Sword Across Time

By

Cathy Walker

 

PROLOGUE

 

Thunder and lightning crashed above and whirling wind whipped Merlin’s beard across his face. He peered into the backdrop of darkened sky and billowing clouds until his gaze came to rest on the woman who challenged him.

 

Nimue. Beauty. Light. Power.

 

Taunting and defiant she stood, her arms beckoning to the heavens. Merlin suppressed a wave of regret for the bitterness of lost love and allowed himself one last, brief moment of sweetness as he soaked in her majesty. Her midnight blue dress wrapped about her ankles and offered him a shimmer of pale flesh. Merlin shivered. Memories of silken strands of dark hair tumbling over bare shoulders threatened to undo him and he forced himself to remember why two ex-lovers faced each other in battle.

 

Not knowing the powers she’d gained over the years, he guessed she equaled his ability. Logic dictated that he could only best her if he wove his magic with steadfast resolve and not let the distraction of memories weaken him.

 

Shards of light flashed from Nimue’s fingertips and her lips turned upward in a brazen challenge. “The ways of Avalon are deeply ingrained within me and my powers are beyond even yours, the great Merlin. Besides, you are old and your powers are waning.”

 

The harsh words danced on the air in a lyrical voice that had once melted his heart. Merlin rose to Nimue’s challenge. “Do not underestimate my grasp of the Old Ways? I have spent lifetimes connecting with nature’s elements and possess powers you dream of in your wildest imaginings. I can, and will, destroy you.”

 

A hint of uncertain fear flashed across Nimue’s features. Her voice wavered when she spoke. “Merlin, life away from Avalon has aged as well as blinded you. I will destroy you and your misshapen view of the world. I tire of your lectures about acceptance. What about Avalon? We deserve consideration for our knowledge. Without Avalon, the Christians would not exist and the outside world would be naught but heathenish churls. With your lies and manipulations, you have helped destroy the Old Ways and respect for all life. I am tired of arguing and trying to hold Avalon’s beliefs in the face of the staunch Christians and their condemning God.”

 

“Nimue, my heart aches that I have wasted precious moments of life despairing for your soul. Your desire to save Avalon has warped you. Your lies and deceit have brought you to your death.”

 

“Do not speak to me of deception, wizard. Unforgiving priests and their cold ways have turned you into a coward. You no longer stand for the same beliefs and that is why we stand here in battle.”

 

The hate-filled words echoed high upon the craggy hill and fell like stones upon Merlin’s heart. How could such a warped view of past events come from the woman he had once loved?

 

Nimue reached within the folds of her velvet clothing and triumphantly pull forth an object hidden until that moment. A sliver of fear froze Merlin’s heart. How could she possess such an item? The Crystal of Light. Used only for the most holy of ceremonies, the crystal held the power of the ages.

 

He swallowed. If Nimue used it on him, Merlin feared he’d become nothing more than a shadow of dust before the end of the night. Deep inside his soul, an aching dullness of pain took root. His stomach knotted with dread as Nimue inhaled deeply and drew in energy from the surrounding air. Her body glowed and became translucent, while the wind over the Tor surged to a fiercely driven force.

 

Merlin held a glimmer of hope. Nimue’s focused need to save Avalon gave her strength, but her fanatical lust for revenge might weaken her enough to be her undoing. He had one chance.

 

While Nimue pulled her energy from the crystal and threw it at Merlin, he manipulated the heavens and the storm. Drawing upon the rumbling, pulsing energy, he aligned his senses with the forces of nature and fed it into a protective shield. He took in more than he believed possible, but with nothing to lose he pushed his limits. Nimue’s power throbbed and Merlin felt the edges of his shield grow weak with her assault.

 

“Focus, Merlin.” He whispered the words to the wind and felt warm energy rise from the ragged rock beneath his feet. What a glorious feeling. Intent upon his task, he almost missed Nimue move to the path leading to the Tor.

 

Of course. Her salvation lay in the ancient stone standing as a beacon on the Glastonbury hilltop. Energy locked within the secrets of the monument would enhance her power and the power of the crystal she held in her hand.

 

With a burst of speed, Nimue fled up the winding path toward the Tor that stood like a sentry to the Otherworld. Merlin’s heart pounded. Nimue’s power pulsed in the fury of the surrounding storm and weighed heavy on Merlin’s chest. She could not reach the Tor or all was lost. Merlin could not outrun her, therefore he needed to access the Tor’s power from where stood. He gathered his power, imagined the Tor within his mind and thrust his thoughts outward. The tendrils wove a path upon the wind, connecting his mind with the ancient stones. Grasping the ages-old magic, he drew it back to himself and let it swell within. It felt strange. Sticky and heavy, it thickened and expanded until Merlin near burst with the fullness of the throbbing sensation. In an effort to release the pressure, he blew out a breath. His nostrils quivered.

