20 January 2013 @ 11:17 pm
* NaNo Project* Part the Eighth - Section the Second - The Visitors - 956AD  
I woke early the next day, full of excitement at the prospect of seeing my parents once more after more than a year of having not.

Camelot was in full festive spirit, flags flying not only from the parapets but form all sorts of other makeshift poles and outside windows. The castle court yard was full of activity, guards and nobles milling about and I knew just beyond the castle walls the rest of the city would be decked out in even more colour.

I put on my best clothes and hurried to the servant’s washing area to clean my face and make myself generally presentable. Once I was satisfied that my mother wouldn’t lecture me for not having brushed my hair and that my tunic was on the right way around and straight I headed out.

Father had not actually arranged a place to meet, but all travellers arriving in Camelot had to register their presence with the guards at the main gate. And that is where I headed, either I would be able to wait and meet them or I would be able to find out where precisely they were headed when they arrived.

It turned out they hadn’t arrived yet so I waited as patiently as I could near the main gate taking in the sights around me.

Camelot was abuzz with people, particularly merchants who were hawking their wares. Children were running about and cheering, while their mothers hurried after them doing their best to keep them within sight.

The guards who were at the gate were in a very good mood, more than happy to show off their weapons to curious children.

I noticed the blacksmith’s son at one point, he had grown in the months since I saw him last. He was certainly going to be tall once he grew, quite able to take on the mantle of his father’s black smithy when the time came.

He admired the knight’s swords as the other children had, but in a different way, he was admiring the craftsmanship and makeup rather than the fact it was a weapon.

It’s always interesting people watching and I became so absorbed in it I almost missed seeing my parents arrive! But out of the corner of my eye I spotted my mother’s favourite travelling clothes and turned quickly, a smile spreading across my face.

“Mother! Father!” I waved at them.

“Geoffrey!” My mother cried holding out her arms to me, I hurried forward and enveloped her in a big hug. I turned to Father then and we also embraced.

“Welcome to Camelot,” I greeted them.

“It’s so beautiful!” Mother exclaimed looking around her eyes wide. “How do you keep it so white?” She asked this question of either me or the guard, but neither of us actually had an answer.

“How was your trip?” I asked they certainly looked better than I had when I had first arrived in Camelot!

Father was talking to the guards about who he and mother were and how long they would be staying here, so Mother answered for both of them.

“Fast! And quite comfortable, the roads in this kingdom are almost as good as the ones in Mercia.”

I briefly wondered at the wisdom of bringing up another kingdom, particularly Mercia which I was well aware was not a particularly popular with the people of Camelot, but no-one seemed to hear.

Mother came over and took my arm. “And how have you being, Geoffrey? Still enjoying your work?”

I nodded. “Very much.”

Father had finished speaking with the guards and turned with a smile.

“Even tutoring that prince of yours?”

I made a slight face. “He seems to be improving in quite a few areas. Plus he’s more involved in the process of becoming a knight one day so I don’t have to spend as much time trying to keep him entertained as well as educated.”

Mother and Father laughed and with a nod to the guards we headed off down the main street in the city towards the castle.

“The festivities are supposed to officially start at noon,” I remarked, “so I’ll have enough time to show you the library and meet Cedas, my mentor, and my friend, Gaius.”

“Lead on, son,” my father announced, pointing towards the castle as if it were some distant land of adventure. I suppose in a way it was.

The castle halls were bustling and it was a bit of a struggle leading my parents down them and up the stairs to the library.

My parents were enthralled by the castle, not that I could blame them, there were parts of it that still took my breath away when I stumbled across them.

In fact they didn’t even realise we had reached the library until I called their attention to it.

The entrance to Camelot’s library was quite a sight to behold actually, the large oak double doors were flanked by roman style columns and a stylised lintel over the top.

My mother gasped in admiration. “It looks so impressive, Geoffrey.”

I grinned, proudly. “Just wait until you see inside,” I remarked and with a flourish I pulled the doors open and bade them to enter.

Cedas was behind the desk of course and looked up as we entered, a tiny smile lifting the corner of his mouth.

“Ah, the ever mentioned parents of my protégé Geoffrey,” he greeted my parents as he got to his feet.

Father and Mother headed over to shake Cedas’s offered hand.

“Cedas, is it?” Father asked just to make sure and at the old man’s nod continued. “I want to thank you for taking our son under your wing, you have the most impressive library here. Geoffrey’s lucky to have the opportunity to work here.”

