I woke up on November 2 in my old bed in Kieran’s house. With the rising sun barely lighting up my room, I saw Morgana sitting in a rocking chair asleep with a blanket covering her leg. Trying to sit up without waking her, I struggled into a seated position. My sore ribs were wrapped tightly with ace bandage making it even more difficult to sit up. Once I succeeded, I exhaled softly.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Morgana asked with her eyes still closed.
“Yeah, kind of. But not as much as it should.”
“You should be in much worse condition. You had four broken ribs, a few micro-fractures of the coccyx bone, and a pretty good bump on the head,” she finally opened her eyes. “Merry put you in a healing trance to allow for your natural healing powers to get to work on your body.”
“How long have I been in a trance?”
“No wonder I’m so hungry,” I said, which brought a smile to Morgana’s lips. “Is everyone all right?”
“Oh, yes. Etain is fine. She has done nothing but praise you since she came back. I think that Branwyn is jealous of her because whenever she sees Etain now, she glowers at her.”
“She shouldn’t be jealous, though. I’ve got no interest in Etain,” I interjected.
“Sure she should be. It’s good for her to be jealous, bring her Fey emotions out,” laughed Morgana. “Caillech Bhuerr is fine and an angry witch, too. She is angry at the Aes Sidhe and angry at you.”
“At me? Why me?”
“Because now she owes you a blood oath favor and her Yet-Tehh think you are great and powerful,” Morgana told me then she stood up. “Okay, what do you want for breakfast?”
“Whatever is in the house, I don’t care. I’m really, really hungry,” I answered.
“I know what to make you. I seem to be always feeding you,” Morgana said then the door to my bedroom opened and Branwyn, wearing a long flannel nightgown, came shuffling into the room looking as if she was half awake and half asleep. “Branwyn.”
“Hi, ma,” Branwyn mumbled then continued on to my bed and then carefully sat down beside him. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I replied. “You saved my life.”
“I just felt that feeling. I knew that you were in trouble.”
“You two are just too cute together. I’ll make breakfast. I’m thinking steak and scrambled eggs,” she said then she walked to the door and made sure it was opened wide. “This door stays open. Understand?”
“Oh, mom,” sighed Branwyn.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered, as she put her head on my shoulder and started to fall back asleep.
The sounds of Morgana opening cabinets, taking out pans and such, filled up the kitchen. Next I heard the distinctive sound of sizzling as she started to cook steak and then a fork wiping eggs for scrambled eggs. Combine the sounds with the odor of cooking and soon everyone was starting to wake up. The first one down the stairs was Kieran, who had Chota close behind him. They stood in the doorway to the bedroom.
“Bear, you’re awake,” Kieran said with relief.
“Buckaroo, you look better,” Chota added, as the two men stood and looked at me sitting up with Branwyn dozing on my left shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m feeling better,” I told them.
“I bet,” said Chota.
“We might as well help Morgana cook up some breakfast. There’s a full house,” Kieran stated then he and Chota disappeared into the kitchen.
Soon there was more clattering and chattering coming from the kitchen. Next to check in on me was Lucan, who stuck his head in and gave him a wink and a wave, then Denara, who was now responsible for security for the house, and, finally, Fintain, who came into the room.
“How you feeling?” he asked.
“Beat up and sore,” I answered.
Fintain looked at Branwyn fondly: “She’s been worried about you, she hasn’t slept much for four days. I was starting to get worried about her.”
“I’m not asleep, so be careful what you say, Fintain, or I’ll make you regret it,” Branwyn advised him, though she kept her eyes closed.
“So I shouldn’t tell him how Etain can’t stop talking about him and how brave he is. Oohh, Sean was so brave and he fought shadow wraith and the Yet-Tehh thought he was great,” Fintain teased Branwyn, while imitating Etain. “Branwyn turned red in the face listening to her coo over you.”
“Fintain, I’m warning you. I have more ways of getting even with you than you do with me. You’ll be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life,” Branwyn opened her eyes and glared at him.
