XXVII. Vivienne walked across the floor with a slow, measured grace, not quite on tiptoe, but with something of a dancer's movement. She held her arms slightly out to her sides, and her neck very stiff, for upon her head was balanced a large and heavy book, bound in calfskin, and painted with gold on the edges of its pages.
"Good, good," she heard Nymue say, "but can you relax a little? You walk like you've got an egg up your butt."
Vivienne had been at her lessons a long time already, and she was hungry and thirsty and a little bit light-headed from the strain of obeying Nymue's commands. She burst into tears and snatched the heavy book from her head.
"I can't do it!" she wailed. "It's too late! You cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear!"
Nymue was not impressed. "I'm a magician--I can do whatever I damned well please," she snapped, uncurling from the stool upon which she'd been perching. She took the book from Vivienne's quivering hands with a snatch. "I could make you into a silk purse, or a sow's ear, if I wanted to!" she added, pressing the book back into place. "Now stop your snivelling, and concentrate. This is important. Arthur has called a feast for Michelmas and you're going to have to be there."
Vivienne held the book steady with one hand while she wiped her nose with her other wrist. "Can't I have a little break?" she asked in a pitiful tone. "A sip of milk? A crust of bread?"
Nymue eyed her with her sea-grey eyes, cold as the North Atlantic. "When you finish your lesson," she stated, "then you can dine. I'm sorry, Princess, but you are in training and I can't be any softer with you than I am with my other adepts."
As if this reminded her of something, Nymue went over to the window, and leaned out to shout, "When you're done there, Lance, go put manure on the roses!"
"I fail to see how the skills of a gardener will serve a knight of the Round Table," said Vivienne, unable to completely mask her note of sarcasm.
"Humility," said Nymue, "and an appreciation for the workings of nature. And didn't you know that Arthur wooed Guenevere in the guise of a gardener's boy?" She remounted her stool. "Now, stop questioning my motives, girl, and pay attention to your own business!"
This is a sample of how it had been for Vivienne for several weeks now. Her service with Kazhi began to look not so miserable to her, for in a way it was better to be neglected and free, than to be fussed over and picked at and scolded without cease.
Nymue was not cruel, but she was stern. She required complete obedience and perpetual attention from her students. There were others in the castle under the magic lake, but Vivienne rarely saw them, except in passing. They seemed to be goodly youths, learning the arts and skills of magicians, or practicing for knighthood, and she felt herself to be at least twice their age, which added to her perturbation. They were as yet raw clay, ready to be formed, whilst Vivienne was a fired pot which Nymue wished to make over into a statuette of Venus.
When Vivienne had first set eyes on Nymue's realm, she had been afraid. In the Forest Sauvage, where none dared go, there was a broad valley, and in that valley was a lake of unnatural beauty and stillness, like a sheet of glass. This was where Nymue had her palace. She and Lancelot rode straight down to the lake's shore, and onwards into the water, which rose up around their horses' legs exactly as one might expect water to do. Vivienne, who had never learned to swim, hung back, even though her palfrey seemed quite willing to follow the others.
Nymue turned on Tornado's back to regard Vivienne curiously. "What is the matter?"
"The water," said Vivienne unhappily, "I do not wish to be drowned."
With a sigh, Nymue trotted back to her. "Silly girl," she chided, "It is enchanted, don't you know. Fairies don't allow mortals to see what they do not wish to be seen. You mortals always get it backwards--you spend the night dancing in the Elf-king's hall, and awaken in a rude hut, and think that you were really in the hut the whole time. Well! The hut is an illusion, not the fairy-mound!"
She turned and raised her hand. "You see a lake of shining water, but that is a disguise, to protect my castle from intrusion. Take my hand, Princess Vivienne, and look upon that which your late father knew well--"
Vivienne put her hand into Nymue's palm, and, like mist lifting in the sun, she was suddenly able to see stretching before her not a lake, but a meadow full of flowers, and in the lowest part of the vale, a gleaming castle built of stone, with pennants fluttering from its battlements. It made her own fine castle look like a cow shed, so dazzling were its limestone walls, and the roofs of the towers were all tinted blue, like the scales of a fish. And atop the tallest tower, where some stately buildings would affix an allegorical sculpture of a goddess, was the figure of a slender arm, chased with silver, with its fingers half-curled, and apparently pointing upwards, at the sky far above.
Nymue smiled sidelong at her.
"If a mortal should be bold enough to sail out onto the lake," she said, "on looking down, he would see the castle. But no mortal dares attempt this, for the instant a boat touches the water, a tempest whips up, and discourages all adventure. Come. Now you won't be afraid."
Nymue released the Princess's hand, and rode along the pathway, after Lancelot and the baggage horses. Vivienne was not entirely confident as she rode behind the nymph, for the moment she had taken back her hand, the magical mist had descended again, and she now winced as what she perceived to be water rose up her legs, and finally closed over her head.
But to her astonishment, it was exactly like riding into a thick fog, such as crawls out of the rivers in the autumn. She could see, she could breathe, but all around her was a cloudy silver-grey, obscuring the sky, and then they must have passed below the layer of enchantment, for the air around her became clear, and only when she looked up did she see what seemed like wispy clouds, swirling and making it appear to be eternally overcast in Nymue's land.
Perhaps the perpetually grey weather had something to do with Nymue's short temper, thought Vivienne with a melancholy sigh. Nymue was one of those people who did not brook fools lightly. Upon arrival, she had put Vivienne on a strict diet--good food, but not much of it--and had her walk around the castle several times a day, to work off her "housefrau fat" as the nymph had called it. When Vivienne had arrogantly observed that she was not a "housefrau" (whatever that was, it didn't sound flattering) Nymue had smirked and answered her by quoting a couplet, "Too little to save, too much to dump/ That's what makes the housewife plump."
She induced Vivienne to engage in activities which no lady of quality would be caught dead performing--excercises similar to those which knights used to keep their bodies in condition. Nymue conjured pictures of atheltic maidens in Grecian-style tunics working out with weights strapped to their wrists and ankles, bending and stretching, running and jumping, and convinced Vivienne that she knew the Princess could do these same activities, with a little practice. And she refused to let Vivienne fail.
The first few weeks, therefore, were devoted to a regimen of excercise, diet, and more excercise. Each evening Nymue made it a point to weigh Vivienne on an elaborate contraption she kept in the stables, a sort of enormous grocer's balance. When Vivienne had asked the purpose of having such a device, Nymue had answered that she never wished to overburden her precious horses, or place too light a burden in the saddle, either, and the scale made certain that the mount would be well matched to the rider.
