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The Cup of Life
Maurus sat on his horse and gazed down at the small stone and mud building. The building itself was very plain; there were none of the usual ornate carvings or other indications that this was a shrine to a god. This group of refugees had come to Britannia from Iudaea several years ago spreading their stories of a man called Christ of Galilee.
It was getting late in the day and the sun was fading. He glanced at a lone tree that sat on one of the nearby hills. More a thorny bush than a tree, its branches bare against the darkening sky. He turned to his four officers and nodded. “Let’s get down there,” he said. “This Joseph of Arimathea will be waiting.”
The Roman Governor, Paulinius, and the local High King, Arviragus, had directed the five of them to this remote area of Britannia to escort this religious leader to some ceremony in a place called Avalon. Arviragus had seemed surprised that both the Merlin and the High Priestess appeared to be accepting of this new religion and had requested Paulinius send this escort. They were here not only to “protect” this Joseph, but also to learn what might be happening on Ynys Witrn.
An older man stepped out of the small stone building as they approached the door and bowed his head slightly. “Peace be with you, Captain,” he said. “I am Joseph.”
Maurus looked down at the man and frowned, his cloak was ragged though clean and in his hands he held a simple wooden cup. The air of poverty seemed to be in direct conflict with the idea this man was supposed to be a religious leader. “May the gods protect you,” Maurus finally said. “We are to be your escorts this evening.” He paused and looked around for anyone else who might be nearby. “If you are ready.”
Joseph shook his head slightly. “It will be a few more minutes, Captain. We must wait for one of the priestesses from Avalon to join us.” The older man smiled. “I’m afraid you will need to leave your horses here. They will not be able to travel the path we must take.” He raised his right hand and two young men stepped out of the building. “They will be properly cared for while we are gone,” Joseph said.
Maurus glanced back at the others with him and nodded before he dismounted. “If you will let us know when you are ready,” Maurus said. He moved away from the building, his officers following him.
“What do any of you know about this so-called new religion?” He spoke in a low voice.
“It is named for a Galilean who was crucified by Procurator Pontius Pilate approximately thirty years ago,” Thracius said.
“I remember hearing about that,” Vitus said. “He managed to get the local government mad at him for questioning their interpretations of their religion.”
Maurus glanced at the two older members of the group. Both Thracius and Vitus’ had older brothers who had served in Iudaea, and he valued their opinions. “So he was challenging the local government?”
Thracius and Vitus both looked at each other before turning back to Maurus and nodding.
“And, Paulinius allowed Arviragus to give these Christians twelve hides of land,” Maurus said as he shook his head.
“Captain,” Joseph called.
Maurus turned to see a young woman in white robes standing next to Joseph. “Let’s go,” Maurus said to his officers.
The young woman only nodded as they approached then motioned for them to follow her as she walked away from the small building. Maurus followed behind Joseph with his officers. He frowned as the priestess stopped, raised her arms over her head and a chill fog surrounded them. The woman turned back toward the building they had left then brought her arms down sharply. The fog cleared a bit and Maurus stared at the open area before them. A large mound with a stone slab covering it was where the building had been. A body was laid out on the stone.
“You are expected,” the woman said motioning toward a small group of robed figures standing near the stone. She turned and stepped back into the remaining mists then vanished.
“Witchcraft,” Quintus said.
“The power of their goddess,” Joseph said. “Captain, you and your men must wait here during the ceremony.”
“Maurus,” Thracius said looking at a nearby hill. “Doesn’t that look like the same tree?”
“It can’t be the same tree,” Laurentius said.
“How many trees are that bare at the spring equinox?”
Maurus looked at the tree with its bare branches now only shadows against the darkening sky. “We only walked a few passus from the building before the fog surrounded us. We then turned back and the fog faded. We never left Ynys Witrn. It is the same tree.” He turned his attention to the group around the stone then gestured for the others to watch the area.
Joseph stood at the head of the stone, the cup he had brought held before him. Two of the robed figures moved to stand on either side of the stone, near the head. Maurus felt his eyes widen as one of the figures pushed the cowl of their robe back to reveal long, dark hair. The air stirred for a brief moment and the robe showed clearly the person standing there was a woman.
“Eithne, the High priestess of Avalon,” Laurentius said. “The one across from her carries the staff of The Merlin, but he is too young to be Talfryn.”
Maurus turned to look at the young man. “You seem to know something of the religion of this place.”
“I was born here, Captain,” Laurentius said. “My mother has a sister who serves as a priestess in Avalon, though she herself no longer observes the rituals.”
Maurus nodded and turned his attention back to the ceremony the others were performing.
Joseph began speaking. “As one who recently came among you, the Lady Eithne has asked that I preside over this ceremony. Are there any here who object?”
Silence greeted Joseph’s question as he waited for several seconds. “Let it be known that Talfryn, once Merlin of Breton has been called by the Dragon and has passed beyond the veil. Today we anoint Peregrin as the one now called to serve as The Merlin.”
He placed the cup he was holding on the stone then Eithne removed a sword from under her robes and laid it next to the cup. The man across from the priestess held up a crystal that glowed yellow in the light of the full moon then set it with the other two objects.
“Before we can recognize The Merlin, we first bid farewell to Talfryn,” Joseph said. “May his spirit find rest with the Dragon even as his body is returned to the land of which it is a part.”
A blue mist flowed from the cup and swirled around the sword and crystal before it covered the body on the stone. The blue shroud lay over the body and when it faded, the body was also gone.
“The Cup of Christ, the Sword of the Goddess and the Tear of the Dragon,” Laurentius said. “Three relics of these religions. That explains why Arviragus wanted us here.”
“How so?” Maurus continued to watch the ceremony as Joseph picked up the cup then poured a few drops from a water skin into it.
“He cares not for this Joseph, only that Eithne returns the sword Excalibur.”
The priest, as Maurus was beginning to think of this Joseph of Arimathea, then dipped his fingers into the cup and brought them up to Peregrin’s lips and touched them. “The Dragon has called and you have answered, Merlin of Breton,” Joseph said.
Peregrin bowed his head slightly then picked up the stone Laurentius had called the Tear of the Dragon.
Eithne reached for the sword and held it pointed at the new Merlin. “You are bound to the land and the people,” she said. “Do you accept that bond and the responsibility that comes with it? The duty to protect and guide the people? To care for the land and all that dwell therein?”
Peregrin didn’t say anything as he reached out and grasped the blade of the sword in his left hand then pulled his hand slowly back, still holding the blade. Blood dripped from his hand and onto the stone.
“The Goddess has accepted your oath,” Eithne said as she lowered the sword.
“Lady Eithne,” Joseph said. “Will you also accept the blessing from the Cup?”
“In that you have honored our beliefs and have sought to learn as well; I too would honor yours.”
Joseph again dipped his fingers into the cup then touched the High Priestess’s lips.
“It will be interesting to see what effects this will have,” Laurentius said.
Maurus spun around and stared at the younger man. “Explain.”
“Those who follow this new religion claim the cup belonged to this Christ of Galilee and that Joseph of Arimathea used it to catch his blood when his side was pierced by a spear at his crucifixion. The legends also say this Christ of Galilee again walked among the living three days after his burial. Supposedly when Joseph of Arimathea told this news to the Sanhedrin they had him imprisoned in a tomb for a score of days. The only thing he carried with him was that cup. When the tomb was opened, he was still alive. It is believed it was the cup which sustained him.”