“Jealous of Etain? She is kind of cute. Nay, not cute, but real pretty, maybe even a little hot.”
“Fintain, if I get out of this bed, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”
“Actually, I think I’m the one who’ll regret it not him,” I corrected her.
Branwyn blushed with her face becoming red and a slight pink aura emanating from her. Fintain laughed and went into the kitchen to check on how breakfast was coming.
“Really? You’d regret it if I got up out of this bed?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I really would,” I admitted and her pinkish glow intensified.
“So there is a full house here,” I commented as I heard the noise grow from the kitchen.
“Everyone else, including parents, will be over in a couple of hours. We are all very protective of you right now,” Branwyn told me. “I heard that some of the other Clans have offered to send warriors, druids, mages, whatever we need to keep you safe. Everyone believes in you.”
“Where’s Merry?” I asked changing the subject.
“Avalon,” she answered.
“Avalon? Really? He’s on Avalon?” I asked with great interest.
“Yeah, Avalon,” she said looking at me as if I was slightly crazy. “You know Avalon. It is the Druid Realm and he is a druid, so don’t ask me what he is doing there because he doesn’t tell me those things. Though, I think he should sometimes. None of us know. All we know is that he has been gone for two days and we expect him back soon.”
“Okay, I won’t push for any answers then,” I said, though my mind started to ask questions. What was Merry up to? I knew it must be about me, but what did Avalon have to offer me? And what did I have to offer Avalon?
“Here’s your breakfast,” Morgana announced, as she carried a breakfast tray with a plate filled with scrambled eggs, a steak, and toast with butter on it along with an orange juice and placed it on his lap. “Branwyn, make sure he doesn’t spill anything and eats it all his food. He needs to get his strength back.”
“Yes, mom, I’ll make sure,” she said then her mother turned and left the room.
Branwyn took one of the slices of toast and began nibbling on it, while I cut into the steak. As I ate I glanced over at the collectibles on their shelf. It was odd to think, but I couldn’t remember my life being anything but what it was now. I couldn’t imagine a different life.
Another three days passed but finally Merry returned from Avalon. As I was feeling better, I was allowed to sit outside in the back on a beach chair reclining in order to get sun and watch Benedict and Lance practice their sword technique. After checking in with Kieran and Denara, Merry immediately made his way to the backyard to check on him.
“Merry!” I called out as I saw the druid, dressed in jeans, a blue Oxford shirt, and a flowing Burberry’s raincoat, exit the house’s backdoor. I noticed from experience that Merry appeared tired with his beard in need of a trim and his eyes with a faraway expression, as if he’d been awake for days.
“Bear, you are looking better than expected,” he called back then he waved to Benedict and Lance. “Your mother sends her love, Lance.”
Lance didn’t comment, but he went back to working on his technique with Benedict. Some day he’d have to deal with his emotions about his mother. The lady of the Lake was not an easy position to live up to in life, as the last of humanities druids depended on her, but Merry always told me that he thought this Lady of the Lake could have changed the rules that had governed the druids for so long. He thought she could have let her son live on Avalon. Wasn’t Merry living proof that rules could be broken and changed, as he had broken and changed rules his whole life?
“Bear, I will want to check your injuries later inside. If need be, I can use my healing gifts to increase your already prodigious recuperative powers,” he told me as he walked up beside me.
“I know, Merry, you want to get me well,” I responded then changed the subject: “Why so long in Avalon?”
“Making plans, Bear, making plans. Many in the other realms are getting excited about you, which means that the Lady of the Lake wants to take a hand in your training. The druids are married to their plans as well as their ways, Bear. I tried to convince them to change their plans for you, but they see wisdom in not changing the old ways, or plans.”
“Do these plans and old ways involve me?”
