:: Friday, February 18, 2005 ::
Cwerith ap Cellamma, King of Gwynedd and Lord of Caer Mastagg, had not slept in three days since he and his men had crossed the border into Camyrdin. This might have been due to his lifelong dislike of cold air; the hearths in his chambers at Caer Mastagg were always stoked with as much wood as they could hold. Perhaps it was his tension at leading the armies of Gwynedd into the war that had eluded his father. Perhaps it was the food of the march; Cwerith was a man who valued food prepared well, not the mass-cooked gruel of the army cookfires. It could have been any one of those things, but his seneschal, Lord Varing, knew the main reason why his King couldn't sleep. The whores of Camyrdin were not remotely to Cwerith's liking.
"Better you than me," some soldier said to Varing as he walked across the camp toward the King's tent. "I wouldn't want to wake him up." Varing made no reply. He knew he would find King Cwerith awake.
The King was sitting at his table when Varing entered his tent, studying his maps of Caer Camyrdin for one last night before the final advance began. "What is it, Varing?" Cwerith asked without looking up. Varing averted his gaze as a serving girl who had been on her knees before the King rose quickly to her feet. She pulled a shawl about her shoulders, bowed before Lord Varing, and left the tent. Only when she was gone did King Cwerith rise from his seat. He was a very short and stocky man, with straight hair the color of sand and eyes the color of ice. The Kings of Gwynedd had never been men of physical stature, but it was said that their blood hot enough for men twice their size.
"The hour is almost here, Your Majesty," Lord Varing replied. "The men are making ready."
Cwerith considered that for a moment. Then he merely said, "Very well." He continued poring over his maps while Lord Varing shifted nervously on his feet. He sighed. "Is there something else?"
"It may be wise for you to say a word to the men." King Cwerith's eyes narrowed as Varing went on. "None of these men have ever been to war. It has been more than fifty years since your father--"
"Don't presume to speak to me about my father, Lord Varing," King Cwerith growled. "I am not interested a eunuch's thoughts on fatherhood."
Lord Varing closed his mouth and nodded once.
"But you are right, of course," King Cwerith said. "Have Cassion and his men left?"
Lord Varing winced at the mention of Cassion. His distaste for Gwynedd's new Lord Priest was well known, and not just for Cassion's unusual teachings regarding the Goddess and her position amidst the powers of the world. Cassion was a man to be feared, and Varing far more valued men who were to be trusted. "Yes, my Lord."
"Good. I don't enjoy being in his presence any more than is necessary. Have any of the local Barons responded to our overtures?"
"Not yet," Varing said. "I think that they still view you as dangerous, and they don't think that you will be successful."
"Their tune will change once we have secured our first victory," Cwerith said. "Then they will come like carrion birds to fresh slaughter."
"Yes, Your Highness."
Cwerith handed Varing two sealed messages.
"See that these are given to our two fastest riders as soon as we have won the field," King Cwerith said. "They are to take these tidings to King Duncan. He should be turning westward by now. And let the men know that I shall speak to them before we take to the field." His eyes met Varing's, and he took a softer tone. "We cannot turn back now, Lord Varing. We will take what my father was forbidden."
"Yes, Your Highness," Varing replied, taking the messages. He ran his finger across the relief of Cwerith's seal in wax. "It will be glorious." He bowed and left the tent.
Cwerith ap Cellamma stood for a moment in silence after Lord Varing had left. Varing is such an efficient man, he thought, and excellent at the details of the throne. Every King should be served by one so able. He was still standing when two pages entered and bowed before him. Boys, both of them. Boys who had only heard of war as told by their grandfathers. Boys who would soon know of war, boys who would live to their elder years telling of the glory of Gwynedd's return to power. Here stood King Cwerith's pride. Here, in these two boys and in thousands more like them, was his legacy. Cwerith had been that young once; in fact, he had been that young when Cellamma, his father, returned to Caer Mastagg with what was left of his army after the Unfought Battle.
