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Priestess of Avalon (Avalon Series #4)

Priestess of Avalon (Avalon Series #4)

4.2 50
by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Diana L. Paxson

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In the long-awaited return to Avalon by the beloved author of The Mists of Avalon and her collaborator, bestselling author Diana L. Paxson, Marion Zimmer Bradley fuses myth, magic and romance in a spectacular unfolding of one woman's role in the making of history and spirit...


In the long-awaited return to Avalon by the beloved author of The Mists of Avalon and her collaborator, bestselling author Diana L. Paxson, Marion Zimmer Bradley fuses myth, magic and romance in a spectacular unfolding of one woman's role in the making of history and spirit...

Editorial Reviews

bn.com Review
The Barnes & Noble Review
My paperback copy of The Mists of Avalon is a worn and tattered wreck, but I would never trade it in for a new one. In fact, rather than lend it to friends, I'd buy them their own copies! Were I an author and saw such a tattered copy of my book, I'd take it as a great compliment, for it shows that my words had enough influence on someone for them to read them over and over again. Marion Zimmer Bradley's novels have that very effect on me. Her worlds are so vivid and her characters so human that I find myself completely absorbed by them.

I discovered Bradley very early in my fantasy-reading experience, and it didn't take me long to run the gamut of her titles -- science fiction and fantasy alike. I have great respect for her writing talent and her unique ability to masterfully address the human psyche from the character's perspective. Bradley revisited the land of Avalon in novel form three times before her death. I ripped through each and every one of them and enjoyed them all immensely. And I know I am not alone in this -- The Mists of Avalon is one of the foremost books written from the female perspective on Arthurian legend.

Priestess of Avalon was an unfinished manuscript, but Diana L. Paxson, an accomplished author in her own right, completed it for Bradley posthumously. Here then, is the fourth -- and last -- installment of the Avalon series. It is the only book in the series that travels beyond the boundaries of the British Isles, but it legitimately keeps to Bradley's tradition of a story told through the eyes of a strong female character.

Priestess of Avalon shares many characters with another book in the series, Lady of Avalon. This is Eilan's story and follows her through the three stages of life: maiden, mother and old woman. Eilan is a somewhat historical figure of whom much is unknown. It is delightful to read the history Bradley and Paxson fabricated for her. Eilan was born in A.D. 249 to the Roman citizen King Coel and the High Priestess of Avalon, who died while bearing her. She is sent to live with her Roman father, where she is known by the Roman version of her name, Helen. After a decade with King Coel, Eilan returns to Avalon to be initiated into the sisterhood of the goddess.

As a maiden, Eilan again attaches herself to Rome when she falls in love with the charismatic Roman Constantius. The Roman noble takes her away from Avalon and, before long, Helen bears him a son, who later becomes Constantine the Great. Helen's status in Roman society allows her freedom to travel about in the Pax Romana. As Helen is confronted by the spread of the new Christian religion, she draws frequently from her own knowledge of the goddess to deal with her life and with the people that surround her. Like the other Avalon books, Helen's story is told from the woman's point of view. Violence and wars are addressed, but not from the battlefield itself. Rather, they are told as important incidents in the way that they directly affect Helen.

