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."