Oberon sent his Children to spend a millenium in the world of mortals. This is the tale of how one fairy spent her millenium. This story won the Pucking Around category writing contest held for The...
By Phoebe "DragonWolf" Roberts
Eternally serene, she stood in Camelot's immense hall before the grand Round Table, the great red dragon at her side. The three young men that stood at her back were squires in white array, strong, handsome, and honest.
Her eyes, as cool sapphire as frozen raindrops. Her skin, as pale as if never touched by sunlight. Her hair, a shade of silvery platinum that gleamed like new-fallen snow.
Eyes icy, but not cold. Skin wintry, but not warding. Hair snowy, but not forbidding.
She was the Lady of the Lake.
"My Lord Arthur," she began, her voice quiet but carrying, a sound of crystal and whispering wind. "I come today to bring these men to you at Merlin's last behest. They are noble lads from the land of Benwick, the sons of King Ban and Lord Bors. The Good Enchanter bade me bring them upon the morn of the feast of Pentecost to be accepted as knights of your order."
A soft breeze from an open embrasure ruffled her snowy hair. If the Lady herself did not make the assemblage sufficiently impressive, the dragon at her side most certainly did. He was huge and heavy, hued a crimson brighter than blood, a creature of great age, great wisdom, great power- a teacher of heroes.
"The two elders have been educated as knights in their home of Benwick," Phembar, the dragon, said, blinking piercing golden eyes. "By one rookery brother of mine, a dragon of nobility and stout heart. But Ban's youngest I myself have trained, Lord Arthur. As I had guided you, in the days of your youth, have I guided this lad. My Lady here of Avalon's Lake had taken him into her care in her fairy dwelling upon that mystic isle, whereat we have taught him the ways of your Code."
The Lady's own gaze followed the assemblage's as it shifted to the young Benwick prince, her foster child. A long and tremulous sequence of happenings had made this lad's short life and history what it was, a story more than a millennium long...
Though it had occurred more than a thousand years previous, she well and duly remembered that special Gathering. She had remembered the congregation upon mystic Avalon when the fairy Lord King Oberon called them back to the place of their birth with a grievance.
Oberon found he did not like the burgeoning arrogance of certain contingents of his subjects. Zeus and his get, Ra and his followers, Odin and his advocates- each crowd grown haughty with the knowledge that they were not only superior to the mortals, but worshipped by them as well. It had not been arrogance that had led their King to overthrowing their mad Queen Mab, and Oberon would not have his subject corrupted by it.
She remembered from so long ago the Lord Oberon's decree to his gathered Children: "A millennium amongst the mortals of the world, the mortals thou think so lowly of, and mayhap learn thee some much-needed humility!"
Protests assaulted the king in a torrent. Hela and Hecate, Ares and Loki, Bast and Raven, Eris and the Banshee- each and every who disdained the mortals and their coarse world, those who would rather any other fate than to be forced to live among them. Yet all were to be sent out, excepting no one. Not even the Queen Titania.
And that was why she stood that day before her crystal-watered Lake, deep in the silent forests of Avalon, gazing at her reflection in the clear still pool, gathering her power to cast a spell. Scarcely an hour before had she seen off her followers that dwelled with her in the Lake, desiring to be sure that they'd all gone well before she herself took leave. Having said her farewells to the lovely mystic isle that had been her home, she inhaled slowly and began to cast her spell.
In a sudden shimmer of white magic, her porcelain-pale skin tanned to a more mortal fairness. Her platinum tresses brightened to sun-gold waves. The long gown she wore shifted from shimmering samite to a simpler garment of an earthly material. The smoothness of pixie skin, the softness of spritely hair, everything in the supremacy of fairy form had given way to the less perfect yet still apparent beauty of a mortal.
Everything, excepting the eyes. The eyes, the twin pools of gentle, impossibly blue ice, were the only allusion to this maiden's true nature.
She relaxed her concentration, the spell finished and the transformation complete. She surveyed her new form in the crystal-clear water of the Lake of which she was lady.
"Yet no longer the Lady," she whispered, swirling her skirt gently about her legs. "I am now..."
She paused a moment to think.
"Elaine," she decided. "I am now Elaine."
And thus her millennium began. She had lived many lives throughout the centuries, playing the roles of many diverse mortals of her own creation. She skipped through identities and places with no particular reasoning, spending some decades posing as a comely country maiden in Ireland, and next the fair clan leader to gargoyles of Japan.
Yet remaining, when a name was needed, as Elaine. Always Elaine.
She would do as Oberon commanded. Learn from the mortals. Learn from the humans, the gargoyles, and all the evanescent creatures of the earth. And mayhap with a little good fortune, she thought, teach something herself.