Priestess of Avalon does not disappoint. It doesn't really matter if you have read the other Avalon books or not -- all of the Avalon stories stand well on their own. If you have read the other Avalon books and were sorrowful that no more would be forthcoming after Bradley passed away, then rejoice! Priestess of Avalon fits into the rest of the series very smartly. Diana L. Paxson has does an excellent job of honoring her mentor and does credit to the spirit of Bradley's writing. Priestess of Avalon is a more than fitting eulogy to Marion Zimmer Bradley's memory. (Sierra Phillips)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Mists of Avalon (1982), a feminist goddess-oriented retelling of the legend of Arthur, won acclaim and a crowd of lifelong fans for Bradley, also author of the Darkover series. Now, after Bradley's death in 1999, this prequel coauthored by skilled fantasy writer and friend Diana L. Paxson (Hallowed Isle) completes her story of the women of mystical Avalon and their attempts to influence a world caught in the grip of unavoidable change. In A.D. 296, young British princess Helena goes to the Isle of Avalon to learn the path of the goddess. Helena grows in spirit and wisdom, awaiting the day when her initiation prophecy will become real and she'll meet the man of her dreams. He turns out to be Flavius Constantius Chlorus, fated to become the Roman emperor. Her aunt, High Priestess Ganeda, aims to wed a more biddable girl to the Roman power structure, but when Constantius chooses Helena, Ganeda exiles her from Avalon. Helena gives birth to Constantius's son, Constantine, and counsels her lover through the intrigues of a vast and dangerously unbalanced empire. Separated by civil demands from her family, Helena seeks the answers her troubled soul demands during a pilgrimage through the Holy Lands. The message that all religions call on the same higher power should go over well with fans of Mists. Paxson's own skill at bringing historical characters and places to vivid life enriches Helena's story. This final book in the Bradley canon is sure to please her devotees and win her more. (May 7) Forecast: This title will get an extra boost from The Mists of Avalon miniseries starring Anjelica Huston, Joan Allen and Juliana Margulies, due soon to run on TNT. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Historical fantasy, this prequel to The Mists of Avalon (Knopf, 1982) is a tale of religion, spirituality, power, and, above all, womanhood. Foregoing Avalon for her love of the Roman officer Constantius, Eilan (Helena to the Romans) accompanies him from Britain to Rome, giving birth to his son, Constantine. When Constantius is chosen for an imperial position, politics—and the safety of their son—require that he marry the emperor's daughter, leaving Helena behind. Later, as Constantine rises in power and becomes the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, he seeks his mother's strength, drawing her again into the center of the pivotal transition time between pagan worship and Christianity. Helena's journey from novitiate on the Isle of Avalon to Empress Mother in Palestine and Rome is first and foremost a tale of the stages of a woman's life, as she moves from "procreativity to creativity," from serving all to claiming herself. Based on an intriguing hypothesis linking Helena with Avalon, the story flourishes and comes to life even as Helena herself does the same. Older teens who enjoy history, myth, and romance will be drawn to Bradley's last book, which was completed by Paxson after the noted author's death in 1999. Her fans will not want to miss it. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Viking, 394p, $25.95. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer: Kim Carter SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
When Marion Zimmer Bradley, queen of Arthurian fantasy, died, she left an unfinished manuscript, which one of her main followers completed. This tale is set in third-century Europe, and melds the religions of the times. The story takes historical characters and inserts possibly mythical elements that act as precursors to King Arthur. The main dynamic counterbalances historical reality and the enchanted world, here couched as a very real alterative universe. Helena ventures from her safe isolation to embrace a Roman officer. Her tryst shapes the future, and the question is: was that future pre-ordained or freely chosen? In the final analysis, Helena must accept the reality of her status, and she seeks to bridge the two realities throughout her life—and the lives of her contemporaries. The reader is provided with a unique "spin" on the conversion of Constantine and the role of the Holy Lands. There is a sense that the authors tried hard to use the historical evidence to bring credence to their Arthurian legend. As such, the writing can sometimes seem dragged down by historical fact so it does not have the free-flowing gossamer of typical Bradley. However, showing how an Avalon priestess can shape pre-medieval history does lend Arthurian legend more gravity. Category: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Penguin Putnam, Roc, 394p., , Long B
Library Journal
Though destined to achieve distinction as the pious mother of Constantine, the young woman once called Eilen or Helena first served as a priestess of the old deities on her native island of Briton. Returning to the alternate version of Arthurian legend created in her best-selling Mists of Avalon, Bradley creates a powerful tale of magic and faith that enlarges upon pagan and Christian traditions to express a deeper truth. Though Bradley died before she finished the novel, veteran fantasy author Paxson brings to completion this last work of a master of the genre. For most fantasy collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

One: AD 259

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

"Ah, Helena, your young eyes are better than mine," answered the old man, who had been tutor to my half-brothers before being inherited by me. "A blaze of light is all that I can see. But I think that what lies before us must be the levels 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 by hummocks 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 were lead 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 and then pulled back on the rein.

"We are if the rains have not washed out the causeway, and we can locate the village 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 lines in 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 the journey was over, Corinthius, a Greek who had sold himself into slavery as a youth in order to dower his sisters, would have his freedom. He had saved a nice little 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 had joined my escort in Lindinis.

"When we get there, we will rest," I saidbriskly.

