Author's Note – This is a story based around the legend of King Arthur, and around the idea that he is still out there, waiting to return to Britain one day. I hope you enjoy it!
Once And Future
Gwyneth stood on the shores of a large lake, looking out across the tranquil waters that shone like glass. Hardly a ripple disturbed the surface, and it seemed as if all of time were standing still. Looking around, mountain peaks loomed over her, deep green in colour, and a gentle breeze buffeted her long black hair. She was high in the mountains, and Gwyneth knew her location to be in Snowdonia in Wales. Where, exactly within the vast national park, she wasn't certain, yet she knew that it was important that she should be there.
"Where are you?" she whispered into the breeze, yet even as she said the words, she wasn't sure whom she was referring to, or why she had even spoken in the first place. At any rate, the lake remained silent; still and calm, hardly affected by her presence.
"Gwen," a voice said that made her heart leap, and with a smile she turned around …
… And opened her eyes.
"Just a dream," she muttered, staring up at the ceiling of her Cardiff hostel room. She had been in Wales for close to a week now, and something about the area was affecting her psyche. Ever since landing in Britain from Australia two weeks ago, Gwyneth Cole had felt a strange nostalgic sense of homecoming, which in a way was to be expected. Gwen's parents were both of Welsh decent, and her trip was designed to help her become more in touch with her Welsh roots. Yet when mingling with the locals, Gwen felt horribly like a tourist who had to constantly ask people to slow down when they were talking. And that was just when they were speaking English! With the native Welsh, she only knew a handful of words, and didn't stand a chance at reading anything that was written down. It all just looked like a hopeless mess of letters that seemed like they were lacking a few vowels somewhere. Her only saviour was Martian Embry – another traveller like herself, and yet he didn't have a problem with the local dialect.
Gwen had met Martian in London, three days after she had arrived, and two days after he had travelled down from Scotland. Since they were both heading towards Wales next, they had decided to go together, and although he was a little bit strange, Gwen was glad of the company.
"How do you feel about Snowdonia?" he asked her at breakfast, flashing her his charming, if slightly lopsided smile. His eyes were the palest blue, and his dark brown hair was in desperate need of a trim. He had been travelling the country for quite some time, and his lanky figure seemed to be permanently stooped from the weight of his backpack.
A shiver passed through Gwen. "I'd love to see Snowdonia," she replied, remembering the glassy lake from her dream, and Martian grinned.
"Excellent," he said, stirring his hot chocolate before taking a sip. "You know, if you're interested in local folklore, there are many places in the national park that tie in with the legend of King Arthur," Martian added, and Gwen quirked an eyebrow at this.
"Really?" she asked, knowing quite a lot about the famous story herself, yet lacking any knowledge of the locations that the legendary king was associated with.
Martian nodded. "Yup. Take Dinas Emrys, for example. It ties in with Vortigern and Merlin, and the story of the red and white dragons that fought for supremacy over Wales. Or the mountain of Tryfan, where Sir Bedivere is supposedly buried, which is near Llyn Ogwen, where many think that Excalibur now rests. The other popular place is Llyn Llydaw, which is high in the mountains, and far more isolated. Some people also think that Arthur sailed over this lake to reach Avalon, yet this theory is also shared with Bardsey Island. Some people think that Merlin is buried on the island, whilst others think that it is in fact Avalon itself, and is hiding the final resting place of Arthur," Martian finished, and then he smiled as he realised that Gwen was hanging on his every word.
"I didn't know that Wales had so many ties to the legend," she breathed, completely captivated.
Martian smiled. "The common theory is that if King Arthur did exist, then it was here in Wales," he said, before he clapped his hands and sat back in his seat. "So, are we ready to go?" he asked, and Gwen nodded, eager to start exploring the Welsh countryside.
