Characters of Unseen: Deena


year 2038

Rain drops fell on Deena’s forehead. She reached up to pull her hood over her head and realized her blond hair was sopping wet. Her eyes flew open. Another damn stupid dream about water! The clock read just after one am.Rolling over, she pulled her pillow over her head and willed herself back to sleep.

Like that’s going to work. Turning flat on her back, she tried the relaxation technique the school counselor had taught her, tightening her feet and letting them relax, moving to her ankles, her shins, her knees. A drop of water fell on her forehead. She reached up to brush it off, felt nothing. No relaxation technique was going to work if she imagined water when awake.

Deena pushed herself up in bed and decided to go for a walk. Mom will be pissed if she finds out. Tiptoeing across the bedroom to the closet, avoiding the creaky boards in her floor, Deena grabbed jeans and a warm sweater. Dena headed for the back door as it was farther from her mom’s room, less likely to tip her off. Using her cell phone as a flashlight, she made her way around the dark house to the well-lit sidewalk.

Every few steps she felt like she stepped in a puddle though it had not rained in three days. Am I hallucinating? She paused, wondered if she should go back and wake her mom, tell her to take her to emerg. The sense of water under her feet got stronger. Maybe a jog would clear her head.

Two blocks, and she turned into the elementary school playground. She heard a splash. Still could not see any water. I’m definitely going crazy.

“I did not expect to meet anyone here.”

Deena shone her phone toward the voice, ready to run to safety. A small bent woman with kinky hair leaned on a cane. “Neither did I.”

“Shouldn’t a nice young girl like you be in bed.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “Kept dreaming.”

“About what?”

Deena bit her lip. No need to tell the woman she was still imagining water. “Water. But I better go home.”

A wide grin came to the woman’s face. “Not until I show you something. Come with me.”

When the woman turned away, Deena hesitated.

“My name is Sophia,” said the woman.

Somebody called Sophia who was leaning on a cane couldn’t be dangerous. Deena followed. Each step felt wetter than the last.

“Shine that phone of yours here.”

Deena stepped up beside the woman, felt like she was knee deep in a stream. The light from her phone showed water bubbling from the ground. “What is this?”

“Given that the water mains follow the road, I suspect an underground stream has shifted its path. That’s why we couldn’t sleep.”

“You couldn’t sleep?”

“I’m an old woman. I don’t usually wander the streets after midnight. I dreamed of water and knew something was up. Wait just a moment while I make a phone call. I have a contact in Metro’s water management department.”

Deena bent down to touch the bubbling water. It was ice cold. She listened as Sophia explained to whoever picked up the call that there was a problem building in a school yard, gave the location and ended the call.

“They’ll be out to investigate. Our job is done.” Sophia took Deena’s arm. “Come with me. There is an all-night cafe just a few blocks from here. I need to explain that we are water dousers.”

The woman’s touch on her arm felt warm, but Deena could not figure out what her words meant. “You dreamed of water too?”

“Indeed. You and I are Gifted with a connection to water.”

“Being wakened by nightmares about drowning is hardly a gift.”

“Tell me about it. But it is our connection, our Gift. In past ages, we would have been the ones who found water, who told people where to dig or drill a well. These days, the Gift doesn’t get us an easy job, but it is what it is.”

“What is it?”

“My friends and I call it a Gift. Some people are connected to plants. Others sense particular emotions in other people. You will always sense water flow.”

“So, every time I dream about water it is because something is leaking?”

“You catch on quickly. Normal flows your senses get used to. But if something shifts, you will know it.”

“While I was walking, I felt like I was stepping in puddles.”

“Because you were getting close. I can teach you what I have learned over the last sixty years since the Gift emerged when I was about your age. How to get back to sleep when you need to. And I’ll introduce you to other Gifted people. “

Deena shook her head. She still wasn’t sure that both she and Sophia weren’t crazy. Then, she pictured the bubbling water, remembered the icy coldness. That water was real, and her senses, what Sophia called her gift, had led her to the spot. Deena decided to go with the old woman. If Sophia could help her control the dreams, handle the times when her sense of water overwhelmed her, she might get back to feeling normal.

Posted in Solarpunk, Unseen | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Characters of Unseen: Deena

People of Unseen–Maria


Year 2032

Waiting for the light to change, Maria felt a build up of anger behind her on the sidewalk. She pulled her arms in, tried to shrink away from the flames. People crowded closer. She took a half step toward the curb. The feeling of being trapped increased.

