There is a legend down by the Lake of Avalon, where the waters meet the shore lapping the sandy stretch with their breadth, that here in this mystic place any wish once whispered may one day come true. And for centuries, from the days when the Old Ways reigned supreme throughout the land to the time of the Great Purge when such practices were all but ousted from the land, many had come to these waters wishing, hands clasped and heads bent in prayer, for the waves to work their magic and grant for them their deepest desires. Some returned from the lake believing they had received what they had asked for, while others stood by the waters waiting for the answers that they knew would come one day if they only kept on praying. But whether the wishes in their multitude were ever granted or denied, no one could say for certain. Yet that uncertainty did not dissuade the parishioners. Still they came down by the waters, wishing for their hearts’ desires, not knowing for certain, but in faith, whether or not their prayers would be fulfilled by the magic of the waves.
PROLOGUE: Under Those Dark Locks
Morgana beheld herself in the mirror on her vanity, saw her same face staring back at her, as she drew the bejeweled comb through her dark locks until it ran smoothly through the strands. She kept staring at her face in the mirror, gazing deep into the emerald irises of her eyes and the flecks of brown that rimmed their edges. Her pupils dilated in the dark of her chambers, the only light filling the room with warmth being the solitary flicker of a candle burning in the corner of the vanity’s tabletop.
She wished she could calm herself, but her breath kept ravaging in her chest, even as she combed her hair, a simple act that usually eased her anxiousness.
But she could not stop running over in her mind the scene in the dining hall just an hour ago. The way her father had slammed the table startling her so bad her heart nearly leapt out of her chest. The way Arthur had kept his eyes downcast, staring at his barely eaten plate of food as he turned over what remained over and over again with his fork, never daring, not once, to look up at her even as their father had berated her for what she had said. She stared at herself in the mirror, worried, watching her eyebrows uplift with the emotion. Had she lost her brother’s favor then, after so many years spent avoiding him like the plague, that he no longer considered it his priority to defend her from Father in his bad temperament? She shook at the thought. Perhaps she had played her side in things all too well, pretending to hate Arthur because, because…
No, she would not dare say it. She dropped the comb from her hair and twirled it in her hands, watched as the dim candlelight caught the blue studded gems causing them to shine faintly as she passed the comb over and over from hand to hand. Her heart thudded in her chest. She started to cry despite herself, drops of tears welling in the corners of her eyes. She wiped them away ashamed, but not before she caught one fall down her face in the mirror.
Then she laid the comb back down on the vanity, reaching for a drawer instead. She pulled it open, the first one to her right, revealing a small leather-bound book and a rosary. With one last fleeting look at the book, she took up the rosary and shut the drawer. She ran the beads in her hands, thinking to herself, reminding herself of just the kind of sinner she was.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” she intoned from memory. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
She spoke the words three times, thrice for the number of beads before the crucifix, but the words did naught to soothe her conscience and even less to lift the burden of her soul.
It was a grave sin, she knew, far worse than any the priests preached of during Sunday mass and the far more unthinkable than the breaking of any of the ten commandments she had memorized as a girl. For it was not theft nor adultery nor murder that lay claim to her heart, poisoning her with the terrible desire that pulsated through her veins, but a sin of a different sort, a sort no person with a natural mind would even conceive of, let alone conduct in the privacy of her chambers.
She sighed a breath of relief. At least, she had not acted upon her desires. Not yet anyhow. That had to count for something, as far as her soul was concerned, right?
Morgana did not know, but what she did know, knew all too well, was that no amount of praying to God ever seemed to help her wish away the desire. Always, it came back, laying claim to her mind and body like some chronic disease. She feared she would never be rid of it, even if she gave in and sinned just as the desire yearned for her to do, still, she believed, it would be with her, haunting her at the back of her mind where it had first festered. She swallowed, staring at the beads her fingers rolled over unconsciously.
But she would never let it come to that, she swore to herself then as she had done before on many a similar night when she grasped at her rosary and pleaded to God to show her mercy and lift from her the burden, not ever.
She feared too much what people would think in that event she acted upon the abomination in her mind, the desecration in her heart.
Yet here she was still, contemplating that dark secret bound to her chest.
Morgana loved her brother.
But not as a sister should.