Tornado, might it be said at this point, was happier than he had ever been in his life. To put it delicately. But this is not his story. Yet it must be said that the products of his blissful holiday would go on to mould the history of Europe, and win a few Derbies as well.
After Nymue had shaved off an acceptable amount of weight--which she graphically demonstrated to Vivienne by taking her to the kitchen, when dinner was being prepared, and showed her the same amount of weight as a pile of lard which was going into the sausages--they set to work on learning the deportment of a lady. Diction, grammar, grace, all the sundry little refinements of a lady...Vivienne's education had been interrupted, and she struggled to regain these lost skills. Nymue gave her a concoction to work into her hands each night, first washing them in dew, then salving them and binding them in special gloves of doe-skin. Gradually the rough and red skin became soft, and supple, and creamy white once more, and Nymue had one of her elf attendants pare Vivienne's fractured nails, and paint them with distilled moonbeams until she possessed hands as fine as any Queen.
Vivienne's stay with Nymue was rather like a modern woman going to a spa--a most rigorous and thorough spa, run by disenfranchised Nazis. She was not allowed to do any "work," but she worked twice as hard at getting herself into perfect condition for the role she was soon to play. There were baths and dancing lessons, witty anecdotes she had to memorize, and tell with the smirking relish of a well-trained courtier; she was shown how to hawk and how to properly sit a palfrey over a hedge, which was perhaps her least favorite lesson.
Then Nymue, aided by several of the dainty little fairy-women who served as her court, taught her how to wink and bat her eyes and tip her head and flirt without looking like a parody of a coquette. This was not easy, either, for there was a very fine line between being a flirt, and being a hussy. There was a subtlety to seduction, so that it did not look like seduction, only cordial interest, and that the man could work himself into a fever trying to figure out what was really going on behind that mysterious smile and those limpid eyes.
They could not use magic. That was driven home to Vivienne time and again. Merlin could smell magic like other people could smell dead rats stuck in the walls. He could see the future, but was blind to his own fate, and therefore a simple, non-magical approach would not make him suspicious. Nymue almost seemed to be holding her breath the day she showed Vivienne the tapestry of the unicorn, trustingly laying its head into the lap of a maiden. "That is what we are hoping to accomplish," she said. The sorceress seemed very ill at ease. They would have only one chance. Failure was unthinkable.
The days turned into weeks. Morgaine came by, from time to time, but did not speak to Vivienne. Vivienne imagined that the great Queen was angry with her, for having tried to kill her paramour--for Vivienne was certain that Morgaine had taken the wizard as her lover. She overheard the two enchantresses conversing, and his name figured frequently in their whispered exchange. Vivienne also thought that Nymue was not happy with her sister's latest infatuation. Vivienne had heard stories about Morgaine Lafayette, and, fairy godmother or not, she believed them.
Sometimes Morgaine came dressed as a fine lady, and sometimes she arrived in the clothing of a huntress, her hair braided and coiled around her head like a crown. At these times she strode, rather than walked, and, accompanied by several other girls in similar attire, she reminded Vivienne of the Triple Goddess, the fierce Diana, who took life as well as gave it. They would sweep past her, silent as wolves, and take no notice of her, shutting themselves away with Nymue and conversing in some strange language, which Vivienne assumed was Elvish. Then these girls would leave, as suddenly as they had come, and Nymue never offered an explanation. The Princess knew that they had to be personages of some note, for the elves and pixies and other Faerie beings who served Nymue would throw themselves down before them in humble respect--or blind terror, Vivienne could not be certain of which.
As the time drew nearer for the Feast of Michelmas, Nymue's rigorous training became almost unbearable. No actress had ever been more relentlessly rehearsed for a part. It was at about this time that Morgaine came and actually had an audience with Vivienne, who, quite understandably, was cowering inside as the great and terrible Queen looked her over.
"You've done well, Nymue," she decided, folding her hands like she was posing for a playing-card, "but you must be careful not to turn her into a mechanical doll."
"Did you bring the rings?" asked Nymue, ignoring her critique.
"I have them here," said Morgaine, studying Vivienne's face with a careful, artistic eye. She fingered the girl's hair. "A touch of russet, I think," the enchantress mused, "to turn this tarnish into bronze.
Some rouge for the lips...kohl for the eyes...yes, yes...not too much, we wish to enhance, not to hide with paint...."
She drew from her pouch a little doll, so cunningly made that it seemed to be alive, and set it on the floor. With a wave of her hand, the doll increased in size until it was as large as the three living women, and then, with a touch of her hand, Morgaine made the creature open its eyes. It was a woman, an Egyptian by her dress, a Greek by her appearance, and Morgaine spoke to her as naturally as if she had not just conjured her from wax and fabric.
"Greetings to you, great Empress," said Morgaine pleasantly, as the animated woman blinked her lovely eyes, and took a careful look around herself. "I hope you have been having a pleasant slumber?"
"I cannot complain, Great Goddess," said the woman in a strange but lovely clipped accent. "What is thy bidding?"
Morgaine plucked at Vivienne's sleeve. "I'd like you to show this girl the art of applying cosmetics, in order to make the hardest masculine heart melt," she said. "Scent, hair-rinse, mascara, the works. We have a very special job for her to do, and we'd appreciate the advice of an expert in the field."
"Ah, you honor me, Great Goddesses," said the conjured woman, with a strange sort of bow, a dip rather than a tilt. Perhaps her linen dress clung too tightly to her supple brown body to permit much motion. Vivienne blushed a little and averted her eyes, for she could see every part of the strange woman through the fine pleatings of her gown.
As the conjured woman took Vivienne off to one side of the room, where the light was better, Nymue took Morgaine by the elbow and asked with sharp urgency, "The rings. I must have the rings. You did take the red ring from him--didn't you?"
Morgaine looked pained. She almost could not meet Nymue's gaze. "Yes. I have them. I've told you...they are right here."
"Give them to me."
Nymue stuck out her hand, and Morgaine fished first one ring, and then its mate, from her reticule. She moved with slow and almost painful gestures, which Nymue did not fail to notice.
"What is it, sister? You didn't have to cut it off his finger, did you?"
Morgaine winced, then caught Nymue by the collar, and pulled her close, so close that she could speak in barely a whisper into her sister's ear.
"Promise you'll never tell...."
