium sized casket, Ceri watched the door close and stood staring at it for what seemed a very long time. Finally she looked around, behind her stood an old table, she placed the box on the table and quickly divested herself of her dressing gown and nightdress. Her clothes were already laid out on the bed, she slipped them on, she wore a white cambric undershirt and above that a pale blue ankle length dress, soft blue leather boots adorned her feet and this time a pale silver belt with the image of a horse embossed on the buckle was fastened around her waist. A rich vermilion cloak hung on the back of the door, she slipped it on, it was equipped with a hood. Then she turned her attention back to the box on the table.
As she opened it a soft gleam came from within and the top fell open to reveal the circlet with which Nimüe had crowned her the night she had been hailed as Princess.
Slowly, reverently she lifted the crown, it seemed to become alive in her hands, as if it had been waiting for her. There was a full-length mirror inside the wardrobe, for a long time Ceri stood staring at her reflection, then reluctantly she placed the crown on her head. It blazed brilliantly, as if to proclaim that it had finally found its mistress.
“Stop that.” Ceri commanded and the glow dimmed, she wrenched it off and collapsed on the bed. When Herne came for her he found her sitting on the bed, her face streaked with dried tears and the crown lying, discarded on the floor.
“I can’t wear it,” she said without turning, “I put it on and it started to glow, and when I told it to stop - it stopped! I don’t want to know any more. Just forget about tonight.”
Herne bent and picked the crown up and seated himself beside Ceri, gently he put an arm around her and cuddled her to him, “Oh Cerian,” he said gently, ”this crown only augments the power you already have, it is only a tool, a sophisticated tool but still a tool. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to of course, but you may find that the tasks you are called upon to do will be much harder without it.”
“But I can’t wear it in my own world,” Cerian turned to look at him for the first time.
“In a few weeks you will become a schoolgirl again and return to your lessons and your books and there will be no question of your power ever coming to the notice of the people in your own world. Lady, you don’t have to use it, not everyone can wear it with impunity, some it has scarred for life because they presumed that they could wear this crown. Will you wear it for me, or if not for me, for tonight?”
Cerian stared at him for a long time and then slowly she removed the circle of silver from Herne’s fingers and returned to the mirror. She combed her fair hair and replaced the band. It glimmered faintly, like starlight on frost. Walking across to the basin and ewer she poured some water and washed the tear marks from her cheeks. It was a more composed lady that turned back to the Hunter, “Shall we go, Lord?” she queried, “it would not do to keep our guests waiting.”
At the bottom of the stairs Galahad was pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. Ceri touched his arm and some of the tension seemed to leave him, “Have we kept you waiting, mon chevalier?”
Galahad smiled down at her and shook his head, “Not really, Princess, but something’s happening around us, Time appears to be shifting and it is disconcerting for one such as I who still remembers what it was like to be constrained by Time.”
“Then we must hurry,” Herne said quickly and the last thing Ceri felt was his hand beneath her elbow before the world around her collapsed. She looked around, Galahad and Cernunnos had disappeared and she stood in a large room before a great fire. Suddenly the door opened and a monk entered, “My Lady, you must come quickly. A messenger has arrived from Winchester, the King, your father is grievously ill. You must go to him.”
“I’ll come immediately,” Ceri said quickly, pulling the cloak around her she followed the Brother out into the chill night air.
A man stood holding the bridles of two horses, Ceri stepped forward into the light and he bowed solemnly, “My Lady, I am charged to bring you to Winchester. You know about the King?” and as Ceri nodded, he continued, “he begged us to find you before he died.”
“Then we must leave immediately,” Ceri replied bluntly. She mounted quickly, fumbling for the stirrup on the sidesaddle and finally gathering up the reins.
She bent down from the horse to inform the monk of her destination and thought that she recognised him, as he held the torch up so that she could see his face, she suddenly knew she was regarding Cernunnos in another guise. “Return to us soon, Madam,” he said quietly, and she heard his voice in her mind, Be of good courage, I shall be with you.
Ceri’s lips set in a thin line and she urged her mount forward into the night. They rode like the wind for Winchester and the moon had set and the stars were beginning to pale when they arrived at the palace. Cerian marched into the keep with all the grace and audacity as befitted one of her rank, “Take me to the King,” she demanded.
“My lady, would you not prefer some refreshment after your ride,” Flaptongue quavered.
“There is no time,” Ceri replied, more gently now, “please, I must see the King!”
“And you shall.” Another voice said softly, Ceri looked up, a nun stood at the top of the stairs, “follow me, my lady.”
There was a smell in the air, and Ceri had to fight to keep from retching, it was a mixture of feathers, sweat and the peculiar fœtid smell of sickrooms. Ambrosius lay on the bed, asleep, though even in sleep he muttered deliriously and his hands plucked the coverlet. Ceri divested herself of the cloak she wore and taking the bowl of water and cloths from the servant gently began to wipe the sweat from her father’s face and neck. As the day wore on he seemed to pass into a kind of sleep. However by mid-afternoon he was muttering again lost in the throes of delirium and Ceri knew that his malady was grave. It was night when she left the chamber to eat a bowl of broth and when she returned Ambrosius was conscious, although Ceri could see from his pallor that he was dangerously ill.
“Ceri!” he cried as he saw her and tried to rise but slumped back against the cushions, “you came. I thought I might never see you again.”
“I told you that if you ever needed me, I would come.” Ceri said, trying not to cry “Do you want me to try to heal you?”
“No.” Ambrosius shook his head, “not this time. Will you tell Merlin I was thinking of him?”
“Father, I’m here.” Ceri turned and saw Merlin standing at the end of the bed, he was older now and all at once Ceri felt more alone than ever, “rest easy Father, we’re both here.”
“You will remember me?”
“All of England will remember you,” they spoke in unison and a weak smile touched his lips.
“You will finish the monument for me?” he spoke to Merlin again and Ceri saw the attendants frightened glances and heard their whispers.
“The King is delirious, he speaks to demons!”
“He cannot live long now, he is not even aware of us.” Ceri saw them both make the sign to ward off the evil eye and suppressed the desire to laugh.
“Do you want to be buried where the monument stands?” Ceri asked. Ambrosius nodded quickly and smiled again, “Uther is to be King after me, you will tell him?” this was to Merlin.
“I shall do that, Father.”
