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About the Author

Marion Zimmer Bradley was the New York Times bestselling science fiction and fantasy author of the Avalon series, the Darkover series, and more. In addition to her novels, Mrs. Bradley edited many magazines, amateur and professional, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. She died in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Priestess of Avalon

By Marion Zimmer Bradley


Copyright © 2002 Marion Zimmer Bradley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780451458629

Chapter One

AD 259

"Oh! I can see water gleaming in the sun! Is it the sea?" I dug my heels intothe pony's round side to bring it alongside Corinthius's big horse. The beastbroke into a rough trot and I clutched at its mane.

"Ah, Helena, your young eyes are better than mine," answered the old man, whohad been tutor to my half-brothers before being inherited by me. "A blaze oflight is all that I can see. But I think that what lies before us must be thelevels of the Summer Country, flooded by the spring rains."

I brushed back a wisp of hair and peered around me. The waters were broken up byhummocks of higher ground like islands and divided by winding rows of trees.Beyond them I could make out a line of hills where Corinthius said there werelead mines, ending in a bright haze that must be the estuary of the Sabrina.

"Then we are almost there?" The pony tossed its head as I squeezed its sides andthen pulled back on the rein.

"We are if the rains have not washed out the causeway, and we can locate thevillage of the Lake folk that my master told me to find."

I looked up at him with swift pity, for he sounded very tired. I could see linesin the thin face beneath the broad straw hat, and he sat slumped in the saddle.My father should not have made the old man come all this way. But when thejourney was over, Corinthius, a Greek who had sold himself into slavery as ayouth in order to dower his sisters, would have his freedom. He had saved a nicelittle nest egg over the years, and meant to set up a school in Londinium.

"We will come to the Lake village in the afternoon," said the guide who hadjoined my escort in Lindinis.

"When we get there, we will rest," I said briskly.

"I thought you were eager to come to the Tor," Corinthius said kindly. Perhapshe would be sorry to lose me at that, I thought, smiling up at him. After my twobrothers, who cared for nothing but hunting, he had said he enjoyed teachingsomeone who actually wanted to learn.

"I will have the rest of my life to enjoy Avalon," I answered him. "I can wait aday longer to arrive."

"And start your studies once more-"Corinthius laughed. "They say that thepriestesses of Avalon have preserved the old Druid wisdom. It consoles me alittle to know that you will not spend your life running some fat magistrate'shousehold and bearing his children."

I smiled. My father's wife had tried to convince me that such a life was awoman's highest hope, but I had always known that sooner or later I would begoing to Avalon. That it was sooner was due to the rebellion of a general calledPostumus, whose war had cut Britannia off from the Empire. Unprotected, thesoutheastern coasts were vulnerable to raiders, and Prince Coelius had thoughtit best to send his little daughter to the safety of Avalon while he and hissons prepared to defend Camulodunum.

For a moment, then, my smile faltered, for I had been the apple of my father'seye, and I hated the thought that he might be in danger. But I knew well enoughthat while he was away from home my life there would not have been a happy one.To the Romans I was my father's love-child, with no mother's family, for it wasforbidden to speak of Avalon. In truth it was Corinthius and old Huctia, who hadbeen my nurse, who had been my family, and Huctia had died the winter before. Itwas time for me to return to my mother's world.

The road led downward now, winding gently back and forth across the slope of thehill. As we emerged from the shelter of the trees, I shaded my eyes with myhand. Below, the waters lay upon the land like a sheet of gold.

"If you were a faerie horse," I murmured to my pony, "we could gallop along thatshining path all the way to Avalon."

But the pony only shook its head and reached for a mouthful of grass, and wecontinued to clop down the road one step at a time until we came to the slipperylogs of the causeway. Now I could see the gray stalks of last summer's grasswavering in the water and beyond them the reedbeds that edged the permanentchannels and pools. The deeper water was dark, charged with mystery. Whatspirits ruled these marshes, where the elements were so confused and mingledthat one could not tell where earth ended and the water began? I shivered alittle and turned my gaze to the bright day.

