The Calling - Merry's Apprentice

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Chapter 13

Month Thirty

Time for Going Home

_____________________________

My last month on Avalon had at last arrived. In less than thirty-one days it would be February, and I’d return home to prepare for Bealtaine in May. The formal feast for all of the allied realms was to take place in three days and all of Avalon was preparing, except for Lance, Benedict, and me, who were going through a final day of training with Zaichi. The three of us stood in our black ghees with our katanas in hand waiting for orders.

“Lance of the Lake, also known as Lance Lake, please step forward,” Zaichi said.

Inari ran back and forth with excitement watching, while Nan and a recently arrived Merry, as well as the Lady of the Lake herself stood and watched. Using his cane Zaichi measured the distance between himself and his student.

“I will call out the stances and you will illustrate them perfectly,” instructed Zaichi. “Through hearing your motions, feeling the shifting of breezes, the sound of your feet and hands, and my sense of instincts, I will know if you have done it. Are you ready?”

“Yes, master,” Lance responded calmly.

“Seigan no kamae,” Zaichi barked.

Lance’s feet went wide, his sword pointed eye level, with his weight on the rear foot. Zaichi smiled to himself.

“Chidan no kamae,” he called out.

Lance’s sword became level at his waist with his weight not shifting.

“Gedan no kamae,” Zaichi called out next.

Lance moved his sword to below his waist now.

“Hasso no kamae,” Zaichi called out.

Lance moved his feet together, his body straight as a ruler, and his elbows in close to his body. His sword was held high and upright with the edge facing forward.

“Kasumi no kamae,” Zaichi barked out the stance.

Lance’s right foot moved to the side, weight shifted to his left. His sword was brought to eye level with his edge up and his elbows held close to his body.

“Daijodan no kamae,” Zaichi yelled out the next stance.

Lance shifted his weight from left to right foot with his body now shifted towards the left. He raised his blade above his head at a forty-five degree angle.

“Finally, Tenchi no kamae,” Zaichi called out.

Lance shifted his legs apart with his weight on his right foot. His blade was held over his right knee pointing straight up.

“You may now relax,” Zaichi told his student and Lance took a relaxed posture, as he placed his katan properly into its scabbard.

Zaichi ambled up to him and patted him on the shoulder. He nodded his head then turned and faced those who were there to watch.

“I announce that Lance of the Lake is the youngest sword master I have ever trained. He is a master of all stances and trained by me in the use of the blade,” Zaichi stated.

The Lady of the Lake smiled and applauded her son. Merry and Nan also applauded him, while Inari howled in appreciation. Zaichi motioned Lance to join those who watched. Lance jogged over and stood beside his mother, who proudly kissed him on the cheek. Lance blushed.

“Now Sean and Benedict. For you I have another task. Sean, to be a sword master is meaningless for you, as you have a more important role to play in life. As for you Benedict, you are a druid, but a druid, who can use a sword. For your graduation I will have a match between you and me.”

“Are you sure about that, master?” I asked with grimace.

“Do you doubt me, student?” asked Zaichi.

“No, I doubt me.”

“Good answer, my student,” Zaichi said. “Lance, get us the bamboo swords.”

Lance rushed off and retrieved the bamboo swords. He handed one to Zaichi then one to me and finally to Benedict. Benedict and I placed our katana on the grass then we prepared ourselves to battle Zaichi. Once ready we moved towards the sword master, who held the bamboo sword lightly in his hand, while cane sword lay at his feet.

“Come. I do not have all day to show you up,” Zaichi goaded them.

With those words Benedict was the first to move in on Zaichi. Excitement at this chance to show his skill overtook his good sense. He took a straightforward attack trying to be bold and show off what he had learned. Zaichi quickly disarmed him and poked him hard in the belly with the bamboo. Benedict exhaled in anger and stormed off the field to stand next to Lance. Shaking his head in frustration, Benedict knew he was capable of a better showing than that.

“I hope you use what I have taught you better than that,” Inari told him then she took a position near Merry to watch Sean and Zaichi.

“As a swordsman, you make a great druid, my student,” laughed Zaichi, who then turned his attention to me.

I did not move, as I knew that the master swordsman knew where I was based on hearing and scent, as well as his amazing instincts, but I had decided on a new tactic. Too often I acted as the aggressor against my master, so that this time I decided to act as the silent, passive one in hopes that the master would attack me.