“I have left Britain unified at last. Do not grieve, my children, celebrate my passing for I go to join the Invincible Sun.” He fell silent and his eyes closed, Ceri turned and saw Merlin smile at her, “Will this be farewell, my sister?”
“I don’t know,” Cerian sighed, “I should like us to meet again, brother. You and I are the only ones who understand what it is like to bear these burdens of knowledge and power.”
“I hope we meet again. Have the servants send for my mother’s coffin at the Convent of Saint Peter in Maridunum. Will you take care of him?”
“Yes,” Ceri wanted to say more but found there were no words to express the depth of her emotions. “Farewell, Merlin. I shall dress him in his battle garb with his sword in his hand.” Merlin raised a hand in farewell and then slowly faded until he was gone.
Ambrosius awoke once after that, he smiled up at Ceri and whispered, “Your crown, where did you get it?”
“It was given to me at Glastonbury.”
“I have seen it before,” Ambrosius sighed, “on the altar to Mithras beneath the Mountains of the World. The legend -” Ceri gently laid a finger on his lips, “Sssh, Father, you shouldn’t talk so much. You’ll exhaust yourself.”
Ambrosius grinned, a warrior’s grin, grim and fierce and replied with some of the old strength, “This is something that you should know. This Diadem has lain on the altar to Mithras for many Ages of Man. There is a story that a sword of Power was forged from a special metal long ago and with the excess metal a Diadem was made. It was said that whomsoever wore it would herald the new age.” He broke off suddenly and lay back on the bed his breathing ragged. Finally he looked up at Ceri and she saw that his eyes were full of love, “Is this the new age - now - in my time?”
“Not yet,” Ceri replied, she clasped her father’s hand and said quietly, “I am still not sure what is expected of me, all I seem to do is make mistakes.”
“We all do. Just be sure that you learn from the mistakes you make,” Ambrosius whispered. His lips curved upwards again, “But I have seen the Diadem of Mithras worn, by my own child! What more could a man ask of any god? Stay with me, Cerian.”
“Until you order me to leave you, My Lord.” Cerian replied, “may your sleep be peaceful and your dreams pleasant until the Sol Invictus himself takes your hand and awakens you.”
“My beloved daughter,” Ambrosius whispered and then his eyes were filled with a blue fire. His skin seemed to become translucent and a look of ineffable peace crossed his face. He took a last deep breath and then the breath escaped from his body in a soft sigh and Ambrosius seemed to sink a little further into the cushions.
Ceri slid from the stool and kneeling beside the bed buried her face in her hands and sobbed until she thought her heart would break.
he never knew how long she knelt there crying, but suddenly a gentle hand touched her shoulder and Ceri turned a tear-stained face to see a priest standing behind her, compassion in his eyes. Quickly she scrambled to her feet and murmured, “I am sorry,
Father, you will want to perform the last rites-” her voice died away as the figure slowly changed until Herne was standing before her. She saw pity in his golden eyes, “Come, my Lady, there will be time enough for grief later. You have much work to do.”
Ceri stood up and turned to face Herne, “You knew this would happen, that’s why you wanted me here - you knew!”
“Yes.” Herne replied, “I knew, we must take him and Niniane from this place into one of the Ancient Hills where they may lie in deathless sleep until they can be awakened.”
“When will that be?” Ceri felt the tears course down her cheeks again. The thought of never seeing Ambrosius again was more than she could bear.
“Someday,” Herne replied, ”He was the First True High King of all Britannia, and Niniane would have been his Queen. They have that right.”
Ceri said nothing but the tears that flowed down her face increased in number. Herne put his arms around her and hugged her, “Ssh,” he said softly rocking her shaking figure, “it will be all right, you’ll see.”
Then Herne bent over the silent figure of Ambrosius and laid a palm on his chest. A glow illuminated it and spread to the rest of the body, Ambrosius started to breathe again, long slow breaths, like one caught in an enchanted sleep. “I shall see to the King.” Herne said quietly. “Go and see to the Lady Niniane’s coffin, it should be brought into the adjoining chamber.”
The servants were clustered outside the rooms when Cerian emerged, “The King is dead.” she said simply, “The body is being washed he will be garbed in his armour with his sword in his hand. I came to request the Lady Niniane’s coffin from the Convent of Saint Peter in Maridunum.”
“At once, your Highness.” A servant bowed solemnly and then left the hall. Ceri stood wondering where to go when a gentle voice said, “Madam, would you like a cup of mulled wine? It is a bitter night and you have taken no refreshment since you arrived.”
“Yes, thank you.” Ceri replied. The girl slipped away and returned with a wooden cup more than half-filled with a dark steaming liquid. Ceri took it gratefully while another servant went to fetch a chair. She sipped the hot sweet wine, tried to compose herself, she felt numb, and she couldn’t believe that she would never speak with, or listen, to her father again. She started to cry silently and the tears ran down her chin and dripped into the wine.
A hand dropped to her shoulder and she turned to see Gorlois, the Duke of Tintagel standing behind her. “Is there aught I can do, Lady?”
Cerian shook her head, “There is nothing anyone can do, but thank you, Sir Duke.” Gorlois regarded her silently, the tears coursed down Cerian’s cheeks. Eventually he coughed and handed her a large handkerchief.
The cup of wine was long finished when Lady Niniane’s coffin arrived and Father Elias emerged from the Count’s room. He looked down over the balustrade to see a rude wooden coffin being carried in through the doors. “Bring it up to the King’s chamber. I shall place it beside the coffin belonging to the King.” Herne turned to Ceri and said quietly, “Would you accompany me, Princess.”
Silently Cerian rose to her feet and followed Herne into the chamber. Ambrosius lay on the bed, but in the coffin there lay another Ambrosius, white and waxen, Ceri knelt beside the breathing Ambrosius and bent to kiss his lips but Herne’s hand on her shoulder stopped her, “No, My Lady.”
Ceri looked up and her eyes narrowed in anger but Herne seemed unperturbed, “if you kiss him, you’ll break the enchantment.”
This time Ceri flung her head back and laughed, “Even my power is not sufficient to raise from the dead!”