 

It was time.

 

He turned to face the towering stone where Nimue stood outlined against the sky. Deep in his subconscious, regret stabbed a wound he knew would never heal. Their gazes connected in a snapping, heated lock. The air pumped with expectancy and time stood still as they faced each other across the distance. At one with the stone monument she stood beside, Nimue smiled and reverently lifted the crystal to the heavens.

 

Merlin watched. Waited.

 

The raging storm buffeted his former lover and her clothes twisted around her lithe body. She dropped her arms in hesitation. Maybe a brief moment of regret for lost love. Or maybe…maybe she hadn’t mastered the crystal. A smile of triumph lifted the corner of Merlin’s mouth and he raised his arms to the heavens. The sleeves of his dark robe slid gracefully up his arms and energy crackled hot between the palms of his hands. These same hands he turned toward his nemesis. He centered all his knowledge, powers, emotions, and beliefs upon destroying this woman before her destructive hate could spread.

 

With bleary eyes he watched Nimue raise her arms again. Shining like polished diamonds in the moonlight, the beauty of the Crystal of Light dulled the flash of lightning streaking the night sky. A twinge of unease grew in Merlin’s stomach. This time, Nimue did not hesitate. Her lips moved, the chant mixing with the storm in a howling assault.

 

With a mighty roar, Merlin gathered and threw the magic of the stone tower toward Nimue. Their energies met and the battle that ensued was fierce. With so much at stake, Merlin pushed beyond his limits. Each breath burned his throat and flesh stretched tight over bone. Nimue resisted, but staggered back. Merlin knew she was stubborn and angry enough to continue fighting even though her tight lips, white face, and shaking arms let him know she was depleting herself beyond measure.

 

Nimue’s angry curses thundered down the hillside. Weakened, her energy dispersed into a final, dim spark. Her shoulders drooped and she stumbled to her knees. Merlin knew she’d count on his strict moral values not to destroy her if she could not fight back, but too much rested on the outcome. He increased his power. Sensitive to the life-force of his ex-lover, he lived her experience. When her lungs heaved in an attempt to bring life-giving breath into her body, Merlin’s did as well. When she crumpled to the ground, his knees turned to water. For a moment, he wondered if he’d misjudged her power as well as his own.

 

Nimue lay still while Merlin struggled to regain strength. Then, suddenly, his breath returned. No. His gaze flew to the foot of the Tor where Nimue pushed herself from the ground to stand on shaking limbs. Triumph sparked in her eyes as she faced Merlin.

 

“I will return stronger than ever. When the stars align again as they are this night, expect me to destroy you, old man. I will find the sword and use it against you. In the meantime, I curse your descendants to suffer at the hands of their greed and lust for power. They will seek to attain the sword and all it entails only to find death within the confines of their greed. This I do to keep the sword safe from the bloodlines of the Great Merlin.”

 

She spat the last words into the ground, then, like quicksilver, vibrated her energy and disappeared. Quivering, Merlin fell to his knees. If she had held out much longer, he would have been the one disappearing into nothingness. Feeling returned to his legs and his heart beat at a more normal rate. He stood, took a deep, cleansing breath of charged air, and contemplated the stone monument. Nimue would return here, to the place she drew her power. The question being, how and when would she return? And would she have found the Sword Excalibur?

 

Merlin realized he’d have little control over the circumstances. The alignment of the stars would dictate her return for vengeance. All he could do was prepare for the eventual battle.

 

“Ahh, Nimue, my once lover, I ache for what is lost and yet to be.” His voice was low, barely a whisper over the receding storm. “I also place a curse on your descendants. They will search for love never to find fulfillment. This I do to keep others safe from the manipulations of your bloodline.” Merlin’s words danced with the breeze to be heard only by the spirits of the ages. Weary and heart heavy with failure, Merlin vibrated his energy and disappeared into the inky darkness of the starry night.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Tamara suppressed another sneeze and wondered why she was crawling around this dusty, cramped attic. Oh, yes, nostalgia. Making use of her well-deserved vacation time, she’d decided to explore the attic with its hidden secrets and childhood memories.