He winced now to even think of it, and how it must have been: his father riding onto the field expecting to find the army of Lord Macholugh already awaiting him so they could march on Irlaris together, only to find Irlaris's banner above that of Camyrdin. Cwerith envisioned the color draining from his father's face as he realized that Macholugh had sworn allegiance to Irlaris, which he had previously vowed he would not do until a reckoning with Gwynedd was reached. At that moment Cellamma's claim to the Throne of Prydein had ended; there was no way he could possibly have defeated the great force that stood the field that day. Cwerith could feel, as though it was his own, the humiliation as his father had kneeled before Irlaris and given his pledge of fealty. And he still heard clearly the words Cellamma had spoken to him, a boy of eight years, when he had returned at last to Caer Mastagg.
"It falls to you, boy. You will have what I could not."
The dreams and wishes of fathers, spoken and unspoken, so often fall to their sons.
"Shall we break your tent, Your Majesty?" one of them asked. He smiled.
"Yes, lad." And with that King Cwerith of Gwynedd, Lord of Caer Mastagg, strode out into the night air to speak before his collected armies for the last time before battle.
It will be glorious, indeed.
Brother Malcolm realized just how long it had been since he had last ridden horseback when the feeling in his backside shifted from numbness to a dull ache. He shifted to and fro, he tried standing in the stirrups occasionally, he tried handling the reins with one hand while he rubbed his backside with the other, and nothing at all helped. He resolved that when this matter was over he would spend more time riding. If Gwyn could see me now she would have a very good laugh, he thought -- and then his thoughts returned to why they were riding now in the first place.
He had known Brother Llyad well -- or at least he thought he had -- back before Llyad had disappeared at sea. Llyad had always been keenly interested in the Druids, and yet Malcolm never would have thought that Llyad would go to Mona at the behest of Father Reynold. But now Llyad had done so much more. What could he possibly be thinking? What could Llyad hope to gain at all by abducting Gwyn? Brother Malcolm had always been skeptical about the horrible rites that the Druids were said to perform in their shadowy groves, but now that his own Adept was missing and in the company of a Druid he couldn't quell those fears. If Lord Matholyn doesn't skewer Brother Llyad on the spot, I very well might -- if only for this horrible ride, he thought as he rubbed his backside.
They stopped when they reached the fork where the Old East Road headed up into the hilly country to the right while the Sea Road turned sharply to the left toward the sea, the mouth of the Severn, and eventually around the river to Camyrdin. Here they waited while Sir Baigent closely studied the road surface.
"We are somewhat in luck," Sir Baigent announced. "There has been enough recent rain that the ground is still soft enough to show a good track." He pointed to a particular set of tracks. "These are to be freshest, and they are in single file, as the girl told us. And it is definitely a track made by two horses riding together."
"Then it is them?" Brother Malcolm called out.
The knight shrugged. "This is farming country, and it is not unusual for farmers to travel with two horses, single file, both serving as beasts of burden to and from market. That could be the case here." He stood up and came back to his horse. "I can't be certain of anything, but I do think that these are probably their tracks -- they are as fresh as I would expect their tracks to be, given how wet the ground is and the time they were riding. It may not be unusual for farmers to ride in such fashion, but it would be for them to do so at night. We should follow this track until I have reason to think otherwise." He grabbed the reins of his horse and began leading the steed as he walked on foot, keeping his eyes on the tracks. Again the company moved forward with him, and again the pain returned to Brother Malcolm's backside.
"This will be slow going, Brother," Lord Matholyn said. "You may end up wishing you had remained at Tintagel."
Malcolm said nothing, but he had been wishing that already.
By the side of a moonlit lake a Druid, and Priest, and an Adept made ready to summon one of the Fair Folk.
Every person in Prydein thinks they have seen one of the Fair Folk but none actually has, the saying went. The Fair Folk were maddeningly distant, never fully revealing themselves to mortals; they were also close, as close as the shadow behind the door or the pool of light on the forest floor. They were to be found in the hollows of the rocks, and in the foam of the waves. They were everywhere and they were nowhere. Tales were told of travelers wandering from their route, becoming lost in the wilderness and falling injured somewhere or even worse; some of those travelers reported receiving aid from mysterious figures that hewed to the shadows. Wildfires threatening the fields were sometimes steered away despite the lack of wind. Livestock herds were somehow kept safe when the packs of wolves were about. The legends told of many deeds of the Fair Folk -- but then one could never find certainty in legends.