“You still have no idea,” Herne regarded her somewhat sadly, “the crown you wear means that you, above all the Ancient Ones have the power to halt Death in his tracks, for anyone. You could prevent old age, heal all the world and you would still not use one tenth of the potential you have. The crown you wear is the Diadem of Mithras, the god himself blessed it and conferred the power of the Sol Invictus upon it. You think that you’re the only one to whom it has been offered - think again, the fact that you wear it, and that the crown allows itself to be worn by you means-”
“Means what?” Ceri turned around her eyes blazing, “means I have to abide by your precious rules just because you say so! This coronet means that I could do anything I choose and you can’t stop me! Perhaps I should set myself up as Queen and command all those who swore allegiance to me to follow me, and they would.” She added turning back to Herne, “they owe me that much, Cernunnos!”
“You will not do that,” He said quietly.
“You can’t be sure.”
“Yes I can. If the Sol Invictus, or Mithras or even Nimüe had suspected that you would seek to set yourself up and wrest power from us by force none of this would have occurred-”
“You can’t say that,” Ceri replied angrily, “humans don’t behave like that, for once I would like to defy you all and do something for me - I am sick and tired of doing everyone’s bidding. I was supposed to do something for my father
- and I haven’t been able to do it. I had to watch him die and you let him!”
“No - I did not let your father die -” Herne replied softly, “and had I a choice I would have spared you this. As for you defying us, I have no doubt that you could and might, but I do not think our trust in you is misplaced. If it brings you any comfort, I believe that one day you will take your father’s hand and raise him from this sleep, Lady.”
Ceri suddenly felt the anger drain away, she slumped onto a chair and buried her face in her hands. When she finally looked up at Herne he was smiling down at her, “I am sorry,” she said thickly, “but I wish I could have done more, I wish he could have known how I felt about him and I wish I’d said goodbye.”
“Lady,” Herne replied, “You did do something for him, you comforted him, do you think he did not know his time was near? You offered to heal him and he refused, at least credit him with some intelligence, you eased his passing, your task was to soothe him and what you must do now is to prepare him for the day when he will be awakened. Know this too, that he knew that of all the peoples in the world, the one chosen to wear the Diadem of Mithras was his own daughter. Not a man, but a woman. You comforted him and held his hand
- not even Merlin can say that.”
Ceri sighed and Herne nodded curtly, “You’ll be all right, for you are Much Loved, and not by me alone. Now come, we have a lot of work to do this night and for Niniane I need a woman’s touch.”
Somewhat more at peace with herself Ceri stood up and joined Herne. Their hands rested gently on each other and beneath them a soft golden light began to glow, Herne started to chant:
“Recreate in flesh and bone;
And auburn hair of faerie charm, Sweet Niniane and this spell keep. Her safe and blessed in dreamless sleep. So she, until the mountains sing
May dream in peace, beside her King.”
They opened the coffin and a woman lay within it, she wore a nun’s habit and a cross was around her neck. Ceri stared at the face and watched the chest rise
and fall with the same long, slow breaths that characterised the King’s slumber. “We must dress her in something more appropriate,” Herne said, “this-” he
gestured at the habit and cross, “will never do.”
“I’ve never heard you use spells before,” Ceri said as they removed the head
veil and wimple, “normally you don’t speak.”
“This spell was more for your benefit, I do not know when the mountains will sing, but until they do, Ambrosius and Niniane will remain asleep beneath the earth.”
“I’ve never undressed anyone before, Lord,” Ceri suddenly felt young and alone, “I would prefer not to have to do this.”
“Yes, I know.” Herne said, “but I should like your assistance and it is not so bad once you have done it.”
Ceri nodded quickly, she was already feeling out of her depth and if she
spoke she was afraid that her voice would give her away. Herne gently lifted
Niniane, her wimple slid off and a mass of auburn hair was released. Herne
laid her on the bed and together they divested her of her clothes. Ever
afterwards Ceri remembered little of the experience and barely heard anything
that Herne said to her, but she was aware of his voice in the background, and
it was gentle and encouraging.
Eventually Niniane lay in an emerald green dress next to Ambrosius.
Then Herne turned back to the empty coffin and made a few passes over it with
his hands. Another Niniane appeared lying within it, Herne smiled
triumphantly and then shut the lid. He did the same to Ambrosius’s coffin and
then called the servants.
Ceri touched his arm, “Won’t they notice them on the bed?”
“No.” Herne assured her, “they will see two coffins that are to be taken to
the unfinished monument for that is what they expect to see. You and I have
more important things to do.”
The servants entered and bore the coffins away. Ceri left the room and
found the Steward relaying his orders concerning the two coffins. He stopped
when he saw Ceri, “Yes, my Lady?”
“I regret that I cannot be present for the funeral,” Ceri began, “I must make a
long journey and I cannot wait, Merlin will understand, will you tell him that I
should have liked to have been there. Please-” she held up her hand as the
Steward made as if to assist her, “do not trouble yourselves. I should like to
leave in silence, thank you for your kindness. Fare thee well.”
“May you fare well too, Lady.” the Steward replied but Ceri had already
turned around and the darkness swallowed her up.
When Ceri returned to the upper room Herne was already beginning to
weave his magic. Without any prompting she moved across to stand opposite
Herne, she gazed down at Ambrosius and Niniane and her face was calm and her
bearing queenly, “I hope you are right, Lord Cernunnos, for I would not like him
to sleep forever.”
“Even if he did, Princess, it would be no loss to him. For sleep is pleasant
and for him it will pass in the wink of an eye. We are the ones who are bound by
“That’s true,” Ceri smiled and then their palms touched, for a moment she
felt the world rock beneath her and fought down the desire to steady herself, she was alone at the foot of the stairs, Galahad and Herne were nowhere in
sight. I’ve just been here, she thought puzzled, so how am I back here? She felt a hand beneath her elbow and then heard Herne’s voice, “Mea
culpa, Princess. You had to see Ambrosius to show him that you were the one to wear the Diadem, and to comfort him. Once the main task had been
accomplished, Time brought you back to your starting point, I helped but
really we rode on Time for a while.”
“You might have warned me,” Ceri remarked. She turned to Galahad and
took his hand, “You and I have experienced much, have we not, mon
Galahad lifted her hand and kissed it, “My Lady, we have realised the
impossible! You are my liege lady, now and forever!”
