Meraig faded from their site, but his wolfish grin lingered inside them. Mab’s silence grew like a growl. Cwyn started several times to launch into reason and explanation, but ended up refuging in the slick and rattle of his cards.
They rattled their friendship between them and eventually settled down to feast on what Meraig had left them, Mab drinking all the mead, and sleep pulling them down with heavy hands.
Mab woke in the grey of morning with mist filling the woods. The white mist was strangely comforting. He didn’t know why he’d woken. Cwyn was dangled at a precipitous angle off a round of granite. He rolled up his cloak and secured his friend’s head, kicking at the corpse of the fire.
A woman’s laugh broke the stillness. And then soft, running footsteps.
Mab woke Cwyn, and they heard a male bray among the dark trees, following the running steps.
Eventually, the White Lady came to them. A tattered white promise dress defined her, and her blue eyes pleaded for aid. When they assented, she leaned close to Mab, holding him with pale fingers, and whispered in his ear, as a trade, “Bryn Dwr”, the Green Mountain. The fog pulled back, revealing a trail through the woods leading to…
- The Bounty Tree – covered in strange and multifarious fruits, impossibly tall, gnarled, clawing toward heaven, fisting down in the dark soil.
- The Sweet Glade – marked by the rotting remains of a felled redwood, dandelions waved sweet forgetfulness, the tender green grass glowing in the half-light.
- The Dark Bridge – fallen into disrepair and rot, only tar held it all together, black water underneath a reminder of death in the depths of summer.
The White Lady dissolved back into mist, the blue of her eyes lingering like promises.
At the Tree, a rustling alerted them, and a flit woman, russet-colored, with dark stripes up her tail emerged. Calling herself Service of the Needed Stripe, she asked them where she was, and what was going on in this place? Her Tuhál accent betrayed her origins, and Cwyn and she seemed to have a common history in that southern kingdom.
Eventually, a great sadness came out of Stripe. She asked after a Ruarigh Cyrdaen, a member of the great Cyrdean family of Tar Tranwyn. Cwyn was aware of an old son of the family from a decade or more ago of that name, but had no news. Stripe asked how Mawr fared, how the kingdoms were. Cwyn told her that a tenuous peace held in the land and no great strangeness had come over the world.
Appeased, weaping, Stripe seemed to accept what she’d been told, and accepted her ignorance of the fate Cyrdaen’s scion. Very slowly, she went to pieces like the pomegranate fallen at her taloned feet. Part by part, she became leaves and fruit and rind, and perhaps she passed beyond the mist to be a star in the sky, or whatever it was Flit aspired to.
The quiet glade, and its quivering dandelions called to them. Cwyn found his eyes were wet.
They were taken from their reverie by a great bellowing beyond the glade.
A monster wearing a human face like a mask stood on the bridge. They crossed the glade, dandelion fuzz scattering, each with a life of its own, and if they had peered at them closely, would they have been tiny persons with gossamer wings? Who can say?
The madness came over Mab. It was the first Cwyn had done more than sense it. His eyes bulged, his tendons strained from his flesh, his veins pulsed. The monster, emaciated, and horrible, roared. They clashed. It was brief. The monster fell.
Mab turned, the only color in the dark mouth of the bridge was its heart, red, and black and beating in Mab’s grasp as Mab crushed it between meaty fingers. The mist poured in like devouring locusts.