"THEY will believe I entrapped you." Coventina, the great water goddess, turned her head, unable to look at him.
"I am not entrapped, my love. I am simply resting from the darkness of this world," Merlin said. He touched her smooth cheek so that she had to turn back and meet his gaze. "And since when have we cared what others say, Viviane?"
His use of the nickname he called her at their most intimate moments couldn't even make her smile. "It is a curse to have the ability to see into the future," she said.
"In many ways, love."
"Yes. But have you always seen this for you? For me? For us? Why let me love you, knowing what you have known?"
"'Tis a man in the far future, a healer named Phil, who proclaims love is what it is. It has no future or past, but simply the present."
"This healer does not impress me," Viviane said. "We have a past, and we could also have a future. See it. Believe in it."
"I cannot see our future, my love. It pains me too much when I am not allowed to alter what I see." His sigh was deep. "The future of Arthur and Camelot pierced me enough that more wounds feel unbearable."
She gazed at his wonderfully familiar face and saw the goodness, strength and kindness that had first drawn her to him. But she also saw something else - his visage was shadowed by a weariness that made him appear a decade older than he had just months ago.
If only there was a way she could take some of the burden from him. She'd known loving a mortal would be difficult and that she would, eventually, have to lose him, but Merlin was a powerful Druid, and the goddess had hoped that his magical powers, so utterly tied to the earth, would give him the strength to live as her consort far longer than an ordinary mortal would have the ability to live.
It was ironic that it had not been the stress of loving a goddess that had been Merlin's undoing. Instead it had been the encroaching darkness that seemed eerily drawn to his human charge, Arthur Pendragon, the boy grown to man who was like a son to him, that had caused the Druid to want to escape the world badly enough that he had bespelled himself and would soon fade to nothingness in the self-made prison of this deceptively beautiful crystal cave.
That damned Arthur! Why had he not listened to Merlin and chosen a wife other than young, beautiful and utterly vapid Guinevere?
As if reading her mind, Merlin said, "My love, please do not blame Arthur. It isn't his fault, not entirely. Nor is it Guinevere's fault. None of us can choose where we love." Merlin leaned back against the fur pallet he'd arranged for himself in one smooth corner of the crystal cave. "I know I'm being a coward, but I have seen what will happen to him - to all of them. I have also seen that I cannot change it. It is ..." He paused, looking close to tears. "It is as if Arthur is embracing his destruction. I have done everything in my power to help him. I have fought with him, counseled him, begged him, cajoled him - nothing works. In every scenario of the future I see, the light and goodness that is Arthur is utterly destroyed by the darkness of jealousy and greed, lust and anger."
Viviane felt a flutter of panic as he closed his eyes. How was she going to go on forever with him here - not alive and not dead - simply unchanged, sleeping in this coldly beautiful tomb, where she was unable to speak with him, or touch him, or hold him?
"But, Merlin, there must be a way to influence these events. There must be a way to save this one man." And in doing so, she added silently to herself, I would save you, too.
Merlin shook his head. "It is beyond my power. It is beyond your power."
"It cannot be beyond my power!" the goddess cried in frustration.
"Viviane, my only love, you know that even the gods are not allowed to tamper with the balance of light and dark. The choice between the two is a mortal one, and darkness is reigning in Camelot."
"Of course I know that! But I am an immortal. I wield the very essence of life. I must be able to save your son for you."
"I fear his fate is sealed. He will die brokenhearted. Betrayed by love, he will go willingly to his death. Now, please, my goddess, my love, allow me to sleep."
Viviane dropped to her knees beside his pallet and pressed her cheek against his thigh. He stroked her golden hair with a hand that was increasingly weak.
"I am so weary ..." he whispered.
As his eyes fluttered shut again, perhaps for the last time, Viviane sat up, her heart pounding with the beginnings of hope.
"Wait! Merlin, you said there is nothing in this time or reality that makes Arthur change his mind. But could something, or perhaps someone, from another time or another reality affect a change? Have you looked into that possible future and divined failure, too?"