Cedas looked rather surprised, he wasn’t used to getting compliments, being so prickly. “Thank you...Geoffrey is a fine student, he’s managed every task I’ve set him and a few more besides. He seems to have a great store of hidden talents. You heard how he became a scribe just recently.”

Mother beamed at me. “We did!” She squeezed my arm. “We always knew that Geoffrey had talent, but we’re glad to be proven right.”

“Feel free to have a look around, I think I can trust Geoffrey not to cause any destruction.”

I was more than happy to show my parents the grand library of Camelot, even down to my small room.

My mother’s eyebrows rose at the sight of the small alcove room. “I don’t imagine you spend much time in here.” She shook her head.

“No, fortunately my days are so full I’m lucky if I have enough hours left over to get the sleep I need!”

Mother looked slightly perturbed by that remark. “I do hope you’re getting enough sleep Geoffrey, I don’t want you getting worn down or –“

I held up my hand. “No, no, I was kidding, I assure you Mother I’m getting the sleep I need. It’s really not so bad, after all I’m close to all the books this way.”

Father chuckled and took Mother’s other arm. “That’s surely a dream for you.”

I nodded enthusiastically. “It is come on I’ll show you what I do once I wake up.”

I lead them away from my alcove to the catalogue room showing them the huge volumes that contained the records of all the books within the great library.

“So organised,” Mother was clearly impressed. “How many books does this library have, do you think?”

"Well, I've not had the time to count them myself," I remarked with a grin. "But I have it in good authority there's at least a hundred thousand."

Mother and Father shook their heads in awe and I felt as proud as if I had selected all the books myself.

Although I, of course, could have spent the whole day in the library I knew my parents wanted to see other things and there was plenty to show them!

I took the long route to the Physician's Quarters passing down some of the windowed corridors of Camelot which afforded the most spectacular view of the countryside around the city. There were also plently of sculptures and various tapestries to take in.

"You really do live in the most remarkable place, Geoffrey," Mother shook her head in amazement, then smiled st me proudly. "You've worked hard to earn your place here and you deserve it."

I grinned. "I don't know if I've done that much, it was more luck the anything else and having fine parents to guide me, of course."

Mother laughed. "Flatterer."

Finally we arrived at the spiral staircase that lead up to the Physician's Chambers, I told my parents they were free to remain at the foot of the stairs if they didn't want to risk going up them.

Father seemed to take some offense at that. "We're hardly decrepit, my boy!" He announced with mock outrage. "Besides if we do fall and hurt ourselves we'll be in the best position to get medical care."

I laughed, unable to fault that logic. Although as we climbed I reflected on the utter lack of wisdom in using such stairs as an access route to medical attention. There was another entrance of course, but it required going the long way and was mostly for the nobility, it seemed that servants were once again ill considered.

Still my parents and I arrived at the top landing with no incidents and as I raised my hand to knock on the door it was opened.

"You finally made it," Gaius said by way of greeting, he looked over my shoulder. "Good morning Bishop, madam." He was wearing his most charming smile and I could tell my parents were immediately impressed.

"I am Gaius, apprentice to the Court Physian, Linus," my friend continued in grand style holding out his hand for my father to shake and then he took my mother's hand and bowed over it, greeting her as one would a noble woman.

My mother was clearly pleased and asked from where he came from and for the first time I realised in the almost three years that I'd known him I'd never asked.

"A tiny little village called Ealdor, it's just across the border in the kingdom of Cenred," Gaius replied, which drew a slight gasp from my mother.

"Oh dear, no wonder you came here, Cenred is a kingdom of outlaws and militia...at least last I heard?"

Gaius gave a nod. "Ealdor is, fortunately, rather quiet, being so small, but a great number of the population seem to eschew the idea of law and order."

Mother tutted sympathetically, then smiled once more. "But you plan on living out your days here in this fine city?"

Gaius nodded. "That is the dream, as long as I keep on Linus's good side it should come to pass."

We all laughed and Gaius offered to show my parents around the Physician's Chambers, and they jumped at the chance. Although they may possibly have regretted their enthusiasm when Gaius showed them the leech tank. That simply had to be the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen.

After sufficiently horrifying my parents, Gaius noted the time and suggested we all head to the main square if we did not want to miss out on the festivities.

"Have you ever been to Midsummer's Eve celebrations before?" Gaius asked my parents as he lead them the less dangerous way.

