First published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #12, edited by Edwina Harvey
Merlin used to say we live by the choices we’ve made.
As far as I’m concerned, we have all lived by a choice he made decades ago.
In a way, Camelot fell from the moment he made the choice to help Uther lie with another man’s wife; Ygerna’s daughters never forgave him or his son for their father’s death. So two of them worked to destroy Arthur’s kingdom, Morgana with magic and Morgause with her body, only Elaine staying out of the quarrel. None of it would have happened if Merlin had waited a day, till Ygerna’s husband had been killed in battle. Perhaps then Arthur’s half-sisters wouldn’t have resented him as much.
“ But there would have been no Arthur," Merlin argued when I said as much. He was packing his most treasured goods and a few clothes to take with him into retirement. “You know that, Nimue. No Arthur and no Camelot and by now we would have been over-run by the Sea Wolves. It may still happen, but then I was young enough to believe I could fix it.”
“And now, we must face the consequences and you’re running away,” I said bitterly, thrusting a scroll of Greek plays at him. If I’d been less angry I would have handled it more reverently. He had taught me Greek with the help of that book.
Merlin took the scroll and tucked it into his bag.
“I’m retiring,” he corrected me. “You’re court wizard now, I’ve taught you all I know, and I’m entitled to a rest. Nimue, I can’t bear to stay for the end. I can’t! It’s not only Mordred. I tried to warn Arthur about Guinevere. He wouldn’t listen. So I begged him to go fetch his own bride, at least, instead of sending that slimy Gaul, but at the last minute there was a raid up the coast, so she had four days to fall for Lancelot. And that stupid Grail quest! I meant it to take the edge off the men’s boredom and all it did was build on old quarrels. But I have done what I can to prevent disaster and now I’m going to my cave in Cornwall to stay. If anyone can change things, it’s you. Do it!"
He slung the bag over his shoulder and picked up his staff.
“You aren’t saying goodbye to Arthur?"
He shook his head. “If I told him I’m going, he’d drag out of me why.”
He embraced me and left.
* * *
A man’s lust may seem a small thing, but with it, Uther Pendragon destroyed his son’s kingdom before Arthur was conceived.
What if I could make one small change? I wondered as I made my way home.
“You brood too much," said my husband, Pelleas, that night. We were preparing for bed. Pelleas is a knight, with a fighter’s simple way of looking at things. He'd never liked Merlin, who was too subtle for him. "If I had my way, someone would have killed Mordred and Lancelot during the Grail quest. A lot of scores were settled back then."
“It wasn’t that simple," I protested, shaking my hair out. Pelleas took up my comb, grinning, and set to work. "Mordred's kin up north wouldn’t have taken it like lambs and Gawain is his half-brother. Gawain isn’t fond of his youngest brother, but kin is kin in Orkney and the man has a temper on him. And Lancelot's family in Gaul have been our allies. Besides, Arthur doesn’t know."
Pelleas snorted."Then he's the only one who doesn't. More likely, he doesn't dare know.”
That was true; there were some nasty penalties for a Queen who betrayed her husband. It wasn’t merely adultery, it was treason. And a treasonous Queen was burned. Arthur wouldn’t want that.
I would cheerfully have let Guinevere pay the penalty if I’d thought it would stem the tide about to roll over us, but at this stage it would merely bring it on more quickly.
Pelleas finished untangling the snarls in my hair, brought by the wind of my ride from Camelot, then carried me to the bed and for a while, I forgot the results of other people’s choices.
But Merlin had protected the kingdom and now that was my job. I thought about it and then went to find Morgana.
It had been years since she had stayed in one place, with good reason. When you spend your days plotting against your brother and king, you don’t remain somewhere you can be found easily. Actually, Arthur wasn’t searching too hard; he felt guilt for what his father had done to her family and couldn’t bring himself to harm his own sister.
But she had no one close now; it gave her freedom of a sort and she used it to retreat further into the world of magic, which was all she had left now.