“Damn refugees,” a man muttered. “Brought disease. Took our jobs. My taxes pay for your shelter.”

Someone jammed their elbow against her side, setting her off balance. A car raced by. She turned and pushed her way to the back of the crowd. Still anger boiled around her. Home, the refugee center where she and her husband with their two young children lived, was just ahead. She had to cross this road. She could go down the block, away from this knot of people, but she knew it would do no good. The anger was everywhere.

It was this new influenza virus, the H8N9 strain. Just ten years after the Covid-19 pandemic, this flu threatened to shut down the city. Blame was being shouted at the government, at homeless people, and recently, the anger had settled on refugees. She heard the words muttered in grocery store line ups and by people she passed on the street. The anger was a heat that burned everywhere.

Her empathic ability connected her to anger. She felt it as heat when someone around her was angry. And these days, it was like a raging fire everywhere she went. Despite the fact that experts said that the strain of avian flu had been brought by migrating birds, had killed almost all the pigeons in the city before crossing to humans, too many citizens of Metro had decided that refugees brought it north.

The light turned green. The waiting crowd hurried forward across the road. Maria waited a moment and then followed. She kept her eyes lowered, waited to sense anger. At the other side, she hurried toward safety. The refugee center was in the middle of this block. A flame of anger pulled her eyes up. A man stood with folded arms glaring at her, blocking her way. The same man who elbowed her before. Maria took a step backward. How was she going to get home?

A woman walked around him, glancing back at him, then turned and met Maria’s eyes. Her steps slowed. She walked past, then came back and took Maria’s arm. “I’ll walk you home,” she said.

Maria hesitated before nodding. “Thank you.”

The woman nudged Maria toward the buildings, keeping herself between Maria and the man who now looked even angrier.  After they passed, Maria glanced back and saw him glaring at her still. How to cope with such fury in a stranger?

“This is my building,” Maria said. “Thank you.”

“I don’t like the misguided blame being attached to you refugees. As if you have not already suffered enough having to leave home.”

“Meeting kindness like your helps a great deal.”

“Be careful,” the woman said, then continued on her way.

Inside the shelter, Maria slumped into a chair in the common room, her whole body shaking. She needed to get her thoughts together before going to the room her family shared.

Maria folded her hands in her lap and stared at her fingers. This encounter suggested there was real danger. She had planned to turn down the nannying job she had been offered. The mother had been nasty, the oldest child burning with anger at the idea a live-in nanny was necessary. But the house had a tiny apartment, once the servants’ quarters. The job offer included having her whole family move into that apartment.

Maria sighed. It was a way out of the crowded core. Her family would be safe from the anger and blame directed at helpless refugees. It was a job. It would be a start here in Toronto. Living with the anger of that child would be exhausting for her, given her empathic connection to the emotion, but maybe she could help the child let go of what troubled him.

Stopping by the refugee office, she gave the details of the job to the staff on duty who would arrange for the work permit. At her family’s room, she pasted a smile on her face and announced the move. Her two children were disappointed, but she assured them they could return to the centre for evening programs or on the weekend. Within a week, the family moved out of the shelter into the slightly larger apartment. As she collected the morning paper from the front step three days later, the picture on the front made her weep. Flames engulfed the refugee centre. The headline claimed the fire was arson. Ten people had died. It could have been us!

Posted in Solarpunk, Unseen | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on People of Unseen–Maria

People of Unseen–Amanda


As the door of the convenience store swung open, Amanda smelled samosas, hot and tangy and delicious. She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk as a young man stepped from the store with a paper bag slightly stained by grease. She could almost hear her therapist voice in her head telling her samosas would be perfect. At her last session, the therapist had issued an ultimatum. If she was not going to take medication for her anxiety, she had to address the issues that went along with it, such as lack of sleep and weight loss. Amanda entered the store.

Her anxiety came from her Gift, the ability to see the divergent possibilities in front of a person with a choice to make. Some days she was overwhelmed by the potential futures she saw. But he idea of medication terrified her. Not that she loved her Gift, but she always saw the possible timelines settle into the choice the person made. Medication might make it harder for her to discern the actual choices, leaving her more disoriented people actually made. Not that she gave that explanation to her therapist. At least, she now had a couple people to talk to about it.

