The party decided, at the last, to turn north, delaying Evayn’s return home in favor of securing horses and the possibility of armed aid through Llewer’s influence in Ternyn.
The miles slide away underneath them as they walk the Ribbon north along Arddbyn’s great green open cow pastures – though they see no sign of the Cow Lords of the west of the High Kingdom. In Teuthál, the roads and habitations near to the Teinwood have cut the dark conspiracy of oaks back and back to a gnarled black line. Here at the intersection of the four Great Kingdoms, things seem different. The Elderwood is a mixed forests of many trees – 3 kinds of pine, alder, red oak, chestnut, walnut, aspen and many other smaller trees. The wood is spacious with many breaks and rich, green undergrowth for the obviously plentiful fauna of the wood.
As night grew across the plains to their East, the color slowly ebbing from the green world, they came abreast of an obvious special place to their left, in the Elderwood. A vast pine tree held court over her neighbors, and a green field spread well around her, bright with flowers even so late in the winter.
This was clearly a special place, and seemed to be a fine place to spend the night. Fodaan pointed out the yellow flowers in the grass called Greater Celandine, and also “Gods’ Footfalls”, because they are said to grow only where the gods’ feet have touched Arcodd.
Wanting to be cautious, Caerdwyn opened his Eye. Elderwood’s immense conspiracy of hope rushed into him, and dropped the Questioner to his knees. The green life of the trees and grass and earth vibrated in his mind like a beacon speaking to the wellness and haleness of the heart of the world, the essential Life of the Dragon.
They ventured into the pine world beneath the boughs of the great tree. Fodaan, distracted, wandered away from camp. Bayeo went hunting and was greatly disappointed to find two fat, unalarmed turkeys to take back to camp without a struggle. Fodaan joined him with a surfeit of mushrooms.
Caerdwyn struck up a conversation with their companion Evayn. She told them a bit of her House up in the mountains, how many of the girls there came from different Kingdoms and walks of life, and that they all gathered to sing the praises of Mother Arcodd who gives them health and life, and to honor the lights of the sky, and the Night House, and many others beside. She remembered Arric’s party coming to their House, 2 years past. She remembered, blushing, his handsomeness. After some closed conversation with the House Mother, Sister Ciarí was called forth to accompany them. Her blessing from Pronabyn, Goddess of the Dawn, seemed to burn her to accompany the party. She did not return, and the sisters had no news of them.
After that, the turkeys were cooked by the fire, and a sumptuous soup of roots and mushrooms was prepared by Saar, and a feast, as they had not known since leaving Pynwydden Abbey abounded. Full of belly and feeling comforted by the great beds of soft pine needles beneath them, they slowly drifted off to sleep, making some small effort to set guards for the evening, in spite of the apparent safety.
In a grey twilight, with Nightwings crowding the boughs of the upper trees, a figure in a thin white robe, body young and beautiful, like Evayn, slid her way under the sleeping Bayeo’s bedroll. Sliding up his body as a kind of lotus-lethargy of delight slid through his body. Under the robe there was nothing but her furred flesh which was Vulfen-like but not Vulfen. Passion stole free between them, and while something like white horns seemed to burn above her head, they moved together, forming something new out of man and woman in the oldest union.
Meanwhile, in a dream or in a world shaved away from waking by the thinnest possible blade, Caerdwyn saw in the shifting light a fawn, but a fawn with antlers – teats and antlers in impossible combination as though she had recently given birth. She stepped daintily over the body he could not bring himself to move in his/her presence. She rooted, carefully, in the undegrowth, and using hooves and antlers and snout excavated quickly from the forest soil an impossibly perfect, smooth, straight section of blue white stone. She gazed signifcantly at Caerdwyn. He left Caerdwyn there in the glow of revelation that was mystery.