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Reese squinted into the bright morning sunlight. Now that he was back in Camelot, he felt better. Certainly, it had been hard to see Guinevere last night when he returned and stare into her eyes. He couldn’t help but see the longing that was there. However, he knew he could keep himself from her this time. He must. He had to. Still, he couldn’t be out in the world. He couldn’t shake how deeply hurt the girl had been. Elaine.
If he stayed away from the queen, he would break more hearts. He couldn’t be responsible for that. Here, at least, he was only hurting himself and Guinevere and Arthur. Out there, he could hurt so many more. He would minimize the pain he caused to the world. He would stay here.
When he’d seen Arthur last night, Arthur had been distant. He knew that Arthur’s sister had somehow stolen into his quarters a week or so ago and stolen Arthur’s scabbard. He knew too that Morgan was more than Arthur’s sister, and that Arthur was fairly in love with her, as horrible as that sounded. It was a sad world they lived in, all doomed to loves they could not have. Just like poor Elaine, the fair maid of Astolat. How sweet she had been, tending to him all the time he’d had the fever. If only he could have loved her. If only…
He’d had a difficult time sleeping last night. It was early, but he’d wanted to walk, to get away from the castle. While he walked, he found himself becoming frequently confused by the terrain. Things were not quite as he remembered them. He told himself that it was only that he’d been gone from Camelot for so long. Still. He kept seeing strange things, like the tall tree with long, black strands at the top—power lines.
He stopped and furrowed his brow. There was that too. The strange words kept popping into his brain. And he could have sworn that when he woke up this morning, he did not awaken in his own bedroom.
Perhaps it was time to stop walking. He was in a heavily wooded area, one of the walking trails that surrounded Arthur’s castle. The river ran through the woods here. The same river he’d floated down from Astolat to Camelot just the other day. He climbed up on a rock that jutted out over the river and sat down.
But the river looked odd. It was only a small stream, not the roaring river he was expecting. And this rock. Something had happened here. Something—
Who was Sophia?
He shook his head, trying to shake the thought from his brain. He just looked down at the river.
Even now, though, he could picture a girl, lying right beneath him, her neck twisted, wearing strange clothes. And then—
No. There was no girl there. Instead, it was the lady Elaine, floating in a boat, her face the color of ice.
Meaghan. Lying in the stream. Holding a bunch of dead leaves like flowers.
Reese leaped into the stream and splashed to her body.
She was dead.
“My lord,” said Wyn, attempting to stop Gavin from walking down the hall, “I don’t think you should accept this gift from her. We cannot trust her. She is a witch.”
“Nonsense,” said Gavin, shoving her out of the way. They stood outside their bedrooms. “There are no such things as witches. She is my sister, and I would be reconciled with her. She offers her apologies. She has returned the scabbard. I shall wear her gift.”
Reese appeared at the top of the stairwell. He was out of breath, and his feet were muddy.
“Thank heaven, Lancelot,” said Wyn. “You must talk some sense into the king.”
“Meaghan,” said Reese.
The two cocked their heads at him, both looking puzzled.
Reese went past them to the door to Meaghan’s room. He threw open the door and went inside. No one was in her bed. He yanked at the bed covers, flinging them on the floor.
“Lancelot?” said Gavin.
Reese looked up at them. “The Lady Elaine,” he said. “She is dead. I killed her.”
“Elaine?” asked Wyn.
“She is the girl who took care of me when I was wounded,” said Reese. “She fancied me, but I did not return her affections. I am afraid she took it quite badly.”
“Well, you must give her a lovely funeral then,” said Wyn, dismissing the matter. “My lord Arthur insists on putting on this mantle.” She held up her arms as if to show Reese something. There was nothing in her hands.
“It looks very nice,” said Reese. “But I cannot think of such things right now. I must go to Elaine’s family. I must—”
“This mantle,” said Wyn, “is a gift from Morgan.”
“She apologized for stealing my scabbard and sends this mantle as a gift,” said Gavin. “I’m going to put it on.”
“What if the witch has bespelled it?” asked Wyn. “I do not think we can trust her.”
Reese crossed to Wyn and took the invisible mantle from her. “We’ll have a servant try it on,” he said.