As the afternoon drew on towards evening, a mist began to rise from off of thewater. We moved more slowly now, letting our mounts choose their own footing onthe slippery logs. I had ridden horses since I could walk, but until now, eachday's journey had been a short one, appropriate to the strength of a child.Today's ride, the last stage in our journey, had been longer. I could feel thedull ache in my legs and back and knew that I would be glad to get out of thesaddle when the day was done.

We came out from beneath the trees and the guide reined in, pointing. Beyond thetangle of marsh and woodland rose a single pointed hill. I had been taken fromthis place when I was barely a year old, and yet, with a certainty beyondmemory, I knew that I was looking at the holy Tor. Touched by the last of thesunlight, it seemed to glow from within.

"The Isle of Glass ..." murmured Corinthius, eyes widening in appreciation.

But not Avalon ... I thought, remembering the stories I had heard. The clusterof beehive huts at the foot of the Tor belonged to the little community ofChristians who lived there. Avalon of the Druids lay in the mists between thisworld and Faerie.

"And there is the village of the Lake people," said our guide, indicating thetrails of smoke that rose beyond the willows. He slapped the reins against hispony's neck and all of the horses, sensing the end of their journey, movedforward eagerly.


"We have the barge, but crossing to Avalon needs priestess. She says if you arewelcome. Is important to go now? You want that I call?" The headman's words wererespectful, but in his posture there was little deference. For nearly therehundred years his people had been the gatekeepers for Avalon.

"Not tonight," answered Corinthius. "The maiden has endured a long journey. Lether have a good night's sleep before she must meet all those people in her newhome."

I squeezed his hand gratefully. I was eager to get to Avalon, but now that ourjourney was over, I was painfully aware that I would not see Corinthius again,and only now did I realize how fond of the old man I really was. I had wept whenmy nurse died, and I knew that I would weep to lose Corinthius as well.

The Lake people made us welcome in one of the round thatched houses set on polesabove the marsh. A long, low boat was tied up beside it, and a creaking bridgeconnected it to the higher ground. The villagers were a small, lightly builtfolk, with dark hair and eyes. At ten, I was already as tall as a grown womanamong them, though I had their same dusky brown hair. I watched them curiously,for I had heard that my mother had been like them, or perhaps she and they bothwere like the people of Faerie.

The villagers brought us thin ale and a stew of fish and millet flavored withwild garlic, and flat oaten cakes baked on the stone hearth. When we had eatenof the simple fare, we sat by the fire with bodies too tired to move and mindsnot yet ready for sleep, watching the flame fade into coals that shone like thevanished sun.

"Corinthius, when you have your school in Londinium, will you remember me?"

"How could I forget my little maiden, bright as one of Apollo's sunbeams, when Iam striving to beat Latin hexameters into the thick skulls of a dozen boys?" Hisworn features creased as he smiled.

"You must call the sun Belenos," said I, "in this northern land."

"It was Apollo of the Hyboreans that I meant, my child, but it is all thesame...."

"Do you truly believe that?"

Corinthius lifted one eyebrow. "'A single sun shines here and in the land whereI was born, though we call it by different names. In the realm of Idea, thegreat principles behind the forms that we see are the same."

I frowned, trying to make sense of his words. He had attempted to explain theteachings of the philosopher Plato, but I found them hard to understand. Eachplace I came to had its own spirit, as distinct as human souls. This land theycalled the Summer Country, all hill and wood and hidden pools, seemed a worldaway from the broad flat fields and coppiced woodlands around Camulodunum.Avalon, if the tales I had heard of it were true, would be stranger still. Howcould their gods be the same?

"I think rather that it is you, little one, with all your life ahead of you, whowill be forgetting me," the old man said then. "What is it, child," he added,bending to lift the lock of hair that hid my eyes. "Are you afraid?"

"What-what if they don't like me?"