No one else might know where she was, but I did. She was in Avalon, preparing for the end. When I say Avalon, I don’t mean Glastonbury. Avalon could be reached from there, though. The boatman I hired to take me across the water was confused by the fog that had suddenly risen, but the promised silver ensured he followed my instructions, turning just so in the mist.
We reached a beach he didn’t know and he helped me out. Morgana's boat would bring me back. I paid and left him there. A few minutes after leaving me, the fog would lift and he would find himself in familiar territory.
I walked through apple orchards with an otherworldly glow about them and made my way to Morgana’s retreat, a modest house among the trees. She could have had a fairy palace if she’d wished, but it would have been illusion.
She was not pleased to see me and even less impressed at what I had to say.
“You want me to help save Camelot?"
"Come now, Morgana! If you’d really wanted to kill Arthur, you could have done it. Your heart was never in it."
She snorted. "I’d rather have changed the past and saved my father. I tried. All I did was create a world in which both my father and Uther died. With no Arthur, the Sea Wolves conquered.” She shrugged. "Change one thread and you affect the pattern, yes! But the new pattern may not be the one you wanted."
“I must try."
"And at what point will you change it?"
I had thought about this already: “The night when Morgause lay with him. With no Mordred, at least half his troubles will be prevented.”
She handed me her shuttle, unwinding all but a small amount of thread.
"Try, then. With my blessing."
I took the shuttle and went out, to the orchard, where there was always blossom and fruit at the same time and I worked magic.
"Well, girl? Open your eyes!" a sharp female voice said in Greek.
I sighed. I had been too long with Merlin, with his admiration of the ancient world. He had been as much classical scholar as wizard. He had taught me from Greek scrolls; I knew as much about ancient engineering works as I did about magic. I had read the Greek plays and learned about their gods. Who else would I conjure up but the Moirae, the Greek version of the Fates?
They sat among the trees, surrounded by baskets of unspun flax
The one who had spoken to me was spinning, smoothly and evenly, a long linen thread that flickered in all colours as I watched. Clotho, then, spinner of the thread of life. A tapestry wove itself on a loom beside her sisters, but I couldn’t see what it was, only that it was bright at times, then dull, then bright again. The middle sister - Lachesis the measurer - took the end of the thread and measured it, but what happened then was blurred. The third sister snipped busily at the tapestry, which somehow stayed intact. Dread Atropos, whose shears finished us all sooner or later.
"My name is Nimue," I began, but Clotho interrupted.
"We know your name, child. I spun your thread, remember?"
"A good long one," Lachesis remarked, but Clotho shut her up.
"It's not good for mortals to know these things. What if she becomes overconfident and ruins some lives?"
"What will be, will be," Atropos remarked. "She must know that, so why does she try to unweave the tapestry?"
"Only a small part of it," I argued.
"Listen, girl, other humans have tried to undo the weaving and all that happened was that they hastened what they feared," Atropos said harshly. Snip. Snip. "Do you know the tale of Oedipus?" I nodded. "His parents thought they could cheat their fate. They threw out the child doomed to kill his father and marry his mother and he survived and did what they feared because he didn't know of his birth."
"He knew his doom," I said, "and he still chose to kill an old man in a fit of pique and then marry a woman old enough to be his mother. He was a fool." I stepped forward to look at the tapestry. If I looked sideways, I could just see... "But I know what has happened and what could have happened."
Lachesis laughed, mockingly, never lifting her eyes from her measuring rod. "Do you?"
"Camelot is doomed," Atropos said. "Very well, Lady. You may try, for all the good it will do."
"Where do you want to begin?" the Spinner asked.
"The night after the battle of the Eleven Kings."
"Go, then." Her distaff twirled...
And I was there, in the royal camp on the chilly night of Arthur’s first victory.
When he had pulled that sword out of the stone, all the local kinglets who had hoped to become High King themselves were furious.