It took the pair the better part of four hours to reach the town of Porthmadog from Cardiff, passing through the breathtaking scenery of Snowdonia National Park along the way. Once they had checked into a room for the night, they were back in their hire car, and on the road again, heading into the national park at a more leisurely pace. Winding along the A498, Gwen was glad that Martian was driving, as she kept turning every which way, trying to take everything in at once.
"Where are we heading?" she eventually asked, itching to stop and explore on foot. Everything was flying by too fast, and Gwen wanted to soak it all in.
"To one of my favourite places," Martian replied as he turned left at an intersection. Driving a little ways further, Gwen was overjoyed to see him pulling the car into what looked like a small town, but was in actual fact a base camp known as Penn-y-Pass, which was the start of the popular Pen-y-Gwryd trail. "We have a bit of a hike ahead of us, but it'll be worth it, I promise," Martian said, yet Gwen was out of the car before he had even finished talking. Breathing in the frigid mountain air, Gwen looked around in wonder. Mountains stretched for as far as the eye could see, with the road winding its way between them, and when Martian caught up with her, he pointed straight ahead.
"That's where we're going," he said with a grin, and as they started along the path that led up the mountain, Gwen was practically bouncing at his side.
"What's at the top?" she asked, suddenly more excited than she had been all trip. Something about the mountains filled her with a feeling of pure joy and expectation, and she wanted to reach the summit as soon as possible.
"Gwen, wait up!" Martian called out as the young woman took off running ahead of him. "Guinevere!"
Gwen stopped dead in her tracks, turning around as Martian jogged towards her, brow furrowed. "That's not my name. Why did you call me that?" she asked, and Martian blinked in confusion.
"What?" he asked, hardly remembering what he had said, such was his desire to catch up as quickly as possible.
"My name is Gwyneth, not Guinevere," she said, before she smiled. "I think you've got King Arthur on the brain," she added playfully.
"You have no idea," Martian replied, before beckoning for her to follow him up the mountain. It was a decent hike, and when they reached the summit, neither one spoke for a long moment as they got their breath back.
"So what was up here that you wanted to show me?" Gwen asked, and Martian grinned.
"This way," he said, leading the way as Gwen paused for a moment to take in the awe-inspiring view of Mount Snowdon. Martian led the way down a steep grass slope and joined what was known as the Miner's Path around the shores of Llyn Glaslyn. Descending yet again, Martian finally came to a stop on the shores of another lake, and when Gwen stopped watching her feet and looked around, she gasped. Before her was a lake of glassy perfection, with hardly a ripple to mar its surface.
"What is this place?" she breathed, feeling a chill creep over her.
"This is Llyn Llydaw," Martian answered with a smile. "And its here that Excalibur rests. Well, I think so, anyway," he added, turning to regard Gwen. The fair skinned girl was looking at the lake with wide green eyes, and a little smirk curled the young man's lips. "Are you okay? You looked shocked by something."
"It's just- Well, I dreamed about this place, and now I find that it's real," she said, completely stunned. She was standing more or less in the same place as she had been in her dream, and again that chill of nostalgia that had plagued her since coming to Britain swept over her.
"What was the dream about?" Martian asked, and Gwen shrugged.
"Not much, really. I was just standing here, looking at the lake, and-"
"And what?" he prompted, and Gwen turned towards him with a frown.
"And I was waiting for someone, but I have no idea who. I woke up before I could find out," she finished, and then sighed. "It is beautiful though," she said, looking back out at the lake. In her mind's eye she could just imagine a watery hand holding high a mighty sword, and a little smile curled her lips. It really was the perfect place for a legend.
The hike back down to the car park was a quiet one, with both Martian and Gwen taking their time, and enjoying the breath-taking sights. They went to several other locations that day as well – stunning waterfalls, giant rock formations, and tranquil valleys – yet nothing could compare to the stunning isolation of Llyn Llydaw. For Gwen, it was perfect, and everything else paled in comparison.
