Igraine Speaks

 

Igraine 2

His birth came about by trickery and subterfuge, although the boy knew it not.

A birth by accident, a birth of inconsequence. Or so all the world would think. It was an arrangement of my Uncle Merlin and the plan was thus: That I, the Duchess Igraine of Tintagel should lie in the adulterous bed of King Uther Pendragon, so that I be the vessel to bear a son. His name would be Arthur.

O now, you must understand. The part about adultery scarcely vexed me; my marriage to  the Duke of Tintagel was an arranged and loveless one. The bed of Uther Pendragon was not my first straying and would not be my last.  I was fully compliant in my dalliance. Yet for the sake of my honor, Merlin thought it best that the bards which would tell this story say I had been bewitched. The official version?  Uther Pendragon appeared to me in the form of my husband the Duke. Therefore when I laid with him I was judged innocent in all wrongdoing.

O that was rich! One cannot bewitch a witch! My Uncle Merlin knew this better than anyone.

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Heretofore my husband, the Duke of Tintagel had been of stout health. Now suddenly he took ill and died promptly. As a widow with child I had no choice but to wed Uther Pedragon. I then became Queen Igraine of castle Camelot.

The birth was easy. But what I could not abide, what I could not forgive, was that the baby was wrenched from my arms the very moment he uttered breath! I barely had the chance to hold him before Merlin spirited him away, insisting I was not fit to raise him, and that his future tasks were not to be influenced by the likes of me.

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Without conversation nor consultation, it was decided Arthur be raised by a local lord, one Sir Ector.

“Now Igraine,” Merlin bid me,  once the deed was done. “You need not worry for your son. His every want shall be provided for, as my Lord Ector leads a life of prosperity and gain. Arthur shall have an older brother named Kai and a mother of great gentleness, the Lady Ector. He shall be fed, clothed and schooled properly.  It is essential he live among common men.”

Foolish wizard! Could Merlin not see that a woman’s greatest loss was that of her own child? His was a silly scheme, for I knew my son Arthur was like no other boy!  He needed no guidance from the common man, for his true nature would allow him to encompass all.  His bloodline was mine; that of Avalon. His schooling should thus involve the magick of Avalon.

I vowed revenge upon my Uncle Merlin.  He’d pay for his injustice! My visits to Avalon would ensure this. I studied under tutelage of the Lady of the Lake, imploring the water and rocks to bring me power.

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Fourteen years passed, and they were fourteen years of war and devastation. The Saxon armies invaded our territory time and time again. My husband Uther, weary of the constant battle, finally took ill and passed away, leaving his kingdom up for grabs among rogue warlords and enemies.

As king’s consort I managed best as I could. The men bickered among themselves, calling privy council after privy council to determine who should be the next king. Arthur should have been immediately declared so. But because of Merlin’s harebrained scheme, he had been raised as a ward, away from his true home. If he were to return to Camelot now and claim the throne, none would believe him.

The people of Britain at that time were a superstitious lot. They believed in marvels and miracles, great quests of honor and the divine right of princes. It was for this reason that I devised a scheme which would place my son upon the throne without doubt or question.

The Bishop of Canterbury, influenced by my Uncle Merlin, deemed a joust should be held to determine the new king. It would take place on New Year’s Day, 443, the year of Our Lord.

This, in and of itself, was a most outrageous and foolish notion! Jousting was a putrid and violent sport; it brought no good to anyone. Within it, perfectly capable and healthy men were maimed and wounded, leaving them disabled and unfit for battles against our true enemies! Jousts were held so that jeering and bloodthirsty crowds could name what they thought ‘a hero’. He that could withstand a horse’s back and the jab of a lance.

“But Arthur will surely win the joust,” Merlin insisted. “It is a most excellent plan!”

“Arthur is a boy of fifteen!” I spat. “I’ll not see him crippled in a joust. It is a most preposterous plan!”

I objected vehemently. Yet as a woman, my word held no weight. Instead I used my own sorcery to produce a most ingenious scheme, one that no one would question.

The people of Camelot were obsessed with weaponry and feats of strength. I reasoned that there must be some deed which could measure one’s power, yet bear no damage to another. A deed which would test a man’s ability over nature, over fear, over all elements. A test which would show, beyond any doubt, that the man able to perform it would indeed be the new king.

I retreated to my crystal cave for a period of deep meditation.

igraine cave

There, among the rocks and water, I called upon my ancestors to guide me. I consulted the goddess Cerridwen, the Morrigan, Viviane and the tribe of eternal Wise Women. Finally, the idea came to me. I told no one of my plan.

Outside the field where the great joust was to be held, I created a boulder. Upon that boulder I placed an anvil of pure iron.  (All this time I relied upon my own witchery, for no mortal woman could have lifted such a boulder, nor the anvil.)  I then fashioned a great silver sword, its blade sharp enough to slice the head of a boar, its handle heavy as the anvil itself. Within the anvil I inscribed the following directions:

“Whosoever can pull this sword from its stone shall be the undoubted, indisputable, indubitable King of Britain, deemed to rule for his lifetime and never questioned of his authority.”

