Spirits from the Vasty Deep
Written by: Anna Hansen
Story concept by: Todd Jensen
Illustrations by: Jessica Entis
Owain Glyndwr led his young guard into the woods which surrounded Bedde Mararet. The very air around them seemed filled with magic.
"My Lord," the young soldier said. His voice squeaked with fear. "My Lord, are you sure it's wise to go in there now? I know they say that Mararet will forever remain stone, but isn't it better not to take chances?"
For the entire duration of their ride, Owain Glyndwr had heard nothing from the man he'd chosen to be his guard, except a brief, "Yes, my Lord," or, "No, my Lord," in response to his commands. Now, the young soldier had managed to pull together two complete sentences. This told Glyndwr much about the depths of his fear.
Glyndwr wasn't in the mood to deal with the soldier's fears, but he didn't lack sympathy. He carefully tethered the reigns of his horse to the branch of a nearby tree, and then turned to stare at his companion. He hadn't previously explained where they were going; he had, in truth, expected the soldier to follow him without question. But now he saw that he had asked too much of the young man; his courage had been stretched to snapping point.
"Dilwyn," Glyndwr said, crossing the narrow expanse of grass between them. He felt fragile twigs snap beneath his boots. The sun had begun to set behind the thin veneer of gray cloud, and pallid light washed the countryside, appearing to rob it of color. Glyndwr was impatient to continue his mission, but he nevertheless took the time to address the soldier. "Dilwyn." Glyndwr placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. Through the sleeve of the tunic, he detected sinew and lean, surprisingly tough muscle. An unexpected affection filled his heart. "I'm too hard on you, aren't I? Listen to me. You're a Welshman. The spirits in and around these woods are also Welsh. They don't hurt their own. They might have a bit of fun with us, but they would never harm us."
"But-" Dilwyn started.
"I'll ask you something else, Dilwyn. Would you die for me?" Glyndwr's quiet words dropped like stones in the cold, afternoon air.
Dilwyn appeared startled at the anomalous question. But, as soon as the deeper meaning of Glyndwr's query had time to settle into his brain, he snapped to attention. The bulb of his Adam's apple rose and fell. "Yes, my Lord."
"Then believe me, I will protect you. I reward loyalty. Don't be afraid."
Again, the soldier's Adam's apple bobbed. His chest swelled. "I'm not afraid." And then, with less bravado, his shoulders drooping, "Oh, my Lord... I can deal with an enemy's knife in my back. But spirits - they're something else entirely. They could drag me across the sky, or make me dance on the rocks until my feet become raw."
Glyndwr chuckled softly at Dilwyn's words. The soldier's innocent fears were refreshing, and reminded him of his own youth, so long ago. "You've never fought a battle, have you?"
Dilwyn slowly shook his head.
"Mm. I can tell." Glyndwr chuckled again, but the brief spark of lightness in his heart had already started to disappear as he thought about what lay ahead for Dilwyn. War, almost certainly. After the young soldier's first battle, once the stench of death had stained his nostrils, he wouldn't be so innocent. He would become a man of experience. His gait would become heavy. He would be able to imagine greater horrors than dancing with spirits in the night.
But until that day, Glyndwr could enjoy his company.
"Dilwyn," Glyndwr said. "Let me tell you something. If you meet any spirits tonight, and they do fly you across the sky, you'll breath the heady air of heaven. And if they want to dance with you, it will be the sweetest dance you've ever had." Glyndwr laughed. "You should only be so lucky."
Dilwyn looked pale, but the corners of his mouth flipped upwards, into a forced smile. "If you say so, my Lord. You should know. They say-" he faltered here.
Glyndwr smiled encouragingly. He thought that Dilwyn listened a lot to what `they' said. "What do they say?"
"That you've been touched by the fay."
Glyndwr gave the soldier one last pat on the shoulder. "Do they now? Well, maybe they're right." Then, before Dilwyn could question him further, "If you're still worried, though, you can stay out here and watch the horses."
Dilwyn glanced about him, clearly still frightened. Glyndwr understood. The road on which they stood was a lonely one, cradled inside a mass of thick, dark forest. It was just as scary out here as it would be further along Glyndwr's journey. If Dilwyn stayed, he would be alone.
Glyndwr pondered Dilwyn's circumstance. It wasn't good for a soldier to be easily frightened. At some point, fears needed to be faced. He made a decision. "In fact, you will stay here."
Dilwyn opened his mouth, a clear gleam of protest in his eyes.
"That's an order," Glyndwr said.
Dilwyn snapped his mouth shut. "Yes, my Lord."
Glyndwr nodded. "Good." And with that, he turned his back on the young soldier and entered the thick woods alone.
He wasn't afraid. He wasn't even concerned. He'd faced death, and worse, on the battlefield; his own studies in sorcery had given him some knowledge in the ways of spirits, the fay, and the immortal. Besides all this, nothing - not even his own soul - meant more to him than the fate of his country, and of his people. He would do anything for Wales, and that included facing Mararet and her children, if he had to.
Thinking this, Glyndwr fought his way through the thick, almost impenetrable brush. He found it dark inside the haunted woods, and damp. It had rained recently, and so his boots squelched in the mud as he walked. The wet, low hanging branches of the oaks and beeches slapped against his arms, leaving behind icy droplets of water which soaked into his tunic.
He eventually emerged from the woods, into a clearing.
There he saw, standing in the center of the flat, green land, the glorious sight of seven stones. These were Mararet and her children. They were wonderfully familiar to him, just like old friends, even though he'd not seen them for many years. Each stone was the height of an average man, except Mararet, who was about twelve feet tall. Irregularly shaped, the stones had been protected from the harsh, Welsh wind by the thick woods, and so their edges were still rough, the corners still angular.
Locally, a story was told about Mararet. More than a thousand years ago she'd been a witch, a prophetess, and the wife of a shepherd. Her husband, frightened of her powers, had been cruel to both her, and her six children. So, in an effort to protect her family, Mararet had turned first her children, and then herself, into stone. She'd hoped that in this way, they could conceal themselves from the shepherd's temper, and return to their human form during his good humor. But something went wrong with the spell. The seven people had turned to stone, but they couldn't return to their human form. Now, only at night, and only with the right incantation, could Mararet and her children be released from the stone.
Glyndwr had never seen any of them in their human form. But now, through a stroke of luck during his last campaign, he possessed the spell which would wake them. He'd wanted to release Mararet for years, but now he was desperate to do so. He needed to speak to her. He needed her ability as a prophet. He needed her wisdom. He wanted to ally his army with that of the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Worcester, to start a war which would overthrow the king of England. But he needed guidance.
These were difficult times, but Glyndwr had experienced difficult times before. He didn't need Mararet's help because he'd lost the nerve to fight. Quite the contrary. He was ready to fight. He was burning to fight. He just wasn't sure if he should fight with Northumberland and Worcester on his side. And his people were doubtful. They felt that they'd already fought enough. "Wasn't Wales experiencing more glory now than it had in five hundred years?" they said. "Wasn't it united now in a way that it had never been before? Perhaps it was greedy to want acknowledgment of their independence from the English crown. Perhaps they should be happy with what they had."
Glyndwr tightened his hand into a fist, and slammed it against his thigh. His people didn't know what was best for Wales. Only he knew what must be done.
He knew they had to fight the English. It was the only way to show their neighbors that they were a force with which to be reckoned. It was the only way to ensure that the independence and unity which they'd won, at the cost of so many Welsh people, would be theirs forever.
But he needed to persuade his people of this truth. He thought that Mararet would know how.
So, he stood in front of the standing stones, and braced himself for the incantation. As he stared at the irregular shapes in front of him, his heart thundered with expectation. Soon, he thought to himself. Soon.
He walked toward Mararet, the sodden ground spitting beneath each of his steps, and stopped in front her. She was a huge stone, tall and wide. He pressed his two, big hands against the monolith, feeling the roughness of stone beneath his skin, enjoying the touch of dripping water between his fingers. "Help me," he said. He inhaled the heady scent of rain-dampened grass and stone.
"I need to know what to do." Glyndwr spoke to the stone. He stared at the monolith before him. He lifted his gaze, letting it roll along the sharp lines of the stone. Up and up he continued, until he was staring at the pointed tip of the rock, the edges thrown into stark relief against the darkening sky. The air swallowed his voice. There was no echo. In the distance, he could hear the heady crash and roar of the ocean. The swirl of the wind which skirted about the clearing whistled.
He closed his eyes. Softly, he began to chant.
Over and over again, he repeated the incantation which he'd read in a scroll that had been, supposedly, written by Merlin himself. It was the spell that was meant to release Mararet from the stone. He could taste the words on his lips, and they were sweet.
A long time passed. Glyndwr didn't open his eyes, but he did listen. He waited patiently for something - someone - to join him in the clearing. He could feel the sunlight disappearing. What little warmth the day had provided vanished, and he was left in the cold dampness of twilight.
* * * * *
The Phoenix Gate dropped Brooklyn and Sata, with aplomb, on the edge of a forest.
The cold air, contrasted with the humid jungle temperature which they'd just left, was a pleasant shock to Sata. She shivered.
"Cold?" Brooklyn asked, surprise and concern in his voice.
Sata straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. "No. Just... startled. After all the time I have spent traveling, you would think I would be accustomed to sudden temperature changes." She looked about her. They were standing between a forest and a clearing. In the center of the clearing stood seven tall stones. The sun must have just set, because light still spread across the land. "Where do you suppose we are?"
Brooklyn glanced about the quiet area. "I don't know. I recognize the plant life. I can see oak trees and beeches. But..." he sighed. "I don't think I've ever been in this place before."
"What is that noise?" Sata tilted one pointed ear toward the stones. She realized that the word `noise' didn't properly describe what she was hearing. The sound was a deep, rich wail. "I think it is coming from the other side of these stones."
Cautiously, she walked along the edge of the clearing, encircling the stones. The ground depressed beneath her weight, splashing mud against her legs. Her tail dragged behind her, slipping through the wet grass.
On the other side of the row of stones, she saw a man. His stance was curious. He had his hands pressed against the largest of the stones, his eyes were closed, and his head was tilted back so that the tips of his dark hair swept the neck of his tunic. The deep, sonorous wail poured from his slightly parted lips. He clearly didn't realize that he had company.
"Sata?" Brooklyn whispered, creeping up behind her.
"Yes, Brooklyn-san?" Sata replied, keenly aware of her mate, even though her eyes were fixed on the curious sight of the chanting man.
"Sata, the Phoenix Gate is ready to go again."
In a second, Sata was alert. She was used to the capricious nature of the Phoenix Gate. Practice, and the fear of being separated in time from Brooklyn, had taught her how to react when it began to stir. Without another glance at the curious man, she jumped into her mate's outstretched wings. She checked that she had her swords, and then she waited for the orange light to engulf them.
"A pity," she said, as shimmering orange surrounded them. "I would like to have known what that man was doing."
* * * * *
Glyndwr thought he heard a noise. He knew that he hadn't summoned Mararet; he could still feel the stone beneath the palms of his hands. But he did wonder if he had, perhaps, summoned one of the children. Just as he was about to stop chanting, to open his eyes, he heard a shout.
Glyndwr snapped open his eyes and stared at the stone in front of him. Joy and relief mingled inside him. He'd done it. For the first time in his life, he'd successfully executed a spell more intricate than mere illusion manipulation.
But something was wrong. There was nothing unearthly about the voice calling him. And neither spirits nor the fay ever called a human by a title.
Perturbed, Glyndwr turned his head to see his soldier, Dilwyn, standing at the edge of the clearing, trembling in the shadows of twilight.
As Glyndwr stared at the young soldier, disappointment filled him. That disappointment turned to anger. "I told you to watch the horses. You shouldn't have come here."
