Avalon | Teen Ink

Avalon

June 11, 2011
By neo99, Sanborn, New York
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neo99, Sanborn, New York
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Favorite Quote:
"A man's heart be not measured by his words, but by the weight of those deeds he carries unspoken." -Percival, "Sacred Force", Act III


Author's note: My first real shot at original fiction. I hope you enjoy it.

The author's comments:
This story was really meant to be read in one sitting, so I apologize in advance if this story seems choppy. Anyways, King Arthur...he is old now. He is meeting Mordred's forces at Avalon which is one last stand for Camelot and the whole system as he knows it... Arthur is reflecting on his life so far in this first chapter. He feels that his life's failure is measured by the dissolving of the Round Table. This experience humbles him; he is just beginning to realize that true power is not obtained by means of brute force alone.

It was called the Isle of Apples...but as he looked about him he saw no sign of the red budding fruit. Only the silent tread of autumn leaves scattered across the wind.

Avalon.

No apples rolled onto his feet, for there were only the stones now, and the cold, bright white sun.

Soon, he knew, soon those bodies would be stretched out underneath that bright autumn sky like depressed leaves, torn from the stems and laid down before some eternal eye, unblinking, as does deliciously tragic art, within its own brand of cosmic detachment.

Arthur looked up, snapping shut the visor over his eyes. In the cold of the day the chain mail beneath his heavy armor seemed to rattle and dance, chattering irritatedly upon his weathered skin. Today, his very old bones seemed hardy, yet broken. Quite broken. He looked up. Something of his blood grew chilled with the passing of the lonely autumn wind.

Excalibur sat in his hand. The blade was sacred--born of enchantment--and today it shook in its scabbard, perhaps unnerved at the prospect of returning to its tumultuous place of origin. Arthur placed a hand over the hilt, lingering, and the sword obeyed; Excalibur was never nervous.

The isle was the last reminder of all that was lost, and of that which was yet to be gained. The bright white sun seemed a maddening round disk shining in his metal eyes, spinning so that the light fractured and shot out in a spectrum of glittering rays.

Like the light of the Avalon sun, such became the Round Table, each soul sitting at it becoming so vehement in his own nature that, once the wheels of treason and unrest had been turned, Arthur could not pull down again on the hub, becoming stuck in the throes of passion and denial. He was destined to be the centrality upon which the chaos pivoted as faces came and faces went. Like a distraught, well-meaning father, Arthur had tried to instill some notions of peace, mercy, and justice into his men. In doing so he was as one who tries to stimulate a dulled horse to run. Peace, mercy, and justice had instead become fragmented, twisted to each man's earthly need, and shot out into the world as broken, hollow arrows of righteousness and justification.

Here, Avalon was the intersection, the tiny Isle of Apples surrounded on all sides by black English waters. It was the realm of witches, unspoken magicks and forgotten transgressions. All of the sins, blunders and ignorances of Arthur's life came to a crashing convergence here: his command by the arrangement of too many voices, and not nearly enough insight; Morgause's deception and the birth of Mordred; the fateful meetings of the Queen and the Knight of the Lake; his own sickly oblivion, leaving many of these personal matters to fate; the slow but certain dissemination of the kingdom; his moral folly in pursuing the Grail, only to lose all hope of true prosperity; Lancelot held at Joyous Gard in Northumberland; Mordred's treason, calculation, and the matter of the forged letter; Gawain's spasms of civil destruction; Guinevere fled to the Tower of London; his refusal of her papal-induced apology. The primary emotion propelling his life forward had been the boon and bane of rage.

A man's life is as candlelight. Conception is set forth by the striking of the match, ignited by the might of initial force. The young flame, growing, is sustained by the warmth of the bearer, and, at the right conversion of time, transferred to the wick of the candle, where it burns long and hard. Slowly, so slowly, the wax drips down the sides of the glass container, spreading in influence as ringlets of wisdom emanate with age...such emotion is what fuels the apparent power of youth. But as a man grows older he loses some of his fuse. It is then that he may begin to realise the core power hidden in simplicity, truth, honesty, and, above all, forgiveness.

