Down a deep forest path, through a crop of oak trees, and beside a vast field of wildflowers, there is a lake.

The local people who live nearby say many things about this lake. They say it is beautiful; its water clear, its bottom firm. They say that those who drink from it do not get ill as they do from other still sources of water.

They bathe there in the summer; using its clear blue waters to wash off the grime of their labour. They laze by its shores and picnic; their children run free around its edge. In winter when the lake freezes over, they skate along its firm crust and flirt by falling over into their lover's arms.

But when darkness comes, they make sure they are locked away in their homes; their doors bolted with cold iron and protected with a cross branch of the Rowan tree. Sprigs of the tree also hang from the tails of their animals: white buds during springtime, red berries in the autumn. There are Rowan trees planted around their small village and some, on looking at it from afar, may even perceive these trees as forming a protective circle.

Of all the tales told abroad in the land of this idyllic lake and its many wonders, many more are whispered of only behind closed and locked doors. When the wind whips around the clustered homes of the nearby villages and all huddle indoors by a roaring fire, stories begin.

Grandfathers, dressed in simple brown trousers and a woollen shirt, lean back in their homemade wooden chairs with a pipe and horrify their grandchildren with the tales. Mothers scoff and tell their fathers to stop frightening the children. But they do not go out after dark nonetheless.

"Your mother doesn't approve," says this Grandfather, his hair white from age and yellow from the years of smoking his tobacco.

"But I tell you," he whispers and leans forward. The children, having finished eating their small but nourishing meal, lean towards him as his voice drops to a conspiratorial tone, "there are demons in that lake." He has come close to the firelight and it catches his eyes. They gleam yellow for a moment. The children gasp in fright.

"Demons," he repeats, "faeries too. And not the tricky leprechaun the Celtic travellers speak of, no. These faeries are malicious; their motives so unlike ours that we can have no hope of discerning them. The faeries live within the lake and they say they protect the way."

"The way to where?" asks one of the children breathlessly. He's one of the more precocious and is brave enough to ask these type of questions. The children have all heard this story many times before but go through the same ritual each time.

"The way to the sidhe, the immortal devils who live in Avalon, the apple isle where lies the body of our great King Arthur."

"Who's King Arthur?" inquires a small voice. It's the baby of the group and the others look at him with disgust. They've can't believe anyone could be stupid enough not to know who King Arthur is but this is the child's first time beside the fire with his elder brothers and sisters.

Their Grandfather simply smiles, rocks back in his chair, and takes another puff off his pipe.

"Ah, King Arthur," he begins, his eyes losing the room around him and focusing on a long-ago past.

"King Arthur was the King of Camelot. It is Camelot's ruins that are nearby. But when I was a boy, oh, the spires of Camelot rose up out of the valley and could be seen for miles in the distance; a great beacon of prosperity. I was but a youth, but I still remember its wealth and beauty."

He closes his eyes and sees the fortified castle in his mind's eye.

"I was a servant; a peasant farmer come to Camelot to seek my fortune. Unknown. Unimportant. But I remember."

"How did Camelot fall?"

It's the eldest again; the precocious one. Although they've sat by this fireside and heard tales of the faeries walking by night; stealing children and livestock, and taking people's souls to Avalon, they have never heard this before. Tales of Arthur's greatness but never a word of Arthur's fall.

His Grandfather smiles in close-mouthed irony. He opens his deep blue eyes and looks at the children before them.

"Some say it was because of a woman. Guinevere for betraying him with Lancelot; Morgana for joining Mordred and the Druids. But that's not true. Such things sadden us and distract us and make good stories for men to tell about the perfidy of women, but they do not make Kingdoms fall."

"No, Camelot's fall was due to many things over many years."

He grinned; one of his deep vibrant grins that light up his face.

"But that makes a poor story, doesn't it? No, if I had to choose one person on whom to blame Camelot's fall then my choice is clear."

His face falls and he looks for a moment sad; agelessly sad. The children are too young to recognise such an emotion but his daughter is not and she touches his shoulder before spreading a blanket across his knees.

"If one person only is to blame... then that person is Merlin."

"The warlock?" breathes the eldest, entranced.

"There's no such thing as magic," says the youngest, with all the certainty available only to those who are four years old.

"Oh, there is," says his Grandfather, "and Merlin was the most powerful sorcerer in all of Albion."

"But he was Arthur's friend, wasn't he?" asked the eldest, "I never heard that he betrayed him."

"He didn't, he did something much worse."

He closes his eyes again and breathes on his pipe, taking deep breaths of the drug into his lungs before finishing his sentence.

"He failed him."


Down a deep forest path, through a crop of oak trees, and beside a vast field of wildflowers, there is a lake.

The local people who live nearby say many wondrous things about this lake but they never venture there after dark. Once the night falls, they make sure they are locked away in their homes; their doors bolted with cold iron and protected with a cross branch of the Rowan tree.

There is only one of their number who dares to approach its waters after dark. He has tucked his grandchildren into bed and finished his daughter's chores so she will be unburdened in the morning. Story time over, he wanders to the lake's edge, his age falling off him as he walks; the lie he wraps around himself to protect those he cares about from his immortality melting away.

He stands there looking toward Avalon, time slowed down as the faeries dance fearfully before his bright blue eyes and deep black hair. They are disturbed by his powerful presence.

"I'm sorry Arthur," he says softly.

And he sits there till dawn. Then he stands and slowly walks back toward his new home.