Another day Dian lingerd with them on the slopes of the mountain where the Draoi came to recuperate from long labors. He was relaxed and full of information, and everything the duo had yet to have in a companion. Calmly convinced that they had saved Mawr from certain destruction, he was willing to aid them however they might like.
He told them he knew politics and the machinations of the Kingdoms only peripherally, but that Cahál and Ternyn were the friendliest to his brotherhood. He had not heard from his brothers of the kind of interlopers that the group had run into, but he had heard that the draoi working closer to Teinwood had become disturbed at the life of that dark place.
That next day, when more of their strength and selves had returned, he led them down out of the gentle mountains surrounding the Dragon’s Mouth, and they made their way across the green lowlands beside the Afongwyn with its swollen banks muddy and the plains dotted with small rivers. No sign came to them of the Vulfen who lived on those plains under the stewardship of the P’ntri.
They gave wide birth to the river’s muddy nearlands and the small farms set like islands on this side of the river, in what must be a violation of treaty with the P’ntri.
The next day they neared a large farmstead with which Dian had had dealings.The hog farm was in full swing, the river running with castoff entrails as the farm hurried to produce meat for some great purpose. The matron of the farm took them in and fed them. After dinner, she groomed Caerdwyn so that he looked less like a wild mountain man and more like… a civilized mountain man. She offered to trim and oil Bayeo as well, but he refused, and asked the company to depart the farm.
Once free and in the wild again, he confessed to Caerdwyn that some great fear of that wasteful place, and of having his Vulfenness stolen from him had crept over him.
Dian found them a campsite under a great oak near a hill on high, dry ground.
That night, with the Shining Moon alone in the Sky, Sir Pavyk, looking altogether more together than he had previously, came to get Bayeo. He took him back down the hall to the door where the bard Fodan’s dreams began.
Waking, Caerdwyn sensed the strange actions afoot. Approaching Bayeo, he was confronted with the red snake. When he tried Guaer’s trick of sight in the eyes, he was pulled into the grey halfworld and stumbled after Bayeo and Pavyk to witness…
Beyond the door the fat stones are familiar and strange.
The right half of the room is a wide fireplace in an open hall. At first – as though designed in such a way – it seems there is a dull fire in the hearth. But peering closer one can see it is open, and outside and below, there is some nearby building burning.
The left half of the room is stone and beam construction, and something about its dark-shrouded pennants speaks of High Arddbyn. The roof is stove in, a great table crushed by a massive stone, and snatches of cloth speak of men and women crushed beneath its weight.
In the center of the room, outlined half in the shadow of fallen Arddbyn and half in the light of fallen Pynwydden, there is a man on a raised dais, in a wide chair, just as he was before. His cloak is just as sumptuous, the gold circlet on his head burning just as it did.
Enter the light. Enter an indescribable incandescence of air clinging to a woman’s shape of such sumptuous perfection that even sitting, the bard is staggered by it. There are six points above her head like a crown of fire; at her side, a greater darkness burns, its point a lethal overture; in her other hand, a small harp with bright copper strings whose promise is weeping and delight either without consolation.
He cannot help but regard her, just as he cannot close his eyes to the devastation of his two lives, or is terrified of what will happen if he does.
Tears run, as if directly from his overfull heart. His voice, though, is clear as a horn that calls men to wakefulness, or war.
[closing the distance with a crushing sway of hips] MY SWEET SUPPLICANT
YOU HAVE CALLED ME FORTH WITH SUCH … OFFERINGS
[hollow-voiced] Hail to the dark lady who emerged triumphant from the night, giving name and substance to the world with her words, giving name to each and every thing and creature under the sky vault.
[purrs, moving behind him] YES, AND DID I NOT GIVE NAME TO YOU, DID I NOT GIVE VOICE TO YOUR HEART AND POWER TO YOUR SONG? DID I NOT GIVE UNTO YOU THE PATH FORWARD, FORESWEARING THE TREACHERIES OF MY BROTHER AND HIS CORRUPTED ILK? DID YOU NOT SWEAR UNTO ME SERVICE?
Yes, Lady, all these things you gave to me.
[voice rises with emotion] Misery and duty and burden and woe have you laid upon me disguised as kindness. Suffering and loss you have doled out to me, calling it power.
Would you have me rise up from this throne of despair and shout out your praises like a fool at a county fair, not knowing the Knight has schemed and murdered his way to praise of honor?
[growing softer, but more strident] WHEN YOUR LIFE HAS GROWN HOLLOW IN MY ABSENCE AND THE WAY GOES GRAY, YOU WILL FIND ME AGAIN IN THE NIGHT, AND I MAY FORGIVE YOU, IF YOU HAVE SUFFERED ENOUGH.
Don’t hold your breath.
[sits up and beholds the devastation] On the other hand, you heartless bitch, you might look good in blue.