“One day,” the druid Merlin said, “you will bring your brother home to this island.”
Morgan looked up from the runes, where Thurisaz warned her of coming strife, and stared past the man’s face, to the wall of drying herbs behind. She could not stand to look upon him on the best of days. Today, even less so.
Men never came to Avalon in good health. None save this damned druid, anyway. She could not bear to even contemplate his words. The silence stretched on between them, like the sunlight between menhirs.
“Why, always, do you come and bring grief with you? Has there ever been a time when you came and were welcomed into a home?”
Merlin did not answer for a long, long moment. She looked back down to her runes, content to ignore him. The rune bag rattled quietly as her hands shook. A moment passed before she heard the wooden legs of the chair opposite slide out against the stone.
“Once, I was,” he said at last, and she felt a momentary rush of pleasure that, at least, he could admit it. “When I was an older man, both wise and naive. The Mother’s strange magic, and my own choices, have now aged me into a man who feels too old for optimism and looks too young to heed guidance from. It will be a few years hence, but Arthur will come, and you will ferry him across the lake.”
Her knuckles whitened against the bag, clenched beyond comfort. She heard the words, but it was those unsaid that mattered more: When a king comes to Avalon, Avalon will fall.
It was a prophecy all priestesses knew.
She hated this man. She hated him and distrusted him—for good reason—and yet still found herself mentally cataloging the potions and enchantments she would be wise to have on hand for when her brother, inevitably, showed up. Arthur would come, for Merlin had the Sight, and she would be the only one who could save him.
She wondered, briefly, if she would. Or if it would be a kinder fate to let him pass from this wretched world and the troubles he faced each day in it. If she could leave him outside the mist and keep Avalon—and the magic it generated—safe.
Each time she looked upon her brother, she saw more years etched into his face than her own. Seven years younger than she, he looked twenty older. She was nearing her thirtieth year, and her twenty-first as the Goddess’s, but despite her long years, the Goddess was good to her priestesses. They did not feel the aches and indignities of aging as quickly as others did. The Goddess gave them magic, and magic gave them life. The trade was worth it; despite the costs she had already and would one day pay.
She was grateful the Mother Goddess hadn’t gifted her with Sight, as She did Merlin. It was too heavy a burden to bear. Perhaps, that was why the druid never laughed.
“When? Can you tell me how many years?” The words felt like hellebore on her tongue and she had to push them out through gritted teeth.
Merlin looked at her, impassive, and she knew that he had indeed Seen it, but would not tell her. He would save it until he was aged back down to a babe, and some well-meaning, God-fearing peasant put him out into the forest, fearing a Changeling. He’d likely Seen that end, too. She was grateful she didn’t know her own death, for she had nightmares sometimes of Avalon smothering her, alone, while her Mother Watched from Glastonbury, and woke up panting each time.
“Do you ever think that if you shared more of what you Saw with us, that we could help you? Do you ever think that perhaps the Mother didn’t want you to carry this burden alone?”
The man looked down at his hands, clasped over the rough-hewn wood of the table. When she was a child, and he’d taken her from her mother, he’d been an old man. His hands had been thick and arthritic. Now, they were the hands of a man of middle age, spots long since faded, knuckles no longer creaking. His hair was darker than it used to be. Aging backwards did not seem like a good gift from the Mother, either.
For such a powerful man, he had certainly paid for the magic he used. She still did not trust him, nor like him, and when he inevitably aged down into an infant, she would not rescue him from the Fey. Let each of them accept the cost of the magic they received from the Goddess and the Earth.
“I believe that the time when I was meant to consider that path is too long past to matter now. What is now set in motion cannot be undone, and none of us can escape what will come. We shall bear it out together.”
As if the druids had ever worked in sync with the priestesses.
Her fingers unclenched against the soft bag of runes and two more spilled out, clattering against the table. She didn’t need to look down to see them. In that moment, Morgan knew that she would not live to see the druid Merlin abandoned to the Fey. He had not come to warn her only of Arthur’s potential death—for if it weren’t a grievous injury he would not have needed to warn her; she was too good a healer to fail anything but the most dangerous of injuries—he had come, also, to warn her of her own.
“Tell me, Merlin,” she said, leaning forward so that she could feel his breath against her own face. “Will any of us survive what you have done? Will our way of life? Will Avalon?”
For the Goddess’s priestesses and druids and all those She’d granted magic to were already being hunted down by the encroaching Christians. There were so few places left they had to hide. Avalon would be found one day, perhaps not too far into the future. Perhaps Merlin would bring them here. Perhaps her broth—
Merlin looked steadily back at her. Once, his eyes had been cloudy with cataracts. Now, the blue was as clear as the sea and she knew he Saw. “Not for some time.”
Morgan didn’t know what that meant, but it terrified her all the same.