 

Since her mom’s morning included a trip into town to sell her herbal concoctions at the local new age store, the morning belonged to Tamara. So far, she’d spent three hours digging up schoolbooks, trying on old clothes—at least those that still fit—and discovering unread books and clipped newspaper articles.

 

So far, nothing of much interest. But the mindless meandering relaxed her and Tamara needed the time to unwind after the hectic pace of her job writing for a small, New York magazine. Strange, after the noise of the city the quiet Vermont countryside seemed almost deafening and though she’d never admit it to her mother, Tamara missed home with its ever-present music of songbirds, the rustle of wind in the surrounding trees, and the beauty of nature in full glory.

 

Tamara chuckled and chastised herself. “Settle down, you’re getting sappy.”

 

With a glance at the afternoon sun, which had shifted slowly across the sky, Tamara decided to end her journey into the past. Stifling a yawn, she stretched her stiff muscles and began to stuff dusty clothing back into old cardboard boxes.

 

Trying to maneuver the boxes back under the attic window proved more difficult than pulling them out. Unfortunately, the largest box wouldn’t co-operate. No matter how much pressure she gave, it refused to move. Peering behind the box didn’t show an obstruction, so Tamara set her shoulder in place and gave one powerful, grunting shove. A wrenching sound rewarded her efforts and she cringed. Definitely not a good sound.

 

“Oh, oh.” Hesitantly, she risked a look behind the box and saw that it had stuck on one of the floorboards, a floorboard she’d neatly managed to crack down the middle. Great, Mom is definitely not going to be happy. Tamara stared at the broken piece, almost willing it into repairing itself. It didn’t work, but a glint of gold flashed at her from beneath the broken board.

 

“Hmmm. Maybe this treasure hunt will turn up something interesting after all.”

 

Careful not to snag her hand on the jagged edges, Tamara leaned over and reached into the narrow crevice. Her fingers touched what felt to be smooth leather. With some minor shuffling she was able to wriggle the object somewhat, but it remained stuck. Known for possessing a stubborn streak of her own, Tamara shifted her rear end, braced her shoulder against the wall, and yanked hard. As slick as warm butter, the object slid free and the unexpected motion sent Tamara tumbling across the hardwood floor.

 

“Ouch!” She eased into a sitting position, straightened her elastic-bound, auburn hair, and made sure all body parts remained attached. The only thing bruised was her ego, and thank goodness no one had seen her rolling around the attic like an uncoordinated geek.

 

Assured all was well, she turned her attention to the mysterious object, which she realized was a book. Lifting it to her lap, Tamara brushed her fingertips over the smooth surface and traced across the gold inlay of an elaborate clasp. Coated in dust and threadbare, the ancient looking book still managed to look important. Carefully blowing on the cover, Tamara sent a cloud of dust dancing about the attic. Blazing through the octagon shaped window, the afternoon sun reflected off the oddly shimmering dust and shone on the leather of the old book.

 

Through a fit of sneezing, Tamara tried to focus her watery eyes upon the heavy, brocade book that glowed with a light of its own. Worn and heavy with a rough, dark leather cover embossed with gold flecked words. Elaborate and slightly bent, the gold clasp spoke of history and past artistry. Tamara realized it was actually a lock, which led her to believe the book was some kind of journal. But whose? Her investigative juices simmered. She loved a mystery.

 

Tamara barely noticed the sound of wheels crunching on gravel below, but her mind registered the fact that her mom was home. Great, she couldn’t wait to show her the book. Between the two of them, maybe they could figure out who it belonged to and why that person would hide it in the attic. Under the floorboards, no less.

 

Tamara sprinted down the worn, burgundy carpet on the stairs, through the living room, and grabbed the door handle to open it for her mom who was gathering up groceries from the back of her vehicle.

 

Her mother called out. “Dear, there’s more here. Would you mind grabbing a couple of bags?”

 

“Sure, Mom.” Tamara laid the book on the oak preacher’s bench that graced the front hall and ran to the car to help.

 

“How did your day go at the bookstore?”

 

“Fine, I sold everything and have orders for more next week.” Diana’s arms were full as she turned to her daughter. “How is your first day off going?”

 

Tamara could hardly keep the excitement from her voice. “It was quiet until I found something. When we get inside I’ll show it to you.”

 

Diana raised her eyebrows. “Sounds interesting. I’ve got all I can carry, so I’ll see you inside.”

 

Tamara reached into the back seat of the Cherokee and grabbed as many bags as she could. With a grunt, she shuffled up the walk to the cabin mumbling about how her mom always spoiled her when she came home, which meant buying twice as many groceries as needed.