A few weeks earlier, she had met Giovanni, an empath with the ability to sooth other people’s emotions. As she saw him trying to decide whether or not to accidentally bump into her, easing her anxiety in the process, she had been floored. Amanda smiled to herself. Giovanni had been equally stunned when she named his Gift. A dinner invitation to meet Giovanni’s partner Brindle was in her phone before they parted ways. Now the two were her closest friends, and confidants who understood both her Gift and its consequences.

Inside the store, the smell of curry and good Indian food had Amanda take a deep breath. She looked over the menu of ready to go food on a screen by the cash register, placed an order for chicken and spinach curries as well as three samosas. An easy dinner tonight.

While her order was prepared, she wandered the aisles. Near the back of the store, a teenager scowled at cans of prepared pasta. Dizziness hit Amanda. Her Gift kicked in. At that moment she saw two girls: one picked up a can, stuffed it in her backpack and headed for the exit; the other put her hands in her pockets and slumped toward the door. She’s thinking about stealing the food, Amanda thought. Glancing up she saw a security camera. If the girl took the can, the storekeeper might well catch her in the act and call the police.

As the girl reached for the can, Amanda got between her and the shelf. “Don’t do it. I’m pretty sure you will get caught.”

“No skin off your back if I do.”

Amanda studied the teen, wondered if she was homeless. The pinched look of hunger was there in her eyes, so even if she had a place, she did not have enough to eat. “I’ll buy it for you.”


Why indeed? Amanda asked herself. The answer was easy. “The choice you were about to make worried me. It’s easier on me if you don’t have to make it.”


And I am not going to explain my Gift to you. “It’s a long story. Just meet me on the sidewalk.” Amanda returned to the counter with the can. She called up the payment app on her phone, and the shopkeeper scanned it. Outside, the teenager looked ready to bolt, nervously tapping her toe against her heel. Amanda handed her the can and the bag with the samosas. “Sorry I can’t help more,” she said.

“Why would you?” the girl asked.

Amanda decided to tell the truth, though the girl would not hear the whole story. “Every day I see people getting into trouble in ways that I can’t help. It makes me really anxious.” Amanda shrugged. “Being able to get you a meal is a triumph of sorts. For me. For you, it’s just one meal.”

“Better than nothing.” The girl stuffed the food in her pack and turned away. A couple steps along the sidewalk, she stopped. “Thanks,” she said without looking back. “There should be more people like you.”

“You are welcome,” Amanda said. But I would not wish this Gift on anyone. Maybe I should pick up a donut to try to keep my therapist happy.

Posted in Unseen | Tagged , , | Comments Off on People of Unseen–Amanda

People of Unseen–Giovanni


year 2026

When the door slid open, a wave of uneasiness hit him from a skinny man with a pinched face. Glancing at the other four passengers, he saw a senior partner from the law firm he worked at as an accountant, the partner he believed was stealing from the firm. Her he definitely wanted to avoid. Slipping in with the others, he moved to the other side, brushed shoulders with the skinny, anxious man. A little of the man’s uneasiness dissipated. Did I do that? He pulled away, pressed himself into the corner.

Two weeks earlier, the founder of the law firm had sent him to a forensic accountant, a person called Brindle, to investigate the possibility that some was stealing from the firm. As they worked together, Brindle informed him that he, Giovanni, was a Gifted empath, someone who could sense others’ emotions, with the added Gift that he could sooth away worry. As infatuated as he was with Brindle, Giovanni could not believe that such a Gift existed.  Anyone can read emotions from body language, he had told himself.

A couple people got out of the elevator on the twentieth floor. Glancing over at the law firm partner, he thought she looked calm as she leaned on the elevator wall. Despite that appearance, Giovanni sensed turmoil boiling in her. A scent like burnt toast seemed to fill his nose.   

Will she recognize me? He looked away and stared at the elevator door. He rubbed his temples to ease the pounding in his head. Brindle’s report had been in the hands of the founder for a week. Nothing had happened yet, but Giovanni expected charges would be laid before long.

At the thirty-fifth floor, he let the partner exit ahead of him. As she headed away toward her office, he relaxed. His head cleared. Slowly, he walked to his desk. He had always hated elevators, thought it was claustrophobia. But could Brindle be right that it was the proximity to the anxiety of others that overwhelmed him. What am I supposed to do, walk up all those stairs?

As he instructed his computer to open to his work page, he remembered Brindle’s argument that he leave this firm before charges were laid against the partner that was stealing. “Come work with me,” Brindle had suggested.

Giovanni had been so tempted. Brindle was gorgeous and enticing. But this job was secure and working with someone you were falling in love with did not seem sensible.