“No!” said Gavin. He went to Reese and put his hands on the invisible mantle. The two began a sort of tug of war over it. But there was nothing there.
Lissa came into the hall, yawning. “Why are you awake and making so much noise?” she asked. She didn’t look happy.
“You then,” called Reese. “Come here and try on this mantle for the king.”
“Don’t do that!” Gavin said, struggling to get the invisible mantle from Reese.
“Grab her,” Reese said to Wyn.
Wyn went to Lissa and took her by the arm. “This will only take a moment,” she said. “We just need to find out if it’s an enchanted mantle.”
“Enchanted what?” asked Lissa. She let Wyn lead her over to Gavin and Reese. “What are you two doing?”
“Is that any way to speak to your king?” asked Wyn. “Lancelot, get the mantle from Arthur.”
“I’m trying,” said Reese, giving a mighty tug.
“You guys are fighting over nothing. You know that, right?” asked Lissa, trying to get out of Wyn’s grasp.
“Just hold still,” said Wyn. “We’re going to put it over your shoulders.”
“Over my shoulders? There’s nothing there. You’ve all gone insane!” Lissa wrenched her arm away from Wyn. At the same moment, Reese yanked away at the invisible mantle, seeming to free it from Gavin’s grasp.
Lissa sprinted towards the steps. Reese followed her and caught her. He draped something she couldn’t see around her shoulders. Lissa pushed him away.
She lost her balance and scrabbled for the railing to the steps. She couldn’t grasp it. She tumbled down the steps, rolling over and over. When she reached the bottom, she didn’t get up.
Reese, Wyn, and Gavin peered down at her.
“Well,” said Wyn. “I’m so glad you didn’t put that on, my lord.”
Gavin was furious. He stalked back to his room and slammed the door.
Wyn looked after Gavin. “I suppose I should go after him,” she said.
“Yes,” said Reese. “It wouldn’t be right for us to be here alone.” He glanced down at Lissa. “I’ll get someone to dispose of the body.” He went down the stairs, stepping over Lissa.
“Reese,” said Lissa. Reese didn’t answer. He strode across the foyer to the den and threw open the door. “Reese. I think I broke something.” She was crying. “Can you call 911?”
Reese shut himself inside the den.
“Help!” screamed Lissa.
Madame Braith was pacing. Wyn, Reese, and Gavin were gathered in the den, sitting together on one of the leather couches. Gavin couldn’t help but notice that she wasn’t pregnant anymore. She looked just as she had before all this had started. Which was strange, because, if anything, he thought things were worse now. The last thing he remembered was the ritual last night. Then he’d woken up lying face down on his bed, wearing different clothes than he had the night before. Wyn had been knocking on his door to tell him that Madame Braith wanted to see them.
“I don’t understand what happened,” said Madame Braith.
Gavin didn’t understand either. Had he been drugged? He remembered a dream, sort of. It had been another of those King Arthur dreams. But when he tried to put it together, he couldn’t get the details right. Whatever had happened, Madame Braith’s purging ritual hadn’t worked. At least not for anyone except herself. Gavin’s eyes narrowed. He should have known they could never trust her.
“Lissa was lying at the bottom of the steps, screaming. She says you did it to her. And no one helped her. What happened?” said Madame Braith.
Gavin looked from Wyn to Reese. “Lissa?” he asked. Crap! The charm being wound up and everything. They were supposed to keep her safe.
“Is she okay?” asked Wyn. “She’s not dead, is she?”
“No, she’s not dead,” said Madame Braith. “But she won’t come back here unless you’re gone, and Amanda is with her. They’re staying in town. They don’t want to see any of you. Now, what did you guys do?”
Gavin shook his head. “Nothing. We didn’t do anything to her.”
“She says you were trying to put something over her shoulders, but she couldn’t see what it was. She says you were all completely out of your minds.”
Shoulders? The dream swam back to him out of the depths of his memory. Morgan’s mantle. His escape… But— “I haven’t seen her.”
“Me either,” said Wyn.
“So you’re telling me that she’s lying. That you didn’t do what she said,” said Madame Braith.
“No,” said Reese, “I think we did.” He looked sidelong at Wyn and Gavin. “After I found Meaghan—”
“Meaghan?” said Gavin. “Where is she, anyway?”
