Read The Forest House Online

Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley,Diana L. Paxson

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Romance, #Religion, #Fantasy, #Adult, #Historical

The Forest House

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Marion Zimmer Bradley

The

Forest House

For my mother, Evelyn Conklin Zimmer, who

has borne with my working on the book for

most of my adult life

To Diana Paxson, my sister and friend, who anchored

this book firmly in time and space and added Tacitus

to the cast of characters

Author's Note

Those who are familiar with Bellini's opera
Norma
will recognize the origins of this story. In homage to Bellini, the hymns in Chapters Five and Twenty-two are adapted from the libretto of Act I Scene i, and those in Chapter Thirty from Act II Scene ii. The hymns to the moon in Chapters Seventeen and Twenty-four are taken from the
Carmina Gadelica,
a collection of traditional Highland prayers collected in the late nineteenth century by the Reverend Alexander Carmichael.

PEOPLE IN THE STORY.

Page 1

* = historical figure

() = dead before story begins

ROMANS

Gaius Macellius Severus Siluricus (called Gaius, native name, Gawen), a young officer, born of a British mother

Gaius Macellius Severus, senior (called Macellius), father of Gaius, Prefectus Castrorum of the II Adiutrix Legion at Deva, Equestrian rank (Moruadh, Royal Woman of the Silures, mother of Gaius)

Manlius, physician at Deva

Capellus, Macellius's orderly

Philo, Gaius's Greek slave

Valerius, secretary to Macellius

Valeria (later called Senara), half-Briton niece of Valerius

Martius Julius Licinius, Procurator (financial officer) of Britannia Julia Licinia, his daughter

Charis, her Greek maid

Lydia, nurse to her children

Licinius Corax, the Procurator's cousin in Rome

Marcellus Clodius Malleus, senator, Gaius's patron

Lucius Domitius Brutus, Commander of the XX Valeria Victrix Legion

after its move to Deva

Father Petros, a Christian hermit

Flavius Macro & Longus } two legionaries who try to raid the Forest House

* (Gaius Julius Caesar, "the deified Julius", who began the conquest of Britannia)

*(Suetonius Paulinus, Governor of Britain during Boudicca's rebellion)

*(Vespasian, Emperor AD 69-79)

Page 2

* (Quintus Petilius Cerealis, Governor of Britain AD 71-4)

* (Sextus Julius Frontinus, Governor of Britain AD 74-7)

* Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Governor of Britain AD 78-84

* Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, his son-in-law and aide, a historian

* Sallustius Lucullus, Governor of Britain after Agricola

* Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor Titus AD 79-81

* Titus Flavius Domitianus, Emperor Domitian AD 81-96

* Herennius Senecio, a senator

* Flavius Clemens, a cousin of Domitian

BRITONS

Bendeigid, a Druid living near Vernemeton

Rheis, daughter of Ardanos and wife of Bendeigid

Mairi, their eldest daughter, wife of Rhodri

Vran, her young son

Eilan, their middle daughter

Senara, their youngest daughter

Gawen, Eilan's son by Gaius

Cynric, foster son of Bendeigid

Ardanos, Arch-Druid of Britannia

Dieda, his younger daughter

Clotinus Albus (Caradac), a Romanized Briton

Gwenna, his daughter

Red Rian, an Irish raider

Hadron, one of the Ravens, father of Valeria (later called Senara)

Page 3

* (Boudicca, "The Killer Queen", queen of the Iceni, leader of the revolt in AD6i)

* (Caractacus, a leader of the rebellion)

* (Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes who betrayed Caractacus to Rome)

* Calgacus, Caledonian chieftain who led the tribes at Mons Graupius PEOPLE OF THE FOREST HOUSE

Lhiannon, Priestess of the Oracle, High Priestess of Vernemeton (the Forest House)

Huw, her bodyguard

(Helve, High Priestess before Lhiannon)