"We will not follow a beardless boy!" Lot of Lothian and Orkney, their leader, had snarled. He'd been a great bear of a man with four healthy sons he’d hoped would become Princes of Britain. Instead, he had died in the battle against Arthur and they eventually became Arthur’s loyal knights - Sir Gawain, Sir Gareth, Sir Gaheris and Sir Agravaine.
#But tonight Arthur was a very young man who had just fought his first battle, under the supervision of Leodegrance, one of the few chieftains who had stayed loyal This was the night when Morgause, Lot's widow, had come to ask mercy for her family and brought her boys along to create a good impression.
Arthur didn’t know, yet, that they were related, while she knew perfectly well. Oh, yes, she knew. If she had actually been trying for mercy, she could have told him and would have received it. She wanted revenge. I had to stop her.
I wasn’t quite sure what I would do, but it seemed reasonable to find the main tent, which young Arthur would soon leave to meet Morgause. I set off, trying to keep to the shadows - and collided with a cloaked woman coming from a side street of tents.
She was carrying a lamp and seemed to be a servant. Clearly, she was nervous at walking on her own at night and she shrieked as we made contact, nearly splattering hot oil on my gown.
"Oh, I’m sorry, lady," she babbled. "I think I’ve lost my way."
"Where are you going?" I asked, suspecting.
"My mistress, the Queen of Lothian, has sent me to ask the king for an audience."
And I knew the kind of audience she had in mind!
The royal tent was clearly marked, I could see it from where we stood and so could she, if she hadn’t been lowering her eyes before someone obviously a lady.
"Ah. Well, the king is by the southern edge of the camp, inspecting the guard. I have just come from speaking with him." There. Even if she did spot the tent, she would not go to it.
"Oh, lady, I don’t dare go there! The men are so - well, they think every woman is-”
There were tears in her eyes; clearly, she didn’t dare return to her mistress without something to report.
"Perhaps you can tell her what you've heard and ask for an escort," I suggested. That would give me time. Of course, Morgause wasn’t going to send anyone down to fetch Arthur from the camp perimeter. It was one thing to send a maid to guide him past an indulgently chuckling guard and quite another to bring him from among his officers
The maid was so pathetically grateful, I felt guilty.
I continued on towards the royal tent, wondering what I would do now. I had kept Morgause from him for tonight, at least, and tonight was when Mordred would have been conceived. Also, by tomorrow, he would learn who she was. But I dared not take a chance on her finding another way. He must be kept occupied.
Muttering a “don’t-notice-me” spell, I slipped past the guard. The tent was dark, but I spelled a soft glow. The dog Cabal woke suddenly, but did not bark. Sensing I meant no harm, he only made a puzzled whine.
That woke Arthur, who sat up suddenly, but didn’t call out.
Dear God, I thought. So young! He was a little older than me in my own world, so I’d never seen him like this.
But he was not a warrior-king yet, just a boy staring admiringly, if a little warily, at a glamorous older woman. Even if you didn't know who he was, the vitality flowed from him and hit you. He was - glorious.
“Who are you? You got past the guard," he added. "I suppose I'll have to punish him in the morning. Did you come from Queen Morgause? She said she’d send for me."
And suddenly I knew what I had to do. It was not what I'd had in mind, nor something I was happy about, but how could I warn him? He’d been treated as a man for the first time in his life, in that battle. And it was either Morgause or me. If it was her, his life was ruined. I took a deep breath and steeled my resolve.
"She - couldn't see you tonight," I said, walking over to his bed. "Will I do?"
"Merlin said there would be women," he remarked happily. "Um - won't the guard hear?"
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t.” It was a simple spell.
The young scamp was utterly cocky, flattered at this interest from older women, quite convinced he was God’s gift to the female of the species – like every other youth of his age. I couldn’t help being moved. Clumsy though he had been, there was something strangely touching about him. In a different world, I could have loved him
Afterwards, he slept and I made sure he stayed asleep, though I whispered in his ear,
"Morgause is your sister. Take care!" He murmured in his sleep and reached for me, but I kissed his hands and slipped away.