“She wasn’t in her room earlier,” said Wyn.
“She’s dead,” said Reese.
“Really, Reese,” said Madame Braith. “I’m sure she’s fine. Maybe she’s with Lissa and Amanda.”
“More likely she’s with Luke and Sophia,” said Reese. “I bet if we go back to look for her, we won’t find her body either.” To Wyn and Gavin, “I found her in the stream. She was floating with a bunch of leaves in her hand. She was—”
“Let’s stay on track,” said Madame Braith. “What did you do to Lissa?”
“It wasn’t us,” said Reese. “It was King Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot.”
“We took care of that,” said Madame Braith. She didn’t look pleased. “I’d rather not bring any of it up again.”
“But we didn’t take care of anything,” said Gavin. “I mean, you aren’t preg—”
“Enough,” said Madame Braith. “I suppose it was nothing more than a bad accident. I’m sure Lissa and Amanda will calm down in time.” She smiled and settled down on an easy chair. “Now, I have someone I want you all to meet.” She called to the door, “Come on in!”
The door opened and a guy in his late teens walked in. He was arching one eyebrow. No. His eyebrows were just permanently stuck like that. He looked at Gavin. No. He smirked at Gavin. Gavin didn’t think he liked this guy.
Madame Braith beamed at him. “This is David,” she said. “I know you’ll all make him feel right at home.”
“We have to figure this out,” said Reese. He was sitting at Gavin’s desk in Gavin’s bedroom. Gavin was sprawled on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Wyn was sitting cross legged on the floor, Meaghan’s laptop open in front of her.
“I don’t know where to start,” she said.
“She’s not pregnant anymore,” said Gavin. “I wonder what happened to the baby.”
“If there even was a real baby,” said Reese. “I mean maybe it was just a mystical pregnancy.”
Wyn laughed bitterly. “Mystical pregnancy?” She was upset because Meaghan was gone, and neither of the boys seemed to care very much. They said that they needed to stop whatever had killed Meaghan. Then they told Wyn to start searching for stuff about the King Arthur myth on the internet. Wyn couldn’t concentrate on this stuff when she was mourning Meaghan.
“It’s not that weird,” said Reese. “Not compared to everything that’s happened to us lately.”
Wyn concentrated on the computer screen. She was trying to think up a search term. She wasn’t having a lot of luck.
“I felt it move,” said Gavin. “I think it was real. I mean, I think there was something there.”
“Don’t think about it,” said Reese. “Let’s try and figure out what’s going on.”
And how exactly were they going to do that? Wyn didn’t think Reese had any idea how to figure it out. They were all clueless. It was hopeless, really. People were dying left and right and falling down steps, and Wyn wasn’t in control of her own body half the time. Everything was a mess. She typed in “mess” to the Google toolbar and hit enter.
Search results filled the screen. Wyn hit her back button. “Meaghan’s dead,” she said, looking up at Gavin and Reese. “Really, really dead. And we can’t find her body.” The three had looked earlier. The stream had been empty of bodies. As usual. “I think we’re in real danger here. We need help.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t have any,” said Gavin. “Madame Braith isn’t any help. And we don’t know anyone else who could help us with something like this.”
“But we don’t know what’s happening to us!” said Wyn.
“Sure we do,” said Reese. “We’re turning into King Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot.” He pushed back on his chair so it balanced on the back two legs. “See? Simple. My lady.”
She glared at him. “Don’t even say that as a joke.”
“Google Morgan le Fay,” said Reese.
Wyn was happy to have a direct instruction. She typed it in and hit enter. She clicked on the first result that appeared. “Morgan le Fay,” she read aloud, “originally appears in Arthurian legend. In later manuscripts, she is Arthur’s sister and nemesis. She attempts to kill him by stealing his scabbard—”
“What?” said Gavin, sitting up on the bed.
Wyn read the story aloud. Morgan le Fay had snuck into a nunnery where Arthur was resting after a battle. She’d stolen his scabbard. Arthur had sent men after her, but they hadn’t been able to catch her. Weeks later, she’d apologized, sending a messenger back with the scabbard and a gift of a jeweled mantle. Wisely, Arthur demanded the messenger try on the mantle before he put it on. The messenger did so and burst into flame, dying on the spot.
