In the afterward to the twentieth anniversary edition of his Fionavar trilogy, Guy Gavriel Kay wrote, “I also set myself the task, quixotic or otherwise, of trying to shape a narrative large enough that the figures of the Arthurian triangle could come in without overwhelming it: that they might be a component of the story but not the story.” He goes on to say that his telling of the Arthur story was influenced by his dissatisfaction with most treatments of Guinevere and an idea that turned the once and future king part of the legend from promise to burden.
Like Kay, I pondered what made Arthur the once and future king. When, as a child, I first encountered the story of King Arthur, I hoped that he was carried from the last battle to the island in the lake to be healed. I dreamed that he was not done yet. Later, I came across stories about the heirs of Arthur in the present day–others carried his dream into the future. This inspired me. When I turned to the Arthur story for the second book of my contemporary fantasy, I imagined that Arthur commissioned a Triad to take up the task of guarding the land.
For Guinevere, I long ago imagined that she became an abbess, sequestered but a leader. Throughout the middle ages, women in these places managed large tracks of land and communities, influenced the movement of the society. In my story, the queen retreated to a community of goddess followers. This circle holds one angle of the Triad of guardians Arthur appointed. Morgan was the first leader of the Circle and welcomed the former queen into her refuge.
More obvious from the existing stories, Gawain took over the Table, the knights who had been the companions, the fighters, the ones who made the dream of protection real.
Who makes up the third angle of the Triad? In a panel at CanCon, the speculative fiction convention in Ottawa, my co-panelist mentioned a story that portrayed Mordred as a freedom fighter. Sparks ignited for me. In some stories, one of Arthur’s flaws is the desire for centralized power. This would have disturbed cheiftains, nobles, other kings such as Lot, Mordred’s foster father. With this influence, Mordred might well have chafed against hegemony. In my story, the third angle is led by Mordred who holds together a loose Fellowship, based in the islands of northern Scotland, a group whose attention is centred on these isolated communities who are often ignored by the cities of the south.
I cannot claim that my trilogy has the vast scope of Kay’s, but the heirs of Arthur hold important strands of the story Riven: When Storms Collide and Shattered: When Winds Blast. The gods and goddesses are quixotic, seeking revenge and power, while the heirs of Arthur, and the young Canadians who seek them out, still work for the dream Camelot embodied.