The Moment Of Truth
As Ceri gazed at the surrounding forest, Cernunnos took one last look at the Princess he served and slowly disappeared. A few minutes later, he stepped out of the shadows surrounding his room carrying a small object covered by a black cloth. This he laid on one of the side tables and then sat down himself. He removed the cloth and carefully lifted the glass orb; gently he cradled it in his palms and stared hard into its depths. Gradually the image of a young girl appeared, Cernunnos stared at the blonde hair and blue eyes and thought about this child he had lifted from her own world and her own time. She was running through the forest and as Herne caught sight of her pale, frightened face and flying hair he realised she was in danger. Slowly he replaced the sphere and replaced the cloth. Then he stood up and was about to leave the room when a new voice said, “ So, she is special to you,”
Herne looked up and into the face of Mithras, “Yes, she is special. But she is more than that.”
“You think this one can save you?” He asked.
“I begin to hope so. I cannot stop my friend, I need to contact an old disciple of mine.”
“She’s in danger – from the Dark?” Mithras’s hand went to the hilt of his sword.
“No. Not the Dark, a group of brigands that haunt the outskirts of Sherwood; but if they kill her she will be just as dead – whether in this time or in the twelfth century.”
“Then you must go,” Mithras replied, “I shall wait.”
“Please.” Cernunnos gestured to one of the chairs and Mithras lowered himself into it. He set his helmet with its white transverse crest on the table beside it and turned to Cernunnos. “Go my friend.”
Herne nodded and walked into the shadows, for a moment there was a flicker and then he was gone. Mithras looked around the room and then up at the lamp illuminating the room, “He truly believes that she is the one who will release him.” He murmured softly to himself.
“He has reason,” another voice said, “though he knows it not as yet.”
Mithras turned and saw the figure of his Lord, the Invincible Sun standing behind him, instantly he was kneeling at the feet of his saviour.
“Greetings, most beloved of my disciples,” the voice said softly, “you have some questions I think.”
Mithras stood up, “Yes Lord. Why should she be the one? The others were as she is, no more, no less, they had royal lineage and royal bearing. She may have the lineage but she was never brought up as one of them, she has no understanding of what it is to be royal.”
“My son, even I do not know if she is the one who will save the Hunter,” the being said softly, “that is not given to me to know, nor to thee even if we wished it. And even in the books where this is written it is only one half of the story, if she is to save the Hunter, we will know soon enough, if she does not then Morgana and her sisters will triumph.”
“I cannot allow that!” Mithras stormed.
“Do you suppose I wish to allow it, my son,” it sighed and responded, “you know as well as I do that we agreed not to try and discover who was the true Keeper.”
“No, you agreed for me,” Mithras replied and for the first time the anger he had held in check was visible on his face. “You forget that I loved one of those so called pretenders, and when Morgana destroyed her it almost broke my heart. And you refused my petition to search through Time for her – you want me to assist this child without even knowing if she is worthy of the honour we give her.”
Suddenly the Sol Invictus grabbed him, Mithras gasped in pain but the creature held him even tighter, “Do you suppose I wanted those others to be lost?” he snarled, his face inches from Mithras’s, “I cared as much for them as I do for this one, more, for one of them was my true daughter as thou art my true son – but she knew the risks and she knew that I could not look for her. Do you forget the battle we fight?”
Mithras pulled himself free and snapped, “I no longer choose to fight this battle. It has been raging since the beginning of time. Let Humankind handle it, it is their battle, not ours.”
“It will be soon enough,” the Sol Invictus replied. “For the moment it is ours. You knew the choice we made – hast thou forgotten thy humanity?”
Mithras refused to answer and the god spoke again, “Then I cannot convince thee, Mithras. Very well. If I ask you to come to Glastonbury will you come?”
Mithras turned and his eyes were full of tears, “I follow you anywhere,” he replied thickly, “but I follow you because I pledged myself to you – not for some foolish battle for which I no longer see any future.”
For the first time the god smiled, “Then when I summon thee to Ynys Witrin, come.”
Mithras nodded and knelt at the feet of his god, “Yes, my Lord.”
“If she asked for help for one of your own would you assist her?”
“For one of my disciples, yes!” Mithras retorted, raising his head to look into his deity’s face, “it is her I do not believe in.”
The Sol Invictus laid a hand on his apostle’s head, “Then go in peace my son. Remember, when I call thee to Ynys Witrin, thou art bound to come.”
“I shall remember,” Mithras responded and slowly disappeared. The god was still standing in the same place when Herne returned.
