Her horse was getting along in her pregnancy, and there were complications of a magical nature. Whatever else happened, the horse had to be in Bleakbourne on the River Heath when the foal…or whatever…was born.
So far it had progressed like a normal equine pregnancy, but it was time to take Brunhilde off the road and only ride her for exercise. Also, Brunhilde wouldn’t want to go rescuing until after the foal was weaned, assuming they could allow it to live. Rosie refused to think about that.
That meant Rosie would have to find a job for the next eight months to a year. The only things she was good at were knight-at-large work, and being a barmaid. With Hannah handling the cooking at the Ploughman’s Inn, Polcock was acting as his own barmaid again, which he didn’t enjoy. He’d sworn he would have plenty of work for her once the bard returned, as he’d always kept the people dancing, and dancing was thirsty work.
It was just—Leryn. The bard might have returned during her brief absence. Rosie had gone to visit Roland, her foster father, as she always did when she was in trouble and found him well enough, but old. He had good advice, as always.
Now that she understood how different Bleakbourne was, how as long as they remained in that village Leryn was in no danger of being murdered for loving a half-elven girl—everything had changed.
She had enough coins to buy a cottage. If she stayed in Bleakbourne, she could entice Roland to come to live with her, and she could take care of her foster father in his old age.
However, if she stayed, she would eventually have to explain why she’d never told Leryn the truth. It didn’t matter, as he probably knew. Merlin had most likely told Leryn that she’d never have a child in his lifetime, and would outlive him by centuries if her being dragon bait didn’t get her killed first.
Leryn glanced up, seeing Rosie and Brunhilde pass the window, heading for the stable. Brunhilde looked as if she was getting close to her time, but she looked like any normal horse in the last weeks of pregnancy. He looked away as Galahad rose and went out to the stable to meet them, followed by Lancelyn, with Morgause riding on his shoulder as always.
He gazed down at his manuscript. He would get nothing done, now that Rosie was home. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think of anything but her. He looked over where Merlin sat before the fire. The wizard was in better health than he had been when they first returned, but he was still weak. Riding in the rain and not resting properly after taking an arrow to the chest had caused him to develop a touch of pneumonia but Janet, Bramblestein’s wife, assured Leryn the wizard was making a steady recovery.
Setting his quill down, Leryn stood, and stretched. “Merlin, the afternoon barges should be arriving. I’ll just run on down to the docks, to see if they have any news today.”
Merlin’s sharp gaze missed nothing, but all he said was, “Geordie Stout should be back from Gravesend. Go and see if he’s heard anything new. I doubt it, but we may as well check.” He was going by his real name, but claiming to be another of Polcock’s uncles, which explained his resemblance to Ambrose. Several folks had laughed, saying they had one relative or another who’d also been named after the old, dead, wizard.
Polcock showed the last customer out the door, shaking his head. “You had them dancing so much they didn’t want to leave. You’ve been in rare form since you returned.”
Leryn set his harp in his usual corner, and then stood at the bar. He didn’t want to discuss how his music had changed and had never told Polcock how it had happened or what he was capable of. However, being mindful of his magic, he was determined to keep the music harmless and fun. “I’ve just been trying to do my bardic duty. The more they dance, the more they drink, and that can only help your profits.”
With his mood being anything but cheerful since returning to find Rosie gone, Leryn had to force himself to keep his music light and entertaining. That became easier every night, a matter of putting himself in the role of entertainer and not getting caught up in the music. His diligence pleased Merlin.
Polcock and Hannah went off to bed. Lance reclaimed his cat from Rosie’s lap, and he and Galahad went off to their room. Leryn stood uncertainly, then walked toward the stairs.
Rosie followed him up. She paused at his door, as if she would follow him into his room. Projecting a false brightness, he said, “Good night Rosie. Pleasant dreams.” He turned, entering his room, and closed the door behind him.
Rosie pressed her forehead to the door, whispering. “Leryn. I know you can hear me. We need to talk.”
He leaned with his back against the door, tears streaking his face. “Go to bed, Rosie. I don’t want to talk about it.” Leryn heard her intake of breath, then the rustle of her leaving. He crossed to his bed.
He was lying on his bed in the dark, too wound up to sleep, when his door opened and closed. “We need to talk.”
Leryn sat up. “I told you I have nothing to say. Please, go to your room.”
“You’re not the man you were two months ago. You look the same on the outside, but you’ve been changed.” Rosie sat on the foot of his bed, silhouetted in the darkness. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened, except you left me, and didn’t tell me why. Then, I messed everything up even further by jumping into bed with another woman. Does that make you happy?”
“No. But there’s more to it than that, so tell me what it it is. Tell me what is preying on you.”