“Of course, they do. Yours is the bloodline of the Cathal passed onto the first born down through the generations. It is a bloodline that the druids have tracked and, regrettably, have attempted to control on occasion, and have even tried to manipulate, which explains why we have waited so long for another Cathal. But enough of old arguments, as you keep surprising people. You survived an attack in Vind by Unseelie, survived an attack by shadow wraith, and an attack by werewolves sent to hunt you down. And you have done this without being completely trained. They want you completely trained.”
“I wouldn’t mind that, either,” I said.
“Yes, but at what price, Bear,” mumbled Merry. “It is an important question to ask.”
“What do you mean Merry?”
“Well, as is their right since the Cathal and the Protector Clans owe their allegiance to the druids, as it was the druids who imbued them with their particular gifts, the Lady of the Lake can command you until you are tested at Bealtaine. If you are proven to be the Cathal then no one commands you but you after that. And I am afraid that she is going to use that power to command you over you now,” he explained.
“This can wait until later, Bear,” Merry said, as he watched Benedict and Lance continue their training.
“No, Merry, it cannot wait until later. Tell me now,” I said in a commanding tone, which made Merry smile. I had come far in my time here.
“On your fifteenth birthday you will be summoned to Avalon for a year of intense training for Bealtaine. For one full year you will live on Avalon apart from family and friends, expect for two companions, who you will be allowed to take. The druids understand the need for companionship.”
“Merry, this isn’t fair. That means I have five months and then I have to go away. I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to leave her...here,” I pleaded.
“You must, Bear. It is your responsibility. You have obligations and you must keep them.”
“But...but,” I started then I stopped. I knew there was no argument to win this one. Merry was right. It was my responsibility and I had obligations.
“I’m sorry, Bear. I tried for days to convince them to see it my way, to understand that you are making great strides,” Merry sighed, “but the Lady of the Lake can be obdurate, as you will find out. Plus, I am not one of her favorite people. You see the Druid Realm, Avalon, does not always get along with the other realms. We druids have sometimes given ourselves a greater importance than we should have because the Cathal was loyal to us. In a way druids are the guardians and mentors for the Cathal. This has caused a certain unfortunate arrogance to develop.”
“So the other realms are jealous of Avalon and the druids?”
“I would say that they are tired of being bossed, or of having someone look down at them when there is no need for that. What the druids need is a good kick in the buttocks to remind them that they are great enough not to act great. So who will you take with you?”
“I don’t know. I mean a year away from your family. I’m not sure it would be fair of me to take anyone.”
Merry looked over at Lance and smiled. Here was a chance to give Lance an opportunity to come to terms with his mother by spending quality time in Avalon. Merry pointed at Lance: “There is one here who considers Avalon home.”
“Lance.” I said then I remembered that he spoke fondly of Avalon. Lance wouldn’t mind spending a year on Avalon with him.
“Yes, Lance of the Lake,” Merry pointed out.
“I can take Lance, but who else can I take with me?”
“Well, if I may make a suggestion...”
“Of course, you can, Merry. I always listen to what you have to say.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Bear. Sometimes I have my doubts. Benedict would benefit from intense druid training. On Avalon he may actually unleash his spiritual powers and become as strong as I believe he can be.”
“Lance and Benedict,” I mumbled the names then I wondered if Benedict’s parents would mind if he was gone for a year. “Benedict’s parents?”
“They will be proud of him. His mother has druid powers as does his father. Avalon is a sacred place to druids.”
“All right. When Should I tell them?”
“In time. It can wait for a few days.”
“When should I tell everyone else?” I asked.
“Merry, soon? Can we do better than soon?”
“Once you are up and training again. Let everyone enjoy themselves for a few weeks before they are given this news. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like a good idea, Merry.”
“Thank you, Bear. I had more than my share of good ideas over the years.”
“Merry, will I learn about the first Cathal on Avalon?”
“Oh, yes, Bear. You cannot help but learn about him once you are there.”
