Authors: Victoria Alexander
“Big Guy?” A whisper was the best she could do. She cleared her throat. “Galahad?”
She stared at the entrance of the cave for a minute or forever. Finally, a vague movement caught her eye. A moment later a figure emerged. Her heart stopped and tears burned the back of her eyes.
Galahad walked slowly toward her, blinking in the twilight like a man just waking up. She wanted to run to him but her feet refused to move. All she could do was stare.
“My lady.” He studied her for a long time then grinned. He looked a shade older than she remembered. “I’ve missed the sound of your voice.”
“Oh, Galahad.” She sobbed and threw herself in his arms. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Tessa, my love.” He held her tight as if he could not quite believe it himself. “My life.”
She pulled back and a fierce note underlaid her voice. “I won’t let you go back. Not alone. I’m never letting you go again.”
“Tessa.” His brows pulled together and regret simmered in the deep blue of his eyes. “’Tis not a thing—”
“Don’t worry about it, Galahad.” A familiar voice rang behind them. They turned in unison. Merlin leaned casually against Arthur’s oak. Galahad’s arm stayed close around Tessa and they walked toward the wizard.
“Nice coat,” Tessa said.
“Armani.” Merlin flicked an invisible piece of lint from his shoulder. “I believe someone once accused me of having no sense of style. If I recall, the word that was used was
She grinned. “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
“Indeed.” Merlin sniffed.
“My lord Wizard.” Galahad’s voice was grim. “I,” he glanced at Tessa, “
must know what is to become of us.”
“Go ahead, Merlin.” Tessa drew a deep breath. “I
can take it. What happens now? Does he go back or what?”
“He can go to Disney World for all I care.” Merlin shrugged. “He is free to leave.”
“But,” Galahad’s words were measured, “what of my vow to the king?”
Tessa and Merlin traded glances. “He has no idea, does he?”
Merlin shook his head. “For him, it’s only been a handful of years. It’s rather hard to explain but think of it as, oh, say, sleep therapy. For the most part, he’s dozed through the centuries.”
“Brace yourself, Galahad.” She gazed up into his eyes. “A lot of time has passed.”
“How much time?”
“There’s no good way to put this.” She heaved a sigh. “Welcome to my world.”
“Your…” Galahad stared then his gaze strayed from hers and skimmed the landscape. “It seems much the same.”
“Believe me, it isn’t.”
“Now then, if I am no longer needed.” Merlin started to fade.
“Nay.” Galahad stepped toward him. “I do not understand.”
Merlin’s disappearing act stopped but he was still a bit translucent. Tessa’s stomach clenched against the queasy effect of that particular trick.
“I suppose you do deserve an explanation. Let me think for a moment. It’s all very esoteric and philosophical. You see, my boy…” Merlin paused. “It’s not the prize that’s truly important but the quest. Always has been, always will be. Each man seeks the Grail in
his own way. And each true believer will indeed find his Grail.”
Galahad shook his head in confusion.
“I don’t get it either,” Tessa said.
Merlin heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Galahad, you pursued your quest in a noble and honorable manner. You succeeded against all odds. You kept your sworn promises in spite of your own desires. All of that accomplishment is, in fact, the Grail.” Merlin smiled. “At this point, it is sufficient to simply say your obligations to your king, your country and all in the past have been met. Your life is now your own. Think about it, Galahad, did you ever actually see the Grail?”
“Nay, but I knew—”
“It was your dream and Arthur’s and your father’s that you sought. And while you were the guardian of the Grail, that in itself cannot be defined.” Merlin turned his dark gaze to her. “Tessa, what was the last thing I said to you?”
“You said, this is what he was always meant to do.” Her words were measured. “The whole point of this lifetime.”
“And that lifetime is at an end. That destiny has been fulfilled.” Merlin raised his hands in an all-encompassing gesture made no less magical by the designer coat. “This is his fate now.”
“My lord Wizard, I still—”
“Don’t worry about it, Big Guy.” Merlin grinned. “You’ll understand soon enough. The moment you realize your quest was not truly over until now.”
“But we solved the riddle,” Tessa said suspiciously.
“Did you?” Merlin’s eyes twinkled in the dusk. “Did you find that which all men seek?”