XXVIII. Kazhi paced the battlements of his castle in a fever of apprehension.
Why did he have to do it? he demanded of himself with bitterness. Everything was going so well...why did he have to push his luck?
He thumped himself in the forehead with his fist--the soft part, not the hard part. He called himself stupid until the word ran together in one long litany of remorse and self-loathing. Then he brought his fists down on the rampart and threw back his head in a gurgling scream which made the fenix sound dulcet by comparison.
Everything had been going splendidly. Morgaine came every day, and in between pleasant meals taken al fresco, she lectured him in such magic as Kazhi had never dreamed existed. And she made it all seem so easy! Performing feats of wonder was natural as breathing for Morgaine Lafayette.
And she breathed pretty nicely, too....
She was sweet to him, gentle and kind, she laughed prettily at his jokes and would give him the most delicious coy smile when she caught him being mischeivous. And he was mischeivous quite often, like the class clown who acts up just so that the pretty teacher will notice him, and perhaps scold him.
It was beyond his understanding, as to why he would fall so hopelessly in love with this woman, after such a long, long period of near-misogyny. In his unguarded moments, he imagined that there was fate in the world, and that there were such things as matches made in Heaven, and that Morgaine Lafayette had always been his intended mate, his perfect match. He had simply missed her the first time around. Thank God for second chances. She was the very ideal of perfection, there was nothing about her which he did not like, or could not excuse, not even her mercurial temper. He told himself that he liked a woman with spirit, that he could never be content with a simpering little ninny like Vivienne.
The first flush of love is near to madness, and when it comes late, it can make an utter fool of a man. Kazhi doted on Morgaine with melting eyes, and fancied that the lady returned his adoring looks glance for glance and sigh for sigh. He thought of endless ways to please her, bringing her presents, some of which he actually obtained by ordinary means, and he probably would have written poetry for her, had he been any good at it. Kazhi was the sort of man who never did anything unless he was completely confident of success, and he was not about to have Morgaine laugh at him because he did not know the proper meter fashionable among the minstrels of the day.
There were spells, all around--but I never saw them working...no, I never saw them at all, 'til there was you....
He adored her more with each passing day. The time he spent with her flew by in a rush of heady bliss, his thoughts often so distracted by staring at her that he had to repeat an excercise several times over, before he accomplished the spell. Morgaine would frown at him, but even her scowls were dear. When he was with her, all was delight; and when she went away, as dusk drew on, he would plunge into a despair of doubts and fears. He would imagine then that she would not return, and that he, as a prisoner of time, would spend eternity searching for her, wearing himself to rags, going mad. He would then quell himself by summoning her image, above a golden dish of a special water Morgaine had given him to use for scrying, and he would gaze at it in a transport of agonized contentment as it hovered, shimmering in the darkness, a vision of light.
He never thought to spy on her, to seek her out wherever she went when she was not with him. It was tempting, but he decided that it was better not to know. He had heard stories about Morgaine Lafayette, too, and he did not want to believe them, having actually met the lady...but it was better not to know for certain.
Not that he could have seen her, if he tried, for Morgaine always hedged herself around with spells to obscure her whereabouts from casual clairvoyance. Hers was an occupation best carried out under a cloud of obscurement. To maintain this spell had become like second nature to her, but now, as she sensed Kazhi's infatuation burgeoning like dough rising in the cupboard, she made doubly sure to keep her screens up and secure.
There was no surprise for her, that the wizard was following her about like a hungry puppy, and she had ground beef in her pocket. It was what she had intended all along, why she had given him the ring. Kazhi, of course, had no idea that his trembling emotions were spurred not by chemistry, but by alchemy.
And Morgaine felt sorry for him.
If she loathed him, it would have been easy, to play this game with him. He was hardly the model of virtue, after all. He was a thief and a murderer and a lot of other heinous things into the bargain. But there was something charming about him, somehow, and Morgaine found herself admiring him the way one can admire a wolf for being beautiful but deadly. Kazhi was as dangerous as a serpent, but in a strange way, he was only being true to what he was. He was not a hypocrite, like the knights of the Round Table and their code of ethics which they honored more in the breach, or when they could have some sport enforcing it on someone else. He was a cunning coward who hid behind magic and did as he pleased. No more, no less.
Kazhi, to his regret, had no inkling of what was in Morgaine's heart, but he liked to fancy that she was fond of him, at least. Had she not tenderly nursed him back to health, after he had collapsed on the tor? Did she not smile at him, that beaming smile of joyful friendship, each morning when she came in through the gate? And when she showed him how to tap into the elemental forces, didn't she hold his hand a little more tightly than she really had to--and kept holding it even after the tremendous surge of power drawn from the earth and the sky had been allowed to subside?
Oh, that had been a day--! Kazhi had fiddled with this field of power, had touched it, had danced around it, but never had he stepped clean into it, had let it take command of him--and then, had bent it to his own command. The sensation was indescribable, such a rush of consciousness and might, as if, for a moment, he had traded places with God, and now knew what it was like to be omniscient and omnipotent.
Had Morgaine not been there, grasping his hand, channeling most of the energy through herself first as a kind of reductor, Kazhi might have been blown to pieces. It was like standing in the throat of an erupting volcano, or riding into space strapped to the nose-cone of a rocket--a lurching, tumbling, crashing torrent of pure, raw energy, a river of power running through space and time like the Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology. As Kazhi rode this tempest, he was aware of only two things--that this tremendous power was his for the taking, and that Morgaine Lafayette was holding tight to his hand.
After this first taste, Kazhi could not get enough. He tolerated, as patiently as he could, her lectures on staves and wands and other mechanical devices commonly used to tap into this force-field. She explained how it was like a vast underground river, which could be tapped, and which came to the surface in certain places much like hot-springs and geysers do. He had heard much of this before, ages ago, from the Master who had first indoctrinated him in spells and auguries. If it hadn't been Morgaine and her musical voice and apple-blossom lips giving the catechism, he would have been bored to tears.
She warned him, too, not to overreach himself, not to attempt things which were beyond his abilities. She was most earnest in this. Too bad he didn't listen to her....
She taught him the basic tenets of almost everything, except the trick of invisibility, which was one he was very keen to have. Morgaine explained that she herself did not possess that spell, or at least did not know it well enough that she would feel confident in teaching it to him. If a spell like that went wrong, the results would be dreadful. She told him of a fellow who had only been able to vanish himself half-way, and spent the rest of his life on horseback, using a saddle mounted with a false set of legs, whenever he had to see people. Kazhi had quipped that he was very lucky it didn't go the other way, and leave him nothing but a pair of trousers trotting around the place. Morgaine had laughed, and then had told him that, as long as one could shape-shift, one didn't need to be able to vanish.
