I awoke in my bed, for the first time in a very long time, in Kieran’s house. It was February 1st. My birthday would be coming up soon then in May I had the test of Bealtaine. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I heard shuffling and clanking in the kitchen and smelled bacon being cooked. Getting out of bed, I slipped on a T-shirt to go along with his sweat pants, which I borrowed from Kieran, and ventured into the kitchen.
“Morning, Bear,” Lucan said as he whipped up some breakfast.
“Good to see you, Lucan.”
“Lot more of you to see,” Lucan retorted.
I sat down at the kitchen table. Before my butt could even warm up the chair, Chota strolled into the kitchen. I smiled and pulled out the chair beside me for Chota to sit. As he passed by me, Chota rubbed his head then he sat.
“I’m glad to see you have long hair,” Chota said. “We have long hair in our tribe.”
“Yeah, I trimmed it once or twice but that’s all.”
“I’m going to have to give you an Indian name soon,” Chota mused, “maybe I’ll call you Red Headed Bear.”
“Sean sounds nice,” I offered.
“Here you go,” Lucan said as he placed a mug of coffee in front of each of us.
“I haven’t had coffee since I left,” I commented.
“I bet you missed it,” Lucan said.
“Yeah, especially for the first three days.”
“I’ve given up coffee more times than I can remember,” Chota said, “the interesting thing is that it’s never for more than a couple of weeks.”
“Coffee is powerful stuff,” Lucan agreed.
Nan, who came back to the Human Realm with them the night before, sauntered into the kitchen wearing one of Morgana’s nightgowns and a bathrobe. She looked natural, attractive, and very much at ease. I noticed that the expression on Chota’s face turned from amused to captivated. His eyes followed as she walked over to the chair across from me and sat down.
“Care for some coffee, pretty lady?” Lucan asked her.
“I’ve never had coffee. Is it good?”
“With some cream and sugar it’s a little heaven on earth.”
“Well, that sounds good. I’ll try it,” said Nan.
Lucan prepared her a mug of coffee then he gave it to her. Tentatively, she took a sip. A smile of appreciation creased her lips making Lucan happy and further captivating Chota.
“See, it’s as good as I said, right?” said Lucan.
“I like it.”
“I like coffee, too,” said Chota.
“That’s nice,” Nan replied to him. She looked straight into his eyes, which made him spill a little of his coffee.
“Shoot!” he exclaimed, as he grabbed some napkins and started mopping up his mess.
“Careful there,” she said to him. “My name is Nan.”
“Howdy. I’m Chota,” he responded without making eye contact this time.
“Oh, you’re the dogman, aren’t you?”
“You like dogs?” he asked her.
“We don’t have any in Avalon.”
“I could change into one for you if you want.”
“Oh, thank you. Maybe later,” she said.
“Any time,” he anwered.
Lucan placed a platter of eggs, bacon, and potatoes with toast in front of Chota and me. He then appraised Nan for a moment: “You ain’t one of the vegetarian druids, are you?”
“Only the warriors eat meat in our realm.”
“I bet they are the only ones who smile, too,” he said. “Can you eat eggs?”
“Um…, you know, I’ll have the eggs and toast,” she said.
“That’s the attitude,” Lucan said. “We’ll make a meat eater out of you yet.”
“You’ve made him happy. He complains a lot but he likes to cook for people,” I told her.
“Not a bad cook, either,” added Chota.
“Oh. It is considered an honor to serve people in Avalon. Maybe I can learn how to cook,” she said.
“I’ll teach you,” Chota quickly said.
“Oh, you know how to cook?” asked Nan.
“Not that well, but…you better let Lucan teach you. If you’re going to learn, you might as well learn how to cook well.”
Nan laughed at this. Chota peered down at his plate of food and started noshing. The next person to enter the kitchen was Kieran, who seemed well rested.
“Good morning,” he greeted everyone. He sat down and was immediately served a mug of black coffee by Lucan.
“Lucan, you’re a prince,” he thanked him.
“Nay, I’m a serf at best.”
“Do you still have serfs in the Human Realm,” asked Nan.
Everyone in the kitchen paused and stared at her for a moment. First Kieran then Lucan followed me and finally Chota laughed. She blushed.
“You have a lot to learn about us, don’t you?” asked Kieran.
“Maybe she should sit on Merry’s class with the kids,” suggested Lucan.
“That’s not a bad idea.”
“Merlin teaches here,” she said with awe.
“Yeah, he has always been a teacher,” Kieran told her.
“That is wonderful. I would love to sit and watch him teach.”
“Little old for high school, aren’t you?” asked Chota.
“I am nineteen. I will be twenty on…I believe you would call it the month of February on the 12th day.”
“Hey, my birthday is the 13th. We can have a combined birthday party for Nan and me. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like a reason to celebrate,” commented Kieran.