"Tomorrow I'd like to see Bardsey Island. What do you say, Guinevere? Gwyneth, sorry," Martian quickly corrected himself, and Gwen quirked an eyebrow at him. It was the second time that he had called her by the wrong name, and it irritated her that he couldn't seem to get it right. Besides, she much preferred Gwen to her full name, anyway.
"What's on Bardsey Island?" she asked, and Martian shrugged.
"Not much of anything, really. Just a few old ruins, and the odd house or two."
"So why do you want to go there? I wanted to head to Corris and go explore King Arthur's Labyrinth," Gwen said, having heard of the popular underground tourist attraction from the lady at their B&B.
Martian quickly glanced over at his travel companion as he drove through the national park, and saw that she was staring intensely out of the window.
"Well, we can do that if you want, but I think you'd really like the island, Guine- Gwen."
"Why do you keep doing that?" Gwen snapped, whipping her head around to glare at him.
"Do what?" Martian asked, feigning ignorance.
"Calling me by the wrong name! I hate it when people do that, so please stop it," she replied, and Martian nodded.
"Okay, I'm sorry," he said, and Gwen let out a rush of air.
"It's alright. Let's just head back to town and relax for a while," she said, and with a nod Martian drove on in silence.
"So how well do you know the story of King Arthur?" Martian asked as he and Gwen sat at a café in Corris, eating lunch after spending the morning in King Arthur's Labyrinth. Gwen had happily spent her morning hearing tales of myths and legends from all over Wales, gone on the Bards' Quest in search of lost legends that were hidden in the maze, and explored the underground setting. Martian had seemed unenthusiastic at first, yet his spirits had lifted as the tour wore on, and by the end of it he was just as thrilled as Gwen had been by the whole experience.
"Well, I know about the sword in the stone, and of how Arthur pulled it out, making him the king. Then there are the knights of Camelot, and the quest for the Holy Grail; Arthur's half sister Morgana who tried to overthrow him with the help of her son Mordred. And of course, the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot," Gwen said, and Martian nodded.
"Do you know the stories of what became of Arthur?" he asked, and Gwen frowned as she tried to remember.
"There was something about him returning one day. But I think he was killed, or badly wounded by Mordred," she replied, and Martian nodded.
"There was a battle between Arthur and Mordred, and although the boy was killed, he dealt Arthur a fatal wound in the process. As the legend goes, Arthur was sent to Avalon, where there is no time, and it is there that he is still waiting to return one day," he said.
"It makes you wonder though," Gwen started. "Where did all of these legends come from? Who was the inspiration behind it all?"
"Well, a lot of what we know was in fact created by the 12th century writers Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes, but they took what they knew from earlier sources, as far back as the 6th century, and expanded on it. Most of that early stuff is obscure, and it's very hard to find any historical accuracy when it comes to Arthur. Geoffrey wrote about Arthur's birth and his marriage to Guinevere, another writer from the same time by the name of Wace came up with the round table and Excalibur, and Chretien created Camelot, Lancelot, and the Holy Grail," Martian explained, and Gwen was stunned by the extent of his knowledge of the subject.
"Wow, you've really done your homework," she said, and Martian smiled a little shyly.
"It's a personal passion of mine," he admitted, and the pair were silent for a moment as Gwen thought things over.
"So, if Lancelot was created later on, then chances are, if Arthur existed, he wasn't there," she finally came out with, and Martian nodded.
"Although the man himself existed, the adultery story came out much later, and the betrayal of Lancelot was created to help that particular storyline," he said, before he lent across the table, staring quite seriously at Gwen with his pale blue eyes. "Guinevere loved Arthur. She never would have betrayed him for another," he said with such certainty that Gwen was stunned.
"So, what do you think happened?" she asked, and Martian sat back in his chair, letting out a rush of air as he thought of where best to begin.