"You could accomplish the same thing, by reducing yourself to a bee or a fly," she said to him, "only you must be very careful when you transmorph into vermin, lest someone swat you by mistake. Many a shape-shifting ogre has come to grief that way."
Kazhi almost said something about the shape-shifting ogre he'd once had, but thought the better of opening up that can of worms. He wondered, for a split second, what had become of Kabor.
"In actual fact," Morgaine had continued as she peeled an orange and offered him a section, "if you know how to shape-shift, then you almost don't need any of the other things. As a fish, you can swim, as a bird, you can fly--"
"I'm gonna love dat man 'til I die," Kazhi half-crooned in a comic Negro accent. Morgaine looked at him with an expression which was part shock and part confusion. Kazhi instantly drew into himself.
"It's from a song," he explained, lamely, "a lyric from a play. 'Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly--I'm gonna love that man 'til I...' Oh, never mind. Sometimes I forget that...um...oh, bother."
"A song," said Morgaine, with a shallow breath. "Oh. Well. That's all right. For a moment, I'd thought you were announcing something. I should hate to think that--"
"What?" asked Kazhi warily, raising one eyebrow, and dropping the other.
Morgaine regarded her hands in her lap, and absently turned the white ring around on her finger.
"Well, far be it from me to pass judgement on anyone...I mean, some of the finest men in history have been attracted to some of the other fine men of history...."
Kazhi looked at her in horror. "Oh, no--no, I didn't mean anything of the sort--! I'm not--I never--I mean, I'm not very fond of women, in general--not to impugn you, my dear--but even you must agree that the common run of women are empty-headed chattering gossips who drive men to kill themselves!"
He wanted to throw himself down on his knees before her, clasp her little hands, and paint for her brilliant word-pictures illuminating his grand and undying love for her--but he did not. He thought that it would only make him look foolish.
But the episode had set into his mind the burning desire to tell her, to confess his feelings to her, and to find out if his love would find requite. They had quickly moved on to other topics, and Morgaine forgot all about the incident, but from that moment onwards, Kazhi was consumed with plotting the perfect way of proclaiming his feelings.
He knew, without any shadow of doubt, that he would have to say something, and rather soon. The poison that is love had spread, first numbing his brain, then throbbing his heart, and now it was settling down to stay in a region which refused to be pacified by any reasonable argument. In a word, he was aching for her now, aching in a very primal way, and every day became more of a torment to him.
She was cool, she was untouchable, she was fair of face and figure, she was an Enchantress written all in curlicues with gold ink and little spangles of stardust blown across it in place of sand. She was an ivory icon with laughing black eyes, a tower he longed to beseige, to breach, to conquer....
He dreamed of her in the feverish nights, there alone in his crumbling, silent castle, where he could thrash at the sheets as though they were grave-windings, and howl her name. He strove in endless ways to please her by day, to coax from her some intimation of affection, some return of feeling. But she behaved towards him always as one might behave toward a favorite dog. He jumped through flaming hoops for her, and slept alone in his kennel at night.
In his desperate intoxication, he did not notice that Morgaine was becoming somewhat distracted, that she seemed to be preoccupied with something distressing. The only thing she said to him, touching upon this, was, "Michelmas is coming. Vivienne is almost ready."
Nymue had been pestering her for the magic rings, and Morgaine did not know how to go about asking Kazhi to give his back. She was afraid of what might happen if he took off the heart-stone ring which enslaved him. Not that she was afraid he would cease to love her--but that he wouldn't.
Kazhi never suspected that it was the ring which controlled his actions, never noticed that his feelings of ardor would whip up whenever Morgaine chanced to rub her own ring, never saw the mystic fire which burned deep within the wine-dark depths of the enchanted stone. There is some magic you cannot sense because you are standing inside of it, like a mouse caught under an upturned glass. He wore the ring and he longed for Morgaine Lafayette and never connected the two.
And then came the disaster.
It began innocently enough. Morgaine arrived, as usual, this time dressed in a gown of purple and gold, with a conical hat on her head, from which a diaphanous veil depended. Kazhi laughed to see her in such gear. "What's that--your wizard's hat?" he'd asked, tucking his hands under his arms and grinning at her like a monkey.
She maintained her dignity as she dismounted her horse. "Indeed it is," she stated. "This is no ordinary hat. Remember what I keep telling you--never trust appearances."
She unfastened the chinstrap as she spoke, and then set the hat on the ground. "I have nearly showed you everything I think you need to know, to become a successful court magician," she told him as she took a phial of colored sand from her reticule, and began to carefully trace a circle around the conical hat. "Now I wish to show you what lies in store for you, when you take your place at Camelot--"
She did not look up at him, too involved with laying out her spell. She started drawing another circle, about three inches outside the first. The phial of sand seemed to contain far more than its diminutive size would permit. "Did you not imagine that I was training you to take the place of Merlin, just as Nymue was training Lancelot to take the place of Arthur?"
"But I thought your whole plan was to be rid of magical influence at the court--"
"No, we wish to take away Arthur's unfair advantage. These are dangerous times, malleable times...the Old Order is passing away, and the future does not seem favorable to our kind...."
"The future," Kazhi murmured wryly. "I could tell you about the future...."
Morgaine traced arcane symbols in the narrow band between the two circles. "Humans are not permitted to change the past or alter the future--it is only the present with which we must deal."
"Yes--but you aren't a human, are you? And for that matter--"
"Silence! Speak no more of this. The spell is nearly complete, it needs only the incantation--and such times can be dangerous. There will be much free magic, and no telling who might take notice of it."
She straightened, and put her phial back into her pouch. She regarded her work, then said, "Now. Very carefully--step into the circle, and look nowhere, but at my eyes--for when this spell takes effect, it is of such force and strength that it can tear your soul from out your skull."
"I'll try to remember that," said Kazhi meekly, stepping into the circle.
Morgaine did likewise, raising her skirts so as not to disturb the sand-drawing, and then she extended her hands to him over the hat. "Put your hands in mine, and look into my eyes."
The thrilling surge leaped through him, and he gazed at her, relishing her soft skin, losing himself in her deep, dark eyes. He heard her murmuring words in a language he did not understand, and then he felt himself rising up, as though a mountain were growing beneath their feet. He was so tempted to look away, but he did not--but, if he had, he would have seen that the purple hat with its white mantle was transfiguring into a soaring peak, capped in snow, and that they were standing on the top of the world.