Among the multitude of forms and persons she had assumed, her consistent favorite was her first one, the one she had created on the day she had left her fairy dwelling on Avalon. Though she took care to keep her forms diverse enough to prevent the realization that she was not what she seemed, every few centuries she would return to that first form and live out her next life in its guise.
It was in this form that she found herself in the court of the king of Benwick, in the company of a lord native to that land in Gaul. He was called Lord Bors, father of two who would be known in time as Sir Bors de Ganis and Sir Lionel. He was the one had first brought her to court. Introduced as a British-born lady of Benwick descent, the King Ban had most kindly received her.
Ban was the father of one son and a widower. His queen had passed away scarcely five months previous from an enduring infirmity. Ban was an unfailingly hospitable host to his brother Lord Bors and all those with him, but his anguish was not difficult to perceive.
Elaine had been there to comfort him. He had been so endearing in that first year, grieving with such heartfelt sorrow for the passing of his dear late wife. She had cared for his young son, the sweet babe Hector, as her own. How could she not love Ban, in his darkest hour? For it was out of love that he so sorrowed, out of love that he so grieved.
Her tender concern for Ban did not go unnoticed, and the king responded in kind. His affection for her grew steadily, and he entreated her stay, even when the company with which she had come prepared to leave. With each passing day, she and the King grew closer, until what had begun as simple friendship gradually became something more. She would not have been so surprised, she thought once to herself, if he asked her to marry him.
And yet, she was when he did.
She could do nothing but accept.
They were married the following spring in a glade near the castle. People of all sorts, humans of the castle, some gargoyles, even a few forest elves, a pair of griffins, and a young Pegasus, were in attendance of the ceremony. Young flowers bloomed beneath trees that spread their emerald leaves to the cloudless azure sky, the meadow and everything in it blessed by the golden sunlight warming them all.
Elaine stood at the far end of the glade, preparing to walk down the aisle to meet her bridegroom. She was clad as richly as the queen she was to become, her garb a flowing gown of swan-white silk and a delicate veil. In her ring-adorned fingers she clasped a laced bouquet filled with lilies, carnations, and snowy roses. A coronet of lilies crowned her silken tresses, hued brighter gold than the fine jewelry that decorated her throat.
Sweet strains of soft music began to play, lutes and pipes and tambours across the meadow, and she began her march.
Had these mortals any idea, she wondered as she paced slowly down the aisle. Could any guess that the bride, the maid with pure-white lilies in her hair, was no mortal maid at all but the mistress of part of very Avalon itself?
Nay, they could not. She had taken great care to craft her human form well enough that it would perhaps take a unicorn, or a dragon, or even another fairy, to see through it. She was certain her secret was safe from all- excepting, perhaps, only one.
There was a dragon in attendance that spring day, a blue by the name of Reliet, with some contact to the royal family of Benwick. Like Phembar, he had piercing gold eyes and was of Scotch decent, but he was smaller than her friend the red and a good deal his junior. He was to train Hector, Bors, and Lionel, when they came of proper age, in the ways of the knight- of horses, dogs, and hawks, of swords and lances, of the Code that in the fullness of time all true heroes would honor.
How could a creature of such innately strong magic fail to see it, fail to sense it? She could keep her secret from a mere human, or even perhaps a lesser of Oberon's Children- but not a dragon.
As she glided down the aisle, her gaze met briefly with that of the dragon. In the gold reptilian eyes she saw understanding, understanding of everything.
A surge of fear raced through her. He knew.
He knew, and said nothing.
He let her go. He maintained the silent reservation he'd kept since the ceremony began. He knew, she could see that he knew, see it in his piercing eyes, but he gave no indication.
Why, she wondered sadly? Did he not want to save his king from the legendary mischief of the fae race?
Yet he still said nothing.
And then she reached the end of the aisle, met her groom, and forgot everything else.
Time passed happier than she'd ever been before, warmed with the love of her husband, her subjects, and as autumn rolled around, soon, one would guess by the swell of her belly, the love of a child as well.
Pregnancy was a novel experience for Elaine. In all her immortal life, she had never before felt new life growing inside of her, never brought new life into the world- and she found it a strange and wonderful feeling.
She knew by her fae arts with some degree of certainty that the child would be a boy. They planned to name him after Ban's father. Reliet would take him on as his pupil as he would with her stepson and nephews.
She contacted little with Reliet, outside of the infrequent audiences he held with her husband. They'd never exchanged more than a handful of words. She liked and respected the dragon and his stalwart, honorable ways that reminded her of her old and dear friend Phembar, but they were not friends.
Yet he approached her that afternoon, as stern and reserved as ever, with intent to speak to her. The dragon's message was brief: "Merlin seeks you, Lady."
Merlin sought her. Merlin himself.
If anyone among her race did not know his name, she could not think of whom. He was the famed sorcerer that was rumored to wield enough power to outmatch any fairy, and those who had met him, had felt the aura of magic that surrounded him, was more than inclined to wonder if it was not just a rumor.