Arthur had never forgiven himself. He was as the candle that tried too hard to burn, pushing its own little light against the might of the seemingly endless darkness...in the very opposition of darkness he had sputtered, for he was, indeed, still human. But with the passage of time, he had learned to be as a quiet flame, a spark that dies out right before the night dissolves into final void. He was a special flame: the great, quiet fire within him dared to burn eternally, however faint the echoes were in the darkness, for, as the night dissolved, one may have looked up unto the cosmos. There, the memory of light flickered like a comet tail streaking in faded brilliance across the black canvas. To the insensitive observer this night may have seemed to remain the same, but, if one focused properly, slowly, the small single streak permanently scarred the darkness.

***

The author's comments:
Mordred is Arthur's illegitimate son. He commits the ultimate treason: that is, declaring war against the kingdom and eventually killing the King. However, there is a transferrence of some kind of fatherly love from Arthur to Mordred, though Mordred rejects it.

War is nothing but another word for nothing: fought for nothing, told for nothing, fueled by nothing but the utter folly of nothing at all.

War: detonations of arrows on trees flared. Bits of sword, fire, and steel clashed and crumpled; homes blazed as Knights and villains burned, and stone holdings collapsed in echoes of booming thunder; driven mad with fire and dictated by the principle of survival, the masses of the figureheads Arthur and Mordred crashed into one another, some glaring at the wooden sun, and declared, by the might of teeth and projectiles, Only I am the pendulum by which it swings.

Even before the war had begun there was the memory of his death residing in the future of his mind, born somewhere in a dream, or, perhaps, many dreams: buried beneath chalk-silver grass, where in the winter white snow-blossoms twinkle with the last early morning shades of sunlight. Over the soft curve of the land laid his gravestone, quite blank and pale, smelling many times of the hot residues of candle wax and incensed by the weight of subtle memory.

War: fought for nothing, disguised in the noble tresses of peace and dignity. Neither side truly knew which was to come of it, but in the end the mad tempest of men had cleared in the autumn light, reduced now to all but two.

To claim, even implicitly, that Arthur and Mordred stared at one another would be to cross the line of animalistic treason, for across the vast expanse of emptied land a great understanding passed between them. It was without words, voices, or senses, a sea of pure thought. It was as if no armies of men had separated them. Like two polarities, the electricity in the air between them rose, burning all in its path as tempest waves of heat blazed from one electrode to the other. As they walked the paths of the splintered field, both men in that moment had ceased to be mere men; now a dualism was to meet; now god and devil were to clash, without declarations, without reasons, without civilties, and without reserve. It was as abolsute as the irresistible force meeting the immovable object: wordless. Worldless.

Mordred was a young commander, the eternal traitor chiseled in green iron; compared to the wisened King he was only a boy, but an extraordinary, volatile boy he was...the boy was fire; the boy could burn towers with but one wayward glance. Whenever he approached, Arthur could feel metal rising in his blood, the iron of his breath pounding hurriedly against the valves of his heart.

Arthur and Mordred: filing and magnet.

Mordred removed his helmet with a whispering hiss. White-gold specks of hair matted against a head of chain mail draped a young, hardy, resolute face. Calm turquoise pupils contracted and burned maliciously in the Avalon sun, gleaming a familiar but not too distant light.

Arthur and Mordred: father and son. Bearer and fruit.

“Father,” smiled Mordred, spitting out the word in a white mouthful of teeth. “I am come to slay thee.”

Arthur said nothing, filled at once with grace and love; for, despite the unassailable shell of black metal encasing him, he was old. He knew he had little else in his tired spirit to begrudge his blood.

"Do you understand me, Father?"

Arthur nodded. Unspoken waves of electricity passed between them again.

“Hate me, Father,” Mordred spat, drawing up his sword. “Hold me in your bitterness. I am your enemy, the wellspring of your misery. Let me know your true sin; know that I am the bane of your existence.”

Arthur remained still, complacent at his standpoint.

