Child of the Holy Grail

Child of the Holy Grail

by Rosalind Miles

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307421890
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 12/18/2007
Series: Guenevere Series , #3
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Rosalind Miles is a well-known and critically acclaimed English novelist, essayist, and broadcaster. Her novels, including Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country and The Knight of the Sacred Lake, the preceding volumes of the Guenevere Trilogy, have been international bestsellers.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

The bitter rains of March beat on the hillside overhead. But deep in the heart of the rock, it was warm and dry. Inside the high-domed underground dwelling-place, the light from many candles played over walls swagged in blood-red velvet, looped and tied back with ropes of silver-gilt. Bright rugs from the East covered the stony floor in amber and indigo, garnet, rose, and black. A low fire glowed and murmured on the hearth, its slender plume of smoke lost in the void above.
In the center of the chamber, Merlin lay on a curiously made couch, staring at the ceiling through tightly closed eyes. A wand of golden yew lay within reach, humming softly to itself in a high, beelike whine. His hands lay loosely at his sides, palms upward, fingers reaching, ready to catch his dreams as they came down. A ring of candles shone around his head. The flames quivered and changed color, and he knew the time was near.

“Yes, yes,” he muttered tensely. “I am ready–come–”
Suddenly his thumbs began to itch. For a second his mind turned to milk, warding off the ancient sign of impending evil and danger ahead. He crushed his thumbs in his fists to drive it away. The itching intensified.

“No!” he moaned.

No, he was Merlin still; it could not be. Feverishly he composed himself again for waking sleep, the magic sleep of the Druids he had learned long ago, preparing to send his spirit from his body as he always did. Once he had made the long hard leap of faith, his spirit self would walk the astral plane, gathering the secrets of the Otherworld. When he had to return, when his roaming soul submitted to his body’s chain, he would know how to deal with what was to come.

“Come to me! Come!”

Yesss–

He could feel his soul straining at the leash, hungry for the void. Any moment now, yes, yesss–

Merlin, Merlin, attend–

A series of stabbing pains shot through his thumbs. Moaning, the old enchanter opened his eyes and forced himself to sit up. There was no avoiding it. There could be no flight of the spirit while this loomed. Evil impending? Where did the danger lie?

Throwing his skinny feet to the floor, he struggled upright and began to pace his cave dwelling, blind to the dark beauty of the place and the books and treasures he had brought there over the years. Mumbling and twitching, he came to rest at last before a silk curtain hanging on the wall. Behind it was an oddly shaped piece of glass in a deep frame. In its clouded depths, he saw a reflection stir and forced himself to interrogate the shadowy shape within.

“Danger then?” he ground out.

Danger, the answer came.

“To Arthur?”

Arthur.

Merlin gasped in fear. How could it be? He had left Arthur well and happy, not three moons ago. To be sure, Arthur was not as young as he was, and the old man detested the lines deepening on the face he loved, and the gray spreading through his former pupil’s glistening fair hair. But for a knight in his forties, Arthur was in his prime. His massive frame was almost unscathed by tournaments and battles, his fine face had lost none of its warmth, and his gray eyes were as kindly as ever, and much wiser now.

Arthur–

With another stab to the heart, Merlin remembered the boy Arthur once had been. Never had a fairer youth trodden the earth, except for Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, Merlin’s kinsman and dear liege lord. Merlin paused, ambushed by bitter memories again. Well, Uther had long gone down to the Underworld. Gone, all gone, all the Pendragon kings. No grieving or pining would call them back now.

But Arthur–

Merlin turned back to the shadow in the mirror and tore his long
gray locks.

“How can Arthur be in distress?” he wailed. “He has what his heart desired! I found him the child!”

The child? quibbled the image in the glass.

“Yes, yes, child no longer, I know,” Merlin retorted feverishly. “He’s a grown man. But how can the danger lie there? Arthur loves the boy! Why, Mordred is everything to him now–”

But still the smoky shape wavered in the glass. The child, the child, the child–

“Gods above!” Merlin struck his head. Twenty years had passed since the boy Mordred could be called a child. If he was not the child, then it must mean another child to come.

A child of Guenevere’s?

Merlin tore himself from the mirror and flung himself down on his couch. The Queen had indeed been childless for many years. But she was still within her childbearing years. Many a woman in her forties still gave birth, let alone one like Guenevere, tall and well formed, blessed in life and love. Could the child his spirit was warning him of be hers?
Gods above! Around his head the candles danced blue and yellow, mocking his distress. Guenevere, yes, he might have known!
Guenevere!

The old enchanter gave full rein to his spleen. If only Arthur had taken another bride! He could have married a princess of the Christians, a sweet silent thing, tame as a caged bird to his ruling hand. But instead he chose a queen with her own kingdom, one born into the way of women’s rule. Time and again, Guenevere had taken Arthur by surprise. And this would not be the last.

