Authors: Katharine Kerr
“Truly, my lord, you shouldn’t.”
When Nevyn looked into the boy’s dark blue eyes, he nearly swore aloud. For a moment he looked into another pair of eyes, looked through them into the soul of a man whose Wyrd was inextricably bound with his and Brangwen’s. Then the vision left him.
“And will his lordship be staying at the Aberwyn court?” Nevyn said.
“Probably. I guess my father wants me home because I’m the second heir now.”
“It would doubtless be wise of him, my lord. I may see his lordship in Aberwyn. I often travel to Eldidd to gather herbs.”
Nevyn bowed again, a gesture that Rhodry acknowledged with a lordly wave of his hand, then clucked to his horse and rode on by. At the top of the hill Nevyn turned in his saddle to watch the warband trotting off in a cloud of dust. Luck and twice luck, he told himself, thanks be to the Lords of Wyrd!
That night, Nevyn found shelter in a shabby little inn beside the road. He got himself a stool by the hearth—an old, tired man from the look of him, nodding over a tankard of ale and staring into the flames. None of the other patrons spoke to him, not even the rowdy riders of the local lord. He shut the noise out of his mind and concentrated on his scrying. In the hearth, flames played over logs, and embers glowed, forming a backdrop for his imaging. When Nevyn thought of young Lord Rhodry, he saw the lad wrapped in his plaid cloak by a campfire and eating a chunk of bread while his men sat nearby. Nevyn smiled, then banished the vision.
At last he’d found a clue. Always before, in all those other lives they’d shared, he’d found Brangwen linked to this man’s soul. Sooner or later, if Nevyn didn’t find her first, she and Rhodry would be drawn together, and now Nevyn knew where to find Rhodry. And what was his
name, then? Nevyn asked himself. Blaen, truly, that was it, all those years ago.
In the tavern men were laughing, jesting over ale, wagering on the dice. Nevyn felt utterly cut off from them and the normal life they represented. He was also very tired that night, and the memories came to him unbidden, as bitter as always. All he truly wanted to do was die and forget, but death was forbidden to him. A long time ago now indeed, he thought, but those days held the beginning of it all.
If you write in the sand with a stick, soon the waves and wind will wash away the words. Such are the mistakes of ordinary men. If you cut words into stone, they remain forever. A man who claims the dweomer becomes a chisel. All his misdeeds are graved into the very flank of time itself. …
The Secret Book of
Cadwallon the Druid
The storm came at sunset, hard rain and wind that made the spring forest tremble. By dawn, the roof of the hut was leaking, a thin but steady trickle in the corner that grooved the dirt floor before it escaped under the wall. Rhegor stood with his hands on his hips and watched it run.
“The way out won’t be so easy for you.”
“I know,” the prince said. “But I’ll be back here before the Beltane feast. I swear it.”
Rhegor smiled as if he doubted it. He picked a couple of big logs off the woodpile in the corner and laid them on the small stone hearth. When he waved his hand over the logs, flames sprang up and flared along the bark. The prince let out his breath with a little hiss.
“You’ll have to get over your infatuation with these tricks,” Rhegor said. “The true dweomer lies deeper than that.”
“So you’ve said, but I can’t lie and say I’ve already gotten over it.”
“True enough. You’re a good lad in your way, Galrion.”
As supple as a cat, Rhegor stretched his back, regarding
the prince with shrewd eyes. Rhegor looked like an old peasant, short, barrel-chested, dressed in a dirty pair of brown brigga and a patched plain shirt with a bit of rope round his waist for want of a proper belt. His gray hair hung cropped and untidy; his gray mustache always needed a trim. At times, when he wasn’t watching his thoughts, Prince Galrion wondered why he was so impressed with this man that he’d follow his orders blindly. It’s the dweomer, he told himself. Who needs wealth when you’ve got the dweomer?
“Have you been thinking about this betrothed of yours?” Rhegor said.
“I have. I’ll do what you told me.”
“You should be doing it because you understand the reasons, not just following my commands like a hunting dog.”
“Of course. But you’re sure? I can bring her with me?”
“If she’ll come. Marry her first, then bring her along.” Rhegor glanced around the skew-walled hut. “It’s not a palace, but we’ll build her a better home by winter.”