Passively, breathing smoothly in and smoothly out, I waited for Zaichi to make the first move. For his part, the wise sword master stood passively, serene and calm, and waited, also. We continued this for a half an hour, which soon became an hour and still neither one of us moved.

“Merlin, this is usual, isn’t it?” the Lady asked.

“Yes,” he smiled. “Ask your son?”

“Lance, why is Sean not moving?” she asked him.

“He is using one of the master’s strength against him: patience.”

“Will this work?”

“Only time will tell,” he answered.

“This is strangely suspenseful,” Nan stated.

Lance understood my strategy. An hour became ninety minutes and neither of us moved. My legs started to hurt slightly from not moving and standing still so long, but I knew I could ignore that pain and much more. Master Zaichi waited with a smile on his face. Ninety minutes became two hours.

“I’m sorry to say I can’t stay to see how this ends,” the Lady said. “There is so much that needs to be prepared for the feast. I have to go.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” Merry told her.

“Mother, may I stay?” asked Nan.

“Yes, of course. Stay with you brother and watch how this ends.”

The Lady of the Lake left them and neither Zaichi nor I moved. I continued my smooth breathing. Closing my eyes now I allowed my other senses to listen for the master to make a move. Master Zaichi didn’t move, though. Two hours became three hours. Those who remained watching now sat on the grass and watched. Inari sat in Merry’s lap, while he stroked her fur. Nan, Benedict and Lance drank some fruit wine and ate fruit, which they got from Master Zaichi’s shelter.

“I have never seen my master so proud of a student,” Inari told Merry, who continued to stroke the fur on her back.

“He is surprised by Sean’s tactic?”

“He is happy with it. It shows that he has learned,” Inari contentedly said.

“How long do you think this can last?” Merry asked.

“Many more hours,” answered Inari.

Three hours became four hours and the afternoon lingered on. I continued to stand with my eyes shut, while Master Zaichi remained unmoving, serene and calm. We almost became like breathing statues. Inari now was in the shelter taking a nap out of the way of the sun, while Benedict snoozed on the grass. Lance, Nan, and Merry, though, were hypnotized by what they saw. It was a battle of wills with teacher and student showing no sign of breaking.

Six hours and still neither one of us moved. I began to wish that I held my sword at my side, like Master Zaichi did. My arms were tiring along with mylegs that were becoming stiff. Yet, he knew he could continue this for hours. Master Zaichi appeared unchanged.

“I am thinking of biting his ankle,” Inari told Merry.

“Whose ankle?”

“Sean’s,” she answered.

“I can’t allow you to do that,” Merry said with a smile as he sat and watched us.

“Merry?”

“Yes, Lance.”

“Do you think we can get some dinner? I am starting to get hungry.”

“Well, I was hoping for Sean or Master Zaichi would have a preference tonight, but I can see what you mean. The light will fade in another hour or two.”

“I could go back to the palace and get some food and bring it back,” Nan offered.

“That won’t be necessary. I have an idea. Who wants Chinese takeout?” asked Merry.

“What is that?” asked Inari excitedly.

“Oh, that’s right you live in the Dragon Realm, so you actually eat real Japanese and Chinese food. Let me introduce you to a treat,” Merry said then he stood up. “I will be back in no time.”

Merry opened up a doorway and stepped through. While Merry went to get Chinese food, we continued ourded patient game of chess. A half hour passed and the doorway re-opened and Merry came through carrying a large brown paper bag filled with boxes of Chinese takeout food. He placed the bag on the grass, opened it up and began to dole out white boxes of Chinese food.

He handed Lance his favorite of Beef and Broccoli; Benedict got a box of Sweet and Sour Chicken; for Nan he got her mixed vegetables in garlic sauce; for Inari he got her an order of steamed dumplings; and finally for himself he got an order of sesame noodles. Using plastic forks they began to eat their dinner, while continuing to watch us.

“I like this Chinese takeout, Merry,” Inari stated.

“I got you two orders of dumplings, if you wish,” Merry said.

“Thank you,” Inari said excitedly.

Merry took out the other order of dumplings and placed them on the grass. Inari dug into her second order.

“Merlin, this is good. Can I get the recipe,” asked Nan.

“I don’t know hwo they conjure this up. But I will gladly get Chinese for you when you come to the Human Realm,” he answered.

“It is a deal.”

Another hour passed. My back was starting to ache slightly. I ignored it. Master Zaichi had taught me well enough so that pain now helped to deepen my focus instead of ruin it. This was one of the accomplishments I was most proud of.