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

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

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

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

For a moment, then, my smile faltered, for I had been the apple of my father's eye, and I hated the thought that he might be in danger. But I knew well enough that 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 was forbidden to speak of Avalon. In truth it was Corinthius and old Huctia, who had been my nurse, who had been my family, and Huctia had died the winter before. It was time for me to return to my mother's world.

The road led downward now, winding gently back and forth across the slope of the hill. As we emerged from the shelter of the trees, I shaded my eyes with my hand. 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 that shining path all the way to Avalon."

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

As the afternoon drew on towards evening, a mist began to rise from off of the water. We moved more slowly now, letting our mounts choose their own footing on the slippery logs. I had ridden horses since I could walk, but until now, each day'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 the dull ache in my legs and back and knew that I would be glad to get out of the saddle when the day was done.

We came out from beneath the trees and the guide reined in, pointing. Beyond the tangle of marsh and woodland rose a single pointed hill. I had been taken from this place when I was barely a year old, and yet, with a certainty beyond memory, I knew that I was looking at the holy Tor. Touched by the last of the sunlight, 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 cluster of beehive huts at the foot of the Tor belonged to the little community of Christians who lived there. Avalon of the Druids lay in the mists between this world and Faerie.

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

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

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

I squeezed his hand gratefully. I was eager to get to Avalon, but now that our journey 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 when my 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 poles above the marsh. A long, low boat was tied up beside it, and a creaking bridge connected it to the higher ground. The villagers were a small, lightly built folk, with dark hair and eyes. At ten, I was already as tall as a grown woman among 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 both were like the people of Faerie.

The villagers brought us thin ale and a stew of fish and millet flavored with wild garlic, and flat oaten cakes baked on the stone hearth. When we had eaten of the simple fare, we sat by the fire with bodies too tired to move and minds not yet ready for sleep, watching the flame fade into coals that shone like the vanished 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 I am striving to beat Latin hexameters into the thick skulls of a dozen boys?" His worn 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 the same...."

"Do you truly believe that?"

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

I frowned, trying to make sense of his words. He had attempted to explain the teachings of the philosopher Plato, but I found them hard to understand. Each place I came to had its own spirit, as distinct as human souls. This land they called the Summer Country, all hill and wood and hidden pools, seemed a world away 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. How could their gods be the same?

"I think rather that it is you, little one, with all your life ahead of you, who will 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 ought to tell you that to the true philosopher, it should not matter, that the virtuous 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 matter what you do, and when that happens, you can only try to serve the Truth as you see it. And yet, if you have won my heart, then surely there will be others to love you as well. Look for those who need your love, and they will return the blessing."

His tone was bracing, and I swallowed and managed a smile. I was a princess, and one 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 I glimpsed a child holding a squirming puppy in his arms. The chieftain's wife saw him and said something reproving in the dialect of the Lake. I caught the word for 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 at the wriggling bundle of fur I began to smile as well. I could see already that this was not one of the graceful sight-hounds who used to lounge in noble dignity about my father's hall. The puppy was too tiny, its creamy fur too thick already, 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 lick my hand was pink and warm.

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

"A creature with neither breeding nor manners," said Corinthius, who was not fond 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, three days. Has only one puppy, white like this. Faerie dog lives long, and if not killed, 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 soft fur to hide my own laughter, for the rest of the Lake people were nodding solemnly 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 fluff could 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 the flower of the elder tree." I considered her as I said this, then looked back up at the boy. "And you-do you have a name?" I hid my amusement as a blush warmed his 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 would only be known within the tribe. And how should I answer him? In my father's world I had been Julia Helena, but that seemed irrelevant here. Better to use the 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 in a long flat boat that slid silently through swirling mists until they parted to reveal a fair green island. But then the scene had shifted, and I was on a galley approaching endless flat marshlands and a great gray-green river that split into myriad channels as it entered the sea. Then the vision had changed to a land of golden stone and sand washed by a brilliant blue sea. But the green island had been the fairest. A few times in my life I had dreamed things that came true. I wondered if this was one of them. But already the memory was slipping away. I sighed and opened my eyes.

