Bleakbourne on Heath: Ch 25, The Demon Gains a Point

800px-Govert_Flinck_004The sun was well up when Leryn woke, his arm across his eyes shading him from the sunlight pouring through the window. He hadn’t seen Rosie for three days, as was traditional for an engaged couple. She’d gone to stay with Lancelyn and Galahad in their little cottage at the edge of town, and wouldn’t see him until they met in the square at sunset for the wedding ceremony.

Merlin shook him again. “Wake up, fool!”

“For god’s sake, go away. I just got to sleep.”

Merlin yanked the sheet off him. “Get up now! We have an emergency.”

Leryn sat up, rubbing his eyes. “You’re aware that while you were resting after our day’s labor in your dungeon, I was in the square entertaining the masses until near dawn, right? It was Moon Song Night. And tonight we’re getting married the traditional way, under the Solstice Moon with the others.”

Merlin handed him his breeches. “I know, and I’m sorry. But there won’t be any weddings if this isn’t fixed.”

“What’s the problem?” Leryn stood up, buttoning his pants.

“Tenneriff Keep has reappeared. It’s a trap, meant to lure me, but I’m not so stupid as to set foot in there. I can resolve this from the top of the hill, but I need you to support my magic with your music. I will supply the instrument.” Merlin handed him his shirt. “Now listen to me. You will present yourself as an ordinary bard. The demon will be watching us from whatever shadow he is hiding in.”

Leryn paused, glaring at his mentor. “Watching us? I’m not walking into his parlor on my wedding day, so don’t ask it of me.”

Merlin snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. Mordred has managed to weaken the veil concealing the keep. It hasn’t manifested completely, but while we were busy yesterday, something allowed him to create a window from his spot in Hell, allowing him to view that place. I mean to make that view of his temporary and slap his hands in the process.”

“I’m getting married tonight. I shed a lot of blood yesterday, and I need the blood I have left to hold my veins open. I can’t be unconscious, or otherwise absent. Rosie is counting on me.”

“Trust me.” Merlin put on his most persuasive smile. “You won’t have to do anything involving a blood sacrifice.”

Leryn  sighed, “What do you want from me?”

“When we get there, I will behave toward you as if you have no magic. I will question you since you were the witness when it last appeared, and he would expect that. You will answer as if you were still the naïve boy you were then.”

“I’d better not miss my wedding, or you’ll have to face Hannah’s wrath. She’s gone to a great deal of trouble for Rosie and me.” Leryn gestured to the wardrobe, which stood open. “Tom Tailor has made me a fine shirt of red linen, just like any proper groom. So don’t mess this up for me.”

>>><<<

The ride to the keep took less than half an hour. They stopped on the hill where an overgrown, rutted road went down to a valley. There, shimmering as if it were an illusion, was the massive castle Leryn remembered. They dismounted, letting the horses graze.

“It looks less solid than when I was summoned here before, sir.” Leryn’s head still ached from lack of sleep and his hands shook as if he were hung over, but his voice was calm. “I don’t want to enter it.”

“Don’t worry, bard. I won’t ask it of you.” Merlin radiated power, something Leryn had never seen him do. “Tell me what happened the first time you saw this place.”

As if he’d never told the tale before, Leryn complied. As he concluded, he said, “I don’t blame you if you disbelieve me, Sir Wizard. But I swear by all I hold holy that what I have told you is the truth.”

“And what happened after that?”

“Nothing sir, until the night of the Crypt Wind.” The bard recounted the events of that evening, again speaking as if he’d never done so. “As you can see, he is a fearsome man, sir. I’d prefer not to be involved in this.”

Merlin nodded. “I expect so, but he has involved you, and you gave him information that has harmed me. Therefore I require your services.”

“How could I have gone against him?” Genuine fear tinted Leryn’s voice. “And what can I do that you can’t? I’m a bard. I make people dance, and if needed I can sing rats away from a barn or a home. Other than that I have no skills.”

“Let’s discuss your rat singing skills. Rats and crows perhaps? In my travels, I heard you had sung away the rats at Yarrl’s Tavern.”

“Not crows sir. But rats from a barn, yes. Any apprentice bard can do that. And Yarrl would have paid an apprentice five coppers for the work, had one come by when he needed him. I did it as a favor to him as he was kind to me when the weather was bad.”

“Could you do it for me, now? I will pay you a silver for it.”

“Without my pipes? At the very least I would need an apprentice’s flute. It is the tones that drive rats away, and I don’t think one can sing the rat song effectively without the sharp tones of a flute or the pipes. At least, I’ve never tried.”

Merlin fished around in his saddle bags, handing Leryn a wooden flute. “Can you play this?”

Leryn held the flute, turning and examining it, seeing it was made of a certain wood he recognized as having come from the primal forest. Runes were inlaid in silver, and the flute itself reeked of magic. “This is a wondrous instrument, sir, one no master would be ashamed to play. What master made it?”

“I did, many years ago. Longer ago than I like to remember. Music is magic, bard, and don’t ever forget it.”

“If you say so, sir. The only magic I’ve found in music is that people like it and pay me to play it, and rats don’t like the rat song, so they leave.” He held the flute to his lips, sensing the magic within it. “This is longer than I am used to, but the song is simple, so I should be able to play it.” Knowing it would be odd if he didn’t bargain for a larger fee, he continued, “However, I would require one gold for such a task, because you’re asking a master to do an apprentice’s job. Surely you don’t require a master’s services for such a minor thing as clearing rats from this area.” Leryn stalled for time, as he tried to get a feel for the flute, mentally working out what he had to do so the melody would sound like he was an ordinary bard. “Besides, I fear to cross the demon.” There was a ring of truth to his statement.