The sun began to set. Merry and Nan lit torches for them and they continued to watch.

“You know this is kind of epic,” said Benedict. “Don’t you think so, Lance?”

“It’s amazing. The discipline on display is awe inspiring,” Lance said.

“I’m bored,” yawned Inari.

“I want to go back to the palace, but I can’t take my eyes off of them,” Nan stated.

Several more hours passed and nightfell. It was dark. I now added tiredness to go along with the pain. But I had set on this course of action against Zaichi and I was going to stick with it. Master Zaichi remained unmoving.

More time passed. Benedict slept, as did Inari and Nan. Only Lance and Merry remained awake watching us play out their chess game of patience. Merry asked Lance: “Do you think I should make it rain on them?”

“No, Merry. Let them finish this properly. I’m starting to think Sean might win.”

“He already has, Lance. He has lasted this long against Master Zaichi. This will be talked about no matter who wins and people will be impressed with Sean.”

“I didn’t think about that,” Lance said with a smile.

Finally, I had to go to the bathroom. I could ignore it, but I was having trouble ignoring it. I wanted to go to the bathroom. Slowly taking a deep breath, I raised my bamboo sword above my head in a quick motion, which made Master Zaichi quickly come alive. Zaichi brought his bamboo up to his waist and then he moved quickly at me. I managed to block his strike, jumped up into the air, and over the sword. When I came down he rolled and started to run towards the shelter.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I yelled.

In a state of shock Lance and Merry watched me. Master Zaichi called back: “I am right behind you. I have to go, also.”

Using the bamboo cane as a cane, Zaichi headed towards the shelter, as he passed Lance and Merry and spoke: “I hope you saved some of this Chinese takeout for my student and I.”

“Don’t worry, I did,” Merry said as he watched the blind master and me hustle into his home.

********

This was my second visit to the lady of the Lake’s throne room. Unlike the last time, though, there were no guards to intimidate, and only Nimue, Nan, and Tegan awaited me. Walking down the middle of the room towards the marble throne, I saw that Tegan and Nimue stood to the right of the throne while Nan stood to the left. I stopped in front of the throne and nodded.

The red curtain pulled behind the throne moved aside and the Lady of the Lake entered the room. With deliberate speed and motions, she made her way to the throne and sat down. I bowed to her.

“Thank you for coming per my request,” the Lady said to me.

“There is no need to thank me for something I am willing do, Lady,” I said.

Once again she was struck at how composed I was. She still judged me on my age rather than on all that I had learned.

“My daughter has made a request to visit the Human Realm when you return there. I do not take this request lightly, as my daughter has the bloodline and right of succession to the Lady of the Lake. She is a powerful druid. Yet, she is fascinated by your realm. I called you here to ask you for your opinion, Arthur Sean McCoul. Should I let my daughter visit your realm?”

I paused to think about his answer. The Lady of the Lake did nothing without a greater purpose. If she was asking for my opinion, there was a deeper reason for that. “Honesty, son, try always to be honest.” I heard my father’s voice inside me say, as I remembered his words so clearly.

“Yes, she should be allowed. Druids have spent too much time away from a realm that was once home to them. It is time that some of your kind visit again and come to know humanity again,” he answered.

“What can she learn from your realm?” the Lady asked.

“She can learn whatever she is open to learn. The Human Realm offers both the wonderful and horrors, just like human beings. Nan is smart enough to know what is worth learning from humanity and what isn’t. In the end whatever she learns will be up to her,” I said.

The lady steepled her fingers and placed them in front of her mouth in order to hide a slight smile. In my short time on Avalon I had actually taught her a thing or two, but most of all I gave her the time to get to know her son Lance. It was still a difficult relationship, but she was glad to have started making changes in their relationship. Lance was an extraordinary male.

“Nan,” she addressed her daughter.

“Yes, Lady.”

“If he will have you as part of his fealty, you may go to the Human Realm until you are recalled to Avalon by me, or until you grow tired of it,” the Lady announced.

“Yes, Lady,” replied Nan with her face breaking out into a giant half moon shaped smile.

“Arthur Sean McCoul,” the Lady turned her attention back to ME. “For the feast I am going to invite some of your clan from the Human Realm. Do you have anyone in particular that I should invite?”

“Lady, I would love to see whomever you invite, though there is someone I miss greatly,” I said.