I pushed back he sleeping furs in which I had nested with Eldri curled against me and rubbed the grit from my eyes. Squatting beside the headman's fire and drinking tea from a cup of rough clay was someone I had not seen before. I noticed 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 still bright, and the smooth face that of a girl. She had not been an initiated priestess for long. Then, as if she had felt my gaze upon her, the priestess turned, and my eyes fell before that detached and ageless stare.

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

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

"This is the maiden?" asked Suona.

"The daughter of Prince Coelius of Camulodunum," answered Corinthius. "But her mother 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 ten winters. And Helena is not without education. She has been taught to use her mind as well as to do the work of a woman. She can read and write in Latin and knows a little Greek, and has learned her numbers as well."

Suona did not seem very impressed. I lifted my chin and met the dark gaze steadily. For a moment I felt an odd tickling sensation in my head, as if something had touched my mind. Then the priestess nodded a little, and it ceased. 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 out steadily.

"I want to go to Avalon."

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

"Not you, only the maiden. It is forbidden for an outlander to look on Avalon except 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 are transitory. 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 against my 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 not allow 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 with their poles and the barge slid away from the shore. Overnight another mist had risen from the water, and the world beyond the village was more sensed than seen. Only once, when we crossed the Tamesis at Londinium, had I ever been on a boat before. I had felt nearly overwhelmed by the river's tremendous, driving purpose, brought close to tears when we reached the other shore because I had not been allowed to follow those waters down to the sea.

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

But the evidence of my eyes seemed to me an illusion. I could feel waters that ran below the lake bottom, and realized that I had begun to sense them as soon as we started to cross the Levels, even when we were on what passed here for dry land. Here, there was little distinction between earth and water, as there was very 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 his philosopher'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 last bit of the way. He was still waving to me from the shore, and though he had bade me farewell with the restraint of a true Stoic, it seemed to me that there was a brightness in his eyes that might be tears. I wiped my own eyes and waved back harder, and then, as the first veil of mist blew between us, settled back onto my bench.

At least I still had Eldri, tucked securely into the fold where my tunica bloused over my belt. I could feel the puppy's warmth against my chest and patted her reassuringly through the cloth. So far, the little dog had neither barked nor stirred, as if she understood the need to keep silence. So long as the 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 eyes that 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 not only earth but air were dissolving back into the primal watery womb. Of the Pythagorean elements of which Corinthius had told me, that left only fire. I took a deep breath, at once unsettled and oddly reassured, as if something within me recognized this protean admixture and welcomed it.

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

But Eldri warmed my heart, and in the prow, the young priestess sat quietly, her face serene. Suona was a plain-looking girl, yet for the first time, I understood 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 rested them on their laps. The barge floated quietly, the last ripples of its passage widening away to either side. I felt a pressure in my ears and shook my head to relieve it.

Then, at last, the priestess stirred, casting back her hood as she got up. Feet braced, 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. The gods look like this ... I thought as Suona gave voice to a string of musical syllables in a language I had never heard before.

Then that too was forgotten, for the mists began to move. The boatmen had covered their eyes, but I kept mine open, staring as the gray clouds began to sparkle with a rainbow of color. The light spun sunwise around them, colors blending, wrenching reality out of time. For an impossible eternity we hung between the worlds. Then, with a final burst of radiance, the mists became a haze of light.

The priestess sank back to her seat, perspiration beading her brow. The boatmen picked up their paddles and began to stroke forward as if this had been no more than a pause to rest their arms. I let out a breath I had not known I was holding. They must be accustomed to this ... I thought numbly, and then, How could anyone get used to this wonder!

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

But there was more to it than I had seen in my dream. I had half expected to see the huddle of wooden huts I had glimpsed from the Lake people's village, but they were on Inis Witrin, the isle of the monks. Where they had stood, on the other isle on Avalon there were edifices of stone. I had seen Roman buildings that 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, they seemed to glow from within.

Suddenly I understood. The shape of the isle before me was the same as the one I had glimpsed from the Lake village, but somehow we had passed Elsewhere, as if we had turned a corner into the world of Dream. Once my nurse had whispered a tale of a great priestess who wrested a magic isle out of Time into a Place that was, if not quite Faerie, no longer entirely in the world of men. I wondered if the prayers of the monks were ever troubled by glimpses of the Other Avalon that lay like a bright shadow so close to their own. And in that moment I knew also that 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. But the land was nearing too swiftly. In another moment, the bottom of the barge grated on sand and it slid up onto the shore.