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New Years Day dawned, the morning of the joust. Spectators gathered. They stared with gaping mouths at the sword in the stone.

“Can it be?” they muttered among themselves. “The new king will be decided by pulling a sword from a stone? Such a simple task?”

“Simple task indeed!” I retorted hotly. “Go on then! Try your hand at it and see. Whoso among you dares to attempt this feat?”

One by one the men tried. There were knights and lords, men of great status as well as serfs and peasants who stood in line and attempted to lift the sword. Each effort was for naught.

Finally, Sir Ector rode up with his son Kai and Arthur in tow.

“Will you attempt the task, my Lord?” I said coyly to Ector, for – goddess help me – I could not resist a good prank.

Eagerly the man placed his grip upon the sword’s handle. Twist and tug as he might, the sword would not budge. Sweat burst from his brow until finally he gave up. “It will not move!” he yelped exasperatedly. “The thing is stuck like an oak to the soil.”

the sword in the stone

“Mayhap your son Kai shall attempt it,” I said, barely hiding my smirk.

Kai groped and toiled. The stubborn blade would not budge. He too broke a sweat before declaring, “It is an impossible task! One hundred men could not lift it!”

“And what of young Arthur?” I asked.

“If I and Kai could not lift it, all the more impossible it will be for Arthur,” said Sir Ector. “For I am a knighted lord; I have seen battle. My ward Arthur, abandoned at birth, has lead only the life of a farm hand.  He knows nothing of weaponry.”

“Oh doesn’t he?” I chided.  I could hold my anger no longer.

“For your information,” quothe I, “he was NOT abandoned at birth! Ever did you think he was taken from his mother’s arms, through no will nor decision of her own? Ever did you think he was intended for greater purposes, such that you, Sir Ector, could not possibly know?”

Ector looked at me dumbfounded, for it was unseemly for a widowed queen to speak so boldly. I cared not what they thought! I then took Arthur by the hand and helped him down from his horse. “You will try it,” I commanded.

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, then popped in recognition as he faced me. “Is it you?” he asked softly. “You are my… Mother?”

None had known of my secret visits to Ector’s farm. None had known, save Arthur and myself, that in the still of the night I had come to him. Together we’d board a small boat and I’d take him to Avalon, so that he could learn of his true bloodline and power.

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Perhaps before that moment, Arthur had thought those visits were mere dreams and imagination.  Now he  was to learn: imagination can lead to the making of a king.

“Of course it is me,” I said calmly. “Your Uncle Merlin had other plans for you, but it was I who knew your noble calling and prepared you for it.  Now!  Do not hesitate to do your duty!”

Within seconds Arthur had lifted the sword from the stone.

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For the doubters among them, Arthur replaced the sword several times. Each time the anvil sealed around it like an iron prison. Many others made attempts at lifting it, each to no avail. Yet Arthur lifted it several times with ease. Finally the crowd conceded; it was  Arthur who was meant to rule as King of Britain.

Merlin cowered in a corner, hidden by the crowd. I went to him.

“Do not worry, Uncle,” I said. “While I do not forgive you, I will not torture you. I ask now that you return to Avalon for schooling. You see, your magic has always been imperfect. You have silly ideas. If Arthur is ever to rule as a worthy king, he must not be influenced by your dualistic nature. Therefore I banish you from Camelot.”

He had no choice but to leave.

From that day forward, per my request, all jousting was banned in the kingdom.

As for my son, he became the once and future king, ushering in an era of great peace and prosperity. He ruled with wisdom, kindness and grace, wedding his Queen Guinevere, and appointing twelve worthy knights to his round table.

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Feast of Stephen

 

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For seven years of my life, I was privileged to serve as a page to his Majesty, the Good King  Wenceslas of Bohemia. This was a great honor to me, for I was from  a modest family, orphaned at a young age, and it was the King  who took me in, treating me practically as his ward.  A fine page I was and I served my master well, so much so that I became his favorite. I was privy to the King’s every secret and whim and I daresay I came to know him better than his own advisers.

The story I am about to tell may come as somewhat of a shock to you. It may in fact seem unbelievable. I assure you it happened,  for I would never tell a lie, and sure as my hand is my hand and my bone is my bone, this story is true.

It was the Year of our Lord 946, on the 26th day of December, the Feast of Saint Stephen. As was the custom for every saint’s feast day, a great repast was served in the King’s hall. The cooks prepared every carnage known to the kingdom; succulent ducks, hogs heads, blackbird pie, mutton and  hens. Great barrels of mead and momsey were served, as well as desserts of apple cakes and plum puddings.