I didn’t even have to leave the tent; I was back in the orchard, with the sisters spinning away. .
"Come and see the tapestry," Atropos invited.
I bent over the frame and this time I saw, almost as if I was there.
"This is your world," the Fate said. "Enjoy it."
And I watched as the bright threads flickered, became real...
There was no Mordred and after my warning, Arthur had bundled the Queen of Lothian off home. Family was family, so he was merciful, but not trusting. On advice from Merlin, he had kept her children at court, effectively as hostages, but that was the way of things at royal courts. The sons still became his devoted knights.
So far, so good, but...
Merlin came back to court with a young girl who looked hauntingly like the beautiful stranger who had seduced Arthur that night. Me. A few years later, the other Nimue became Arthur’s mistress and lost interest in magic. There was no one to protect him, then, when Morgause, sure that it was Merlin who had kept her from Arthur that night, lured him off and killed him, as the revenge she hadn’t been able to get earlier.
The other Nimue bore Arthur a son. That didn’t impress Guinevere. She had put up with Bors, his son by a previous lover called Lyonors, since his mother wasn’t ambitious, but now decided it was time to act against both women.
She had her rivals and their children poisoned. That got her into trouble with Arthur, who rightly suspected her of the murders. Lancelot saved her by acting as champion, but it soured the men’s friendship. Arthur had lost some of his popularity by taking Nimue in the first place and still more now.
Arthur disappeared, kidnapped by Morgana, and was forced to fight her lover, Accolon, whom she'd armed with Excalibur, giving Arthur a cheap imitation. That had happened in my own world and Arthur had killed Accolon anyway, but I had been able to pressure Morgana into releasing him afterwards; in this world, she ordered him killed, in fury at her lover’s death. I wasn’t there to help him.
Gawain ruled for a while after, but died in battle. His brothers were useless as rulers.
The Sea Wolves wiped out our land. It was renamed England, after the Anglish tribe.
I stood, shaking. Atropos grinned at me.
"Still want to change the world, child?"
"There must be another way," I argued.
“Then try. But think what you ask. We have no time to cater to your whims."
I thought. If I couldn’t prevent Mordred, at least I could give him no chance to wreak havoc. Merlin had believed that if Arthur had fetched Guinevere from her father's home himself, she would not have fallen in love with Lancelot, but over the years Arthur was off fighting his wars often enough to give a frustrated woman time to turn elsewhere in his absence. It might have happened with any other Queen, but I could only work with the knowledge I had. I thought of Lyonors and her son Bors. Bors was a likeable, intelligent boy who was a good fighter and would make a fine officer one day. There would never be another Arthur, but at least he might have been followed by a decent king if Bors had been his heir.
What if Guinevere and Lancelot had run off together before the wedding took place? It might have caused some problems and hurt for a while, but then, perhaps, Arthur might have married Lyonors instead. In my world, he’d wanted to, but hadn’t been allowed; as King, he would need a politically convenient match. That might have been different with Guinevere out of the picture. By then, he was old enough to please himself. And after all, Lyonors had given him a potential heir.
I told the goddesses where and when I wanted to go. I had been a lady in the escort that had gone to fetch Guinevere, but the goddesses would ensure my other self was out of the picture temporarily.
I stepped away from the tapestry and waited…
And I was in the dun of Leodegrance of Cameliard, hurrying along with Guinevere's women as they carried linens, gowns and household goods towards two carts piled high with personal belongings and dowry goods.
Guinevere herself appeared, coming down the outside stairs on her father’s arm. Leodegrance, an otherwise sensible man, a shrewd ruler and fighter, was besotted by his only daughter. She would look good beside Arthur, I had to admit, tall and slender, with cornflower eyes and a spectacular head of golden hair. What was inside that head was another matter.
"Lady Nimue!" she called. "You will ride with me, won’t you?"