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

"Be welcome to Avalon...."

"Look, it is Rian's daughter-" the whispers ran. I could hear them clearly as I came 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 with the 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 for the first time beneath the great gate of Camulodunum.

The hall was circular, like the houses the British used to build before the Romans came, but this one was built of stone. The outer wall was only the height of 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 The beams of the roof did not quite meet, and through the open circle in the center came a flood of light.

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

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

Ignore them, I told myself sternly. You will be living with these people for the rest of your life. You will look at this hall so many times you will no longer see 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 I saw the High Priestess awaiting me. But the uncertain feeling returned as I felt the Faerie dog stir in the bosom of my gown. I knew now that I should have left the 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 in strange surroundings she might be frightened and run off. I had not thought about 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 attempt at reassurance. Eldri was a magic dog-perhaps she could hear my silent plea to be still.

The murmur of women's voices faded to silence as the High Priestess lifted her hand. The women were arranging themselves in a circle, with the senior priestesses closest to their Lady, and the maidens, stifling their giggles, at the end. I thought there were five of them, but dared not look at them long enough 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 middle years, 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, wondering what kind of bow would be appropriate for the Lady of Avalon. My nurse had taught me the proper obeisance for ranks all the way up to Empress, unlikely though 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 a moment Ganeda's scowl was lightened by a gleam of amusement, but perhaps I had imagined it, for in the next moment the High Priestess stood stone-faced once more.

"So-" Ganeda spoke at last. "You have come to Avalon. Why?" The question was spat 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, a motherly-looking woman with fair hair just beginning to fade to gray.

"It was a simple question, Cigfolla," said the High Priestess tartly, "that I am required 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, and not by any man's coercion. Do you seek the training of a priestess, or only a time 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 Saxon raids," I said slowly, and saw something like satisfaction flicker in Ganeda's eyes. "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 dispelled it. This was the magic at the heart of things that I had always known must be there. 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 to pass.... Still, you have said the words, and in the end it is the Goddess who will 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 grudging acceptance. I blinked back tears, understanding that my aunt blamed me for causing her sister's death when I was born. She did not want me here, and no doubt hoped that I would fail.

But I will not fail! I promised myself. I will study harder than any and become a 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 toward her. Ganeda opened her arms. She is scarcely bigger than me! I thought in surprise as I moved into the older woman's reluctant embrace. The High Priestess had 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. The priestess released me as if I had been a hot coal, and I felt the betraying color flood into my face as the little dog poked her head up through the loose neck 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 the voice of the priestess like distant thunder.

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

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

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

"A fine gift indeed," she said thinly, "but the Hall of the Priestesses is not the 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's arms, breathing in the lavender that scented her gown. The woman who stood next to her had the look of a paler copy of Ganeda. In her arms she held a little daughter 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 girl grinned toothily, as fair and fat a child as one might hope to find. Next to that flaming hair, her mother seemed even more pallid, as if she had given all her strength to her offspring. Or per-haps, I thought, it was growing up in the shadow 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 as the puppy licked her hand.

"You certainly are!" I answered after a moment's confusion. Apparently that was the 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 I turned 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 presently being trained on the holy isle received me with delighted awe, as if I had intended to play a trick on the High Priestess all along. Roud and Gwenna had the ruddy-fair coloring of the royal Celts, and Heron, the dark, narrow build of the people of the Lake. Aelia was almost as tall as I, though her hair was a lighter brown. Tuli, who surveyed them from the eminence of her approaching initiation, and her younger sister, Wren, had fair hair, cut short like that of the others, and gray eyes. When the dog, excited by the attention, yipped, they laughed. This was not the way that I had intended to impress them, but for good or ill, Eldri seemed to be a powerful talisman.

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

Meet the Author

Marion Zimmer was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and married Robert Alden Bradley in 1949. Mrs. Bradley received her B.A. in 1964 from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, then did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-67.

She was a science fiction/fantasy fan from her middle teens, and made her first sale as an adjunct to an amateur fiction contest in Fantastic/Amazing Stories in 1949. She had written as long as she could remember, but wrote only for school magazines and fanzines until 1952, when she sold her first professional short story to Vortex Science Fiction. She wrote everything from science fiction to Gothics, but is probably best known for her Darkover novels.