“We are expected in the Great Hall,” Herne interrupted, “The last part of this
Slowly the doors opened and Cerian saw on the raised dais in the centre the bodies of Ambrosius and Niniane, the floral tributes around them both made it
almost impossible for Ceri to move through them. Her nose started to hurt and
tears began to trickle down her cheeks, she stood at their feet and whispered, “I
shall come back and take both your hands and lift this sleep from you, by Epona
and Mithras and by the Light I swear it!”
To her surprise it was Galahad who put an arm around her shoulders and held
her. “We have to take them from here, to another Holy Place. Will you be all
Ceri nodded and from somewhere she dredged up the strength to stand
upright and move away from him. Cernunnos had lifted Ambrosius and for the
first time she saw how stricken he looked. “Oh Cernunnos,” she bit her lower
lip, suddenly ashamed of her previous anger, “you grieve too.”
“We both do, Lady,” it was Galahad who spoke, he held Niniane in his
arms and her copper hair spilled over his breastplate.
“I grieve his loss from our presence,” Herne said softly, “for he too was one
of the Ancient Ones and I shall miss the comfort of having him around.” “What must I do?” Ceri smiled at them both.
“The Diadem will show you the way.” This time Herne’s smile was warm
and full, “relax, Princess, let it guide you.”
Slowly, Cerian began to walk the length of the Great Hall, she paused at the
door and carefully removed the circlet, she held it in her hands and then suddenly she flung it into the air, for a moment it glittered brightly, the black stone
catching the lights of all the candles in the hall and then there was a noise, like a
soft thunderclap, and before them stood another room, the floor was made of
hewn stone and from somewhere, although Ceri could not see where, a cool
blue light illuminated the place. Tentatively, Cerian stepped forward into the
light and Herne and Galahad followed her. Then a door closed and the watchers
were alone in the Hall.
Ceri looked around her, the corridor opened into a large chamber, Galahad and Herne stopped, the room was filled with people, all caught in slumber. Ceri saw one that she recognised and her eyes widened and she recognised
Bedwyr, angrily she turned on Herne, “If he was to be sentenced thus, what was
the point of my forgiveness, why should the Midwinter Thorn bloom if this was
what was going to happen!”
To her surprise it was Galahad who replied, “Lady, without your
forgiveness he could not have entered here, he awaits the One who will take him
by the hand and raise him and present him to his King - as do all who sleep
here. Come, we must place the King and Queen in their appointed places.” This time Herne led the way, to a raised dais, carefully he laid
Ambrosius down and Galahad placed Niniane next to him. Ceri stood looking
down on them her eyes dry and scratchy, she felt too weary to cry, she
wrapped her arms around herself and pushed her chin onto her chest in an effort
to block out the sight of them both.
She turned and began to stride down the rest of the hall, suddenly she
stopped, there were no more bodies, caught in slumber, instead there was a small
chamber hollowed out from the earth itself, set against the wall was what was
obviously an altar and sitting on it was the Diadem that Ceri had thrown into
the air in the Great Hall at Ynys Witrin, she stared at it and then a gentle and
very familiar voice said, “I thought that we would meet again, are you going to
take your crown?”
Cerian turned to see a young man standing behind her, he was still dressed
like a Roman centurion, except that his helmet was held under his arm,
“Greetings,” she said softly, and then curtsied, “Lord Mithras.”
“Lord?” the man’s eyebrow lifted a notch and he inclined his head,
“Ambrosius always gave me the impression you were among the most courteous
of his offspring - I see that he spoke the truth. Listen to me, I may only appear
to you for a short time, by rights I should not appear at all to a woman but
you have been shown a great favour. Lady, the beginning of your quest is
almost at an end, with every choice you make you reject one path and choose
another, how things will progress I know not, but I know this - you of all
who have attempted this quest have come farther and accomplished more than
any of the others, when you leave this place go in good heart. Farewell, Lady.” “Wait!” Ceri cried, “why have you appeared to me now. You did not believe
that I would save the Hunter – why should you appear before me now?” Mithras bowed and when he raised his head Ceri saw a real smile playing
about his lips, “The night you restored Ambrosius to life showed your quality.
You have grace and majesty, Princess. The power runs in you like water. I await
your summons, Princess.”
He raised his arm in a typical Roman salute and Ceri curtsied solemnly,
slowly the man faded from view. She felt rather than heard Cernunnos behind
her, “He called me Princess!” Ceri gasped
“I should hope so,” Ceri thought she heard him chuckle, “Are you going to take your crown?”
“I will not wear the Diadem again until my father awakens from sleep.” Ceri said softly, she smiled half-heartedly. “Where is Galahad?”
“Beside Bedwyr’s bier.”
Ceri turned to see Galahad standing at the foot of the dais upon which one of the fairest of the knights ever to grace the Round Table lay and saw Galahad’s head fall and with a startling clarity knew where she had seen that turn of the head before and of whom Galahad reminded her.
She walked across to him and laid her hand on his arm, “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked softly.
Galahad’s face turned towards her and for a second Ceri saw the agony in his eyes, she reached up and hugged him to her, “Mon chevalier,” she
murmured, “My dearest knight.” It was with a shock that she realised he’d
started to cry, for an instant she was more afraid than she’d ever been in any of her encounters with the Dark and then that feeling too passed and instinctively she rocked him as one rocks a child. When he raised his head from her neck she
saw that his eyes were red-rimmed, “I should have known, after all, Bedwyr told me you were his son on The Day Of The Dead, I wasn’t listening.” Cerian
said softly, “after all he was the best, the bravest and the most beloved of all
knights that didst ever sit at Round Table, the love of Gwenhwyfar and beloved
of Elaine. He’s your father.”
Galahad nodded, “The Ancient Ones say that he will not sleep forever, but
sometimes I feel that the world will dissolve in fire and wrath and he will
dissolve with it. We spent such a short time together on earth and I miss him
more than I ever dreamed possible.”
Ceri looked across at Ambrosius and Niniane locked in their enchanted
sleep and then she turned back to Galahad, “I know.” She said simply, “it feels
like that for me too, even if Cernunnos himself has assured me that someday I
shall awaken them, but at the moment I can’t bear to lose them.”
Galahad reached up and with his thumbs he gently wiped away the tears that
trickled from the corners of Ceri’s eyes and when he spoke his voice was harsh,
“We must go, My Lady, the time for the awakening is not yet.”