"Certainly," I agreed. Try to stop me, I thought.
Lancelot, who had been supervising the loading of the carts, approached Guinevere and her father and held out a hand to help her down the last steps.
"Now, take care o' my little petal, won’t yer?" Leodegrance rumbled. He leaned over to kiss her cheek. "I'll be with yer in a month, honey-bee. Soon as I've finished arrangin' fer the patrols an' guards to protect Camelliard while I’m away. Don’t hold the weddin' wi'out me!"
“I will protect your daughter with my life's blood," Lancelot promised a little exaggeratedly. He was a reasonable officer, but his second-in-command did most of the work in battle; his real skill was in the mock-battles the men of Camelot used to keep themselves sharp, under the admiring eyes of the ladies. At least one silly girl, the Lily Maid of Astolat, had killed herself because he'd worn her favour and then shown no interest in her afterwards. Whatever you thought of him, he was a good-looking man, better-looking than Arthur, with black curls and olive skin that suggested Roman ancestry. In many ways, he and Guinevere suited each other. How they had ever been distracted from themselves long enough to notice each other I'd never understood.
We set off soon after, with Lancelot helping the blushing Guinevere up on to a pretty bay mare chosen for her by Arthur, and I began work. Riding beside Guinevere made things easier for me, but Lancelot joined us now and then from his position in front, with the escort. He looked at me suspiciously, wondering what we were discussing; he knew I didn’t like him.
While he rode ahead, I praised him to the skies. I invited Guinevere to agree with me that he was the handsomest man either of us had ever seen, the best fighter (well, in the mock-battles, anyway). He played the harp (badly, and he’d only learned to impress the ladies). He composed poetry (with the help of a paid poet).
“Will I see him often at Camelot?" she wondered.
“I think you may not," I said with a kind but regretful smile. “He is, after all, Arthur’s right-hand man, and is often away on patrol with a war-band. But I’m sure he will return as often as possible once you are there."
She asked me about Arthur. They had met, of course, when her father had supported him in the War of the Eleven Kings, but he’d been very young then, and she only a child, so she had taken no notice of him.
“Arthur is...a good man." I spoke reluctantly. "He will look after you, but...”
I had to take this carefully; if I failed to change her mind, he would eventually learn I had spoken badly of him.
So I explained, truthfully, that Arthur would be away from Camelot most of the time and would expect her to look after the place. There was a huge bunch of household keys waiting for her. I hoped she was good with herbs and a good housekeeper.
Of course, I knew she wasn’t. She had never had to take charge at her father’s holding; the older servants knew their jobs and had been doing them since her mother’s time. She would be good with diplomats, true, and the warriors would vie for a smile from her. That was a skill in itself, but her popularity in that respect would lead to more trouble than it was worth. She couldn’t prepare medicines to save her own life, let alone anyone else’s.
I spoke in great detail about the aftermath of battles, when wounded soldiers were brought back to Camelot to recover. Merlin and I did most of the work there, along with the army surgeons, but I "forgot” to tell her that. I watched her fair face go even paler.
My casual mention of Arthur's two sons – Bors and Mordred - was her biggest shock. She hadn't expected him to be a virgin, but to be already supplied with children before she even had a chance to start was a little too much for her. Royal bastards are often favourites with their fathers.
The second day I left her mostly in Lancelot's company. I didn’t think she would ask if anything I had said was true, but nothing was totally untrue. And if he did say anything, it would be only to assure her that he would look after her, endearing himself even more.
They took meals together, in the pavilion we set up each evening. With satisfaction, I saw them warming to each other.
Next, I began work on Lancelot. It would not be easy, since he and I had never been friends, but I'd made myself pleasant over the last two days. I sympathised with his situation. Younger son of a Gaulish kinglet, he would never rule. It must be hard on him, I sighed. And now, here he was with the most beautiful woman since Helen of Troy and he had to hand her over to his best friend.
His eyes looked thoughtful at the name of Helen. With luck, it would give him ideas without reminding him of what happened when Paris took off with someone else’s woman.