For a moment Corinthius stroked my hair, then he sat back with a sigh. "I oughtto tell you that to the true philosopher, it should not matter, that thevirtuous person needs no one's approval. But what comfort is that to a child?Nonetheless it is true. There will be some people who do not like you no matterwhat you do, and when that happens, you can only try to serve the Truth as yousee it. And yet, if you have won my heart, then surely there will be others tolove you as well. Look for those who need your love, and they will return theblessing."

His tone was bracing, and I swallowed and managed a smile. I was a princess, andone day would be a priestess as well. I must not let people see me cry.

There was a stirring at the door. The cowhide flap was pushed aside and Iglimpsed a child holding a squirming puppy in his arms. The chieftain's wife sawhim and said something reproving in the dialect of the Lake. I caught the wordfor hound and realized he was being told to take the dog away.

"Oh no-I like puppies!" I exclaimed. "Please let me see!"

The woman looked dubious, but Corinthius nodded, and the boy came up to me,grinning, and released the animal into my outstretched hands. As I clutched atthe wriggling bundle of fur I began to smile as well. I could see already thatthis was not one of the graceful sight-hounds who used to lounge in nobledignity about my father's hall. The puppy was too tiny, its creamy fur too thickalready, and its tail too curled. But the brown eyes were bright with interest,and the tongue that flicked out below the moist black button of a nose to lickmy hand was pink and warm.

"There, there now, and aren't you a darling?" I gathered the little dog to mychest and laughed again as it tried to lick my face as well.

"A creature with neither breeding nor manners," said Corinthius, who was notfond of animals. "And likely carrying fleas-"

"No, lord," answered the boy, "is a Faerie dog."

Corinthius lifted an eloquent eyebrow, and the boy frowned.

"I speak true!" he exclaimed. "It happens before. Mama gets lost, two, threedays. Has only one puppy, white like this. Faerie dog lives long, and if notkilled, when old it disappears. Dog sees spirits, and knows way to Otherworld!"

Feeling the living warmth of the creature in my arms, I hid my face in the softfur to hide my own laughter, for the rest of the Lake people were noddingsolemnly and I did not wish to insult them.

"She is gift, will guard you," the boy said then.

I suppressed a further spurt of laughter at the idea that this ball of fluffcould protect anything, then straightened to smile at the boy.

"Does she have a name?"

The boy shrugged. "Faerie folk know. Maybe she tells you one day."

"I will call her Eldri, until they do, for she is as white and delicate as theflower of the elder tree." I considered her as I said this, then looked back upat the boy. "And you-do you have a name?" I hid my amusement as a blush warmedhis sallow skin.

"Is 'Otter,' in your tongue," he said as the others laughed.

A use-name, thought I. At his initiation he would receive another that wouldonly be known within the tribe. And how should I answer him? In my father'sworld I had been Julia Helena, but that seemed irrelevant here. Better to usethe name my mother had given me when I was born.

"I thank you," I said then. "You may call me Eilan."


I woke from a dream of many waters, blinking in the morning light. I had been ina long flat boat that slid silently through swirling mists until they parted toreveal a fair green island. But then the scene had shifted, and I was on agalley approaching endless flat marshlands and a great gray-green river thatsplit into myriad channels as it entered the sea. Then the vision had changed toa land of golden stone and sand washed by a brilliant blue sea. But the greenisland had been the fairest. A few times in my life I had dreamed things thatcame true. I wondered if this was one of them. But already the memory wasslipping away. I sighed and opened my eyes.

I pushed back he sleeping furs in which I had nested with Eldri curled againstme and rubbed the grit from my eyes. Squatting beside the headman's fire anddrinking tea from a cup of rough clay was someone I had not seen before. Inoticed first the long brown braid and the blue cloak, and then, as she turned,the mark of a priestess tattooed between her brows. The blue crescent was stillbright, and the smooth face that of a girl. She had not been an initiatedpriestess for long. Then, as if she had felt my gaze upon her, the priestessturned, and my eyes fell before that detached and ageless stare.

"Her name is Suona," said Corinthius, patting my shoulder. "She arrived just atdawn."