“Okay,” said Gavin, “correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what we just did?”
“Yeah,” said Reese, “it seems similar.”
“My lord,” said Wyn, “I don’t see why you persist in harping on this mantle business. I only thank heaven you weren’t hurt.”
“Snap out of it, Wyn,” said Gavin.
Wyn shook herself.
“My king does seem over worried about the ordeal,” said Reese. “I rather hoped we could talk about the funeral I am preparing for the Lady Elaine.”
“Elaine again?” demanded Wyn. “The girl is dead, Lancelot. One would think you’d had deep feelings for her.”
“Wyn. Reese,” said Gavin. “Fight it.”
Wyn stood up. She squeezed her eyes shut. Reese vaulted out of his seat and walked to the window.
“I’m okay,” Reese managed.
“Me too,” said Wyn, sitting back down. She hated when it happened. It was like falling into dark water. She was aware of what was going on, but she had no power to change it. What was worse, she had no will to. It was as if whoever she was, her Wyn-ness, simply blinked off when the spirit took over. She looked back at the computer screen and started reading aloud again. “In some legends, Morgan le Fay is also the mother of Mordred. Other times, Arthur’s sister Morgause is the mother.” Wyn looked up. “Who’s Mordred?”
“Look it up,” Reese suggested.
Wyn typed “Mordred” into the Google toolbar. “Mordred,” she read, “also Medraut or Modred, is a character in Arthurian legend. Tradition differs on his relationship to Arthur. Sometimes he is Arthur’s uncle, but today he is generally recognized as Arthur’s son, born to him from an incestuous encounter with his half-sister Morgause. It is Mordred who destroys Arthur and Camelot. After Mordred discovers the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot, he forces Arthur to burn Guinevere at the stake. Lancelot rescues Guinevere, effectively removing Arthur’s support system. Mordred attempts to take the throne from Arthur, but Arthur meets him in single combat. They mortally wound each other. Arthur’s body is borne away to isle of Avalon by three witches, one of whom is Morgan le Fay.” She sat back. “Okay, so assuming that Madame Braith was supposed to be pregnant with Mordred, I guess…”
“She’s not pregnant anymore,” said Reese. “So skip that. Go back to Morgan le Fay.”
“What’s the point?” demanded Wyn. “She’s not Morgan le Fay anymore. At least, I don’t think she is. She said it was over. The purging worked for her.”
“Just not for us,” said Gavin.
“Exactly,” said Reese. “Dammit. Well, what’s going to happen to us? We just acted out an actual King Arthur story. The thing with the scabbard? So we might keep following the legend. Do you think?”
“Maybe,” said Gavin. “But this isn’t important either, guys. We need to stop being these spirits. We need to get free of them. We need to break the hold they have on us.”
“I’m not going to find out how to do that here,” said Wyn, gesturing to the computer screen.
“No, we need Madame Braith’s books.”
“She already did the purging ritual, and it didn’t work for us,” said Wyn. “Maybe she can’t help us.”
“Maybe not,” said Gavin, “but I don’t think I trust her anymore.”
“Anymore?” snorted Reese. “Where have you been? We haven’t trusted her in a long time.”
“I thought she was…” Gavin trailed off. “I guess Arthur was in love with her. But…” He furrowed his brow. “I don’t think he is anymore. Things are different…” Gavin rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “What if we went to the north?” he asked. “What if we gathered a force as large as we could? We could head the Saxons off—”
“My lord,” said Wyn, standing, “I don’t like the sound of this. You are not nearly as young as you used to be. I thought the peace with the Saxons—”
“Tenuous,” said Reese, walking back from the window. “We can’t chance it. Arthur’s right.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” said Wyn. “Either of you. I hold both of you too dear for you to be gallivanting off to battle like adolescents. You can send Gaheris and Agravaine to lead the forces.”
“Guinevere,” said Gavin, “forgive me, darling, but you must understand that I can’t very well not go to battle with my men. I am the king. And you really have no place in this discussion. You know nothing of warfare.”
“I know that Lancelot is still your heir and that if the two of you both get killed, we’ll be left without any king at all,” she said.
Gavin and Reese exchanged a look, both seemingly surprised she’d brought up, however backhandedly, the fact she was childless.