Many parents in Prydein told their children stories about the Fair Folk to frighten them, but the stories Gwyn's father had told her had been stories which calmed a terrified little girl on a storming night. She could still see him, sitting on his stool beside her bed:
"They have been here for a very long, long time, Little Sparrow." He had always called her that. "They have been here since before the time of mortal men, before even the Ancients were young themselves. They came to this land when the land was new, and they will live here long after all of us have passed. The Fair Folk mark the passing of the ages, and only the Goddess and the Wyrm of the World will live when the last of the Fair Folk have passed into memory."
"Have you ever seen them, Father?"
"I have seen their work. I once traveled alone during winter because I had grain to sell at market, and the first snows came very early that year. On the way home, I became impatient and I cut the horses too fast along a hazardous spot of road, along the top of a long ridge. There was a patch of ice that I should have seen, that I would have seen any other day. The wagon slid on that patch of ice and went off the road. It rolled over several times, finally stopping on top of me. I could not move, one of my legs was broken, and night was falling. There was no one else on the road to help me, and I didn't have the strength to make it alone or even get out from under the wagon. My horse died quickly; she broke her neck in the fall.
"Never again have I felt as cold as I did that night, trapped there as night fell. I knew I would die before the sun rose again -- but I awoke the next morning after all. I found myself lying on the ground beside the wreckage of the wagon. There was a fire burning beside me, my leg had been set, and there was a pouch of food and a flask of some kind of ale that I had never tasted before or since. I was able to walk home, despite my injuries. The wagon was lost, but I lived. It could only have been the Fair Folk that saved me. That was the last time I rode to town alone."
"Will I ever meet the Fair Folk?" Gwyn had asked, and he had smiled.
"If they mean for you to meet them, Little Sparrow, then you will." He'd leaned forward then, very close, and continued in a whisper: "But if you listen to the wind, some night when the wind is silent you might hear them. You might hear their song, carried on the gentlest of breezes, above the chirping of the crickets and the babbling of the streams. Listen, and you might hear them."
She had tried so hard to hear them, and for so long, even after she went to Tintagel. Even now sometimes deep in the night she awoke in her chambers to the silence of the night when the sea was calm and wondered if she could hear the song of the Fair Folk.
Brother Llyad helped Llawann move down to a spot just beside the water, sitting on a rock that jutted out into the pond. Gwyn held the ceremonial torch that Llawann had asked her to light; its yellow light reflected across the lightly rippling surface of the water. A breeze had begun and Gwyn shivered now that she was away from the campfire and the relative shelter of the birch trees. How can this be summer? she wondered, and then her thoughts returned to the matter at hand: the Druid ritual she was about to witness. No one living -- save Brother Llyad -- had witnessed anything like what she was about to see. Legends told of the rituals once performed in the dark of the forests of Prydein. There would be more rituals, Gwyn knew -- many more, if the Druids were truly returning from their island to Prydein as Brother Llyad had said they were. Even though Brother Llyad claimed that the Druids were benign, she shuddered. Old fears die slow deaths.
"Lay the torch in front of me," Llawann said. Gwyn put the torch on the rock, placing it so its burning end pointed away from him and at the water as he reached into his cloak and drew out a tiny packet of herbs. With a trembling, unsteady hand he emptied the packet into his palm and then lightly blew the dried herbs into the flickering flames of the torch. The herbs ignited, creating a tiny swarm of sparkling flames that went out instantly, and the air was suddenly filled with the scent of earth and flowers and trees.