“I thought Mithras would be here,” he said smiling into the face of the divinity.
“He and I have spoken.”
“About the Princess.”
“And of other things. He still blames me for Myfanwy’s loss.”
“No.” Cernunnos walked across the room to stand in front of the roaring fire, “he blames himself for seeing qualities in her that were not there. Myfanwy was a jewel, but she had only passion, she had no strength to carry her through. I think Mithras thought that with his support she could gain those qualities. He forgot that she had to fight the battle alone and without him by her side.”
The Sol Invictus shook his head, “For a being who was once himself a deity you have a rare insight into humanity. Perhaps that is why you were cursed.”
“It is the consequences of the curse that make me despair,” Herne said softly, “the death and grief that I and the Yell Hounds cause and have caused every century.”
The god gently laid a hand on Herne’s shoulder, “Perhaps this girl may indeed save you.”
“I believe she will, Lord.” Cernunnos replied.
“She certainly appears to have something the others did not, are you so afraid of Morgana?”
“I am not afraid of her.” Herne replied with a light laugh, “but I am afraid of what she and her sisters may do to the Princess.”
“You think she is?”
“I know her history,” Herne replied spreading his hands as if that was all the proof he needed. “However, you are correct, Lord, she has not been tested and she is still a child. She may break.” He sighed and his eyes became far away.
“It is unfortunate that Mithras does not share your belief.”
“He may. There is always time.”
“For us, yes. For you, perhaps. Regrettably not for her. If she is this saviour then time is against her. We can wait for an infinite number of candidates to save you, if you are to be saved.”
“Sounds ominous,” Cernunnos replied, seating himself in the Queen Anne chair and inviting the deity to do the same.
“She must know the truth soon,” the Invincible Sun said, “It was not your fault about the others. Morgana and her sister Morgaine seduced them and once seduced it was easy to lure them into the abyss. You have not told her of her Father?”
“Or of the real reason for her power?”
Herne looked up at him, “Do you mean-”
“Yes. Have you told her that it is her blood that gives her the power she commands. It has nothing to do with her courage, or her stamina or her belief.”
“I have not. I have not been able to find the words to tell her. She was shocked when I explained about the sacrifices to me, how could I tell her that the real reason she restored Bedwyr’s sight was because of what flows in her veins?”
“She may be more understanding than you would think.”
“How will she feel when she discovers that I have misled her.”
“Ah. You have not explained your involvement with her.”
“How could I? Morgana is the enemy, what would she think if I told her that she was once my spouse?”
“How would she feel if you didn’t tell her?” the being enquired, “and more importantly, my friend, if the Dark discover this, they will use it against her. They could turn what we use for good to evil ends.”
“I know.” Herne sighed, “she will be returning to the Abbey soon and I must speak with her. I shall begin by telling her that her father was a King.”
“You’d best tell her that he was The High King,” the Invincible Sun said, “and one initiated into my Temple.”
“I shall do that, my friend.” Herne smiled, “Did you want something else?”
“I thought that if Mithras talked with her, it might convince him that she is worth his support.”
“He is not that easily convinced,” Cernunnos replied dryly.
“It is worth a try.”
“Very well, Lord.” Herne nodded and together both men walked out of the room.
Meanwhile Cerian flew up the stairs as if there were wings on her heels, she opened the door tentatively. Galahad was sitting up in bed being fed by a young serving maid.
“Enough,” he said wearily, and then he saw Cerian standing quietly beside the door, “Princess!” he gasped.
The maid turned and bowl and spoon clattered to the floor as the girl dropped to her knees in a gesture of submission, “Lady, bless you!”
Cerian said nothing and the girl gathered together the implements and scurried from the room her eyes never meeting Ceri’s. Suddenly Ceri began to feel slightly ridiculous, slowly she walked across the room and sat down on the bed.
Suddenly Galahad leant forward and wrapped his arms around her waist pulling her to him in a fierce hug. “My little Princess!” he murmured and there was such a wealth of affection and pride in his tone that Cerian blushed. She slipped her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder.
“I was so worried about you,” she whispered softly.
Galahad released her and leant back against the cushions, “I’m fine,” he smiled, “but Cernunnos insists that I be spoon fed for the next three days. I’m not an invalid!”
“No, Sir Knight, but I did have my reasons,” Cerian turned at the sound of Herne’s voice and then sighed, “I wish you’d stop that corporeal shifting,” she complained, “I never know who you’re going to look like next!”