I wondered how the headman had called her. Did the faerie folk carry themessage, or was there some secret spell?

"This is the maiden?" asked Suona.

"The daughter of Prince Coelius of Camulodunum," answered Corinthius. "But hermother was of Avalon."

"She seems old to begin her training here-"

Corinthius shook his head. "She is well-grown for her age, but she has only tenwinters. And Helena is not without education. She has been taught to use hermind as well as to do the work of a woman. She can read and write in Latin andknows a little Greek, and has learned her numbers as well."

Suona did not seem very impressed. I lifted my chin and met the dark gazesteadily. For a moment I felt an odd tickling sensation in my head, as ifsomething had touched my mind. Then the priestess nodded a little, and itceased. For the first time she spoke directly to me.

"Is it your wish, or that of your father, that you come to Avalon?"

I felt my heart thump heavily, but I was relieved when my words came outsteadily.

"I want to go to Avalon."

"Let the child break her fast, and then we will be ready-" said Corinthius, butthe priestess shook her head.

"Not you, only the maiden. It is forbidden for an outlander to look on Avalonexcept when the gods call."

For a moment the old man looked stricken, then he bowed his head.

"Corinthius!" I felt tears prick my own eyes.

"Never mind-" he patted my arm. "To the philosopher, all affections aretransitory. I must strive for more detachment, that is all."

"But won't you miss me?" I clung to his hand.

For a moment he sat with closed eyes. Then his breath came out in a long sigh.

"I will miss you, heart's daughter," he answered softly, "even if it is againstmy philosophy. But you will find new friends and learn new things, never fear."For a moment he laid his hand upon my head, and I sensed the words he would notallow himself to say.

I felt Eldri stirring in my lap and the moment of anguish began to fade.

"I will not forget you," I said stoutly, and was rewarded by his smile.


My fingers tightened on the rail of the barge as the boatmen shoved down withtheir poles and the barge slid away from the shore. Overnight another mist hadrisen from the water, and the world beyond the village was more sensed thanseen. Only once, when we crossed the Tamesis at Londinium, had I ever been on aboat before. I had felt nearly overwhelmed by the river's tremendous, drivingpurpose, brought close to tears when we reached the other shore because I hadnot been allowed to follow those waters down to the sea.

On the Lake, what I felt most strongly was depth, which seemed odd, since thebottom was still within reach of the boatmen's poles, and I could see thewavering lines of the reed-stems below the water line.

But the evidence of my eyes seemed to me an illusion. I could feel waters thatran below the lake bottom, and realized that I had begun to sense them as soonas we started to cross the Levels, even when we were on what passed here for dryland. Here, there was little distinction between earth and water, as there wasvery little separation between the world of men and the Otherworld.

I gazed curiously at the woman who sat at the prow, cloaked and hooded in blue.To be a priestess, was it necessary to become so detached from human feeling?Corinthius preached detachment as well, but I knew he had a heart beneath hisphilosopher's robes. When I become a priestess, I will not forget what love is!I promised myself then.

I wished very much that they had allowed my old tutor to come with me this lastbit of the way. He was still waving to me from the shore, and though he had bademe farewell with the restraint of a true Stoic, it seemed to me that there was abrightness in his eyes that might be tears. I wiped my own eyes and waved backharder, and then, as the first veil of mist blew between us, settled back ontomy bench.

At least I still had Eldri, tucked securely into the fold where my tunicabloused over my belt. I could feel the puppy's warmth against my chest andpatted her reassuringly through the cloth. So far, the little dog had neitherbarked nor stirred, as if she understood the need to keep silence. So long asthe puppy stayed hidden, no one could forbid me to take her to Avalon.

I pulled open the loose neck of my tunica and grinned at the two bright eyesthat gleamed up at me, then draped my cloak loosely around me once more.

The mist was growing thicker, lying in dense skeins across the water as if notonly earth but air were dissolving back into the primal watery womb. Of thePythagorean elements of which Corinthius had told me, that left only fire. Itook a deep breath, at once unsettled and oddly reassured, as if somethingwithin me recognized this protean admixture and welcomed it.

