Title: Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All)
Author: Will Freeman
Author's Note: "Amor Vincit Omnia" (Love Conquers All) was an assignment for British Literature, where we were supposed to re-tell some fragment of the Arthurian legend. I "re-told" the Guinevere/Lancelot romance with a twist-- it's Guinevere, Morgan le Fey and a little bit of magic....
The squire knelt before Arthur with his hands uplifted and palms together. The gesture, recently adopted for prayer, is a beautiful symbol of obedience. Yet, whereas the Lord in Heaven can only touch a soul, Arthur placed his palms over the new knight's uncalloused hands and kissed peach-fuzzed cheeks, affirming the oath of fealty.
The boy reminded me of myself-innocent, trusting... given to Arthur unwittingly, perhaps unwillingly, because others sent us. My eyes glazed over in thought. Arthur spends so much time with his men and so little with me. He brings me jewels and treats me well. Still, Arthur is apathetic to me as a human being. This lad also reminded me of Sir Gawain. Arthur loved Gawain so much that on my wedding day, when every bud in the land, even those too young to be rightly plucked, had been stuffed into the sanctuary, Arthur knighted Gawain.
When the ceremony ended, a messenger dashed from behind. "Sire, your sister approaches."
Arthur whispered to himself, "Right in time for May Day. Beltane. Just her style.
Gazing out the window, my jaw clenched in disapproval as the sorceress approached. The scent of finest venison, prepared in honor of our guest, angered me. Morgan le Fey. Damned temptress, corrupter, witch, murmured my mind. Sighing, I called for Lanette to dress me. I chose my worst gown, and bound my hair into two perfectly restrained braids. I will show this harlot the discipline a lady should have, thought I as I wrapped my braids tightly into a crown.
Morgan sat at Arthur's right hand, so I threw myself down in the chair to Arthur's left. My stare threatened to cut off Arthur's nose as I thought, She's in my seat. I studied the enemy's features. Unfashionably tanned and leathery, Morgan's skin was a sharp contrast from flame-red lips that corroborated rumors of her bizarre, unholy attractiveness. If not for the silver laurels at her temples, I would never suspected she was Arthur's senior.
Morgan smiled playfully. "What's wrong, my queen?"
I smiled back politely. Damn fairy.
Through many courses of dinner, that belief dimmed. After I had had twice as many glasses of wine, Arthur asked, "Sister, what brings you here?"
"I have foreseen a grave thing, Arthur. Lot of Orkney raises a small force against you.
"Oath breaking dog," I commented, eyes affixed to Morgan's dark locks, rising and falling with each breath. They were like a mesmerizing tide, and I wondered if it was witchcraft..
"Confront Lot, and he cannot struggle. Also, Lance will be ill soon; he will die if he fights."
"Lancelot, I leave the day after tomorrow. I do not wish you harm, the choice is yours."
When Morgan stood, she was imposing. It must be her magic , I thought, for she seemed stronger, surer, taller and nobler than me; I envied her for it.
"Good night, brother, and sweet dreams, my queen."
I felt powerful arms around me. A hand, strong and steady, wiped away a tear, caressed my cheek and rested over my heart. Warm and reassured, I rested in those arms as long, dark locks settled on my face. Maybe then I realized it was not Arthur's embrace; maybe I knew all along.
Arthur rose for breakfast. I stayed, tired and guilty for my dreams, but decided to confront my tormentor. Why then, my best dress? That did not matter, only the large, gilded cross.
Morgan still sat at Arthur's right. Angry, I moved a chair to reclaim my place. She said nothing, looking me over. Suitors of my youth, their eyes tracing the curves of my face and body, had never been so thorough. For the rest of our meal, I smiled at Arthur and fingered the cross over my rebellious heart, racing for no apparent reason.
