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Volume I, Number 1 (Summer 2006)
ISSN 1934-4324

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Guinevere's Tale

Safron Elsabeth Courter

Apolen and Diolen,

A year since Igraine's crossing and the resurrection of yourselves and Arthur has passed and even now I remember those days as though a dream. I wonder at how different the world may have been if you remained dead, let alone Arthur. But so few know what happened after the battle, after Mordred and Arthur fell upon each other, after all the blood. I have not been able to tell you either how it all came to be, but now is the time for the mourning period for Igraine's sacrifice has been honored. In memory to her and in celebration of your lives and Arthur's, I offer my story of those events that came to pass a year ago when it was spring and death had come. I write this for you both and surrender it to your hands as clay. Turn this tale into a haunting memory that lives upon the music filled air that you both breathe and may it take root in the hearts of the women and men who are blessed by your song.


It was one year ago that Mordred and Arthur battled on our land and it had been laid to waste. Arthur and Mordred both died that night one year ago this spring, along with many, many other men. Any man, whether he was a warrior or not dressed for battle, including you two. The courage to take up a sword and be prepared to fight is breathtaking and horrifying. (I still remember the smell of blood that rose from the drenched fields suspended in the damp air.) Something seemed to hang in the balance in the guise of this battle between father and son. This flesh and blood war became the embodiment through which the balance of darkness and light lived. There was so much blood. The battle ended with the deaths of Arthur and Mordred. After Arthur and your bodies were brought into the castle, Igraine came to me among the women's wails and the men's agonizing screams of pain. We both wept in each other's arms, surrounded by the horrors of war. She said to me, "Guinevere, I am leaving for Hecate's temple. I must go. I think there is something that can be done, but it will take three nights. I cannot tell you now, don't ask. Just trust me and stay here. Stay by Arthur's side, tend to those who are in need and wait for my return." She held my hands and nervously looked out into the night sky. I agreed to all she asked and we parted. She spent three nights in solitude, (or so it would have appeared if anyone had followed her — though no one dared.) in prayer to the Goddess. She had entered the earth's womb, through the passage that admitted only one. What she endured in there I know not, but our need was great enough.

I remained by Arthur's still body all three of those nights that Igraine was gone. I was unable to bear the solitude, even though being with Arthur's lifeless body filled me with the greatest grief I have ever endured. I thought myself dead those nights, and at the same time wished to be. Paradox creeps into our minds when reality becomes less real. Everything else disappeared, forgotten in the miasma of my fear and horror, including Igraine and the Goddess. Morgana spent those nights by your blood stained bodies. (Do you remember seeing her face as you awoke?) Incantations flowed endlessly from her lips over your bodies, but you would not stir. She believed her magic could help, but all Merlin had taught her failed. No prophecy or oracle had ever spoken of Arthur's death in this way. And it was believed that you were immortal. (It still is...although perhaps that will now change?) Your deaths were unnatural, against the fabric of destiny and time, and yet you were dead. No one could understand. Gawain visited me in Arthur's death chamber that first night and told me that a mist was gathering over the castle, and it covered the land to the sea, hiding the bodies and the blood. It was thick with ruin, he said and he covered his face with his own injured and bloody hands and wept. He did not come to me in that room again.

For three nights there was a silence caught by the air that haunted all those who lived. The battle cries that once filled the air, driving the women mad and the men into fury, had stopped. Before this deadly silence came upon us, we would have given this half living for that which was past. Arthur's death was beyond unbearable. No one could speak of it for words failed them and imagination herself could find no ground in which to seed. Everyone walked in a veiled stupor, their hearts leaden and their tongues still. (Your deaths shook the foundations of the court's soul.) Your loss was as great as Arthur's for something sacred seemed defiled. It wasn't just the loss of life, but what you stood for, the exquisite play of the darkness and light embodied in your music, your skin and your souls. It was gone, destroyed and it could not be fathomed. It was as if we had lost the Grail, the failure of which was ours and now suffered the punishment. We all searched for meaning and found nothing but the growing sensation of a monstrous chaos that kept coming nearer, feeding on the pieces of all our lives that were falling apart.

