Somewhere beneath Glastonbury Abbey, England
…He found Rowena waiting for him at the bottom of the ladder, the small beam of light from her torch barely making an impact on the absolute darkness that permeated the tunnel. His hand slid over hers as he hopped down, and he heard her relieved exhale, as if she hadn’t been entirely sure he’d actually follow her down.
“Reese, it’s really dark in here, and this flashlight basically useless, and I hate how my voice echoes in a room that I can’t see. I know you said that we had to come down here to find what we needed, but I’m pretty sure that no one’s been down here in a really, really, really long time.” He felt her grab his forearm and dig her nails into his skin. “I am holding you completely responsible if we encounter any dead things that aren’t where they’re supposed to be.”
“We’ll be fine,” he reassured her, although he understood her hesitation. The fact that she’d done as he’d asked and climbed down attested to her courage, something she’d need a lot of before their journey ended. He’d be asking much more of her than he had so far, and it reassured him to know she had the strength within her.
They were going to need it.
Borrowing her torch for a moment, Reese aimed it around their position in a small semi-circle, getting his bearings. He hadn’t needed to use this escape hatch while still in Avalon, but he’d had plenty of time to wander the halls while contemplating his situation in the days and years following Morgana’s curse. Gwaine had often joked that he could see the path Reese had worn into the stone floors with his angry wanderings, but Reese himself had never been able to see any sign he’d marred the surface. But that was Gwaine; he’d been the prankster of the Knights except when it mattered, and then none fought more fiercely than he. Over the years, he’d missed his friend greatly, but never more so than when he’d find himself in a tavern or bar or other such place and someone did something stupid and started a ruckus. Every punch he’d thrown he’d done so with a smile on his face, remembering the friend who had never forgotten him and stayed by his side until he’d finally fallen in love and left Camelot to start his own family.
Shaking his head, he shined the light on the floor before him, and slowly started forward. He heard Rowena squeak as she realized he’d moved, and he felt her grab for his hand. Raising it to his lips to kiss a knuckle in apology, he kept his eyes ahead until he found what he’d been looking for.
“Roe, I need shut off the torch for a moment.”
“What? No. Why? What for?” Her panicked questions peppered him like gunshots.
“Fear not, and watch.” He pulled her close, handing her the flashlight before extending his hand, as if trying to touch the darkness.
As the last syllable faded, a golden light pierced the gloom mere inches from their toes. It brightened and shifted colors between gold and white and scarlet as it traced an enormous pattern seemingly burned into the floor. As the design reached certain points in the distance, old-fashioned torches sputtered to life, their fire bringing more of the room into view. When the spell ran its course, it flared once then faded as had the others they’d seen, leaving torches blazing on the walls and an intricate pattern on the stone floor.
“Behold. The antechamber to the tombs of the kings and queens of Camelot.”
Rowena stared at the sight before her in disbelief. How could something this beautiful be buried under the earth with no one knowing it exists? Well, except for the man standing beside her that is. She’d read about such places, but only in conjunction with Egyptian tombs such as those at Giza, and this one appeared to be on a smaller but just as grand scale. Looking up, she guessed the ceiling was twenty feet or so above their heads. She didn’t think she’d climbed down that far, but then again, when doing so in the dark all your usual frames of reference are suspect.
The slightly curved walls stretched into the distance from where they stood at the entrance, with torches lighting the way every fifteen feet. She could see doorways in between, positioned like spokes around the room and presumably leading to individual crypts or maybe other exits. Rowena counted twelve such passages, and wondered if all of them held royalty or if some were empty due to the early fall of Camelot.
One big difference in this room from the tombs she’d seen depicted in her history books was that enormous carving at her feet. The walls also weren’t covered in pictographs or drawings or anything that explained the chamber, although there was enough art and sculpture and relics in here to make a curator apoplectic. Still, it was that design on the floor that intrigued her, but from her vantage point it was hard to tell what it really was. She spun around and returned to the ladder, which she now saw was made of wrought iron railings and steps. Stepping up just high enough so that she could see it completely, she turned back to see Reese moving back out of the way.
“Oh, my God. That’s the Pendragon crest!” she exclaimed, recognizing it from the pennant hanging behind glass in his home thousands of miles away. She could see now that the lights that had traced the pattern corresponded to its final colors–the solid scarlet background, the golden dragon with wings slightly unfolded as if about to take flight, and the border and details in silver-white. Intricate patterns subtly covered the crest’s background, much like the etchings she’d seen on Reese’s armor, and she wondered at their significance.
Rowena stayed on her step and surveyed the rest of the room from her higher vantage point. It was subtle, but she could see now that the objects hanging on the walls or displayed on podiums around the room seemed to increase in intrinsic value as they wound to the largest of the doorways at the very back of the anteroom. The altar that stood at the very top of the shield seemed familiar, and it took her but a moment to make the connection.