“Heck, I better start cooking for this one now,” Lucan stated.
“I will help you,” Nan said to him.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. You go watch Merry teach after breakfast,” he said then he placed some scramebled eggs and toast in front of her.
With great caution she picked up a fork and sampled the yellow, steaming hot scrambled eggs. After the first cautious bite she took another large forkful.
“I guess she likes it,” Lucan said.
Kieran looked at me. I had grown so much in just a year. It wasn’t just the hair or the muscles, but much more than that. I had become so much like my father. Tears began to cloud his eyes. Without being noticed he wiped them away.
“It’s good to have you home, Sean,” he said.
“It’good to be home.”
Nan enjoyed sitting in on Merry’s classes. For her they were insight into the Human Realm. For the class she was a wonderful distraction, especially since Merry felt the end to explain everything to her instead of the class. After class each student had to spend two hours practicing their skill. Branwyn and Etain worked under Morgana using exercises supplied by Merry. Everyone else now worked with Lucan and Kieran being pushed hard to get their skills where they needed to be. Everyone was anticipating my test at Bealtaine.
For Lance, Benedict, and I, we did not rejoin our classmates or partake in their exercises. Lance was now a sword master, so he no longer needed training. He chose something more important for himself, which was to be my fulltime bodyguard, even if I didn’t want one. Benedict had come far with the help of Inari and the druids and his skills were now even more polished and stronger than Branwyn, who used to be the strongest of their group. Merry had him working in seclusion on his ability to focus and communicate with nature during the day. It was the subtleties that he still had trouble with and Merry expected him to conquer his weakness, especially if he was going to train with Merry to learn the ways of a Merlin.
For me the days were now a time to mentally prepare myself for Bealtaine. The months would go quickly until May and a return to Avalon. I had no idea what the test I was going to be that I’d face; I only knew that he wanted to pass it. Yes, I wanted to pass it. Finally, I admitted to myself that I wanted to be the Cathal. I wanted to succeed where my father failed; I wanted to live up to my potential; and I wanted to be the next Arthur. There was no more denying it for me. I did not want all that I had gone through up until now to be for nothing.
My father must have been devastated to fail becoming Cathal. All those years of hard work and people’s expectations wasted. If I failed I would have wasted but a few short years and goodwill, but my father had wasted so much more time and goodwill being the potential next one. I didn’t want to have wasted any time, or anything. Like a stray thought that came while concentrating on an important matter, a memory of my father entered my head.
I had taken karate lessons for a month when I was nine. My parents thought it would be a good way for me to build confidence. Unlike most of the kids in class, I didn’t want to be there. I was blissfully happy with myself as I was. After only the first day I thought I was sure I wasn’t good enough in comparison to everyone else which upset me for reasons I couldn’t understand at nine, so I asked my mother if I could quit. She said yes and I did. When we got home, my father, who wasn’t angry but seemed slightly sad, took me aside and told me: “Never fear failure. It is only part of life; do not fear ever having tried, or ever having given it your all. Failure is only a lesson, but never giving it your all is a way of cheating yourself. Don’t cheat yourself, son.”
My father probably saw that I was afraid of failing in front of all those other kids my own age. I didn’t want to cheat myself this time. I wanted to give it my all; I wanted to succeed. It was no longer a difficult thing to admit to for me, but I wanted to be the Cathal. I didn’t want to cheat myself. Now for the next few months I needed to not cheat myself and to prepare to succeed.
We decided on the 12th to be the combined birthday party for Nan and me. Again the backyard was filled with four chimneas to warm it up for everyone. Two grills were set up for roasting vegetables and hot dogs, burgers, sausages, and more. Morgana convinced Kieran to string white Christmas lights on trees in the backyard, as well on the house so that the party could proceed into the night. This was more than birthday celebrations for two it was a letting off of steam for all before the next test, which if successful would be followed by more.
“So we were in Elizabethton last week,” Cedric was telling me, as I sat beside Branwyn.
“Who is we?” I asked.
“Me, Fintain, Wayne. Garth was off doing something on his own. I mean you took Lance and Benedict with you,” he answered.
“I’m still not sure that I’m going to forgive you not taking me,” Wayne said to me.
“Sorry about that,” I replied.
“Well, I thank you for it,” Benedict said and raised his can of soda in a toast to me.
“Yeah, you would be happy. You come home a freakin’ wizard or mage almost and Lance comes back a sword master,” harumpfed Fintain.
Etain, who sat across from Benedict asked him: “Could you show me some of what you’ve learned?”
“Sure,” answered Benedict.