He should have been cold, he thought, there on that glacial summit, but he was not. Of course it was only an illusion. When the sensation of rising stopped, he asked Morgaine, "Can I look away, now?"
"If you want."
He didn't want, but he turned his eyes away from her, and gasped as he saw the world spread beneath him, like the scenery in the best model train set ever made. On the curving horizon to the west, he could just make out England, a green jewel set in a sparkling azure sea. Below him was France, and Spain and Portugal, golden in the sunshine, while to the south stretched the almost painful turquoise expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. To the east, the limitless expanse of the Russian and Indian subcontinents rolled away to the other horizon, while the fractured kingdoms which would soon coalesce into Germany, Poland, and the Balkans lay to the north. He wondered if this mountain were visible to these people. It was like standing on the Matterhorn after dosing it with steroids.
"Behold the world," said Morgaine, with a sweep of her arms, as the wind fluttered her pendant sleeves. "Behold the empire which you can help Lancelot to win and rule."
She had turned so that she stood with her back to him, and a little off to his left side. Her hair billowed and flickered in his face, her ivory hair which smelled of apple-blossoms and sweet cider mulling with exotic spices. Kazhi suddenly felt overwhelmed with a sort of vertigo, but he knew it was not on account of the altitude.
"What do we need Lancelot for?" he asked in a strained murmur. He swallowed deeply. "Why can't we rule this world--?"
Morgaine did not turn toward him, but he saw her stiffen, he watched the muscles in the nape of her neck draw tight. "We--?"
"Yes...you, and I...together...." He took one hestiant step nearer to her, then another. They were now so close that he could sense her warmth. When he spoke, his own voice surprised him, it was throaty and dry, the purr of a tiger.
"You know that we are the most powerful creatures in this world, Morgaine," he murmured, close to her delicate pink shell of an ear. "There would be none to oppose us...not Nymue, not anyone. Not even God. We are two of a kind, Morgaine, profound, forces of Nature...made for each other...."
As he spoke, he lightly set his hands upon her shoulders. There was no painful transfer of energy now, only a slight shudder, a very human shudder. He grew bolder, and more desperate. He slid his hands slowly down her arms, and twined his fingers around her hands. She remained perfectly still.
"Think of it, Morgaine," he urged. "There must be a reason why our paths have crossed. It is destiny, our destiny, to reign as Emperor and Empress of the world--!"
"Please stop," said Morgaine in a terse little voice.
But Kazhi was lost. He could no more stop himself than he could control Tornado. He raised her right hand to his lips, and, ever so hesitantly, kissed the creamy flesh. When still Morgaine did not move, he kissed her hand again, and then, utterly intoxicated, he lowered his eyelids, and brushed her ear with first his nose, and then, his lips....
"Not now," she said, a little more insistently, her whole body rigid, and trembling a little.
"When?" he asked in a hungry whisper, nuzzling her neck, the point where her jaw became her throat, drinking in the fragrance that was her skin, creeping his hands around her slender waist and shoulders, drawing her slowly against his burning body.
When she did not answer him, he moaned softly, "Oh, don't deny me, Morgaine, my love...I would give you my soul, if you will only let me into your heart...you have no idea how long I've waited for you, or the depth of my passion for you...."
He caressed her tenderly as he spoke, but stopped himself short of searching out her breasts. He had to remain a gentleman, if he had any hope of succeeding in seducing her. For it must be a seduction, not a rape, even though he felt that he would explode if he could not make love to her within the next twenty seconds. And he could not have imagined a more perfect place to lose his virginity, than up there on the very summit of the world. With Morgaine Lafayette.
And then, in a cold and sharp voice, the enchantress said, "Stop it. You fool. You don't love me. It's the ring."
Kazhi hesitated, a shadow passing over his brow. "Ring--?"
"On your finger, you dolt. The one I gave you, when I came for the Firebird. It's a trick. It was meant to enslave you to my will. Why do you think you can't remove it?"
Kazhi focussed his wavering attention on the ring. An annoying mist had sprung up before his eyes. The stone was blazing as if the sun itself were trapped inside, and his hand tingled and throbbed as though he'd smashed it with a mallet.
"I have one too," Morgaine went on, showing him the ring with the milk-white stone. "This one controls the other. And you must give it back to me, Kazhi--it's gone too far. I never meant it to come to this--"
He became petulant, as only wounded lovers can do when their hearts are spurned. Curling his hand into a fist, and drawing it to his chest, he said, "No! You're lying! What are you saying? What did you mean to happen? Why are you tormenting me this way, Morgaine? I--I thought you loved me--"
Now, at last, she looked at him, and her fair face was a mask of remorse. "I'm sorry," she said, and sounded sincere, "I never meant to hurt you. But this was part of the job, you see. I didn't know you when I gave you that ring--I thought it would be a way to try it out, to make sure that it would work, when Vivienne gave to to Merlin...which is why I need it back, now."
She held out her hand.
Kazhi stared in shock and dismay at first her hand, then her emotionless face, then her hand again.
Slowly, with much deep breathing, and trying not to tremble, he slipped the ring from his finger, and placed it into her palm--but whether he did it of his own free will, or whether she compelled him to obey her, was beyond his knowledge.
"There," said Morgaine as she quickly put the ring into her reticule. "That's done. Now don't you worry, this madness will pass, once the influence of the ring fades away--"
"It was all a trick?" he stammered, sounding lost. "You--you didn't love me at all--?"
Morgaine drew a deep sigh, one of pity, as a person might draw moments before pulling the trigger that ended a faithful horse's misery. "You must understand," she told him, "that I belong to an order...I have taken vows of eternal fidelity and chastity. I cannot love any mortal man--"
Here Kazhi began to laugh, to bark, actually, in that insane way of his. Morgaine frowned.
He caught her hand and held it as if it were a lifeline trailing from a passing ship. "I'm not mortal!" he told her in a giddy rush. "I have lived for thousands of years--! I cannot grow old! I cannot be killed--! I cannot die!"
Morgaine's reaction took him by surprise. Her face darkened, her eyes hardened to diamond points, and she snatched her hand from his.
"No, my friend," she stated in a dreadful, cold tone, "Your death has not yet been born!"
And in the next instant, she had vanished away, and had taken the mountain with her, leaving Kazhi sprawled and unconscious on a crushed conical hat in the courtyard of his stolen castle.