We were well out upon the Lake by now, and the boatmen were paddling. As thebarge moved forward the stilt village faded into the mist behind us. The Tor wasdisappearing too. For the first time, I felt a quiver of fear. Ahead lay onlythe village of the monks-where were they taking me?

But Eldri warmed my heart, and in the prow, the young priestess sat quietly, herface serene. Suona was a plain-looking girl, yet for the first time, Iunderstood what my nurse had meant when she told me to sit like a queen.

Though I saw no signal, abruptly the boatmen lifted their paddles and restedthem on their laps. The barge floated quietly, the last ripples of its passagewidening away to either side. I felt a pressure in my ears and shook my head torelieve it.

Then, at last, the priestess stirred, casting back her hood as she got up. Feetbraced, she stood, seeming to grow taller as she lifted her arms in invocation.She drew in her breath, and her ordinary features grew radiant with beauty. Thegods look like this ... I thought as Suona gave voice to a string of musicalsyllables in a language I had never heard before.

Then that too was forgotten, for the mists began to move. The boatmen hadcovered their eyes, but I kept mine open, staring as the gray clouds began tosparkle with a rainbow of color. The light spun sunwise around them, colorsblending, wrenching reality out of time. For an impossible eternity we hungbetween the worlds. Then, with a final burst of radiance, the mists became ahaze of light.

The priestess sank back to her seat, perspiration beading her brow. The boatmenpicked up their paddles and began to stroke forward as if this had been no morethan a pause to rest their arms. I let out a breath I had not known I washolding. They must be accustomed to this ... I thought numbly, and then, Howcould anyone get used to this wonder!

For a moment, though the paddles dipped, we did not seem to move. Then thebright mist suddenly wisped away, and the Tor was rushing towards us. I clappedmy hands, recognizing the fair green island.

But there was more to it than I had seen in my dream. I had half expected to seethe huddle of wooden huts I had glimpsed from the Lake people's village, butthey were on Inis Witrin, the isle of the monks. Where they had stood, on theother isle on Avalon there were edifices of stone. I had seen Roman buildingsthat were larger, but none that were at once so massive and so graceful,columned in smooth shafts of tapered stone. Blessed by the spring sunlight, theyseemed to glow from within.

Suddenly I understood. The shape of the isle before me was the same as the one Ihad glimpsed from the Lake village, but somehow we had passed Elsewhere, as ifwe had turned a corner into the world of Dream. Once my nurse had whispered atale of a great priestess who wrested a magic isle out of Time into a Place thatwas, if not quite Faerie, no longer entirely in the world of men. I wondered ifthe prayers of the monks were ever troubled by glimpses of the Other Avalon thatlay like a bright shadow so close to their own. And in that moment I knew alsothat Avalon was my destiny.

If I had been capable of speech, I would have begged the men to stop the boat,to tell me what each house was, now while I could comprehend their harmony. Butthe land was nearing too swiftly. In another moment, the bottom of the bargegrated on sand and it slid up onto the shore.

For the first time, the young priestess smiled. She got to her feet and offeredme her hand.

"Be welcome to Avalon...."


"Look, it is Rian's daughter-" the whispers ran. I could hear them clearly as Icame into the hall.

"It cannot be. She is too tall, and Rian died only ten years ago."

"She must take after her father's people-"

"That will not endear her to the Lady," came the reply, with a little laugh.

I swallowed. It was hard to pretend I did not hear, harder still to walk withthe proud carriage of a daughter of a noble house as my nurse had taught me,when I wanted to gawk at the hall of the priestesses like a peasant passing forthe first time beneath the great gate of Camulodunum.

The hall was circular, like the houses the British used to build before theRomans came, but this one was built of stone. The outer wall was only the heightof a tall man, but a circle of stone pillars supported the sloping ceiling,carved with spirals and triple knots, chevrons and twisted bands of color Thebeams of the roof did not quite meet, and through the open circle in the centercame a flood of light.