"Not for some years," Father replied. "We tend to be more focussed on the Day of Saint John the Baptist. But I have no issue with observing the traditional festivities of this time," he gave a wry grin. "I only ask not to be made to dance around a maypole. I have two left feet anyway."

Gaius assured him that nothing of the kind would occur and he gave me an impressed look, I suspect he thought my father would condemn the celebrations entirely.

The main square of the castle was even more bustling if that was possible and I wondered if we were even going to able to see anything. Gaius however had his ways and led us to an alcove of sorts which had the benefit of not only providing a very good view but also kept us out of the sun.

I asked Gaius where Linus was, since it seemed odd the Physician was not around, surely this was the sort of event where everyone would be present if they possibly could be.

“Oh, he’s here,” Gaius reply, “looking through the windows somewhere up there.” He gestured vaguely across the square. “One of the privileges of being higher up. I assume Cedas will be up there too.”

I peered at the windows trying to spot my mentor, but the sun was bright, reflecting off the windows making it impossible to see inside.

My attention was caught by the sound of a horn which was immediately followed by the sounds of the bells, indicating that it was noon.

A hush fell over the square and the air filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement. I wasn’t actually sure where I was supposed to be looking, there was no bonfire, at least not that I could see.

As the bells faded the horn was blown again and the royal family appeared on the balcony.

“Is your prince there?” Mother asked, leaning close to be heard over the sound of the crowd who had broken into applause at the sight of royalty.

I ran my eyes across the crowd on the balcony before finally shaking my head. “Not that I can see...but he’s a little short, he might be behind someone.”

The King stepped forward and held up his hands, in response the crowd immediately fell silent.

“People of Camelot!” King Aurelius spoke in a booming voice that echoed around the square. “It is my great honour and privilege to welcome you to our Midsummer’s Eve Celebrations, the height of festivities here in our great city.”

There was a cheer of agreement from the crowd, and the King actually smiled slightly, which was a rare event indeed.

“Further to that, we here in Camelot are uniquely placed to receive the greetings and blessings of the priestesses of the Druid Religion which has in many ways helped build our kingdom and made it what it is today.”

I have to admit I was surprised, this was the first time I’d heard religion mentioned in any shape or form. Had Cedas not indicated that the Pendragons were not religiously inclined, it certainly didn’t sound that way now.

“I am truly honoured then, to welcome the High Priestess of the Isle of the Blessed, Her Most Eminent and Favoured Ninianne.”

As soon as the King spoke those words a great wind blew through the square, a great wind that could not be natural because the air had been still the entire day and the few clouds in the sky remained in place.

I felt Mother gripping my arm and couldn’t blame her. Everyone had turned their heads towards the main castle gate, and we followed suit, but there didn’t seem to be anything to see.

Then suddenly a light...a flame appeared just in front of the main gates, one which grew in size rapidly, crackling and spitting.

I shot Gaius a quick look, wondering exactly what was going on, was this normally what happened? I had never seen anything like it.

Soon the flames were so high they dwarfed us all and reached higher than the castle walls.

And suddenly as quickly as they appeared, they dispersed, or rather they seemed to take flight, like a flock of birds flying into the sky.

Where they had been there now stood a woman, dressed in a long following white robe, which despite the lack of wind fluttered around her form. Her arms were raised to the sky and she wore a circlet on her brow, which was set off by her long blonde hair, which almost white.

As she lowered her arms, I noticed that quite a few members of the crowd were all ready bowing to her. I wondered if we were all required to do so, because that would be very awkward, but to my relief I noticed that the gesture was not universal among the crowd. Furthermore we were rather well-concealed in our little alcove so it didn’t look like we would be noticed at any rate.

After a moment the Priestess spoke. “I thank you, King Aurelius for welcoming me once more to Camelot and may the Goddess look favourably upon you and your people.” Her voice was rich and even though she wasn’t shouting it reached all our ears. “Midsummer’s Eve is indeed a festival of great significance to us all, commemorating the moment when the Earth is at its most fruitful and ready to bring forth life.”

King Aurelius spoke then. “I am happy to say that the blessings of the Goddess are indeed upon us, our summer harvest is one of the biggest in decades. We will be well provided for the year ahead.”

The Priestess nodded and then seemed to look at each and every person in the crowd.

“The people of Camelot have as always treated the Isle of the Blessed with respect and in honour of that I bring a gift.”