She wasted no time in going to meet the famed enchanter. He was at once as impressive a figure as said to be; he was a personage of age and immeasurable wisdom, of great cleverness and moral strength, with an aura of power about him that belied his mortality.
Steadfast Reliet, who had been concerned for his king the moment he discovered her identity but had the foresight to make no disturbance until consulting Merlin about it, had brought her existence in Benwick to the sorcerer's attention. But Merlin had not been alarmed and told the dragon to be likewise. He had known by his art that, in time, she would be there.
Merlin had much to tell her in that audience. He spoke of a kingdom to come that could be considered God's Kingdom on Earth. It was one in which all the peoples of Britain were united and strong. Where the greatest of knights were the students of the greatest of dragons instead of hunters of them. Where the brave, loyal gargoyles who protected the castle were honored and respected for their courage. Where war and strife were converted to peace and prosperity for all people- all people, not merely the humans.
He spoke of a king, little more than a babe-in-arms that her old friend Phembar now guided in secret by Merlin's direction, who would grow to a leader so great that he could hold this utopian kingdom, could battle off those who would seek to destroy it, to rule it in justness and goodness that would make him remembered through the ages as the greatest ruler of Earth.
And he spoke of a knight, as of yet unborn, who would also be guided by Phembar, a knight would become a warrior of such valiant prowess that he would heal a man's head-wound with the touch of his hand. He would grow strong and handsome so that few of Eve's daughters could look upon him without loving him. He would grow into the goodness of his father, and would in turn father a son that would earn the title of Perfect. And though he would have his share of hardship and adversity, the knight would still maintain his greatness.
"That knight," the sorcerer told her. "Is your son."
She was silent for a long time.
"But if valiant Phembar was to train my son," she said softly. "What of Reliet? Is he not worthy enough to guide the hero my son you say will become?"
"Reliet is noble and good," Merlin replied. "But your son could not become the hero without Phembar."
"Has Reliet knowledge of his displacement?"
"He is aware," the enchanter answered. "And though he mourns the loss, he is wise enough to accept what must be. He sees that it is not worth denying the world a hero that great."
Again, she lapsed to silence.
"Enchanter," she asked finally. "Will this kingdom of God endure?"
"For a time," he replied. "For a century's half it shall glow the brightest gem in ages, and then fade away to memory. But in its time, it shall be the greatest ever known."
"What must I do?" she inquired.
He told her.
Elaine the queen of Benwick meandered aimlessly through the now-dormant autumn garden in the courtyard of the castle, lost in her thoughts. Merlin had given her much to consider.
He had told her what would be needed of her to bring on the establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth. She must wait till her son was born, but pretend she never recovered from the birth. She would have to create the illusion that she was slowly fading, and when the time came, to feign her own death. She would revert to her true form, as the Lady of the Lake, and return to Avalon. With Merlin's aid, she would request of Ban to foster the child in her fairy dwelling in the Lake, never allowing any, no one at all, to know that she had been the Lady Elaine, that she was the babe's true mother- including the child himself.
It was a singularly painful thing to think about, giving up her whole life like that.
But not everything was bleak. Phembar himself would train her half-mortal son. Reliet was a noble creature and good teacher, but few could live up to the standard set by her friend the great red dragon. Her son would grow to be one of the greatest heroes of all time, and make his father proud.
The world would get this God-blessed kingdom of which Merlin had spoken, though it seemed absurd that something so good would last for a mere blink of time.
Yet... how could she leave Ban? Ban, her husband, her mate; the only creature, in all the lives she'd lived through the millennium, had she ever truly come to love?
She'd seen his great grief for his first wife, his first son Hector's mother. She's seen how despairing he had been in the months when she'd first met him. If he lost her as well, he would be shattered. And she had been happy as well, more so in these few short years than in all the hundreds and hundreds of years previous.
A sudden bitterness welled up in her. Did Merlin the Good Enchanter know what he was asking for? How could he expect her to give up her place, her love, her life? Her husband would not know what truly had happened to her, and her son would never know who she really was.
Merlin had spoken of a great kingdom, a God's Kingdom on Earth. Yet how could it truly be as great as he'd claimed? It would last scarcely half a century at best, but a brief flash in the expanse of time, disappearing as swiftly as it had existed. How could something so fleeting make an impact as great as Merlin prophesized? How could it amount to anything at all?
She had reached the flower garden that had been planted for Ban's first wife and embellished on her own wedding day. Most of the flora was in a dormant state, darkened and deadened by autumn frosts. She recalled its splendor in the spring months, recalled how lovingly Ban had renewed the garden just for her.
"For you, my lady!" he had said at her joy upon seeing his gift. "I but wish it could be as lovely as thee."
