A Father Found....
Ambrosius gazed down at the body lying bonelessly quiet in his arms, he noted the shadows of exhaustion beneath her eyes and breathed in sharply through his teeth. Merlin rode up beside him and glanced across, “She said her name was Cerian. Do you know who she is Father?”
Ambrosius smoothed a lock of blonde hair from Ceri’s forehead and replied softly, “I believe that she may be your sister, though how I cannot understand, her mother said nothing to me about being with child, but that seems to have been my fate,” he smiled at his son, “both women I have loved have fought their own battles preferring to do that than to rely on the strength of any man.”
Cerian stirred in her sleep but didn’t awaken, “Will she be all right?”
“I hope so, Merlin,” Ambrosius replied, “I hope so, she obviously risked much to save my life.”
By this time they had arrived at Budec’s fort, the two horses entered the courtyard of hard-packed earth. Gently Flaptongue took Ceri’s form from Ambrosius and when the Count had dismounted handed her back. “I want the room next to mine prepared,” Ambrosius ordered, “she is to be treated with all honour and courtesy.”
“Of course Lord.” Flaptongue replied. He scurried ahead to prepare the room while Ambrosius marched behind him.
The Count laid Ceri on the bed, Flaptongue spoke softly, “Shall I send the serving maids up, Lord?”
“There’s no need,” Ambrosius replied, “have you brought the nightshirt?”
“Yes, Lord,” Flaptongue nodded, “shall I make the bed?”
“Please.” With the ease of one used to undressing people he carefully divested Cerian of the clothes she wore and slipped the woollen shirt over her head. Laying her on the bed he covered her warmly and eased himself into the chair beside it, “Would you send up a flask of water and two goblets, Flaptongue.”
Ceri woke slowly, she was aware of lying in a warm bed although and here her memory was hazy, she couldn’t remember going to bed the previous evening, someone slid an arm beneath her shoulders as she was lifted easily and a cup was touched to her lips, “Drink slowly,” the voice urged. Ceri forced open her eyelids and stared up into eyes as blue as her own. Their eyes locked for an interminable time and then the man’s eyes dropped to the arm cradling the girl.
“Feeling better?” he queried gently.
“Yes, thank you,” Ceri smiled, “how-how long have I been asleep?”
The man smiled in return, an easy smile that lit his eyes and lips, “Half a day, do you feel like getting up?”
“Yes,” Ceri replied, “thank you, Lord.”
Ambrosius smiled and inclined his head slightly, “You are my guest,” he said quietly, “I shall send Malla up to you with some clothes.”
When he had gone Ceri swung her legs out of bed and sat staring stupidly at the room, she picked up the goblet of water Ambrosius had set down and drained it. After a few moments she felt better and standing up walked across to the window, instead of overlooking the courtyard she was overlooking the Brêton countryside and in the distance she could see the sparkle of sun on water and knew that she was looking at the sea!
There was a soft tap on the door and a young girl, about the same age as Ceri entered the room, over one arm she carried a selection of clothes. They stood gazing at one another for thirty seconds and then Malla said, “I have brought some clothes, my Lady, would you like to try them on?”
Suddenly Ceri realised that Malla was waiting for her to divest herself of the woollen nightgown and a crimson flush crept up her neck and face. Malla stared at her, surprise etched on her features then she laid the clothes on the bed and walked across to Ceri, “I am sorry, my Lady,” she took both Ceri’s hands in her own, “you did not know that I was to assist you. Let me help you dress, we ought not to keep the Count waiting.”
“No,” Ceri agreed, she pulled off the woollen nightshirt and thrust her arms into the tunic Malla held out for her, Malla fastened a crimson cloak on her shoulders that fell to thigh length and a silver belt was fixed around her waist. The final touches were a pair of red leather sandals and a gold circlet that the servant set upon her hair, she surveyed Ceri and said, “Now you look like a Princess.”
Cerian looked down at herself and said, “I think we’d better go to Count Ambrosius.”
Malla led her to a spacious room, books and scrolls lined the walls, near the window stood a table upon which another scroll lay, sunlight poured in through the window and fell onto the table, the Count was reading something and the light seemed to form a corona around him, and Cerian was reminded of the gods.
He laid the scroll down and as he walked away from the window the glow faded until she was looking at a man, he gestured to a chair, his eyes flicked up and down her figure and a sudden smile lit his face, “You do indeed look like a Princess,” he said softly.
“You flatter me,” Ceri replied dryly.
“Not without reason,” Ambrosius replied, “Cerian, we must talk. Please, sit down.”
Slowly Ceri eased herself into one of the chairs beside the fire, Ambrosius filled a cup and handed it to her, “It’s only water.”