"But..." Dilwyn seemed to wilt beneath Glyndwr's disapproval.
"By leaving the animals, you've disobeyed my orders."
"But... Your son-in-law, Mortimer, has just sent a message to say that the Earl of Worcester has arrived. I thought you'd want to know right away."
Glyndwr swore. He glanced at the stone in front him, pushed away from it, and then wiped his hands on his tunic. He said, "I suppose that is important. But Worcester isn't due until tomorrow. Why is he here now?"
"It would seem..." The soldier's voice shook. "It would seem he is early."
"Early," Glyndwr muttered. His plans were spoilt. Glowering at the monolith, he was tempted to curse Mararet for not appearing, but he didn't quite have the courage to do that. Besides, it wasn't wise to put the fay off side. "I'll be back tomorrow night," he whispered to the stone. Then he turned, and said to Dilwyn, "Let's go, then."
As Glyndwr walked toward the woods, he noticed footprints in the ground. Big, claw-like footprints. He hesitated a moment, shocked and uncertain. "Dilwyn," he said, "Look at this."
Glyndwr placed his own booted foot in the center of the footprint. It was dwarfed by comparison.
Dilwyn stopped by Glyndwr's side, and stared down at the ground. "M- my L- lord," he said. "Please, let's leave."
* * * * *
It started to rain again and, by the time Glyndwr reached Deiniol Castle, his tunic was soaked with icy rain. He barely noticed the weather, though. He was too preoccupied with the notion that something - if not Mararet - had visited him that night. The thought pleased him, even if he was irritated by the fact that whatever the creature had been, it had evaded him.
And creature was definitely the right word for it, he thought. No human possessed claw-like feet such as the ones which had left their imprint in the ground.
Still thinking about the night's events, Glyndwr dismounted his horse. It was highly possible, he concluded, that the tales surrounding the stones were slightly wrong. Perhaps Mararet and her children weren't humans turned to stone. Perhaps they were something else. Monsters turned to stone.
That notion didn't concern Glyndwr. He wasn't scared of monsters.
He handed the reins of his horse to Cyngen, the stable boy.
Speaking of monsters, Glyndwr thought to himself as he stared at the strange stable boy, that boy was definitely odd. Even though Glyndwr himself wasn't frightened of the boy, he knew many people in the castle who were.
There was nothing physically strange about Cyngen. He was about ten years old, and was small for his age. The strange thing about him was his stare. His eyes were piercing. Sometimes, it was as though he could see and understand a person's thoughts and feelings. He'd been found by the side of the road a few months back, and the cook had become attached to him, so he'd stayed at the castle, earning his keep as a stable hand. But aside from the cook, the inhabitants of the castle were wary of him. And anything which disrupted the normal flow of routine at the castle bothered Glyndwr.
But Glyndwr didn't have time to be bothered now. He spared a quick glance in Cyngen's direction, and then went inside the castle. He climbed upstairs to his quarters, where he dried himself, and changed into a new tunic. By the time he returned downstairs to greet his guests, he'd forgotten all about Cyngen, and had turned his mind to the matter at hand.
He met his visitors in the great hall. They were warming themselves in front of the fire. There were three of them there. Mortimer, Glyndwr's own, overweight son-in-law, who was playing the host; the old Earl of Worcester, seated; and Hotspur, Worcester's fiery nephew, who was standing, whispering something into Mortimer's ear.
"Hello," Glyndwr boomed, trying to sound welcoming although, in truth, he had no love for these men, not even for his son-in-law. "I trust your journey was sound."
The man in the chair turned at the sound of Glyndwr's voice. The Earl of Worcester had steely gray hair, and a face filled with crags and lines. Despite the appearance of age, though, he was as sturdy as his young nephew, standing by his side.
"Glyndwr," Worcester acknowledged? He stood. "Yes, the journey was fine. No marauding Welshmen attacked us. We did have some of our best guards traveling with us, which must have put them off."
Glyndwr bristled. "Yes, well, you're my guest. My fellow countrymen know that. They would treat you with the same courtesy as I intend to treat you."
Worcester, perhaps, realized the mistake he'd made insulting Glyndwr's people. He spoke quickly, almost apologetically. "Yes. Of course. Just a little humor." He emitted a nervous laugh, and then fell awkwardly silent.
Glyndwr glared at Worcester for a moment, and then turned his attention to his younger visitor. "Hotspur, welcome. I'm glad to see you're well. Is your father with you?"
Hotspur was tall, and slim, with a wild thatch of strawberry colored hair which didn't seem able to lie flat. At thirty-nine, he was six years younger than Glyndwr. Yet despite the advantage of years, Glyndwr had always felt intimidated by the young Englishman. He had an energy and a way with words which could seduce a would-be follower, or crush an enemy. Glyndwr had normally found himself one of the latter. It was strange to think that, within the next few days, their alliance would be sealed.
"He's not well, I'm afraid," Hotspur said. "But he trusts that I can speak on his behalf."
"I'm sure he does," Glyndwr said. It was well known that Hotspur controlled his father's ideas and wishes.
Glyndwr turned back to Mortimer. "Where's my daughter?"
"She's organizing supper," Mortimer replied.
"Good, good." Glyndwr clapped his hands together. He stepped deeper into the room. The torchlight spread fully over him. "Then, we can begin - "
Suddenly, Hotspur burst into laughter.
Glyndwr stared at him. "What's funny?"
The force of his laughter threw Hotspur off balance. As Glyndwr watched in irritation, Hotspur went to grab the back of the chair which Worcester had just vacated. He missed, and nearly fell into the fire. Flat on his back in the soot at the foot of the fireplace, Hotspur continued to laugh, his whole body shaking.
"What's funny?" Glyndwr repeated, more loudly this time. His hot temper began to bubble.
"Hotspur," Worcester hissed. "Hotspur, stop that." Then, when Hotspur didn't respond, he shouted, "Hotspur!" and kicked his nephew in the ribs.
The force of the kick didn't seem to bother Hotspur, although it clearly made him aware of his uncle's deep displeasure. His laughter trickled to a chuckle, and ended with a hiccup. "Sorry," he said. "But Glyndwr - you're one strange man."
Glyndwr could feel his face burn with anger and humiliation. "What-"
"Father," Mortimer quickly said, running to Glyndwr's side. "You have something in your hair." Mortimer reached a hand up to Glyndwr's head, but before it could land on its target, Glyndwr slapped it away.
"Leave me alone," Glyndwr said, searching the top of his head with his own hand. He patted around his hair, and found what he was looking for - a twig, with two green oak leaves attached to it. He stared at it for one long, incredulous moment. "This?" Glyndwr shook the offending object in Hotspur's direction. "This is what you find so funny?"
Hotspur smirked. He sat up and attempted to wipe the soot from his tunic, but only succeeded in creating an ugly, black smear across the course material. "Not the twig itself. Just what it stands for."
"I don't believe this," Glyndwr said, tossing the twig onto the floor and throwing his hands in the air. "You've come here to Wales, all the way from the north of England, and all you can do is laugh at some leaves? And you want me to enter into an alliance with you? Hotspur..." Glyndwr shook his head in disbelief. "This is crazy. We can't work together."
The smirk fell from Hotspur's lips. His expression became suddenly hard, almost cruel. "Don't be a fool, Glyndwr. You need this alliance as much as we do. You'll never get rid of the king by yourself."
Glyndwr stared at Hotspur. "Maybe I'm not certain that I want to get rid of the king at all. Maybe I see him as at least a better leader than you."
"Me? Who said I wanted to be king?"
"If you don't want to be king, then why are you planning a rebellion?"
"I thought that would be obvious," Hotspur replied. "I don't like seeing my family being pushed around. And King Henry has certainly pushed us around. He's even pushed you around, Glyndwr. And you, too, are now my family."
That much was true. Hotspur was married to Mortimer's sister. And Mortimer was married to Glyndwr's daughter.
Glyndwr grunted. "If you say so, Hotspur."
Hotspur smiled nastily. "Oh, I say so. But Glyndwr," Hotspur placed an arm around Glyndwr's wide shoulders, "My friend." He lowered his voice. "My brother of a fashion." He sighed. "You really must stop dancing around the countryside with the faeries."
Hotspur lifted his arm from Glyndwr's shoulders and started to laugh again. Peals and peals of laughter, which brought the cook, Glyndwr's daughter Catherine, and Dilwyn into the room.
Frustrated, Glyndwr grabbed a handful of Hotspur's soot-stained tunic and lifted him off the floor. "Who said I was dancing with faeries?"
Hotspur, through his laughter, replied, "All your servants say it. And all your men. Even your daughter." His laughter rose.
Glyndwr glanced at the newcomers to the room, who all had the grace to look embarrassed. Then, he turned back to Hotspur. "Stop laughing!" he shouted.
Hotspur tilted back his head, and laughed more loudly.
"Stop it!" Glyndwr shouted again.
"Hotspur," Worcester cajoled, from his place by the fire. "Hotspur, please."
Hotspur stopped laughing and stared at Glyndwr. "Uncle," he called over his shoulder, "I'm sorry to embarrass you with my mirth but..." Another splutter of laughter escaped his lips. "I've heard that Glyndwr even thinks he's a wizard."
It had been a long time since Glyndwr had been so thoroughly humiliated. In fact, the last time someone had treated him with such open disrespect was when he'd stayed in London. Then, some noblemen had laughingly mispronounced his name. They'd thought it was a terrific joke.
Now, the force of the bitterness Glyndwr felt at that memory, mixed with his antagonism toward Hotspur, made him speak without thinking. "I am a wizard," he said.
Hotspur's laughter started again.
"I am a wizard." Glyndwr shook Hotspur.
Hotspur spluttered, "Prove it."
Glyndwr released Hotspur. The younger man fell, landing on his feet with a thump of boots against stone.
"All right," Glyndwr said. "I will."
He turned on his heel, and left the hall.
Stomping angrily up the spiral staircase, toward his quarters, Glyndwr fumed. How dare that man make fun of him. How dare he. What had he ever achieved in his life, apart from causing trouble?
And yet, despite his anger, Glyndwr wondered at the sanity of what he'd done. Hotspur was an Englishman, and it had been a long time since the English had believed in any magic stronger than the predictions of a soothsayer. Although Glyndwr wasn't ashamed of his powers as a wizard, he had always known that it was something he must keep a secret from his English allies. They wouldn't understand, and they'd hold him up for ridicule.
But it was too late to worry about that now. He couldn't take back the claim he'd made to Hotspur, and so he must prove himself as a wizard. He needed to show Hotspur there was such a thing as magic, and he needed to do it quickly, or else he'd be derided by the young hothead for the rest of their lives.
Inside his room, Glyndwr searched his desk for the scroll. He had to release Mararet. He had to release her from the stone, in front of Hotspur's eyes.
Glyndwr's room was sparse. There was a bed, some tapestries, the desk, and a sturdy wooden chair. Torches lit the room from sconces. They must have been damp, because the room smelled smoky.
Glyndwr found the scroll. He unraveled it and pressed it flat against his desk, reading the words in the illumination from the flickering light.
"That's what went wrong," he said to himself after a moment, poking his finger at the scroll. He'd left out an entire line of the spell.
He read the words written on the scroll out loud, repeating it over and over again, committing it to memory. Once he thought it was well and truly ensconced in his brain, he turned away from his desk and, keeping his eyes on the tapestry at one end of the room, tested his memory by repeating the spell.
He would go out to the stones again tonight, he decided as he continued to speak the spell. He would take Hotspur with him. He'd release Mararet from the stone and prove that he was a wizard.
But his bold confidence, he realized, was hollow. What if he failed? It was true that he did have the gift of magic, but it was a weak magic. He'd never succeeded in executing a complicated spell.
Well, he decided, still repeating the spell. It would just have to work.
