Lancelyn woke before dawn and began breaking camp. While he did that, Galahad assembled a meager meal of the last of their cheese and stale bread for breakfast, finding they were nearly out of food. “We need to stop and buy supplies before we decide which ferry to take. If we cross the Severn Sea, we won’t be welcomed in any Elven villages, and I don’t like living off the land.”
“I know. They have no reason to welcome human men. We’ve done them no good. But Wēalish roads are barely passable even when they’re dry, although we’re less likely to be attacked.” Lancelyn grimaced, trying to decide which course would be best.
They shared the food between them, then Galahad said. “I agree it would be best to stay in Wēalas, even though crossing the Severn would take a week off the journey.”
“We managed to go unnoticed though their lands five weeks ago, but that was traveling under cover of darkness and not stopping anywhere. We can’t do that with a wagon, and we’ll stand out too much. I don’t want to fight anyone right now, especially from a perch on a rickety wagon seat. I just want to get home in one piece.”
“You’re right. Either way, we need supplies. If we avoid Elven Home, we’re more likely to arrive in Bleakbourne safely, and that’s what counts.” Galahad washed his breakfast down with the last of their ale. Soon, they were back on the road and had entered the dark, mysterious village of Ceridwen Ar Usk. After stopping at the chandler’s, who served as the local provisioner, they arrived at the riverside. The ferryman was glad to have their coins, and they made the crossing along with a man his his two oxen. Soon they were on the other side of the river.
They hadn’t traveled far when they were halted by a fallen tree. Muddy tracks showed that travelers had been going around it, but the wagon couldn’t. Lancelyn said, “There should be a Chapel of the Moon not too far from here, but this road is terrible, worse than any we’ve seen so far. I had no idea the storm reached so far. Maybe it wasn’t directed at us after all.”
Galahad dismounted. “We’ll have to move this off the road as much as we can, or turn back and risk traveling through the Elven lands.”
Unhitching the wagon and using the horses, they managed to drag the crown of the tree just far enough to the roadside that the wagon could inch past. The sun was setting as they approached the Chapel of the Moon. Galahad said, “That’s odd. The doors are closed. Perhaps the priest is in his home.” They drove around back to see if the priest would allow them to sleep in the chapel.
As they entered the glade behind the chapel, whom should they see but Leryn, the bard, finishing laying sod over a freshly dug grave. Horror, and a terrible fear struck their hearts. Before they had even stopped, Lancelyn called, “Ho, Bard! Please tell me your companions still live!”
Leryn looked up, overcome with joy at the sight of his two friends. “Lance—thank god! What are you two doing here? After that storm, we feared the worst.” Leryn dropped his shovel and ran to stand on the running board of Lance’s wagon. “They do live, although Merlin—you’ll have to see for yourselves.” He gestured to the grave. “This poor man was the priest of this chapel, murdered by the same highwaymen whose corpses are being fought over by crows as we speak. We dealt with them, but they managed to wound Merlin, so we had to backtrack here.” He stepped down. “Get your horses situated, and come inside, and you can tell us your tale.”
Bramblestein looked up as the door opened. “Are you all right? I thought I heard voices.”
“Better than all right. Look who’s here.” Leryn stepped aside and let Galahad and Lancelyn enter. “How is he? Has he stirred?”
“Thank god you two are safe. I feared for you during the storm.” The dwarf turned to Leryn. “Merlin’s still sleeping, but he’s not feverish, so he’s doing as well as can be expected. Did you get the priest buried?”
“I did. I cleaned up the sanctuary as best I could, too.”
Seeing the wizard laid out on the late priest’s cot, Lancelyn knelt beside Merlin, his expression anxious. “What happened? He can’t die, not after everything we’ve been through.”
Bramblestein and Leryn explained what had led to his injury. Leryn glossed over how he’d obtained the wood. Bramblestein noted that, but managed to embarrass him, telling about the shell he’d unknowingly created over the forest tavern.
Both Leryn and Bramblestein were quiet, on hearing of the shipwreck, both observing how it had affected the two knights. Lancelyn was a different man, somber and anything but feckless. The change in him was difficult to comprehend.
“You’ve sacrificed a lot, for this,” The dwarf told Lancelyn.
“Not me alone. We’ve all made terrible sacrifices, just for some sticks of wood and a few buckets of sand. I hope it will be worth it. I have to believe we’ll succeed.”
After much discussion over what course was best, Leryn and Galahad agreed they would ride back to Ceridwen Ar Usk the next day and tell the priests there what had happened. Bramblestein said, “They’ll have to send a nun or a priest. It’s not very often a cleric in one of these rural chapels is attacked, but they don’t take such a thing lightly.”
The cottage was crowded, so Galahad and Lancelyn opted to sleep in the chapel as they had intended to do anyway. As Leryn prepared to go to his blankets, he mentioned to Bramblestein how odd it was that the two knights had made their journey in only three weeks.
Bramblestein said, “It’s been more than four weeks, bard. Closer to five, actually. Can’t you count?”
“How could it have been that long? We were only at the cave for three days.”