"What is he doing?" Gwyn whispered. Brother Llyad's only response was a quick shake of his head. There was a new sound, a sort of airy moan; Gwyn realized that it was Llawann singing in what little voice he had left. The tongue of the Druids was unknown to Gwyn, and there was some kind of magic -- power that came from the earth and the sky -- in his melody. As Llawann's voice carried, a new wind blew down from the hills and circling through the valley, chilling them all. Gwyn shivered, and then she heard a second voice that joined in with the Druid's, singing the same wistful song in that same timeless tongue. The voice was high and pure, a woman's voice. A strange figure appeared then: a woman, walking toward them across the surface of the lake. She was veiled by a pale glow like moonlight in which her silvery gown shimmered. She stopped about ten paces away from them and stood, facing them, upon the water. Thus Gwyn came face-to-face with one of the Fair Folk.
Gwyn stared hard at the Fairy. Her body sometimes appeared as solid as Gwyn's own or Brother Llyad's, but at other seconds the woman was almost incorporeal, like the faintest stars that are only clearly seen when one's gaze is turned slightly away. Then the woman spoke.
"I come as summoned, Oak Brother. Why have you asked me here? We do not present ourselves to mortal eyes without the greatest of need."
"Old One, we know that the time is coming." Llawann's voice was even weaker than before. Gwyn had to lean forward to catch his words, but the Fair Folk woman made no motion to come closer at all. "The Promised King is returning. The Emrys has made it so."
"The Emrys is almost gone from memory," said the Fairy. "Why do you summon me? It takes much strength to bridge the worlds like this. Your summoning weakens us, at a time when we shall need all of the strength that we still possess."
"We have also seen the weakening of the Goddess's power," the Druid said. "The borders between the worlds are weakening. We have known this for some time. All the worlds will soon be one, and when that happens the shackles binding the Dark Brother shall fall away. This is what we know. The Fair Folk will be seen again."
"So may it be. The Goddess's power has waxed and waned for more centuries than even the Earth itself can number, but now is different. The Dark One is at last gathering his own strength, and your words are true, Oak Brother: the Promised King returns. So I must ask anew: what is the purpose to your summoning?"
Llawann pointed weakly at Gwyn. "This is Lady Gwynwhyfar of Lyonesse," he said. "I believe she is the Welcomer. I believe that Fair Folk blood runs within her."
Gwyn's heart fluttered anew at the very thought. This, perhaps, was the reason why her father had never spoken of her mother.
"I see it now," the woman said. "She is marked by our blood, as you say. There was a union, a union that took place between one of us and one of them. Such unions are forbidden, but not impossible. It could not have been just any of us." The wind shifted then, becoming colder and carrying the scent of the sea. The scent of the sea, with which Gwyn had grown up...a scent which she associated with the mother whom she had never known, and of whom she was now about to hear.
"There is one of the Hidden People," the woman said, "who has bound her flesh more strongly to Prydein than any other of the Fair Folk, at the bidding of the Goddess. That one is her mother: the one who waited until the time that the Promised King would be needed again, and then took the seed of a man of Prydein to give birth to the one who would see his return." The Fairy moved in closer to Gwyn. "How strange this must be to you; how strange to us all, but most of all to you."
" 'Hidden people'?" Gwyn asked.
"That is what we call ourselves, although how much longer we shall remain so is an abiding concern. The barriers are falling, and soon we shall be as corporeal as you, and the Prydein we inhabit shall become one with yours. This is a time long foretold in our legends and in some of the legends of your realm, and it is signaled by your very birth. Half of your blood is ours, by your mother."
Gwyn felt the warmth of tears upon her cheeks. "I never knew her," Gwyn said.
She had asked so many questions of her father, and he had never answered any of them; now she was hearing at last the answers she had always sought. When she had been a little girl barely old enough to reach around her father's waist she had begun asking about her mother, but in those early days her father would only shake his head and say, "Someday, Little Sparrow. Someday." A certain look would form in his eye whenever she would ask, an expression of remembrance that she could never join. It was as if the mention of her mother transported him to a far off place where memory could take him alone and no other. She asked less and less as the years went by -- not because he grew angry, but because she couldn't bear to remind him of whatever sadness he could not share. There would be days, though, when she would see her father gazing into the distance with that same look in his eye, and she knew that he was remembering. Sometimes, if she was close enough to him and he did not know she was there, she could hear him singing a beautiful song under his breath as though he did not wish for anyone but himself to hear. As soon as he realized that his daughter was near, he always stopped singing -- but the look in his eye remained. One day, not long before he died, Gwyn had realized that the expression came to his eye whenever he looked in the direction of the sea.