The round gallery was in shadow, but the priestesses who stood in the centerwere radiant. When Suona piloted the barge through the Mists, she had worn atunic of deerskin. Here, I was surrounded by a sea of priestess-blue. Some ofthe women wore their hair braided down their backs like Suona, but others had itpinned up or loose upon their shoulders. The sunlight glistened on their bareheads, fair and dark and silver and bronze.

They seemed to be of every age and all sizes, alike only in the blue crescentpainted between their brows-that, and something indefinable in their eyes. Uponreflection, I decided it was serenity, and wished I had it, for my stomach wasdoing flip-flops with anxiety.

Ignore them, I told myself sternly. You will be living with these people for therest of your life. You will look at this hall so many times you will no longersee it. There is no need to stare now, or to be afraid.

Especially now, my thought continued as the women before me moved aside, and Isaw the High Priestess awaiting me. But the uncertain feeling returned as I feltthe Faerie dog stir in the bosom of my gown. I knew now that I should have leftthe puppy in the House of Maidens, where they had taken me when I first arrived,but Eldri had been asleep, and it had seemed to me then that if she woke instrange surroundings she might be frightened and run off. I had not thoughtabout what might happen if the dog woke during my formal welcome to Avalon.

I crossed my arms, pressing the warm furry body against my chest in an attemptat reassurance. Eldri was a magic dog-perhaps she could hear my silent plea tobe still.

The murmur of women's voices faded to silence as the High Priestess lifted herhand. The women were arranging themselves in a circle, with the seniorpriestesses closest to their Lady, and the maidens, stifling their giggles, atthe end. I thought there were five of them, but dared not look at them longenough to be sure.

All eyes were upon me. I forced myself to continue moving forward.

Now I could see the Lady clearly. Ganeda was at this time just past her middleyears, her body thickened by childbearing. Her hair, which had once been red,was dusted with gray like a dying coal. I came to a halt before her, wonderingwhat kind of bow would be appropriate for the Lady of Avalon. My nurse hadtaught me the proper obeisance for ranks all the way up to Empress, unlikelythough it seemed that any Caesar would ever come so far as Britannia again.

I cannot go wrong if I give her the salute due an imperial lady, I thought then.For truly, she is Empress in her own sphere.

As I straightened, I caught the old woman's eye, and it seemed to me that for amoment Ganeda's scowl was lightened by a gleam of amusement, but perhaps I hadimagined it, for in the next moment the High Priestess stood stone-faced oncemore.

"So-" Ganeda spoke at last. "You have come to Avalon. Why?" The question wasspat suddenly, like a spear in the dark.

I stared back at her, suddenly bereft of words.

"You have frightened the poor child," said one of the other priestesses, amotherly-looking woman with fair hair just beginning to fade to gray.

"It was a simple question, Cigfolla," said the High Priestess tartly, "that I amrequired to put to all who seek the sisterhood of Avalon."

"She means," said Cigfolla, "to ask if you have come here of your own will, andnot by any man's coercion. Do you seek the training of a priestess, or only atime of teaching before you return to the world?" She smiled encouragingly.

I frowned, recognizing this as a legitimate question.

"It was by my father's will that I came here at this time, because of the Saxonraids," I said slowly, and saw something like satisfaction flicker in Ganeda'seyes. "But it has always been my destiny to return to Avalon," I continued.

If there had been any doubt, that journey through the Mists would have dispelledit. This was the magic at the heart of things that I had always known must bethere. At that moment, I had recognized my heritage.

"To walk the path of a priestess is my truest desire...."

Ganeda sighed. "Beware what you wish for, lest you find it has indeed come topass.... Still, you have said the words, and in the end it is the Goddess whowill decide whether to accept you, not I. So I bid you welcome here."

There was a murmur of comment from the other priestesses at this grudgingacceptance. I blinked back tears, understanding that my aunt blamed me forcausing her sister's death when I was born. She did not want me here, and nodoubt hoped that I would fail.

