Daughter of the Cailleach
I am the earth. I am the light. I am the wind through the mountains and the ripple through the waters. I am the springtime. I am the dawn. I am the time of new beginnings.
I am no more.
I am the White Lady. I am daughter of the Cailleach.
The endless black was suffocating, the endless screams were torment. Lancelot felt himself eternally spinning and twisting in a portal of death and darkness. All of time flew by him, and yet no time had passed at all. Reality of time and space had no place in the otherworld.
This is not the fate I accepted, he thought desperately from time to time.
Whenever this thought crossed his mind, Lancelot steeled himself against his own words. Lancelot had sacrificed himself for Merlin, for Arthur, for Gwen... for Camelot. Even if he had known this fate awaited him, Lancelot would have done nothing differently. The only consolation in this horrid place of despair was the thought that everyone else was now safe, safe and happy.
Suddenly, a break in the darkness appeared. Lancelot squinted as the brightness burned his eyes. After a moment, Lancelot was able to see what it was.
A long arm draped over with a blazing white sleeve was extended towards him, and a delicate white hand was reaching out to him. Hardly knowing how to move his body in such a place, Lancelot somehow felt himself grasping for the hand. Slowly the distance between their fingers closed and then finally- they touched.
With a flash, everything changed. Lancelot's eyes squeezed shut and he raised his other arm to cover them as the bright light grew much too bright. The pit of heavy darkness was replaced with a frantic whirling. The air around him felt real and present now, but it was spinning madly around him, like a tornado. Lancelot clung desperately to the hand and was relieved to find that they also did not let go.
With a jolt, Lancelot landed solidly on his back, a sensation he had almost forgotten.
Lying there dazed, Lancelot's first thought was how odd it was to once more have a solid surface beneath him, instead of the otherworld where there was nothing tangible, only endless space and broken souls.
But... how? he wondered. Forcing his eyes open, Lancelot struggled to his feet, feeling extremely sick. With blurred vision, Lancelot stumbled until he crashed into a tree. Leaning on it for support, Lancelot looked up from the ground as his eyesight slowly cleared.
Standing a few paces away was a young woman of pale skin and dark eyes. Her wavy black hair was intertwined with thin, green vines that ran down her back. She wore a dress and cloak of white, and her presence felt ethereal.
Once he had regained his balance, Lancelot stepped towards the lady. Eyes widening nervously, she stepped backwards to counter his movement. Lancelot immediately raised his arms in a show of surrender, to show he meant no harm.
"Please, do not be afraid," he said gently. Lancelot hesitantly took another step and was pleased to see that the young woman did not move, although she looked rather scared and unsure.
"I am Sir Lancelot," he introduced. "I will not hurt you. What is your name?"
The woman closed her eyes momentarily before looking back at him. The transformation stunned him. Perhaps she was feigning courage she did not have, but the woman no longer seemed afraid. Instead, she looked at him with steely determination, a wise glint in those dark eyes.
"I am Anphorea, the White Lady." Her voice was a soft whisper, a soothing breeze. Lancelot was momentarily stunned, but he soon collected himself and bowed graciously to her.
"You are not of this world," he stated lightly. A small smile graced her soft, pink lips.
"No," she confirmed.
"You do not seem scared of me now, but moments ago you were. Why?" asked Lancelot curiously.
"Coming into this world stunned me briefly, but I have no need to be afraid of you. I have known you before."
"What do you mean?"
The White Lady turned and walked a few paces away, gently touching the bark of the trees she passed. Feeling compelled to follow, Lancelot trailed behind her.
"You are a kind and gentle man. You are good to the earth, and to my people."
"My people are those like Emrys and the Druids. They are my people. I care for them as best I can. You care for them too. That is why I saved you."
"It was you then," said Lancelot in breathless wonder. Anphorea turned to him with a bright smile and Lancelot was stunned into silence as he felt a flutter in his heart. Such a beautiful, mysterious woman...
No, not a woman, a goddess, Lancelot reminded himself. Yet despite her mysterious demeanor and ethereal looks, she somehow seemed to him just like any young, innocent woman.
"Yes, it was me," she confirmed. "Now come: we have a long day's journey ahead of us. We must get you home, sir Knight!"
Anphorea turned to lead the way, but Lancelot gently laid a hand on her arm. Turning back to him, Anphorea was not sure of the things she was feeling. Why did his touch make her nervous? Why did she feel her heart beat increase as she looked into his gentle, caring eyes?