I spent my first day back training working with Chota doing easy exercises. My body was still sore in places, though my injuries were healed, as Merry had declared me healthy and fit to resume work. Chota, who now seemed comfortable living in Kieran’s house set an easy pace that barely made me break a sweat. Under the autumnal colors of the trees in the backyard, they continued for several hours, stopping when Chota deemed that I had enough.
“Okay, buckaroo, hit the showers,” he declared.
“Ah come on, I feel like I’m just getting started. Let’s do some more.”
“I’ll push you to your limits in a couple of days, but not yet, just not yet. I want you all healed up in my opinion before that.”
“Okay, you’re the boss.”
“No, I’m the chief. Remember?”
“Oh, I forgot, Chota, you are definitely the chief,” I smiled.
“By the way when I said hit the showers, I meant kind of it, buckaroo,” Chota told me and then held his nose.
“I got you. You don’t have to hammer it home.”
“Good. I thought I was being subtle,” laughed Chota.
I entered the house through the backdoor to find Morgana and Lucan cooking a variety of foods. Lucan was busy preparing an Irish stew and Morgana was busy making a huge meatloaf along with mashed potatoes and vegetables. She was in the process of dicing up some carrots to add to about ten pounds of hamburger meat that was in a mixing bowl. I stopped by the table and took a carrot then started eating it.
“Smells real good,” I remarked on the way to my room.
“My cooking always smells good,” Lucan declared.
“I seem to do nothing but cook around here. Sometimes I wonder why I just don’t stay here and sleep in the kitchen,” Morgana complained.
“That’s because there are so many darned people hanging around this house now,” Lucan added to the list of complaints. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“You’re complaining and so am I. We shouldn’t be, but we are,” Morgana said.
“I guess I am complaining a little,” sighed Lucan. “Well, I’m allowed to. Complaining is part of aging.”
“So, how was your workout with Chota?” Morgana asked me.
“Light and easy. I wanted to get more of sweat up, but he wanted to keep it light and easy.”
“You’re getting back into the groove, so you have to take your time,” she told me. “Chota will kick your butt soon enough and then you’ll be complaining about that.”
“I know he will and I will,” I agreed then I finished off the carrot. “Where’s Kieran?”
“In his study with Merry and Denara. Let’s see, we have Etain’s father, Fergus, keeping guard out front and Benedict’s parents, Vernon and Ellen Wise, checking out the surrounding woods, and Cedric’s father keeping and eye on everyone in the barn, who are being taught today by Etain’s mother, Gwendolyn. Pretty full house, huh?”
“Yeah, it is,” I replied. “Well, I need a shower.”
“I put clean towels in your bathroom. I also seem to be doing laundry a lot more along with the cooking. I really have to complain to Kieran about that,” Morgana told me, as I went into his room.
I stood under a hot shower for fifteen minutes letting the water go from steaming to mild during that period. Getting out I toweled off, grabbed a pair of black jeans, a black T-shirt, and slipped on a pair of dockers. I exited my bedroom into the kitchen to catch Kieran and Morgana sharing a kiss. With embarrassment they separated and Kieran gave me an uncomfortable grin.
“Hey, Bear,” he said.
“Hey, Kieran,” I responded trying not to smile.
“You have impeccable timing just like your girlfriend,” Morgana scolded me.
“Girlfriend?” I said innocently.
“Yeah, my daughter, who is your girlfriend and who you will be sure to tell the news Kieran just told me before everybody else finds out about it, so that she isn’t completely devastated.”
“Kieran, Merry told you about me going to Avalon?” I queried him.
“What do you think?”
“I think the Lady of the Lake can be a difficult person, but there is nothing you can do about it. I wish there were,” Kieran stated.
“I don’t want to go,” I admitted.
“I know, Bear.”
“I know someone else who won’t want you to go, either,” Morgana pointed out.
“Branwyn,” I said her name with some regret.
“Yeah. She will be getting out of school now. Why don’t you go tell her and give her some time to get used to the idea of you being gone for a year?”
“I think I will, Morgana.”