His blue eyes opened and met hers. "I did not look into a future touched by another time or reality. You know I cannot manipulate time or realities." Merlin's voice was soft, almost inaudible.
"You cannot, but I can!" Viviane shook his shoulders. "You must look, my love, and give that future a chance!"
"I cannot," he whispered. "The spell is set. Besides, you cannot simply cast a net out into the waters of time or the waves of reality. There must be a plan . . . a reason . . . a unique soul ..."
"But I can try! I will look into the future and see if - "
"They do not even know us in the future." With a spurt of anger Merlin briefly sounded like himself again. "You are nothing more than a vague legend. I am an absent mentor, often blamed for the entire debacle."
Viviane was horrified. How could people forget her? She was goddess of the ancient world's waterways. Forget her? She thought not. If she had a plan, a great one, as befitted one such as herself, not only would she save her beloved, she would be certain that her name, her legacy would live on forever. Oh, and she supposed if she saved that dumb, damn Arthur, that would be okay, too.
How could the futures blame Merlin for a king's poor choices? This must also be rectified. And she was just the goddess to do it, by damn. "I will find a way, my love. I will."
Merlin let out a puff of laughter. "Oh, Viviane, what I love so much about you. Your passion. Your desire to make things right. Your devotion to me. How is it possible that a simple magician had the fortune to be loved by one such as you?"
She stroked his arm. "There is nothing simple about you, my dearest. But this I know. There is good. Goodness shines from you, as if the sun has kissed your radiance. Perhaps that goodness is why we find ourselves in this predicament. But I will find a way. This, I promise you."
Merlin shrugged and lay back again, breathing out the energy that had animated him. "Even should you find someone who might help you, you cannot simply displace a life. You know that. Souls cannot be yanked about without any care for lives lost and futures broken. Balance and reason must be maintained."
Viviane leaned forward and took Merlin in her arms. "But if, by some wondrous twist of fate, I do succeed, will you swear to come back to me?"
He looked long into her eyes and Viviane watched compassion and love war with weariness and heartache. Finally he raised one hand and began swirling it in the air.
I leave a part of me
tied, Arthur, to thee.
My future to thine,
our fates here combine.
Survive and you shall give
me reason, once again, to live.
The power that had been building around Merlin's hand was visible, a shining glow in the air. With a gesture more resigned than hopeful, he threw the glistening power out at the walls of his entombing crystal. They shivered as they absorbed the spell.
"There. It is done. Save Arthur and you save me." Merlin bent and kissed his goddess, sharing his last waking breath with her.
Weeping, Viviane pulled away from her lover, who was now silent, completely under the spell of eternal sleep that hid him from the misery of this life so thoroughly that he had even managed to escape the Underworld, where memory would torment his soul.
Slowly, the goddess stood and covered him lovingly with a thick pelt. She kissed him once on his cool forehead and then turned and resolutely walked from the entombing crystal cave. Forget me? Blame Merlin? I think not. Arthur, gird those damn loins.
VIVIANE wrapped herself in fog as she emerged from the cave that overlooked her mystical lake. On a wave of magic, her power carried her across the water to the lush green island the curtain of mist parted to reveal. She walked quickly to the graceful stone tower that was the only structure on the little isle the locals had long ago named Shalott. Surrounded by rowan trees and shrouded in her magic, she hardly needed the concealment of the mist, but the goddess automatically called it to her. For what she was about to do, she wanted there to be no chance of prying eyes.
She didn't enter the cream-colored tower as she usually did, but instead paced back and forth along the gentle bank, letting her white samite robe trail through the wildflowers that carpeted this special island. Power swirled around her, causing the birds, newly awakened by dawn, to squawk in alarm and leave their perches in the rowan grove. She breathed in the scent of musky moss, the pungent odor of wild thyme that surrounded her as she disturbed the softness of it beneath her feet.