 

A shaky yell from inside the house cut short her grumbling. “Tamara, what have you done?”

 

Tamara frowned. Her mom was usually unflappable, so what could possibly have her sounding so upset.

 

“Tamara, get in here. Now.”

 

Tamara tripped up the stairs with grocery bags in hand, kicked open the screen door, and jumped to avoid stepping into a congealing, slimy mess of broken eggs and chocolate milk.

 

“What happened?” Tamara looked to her mother, who stood amidst the mess with a flushed face and silvery eyes full of fear.

 

“Mom, it’s all right. I’ll help clean up the mess.”

 

Confusion lit Diana’s eyes. “I don’t care about the mess.” Her voice trembled. “The book…”

 

“The book?” Tamara was perplexed until she saw that her mother pointed to the bench. “Oh, that book. That’s what I was telling you about. I found it up in the attic.”

 

Her mother’s fists unclenched and fell to her side. “You found it?” Her voice no longer trembled. “How in the devil did you find it? I hid it.”

 

Tamara battled confusion. “You hid it?” Her gaze dropped to the book sitting innocently on the bench and back to her mom. “Your face is the color of chalk. Are you all right?”

 

Diana stood silent and still enough to resemble one of the stone statues decorating the garden. Her mother’s lack of response worried Tamara. “Mom!”

 

Diana’s shoulders slumped, her face drooping with resignation as she picked up the book. “I’m fine, but we need to talk. Let’s sit.”

 

Stepping over the eggs and milk making a slow trail toward the cream-colored, hallway carpet, Tamara walked to the living room couch and sank deep into its welcoming softness.

 

Rather than sit, Diana paced the length of the small room.

 

“Tamara, I know you’ve never accepted my beliefs or way of life, but there are things going on here that you have no idea about.” Her fevered footsteps fell silently upon the thick, braided rug.

 

“Okay, Mom. But you can explain things after we clean up the mess.” Tamara made a move to stand.

 

“No, Tamara. This can’t wait. You know I have always given you the freedom to find your own way, never pushed my beliefs on you. Well, this time I insist you listen to me and then you can do what you want with the information. I’ll have fulfilled my responsibility.”

 

A heavy sense of foreboding pressed Tamara back onto the couch. Hell, even her father’s desertion hadn’t caused her mother to be as upset as whatever bothered her now.

 

“Okay. Relax.” Maybe a vision caused her mom’s nervousness, but that didn’t make sense. How could a simple vision evoke such fear in a usually balanced and calm person? Curiosity bade Tamara to listen.

 

“Okay, this is the story told me by my mother and hers told her.” Diana stared at the book in her hands, as if looking for answers. “Tamara, we are descendants of Nimue, Lady of the Lake. Her lineage is a royal one of priestesses who are responsible for the well-being of a place called Avalon.”

 

The most overwhelming urge gripped Tamara. She wanted to grab the book and nestle it back under the floorboards where she’d found it. She made a move to stand. “I really think that…”

 

“Sit down.” Diana’s voice rang strong and compelling. “Please show me the courtesy of not interrupting while I’m speaking.”

 

Shocked at her mom’s unusual commanding tone, Tamara nodded. Diana took a deep breath and continued. At first, Tamara thought her mom was pulling some kind of joke as she spun an amazing tale of magic, deception, kings, and magicians. As the words fell into the warm air of the cabin, Tamara realized her mom was serious, so she sat straighter and listened to the rest of the story in silence. As far as she was concerned, that’s exactly what it was—a story.

 

As the story unfolded, Diana’s voice grew soft, gentle, and filled with a wistful longing, almost as if reciting from bittersweet memory. “Avalon was a truly beautiful place with lush growth, bountiful wildlife, and a way of life that survived in harmony with the energies of all living things. Merlin and Nimue were part of this world, and the only ones who still understood the old ways enough to gain access to the world of Avalon.”

 

In spite of her disbelief, the story resonated with Tamara on some level. “I heard somewhere that Merlin and Nimue were lovers?”

 

“Yes, they were lovers and cohorts. The two of them were responsible for placing King Arthur upon the throne of Britain. The woman who was Lady of the Lake before Nimue planned the birth of Arthur with all intentions that child would rule once he came of age. Legend has it that Merlin and Nimue were ageless. Their love grew and flourished in the place called Avalon for so long, no one could remember a time they did not exist.”

 

Tamara was entranced. “What happened to them?”