“But what if she doesn’t want to come?”
“If she chooses freely, then release her.” Rhegor paused for effect. “Freely, mind you.”
“But if she—if we—have a child?”
“What of it?” Rhegor caught his sulky glance and stared him down. “A vow is a vow, lad, and you swore one to her. If this were the usual arranged marriage, it would be different, but you sought her and won her. A man who can’t keep his word is of no use to the dweomer, none.”
“Very well then. I’ll ride to Brangwen before I go and lay the matter before my father.”
“Good. She deserves the news first.”
Wrapped in his cloak of scarlet-and-white plaid, Galrion mounted his black horse and rode off through the unbroken forest of ancient oaks. In a little while, he would return as a poverty-stricken exile to study the dweomer—if he could fight himself free of his old life.
Galrion was the third of the four sons of Adoryc, High King of all Deverry. With two healthy heirs ahead of him,
and one behind in reserve, he was a disposable young man, encouraged all his life to spoil himself with his beloved horses and hunting, so that he’d present no coveting threat to his eldest brother’s claim on the throne. He saw no reason why he shouldn’t ride away from court, out of the way for good and no longer a drain on the royal treasury. Yet he doubted if his father would see things so simply. Adoryc the Second, the ruler of a recent and unstable dynasty, seldom saw anything simply.
And there was the matter of Brangwen, the lord’s daughter whom Galrion had won over many another suitor. Only a few months ago, he’d loved her so much that the wait of their betrothal time seemed an unjust torment. Now he saw her as a potential nuisance. Rhegor admitted that Galrion would make slower progress with his studies if he had a wife and children than if he were alone. There were duties a man had to fulfill if he were married, Rhegor always said, but after twenty-two years of having every one of his royal whims satisfied, Galrion was in no mood to hear talk of duty. He was used to having exactly what he wanted, and he had never wanted anything as much as he wanted dweomer power. He hungered after it and thirsted for it.
Or, as he thought about it during his damp ride through the forest, wanting the dweomer was a lust, a burning inside him. Once he’d thought he lusted for Brangwen, but now a new lust had driven that passion out. To delve into secret lore, to learn and master the secret ways of the universe, to stand in control of forces and powers that few people even knew existed—against rewards such as those, mere love looked as valuable as a pebble lying in the dirt.
The prince’s ride was a short one. One of the many things bemusing Galrion these days was the way that Rhegor had chosen to settle so close to the Falcon clan and Brangwen, where Galrion could stumble across him and dweomer both. If he’d been but ten miles farther south, I’d never have found him, Galrion thought. Truly, dweomer must be my Wyrd. It occurred to him that his
love for Brangwen was probably just a tool in the hands of his Wyrd, drawing him to Rhegor. Rhegor himself, of course, had already hinted that there were other, important reasons that Galrion had fallen in love with her; Galrion’s heart sank as he remembered those hints.
Just as the drizzle died into a cloudy noon, he rode out of the woods into cleared fields and saw the Falcon dun, rising at the crest of an artificial hill, built for defense in this flat country. Round the base of this motte ran a pair of earthworks and ditches; at the top stood a wooden palisade with iron-bound gates. Inside stood the squat stone broch and a clutter of round wooden sheds and huts for the servants. As Galrion led his horse in, the muddy ward came alive with servants—a groom running to take his horse, a page to take his saddlebags, the chamberlain to greet him and escort him ceremoniously inside. As the aged chamberlain struggled with the heavy door, the prince glanced up. Over the lintel hung a severed head, blackened, weather-shrunken, with rain dripping from the remains of a blond beard. Brangwen’s father, Dwen, held to the ways of the Dawntime warriors. No matter how much the priests reproached him, no matter how often his daughter begged him to have it taken down, Dwen stubbornly kept his trophy up, the head of his worst enemy from a long blood feud.
The great hall was warm, smoky and light-shot from the fires burning at either side. Up by the bigger hearth, Dwen and Gerraent were drinking in their carved chairs with a pack of staghounds sleeping in the straw by their feet. Gerraent rose to greet Galrion, but Dwen stayed seated, sodden in his chair, a florid-faced man whose rheumy eyes glanced up through folds of skin. It was hard to believe that in his youth he must have looked much like his son, this tall blond warrior, square-shouldered, with an arrogant toss to his head.