I had heard what Morgan's ilk have said of Roodmas, but sitting beside me, she seemed polite. Still, I suspected that in her heart, she said, "Those stupid Christians, perverting May Day by replacing its symbol of life with a Roman execution device." Isn't it strange that the loving Almighty would require blood, same as the heathen we condemn? No, I cannot think that . Halfway through the service that I realized that Morgan was staring at me intensely. She had the same veneration in her eyes as I did, though I'm sure not for the cross and its sacrifice. Why does she gaze at me thus? No, I cannot think of that, either...
Against the backdrop of the domed white ceiling, Morgan's body beautiful, soft and sensual; I had a sudden revelation of why men fight over women. All of its lines met to create the perfect composition, toned just enough to create an elegant shape the eye could hardly believe. The same breeze that tickled our bare skin and played with our hair brought the sweet smell of apple blossoms, and an occasional petal. I reached up to pick the whitish-pink frailty from behind Morgan's ear, and my arm was met with the most tender kiss I had ever received, warm like sunshine and soft as a butterfly's touch.
The blushing memory of a dream seared my cheeks. I was afraid, as though Arthur might catch-what? A dream, nothing more , I begged myself to believe. Arthur woke drowsily and turned to my side of the bed. "Gwen, I must leave for battle before morning, lest Lancelot's obligation brings him with me. I cannot lead my men if I am missing your love, my queen."
"Arthur, no...." My rare pleading had only worked once, and it was not that night. I didn't want to mar the memory of-I mean I just didn't feel like....
Angrily, he mumbled, "When will you realize that I am King? You cannot refuse me!"
My mind fled. He does not give a damn what I feel.
At long last, Arthur dressed for his long ride and consciousness returned. I hope he never comes home , I thought against my will. If I could, I would kiss him good-bye and loosen the belt of that scabbard, that he might die.
In the morning, I still felt as though I had been run over by scores of horses. At breakfast, Morgan sat at the absent King's right hand. It cannot be familial attachment, only pride . "Lady Morgan, a word with you?" Just two rooms from the feasting hall, I snarled, "Witch!"
"What have I done, your majesty?"
"Besides stealing my seat? You bewitched my dreams, you damnéd fairy!"
"Certainly, I did not. Though, I could accuse you of the same."
"You most certainly did, harlot. I did not will myself to Avalon, nor your arms!"
"I did no such thing. By what right do you call me that?"
I colored with embarrassment. "They say you take as many 'friends' to bed as a man might."
Her smile lines deepened. "Friends, you say? Do you think it's true?"
Without thinking, I replied, "Very well could be. Who'd say 'no'?"
Morgan stared pointedly at me. "The only one who matters."
Deciding to ignore that, I carefully enunciated my parting words. "Stay. Out. Of. My. Seat."
That afternoon, I needed fresh air. I dozed on a blanket in the shade of the castle, but I woke while being lifted by a great blue giant. His gauntlet alone was as wide as a thirty year-old maple. When he secured me in his armpit, I drowsily observed that Morgan shared a similar fate. A great blue hand knocked upon the wooden door of the castle and the slats groaned at the touch of its knuckles. "I demand a challenge," the great monster roared.
Lancelot looked ready to fight, until his sneeze rattled his helmet. Just the same he shouted, "Who dares me, and why?"
"I am the Blue Knight. I seek the most virtuous soul in the land. If your goodness defeats me, all shall live and I will help you I am most needed. If not, one of you three will die."
The battle tore a long trail, but Lance lost at last. The victor demanded, "Who shall die?"
I did not want to be the one to doom any of us-perhaps the Lord would place the blame for murder on me. Lancelot was bleeding to death; he was the logical choice. Yet he had fought to save us all and he was not beyond recovery. I expected that Morgan would take this opportunity to end my life and exert a larger force on Arthur. "If you demand blood, let it be mine."
That is when I knew the Lady of Avalon was not what others said of her. Her heart was as good as any knight's. I felt gratitude that she saved my defender and me, but also something else.
The Blue Knight set us down. "You are the purest of the land and you will see me again when what matters most to you is at stake." He vanished, along with Lancelot's body.