"Oh, Gwynwhyfar," said the Fiary, "the Fair Folk have waited so long for this portent: the child of Permanence and Memory, the offspring of two worlds and beholden to neither. There have only been two such unions; the Emrys was the other. This Druid is correct, and their lore has spoken true: You are the Welcomer." She came forward then and stood inches away from Gwyn. "There is knowledge deep within you, knowledge that all the Fair Folk share, which you have carried with you through all your days. I must release it now such that it may guide your actions and give you power in times of Darkness. Close your eyes, and do not be afraid. It is part of who you are."
Gwyn obeyed and closed her eyes, though she had to admit that she was afraid. The Fairy extended a long, slender hand and laid her index finger on Gwyn's forehead. Intense warmth began to flow through her body, and her mind was suddenly filled with images: images of a kingdom in the sea, a wondrous island realm that smelled of apples; images of fire rising from the depths of the waters; images of a great black beast, older than time itself, lifting its head from a watery slumber. She realized then that these were not mere images being shown to her; they were memories, memories of a life she had never led. The images came faster and faster, flooding before her eyes in an ever increasing torrent and she finally cried out in sharp pain. Her knees buckled, and she sank to the ground.
"Don't fight it, my Lady!" It was Brother Llyad. "This is why I brought you here! Llawann, look! It is working!"
As he spoke his voice receded in Gwyn's ears, as though he were shouting from a boat slipping out with the tide as she stood on shore. Her sight turned inward from the lake in the valley, and the Fairy before her, toward a part of her soul that she had never before acknowledged, the existence of which she had never before even suspected. She was enveloped by blackness, and for a long time there was nothing at all. Then there was a red glow, a ring of red light that formed around her, and before the red light there appeared the flame of a single candle. She heard the Fair Folk woman's voice again, closer now.
"Reach down, child -- reach down for the knowledge that you alone have been given as part of your heritage. Reach down for what has been given you by the Keepers of Prydein."
As she spoke, the candle flickered, as if a breeze had come up and was threatening to extinguish its flame. The breeze strengthened, becoming a wind, and the candle flickered more and more violently. In the distant space beyond the candlelight a mist began to form, and finally, the flame blew out.
Gwyn strained to hear the voice of the Fair Folk woman, but she was gone. Gwyn was alone, utterly alone, in the near-total blackness.
As her eyes became accustomed to the dark Gwyn realized that the red light surrounding her had not gone, and now there was a new light, beyond the mist that gathered before her. Was it sunlight? No. It had no warmth, and was too small. What could it be? She took one tentative step forward, not certain what would be beneath her feet if anything at all. To her surprise it felt like rock. She took another step, then another, and then another, walking forward into and beyond the mist.
She found herself on the edge of a great expanse of water. It was not the small lake of before, but rather a wide and calm sea. She walked down to the very edge of the water. The gentle waves lapped at her feet, and the water was cold on her toes. There was something calming and ancient about this place, as if Gwyn were returning home after the longest of absences -- but she had never been here before. She lifted her gaze to the new mists that danced above the surface of the water a great distance away, and she found that they glowed. The light was approaching her, growing brighter and brighter. What was she seeing?
The mist parted then, and the expanse of the sea was revealed. Before her rose a great barge, with sails of samite and a prow fashioned in the shape of a white swan. As the boat approached her, she heard three voices, women's voices, raised in mournful song as though something sacred was being given up. Gwyn realized that the voices were singing in the same language that Llawann had used to summon the Fair Folk woman in that place that now seemed so terribly distant. The barge was now very close to her, and it swung about so she could see who was on board beneath the wide white sail.