It was made of the same stone as that of Arthur’s Round Table.
The sound of Reese unsheathing his sword reverberated through the huge room, although the sound held a reverence that she’d not heard before. She slipped down to sit on a stair as he slowly approached the altar, and even though he wore modern clothes, she could so easily imagine him in sixth century garb he moved so smoothly. He halted at the center of the room, taking a knee before the small table. He positioned his sword point down, hands crossed on its pommel as he bowed his head. She’d always imagined that the ceremonies of Camelot were held in the throne room, but Reese’s reverence in this place had her wondering.
“’Twas in this very room that I received my knighthood,” Reese revealed, and Rowena understood his earlier hesitations. This place was not only the site of his greatest regrets but also of his greatest triumph. “I knelt here before my king, my queen and those that would soon be my brothers, and swore my oath to God, the crown, and Camelot.” He rose to his feet, sheathing his sword as he went, which both impressed her and caused all kinds of tingles throughout her body all at the same time. How a man that large had so much grace she didn’t know, but she would take advantage of it at great length upon their return to their hotel room.
Turning, Reese held out a hand. “Milady, may I have the honor of introducing you to those who knew me in my first life?”
“’Tis I who would be honored, milord,” she replied as she joined him. They shared a soft kiss, and for just a moment she felt as if she’d been here before, kissing this man in this very place. When she searched his eyes a moment later, she knew. “Rhianwen was here with you, wasn’t she? That’s why I felt a bit of déjà vu just now.”
“Aye, and where else would she have been? She was my love as you are now, and ever by my side.”
“As I hope to be, too,” she said, snuggling close. He kept an arm around her as they started to walk, and they ranged through the room from front to back as he told her to where each doorway led. The left side of the chamber held crypts of Arthur’s knights, each of the highest six Circles having their own tomb. When asked, he confirmed that he did in fact have a place reserved for him in the one two doors left of the main tomb. She had a feeling that should she actually break the curse and make him mortal again, trying to explain to the mortician that he’d like to be buried in a secret tomb beneath the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey with his fellow Knights was going to be a hard sell.
As expected, the largest and central doorway led to Arthur and Guinevere’s crypts, but it surprised her to learn that it wasn’t Uther and Igraine interred beside him. Rather, it appears even in death Merlin was an intermediary between the king and his father, for it was his grave that rested there instead. The rest of the three tombs along the east wall held the rest of the Pendragon line, down through the eighth century when the last of Guinevere’s descendants passed away having left no heirs.
“The history in this room is just so impressive.” She sighed. “I don’t even mind that I’ll never be able to tell anyone what I’ve seen. Okay, maybe I mind a little,” she admitted with a quick shrug, “but I’d rather know and share it only with you than never know anything at all. Who could have imagined that believing in one little family legend would lead me here, with you. Were I anyone else, I might feel a bit overwhelmed.”
Reese turned her so that she was snug against his chest, his hands clasped at the small of her back and those brilliant green eyes of his searching hers. “We can return tomorrow if need be. We do not have much time left, but ‘tis enough if you need to rest.”
“I’m okay, Reese, really.” She further reassured him with a kiss. “I’m having the adventure of my life with the man that I love. I can rest later.” When he captured her mouth with his own and held her face with his strong but gentle hand, she thought, I am one bloody lucky girl.
He nodded at Merlin’s door, a relatively plain-looking thing for the most powerful wizard in history. Considering how intricately he wove his spells, you’d think the guy would have sprung for carvings or jewels or something to adorn his door. Then again, he’d hidden his amazing talents from nearly everyone for most of his life, so perhaps the simplicity suited him.
“Don’t suppose you have the key hidden away in your pack, do you?” Her humor was rewarded with one of Reese’s smiles, the amused one he saved just for her. Rather than answering, he peered closely at the door, probably looking for a hidden latch or knob or something. When he merely laid his hand on a rather beautiful knot in the wood and whispered a phrase in the same language he’d spoken to activate the crest spell, that too made perfect sense.
Rowena heard the locks release the moment Reese spoke the last syllable. As he pulled the door open on surprisingly quiet hinges, she asked, “What language is it that you’ve been speaking? It’s not Gaelic; that I’d recognize.”
“’Tis Welsh. To this day I don’t understand how that meddlesome wizard managed to key the activation of the spells to our own individual languages, but he did. ‘Tis yet another layer of mystery I will ne’er unravel.”
“For now, let’s just see if we can’t find what we’re looking for, and leave the rest for later.”
With a nod, he gestured for her to precede him into Merlin’s tomb.