Hesitantly, he told me of a message he’d received before leaving Camelot. His elder brother had been crippled in battle. If he didn’t recover Lancelot would be heir. He had considered visiting Benoic to see how the land lay as soon as he had delivered Guinevere.
He almost choked on the words "deliver Guinevere".
By the fourth night, when we were only half a day’s ride from Camelot, within reach of Arthur’s patrols, they were becoming desperate. In my own world, they hadn’t gone this far, though they had been casting yearning looks at each other.
I found them in bed in her pavilion.
They started up, staring at me in dismay. I had to fight to keep the delight out of my voice, as I apologised for interrupting them and turned my back for them to dress. They were holding hands defiantly when I turned back.
I put down the linen which had given me the excuse to visit the tent and said, "Lancelot, may I speak frankly? I have seen the love blossom between you and Lady Guinevere these last days. I believe it is time to make a decision."
“I know," he said. “I must give her up, but it’s so hard...”
"On the contrary," I snapped. "When we reach Camelot, a group of midwives will inspect the bride - thoroughly, believe me. There can be no chances taken on this - what if she bears a son who has no right to inherit the throne? And then there will be insult and perhaps war between the High King and a ruler who has always been loyal to him. No. I have another suggestion. Your personal escort are all your own men, Gauls who came with you when you arrived at Arthur’s court, aren’t they, Lancelot?” He nodded. “Well, then, Paris..." I waited for him to catch on.
"But then Arthur will declare war on my father.” He was not bright, but this had occurred even to him.
"Arthur has more important concerns right now. He will be angry for a while, but he is too sensible to be crossing to Gaul when he needs to defend his own country.”
"But my father will...” he began to squeak.
I smiled. "Did Priam kill Paris for bringing Helen home to Troy?”
Guinevere preened; she enjoyed being compared with Helen.
They were gone the next morning, leaving a badly-spelled letter from Guinevere, who had somehow learned to read and write in her childhood when not looking in the mirror. The escort sent by Leodegrance grumblingly escorted her ladies back to Cameliard.
My job was done.
And there was the orchard again, and the Spinners.
Once more, Atropos waved me over to the tapestry and again I looked, to see what my changes had done.
I had been right that Arthur didn’t wish to travel to Gaul over this matter, but Leodegrance had been furious with his daughter for her behaviour and was all for going over to drag the hussy back, by her hair if necessary. She’d be going to a convent if he had his way, now she was no longer fit to be High Queen of Britain. Arthur held out against the pressure for a while, but eventually found a better excuse for the journey: the Roman War. I'd forgotten about that. Merlin and I had been far to the north at the time, making friends with Pictish tribes for Arthur.
The Roman legions had pulled out long ago, but the newest Emperor kept sending messages demanding tribute. At least Arthur had had the support of the Gaulish rulers, in my own world, but with the business of Lancelot and Guinevere, Ban of Benoic was worried it was an excuse for an invasion and called in his allies. Arthur found himself fighting on two fronts. Instead of the huge victory I remembered, he was ingloriously defeated and dragged off to what was left of Rome to be executed.
Gawain led the surviving British troops home, only to find the frontiers over-run while our men were committed elsewhere, his mother entrenched in Camelot, ready to fight him for the sake of his youngest brother, Mordred, who was still a child. Chieftains who had been prepared to accept Arthur as high ruler and call themselves his knights became restless and started fighting each other again. Civil war.
And the Sea Wolves invaded.
I slumped over the tapestry frame.
"Don't feel too bad," Clotho consoled me. "You did not create these worlds, they already existed somewhere. When you leave Avalon, all will be as it was. Here. Somewhere else..." She shrugged.
"At least, here," said Morgana, walking through the trees behind me, "my brother had a measure of glory. He will never be forgotten"
"Small comfort to those left.”
"But it must happen, whatever we do. And they will live easier for remembering that moment of brightness he gave them."