At times while in Arthur?s chamber I would look away from him and my eyes would rest upon the cold metallic gleam of Excalibur. Its ribbons of silver embedded in the blade moved like light over still water. They pierced my eyes with its wretched light. I recall wondering how now it suffered the very fate it bestowed upon its victims, eternal silence. Abandoned by the hot hand that wielded its wild song, abandoned by the hot blood from which it fed, it sang no more. And I was glad that it was silent, not taking life and yet I was afraid of it and what it's silence really meant. But that was with me each moment regardless of the image or meaning - Arthur was dead.

On the fourth day I left Arthur's side and returned to my rooms, to wait for Igraine. I remember standing at my window for a long time, watching the heavy grey clouds scuttle across the sky, moving as though they were being pursued. I felt as though I were on a precipice, balancing between this and a phantom world, neither or which would claim or release me. (This is an odd memory, one that lives still in my body. I remember when my attendant left, the moaning of the heavy door meeting the lintel frightened me and I ran over to it and with a shaking hand tried the latch. I thought I had been shut in my coffin - but the door opened easily. Why did I fear death if, in some way, it was what I wanted?)

Alone in my room, left to my thoughts, the imagined scenarios and unanswerable questions... how they filled the empty spaces. How could it be? How could he have let Mordred get so close to him? But there were no answers and no one to turn to and this nothingness was infuriating. I could feel rage welling up inside me. I clenched my hands and screamed, filling the room with naked sound. When my voice broke I collapsed onto the floor and lay there for a while breathing, exhausted. The moments that followed came like soft clarity, after the rage and swell. Slowly I pulled my knees up to my chest and cradled myself, laying my head upon my knees. I began running my hand over the carpet, the fibers gave way beneath my fingertips. What was there now? I couldn't say anything to myself about Arthur. He was dead, and I loved him and he was dead. Over, done, without child, king, husband. Just me, here, alone. (My heart contracted, leaping into my throat choking me. I then heard Arthur's voice. My skin awoke, a web of fire shot out from the center of my thumping heart and spread down my spine and over my arms. I could feel his presence, and I was ready to see him, ready to touch him. But?but I didn?t open my eyes. I knew what this was. This was pain, this was memory, this was hope, all coming down upon me with a vengeance. I spread myself out upon the floor again, my hand found a chair leg, which I held onto for fear that I would finally fall off the precipice. I kept my eyes closed, I could not bear to look at anything at all, or to place myself amidst such meaningless.)

Hours passed and it was evening when Igraine came to my room. I had been watching the bonfires like small islands burning in the heavy night. The fires fierceness and authority had mesmerized me. But I knew it was Igraine when my door opened and we ran into each other?s arms. "Guinevere, come, take your cloak, we have to go. Are you ready?" She was standing there, her weariness doing little to hide the energy that centered and guided her. (And I realized, in that moment that she stood looking at me, expectant and prepared to walk the path set for her by her vision quest with the Goddess that I had been drowning in my grief, lost in my own world that excluded everyone. I forgot her, not in the physical sense - I knew she existed, but that she was, and had been doing something. It is hard to express. The darkness of grief obliterated all sense of life and action beyond myself, beyond the small space I inhabited. Somehow it seemed that everything stopped and nothing would happen. I had even forgotten the Gods. Like waking from a dark dream that does not want to release you, where you fight to open your eyes, move your limbs and relinquish the images that haunted you, I stood there. I was in shock.) Igraine looked at me quizzically, something in my eyes betrayed my loss. Something in me replied, "Yes. I've been waiting. Where are we going?" Igraine wrapped her dark red cloak around her, "to Avalon. Someone is meeting us at the crossing." (As I clothed myself for the night journey I noticed on her hand a glittering ring. It was Uther's ring. Strange thoughts swept through my mind, and I asked myself, would I soon wear the ring of my dead husband? Would Morgan weave rings with locks of your hair? Woven together, they would make a striking ring, I thought.)

