May had arrived. Although Bealtaine officially started on the first day of May, I was not due for my test in Avalon for another three days. The weather for May 1st was spectacular, neither cold nor hot. Wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans I strolled along the lake with an overall wearing Branwyn. Staying not too far behind them was Lance and Wayne, who had started taking sword lessons from Lance.
“Nervous?” asked Branwyn.
“I feel anxious more than nervous. I just want to get this over with,” I replied.
“It’ll be great to get this over with,” she agreed.
“Branwyn, do you know the history of Bealtaine?”
“I do. It’s an ancient time, a time of bonfires, purification and transition for many in the Human Realm. It also a time of hope for the coming harvest and it is a time when we perform ritual acts and enchantments to protect ourselves for the year from those in the otherworlds, or Realms, as we know it. Most people today don’t understand the importance of Bealtaine, but we Protector Clans keep the old ways and protections alive. If we didn’t our realm would be overrun by otherworld darkness,” she explained to me.
“Merry told me that I was the embodiment of the ritual protection of this realm.”
“That’s a nice way to view it,” she said with a smile. “The people of Wicce…”
“Wicce?” I asked.
“I keep forgetting you weren’t born being raised on all of this. Wicce, white witches and their covens: They are aware of the realms and all of this, but they try very hard to remain neutral. This is as opposed to Warlocks and oathbreakers who are black witches. They’re a nasty piece of work. They are also in league with the Aes Sidhe.”
“I could have guessed that one,” I sighed.
“Unfortunately, the Aes Sidhe get around.”
“Okay, interesting to know. I wonder when Merry was going to tell me about them.”
“Maybe he expects me and others to start filling you in,” she suggested.
“Maybe,” I smiled.
“As I was saying the people of Wicce think of you as, or I should say, the Cathal as a fulcrum. He is the support who causes change. They don’t judge the change as good or bad, just as change.”
“You sound like you like the white witches a little bit,” I said to her.
“I respect them. They have great skills and they are very respectful and fond of the Fey.”
“So, are you my little white witch then?” I teased her.
“Be careful or I’ll change you into a toad. I am a Fey,” she laughed.
Suddenly, my expression darkened: “I have still so much to learn, Branwyn.”
“You know, Sean, I think that isn’t a bad thing. The less you know about these things the fewer preconceptions you have about them. Maybe Merry planned it that way with you.”
“Hey, when did you get so smart?”
“My mother keeps me on my toes. She thinks I have a lot to offer.”
“I know that you do,” I told her. “You have more to offer than I think I deserve.”
“I don’t think so,” she corrected me. “I think I have exactly what I need.”
All of a sudden a red fox ran from the bushes. Lance immediately drew his sword and ran to my side, but I motioned him to put his sword away.
“Hello Inari,” I said to the fox. “What are you doing here?”
“I have come to wish you luck, young one, and to warn you,” Inari replied.
“Thank you for wishing me luck. I hope you don’t mind if I’m more interested in your warning.”
“You would disappoint me if you weren’t more interested in my warning,” the fox said then she sat down on her butt and looked up at me like a dog waiting for snack. “Do you have food? I am hungry.”
“Sorry, I have nothing,” I said.
Wayne came forward, unwrapped a Three Musketeers bar and tossed it at Inari, who snapped it out of the air. After a few chews and a swallow, Inari smiled.
“I like your food in this realm,” Inari told us.
“That was a candy bar,” I told her.
“Inari, you have a warning for me,” I pushed her to talk.
“Yes, yes. Master Zaichi forgot to warn you about the tests of Bealtaine. He said that the enemy you face is never a simple, straight, forward battle. The druids and other at Bealtaine are testing more than skill. He warns if you fight it like a battle, you will fail.”
“Did he say how I should fight it?” I asked.
“He said that you must look at yourself and not at your opponent,” Inari stated then she stood up on all fours. “I will go now, but next time we meet I will expect more of those candy bars.”
Inari ran back into the bushes and disappeared.
“It’s never easy, is it?” I expressed my inner thoughts.
“Somethings are easy,” she said then took me by the hand and we starting walking again.
Bealtaine on Avalon had more in common with the Superbowl than it did with an ancient ritual in my opinion. In the short time I had been gone the druids built a large wooden stadium. And now all around that newly built stadium there were food stalls, musicians playing music, acrobats, and dancers entertaining a throng of representatives of races from the realms.
Morgana had taken everyone to Avalon early in the day, where they had a box waiting for them in the stadium. Dressed in our robes and formal attire for Avalon Merry and I were the last to arrive walking through a doorway that placed us in the middle of the chaos. It was late afternoon and a festival atmosphere reigned.
“Ahh, we do love Bealtaine,” Merry declared.