Anxiety once more filled Giovanni’s body. Looking up he saw Mary, the head accountant returning to her desk. Her face was hard, her body tense.

Mary looked at him and shook her head. “Things are about to get messy,” she said. “As clear as the accountant’s report was, the partner involved is going to fight this. It’s going to be a very public battle. I’m not sure the firm is going to survive.”

“Computer, shut down.” Giovanni laid his palms on the desk, pictured never having to ride up that elevator again. “Sorry to leave you to handle this Mary, but I’m resigning. I’m going to HR right now.”

“You did the job you were asked to do.” She held out her hand to him.

“Sorry to leave you in the middle of this.” As he  her hand, he saw the lines on her face relax, watched her shoulders pull away from her ears. Am I helping her relax?

“I will miss having you around, Giovanni. You have a way of making problems seem manageable. But I totally understand not wanting to hang around as things explode here. What will you do?”

“I’ve had an offer that I have been debating about.”

“I hope it works out for you.”

As Giovanni walked away from his desk, he felt lighter. A smile came to his lips. He’d call Brindle when he left the building, suggest lunch. If the offer to work together still stood, he’d give it a try. And maybe a work life partnership wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Posted in Unseen | Tagged , , | Comments Off on People of Unseen–Giovanni

The People of Unseen–Brindle

With my novel, Unseen, coming out this weekend, I am starting to share some backstories of the Gifted characters. We start with the group’s leader, Brindle.

Brindle, year 2016 C.E.

The band of pain across Brindle’s forehead tightened. Rolling over, nausea hit, making them retch. How much tequila did I drink? Too much was the obvious answer. Feeling like this was going to make it hard to focus on the statistics midterm this morning. Fortunately, they’d had practice dealing with hangovers, had a routine that started with ginger ale.

Slowly sitting up, they realized that their roommate was up and gone. That was unusual. She usually slept late. A glance at their watch and a different kind of sickness rose in their gut. Ten after ten. The midterm was at nine. It was over. They’d missed it. Slept right through it. Had been so drunk the night before that they’d forgotten to set the alarm. I don’t do things like that!

Taking a can from the small fridge in the dorm room, Brindle sat down at their desk trying to remember what the midterm was worth. Maybe the prof would let them make it up. But that would mean admitting to binge drinking. Turning the can in a slow circle Brindle realized that the time had come. They needed to admit the problem.

The drinking had started during frosh week, which was not that strange as there was lots of drinking in the dorm, at events. But for Brindle it had been different. Coming from a rural community and a farm, they were finding Toronto life overwhelming. And dorm life was just about impossible. So crowded. So many people with so many worries. The pressure got to them just about every day. Early in the term, they’d taken the subway to High Park for long walks alone. But at this point in October, it was raining almost every day. There was no escape from the people.

As the worst of the nausea settled, Brindle dressed, ran a brush through their long red hair. One of the frosh week events had included a tour of Student Services. That felt like the right place to face the problem. They headed across campus. At the door to the office, Brindle hesitated, feeling an overwhelming urge to run. But running from a challenge did not fit with the person who could face any problem on the farm from an angry steer to a tractor break down. Brindle turned the handle and stepped inside.

Two women were behind the desk, one sitting, one standing. “I need to see a counsellor,” Brindle said.

“Do you have an appointment?” asked the seated woman.

When Brindle shook their head, the woman who was standing put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “I have some time before my next appointment. Come with me.”

In the office, Brindle sunk into the offered chair, started to wonder what they would say.

“My name is Gilda. Yours?”


“What brought you to our office today?”

“The people.”

“Particular people?”

“Just all the people. And all their worries. It might not be so bad if I had a single room, but my roommate worries about her makeup, worries about her choice of program, worries about her boyfriend who went to University of Ottawa.” Brindle went on to the worries of the people they usually ate with, the people they sat next to in class, the professors. They poured out the pressure that the anxiety of people around them created.

Gilda listened, hands folded. When they stopped, she asked, “Can you tell what am I worried about?”

Brindle glanced up. “That I won’t believe you. I suppose you are going to tell me that it is all normal, and I’m going to be fine. I don’t feel fine.”

“You are Gifted. An empath who senses worry,” said Gilda. “There are ways, however, to block other people’s anxiety from affecting you. And yes, you are normal, but a different kind of normal. Have you noticed that all you listed were worries?”

“And anxiety.”