In spite of myself I was caught up in the moment, wondering what this gift could possibly be.

I expected something to appear out of thin air like the priestess had, but instead there was the sound of hoof beats on the drawbridge and a beautiful white horse came into view pulling a cart. Atop the horse was another woman, also dressed in white, although her hair was a deep chestnut brown.

The cart the horse was pulling was quite a sight to behold, made from some sort of white wood it was delicate and intricately carved. The contents of the cart were covered by a cloth shot through with threads of gold that glittered in the sun.

"What is it?" I whispered to Gaius, curiosity getting the better of me. My friend didn't answer, instead he raised a finger to his lips and shushed me.

The woman on the horse spoke. "Greetings people of Camelot. Our fair isle thanks you for your protection and extends this gift to you."

With a flourish, she gave a flick or her wrist and the cloth rose up of its own accord and revealed the cart was full of apples, thousands of red apples.

My parents looked just as confused as I did, especially at the crowds reaction, one would think they had all been given gold coins.

Gaius kindly assuaged our curiosity. "Apples from the Isle are highly prized, they're invariably the most delicious apples of the season and fetch a very high price indeed. Most of the people here could never afford them."

We watched as the woman on the horse made more gestures and one by one the apples rose from the cart and drifted through the air to the crowd who plucked them out of the air as if picking them from a tree.

At this point I did wonder about my parents who surely had never seen such displays of magic. I certainly hadn't and I'd been here for two years.
As the apples floated our way I wondered what Mother and Father would do, after the King's warning anything that would draw attention would be a very bad idea I thought. I needn't have worried my parents knew tact and simply declined the apples and the continued floating on their way.

I didn't take one either if only because I didn't want to offend my parents and beyond that I wasn't certain I trusted the fruit. Gaius took one though, but was very surreptitious about it and hid it in his pocket immediately.

Once everyone in the square had an apple there were still a dozen or so left and the High Priestess stepped forward and lay a hand on the other woman's shoulder. "My protege Nimueh will be honoured to present the rest of the harvest to you, King Aurelius and your entire family."

The King actually inclined his head to the two women. "We graciously accept your kindness and welcome you into the Castle of Camelot."

At these words, the other woman, Nimueh, picked up the fine cloth and with a word the remaining apples floated from the cart and deposited themselves into the cloth.

Once Nimueh closed up the top into a makeshift bag the two women made their way across the square, walking in graceful manner that suggested gliding rather than anything else.

"I invite the rest of you to enjoy the festivities!" The King turned his attention back to us. "The Great Fire will be lit tonight just after sundown and cold meats will be made available."

This it seemed was music to the crowds ears and as one they began to chant. "Long live the King! Long live the Queen! Long live the High Priestess!"
The cheer continued until the preistesses reached the main entrance of the castle and the royal family disappeared from the balcony.

"Well, that was quite something!" Mother exclaimed as the crowd began to mill about and the air filled with the sounds of excited conversation.
Gaius nodded. "The Priestess and her accolyte only visit every five years, this is only the second time I've seen them since arriving here in Camelot." He explained. "Usually they keep to the Isle."

Father nodded and looked rather curious. "They don't minister to believers then?"

Gaius shook his head. "The Druid religion is one that a person mostly practices on their own, though people are free to visit the Isle or ask an elder whatever they wish."

Father gave another nod and I wondered what was going through his mind. I considered asking but instead another thought occurred to me. "How long will you and Mother be visiting? Your letter didn't say."

Father smiled. "Only a two nights I fear, we're expected in Brittany by the middle of next week."

After three years that really wasn't enough time, but I realised something else, I had absolutely nowhere for them to stay, after all my tiny room barely fit me!

When I brought this up Mother reassured me. "The Archbishop has kindly provided us with enough coin to stay in a hostel or a tavern. Is there an option?" She directed this question more at Gaius than at me, correctly guessing I'd hardly pay attention to such things.

"There's one or two, most stay at The Rising Sun tavern, but if you wanted something quieter you should go to Freida's, I'm not sure of the rates but I can take you there if you're interested."

My parents were and it also provided the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the day's festivities.

The lower town was even more abuzz and the market sellers were hawking their wares with even more vigour than before. We were momentarily side-tracked when some fine scarves caught my mother's eye, but we got to Freida's eventually.

The place seemed rather pricey, but it was also clean and I imagined quite a deal more peaceful then the tavern, my parents happily paid for two nights and we rejoined the crowds.