If the feast introduced me to some of the races from realms I hadn’t visited yet, this event added even more races for me to get to know. There were actual trolls and red haired creatures of spectral form that the Japanese called Shojo. Aside from Nixes in the lake, I spotted merfolk swimming along side them. Merry pointed to a small group of eleven white round headed fluffy bodied beings: “Those are Kodama, tree spirits.”
“Oh,” was my reply, as I spied kitsune, some with white fur, some with brown, and others with red fur like Inari. I then saw several pure white skinned, black haired women wearing white ice dresses. Sean pointed at them: “Who are they?”
“Yuki-Onna. Snow women of the Sniwan Realm.”
“I bet Caillech Bhuerr likes them.”
“No, she doesn’t. They are competition,” commented Merry. “They have really shown up for this one.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled.
“I better get you to the stadium to get ready for your test.”
“Are all these races here to watch me?”
“Yes, Sean. They are.”
As Merry escorted me through the crowd, everyone parted allowing us to pass. Some pointed and whispered and others merely nodded their heads, or what I hoped was a head. It was overwhelming. But I couldn’t let it overwhelm me, though. I needed to be focused just as I had been taught. Inhaling deep I brought as much air into my lungs, as I could then slowly released it. Now in my mind there was no one else there. It was just me and and an opponent.
In front of the stadium a giant bonfire blazed away. It was fifteen feet in heights and twice as wide and it burned away. People as they passed by it threw whatever was handy into it to keep the flame burning red and orange and hot. Merry and I entertained the stadium. Merry lead me in a different direction then everyone else. We walked down a long hallway where at the end of it was a single bolted door. Merry stopped me at the door.
“The stadium is filled with twelve thousand souls wanting to see you succeed, not fail,” Merry. “Forget about them. They are meaningless. If you are here for them then this is folly. You must be here to fulfill your own destiny and no one else’s. So I say to you, Arthur Sean McCoul, do this for you, and, if I may add, do it for your father.”
“I will. Thank you, Merry.”
Merry opened the door to the stadium. It was a great grass field. In the middle of the field stood the Lady of the Lake, a male Fey, Inari, and Caillech Bhuerr. Merry and I proceeded to them. When we arrived in the middle, Merry broke away from my side and joined the small group who were waiting for me. The lady of the Lake raised her hands to quiet the gathered crowd.
As people started to quiet down, I looked about me at the many gathered to watch me be tested. On grass level there were boxes set up for some to view. I saw one box filled with those I cared for. Branwyn was in Fey mode and was glowing a light blue. I laughed. She was worried. Chota gave me a big thumbs-up, while Lance, Wayne, Garth, Cedric, Benedict, and Fintain gave me a Romanesque salute. The women in the box, except Denara, waved to me. Etain looked like she was on the verge of tears. The moment had finally come. Everyone was finally quiet.
“We are here to test Arthur Sean McCoul,” called out the Lady of the Lake. “We will find out today if he has within him the ability to be the Cathal.”
A great roar came over the crowd, which was deafening. I thought I recognized some of those I had met from the Highland games in the crowd. For a moment I thought of waving, but then I decided that a wave could wait until after I had succeeded. The crowd quieted down.
“Each potential Cathal has been tested in a similar way. They must defeat an opponent, their greatest opponent in fact. It is in defeating this opponent that they may truly know their limitations and know themselves. We gathered on this feel will now conjure Arthur Sean McCoul’s opponent,” she told the crowd then she stepped back.
Combining their powers Merry, the Lady, Inari, the male Fey, and Caillech Bhuerr combined their powers. A short distance away from me a patch of ground began to crumble. Grass and dirt started piling on top of itself until there was a mound equal to me in height and mass then a cloud of dust formed around this mound. I watched and waited to see what they conjured as my greatest opponent.
Slowly, the dust began to settle and a figure could be made out. When the figure became visible; I saw that I was looking at myself, a perfect duplicate of me right down to my robe, red hair and swords that I wore. The crowd roared with appreciation. The Lady of the Lake stepped forward again.
“This is your opponent,” she said to me in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone. “Conquer him and you are the Cathal.”
The Lady of the Lake turned and left, as did the Fey and Inari. Merry hesitated for a moment, smiled then he waved goodbye and left. The only one left was Caillech Bhuerr. She strode over to me.
“If you succeed, I will owe the Cathal a favor, which I don’t mind. But if you don’t, I will owe a measly warrior, which irritates me. Keep that in mind,” she told me then strode off the field.
With her exit I was alone on the field with myself. It was a dizzying proposition. I hoped that this duplicate was merely a duplicate that looked like me and not one that actual thought and fought like me. Battles were hard enough against strangers.
I took off my hooded robe and tossed it aside. When I looked over at my opponent I saw that my duplicate had done the same thing. I decided to start with drawing my katana, as did my opponent. How can I defeat an opponent who knows what I am going to do? His moves are exactly like mine. This is becoming annoying.