“Who is this person?”

“Branwyn Fey.”

“Well then, along with Thomas Lake, Kieran McCoul, Fintain McCoul, and Benedict’s parents, I shall invite this Branwyn Fey and her mother. Will that satisfy you?”

“Lady, it will delight me,” I said.

“Now I must ask you, Arthur Sean McCoul, for one other favor,” the lady stated.

“What is it, Lady?”

“Your name. I know you prefer Sean, but I request that you consider using Arthur, if you should pass the test at Bealtaine. Will you consider it?”

Arthur. I had heard that name often in my time here. For many it was a name that conjured up images of greatness. Arthur. Was I willing to live with that name and all its history? If my father had succeeded at Bealtaine, would he have taken the name Arthur and put away Liam? My father never had the chance to make that decision. Arthur, it was officially my first name, just as it was my father’s, and his father’s and so on and so forth down the line.

So many in the realms revered the name that I was sure he could live up to the name. Using Sean I could forge my own history, my own legend, and my own identity, but as Arthur I could only add to another’s legend. The original Arthur and I would become almost indistinguishable in time. Was that the way it was supposed to be, though? I remembered reading in a book somewhere that Arthur was: Hic Iacet Arturus Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus. Merry told me when he read that in a book that those words were the most important words in the book. Was this the true meaning behind Arthur being the once and future king?

Was Merry trying to tell me how important the name Arthur was as a symbol? Each succeeding Cathal would be called Arthur and add to the lore of the first Arthur. It made sense. Rex Quondam rexque Futurus. Was I the once and future king? By taking the name Arthur I could be keeping the symbol alive and symbols were so important to people of all races. Maybe the greatest importance of the Cathal was a symbol, as the once and future king? Arthur.

“Lady, I shall take the name Arthur if I succeed at Bealtaine. Arthur is my name, so I might as well use it proudly,” I stated.

“You will take the name?” she said with surprise.

“Yes, I will. It is important that Arthur always be the Cathal,” I said.

Her eyes lit up, as if to say that he understands. Merlin was right about this one; he is special. I had surprised her and in doing so I had passed some sort of test she had for me.

“You have shown wisdom greater than your years here,” the Lady said. “I shall request from the elves that they begin to prepare a sword for you, a battle sword worthy of Excalibur. It will take more than a year to prepare.”

Tegan glared at me. She didn’t trust anyone from the Human Realm and was shocked to see that her mother seemed to be, now trusting me. Her mother was falling under the charm of me, she thought, and she didn’t like it.

“I will accept a sword only after I have earned it,” I told her.

“If you succeed at Bealtaine, you will be the Cathal, but to earn your battle sword. You will need another test to earn the sword, though.”

“What test will that be?”

“I shall tell you after Bealtaine,” she answered me with a sincere smile lighting her face. “Now you must be fitted for a proper robe and clothes for the feast. Nan will show you to a tailor.”

“Thank you, Lady,” I bowed.

Nan left her mother’s side and escorted me out of the throne room. Once the door was closed, Nan gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“What is that for?” I asked her.

“For letting me join your fealty and for winning my mother over.”

“I haven’t won anyone over just yet, so you aren’t part of any fealty yet,” I protested.

“Yes, you have. You have won over my mother. You made her very happy back there. If you succeed you will be known as Arthur. Sean, this is remarkable; it is wonderful. The realms will be thrilled, at least, some realms. You will never make everyone happy. No one can. It’s been tried and it has been failed.”

Nan was in an exicted mood, as she joined me. She began to escort down a long hallway: “Now let’s get you measured for some proper robes and clothes. This is going to be truly a great feast.”

“Let’s not get carried away. I still haven’t succeeded at Bealtaine.”

“You have to succeed now,” Nan teased me. “I want to have some more Chinese takeout. Merlin promised me more if I got to the Human Realm, so I want to get there and stay for a while. I don’t want to make this just a short visit.”

“Well, I guess I have to succeed now. You need to you’re your Chinese takeout addiction fed,” I laughed.

“See, things can be broken down to their very simplest. I like Chinese takeout food, so you have to succeed at Bealtaine that way I can stay in the Human Realm until I get tired of it. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? Just forget about all the other reasons you need to succeed. It’s all about the Chinese takeout,” Nan said and the two of us laughed as we continued down the hall.

