I’ve always been an Arthurian fan, but this book started with a joking conversation about which one of Arthur’s knights was most likely to be a disguised woman.
The Lay of Lady Percival is a tragic story; that is unavoidable when you tell tales of Camelot. It’s a Camelot that might have been, one in the shadow of Rome and of climate change, one wracked by religious conflict between old and new.
It’s the tale of an Arthur who knows how to lead men but not handle women, of a war band that come together when they are most needed, and of a blooded Grail.
“Gwydion, Gwydion, slow down!”
The toddler stopped, but punctuated it with, “No.”
She had chosen a British name for her son. Perhaps it was because they had to be British now, not Roman. Perhaps because she did not want to remember the other half of his heritage.
There was much of Arthur about his features, although he had his mother’s dark hair, sure to be black before he matured. She quickened her pace, caught him up in her arms. “Do you want to see the warlord or not?”
He squirmed, but briefly. The warlord. The man the tribes had chosen to lead their united warband. Dux Bellum, the Romans would have said.
His name flowed through her mind and almost reached her lips. Arthur. It could not be her Arthur, yet…the name was the same. How rare a name was it? Rare in Britain, yes, but not in the lands of the Norse and the Dane and the Saxon. Thor was one of their gods.
He had been named after a god, just as she was. Yet, had he stayed, he would have come to her on that clifftop. Had he stayed, she would be at his side now, and Gwydion riding on his shoulders.
For a moment that vision was clearer than the reality. The one servant she had brought helped her clear a way through the crowds.
He would be acknowledged outside the Cathedral, a nod to the Christians. That was not how it should be. They should be in the great royal circle of Avesbury, not that teeming city, diminished yet still vibrant.
Gods. Persy hated Londinium.
Yes, there they were on the steps, the most important of the royals of Britain, gathered. She should be with them, her blood was as good. Something about her urgency was picked up by the crowd, who parted, leaving a clear route to the center of it all.
Gorlois of Lyonesse, his wife Ygraine and daughter Morgan. Lot of Orkney, with his wife, Gorlois’ sister Morgawse…once considered the most beautiful woman in the land. Their two sons…Gawain and Galahad, the latter barely fourteen. And Leodegranz of Wales with his daughter, the fair Guinevere.
She knew she should not, but nonetheless she let her track drift to the edge of the group.
A white horse came through the crowds. It bore a figure in armor akin to that a Roman general might have worn, but a longsword rested at his side.
The warlord dismounted and removed his helm, and her heart skipped a beat. “Arthur.”
His eyes turned to her, lingered, and then glided away. It was almost as if he did not recognize her.
No, his eye had gone elsewhere once it had rested not on Persephone, but on Gwydion. It was the child he denied, and the mother with him.
Then he turned to face the Kings. The Bishop of London stepped out onto the steps, where the highest of the druids, Merlin, should have stood.
“Arthur,” he greeted. “Do you truly take the charge of leading our defense?”
“I do.” His eyes were entirely on the bishop now.
Persy’s were entirely on him. As were Gwydion’s, the boy too young to understand but fascinated by the ceremony.
It was Morgawse who interrupted. “The Christian kings will accept him. But for those of us who follow the old ways, we want more.”
Arthur turned towards her.
“If this man is to lead above even the Kings, he must be bound to the land.”
“Meaning?” That word came from the bishop, and in it sounded a volume of disaste, every aspect of his tone and the shift in his stance revealing that he wished nothing of such pagan rites.
“He must wed a woman of our royal line.” Morgawse’s eyes fell first on Morgan, then on Guinevere, then, after a long moment, on Persephone.
She bit back ‘He already has’. Why was he betraying her? For his eyes did not move towards her.
Instead, he regarded the two other women, one dark, one fair who faced him. And she knew the truth of his choice. Morgan was as pagan as they came, rumored to be both a powerful witch and priestess of the terrible Morrigan. Leodegranz was Christian, as, one could presume, was his daughter.
“Then, I will wed Guinevere of Wales.”
Hatred and confusion boiled up within Persephone’s heart. She would see him brought down. She would…
…she could not. Without one unified leader, they would fall. So, instead, she stood there, watching.
Watching as he vanished into the church. Then, she understood. Arthur had converted to Christianity. A wife named after a Greek god could be nothing but an embarrassment to him and a bastard child could only be worse.
Yet, he owed her. Could he not see that?
She vowed to speak with him, before he could wed fair Guinevere. She had one thing that delicate, blonde woman with the slender hips did not.
She had his son.
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