A/N: So this is my first story on this site. I love Arthurian legends, and stumbled across one that just got my mind going-the tale of Dame Ragnelle. It was as I was reading it that this story started to write itself. From my research, I've concluded that most of what is today the United Kingdom would have still been Pagan at the time, and Aislinn and her brother Owain are Pagan. If you are uncomfortable with this, please do not read this story, as Pagan gods, goddesses, rituals, and celebrations from their region will be an ongoing part of this story. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I will do my best to explain.
This chapter is simply a prologue piece. The rest of the story will be told from alternating character views, hopefully no more than two characters per chapter, and I will put their names before their segment. That said, I hope you enjoy this story, and please review.
These tales so often start on a dark and stormy night, the natural setting for the horrifying and supernatural. I could tell you it was a dark and stormy night. I could tell you the wind howled, the thunder clapped, and the lightning sparked across the sky. I could tell you the rain was cold, nearly drowning the land. I could tell you all that, but that is not how my tale begins, and so I will not tell you that.
It was bright, and sunny. There was a wind coming off the lake, but not so cold a simple cloak wouldn't suffice. It was the middle of the afternoon, nowhere near nightfall yet. It was nearing Samhein, the autumn harvest festival, and I knew this would probably be the last pleasant day for a long while. I had chosen, then, to go for a ride about the vast forest that surrounded my father's lands.
I had come to a stream and elected to rest for a while before beginning the ride back home. I allowed my horse, Belenus, to drink from the stream and cool off while I leaned back against a tree and enjoyed the day. It was as I reclined against the trunk of the oak tree that I saw her coming toward me.
At first glance, she seemed nothing more than a traveling gypsy. Upon further inspection, there was something vastly different about her. She gave off an aura of some kind, as though she possessed a power I could only dream of. She wore a green gown, fastened at the shoulders by brooches bearing the symbol of the Tuatha de Danaan, and a gold sash was wrapped about her waist, off of which hung various charms. Her chestnut hair hung in loose curls to her waist, and she had the fairest skin I had ever laid eyes on. She was beautiful, and yet dangerous.
If only I had known how dangerous.
Being only human, and, worse, only a man, I did what came naturally to me. My lady, would you care to join me in rest? The woman's sky blue eyes flashed as she looked at me.
Rest? Against the tree? she asked, her voice like the music of birds in the trees above our heads.
Unless you care to engage in other, more active forms of rest, I hinted lecherously. Her smile was deadly then, as I made my intent more clear.
Lad, who are you? she demanded sweetly.
I pulled myself to my feet, straightened my clothing, and announced, rather proudly, I am Owain, eldest son of Sir Urien of Rheghed. I am newly come to knighthood myself, home for a time before I set out to join my brethren at the court of King Arthur.
Pity, she remarked dryly. I would have hoped a knight in the service of the King himself would be possessed of better manners. Ah well, she said, grinning. We shall soon cure that. So it is a knight you are to be?
Slightly afraid at this point, but still convinced a simple woman could do no harm to me, I nodded. Aye, Madam. 'Tis my fate.
Then a knight you shall be, she crowed with delight. A black knight, the Black Knight of Tarn Wathelyne! She pointed a slender, pale finger at me and muttered words in a language I couldn't even hope to understand.
I felt myself overcome with the compulsion to obey, obey the every command of the beautiful woman before me. As my final shred of independent thought threatened to leave me, I managed to gasp out, Who are you?
She smiled wickedly. Why, good sir. I should think you would know the King's own sister when you see her. I am Morgan le Fay, and I am now your mistress.
My brother had been gone for four days when Father finally began to worry. His horse had never arrived home, either, and so we had no way to know what had happened to Owain. It was dawn of the fifth day when Father sent out a group to search the forest Owain had ridden in to, and another group to ride to King Arthur's court at Caerleon. Owain was set to join his brother knights there shortly after Samhein, and had been most eager to go. Father hoped he had decided to leave early and forgotten to say so.
It was in the middle of the Samhein festival when the two groups returned, having searched as far and wide as they could. Father stopped the celebrations to hear what they had to report.
Sir Urien, reported the leader of the forest party, we are most sorry to report we have found no trace of Sir Owain or his horse.
Father's face fell but he nodded and motioned to the leader of the Caerleon party to say his piece. Sir Urien, he began, it is my unfortunate responsibility to report to you Sir Owain is not at the court of King Arthur, nor has he been heard from by them.
I felt my heart drop as their words registered. My brother had vanished without a trace. People who vanished without a trace were, so often, prisoners of the Fair Folk, those who dwelt in the forests and lakes. To my knowledge, none ever returned. I looked to my father, waiting for his reaction.
Father sat in silence for several long minutes, a look of astonishment and worry gracing his features. Finally, he shook his head and spoke. My son, Sir Owain, is lost to us. Let us honor him tonight.
I was stunned. Father was giving up? Father, is it not possible that my brother could be held captive by the Fair Folk? Is it not possible we can save him?
Aislinn, my child, you know very well none ever return from beyond the veil, Father replied, giving me a look I took to mean he was not pleased with my outburst. If the Fair Folk have chosen to take your brother with them, there is nothing we can do to bring him home.
I bowed my head, fighting back my tears. A lord's daughter did not show weakness in public, nor in private if she could help it. Yes, Father, I replied.
The Samhein festivities continued late into the night. I retired to my chamber not long after the conversation with Father. I simply could not be a part of a festivity now meant to honor my brother's memory when I knew in my heart he lived.
I paced my chamber floor, thinking, wondering what I could do. Mother had not left her chamber since news of my brother's disappearance reached her; she would be of little use. Father would never hear of me going off on my own to find Owain, so I must think of something else. Mustn't I?
It came to me then, as I paced the floor. If I left that night, I would be long gone before anyone realized I'd left. I knew the trail Owain usually rode; perhaps I could find something Father's men had missed.
That was all it took-my decision was final. I snuck quickly to the kitchens for a loaf of bread and some hard cheese, hoping no one would notice me. Amaethon, God of luck, must have been on my side-there was no one about as I pilfered food for my journey.
I snuck quickly to the stables for my horse, Ceara, and said a quick prayer to Epona as I fled the stableyard and my father's house.
It was dawn before I stopped near a stream to give Ceara a rest before we moved on. I was resting against a tree myself when I saw her. She was beautiful, and I knew, even at a distance, she was the one I needed to find.