He poured himself a cup and sat opposite her. He glanced at the girl’s hands holding the neck of the goblet and saw that the knuckles were white. His dark, hawk-like eyes softened and he felt a wave of sympathy for her.
“I owe you a debt,” he began gently.
Cerian looked up from her contemplation of the water and a little smile curved her mouth, she shook her head, “No. No, my Lord, you owe me nothing, you see, it was my fault you were injured.”
Ambrosius smiled again and the smile made her feel a little better, “How can it be your fault?”
Cerian sighed and for a moment her head dropped, then a new courage seemed to infuse her, her shoulders straightened and she raised her head and Ambrosius saw his own eyes gazing back at him.
“I am not what I seem,” Ceri began softly, “my mother was a Princess in her own right, she was a Priestess of a strong religion and she bore a gift of healing. That she passed on to me - her name was-” but Ambrosius had gently laid a palm across her mouth, their faces were very close and Ceri could feel the power emanating from this man.
“Her name was Cerian Asfrid,” he said quietly. Slowly he removed his hand and eased himself back into the chair, “How much do you know about your mother?” he enquired.
“I know that she was betrothed to King Gorlan of Lanascol,” Ceri glanced at his face and took a deep breath, “and that you, as his lieutenant, were sent to bring her to him. I know that you fell in love-” her voice died in her throat, Ambrosius’ eyes had become distant, their vibrant blueness dulled by melancholy.
“I loved your mother very much,” he began slowly, “and I believe she loved me. I asked her to come away with me but she refused-” his voice cracked and the lids dropped on his dulled eyes.
Ceri stared at him, seeing the pain etched in his face, placing the cup on the floor she leant forward and laid her pale hand over his weathered one. Ambrosius opened his eyes and Ceri began hesitantly, “My Lord, I know that she loved you, but she was a Princess who had been brought up to understand that when she reached marriageable age, she would be betrothed to a Prince or a King who could best defend the country. If she had not loved you, I doubt she would have wanted me to live.”
Ambrosius caught her hand so tightly that it made her gasp, “How do you know she wanted you to live!” he demanded.
“Because when she went into labour, they said a choice would have to be made between her and the child.” Ceri halted suddenly, “she begged them to save me, instead of her. I know she loved you - Father.”
Ambrosius caught her up in his arms and crushed her to his chest as if he could somehow merge their bodies, he gently set her down on the floor and dropped to a knee so that their eyes were level, “You speak very much like she did,” he remarked softly, his arms still encircling Ceri’s waist, “but the eyes are mine. Once I thought that I would die without issue, then a son appeared from Wales, and now a daughter. Welcome home, Daughter!”
“But I have interrupted your story,” he eased himself back into the chair and gestured for Ceri to do the same, “please continue, there is so much I want to know - how did you know of me? Where did you live? Who cared for you?”
Ceri sighed slowly, “Lord-” she began.
“Father,” Ambrosius admonished, “you are after all my daughter, it will soon be time for the Beltane Fires, I should like to celebrate your coming then if I may.”
“I didn’t grow up in this time, Father,” Ceri said softly, “I am very much afraid that I may be more of a trial to you than you can safely bear. There is so much you do not know and so much that I am afraid to tell you-” she stopped, suddenly unable to go on.
“I know that I will return to Britain,” Ambrosius regarded her silently for a moment and then he said, “and I hope to unite all the tribes under one King and one God whether that god be Mithras, Christ or any other. I also know that my greatest enemies are not those with swords and daggers, but those who use the power of the Dark,” he stopped at Ceri’s thunderstruck face, “did you think that I didn’t know. I am aware that there are powers other than human ones that seek to manipulate the course of human history.” He paused momentarily, “did you think that I wouldn’t understand?”
“Mmmm,” Ceri nodded, “I couldn’t even begin to explain this to my parents-” she halted suddenly as she realised what she’d said.
“Don’t worry,” Ambrosius smiled, “I would expect you to regard those people who raised you as your parents. Your conduct before Budec and Uther and myself has shown your quality.” He laughed softly at Ceri’s astonished visage, “I have spoken with both since my return and both told me of your courtesy. Uther himself told me of your bravery.”
“I am not brave,” Ceri shook her head firmly, “Father, the person who delivered me believed that through me a prophecy to free someone long held in bondage would be fulfilled and because of that the Dark would seek to kill the baby. I was placed somewhere safe for my own protection, but not a place, a time. The future.” She stopped again trying to find the words to say.
“How far into the future?” Ambrosius asked.
Ceri didn’t hear him, her eyes had become vacant, faraway as if she was looking inward. Gently Ambrosius posed the question again, then when that received no answer he touched Ceri’s arm, she jumped startled, “What century in the future?”