“Okay, back to my story,” Cedric demanded. “We were in Elizabethton when six of the kids from the high school decide to give us a hard time. Well, I know we are supposed to ignore stuff like that, but they irritated me…”
“When someone irritates you, Cedric, it usually means that you get someone else to show them up,” Benedict chided him.
“Well, I found out that they were on the wrestling team in their high school, so I made a bet that Fintain could pin their best wrestler.”
“How much was the bet for?” I asked.
“What did you spend it all on?” asked Lance.
“A movie,” he answered. “I guess you know that Fintain pinned him in seconds. No three of them could pin Fintain. It was a beautiful sight.”
“Well, done, Fintain,” I said to him then I caught out of the corner of my eye Nan standing at the grill grilling up some squash and ears of corn. Chota stood near her acting as her personal assistant. Whatever she needed he got for her.
At the other grill Lucan along with Thomas Lake grilled up the meat. A white cooked meat smelling puff of smoke drifted into the air when he opened up the grill top to check on the food.
“We’ll have food soon. I hope everyone is hungry,” called out Lucan.
Many voices called back to him telling him of their deep desire to eat. I laughed to myself. I had missed this sort of thing in Avalon, this gathering of family.
“Hey,” Branwyn said to me. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing much. I’m just happy.”
“I’m glad about that.”
With Thomas Lake prepping the buns, Lucan prepared a platter of burgers for what he called the kiddie table. Thomas brought the platter over and placed it down in the middle of the table then he left and Fintain and Cedric were the first to grab a burger. Lance passed Branwyn and I burgers then he took one for himself.
Just then a flash of unexpected lightning lit the sky and a silver doorway opened. Merry, who sat with Kieran and Morgana and the rest, quickly stood up and prepared for battle. A senuous looking woman, dressed in black leather pants and a black shirt that seemed to have a long train in the back, came through the doorway followed by a striking teenage girl, who looked enough like the woman to be her daughter. The teenage girl was dressed in a similar fashion.
“Vivianne, this is a surprise,” Merry said with great calm.
Vivianne scanned the proceedings. When she saw Nan, a feline smile passed across her lips: “My sister’s daughter. What a pleasure to see you, Nan.”
“I wish I could reciprocate the sentiment, Aunt,” Nan said.
“It’s a shame that manners have died along with chilvary,” Vivianne stated then she motioned for the teenage girl to step forward.
“This is Agrona. She is in direct descent of Medraut’s line. I thought it would be nice for her to meet her cousin, once or twice removed.”
“Agrona, the Celtic Goddess of strife and war. How darling,” said Merry. “Welcome Agrona. I hope you have a nickname you prefer.”
“Rona,” she said with a sweet sound voice meant for temptation.
“So which one is the descendant of Arthur’s goodie-two-shoe side of the family?” asked Vivianne.
I stood up, even though Branwyn tried to keep me down: “I am Arthur Sean McCoul.”
“Fintain McCoul,” said Fintain as he stood up, also. This brought a smile to Kieran’s lips.
“Fintain McCoul. A strong name but you cannot be the Cathal. Anyway, Arthur Sean looks so much like the original Arthur, a big red bear, strong and broad shoulder, and even handsome. A hero born, a legend reborn,” Vivianne stated.
I glanced at Chota. She used the same description he had used for an Indian name for me. How did she do that? How was she spying on them? I winked at him and Chota smiled.
“He’s attractive,” said Rona.
“Yes, he is. Too bad he is going to be our blood enemy,” Vivianne said.
“This is unusually bold for you Vivianne. Why do you visit?” asked Merry.
“Because I think you finally have a contender and I wanted to size him up with my eyes…”
“Instead of your spying,” I finished her sentenced. “Do you have cat sidhe keeping an eye on us, or is there something else you have spying on us?”
“Distrustful, isn’t he?” said Rona.
Her black eyes met my blue eyes. We stared at each other for several moments. Merry had warned me that Medraut’s line would be trained to hate me and want me dead. I saw in her eyes the expression of a cat playing with a mouse. I did not like being a mouse.
“Hopefully she has something more than looks to defeat me with,” I remarked.
“Oh, she does. She is druid...”
“She is not druid,” corrected Nan.
“If you say so,” replied Vivianne. “She is a mage then. It doesn’t matter what you call it, just as long as you realize it is a power greater than the one you possess.”
I yawned then I sat back down and started to eat my burger. Fintain did the same. Lance, who had his hand on his sword, which he wore always now, relaxed. I was not going to be baited or provoked.
“Vivianne, would you and Rona care to join us?” asked Merry. “We were just about to eat. Afterwards we plan on having cake and ice cream. I think you’ll enjoy yourself.”
“Do you mock me, Merlin?” asked Vivianne.