"Thank you," he said sincerely. "I don't know how you did, or even why, but you saved me from that place. I owe you my life. I will never be able to express my full gratitude to you. Thank you, White Lady."
Anphorea felt her breath catch as his hand fell from her arm and he bowed his head to her. Shaking her head slightly to clear her muddled thoughts, Anphorea reached out to gently hold his cheek. Raising his head from the bow, Lancelot's eyes opened at her touch.
"You owe me nothing," she commanded firmly. "You have already sacrificed yourself once for the love of your friends; I do not want you doing anything like that for me."
"I would protect you with my life," he assured her resolutely as she withdrew her hand.
"I only hope that such measures will not be necessary," he continued with a light chuckle, glancing at the woods around them. Anphorea turned away so that he would not see her sad smile.
The lady and the knight set off into the woods together, Lancelot following her lead. She would not tell him where they were, but she seemed to be sure of the way back to Camelot.
The companions exchanged very few words, but the quiet was not uncomfortable. Walking by her side, Lancelot exalted in the sounds of the forest: the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, and the brooks singing. Such sounds he had not heard for quite a long time. Similarly, Anphorea felt at ease surrounded by the speech of the trees, the water, the animals. The forest was her home, her haven.
"We can rest here for a moment," said Anphorea as they reached a stream. "I know you must be tired from the travel between the worlds. It isn't good to push yourself too much."
Lancelot grinned at her appreciatively and nodded his head.
"Thank you, my lady," he said sincerely, for in truth he was exhausted. The passage between worlds had indeed taken its toll on him.
"Please, don't call me that," she requested, "I've never gotten the chance to be a human before. I would like it very much if you would treat me as one. Call me... Ann."
At the sound of the new name she'd given herself, Anphorea beamed and laughed brightly for the first time. Lancelot found himself smiling as well, though he wasn't sure why. Was it her innocent expression, or the brightness of her eyes...?
"I've never had a human name before," she exclaimed. "Doesn't it sound wonderful? 'Ann'!"
"It suits you perfectly," complimented Lancelot sincerely, watching in amazement as she continued to beam. Such a trifling thing to be so excited about and yet this human name was what had broken through her mysterious shell and brought forth her true self.
Lancelot turned away and went to the stream to get a drink and to wash his face. After a few minutes of resting there, Lancelot heard something behind him. Standing up, he turned to see Ann dancing. Her bare feet padded the soft ground and she stepped lightly on her feet, dipping and twirling gracefully. The sound Lancelot had heard was an airy tune which she was humming.
Entranced, Lancelot softly approached her.
"Ann," he said quietly. Ann's eyes opened quickly and she ceased her dancing. Lancelot was amused to find that she looked rather sheepish at having been caught in the midst of her frolicking.
"A beautiful lady should never have to dance alone," he continued sweetly. A light blush crept out onto Ann's cheeks but she smiled confidently and graciously extended her hand to him. Taking the offered hand, Lancelot kissed her fingers and bowed politely.
Stepping closer, Lancelot held one of her hands in his own, placing his other on her waist as she rested hers on his shoulder. Ann resumed her humming, and Lancelot swept her off into a waltz.
"You're a wonderful dancer," he complimented her.
"You're not too bad yourself, Sir Lancelot," she returned with a teasing smile.
"Just Lancelot," he requested. Nodding her acceptance, Ann allowed herself to be charmed by the elegant young man. Such a thing had never happened to Ann before, but she found that she rather liked the feeling. As they continued to dance, sweeping across the forest floor, Ann felt almost as if they could lift off and dance their way into the sky if they wished.
"I am the daughter of the Cailleach," explained Ann. After their dancing, Lancelot and Ann had laid down together in the soft grass by the stream. This is where they were now. Lancelot propped himself up on his elbow and looked at her in surprise.
"The gatekeeper of the spirit world?"
"Yes," she said timidly, "unfortunately. I don't approve of my mother's games, taking innocent lives practically for sport."
"How were you able to retrieve me from the other side of the veil?" The desire to satisfy his curiosity was burning inside of Lancelot. Luckily, Ann was willing to tell him everything.
"My mother is Queen of winter, of darkness, of the ends of things: that is why she is gatekeeper to the spirit world, where the dead dwell. I am goddess of spring, of light, and of new beginnings. While my season is spring, I am strongest on the Samhain- the first day of the new year."