"Arthur never wanted to be king," he started. "He was about thirteen when he met Guinevere, and all he wanted was to spend his life with her. But of course, destiny got in the way, and Arthur was crowned king after drawing the sword from the stone. When that sword was broken during a battle, he was given Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, further expanding on his popularity. Most of what the legends say is more or less true, only they're based upon a twisted version of events, and have been dragged out for far longer than what they should have been. For example, some timelines would put Arthur's age around the seventy mark at the time of his death, where as others say that he only lived for a very short time."
"Why is that?" Gwen asked. "Why are there such huge discrepancies in the timeline, do you think?"
"Because the truth has been altered and warped so that no one knows what really happened anymore. You have to look really hard to find the truth," Martian answered. "The truth as I see it is that Arthur and Guinevere were soul mates, and nothing could ever come between that. Arthur's sister Morgana, on the other hand, was very determined to see her brother fall, and she used her own son to help her accomplish her ends. Have you ever heard of the Lady Elaine?"
Gwen frowned. "I think so. Wasn't she in love with Lancelot?"
Martian nodded. "Lancelot was loyal to Arthur, and he admired Guinevere as all of his knights did, yet he never once would have sought her affections unless she made a move first. Morgana knew this, and she used Elaine to start things off. She had Guinevere kidnapped, disguised Elaine with her magic, and set her on the trail of Lancelot. Arthur was no fool, and he knew that his wife was not his real wife. He'd known Guinevere for many years, and Elaine was far too different a person to ever completely imitate her. Arthur, naturally, went looking for Guinevere, yet Morgana had hidden her with magic. It was with Merlin's help that Arthur eventually found her, yet Morgana and Mordred were waiting for them, and before she could be saved, Mordred killed Guinevere. That's what triggered the battle between Arthur and Mordred – the loss of Guinevere. Arthur killed Mordred, and Morgana fled from Merlin, yet Arthur had been fatally wounded. Merlin, with the help of Sir Bedivere, sent Arthur to the Isle of Avalon, where no time would pass, and his wounds could heal," Martian finished.
"Wow," Gwen breathed. Martian was so confidant in everything that he was saying that it was hard for her not to believe him. "So, the varying timelines?" she prompted, and Martian nodded.
"All a ruse," he said. "Arthur was a great, if somewhat young king, and so many looked to him for hope and guidance during the dark times. If they thought he was gone, then total disillusionment would have befallen the kingdom. The only ones who knew the truth were Merlin and the knights, who carried on the legacy of Arthur, doing all of these great deeds in his name."
"So it was all a conspiracy," Gwen said. "Which would explain how so many deeds could be accomplished by just one man, because it wasn't just one man. It was many men, all acting as Arthur," she added, and Martian nodded.
"Now you're getting it. Arthur and Guinevere were gone a long time before Arthur supposedly died, but that didn't matter. What mattered was the name. To say the name of Arthur Pendragon was to shout hope to the people. He was like a beacon of light in the Dark Ages, and his closest knights carried on his legacy until the day that they all finally died," Martian said, and Gwen thought for a moment.
"So the legend of the once and future king was just a part of the conspiracy, I guess," she said, and Martian shrugged.
"Maybe, maybe not," he said. "Arthur was taken to Avalon, which is a world outside of our own. Sort of like the Otherworld in Irish mythology, where there is no concept of time. So, there's every chance that he is still there, waiting."
"Waiting for what?" Gwen asked, and Martian smiled at her, a sort of sad smile that indicated that he didn't have a definitive answer to give. "I mean, Britain doesn't really need a legendary king anymore. Those days of epic battles are long over. There's nothing here for him anymore," she said, and Martian nodded.
"True. A king of old would be decisively out of place here," he admitted. "Ahh, but this is all just folklore, anyway. And I think we've had enough of it for one day," Martian added, standing up and stretching his back out. "Let's head back."
"Okay," Gwen said, following after her odd companion and wondering, not for the first time, exactly how much of the old stories he really believed in, and why she had agreed to travel with him in the first place.