XXIX. And so now he had ruined everything, and she hated him, hated him for a masher, maybe even feared him, too--if Morgaine Lafayette could be afraid of anything--and he would never see her again.
That was the part that hurt the most. He loved her. Desperately. He loved her to the depth and breadth and height his soul could reach. It wasn't the ring at all--he wished it was. That would have done much to assuage his feelings of mortification and guilt. He had offended her and betrayed himself. He was a wretch, a low, vile, vulgar, crawling, filth-consuming wretch.
He contemplated suicide. Well, since that was impossible, he contemplated doing something so outrageous and contemptable that he would draw down the wrath of the Gods, and they would send the Dragonmaids to haul him off to his execution. He was quite ready to die, now. The thought of enduring eternity without Morgaine, without being able to explain himself, without so much as being able to say good-bye, tormented him with such exquisite agony that for whole days and nights together, he could do nothing but sit on the battlements, and weep.
Then, gradually, other thoughts began to whisper in his head, like timid mourners uncomfortably milling about the margins of the room. They allowed the grieving widow to spend herself over the corpse of her deceased beloved, and then, when nothing but dry heaves were left, they stepped forward, touched fingertips to shoulders, and offered their halting words of comfort.
Did she believe him, when he'd told her he was immortal--? What a stupid thing to say! Unless he could prove it, it was like boasting of having millions in the bank, or a blood tie to such-an-one famous person. How do you impress a sorceress? Why, tell her you're immortal, eh!
He hoped she hadn't believed him. Her words to him in response seemed to point to that--and what could she have meant, your death hasn't been born yet? What a cryptic thing to say!
As his broken-hearted grief wore itself out, Kazhi began to worry. Worry that she would come back, with nine frosty-faced maidens ranged behind her, girls who wished to have a word with him. Didn't Morgaine say she knew the Dragonmaids? Sure, they were the batch of the present time, but they were also goddesses, surely they could communicate with their future incarnations--
Perhaps, he thought with a sickening lurch, like hearing the elevator cable snap, that was what Morgaine had meant--! Of course! Some future Dragonmaid, not yet born, would be the one to destroy him. Well, at least that let out Artemis, the one who scared him witless. She was here already. It would not be her destiny to destroy him--he who was her unintentional half-brother.
That set him thinking about Arthur, poor, trusting Arthur Pendragon, who only wanted to do his best, and rule with love, not brute force of arms. He'd gotten screwed-over by his unknown half-sister, too, if Kazhi remembered correctly. Kazhi didn't have much of a conscience, in the civic-minded sense of the word, but he didn't think it very fair that Arthur was being set up for disaster by the very people he trusted to protect him--Nymue, who had given him Excalibur and its remarkable scabbard, and Morgaine Lafayette, whom he believed to be another half-sister.
Kazhi even felt sorry for Merlin. He would have warned him, if it hadn't been too late. Michelmas had come and gone, the old boy was probably well enmeshed with Vivienne's charms by now. If he had the ring on his knobby finger, he was surely lost--Kazhi could attest to that. He thought about scrying to look in on Caerleon, but his heart just wasn't in it anymore. He didn't even use magic to prepare his food--when he thought to eat, that is. He would just shuffle down to the kitchen, find something which still looked edible, and gnaw on it disconsolately until it turned to paste in his mouth. Then he spit it out and drifted away. But he wasn't going to starve himself to death. As if he could.
The first time around, once he'd gotten used to the fact that he couldn't die, he had begun to enjoy it. Time lost its urgency. He could indulge his intellect in so many of the purely esoteric pursuits which ordinary men, burdened by the knowledge that their clocks were ticking, would have to forgo in the interest of providing for themselves and posterity. He'd spent whole decades on one single experiment, had learned to make watches from an ingot, had travelled the known world...had applied himself to languages, to reading the great works of literature, to seeking out extraordinary personages to append himself to, in order to learn what they knew.
He had forgotten what a burden life could be, especially a life which had suddenly lost its lustre. And he couldn't die. He could spend all afternoon jumping off the battlements, and all he'd manage to do was give himself a head-ache. Pain, with no hope of escape...this was hell.
So his thoughts gradually settled on his course of action. He would go to Caerleon, he would present himself to Arthur, he would warn him, in great detail, of the coming disaster, and he would do everything in his power to spare the good King and to destroy the plot of the wicked sisters.
For they were wicked, weren't they? Kazhi knew wickedness when he saw it. It couldn't be kind, to trick a man, to play with his feelings as though he were no more than a puppet, to lead him on and then to shatter him....
Perhaps he had just gotten ahead of himself, he thought as he packed his bags in preparation for the journey. Perhaps he had spoken too soon, and scared off Morgaine. Women didn't like to be rushed--wasn't it some caliph who had told him that, over hookahs one day in the fifteenth century? Women preferred to call the dance. Oh, they made a good show, of blushing and lowering their eyes, but every little trick and conceit was performed with the express intention of making a man do their precise bidding. Morgaine, good little witch that she was, had been following her recipe, but the pot had boiled over too soon. What else could she do, but snatch it from the fire, and let it cool?
He conjured a map. He would have to go to Caerleon by ordinary means--magic would be too sudden, and might give the impression that he was part of the plan to abduct Merlin from Court. He would have to get a horse...a couple of horses...now he wished he'd asked Morgaine to teach him the spell to reduce the size of matter. That would have been practical. What good would it be, to change himself into a bird, if he couldn't bring his luggage along?
Ah, bugger the luggage, he then thought with disgust. Hadn't he learned to travel light? A pouchful of gold would serve to equip him when he got to Britain. Everything he had was rather shabby, anyway. Yes, there was the answer. He would put on his best outfit, and the robe which made him look like a wizard, hang a bag of gold around his neck, then turn into a goose, and--
He suddenly had the creeping sensation that he was not alone. It was as if someone had put an icecube down his back. He stiffened, but did not immediately turn around. There was a rustle of fabric behind him. Fabric was good. Scraping would have been bad. Scraping meant claws or scales--when you're a wizard, you never know who--or what--is going to pop in unnanounced.
He saw a shadow move on the wall in front of him, a shadow cast by someone passing in front of the window at his back. And then a voice asked softly, "Going somewhere?"
He whirled around, his heart frozen in the middle of a beat.
She had her arms folded and was resting on one leg, smirking at him, her glorious cascade of hair falling loose over her shoulders. She had a wreath of living apple-blossoms on her head, and wore a gown of such a delicate shade of pink that it was nearly white.