Caillean, a senior priestess assisting Lhiannon

Latis, the herb mistress

Celimon, instructor in ritual

Eilidh & Miellyn} Eilan's friends

Tanais & Rhian} entered Vernemeton after Eilan became High Priestess Annis, an old deaf woman who serves Eilan during her pregnancy

Lia, nurse to Eilan's son Gawen

DEITIES

Tanarus, British thunder god, equated with Jupiter

The Horned (or Antlered) One, archetypal god of beasts and woodlands with many local variations

Don, mythic mother of the gods, and by extension, the British people
Page 4

Cathubodva, Lady of Ravens, a war goddess similar to the Morrigan

Arianhrod, Lady of the Silver Wheel, maiden goddess associated with magic, the sea, and the moon

Ceres, Roman goddess of grain, agriculture

Venus, Roman goddess of love

Mars, Roman war god

Bona Dea, the Good Goddess

Vesta, goddess of the sacred hearthfire of Rome, served by virgins

Mithras, a Persian hero-god worshipped by soldiers

Jupiter, king of the gods

Juno, queen of the gods, his wife, patroness of marriage

Isis, an Egyptian goddess worshipped in Rome as protectress of commerce on the sea PLACES

Britannia Superior - southern England

Mona - the island of Anglesey

Segontium - a fort near Caernarvon

Vernemeton (most holy grove) - the Forest House

Hill of the Maidens - Maiden Castle, Bickerton

Deva - Chester

Glevum - Gloucester

Viroconium Cornoviiarum — Wroxeter

Venta Silurum - Caerwent

Isca Silurum - Caerleon

Aquae Sulis - Bath

Page 5

The Tor - Glastonbury

The Summer Country - Somerset

Isca Dumnoniorum - Exeter

Lindum - Lincoln

Londinium - London

Britannia Inferior - northern England

Eburacum - York

Luguvalium -Carlisle

Caledonia - Scotland

Bodotria estuary - Firth of Forth

Firth of the Tava - River Tay

Sabrina Firth - Solway

Trimontium - Newstead

Pinnata Castra - Inchtuthil

Mons Graupius - location uncertain, perhaps near Inverness

Hibernia - Ireland

Temair - Tara

Druim Cliadh - Kildare

Germania Inferior - upper western Germany

Colonia Agrippensis - Cologne

The Rhenus - the Rhine

Page 6

Prologue

A cold wind was whipping the torches into fiery tails. Angry light glittered on the dark waters of the strait and the shields of the legionaries waiting on the other side. The priestess coughed at the reek of smoke and sea fog and listened to the clangor of camp Latin echoing across the waters as the Roman commander harangued his men. The Druids sang out in answer, calling down the wrath of the skies, and thunder shook the air.

Women's voices rose in a shrill ululation that sent a chill through her body, or perhaps it was fear. She swayed with the other priestesses, arms raised in imprecation; their dark cloaks flaring out like raven wings.

But the Romans were howling too, and now the first rank surged into the water. The Druid war harp throbbed with a dreadful music, and her throat was scraped raw with shrieking, but still the enemy came on.

The first red-cloaked soldier set foot on the shore of the Holy Isle and the gods did not strike him. Now the singing faltered. A priest pushed the priestess behind him as Roman steel caught the torchlight; the sword fell and blood sprayed across her dark robe.

The rhythm of the chant was lost. Now there was only screaming and she ran for the trees. Behind her the Romans were scything the Druids down like grain. Too quickly, they finished, and the red tide swept inland.

The priestess stumbled through the trees, seeking the sacred circles. An orange glow filled the sky above the House of Women. The stones loomed up ahead, but from behind her came shouting. She turned at bay, clinging to the central altar stone. Now, surely, they would kill her . .. She called out to the Goddess and straightened, waiting for the blow.

But it was not weapons of steel they meant to use against her. She struggled as hard hands grabbed at her body, tearing off her robes. They forced her down upon the stone, and then the first man battered against her. There was no escape; she could only use the sacred disciplines to withdraw her mind from this body until they were done. But as awareness winged away, she cried out: "Lady of Ravens, avenge me! Avenge!"