"Samhain?" repeated Lancelot.
"You may call it All Hallows Eve. Samhain began last night at dusk. That is when I came to get you. The hours between then and dawn we spent in the space between worlds."
"Is something like that easy for you?" asked Lancelot in wonder.
"No not easy, but I made my move when I was at my strongest, and my mother at her weakest." Something in Ann's pained face told Lancelot that the trip had cost her dearly.
"Why did you do it?" he asked quietly.
"You are the bravest and noblest knight in Camelot," was her reply. "You have proven yourself to be strong, courageous, and wise. Your sacrifice made you more than a man in my eyes. I could not stand by and watch you suffer."
"I only did what any of the other knights would have done," asserted Lancelot, but really her praise swept through him like a wave of light and warmth. Did she truly see him in that way? Lancelot met her eyes and saw in them that she did indeed think of him that way. Ann blushed slightly as he smiled happily, but then she energetically leapt to her feet.
"Come on," she cried. "Still a long ways to go!" Ann began to bounce away quickly.
"Wait!" Lancelot called, but Ann merely shot him a playful smile before flouncing away. Grinning, Lancelot leapt up and chased after her.
Such a strange creature... he thought with a smile. One minute so calm and mysterious, and the next she's laughing and playing. Somehow I feel that she will never cease to amaze me.
"It's beginning to get dark," commented Ann, looking out at the horizon. They had come to another clearing in the forest, and this time they were high up on a hill, providing a wonderful vantage point. Lancelot was very glad at what he saw over the tops of the trees.
"We're almost to Camelot," he said in breathless relief. The tops of the towers rose welcomingly above the trees in the distance, appearing as a beacon of hope to the knight.
"You will come and stay in Camelot, won't you?" Lancelot asked his companion. Ann looked thoughtful, but she turned to him with her bright smile.
Lancelot was captivated by her long, dark locks, and her soft, pale skin. Ann seemed so young and innocent, yet her dark eyes seemed so old and wise. Lancelot was fascinated at her complexities, and he felt drawn to her. Impulsively his hand began to move towards that delicate cheek that he longed to touch.
Feeling her heart beat furiously, Ann smiled, turned away, and ran down the hill, allowing her white cloak and dress to flutter up behind her.
Lancelot's hand slowly dropped as an empty feeling filled his heart, but he forced himself to run down the hill after her. The run was actually rather invigorating, and Lancelot stopped at the bottom with a lively grin.
"Halt! Who goes there?" yelled out a voice. Lancelot immediately grew serious and he spun around, trying to spot the man.
"It's the Lady Morgana!" cried another man. Out of nowhere, Lancelot heard the familiar sound of an arrow rushing through the air just before- Ann shrieked in pain and he saw her collapse from the corner of his eye. Rushing over to her, Lancelot saw an arrow protruding from her thigh. The fear rising in him, Lancelot heard the whoosh of another arrow.
"Stop!" he yelled, jumping to his feet. "We are friends of Camelot!" The arrows ceased, and slowly three men stepped from the trees.
"Lancelot," murmured Sir Leon in wonder. Sir Percival stared at his 'dead' friend in shock.
"What sort of trickery is this?" asked Sir Elyan sharply, obviously distrustful.
"Please, now is not the time," said Lancelot firmly. "This woman is not the Lady Morgana: she is innocent. I will explain everything later."
"Go back to Camelot and prepare them for our arrival," commanded Lancelot. "I will follow with her. She will need Gaius' attention."
Sir Elyan looked unsure, but Sir Leon slowly nodded and pulled the other two knights away with him, and they began to run back to Camelot.
Lancelot fell to his knees at Ann's side, trying to ignore the tear stains on her cheeks. He couldn't think about her pain if he was to do what had to be done.
"This will hurt my lady. I'm sorry." With that, Lancelot tore the arrow from her flesh, dropping it quickly on the ground. Now the blood was flowing heavily from the wound. Tearing a piece of his cotton shirt, Lancelot wrapped the injury as best he could to stop the blood loss.
"You're going to be alright," he assured her, unable to look at her face. "I'll carry you back to Camelot where Gaius will care for you."
"Lancelot..." whispered Ann sweetly. Forcing himself to meet her eyes, Lancelot saw that she was smiling gently. "It's alright. It doesn't matter. I am a deity you know. It's not as bad for me as it looks. Besides, doesn't the red color look stunning against my white skin?"