Gilda nodded. “They are connected.”

“It’s no gift to know what everybody is worried about. Do you know how many people there are in this city?”

“Millions. Which is why I will teach you to keep yourself grounded, to protect your mind, your self.”

“How do you know this?”

“I also am Gifted, also an empath. My Gift lets me sense happiness. It lets me know when I’ve done my job here well. But it can be very distracting.”

“Trade you.”

Gilda smiled sadly. “That is not possible. Your Gift is your own as much as your other skills. But I can work with you, teach you meditation techniques that keep you centred. And introduce you to a few other people like us with Gifts.”

‘You aren’t going to send me to AA?”

For you, AA would be horrible. A room full of anxious people.”

Brindle studied the older woman’s face. She clearly believed what she was saying. “So, knowing what other people are worried about is an extra kind of sense?”

“It helps to think of it as a skill. You may find ways to make it useful. But in the meantime, I can teach you to turn it off, at least dull it’s strength so you can focus, so you can keep yourself whole.” Gilda folded her hands. “I suspect that when you drink, you lessen your natural control, open yourself more to the empathic pathways. It takes a lot more alcohol to dull them, to drown out the worries.”

“What about the midterm I missed?”

“I’ll talk to your professor.” Gilda glanced at her schedule. “Can you come back at four this afternoon for the first session?”

“I have class until four thirty.”

“Four forty then?” Brindle ran their tongue across their teeth. The taste was terrible. Whether they believed Gilda or not, something had to shift or they’d be headed back to the farm. “Sure. I’ll come back.”

Posted in Unseen | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on The People of Unseen–Brindle

Establishing the Round Table

I’ve been dreaming full story lines lately. Most of them are entertaining enough at the time, but not worth recording. But King Arthur’s ringing voice the other night convinced me to try to capture the idea.

The leaders of his army stood in a circle around Arthur. It meant that he could not see each of the knights at the same time, but they could see each other. That was the point.

“We have worked hard together and won a space of freedom and peace.” Arthur turned slowly as he spoke so that he met the eyes of each of the fifteen knights in the circle. “But the invaders will come again. To be ready, we must unite the disparate and often fractious realms of this land.”

A smile come to Arthur’s face as he met the eyes of Lancelot. He held the smile as he turned to dark-haired Gawain, standing next with arms crossed and feet spread wide.

“Gawain, my companion. Your courage and your constancy are renowned.” Arthur heard a slight ripple of a woman’s laughter behind him. The knight Ginavere was right. Stubbornness might be a better word, but this was a day to inspire not criticize. “Gawain, I send you to your father King Lot. Share with him what is in your heart, what you believe about our endeavours here in Camelot. Speak of the good you believe in. You are the best one to reach him, to draw him close to us. I trust you with this.” Gawain unfolded his arms and nodded once.

Next to Gawain was his brother Agravain, his twin in size and shape, but with a face more like a craggy rock face. “Agravain, you are respected in rugged Northumberland. Therefore, I send you north. Ships have been sighted in those waters. Assure the king we will stand at his side to defend his land. Work with him to establish a line of communication that will quickly get us a message should the Norseman come to land in his realm.”

“Aye, Sire,” Agravain said.

“Gaheris,” said the king, “you have ears that all find sympathetic. I send you south and east to Lundein. Saxons landed north and south of them. Fighting was bitter in their lands. Listen to their worries. Listen for news of illness and hunger. Bring us word of what they need. The lords of their city are too proud to ask me for help.” Gaheris bowed his head.

“Patient, gentle Gareth, you I send to Glastonbury. You will stay at the monastery on the shore of the lake, request the time and attention of the lady there. Listen to what she says and what she does not say. If a request is made, come to me immediately. If not, linger for the winter and absorb what you can. Tell stories of Camelot as well, nuggets that will act like seeds, binding us closer together.”

Arthur turned around again, meeting the eyes of each. “The stories you tell of comradeship and loyalty, of victory in the face of bitter defeat will bear fruit. Speak well.” He then turned to the knight beside Gareth, Kay, his foster brother. “Go home, Kay. Bear my thanks to those who helped to raise me. Assess the farms. Talk to the farmers. Much of our food comes from home. We accomplish nothing if we starve.”

The next four knights he sent north west. Then he took one step forward toward the one woman among his closest companions. “Ginavere, the lightness of your humour can ease tension or increase it. Be careful of your laughter.”

