Read Percival's Angel Online

Authors: Anne Eliot Crompton

Percival's Angel (5 page)

Sir Edik's brown eyes rose slightly to the shelf he had built over her doorway. Sir Ogden's rusted sword lay there, pushed back and shrouded. Hidden.

Alanna almost gloated. “One sword…one dull old sword he has never seen or touched, let alone learned…Sir Edik, your wits have taken leave of you. You would have me send my only living child away into that terrible world with nothing but an old sword…”

But lo! Over Sir Edik's shoulder, through a rent in the deerskin curtain, Alanna saw Percy enter the clearing. He came brighter, sturdier, happier, than she had just imagined him. The cloud of sullen misery had lifted from his face.

He had not gone yet. She still had this one chance.

With a cry she sprang up, started forward, stumbled over Sir Edik, and fell into his lap.

He tried to hold her.

She struggled and flailed. She rolled away and up and out the door to Percy.

***

Once when we were young, Percy tried to show me that Alanna's Goddess Mary was harmless.

He said, “Stand right here.” And he set me firmly before Her. “Get used to Her. You'll see She's just wood.”

I knew She was wood! But I also saw the blue cloud of Her aura flame toward me, that aura Percy never saw.

He had to hold on to my hand to keep me there. That first moment I was gut-anxious. Next, my hair started to rise. Shudders scrambled up and down me. My heart began to pound like a Flowering Moon drum. I tore my hand from Percy's and ran. I did not see Percy again for many days.

A foolishly well-worn trail leads straight up from West River to Alanna's bower. As you enter the clearing you feel Mary's Power. You stop and look about, and then you see Mary.

She stands under Her own bower, which looks like a Fey-built shelter; except that it stands clear and visible and isolated as the Counsel Oak King Tree.

Mary Herself is my size, and mostly gray; though traces of blue and red color cling to Her gown. A tiny man stands upright on Her left palm. He wears a long robe and a rayed reed sunhat, such as Humans wear when haying. His face is sad and severe. Percy says that He is Mary's “Babe.”

Mary's right hand stretches out toward you. Percy says it offers you protection and comfort. I feel it seeks to grab me and make me as small as Her Son. Then I could stand on Her right palm forever, a stiff warning to passing Fey.

Mary's face is grim as Alanna's. She wears a tall, pointed crown because, Percy says, She is Queen of Heaven. Her figure and hair are lost in heavy, draping robes.

If Mary's Babe is a severe man She holds on one hand, what must Mary be, Herself?

Spirit lives in Her. Her blue aura drifts about Her, undimmed by sunshine. It says She is more than alive. Fey who do not see auras at all can still feel the presence of this one. Come close to Mary, and you feel someone breathing. Stand before Her and Her empty wooden eyes look at you. Step right or left, and they seem to follow you.

Seeing all this, if you are Fey, you turn back. We call the clearing “Mary's Clearing.”

No one wants to pass anywhere near Mary. I have never seen fairies, ghosts, or any kind of spirit near Mary but Her own blue aura. And I have spent much time, over the years, spying from this high yew on the edge of Her clearing!

Right now as I look down at Her, Mary's aura prickles and turns toward me, watches me. Even “safe” and high in my yew tree, I shiver.

Animals and Humans do not fear Mary. Right now, sparrows are building a nest in Her thatched roof. Several times a day Ivie comes by lugging wood or water; she bows her fiery head to Mary, as to anyone she might meet on a trail, and walks on by without missing a step.

Sometimes Mary wears a flower crown on top of Her wooden crown. Then I know that Ivie, or Alanna, has actually stepped up close and laid these flowers on Her. It must be they cannot even feel the pulse and throb of Her great, blue aura!

Percy has no fear of Her. And yet, I have seen him kneel before Her, raise his hands, and pray—even as the Lady prays to the Goddess. At these times I sometimes see Mary shine on him, and his face and upraised hands glowing with Her light. I do not watch this. I turn away.

Blackbirds sing now around me. Insects hum and whine. From Alanna's bower I hear voices, but not what they say. They talk Human, which I don't know that well. But the tones tell me that Alanna is awake and frightened, and gentle Old Sir Edik is trying to calm her.

Why is Alanna so often frightened? Does she lack the powerful Human Heart she should have? Or maybe she does not know how to use it. A magic wand in an ignorant hand is of little use.