A smile touched Herne’s lips, “I forgot, Princess.” Cernunnos had changed from an old man to one who bore himself like a general; the eyes were unchanged but his hair was black and luxurious, and his steel breastplate shone, in the centre was an embossed image of a horse. “When believers pray to a god they cast him in a certain image - why do you think there were illustrations of me, because my believers cast me in a certain shape, because of the curse my image has remained much the same. But this image was given me by a devout believer and I enjoy wearing it for it reminds me of her.”
Suddenly Cerian felt Galahad go limp against her arms, she gasped and then Herne was beside her easing him down on the bed and pulling the sheet up around him, “Did you do this?” she demanded turning to him.
“No,” Herne’s voice was tender and very low, “I was about to explain that the reason Galahad may not get up is that he is still recovering. He faced one of the Great Ones of the Dark and very nearly died.”
Will he recover?”
“Yes,” Herne smiled, “in three or four days. You and I must speak, Madam.”
“Yes, we must,” Ceri replied, “but not tonight. Tonight I tend this man, we will speak in the morning.”
Behind her Herne opened his mouth to say something then bowed formally and left the room. Ceri gently turned Galahad so that he lay on his side and with a damp cloth wiped his face. He slept on oblivious, Ceri stayed with him throughout the night. Once he seemed to be in the throes of a nightmare, she gently stroked his forehead and his shuddering ceased and his breathing became less laboured.
The serving girl who had been feeding him when Cerian entered brought a flagon of honey sweetened wine before she went off duty. Ceri hardly noticed her for she moved silently just like a ghost.
As the door closed a quiet voice whispered, “She’s quite a sweet little thing,” Galahad smiled up at her, “she’s been good with me.”
Ceri gently stroked a damp curl of hair back from his temple and said, “Thirsty?”
Galahad nodded, “A little.”
“Let me help you sit up slightly,” Ceri responded, carefully she eased Galahad to a sitting position and held the goblet to his lips. He drank slowly and slumped back again.
“Rest,” Ceri advised, “if Lord Cernunnos says you will be fit in three days, you will be.”
Galahad took her hand, “My delightful Princess,” he murmured, and yawned. Ceri watched as his eyes closed and when she was sure he was asleep she bent and kissed his forehead.
Dawn gilded the horizon orange when Herne entered for the second time, “Madam,” he began, “I regret the intrusion but we must speak - it may wait no longer.”
“Yes, Lord.” Cerian replied, “lead the way.”
Cernunnos opened the door and led her up another flight of stairs to the room directly above Galahad’s, this one sparsely furnished with a threadbare carpet and two oak chairs. There was a bright fire burning in the grate and the room was pleasantly warm. Ceri looked around her, “Who did this room belong to, Lord?”
“It is a meeting room, Princess, this room is directly above Galahad’s. In fact the whole tower is isolated from the rest of the Abbey so it was considered an admirable place for parleys to take place. Enemies could sit on neutral ground without fear that they would be attacked because of the single staircase. What is now Galahad’s room would house the contingent of bodyguards.”
“Sit, Lord,” Cerian said suddenly, “I am forgetting my manners. Now I should like an explanation, beginning with why you left me alone in Sherwood.”
Herne looked sheepish, “This is another of the things I thought it best you should not know about, I needed you to meet, Robin i’the Hood because through him you would meet a former incarnation of me.”
Ceri stared at him and said, “If you get me too angry Lord, there is a possibility that I could do you some harm.”
“I am aware of that,” Herne replied, “but I will not lie to you Princess. That is the way of the Dark and we dare not even bend the truth slightly in order not to hurt someone for if we do then the Dark will have already won.”
“It does not make me any happier” Ceri sighed, “The Light is a harsh master, it is like the blazing sword of the Law, or the burning sun, and it doesn’t care much for individuals. But speak, my Lord.”
“My dear Princess-” Herne began.
Ceri’s eyes blazed, “Forget the ‘dear’, you afford me the title Princess so I presume that at least one of my parents was Royal.”
“Both your parents,” Herne confirmed, “but your father held the distinction of being first True High King of all Britain, he united the tribes together under one King. Vortigern killed his father when he was ten and he and his brother fled to King Budec of Brittany.” Herne paused and then continued, “when he was sixteen, King Gorlan of Lanascol took him as his Lieutenant and bade him go to North Wales to bring his new bride home. Her name was Cerian Asfrid, she was the daughter of the King of Segontium, Caer’na-fon.”
Ceri frowned and then said, “Caernarvon?”