In addition to her novels, Mrs. Bradley edited many magazines, amateur and professional, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which she started in 1988. She also edited an annual anthology called Sword and Sorceress for DAW Books.

Over the years she turned more to fantasy; The House Between the Worlds, although a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, was "fantasy undiluted". She wrote a novel of the women in the Arthurian legends -- Morgan Le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and others -- entitled Mists of Avalon, which made the NY Times best seller list both in hardcover and trade paperback, and she also wrote The Firebrand, a novel about the women of the Trojan War. Her historical fantasy novels, The Forest House, Lady of Avalon, Mists of Avalon are prequels to Priestess of Avalon

She died in Berkeley, California on September 25, 1999, four days after suffering a major heart attack. She was survived by her brother, Leslie Zimmer; her sons, David Bradley and Patrick Breen; her daughter, Moira Stern; and her grandchildren.

Diana L. Paxson is a noted fantasy author who collaborated with Bradley on many of her later works, including Priestess of Avalon. She has written twenty books, including the Arthurian series, The Hallowed Isle.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
June 30, 1930
Date of Death:
September 25, 1999
Place of Birth:
Albany, New York
Place of Death:
Berkeley, California
B.A., Hardin-Simmons College, 1964; additional study at University of California, Berkeley, 1965-1967

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Priestess of Avalon (Avalon Series #4) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I have read all the Avalon books, and they have caused me to become a believer in the Goddess, and far more interested in the religion of the Goddess and the Wiccan religion as well. The absolute love at the center of this book and the Goddess religion spoke to me more than my Christian upbringing ever has. This book may change your life, as it did mine. You will never regret reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read the Mists of Avalon last year and fell in love with Marion Zimmer Bradley's writing style and her emphasis on the power of women in a male driven world. I also fell in love with Avalon, and the mystery behind it. After reading the book I felt not only completly satisfied, being an Arthurian legend lover, but I wanted more of Avalon. I read The Forest House and Lady of Avalon. The links between the Avalon Series were amazingly constructed and when I read Priestess of Avalon I wondered why was it not in Lady of Avalon? My question was answered when I read the book and realized how much weight it carried on its own. Priestess of Avalon was a great book, and, though its not a Mists of Avalon, is still one of my favorites.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Late in the third century, Roman General Constantius leads his army in Britain. There the High Priestess Rian decides that the British throne must marry the Roman leader of the invasion. Princess Eilan is the chosen one, but she rebels and follows her own feelings. Though daughter to a King and the High Priestess, Eilan is exiled from her Avalon home for choosing love.

Unable to just do nothing, Eilan now known as Helena by those of the Roman Empire begins a trek to the Holy Land. She has a purpose feeling she is a modern day Paul spreading the word while seeking the connection between the ancient religions that she grew up with and the new Christianity.

Fans of historical fiction and fantasy will fully enjoy the latest Avalon tale. The story line centers on the legendary Helena, whose exploits come alive while providing intriguing insight into the era bridging Christianity and the pagan religions. Fans of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley as well as those of Diana L. Paxson and the two genres in general will relish PRIESTESS OF AVALON, a strong entry in a powerful series.