As Glyndwr continued to chant, an orange light started to form in mid-air. He stared at it, puzzled. Then, as the light started to grow, his heart began to pound with excitement.
Something's happening, he thought, excited, proud and disbelieving. Something's happening.
Frightened that if he stopped the incantation the spell would be broken, he kept chanting, more loudly, and as he did so, the blue light enlarged, sparking flames.
Two figures fell from the center of the light. One of them - red in color - fell beak first into the stone floor. The other one - green, and a woman - landed lightly, bending her muscular knees to absorb the shock of the fall.
Glyndwr stopped chanting. He stared at his visitors, numb with shock. He'd done it!
"Gee," the red one said, rubbing his beak. "You would think that after - how many landings? - I'd get that right."
"It takes practice, Brooklyn-san," the female said demurely. "And now, you must stand and be on your best behavior. We have company." She nodded in Glyndwr's direction.
Glyndwr saw something register in the female's face as her gaze settled on him. He thought it might be recognition, and that puzzled him.
"What?" the male called Brooklyn-san turned to stare at Glyndwr. He looked startled. Still rubbing his beak, he said, "Gee. Hi. Didn't see you there. Sorry to just barge in."
The female bowed deeply in Glyndwr's direction. "Hello," she said. "My name is Sata, and this is my mate Brooklyn. And you are..."
"My name is Owain Glyndwr."
"Owain Glyndwr," Sata repeated. "We are sorry to have startled you, but -"
"Startled me?" Glyndwr said. He recovered from his initial shock at seeing his spell work. Excitement sparked inside him. "Startled me? You didn't startle me. I've been expecting you."
Brooklyn and Sata exchanged surprised glances. It was Brooklyn who eventually addressed him. "You have?"
"Yes," Glyndwr said. "Where have you been? I've been calling you all evening, and..." His temper started to burn as he remembered standing in front of the stones in the woods, in the cold twilight, chanting the spell that would release the beings in the stone, and receiving nothing for his efforts but a twig in his hair. Then he quickly reminded himself that he'd been chanting the wrong spell, and he could hardly blame the stone-beings for that. "I've been calling for you all evening."
"You've been," the male called Brooklyn spoke again, "calling for us?"
"That's right," Glyndwr said. "You're not Mararet. But you are the children of the stone, aren't you?"
"Uh," Brooklyn glanced down at his body. "Not a child, but -"
Sata nudged Brooklyn, and the male creature stopped speaking. The female bowed again. "We have been called many things," she said, "But never has anyone described us using such nice words. We are, as you say, children of the stone."
"But - " Brooklyn argued.
Sata glared at him. "Would you prefer to be called a demon?"
Brooklyn shrugged. "No. I guess not." The male stared at Glyndwr. "Yes, I suppose we are children of the stone."
They weren't, as Glyndwr had predicted earlier in the evening, human. They were something else. Something magical, he guessed. Something from deepest folklore. Something which he'd never come across before. Accustomed to strangeness, he didn't question the existence of these creatures. He simply watched them, examined them.
He remembered the footprints which he'd seen in the ground as he'd left Bedde Mararet. He remembered their claw-like shape. Curious, he looked down at Sata's feet, and saw that they were large and clawed. He also saw that they were covered with mud.
So, Mararet and her children had heard his cry. These very beings in front of him had come at his call, but they'd chosen not to reveal themselves. The children of Mararet were obviously were tricky. Like he'd told Dilwyn, although they'd never hurt a Welshmen, they did like to tease. He'd have to treat them carefully.
Glyndwr knew he couldn't take any chances with them. He had to make sure they didn't leave this room until Hotspur could see them. So, he quickly made a decision. He lifted his hand, pointed it in the direction of Sata and Brooklyn, and shouted, "Owain murum aedificavit!"
Immediately, light spurted from the palm of his hand, and surrounded the two creatures.
"What the - " Brooklyn cried, lifting his wing to cover his eyes.
The one called Sata reacted similarly, lowering her face and covering it with both her wings.
As the light shimmered around them, Glyndwr breathed a sigh of relief. The prison of light was the only magic he could perform with any real degree of accuracy, and even that had failed him more than once.
Lowering his hand, Glyndwr smiled. The prison of light remained around his two visitors, glimmering a faint, translucent pink.
"Are you all right, Sata?" Brooklyn asked.
"I am not hurt," Sata replied. Brooklyn lowered his wing from his face and turned his attention to Glyndwr. His eyes glowed white. They glared so brightly that Glyndwr involuntarily took a step backward.
"What are you doing?" Brooklyn demanded. He touched the light encasement with a talon, and jerked it back. "Ouch!"
"I've trapped you inside the prison of light," Glyndwr said. "I'm a wizard, you see. A powerful wizard, so don't try to fight me." Glyndwr wondered if it was right, trying to deceive these two creatures by making them think he was more powerful than he was. But surely, there was no harm in it. And they obviously were also creatures of deceit, given that they still hadn't spoken about their appearance at Bedde Mararet. "It's like one big bubble, only it doesn't move, and it's very strong. You can't break it, and if you touch it, it will give you a jolt."
Sata stared at him. "But why are you doing this? We have been nothing but polite to you since we arrived, surely we do not deserve," she indicated her surroundings with her talons, "this?"
"Just a precaution," Glyndwr said, shaking a finger at her. He turned and rebundled Merlin's scroll. "I know what you magical creatures are like, always joking and teasing us mortals. I need you to do something for me - to prove to my disbelieving friend downstairs that I am a wizard. And I don't want you to leave until I do that."
Glyndwr placed the scroll inside a wooden box, and then he ran downstairs to fetch Hotspur.
* * * * *
Sata stared at the glowing pink prison which surrounded her. "I do not know how we are going to escape from this," she said.
"Neither do I," Brooklyn agreed. He touched a talon to the glowing wall, and whipped it back. "Ouch!"
Sata shook her head. "Why did you do that?"
"Touch your talon to the prison of light. You did that before. You already knew it would give you a jolt."
Brooklyn shrugged. "I guess I was hoping that, once Glyndwr was gone, that his prison might lose its potency."
"And did it?"
Sata sighed. "Perhaps we should try to find a way of getting out of here."
"I think I can help you," a voice said from the doorway.
Sata stared across the room. The voice belonged to a small boy. He had a piercing stare, and full, red cheeks. He couldn't have been more than ten years old. "Who are you?" she asked.
"My name is Cyngen," said the boy, entering the room and closing the door behind. "And I think I can help you."
Brooklyn's eyes narrowed. "How."
"Close your eyes," Cyngen said.
Sata stared at Brooklyn. Her mate shrugged.
Slowly, cautiously, Sata closed her eyes.
"Now," Cyngen's thin voice filled the room. "Lift your arms up."
Sata did as Cyngen commanded. She sensed Brooklyn beside her, doing the same.
"Now, imagine that I've placed my hands through the prison of light, and that my fingers are touching your talons."
Sata concentrated on Cyngen's words, and it was almost as though she could feel Cyngen's fingers.
"And now imagine that I've pulled you out of the prison of light."
Sata imagined Cyngen taking her talon in his hand, and pulling her through the pink glow.
"Open your eyes," Cyngen said.
Sata cracked first one eye open, and then the other. She felt her jaw drop in surprise. "What happened?" she asked. She stared at Brooklyn. Both she and her mate were standing in the same part of the room where they'd stood before closing their eyes, but the prison of light had moved, and now surrounded Cyngen.
Cyngen lifted a finger and poked the wall of the prison of light. It disappeared.
Brooklyn said, "How'd you do that, kid?"
Cyngen smiled a smile, enigmatic smile. "Illusion manipulation," he said.
Voices drifted toward them from the other side of the door.
"Quick," Cyngen said. "Don't let Glyndwr see you again. Hide behind the tapestry.
"What about you?" Sata asked.
"Don't worry about me," said Cyngen. "Just hide."
* * * * *
Glyndwr found Hotspur sitting with Mortimer in the hall. They were drinking mead, and both seemed drunk.
Hotspur sat in front of the fire. The orange light caught in his red hair, making it glow. His face was in profile, but Glyndwr could still see the sneer on his lips. "A wizard!" Hotspur slurred. "Can you believe it?"
Mortimer shook his head in response, joining Hotspur in laughter.
They looked comfortable, the two of them together. Like old friends catching up with each other's lives. Mortimer never looked so relaxed when he was in the company of his wife, or his wife's friends. Glyndwr wondered if Mortimer missed his own country.
And then he ceased to ponder about Mortimer at all. He didn't even dwell on the fact that he, his own son-in-law, mocked him behind his back. It didn't matter. Glyndwr now had proof that he was a wizard. That was all that mattered. In a few minutes time, both men would be apologizing to him profusely.
"Men!" Glyndwr shouted.
Both Hotspur and Mortimer looked up. Hotspur continued to laugh, but Mortimer turned pale.
Glyndwr ignored Mortimer, and said to Hotspur, "I have the proof."
Hotspur stopped laughing, but his eyes still danced with mirth and skepticism. The fire flickered behind him. The room smelt of spilled mead. "What proof, Glyndwr? Not more oak leaves, I hope."
The memory of the twig in his hair, and the subsequent humiliation he'd experienced, angered Glyndwr. "No," he said, a bit too quickly, a bit too sharply. "Come with me and have a look."
Hotspur glanced at Mortimer.
Mortimer looked away.
Glyndwr noticed Mortimer's discomfort, and was pleased with the power he had over his son-in-law. But it wasn't Mortimer he wanted to cower before him. It was Hotspur. And soon, Hotspur would see how much power Glyndwr could wield; and Glyndwr would see conciliation in the young hothead's eyes, too. Brimming with confidence, Glyndwr led both Hotspur and Mortimer out of the hall, and up the narrow, spiral stairs, towards his quarters.
At the door to his room, Glyndwr turned to Hotspur and said, "Ready?"
Hotspur nodded once, curtly. In the torchlight, he still looked amused.
"Your smile won't last long," Glyndwr muttered beneath his breath. He opened the door and, speaking loudly and clearly, said, "See for yourselves what my wizardry has conjured tonight." He flung out his arm dramatically, gesturing toward the center of the room, where he'd left the children of the stone. He didn't look inside the room himself, but instead watched Hotspur.
The amusement fell from the rash Englishman's face, to be replaced by surprise, and then a sneer. "It's that freaky stableboy of yours," Hotspur said. "If that's what your wizardry has conjured tonight, then I'm not impressed."
Glyndwr turned and stared inside his room. His prison of light had disappeared. The children of stone were gone. And in their place was Cyngen, the stableboy.
* * * * *
"What's happening?" Brooklyn whispered.
"Shh." Sata held her finger to her lips.
Their position behind the tapestry was cramped. Sata had to flatten her body against the cold wall in order not to create a lump in the heavy material. Her tail was entwined with Brooklyn's, and ran across the length of the floor, barely concealed by the width of the tapestry.
Standing so still she could have been in stone sleep, Sata listened carefully to what was going on in the room beyond the tapestry. She was frightened for Cyngen. She was grateful for the boy's help and didn't want anything to happen to him. She didn't know how Glyndwr would react when he learnt that his prisoners had escaped, but she was determined to protect the boy from the older man's wrath.
So she waited, and listened, all the while concerned as to what Cyngen's fate would be. She could feel Brooklyn's breath against her cheek, could hear the rasp of his breathing. It sounded loud to her. She hoped the men outside couldn't hear it.
Clearly, they couldn't. They seemed to have other things on their minds.
"Where have they gone?" Glyndwr said.
Sata risked a peek around the edge of the tapestry. She saw Glyndwr. He had two other men with him. One was tall and slim, with a thatch of strawberry colored hair. The other was blond with a paunch.
Glyndwr entered the room, circling the floor. He had a wild look on his face. "They were here, I tell you. Mararet's children. Two of them. One was red, the other was a light green."
