This novel is three stories in one, and serves to bridge the time period between FOREST HOUSE which takes place from 86 to 96 CE, to 452 CE when Viviane takes over as Lady of Avalon at the age of 26.
Part One (THE WISEWOMAN) takes place from 96 to 118 CE. It is the story of what happens to Caillean and Gawen after the destruction of the Forest House when Eilen and her lover Gaius/Gawen are sacrificed. Caillean, a senior priestess from the Forest House has founded a daughter cell at Avalon (near Glastonbury Tor) and flees there with 10-year-old Gawen, the son of Eilen and Gaius/Gawen at the beginning of this story. Gawen is trained as a Druid, but like many such characters in this saga he feels torn between his mother’s British heritage and his father’s Roman heritage. Things are complicated when he becomes friends with kindly Father Joseph (Joseph of Arimathea) and becomes drawn to the teachings of Christianity. When Father Joseph dies, he decides to leave Avalon and seek his Roman grandfather.
For some reason, the Faerie Queen (the wisewoman) has decided to entrust her daughter Sianna to the priestesses of Avalon, and she is groomed to be High Priestess. Naturally, when Gawen returns to Avalon from his stint in the Roman army, they fall in love. Gawen is initiated into the Druids and becomes the Pendragon, the Head of the Dragon. At the Beltane fires, Gawen and Sianna become Lord and Lady, but the celebrations are interrupted by the monks from the nearby priory desecrating the stone circle on the Tor. Gawen dies trying to defend the sacred stones, leaving Sianna pregnant. And High Priestess Caillean calls down the mists to protect Avalon from the outside world.
Part Two (THE HIGH PRIESTESS) takes place from 285 to 293 CE. Dierna, who can trace her descent through seven generations to Sianna, is now High Priestess of Avalon. At the beginning of this story, Dierna is visiting Eidden Mynoc, the Prince of the Durotriges (a tribe that inhabited the area that is now Dorset in south-western England) in order to take his daughter, 18-year-old Teleri, as a novice priestess to Avalon. On their way to Avalon, their party is ambushed by a group of Anglo-Saxons and Teleri would have been raped, were it not for Dierna’s magic.
Time passes, and Teleri is chosen to escort Dierna to Venta Belgarum (Winchester) because her father has decided that she should leave Avalon and marry Marcus Aurelius Musaeus Carausius, the Admiral of the Britannic fleet (which patrols the coast of southern Britain to fend off hordes of Saxons who are trying to cross the water to settle in Britain.) Teleri, of course, is given no choice in the matter, and Dierna is reluctant to see her go, and only does so because she has a vision that this will come to pass.
Naturally, Teleri never comes to love her husband (who eventually becomes Emperor of Britannia.) Instead, she falls in love with a young Roman officer in his train, Allectus. When Allectus rises up against the rule of Carausius, both men die, and Teleri flees to Avalon, where she is welcomed as the next Lady of Avalon.
Part Three (DAUGHTER OF AVALON) takes place from 440 to 452 CE, at a time when the Romans are abandoning Britain to the Saxon hordes. This story deals with the girlhood of Viviane, her prickly relationship with her mother Ana (the Lady of Avalon,) her training as a priestess of Avalon, and her initiation as High Priestess at the age of 26 on the death of her mother.
It is interesting that authors Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diane L. Paxson decided to wedge three stories into one book, instead of making a trilogy out of them. However, the book doesn’t seem to suffer from this, and this volume provides a most interesting prequel to THE MISTS OF AVALON. Five stars.