“I know,” Ceri sighed again and for the last time looked back at the dais, it
felt as though her heart was being torn apart but she turned back to her two
friends and said, “Let’s go. The longer we stay the harder it will be to leave.” Herne nodded slowly and without waiting for the word Ceri led the way,
they halted as they reached the smooth wall. Ceri raised her hands, palms
together, as if she was about to say a prayer and drew them apart. The wall opened, but instead of opening into the hall this time the entrance led onto a
rugged hillside. Cropping the grass three feet away three horses were tethered, one of them raised its head and whickered a greeting.
Galahad stepped forward his face lighting up, “Crisiant!”
Cerian stepped forward and took the reins of the chestnut mare, ”We shall give you some time to yourself, Sir Knight,” she said formally, “I hope to see you very soon.”
Cernunnos opened his mouth but Ceri glared at him so fiercely that he shut it again. Cerian mounted and Herne followed suit, they left Galahad with his
face buried in Crisiant’s neck.
“Don’t say anything,” Ceri bit the words out, “not a word. Understand?” Herne nodded mutely, after a while Cerian turned to Herne, “All right. Ask
“Why did you leave him? He might do something foolish?”
“I would have been more foolish to compel him to come with us,” Cerian
replied, “That was the first time he’s seen his father, am I right?”
Herne nodded slowly, “I hoped that he would be so caught up in our
ceremonies that he wouldn’t notice.”
“Well he noticed. From the little he said he knew about this.”
“Yes. Or rather he knew that his father passed into the Halls beneath the
Earth to sleep; until a Queen could raise him.”
“But not where? That if I may say so, my lord was somewhat foolish. But
on the whole, better now than later.” By this time the horses had walked in a
circle and they returned to see Galahad trotting towards them. As he reached
them they saw his face was more composed. He smiled and spoke to Ceri,
“Forgive me, Princess.” Then his hand grasped her forearm and he pulled her
towards him and kissed her lips.
Ceri’s eyes opened even wider, she was too surprised to pull away. Then
Galahad released her and was sitting back on his horse. From somewhere
she found a voice, “You’re forgiven, mon chevalier.” He reined his horse in to
match its pace to hers, they were both so taken aback at what had just
transpired that neither saw the smile playing about Herne’s lips.
“You know the place we’ve just been could be anywhere,” Ceri remarked,
“Wales; Scotland; it could even be parts of France or Switzerland.” “That’s the beauty of the place.” Herne replied, “it must be kept secret you
see. Not just from the Dark but from ordinary mortals.”
“Yes.” Ceri mused thoughtfully, “Who knows what Archaeologists and
Scientists and the like would do if they ever discovered that Hall.” Herne shuddered, “Don’t. I have a very low opinion of the majority of your
countrymen, Princess, in fact in four hundred years I have only discovered
two who were worth the trust I placed in them. It does not say much for this
world once the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve are left to their own
“No. No, it doesn’t.” Ceri replied, “but it will be their world and they must
make the best of it.”
Herne halted his mount and said, “Do you know what you just said?” Ceri nodded absent-mindedly, “Only that the world will belong to the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.”
“Yes, I heard that,” Herne licked his lips, “but you didn’t identify yourself among them.”
Cerian turned towards him and opened her mouth and then said, “But I’m not mortal, am I?”
To her surprise, Herne leant forward and hugged her to him, “I know that it is hard to break the ties that bind you; those of family and home are the worst. By acknowledging yourself and your power you’ve taken the first step.” “The first step to what?”
“I don’t know,” Herne replied, “perhaps the first step to self-discovery. Perhaps the first hint of the greatness of your power.”
They rounded the bend in the track and before them the Abbey rose in all its magnificence and Ceri suddenly felt a great sense of relief at the sight of such a familiar edifice. Eagerly she trotted towards it.
He appeared to consult some internal clock before replying, “Approximately thirty of your minutes after we left the Abbey. The others will have dispersed, their part in the ceremony was over when we disappeared.”
Ceri nodded thoughtfully as if considering something else, eventually she spoke, “You used that magic of yours to bring us back, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” Herne’s eyes glinted wickedly, “the very anonymity of where we have just been makes it an admirable place for those who have passed into the Sleep of Waiting to dwell until such time as one may raise them from it. But it would be too far for us to travel in a single day so I merely used what magic I possessed to make our journey somewhat shorter. Happy now?”
Ceri threw back her head and laughed, when she could speak she replied, “Yes, Lord Cernunnos, I’m happy now. I’m going to have a bath and dress in my old clothes, then I think it’s about time that I went home.”
Herne nodded, “For the moment, it is over. You will go home and it may be that all this will fade into your distant memory.”
“Never!” Ceri replied vehemently, “never Cernunnos, and I don’t think that I shall be able to forget what has happened, do you?”
Cernunnos knelt before her and this time smiled, “Oh my Lady, I do not think you will forget, although you may wish that this part of your life did not exist, for this quest is not yet over.”
“I had a feeling you might say that,” Ceri remarked dryly. “But I suspected as much, after all it was promised that I would see Ambrosius again and raise him and Niniane from their sleep. I shall go back to the world, but not my world and this world will become somewhat dim, at least for a while.”
“I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” Herne said softly, “it may be at least a year.”
“Yes.” Ceri nodded, “but if time is short it may not be as long as you think.”
“Mmm.” Herne appeared to ponder this for a moment and then he said, “The Ancient Ones have waited many centuries for you to appear, what is one more year?”
“We shall see, Lord Cernunnos,” Cerian replied, she stared out at the apple orchards surrounding the Abbey and at the bare trees their branches waving in the wind, “but I do not know what I feel at present.”
“Lost.” Herne said unexpectedly his hands closing on her shoulders, “I know, they say at the end of things one feels satisfaction but I have never felt it, only a great sense of loss and sometimes a feeling of triumph, but those times have been very few. There is certainly a feeling of not knowing what to do next, I am afraid that I cannot help you, I only hope that you make the transition back to your own world without too much pain.”
“Will I always have these powers?” Cerian asked.
“Oh, yes.” Cernunnos nodded, “it is unlikely that you will use them in your own time simply because of the way that you are perceived. You will be regarded as a schoolgirl again and not as a Princess in her own right.”
Ceri nodded wearily, she turned back to the Abbey and said, “I’ll go and have my bath. When can you be ready to leave?”