“Sure, we found the Grail.”
“Ah, but if the Grail is different things to different men…”
“Then that which all men seek is not the same.” Comprehension sounded in Galahad’s words.
“I still don’t get it.” Tessa sighed.
“He does,” Merlin said. Galahad took her hands in his. “His true Grail”—the wizard vanished, only his words lingered—“is you.”
Tessa widened her eyes and her gaze locked with Galahad’s. She could see the truth in his expression but she wanted—no needed—to hear it. The words choked in her throat. “Am I?”
“Always, Tessa St. James.”
She shook her head. “It’s not going to be easy for you. Life is a lot different in the twenty-first century.”
“’Tis yet another challenge on our quest.” Galahad lifted her hands to his lips and kissed first one then the other. “One that shall last another lifetime. Together.”
“Together,” she whispered and sheer wonder surged through her. His lips met hers and she knew now that they had all the time in the world; even a lifetime would not be long enough.
And she marveled that she’d ever failed to believe in white knights, myths and magic and most of all…in love.
ou cheated, you know.”
“Cheating is relative, Merlin.” Viviane glanced up with an indignant expression. “And such a nasty word as well. I can’t say I’m at all pleased by your use of it. Besides…” An emery board appeared in one hand and she filed the nails of the other. “I did not.”
“Oh,” Merlin raised a brow. “What would you call it?”
“Creative manipulation?” He snorted. “It was certainly that. You confronted them with a dragon—”
“A mere illusion.” She held her hand out and inspected it carefully.
“You tried to make a deal with Tessa.”
“And what a disappointment she was.” Viviane sighed. “Who knew she’d be that noble?”
“And you joined forces with Mordred.”
“I’d scarcely call it joining forces.” She shrugged. “I simply gave him a few insignificant pieces of information.” She pointed her file at him. “And it did him no good whatsoever.”
“I really don’t understand why you’re so put out about this.” The emery board vanished and Viviane rose to her feet. “They succeeded in their quest, no one was permanently injured and they are, at this very moment, living happily ever after. You won our little wager.” She glanced around Merlin’s quarters and shuddered. “I, on the other hand, am doomed to relive the Middle Ages.”
Merlin studied her carefully. “You didn’t play fair.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared in defiance. “Tough.”
“You deserve what you get.”
Without warning the world around her vanished, replaced by a much more contemporary setting. Delight washed through her. “The condo!”
Merlin grinned. “Welcome home, my dear.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t quite understand. Why are we here?”
“As much as I hate to admit it, Tessa and Galahad taught me a few things during all this. Each was willing to give up what they wanted most for the benefit of other. In spite of myself, I was rather touched. If mere mortals can be so noble…” He sighed with exaggerated resignation. “I can do no less.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I will not hold you to your bargain.”
“Merlin!” She stepped toward him and eyed him suspiciously. “Do you mean it?”
“We will not relive what was for the most part a glorious time in history.”
She bit back the immediate impulse to disagree.
He shook his head regretfully. “It is not always
possible or always preferable to return to what once was. Sometimes, it’s best to leave the past firmly in the past.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “What a wise and wonderful creature you are.”
“I am, aren’t I?” He grinned.
“Indeed you are. You’ve brought me home and we should celebrate.” She nibbled at the lobe of his ear. He did so like it when she did that. “Would you like to play a little game of master sorcerer and virginal apprentice?”
He laughed wickedly. “One of my favorites.” He swept her up into his arms and carried her toward the thoroughly modern bedroom in the totally up-to-date condo and she sighed with contentment. “Although I should tell you I am not completely releasing you from our agreement.”
“No?” She widened her eyes in surprise then smiled and reached forward to nuzzle his ear. “Whatever you wish. You are, after all—Merlin, Wizard Extraordinaire and Counselor to Kings. And I will love you until the end of time itself.
“And that, my darling sorcerer, is truly magic.”
was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back.
Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two kids in college (buy her books!), and two bearded collies named Sam and Louie. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it’s never too soon to panic.
And she loves getting mail that doesn’t require a return payment. Write to her at P.O. Box 31544, Omaha, NE 68131.
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
. Copyright © 1998, 2009 by Cheryl Griffin. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
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