How could she have allowed this to happen? She'd recognized that Merlin had been damaged by the world from the moment she'd met him. He was a powerful Druid, yet he was filled with unusual gentleness and such a tender heart that even the wild creatures of the forest could be lured to eat from his hand. Viviane smiled through her tears. He'd lured her, drawn her from her lonely isle in the middle of her mystical lake. She'd willingly become his lover. As a goddess, she couldn't conceive of not being able to heal that which the world had broken inside him.
"I could have healed him, had it not been for that wretched Arthur!" she cried. Her angry words made the usually placid waters of the lake begin to roil, and their cool blue depths darkened ominously as the morning light became veiled. Viviane frowned, lifted her hand and, bringing her temper under control, flicked her fingers out at the lake and commanded, "Darkness, be gone! Whether my anger is stirred or not, you are not welcome in my realm!"
Instantly the waters obeyed her. They quieted and the darkness that had begun to stain them dissipated like dew in the noonday sun. Viviane stared out at the familiar waters, disturbed more than she liked to admit by the swiftness with which the depths had reacted to her temper. Darkness had actually touched her lake - that was alarming.
"Balance of light and dark? Bah!" Viviane hurled the word into the mist, but this time the reaction to her outburst was under her control, and the water-thickened air around her swirled and shimmered in reflection of the goddess's power. "There is no balance when one mortal can draw so much darkness that my realm is even tainted."
I should be honest with myself, she thought as she began to pace back and forth along the moss-lined bank. It isn't as simple as focusing my anger on the king of the Britons. Guinevere plays a role in this tragedy. As does the all-too-perfect knight, Lancelot. The goddess grimaced.
Merlin hadn't shared many of Camelot's secrets with her. He'd said she was his escape, his respite from pain, and so he didn't wish to speak of those dark things, but the Lady of the Lake had eyes and ears everywhere there was water, and she had certainly seen and heard enough to know that Merlin's direful predictions were going to come true.
"And that truth broke your heart, my love," she whispered to the mist.
No! She wouldn't allow it. She was a goddess. She had powers mortals couldn't begin to comprehend, not even a mortal as spectacular as her Merlin.
Viviane stopped pacing and stared out at the familiar waters of her home. "I need someone not of this time - not of this place. Someone who has a unique way of seeing people and situations, who embraces light instead of darkness and who will also not be awed by the beauty of Camelot, nor too dazzled to consider ..." Consider what? What was it she needed to do to change the future enough to save Arthur from his tragic fate and thus free her lover?
Her lover . . . Viviane felt her shoulders slump and she pressed her face in her hands and wept bitterly. She missed him already and had to struggle with herself not to rush back to the crystal cave and sit beside his still form. Her breath caught on a sob. She was a goddess, but she was also a woman, and a brokenhearted one at the loss of her Merlin. Even her realm - that which had given her such thorough pleasure for eons - seemed somehow less now. Nothing meant as much without -
Viviane's head came up. "That's it! Arthur may lose everything, but if he still has his love, his Guinevere, then his heart will not be broken and his fate will change." Excitedly, the goddess began to pace again. "That is what I must do. I must find a woman - a spectacular woman from another time, another place, and bring her here to seduce Lancelot from Guinevere so that Guinevere returns to Arthur and is balm to his wounded soul!" All would be well. Merlin would awake and, she decided, would make love to her as he'd never done before. Oh, how she already missed the lovemaking. A magician in truth Merlin was, in more ways than any of those dolts at Camelot could possible imagine.
Resolutely Viviane moved to the edge of the water, so that her bare feet were caressed by the kiss of the waves meeting the bank. She raised her arms and the mist automatically thickened, swirling magically around her as if anticipating the spell.
From the depths I call my power,
lake, sea, rain, mist, dew - hear me at this hour.
My will is to find a unique soul;
an outlander is my goal.
The goddess paused, remembering Merlin's warning that a life cannot be displaced from its own fate. She considered ignoring her lover's words and dealing with the consequences later. But no. The drawing spell must be perfect. She would get only one chance. Already events were spiraling out of control in Camelot - soon it would be too late to affect the future, if it wasn't already.