I had the most amazing dream, so vivid it was as if I had truly travelled back in time.
I was flying, not just gliding. I was really flying, effortlessly soaring from the high peak of an island over a broad glassy lake, flapping occasionally to gain altitude over vivid green forests and farmland. I wasn’t alone. My sisters flew beside me, two of the eldest warriors of the Silver clan. They banked when I did, following my lead, wingtips just out of reach.
There was a tiny city on a hill in the distance surrounded by a stone wall with a castle in the center. It was nothing like any castle I’d ever seen, not weathered white stone and crumbling mortar lying abandoned like the skeleton of a dead giant. It was vibrantly alive with brilliant banners and people everywhere as busy as ants in a disturbed mound.
My sisters and I flew to the open courtyard in the center of the square castle. Normally, we would be more polite and land by the front gate, but we were expected, and Merlin’s message had held a sense of urgency. As we landed, we folded our wings and traded our impenetrable scales for fragile human skins. We donned the simple white gowns of lamb’s wool that a servant brought us, and girded our hips with silver as befitted our clan. I touched my girdle fondly. It was studded with emeralds as bright as my beloved Merlin’s scales and befitted my station as the Pendragon of the Silver clan. He had forged it for me centuries before when our love was new, and the intricate silver plates had darkened with age.
Merlin strode forward, beard and hair long and white, but back still straight and blue eyes bright with intelligence. The Wizard of the Green clan was perhaps the oldest dragon living, older than me by millennia, yet our love had given him his only children, both sons unfortunately. Robert, our youngest boy, walked solemnly beside his father, a gangly, long-legged child of less than two decades. He grinned wide and ran to meet me. “Mother!”
I embraced the boy tight and my heart swelled. I wished, not for the first time, that Robert had been born a girl so that he could inherit leadership of my clan, rather than follow in his father’s footsteps as a healer and seer.
I embraced Merlin as well, tenderly, and for a moment our minds mingled. There was love between us still, and always would be, but our love would forevermore be tainted with grief and guilt. I could no longer be a proper mate to him. “I’m sorry,” I told him in the privacy of our minds.
Merlin did not have the Silver clan gift, so could not speak back in the same way. “As am I,” he whispered for my ears alone. Our eldest son Uther had been a fine, strong young drake, but he had been mad enough to fall in love with a mostly human woman, wife to a nobleman of Caledonia with Black clan ties. He had started a war that shed human and dragon blood in rivers. Eventually my son had paid the ultimate price for his folly at the hands of a Green/Black hybrid that I suspected was one of his own bastards. The foolish fledgling never did seem to learn that he could not have every woman his eye fell upon with lust.
A serious young man dressed in full armor, sweat matting his golden hair from his efforts at weapons practice joined us in the courtyard. The only good thing that had come of Uther’s dalliance was my grandson, Arthur. He was barely more than a boy, tall, strong and handsome with his scales just beginning to come in, but already he showed a strength of character that Uther had never attained. He was the youngest Pendragon in history. My sister, Fiona, and her son, Gawain accompanied him. Fiona was the finest swordswoman in our clan, and she spoke with admiration of Arthur’s inborn talent for swordplay.
“A boy so young should not have to take on the mantle of war,” I said sadly, then smiled at my grandson. “But Fiona tells me you fight well, … for a male.”
Arthur chuckled, and bowed. “Lady Nyneve, welcome. I bear bruises from Fiona’s lessons for weeks. It is good to know that they have some benefit.”
Fiona and Gawain excused themselves to continue their weapons practice. Merlin suggested that Robert join them, which lit up the boy’s eyes with pleasure. Merlin kept our son too close at times, always with books and studying. I understood his determination not to repeat the mistakes we made with Uther, but Robert was my son, too. He needed to be allowed to stretch his wings at times.
In a private chamber, we were served refreshments, clear spring water untainted with wine and a fine stew of lamb flavored with salt pork, with eggs to thicken it and no trace of that horrible-smelling garlic the common people seemed so fond of. “What has happened, Merlin,” I asked when all were refreshed. “Your messenger spoke of a dark vision?”
“The Blacks have not forgotten the blood they shed on our land decades ago, my lady of the lake.” Merlin stroked his beard and his eyes unfocused, seeing that which no one else could, glimpses of future possibilities. “A vision came to me last night, clear and sharp, so it is near in time and probability. I have seen a man, with but a trace of noble dragon blood, somehow fully scaled head to toe, bearing a black sword that can cut even through the impenetrable scales of the Silvers. He seeks to sever young Arthur’s head.”
I could feel my eyes burn with rage at such insolence. Arthur sat straight in his tall-backed chair, showing no sign of fear, but a murder plot was never an easy thing to live with. “No foreign upstart will lay a claw on my grandson.”
Arthur smiled at my flash of protectiveness.
Merlin was not finished with his dire vision. “A dark army follows in the Black knight’s wake. Fire and destruction. He seeks to rule all the lands and people of Black, Green, Red and Silver, and my vision shows two paths. If this man succeeds in killing Arthur, he will attain his goal but at a terrible, bloody cost, hunger, disease, and the death of thousands. If Arthur survives and this man dies, the lands will prosper for decades to come.”
“That man is insane. We have little more than an uneasy truce with Eric the Red and his people. Arthur may lead Green and the humans of this land, but the sisters of Avalon bow to no one, and we are the ones who anoint kings. Killing Arthur would make this man nothing more than a murderer, one that we would hunt down and execute.”
“Perhaps.” Merlin stroked his beard thoughtfully. “But if the Blacks gain a foothold here, it will give them a perfect place to build their strength and launch attacks against the northlands. Avalon will be isolated and even the greatest warriors eventually fall to sufficient numbers.”
The hair at the nape of my neck lifted as a shiver ran up my spine. Merlin’s visions had proven far too accurate in the past. The fall of Camelot and Avalon to the ruthless Blacks could not be allowed to come to pass. “This Black knight must die.”
Merlin reached across the table and took my hand with the same gentle strength that he had always shown. “I fear for your life, my lady, if you fight him.”
“Have you seen a vision of my death as well?”
Merlin shook his head as if to clear it and confusion made his craggy face seem older than ever. “The visions are not clear. I see only flashes, blood on Silver scales, fire hotter than a volcano’s breath, and an overwhelming feeling of horror.” His hand trembled on mine. Never had he looked so fragile and ancient. Merlin had lived so long that it was easy to believe that he would live forever. But no one lives forever. “I beg of you, Nyneve. When the time comes, send another to face him.”
I stared angrily into Merlin’s too perceptive blue eyes. He had to know that I would never order one of my sisters into a battle I feared myself. It tightened my jaw that he would even suggest such cowardice.
“We should send word to Eric,” Arthur said, always the peacemaker.
Merlin knew me well. He closed his eyes for a moment, face weary and sad, then nodded slightly and released my hand. “I will send a swift messenger across the sea to the northlands, my liege.”
Arthur stood and his voice rang with authority, “When the Black knight and his army arrive, they will find us ready.”
I hoped that he was right.
The world of King Arthur faded away. I tried to cling to it, wondering what would happen to Arthur, to Lady Nyneve, and to the adolescent boy, Robert who had to be my father, but pain pulled me toward my own reality. Pain and thirst.