"Now we won't have to carry him," she said, trying to cheer me. I was a paler than usual, staring at footsteps three times greater than those a man makes. "At the castle, they'll tend to his wounds. It is upsetting you. Please, forget it. 'Tis a bonny day, walk with me…"
"I don't suppose you spend much time outside the castle walls."
"Little time, but this is no place for a lady. Surely, there are snakes and lions seeking those whom they may devour, and few get anywhere without encountering highwaymen."
"Nay, it isn't that bad."
"There is great danger here." I hated how childish that made me sound.
"Then I shall protect you." To this endearing reply I could not answer; we walked in silence.
Upon reaching a meandering creek Morgan suggested, "Perhaps it would be best if we rest here." She laid down her mantle down sweetly. We listened to the water's babbling, but there was an awkward gap of wordlessness.
Eventually, I faced her to speak, forgetting the stray streamlet drying on my cheek. Morgan probed my face with great, grey eyes. "I can't help the tears or the pain I feel. I may as well tell the rain not to fall. Evil has taken root deep in my heart; I love someone forbidden." With a sigh, I placed my hand on Morgan's and tears welled up anew, altering her image into a mystical blur.
I could see Morgan's hesitance. "I cannot picture you evil," she said at last. "Many say that you look at Lancelot as more than your champion." I tried to cut in, but my voice was too broken. Morgan wiped away another pair of my tears and continued. "The heart does as the heart does, precious Guinevere. Does your God fault this creek for running to the sea? Of course not; 'tis only its nature. Likewise, why should He fault His living creations for pursuing what He has set down for it to seek? Love is the answer to life's 'why.' So if you love Lancelot, the wedding vows forced upon you should not quash the truth of your spirit."
Some other entity, one with greater courage than I, moved my lips. "'It is you, not him."
Her radiant smile warmed me. "I like your heart all the better, then, my queen."
Shame constricted my throat and bled every tear. What have I done ? Affection for Morgan was wrong, and admission was evil, according to the Church. I'll talk to the abbot. At the far end of the castle, I sat down in the confessional to begin. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned..."
"May the love of Our Lord be upon you; His grace and mercy are infinite."
"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee," I began reciting but it was mechanical, a function of memory, not soul. "...I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin." The priest waited, but I could not speak; sobs suspended every syllable. I calmed and said, "I accuse myself of all the sins of my life, especially of those against the sixth commandment."
"Adultery?" Captivated, the priest hunched forward, making him look even older. "But that's treason for the High Qu-- any person. Treason against the will of our Lord," he recovered.
"'Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart.'"
"Or a man, you assume? To think of any man but your husband in this way is evil. What God has brought together, may no man tear asunder. Strengthen your resolve against a wrongful deed." The priest watched me nod, then resumed. "God, the Father of mercies..." he droned, and I waited for the words I needed. "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Somewhat satisfying, absolution was not fated to last.
The stones of the mosaic beneath us allowed canals of summer air under my bare back. Her face came into focus, every detail down to the rare wrinkles and the first grey hairs. I loved the way time had softened it. My hand reached up to touch those laurels of wisdom, to rake through dark locks, and body followed without a thought. I was neither in control or out; fate was not driving me, but allowing me to come so close, letting our breath mingle, guiding our lips to meet.
We barely saw the brightly shining stars, whiter than the marble pillars holding up this open-air room, familiar to my soul but foreign to my eyes. It did not matter; it could be the furthest land because we would always know where we belonged, as long as we were together.
I woke grinning with contentment, which lasted until I remembered the amoral nature of my dream. To "avoid the near occasions of sin," I vowed to lock myself away until I regained purity of mind. That is easier said than done. Rather than purging my passion for Morgan, repetitions of "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" ad nauseum could no more change my heart than shouting at the moon could keep it from waxing.