Herne scowled, “Your Welsh is atrocious. Your father’s job was to escort her to King Gorlan. He fell in love with her and she with him, they consummated their love aboard the boat. He even asked her to come away with him. She refused and he had to take the place of her father and give her to King Gorlan.”
“I’d already been conceived, hadn’t I?” Ceri whispered miserably.
“Your mother was a Priestess in the cult of Epona, she came to the shrine in the forest and made sacrifices not knowing it was to me. Therefore it was to me she came when she discovered her pregnancy and told me that the father could not be Gorlan because the night they were to have consummated their marriage a message had come saying that one of the outlying tribes was in revolt and he had gone to quell it. He had hugged her to him and said that there would be another feast when he returned triumphant and that she would bear him many sons. Then he had gone.”
“What did you do?”
“Reached in her mind and saw how she perceived her deity and appeared to her. I told her to pretend that it was Gorlan’s child and to return to the grove every month so that she might not forget her religious duties.” Herne stopped and then began speaking more slowly as if he was remembering, “she went into labour a month before she was due, I always said her hips were too narrow, she begged me to save your life. I transported her to the twentieth century in the hope that its doctors could save her. They could not, she died a little while after giving birth to you. She did not show her pregnancy so nobody knew that she was going to have a child. However both Gorlan and your natural father grieved over her death.”
“Lord, what do you wish me to do?”
“There is someone that I wish you to meet,” Herne said, “he was a good friend who brought me from the Void to the Light. I wondered if you would speak with him.”
“I will try,” Ceri said reluctantly.
“I must leave you,” Herne explained, “My god felt that if you two met alone it might be easier to convince him.”
“I said that I’d try,” Ceri replied, “that doesn’t mean that I’ll succeed.”
“I think that you have more chance of succeeding than I do.” Herne scowled, “Neither my god nor I can convince him that you may be the one for whom we have waited.”
“But if he doesn’t believe-” Ceri said and then stopped. “That’s it isn’t it? Belief.”
Herne sat down again and looking in her eyes saw comprehension in their depths. He smiled sadly, “That’s part of it. Not just that he believes in you, but that you believe in you.”
“And the other part?” Ceri eyed him warily.
“It is the blood in your veins that gives you your power.” Herne swallowed hard, “remember that I told you about the power that runs through blood. That it is the Lifeforce.”
“So, it is my blood that makes me who I am.” Ceri eyed him thoughtfully. “But I still don’t feel chosen.”
“Who does, My Lady?” Herne sighed, “Mortals seem to think that I actually enjoy riding the sky with the Yell Hounds.”
“But when you ride against the Dark there must be a certain satisfaction in it.” Ceri replied, the hint of a smile playing around her lips.
“Well….yes.” Herne replied reluctantly, “but sometimes the creatures that the Dark employs are too stupid to stay within shelter.”
“Then its not really revenge,” Ceri nodded, “send your-“ she stopped as her brain fought for the word, she considered using colleague, but a part of her felt that the Hunter wouldn’t understand or would pretend not to understand, “Send him in Lord Cernunnos. I promise nothing, but I shall speak with him.”
Herne bowed as a courtier might to a queen and for the first time she realised that she was no longer being treated like a piece of baggage to be carried from place to place. She leant back in the chair and felt the first tendrils of fear curl around her gut. The door opened again and another man entered, “Madam, the Lord Mithras.”
“Please, come in my lord.” Ceri responded, her mouth felt suddenly dry. Where’s a glass of water when you need one? She thought grimly. Outwardly she smiled and gestured with her right hand, “Be seated, Lord. Lord Cernunnos has told me that you wished to speak with me. Would it be imprudent to enquire why?”
The man stood before her and did not smile in return. “I did not request this audience.” He stated bluntly.
“I know that,” Ceri replied gently, “I think that the Hunter thought that we might talk and see if we could find agreement somewhere.”
“Unlikely.” Mithras looked around the room and then appeared to make a decision. “May I speak plainly.”
“Please.” Ceri replied, “and do sit down. You make me dreadfully nervous standing there.”
Mithras sat gingerly in the chair opposite and for a long moment there was silence between them, then he spoke, “I do not believe that you are the chosen.” He said finally. “You have not done enough, you have not led armies into battle, you have no skill in fighting and you’re never rallied an army in your life. How could you be the one who will free Arthur’s Realm.” Silence greeted his words and he looked up to see Ceri smiling at him.
“My Lord, even I do not know if I am the chosen one. The Hunter speaks in riddles even to me. My blood may be the proof of my lineage, but without experience or knowledge, lineage is nothing. I do not ask people to follow me,” Mithras looked up his eyes alight with hope, “yet,” his head fell again and Ceri smiled, “but I do ask them to look at what I do, not what I say. There lies your proof.”