*********

The feast was to be held by the great lake. In the open fields near the lake great white tents were set up. Some of the tents had tables of food and drink under them. One tent had musicians playing stringed instruments. A large tent, whose sides were enclosed in gauze, was set up for the Lady of the Lake and other dignitaries so that they could sit and view the proceedings. Long torches were stuck into the ground giving light.

On the lake itself great fires floated. Also, floating on the lake were rafts and walkways that allowed people to walk out to the rafts. On one large raft a band of horn and stringed playing musicians made more music. Avalon had been turned into a light an airy realm for the night. Benedict wore a black hooded robe with white clothing beneath it to honor his druid nature. Lance was attired in all black, his robe more smiliar to a kimono like Master Zaichi’s with a red belt tied around it where he now wore a katana and a the shorter wakizashi. I was dressed in a black hooded robe that whose cuffs and hem had been gilted. The color scheme underneath my robe had a little more color. I had black boots that came to my knees, black pants with a royal blue shirt that had a red dragon over my breast. In my belt I had two swords, the short sword gift from Alkimos and the katana, which was a gift from Zaichi and Inari. The dragon was not only a tribute to my teacher of the sword, but to his historic roots: I was part of the Pendragon bloodline.

Female druids and a few male druids greeted guests as they came. All about Lance, Benedict, and I silver doorways opened as Huldra, Nisse, Fey, Nixes, Slyphids, Celtae warriors, Galli warriors and other races that I had not met yet exited the doorways. It was astounding to see.

“This is something,” Benedict whispered.

“Yeah,” agreed Lance.

I felt slightly different about it, as every guest made sure to look for me once they were past the doorway. I was on display once again.

“I can’t wait for our clan to come. It’s been too long,” I stated.

“Yeah, it has been,” agreed Benedict.

“I do miss my father and the mountains,” Lance said.

Just then a doorway opened in front of us and Merry exited in his black robe. He bowed to me then with his left hand he motioned to the doorway and Branwyn exited. Dressed in a light white dress that went down to her calf, she looked radiant in my eyes. Her red hair fell now to her shoulder blades and when she saw me she ran to me. I picked her up in my arms and kissed her. Branwyn began to glow yellow.

“Don’t crush my daughter, you brute. She looks like a rabbit snuggling with a grea bear,” Morgana stated as she exited the doorway, dressed in a blue version of Branwyn’s dress.

“Ma,” protested Branwyn.

I put Branwyn down. A smile lit my face: “I would never hurt her.”

“I’m not sure about that. You’re gotten so big you might crush her by accident. What do they feed you here?” Morgana said to me.

“Hard work,” I answered.

The next through the doorway was Kieran then Fintain. After that came Benedict’s parents and finally Thomas Lake. Unexpectedly, after Thomas Lake exited the doorway, the lady of the Lake with her two male warrior bodyguards came over to us. She extended a hand to Merry, who kissed it. Everyone else bowed. She then walked over to Thomas Lake and kissed his cheek: “You have raised our son to be a wonderful young man.”

“Thank you, Lady,” he replied. “It has been a long time since I’ve seen you.”

“You and Lance must join me in my tent later,” she said then she left us along with her bodyguards.

“So this is the great feast in honor of realm unity,” said Merry. “It looks more like a chance for everyone to see Sean before his next test to me. I hate events like this, but I will say better you than me, Bear”

“It feels like I’m on display, too,” I said with Branwyn at my side.

“Well, we might as well make this an event to celebrate,” Kieran said.

“How?” I asked.

“I think we have a way,” he said then he looked at Morgana.

“Do you want me to tell them?” she asked him.

He nodded yes.

“Okay, coward,” she said then she looked at everyone. “Kieran and I are going to marry.”

Branwyn cried out with delight, while Fintain slapped his father on the back. Merry, the Wise’s, and Thomas Lake moved in next for embraces and kisses. When they were done, I went to Morgana first and kissed her cheek then I moved over to Kieran shook his hand then I hugged him.

“When will the event happen?” I asked.

“After Midsummer’s next. We thought that would be the best time,” Kieran answered.

“We wanted to wait til after everything was done and there was a chance to breathe,” Morgana said.

“Yes, well, I expect to give away the bride,” Merry said changing the subject quickly.

Midsummer, I thought, what happens at Midsummer? Dear God, I hope it doesn’t involve me.

“Happy people all around. What has happened to Avalon?” called out Inari.

Inari excitedly made her way towards us with Master Zaichi, who wore a formal kimono. They approached us with Inari leading the blind sword master holding her tail, so that he could make his way through the large gathering crowd.