“How long, ye gods, how long?” Merlin wailed, beating his breast. When would he be free of his eternal task of saving the house of Pendragon, keeping it alive till its name was fixed forever in the stars? He had found the lost son, and had given Arthur an heir. Another child now would lead to confusion, and worse. A boy would encourage rebellion and bring rogue lords and disaffected kings to challenge Mordred as the rightful heir.

And a girl–

Worse, much worse. Merlin clasped his head. The Summer Country followed the rule of queens. Guenevere was the last in a line going back to the Great One Herself, the Goddess who had mothered the whole world. To those of the old faith, a girl child would inherit the Mother-right, she would be born to take command. Guenevere’s daughter could prevail over Arthur’s son. And Pendragon then would be swept away, no more than a blink in the long eye of time.

“No!”

Merlin scrambled round his cave, cursing and weeping his fill. All his life, all his many lives, he had fought for Pendragon, only to see his great work threatened every time. Now he must leave his warm, secure refuge and take to the road. He must close up the hidden door in the hillside with strong spells so that no one would disturb his mountain lair. The harsh winds would scour his unprotected flanks and make a tangled mat of his long hair, the iron-gray locks that he groomed and perfumed each day with such care. The wild rain would be his only clothing now, the cold highway his lonely habitation, as he lived at one with the hare and the midnight owl, and no man could tell when he would be home again.

But it would all be for Arthur.

And for Arthur’s child.

The child.

A spark of hope flared in the old man’s wizened heart. Guenevere might bear a child such as Arthur had once been, sturdy and well made, with hair of bright gold and eyes of heartbreaking truth. And perhaps he, old Merlin, might get the child for himself, wrest it from Guenevere as he had taken Arthur from the arms of his mother, Igraine. Then the future of Pendragon would be secure. And he, Merlin, would have the rearing of a new High King–

“Yes!”

The old man leaped to his feet in ecstasy. Throwing back his head, he emitted a soundless hail. The white mule grazing on the mountainside above would hear the cry, he knew, and amble to his door. Call the mule, change into his traveling dress, assemble his few effects–soon, soon, he would be on his way and gone.

Gone–

His old heart revived as he looked ahead. Out in the open air, wearing the woodland green with his wand in his hand, he would be part of the wild wood again, one with the forest creatures who had always taken him as their own. And already he could feel the call of the road. The highways were not as good as they had been when the Roman legions marched away, but they would serve. And no one alive, no, not even the Old Ones who made the world, knew the lesser tracks and hidden greenways as Merlin did.

“On your way, then, old fool!” he chided himself. “Leave your fireside, go!” There was no time to waste if his thumbs were to be believed–if he was to search out the evil now threatening Arthur and come once again to the rescue of the King–if he was to discover what the warning meant and find the child.

Find the child.

Yes, that was what he must do.

With a racing pulse, Merlin began to prepare.

Avalon, Avalon, sacred island, home–

The mist clung to the hillside like a living thing. The muffled figure went carefully downhill, though she had trodden the path a thousand times. When day broke, the towering pines and silver apple trees on the slopes would be easier to see. But now, in the darkness before dawn, she had to trust to her feet, not her eyes, to find the way.

Ahead of her the still waters of the Lake gleamed blackly in the darkness, ageless, impenetrable, pulsing with life. To her right a solitary lantern marked a stone jetty where two boatmen waited with their rough-headed lad, looking up in awe at the veiled figure as she drew near.

The boatmen came to meet her, squinting a silent greeting through thick fringes of black hair. Shyly they handed her into the boat and set off with a will, one rowing, the other poling from the stern, while the boy scrambled nimbly around, casting off and stowing the mooring rope. Then he doused the lantern, and the mist of night took them in its dank embrace.

The low barge drove onward through the dark. The only sounds were the steady plash of the oars and the faraway wailing of a waterfowl. The woman sat in the prow, digesting the rich damp smell of the living water, looking forward without fear. Unwary travelers were often lost on the Lake, circling the watery darkness till the Great One took pity on them and turned them into marsh fowl forever lamenting their plight. But these men knew the waters like the wildfowl themselves.
At the back of the boat a silver spray of water feathered the darkness as the taller of the two boatmen drew up his long pole. His small black eyes were fixed on her, damp but friendly, like a water vole’s. She met his gaze.

“The Lady has sent you?” he asked, in the rough tongue of the Old Ones.

“To the Queen,” she confirmed. Her voice, too, had the rusty cadence of one who rarely spoke.

Crouched in the foot of the boat, the boy stared at her, radiant with desire. “You go to Camelot?”

In her mind’s eye she saw the great castle bright with many flags, its white citadel and slender spires, its towers roofed with gold. She nodded. “Yes.”

On the far shore, another lantern beckoned them to land. There a young girl clad in water pelts stood holding a pony, a dappled mare with huge soft eyes. It was the finest thing the people had, she knew. But for the Lady’s messenger, nothing was too good. She mounted and took up the reins. The little mare turned her head trustingly, asking without words, Where are we to go? The rider reached down to stroke the smooth, warm neck. All the way, came the silent command, all the way, my dear.