That evening, Lanette came in with a bowl of water for washing shortly after dinner. I glanced at my reflection for a moment and before the surface could calm, the eve's first beams of moonlight played upon the ripples. Though no one believes me, I swear it true-I saw Morgan and myself sitting on the shore of the lake, watching the first dawn and last dusk of the world. Well, names and faces change, but at that moment I knew that our souls had always been connected as closely as waves are bound to the sea.
The mosaic of the zodiac stretched across the entire surface of the tower's highest landing; the eyes of those stony beasts and men were our only witnesses. The last sliver of my fear finally waned away as Morgan's lips whispered "I love you" into the sinews of my neck.
On the third night, as I recited the Hail Mary in a whisper, I heard a sound at the threshold of my chamber. I dared not look up until I breathed, "In nomine Christi, Amen." Dressed in a revealing gown, Morgan stood spotlighted by half-strength moonbeams. After being deprived of her presence for three days, I could only gape, thinking, What a creature! In that instant, all the training-yea, brainwashing-of my young years in a convent were jeopardized; my Christianity was making its "last stand" against the callings of my heart, spiritual and emotional.
I clutched my gilded cross and began another recitation. My eyes were captured territories. "Our Father, which art in Heaven," my words trailed to a mumble, but still sounded hollow. "...thy will be done... lead us not into temptation... deliver us from evil...."
She watched and waited. When I stopped, the avatar of seduction said, "Good evening."
All right, Morgan, you win. So does my heart, if not my soul. I threw aside the gilded cross and hurried to the doorway. I sunk to a kneeling position and lifted my hands together before Morgan, as I had seen knights do, hands united prayerfully, but the invocation had changed. "Queen of my heart, forgive me. By the faith of my body, I should never have rejected you, and I shall never do so again."
As Morgan lowered herself to my level, I felt ripples of terror and joy. She clasped my hands and kissed either teary cheek. Her hands were so warm and secure that I could believe that everything was going to be all right. When she kissed my lips, I forgot what could be wrong.
When my mind returned from paradise, I whispered, "The priest is coming to check on me soon." It grieved me; I never wanted to be so far from Morgan that I could not hear her breath.
Sunlight filled my window, and all the birds sang. I winked knowingly at the robin on my windowsill. I, too, understood what flight was-to be unprotected and falling, and yet above the rest of the world, away from all cares, uplifted by a breeze of a word, "love."
At breakfast, I sat in my place of honor, and Morgan sat beside me. "Lancelot, how is your condition?" I asked politely. His presence at the table again was a sign of improvement in itself.
"Much better, thanks to our good King's sister."
My face soured for a moment, and then containing myself, replied, "I am glad of it." "Our King's sister." It is not bad enough that I had to fall in love with someone other than my husband, that the Church forbids that I might love a woman, or that Morgan believes differently. Why Arthur' sister? Fie on me, four times! I glanced over at Morgan and observed, but none of those things matter, as long as you're here. Hiding my thoughts, I asked, "So, Lance, will you be at the picnic this afternoon?"
He smiled at me, but I could see frailty. "Perhaps, milady."
A picnic at Camelot seemed to be everything moved outside to enjoy the fresh air. However, I was sullen because of Morgan's absence. Lancelot approached and knelt before me in greeting, I began to ask why he was wearing a cloak in summer, but stopped and blinked. Strangely enough, I could see the illusion of Lancelot's body, and the manifestation of Morgan's spirit.
"Tell no one," she whispered as I grinned.
By late afternoon, when the mead ran out, I lay my head against Morgan-Lancelot's knee and ate the grapes the lady-knight fed me. A young page, toting a wooden sword, ran up to us and asked, "Sir Lancelot! Oh boy! Sir, do you know when the King and his knights will return?"
"Nay, why don't you go on lookout?" Morgan answered. The boy charged off.
Soon enough, servers were carrying remnants inside. "We should go in," I noted.
"Let's stay here, Gwen. I don't want to go in; I want to stay here with you."
"We can't. Someone will notice Lancelot inside, and wonder which of you is the changeling. Besides, we need not get the entire court whispering about 'Guinevere and her sworn protector.'"