"You look surprised to see me," she observed.
"Astonished," agreed Kazhi. "I'd thought you'd never want to see me again--"
"Now, what would make you think that?" she asked, coming over to seat herself on his work-table, dispelling the map as she did so.
He could not take his eyes from her, yet he didn't want to stare, at least not so helplessly. So he scowled and looked at his luggage and scratched the back of his neck as though bugs had suddenly started pouring out of it. "Well...well, after what...happened...naturally, I thought...."
"You thought what?" She swung her legs to and fro, her little embroidered slippers darting in and out from the hem of her skirt.
He sighed, a great and ragged exhalation of air, and then, with a slump of his shoulders, he told her, "I was a cad. I'm sorry. I just let myself get carried away. I'd never do anything to compromise your opinion of me...and I wish that you could forgive me, and just--forget anything happened."
"Forget what?" asked Morgaine Lafayette. Kazhi began to writhe inside. She was baiting him on purpose, he was certain of it--
"You know very well what," he growled, as though the room were filled with spies. Then he cast her a martyred look. "Don't make me go over it again, Morgaine, please...! My dignity is in tatters, you have no idea...I've done nothing but torture myself about it, so there's nothing you can do that could possibly make me feel any worse."
She started to laugh, her pretty little laugh like the tinkling of bells. "You're an odd man, aren't you!" she teased. "I can't forgive you, because there's nothing to forgive! It was my mistake, if you come right down to it--I gave you the ring, and I didn't control it well enough--"
"No, Morgaine," Kazhi interrupted uneasily, "it--wasn't the ring."
The smile faded from her eyes.
He gritted his teeth, and blinked and sighed, and murmured, "I've made myself a pretty big fool already, so I've got nothing left to lose. Morgaine, I...I love you. I've never met a woman like you. I'd do anything, anything you could think to ask, to prove my love for you...and, even if you don't love me back, not even just a little, I can't change the way I feel about you. I would be willing to spend the rest of...the rest of Time trying to get you to see things my way, if only I had the slightest hope of success. I know that you are a great and powerful sorceress, and I would gladly be your willing slave--but Morgaine, there's still a part of me that's a man, and...well, I don't think I could bear to be in your presence, if you weren't my wife."
As he spoke, he sank to his knees before her, and crouched there, abject, bereft of hope, but feeling the compulsion to cleanse his soul all the same. When he finished, he bent his head, so that all he saw was a field of palest pink, woven through with infinitely delicate veins of gold.
For a long and difficult minute, nothing was said. Kazhi could feel himself begin to choke on his emotions, and he hoped that he would not begin to cry, and put the last nail in his coffin.
"For God's sake," he whispered, "say something."
He heard her sigh, and then he felt her touch him, lightly, on the top of the head...he felt her fingers stroke through his curly hair, gently, as one caresses a dog.
"All right," she said.
He looked up so suddenly that her hand was now cupping his cheek, his eyes like two targets.
"What--?" he blurted.
Morgaine smiled, a fleeting and trembling smile. There seemed to be moisture shining in her eyes.
"I said--all right. I've given it some thought....that's what I came here to tell you. You'd taken me by surprise, the other day...and I wasn't sure if it was the ring, or something else. But you are free of the ring, and you still feel the same, so...all right. I'll become your mistress. Your wife, if you prefer."
Kazhi was glad he was kneeling. He went instantly numb, then hot and cold and hot again by turns. He fumbled to clasp her hand, to clutch it, to fondle it as he breathed, "You're sure? You mean it?
You--you love me, then?"
Morgaine smiled softly down at him, the smile so many painters would give to the Madonna in future centuries. She seemed edged all around with a thin aura of golden radiance, even though she sat opposite the window, and the blossoms trembled like jewels on her fair hair.
"You're immortal," she told him simply. "Check and...mate."
Kazhi sprang to his feet, caught between a laugh and a wild whoop of redeemed elation. Morgaine, too, stood up, her hands on the upper part of his arms. He was wriggling with delight, picking at her sleeves, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to embrace her, to bury himself in her, to intoxicate his senses in the delicious stupefaction that was her--he couldn't afford to be too hasty, not now.
"Oh--oh, my dear...my darling...my precious jewel...."
He lapsed into such Persian endearments as he had believed he had long forgotten, poetic, evocative phrases crowded out of his mind by thirty centuries of other things. Morgaine listened to his lovesick rambling with a peaceful, patient smile.
He timidly kissed her hand, her palm, her wrist, and she let him. He whimpered something incoherent about making preparations, and the enchantress said, "Let's not bother with all that. I am ready to marry you right now--if it pleases you."
This was too much to be believed! He swayed on his feet, and if he had not been holding her hand, he doubtless would have collapsed. "N-now?"
"Yes, now," she said, lowering her gorgeous eyes, and tossing her hair so that her smooth, bare shoulder could shrug invitingly. "That is--if you're willing--"
Kazhi's thoughts became a blur of collisions, and certain factions of his being which did not have much use for thought began to grunt and howl their opinion. Morgaine was regarding him ever so coyly, with her face turned aside, but her eyes lifted to his, and her gown clinging provocatively to everything that made her an enchantress.
"But...but...." stammered the wizard, trying to make some order in his lust-addled brain, "shouldn't there be a...a ceremony? Witnesses? Something to make it...legal, like?"
She tossed her head with a laugh. "Listen to you!" she taunted, drawing the tips of her fingernails across his cheeks. "Ceremony is well and fine, for ordinary mortals--by we are wizards, are we not? We are nearly gods! We can do as we wish."
He felt slightly cheated. "But...but, if you--if you're serious, about--all that; I don't want to hide anything, I would be proud to be so honored--"
He stammered some other things, which made little sense, about consorts, and cabbages, and kings, and Morgaine sighed with fond amusement, like mothers do when their toddlers start to babble.
"Well, all right," she decided, "I'd always thought that it was the woman who longed for the fancy clothes and the big party. If it's a ceremony you want, then you shall have it."
Then she brought her lips very close to his, but instead of kissing him, she whispered in a conspirational voice, "But you see--there's a slight complication. Nymue would be very cross--she's a stickler for form, you know, and she would be livid if she were to find out. She would move heaven and earth to prevent it. So you will have to be content with an elopement. Afterwards there will be nothing that she or any of our other sisters can do to change things. There is only one thing sorcerers cannot do...and it's to restore perfect virginity."