One by one the Lake dwellers faded into the breaking dawn. For a moment the traveler sat, taking leave of the still lake of shining water, the green island floating in the mist, rich with apple blossoms and the song of birds.

Farewell, Avalon: the words breathed from her like a charm. Then she turned the horse’s head into the dawn as the silver mist enfolded her like a lover and hid her from sight.


From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

1. The Guenevere Trilogy
The pervasive subtext of the Arthurian legend tells the story of Christianity's hostile attack on an older, female-centered religion. In fact, the Christians are as much Guenevere's enemies as is Morgan, if not more so, as they attempt to destroy the succession of queens and usurp Avalon's sacred relics for their own use. How does this underlying battle affect your reading of the story? Does Miles do a good job of setting the historical record straight? Why or why not? What do you make of the Lady?

2. Throughout the Trilogy, we watch the fascinating and terrifying development of Morgan's character: the defenseless, frightened creature sobbing in Arthur's arms; the evil, hypererotic seductress; the havoc-wreaking shape-shifter, who appears at various times as a cat, a raven, a snake, a murderous knight, and a nefarious nun; and the bodiless, tormented spirit hovering in the trees, endlessly torturing Merlin. Are you ever able to sympathize with Morgan? Which is her most frightening guise? Are you able to accept her radical transformation at the end?

3. Greed is a powerful motivating force for many characters in the story. The Abbess Placida covets an authoritative position at Canterbury; Sylvester lusts for Arthur's soul and Avalon's treasures; Malgaunt wants control over Guenevere; Mordred wants to be king; Agravain wants undue power and recognition; Merlin wants his Pendragon bloodline to rule the world. Is Arthur greedy? Is Guenevere? Is greed a punishable offense in the universe of this story?

4. The theme of children separated from their parents seems to run throughout this story: Morgan and Morgause are wrested from Igraine;Arthur is taken from Igraine and Uther; Amir is lost by Guenevere and Arthur; Mordred is removed from Morgan; and Galahad is hidden from Lancelot. How do these separations, some more painful than others, mold each character? Why are they necessary? Do you think this theme symbolizes a larger issue?

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Child of the Holy Grail 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
rainbowdarling on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Usually the third in a trilogy is set up to be the most thrilling of all three stories. Theoretically, it has been building up for the two previous books, leaving the third to just get on with the story and move forward with the action. Not so with this book. It seemed to drag right along with the slow expository that the second book lacked.The characters continued in their downward spirals, lacking the appeal that made the story enjoyable even up through the end of the second novel. I must also admit that the villification of the church throughout the story made me incredibly uncomfortable, even as a non-theist. It detracted further from the appeal of the story and really bogged down the already convoluted end of the story with more complications. I expected a lot more from this third novel than I got out of it. It was a truly disappointing end to a promising trilogy.
writestuff on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The 3rd book in the series...doesn't disappoint.
hlselz on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I started reading this trilogy, hated it, but had to finish it. It seems like the author has a hateful spite towards men, and released these feelings in these books. In this story, King Arthur is a weak, trembling fool, who owes is greatness to the women who surrounded him.
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katieadele1894 More than 1 year ago
This book really ended Guenevere's story wonderfully. Miles really describes her character beautifully and you understand and feel all the heartache, despair, joy and love Guenevere feels. Note: slightly anti-christian
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although it was a very interesting retelling of a classic story, the third and final book of the series disappointed me. It seemed that, for all the trials that Guenevere, Arthur and Lancelot had to face, none of them learned from their past experiences. They continually make the same mistakes that they made in the previous two books. I had hoped for the character to be not only older but also wiser. Throughout the series I was hoping for a finial resolution to come at the end but it seemed to be that the ending was no resolution at all, everything was still as problematic as before. The epilog seemed a disjointed afterthought but it did give some conclusion to the book. So, while it was an engaging read I had hoped for a more resolute conclusion. But overall, I greatly enjoyed the series.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some of the quest scenes didn't really seem to have much to do with the story of Guenevere. Aside from that, the story picks up right where The Knight of the Sacred Lake left off and carries you back to the heart of Arthurian legend. The best thing about The Child of the Holy Grail is that it contains the climax not only of one book, but of the whole trilogy. I look forward to reading more of Rosalind Miles' books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The entire series was very good, but the 3rd one was the best. If your an Camelot fan and it helps to be a woman, you'll love the entire series. I would highly reccomend this book. Better read the other 2 first though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have really enjoyed Rosalind Miles' Guenevere books (if you haven't read GUENEVERE: QUEEN OF THE SUMMER COUNTRY and KNIGHT OF THE SACRED LAKE you should) and I was looking forward to this last one. The ending is very different--and much better--than traditional Arthurian retellings. It's not a Hollywood-style happy ending, but it's thought-provoking and very satisfying. I really enjoyed this series and hope Ms. Miles keeps writing!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is imaginitive, witty, magical and a wonderful read for all who like Guinevre books. Rosalind Miles makes all her charechters alive. I was up for 5 days straight reading this book, you just can't put it down!