 

Diana’s quivering voice held a hint of tearful emotion. “Nobody is sure what happened, but they turned against each other. The myths tell of their rivalry culminating in an intense battle of power and energy. A battle in which there was no victor.”

 

Diana looked directly at Tamara and continued her tale. “It happened centuries ago at a place called Glastonbury. They fought for the Sword Excalibur and the right to continue governing Avalon. It is said they swore to return one day when the stars where aligned in the sky the same as they were that evening. Descendants of both Merlin and Nimue would be used as instruments for the final battle to determine who would rule in Avalon.”

 

There was no sound. No birds sang in the trees; no wind rustled the leaves. Tamara felt as if she were in a vacuum, until she regained her sanity. “Mom, you should write that down. It would make a great novel.”

 

“Tamara, I’m telling you the truth. Please do not dismiss this lightly.”

 

“Mom, I believe that you believe. I’m sure when Granny told you the same story, you took it quite literally when she only meant it to be a bedtime story or something.”

 

“Don’t patronize me, Tamara. I am your mother.”

 

“I realize you are my mother, Mother. I just don’t see how you expect me to believe that we are descendants of the Lady of the Lake. I always thought she was a fictional character from the time of King Arthur.”

 

“She existed.”

 

“Fine, she existed, but in Avalon? I know that place never existed. It was a mythical place that the people of the time dreamed up. As for Merlin the Magician, even if he was some kind of advisor to King Arthur, there’s no way he possessed the kind of power history credits him with.”

 

“Oh, power coursed through his blood, Nimue’s as well. I told you they came to some misunderstanding and ended up fighting each other. Being of equal strength, neither could win.” Diana frowned. “It’s all in the memoirs.”

 

“Memoirs?”

 

“The Lady’s, of course.”

 

Tamara’s gaze flew to the innocent looking book. “Memoirs? You mean the book I found?”

 

“Yes, it’s been passed down through her female descendants. Don’t you understand, Nimue and Merlin are destined to confront each other again.”

 

Tamara snorted and remarked, “Now I know you’re crazy. Merlin and Nimue are dead. How can they possibly confront each other?”

 

“There are ways. Please, Tamara, I wish you’d trust and believe me.”

 

Tamara sat back and watched her mother reverently brush the cover of the book with her fingertips. Her heart melted and she felt sorry that her mother had lived under such a delusion for most of her life.

 

“Tamara, it’s time for me to stop mollycoddling you and explain a few facts of life.”

 

Knowing there was no stopping her mother when she got off on this tangent, Tamara sighed deeply and settled herself back for a lecture. Her mind barely registered Diana’s words.

 

“I realize you’ve never shown interest in the ways I was raised. You’ve never been a person to understand anything unless it stared you in the face. I think that’s your father’s influence, but we won’t get into that right now.”

 

Thank God for small favors.

 

Her mother droned on. “It’s time for you to accept the legacy that has been passed down through the females of our family. It’s my fault that you are woefully disconnected from the natural wonders around you. I felt guilty when your father left so I allowed you too much freedom. There are things I should have taught you and now I fear it is too late.”

 

“Mom, aren’t you being a wee bit melodramatic?”

 

Diana spun around. Her silver hair flew about her face and crackled with electricity, while her blue-gray eyes glowed with fervor. “There is nothing melodramatic about the role you’ll play in what is destined to happen.” She accentuated her words by thrusting the book onto Tamara’s lap.

 

Tamara was tired. She stood abruptly and dropped the book drop to the couch. “Mom. That’s enough, I don’t believe that our ancestor is Nimue, and I don’t believe I have to fulfill some destiny. What I do believe is that when someone is dead, they are dead. Now, I’m tired so I’m going to clean up the mess and have an afternoon nap.”

 

They worked in silence cleaning the mess. With a weary yawn, Tamara started to head for her bedroom, but her mother stopped her. “Don’t forget to take this. It’s yours now.” She stood, like an ancient goddess herself, the book extended in her unsteady hand. Tamara hesitated, noted the look in her mother’s eyes, and reached for the book.

 

Sleep didn’t come easily. She tossed and turned, while her mind insisted on re-hashing the events of the afternoon. Tamara didn’t believe her mother’s tale of lost love and curses, but what about the book? It taunted her from the dresser. But Tamara couldn’t bring herself to open the pages. Three times she’d risen and taken a step toward the book.

 

Finally, she punched her pillow and mumbled, “I don’t need this in my life right now. I’ll just leave the book behind when I leave and get on with my life.” Satisfied with herself for deciding her course of action, Tamara closed her eyes and gave in to sleep.

 

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