As sunset approached we made our way back towards the square of the Castle where the bonfire was to be. The bonfire, of course, was a yearly feature, but I had spent the past two Midsummer’s Eve’s in the library quite apart from the festivities. I hadn’t seen a large bonfire since Beltane some years ago in Tamworth.

The bonfire makers had definitely been hard at work in the time since noon, when we entered the square there was kindling and hay and branches all piled together and what a pile it was! It was half the size of the castle wars which were by no means short.

“Well they be able to control it once it’s set?” I asked Gaius slightly concerned with visions of the fire going out of control and threatening the library and all I hold dear.

Gaius seemed to read my mind and gave a chuckle. “It’ll be fine, Geoff, they’ve been celebrating this way for centuries now and the place hasn’t burnt down yet.”

I gave a wry grin, I was worrying needlessly, but really, I don’t think I can adequately describe the size of the fuel for the bonfire and it had been quite a hot day so there’d certainly be no difficult in getting it started.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the King and the rest of the Pendragon’s reappeared on the balcony once more and the square was packed, although probably not as much as it had been at midday since there was the enormous bonfire taking up so much room.

King Aurelius spoke in his most booming voice, extending his arms. “People of Camelot! As the sun sets on this, the longest day of the year I know you will all join me in hopes for the year ahead, a peaceful one, filled with fine harvests and joy for all of you.”

There were cheers and then a great atmosphere of anticipation stole over the crowd as time came to light the bonfire.

I might have taken a few steps back, just in case…

I’m not sure who lit the bonfire, I don’t believe it was the King since he was all the way up on the balcony and I couldn’t see the Priestesses about. Suffice to say there was suddenly a great roar and as I expected the entire pile went up like a tinderbox, a great rush of heat rolled across the square and there were gasps of amazement from the crowds as the flames dance and flickered.

I have to admit once it became clear my fears were groundless I began to appreciate the beauty of the the fire as it crackled and danced. The people in the square started to dance as well, although my parents an I didn't, nor did Gaius although I wasn't sure if that was out of respect for my parents or because he didn't usually. He turned to us and spoke in an excited voice.

"If we're lucky we'll get to see them."

I looked about puzzled. "See what?" I finally asked at a loss to imagine what other surprises this day could have.

But Gaius remained mysterious, instead he only pointed upwards.

My parents and I exchanged a look, but we did, still wondering what exactly we were supposed to see.

As it turned out we didn't have to wait for long, suddenly a great roar spilt the air and in the darkness of the sky and even greater darker shape appeared, blotting out the stars.

My mother gasped.

I blinked a few times stunned, not even sure I was seeing what I was seeing. It couldn't be! It was only a legend...wasn't it.

And then a voice rang out across the square, the voice of the Great Priestess. "Behold the Great Dragon, who shows himself to us to convey the blessing of the Triple Goddess upon us."

I flickered my eyes to the balcony where the Priestess stood her white dress stark in the darkness, before looking up again at the dark shape moving across the sky. There was another roar and then a plume of fire appeared streaking across the sky.

I think I almost passed out! Never in my whole life had I seen anything like that... a dragon! An actual dragon! They actually existed?! I'd never even considered it.

I wasn’t sure whether to be full of awe or completely terrified. Gaius was clearly enthralled by the sight of the great beast, but then Gaius was…well he had magical ability and perhaps was used to this sort of thing. I certainly wasn’t and I knew for sure my parents weren’t.

Finally the shape disappeared into the distance, becoming nothing more than a tiny speck on the horizon.

I turned to Gaius. “I…there…that was a dragon,” I finally managed to splutter.

Gaius was beaming. “It was, amazing wasn’t it?”

“How…how is it possible?”

Gaius looks at me slightly confused. “What?”

“Dragons! Aren’t they just a myth?”

Gaius gave a laugh. “Obviously not.” He turned to my parents, who had been shocked into silence it seemed. “There’s no need to be alarmed, they mean us no harm.”

Father spoke up first. “Well…I should hope not.”

Gaius looked from Mother and Father and then to me. “You’ve been told they’re just myth?” He shook his head. “Well, I suppose it’s not that surprising, they’re quite rare. Usually only Dragonlords can bring them out, but every so often, like now they’ll pass by. The Priestesses might have some connection to them, not as strongly, but there it is.”

I looked at my parents and they looked at me, there obviously was still a lot I didn’t know about Camelot.
 
 
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