“{i}Hate me{/i}!” Mordred screamed, his voice ringing in the valleys before sinking into the wind.

A long moment waited for them, with no living soul to hear and bear judgment.

“If love is my true sin,” said Arthur finally, “then deal me my punishment accordingly.”

There was something of a grimace emerging from the boy's hardy face, then a bodily utterance of father and son as both fell onto the other's sword.

In those days a man was more or less the instrument of his sword. To be paired with a sacred blade suggested the fine skill and caliber of the man, not the other way around. Crafted to an excruciatingly fine point, Excalibur dealt many enemies merciful deaths. It drew in, pierced a vital point, drew out, and sheathed in all of one motion. Witnessing it from afar or in close quarters did nothing to lessen its technical precision. Thus proceeded Mordred’s demise, quick and painless, as if the boy had been stung by a pinprick before being put to sleep.

However, Mordred knew not of such graceful execution, bless the poor boy, and his sword slammed its blunt edge into the hollow cage of Arthur’s armor.

The author's comments:
Sir Lucan the Butler is the second to last one to survive the battle. However, he is accidentally killed when Arthur hugs him too hard, and his innards spill out...pretty gruesome stuff...

Arthur sat down atop Mordred's body, crumpling like a soldier-doll, surveying the quiescence of the end of the world. All about him faces of man and foe were mangled together, meshed in horrific masses of metal and limbs. Bodies were twisted and eyes were vacant. Men were strewn, tossed about the field like childrens' toys. They seemed wooden now, now that each had been deprived of the light of life; now family and enemy laid together as if lovers, neither never truly knowing the other's folly. Spears and rapiers and daggers and chain mail were ripped apart and spread out, as the King had predicted, before the benediction of heaven. Now, sitting in the valley of silver steam and silence and stillness, all of them became worthy. All were now ready to be received.

It was too beautiful. Arthur choked on his silence, feeling as if his head were being crushed by the sunlight burning in his eyes. Hoisting himself up higher amid the mass, the iron penetration in his side blazed in blood. He let out a cry of exasperated relief—relieved that he indeed did feel pain—and sank deeper into the pit of dead, pulling himself down with his back on the ground, down to the brotherhood in which he truly belonged.

Arthur could not see his visor. As he attempted to reach it he saw a cloud bouncing around in the white Avalon sky.

The King blinked, glancing up. He noticed that his armor had ceased quaking, and he was grateful for the temporary peace.

He closed his eyes and waited.

Minutes later, after his unvoiced prayers had dissolved on his tongue, one came to him, reaching for him into the ether, steadily but painfully climbing the mountaintop where he lay; this one, his name was Sir Lucan the Butler. Sweet, sweet, sweet Sir Lucan, Arthur thought, the last one alive.

To be alive is to be in a trance. It is only when the end of the trance draws near that one sees how to reawaken. Awakening from life's dream is not a memory, rather, but a lost knowledge, a flood of wisdom welling unspokenly within the heart. At the moment of departure all of True Nature is revealed openly to the soul, thus activating the gate; the soul transcends its earthly bonds and transmutes to the cosmic design...

Together they sat, side by side, very quietly, and still, watching each other die quite peacefully. Each assumed the responsibility of supervising the progress of the other. If one drifted away, the other brought him back. The religious procession of watching and waiting would continue once more.

"You are doing it wrong," said Lucan after a while.

Arthur sighed.

"What am I doing that is wrong?" he asked.

"You are sitting on Mordred, my King," replied Lucan without a hint of humour in his voice. "You seem to have mistaken him for a chair."

Arthur looked wearily at him. "Well?"

"Well, I want a chair too."

Arthur laughed at this the best he could. He chuckled at the folly of war, of the idiocy of men...in the same breath, the mirth swelled, and over the corners of his upturned mouth twin silver streaks ran down from the ashes of his eyes.

"Arthur," Lucan said quietly.

Gone. Gone. All of them were gone. Everything he had ever known, or thought, or cherished, or hated...was gone. The entire world, built upon a fragile infrastructure of hope, had collapsed into his nothingness. Even his enemy son, the self-proclaimed "bane" of his existence, was erased, Mordred the enemy...

