All Hail the Once and Future King

The forest was dense, with awe invoking trees that stretched to the low clouds and mist emitting from the brush. Although all other trees had lost their foliage, these trees remained like the evergreen, but they certainly looked like any regular ashes and birches despite their enormous size. Guinevere stood first, observing the wood, the knights on their mounts behind her. She had come here for her home, for her people, and Arthur had assisted in accompanying her. Turning to face the men, the pale faced Woad gazed at her comrades, setting her jaw in determination. "You mustn't go any further." Guinevere insisted. "Should you enter as you are now, they will surely kill you. No doubt there are scouts watching us now, preparing their bows should you tread on their hallowed ground."

A fair wind, carrying whispers slipped from the forest, whisking the mist about the steeds and making them unsteady. Arthur steadied his horse and stared at his wife with uneasiness. "You will not go in there alone."

For a moment Guinevere considered admonishing him for his foolery, but then she looked back to the forest. Should she stay with them, perhaps the people of the forest would not dare to harm them. Turning back to Arthur and his knights, all five men waiting patiently, and then she nodded, dismounting.

At that decision, Arthur followed suit, turning to his fellow knights. "Bors, you and Galahad stay with the horses."

"What?" Galahad asked in disgust, but he refused to argue.

"No worries," Bors slapped Galahad on the back, "if one of them beasts come runnin' for ya, boy, just pretend your already dead."

At that Gawain and Arthur chuckled with Bors, but Galahad found it an appalling joke. Guinevere ignored Bors' ignorant comment about her people—he knew no better. Arthur turned to his wife. "Ready?"

"Leave your weapons." Guinevere commanded and saw the quizzical look of both soldiers. "Should they be threatened."

Arthur and Gawain sighed in response, doing as she insisted, and then waiting for Guinevere to lead them inward. Without looking back, Guinevere went ahead, her form taking on a ghostly aura as she entered the mist. Just before she reached the trees, Guinevere sensed that neither men had followed her and glanced back. "This way, then."

The two shook from their trances, Arthur going ahead of Gawain, and then all three disappeared into the haze and forestry. Bors and Galahad glanced at each other, both considering for only a moment that their fellow warriors may not be returning.

For some time Guinevere led in silence, using instinct to guide her deeper and deeper into the forest with ease, the two soldiers bumbling behind. Both men kept getting farther and farther behind and each time, for fear of their deaths, Guinevere waited for them to arrive back in step with her.

Although Guinevere had only entered this forest to the farthest western shore once as a child with her father, she dreamt of it nearly ever night of her life. Merlin held her hand then, leading her forward as if he was being pulled by an invisible rope forward. Now, Guinevere understood her father's mysterious urging from these woods, as if the whole forest was a living, breathing entity with a great, beating heart at the center of it.

The feeling had weakened from the last time Guinevere had come, but she felt it still and knew that she must continue.

Gawain blinked, perhaps his vision was going from a whack to the head from one of the branches, but he could have sworn he had seen a face in the trees. The face had been as if it was part of the forest, a greenish color, dark and blending well. Pausing for only a moment, Gawain blinked and then looked ahead. Arthur had become fairly cautious of his surroundings, had he seen something as well?

Arthur followed his wife, trusting her as he always had and knowing that whatever may come of this trip—it would certainly be a learning experience. With all this added stress of being fully on guard, Arthur began to tire, but he went on steadfastly.

"Move no further."

Guinevere stopped immediately, the voice no louder than a whisper, but threatening.

"You bring Romans into these woods."

A shiver went down Guinevere's spine, her knees cursing her and her breathing failing. "They are unarmed."

Arthur saw his wife's sudden stop and signaled to Gawain to do the same. Some odd feet stretched between the king and his wife, and he only heard her speaking. For a moment he considered going forward. "Halt, Roman." A voice ordered from his right and out of the corner of his eye he saw the tip of an arrow. "This is not your place."

Guinevere swallowed her fear when the voice did not reply—it sought further explanation. "I am Guinevere, the daughter of Merlin—and the men behind are my husband, Artorius and his guard, Gawain. We bring you no harm."

The faint sound of a bow relaxing allowed Guinevere to catch her breath. "She awaits your arrival."

With that, like some apparition from the depths of the afterlife, came a bald, pale faced young man, his eyes gray and unblinking, his face covered with markings and his nose thin and long. "Follow me."

A whistle came from the forest and then Arthur saw Guinevere moving ahead with ease, following someone. Arthur moved and no one stopped him, so he nodded to Gawain. The two soldiers moved slowly ahead, for what seemed an eternity, but they soon reached a small clearing where a woman sat, with her ebony haired head bent forward, faded markings all over her body, and the mist staying clear of her circle.

Guinevere nearly gasped. The very woman she had come to see some ten odds years earlier, had the prophetess forever sat in the same state? She looked not a day older from when Guinevere had come last until she lifted her face, wrinkled and wrought with age, but her silver eyes had never faded. At first those eyes cast upon Guinevere and then they moved to the form behind her, Arthur.

"King Arthur." Said the woman in her raspy accent, her eyes narrowed as she observed him with a slight grin. "An honor to have you in our company."

Had Arthur known better, he might have dated her age at a millennia, but there could be no such magic to do that. "Thank you, milady." Arthur bent his head.

"Gwenwyfar, suigh síos." She motioned to the ground beneath the queen as she spoke in their native tongue. "What is it you have come here seeking?"

Guinevere sat, gazing at the old woman, guarded silently by a circle of people. "Lady Sidhe," Guinevere said in reverence, her voice almost unheard, "I mean no insult to bring these men into your woods."

The woman cast no eye in the men's direction as she threw runes before her. "They are no danger to me."

Silence followed, the woman read the runes, and then looked to Guinevere with kind silver eyes. "You seek that which your father has sought for so many years." The woman answered her own question. "But I see more hope in your future. You will bring fortune to your people—blessing. Your name shall be carried on for many years, much longer than the reign of your family, and like all good things…the end will come in due time. You will not see live to see it. Beware the blackest of your king, you will do good not to cast him out."

Guinevere blinked in amazement. "Did you tell my father…?"

"Fate is a fickle thing." The woman replied. "In the last to the west, where my elders came from to battle the giants, it is rare that fate favors any. You are no exception, but destiny shines upon the man you have made king. Roman and Pictish—an odd combination, but it suits the higher ones well. Pray the hounds of Cernunnos stay far from him."

With that Guinevere nodded and stood. "Thank you, Lady Sidhe."

The woman signaled to the half Roman. Slowly, Arthur approached the woman and Guinevere gave him an encouraging smile. The woman took his arm and he bent forward, putting his ear near her lips. "All hail the once and future king."

"Hnh?" Bors grunted from the elbow to his gut.

"They're back." Galahad got to his feet, seeing the silent trio escape from the forest just before dusk. "What happened?"

Gawain just shrugged, picking up his belongings. "Nothing really."

"Nofing?" Bors retorted. "Then why'd we come all this damn way?"

"Let's go home." Arthur insisted, his arm around his wife. "We have much to think about this day."

Bors frowned and Galahad pouted, but neither made a move to argue. In moments the five of them were on their horses and headed south-east to their home. "Vanora's gonna kill me."

"Seriously, Gawain, what happened?"

"Nothing, Galahad," Gawain snapped in annoyance, "now would you just stop your pestering me?"

Galahad sighed, lagging behind and glanced back one last time. A shape moved in the mist and Galahad blinked, but he saw nothing more.