CHAPTER 7 - THE LADY OF THE LAKE
Vivien glided towards us. With every step she took, the waters would glow then fade. As she came to the embankment, her dress solidified, her long hair hung loosely and she was barefoot. Hints of hue would appear every time she moved. She glided gracefully and stood in front of the fire. Raising her hand, the fire grew and the heat was welcoming. She then snapped her fingers and all our supplies were dry.
She gazed at us and smiled. “Come! Sit and eat.”
She took a seat on a rock near the river. Troy and I came and sat by the fire, warming our hands. Vivien snapped her fingers again, and on the fire, appeared smoked fish while plates appeared with fresh chunks of bread and cheese. I never realised how hungry I was. Being screamed at takes a lot out of a person.
“So, you’re the fabled Lady of the Lake,” Troy mused.
Vivien smiled. “As I said, I go by many names, but yes, I am referred to by that title.”
“Thank you for saving us, Vivien,” I said. “It was getting to the point where I was about to throw that rock you’re sitting on at those creatures.” Vivien’s laugh was like the first rays of sunshine after storm clouds disperse.
“Even if you could pick this rock up, Tristan, you would not receive the satisfying result.”
My head jerked. “How do you know my name?”
“I became aware of your presence the moment you arrived.”
“That ugly banshee said the same thing!” I was furious. It seemed to me as if everyone knew we were here. So much for a cover-up and blending in with the locals. Not to mention the disgusting undergarments I had to wear. I took it as a personal insult.
“No, Tristan. The banshees never knew you were here. It was their mistress who sent them.”
“Do you know who their mistress is?” Troy ventured.
“Oh, yes,” Vivien mused. “She is the most powerful sorceress alive. Even spirits fear her. She has delved into the deepest, darkest pits of black magic imaginable. Only those with a twisted mind could conjure such evil.”
Vivien trailed off and I could see from her expression that she had probably met this mistress before. Definitely not over scones and tea, but probably an epic duel over who throws the biggest punch when it comes to spells and magic.
Out of instinct (an annoying trait we as students have), I raised my hand to ask a question. Vivien raised an eyebrow and gently smiled at me.
“Question. Why do they want me dead? Why didn’t they go after Troy?”
“Hey!” Troy protested.
“Their mission was to lure you to your death. They conjured an image close to your heart - in your case, your grandfather. In that way, your death would have been certain, had it not been for the bravery of this young man.” Vivien nodded at Troy, who gave a sheepish smile and blushed.
“Yes, I’m grateful Troy saved me,” I continued, “but it doesn’t explain why me?”
“You have the Mark on you,” Vivien said.
As if that answered all the nagging questions floating around in my mind. I blinked. “Come again?”
“What I mean is, you came into contact with a magical item. Hence, you now have the Mark.” I must’ve given her the same confused look the banshees gave me when I told them that rabies was a spell. She continued, “Whether you know it or not, you came into contact with ‘something’ and now those of us who know of magic and its lore, are more aware of you than Troy.”
“Tristan, do you remember doing anything you shouldn’t?” Troy asked, his tone had a hint of concern in it, but I noted the amusement in his voice.
“Besides swimming in freezing water? No, I don’t remember encountering anything--”
My mind went back to when Miss Eden told us to wait for her in the backroom. I also remembered her expression when she saw I had touched the skull that was on the table, along with the misspelt book.
“Troy, that skull on Miss Eden’s desk. Why did she lash out like that?”
“I don’t know. Do you think that’s the item that placed a Mark on you?”
I stared idly at the river. Miss Eden went almost berserk when she realised I touched that skull. But why? What was its significance? Coming out of my daydream, I looked at Troy and Vivien, then shrugged.
“Well, I don’t know. No point in me losing sleep over this. The only person who can answer that question is Miss Eden, and she’s not here. We need to focus on the task at hand.”
“But you’re marked!” Troy exclaimed.
“Thanks for the reminder,” I muttered.
“Vivien,” Troy shifted uncomfortably. “Who is this mistress leading the banshees?”
Was that a flinch I saw in her expression? Was she even afraid of this sorceress?
“Her name is Morgana Le Fay,” Vivien whispered. “She has been terrorising us for some time now.”
Troy and I locked eyes. Morgana Le Fay! Of course! It all makes sense now. The little I know about her doesn’t paint a pretty picture. She’s the embodiment of evil.
Vivien studied us for a while, then said, “For me to explain what’s going on, you need to know what happened. King Uther Pendragon died over a year ago. Since then, the nobles have been fighting non-stop over who the next king should be. Naturally, the throne should go to Uther’s son, Arthur, but he has been in exile these past few months.”
“Arthur? As in… King Arthur?” I felt disorientated. Instead of answers, more questions rose.