Needing to test if the duplicate was more than just a duplicate, I raised the katana above my head and charged. The duplicate did the same. We struck at the same time our blades causing a loud metal on metal soud to pierce the air then we each backed away. I was now sure that this conjured opponent was me made from a bit of combined magic. We started circling each other.
The thought occurred to me that surprise might work, although I wasn’t sure how to surprise myself. Continuing to circle each other, I quickly grabbed my short sword and tossed it at the duplicate. As my sword hit the duplicate in the left shoulder, the duplicate’s short sword stuck me in my left shoulder causing me to flinch in great pain. Carefully, I pulled the sword out while keeping an eye on my opponent. It was then that I noticed the difference between the two of us. While he bled, dirt merely escaped my opponent’s wounds. As I tossed the short sword back to my opponent he did the same.
My short sword landed at my feet. I bent down and picked it up and put it back in its sheath. The one difference I thought between me and my duplicate was that I bled, which meant that too many wounds would weaken me. They would not weaken my opponent, though. I searched my brain for a way to deal with my oppondnt then I remembered Inari’s warning and her advice. I had to look within myself to beat my opponent. Look within yourself, I thought. Was the answer to be found in insight or was Inari being playful?
I wielded my katana with a flourish, as did my duplicate. Just to take time until I figured out a new method or strategy, I attacked the duplicate. The exchanged blow after blow, each deflecting the other, until ten exhausting minutes had passed and I backed away. My opponent did the same. My left shoulder ached from the early wound and I saw that his shirt in that area was wet with blood. Taking a moment, I tore some material from my other sleeve and stuck it in the wounds to stop the blood flow. When I looked at my duplicate, as it did the same thing, except when it tore material from its sleeve it exposed grass and dirt on its arm instead of skin.
Look within yourself for the answer, I thought. I was made of flesh, bone, and blood and my duplicate was made of dirt and grass. We were different afterall. So far my duplicate had done everything I had done. I wondered if that would continue, so I tested it. I took my short sword out of its sheath again and threw it to the ground. It stuck in the ground with its handle facing the sky. My duplicate did the same thing. I laughed, so did the duplicate.
I now knew what to do. Taking my katana I stuck it into the ground, also. The duplicate did the same thing. Now I was ready for the most important part of my plan. Taking several deep breaths I got up a head of steam and ran at the duplicate. The duplicate did the same. In the middle of the field we collided, dirt and grass against flesh, bone, muscle, and blood. It was painful, like tackling a wall, but as I rolled away from myself I saw that I had dented the duplicate.
Another deep breath and I attacked myself again. Judo wouldn’t work for this, I thought, I needed brute force. Closing my hands into fists I began to pummel myself, just as the duplicate began to pummel me. I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to sustain the beating, but I knew I needed to put cracks and dents in the duplicates surface. Enough dents and cracks and I guessed that a Sean made of dirt and grass would begin to crumble away.
I wasn’t sure how much of this I could take, but I knew it was my only chance at success. Finally, I stumbled back to see what damaged I had done. I was less than happy with the outcome. Where I knew I had a bloody lip, a black eye, a bruised face and body, the duplicate seemed to only have a few dents in its body and one on its face on the right side on its mouth. It had come out of the exchange better than I had.
I started to doubt my plan of action. Wiping some blood from my nose, I watched my duplicate do the same thing, though it wasn’t bleeding. The sun wouldn’t be setting anytime soon in Avalon, I thought, so I didn’t know how much time had passed. I listened to the crowd. For a moment I thought I could hear them breathing then I realized that I was merely hearing my own heavy breathing.
“You are really annoying,” I shouted to my duplicate.
Then I noticed something. The duplicate couldn’t speak, but it merely mouthed the words. When it mouthed the words, though, the dent on the right side of its mouth crumbled a little exposing the brown dirt underneath. Finally, I had a crack in the façade, something I could focus on and exploit. Centering myself for an attack I gathered up all my energy and charged the duplicate. When I got close enough I unloaded a right to the crack in the face, while the duplicate it him with a right to the mouth. I followed the right with a left and another right then I stumbled back as the duplicate had almost taken my head off.
Once my vision cleared and I could see my duplicate a smile cracked my swollen lips. The face and head had started to crumble. My duplicate was starting to fall apart. First the head crumbled then the torso began to crack. Not wanting to wait too long for the rest of the body to dissipate, I ran at the crumbling me and applied a well place kick to its chest. The duplicate fell back to a mound of dirt and grass and the stadium broke out in the loudest cheers and applause I had ever heard.
Looking all about me, I saw everyone in the stadium standing and cheering for me. Though I thought my eyes were playing tricks, I thought I saw a smile on Caillech Bhuerr’s face. I had succeeded. I was the Cathal. I looked to the box with my family and friends and saw tears, cheers and pandemonium had broke out as they hugged, high fived each other shed and tears of joy.