“Brave words,” Mithras replied, “but what deeds have you done that would prove that you are who Herne says you are.”
“What deeds would?” Ceri’s eyes flashed blue fire and looking into them, Mithras saw a core harder than diamond and saw a hint of the fire he’d only ever seen in two other men. “I doubt you would believe even if you could witness the proof.”
“If I witnessed your power, I would know whence that power came, and I would believe.” Mithras replied softly.
“Be careful what you say,” Ceri smiled sadly, “you may witness it and wish that you had not said those words.”
Mithras stood up, “I take my leave of you, Madam. I will not address you as Princess, in my eyes you do not have the knowledge or the lineage to be either.” He turned and walked from the room. Minutes later Herne entered, Ceri smiled up at him, “Where did you meet that friend of yours?”
“Mithras has been to see you.” Herne sighed, “and left still unconvinced.”
“He talked about deeds, Lord Cernunnos.” She paused, “What must I do that he would support me?”
“Vanquish the Dark on its own territory,” Herne mused, “I do not know, Princess. His anger is not directed at you, rather it is me he is angry with. A woman he loved was once one of the Chosen. She had grace, honour, lineage and power, but she fell and Mithras has blamed me ever since.”
“Why did she fall, Lord?”
“I do not know,” Herne replied, “in truth, I do not know. She was like you in all ways. She had the lineage, the bloodline, she certainly had power. But you begin to realise that you must walk this road alone, as all who are of the Ancient Ones walk alone.”
“She had passion, but little strength. And-” he paused and then continued slowly as if every word was being winched from the depths of his being, “She did not have courage. It takes courage to be what you are, what we are. She did not have that, but I have not told Mithras.”
“Then perhaps you ought.” Ceri frowned, “fighting among ourselves will only achieve the Dark’s purpose. We must be able to trust one another – if we cannot then the Dark will have already won.”
“Sometimes I feel they have.” Herne turned to leave the room.
“Not yet. But is that why you didn’t tell me about Morgana, Arawn?” Herne froze, and the slowly turned back to face her and she saw that his face was white as chalk.
“When did you know?”
“I-I don’t know,” Ceri replied slowly, “I just seem to have made the connection. Cernunnos was your title among the Celts when you were Lord of the Underworld, Herne the Hunter is who you were when you began to haunt Windsor Great Park, but you wore horns as Arawn Pen Annufn, Arawn, Lord of the Underworld. Was Morgana your Queen?”
“I don’t know,” Herne shook his head, “Truly I do not know. It seems as though she wanted to rule in her own right and instead of taking her own realm, chose mine.”
“Why did you leave her?”
“I met the Sol Invictus one morning and he offered me a chance for peace,” Herne smiled at the memory, “your people do not regard death as a part of life, Princess. They see it as something to be feared and something to be avoided for as long as possible. Besides-“ he paused and reseated himself opposite Ceri, “there were things about my own rule that were beginning to disturb me.”
“Concerning Morgana.” He confirmed. “it is difficult to explain, my Lady. Even now with clear sight, I cannot see clearly when I think of her.”
“Perhaps you were bespelled,” Ceri mused.
“I was certainly enchanted,” Herne responded, he sighed and then looked up at his liege lady. “I was dreading having to tell you about Morgana. I thought that you would refuse to help me.”
“Is there reason why I should?” Ceri enquired.
“Perhaps.” Herne paused and then get to his feet, “May I get a drink, Highness?”
“Of course,” Ceri replied. She leant back in the chair and thought, That’s all I need. First I have a meeting which doesn’t go terribly well, Lord Mithras hates me. Now I get to find out that Cernunnos is playing both sides off against one another, just to make life even more interesting.
Herne reseated himself and took a sip from the wooden goblet he held. “Forgive me, Princess. I did not tell you because I was afraid that if I did, you would refuse to assist me in this battle.”
“You felt that you had cause,” Ceri responded. “Something has happened hasn’t it?”
“She appeared to me and offered me my throne if I would renounce this ‘foolish quest’.” Herne smiled gently.
“Do you believe it’s foolish?” Ceri asked quickly. She leant forward and brushed a tendril of fair hair away from her face, her eyes bright with passion.
“I do not know. All these centuries I have waited for the woman who would free me and now when she sits before me I do not know what to say to her."