Troy leaned over and whispered, “Remember, what we know about Arthur in our time, is only happening here now, in the present.”
“Okay, then why are they fighting? Everyone knows Arthur is the rightful heir!” I was perplexed that this should even be an issue. The answer was obvious. The king is dead, and he has a son. What’s so difficult to comprehend?
“Because of Arthur’s older sister,” Vivien went on to explain. “She wishes to be queen instead. The family had been feuding ever since.”
Oh… now I get it.
“Who’s his sister?”
I looked at Troy. “Really? You don’t know who his sister is?” I was amazed that I knew the answer to a question Troy didn’t know.
“I would very much like a lesson right about now, Tristan!” he hissed back at me.
“Morgana Le Fay is his sister, well, technically, she’s his half-sister!”
Troy’s eyes widened, then turned and looked at Vivien. “No way!”
Vivien gave us a sad smile. “All of it is true. Before Uther died, he gave his sword to his most trusted advisor and told him that when his son is ready, the sword shall be given to him and claim his birthright. Morgana caught wind of it and has been fighting against Merlin ever since.”
“Merlin!” I blurted out. “Merlin is actually here?!”
Troy smirked at me. “Of all the things we’ve faced; meeting Robin Hood, hearing about Arthur, being screamed at by banshees and a woman rising from the water, you’re telling me you’re stunned that Merlin exists!” He began to laugh, so much so that he had to hold his sides. His amusement at my outburst made Vivien chuckle, which made me feel rather foolish. I elbowed Troy in the ribs.
“Please continue with the story,” I gestured to Vivien, hoping Troy would shut up.
’Morgana raised an army and with other kinds of spirits, killed many of Arthur’s supporters. Those who were able to make it out alive withdrew and regrouped at the castle. That is why Arthur went into exile, along with a handful of devoted followers. He wished to see no more violence because of his claim. But the fighting never ended. After annihilating most of Arthur’s supporters, Morgana’s attention has now turned on her father’s sword. Desiring to claim it as her own, Merlin had used every spell possible to keep it out of Morgana’s hands. But she is relentless, and Merlin came seeking my aid. Combining our magic, we placed the sword into a magical stone that can be found in a secret cave below the castle in Tintagel.”
Troy frowned. “Where’s Tintagel castle?”
“In Cornwall,” came Vivien’s reply.
“Cornwall?” I straightened when I heard the name. “Robin Hood told us to travel there.”
Vivien nodded. “I must return to Cornwall. The last of Arthur’s supporters are manning the castle, including beings of my kind. With each passing day, Morgana’s forces move closer to Tintagel. With almost everyone subdued, nothing will stop her from getting the sword.”
“But only the rightful heir can pull the sword out of the stone.” Troy was giving that typical expression where he was trying to (again) analyse every single piece of information.
Vivien’s sapphire eyes looked troubled. “As I said. Morgana has delved into the darkest of magic and through her experimenting, she has found a way to release her father’s sword. The magic I combined with Merlin’s is the only thing keeping Morgana at bay. It’s an invisibility spell, including a force shield so that Morgana cannot sense it, but I fear Morgana will prevail. It is only a matter of time now before she realises it is under the castle and not inside.”
“How can we,” Troy gestured to himself and me, “beat one of the most powerful witches in the history of mankind?”
Vivien smiled. “Sometimes, the best heroes come from the unlikeliest of places. I will lend my aid for your travels.” She stood up and walked towards the forest. Raising her hand, small, bluish lights began to light up along the forest path.
Troy jumped to his feet. “I know what they are!” He had a wide grin on his face. “Those lights are called the will-o’-the-wisp!”
I threw my hands in the air. “Great! Not only am I marked, but everyone will now know we are travelling through Leicester forest! It’s the story of Hansel and Gretel all over again!”
“No, Tristan,” Vivien said. “These lights can only be seen by you two. I must go. Keep your eyes and ears open. You may have bought time with the banshees, but I fear Morgana may send her second in command. The banshees are nothing compared to her lieutenant.”
Troy’s head jerked at hearing this. “She has someone worse than banshees?”
Vivien’s gave Troy a troubled look. “He is a malevolent being and only Morgana’s powers keep him in check. If he were given full reign, he would destroy everything in his path and kill anyone in sight. He is also incredibly intelligent and will not be put off with a mere mention of rabies being a spell!” Vivien winked at me and I felt my cheeks burning.
Who’s her lieutenant?” Troy frowned.
“The Dullahan,” Vivien whispered.
“The doo-little what?” I didn’t catch the word.
“The Dullahan, Tristan,” Troy sounded annoyed and terrified.
“What’s that?” I asked.
After a long pause, Troy shuddered, “the Headless Horseman.”