Pride. There is a reason why it is the first deadly sin. Beneath the bitter heart of it all, Mordred was only a proud boy, Arthur thought. He was a boy given too much ambition and cunning, a poor boy with no home, the heir of a blood he could not control, a poor, proud boy, destined to be another pawn of some indefinite, unrelenting game...The boy was proud. The boy had only been proud. He was too proud to submit to Morgause, too ashamed to reciprocate Arthur's love. Now, within the Avalon mist, the father was sitting on top of his only son's metal chest--cold and iron as rock, the unblinking hardy face staring almost triumphantly into oblivion--and the gross stupidity of this thing called the Universe hit him hard, realising that he was, simply, no one. Arthur was no longer a King, title, husband, friend, ally, rival, father, foe, or significance; he was just another broken human, just another prey lying atop a pile of butchered meat, accepted fully by neither death nor life, nor heaven nor hell--

”Luc--Lucan—“ he choked.

Sitting up, Arthur wrapped the butler in his arms, absorbing the warmth of living human presence. His eyes filled with film as he held on, pressing his arms around the man's neck with all of his love's crying might, his dear Sir Lucan the Butler, in this simple embrace.

Someone lived.

Someone lived; someone lived. It caused the King much joy, this simple, natural procession, the continuation of precious, precious life...

”Uhn,” said Lucan.

He looked down at the man's open wounds, gurgling with mixtures of happiness and shock. Left to the mercy of his sins, Arthur buried his head and wept in dear Sir Lucan's dead lap, watching the innards of the stomach unravel on the ground and glitter crimson-black in the indifferent white light.

***

The author's comments:
Bors, being the last one left, is entrusted to throw Arthur's sword Excalibur into a lake. Arthur believes that a lady in the lake will retrieve it, and that this act will bring him some kind of closure.

For reasons known to none but the divine playwright, there are those whom play neither a central nor a peripheral role in this script known as Life. Some become heroes; others become villains; entire choruses are slated to die at the hands of said heroes and villains, for no other purpose than to underline the meaningless of life, fulfilling, per the tragic musings of Macbeth, the tale told by an idiot. But there are a few whom commit neither miracle nor transgression, whom are neither eloquent nor vulgar, but a magnificent performance of both. These few, these precious few, they are the very base upon which towers stand. They are the salt of the earth, formless, stainless, pure. They are a bright, but sadly dying, breed; they are the stuff of burning legends, the fundamental hope of every great era, the fortune of the common man and the danger to the powerful...let us not pity nor praise them, for they know naught the value of such humanly opposition. Let us, instead, watch them in awe as they walk their paths; let us again be reminded of our true humanity as they vanish into the realms of time.

The Knight Bors rose alone out of the masses, falling to his knees beside his sweat and blood, broken but alive. Looking at the sun, he hunched over and promptly vomited on his bloodied shield, swollen and flushed, his shoulders pulsing in an embarrassed scrubbing motion. This bodily deed being complete, he shivered in his hot chain mail; he felt as though something went horribly awry. His script as a Knight was not yet complete. Feelings of ugliness quickly set in. He, unlike his venerable brethren, was not chosen, not holy enough to die...because something of this life was left unfinished, imperfectly made, or wrongly done. Bors only desired now to fulfill it and die honourably. There was, after all, nothing else for a Knight to do.

Arthur’s head shifted slightly, nestled in Lucan’s spilled lap.

"Bors," he said, blinking.

"M--" Bors began as he heard the light beckon in the wind.

"Bors," said Arthur, despondent at both Lucan's fragile death and his own inability to rise and greet the sweet living human. "Oh, Bors."

Bors gazed upon his shadow.

“Lucan?” he asked.

The voice that responded broke, a slow, guttural noise resonating from the depths of the chest, is if it were speaking underwater.

“De...Dea...”

“He is dead,” Bors finished.