Crack! Snap! Thud!
That's Big White Percy, coming up behind my yew.

He strides by without a glance up the yew, never dreaming my presence; no scent, no breath alerts him. If I spoke, he would hear only blackbirds singing. In shadow his aura glows wide, orange and green. He swings into the clearing. Sun burns in his hair, and his aura fades.

Inside the bower, Alanna shrieks.

Percy breaks stride with a little, small jump, like a dart-struck hare. Quickly, then, he gathers himself and advances again on the bower.

The deerskin curtain is ripped aside. Alanna charges out, arms stretched to Percy, mouth wide with a shriek.

Sir Edik, following, stops in the entrance. There he pauses, arms folded, curly gray head cocked. Shadowed, his green aura ripples around him. Like me he spies, unobserved.

Alanna hurls herself against Percy. He rocks back on his heels and flings his arms around her to hold her up. She sobs a torrent of Human words at him. “Mother…break…stay…”

Hah! Percy said to me that Alanna would not let him go out to the Kingdom, even if the Lady of the Lake allowed it. I said to Percy that she could not stop him. How could she stop him? Percy growled and glared.

Now I see. These words, these cries, are weapons that wound a Human Heart. As Mage Merlin told me, Heart is dangerous.

Percy answers at first with murmurs, then with clear words. “Knight…King…Sky…” Alanna shudders and threatens to fall at each of these words, so Percy has to hold her up tighter. They are two trees that lean together, swaying in a high wind. I have seen some strange Human things from this yew, but nothing stranger than this.

Alanna hiccups and squawks. Leaning on Percy, she beats his shoulders, his arms, with her fists. “Listen!” she gasps, and follows with a string of incomprehensible words. “Listen!” Another string. “Listen to me. I was there, I know!” And another string. She's telling him about the Kingdom, how fearful and terrible it is.

She's telling him what he must do there—how he must walk, talk, breathe, so as to be Human. So as to survive.

Gods! I'm grateful I walked away from my mother while she slept! I'm glad I don't remember her face.

Percy murmurs understanding.

Alanna pushes herself upright and away. But she still grips Percy's hand. She points past him to Mary. She turns him around by his hand and leads him to Mary, as I have seen a peasant woman lead a bull by its nose ring.

Alanna expects Mary to help her. But why? Percy told me that Mary's son went away from Her too.

Alanna crashes to her knees before Mary. She pulls Percy down beside her and screams.

All through this storm Mary has been quietly glowing, without even me noticing. Now I notice, because the quiet glow becomes lightning. As a lightning flash brightens river and forest, so Mary's flash brightens Her clearing. But this lightning holds its glare. Stark light stronger than sunlight illumines Percy's and Alanna's upturned faces; and Sir Edik, who thought himself safe in the doorway; and a mouse who thought himself safe in Mary's shadow.

The clearing hangs in light deeper than sunlight for as long as it takes me to skitter down my yew and flee. Longer. For even as I dart away, heart pounding, from tree to tree and shade to shade I can still glance back and see that unearthly light above Mary's clearing.

***

Up and down the Fey river drums beat for the Flowering Moon.

Gently we drift, Percy and I, in our bobbing round coracle, downstream toward the Kingdom. (Far enough upstream is also the Kingdom. Everywhere around our magic forest is Arthur's Kingdom.)

Percy and I have always been alone together, but never quite like this. This time we go alone together on a long trip, maybe an endless trip. So we bring our material goods with us: fire flints, Bee Stings, clothes. Alanna gave Percy her big soup kettle, to serve as a helmet; I wonder how she will cook soup, now. She's used that kettle for longer than I've known Percy! Also, she made him a new tunic in a hurry, from three different-colored cloths.

(Giggling, I asked Percy if she had made one like that for me. “Oh,” he said, “maybe she would have; but I did not tell her you were going.”

“Why not?”

Percy blushed from the lump in his throat to the roots of his hair. “You know how she is…”

Ah, yes. This very night, Alanna probably hides in her bower from the Flowering Moon drums.)

We drift past Apple Island, where Lady Villa gleams moon-white through its creeping, sheltering vines. We drift carefully downstream from one drum to the next, because this way is the most silent. Percy mans the pole.
Plop!
goes the pole like a jumping frog, and we skim forward.
Crrrsh!
goes pole against bank, like a turtle bumping its shell, and we waver out into moonlit water. Another
plop!
brings us back under the safer shadow of overhanging trees.