We left the castle by the north gate and began walking towards the sea, past the scarred fields, past the bonfires, past the great forests that were but blackened silhouettes against the sky. The nights had been ominously dark, the moon had refused to rise and so everything was lost to the night. Nature was out of its rhythm and would not right itself. We passed the entrance into our sacred grove and I wished we were headed there, our place of solace. There is a single linden tree that grows in the center and this was the place where Igraine, Morgana and I would either come together or alone. (It was there that Igraine and Morgana tended to my grief for every child I lost, where the secrets Morgana learned were pressed into her memory.) Men were never brought here, this was our sacred space for all the living and dying that happened in our worlds. But we did not stop and headed still towards the sea. We were silent most of the journey for the words Igraine had to tell me required solid ground. But we held hands the entire way and that was enough to carry us through the silence. My body moving, my hand in another's, the journey brought me closer back to the life I had forgotten and I felt myself returning, breathing, eyes open.

The night sky was surrendering itself slowly to light when we arrived at the sea's edge. The wind was calm but the sea was dark steel, and the mist still clung around the haggard coast. We stood looking out to sea and I turned to her, ready. "Guinevere, what I need to tell you is wonderful, and yet..." She looked away from me, and focused over my shoulder, looking again towards the ocean. "Tell me," I said and took her hand in mine. Igraine looked back into my face, her blue eyes were bright amidst the shadows. "Guinevere, tomorrow Arthur will rise. Apolen and Diolen too, will open their eyes." Stunned, I threw questions out without pause. "What? What do you mean? What happened in the cavern?" Igraine smiled and said, "Hecate came to me. She said the lives of Arthur and the bards would be returned if a sacrifice was made and I swore to her I would make any sacrifice she asked. Hecate said that a mother's sacrifice, a woman's sacrifice is the most powerful and she swore their lives would be retuned for it." I was bewildered and at the same moment I knew what she meant. But the heart and mind go their own ways. Igraine was still smiling, her eyes intense. "You know what this means Guinevere. At sunrise Hades will be meeting us here to take me to Avalon, for I have been allowed to take Arthur, Diolen and Apolen's place in the underworld." The darkness swirled around us and I saw red sparkling lights in the ether. "What? You? How?" Still the questions, the chattering, the disbelieving rational mind. Igraine's age never took hold on her beautiful face, but now the lines of her years finally blossomed. She said to me, "Remember this Guinevere, a woman's sacrifice gathers power, and a mothers sacrifice to the goddess never goes unanswered." "You are going to sacrifice yourself for their lives" I whispered, more afraid now then I had been those last few nights alone. Her sacrifice frightened me, her power, strength and love stunned me. I could not hold it all, it was too much and I began weeping like I never had in my life. This was the divine, the sacredness of humanity and it was a shattering, humbling experience. Igraine took me into her arms and smoothed the hair out of my face.