The dwarf stared at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. You were with Arianrhod for ten days. We knew it would delay us for several days at least when she named her price and you vanished. We didn’t know exactly what she would require of you, but the fact she took you to her realm meant we were going to be at the cave longer than we had planned. How do you think we had the time to acquire so much wood and all those herbs in your absence?”
“What?” Leryn’s head suddenly felt as if it would explode. “No. No!!! It was only one day. I know it was only one day. I’m not stupid enough to lose more than a week, and not notice it.”
“Oh, yes, you are that stupid, laddie. Perhaps time passes differently in her land, or else you were busy and just didn’t notice it.” Bramblestein laughed, slyly. “You were there for ten full days. For the first two days, we wondered if we would find your corpse drained of blood and tossed over the hedge, as has been known to happen to those who anger the forest. But the longer you were in her realm, we realized you had pleased her, and we stopped worrying. You never mentioned it, and it never occurred to us that you didn’t know how much time had passed.”
Unable to comprehend that he’d lost ten days of his life, Leryn fell silent, staring into the fire. How? How did I not notice so much time had passed when I returned? Was I that involved with my own misery?
Finally, he burst out, “What will I tell Rosie? ‘I spent ten days with another woman, but we were having so much fun I hardly noticed it. I might be in love with her, but I love you more. It’s not infidelity because she’s a goddess and I’m only a mortal. Oh, by the way, I’m going to be a father. It’s the only child I’ll ever have, and I’ll never see it again, but on the positive side, I have music now like you won’t believe. It’s a little out of control because it’s magic, but never fear, I’ll get the hang of it, eventually.’” He realized he was shouting, and quickly moderated his tones.”That’s really going to improve my chances with her, don’t you think?”
Bramblestein was silent, absorbing Leryn’s complicated rant. “What do you mean, it’s the only child you’ll every have?”
Leryn resisted the urge to tear his own hair out. “The primal forest was dying. I thought you two understood that. I gave up my unborn child and my fertility in trade for the wood you need to make the magic orb. I can’t have any more children, but the forest will continue because I sacrificed my chance at fatherhood to save it. It was the only way. We had to have the wood for you to make the magic orb.”
The dwarf’s sudden look of comprehension and pity was almost more than Leryn could bear. Shaken by the revelation, Bramblestein said, “Now I understand why you’ve been so quiet, and so angry. We honestly had no idea the full extent of what you gave her.” He glanced at the narrow cot, seeing Merlin’s form, still apparently sleeping. “What a tangled mess this has become. I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. I thought it was just the child, and that was bad enough.”
“I didn’t want to tell anyone. It’s bad enough you knew I had cheated on Rosie. I didn’t want you to know the full extent of my problem.” Leryn’s voice broke. “I justified it to myself as the way to save Rosie from the demon knight, but I went to Arianrhod’s bed willingly, and knew what it would cost me in the long run. I’ve lost Rosie forever now, but if we can keep her safe, it will have been worth it.”
“Oh, lad. She left you and gave you no good reason. You don’t owe her any explanation of what you’ve done.”
“But Bramblestein—I won’t live a life of lies and secrets when it comes to love. It’s bad enough some things such as my gift for magic have to be kept secret. But love and what lies between Rosie and me has to be open and honest on my part, or I won’t be able to live with myself. If she ever takes me back, I will have to be truthful with her.” Leryn sighed. “When she finds out I can’t father any more children, my chance of making a life with her is over.”
Merlin spoke, startling the two, his voice weak, quavering. “Not necessarily. She’s young by our standards. She’s only sixty or so—many of us half-elven don’t have children until we’re well over a hundred. You’ll probably be dead by the time she’s able to have a child.”
The next morning Leryn and Galahad made the trip back to the ferry town, and returned that afternoon, bringing a priest. Brother Alrik was a jolly elderly man, with a fondness for ale and books. He had retired, but longed for the solitude of a rural posting, and was happy to take up Brother Dómi’s post, although he was unhappy about the way it had been vacated.
As he stood beside Brother Dómi’s grave, he said, “This is the Chapel of Saint Dagmær, and it’s been serving travelers as a way-station between Cerridwen Ar Usk and Caerlaun for two centuries. It’s one of the most important chapels, because of its history. The foundations of the chapel were laid by Mother Dagmær, who took the Triune Goddess’s word to the Romanii, and from there to the world.”
He made the sign of the moon over his heart. “Saint Dagmær, watch over our brother and guide his soul to his place in heaven. Sun, Moon, and Stars above, all-seeing, and all-wise, Triune Goddess of all, watch over us. May the Three Faces of Heaven always grant us light to find the way when the path is dark, and protect us from the minions of darkness.”
“Amen,” responded the others as one, making the sign of the moon.
With Lancelyn having a wagon in which he could ride, Merlin insisted he was well enough to continue the journey. Bramblestein agreed, but only if they traveled for half days until he was well. “Don’t argue with me, old man. Traveling half the day will get us there quicker than if we stay here for another week.”
Even more aggravating to the wizard, he could absolutely not use his gifts until Bramblestein declared him well enough. Reluctantly, the wizard agreed, and they departed the Chapel of the Moon, bidding goodbye to Brother Alrik.
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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