Authors: Griff Hosker
Published by Sword Books Ltd 2014
Copyright © Griff Hosker First Edition
The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Cover by Design for Writers
Map courtesy of Wikipedia
Myrddyn had been particularly elusive and enigmatic of late. Always mysterious he had seemed to be especially hard to find. I did not mind. I spent more time with Myfanwy, my wife, Delbchaem Lann, my youngest daughter and our grandchildren. Hogan Lann, Nanna and even Gawan had all produced grandchildren for us to fuss. Gawan’s had been the most recent and Arturus was a delight. His wife, Gwyneth, was a perfect mother and we had spent some time with both of them as they began their family. My daughter Delbchaem was at that awkward age when she and her mother argued about everything. Quite often I was a peacemaker in my own home. So it was that I had not really noticed Myrddyn’s absences. He had always had a tendency to go off on his own and I just put it down to that. Myrddyn was being a wizard. I know that he spent a great deal of time in the cavern beneath Wyddfa. We had called it the dream cave for when we slept there we dreamed and the spirits of the mountain came to us. It had been some time since I had done so.
That Midsummer Eve he had asked me to accompany him. I had been with him on that special day before. As the longest day we could watch the sun set to the west and, when we woke, watch it rise to the east. It was a symbol for us of life. The fact that the darkness was so brief made us hopeful.
It was noon when we left the fort that guarded the straits between Gwynedd and Mona. We took no one with us; there had been no danger since King Cadwallon, the husband of my daughter, had concluded a peace with Cearl, the King of Mercia. It would not last but we had had a few years when our young men did not die in huge numbers. The skirmishes with the Hibernians and the Northumbrians did little to diminish our numbers and merely served to improve their skills. That last battle where I had suffered such a terrible wound to my leg now seemed worth it. The damp made my leg ache and I limped more but that was a sacrifice worth making for the peace we had enjoyed.
We had both aged a little although Myrddyn still seemed to be half my age. Consequently we took horses to ascend the mountain and we took it steady. My leg still ached from the battle some years ago when I had nearly lost my life. I would never stand in a shield wall again. Indeed, I believed that my days of wielding my sword, Saxon Slayer, were long gone. I had thought to hand the sword on to my son, Hogan Lann. He was young and he was powerful. He was the warrior I had been many years earlier. There was something about the sword, which I had found buried by a Roman ancestor of mine that meant I could not relinquish it. As we rode up the well worn track it was still strapped to my side. The sword seemed to talk to me. I often felt that there was a being within it. When I fought with it I never worried about losing. That was not arrogance or an innate belief in my own skill but I believed in the sword.
Myrddyn and I were growing old together; we were behaved like an old married couple. I was greyer than he was but we both knew each other’s ways and could walk for miles without exchanging a word and yet knowing what the other thought. Although I am still certain that Myrddyn could read everyone’s thoughts and not just mine. He had an uncanny knack of knowing what someone was going to do.
“We are getting too old to be climbing mountains at our age.”
“Hmph!” He snorted, “Speak for yourself. Besides if you feel like an old man you will be an old man. Imagine that you are the same young lad who strode across Rheged fighting Saxons. He is still somewhere buried beneath the flesh you have accumulated of late!”
He was right. A lack of exercise and a rich diet had given me a little more of a paunch that I liked. “Perhaps it is time to relax and enjoy what we have won.”
“Have we finished what you started? Is Rheged free?”
He had me there. I had sworn to King Urien of Rheged that I would defend the people of Rheged. As I reflected on my achievements I decided that I had failed to uphold my promise. The Saxons had yet to conquer Rheged completely but all that I had succeeded in was providing a haven for our people in Gwynedd and fighting the Northumbrians whenever I could. The old kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira now seemed to be joined under one banner, Northumbria. However it was hard to know who ruled. The Saxons had more factions than the court of the Emperor.
We just had to keep on top of their advances and stop them from encroaching into our lands too much. My son, Hogan Lann, was even now raiding the Saxons north of the old Roman fort of Deva the fort the Saxons called Caestre. He would never stop fighting; he was a true warrior but I had been content to build alliances and build up our trade. Our people were richer but Myrddyn was quite right; I had not finished what I had started and my oath still remained unfulfilled.
I had outlived all of those who had begun the journey save Aelle. My half brother still lived but Raibeart had died in his bed the previous year. Pasgen and all the other princes of Rheged were dead and their issue were farmers trying to avoid the attention of Saxons. I had failed. Of course my wife, my sons, the husband of my daughter Nanna, the King of Gwynedd, all of them would say I had succeeded. The Saxons had been held at bay. That was not what I had intended. I had thought that I would send them back from whence they came. The only one who would speak the truth to me was Myrddyn, the wizard.
“Do not dwell on the negatives, Warlord. Look at what we have achieved and realise that there is still much to do.” Myrddyn reined in his horse and pointed to the rocky mountain. “Do you see the mountain? It changes. Each year it looks a little different. When the Romans were here they would have seen a different mountain. When Hogan Lann’s great grandchildren look up at it they will see something different. The changes are slow. But they happen each year. Perhaps it is the rains or the frost or even the mountain itself but it is evolving year by year. I tell you now Warlord that you have been as the small stone tumbling from the top of Wyddfa’s crown. You have set in motion an avalanche. It is started and nothing can stop it.” He shrugged as he urged his horse forward. “Of course you will not be here to see the result of what you started but that is the will of the gods.”
I hated the way he could do this. He read my thoughts and then left me with more questions than answers. “How do you know all of this?”