“I liked Avalon better when it was less filled with people,” he said. “Though, I am honored to meet you.”

“My master is happy so I am happy,” Inari stated.

“Master Zaichi, it is always a pleasure,” Merry said. “Let me introduce everyone.”

While Merry introduced each person to Zaichi and Inari, I took my chance to pull Branwyn aside and kiss her again. I had missed her more than I was willing to admit.

“You’ve gotten taller,” she said as she stared into my chest.

“It was bound to happen,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll admit. I missed you. You’re easy on the eyes,” she told me.

“Yeah, me, too, I missed you, too,” I agreed.

“If my mother moves into Kieran’s house after they’re married, we’ll get plenty of time to see each other then,” she said.

“We’ll get plenty of time before that happens. I want to spend time with you before Bealtaine,” I told her.

“I’m not sure about that,” she said softly. “You still have a lot to prove. And you still have to get ready for Bealtaine. I don’t want you to screw up because of me.”

“Bealtaine will be soon,” he stated.

“Bealtaine is only the start of it for you, Sean,” she sighed.

“Tell me more,” he quired.

“I can’t. You’ll find out, Sean,” she told me then she pulled me down so that she could kiss me. “Let’s not think about those things know. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Master Zaichi and Inari along with Merry walked over to the couple. Inari howled at us.

“Young love, old ways, you two make a beautiful couple, though he is too large for you,” Inari chortled.

“Inari, be nice,” cautioned Master Zaichi.

“Come visit us in the Dragon Realm someday,” Inari said to me. “You will like it there.”

“I hope to visit there someday soon, Inari.”

“You have made me proud, Sean, very proud,” Master Zaichi said to me.

“And you, master, have made me a better man and pretty good with the sword,” I replied.

“Now, that is a compliment. A better man. Don’t you think, Merlin?” asked Master Zaichi.

“It is the best of compliments,” Merry agreed.

“Inari and I will leave now, though, I expect a visit from you in the Dragon Realm sometime after Bealtaine. I will not be there for your first test, as I know you will conquer it. Be well, and remember what I have taught you,” Zaichi said then he offered his right hand.

I shook his hand then I watched as Inari opened a doorway and led Mast Zaichi away.

“The Lady of the Lake will expect you to make a visit to her tent, Bear,” Merry told me.

The evening continued on to great fanfare. I was paraded in front of important people from other realms, some of who like King Arawn and King Gywnn Nudd I already knew. Everyone had advice to give me, words of wisdom to share, and insights that couldn’t wait. I smiled and shook hands, received good wishes and words then I was allowed to seek out my own guests. Finally, I caught up with Branwyn at a food tent with Fintain.

“The food here isn’t bad. This meat pie is a little too spicy, but not bad,” Fintain commented.

“They’ve pulled out all the stops for the guest, even making meat dishes for those races that eat meat,” I told him. “It’s usually just vegetables and fruits.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to live here then. I like ribs, grillin’, and barbecue,” he replied as he took another mouthful of a meat pie.

“Do you mind if I steal her?” I asked Fintain.

“Nay.”

Taking Branwyn by the hand we found our way to one of the floating pathways then we made our way out to an empty square raft that could have fit six couples. As Nixes swam in the lake water near us and the music drifted through the air I held Branwyn close and started to dance with her.

“Your katana is poking me,” she giggled.

“Sorry,” I said, as a flush of embarrassment reddened my cheeks then I adjusted my katana, so it wouldn’t poke her. I resumed dancing with her.

“That’s better,” she commented.

“I can’t believe I finally get to go home with you guys tonight,” I said.

“I know. It’s great. Maybe we can convince Merry to give us a few days off. He’s been a taskmaster teaching us since you’ve been gone.”

“Well, Avalon hasn’t been easy, either.”

“Has Avalon been that bad?”

“Not bad, just not home,” I admitted to her.

“Home hasn’t been home without you,” she told me.

We continued to dance to the melodic music. Nixes swam close by their raft, stood up in the water then bowed towards me. They dove back into the water and disappeared.

“You have admirers,” teased Branwyn.

“I think they were bowing to you because you’re so beautiful,” I teased back.

“Don’t try and charm me,” Branwyn warned me.

We continued to dance atop of the black water. A floating fire passed by us highlighting our movements with its light. For me this was a good way to say goodbye to Avalon.

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