Out of the ether of the resulting silence a worn, rough hand lifted out of its gauntlet and wrapped long white fingers around the hilt of a sword. The knuckles throbbed green, bloodless with trembling. Arthur's hand, the only piece of him still fully alive, used a great heavy strength to lift the sword from its scabbard and offer it forward. Bors, upon witnessing this great effort, kindly lifted Excalibur from the failing arm.

Arthur said: "My sword...Bors...take it."

The Knight looked up, clutching the hilt of the blade before him, away from his body as if it were a venomous snake.

"There is a lake near here," said Arthur, "You know it. Please go, sir. Cast Excalibur into the lake."

Bors shook his head.

“But it is yours, my King,” Bors said. “I cannot do it.”

“Bors,” Arthur said.

Bors, watching the rise and fall of his breath, hung his head as Arthur slipped again from consciousness.

“Take m',” Arthur began. “Take m' sword. Throw it into th'... water; for't shall be retrieved by a Lady...yes, yes, Nimue, the Lady...the sword...shall be...received... Here. Take none shame...in y' eyes, and go.”

***

The author's comments:
Bors fails three times to cast Excalibur in the lake. The apparition is all of my own making; it symbolizes how familiar a presence Arthur has in Bors' mind, thus explaining why he can't simply just throw the sword away; he feels that he would be throwing all he's ever known (in his life as a Knight) away with it.

The lake was maddeningly quiet. Four times Bors tried to cast the sword into the elixir of the enchanted violet water; four times a roly-poly, crawling along a bough, shuddered in the breeze and curled into a shuffling grey ball; four times the cat-tails swirled greenly about the algae; four times the wren did come out and sing, sweet and chiming and clear; four times passed and he saw nothing of Arthur's vision in the water.

He had never seen the blade this dirty. Being a sacred sword, the blood it shed glowed scarlet instead of black, seeming to have grown peculiarly lustrous with time. He supposed it was his faulty eyes--what with his arsoned helmet charcoal with chimney soot--but as he turned over the hilt to inspect it further a sudden image flashed before him.

At first a pink forefinger, pointing towards his chest, young and strong, emerged from the air. Bors recognised the knuckles. The hand wrapped gently into a fist, and from the fist a few floating veins snaked out into the air. Bors looked up, up. The hand became an arm, the arm an upper body, and the torso a full figure, standing nigh before him.

The figure, though not quite opaque, touched the hilt and lifted it into the air. Something was familiar about the light that hovered over the apparition's chest; a different body, but a similar essence...

With a cry sickening to hear Bors drew back and plunged his own sword into the water, spraying the entity with purple steam. The droplets rained down like violet crystals, liquid amethyst facets reflecting the ten thousand mirrors of his face, his ugly, bloodied, gutted, bruised face, in royal shining hues. They twinkled and slid once down the rainy treetops. The enchanted bits of water that made human blood and sweat were now collecting at the base of the lake, having successfully created the illusion of a man.

Within the mirrored explosions Bors sheathed Excalibur and fled.

***

Bors returned.

Arthur gazed earnestly at him.

"It is done," he said. "I have cast the sword into the enchanted water."

"What did you see?"

"An apparition," said Bors.

"Dear boy, Excalibur is much too heavy for you to carry on your hip all this way," replied Arthur. "And you had such a lovely sword too. Why did you waste it?"

***

As the sky cleared and the sun began to dip from its blinding zenith, a pounding of nearing hoofs shook the quiescence from the earth. Bors returned a second time.

Arthur, studying the slow progression of the zenith, said nothing, knowing everything.

“I cannot do it,” Bors admitted despite himself. “This is a sacred sword. It belongs only to those whom—“

“My dear,” said Arthur, “such things do not concern me now. Assured...there will come a time…for the sword to rise again."

"When?"

"When I return," Arthur said.

"Return," Bors repeated, tasting the word.

At this the King said no more, only laid pensively against his station, staring up at the misty clouds above.

***

Bors returned a third time.

“Bors,” Arthur whispered. His breath all but evaporated in the massive stench of sun-baked flesh. “Go.”

“I—“

“Please.”