“Things were pretty well ruined between you and me already, but I do wish there had been some other way. There wasn’t.” The shadows of his room and the darkness of the moonless night had made it easier to tell Rosie the whole story of his encounter with Arianrhod, for which Leryn was grateful.
“Do you love her?”
“A little. Yes. She occupies a piece of my heart.”
“As she should, since she carries your child. Do you still love me?”
Sick to his stomach with the knowledge that he’d lost Rosie forever, Leryn was unable to face her, looking instead into the shadowed corners of the room. “That’s what makes this so terrible. I never stopped loving you and I never will. I betrayed my love for you, and I did it willingly.”
Surprised, Rosie took his hand. “Even if we’d been married, I wouldn’t feel betrayed.”
Leryn turned to meet her eyes, overcome by a strange mix of shock and relief. “How can you say that? I fathered a child with another woman. If that isn’t betrayal, I don’t know what is.”
“Sometimes, things happen that are too big for mere mortals, Leryn. We’re in the middle of something like that now. It’s too big to define as right or wrong. You had the larger world to think of. What would happen to us, to elves and humans if the primordial forest faded away? Legend says it’s the source of magic. Would the magic and the beauty of this world all disappear too?”
“Arianrhod feared that would happen…but there was another, more important reason, at least to me. I had to get the wood, or Bramblestein wouldn’t be able to make a hot enough fire to create the orb. I wanted to save Bleakbourne and…you. We made the blood sacrifice, but it wasn’t enough because the forest was dying.” His voice broke. “But alongside those excuses, I desired her, and wanted to be with her. I knew it would be the end of us. I’m sorry.”
“I abandoned you, but you still love me.” She shook her head. “I don’t care what happened between you and Arianrhod. I’m sorry you had to give up so much. But I can’t think of a better man for the Goddess of the Wood to choose to ensure the forest continues.”
Leryn wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly. “You mean you understand why I agreed? And you don’t hate me?”
“No! I love you. And, I owe you an explanation of why I left you.” Rosie spoke quickly before her courage failed. “I know Merlin told you my secret. I’m going to stay young, and you will grow old, and I will have to watch you wither and die. I won’t have any children for at least sixty more years because I’m too much like my father. I can pass for an elf—but inside this elf body is a human heart. I have the soul of a human, which is why I can’t live in Elven Home. I don’t fit in there—and I only fit in here in Bleakbourne. I knew you wanted to settle down with me, and I couldn’t bear to tell you I won’t be having any children in your lifetime.”
“You should have trusted me.” Leryn looked away. “That would have hurt, but it wouldn’t have changed my heart. I would still have loved you.”
“I know. I wish I could go back and change that, but I can’t.” She took both his hands and forced him to meet her gaze. “I left because I feared for you. The world is terribly cruel. In any other town, you could be murdered for loving me. A human and an elf…you know what could happen. Most people don’t realize I’m not fully elven.”
Leryn decided to tell her the complete truth. “You may want to avoid me when you hear the next bit. The Goddess of the Wood took away the normal barriers humans have regarding wielding magic. Music is how white magic manifests and right now I’m like a dangerous child. All I have to do to tip off the demon is to have an unguarded moment of enjoyment while I’m playing my pipes. Just idly humming is chancy, because I am just beginning to learn how to control it.”
“Then it wasn’t my imagination. Your music tonight was irresistible. No one can sit when you want people to dance.” Rosie grinned. “My gift is calling dragons, and I can’t really control it, either. They always find me, and I can’t make them leave without resorting to violence.” She leaned forward, kissing him. “Can we start all over again?”
Leryn’s pulse raced, and his heart thumped wildly. “Even though I’ll probably die when we do face the Demon? He has centuries of experience, and I have none. I can’t bear to tell Lancelyn what a pathetic apprentice wizard I am, not after what he and Galahad endured. They’re sure we’re going to win because that’s how they are.”
“But you’ll have the orb. That will make the difference.”
Leryn nodded. “Bramblestein is going to create the orb as soon as Merlin is well enough. I’m studying hard so I can assist him. We all three have to contribute our magic to the creation of the orb. Merlin says that with Bramblestein wielding the orb and my new gift, we’ll have a full triumvirate.” He shrugged. “We might be able to permanently seal off the Demon. Assuming I can learn what I need to know in time, that is.”
Rosie leaned forward and kissed him again, leaving him in no doubt as to her intentions. “I love you. A long life isn’t a sure thing for either of us, you know. I could die anytime I go out to scare off a dragon, but I have to do it because it’s my fault they come here. Let’s share what time we have together and be grateful.”
Overcome with joy, Leryn’s arms went around her, and his world narrowed to that moment and her embrace.
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.