Behind us one drum fades. Around the bend, another throbs. Now we are close enough to hear pipes. Gods! We're close enough to see firelight reflected from white birches on the shore! Red light leaps, interrupted by leaping shadows.

Back in there they are dancing. All my friends, all my folk, dance tonight at this fire, or some other. Even most of the Children's Guard have left their posts on the forest edges to dance tonight. (A good thing no Humans know this! Tonight they could invade with little danger—at least at first.)

Percy and I chose this good night for our escape. Despite the Lady's consent, we decided to escape, attracting no notice. Not all the Children's Guard may have heard the Lady's decision; and any way, we Fey are not known for obedience or cooperation! So we chose this Flowering Moon dance night.

But I do not trust wholly to the Fey dance-lust. I also cast a very fine magic mist about our coracle. Any who may chance to notice it will rub their eyes and blame the moonlight.

Back in the trees, the pipe wails like Alanna.
Thump!
Goes the drum, like my heart.

Never since I was very young have I missed a dance! We children danced around the edge of the crowd. We learned the steps. We tasted the Grand Mushroom the dancers nibbled, and learned its uses. We watched the glances and gestures, the glidings away and drawings together. When the adult dancers had disappeared, two by two, sometimes three together, we slept where we dropped around the dying fires.

Last autumn for the first time, a young fellow strutted up to me. And for the first time I observed that under his beautiful costume, he himself was beautiful.

I wished he had been Percy! If only he had been Percy!

Well I knew that Percy was shut away in Alanna's bower.

Come to think, I remember that Ivie danced at that same fire. I remember her hair flopping loose, red as the fire. Big she is, heavy for Fey taste; though I supposed a Human fellow might like her. So I was surprised when she wandered off into darkness with a fine Fey man lovelier than mine.

(I doubt that Ivie dances tonight, great with child as she is.)

I wanted Percy. I looked at my beautiful fellow, and I wanted Percy! His bright bigness! His warmth!

That night I waited for Percy. Later nights, I still waited for Percy. But Percy never came to dances. Alanna kept him shut in with her during Flowering Moons.

I was young. Desire was not yet hot in me. Even so, I tried to interest Percy at other times—while fishing, reed gathering, trapping together.

Percy was never interested. Percy is never interested. My friends remark that he is made of ice. Slowly, I grow hot.

Drifting now past firelight and music, sadness seizes me.

Why am I leaving my folk and my forest?

This Human Heart I want so much, is it truly the World's Magical Power, as Merlin tells? It does Alanna little good! And Ivie…well, Ivie seems to lack it. Ivie has become almost Fey. And Percy has not yet grown his Heart; he doesn't know he has one.

So I have only Merlin's tales to go by; gray-bearded half-Human Merlin told me once of this famous Human Heart and its Powers…and dangers.

And now for this I slide downriver with Percy on a quest I know better than to dare!

Good-bye, Flowering Moon drum!

Good-bye
—the last fading drum throbs.
Good-bye
.

Ahead, the Fey river narrows. Leaning tree-shadows darken water. Percy leans on his pole, holding us still.

Rustle. Slither.
Whispering
splash.

Something leaves the dark bank and swims out into moonlight.

Whiter than moonlight, it breaks river-sparkle.

It turns an eye toward us, flaps an ear, and calmly swims for the far shore.

I murmur, “Deer.”

“White!”

“Our guide.”

“Huh?”

“Shush.”

Percy poles us forward.

Trees fall back, draw away.

This is the border, the dangerous crossing. Child Guards may yet watch here.

I concentrate, touch a fingertip to Victory who sings near my heart, and send deeper, denser mist around our coracle.

Behind us the Flowering Moon drum beats like a forgotten heart.

Before us, the Flowering Moon silvers a new, wide-opening landscape.

Oak Counsel

A price is paid for every Quest.

Draw heart's blood from out bared breast.

Spin soft silk of needly nettle,

Boil beef broth without a kettle.

Sort grain from grain, and pile apart.

Be still, when silence breaks the heart.

Raise the rock and seek the stair

That descends from light and air

To the dread domain of Death.

(Eyes averted. Bated breath.)

Open not the box you bear

Back up that steep stony stair;

Bring up treasure, honest measure.

Even so, your Quest may fail.

Who has found the Holy Grail?

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