P R O P H E C Y
THE ELECTRICAL STORM raged across the darkening sky, in complete contrast to what Arianrhod felt. Or, to be more exact, what she didn’t feel. She didn’t feel anything. In fact, she felt empty, devoid of any emotion. A fact which bothered her on many levels. Had she compartmentalized them all—as was her want in times of stress—or did she just not feel anything as many seemed to believe?
It had been four weeks to the day since her mother—who they were now calling the great Don—had passed away. And, in that time, all hell had broken loose. In many ways it was fitting that a storm should rage tonight of all nights. The night she had to give her final answer to the Council. Would she, as her mother’s heir, give up the life she led and take up the reigns of power to become the next Mhor Rioghain? The next Great Queen? As Captain of the prestigious Star Cruiser, the Bright World, pride of the Prydain Navy, she didn’t want to think about it.
She had told her mother no, as her mother had lain on her death bed. She had told the Council no, the morning after the traditional night of mourning and reflection. And now out here, alone with her thoughts, she knew otherwise. Deep in her heart she knew there was no more escaping. No more running away to join the Navy. No more hiding behind the uniform she wore. The Council of Seven would confer the title on her whether she wanted it or not. She was her Mother’s chosen successor. There was no one else, and she knew it.
Succession went via the female line, and as she was her mother’s only daughter she was next in line. Five sons, though, had other ideas and had argued long and hard with the Council. If Arianrhod didn’t want to take over responsibility, then one of them was more than willing. That is, if they didn’t end up killing one another in their struggle for power. The Council hadn’t even entertained the matter beyond listening to them. And for that, you could be sure, there would be vicious payback.
Responsibility, Arianrhod concluded, lay like a noose around her neck. Any minute it would tighten and choke her.
A bright flash lit up the night, followed by a loud crack of thunder. It reverberated through her skin, deep into her bones. She shivered where she stood, secluded in the middle of the small strand of trees. She looked out at the roiling seas: dark, and foreboding. Wave after wave crashed in unison upon the cliff face, to the sound of each thunderclap. One step and she could end it. One step and she could escape. One step and there would be no prophecy to fulfill. How easy it all could be.
* * *
Morgaine heard the snapping of the bone dry grass, from behind. She peeked out from the rock she sat against, were she had been watching the storm. She saw the figure pass, walk towards the cliff edge and stop a few feet away, unaware of her presence. The tall figure dressed head to foot in black; she recognized the garb as Military, Space Navy. A particular space-navy at that. It needed no introduction. Everyone knew it. It was either beloved or hated. Depending, that is, on what side of the power-fence you walked in this part of the galactic neighbourhood.
She wondered what the person was doing out there, on a night like tonight and more, why they had approached the cliff, so close. One step could spell disaster. She wondered if the Military type knew how dangerous it was where they stood, and if she should call out, say something in warning.
Another resounding crack of lightning. Another round of thunder. A huge wave crashed nearby. Morgaine stood up and moved to the front of the rock, ready to move if need be. Knowing she could startle the Spacer into a wrong foot and, more than likely, a fatal journey to greet the rocks and sea below.
She waited, well aware that it was impolite to invade someone’s personal space, here on Albion. That is, without some sort of formal introductions. She had stepped on some Spacer’s foot on a moving concourse down at the space port, a few days earlier. And lived to regret the look and the accusations. A night in lock-up had not been fun. She still wore the bruising about her person, she didn’t want worse. But, if this Spacer was intent on doing what she thought, then maybe it would be worth all the hassle involved if she saved their life. Not that doing the right thing had ever done her any good these last few months. Why she had this need to get involved was beyond her. It always brought trouble. Trouble clung to her like mud to other people’s shoes.
Still, she couldn’t help herself. That little voice inside her head, nagged her. Like it nagged her now.
“How do you know they’re gonna jump?” she whispered under her breath. It didn’t answer. It never did. And, as usual, as soon as the feeling had come, it was gone again.
She watched as the wind buffeted the figure. Would they, wouldn’t they? She’d had that same fight herself, on many occasion, when all else seemed lost. Somehow, though, she always chose life over death. Would they?
* * *
Arianrhod raged at herself. Her internal monologue arguing the facts in opposition to her desires. She weighed the consequences of her desires. Weighed the consequences of potential actions. And pondered ‘what-ifs’ one after the other. Looking for answers, looking for direction. Always coming back to what her mother had said to her, as she lay dying. And now, finally, she knew the truth. The truth of what her mother had given her, her freedom. Even if only for a few short years, she had had and enjoyed what her mother had never had. The chance to be free to choose, choose just for herself. But now? Now it was hard to give it up. Give up the life she’d created for herself. Give up something so precious.
Here, tonight, her life would end, one way or another. Here, tonight, her life would change. She would no longer be the person she once was. She had a choice to make, even though the Council believed otherwise. She still had a choice. The consequences of that choice, would have ramifications that would be monumental.
* * *
Morgaine pulled her damp clothes about her, shivering in the dark, watching, waiting. Fighting her own doubts and internal demons. Wondering if she shouldn’t just slip away into the night, unseen, unheard. Earlier, she had pulled herself up onto the jagged rocks below. Alive, she had climbed up a small rough hewn path to what she’d hoped was safety. Only to find herself on what she thought was a small island, a deserted outcrop of land not too far from the main coast and the spaceport. Now, once again, it turned out the spot she’d chosen was not so deserted or uninhabited.
It’s all your fault. She blamed the internal voice.
It had told her to sneak away. Sneak away off the ship when no one was looking, not that anyone paid her much heed. It had been simple. Gathering up her small bundle of possessions she’d slipped off the Velenryd into the night. She had made her way through every available shadow, into Mainport. Where, as chance or fate would have it, her next set of troubles arose. She was thankful she’d only warranted a night in lock-up for her personal infraction on the Spacer’s foot. On release she had decided to skip Mainport altogether and had found her way back toward the docks. She’d slipped through a small rabbit hole in the intimidating perimeter fence, into a small wooded area. An area much like where she now found herself.
Like Alice, she had followed a trail, stepped through the hole and straight into more trouble. A small group of men had been conducting business. Clandestine business they didn’t want any witnesses to. As a consequence, she found herself surround, roughly grabbed and, quite to her own surprise, thrown over the side of a cliff. It was a freefall towards almost certain death on the rocks below. Fortunate for her, the businessmen’s energetic heave-ho was all that saved her. She missed the rocks by feet, hit the water flat and, after recovering from the initial shock, was able to swim away.
Now what? She asked herself, as she watched the woman by the cliff’s edge. Do I stay, or do I go?