She half-smiled, “The twentieth.”
He stared at her, shock etched on his features and then they relaxed in a smile, “Do they still speak of me in your Britain?”
“Yes,” Ceri assured him. “They do indeed, Lord Ambrosius Aurelianus.”
He laughed, a glorious sound, in that enclosed room. “Did the person who took you into the future tell you about me?”
“No,” Ceri shook her head. Taking a deep breath she said, “the Dark finally discovered who I was and then they sent one of their minions to despatch me, the creature of the Dark told me.” She smiled wanly, ”at the moment I never know from one day to the next whether I’ll have any power or not, and when the creature raised its weapon I fled through Time and fell into yours.”
The Count’s forehead creased in a frown, “But if you escaped the minion of the Dark then how can it be your fault if I was injured?”
“The being fired an arrow that would follow me, even through Time, it would also aim for anyone related to me. I think you were closer and the arrow wounded you by mistake. It nearly killed you.”
“But you had the courage to amend the ill you had wrought. Besides -” his eyes softened and he took Ceri’s hands again, “the Dark were waiting for such an opportunity to attack me, perhaps it was fated thus. I am still here - the Dark cannot rid themselves of me that easily.”
The doors to the study opened and a young boy entered, Ambrosius greeted him warmly and Ceri saw how similar they were in appearance, same hair, same eyes, even the set of the jaw was the same and she knew that she was regarding Ambrosius’s son, “Merlin, I believe you and Cerian have already met.”
Merlin nodded and Ambrosius gestured to another chair, “Join us, my son.”
He sat and poured himself a cup of water, “Are you really my sister?”
“Yes,” Cerian replied, “at least the Count says that I am.”
“I say nothing,” Ambrosius corrected her, “I gave that brooch you wear to your mother on board ship, the fact that you wear it and that you know about your mother is proof enough for me. Besides which-” he paused and then said softly, “you are the image of her.”
“I am more concerned about King Gorlan,” Cerian half-smiled, “he would not be best pleased to discover that his wife was pregnant at the time she died.”
Ambrosius smiled in return, “Fourteen years have passed since then,” he said quietly, “I am no longer a lowly lieutenant in Gorlan’s army but a King in my own right, I do not think he will be as displeased as you assume.”
“But as you say, my Lord, I am the image of her, and if he remembers her he will recognise me. Do you not think?”
“We shall see,” was Ambrosius reply.
Suddenly there was a blast of trumpets and Flaptongue entered again, “My lord, King Gorlan has arrived and has been admitted, are you coming to the Council.”
“Aye Flaptongue,” Ambrosius replied, he turned to Cerian, “would you accompany us, daughter, both Uther and Budec will wish to express their thanks to you.”
“What of Gorlan?”
“What of him?” Ambrosius laughed suddenly, “Come.” He held out a hand and gingerly Cerian took it.
The Council was held in the tower room, Ceri noted with mild surprise that it only had one staircase and that the room beneath it was occupied by at least ten soldiers.
“Father,” she said softly, “was the meeting room used for parleys?”
Ambrosius stern face relaxed and he nodded, “How did you know?”
“Because of the single staircase and the room with the soldiers in it, if anyone was to get up the stairs the soldiers would see them before they could act.”
Ambrosius pulled her to him in a massive bear hug, “Never cease to amaze me, Cerian. Promise?”
“If my lord so wishes,” Cerian replied softly.
As they entered the Council chamber, Budec had his back to them and was poring over the map set before them on the table. He stepped back and for the first time Ceri caught a glimpse of the man standing on his left. Their eyes locked, and then he had pushed the men standing next to him aside and dropped to his knees before her.
“Ceri!” he gasped, “how can you be here? I saw your body.”
Cerian felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and realised that Ambrosius was standing behind her, she drew strength from his presence and heard him say, “Cerian, this is King Gorlan of Lanascol, Your Highness,” he surveyed Gorlan, “this is my daughter, Cerian Aurelia.”
Gorlan reached out a trembling hand and nearly touched Ceri’s face, his cheeks were wet, “You are the Count’s daughter?”
Ceri dropped to a curtsey and nodded, “Aye, Your Highness.”
“You look so much like a woman I once loved.” Gorlan mused, “she was named Cerian too. Do you have something to tell me, Lieutenant?”
The use of his old title in Gorlan’s army made Ambrosius start but when he looked down he saw only humour in Gorlan’s eyes, “Your Highness?”