The strawberry-haired man laughed. He had a screeching laugh which irritated Sata not just because the sound was displeasing, but because she heard the nastiness in it.
"Glyndwr, give it up," the strawberry-haired man said. "You're no more a wizard than I am."
"They were here, I tell you."
"Father," the blond man said.
"You, be quiet!" Glyndwr pointed at the blond man. Glyndwr's face had turned a deep crimson color. "They were here, and I'll find them, even if I have to..." He stopped speaking, and stared at the boy sitting on the floor. His face hardened.
Sata's heart leapt to her throat. No, she thought. No, don't hurt him.
"Where did they go?" Glyndwr demanded.
Cyngen shook his head. "I don't know who you're talking about."
"Liar," Glyndwr grated through clenched teeth. He bent down and lifted the boy by the scruff of his tunic. "You know. Tell me." Glyndwr shook Cyngen until the boy's face turned red. "Tell me, or I'll have you whipped."
A cold, hard fury settled in the pit of Sata's stomach. She pulled her head back behind the concealment of the tapestry and told Brooklyn, "I am going to help him."
"No," Brooklyn placed a halting talon on Sata's arm. "We'll just get caught in the prison of light again, and this time Cyngen won't be there to help us. Wait. Be patient. I promise you, Sata, Cyngen won't be punished for helping us."
Sata heeded the wisdom of her mate. She didn't go to Cyngen's aid. But having to wait, and listen to Glyndwr's cruel threats, were agony to her.
"Where are they?" Glyndwr asked again. He began to search the room.
Sata's heart pounded. "He'll find us," she whispered to Brooklyn.
Glyndwr, still holding Cyngen by the scruff of the tunic, reached the tapestry. "Are they behind this?"
Sata placed her hand on her sword, preparing to fight.
Then, something peculiar happened. Glyndwr lifted the tapestry, exposing both Sata and Brooklyn to the torchlit room. Glyndwr stared right at her. But he didn't see her. With a growl, he let the heavy tapestry drop back into place. "Where are they?" Glyndwr shouted.
"What just happened?" Sata whispered to Brooklyn. A chill ran down her spine. It had felt strange, even creepy, to have Glyndwr stare right through her.
"I don't know," Brooklyn whispered back.
"Where are they?" Glyndwr shouted again.
Cyngen said nothing.
Glyndwr shouted, "Dilwyn!"
Sata heard the sound of running footsteps outside the room. She poked her head around the edge of the tapestry again.
A young soldier appeared in the doorway, slightly out of breath.
Glyndwr said to him, "Take this boy downstairs and lock him up. We'll whip him in the morning."
Sata almost cried out, but she stopped herself in time.
The soldier named Dilwyn turned pale, but he didn't question Glyndwr. He took the boy roughly by the arm and pulled him out of the room.
Dismay filled Sata. She and Brooklyn had to help Cyngen. But she had no idea how much time they had before sunrise. Would they be able to come to Cyngen's aid in time?
"Let us leave now," Sata said to Brooklyn. "If they cannot see us, then we can safely sneak by them. And then we can help Cyngen."
"Sata, we don't know why they didn't see us. We don't know if we'll be invisible to them again. Let's wait a moment, and see what happens."
Normally, it was Sata who pointed out the need to be patient to her mate. Although she was pleased that he'd listened to her over the time they'd been traveling together, she was disturbed by the fact that she was clearly acting contrary to her usual self. "You are right, Brooklyn," she spoke quietly.
Back in the main part of the room, the strawberry-haired man said, "Now, Glyndwr, don't you think you're being a bit hard on the boy? After all, it isn't his fault that you're not a wizard."
"As for you, Hotspur," Glyndwr whirled around, glaring at the strawberry-haired man. "I want you out of my chambers. Now!"
Despite the power in Glyndwr's voice, Hotspur didn't seem perturbed. He simply smirked and, leaving, said, "As you wish, Glyndwr. I hope tomorrow finds you in a saner mood."
With that, he left, followed by the blond-haired man.
Finally, Glyndwr was alone.
Sata looked out from behind the tapestry again. She thought Glyndwr looked suddenly old. Defeated. The hard muscles in his face sagged. His shoulders drooped. If it hadn't been for the way he'd treated Brooklyn and her, if it hadn't been for the callousness of his attitude toward Cyngen, she would have felt sorry for him.
Just as she had before, when he'd knelt in front of the stones, wailing that sad chant.
She remembered him. As soon as the Phoenix Gate had dropped them in the castle, she'd recognized Glyndwr as the man who she'd seen during the last, brief dance. Although only moments separated her memory of him by the stones, and him in his room, she didn't know how much time had passed for him, or even if what she was seeing now was an earlier version of the him.
Nor did she care all that much. She only wanted to escape his room, and find Cyngen.
"Brooklyn," Sata said, "Let us go."
"All right," Brooklyn said, "but be careful. Don't expect that we'll be invisible to him again."
"I will be cautious."
Silently, they crept out from their hiding spot. The tapestry rippled as Sata dropped it back into place.
Stepping into the center of the sparse room, Sata stared at Glyndwr's back, expecting him to turn around at any moment.
Don't turn around, Sata murmured to herself in her mind, willing Glyndwr to obey her unspoken order. Don't turn around. Let me leave without you noticing. Just then, a voice shouted from beyond the door, "You're no wizard, Glyndwr."
Sata's heart pounded. Her warrior instincts, however, kept her calm. She remained frozen to the stone floor, staring at Glyndwr's back, preparing herself to react to his first movement. She sensed Brooklyn beside her, also ready to fight if he had to.
Glyndwr didn't immediately turn around, as she'd expected. Instead, he lifted his head, stiffened his shoulders. He started to swing his head around. Slowly. Sata caught a glimpse of his angry profile.
She was ready to face him.
And then something completely different seized her attention. The wall in front of Glyndwr started to shimmer.
Glyndwr must have seen it, too, because he didn't complete the turn of his head, but focused his attention on the shimmering wall.
For a moment, Sata was transfixed by what was happening. It was as though the stones in the wall had turned to a floating, luminescent gas. It glowed intensely for one brief moment. And then the incandescence evaporated. The wall seemed to disappear. And in its place stood a proud, beautiful woman, with rich black hair, and a pale, elfin face.
Sata gulped at this new, unexpected event. The woman in the wall stared directly at her, and then at Brooklyn. Sata thought they were trapped for sure. The woman would give away their presence, maybe point to them, and Glyndwr would again trap them in the prison of light.
But the woman, once she'd glanced at Sata and Brooklyn, appeared to have no interest in them. Surprisingly, she ignored them.
And Glyndwr was so completely transfixed by the vision in front of him, he wouldn't have noticed if Sata had shouted in his ear.
Sata didn't ponder for long the curiosity of the woman in the wall. She'd seen too many strange things in her life to be so easily swayed from her own task. And she was alert enough to realize that this was their chance to escape, to save Cyngen from his imminent whipping. She turned to leave.
When she reached the door, she realized that Brooklyn wasn't with her.
She swiveled around, to find that her mate was just as transfixed by the woman in the wall as Glyndwr was.
"Brooklyn," Sata hissed. But she didn't dare say anything more, in case she caught Glyndwr's attention. When Brooklyn didn't acknowledge her call, she ran back into the room, grabbed her mate by the beak, and dragged him to the door.
"Ouch," Brooklyn said as they stepped into the castle corridor, "What are you doing?"
Before Sata could reply, the woman in the wall began to speak. She had a deep, resonant voice; the kind which could send a person's mind into a whirl. "Glyndwr," she said.
Ignoring the voice of the woman in the wall, Sata spoke to Brooklyn, "We must -"
"Shh," Brooklyn said. He opened the door to Glyndwr's room again, and stared at the woman inside.
Angrily, Sata said, "We have to help Cyngen."
"In a minute," Brooklyn said. "I want to hear what this lady has to say to Glyndwr. We have time, Sata. Glyndwr won't be expecting anyone to rescue Cyngen, which will make our task all the more easy. And I think..." he pointed inside the room. "I think this might be important."
"All right," Sata agreed begrudgingly. She didn't want to linger. She was impatient. She was frightened that the soldiers wouldn't wait until morning to whip Cyngen. But she also had to admit that she was a little bit curious. And Brooklyn was making some sense.
So, Sata stepped up to the door, and stared inside. She could see the woman quite clearly. She was still glowing.
"Owain Glyndwr," the woman in the wall spoke. "Noswaith dda. I know what your heart desires."
Sata couldn't see Glyndwr's face, but she could hear the passionate tremor in his voice as he said, "You know what my heart desires - what it desires more than anything else? Are you Mararet of the stones, then?"
The woman's beautiful face lighted with a sensual smile. She stepped away from the wall, from the light, and when she did so. Sata could see that her clothes glowed with a bright, ethereal incandescence. She touched Glyndwr's face. Long, even strokes along his cheek and across his jaw.
She didn't answer his question. "I've come from Avalon to tell you what you want to know," she said. "You want to know if an alliance with Hotspur will bring the glory to Wales which you seek, or if it will only bring about tragedy, and more death for your people. Glyndwr," she stroked his face again, "No one loves this country, or her people, more than you. If you help Hotspur with his rebellion, you'll succeed in overthrowing the king, and Wales will become a united, glorious, independent nation. And you will be her king."
Glyndwr half rose in his chair, and said, "My lady -"
The woman pushed him back down. "Listen to me." She pressed her face close to Glyndwr's. She lowered her voice, although not so much that Sata couldn't hear her. "Listen to me. I've told you that I come from Avalon. I come from the place where King Arthur sleeps. And I can tell you that even now, he begins to stir. I believe he'll awaken soon and when he does, I know that he will see your cause as true and just, and he will fight beside you."
"Oh," Glyndwr said, and his voice was barely above a whisper. "My Lady."
"You must become allies with Hotspur," the woman said, straightening. "You must believe in yourself enough to persuade your people to fight, one more time. Speak to them. Tell them that King Arthur himself believes in the cause. They will follow you. They will follow you if you stir their patriotic senses again. Don't doubt yourself. You can do it." She stroked Glyndwr for the last time, and then she stepped backward, toward the wall. "You and Hotspur must put aside your differences, for the sake of a greater Britain."
With that, she pressed her body back into the wall. Light engulfed her again, and then she disappeared.
Sata closed the door, and turned quietly toward her mate. "What does this mean?" she asked.
Brooklyn shook his head. "I don't know. I don't even understand the context. But there's something not right here." He glanced at his surroundings. "Something's bothering me."
"Well," Sata said, "Do you suppose you can work it out after we find Cyngen?"
Brooklyn slapped a talon against his forehead. "Cyngen. Of course. Let's go find him."
* * * * *
Brooklyn didn't want to disappoint his mate. He'd seen that, from the moment she'd laid eyes on Cyngen, she'd felt an affection for him. In a way, that made a lot of sense. Sata liked children. She'd taught the hatchlings in her clan to fight. Years ago she'd made a frog puppet for a small, frightened boy.
And yet, it bothered Brooklyn as well. He'd never seen Sata so preoccupied with one goal. He'd never seen her lose her good judgement. He was so accustomed to looking to her for advice, and wisdom that he was almost uncomfortable taking the lead in this quest. But he must take the lead. He knew that. For some reason, Cyngen had managed to dig his way beneath Sata's skin, and she wasn't acting like her normal self. She'd wanted to charge Glyndwr. She hadn't wanted to stop to listen to the woman in the wall. She hadn't remembered that being well-informed was the most important part of any battle. She'd forgotten those basic rules in her desire to make sure that Cyngen was safe.
This was a side to Sata that Brooklyn had never seen before. Of course, in some respects, Sata was being consistent with her old self. When Cyngen appeared, and had helped them escape the prison of light, his courageous act had bound Sata to him in honor.