Standing in the center of the barge was a man, dressed head to toe in armor made of shining silver links of chain. His raiment was of white cloth, and emblazoned upon it was a dragon of red. His face was obscured by the great helm he wore, its mask closed upon his features. At his side hung a fine scabbard of leather and silver tracery. But it was empty: this was a King without sword. Who was he? She breathed heavily: there was only one person this could be. He was the Promised King, and in that moment something within her gave way. The boat sailed past her, and as the helmed King turned to look at her Gwyn knew his name.
It was as if a memory long sought had finally surfaced, and as it came she found herself retreating from that strange place, the lakeshore in her mind, back to where there had only been red light. And then it too faded from her view, and once again she was encompassed by blackness.
"The journey is over." It was the voice of the Fairy, and Gwyn felt her touch being withdrawn. The strange visions receded into memory not unlike that of dreams. She opened her eyes, and she was back on the side of the lake with Brother Llyad beside her and the dying Druid still chanting nearby. She looked at the Monk, who knelt beside her with an expression of extreme anticipation.
"What did you see, my Lady?" he asked.
She tried to remember, but it was all fragments. How could that be? It had been so vivid, so real. It had felt, in its way, more real than the world in which she had always lived. "There was a lake -- and mist. There were women crying, but I did not see them. And he was there." She looked up at the Fairy, who nodded. He had been there, she had seen him -- she had seen the Promised King. She looked at Brother Llyad again. "I saw him, Brother," she said. "He turned and looked at me."
"And his name?" the woman asked gently. Gwyn closed her eyes and the name formed as though it had always been there -- which it had.
"Arthur Pendragon," she said.
The Fairy nodded. "He was King once before, very long ago. His realm was doomed, though -- destroyed both from within and without. But it must live again, if all is to survive. The circle need not be followed each time; surely the dance of destiny can include new steps. King Arthur must return. He has awaited the call of the Welcomer since before the rise of those you call the Ancients. He must be welcomed. That is your purpose, Gwynwhyfar…." The Fair Folk woman's voice was growing faint, and the outlines of her form suddenly looked shallow, indistinct. "The magic here is weakening...someone is near...." A tone of trepidation entered the Fairy's voice even as she began to vanish from sight. "Danger comes...be wary!" And with that the Fair Folk woman vanished entirely as a wolf's cry sounded from the woods, very near by. The voice of the wolf was joined by others, echoing from the hills that ringed the valley. Gwyn's pulse quickened, and Brother Llyad's face went white.
"Wolves!" Gwyn exclaimed. "The fire! We should build it up--"
"Llawann!" Brother Llyad suddenly cried out, jumping forward to his friend. Gwyn whirled as the Druid gave out a sharp cry of agony and toppled over in a heap. Gwyn knelt down beside him as Brother Llyad cradled Llawann's head in his hands. "Strength, my friend!" Llyad said. Llawann's gaze focused, not on the Monk, but on Gwyn.
"Go," he whispered. His voice was little more than a sickly moan, and it was plainly clear that he was at his end. "Get to...the Giant's Dance. You are...The Welcomer...." Llawann's body suffered one final spasm, and then he was gone. Brother Llyad squeezed his eyes shut very tightly for a moment, and then the cry of the wolves was heard again. Gwyn realized that they had come closer.
"The fire," Gwyn urged, tugging on Llyad's sleeve. "We have to build it up. It's our only chance!"
"We could ride," the Monk weakly offered.
"Are you mad?" she said, exasperated. "This territory is unfamiliar to us both, it is dark, and from what little I have seen, you are not a horseman. The fire is our only chance!"
She got up and ran back to the campsite where she found to her dismay that the fire had burned down to little more than embers. The wolf cries were coming continuously now, and several of them were very close indeed, perhaps just ten or fifteen paces into the woods. Frantically Gwyn scoured the ground for twigs and brush, grabbing up as many handfuls of each as she could and throwing them onto the pile of barely-burning coals that had been their campfire. Gradually, very gradually, the twigs and leaves began to smoke, but they refused to break into flame. There were still two logs nearby which they hadn't used, but that would be useless if she couldn't stoke the flame back to life. She heard a stirring behind her and glanced back to see Brother Llyad returning to the campsite.