“Yes Lord, though it is a subtle weapon and a sharp one.”

“Therefore, use it on your enemies not your friends. I send to Tintagel. Queen Ygraine will receive you, welcome you I do believe. Learn what she has learned. Assure her Cornwall will not fall while I am king.”

“Must I wear skirts, Sire?” A sour expression came to her face.

Arthur smiled broadly. “Bring a dress or two. Ygraine will invite you to sit with her ladies, and they will speak more freely if you look like them.”

“Even in a dress, I do not look the same.”

“Take this as an opportunity to practice then. You may be more useful as a spy in future if you can blend in. But you are going as my knight. Arrive as you are this day. Practice with her knights. Do not get into any unnecessary fights, only those you must to prove you belong as one of my companions.”

Ginavere put her fist to her chest and bowed her head. She always feels like a Roman to me, Arthur thought, though the only stories of women warriors came from farther back and east.

Two more knights were sent to areas of Cornwall and another directly south, each with specific instructions as well as the general command to bring to the hope of the king to all and draw all to Camelot.

Arthur met the eyes of Percival and Galahad, then turned slowly around the circle again. “You will knit together our land. I trust you.” A warm smile came to his face as his gaze returned to Lancelot. “I will miss your company at meals and your advice at my elbow, even your correction, but I ask you to travel across the water to your home. Assess the situation in Brittany. Can they give us aid, or do they require ours?” Arthur longed to step forward and embrace his friend, but there would be time before his departure, and this was not a moment to set anyone apart. Otherwise, what was the point of the circle.

“Now to you Percival and Galahad, the youngest of us here. Your youth might lead some to question your presence in this elite company. But on this day, I name you the most important. We have fought this war so long it is in our blood. In our very nature. But war is not our purpose. And so, I name you Life and Love.   “It is your job to remind us why we do battle. Percival, you must teach us again and again that we do not fight to kill, though this is a consequence of battle. We fight to make space for living. And Galahad, you must understand our enemies. Someday we must live side by side. You will visit the isolated villages of the invaders who have remained. Learn of them. Teach us love.” Arthur stepped forward. “You were named last as you hold the places of honour. The work of the others is essential to protecting this land, but it is your work that will keep us from becoming men who only feel alive on the battlefield.” Arthur turned again, more slowly, meeting the eyes of each. “Look at each other. These are your companions. Do not fail me. Do not fail each other. Do not fail the people we are called to serve.”

Posted in Arthurian Legends | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Establishing the Round Table

The Grail

Shattered: When Winds Blast, the third novel in my contemporary fantasy series, tells the story of the hiding of the grail and its finding side by side.

Deciding to write a grail story took me by surprise. The grail legends were my least favorite part of the Arthurian saga. But when I considered what the theme of the third book of my Celtic trilogy would be, it seemed obvious that the grail needed to be front and centre.

Fortunately, a cup had figured prominently in the first book, so I could not go with the tradition of the grail as chalice. Before I talk about the choice I did make, let me talk about why I said “fortunately.”

In the stories that became best known, the grail is the cup that was used at Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood of Jesus that fell from the final spear wound in his side. It was this that gave the cup power. From the late Middle Ages on, it was pictured as made of precious metal and inlaid with gem stones.

The trouble is that Jesus was a relatively poor man from rural Galilee. He would have had a clay pottery cup at his last meal, a Passover celebration. The cup that is pictured in the stories and art resembled the kind of chalice that would be used in a well-endowed cathedral in the late Middle Ages.

This very churchy, very Christian grail is not the earliest representation. In Cretien de Troyes Perceval, the grail is a serving dish which is nourishing a mysterious person hidden from view in the castle of the injured Fisher King.

So, if the grail was not the cup used at the last supper, what was it?

Another possibility that has never held my imagination (and would have been too close to the second book of the series where a trio of heirs of King Arthur play a role) is based on the argument that San-graal, (meaning holy grail) was a mis-understanding of the sang real (meaning real blood), the living heirs of Jesus. It is argued that at Jesus’ death, a woman, likely Mary Magdalene, was pregnant with his child. Therefore, his blood line lives on in hiding.

With those ruled out, what option is left?

I first came across the idea of the grail as a stone in Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, the first of a trilogy. The grail in this story is a vision stone that offers a Twelfth Century boy glimpses back to a Fifth Century Arthur as the two struggle with the path from childhood to their destiny.

