Lady of Avalon is a trilogy of tales in each of which a fated man dies for his land and a strong woman struggles to understand what it means to be Lady of Avalon.
Part One begins in 96 CE, immediately after the tragic conclusion of The Forest House, when Caillean brings Eilan’s son Gawen back with her to Avalon. As Caillean works to establish a viable community, Gawen struggles to grow up, torn between his British and Roman heritage. Despite his love for the daughter of the Faerie Queen, he leaves Avalon to live with his Roman grandfather, but his experience in the Army convinces him that his place is with the Celts and he returns. Initiated at last, he is given Excalibur and proclaimed sacred king. But the Christian monks, grown more fanatical since Father Joseph’s death, betray him to the Romans as a deserter. To protect Avalon, Caillean and the Faerie Queen create the wall of mist to separate it from the Roman world, but Gawen has been wounded too badly to survive. His blood feeds the land, and his beloved Sianna remains to bear his child and continue the holy line of Avalon.
Part Two begins in 285 CE. By this time Britannia is a prosperous Roman colony, and Avalon has settled into a peaceful relationship with the outside world. The Lady of Avalon is a young woman called Dierna, a descendant of Gawen and Sianna. The story focuses on her relationship with Teleri, the daughter of the Romano-British prince of Durnovaria, and Carausius, a Roman naval officer from Germany who Dierna believes has been called by the gods to rule an independent Britain. Dierna brings Teleri to Avalon to train as a priestess, then forces her to marry Carausius to bind him to the British cause. It is only after he has rebelled against Rome and proclaimed himself emperor of Britannia that she realizes that she herself loves him, and he, her. When his second-in-command, Allectus, rebels against him and carries off Teleri, the Romans attack. Carausius makes his death a sacrifice to the land. Teleri eventually makes her way back to the holy isle, where she will one day succeed Dierna as Lady of Avalon.
For Part Three, we move ahead to 440 CE. Saxon and Pictish raiders have been attacking Britain, and the priesthood of Avalon wonder whether it is time to take an active role in British affairs once more. When the daughter who had been designated as heir dies, the High Priestess, Ana, summons her younger daughter Viviane back from her foster-home to Avalon. Viviane’s relationship to a mother she neither knows nor trusts remains difficult as she grows, though she is supported by the bard Taliesin, who is actually her father. The young prince Vortimer, who is leading the British defenders against their foes, is consecrated as Defender of Britain and Viviane is mated to him in ritual. She comes to love him, and becomes pregnant with his child. Soon after, her mother conceives a child during the Samhain ritual. But the Saxons are too strong and Vortimer dies. Grieving, Viviane quarrels with her mother and leaves Avalon. Her child dies, while Ana dies giving birth to Morgause, but before the end she and Viviane are reconciled. Nonetheless, Viviane refuses to take Ana’s place as high priestess. Taliesin allows himself to be transformed into the Merlin, and through his powers shows Viviane the role she will play in the future, and she accepts her destiny as Lady of Avalon.
The Forest House was well received, and the publishers asked if Marion and I would consider a sequel. By this time, Marion’s health had deteriorated further, and she was only able to write short sequences. To maximize her contribution, I suggested that we divide the book into three stories covering about a dozen years apiece, two of which would be linked to work she had already done. She drafted a number of scenes for Part One, which was a direct sequel to the end of The Forest House, and the opening scene of Part Three, dealing with the childhood of Viviane. For Part One, Marion also reintroduced the theme of the sacrifice of the sacred king.
I had originally intended to use the middle section to tell the story of Helena, the mother of Constantine, but as the book developed and I learned more about her, it became clear that there was far too much story material to fit the the space available. So I set that idea aside (see Priestess of Avalon), and chose another intriguing episode from the history of Roman Britain, the rebellion of Carausius.
If you are reading the books chronologically, you can go to Priestess of Avalon after you have read Part I and read chapters 1-9. Then read Part II of Lady, followed by the rest of Priestess.
Like Ravens of Avalon, the third section of Lady was a prequel, intended to explain how an already established character got that way. Viviane plays such an important, and ambiguous, role in Mists of Avalon, I could not help wondering what stresses in her early life might have formed her character.
As Marion and I discussed the emerging plot lines, I began to feel concern that three stories separated by a century or more of history might read like, well, three separate stories rather than a connected narrative. It occurred to me then that the sacrifice of the sacred king, already established for Part I, might become a unifying theme that would also link the stories to that of Arthur. I also realized that we could use the concept of reincarnation to connect the stories, as the major characters return again and again, working out their destinies in different ways. As the chart connects all the Avalon books together, I’ve given it its own page.