“Soon, my Princess,” Herne said, “I think that you ought to inform Galahad, I know that he cherishes you dearly.”
“You make him sound like a lovesick swain,” Ceri muttered her blue eyes flashing.
Herne smiled the smile not quite reaching his eyes, “Perhaps he is.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Cerian gasped, “he daren’t fall in love with me!”
“If I recall his history aright,” Herne responded. “He loved someone very much once until she died, he has searched half the universe looking for her likeness. I have seen him look for her in every face that entered this Abbey and he has never found her-”
“Until me,” Ceri said softly.
“Yes. Until you.” Herne said nothing for a few moments and then he continued his story, “Her name was Anchoret, Perceval’s sister, had they been different people and not on a quest for the most precious of the Light’s objects they would probably have married. But Anchoret died to save the life of a worthless harlot and Galahad grieved the rest of his days.”
“But I’m not Anchoret,” Cerian replied, “and she wasn’t me. If he loves her. And sees her in me. Then he doesn’t love me.”
“Perhaps in time-” Herne left the sentence unfinished.
“No.” Ceri’s voice was firm, “He loves Anchoret. I’m Cerian. He will be my dearest knight for all our days but that is all we can be. I shall go and wash my hair, perhaps you can find the words for Galahad. I cannot.”
She nodded shortly to Herne and walked back to the Abbey. Upstairs a young serving-girl was waiting next to a bath, the water steamed slightly. “Could you fetch the clothes I arrived in, please?” Cerian asked quickly. She stripped quickly and stepped into the slightly fragrant water, she lathered her body and when the serving girl returned Cerian asked, “Would you wash my hair?”
“Most certainly, Madam.” The girl soaped her hair and then rinsed it with clean water, which stood in large jugs next to the bath. Ceri stepped out quickly and rubbed herself dry with the rough towels. It felt peculiar to dress again in her nightdress, dressing gown and fluffy slippers. Herne entered as she was combing her drying locks and said, “Are you ready? We must depart soon, my liege.”
“I’m ready now, Herne.” Ceri replied. Herne walked across the small room and took both Cerian’s hands in his own. “Dear Princess,” his golden eyes seemed to become larger, “I wanted to tell you that it has been both a privilege and an honour to serve under you.”
Cerian’s eyes filled with tears and she bent her head to hide them, “Thank you, Cernunnos,” she said thickly.
The lawn was still silent in the grip of an early winter frost, Ceri stood looking at the stark, silent house and bit her lip while the tears ran down her cheeks and dripped from her chin. Finally she turned to Cernunnos and said in a steady voice, “Farewell, my lord Cernunnos. I hope it will not be too long before you and I see one another again.”
Herne bowed and replied, “Go, my Princess. I know we will see each other again even if it is a hundred years hence.”
Cerian nodded, she stepped forward, through the wall and into her room. She turned quickly to see Herne’s form slowly fade and disappear. I wonder if this is the last time I shall see him, she thought. She slipped back into bed her teeth chattering, and wrapped the duvet around herself in an attempt to get warm. She lay awake, staring up into the darkness and the tears started again and ran down the sides of her face and wet her pillow.
Ceri was very subdued the next morning, “Are you all right, love?” her mother asked quickly.
Ceri managed a painful smile, “I’m fine, Mum.” She lied, “just not looking forward to going back to school.”
Her mother put an arm around her shoulders and said, ”I know, I know. But once you’re there it’ll flash by and you’ll be home again before you know it.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Ceri murmured doubtfully.
“Would you like to go to Windsor Great Park with your father tomorrow?” Her mother asked, “you’ll have to set off quite early - would you like that?”
Ceri’s eyes lit up. “Could I really? I mean I have things to do - I really ought to start packing-”
The woman laughed, “I can start that for you, as it is I’ll have to start putting name tapes into your new skirts and blouses. I think Dad would like the company.”
“Can you feel the baby kicking yet?”
“Not yet,” Ceri’s Mum replied gently, “they usually start to kick around the third month.”
“Oh,” Ceri replied. Then changing the subject, “What time are we leaving?”
“You’d better ask your father that.” She replied, “probably at some Godforsaken hour like half past five.”
Her father was burning the last of the rubbish at the top of the garden, he turned as he heard Ceri’s footsteps scrunch on the frosty grass. “What is it, love?”
Ceri stood panting for a couple of minutes before replying, “I came to ask if I could come to Windsor Great Park with you tomorrow.”
“Of course, sweetheart.” He replied, “it may be a little boring for you, I just want to do a bit more research in the Chapel - still want to come?”
“Please!” Ceri’s lower lip quivered and for a moment it looked as though she was about to cry.
“Very well-” It seemed as if her father was going to say more but whatever it was, was lost as Ceri threw herself at him and buried her face in his jumper. “Hey! What’s this!” He laughed as he gently disentangled her arms, “why the hug?”
Ceri gazed up at him and said, “I just felt like hugging you, that’s all.”
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. Ceri hugged him wanting to hold onto him forever, for them to remain locked as one person.
“Richard, Richard!” Her mother’s voice broke the spell, her father lifted his head and called, “What is it, love?”
“Supper’s ready - are you two coming?”
He gently shook Ceri’s shoulder and she looked up, “Let’s not keep Mum waiting,” she said, “I don’t fancy it cold.”
“Me neither,” he replied, and they walked down the garden together hand in hand.
“Are you going to do anything exciting this term?” Her father asked as they ate.
“I doubt it,” Ceri grimaced, “it’ll be absolutely freezing at Powys Hall, its the only place I’ve ever known shampoo to freeze!”
“You mentioned it in one of your letters home,” her father said between mouthfuls, “still you’ve got your winter duvet there and you can take one of our hot water bottles.”
“Yes but they go cold so quickly,” Ceri replied plaintively, “and when its cold in the morning I never want to get out of bed.”
“That’s normal,” her mother laughed, “especially when it’s cold.”
Ceri nodded and returned her attention to the meal. Her mother made the sandwiches that night and packed them carefully in the cold box. “I’ve made Chicken sandwiches for both of you, there’s salad in the ice-cream container, I’ve put a couple of apples in and two bags of crisps - I’ve also put a slab of chocolate in for you. I don’t think you’ll go hungry.”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right here on your own?” Ceri asked quickly suddenly feeling terribly guilty.