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There was grand entertainment, jugglers and dancers and acrobats that walked like crabs, hands extended over their heads and bodies arched. Fiddlers and drummers and choirs chimed in magnificent orchestration.  The King was quite pleased with this entertainment, but the evening grew late. The King excused himself, and just as he was retiring to his quarters he looked outside the window. Here was something  most  disturbing.

A peasant in tattered clothes with no cloak to warm him scavenged outside in the forest for spare wood. The man rummaged and shivered , filling up his tiny cart, then hobbling away, for he had no horse to pull it.  The King  peered through  window and then tilted his head and let out a long sigh. I quickly jumped to his side, for quite fond was I of the King, and being his favorite I was able to approach him about his every sadness.

“Sire, something troubles you?” I asked.

King Wenceslas nodded. He gestured toward the peasant. He then looked upon me, suddenly serious, a depth of sorrow in his eyes.

“Ah, my dear boy,” he said. “It is with much grief I view yonder peasant. Did you see the  man? Scantily clothed, gathering meager wood from the barren trees. From whence comes he? Where lives he?  Knowest you?’

Sadly, I told the King I was well aware of the poor peasant’s dwelling. Leagues away from the castle the man scraped out his living in a hovel that was little better than a cave.  I was lack to reveal more of the bleak story,  but Wenceslas urged me.  The peasant’s wife and child had recently taken ill from malnutrition.  The scant amount of wood the peasant stole would barely last them the night.

Upon hearing this, the King hung his head. “Their Feast of Stephen was meager I take it,” he murmured.

“Sire,” I said, “Their Feast of Stephen was none!”

The King shuffled his feet, something he was fond of doing when thinking of solutions. He scratched his head and looked back out the window where snow swirled like a vast tornado.  The peasant was long gone.  The King then glanced back to the dining hall where the servants were cleaning up the leftovers.  Suddenly he pivoted on his heel, smiled broadly and grabbed me by the shoulders.  “But of course!” he bellowed, eyes bulging. “Boy,  go to the servants! Tell them to pack baskets of meat and mead, breads and cakes of all kinds!  Kindling wood and candles and blankets and raiment. Tonight that peasant shall dine in splendor.”

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The servants packed up several baskets. My first thought was to get the carriage driver to transport the goods, but the King bid me no. “I shall deliver them in person my dear lad,” he said. “And you shall go with me.”

The King was known to sometimes get odd notions in his head. When this happened, there was no stopping him until his ideas were completely carried out.

The night was bitterly cold, with snow packing the castle walls, so deep  I could barely tread upon it without my legs becoming enveloped. Yet the King insisted we walk, for he longed to visit the peasant in person, goods in hand, making a grand and bold entrance.

We left the palace and headed out into the bleak night. The wind whipped at my back. On and on we walked. The night grew darker still, the moon obscured by  thick drifting clouds. A numbing cold set to my toes. I breathed heavily, teetering my bundles. The King also carried bundles, but I was just a small boy, my legs short and spindly. Finally I knew I could go no further.

“Sire,” I panted. “I fear my heart will fail if I continue.”  My numb hands dropped my bundles in the snow  and I clutched my side. My ribs ached.

“Ah, my dear lad.” The King knelt beside me. “Be not troubled. I have just the solution! Now hear me. You see that my boots make large footprints in the snow, yes? I want you to tread behind me, follow in those footprints. You will find that you are soon warmed and invigorated.”

I knew it would do no good.  My master had surely lost his sanity. The night was now black as pitch. Snow swirled like icy diamonds and I feared a blizzard was  heading our way.  Yet the King casually set back on his path, blithe as if it were a summer’s day. I followed, doing as Wenceslas asked, only because it was my job to amuse him.

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If I had not seen it with my own eyes, felt it in my own flesh, I would not have believed it. The instant I stepped in the King’s footsteps, all chill left my body!  I was invigorated with a health and vitality such as I had never known. Merrily I followed Wenceslas. Once or twice he called behind to me, “How fare thee my lad?”  “Ever so happily Sire,” I sang back, for it was true.

When we reached the peasant’s hovel we found him with his wife and child, shivering in the darkness.  Quickly the King lit wax candles and commenced to lay the feast upon the table. The peasant’s eyes popped. He dropped to his knees, squinting through the candle light, lack to believe that this  generous stranger was actually the King.

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When the meal was finished Wenceslas made a promise; none in his kingdom would ever suffer hunger and cold again.

It was an extravagant promise, but the King made good on it. His great stores of treasure and gold were traded in exchange for new housing, timber wood and farmland so that all in the kingdom were given the chance to thrive.  Wenceslas then had a great dining hall built on the same land where the peasant’s hovel had once been. Ever after that, on the Feast of Stephen, all in the village, peasant and courtiers alike, dined in that great hall. Indeed, no one in Wenceslas’ kingdom ever went hungry again.

I frequently asked the King how it came that my feet had been so warmed and my heart so invigorated in his footsteps that night. It was still a puzzle to me.  The King only smiled, patted my head and said, “The snow and wind and I – we have an understanding.”

 

 

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt  Feast