"As you wish, milady," Morgan teased, kissing my hand like a proper knight.
As the great red eye of day closed, and the gibbous moon became more visible, I wished that I had not been so rude to my soul mate. After all, I had told the priest that the conflict was over; he would not visit again. I could have brought Morgan up to her room to share tea, at least.
"Stop it! Stop it, I hear someone coming," I begged half-heartedly.
Morgan's eyes sparkled with mirth. "You're not afraid of footsteps, are you?"
"Nay. I'm not afraid of footsteps, just terrified of whispers, and what they might bring." At this, I saw Morgan stiffening with fear. "What's wrong?"
"You're right; I should never endanger you like this. I am sorry," she said, turning away.
My heart shattered. "Please... don't go. I'd rather spent five minutes with you and be quartered than watch you walk away, even for a little while."
"You don't mean that."
"Yes, I do. Love does funny things."
"That it does, milady." Morgan did her quirky Lancelot impression again, kissing my hand, just as one of my attendants walked by.
"Lanette, dear? Take tomorrow off. I'm sure you could use the rest."
"Yes, milady. Goodnight, milady. Goodnight, Sir Lancelot."
"See? I might be good as dead now," I said. "But I don't care, Morgan, as long as I have you."
Rain had made the next day, which would have been dull anyway, positively dreary. I wandered about the castle with Lancelot, who had recovered partially. He insisting on pestering me about what news he had missed. It was not until mid-afternoon when Lancelot retired.
Wandering the castle halls, I sought Morgan. At last, studying the purple sky, I found her.
"Guinevere," she said. Just the way she said it filled me with warmth.
"I don't have your silent feet," I replied playfully, bliss filling me at the sight of my beloved.
"Come here," Morgan's hushed voice beckoned. She set her hands on my shoulders, guided me in front of her, and pointed. "See the little dot?"
I nodded, rubbing my crown of braids against Morgan's shoulder, loosening strands.
"That's Venus. The planet was named for a goddess of love, and viewing it is a very good sign." For hours, she told me of all the constellations while I simply enjoyed her touch.
Rather than part, I suggested that Morgan should accompany me for tea. One cup led to another, and when the pot was empty, the last excuse was gone. We had sipped slowly, talking more than drinking. That one pot had lasted us until the pregnant-looking moon stood at the very top of the sky, unconquerable. Up there, no one could touch it; no man might shake his fist and demand that the moon be duller, or smaller, or a different shade. It ruled the sky in majesty, and there could not even be any god that mortals imagined that could condemn it. Drinking the last drop, I mentioned, "I've always seen you wearing that brooch, but I don't know what it is."
"It is just moonstone, though it seems unusual, doesn't it? Here," Morgan held it out to me. "See for yourself." That was soon discarded, along with society's rules. Kissing, the world around us ceased to exist, which is why neither of us was aware of Arthur's return until we heard his voice.
Flickering candle in hand, he was practically standing over us when his cracked utterance alerted us of his presence. "Guinevere, my pure beauty-nay, filthy whore." By the time he could clearly see Morgan, her guard had already raised subconsciously. "Lancelot, you thrice-consigned filthy bastard! Damn you both! By my life, I never thought that the two purest souls in my kingdom could... never thought that my most trusted knight and my beloved bride would... nay, nay, nay...."
I thought Morgan was torn, until our eyes met. Even if you would never expect me to be honest, Guinevere, I have to. There was no way that I could abandon you now. Her eyelashes fluttered closed as she broke the spell. "I'm sorry, brother. Truly."
Arthur looked away and masked a laugh of astonishment with a cough. "Though you both have been treacherous beyond my ability to speak it, you are both very important to me. My wife, stop your tears. Sister, do not fear me. I will never avenge this betrayal, for my heart is dead."
I threw my arms around Arthur, knowing that he had always been such a good friend, though I never loved him. Morgan found it convenient to search for her brooch, and not see us embrace.