Kazhi almost fainted.
Morgaine began to conjure golden bracelets from the air, which she wrapped around Kazhi's neck, wrists, and waist, and he did not think to question her, for he was far too absorbed with the words she was speaking. "Once you have taken me," she said, "and I have taken you, we will belong to each other, you see...it is the primal act of marriage, the union of two souls, and together we will command more power than anyone else on the Earth, above it, or beneath it. You were right, what you said, up there on the magic mountain--and it startled me, for I did not even think about the possibility of taking the world. That's why I was so upset. But now that I've had the chance to think about it...it appeals to me. I will break my faith, and there will be no one to stop me, not as long as I have you by my side, my wizard, my Cernunnos, my Kazhi...."
She put her chains around his legs, around his ankles, and he trembled with the effort of suppressing his desire. Her cheek was brushing against him. She was garbing him as a king. She brought out a final chain, heavier than the others, and studded thickly with diamonds, and set this upon his head, like a crown, so that now there were twelve golden chains decorating his body. He didn't understand it, but he imagined that it was some magical ritual of consecration, a ceremonial binding of him to her. He expected that he would get to put the chains on her, next.
She took him by the hands, and led him, panting and brain-numb, to a chamber, sumptuously furnished, a chamber he could not recall ever having seen before. It was fitted out with ornate hangings, masses of fragrant flowers, platters of luscious foods, enough to supply them for a week (A week! he squeaked inside his head.) And of course, there was a massive, canopied bed, carved with all manner of allegorical images, which Morgaine compelled him to lie down upon. She never took her eyes from his, nor let the little, mysterious smile fade from her lips.
"Now--relax," she purred, as she took a step back, "Just, relax...."
She took another step back, and another. How could Kazhi relax? He was a thrumming hive of bees, he was a pawing stallion, he was every masculine simile ever invented by people too prudish to put the actual term to it; three thousand years, plus a couple, and the woman of his dreams, and in another few seconds, he would be drowned in a sea of ecstacy....
But Morgaine kept backing up, until she was standing outside the room. Kazhi struggled to look at her, and his brow furrowed in confusion. Morgaine looked at him sadly, and raised her slender arms.
"I'm sorry," she said, and suddenly the room disappeared, and Kazhi found himself dangling in a dark closet, suspended by twelve stout chains.
"What the--?" was all that Kazhi could think of to say, as he squirmed futilely against his bindings.
The door of the closet was open, and Morgaine was standing framed in the doorway. She looked sad, but only vaguely. "I'm sorry," she said again, with a little shrug and sigh, "but you are far too dangerous to be left free. Don't worry--I'll make sure you're looked after. You won't suffer. It will be like falling asleep--just like Merlin."
Kazhi stared at her in horror and desperation. "Morgaine! What are you doing? Why are you doing this to me?"
"I have no choice," she told him. "You have no idea what a dangerous risk I've been running. But I will protect your secret, and Nymue will keep it, too."
"What secret?" Kazhi gasped frantically.
"That you're immortal," said Morgaine. "There's a prophesy, you see...that the death of the Enduring One shall bring on the end of the world. I have to do this, Kazhi, it's the only thing I can do. I have a responsibility."
"To whom?" Kazhi whimpered, thrashing around as helpless as a fish in a net.
Then, as he stared at her, his blood went cold, for she began to glow, and her fine gown changed, into leggings, and boots, and a tunic of saffron-colored fabric, with the image of a sun-in-glory embroidered on the breast...there was a sword at her side, and a brilliant yellow star blazing above her sad, black eyes....
"To the world, Kazhi. I am sworn to protect and defend mortals from the machinations of renegades like you. I know you're not all that bad, but you are deceitful...you can't be trusted not to make mischief. I'm sorry I had to lie to you. I didn't think you'd understand--or maybe, that you would. You see, history will know me as Morgana La Fay, but my proper name is Morgan...Aurora...Daystar."
"Oh-h-h," Kazhi moaned, squeezing shut his eyes, the full horror of his situation hitting him like a load of wet mortar hurled over a wall at him.
Then Morgaine leaned over, and gently kissed him on the lips, the brush of a butterfly. "Don't worry," she whispered, in what she must have thought was an encouraging voice, "I'll protect you. As long as I wear the Key, you'll be safe. Sleep now, my poor unfortunate little boy. Sleep, and waken only when the sun shall shine upon you...."
She swept her palm down his face, closing his eyes, and Kazhi, with scarcely a whimper, fell instantly into a profound slumber, dangling in his chains like a marionette.
Morgaine stood, for a while, regarding the limp and lifeless wizard, her arms folded, her brow-star illuminating him with a weird and shimmering light. She had been a Dragonmaid for a very long time, but it had not robbed her of her compassion, and she was hating herself for the part she'd had to play. It was one thing to trick an old campaigner like Merlin--quite another to do it to such a hapless creature.
He had called himself immortal, and she knew it to be true. Nymue had been there, as a horse, by the Danube when the Dragonmaids had overtaken him with the Firebird, though Morgaine had been off on another mission. She and Nymue--Nymue Ariel Seastar--were behind only Artemis in tenure, and they had heard vague rumors concerning the assassination of the Dragon Queen, Tiamat, told to them by some of the dragons who had been called into being by her immortal blood splashing upon the gold and jewels of her fabulous hoard. They claimed that one of the raiding party attendant upon Marduk had survived, somehow...had shut himself up in the library under Tiamat's mountain...they had seen him, a wraith darting through the shadows, his pale eyes shining in the darkness...and then one day, he had disappeared...he had been there for hundreds of years, and suddenly he was gone...they lost track of him...but it could only be a rumor, dragons often got muddled between their dreams and reality.....
She gazed long and sadly at Kazhi. Poor little fellow, she thought. It wasn't his fault that he had inherited a dragon's nature. She knew what it was like. Well, this was for the best....
She softly shut the door. She went up to the tallest turret, and worked a powerful incantation, which lifted the whole castle in a cloud and transported it hundreds of miles to the east, and set in down in a deep, dark forest, where no one ever went, where no one would ever find it. He would be safe, the fate of the world would be preserved, its death kept locked up with golden chains. Then Morgaine Lafayette, Third Dragonmaid of the Sun, spread her arms, and changed into a golden eagle, and soared away into the sky, over the vast forest of the land which would someday be Russia, turning her face toward the setting sun, going home. To Avalon.
Someday, she knew, she would have a lot of explaining to do. But that day had not yet dawned.