“Come Ambrosius, you are not so foolish as all that,” Gorlan’s eyes were dark, “My wife told me that she was in love with someone else but that she went through with the marriage because of what it meant to the Kingdom. I always wondered who it was, I must admit, however, that I am glad it was you. But perhaps I should have suspected it-” he paused, “after all, you were her escort from Segontium. I always thought it was some peasant lad and that’s why she was killed, because she would not flee with him. Are you her daughter?”
“Aye,” Cerian replied, “she died giving birth to me, sire. The only person who knew of my birth was a woodsman and he saw that I was placed in a loving family. Those I regarded as my parents never told me of my heritage, and when I discovered it I was afraid that you would be angry with my father.”
“Angry?” Gorlan half-smiled, “I would have been furious had my lieutenant told me of this fourteen years ago, but now-” he spread his hands and shrugged, “now we are allies. We have been friends for many years, it would be a poor friendship if we let this ruin it.” He regarded Cerian thoughtfully, “I wish that you had been my daughter.” He took her hands, “but perhaps it is better thus. You will always have a place in my heart, Princess.”
Ceri nodded and replied, “Sire, that is the most singular honour I have ever been granted. My thanks.”
Gorlan suddenly flung his head back and laughed, he lifted Ceri as if she had been but a feather and hugged her to him. Carefully he set her down on the floor, “The honour is mine, Princess.” He released her and turned back to Ambrosius, “Gentlemen, let us return to our strategies.”
Ceri seated herself on a chair in the corner of the room and watched quietly. The men were taking no notice of her and she was free to let her mind wander, then she heard Herne’s voice as clear as if he was standing next to her, Madam, we must talk
At once, Cernunnos. Give me a moment to take my leave of my father. There was no answer so she presumed that Herne acquiesced to her request. She rose to her feet and touched the Count’s elbow, “Father?”
He turned to her and whatever he saw in her face softened his expression, “You have to leave?”
“Yes, Father.” Ceri’s voice shook on the words.
“Will you return?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps not for many years in your time, Father. If I do return, Merlin will have become an adult, and I will still be fourteen. It is the nature of what I am, can you understand?”
Ambrosius knelt and it seemed to Ceri that it was only the pair of them in that room and the others had faded into the background, “My darling daughter, I love you. I told you that I thought I had lost everything with the death of your mother - to see her likeness in your face again is more than I could have wished. If perchance we should never meet again I shall remember these two days and know that somewhere in Time you revere my memory. Return if you can, if not I shall remember you.”
“And I you, Father.”
Ambrosius turned to the assembled group who seemed to come to life again, and spoke, “Hear me now as King, you Kings assembled here. This is my daughter who stands before you, henceforward you shall address her as Princess Cerian.”
With one voice they cheered, “Princess Cerian!” and each one bowed his head and knelt to her. Gorlan looked up and saw Ceri’s pale face, “My Lady,” he said softly, “may I speak?”
“Please, Lord Gorlan,” Ceri replied, “and speak freely.”
“I speak for us all assembled here, Princess. Therefore, to your father and to you we give our fealty, and that of our heirs and successors. If you should ever need our assistance you have only to call on us and we shall come to you - we can raise an army of fifty thousand between us.”
Ceri smiled and replied, “Please rise, gentlemen. I thank you for your generosity and I will always remember it.”
“Highness, it has been an honour and a pleasure.” Budec knelt and bared his neck for her. “I hope we shall meet again.”
“So do I, sire.” Ceri replied, “My Lords, I regret that I must leave you.”
The men bowed their heads, Ceri curtsied – badly – and then she was walking out of the door and down the stairs, Ambrosius at her side.
The chestnut steed was already saddled and bridled, Ceri mounted in one fluid motion and gathered the reins up in her left hand. Ambrosius looked up at her, “I hope we shall meet again, Daughter.”
“So do I, Father.” Cerian reached out her hand and Ambrosius grasped her wrist as he would a warrior’s, “I would consider it a poor world if we never saw each other again.”
“As would I.” Ambrosius released her hand, “Open the gates!” He ordered. The huge gates creaked open and then Ceri had urged the horse into a trot. She did not look back.
Herne was waiting at the Giant’s Dance. The horse was stamping impatiently, “What kept you?” He demanded.
“Things,” Ceri replied, “Ambrosius acknowledged me as his daughter. I am sorry I am late.”
Herne noted Ceri’s pale face and nodded gravely, “Forgive me, Lady. I did not mean to reprimand you. Are you happy now?”
A sad smile touched Ceri’s eyes and she replied, “Not really, Cernunnos, I do not wish to leave but I have completed part of what I set out to do. I sense that whatever I must do for my father, I cannot do it yet.”
Herne said nothing and together they turned their horses and trotted side by side into the night.