Although other stories of the stone as grail make it like the philosopher’s stone, able to change any material into gold, or a cornucopia, able to produce an abundance of whatever is needed, it is the idea of vision stone that caught my imagination.

In my story the stone once belonged to the ancient Celtic goddess Cailleach, but ended up in Merlin’s hands. Through him, it aided Arthur’s fight against the invaders. From him, it is passed to the harper Taliesin who returns to Brittany with Lancelot to defend that knight’s homeland. Because the goddess wants the stone back–as payment for something that happens in the second book of the series–three young Canadians head for France to find it before Cailleach brings a killing winter in August.

Posted in A good story, Arthurian Legends, The Grail, The Holy Grail, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on The Grail

Drawing Merlin’s character

The first time Merlin appeared in the Netflix series Cursed, I thought I had found a characterization of him that I could hate more than T. H. White’s. Drunk and arrogant and ready to betray others, I would have turned it off if the main female character had not been so intriguing. My dislike of White’s Merlin is quite opposite: he is silly much of the time, and I do not buy the idea of a person living backwards.

Cursed’s Merlin was redeemed for me when he said, “Why can’t I die?” His actions also become gallant, but it is the understanding that eternal life is impossible to live that made him sympathetic in my eyes. White almost redeems his Merlin for me when he sends Arthur into an ant colony to teach him about war.

My favorite Merlin remains Mary Stewart’s. The child Merlin in The Crystal Cave is believable, and the man he grows into makes normal mistakes while seeking a vision for his land. The landscape, culture, and mythology are well drawn. Merlin’s magic and visions make sense in the context Stewart describes.

It is, I think, the question of Merlin’s magic that makes it so hard to do this character well. The trouble is that the world of his story is already given. The writer does not have free rein. When building a magical fantasy world from scratch, authors have freedom to create their magical system and establish its relationship to non-magical society.

The Camelot stories, however, are well established. The kings were Uther and then Arthur. The pattern of the court varies depending on whether the date is in the fifth century or the twelfth, but once the era is chosen for a retelling, we know a lot about the history, mythology, and culture of that time. The author has to work with what is known. And, therefore, Merlin’s magic has to fit the era and the given world.

In the British television show Merlin, the fact that Christian leaders in Britain opposed all practices that the hierarchy thought of as “pagan” becomes crucial. Uther has outlawed magic. As a result, Merlin has to hide his power while using it to protect Arthur.

The conflict between older Celtic and Druidic mythology with rising Christianity also shapes Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. She makes “Merlin” a title rather than a name and calls her druid harper Taliesin. He is a revered old man who fathered several of the significant characters. She also includes, as Stewart did, another dimension of the legends which suggests that Merlin went mad later in his life.

While Bradley conflates the characters of Taliesin and Merlin, I keep them separate in my Cup, Sword, and Stone trilogy. In my version of this tale, Merlin is a Druid who came to possess the grail, a vision stone that had belonged to the ancient goddess Cailleach. This he passes to Taliesin when the harper accompanies Lancelot home to France to defend his land from invaders. My novel Shattered: When Winds Blast tells of the aid that the grail gave to Taliesin and Lancelot and the need to eventually hide the stone. Interwoven with that tale is the story of three Canadian youth given the task of finding the grail and returning it before Cailleach unleashes her wrath and brings winter in August.

Someday I may return to Merlin’s story and Camelot and try my hand at constructing a character and landscape that make sense. But given how hard it is, I may not risk more than his cameo appearance in Riven: When Storms Collide and Shattered: When Winds Blast.

Posted in Arthurian Legends, Riven: When Storms Collide, Shattered: When Winds Blast, YA contemporary fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Drawing Merlin’s character

Lancelot and Guinevere

Lancelot’s role in the love triangle makes him a difficult character for some writers to coverhandle. How can he be honoured when, for romantic love, he betrays the king who saved Britain, to whom he has pledged allegiance?

It is worth noting that Lancelot’s love of the queen fits the medieval French courtly love tradition. The woman of the court–queen or duchess or baroness–should be the object of adoration. As long as the love is not acted upon, Lancelot’s adoration of Guinevere is praiseworthy according to this tradition.

This love from a distance offered a certain place for women. Given the stiff structures of the late middle ages, this tradition offered a certain kind of honour to women, though likely it was more a set of songs than a way of life. We may dream that this freedom was alive in the more diverse and peaceful context of southern France, as Guy Gavriel Kay did in A Song for Arbonne.