“I dream as you do but your mind is now clouded with blood and death. Mine is clearer; I have seen the future.” He looked at me and I saw, in his clear blue eyes, real affection for me. “One day a warrior will come from across the seas from the east and he will be of your blood. He will be the one who will restore Rheged. Perhaps it will not be as great as it once was under the Romans, Coel and Urien but it will be free from Saxons.”
We continued along the trail and my world was turned upside down. Why had Myrddyn waited until now to tell me of this? I would not succeed but my blood would. A child of mine I did not know would finish what I started. Why could I not be there to witness it? I felt a shiver down my spine. Wyddfa had great power and the spirits of the mountain could read my thoughts. I was not immortal and I served the gods. The shiver down my spine had been my reminder. It would have to be enough.
I recognised the trail we had taken. Many years earlier I had spent some time in a cave along it. I had dreamed and seen my mother. I had dreamed there many times but since my wound I had not ventured up. The cold and the damp from the dark cavern would have made it ache. I suddenly felt guilty. I had not dreamed and spoken with the spirits since the day I had nearly died. Myrddyn was right to bring me with him. I should have done this myself.
He halted before we reached the entrance to the cave. A large stand of trees hid it beyond the turn in the trail. “I have had men here working on the cave. Call it a fancy of mine if you will. I am planning for a time when you and I are no longer here and we are just a memory.”
He had me intrigued. “You always manage to surprise me Myrddyn. I had thought we came here just to dream.”
“We will do that but I want you to look at the cave with new eyes.”
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. When we turned I saw that the rocks and the entrance had been fashioned to make the head and mouth of a wolf. It only took a little imagination to do so. It looked spectacular.
“This is the cave of the Wolf Warrior. Your descendants may only know that about you. When they come here, they will know.”
I was confused. “Know what?”
“Enter and all will become clear.”
We tied the horses to a tree and entered. There was still plenty of light from the afternoon sun and the widened entrance, as well as the light from the holes of the wolf’s eyes, meant that we could see a little better once inside. I could see, as soon as I walked in, that it was not just the entrance where the work had taken place. There were now a number of shelves and niches cut into the rock at the sides. I could only see those nearest the doors.
Myrddyn went to the middle of the cave and began to light a fire. It was our normal practice. I left him to it and wandered over to the nearest niche. They came up to my chest and I saw that they went into the rock about the length of my arm. The height was also that of my arm. I saw that there were four of them. I wandered over to the other side where I saw that there were just two of them. At the back of the cave the floor had been smoothed by workmen so that it looked like a large hall. By the time I reached Myrddyn the fire was burning well and he had a happy look on his face.
“I can see that you have done much work but what is it and what is it for?”
“I would have thought that was obvious Warlord. It is a tomb and it is for us!”
I could not believe what I was hearing. I had had little idea of the function of the cave save as a place to dream but I would never have guessed that it would be a tomb. “You are being a little premature are you not? Or have you dreamed my death?”
I had asked him the very same question many times and I always had the same answer. This time a sad look came over his face. He nodded slowly. “I know not the time but I know the hand. It is one of your blood who shall do this.”
“Can we stop it?”
He shook his head, “Your death is necessary. It has been foretold and is part of the avalanche you began when you found the sword and killed your first wolf. You need to die so that Rheged may live.”
I sat down. I knew that I was mortal. I knew I had outlived almost everyone and yet to be told that you were going to die was strange to say the least.
“And you know not when? Next week? Next month? “Next year?”
He shook his head again. “Even if I knew I could not help you. This will happen no matter what we do but if we try to interfere then things may go awry. It is best to let the spirits of the mountain work things out. We are mortal and they are not.”
“And your death?”
“I told you before; I dreamed my death many years ago. I know that I will be there when you die for I have dreamed it. My death will come after yours.” He smiled, “I want you to live as long as possible too.”
I noticed that the light outside was fading. We would have to unsaddle the horses soon and bring in food and drink but I still had more questions. “You say ‘our tomb’?”
“Yes, you and your family will be over there.” He pointed to four holes on one side. “And I will be on the other side. There.”
“I see four spaces on my side.”
“You, Myfanwy, Hogan Lann and Gawan.”
“I think the tomb of the Queen of Gwynedd might attract rather too much attention and besides she should be buried with her husband.” I went to speak. “And Delbchaem will be married too. She should be with her husband.”
It was maddening the way he read my mind. “And you will be on the other side?”
“And why are there two spaces?”
“For my family.”
“But you have none!”
“Not yet! Now go and unsaddle the horses and give them grain while I prepare some food.”
As I went about those mundane tasks my mind was in a whirl. Suddenly each moment in the day became important. Suppose my death came on the way down the mountain? I thought of all those I would not have the chance to speak with and say goodbye. I had not managed that with my brother Raibeart. He had been taken ill by a sudden fever and died even as I was sailing to be at his side. At least I had fulfilled a promise to him. I had taken his wild son Morcar ap Raibeart under my wing and, in the last two years, he had quietened down and become a fine member of my warriors. I put much of that down to my other nephew, Lann Aelle and Pol who had been my squire. They understood the young man far better than an old man like me. He was now my squire and Hogan Lann would decide where best he should serve.
Suddenly many of Myrddyn’s actions made sense. He had had Oswald, our priest of the White Christ, create many laws and rules for those living under my sway. I had thought it because Oswald was becoming old. These priests, like Osric before him, lived a long time but Brother Oswald, like me, was creaking around the edges. As I carried the saddles back into the cave I reflected that it had been at least two years, perhaps three since I had drawn Saxon Slayer in anger. You do not remember the last time you do something. You always imagine that there will be another opportunity to do so.
Myrddyn watched me from hooded eyes as I walked towards him. “Why are you so unhappy? You always said that you wanted to know when your death would come.”