So perhaps Sata hadn't turned emotional on him. Perhaps she was acting out of a sense of debt and honor.
Brooklyn wasn't sure. But he did know that he wanted to please Sata. He felt a debt of gratitude to Cyngen, of course, but his sense of honor wasn't as finely tuned as Sata's. Not only that, but a niggling feeling in the back of his mind told him that they had to find out who the woman in the wall was, and what she was up to. But his need to make Sata happy over-ruled his better judgement.
And so he spent the next hour, not trying to discover the identity of the woman in the wall, but gliding surreptitiously over the castle turrets with Sata, the moonlight on his back, and a quiet castle below.
They found Cyngen outside the castle walls, on the other side of the moat, tied to a post outside a large pig pen.
The pen smelled of rotten vegetables and a pervading dampness.
Cyngen lay quietly on the ground. His head rested on a thatch of soiled hay. He was so silent, so motionless, that at first, Brooklyn thought he was asleep. But when he landed on the ground, the spray of wind from his outstretched wings ruffled the boy's hair, and Cyngen looked up.
Sata landed, too, and ran to the boy. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Cyngen said. In the moonlight, Brooklyn could see that his face was grubby but otherwise, he looked well. "But you have to leave. Now. I'm well guarded and - "
A shout pierced the night.
Brooklyn whirled in the direction of the sound, poised and ready to fight. "Untie Cyngen," Brooklyn told Sata. "Let's get him out of here, now."
"Too late, Brooklyn-san," Sata said, sounding like her usual self.
As she spoke, three soldiers appeared on the other side of the pen. One of them shouted, "Halt. Who is there?"
Without waiting for an answer, the three men charged.
When they saw that they weren't fighting men, they stopped.
"What are you?" one of the soldiers asked.
In the moonlight, Brooklyn saw the fear reflected in each of their faces, recognized the expression. This time, rather than taking offence as he often did, he sought to use the men's shock to his own advantage. He swung his tale in an arc, and knocked all three soldiers off balance in a single hit.
One of them fell over the rail which bordered the pig pen. He landed in the mud on the other side. Pungent muck sprayed through the air.
"Quickly," Brooklyn called to Sata. "Untie Cyngen. Let's get out of here."
Sata didn't need to be told twice. She ran to the boy, untied him, and then leapt towards the concealment of the woods.
Brooklyn followed her.
* * * * *
Glyndwr continued to stare at the wall for a long time after the woman had left. She'd come and gone so quickly, before he'd had a chance to question her, before he'd had an opportunity to touch her, before he'd been able to fetch Hotspur from his room and prove the truth of his own wizardry to the other man.
But she'd told him what he needed to know. She'd offered him the guidance which he'd so desperately sought. Ally himself with Hotspur. Stir his people to fight. Win the independence of Wales. Forever. And, in the end, earn the approval of none other than King Arthur.
The future could not look better.
Joy spread through him. He had to go to Hotspur. And he had to go now.
Despite the late hour, Glyndwr left his quarters and ran up the stairs. He knocked on the door to Hotspur's room. When there was no answer, he knocked again, pounding his fist against the wood.
"What is it?" The door swung open and Hotspur, bleary eyed, his hair more tousled than normal, appeared.
"Hotspur," Glyndwr said eagerly. "I agree to an alliance with you."
Hotspur shook his head. Clearly, he'd been asleep. "At three o'clock in the morning?"
"Yes. At three o'clock in the morning."
Hotspur's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?."
"It's the best thing for my people."
Hotspur shook his head. "Glyndwr, I don't understand you. From all my experiences with you, I've always considered you cautious. You think things through. Carefully. You're a madman, of course. But a cautious madman. So why are you knocking on the door to my room, in the middle of the night, telling me something which you could have told me in the morning?"
Glyndwr pressed his face close to Hotspur's. "Mararet," he whispered.
Hotspur looked stunned. "Who?"
"Mararet," Glyndwr whispered again. "She visited me, finally, and she told me what to do."
Hotspur slapped his hand against his forehead. "We're not talking about your wizardry again. Please, tell me we're not talking about wizardry?"
Glyndwr felt the old anger jab him again. Why did Mararet approve of this man, when he so obviously disbelieved in magic? "The spirits are on our side."
"Oh, no," Hotspur groaned. "That means we're bound to lose. Glyndwr, go to sleep. I'll talk to you in the morning."
"Hotspur - "
"Go." Hotspur looked suddenly angry. "I need my sleep. The sun will rise soon, and I want to be fully awake when we start to discuss war."
"Hotspur," Glyndwr said angrily. He could enforce his own desires, too, when the occasion arose. "If you want this alliance between us, and it seems to you do, then you'd better give me the chance to prove to you that I'm telling the truth."
* * * * *
In a thin section of the woods, Sata and Brooklyn climbed a tree, and took off from the top. Gliding, they were able to escape the three men who, once they'd picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, had started to chase them again.
Sata and Brooklyn glided for about ten minutes. The boy, Cyngen, felt warm in Sata's arms. He didn't squirm, nor did he seem frightened. He didn't speak, even though the events of the night must have frightened him. His courage made Sata admire him even more.
Affection for the boy swept through her.
She would keep him safe, she vowed. After they'd traveled for a while, Sata indicated a clearing in the woods to her mate, and she and Brooklyn landed in the grass.
"Now that Cyngen's safe," Brooklyn said, almost immediately after his feet had touched the ground, "we have to leave him somewhere and go back."
"Why?" Sata asked. "And Cyngen is not safe. We need to find someone to look after him. We cannot just leave him in a clearing, and let him fend for himself."
"Don't worry about me," Cyngen said. He squirmed out of Sata's arms, making her feel suddenly bereft. He fell into the long grass, and sat up. He looked small, and sweet. "I'm used to taking care of myself. I often frighten or worry people, and they don't like me to live with them for long. I can look after myself. Truly, I can."
The thought of Cyngen all alone in the world, wandering from village to village, and castle to castle, upset Sata. Everyone needed family. Everyone needed friends.
"What happened to your mother?" Sata asked.
Brooklyn stared at Cyngen. "How did you know how to do what you did with the prison of light?"
"That was easy," Cyngen said. "Glyndwr isn't much of a wizard. In fact, he isn't a wizard at all. Not in the true sense. When he was a boy, he had a tutor who was a wizard, and that wizard taught him same basic theories of magic. But he has no talent, and all he ever managed to perfect was the ability to conjure illusions. The prison of light wasn't real. It just looked as though it was, and felt as though it was - "
"What's the difference?" Brooklyn asked.
"It's hard to explain," Cyngen said. But the important thing is that there is a difference. All I had to do was acknowledge that the prison of light wasn't real, and then it disappeared."
"Why didn't Glyndwr see us when he lifted the tapestry?" Brooklyn asked.
Cyngen shrugged. "I cast a spell of invisibility over you. Briefly."
"A spell," Brooklyn whispered. "I see. You're a wizard."
Cyngen straightened. "I have ability. Yes. That's why I know the things that I know. That's why I know how to do the things that I do."
"How much ability do you have?" Brooklyn demanded.
"Brooklyn," Sata reprimanded, taken aback by all the questions her mate was asking, "Cyngen has done nothing but help us. It isn't a crime to be a wizard, is it?"
"Not a crime, no. But he's awfully young to have such power."
"Presumably, all wizards were once children. Leave him alone. He's tired. He's been through such an ordeal. Must you - "
"It's all right," Cyngen said. "He's curious. I understand that."
"You understand a lot for a boy who could be no more than ten years old," Brooklyn said.
"About that," Cyngen agreed.
"What else do you know?" Brooklyn continued. Then, when Cyngen didn't answer, "I don't suppose you know a witch who lives near here?"
Sata stared at Brooklyn. "You're referring to the woman in the wall?"
"Yes," Brooklyn said. "Flying around, I realized what was bothering me. We're in - what? - the late thirteen hundreds? The early fourteen hundreds?"
"We're in the fourth year of the reign of Henry the Fourth," Cyngen supplied.
"Henry the Fourth," Brooklyn repeated. He'd picked up some history during his travels. "That places us in the early fourteen hundreds. So, my estimated dates are pretty accurate."
"What difference does it make?" Sata asked.
"The woman in the wall," Brooklyn explained. "She said that she came from Avalon. But this is the time of the Great Banishment. She couldn't have just come from Avalon."
Brooklyn had told Sata something about the Great Banishment, and now she understood what was bothering him. "The woman in the wall," Sata spoke, "said that she'd just come from Avalon. She said that King Arthur was starting to stir."
"She must be lying," Brooklyn said.
"But, perhaps she found a way - "
"No. She didn't find a way. And for that matter, King Arthur isn't stirring, either. He doesn't wake until - "
"Wait!" Sata held up her hand. She pointed to the boy. "Remember, we can't talk about the future."
Cyngen peered at them. He'd been following the exchange, and now he said, "You're prophets? You know of the future?"
Sata smiled at Cyngen. "No," she said, gently. "We come from the future. But that's all we can tell you. We can't tell you what will happen."
Cyngen looked as though he didn't believe her. But finally he sighed and said, "Anything is possible, I guess. I should know that by now."
He sounded so world weary that Sata again felt sorry for him.
"We have to find the woman in the wall," Brooklyn said. "We have to find out what she's up to."
"I know," Sata said. "But how?"
Quietly, Cyngen said, "I can take you to her."
The wind raced across the ground, fluttering the blades of grass, stirring a fragrance of herbs and flowers through the air.
"What did you say?" Sata asked.
Cyngen said, "I told you that I've lived with witches. I know all the odd people around here. I think I know the woman you're talking about, and I can take you to her."
Sata didn't know what to say.
But clearly, Brooklyn did. "All right," he said. "We don't have time to waste."
* * * * *
"You're wasting my time," Hotspur said, as their horses trudged along the damp, dark path.
Glyndwr ignored him. He'd come, and that was the main thing. He'd argued briefly when Glyndwr had insisted that they bring only one companion each, and he was complaining now, but otherwise, he'd managed to keep his irritating habits to himself.
"I'm some sort of a fool if you're planning to ambush me," Hotspur said.
"I don't like you," Glyndwr said, "But I gain nothing by killing you. Just as you gain nothing by killing me. In fact, we both stand to lose if the other of us dies."
"Yes," Hotspur said.
Hotspur, Glyndwr decided, must have reasoned much the same already, or he wouldn't be here.
The sound of horses hooves echoed in the air.
"Where is this `Bedde Mararet?'" Hotspur finally asked, his pronunciation bad.
"We turn off the road just up here," Glyndwr said, remembering Dilwyn's fear earlier that evening, and comparing it to Hotspur's indifference. Dilwyn had been frightened because he believed the stories of Wales, Hotspur wasn't frightened because he didn't.
Eventually, they came to the turn-off. They dismounted their horses, and tethered them to the trees. Taking their soldiers with them, they entered the woods, Glyndwr in the lead.
At the clearing, the two soldiers stood guard.
Glyndwr approached the stones, counting them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. So, they were all back here. And Mararet, too, stood in her place, tall and proud.
Hotspur walked beside Glyndwr.
Glyndwr said to his companion, "You'll see what I can do soon enough." And then he stopped in front of the stone Mararet, and started to chant.
* * * * *
They soared through the air. Dipping and lifting with the currents of air which filled Sata's wings, and felt like a caress. Cyngen was back in her arms, curled against her chest. He was staring over her arm this time, watching the ground as they flew. Unlike other humans, he wasn't frightened of flying. He marveled at the experience, laughing as the fresh wind slapped his face, and pointing as he saw things of interest on the ground below.
He also directed them across the land, to the place where he thought the woman in the wall lived.