I was respectably clad also by the time Mordred entered with sword drawn. "My lord? I heard you shout. But where is the treacherous Lancelot?" We stood silent. Fear coursed through my veins. Mordred stepped closer to his mother, as if to ask what her business was in all this.
I had to act fast, or the law might destroy Morgan. "He left. Through the window."
Mordred dashed out the door. The children of Ygerne stared in disbelief at me, my very first lie still fresh on my tongue. Even as guilt began to register, I explained, "To save the life of a beloved, one manages." I turned to Arthur and pleaded, "My life is forfeit, my lord, but please spare Morgan."
With freshly chopped wood piled up to my knees, I wished for the frightful thunderstorms of the last two days. A few commoners shouted to bring out Lancelot, but Arthur claimed his best friend had fled, though the King knew where Lancelot was, detained in the dungeon for his own protection. Who then, was riding from the hills, in Lancelot's armor? I saw the glint of shining metal from afar. Maybe, thought I, this is only escapism; my legs are burning, I cannot take this...
Suddenly, the crowd hushed in alarm as the Blue Knight manifested, man sized. "I demand an ordeal for Guinevere's innocence. Arthur shall fight me." The blue entity drew a sword eloquently. It eased my heart to know he would call off the duel at surrender, and Arthur would live.
I looked off to the hills. Yes, someone was approaching. As the Blue Knight captivated everyone's attention with battle, my savior dismounted. I gasped, "Morgan!"
She only smiled, and picked the knots cutting into my wrists. "Love, could you see about the fire, first?" Morgan looked at the fire scornfully and the flames died. She helped me limp away.
Later, Arthur's doctor treated my burns, then Arthur smuggled us back out of the castle at sundown. He gave us two of his best horses, saying, "Please, go."
"Thank you, my hus-um, your Majesty," I fumbled.
"Do not thank me or return. I am out of mercy. For the rest of my days, be gone."
Morgan's lips twisted to withhold irony. "You will not see me until it relieves you to do so."
Arthur's last words to us hung heavily on my heart as we fled that night. We urged our horses on through the next day, and took refuge at Glastonbury early in the next evening.
There, Morgan discovered that Lancelot was lodging as well. "I am truly sorry, Lancelot. There is no way to offset the dirtying of your name, but is there anything I can do for you?"
When I tried to chime in, he said, "In truth, I wished to go questing but I could not leave Arthur. You have set me free. Now I set you free." Indeed, he did. I slept like a newborn babe.
The next thing I remember, Morgan was cradling me, on a barge. I slept again, and did not stir until I realized how strange it was that Morgan had the strength to carry me. Maybe it was just something about Morgan's home, the isle between worlds. Upon the crown of the great hill stood a magnificent tower. I remembered how old superstitions-old wisdom?-held hills as places closer to the spirit world. With a tower such as this, touching the sky, it had to be important, even without the energy in the air and a processional path humming with power. Yet, the things that mattered were honeybees, apple trees and moonlight that welcomed us as the royal couple of Avalon. I felt its magic strengthening my legs. "I can walk," I noted.
"Yes, but I won't let you." The tower went up forever, even higher by foot than the eye had imagined. These walls of stone seemed older than humanity itself, and every step my soul mate took on the never-ending spiral staircase resonated whispers of "welcome home."
Quite a way up, the exterior wall fell away. Beyond the stairs, there was only the blessed isle and the lake. Below us, a robin danced on air. In her arms, I really am flying.
"Pretty moon," I mentioned, almost awake now.
"It never wanes here," she replied, reaching the top. Until Morgan put me down and I could stand on it with my own feet, I could not believe it. Everything was as I dreamt it, even the view.
While our clothes fell, and obscured the detailed mosaic of Pisces, one timeless soul said to another, "I love you."
Her strong and steady hand wiped away the last tear, caressed my cheek, meandered to rest over my heart. Warm and reassured, I rested in her arms as long, dark locks settled on my face.
|Will Freeman||Original Works||Main Index|