A slow flush, like the edge of a wave began to creep up Ceri’s face as she realised Herne meant herself, she opened her mouth and said slowly, “I do not know where this Quest is taking me, sometimes I feel that whatever I discover, it will not help you.”
“Perhaps not.” Cernunnos smiled, “but perhaps it is intended to help you.”
“I did not think of that, Lord.” Ceri replied sheepishly. “Will you tell Lord Mithras what you have told me?”
“I cannot,” Herne responded shaking his head, “we have fought over Myfanwy many times and more since your arrival.”
“Myfanwy. My rare one,” she mused. “Shall I tell him?”
“No.” Herne smiled again, “this is my problem, Lady. His too of course, but we will solve it together.”
“The question, my Lord Cernunnos is will he support me in the battle I must fight.”
“He said that he would assist you if one of his own were injured, beyond that I do not think he will go.”
“So I cannot count on his support for me.” Ceri looked thoughtful. “Thank you, Cernunnos. Somehow I must change his mind - and I do not know where to begin.”
“Perhaps it is not your problem.” Herne stood up and crossed the distance between them to lay a comforting hand on Ceri’s shoulder, “you have not the time or the energy to worry about everyone, Princess. You must remain true to the goal of this quest and you must remain strong.”
“What do I do now?” Ceri looked up at the creature towering over her and in spite of everything that had happened suddenly felt very young and very afraid.
“Go home, and then we will decide where you will go next and who we must see to accomplish our goal.”
“I’d like to meet my father,” Ceri said softly, as Herne ushered her down the stairs, “I mean it would be nice to know who he was.”
“Can you wait for a little?” Herne enquired, “and I shall tell you who he was with pleasure, but I would rather do so when you have rested and are ready for our next foray into time.”
The fields were still covered in a ghostlike mist, which the dark crimson rays of the sun had not yet managed to pierce. Herne touched the front door of her house and it swung back silently on its hinges.
“Is this farewell,” Ceri asked quietly.
“For a few days. Three at most. Rest my dear Princess. Continue to walk your dog, I shall find you when I need you.”
Cerian pushed open the door and turned around to see Cernunnos striding across the mist as though it were solid ground. She continued to regard his progress until the swirling clouds hid him from view.
The next morning she awoke quite late. She was brushing her hair in the mirror and wondering how she would broach the subject with her adoptive parents when the mirror became hazy and she saw Herne standing behind her, she turned to greet him but there was no-one there. She turned back to the mirror and Herne said softly, “Think you that it will be so easy to renounce your ties with them? They are not your parents by blood but they are your parents nevertheless. They loved you, nurtured you and cared for you, more than that they allowed you your freedom to be who you are. Much of the love you bear must be towards them.”
“But what of my real father?”
“Who is your real father?” Herne asked, “The man who found you and took you into his home and hearth and under whose protection you grew, or the man who took your mother in a wild moment of passion and had he even known of your existence could not have acknowledged you as his daughter. You place too much store by blood, blood has its merits and there may be a day when you must choose between those of your blood and those whom you love. If you are lucky they will be one and the same but most of us of the Light have had a hard choice to make - I cannot think yours will be any easier.”
Ceri smiled, “I hadn’t thought of it like that, Lord. My parents are those who have loved me all these years. But what of my real father, I thought that you wanted him to acknowledge me?”
Herne nodded, “I do. Your father was the first True High King of all Britain, you are his daughter and the last of the Light. You have a latent legacy that is now becoming apparent.”
“So what do I do?” Ceri demanded.
“For the moment,” Herne sighed, “nothing. However, your final task lies ahead of you and this will be the one that decides your fate.”
“Do you always talk in riddles when you’re not sure?”
Herne laughed suddenly and despite her frustration Ceri could not help but smile, he spoke again. “Very well. You must face your father - not as his daughter but as one of the Light. This is where you must prove your heritage and your ancestry - if you do it properly you will be obeyed as your father was obeyed.”
Ceri stared at the mirror perplexed, “Why?”
“Because only one who had Royal blood in her veins would face the forces of the Dark and triumph.” Herne stopped suddenly and then sighed, “I have said it. Lady, you said you wished to meet your father.”
“Lord-” Ceri’s voice died in her throat and she swallowed hard, “Meeting my father face to face is one thing but to face the Dark again - I couldn’t. Those creatures terrified me.”
“You had every reason to be terrified,” Herne said, “but the moment that you were crowned in the Great Hall at Glastonbury it sent shockwaves throughout the Dark. That’s why they sent three of their minions the same night.” Herne’s form wavered and he said, “I have to leave you. In your time Lady, the Dark have no knowledge of who you are. For the moment that is our salvation, but be warned, the moment you come face to face with your father it will send the knowledge spreading from you like ripples in a pond and all times will know who you are.”