Sata enjoyed Cyngen's company. She liked the feel of him. She liked his small hands and feet. He elicited in her all the protective emotions that were normal to a gargoyle, but which had become enormously mixed in her since she'd started to timedance. Whereas other gargoyles were territorial, she and Brooklyn had learnt to become attached to one another, to want to protect one another. Now, Sata expanded that feeling of protection to include Cyngen.
She didn't regret her emotions, and wasn't cautious of them. Even though Brooklyn had long ago warned her that becoming emotionally attached to the people who they met on their dances was heart- wrenching. Even though she knew she might have to say goodbye to Cyngen at any moment.
She was thinking about this, when she heard Brooklyn's shout.
"Brooklyn?" Sata glanced across the sky at her mate. Something was wrong. He wasn't gliding properly.
Too late, Sata saw what was happening. Three birds - three giant birds - were attacking Brooklyn. Somehow, they'd managed to remain unseen, even with Sata's good vision. Even in the bright moonlight. As Sata stared at them more closely, she saw that their wings were as black as midnight and that the moonlight, which should have reflected from their feathers, were actually absorbed by them.
"Brooklyn!" Sata shouted. "I am coming." To Cyngen, she said, "Put your arms around my neck." She helped him, and then she guided him as he climbed onto her back. "Now," she told the boy, "Hold on tight."
Sata glided toward Brooklyn, pulling her blades from her obi. She screamed; a loud, piercing sound. And then she catapulted herself into the first bird.
She collided with it.
The huge creature screamed, but didn't seem to falter at the blow. It retaliated, knocking Sata with its beak. For a minute, Sata spun through the air, dropping. When she regained her balance, she checked that Cyngen was still on her back. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Cyngen said, a little breathlessly, "Yes."
Sata considered dropping to the ground and placing Cyngen where he would be safe, but when she glanced at Brooklyn, she saw that one of the birds already had his shoulders between its claws. She didn't have time.
"Hold on again," she told Cyngen, as she charged toward the bird which held her mate captive.
Before she could reach Brooklyn, one of the other birds rammed her, this time knocking her into a whirl which made her dizzy.
She felt Cyngen's hands slip from around her neck. No, she thought, trying to stop her whirling motion.
Cyngen let go, and slid from her back.
Sata stopped whirling.
Sata cried, "No!" and went after him.
But a bird caught her between its claws before she could reach Cyngen. Pain sliced through her shoulders. Sata ignored it. She watched Cyngen's flailing form drop to the ground below. Horrified, she tried to tear herself away from the bird. She fought the creature which held her. But it was strong.
Cyngen dropped to the ground.
And the bird carried Sata away.
* * * * *
Brooklyn watched Sata through the corner of his eye. He was still in the raven's grasp. His right talon felt limp. The birds had knocked it about a lot, and he feared it was damaged. Although he still struggled, the impairment rendered escape almost impossible.
He was worried about Sata. He could see the sadness in her face, could feel her misery, and he felt bad because he hadn't been able to help her save Cyngen. He'd been too busy trying to fight the monster birds.
As Brooklyn watched, the misery on Sata's face slowly turned to anger. She lifted her blade and tried to hit the bird's claw with it. This earned her a sharp nudge from the third bird behind her.
The ravens pulled them across the sky. Light started to spread across the eastern sky. Horrified, Brooklyn realized there was only a short time before dawn.
Soon, they flew over a manor house. Brooklyn caught a peek of it, before the ravens dragged both him and Sata down. It was nestled in the mountains. Through the pain of his hand, his concern for Sata, and his schemes about how to escape before the approaching sunrise, Brooklyn noted that the house looked run-down and isolated.
Brooklyn looked down again. It was then that something happened which made him realize that their enemy was more powerful than he'd first deduced, and his hopes of escape started to disappear.
The roof of the house vanished. Simply vanished. As though it hadn't been there in the first place.
The birds could now drop into the house from the air, which they did, depositing Brooklyn and Sata in a cold dining hall, with a tiny fire.
It was cold. It was cramped. It was dark. And it was eerie.
A woman stood by the fire. She had dark hair and an elfin face. She turned as the birds entered the house, and smiled.
"You," Brooklyn said.
The woman's smile widened. "Yes," she said. "The woman in the wall," Sata whispered.
"I remember you, too," the woman said, glancing at Sata.
"Tell me," Brooklyn said. "Who are you?"
The woman waved a hand through the air, and chains suddenly bound Brooklyn's wings, talons and legs. Dismayed, he glanced at Sata, and saw that the same thing had happened to her.
"I don't want you to escape," the woman said. "I need you. Now, what is it you asked?"
Before Brooklyn could repeat his question, Sata said, "You killed Cyngen. I will have your blood."
The woman stared at the chains wrapped around Sata's legs. She raised an eyebrow. "I don't think you're in a position to make threats."
"I will kill you," Sata said, with a viciousness which Brooklyn had never seen before. "Just as you let him be killed, when you set your birds onto us."
"Kill?" the woman said.
Brooklyn glanced out the window. He saw that light had started to fill the sky. Oh no, he thought.
"Yes, kill," Sata shouted, clearly oblivious to the rising sun.
"Because I killed a child? But I don't remember... Oh, you mean Cyngen, of course."
If anything, Sata looked even more angry. "Of course, I mean Cyngen. Who else -"
"He isn't dead," the woman said, calmly.
Sata stared at the woman, surprised. "What do you mean, he is not dead? I saw him fall myself."
"No," the woman said. "He isn't dead."
And just as the sun rose above the horizon, Cyngen stepped through the door.
Brooklyn felt his skin harden to stone, but not before he saw the look of astonishment on his mate's face.
* * * * *
Glyndwr had the impression of time passing. He chanted and chanted, his eyes closed, the cool night enveloping him, and after a while he felt drowsy. He fell asleep.
He awoke to find that the sun had not only risen, but had climbed to its zenith. Hotspur lay on the grass not far from him, also asleep, and along the edge of the clearing, the two soldiers who they'd brought with them had also succumbed to the temptation of slumber.
"Great," Glyndwr muttered, wiping the grass from his tunic.
He stood and cursed the stones. "Why do you only appear when you feel like it? That isn't the nature of the spell cast over you. I thought you were trapped in the stone. I thought you needed a wizard or witch to cast a spell over you in order to transform you back to humans. Or whatever you are," Glyndwr added, remembering the strange creatures who had appeared first in his quarters.
On the ground next to Glyndwr, Hotspur stirred. "Give it up, Glyndwr."
Glyndwr stared down at the Englishman, and saw mirth in his eyes. "Never."
Hotspur stood. His hair was a mess. It was filled with grass and leaves. For a moment, Glyndwr thought to tell his companion this, and then he remembered Hotspur's amusement at the twig he'd found in Glyndwr's hair the night before, and Glyndwr stopped feeling so generous.
"Mararet does exist," Glyndwr pointed toward the stones. "The stories are..." He suddenly broke off, staring at the stones.
Hotspur said, "Glyndwr, what's wrong?"
Glyndwr couldn't answer.
"Glyndwr," Hotspur said again. "Stop playing games."
"I'm not playing games," Glyndwr said. "This is serious. Count the stones, Hotspur."
Hotspur was quiet as he counted. "There are eight of them," he said.
"Eight," Glyndwr murmured.
"What's the matter?" Hotspur asked, clearly impatient.
"Yesterday," Glyndwr said. "Last night... There were only seven."
"Hah," Hotspur scoffed. "You just miscounted."
Glyndwr felt hot with rage. "I did not just miscount. I've been coming to visit these stones for years. I know them as well as I know my own family. There have always been seven of them. And now there are eight."
"Oh, and I suppose one just walked here while we were asleep?" Hotspur scoffed.
"Yes," Glyndwr said.
Hotspur swore. "Look, Glyndwr, I've had enough of your silliness. Half the day is already gone. And we have a council of war to attend. We have plans to make, decisions to make. We're not going to stand around here all day counting stones."
After a while, Glyndwr said, "All right. These stones can't come alive during the day, anyway. Not according to legend. I'll go now so long as you promise me that we'll come back at sunset, and look into this eighth stone."
Hotspur sighed, clearly exasperated. "Fine. We'll come back this evening. Can we go now? My uncle will be wondering where we are."
* * * * *
The dark orange rays of the afternoon sun spread across the still damp stones of Deiniol Castle. Glyndwr stared at it with a heavy heart, his horse bouncing gently beneath him. He was going home. Defeated. By now, he'd come to accept the fact that he couldn't control the whims of Mararet or her children. For some reason, the spell he'd been using didn't work. Or else it worked, but he didn't know how to control it. Either way, he couldn't predict when Mararet would appear. And that left him in a difficult position. Hotspur had already thought before that Glyndwr was a fool; now he thought him a complete idiot.
And that, Glyndwr couldn't tolerate. In the saddle of his horse he straightened, frustrated pride filling him. He may not like Hotspur, and he certainly didn't respect him, but there was no way in the world that he'd allow the man to think him an idiot. He had to find a way to redeem himself.
He spurred his horse to a gallop, overtaking Hotspur on the bridge to the castle.
When he approached the building, he saw that it was busy with activity. This was the first day of sunshine they'd had in a week, and every inhabitant of the castle was making the most of the good weather to finish the chores they'd been putting off. Scores of women and children and soldiers sat crouched by the river banks, washing clothes and spreading them out to dry. Men were feeding the pigs. The blacksmith was shoeing horses. The people's collective laughter filled the air, swelling the atmosphere with merriment and good cheer, which ran contrast to Glyndwr's mood.
Glyndwr stopped his horse on the drawbridge, and glanced about him. Gradually, the laughter stopped. Faces, moments ago joyful, were now serious. They turned in his direction. The day seemed to become chillier.
Glyndwr paused for only a moment to stare about him. Then, he climbed off his horse, handed the reigns to a stableboy - not Cyngen, he noted - and walked the rest of the way inside the castle, his boots thumping the ground as he walked.
"Catherine," he called, as he reached the inner ward of the castle. He glanced at a nearby soldier and said, "Fetch my daughter."
A moment later, Catherine was by his side, her brown eyes wide with inquiry, her normally soft mouth stretched into a grim, straight line. "You wished to see me, father?" she asked.
"Yes," Glyndwr said, tapping his fingertips against his chin thoughtfully, "Can you still do that trick with fire and water that your grandmother taught you when you were a child?"
"Father," Catherine stared at him in surprise. Then, her surprise changed to reproach. She was, in truth, probably the only person in the castle who could get away with reproaching Glyndwr. "You plan to stoop to petty tricks in order to prove to Hotspur that you're a wizard?"
"To Hotspur, and to that disbelieving husband of yours. Catherine-"
"Father," Catherine said, angrily. "Enough is enough. What does it matter if you're a wizard or not? Surely what matters most is this alliance with the English rebels."
"Catherine," Glyndwr shook his head in disbelief. "Not you, too."
Catherine stuck her hands on her hips. "What do you mean 'not me, too?' I haven't lost faith in you, father. And I remember the spell you used to cast when I was a child. And I especially remember my grandmother's spells. But that isn't the point. What Hotspur believes and doesn't believes matters little in the grand scheme of things. What's important is Wales." She lifted her arms, and placed her sturdy hands on Glyndwr's shoulders. "Have you forgotten that? Has your own sense of pride made you forget what's really important here?"
"Hotspur scorns me."
"Hotspur scorns everyone."
"But I will not let him scorn me any longer."
"Father - "
"I've done what nobody thought could be done. I've united the people of Wales. I've given them a reason to believe in themselves. A chance to be proud. I won't let some greedy, ambitious, young Englishman - "
"Father, please. Listen to me," Catherine implored. She stared at Glyndwr with such a bright, earnest look in her eyes that Glyndwr couldn't resist. He fell silent, and Catherine continued, "You threaten to undo all the good work you've done. The army you hold together only remains a force because of your leadership. And now, this morning, I've listened to the men talk about you. I've heard them question your sanity. The army you built is falling apart. You must forget all this talk of wizardry, or you not only jeopardize the alliance with the English rebels, but you jeopardize the unity of your own army. The men will desert if you don't show them the leadership which brought the army together in the first place."