“We won’t get killed,” said Reese. “You shouldn’t worry.”
“All I do is worry,” she said. “When the two of you are gone, I can’t help but worry.”
There was a knock on Gavin’s door. Gavin looked confused for a second, then called, “Enter.”
The door swung open. It was David. “Hi,” he said. “This place is like a ghost town. I’m sorry to barge in, but I thought it might be nice to get to know my new classmates.”
They all stared at him blankly. “Do you bring news?” asked Reese.
“We’re discussing affairs of state,” said Wyn.
“That’s what you’re doing?” said David. “I was kind of hoping someone could tell me what page we’re on in this book.” He held up the Workman book they were using in class.
Wyn shook herself hard. “Um, yeah,” she said. “Yeah. I can do that.” Again! The spirits had gotten them again. It was getting more and more frequent. She didn’t like that at all.
Reese crept down the darkened hallway, careful not to make noise. She wanted him to come. He knew that. But no one could hear him. There had been too much pain recently. If anyone knew he was going to her, now, in the middle of the night. Well. It wouldn’t be good. He walked slowly, but deliberately. When he got to her room, he didn’t knock. He just tried the door. She’d left it unlocked for him. He slid the door open and ducked inside.
The light was off, but Wyn was awake. She sat up in bed and opened her arms to him.
“Guinevere,” he rasped, shedding his clothing and climbing into her bed.
She didn’t speak, just pulled him close. He could feel her naked flesh against his. For several moments, he forgot it all. Forgot that she was queen. Forgot that her husband was his dearest friend. Forgot what their union might do to others. For several moments, her body was all he cared about. That, and the knowledge that the two of them fit together like halves of one being.
She sighed in his arms. “No one saw you, did they?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “I was careful.”
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I’ve been sending for you too often.”
“It’s my fault too. I can no more stand being away from you than going without food.”
“I want you too,” she said. “Always.”
“And Arthur, do you think he suspects?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Sometimes I am sure he knows. There are things he says, things he does, that seem to indicate he must know. But if he knew, Lancelot, if he knew, would he not put an end to this?”
He stroked her hair. “He would, my love. He must not know.” He kissed Wyn, tasted her lips. She was sweet, like roses or honey. He could hardly contain himself with her here.
His kisses seemed to awaken her. For some time, there was no more talk. They pressed themselves close. As close as they could. It wasn’t the first time, but for some reason, it seemed fresher than usual. He knew that their bodies were not the bodies of young people anymore, but for some reason, she seemed nubile and soft again, like a girl. He lost himself in her. He felt himself simply shatter apart. He was falling into emptiness, falling into her.
Beneath Reese, Wyn moaned his name. “Reese,” she said.
He looked down at her. How had? “Wyn,” he whispered. This was awesome. He was with her. In her bed. “Should I… Should I stop?”
“No,” she said. “No, I’ve wanted this.”
He sighed. “I’ve wanted this too. God, how I’ve…”
“Don’t stop,” she said, her voice breathy. “Don’t ever stop.”
At that moment, he didn’t know if he could if he tried.
They held onto each other as they tumbled through their own private ecstasies, clung to each other through the storm of passion, until they were spent.
Reese lay back afterward, Wyn tucked into the crook of his shoulder. He was feeling pleasantly sleepy. “What did we do?” he asked.
“It was nice,” said Wyn.
“But Gavin,” said Reese. “What about Gavin?” He closed his eyes. Sleep was tugging him under. He wanted to give into it.
“Don’t tell Gavin,” said Wyn, snuggling close to him. He hugged her close. Sure. He’d keep his mouth shut. And he was asleep.
He woke a few minutes later to Wyn shaking him. “You can’t sleep here,” she said. She switched on a light.
He sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Wyn sat up too. She pulled the covers up over her body. Reese didn’t like that. He liked being able to see her. He reached for her, wanting to stroke her cheek, but she stopped him.
“What did we do?” she said.
“It was the spirits,” he said.
“At first,” she said. “At first it was.” She looked away, biting her lip. Damn it. She was upset. She regretted it. He didn’t want her to regret it. It had been so wonderful. So nice. She was—
Wyn kissed him.
He loved kissing her.
“But then,” she said, “it was us.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It was.” He kissed her again.
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