“Good morrow, my liege,” Gerraent said. “My sister’s in her chamber. I’ll send a page for her.”
“My thanks.” Galrion bowed to Dwen. “My lord.”
“Sit down, lad, and have some ale.” Dwen wheezed as he spoke, then coughed and nearly choked.
Galrion felt a cold shudder, a bristling of hairs along the back of his neck as if a draft had touched him. Although Dwen had been ill for years and never seemed to sicken further, Galrion knew with a sharp stab of dweomer that soon he would die. A page brought Galrion ale, a welcome distraction from Dwen’s illness. When Galrion raised the tankard to Gerraent in friendly salute, Gerraent forced out a smile that was the barest twitch of his mouth. It didn’t take dweomer to know that Gerraent hated him. Galrion merely wondered why.
The door across the great hall opened, and Brangwen came in with her maidservant in attendance. A tall lass, willow slender in a dark green dress, she wore her long blond hair caught back in a simple clasp, as befitted an unmarried woman. Her eyes were as deep and blue as a winter river. The most beautiful lass in all Deverry, men called her, with a face that was dowry enough for any man in his right mind. Drawn by the love he’d thought he’d cast out, Galrion rose to greet her. He took both her hands in his.
“I didn’t think to see you soon, my prince,” Brangwen said. “This gladdens my heart.”
“And it gladdens mine, my lady.”
Galrion seated her in his chair, then took a footstool from the maidservant and put it down to keep Brangwen’s feet off the damp, straw-strewn floor. He perched on the edge of the stool and smiled up at her while she laughed, as merry as sunlight in the dark room.
“Will his highness honor me by riding with me to the hunt tomorrow?” Gerraent said.
“I won’t, by your leave,” Galrion said. “I have things to discuss with my lady.”
“She’s not your lady yet.” Gerraent turned on his heel and stalked out of the hall.
When he slammed the door shut behind him, Dwen roused from his doze, glanced round, then fell back asleep.
“Oh, here, Gwennie,” Galrion whispered. “I hope I
haven’t offended your brother by not riding with him on the morrow.”
“Oh, Gerro’s in such a mood these days. I can’t talk a word of sense into him about anything. Here, my love, don’t you think it’s time he married? He’s put it off awfully late. He’ll be twenty at the turning of the summer.”
“True enough.” Galrion was remembering his dweomer-warning of Dwen’s coming death. “He’ll be the Falcon someday, after all. Is there any woman he favors?”
“Not truly. You men can be such beasts.” Brangwen giggled, hiding her mouth behind her hand. “But, well, Gerro rides to hunt with Lord Blaen of the Boar, and his sister’s just absolutely mad for Gerro. I’ve been trying to speak well of her to him, but he doesn’t much listen.”
“I’ve seen the Lady Ysolla at court. She’s a lovely lass, but naught compared to you, of course.”
The compliment brought another giggle and a blush. At times Brangwen was a helpless little thing, unlike the women at the court, who were trained as partners in rulership. Once Galrion had looked forward to the chance to prune and form his wife’s character; now, he found himself thinking that she was going to absorb much of his time.
“Do you know what Ysolla told me?” Brangwen said. “She said that Blaen’s jealous of you.”
“Indeed? That would be a serious matter if it’s true.”
“Ye gods, think! The Boar Rampant was involved in many a plot against the last dynasty. A lover’s rivalry is a political matter when one of the rivals is a prince.”
“Truly, my apologies.”
She turned so woebegone over his snap that Galrion patted her hand. She bloomed instantly and bent down to allow him to kiss her cheek.
Circumstances conspired to keep the prince from having his necessary talk with his betrothed. All evening, Gerraent kept them sullen company. On the bright and sunny morrow, Brangwen settled her father outside in the ward, then sat down beside him with her needlework. Much to Galrion’s annoyance, the old man stayed wide
awake. Finally, when Gerraent stopped by on his way to hunt, Galrion decided that since he might soon be Gerraent’s elder brother, he might as well put that authority to good use.