The Spinners faded, leaving only Morgana and me, and the soft tinkling of silver bells somewhere.
"Go,” Morgana said. "He needs you. I'll be there soon, with my sister and the boat, to do what we can for him."
I left through the fog once more, in a boat lent me by Morgana. Time had passed differently in the other world. The sun was setting over a bloody battlefield. There were bodies of the dead and the living, carpeting what had been a green meadow.
"Nimue!" It was Pelleas, his armour battered and covered with blood I hoped wasn’t his, leaning on his spear. "Thank the gods! You're alive." Pelleas was used to my long absences and thought nothing of seeing me step from a magical boat which floated purposefully away with no one rowing it.
"Are you wounded?" I asked.
He shook his head impatiently. “A scratch or two. Come to the king. With Merlin gone, only you can save him, if anyone can."
He escorted me. They had tried to make Arthur comfortable on a pile of cloaks and a banner or two, but I could see at first glance that he would not be returning to Camelot.
"What happened, Pel?"
He shrugged. "What you’d expect. Mordred exposed Guinevere and Lancelot. She was sentenced to death. Then Lancelot came to rescue her and killed poor Gareth in the process. It was an accident, but Gawain wouldn’t rest till he’d had revenge. Arthur wanted to make peace, but Gawain wouldn’t let him, so we followed them to Benoic. And when we got back from Gaul, we found Mordred's troops waiting. Only twenty, but he knows how to manipulate men. The irony is, Gawain is dead and Lancelot is back fighting for Arthur. Was, anyway; I don't know where he's vanished. Go to Arthur, Nimue! There’s no time for chat!"
The surgeon had his tools out. I washed my hands, having found it helped, and took some herbs from my belt pouch, to crumble into hot water, but I knew I could not help now.
Arthur looked up at me. He was tired, more than anything else. The life had gone out of him long ago. I grieved for the golden boy I had seduced in another world, for the glorious man who had given his people hope while his own life had been in tatters.
"You're tired, my lord," I said. "You need rest. You must find it elsewhere."
"What are you talking about?" snapped Bedwyr, Arthur’s childhood friend, who stood by.
"Bedwyr," I said patiently, "nobody must know what happened here. Take Excalibur and throw it in the water. As far out as you can. Now."
He was dumbstruck, but Arthur nodded; he knew what I meant. Bedwyr snatched the sword and stamped off.
“I can help you in Avalon," I said. “Anyway, it will give us a chance to try; time passes differently there. If you stay here, you will certainly die and if your enemies know...”
“I understand," he whispered. And from Avalon, I might still return one day."
"Do it, then."
Morgana’s boat was already pulling in to shore. She was there with her sister Elaine, waiting for us.
I turned to the surgeon. "Will you trust us?"
He sighed. "Why not? He’s beyond my skill now.” And he ordered his king to be lifted gently aboard, where a bed waited for him. I followed.
As we left the shore, I gazed into his eyes, thinking wonderingly, A measure of glory - it was a choice after all...
I originally wrote this story to submit to an anthology called The Doom Of Camelot. It didn't get in, alas, but I resubmitted it to ASIM, and had the joy of seeing it as the cover story, with a gorgeous cover by Les Peterson, who is doing covers for HarperCollins books these days. That issue sold out quickly - if you ever find a copy for sale at a convention or on eBay, grab it!
The idea came from two places. I had already sold ASIM a story called "The Sword From The Lake" which I haven't been able to find on my computer or I would have included it in here. I may have to retype it from the published copy. It, too, was about Nimue, and I always felt she had been given a raw deal in fiction - even Malory says she married one of Arthur's knights and took over as court wizard and you don't do that if you've locked the previous one in a tree or a cave. Sooner or after someone would ask questions. The other thought was related to the Doom of Camelot theme - what if it was simply unavoidable, no matter what you did? Some time I'm going to put all my Arthurian/ Nimue stories together and rustle them into a novel. Some time...