Glyndwr stared at his daughter. He knew that she meant well. He even realized that she spoke some sense. But he didn't believe that after all this time, and after all their fortunes, his own people would desert him. "You have some talent with spells, Catherine," he said. "Perhaps even more than I have. You should come with us tonight, when Hotspur and I return to Bedde Mararet."
Catherine groaned. "Have you heard a word I've said?"
Glyndwr slapped his hand against his thigh, and ignored his daughter's question. "That's it," he said. "That's it. You must learn the spell. You must speak it tonight. You're my daughter. If you can summon Mararet, I'll be redeemed in Hotspur's eyes."
"Father, I don't think - "
"It won't work, Father."
"Catherine, I need you to do this for me."
Catherine stared at her father for a moment. "If I do this for you, will you promise me it will be the end of this talk of wizardry? Will you promise me that you'll turn your thoughts back to Wales?"
Glyndwr was appalled. "My thoughts are with Wales."
"Not today, they aren't," Catherine said. "But let's not argue about that. Will you promise?"
Glyndwr sighed. "I will do anything you ask, if you'll do this one thing for me."
Catherine drew a deep breath. "All right," she said.
* * * * *
Sata felt the familiar sensation of awakening. Her stone skin tingled as it cracked. The muscles in her body felt alive, rejuvenated after her fight with the ravens. She contracted them tightly, and then exploded through the veneer of her stone skin, roaring.
Immediately, she felt the chains tug her ankles.
"What is going on here?" she cried, thinking of Cyngen. But when she looked around her, she found that Brooklyn was her only companion in the room.
Brooklyn, too, roared. And then he dusted the remnants of stone from his body, and glanced at the chains which tied his legs together. He looked at Sata. "Are you all right?" he asked, warm concern in his voice.
"I am fine," she said. "And you?"
Brooklyn shook his talon. "Much better." He searched the room with his gaze.
"There is no one here," Sata said. "I have already looked."
"The roof's back on," Brooklyn said. "Well, the wall-lady can't be faraway. She must have a reason for trapping us here. A reason for not..." He stumbled over his words. "A reason for not killing us while we slept."
Sata nodded sagely. She'd feared the same thing. She'd feared that neither she nor her mate would awaken from last night's stone sleep.
"Brooklyn," Sata said, "Last night, before the sun set, was I dreaming, or - "
"Sorry I'm late." The strange woman from the night before entered the room, using the conventional method - the door. "I was held up." She brushed her hands together. "I trust that the two of you had a good sleep?"
"You know what we are?" Brooklyn asked.
"What have you done with Cyngen?" Sata said at the same time.
"Hang on, hang on." The woman stared first at Sata, then at Brooklyn. "One question at a time." Her gaze lingered on Brooklyn. "As for what you are - yes, I've met gargoyles before. They used to guard my brother's castle. As for Cyngen," she turned her attention to Sata. "I've done nothing with him. He's been here all along." The woman pointed to the corner of the room.
Sata turned her head, and saw Cyngen, concealed by the darkness, sitting in a chair. She could have sworn that he hadn't been there before. She felt a rush of joy, tinged with skepticism. She had, after all, seen Cyngen fall. "What is going on?" Sata asked, turning her attention back to the woman. "Cyngen fell. I saw him. How can he be here?"
"Tsk. I thought you'd be relieved."
A strange sensation filled Sata. Her stomach lurched. She knew that, although she did feel some relief that Cyngen was all right, she felt more fear. Cyngen didn't survive by natural means. Sata wasn't sure of the explanation, but she knew she wouldn't like it. "I want to know what is going on," she said.
The woman nodded. "All right. I'll start by telling you who I am." She stared at Brooklyn. "Maybe you've even heard of me. I'm Morgana la Fay."
Brooklyn started. The name, evidently, meant something to him, although it meant nothing to her. "Morgana la Fay," Brooklyn told Sata, "is King Arthur's half sister. She's a sorceress and, if my memory is correct, should be long dead by now."
"Ah," Morgana said, still staring at Brooklyn. "I see you have heard of me. Sorcery is an amazing thing. It can keep you alive and young... for a long time."
"I know some of the things that sorcery can do," Brooklyn said, almost snarling.
"What is your name?" Morgana addressed Brooklyn.
"I'm Brooklyn. And this is my mate, Sata." Brooklyn spoke coldly.
"Enchant‚." Morgana reached for Brooklyn's talon, but Brooklyn drew it back. She then turned to Sata. But Sata, too, refused to touch the sorceress.
"I've only ever read of you," Brooklyn said. "But the things that people say - "
"Aren't nice?" Morgana raised an eyebrow. "You shouldn't believe everything you read."
Sata kicked at her chains. "Your actions have not led us to believe anything different."
Morgana nodded. "The chains are a mere precaution. If you had woken while I was away, and had escaped, then it would have been difficult to find you again."
"Why are we here?" Brooklyn demanded.
"Cyngen, here," Morgana pointed to the corner of the room, "tells me that you're both time-travelers. From the future. I can't see into the future. Not well, anyway. He also said that you seem to know something about my brother, Arthur. Something about him waking from his sleep. I'd like to know what you know."
Sata turned to stare at Cyngen, who was sitting quietly in the corner, not even looking at her. The way Morgana was speaking, it was as though she and Cyngen were close. It was as though Cyngen had purposefully brought them here, had betrayed them. The notion made Sata's stomach lurch even harder. Not Cyngen, she thought. Not the boy.
Brooklyn answered Morgana. "We can't tell you about the future."
Morgana's face hardened. "You will," she said. "Later, perhaps."
"Tell us about Cyngen," Sata demanded.
Morgana turned to Sata. She smiled. "He's a good boy, isn't he?" There was no mistaking the affection in Morgana's voice. "Cyngen, come here," Morgana said. The boy jumped off his chair and ran to the woman. Morgana crouched on the ground in front of Cyngen, and pushed back a stray lock of hair. "He's mine," she said softly. "Only mine."
Morgana smiled at Cyngen, and silence filled the room.
After a moment, Morgana continued to explain. "Many, many years ago, I had a lover. He was a good man - a fine man - a much better man than the one who I'd married. My lover's name was Accolon."
"Accolon died," Brooklyn said. "Centuries ago. You can't make me believe that he's Cyngen's father."
A look of pain swept Morgana's face. "I told you that Cyngen is mine. Only mine. I know, perhaps better than anyone, that Accolon is dead. Has been dead for a long time." Morgana touched the boy's face. Then she straightened, and stared at Sata. "Cyngen isn't real. He won't even exist for long. My magic is strong, but it isn't that strong. He'll last another year, maybe. And then he'll disappear. Just vanish."
"What are you talking about?" Sata asked. "He is as real as you or me."
"No," Morgana said. "He isn't. After Accolon died, I found myself wishing I'd a child with him. After my daughter died, I became even more desperate for a child. So I invented Cyngen in my mind. And I developed my powers as a sorceress, so that I could eventually create him out of thin air. Cyngen is the child Accolon and I would have had, if Accolon hadn't died. And because Cyngen isn't real, because he's conjured from my imagination and my magic, nothing will ever be able to hurt him. He can't die. He'll only vanish one day, when I can no longer maintain him with my magic. That's why he wasn't hurt in the fall."
Sata felt sick.
"That's taking phantom pregnancies to a new height," Brooklyn said.
Morgana stared at Brooklyn, evidently confused.
Sata said, "But Cyngen seems so real. He has all the characteristics of a living child."
Morgana nodded. "I have a good imagination. But he is conjured from my sorcery. He can never be independent of me. When you tell him something, you tell me. When he speaks, I know what he says. That's why I know you are time-travelers. That's why I know what you said about my brother."
Sata stared at Morgana. Horrified by what she was hearing, she didn't know what to say. She'd never met anyone like Morgana before. She didn't know whether to feel revulsion or pity.
"Sata," Brooklyn whispered.
Sata glanced at her mate.
"Sata," Brooklyn repeated. "I'm sorry. But you have to be strong. You have to be the Sata that I love."
Tears stung Sata's eyes. Beneath the bravado and the jokes, her mate was kind. She was lucky to have him.
Brooklyn's faith in her made her strong. She lifted her chin. The truth about Cyngen hurt. But she knew she must put that hurt aside now. She could take it out later, and nurse it when she and Brooklyn were alone. For now, she had to concentrate on persuading the sorceress to free them.
Brooklyn must have noticed the change in Sata. He must have realized that she'd fortified herself against pain. He turned to Morgana, and said, "Let's talk about what you're planning, Morgana."
Morgana pondered this. "All right," she said. "Let's."
"Why did you tell Glyndwr that Arthur was stirring, when he's not?" Brooklyn asked.
"How do you know that he's not?" Morgana countered.
Brooklyn paused, seeming to gauge his words. Then he said, "My clan leader, in my own time, went to Avalon. He saw King Arthur. He was asleep."
Morgana looked disappointed. "How far in the future is that?"
Brooklyn replied, "Far enough."
Morgana stared at him. The disappointment and disbelief on her face changed slowly to anger, and then to defeat. She crumpled to the floor. She looked up and asked, almost pathetically, "Will I never have my revenge?"
"Your... revenge?" Sata asked.
"That's my reason for stirring Glyndwr to fight. I watch him a lot. I was watching him today, in fact. I disguised myself as a stone at Bedde Mararet, and watched him arguing with Hotspur. I thought my plans were perfect. Glyndwr is a strong man, you see. A passionate man. A proud man. He would fight on Hotspur's side only long enough to depose the current king, and then he and Hotspur would begin to fight. The two of them, fighting, would tear the whole of Britain apart and would, I had thought, awaken Arthur. But if what you've said is true..." she covered her face again. "How far in the future are you from? Please tell me. I need to know how long I have to wait for my revenge."
Sata was shocked. "You are doing all this for revenge? Revenge? Do you know what it is you are trying to do? To tear apart a country, to provoke it into civil war - you are destroying thousands of innocent lives."
Morgana dropped her hands from her face and stared coldly at Sata. "I don't care about them."
Sata could only stare at Morgana. She didn't understand this woman. Could not understand her.
"No, you don't care about them." Brooklyn said. "People who want revenge rarely think about anyone else. They only ever think about themselves."
Morgana started to tremble. "You don't understand," she said. "Arthur's father killed my father, and married my mother against her will. He chose a husband for me, a man I didn't love. And then Arthur himself sought to continue what his father had done, destroying my life. Arthur killed my lover. He killed my daughter. And the people exalt his name, when they should know the truth about him. He's treacherous. He's brutal. He wasn't fit to be England's king, and he's certainly not fit to be considered its savior."
"Morgana," Brooklyn spoke. He was surprisingly gentle. "I do understand what you're feeling. The pain. I've known someone very much like you, whose whole existence seemed bent on revenge. She was a member of my clan, and she witnessed the murder of her own kind, and she lived to nurse hatred in her heart."
Morgana sniffed. "I feel sorry for her."
"I do, too," Brooklyn said. "Now. But I didn't before. Her hatred led her to betray the only people who had ever loved her. It led her to the near extinction of her own clan. It led her to hurt and kill people who had never done anything to her. And that, in turn, led to more hatred, more pain, more death. That's the way pain spreads, Morgana. It spreads when people aren't strong enough to say, 'It ends here. It ends with me.' Why don't you take your pain, Morgana, and nurse it. Mourn the death of your loved ones. But forget the hatred. Leave it behind. Or else one day, the whole world will curse your name."