Lancelot said nothing, just looked at her, feeling pain at her pain. How did she find the will to play around with him right now? She must be hurting considerably.
"Help me to my feet," she requested.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," he cautioned her. Ann gave him a look that silenced him, and he smiled gently at her. Pulling her to her feet, Lancelot watched anxiously as she hopped briefly to gain her footing. She did seem alright however, not nearly as bad as the wound should have been.
"Lancelot, I need to tell you," she said urgently, "You... are all that is good in this world. I have never known what it is to be human, and you have shown it to me. This day has meant so much to me and I want you to know... I will think of you always." Lancelot peered at her in confusion.
"You sound like you're saying goodbye," he said, attempting a chuckle.
"No, you can't. You're coming back to Camelot with me," he told her, trying to push aside the heavy feeling in his heart. "You need help, deity or not."
"I can't come to Camelot with you," said Ann softly. Though she wore a smile, Lancelot would have sworn that there were tears in her eyes.
"Why can't you?"
Not answering, Ann reached up to gently brush his cheek as she had once before. Lancelot felt his heart breaking inside of him and he grabbed her hand, wishing he could hold it forever. Ann's eyes stared deep into his, and Lancelot became aware of the very small distance between their bodies. Overpowered by her closeness, Lancelot stroked her hair softly and leaned in close to her.
With two hearts beating rapidly, Lancelot leaned in the rest of the way and allowed his lips to meet hers in a soft kiss, his thumb brushing her cheek lovingly. His caress and the touch of his lips against hers were like heaven to Ann and she wished to stay there, forever locked in a loving embrace. But Ann knew that it could not be that way.
Breaking away from him, Ann looked up at her knight, her love for him evident. Lancelot never wanted to let her go, but Ann broke eye contact and strolled a few paces away, looking up at the darkening sky.
Lancelot opened his mouth to question her further, but suddenly a swirling wind appeared. Lancelot was forced to squint through the powerful wind, and what he saw appear was not comforting in the least. As the wind settled down, the Cailleach stood before them.
"Samhain is over," the Cailleach addressed Ann. "You have been foolish daughter. You know that I require a blood sacrifice. You have upset the balance of the worlds. I have come to claim him again."
The thought of returning to the hell he'd come from shook Lancelot to his core and he found himself speechless.
"Take me instead." The Cailleach and Lancelot both turned to Ann in surprise.
"Don't be silly child," chided the Cailleach. "I cannot take an immortal soul."
"Touch my hand," said Ann firmly. "I am no immortal." Hesitantly the Cailleach reached out and touched her daughter's hand. With a shock, her eyes grew wide and she stepped backwards.
"How is that possible?" she commanded. Ann smiled faintly.
"The kiss of a mortal makes one mortal, Mother."
Horror filled Lancelot's heart as he heard those words. Was it true? Had he really taken away her immortality? Lancelot drew his sword, stepping protectively in front of Ann.
"Take me," he said decisively. "I am the one you want, leave her be."
"Lancelot..." whispered Ann. Lancelot turned to her and was scared to see that she was paler than before, and sweating heavily now. "Look."
Doing as he was bid, Lancelot quickly looked down at her leg. The blood was seeping through his bandage now. Because she had become mortal, the wound was acting accordingly.
"Even if you sacrifice yourself, there is no hope for me now. I cannot get to Camelot on my own," she told him. "I will die this day. You must let me go."
"No, there's still a chance..." he protested weakly, but he knew now that she was right.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, tears prickling his eyes.
"Don't be," she whispered back, stroking his cheek once more.
"Come," intoned the Cailleach, interrupting them. "I grow impatient Anphorea." Obediently, Ann limped over to her mother. As the Cailleach grabbed hold of her daughter's arm, Ann turned back to Lancelot.
"I will always love you, my white knight!" she called out to him.
"And I you... my white lady," he called back. A whirlwind arose once more, forcing Lancelot's eyes shut. This time when he opened them, the Cailleach and Ann were both gone.
Lancelot's body shivered and his heart felt empty. How cruel was the world, to give him someone to love and take her away all in a day? A silent trail of tears marked their way down his cheeks as he stared into the space where she had been.
Finally he forced himself to turn away, and Lancelot was faced with the sight of Camelot's glorious spires. A soft smile broke upon his lips as a glimmer of light touched his heart once more. Though his love may be gone forever, she had left him with the most wondrous gift of all: life.