Modern readers and writers have trouble with this love triangle. One reason is that the twentieth century pushed the romantic idea that there is one true soul-mate for each person. If Arthur and Guinevere belong together, Lancelot’s love for the queen and hers for him is a betrayal. Or her marriage to Arthur is a tortuous betrayal if Lancelot is her true soul-mate.

I keep coming back to what Guy Gavriel Kay does with the Camelot story in his Fionavar series: he pictures each of the three having a perfect love for one another. Guinevere loves both men and both love her. Arthur and Lancelot have a deep loving friendship, the love of companions who completely trust each other. Kay follows the tradition that this makes their love a tragedy rather than a gift: Lancelot and Guinevere are brought back each time Arthur is to accentuate his pain. Kay pictures a tragedy and finds a surprising resolution in the end.

As much as I love Kay’s telling, I still wonder: does the love of the three for each other need to be tragic? Can there not be a recognition that we love in many ways? If the love is tied to longing, it is painful, can be tragic. But love can be about presence and understanding and nurture and self-giving. Why do so many assume that love is about taking, even if that taking is mutual? But I wander from the stories.

In my sense of the story, there is pain for Guinevere when Lancelot leaves Camelot. But part of that pain is the tension between him and the king as the king seeks a more autocratic and centralized kingdom. I do not (yet) see a romantic love for Lancelot when he returns to Brittany. Likely, after the pattern of protection for his land is set up and the Grail hidden, he will produce an heir–whether in love or necessity I do not know. My interest in this story, at least right now, is his skill as a knight. That will be my focus next week.

Posted in Arthurian Legends, Shattered: When Winds Blast | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lancelot and Guinevere


Too many of the characterizations of Guinevere are shaped by the medieval versions of the King Arthur story. Stories shaped by the male dominated church of that era portrayed all women as Eve, the temptress who ruins paradise. Malory among others has Guinevere falling in love with the hero who is not her husband and contributing to the destruction of the dream of Camelot. When I came to draw on this story, I wanted to make sure I did not fall into that trap.Riven cover

In any story that set Arthur’s life and death in the later middle ages, the portrayal of Guinevere tends to match Mallory’s. She is not content with her position as queen, and when Lancelot arrives, she is infatuated. Occasionally, there is a hint that the marriage to Arthur was her father’s choice not hers, making her love of the great knight a way of fighting the fate that makes women a pawn.

Mary Stewart, who sets Arthur’s work in the early middle ages just after the Roman legions left, makes an interesting adjustment to this story by giving us two Guineveres. The first is a maid of Ygraine, Uther’s wife and Arthur’s mother. Arthur is interested in the girl, comes to love her deeply, and she shyly returns his love. This marriage is arranged by a woman with the woman’s consent.  Guinevere conceives early in the relationship, but dies as a result of the pregnancy. Arthur is urged to marry again but hesitates until a poet comes, singing the praise of a wonderful woman, and, at the end of his poem, reveals that her name is Guinevere. This marriage is arranged by the men. The second Guinevere is not able to conceive. Her barrenness and the need for an heir for the kingdom become the complicating factors that bring the Camelot dream to an end.

Another who draws on this idea of more that one Guinevere is Mercedes Lackey in her story Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit. The girls in this family are all named with some variation of Gwen, and two are identical in looks but not in spirit. One loves horses and is an excellent rider. The other loves her fancy clothes and girly pursuits. The first is the one the reader loves, but Arthur adores the second. The king doesn’t really come off looking good in this story, but the spirited Gwenhwyfar is a powerful, interesting woman character.

I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s Guinevere. She is true to Arthur but also deeply loves Lancelot, and the king and the knight are also deeply bonded. It is a sad triangle that comes to an unexpected, satisfying conclusion.

When I wondered what to do with Guinevere, I thought about one of the places where women had access to power: the abbey. Yes, it is a secluded life, but it is a space where coverwomen have freedom to be themselves, power to direct the holdings of the abbey, scope to influence political and social affairs. Years ago, I started a story in which Guinevere, the head of the abbey, tells the story of Arthur to a novice. That story isn’t finished, may never be, but I imagine that Guinevere would have retreated from court to a sanctuary. And as a circle of women who follow Ceridwen plays an important part in my story, it is to this isolated, women-centred place that welcomed Guinevere after the last battle, away from the power of government to a place grounded in a different kind of power.

Posted in Arthurian Legends, Riven: When Storms Collide, Shattered: When Winds Blast, YA contemporary fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Guinevere