“No, I don’t mock you. I choose to ignore you and your belligerence. There is nothing you can do here and,” he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A pulse escaped Merry’s body. Everyone felt it, especially Vivianne and Rona, who flinched with pain. But more than them felt it. A few cries of pain could be heard in the trees and in the grass. Suddenly, seven small green and black newts morphed into small grey colored pudgy garden gnomes with razor sharp teeth. They shivered with fear.
“Take your Alp-luachra spies with you when you leave before I feed them salt and they die of thirst,” Merry stated.
“You are getting old Merlin. I would have thought you discovered my spies earlier,” she said.
“Maybe I knew they were there. I find the best way to deal with darkness is light and truth. We have nothing to hide here, Vivianne,” he told her.
“Come, Rona, take a last look at the one who might be your rival,” Vivianne said to Rona.
The Alp-luachra stayed close to Rona, who stroked one of their heads. Leaving the Alp-luachra behind her, she sauntered slowly over to the table. I looked about me and saw everyone was on guard, except Lance, who seemed distracted by her. She came up to our table and smiled at me, causing Branwyn to snare at her. Turning to leave, she ran one of the long black painted fingernails of her right hand across Lance’s neck causing him to shrug and roll his neck. Lance couldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was, as if he was enchanted by her. I noted this. Rona returned to Vivianne’s side.
“He isn’t much,” she said to Vivianne.
“They never are,” replied Vivianne.
“Yet, they always seem to succeed,” Merry interjected.
“Yes,” Vivianne said then she turned and opened up a doorway and entered through it with Rona, who waved goodbye to Sean. The Alp-luachra followed quickly behind them.
“I don’t know about you, but I hope Sean is the future Cathal so we can kick some dark butt,” Denara exclaimed.
A titter of laughter escaped everyone. Merry took in a deep breath of air filling of his lungs then with a force few had ever seen him exert he blew a great wind at the trees which surrounded them. The sound of whimpering could just be heard above the great wind. Whatever was in the woods either spying or stalking us was forcibly removed.
“I want no more Aes Sidhe or their minions to bother this party. I have been looking forward to this cake and ice cream for days,” he stated then he sat back down.
“You know you can be scary sometimes, Merry,” said Kieran.
“I know,” replied Merry.
“Who wants sausages and hot dogs?” called out Lucan.
Hands were raised. Not thinking about it I raised my hand. My mind was now on Rona. The thought of her being raised to think of nothing but hating me and wanting me dead, sent a chill down my spine. She didn’t even really know me. We shared a similar bloodline, yet she played in the dark and I played in the light. If they had gotten to me the night my parents were murdered would they have killed me or taken me to the Sidhe? I was a clean slate. They could have taken me away and tried to make me their pawn. And what if we had gotten to Medraut’s descendants first, could we have made them good instead of evil?
I got up from my seat. Branwyn started to get up also, but I kissed her forehead: “Stay. I need to talk to Merry in private.
Walking over to Merry’s table and I waved to him to join him. Merry picked up his hot dog with everything on it and then motioned Nan to join us. She was sampling her first sausage. Nan liked it enough to take it with her to join us. Wd walked down to the lake’s edge.
“I still prefer veggies and fruits but this is tempting,” she said then she took another bite.
“Merry, do we know how to find those who are part of Medraut’s bloodline?”
“Well, that is an interesting question. Nan would you like to explain,” Merry said to her.
“In Avalon there are records that have been kept of that bloodline but those records stop with our contact with the Human Realm around 800 A.D. or so.”
“Do the Protector Clans have any records?” I asked.
“Some,” replied Merry as he ate his hot dog. “Why, Bear?”
“We need to get to them before the Aes Sidhe do. Just because they have Medraut’s bloodline in them, it doesn’t make them evil. We might be able to stop them from falling into darkness, if we reach them first.”
Merry’s face lit up with joy: “Exactly what I have been saying for years.”
“The Lady of the Lake will not allow it,” said Nan.
“If I am the Cathal, I don’t have to listen to her, do I?”
“No, you don’t,” Nan replied and she softly laughed. “I can help. My skills are excellent at seeking out bloodlines once I have a sample of either their hair or blood.”
“How do we get a sample?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about that, Bear. I can manage that when the time comes. You just go do well at Bealtaine, so that we can shake things up. I mean things haven’t been shaken up in so long that it’s about time. Stagnancy, like entropy, just isn’t good for anyone.”
“Okay, Merry, I will do well at Bealtaine, so we can shake things up.”
“I’m really glad I’ll be part of your fealty,” Nan said then she finished off her sausage. “I want another.”
“Go ask Chota. I have no doubt he’ll supply another for you,” Merry told her.
“Okay,” Nan said and she went off.
“I feel the wind of change coming, Bear. And it is going to be blowing hard and for a long time.”
“And where is this wind coming from?” I asked.
“You,” he answered. “Now, let’s celebrate.”