"I left him," he said, sounding sick. "I pray that Dona will forgive the transgression."
"Dona is forgiving, brother. Help me!"
He joined her in trying to build up the fire as the wolves came nearer and nearer. They were both on their knees urging the smoldering pile of embers and kindling to light when the horses began to whinny nervously, and the crackling of twigs on the forest floor sounded from all around them. Then there was the creaking of branches being pushed aside. They were here.
The trees parted and a giant wolf entered the camp. Gwyn and Brother Llyad froze. The wolf was as large as a horse, with silver fur that gleamed in the moonlight. It looked at Brother Llyad for only the briefest of seconds, and then it turned its gaze on Gwyn. When it did so, it seemed to smile....
We should have waited until daylight, Sir Baigent thought. Following a trail by torchlight is sheer foolery. It was nearly impossible to follow the trail the Monk had laid, even though this road was not much traveled and even though the track was very recent. He walked very slowly, staring at the surface of the road until his eyes ached and his neck felt as though it would never straighten again. He had to stop periodically just to shake his head and focus on something else.
"Do you need to rest?" Lord Matholyn called to him on the tenth such stoppage.
"What I need is for us to find that damned fool cleric," Sir Baigent growled.
"It can't be much farther," Matholyn said.
"Distance is the least of my concerns," Sir Baigent said. "I could lose the track and we could miss them entirely, and all the while they could be within the distance of a good stone-throw." He rubbed his neck again and lit a fresh torch from the dying one in his hand. "I will find them, My Lord."
"I never thought expected anything less, Sir Baigent," Lord Matholyn said. "Carry on."
This would also be easier if he would stop nagging. Sir Baigent left that thought unsaid; he had learned at least some tact in his years as Seneschal.
They pushed on into the hilly country to the east and south of Tintagel, away from the sea country. These lands were ruled by barons who in turn swore allegiance to Duke Cunaddyr in Bedwyn, and ultimately to High King Irlaris. The region had seen its share of bloody wars, in the days before the High Kings when all the petty lords and princelings had battled for advantage which none had ever gained. That had been the way of it all throughout Prydein for many centuries after the Cataclysm, but now there was relative peace, especially in the fifty years since Irlaris had conquered most of the Realm for the first time since the legendary days of High King Prystyl. The history of Prydein was bloody indeed, but there had been no war in Lyonesse for many years now, which was why Sir Baigent was astounded when the track he was following nearly vanished completely amidst the trail left by what could only be a marching force of armed men.
"What?" Lord Matholyn exclaimed when Sir Baigent told him what he had found. "An army is on the move? Are you certain?"
"I don't think it's exactly an army," Sir Baigent said. "It is definitely a large band of armed men. You can tell by the depth of the tracks and the formation that they use. Someone is on the move." He pointed to where the track emerged from a small road to the right. "They came from that way. Brother Malcolm, does one of the local lords live in that direction?"
"I believe so," Malcolm replied, surprised to have been addressed. "Baron Eddar, I think. He is known as a loyal liegeman of Duke Cunaddyr, though loyalty in Lyonesse is in truth rarely tested."
"It is being tested now," Sir Baigent said. "Something has this Baron Eddar on the march, and they are heading east." He pored over the track a moment more and then shook his head. "Very strange for such a force to be on the move at this time of night," he said. "Perhaps they are at camp somewhere nearby….but no matter. They appear to have traveled in the same direction as the armed men, and they seem to have done so after the armed men passed by, not before. We are fortunate in that respect. It will make it hard to find any place where they went off the road, however."
"If they went off it," Lord Matholyn said. Sir Baigent gave no reply and turned back to monitoring the road. As the search party began to again move forward, a new sound came to their ears, echoing from the distant hills, a sound that made their horses stir nervously.
It was the baying of wolves.
::..permanent link to this chapter..::