“I think so,” her mother replied, “I’m going to have a nice long lie in bed and then I shall potter quietly around the house. You two go off and have a nice day.”
“I think we can do that, Connie,” her father wrapped his arms around Ceri and he bent to kiss the top of his daughter’s head.
The next morning her father shook her awake, Ceri dressed quickly and slipped outside. The sun was a crimson ball just resting on the horizon as she opened the car door and stepped inside. She dozed for most of the journey and opened her eyes just as the Range Rover turned into the road that led up to Windsor Great Park. The trees that lined their route were stark and bare, their grey branches cutting into the flinty blue of the sky, and this time there were no dryads within them to greet her.
Her father’s hand touched her thigh, “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Ceri turned to face him and forced a smile, “nothing at all. I was just a bit shocked - the trees look so bare and lifeless - quite a contrast from the last time we were here.”
“Yes.” Her father murmured thoughtfully, “but last night you were so excited
- almost as if you were coming here to meet someone - and just then you looked so stricken - as if you’d been told that they’d just died.”
“Do you believe in demons?” Ceri asked suddenly, changing the subject.
“That depends on what you mean by demons,” he replied, “I believe in forces beyond our control - most demons are the result of man’s inner fears or guilt complexes. Why do you ask?”
“Because I believe in at least one demon,” Ceri said softly, “the one who inhabits this park. Herne the Hunter.”
“Yes.” Her father replied, “I believe in the legend - but legends change with the telling and people may have seen one thing and attributed it to the demon. People were very superstitious in mediæval times.”
He stopped the car and they both got out, Ceri pulled her anorak on and then said, “But I believe he exists - I’ve seen him!”
Her father turned to face her his face suddenly pale and for a moment Ceri was afraid he was angry with her, for a long time he didn’t speak and then he said, “You’ve seen Him? The Hunter?”
Ceri nodded dumbly her heart aching, she wanted to reach out and hug the man she had always regarded as her father but she couldn’t move. Her father licked his lips and then said, “I saw Him once, a long time ago, at his Oak, it was where I found your mother.”
“How?” Ceri’s voice emerged as a squeak.
Her father didn’t answer; he opened the door of the car and said, “Get in.” Ceri climbed inside. He closed the door and began to speak, “I was staying at a hotel across from Windsor Great Park, I can remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was a hot summer day, but dull and overcast,” he smiled to himself, “I thought it was going to rain. I had spent much of the day tramping around the Park wishing that I was somewhere else when it seemed as if by chance I found myself approaching Herne’s Oak. I remember standing reading the inscription when I suddenly heard a woman moaning. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the tree, I walked around it and saw the woman. She was in the last stages of labour. I helped her to her feet and drove her to the hospital; you were delivered five hours later. Then the woman started bleeding internally and there was nothing that the doctors or the midwives could do about it. She looked up at me and begged me to return her to the park. Against all the doctors’ orders I signed the release form and did as she asked, she told me to leave her by the Oak, but I couldn’t, so I stayed with her and the last thing she said was “Take care of the baby. Her name is Cerian, Cerian Aurelia.” She just slipped away, “Everyone assumed we were married. I took you from the midwife and I felt an instant attraction-” he broke off and turned to stare at Ceri.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“We were going to this year. Her father smiled at the memory, “After all I have no idea who your mother was, perhaps she was another homeless vagrant who’d become pregnant and didn’t realise it until it was too late to have the baby aborted. I couldn’t give you up to the orphanages not after I’d held you. So I simply pretended that you were my daughter. I spent a lot of time out of the country in those days so it was easier than I thought it would be. Then I met your stepmother when you were four and you both seemed to like one another very much, and I’d fallen in love with her, so I married her.”
“So when did you see the Hunter?” Ceri asked quietly.
“I came here when you were about five, you and your stepmother sat in the car and I suddenly came face to face with this fur covered creature with antler horns on its head.”
“What did you do?”
“Thought I was hallucinating,” her father replied, “then it spoke to me, it said, ‘Greetings, Richard, I am Herne the Hunter. I charge you to take good care of the child you have adopted, many things may stand or fall because of her.” Then it disappeared and I was alone. I kept it to myself because I didn’t want to be sent to a Mental Institution. You say you met the Hunter too?”
“The first time we came here I met the Hunter,” Cerian replied, “and I wanted nothing to do with any of it - and I’m still not sure that I want anything to do with it now!”
“What happened?” Her father asked gently.
“I met my real father, and I’d just got to know him when he died, I thought I would split in two. I saw him as a true friend and I miss him more than I can possibly say-” Ceri broke off and began to cry, she cried and cried as if her heart was breaking, she heard the car door open and then her door open and she was gathered up in a pair of strong arms. He rocked her gently and soothingly until her sobs abated, then he handed her a clean handkerchief, “Dry your eyes,” he ordered, “I think we ought to talk.”
He climbed in his side of the car and stared out into the brightening day, “It must be hard for you, coming to terms with all this.”
“Its harder coming to terms with the powers I have,” Ceri replied, “I’m sorrier for you - why didn’t you ever tell me?”
A smile cracked the man’s sombre mask, “Because I promised and I keep my promises - no matter how ridiculous. Besides which, I did not know what these powers had in store for you - you might not have come back to me!”
“You think so little of me?” Ceri stared at him.
“Not of you - of those whom you serve. Your blood ties are somewhere in the past, you have none in the present, how hard can it be for you to break your ties here?”
“You and Mum are as much my parents as are Ambrosius and Cerian,” Ceri replied taking both her father’s hands in her own, “in fact more so because you both brought me up, I look to you for my behaviour, I look to you for praise and punishment, I love you both because you are my parents if not by blood, then by the simple fact that you were there.” Cerian smiled and then her expression became sombre again, “I did come here with an ulterior motive, I had hoped to see Herne again, to ask his advice, but there’s nothing here.”
“I must confess that I came with an ulterior motive too,” her father replied, “I wanted to see if you were the one chosen, there seemed to be no significant change in you and I thought that if anything was going to happen it would be this year or not at all - so when you said that you wanted to come I thought it would be ample opportunity to see if I dreamed the whole thing up out of my head.”
“And you didn’t.” Ceri responded, “how do you cope?”