Page 7

"Avenge . . ." My own shout woke me, and I sat up, staring. As always, it took a few moments for me to realize that it was only a dream, and not even my own, for I was still a child in the year when the Legions murdered the priests and raped the women of the Holy Isle; an unwanted girl-child called Caillean, safe in Hibernia across the sea. But since first I heard the story, soon after the Priestess of the Oracle brought me to this land, the spirits of those women have haunted me.

The curtain at my door fluttered and one of the maidens who served me looked in. "My Lady, are you well? May I help you to robe? It is almost time to greet the dawn."

I nodded, feeling the cold sweat dry on my brow, and allowed her to help me into a clean gown and arrange the ornaments of a High Priestess on my breast and brow. Then I followed her out on to the summit of another isle, a green Tor that rose from the mingling of marsh and meadow that men call the Summer Sea. From below came the singing of the maidens who watch over the sacred well, and from the vale beyond it the bell that calls the hermits to prayer in the little beehive church beside the white thorn tree.

They were not the first folk to seek sanctuary on this island at the end of the world beyond the narrow seas, nor do I suppose they will be the last. So many years have passed since the death of the Holy Isle, and though in my dreams ancient voices still cry out for revenge, a hard-won wisdom tells me that the mixing of blood strengthens a breed, so long as the ancient knowledge is not lost.

But to this day I have never found any good in the Romans or their ways. This is why even for Eilan, who was dearer than a daughter to me, I could never trust in any Roman, not even Gaius, whom she loved.

But no tramping of iron-shod legionary sandals on stone-paved roads disturbs us here, for I have cast a veil of mist and mystery to keep out the straight-edged Roman world.

Today, perhaps, I will tell the maidens the story of how we came here, for between the destruction of
Page 8

the House of Women on the Isle of Mona and the return of the priestesses to the Isle of Apples, the women of the Druids dwelt at Vernemeton, the Forest House, and that story must not be forgotten.

It was there that I learned the Mysteries of the Goddess and taught them in turn to Eilan daughter of Rheis, who became the greatest High Priestess and, some would say, the greatest traitor to her people of all. But through Eilan the blood of the Dragon and the Eagle have mingled with the blood of the Wise, and in the hour of greatest need that line will always come to Britain's aid.

In the marketplace men say that Eilan was the Romans' victim, but I know better. In its time the Forest House preserved the Mysteries, and the gods do not require that we all be conquerors, or even that we all be wise, but only that we serve the truth that we are given until we can pass it on.

My priestesses are gathering around me, singing. I lift my hands, and as the sun strikes through the mists I bless the land.

One

Shafts of golden light shone through the trees as the setting sun dropped below the clouds, outlining each new-washed leaf in gold. The hair of the two girls who were making their way along the forest path glowed with the same pale fire. Earlier in the day there had been rain. The thick, uncleared forest that still covered much of the south of Britain lay damp and quiet, and a few low boughs still shook scattered drops like a blessing across the path.

Eilan breathed deeply of the moist air, heavy with all the living scents of the woods and sweet as incense after the smoky atmosphere of her father's hall. In the Forest House, she had been told, they used sacred herbs to purify the air. Instinctively she straightened, trying to walk like one of the priestesses who dwelt there, lifting the basket of offerings in her best imitation of their balanced grace. For a moment, then, her body moved with a rhythm both unfamiliar and completely natural, as if she had been trained to do this in some ancient past.

Page 9

Only since her moonblood began had she been allowed to bring the offerings to the spring. As her monthly cycle made her a woman, said her mother, so the waters of the sacred spring were the fertility of the land. But the rituals of the Forest House served its spirit, bringing down the Goddess herself at the full of the moon. The moon had been full the night before and before her mother called her in, Eilan had stood for a long time staring up at it, filled with an expectancy she could not define.

Perhaps the Priestess of the Oracle will claim me for the Goddess at the Beltane festival.Closing her eyes, Eilan tried to imagine the blue robes of a priestess trailing behind her, and the veil shadowing her features with mystery.

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