I hustled out of the house and made my way to the barn. Leaning against a nearby tree I waited for the home-school class to get out and everyone to exit. I scanned the area. Cedric’s father was nowhere to be found. If he was guarding the barn, he was treating it like he treated hunting deer. The man loved stealth.
The barn door opened and everybody came out of the barn. They looked as if they all had a very long of school. Branwyn came out right behind Fintain then Etain who was followed by Cedric, who waved at the top of a tree and called out: “Hi, dad. See anything?”
“Hey, son,” Credric’s father called back. “Nothing to see so far.”
I looked up and now noticed that he was dressed in camouflage sitting on the tree top. Lance was the first to reach me. He nodded his head.
“You’re looking good,” he said to me.
“Hey, Sean, finally allowed out of the house,” Wayne yelled and then hip checked Lance, who turned his head and looked at him with disdain.
“Sean,” Branwyn yelled then she came up running to me and gave me a hug.
“We need to talk about something,” I said seriously, even though I didn’t want to sound serious.
“Sure,” she responded with concern.
“Lance, Wayne can you watch our back while we talk?” I asked them.
“Sure,” they answered almost in unison.
Slowly and regretfully, I explained to Branwyn that I would be leaving for Avalon for a year in a few months. As we walked near the lake with Lance and Wayne giving plenty of space, I gave her the bad news. I noticed that she was biting her bottom lip trying not to cry when I finished.
“But you’re finally off of Merry’s isle and back living with us.”
“I know, Branwyn. I really know.”
“This just isn’t fair,” she stated with a crack in her voice.
“The lady of the Lake demands it, so I have to go.”
“I am so glad that I am Fey and not druid and have to bow down to her. Fey are the equals if not superior to druids,” she exclaimed then she turned and gave me a long hug.
“I do get to take two people, though with me,” I said apprehensively.
“Really,” she started to become excited. “Who are you taking, Sean?”
“Merry and I discussed it and I am going to take Lance and Benedict with me,” I told her quickly then I stopped walking and waited for the explosion.
“What? You’re kidding me, right? You aren’t taking me,” she growled.
“Explain,” she demanded.
“Lance is at home on Avalon. I mean his mother is the Lady of the Lake...”
“So, it will be good for him. And Merry thinks being on Avalon will help to bring Benedict’s druid powers out fully,” I finished up.
“Not good enough,” she pouted.
“I didn’t want to take you away from your mother,” I added.
This statement caught her by surprise. Her mother was alone, except for her. Branwyn knew deep down that she couldn’t leave her mother alone for a year, at least, not yet. She wasn’t ready for that yet.
“You’re safe. I won’t hurt you,” she told me.
“You’re not mad at me?”
“I am but you’re safe. You made the right decision.”
“Branwyn, you can’t be mad at me.”
“Oh, yes, I can.”
“Hopefully not for too long. I will be gone for a year,” I said in an attempt to manipulate her mood.
“Don’t play dirty with me or I’ll cry and you’ll feel horrible for days,” she warned me.
She was right, I thought. If she did cry, I would feel horrible for days. I was defeated.
“I won’t play dirty, Branwyn.”
“Good. I hope the Lady of the Lake will allow visits for family and friends.”
“It sounds like those in Avalon want to turn me into the equal of any warrior...”
“You are better than all of them already. They should know that,” she interjected.
Instead of arguing or correcting her, I grabbed her around her waist with my right arm and with my left hand on her back I drew Branwyn in close to me and kissed her. It was a long kiss, an unforgettable kiss and one I knew I would think of during my many days on Avalon. Finally, Branwyn pulled away, as Wayne began to make hooting noises. She shot one look at him and he stopped.
“Kisses goodbye can wait until later. I’m a little bit angry at you now,” Branwyn told me.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Not too sure, but I bet my mother would like it that way,” she said.
“Really,” I smiled. “Did I tell you what I saw Kieran and your mother doing in the kitchen?”
“Give me the dirt, now,” she demanded.