“In the beginning I convinced myself that you were the daughter of a woman I had loved and that she was dead, I’d almost convinced myself of it, and I tried to bury myself in my work in the hope of distancing myself from you, except that never worked as you seemed to be drawn to me. So I watched you grow and held my secret in my heart and hoped that you could grow to adulthood in the twentieth century.”
“Why isn’t Herne here?” Ceri asked plaintively, she wrapped her arms around herself and buried her chin in her chest.
“Perhaps because you’ve done all you can do for the moment,” her father said softly, “perhaps we have to work this out together.”
“I probably have to work this out alone,” Ceri remarked to no-one in particular, “I’m just becoming used to my new status and I have to return to my old one. It’s no fun.”
“Its no fun knowing about it,” her father murmured softly.
“Can we go for a walk somewhere,” Ceri said quickly, “I know you have work to do.”
“All right.” Together they walked hand in hand along the path through the forest. A thin layer of frost still glimmered on the ground and as they stepped through some of the tall grasses a cloud of small white moths fluttered from their depths.
“Don’t disturb them,” Ceri said softly. Her father stood wide eyed as the moths spun upwards around him like a cloud of snowflakes.
“Aren’t they beautiful...what are they?” Her father asked.
“Plume moths,” Ceri gazed at her father, a mixture of love and regret in her eyes, “There’s an old saying about them, that they carry memories away.” The last of the moths fluttered upwards into the morning and her father shook himself like a dog emerging from a river.
“Dad?” Ceri said softly, “anything the matter?”
He looked down at her a puzzled expression on his face, “What was I talking about?” he smiled at his daughter, “my mind’s gone completely blank.”
“Something to do with work,” Ceri lied.
“Ah yes. I’ll give you the keys of the car and you can sit in there if you like. I’ll be back for lunch and then we can get home. Suit you?”
“That’s fine,” Ceri replied. She watched as her father began to walk purposefully towards the Chapel and at that moment she felt Herne’s hand on her shoulder. She turned around and flung herself into his arms, “You came! Oh you came! I thought you’d never come!”
Herne held her tightly and then released her, “I am sorry for what I did,” she said, “but it has been hard for him these past years, better that he should believe that I am his daughter, do you not think?”
“I was not about to reprimand you,” Herne said softly, “I think you have done the only thing you could. He hoped so much that you could be his daughter in every sense of the word and never know how you were found or how your Destiny might be affected.”
“Can we talk for a little, Lord?” Ceri asked tentatively, “I came back here because I wanted to talk to you - when we drove through the gates and you were not here to greet me I thought that I’d lost you.”
“You’ll never lose me,” was Herne’s reply, “you are my Salvation. I did not greet you because I was not sure that I needed to, my Princess you have come so far, are you still so unsure of yourself and your power?”
Ceri smiled, “I have just become used to my rôle; I hope I never take the power I wield for granted and now I have to become a schoolgirl again. I never was a good actor, Cernunnos.”
“Then you will have to learn how to become one,” Herne replied. “I suggest that we go and refresh ourselves and discuss matters.”
Ceri smiled at him, “May I take us there this time?”
“With pleasure,” Herne replied, “Glastonbury, please.”
Ceri nodded and turned to face the trees, they wavered slightly as if blown by a breeze and then it seemed to Ceri as if the form of the Abbey at Glastonbury began to take shape before them gradually obscuring them from view as it solidified and then they stood in the orchard. It was winter and the skeletons of the trees made Ceri shiver.
Herne mistook her shivering for the cold, “Come inside,” he said quickly, “let’s get a cup of something warm into you.”
Ceri sat before a roaring fire and looked across at Herne, “This was where Galahad was injured.”
“Yes.” Herne replied, “at the moment it is the best that we have. We do not have many visitors after the Midwinter Solstice. I wanted to bring you here because I want to tell you something.”
“My Lord,” Ceri gazed at him. “You told me all I needed to know the last time we met - let it wait until we meet again. It has been one of the best holidays I have ever spent, of that you can be certain.”
“Nevertheless, I feel I should say it.” Herne paused to let the import of his words sink in and then he took her hands and said, “Sometimes I forget that you are a child, that you have not been schooled in the way of nobility and I forget too that this must be hard for you. If I do so in the future - I trust you will tell me because I feel that you must remain in your world for many years to come so somehow you must marry the two. Never forget that all of the Ancient Ones are proud of you, there have been others who had the same rights to your throne who have not behaved half as well as you. Drink your cocoa and then we will return.”
This time it was gentler motion, they appeared in almost exactly the same place as they had before and Ceri saw a familiar figure coming towards them, “Dad!” she cried delightedly,
Herne laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, “Do not blame yourself for what you had to do, if he knew that with each step you take towards us you lose him it would grieve him. Remember, he is a good man and I placed my trust in him a long time ago when I entrusted your upbringing and education to him, hold him in honour.”
“Always,” Ceri replied simply, “he’s my father.”
Herne watched as she ran towards the figure and upon reaching it threw her arms around him and hugged him. Then arm in arm they walked back to the car. Ceri unpacked the lunch and they munched through the sandwiches while the inside of the car misted up around them. “Did you get your work done?”
“As much as is possible,” her father replied, “the rest will have to be done on the typewriter I fear. Did walking around a deserted park bore you?”
“Not really,” Ceri replied, “I had a lot to think about.”
“School and the like?”
“School mostly,” she said wrapping the utensils up. “Shall we get going?”
“Certainly,” her father replied. He turned the key in the ignition and slipped the car into gear, quietly the Range Rover purred down the drive.
Ceri looked into the side mirror and saw Herne standing beside one of the oaks, Farewell, Lord she thought.
“Do you think you’ll come back here?” Her father asked, “in the spring perhaps?”
“In the Spring,” Ceri murmured as if she had not heard and she seemed to hear distant voices whispering like the leaves on a hot autumn day Come back to us, Princess, come back in the spring!
“It’ll be cold in April,” she said quietly.
“But the trees will be budding and the snowdrops blooming, Winter will be past for one more year. Rejoice in the greenery of Spring and return to these woods.”
Ceri glanced sharply at her father but he was gazing out of the windscreen, “You sound just like a Druid.”
“I just like life,” her father replied, “in all its forms and we should always rejoice that the darkness of winter is over. Say you’ll come back here with me when the new grass is growing and the skies are clear.”
“All right,” Ceri replied dubiously, “Then I’ll come back with you in April.”