She sighed at the sweet memory. No fleeting fifty-year nation was worth losing a person so good and caring as her Ban.
She continued slowly through the expanse of the garden, longing for their prior cheery color rather than their cold-killed remnants. But when she reached the roses, however...
They were not completely ravaged by the frost. Nay, instead of black remains, many of the satin-soft flowers in white, pink, lavender, gold, and crimson were preserved in a glaze of thinnest, fragile, crystalline ice! They reflected and refracted the pale sunlight, their sweet petals set aglow, illuminating all the rose briar in a firestorm of exquisite light.
In all of Earth and even Avalon, she thought that there could be nothing quite so beautiful as those roses. There was an unnamable glory in the simple wonder, creations of God with life spans of a moment that were still so radiant, so fine.
"The roses," she whispered. "It is as the roses."
The kingdom of Merlin's prediction was as the ice-encased roses. Yes, its time on Earth would be achingly short. It would seem almost no time at all to a fae. But it was a thing of such wonder, such beauty, such great preciousness, that its brief but bright-burning existence would be remembered for all time. And perhaps even be looked back on, its instance guiding the courses of other civilizations that would strive to achieve its greatness. Even if time would enshroud it in darkness for centuries after, its memory would still remain, a brilliant beacon of hope to those that followed. She could see that Merlin had spoken truly. A light, it would be, a light in time's darkness.
As Reliet could not deny the world that light in time's darkness for himself, nor could she for herself. Nay, indeed. Not for anything.
She had her pages seek out Reliet. "Tell Merlin that I shall do as he bade."
The dragon favored her with a rare, small smile, and bowed his horned head in salute. "To your courage, my Lady. To your courage."
She had done it. She had done as Merlin had asked.
She had slipped away undiscovered, just as the Enchanter had said she would. She returned to her dwelling in the Lake on Avalon. It was oddly pleasant to be returning to her old haunts and spritely companions, but her heart still ached from leaving Ban.
Reliet had seen her off the day she'd left. He had been there to make certain that she was safe from prying eyes as she shed the form of Elaine. He promised to look after Ban for her, to keep him and Benwick well. She thanked him sincerely, and though she'd never before considered him a friend, she did so in that moment.
When she had reached Avalon, she sent Nimue with the message, and set some of the lesser sprites of the Lake to accompany her. She was one of her handmaidens, a mortal lass for whom a changeling had been swapped. Nimue traveled to Benwick to carry her request to foster the young child of the king.
How could they not guess, these mortals, who had proven themselves to be far cleverer than believed the average fairy? Indeed, she was fostering the prince of Benwick at Merlin's behest, as she had said in her message, but also from a desire to keep some part of her life as Queen Elaine. A desire to keep her newborn son.
She had been ready for the joy of her mortal family at the birth of the child. She had learned of how eagerly creatures like humans awaited the new children. But still, she marveled to herself, how could one love something one just met so much?
Nimue, for all that she was truly a mortal and indeed no fairy, conducted herself with the deportment of the noblest of Oberon's Children. With Merlin's assistance, the child was brought back. Nimue presented him to her, a small, soft, warm bundle.
"The babe you requested, my Lady," she said. "The son of King Ban of Benwick, and the maid Elaine."
"I know, Nimue," the Lady of the Lake answered, keeping the sadness from her voice. "I know."
She then sent all her sprites away to tarry elsewhere, and summoned old Phembar to her. Phembar the valiant red dragon came, his wide wings carrying him swiftly, to stand at with her at the Lakeside.
He too had received instructions from Merlin. He knew there were things to be done, great things, indeed. For the Lady, a sword had to be forged in her fairy dwelling, not from cold coarse iron, but from a finer substance, metal from a falling star and imbued with all the magic of Avalon. For the dragon, a boy, entrusted at birth to an honorable man, had to be guided to his great and kingly destiny. And for both, a half-fae child to be trained to the Code of Camelot, the noble way of the knight...
Her visions were unclear, as they had always been. But she could see within the dimness a certainty of her son's future as not only a knight but the best of knights. And though she could see trouble and hardships ahead as well, there would scarcely ever be a knight as great as he.
"What will you call him?" Phembar asked.
She told him.
She smiled as the great King Arthur, the valiant lord of Merlin's prophecy, looked over the lad she had named after his grandfather, just as his father Ban would have wanted.
"See, my Lord," she said to the king. "Their names form upon the sieges!"
All eyes turned as she gestured with a graceful hand to shining lettering that glimmered around the Table. It first appeared at the place on Agravaine's left.
Then it appeared over there, between Ywaine and Segramour.
And finally, they watched in wonder as the last golden name shimmered into existence at the place to the right of the Siege Perilous.
"What will you call him?" Phembar had asked.
The name she had told the dragon formed upon the siege.