by Nicole Evelina
I’ve been a fan of Stephanie’s writing since long before I was a published author and am absolutely thrilled to be a guest on her blog today. Like her, I write about women in history/myth who are forgotten, little-known, or at least little-heard from. Nineteen years ago, I began writing about Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife, who we rarely hear from in her own right. That resulted in a trilogy that was recently completed with the publication of the final book in the series, Mistress of Legend.
Stephanie asked me to share an excerpt of this book with you today. This is the second scene, which takes place right after Lancelot rescues a badly-burned Guinevere from the stake. Arthur’s men have caught up with them and are bringing her back to Camelot because Arthur wishes to apologize and pardon her, as his bishop condemned her without his consent. The Combrogi referenced below are what we would today call the Knights of the Round Table.
They carried me to Camelot on a stretcher. While it was not quite the indignity of being transported in a prisoner’s cart or forced to walk behind the Combrogi in chains, it certainly was not the entrance any soon-to-be-redeemed queen wished to make. But I did not really care, for my wounds turned even breathing and blinking into torture. They throbbed and burned, rubbed even rawer against the fabric of the stretcher with every jolt. My fever came and went, plunging me into nightmarish visons where I relived my failed execution and created far worse fates for myself, only to be brought back to reality with startling clarity when the heat relaxed its grip.
I was between bouts of delirium when Camelot came into view. The castle loomed large on the hillside above as we trod the hidden track to a private entrance, rather than the wide thoroughfare used by noble guests, merchants, and all manner of visitors. The people need not know I had returned. There was no need to stir up a mob now, especially when I needed peace and quiet to heal. They would have plenty of time to voice their joy or displeasure later.
Seeing this place, this dream begun by Arthur’s father and fulfilled in our reign, through fresh eyes was strange. When I’d first seen it as a new bride so many years ago, it was to me a place of wonder and majesty, a place of light and welcome. Now, its shadows held dominance, swallowing up the comfort I used to find within its walls, daring me to attempt to find solace here.
Kay and Aggrivane had just carried me into my old bedroom when Arthur met us. Grainne and Morgan—Arthur’s second wife and my lifelong enemy—trailed in his wake, their blue robes of priestesshood covered by thick off-white aprons that signaled their readiness to see to my wounds as soon as I was released into their care. Arthur dashed to my side, his eyes widening as he took in my scarred face and neck, all that was currently visible from beneath my clothing.
“Guinevere! Sweet Mother of God, what have I done?” Arthur brought a hand to his blond beard, covering his mouth.
“You’ve nearly killed her, that’s what you’ve done,” Grainne shot back, already examining me.
Morgan moved in to help transfer me to the bed, but Arthur stepped in front of her. Her eyes widened in offense. If I was not in so much pain, I would have laughed.
Arthur leaned down to me, his blue eyes softened with tenderness and grief. “I did not intend to kill you, please know that. I gave no order, despite what you may have been
told. You must believe me.”
“Arthur, move away and let us work,” Morgan snapped, elbowing past her husband. She dripped a few drops of a bitter liquid onto my lips, and I instinctively licked them away before recognizing my error.
“No. I will not let you poison me too,” I yelled, flailing my right arm at her and trying to sit up. A wave of nausea pushed me back to the pillows.
Grainne held me down with muscles honed from years of birthing babies and wrestling recalcitrant patients like me. “Stop fighting us. No one is trying to poison you. It is only a small dose of poppy juice, just enough to make you sleep. You do not want to be awake to experience what is to come.”
“Why did she accuse you of poisoning her?” Arthur asked Morgan. When she ignored him, slicing into my dress with a dagger to expose the extent of my injuries, he turned to me. “What did you mean, Guinevere? You said ‘too.’ Who has she poisoned?”
I attempted to answer, but my lips felt swollen and my tongue wouldn’t obey my commands. Snorting out a breath, I balled my fists and tried again, but the effort was
too great. Blackness tugged at my eyelids, making them feel as though they were made of wet sand.
Finally, I managed to slur, “You,” before I slipped into unconsciousness.