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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

#Folklore Thursday Igraine Part IIII

Igraine and Uther. W Benda

The beginning of the second novel of Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, The Hollow Hills, has a pregnant Ygraine, now Queen and married to Uther, secretly sending for Merlin because she is afraid for her child. She and Merlin have a tense, impassioned, yet ultimately understanding reunion; a meeting of the minds. Ygraine tells Merlin that while Uther knows the child is his, other men may believe it is Gorlois’. If the child is a girl, Ygraine has been told by Uther that she may keep the child, but if it is a boy, Uther will send him to Brittany to be fostered by King Budec. Fearing that Brittany is even less safe for her child than Britain, Ygraine asks Merlin to take him somewhere safe and rear him. At first angered by her expectation that he can persuade Uther to do anything, Merlin is eventually moved by her distress and fear for her child. The sorcerer reveals that when Uther wanted Merlin to help him be with Ygraine, he swore an oath that he would obey Merlin in anything if he could get his way with her. Merlin says that will now hold Uther to that oath. Ygraine asks Merlin to tell her whether this child who has cost them so much will be King, and Merlin assures her that he will. When Ygraine wonders whether she will have other children if she loses this child, Merlin tells it is probable she will have no more sons but will have daughters to bring her comfort, and Ygraine says she will pray for it. The two spend some time together exchanging news. When Merlin leaves her, he sees her standing by the window:

“Her head was held high, and the breeze was ruffling her dark hair. I knew then that when the time came the child would not be taken from a weeping and regretful woman, but from a queen, who was content to let him go to his destiny.”

Stewart’s Ygraine is a Queen first and foremost. Later on in The Hollow Hills, Merlin learns that Ygraine’s daughter with Uther, Morgan, is to be married off to King Lot of Lothian. Although Ygraine has given Morgan all the mother-love of which she is capable, she appears indifferent to her daughter being used as a royal pawn and is loyal to Uther above her own children, caring about them “no more than the hawk does when its fledglings fly.”

In the final book of the trilogy, The Last Enchantment, Ygraine and Merlin meet again before Uther’s funeral, and Ygraine’s grief at the king’s death is such that Merlin is forced to contemplate how deep and passionate their love truly was. But, crucially, Ygraine, who is about to meet her son Arthur for the first time, asks Merlin whether Arthur blames her for for giving him up to be fostered. Such is Merlin’s respect for Ygraine that he answers her directly, quoting Arthur’s exact words to her: “‘I see it as you say she saw it; that to be a prince one must be ruled always by necessity. She did not give me up for nothing.’” Ygraine’s relief at these words is palpable. During this meeting, Merlin realises that Ygraine is mortally ill, but she makes him promise not to tell Arthur. When Ygraine and Arthur finally meet, it is at first awkward and tense before they finally become more relaxed speaking to each other; at least on the surface. Merlin, as the narrator, writes that “behind the courtly exchanges could be felt all the turmoil of what lay between them unspoken, the air so charged, their minds so locked on one another that they had forgotten my presence.” After Uther’s burial, Ygraine goes north to York to her daughter Morgan and stepdaughter Morgause (in this version, Uther’s illegitimate daughter).

However, Morgan is not to marry Lot. It is Morgause who seduces Lot and marries him. She has already seduced her half-brother Arthur and is pregnant, and is thus able to pass off her and Arthur’s son, Mordred, as Lot’s son. Ygraine writes to Merlin to tell him of the marriage, and of how delighted and relieved Morgan is. Merlin reads relief on the part of Ygraine too as he realises that neither Ygraine nor Morgan wanted the latter to marry Lot; they had only agreed to please Uther. Ygraine in particular is relieved for her daughter, displaying a feeling for her that shows she is not just a queen but there is the glimmer of a mother also. When Ygraine returns to Caerleon for Arthur’s coronation, she tells Merlin, “while for policy’s sake I saw it had to be done, I am too fond of my daughter to want her shackled to that wayward and greedy traitor.” However, when Merlin objects to the young Morgan being married off the the older Urbgen of Rheged, Ygraine says that Morgan, who is younger than Ygraine was when she married Gorlois, will do her duty. Merlin realises that she remembers what it was like to be married off at a young age herself, but that does not deter her. Although Ygraine shows love and care for Morgan, expressing her anger and dislike of Morgause for teaching Morgan magic at a young age, the queen in Ygraine once more takes precedence over the mother.

One other way in which Stewart’s Ygraine plays a pivotal role in the events of the trilogy is how she serves as protector and adoptive mother to a young woman named Guenever, whose father was killed in battle and mother died at her birth. It is on her advice and at her suggestion that Arthur marries Guenever. Ygraine is by this time too ill to attend the wedding and is represented at the ceremony by Morgan. This Guenever is, however, not Guinevere, who becomes Arthur’s second wife and queen. Guenever dies after a miscarriage and Ygraine, already ill, dies not long afterwards; her death hastened, as Arthur says, by grief. Ygraine, who always put her duty as queen first, nonetheless feels the tragic death of a young woman she considered a daughter so strongly and deeply that it brings about her own death. Even though she only appears in a few scenes in the trilogy (though she is talked about in many more), Stewart’s Ygraine is a powerful, influential, trailblazing presence, stronger and cleverer (and taller) than most men; a woman of complexity, courage, endurance, and depth of feeling. More so than many of the male characters, it is ultimately Ygraine whose choices and actions alter the course of destiny and shape the things to come.

Igraine is a major character in the Fata Morgana Series. She is the Duchess of Belerion (Cornwall), wife of Gorlois, Duke of Belerion, and the mother of Morgan and twins Anna and Blasine. As the daughter of Hengist, chief of the Saxons, and Gwenn, Princess of Gwynedd, Igraine has both Saxon and Celtic heritage. Her older sister, Rowena, is the High Queen of Britain, married to High King Vortigern, and the stepmother of Prince Vortimer, the heir to the throne. Her younger sister, Sardoine, is the Queen of Ynys Môn (Anglesey), married to King Pellinore, and the adoptive mother of Blanchefleur. She has three brothers, Oisc, Octa and Ossa, and two uncles: Horsa, brother of Hengist; and King Einion of Gwynedd, brother of Gwenn, father of Aldan, and grandfather of Merlin and Ganieda.

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