“One might think that it would be better that I did not know,” Ceri suggested tentatively.
“You must - not because of who you are, but because you must do something for your father - if there were any other way I would have taken it long ago, but I believe that only you may accomplish this particular task.”
“You won’t help me?” Ceri’s voice quavered on the last two words.
“I didn’t say that,” Herne’s voice was surprisingly soft, “I told you, you are my liege lady, I mean only that you will discover your true gifts when we journey to this time and the decisions will be yours. You hold your destiny in your own hands. Farewell, My Lady.” The mirror went blank and then Ceri was staring only at her own reflection.
I forgot to ask, she thought suddenly, I don’t know when I will be going - or how!
The next few days dragged - on the fourth day the weather was mild so Ceri took a cushion and sat on the front step, This is like the end of term she thought, only its worse - I know that he needs me but I don’t know when or how. Ah hell! She sighed miserably and Rufus came and shoved his nose beneath her hand. Ceri sighed again and rubbed the dog’s silky ears, “You don’t really care who or what I am as long as someone fusses you.” Rufus whined and pawed her leg as her hand stopped moving.
Suddenly the sky darkened, Ceri shivered and looked heavenwards to see the clouds thickening until the light of the sun could barely be seen, flashes of lightning illuminated the clouds and from a distance she could hear the rumble of thunder, “What in-” she began but Rufus whined pitifully and as a lightning flash illuminated the skyline she saw it, a figure garbed in black and carrying a crossbow.
“You are the Princess?” the tone was almost disbelieving, “you are but a child.”
Cerian felt the rain on her body and she said quietly, “Your masters sent you to kill a child?” By all rights, she should not have been heard above the sound of the rain but the creature took a step back and then laughed.
“Aye, my Masters were right. You are worthy to be called your father’s daughter - this will be a great triumph for the Dark.”
“You knew my father?”
“You do not? This will be even better!” He threw his head back and Ceri saw that the rain was falling around it as if even water was afraid to touch this creature.
“Who was my father?” She demanded.
“Your father was the Duke of the Red Dragon, Count Ambrosius, why else do you think you are a Princess? Your mother was just a King’s daughter, she would have been sold to the highest bidder. Princess, Hah! You’re no more a Princess than I am a knight!”
“That’s not true!” Ceri cried and she couldn’t tell whether the water on her cheeks was because of the rain or her tears.
“Oh but it is.” The being raised the crossbow it carried and fired, she screamed a name, “Galahad!” and suddenly the landscape around her began to melt, afterwards she said that it was like running through an oil painting that had had turpentine splashed onto it and all the colours were running together. She ran and ran, though whether her feet were actually moving afterwards she was never sure - all that passed through her mind was the necessity to evade the bolt from the crossbow.
Suddenly a pair of strong arms caught her and held her, there was a sensation of falling and with it a picture flashed across Ceri’s mind a tall, blue eyed, black haired man sitting astride a black charger and a black arrow coming from nowhere to embed itself in his thigh. Someone was gently rocking her back and forth as she sobbed, great gasping sobs that seemed to wrench at the very soul of her being. Over the sobs she could hear a voice murmuring, “Sssh, my Princess, sssh. It’s all right, there’s nothing to fear any longer. He’s gone. Sssh.”
She pulled herself away and raised a tear-streaked face to see Galahad bending over her, “Mon chevalier,” she said shakily.
Galahad smiled and said gently, “Its not every day I get to comfort a damsel in distress.” He tactfully handed her a handkerchief.
A gleam of mischief lit Ceri’s eyes, “I thought that’s what all you knights of Camelot were meant to do - help damsels in distress.”
“Yes,” Galahad replied, “but the majority of them didn’t fall on my neck the way you did.”
Another figure knelt beside Ceri’s and handed her a cup of something. She smiled wanly as she recognised the antlers, “Lord Cernunnos,” she said softly, “where are we?”
“You have been running through Time,” Herne replied, “When the creature of the Dark fired on you, you screamed Galahad’s name. But by then we were powerless to help you. All we could do was to come to this time and call out to you in the hope that you would hear us and come towards us, and you did.”
Cerian suddenly remembered her vision, “A man - a man was wounded with the arrow meant for me. Who was he?”
Herne nodded, “The arrow was meant for you, but it would also be attracted to any member of your family-”
“Then that thing that was sent to kill me - he was right?”