"Arthur will be alive when Hades takes me in his arms. You will not be losing me, I will always be with you. But Arthur needs to come back and so do Apolen and Diolen. Something greater than me, than this death, is afoot and I am needed to insure its life. The twins are the only way that harmony through balance can be achieved and Arthur must come back, the King must live. Without them, this world we know will lose its connection to the universe, to the Divine and all will be thrown back into darkness, like Mordred's heart. You are the one to bring me to Hades, you are the one to exchange life for life because you have been chosen to be witness to this sacrifice and to remember the ways of the feminine and live a life that honors that." I watched Igraine's throat, bare and white, moving with the words that it released. "This is the most sacred act. Guinevere, this is an honoring of the Goddesses power and compassion. This is the oldest and most potent of ritual, nothing is more powerful than a woman's sacrifice for rebirth." Her words at once struck me to the depths of my soul and ignited my spirit. I felt the ground of the sacred that lived within me come back to life and I felt it changing me, because I was remembering. "Hecate has sworn you safe passage." I closed my eyes and thought for a moment. This was life, this was sacrifice and this was a return to our sacred ways. The fear in my body was beginning to grow smaller, quieter, cooling under the presence of a greater fire. Igraine looked into my eyes and said, "You will never be the same, you will be more magnificent then you have ever been before. Sacrifice is power Guinevere, this is feminine power. Feel it in you, even though it smells like fear now, it will change. Trust yourself." The sun began to rise and we watched the sky and the sea.

Finally, as the clouds began to spread like the wings of great red and purple phoenixes, a small boat carrying two men appeared. The boatman brought the craft to the land's edge, deftly maneuvering it and keeping it along shore as Hades disembarked. There was an aura about him that glowed, as if the air around him was different, more potent, protean. For all the darkness of his clothes and features, his eyes were the lightest green. Those eyes of his were fixed upon Igraine. She held herself with the most exquisite poise, her pride and her resolution made her more radiant than ever before. Her power expressed in the way the wind lifted her hair like silver flames against the dawning sky.

"Your Highness," Hades said and bowed before her and then turned to me and bowed again. Igraine held her hands out to me and I grasped them afraid she would suddenly vanish. "Guinevere, now" she said. I looked at Igraine's hands covering my own and I could feel her compassion and grace flowing into me. Slowly, the grey weight I had carried for days on end began to fall away. Layer after layer of grief and shame and fear began to dissolve. My eyes filled with tears but I began speaking anyway. (With great effort I turned towards Hades and forced myself to raise my head. I was still afraid and ashamed somehow. Our souls are too complex to comprehend, yet we feel it all.) Still holding one of Igraine's hands I began to speak. "I...I, Guinevere," and I looked down again, faltering in this task and feeling weakness come over my heart. But the radiance of Igraine, her energy, her words ringing in my ears, came to life and were growing and my heart responded by beating quickly, it was no longer in fear but in pride. I was chosen, blessed to be a part of this sacrifice. And I was here, holding it within my mortal body and immortal soul, bringing it into being. Fear is no way to live, or die, and this knowing released me. "I bring to you Queen Igraine," I said, and I straightened my shoulders and felt the sun warming my back as I looked Hades in his handsome and patient face. "She comes to you as a mother's sacrifice for her son, a woman's sacrifice for the restoration of balance, death for rebirth." Like silver light illuminating every thread of my soul, grace found me. And though I began to cry, each tear was dissolving my bondage to fear. "Will you, as the Goddess has promised, take Igraine into your arms and return King Arthur, Diolen and Apolen, to life" Hades arms spread wide. "Yes" he replied and he embraced Igraine kissing her full on the lips.

I stood there in awe and saw everything very clearly for the first time in months, or perhaps I never saw life as it was now. Everything was alive. Igraine took from around her neck a silver necklace with three moonstones set into it and clasped it around my neck. The stones rested upon my breast and they felt warm and heavy. She said to me then, "It is through the goddess that men rise again, all balance is brought back to the axis through this exchange. Never forget the power of the feminine, nor that which lies in a woman's heart. I love you." Igraine hugged me again and kissed my forehead. She took a deep breath and smiling, turned away. "I have my seven necklaces. I am ready," I heard Igraine say to Hades.

Igraine did not turn back. Stepping into the boat besides Hades, she kept her eyes upon the shores of Avalon. Her silver hair and dark red cloak fluttering in the sea wind was the last thing I saw. When she disappeared, I turned away. All of a sudden, I heard music in the air, and I wondered, already? My heart pounded as fast as my feet, and I ran to Camelot.


These are my memories. May you both live long the second time.




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