But I will not fail! I promised myself. I will study harder than any and becomea great priestess-so famous they will remember my name for a thousand years!

Ganeda sighed. "Come ..."

With my heart thumping so hard I feared it would wake Eldri, I started towardher. Ganeda opened her arms. She is scarcely bigger than me! I thought insurprise as I moved into the older woman's reluctant embrace. The High Priestesshad seemed so tall and stately before.

Then Ganeda gripped my shoulders and drew me hard against her breast. Eldri,crushed between us, woke with a sudden squirm and a yip of surprise. Thepriestess released me as if I had been a hot coal, and I felt the betrayingcolor flood into my face as the little dog poked her head up through the looseneck of my gown.

Someone stifled a giggle, but my own impulse to laugh died at Ganeda's frown.

"What is this? Do you think to mock us here?" There was an undertone in thevoice of the priestess like distant thunder.

"She is a Faerie dog!" I exclaimed, my eyes filling with tears. "The Lake peoplegave her to me!"

"A rare and wonderful creature," Cigfolla put in before Ganeda could speakagain. "Such gifts are not bestowed lightly."

From the other priestesses came a murmur of agreement. For a moment longerGaneda's mental thunder echoed in the air, then, as it became clear that most ofthe priestesses were viewing me with sympathy, Ganeda clamped down on her angerand managed a tight smile.

"A fine gift indeed," she said thinly, "but the Hall of the Priestesses is notthe place for her."

"I am sorry, my lady," I stammered, "I did not know where-"

"It makes no difference," Ganeda cut me off. "The community is waiting. Go,greet the rest of your sisters now."

With the puppy still peeking out of my tunica, I went gratefully into Cigfolla'sarms, breathing in the lavender that scented her gown. The woman who stood nextto her had the look of a paler copy of Ganeda. In her arms she held a littledaughter whose hair blazed like a fire.

"I have seen your face in vision, little one, and I am glad to make you welcome!I am your cousin Sian, and this is Dierna," she said softly. The little girlgrinned toothily, as fair and fat a child as one might hope to find. Next tothat flaming hair, her mother seemed even more pallid, as if she had given allher strength to her offspring. Or perhaps, I thought, it was growing up in theshadow of Ganeda that had sapped the strength from her.

"Hello, Dierna-" I squeezed the plump hand.

"I'm two!" proclaimed the little girl. She reached out to Eldri, and laughed asthe puppy licked her hand.

"You certainly are!" I answered after a moment's confusion. Apparently that wasthe right answer, for Sian also smiled.

"You are very welcome to Avalon," she said then, bending to kiss me on the brow.

At least one member of my mother's family was glad to see me, I thought as Iturned to the next woman in the line.

As I moved around the circle, some of the women had a pat for the puppy as well,and others a word of praise for my dead mother. The girls who were presentlybeing trained on the holy isle received me with delighted awe, as if I hadintended to play a trick on the High Priestess all along. Roud and Gwenna hadthe ruddy-fair coloring of the royal Celts, and Heron, the dark, narrow build ofthe people of the Lake. Aelia was almost as tall as I, though her hair was alighter brown. Tuli, who surveyed them from the eminence of her approachinginitiation, and her younger sister, Wren, had fair hair, cut short like that ofthe others, and gray eyes. When the dog, excited by the attention, yipped, theylaughed. This was not the way that I had intended to impress them, but for goodor ill, Eldri seemed to be a powerful talisman.

And then the formality of greeting was over, and the solemn row became a crowdof chattering women. But as the girls swept me away to the safety of the Houseof Maidens, I saw Ganeda watching me and realized that if my aunt had dislikedme before, she would hate me now. I had grown up in a prince's court, and I knewthat no ruler can afford to be mocked in her own hall.

Excerpted from Priestess of Avalonby Marion Zimmer Bradley Copyright © 2002 by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ace (July 1, 2002)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0451458621
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0451458629
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 15 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.95 x 0.88 x 8.96 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 391 ratings

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