Bors could not bear to see the pain rising in his eyes, for in those very gentle eyes he saw his own reflection. Feeling humid in the face, he hung his head down low.

“Yes.”

Taking the pained face into his hands, Bors kissed the heavy eyes in apology and set off once more.

***

The author's comments:
Nimue (the Lady of the Lake) is the one whom first gave Arthur the sacred blade of Excalibur. Nimue is a hard character to describe in terms of the protagonist/antagonist mentality. She is neither good nor bad, although she does often assist Arthur in times of need. In this case, I have had her include a smithy along with her talents of enchantment, a smithy that is located underwater. Nimue places Excalibur in a furnace with a special water-resistant fire, where the blade melts; however, it is important to note that as Excalibur melts from its physical form, the essence of it (the gold mist) remains the same, indestructible in its greatness. This parallels something we will see later on...

Though Bors could not see her clearly, he knew she was there.

The Lady in the lake smiled, and it was a peculiar smile, not one of amusement or of feminine mirth, but one smiled slowly, stretched across the face like the muscles of a snake expanding across silent grass, wild like stealth and happy like death; it was, Bors realised, a most dangerous smile to cross the face of a most dangerous woman.

Bors watched her glide in the water, wading as if she were dancing through the waves with shoulders thrown forward and chin raised. Her gold-blue tresses flowed across the waves, velvet and wet and regal. Her hands were outstretched, revealing fingers of rings glowing iridescently in the fragmented light of the sun.

Bors drew a long breath and heaved the sword across the surface of the water like a stone. The blade skipped fancifully, twirling much too fluidly for a weapon of its mass. With little more but an indefinite half-smile and a gentle flicker of the hand the Lady steadied it, and Excalibur settled obediently onto the crests, swimming back to her before dipping into the recesses of the mist.

“It is done, my King,” said Bors, although the sound beneath his voice remained silent. He nodded lightly, pressing a thumb and forefinger to his eyelids. “It is done.”

***

Dipping below the water, the Lady Nimue spat vehemently into the forging ash rising over the hearth, placing the sword in a special fire that burned underwater. Excalibur melted in the heat of the future-reflecting pool, hissed and grew over the golden sparks like a jeweled tomb dragon rising over its statue, the essence of it rising as steam.

"No," said the Lady, watching the ever-seeing hearth stir its own wisps of hot breath. She had something unforeseen about her, something odious, something hidden behind the purity of brown hair and hazy blue eyes. Yes, that Avalon morn could have played the simplest of tricks on any man with the lightest of intent, but the shadow of her face cast its ember blockage over the sun, and something very grave shook beneath the earth, underneath the small, complacent fields of men. “He is not dead. Never dead.”

Nimue glanced up to the water’s edge. Standing on the lone shore, a weary soldier steadied his horse, his eyes cast off into the vacancy of the sunset. He looked once upon the lake, as if imprinting the image into memory, then took up the reins and dutifully trotted off.

Nimue smiled.

The captors of men knew not when that Avalon sun would rise, nor would they know the winding direction of the red trail marked with the Avalon rains, or, with them, the markings of Avalon feet. The captors knew only the dreams of the night before, of vague war descending upon them with bludgeons of smoke and careless metal splints. They slashed with rage about the tremors of here and there, roaring in abhorrence at the very sight of blessed life itself.

***

***

“Arthur!” Bors screamed, nearly collapsing as he slid off his horse. “Arthur! Arthur!”

Rocking in a wooden barge drifting into the horizon, Arthur's body laid solemnly at the feet of three white-robed women. A column of gold-orange light radiated from his chest, upon which two metal hands were tucked neatly in reverence. Although he was more than fifty yards away, Bors could see, as lucidly as day, the expression of detachment upon the King’s worn face. The face of that blessed dead man, Bors knew, was a beauty unlike any other he had seen. This man knew his role, however small he may have been. Even the body that had been left behind laid so still, so silent, that one could look upon it and know instinctively that, in death, there remained true quiescence within the heart.

Filled with strange and terrible things, Bors could do nothing but sink into the Avalon sand and weep as the wooden barge sailed away.

***



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