“Calm and quiet,” he heard the Lady of the Lake call out. “Calm and quiet.”
I looked behind me to see the Lady of the Lake, a truly happy Merry, a glowing yellow male Fey, a tail waging Inari, and a now chilly Cailech Bhuerr walking towards me. With reluctance and difficulty the crowd began to subside.
“We have a Cathal,” she announced and the cheer broke out again. This time the Lady waited for the noise to die on its own. “I have special news about our Cathal, too. He has told me that he will be known by the name Arthur.”
This was the loudest cheer of all. My ears actually hurt. I looked over at Merry, who had tears in his eyes. He gave me a thumbs-up.
“So let us welcome Arthur, Cathal, by having a great festival. Light the bonfires, eat, drink, celebrate, and dance, for this is a great Bealtaine, the greatest Bealtaine since the time of the first Arthur.”
Again, the anarchy of joy and celebration broke out in the stands. The people of the realm began to pour out of their seats towards the new Arthur. Arawn and Gywnn Nudd reached me first and lifted me up on their giant shoulders and began to parade me around as if I was a prize that was just earned. I, the new Arthur smiled.
The sun had finally set on Avalon. Bonfires were lit and the people of the realsm celebrated their new Cathal. In a dining tent I sat a table with Branwyn on my left and the Lady of the Lake on my right. Also, at the table were Merry, Inari, Master Zaichi, Kieran, and several others. As I sipped some fruit wine, Branwyn dabbed a cloth in cold water and cleaned some of my wounds.
“This is the beginning for you, Arthur,” the Lady of the Lake told me.
“How so, Lady?”
“At Midsummer next year we will meet in the Human Realm at a location to be chosen. There you will be tested for your battle sword which is being made now by the elves.”
“I look forward…ouch, Branwyn, that hurts,” I said to Branwyn, who was checking my shoulder wound.
“Sorry, but it needs to be done,” she told me.
“Please, be careful.”
She kissed me on the cheek: “I’ll try.”
“For the next year you will visit the Protector Clans in your realm getting to know them and beginning to choose your most important fealty. This fealty will be your leaders and your personal guard. It will be a time of politics and hard choices,” she told me.
“Not all the choices will be hard,” I said. “Nan is part of the fealty.”
“This is true,” the Lady said with a smile.
“How large can this fealty be?”
“As large as need be. As I said this will be a time of politics and hard choices for you, Arthur.” She said my name with a mix of pride and smugness, as if she had won a battle by me taking the name Arthur.
“Lady, may I have some time with our new Arthur and Branwyn?” Merry asked.
“Of course, Merlin.”
Branwyn and I got up from our seats and followed Merry out of the tent. When a crowd of frolickers by a bonfire saw me they cheered. I was now their leader in many ways. Merry led us to a less crowded area.
“You didn’t tell me that you were taking the name Arthur,” he said to me.
“Arthur is the once and future king, Merry.”
“Too true. I had hoped you would, but I never wanted to pressure you. The Lady believes that you taking the name will be a boon for the druids, but I know that it is deeper than that. The name is a symbol and symbols have great magic. Well done, Bear,” he said.
“Thank you, Merry.”
“The first thing I have to say is that when I see the two of you I see real love. Don’t lose that. Put Branwyn on your fealty and keep her close. She is powerful and bright and will be of great use to you.”
“I shall, Merry.”
“Thank you, Merry,” Branwyn said.
“Good. I’m glad. When it comes time to pick the rest of your fealty rely on Nan and Branwyn. They each have gifts and instincts so use them.”
“Why can’t I use your insight?” I asked.
“Because I will be taking Benedict to my isle for some intensive training. I hope to give you another Merlin at your disposal,” he told me.
“Don’t argue. This needs to be done.”
“I won’t argue,” I said.
“Benedict and I will be leaving tonight. School is out for all of you. Now is the time for preparation. Be careful, my new Arthur, and be smart. You will find pettiness between the clans, as well as the realms. Your duty will be to lead them beyond that pettiness with a mix of intelligence and cleverness. Alkimos was here today. He watched you. Before he left he told me that you have the potential to be greater than my Arthur. I agreed. Now you must live up to that burden,” he said then paused. “If you need me, you know where I am.”
Merry hugged Branwyn then me. He then turned with a dramatic flair and strolled into the darkness leaving me with Branwyn. In the background we could hear lovely music playing. She smiled then she turned me sideways and offered herself up for dancing.
“Branwyn, I don’t think I have time to dance,” I said to her.
“Arthur, this might be your last chance to dance. So dance with me and forget all about your duties and burdens,” she said.
Branwyn and I then began to to dance, as the bonfires burned and the people celebrated a new Cathal, a new Arthur, once and present king.
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