Harriet Klausner

Guest More than 1 year ago
A very moving book.I have read many books connected with spiritual relms and the like, and nothing has gotten close to it like the Avalon series has.I recommend this book to anyone.The writting is so intricate that it almost makes you believe that there was once a place called Avalon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really takes you back to her time period and the lives of so many people. There were many times I wanted to cry. But, through the death, banishing, and fighting, this is a very captivating book. A must read for all Celtic lovers, and christopagans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellently written and thoroughly engaging. The characters are so human and their emotions so real, you'll weep and worry along with the Priestess herself! An absolute must-read for fantasy/adventure novel fans. If you've never read MZ Bradley's work before, this book (although it's not the first in the Avalon series) will make you want to read her other books, too -- and you won't be disappointed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is another novel of love and heart ache, of happiness and saddness. Avalon is brought to life in this book and makes you fell as if you are there yourself. In this magnificant place of wonder and enchantment. I am truely saddened that there will no longer be any novels to look forward to by this author. It is no doubt of mine that Marion Zimmer Bradley will live on forever through the books she has written, through the strong and independent female characters in her novels. She is my favorite author and I know that she will not be forgotten.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i loved they way she made the characters seem as if you truly knew them and i find her style of writing facinating. she has an extreme talent at writing about the roman empire and the conflicts of women. i can't help be drawn to their pain and greif. i absolutly love her books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am now in the middle of 'Priestess of Avalon' and I am not at all impressed. First of all I am not a fantasy fan. I am a classics reader. However, when I started reading Mists of Avalon, I couldn't stop. There was so much to think about in that book that when I finished it I was mentally exhausted but completely satisfied. I didn't know which character to sympathize with and who to love most. I found that even in fantasy there was something to think about. What can I tell you I was obsessed with that book. All I can say for this book, is so far it reads like a simple trashy novel, may be it'll get better at the end. Sorry for being so blunt, but it almost makes me not want to finish this book or try any other of her books. I want to treasure the feeling I had after I read 'Mists of Avalon' and not spoil it by reading her other books. If you want to feel completely satisfied read the following novels. I just finished both and don't know which I like best, they are both excellent. By the way I agree with one of the reviewers, the 'Priestess of Avalon' has some spelling errors in it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Marion Zimmer Bradley was one of the first female science fiction authors to become established in the field. She could always be depended on for a well-plotted story, with characters about whom the reader could really care. Beyond that, she had a gift for expressing what people needed to hear at just the right time, which is no doubt why 'Mists of Avalon' (1983) continues to be a best-seller world-wide. In 'Mists', she re-visioned the Arthurian legend from the female perspective and presented the old religion of the Goddess in a new and compelling form. Other writers have tackled the Arthurian story (including my own book, 'The Hallowed Isle'). Marion's contribution to the mythos was the mist-veiled isle of Avalon and its magical tradition. To fully explore that tradition more books were needed. Since childhood Marion had loved the opera 'Norma', a story of a Roman officer and a Druid priestess, and wanted to make it into a novel. In 'The Forest House' (1994), she used this story to explain the early history of Avalon. Marion was my sister-in-law as well as my mentor. I had held her hand through the writing of 'Mists', and because of my background in history and pagan religion, she asked me to work with her in writing 'Forest House' and 'Lady of Avalon' (1997), which further explored the Mysteries of Avalon. In 'Priestess of Avalon', we wanted to deal more fully with the relationship between the mythic Avalon and the world of history. We had originally intended to make the story of Helena the middle section of 'Lady of Avalon', but quickly realised there was far too much story for the space available. Helena, who was not only an intriguing figure from British legend but a historical figure from one of the most pivotal periods in European history -- the triumph of Christianity -- needed a book of her own. Marion died when 'Priestess of Avalon' was half completed. As I continued with the writing, I realized that the story of Helena, who moved between the worlds of Avalon and Rome, could also be used to say something about Marion, who was at the same time one of the most influential writers of the neo-pagan revival and (at the time of her death) a member of the Episcopal Church. Marion believed in a Truth beyond creeds. Diana Paxson was Marion Zimmer Bradley's writing partner for many years. She completed 'Priestess of Avalon' after Marion's death in 1999.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first of marion zimmer bradley's book i've read it n' i loved it. now i'm dying to read the other 3 avalon books in the avalon series. it is a story of a priestess who takes risks, makes sacrifices, experiences life and deals with changes that came with one of the major turning points of history that'll forever change the world. the story makes me sad that the old ways are gone forever. the story is made more interesting when it is connnected to the historical events that happened during that time period. this book connects the 'lady of avalon' to 'mists of avalon'. it brings the series to a full circle. i recommend this book to all who may or may not have read other books by marion zimmer bradley!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
For the last four weeks I have been living in Avalon. As I turned the last page of this fourth book and closed the cover, I found myself strangely sad and very lonely. For I had come to an end of my wonderful journey to Avalon. I will miss each character, but will always treasure the morning mist, hoping to see Avalon afterall.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started this series about a year ago and I have been waiting for the next book in the Avalon series. It is an outstanding book that even brought me to tear. Marion Zimmer Bradley was a talented written and may she be remembered in her novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book! I love all the Avalon books...this is one of the best.
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This is a wonderful book. Marion Zimmer Bradley is a great writer, one of my favorite.
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