“Yes,” Herne sighed, “your father is Count Ambrosius Aurelianus, at present he is being borne back to King Budec’s stronghold. Look into the flames.”
Ceri stared into the fire and slowly a picture formed, she seemed to be standing on the ramparts of a castle or a fort, a group of people were carrying someone on a hurdle. Her vision telescoped and it was as if she too was walking beside the stretcher, she looked down at the face and saw the man who had been wounded, the bolt still protruded from his thigh. She looked up and into the face of another man, this one with russet hair and a beard yet there was something in him that reminded her of the Count. The men laid him down and her peripheral vision caught sight of a young man carrying a cloak of some sort, he covered the Count warmly, Ceri stared at him, he could only have been about twelve but already she could see that the boy was a copy of the wounded man. The Count was lifted and the men set a quicker pace to reach their goal, at the gate stood a cloaked black figure, a smooth, milk-white hand touched the russet-bearded man’s arm, “Lord,” Ceri heard a soft voice that made the hairs on her neck prickle, “I have the skill to save him, wilt thou permit me. I am Gwenwyn.”
“Lady, you have my permission,” the man bowed his head and the image before Cerian’s eyes faded and she was left staring into the flames. “I fear for Count Ambrosius,” she said softly.
“As I,” Herne replied quietly.
“That woman, she’s in the pay of Vortigern!”
“That would not be so bad. Search your heart Princess, she is much more than that.”
Cerian let her mind drift, something about the name, about those milk-white hands, “She is one of the Dark Ones. Great she is and few can stand up to her power, Her name is poison.”
“Good.” Herne said his antlered head nodding, “we must depart. Sir Galahad - I regret that you may not accompany us this time but fear not, we shall have need of you in the future. I shall return thee to the Abbey if thou wilt permit it.”
“Most assuredly, Lord,” Galahad knelt and took Ceri’s shoulders, ”You bear a gift that may do great good, use it wisely My Princess.” He kissed her gently as a brother might and slowly faded from view. Ceri could still feel the pressure of his hands on her shoulders.
How good is your French?” Herne asked, suddenly changing the subject.
“C’est passable, mon seigneur. Mais ce n’est pas Brêton.”
“Well at least your French is better than your Welsh.” Herne looked slightly sheepish again and then said, “I am afraid I lied when I said that I could not make you speak any language, I can of course make you as fluent in Brêton as in English, it is just rather a complicated spell and it only lasts three days. What I will do is enable you to comprehend spoken Brêton, and an ability to speak French as you would speak English. Now - let us see what you can wear.”
Cerian pulled a long woollen gown from the bag Herne had given her and stared, it was a deep cerulean blue. She looked up at him silenced into awe. For a moment he stared at her and then Ceri found her voice, “Where did these clothes-” her voice broke and she couldn’t complete the sentence. She slipped on a pair of soft leather sandals and Herne pulled a vermillion red cloak from somewhere and then he looked at her, “This was your mother’s” he said, holding out the brooch, Cerian took it gingerly, the images were of three horses their legs intertwined, “your father gave it to her, it is how he will know you.” He fastened it at the neck of the cloak.
“I’m not ready,” Cerian said slowly.
“If not now, then when?” Herne took her shoulders and said, “I shall escort you to the stronghold and turn you over to the care of the Warden, you will be all right, my magnificent Princess.”
“But how do I get back?”
“At the moment I should worry about Ambrosius, if he should die then the invasion of Britain dies with him and Artus will never rule a united kingdom.”
Cerian nodded, “Yes my lord Herne.”
Herne nodded curtly as if satisfied, “I shall fetch the horses, drink your mead my lady.”
Ceri stared into the fire, she wondered how she was going to confront her father. For that matter, she thought, how am I going to confront the Dark - I am not so great as Herne thinks. She felt a hand touch her shoulder, “Are you ready, Madam?”
Ceri smiled, “I doubt I’ll ever be truly ready, but ready or not I must face the wrath of the Dark.”
She mounted the chestnut steed Herne had brought her and heard the creak of leather as Herne mounted the other animal behind her. The steed walked forward and Herne turned to her and said, “You must announce yourself as a friend of Ambrosius, I doubt you will be allowed access to him but you will be treated with all courtesy.”
“Who do I ask the answers of?” Ceri enquired.
“This time, Princess, of yourself.” Herne’s dark eyes fixed themselves on the horizon and he spurred his mount forward into a trot. Ceri sat watching him for a moment before digging her heels into her steed’s sides and following him.