Tears ran down Morgana's cheeks. She fell to her knees on the floor, sobbing. Automatically, she stroked Cyngen's hair. Cyngen sat on the floor next to her, and rested his head on her shoulder.
"I can't stop the hate that I feel for Arthur," Morgana whispered.
"You must stop it," Brooklyn said. "You must be strong."
For a moment, Morgana looked sad, dejected. Then, as Brooklyn's words sank into her mind, her face hardened. "I am strong. I've been strong all my life. Each time Arthur hurt someone in my family, I fortified myself, and continued on."
"Always with revenge on your mind."
"Yes, with revenge on my mind," Morgana said. Her face became harder and harder as she spoke. "A person must be held accountable for their actions. Arthur must be held accountable for his. He killed the man I loved. He killed my daughter. He must atone for both these sins. He must die, just as they did."
Morgana's lips twisted. "Yes."
"Then," Brooklyn continued. "You must pay the price for the hurt you've caused other people. If you continued to provoke Glyndwr into war, thousands and thousands of people will be hurt, even killed. Won't you have to, then, by your own standards, have to give your life to atone for your sins?"
Morgana's face turned crimson. "What happens to them doesn't matter."
"Why, Morgana?" Brooklyn continued, "Why don't they matter? Is it because they mean nothing to you? Is it because the end justifies the means? Aren't you doing just what you accused your brother doing?"
"Be quiet," Morgana said. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"But I do," Brooklyn said. "I do."
"You don't," Morgana said. "You describe me as though I were a monster. A cruel, vicious woman. Not an affectionate lover. Not a loving mother."
"History does judge you to be a monster," Brooklyn said.
"No," Morgana whispered.
"Yes," Brooklyn replied. "You wanted to know the future. Well, this is yours. England will judge you to be a monster."
"You are. You say that you are not allowed to tell me what will happen in my future, and so instead you choose to taunt me with these lies." Tears fell down Morgana's face. "True, I've been a hard woman - I've had to be. But I know that the people of England will one day decide that I did the right thing."
"Not if you kill most of the English in a civil war," Brooklyn pointed out.
Morgana turned beet red, with anger and frustration. "You're lying. You're liars, both of you." She glanced from Brooklyn to Sata, and then back to Brooklyn. "I want you out of my sight." She waved her hand, and the chains fell away. "I never want to see either of you again."
Sata and Brooklyn stared at one another. Sata couldn't quite understand the events which had suddenly led to them being freed.
"Don't look so surprised," Morgana said. "You're of no use to me if you're only going to lie about my future."
"But to just free us?" Brooklyn asked suspiciously.
Morgana lifted her chin. "Yes," she said. "I want you to remember, when you return to that future of yours, that I could have killed you. But I let you go. I am not a monster."
Brooklyn and Sata stared at one another.
Then, Brooklyn reached a talon toward Sata, and Sata accepted it.
The walked toward the door. Before they left the building, Brooklyn turned around. "Morgana," he said. "I believe you when you say you're not a monster. But..." he paused. "Don't do this. Don't drive England to war."
And with that, he opened the door, and led Sata outside.
* * * * *
Outside, the night settled around them. Crickets chirped. The scent of an oncoming storm filled the air.
"You know," Sata said. "When I thought Morgana had killed Cyngen, I was ready to kill her myself. All advice you gave her about revenge - you could have given it to me, too."
"Sata," Brooklyn shook his head. "You'll never be like her."
"How can you say that?"
Brooklyn smiled. "You think before you act. Almost always."
Sata stood in the grass, pondering what he'd said. "Thank you," she whispered. "It means much to me that you have such respect for me."
They stood side by side for a moment. Then, Sata said, "What will we do?"
"There's nothing we can do," Brooklyn replied. "She can only decide to end her hatred herself. Neither you nor I can force her to see reason."
"But Brooklyn, she's in so much pain."
"I know," Brooklyn said, sadly. "I know." And then his face brightened, if only momentarily.
"What is it?" Sata asked.
"I just thought of something we can do."
"Glyndwr believed what Morgana said, when she appeared to him, right?"
Sata nodded. "Right."
"And he seemed to think that we were some magical, mystical beings, am I correct?"
"Then, maybe we should go to him, and advise him not to join the rebel army."
"I don't know," Sata said, "I don't feel quite comfortable with that. I mean, we're from the future, but we can't foresee the future. What if we cause more trouble by trying to give Glyndwr advice on a matter about which we know nothing.
"Nonsense," Brooklyn said. "We're only undoing what Morgana did."
"But..." Sata started to complain, but her mate had already started to climb to the top of the manor house. Sata shrugged, and followed him.
When the reached the roof, Brooklyn paused and turned to her.
"What is it?" Sata asked.
"It's just occurred to me," Brooklyn said, his eyes dancing, "that you're being cautious and wise again. I'm glad. Having to be responsible was almost killing me."
"If that is the case..." Sata started. But it was already too late. Her mate had jumped off the roof, and was gliding through the sky. "If that is the case," Sata whispered to no one in particular. "Should you not take my advice and think this plan through some more?"
Sata shook her head.
Seeing that her mate was already far in front of her, she jumped from the roof, and glided away. Invigorated by the breath of wind which hit her in the face, she was relieved to be leaving behind Morgana la Fay, and the young child which had tugged her heart. Despite her feelings of relief, however, she cast one last look at the house as she rose on the strong currents.
Standing on the ground beneath her, she saw Cyngen.
He reached up a hand, and waved goodbye.
* * * * *
"Why does this trip feel so familiar?" Hotspur complained. "And how did I let myself be talked into this again?"
"It will work this time," Glyndwr said, dismounting his horse and tying it to a tree. "You'll see." He went to his daughter's horse, and helped her down. Then, the three of them - this time without any soldiers - entered the woods and walked to the clearing with the stones.
"Bedde Mararet," Catherine whispered, when they reached the stones. "I've never been here before."
"Don't be frightened," Glyndwr said. "Tonight is going to be a good night. I can feel it. Just do what you have to do, Catherine. Make me proud."
Catherine stepped into the center of the clearing. Leaning against one of the smaller stones, she began to chant.
"Hmm. This is just too familiar," Hotspur said, settling down beneath a tree.
"What are you doing?" Glyndwr asked the Englishman.
"I'm going to get some sleep," Hotspur said. "Wake me if anything happens."
"What - " Glyndwr started to complain, but he realized that there was no use arguing with Hotspur. And at least this time, the Englishman was close by, so if anything did happen, it would be a simple task to quickly wake him up.
Glyndwr left Hotspur beneath the tree and joined his daughter in the clearing. He listened to her light, breathy voice chanting the spell; he could feel the power in what she was doing.
Despite the fact that Catherine was more talented in sorcery than Glyndwr himself was, it took a long time before anything happened. At least an hour, perhaps two. Glyndwr wasn't keeping time. But after a while, something curious happened. He was expecting a light, maybe the formation of a blue light in thin air, as it had happened with the first creatures who'd appeared before him. Instead, he saw something traveling toward him from the sky.
"What is that?" Glyndwr whispered to himself, not willing to address his daughter, in case he broke her concentration.
He continued to stare up at the sky, and as he did so, the figures became larger and larger. They certainly weren't bats. They were far too large.
When they were close enough, Glyndwr recognized Brooklyn and Sata.
Brooklyn and Sata landed in front of him. Catherine must have heard the swishing of wings, because she stopped chanting and opened her eyes.
She gasped. "Father, they're real."
"Of course they're real," Glyndwr scoffed. "You didn't believe me?" Glyndwr turned toward the new arrivals and addressed them politely. "Sata," he said. "Brooklyn. You have returned. I might ask what happened to you?"
Sata spoke. "We are sorry, Owain Glyndwr. We had to leave. But we have come back, as you can see."
"And," Brooklyn said quickly, "We want to warn you against an alliance with Hotspur."
Catherine gasped. "Father, don't listen to them -"
"Shh," Glyndwr said, holding his finger to his lips. He studied the two creatures before him. "Why would you do that, when Mararet herself has told me that such an alliance would be good for Wales?"
"That woman who appeared before you in your room wasn't Mararet," Brooklyn said. "She was Morgana la Fay, half sister to King Arthur."
Glyndwr laughed. "Morgana la Fay has been dead for many centuries."
"Do you know that?" Sata asked. "With certainty?"
"The only thing that I do know, with certainty, is that you two are both treacherous." He held up his hand, meaning to bind them with the prison of light again.
Sata said, "That spell doesn't work on us, remember? You can't hold us."
"Then," Glyndwr said, "You must promise to stay there - just for a moment - while I wake Hotspur. Catherine, watch them."
"We'll stay," Brooklyn said. "We'll meet Hotspur. As long as you promise to listen to us."
"I'll listen," Glyndwr said, stumbling backwards. "Just wait there..."
But even as he spoke, the one called Brooklyn said, "Oh no. The Phoenix Gate."
"Brooklyn," Sata said. "It just wasn't meant to be."
And before Glyndwr had even reached Hotspur, a blue light engulfed Brooklyn and Sata, and they disappeared.
"Nooooo!" Glyndwr screamed into the night.
His shout was loud enough to rouse the sleeping Hotspur, who lifted his head from his pillow of leaves, rubbed his spiky hair, and said, "Did I miss something?"
* * * * *
Dejected and miserable, Glyndwr didn't speak to anyone as he rode back to the castle. He was tempted to ask Catherine to tell Hotspur their story, but he knew that Hotspur wouldn't believe Catherine. He would only believe the proof of his own eyes.
Treacherous, damned creatures, Glyndwr thought to himself. He would take no heed to their warnings. They were probably lies. They had probably meant to distract him from his cause. The probably weren't Welsh. They probably weren't even friends of Wales.
It was nearly morning by the time they reached the castle, and the dawn light soaked into the green grass of the land. Outside the castle, Glyndwr saw horses laden with sacks. The Earl of Worcester stood next to one of these horses, feeding it an apple.
Glyndwr spurred his horse faster, and stopped in front of the older man. "What are you doing?" he asked the Earl.
Worcester glanced up, surprised. "I'm going home," he answered. "If there isn't going to be a council of war, then I'm afraid my time here is being wasted. We can come back when you're ready to talk, Glyndwr. Or you can come to England."
"But -" Glyndwr started to argue.
"I told you, Father," Catherine said, quietly.
"You can't leave," Glyndwr said.
"I can. And I will. Very soon, in fact."
Glyndwr stared at him, dumbfounded. And then he saw that Dilwyn, too, was packing a horse.
Glyndwr walked up to the young soldier, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What do you think you're doing?"
Dilwyn looked at Glyndwr. He had the grace to look ashamed. "My Lord," he said. "I can't... stay with you. The Earl's cause is a good one, and I'm leaving to join his army in the north."
"But Dilwyn, you can't."
"Leave him, Father," Catherine said, placing a reassuring hand on her father's shoulder. "It's like I told you before, our people need a leader. They aren't used to being united. They're used to making decisions for themselves. If they think that you're becoming soft, if they lose faith in you, they will simply leave for a cause which they think is better."
"It's time you returned to being a soldier," Catherine said. "Forget about wizardry."
Catherine left Glyndwr to ponder the events happening before his eyes. He didn't know what to do. Wizardry and magic were a part of his life. He didn't want to give them up. And yet he knew that his daughter was right.
So, what decision to make now? Ally himself with Hotspur? Or not.
"We'll fight with the English rebels," Glyndwr whispered in the wind.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he thought that he saw one of the rocks near the lake move. As he stared at it, it took on the form of a woman. The same woman who had visited him in his room two nights before. Crying, she whispered, "What have I done?"
And then she was gone.
Glyndwr ignored her brief appearance, and left to persuade Worcester to stay for a proper council of war.
* * * * *