Sensing the bard was hedging for a reason, Merlin played along. “A gold! Don’t press your luck, boy. You’re a very young master, and that master’s pin is a recent acquisition.”

Leryn held firm. “Nevertheless, the rank is mine. I may have earned it recently, but I did earn it and should be compensated accordingly.”

“I will give you two silvers because you have a master’s rank and not a copper more.”

Leryn nodded, as if reluctantly. “As you wish, sir. Two silvers.”

“Good. You will play that song, and I will cast a spell.” The wizard attempted a comforting smile, which only succeeded in looking slightly evil. “Don’t be frightened. it’s only a spell of aversion, making sure no one stumbles onto this place by accident.”

“I see.” Leryn would have to get on with it whether he was ready or not. “I’m not pleased at being involved, Sir Wizard. It seems perilous. I don’t like to court danger.”

“It’s perilous, no matter which way you go, bard. The demon chose you when he made his move, and because he did, you are involved.”  Rising to his full height and power, he said, “What makes you think I’m any kinder than the demon? Now, begin that song. I must warn you: no matter what happens, don’t deviate from the melody and don’t stop playing until I tell you to, or you will find yourself in the demon’s clutches.”

“That’s not very reassuring, sir.” Raising the flute to his lips, Leryn played the opening refrain, a simple repetitive melody that was the first song an apprentice bard learned.

At first, nothing happened. The flute had a beautiful, sweet tone, lower than most other flutes. Merlin apparently knew it well, as he sang his spell to that tune perfectly. Leryn concentrated on just playing the music, and not injecting any of his own magic into the mix.

At what must have been the tenth round of the melody, he noticed Tenneriff’s castle had become more ghostly. It was transparent, less in the world than it had been. By that time Leryn was struggling with boredom and had to force himself to keep strictly to the mindlessly simple melody. The urge to liven it up was almost overwhelming.

That urge, he reasoned, must have been the demon’s spell trying to protect itself. He concentrated harder, playing the tune exactly.

Eventually Merlin ended his spell, and gazing down on the valley, Leryn lowered the flute. All that remained was a fog bank shaped suspiciously like a large keep. Everything about it shouted “Run! Get away!” which he knew was Merlin’s ward of aversion doing its task.

Merlin turned to the bard. “It’s not perfect but will have to do. Thank you for your assistance. I believe I owe you two silver coins.”

Leryn accepted them, “Thank you, sir.” The fact that Merlin was still carrying on the charade told him it hadn’t gone as well as the wizard had hoped.

Back on the road to town, Merlin told Leryn the time was rapidly approaching when the Demon would make his move. “He has gained a point in this game. I was unable to completely seal Tenneriff Keep away from this world. I closed his window, but we have to be careful from here on out. We must avoid that place, as he may be able to hear some things spoken there if the words are what he is listening for.”

When they arrived back in Bleakbourne on Heath at the Ploughman’s Inn and parted ways, Leryn said, “I intend to take a long nap, now. I have a big night planned, and I thank you for not dropping me into some death-defying escapade we couldn’t get out of.”

Merlin looked at him. “It was death-defying. Don’t fool yourself that it wasn’t. Had he been able to lull you into improvising, it would have been a disaster. He lurks on the other side with his army at the ready, just waiting for his chance. If you had deviated from the melody, he would have had the gate into this world open, and we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Leryn glared at him. “That’s what I love about you. You always know how to ruin a perfectly good mood.”

The wizard smirked. “Enjoy your wedding night. I’ll be there to keep the dwarf in line. You know how much he loves his ale.”

“Hah! You mean he’ll be there keeping you from making a fool of yourself.”

Merlin’s cheeky grin faded. “I haven’t been up to much drunken foolishness, lately. But maybe after everything is resolved.”


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath ch 19: Chapel of the Moon

Old Stone Chapel In The Woods ©Unholyvault |Dreamstime
Old Stone Chapel In The Woods ©Unholyvault |Dreamstime

Leryn was silent after leaving the forest tavern, allowing his two companions to argue about what had occurred there as much as they liked. Ignoring their bickering, he refused to think about what he had inadvertently done during the storm, seeing the shield as one more awful event in a string of horribleness. His life had veered out of control and he didn’t know how to get it back.

Their way was frequently blocked by debris from the storm, and they often had to pick their way carefully. Toward noon, as they led the horses around yet another gigantic tree, the two older men had come to some sort of an agreement and the conversation had taken an unfortunate turn, from Leryn’s point of view. “I’m a bard. Can you give up breathing? I can’t give up music. It flows through my soul like blood through my veins.”

Barely suppressed irritation sharpened Merlin’s voice. “Who knows what sort of mischief you could cause now your gifts have been unlocked? Music is the facilitator of the strongest magic for those of us who follow the White Way, which is why practitioners of dark magic abhor it.”

“I was scared stiff and wasn’t aware I was doing it.”

“Then you have a problem,” Merlin said. “Music is intrinsic to the White Way. Music is magic, but practitioners must always rely on symmetry and chants to confine it, ensuring it doesn’t run wild.”

Leryn’s glare turned to steel. “Music is all I have left, thanks to you and this godforsaken quest. You’re not taking it from me.”

“Peace!” Bramblestein raised his hands, the voice of common sense, for once. “We’re just saying that your encounter with the Goddess of the Old Forest may have opened something in you that was previously blocked.” He grinned at Leryn’s sudden blush. “This means you must be careful to never make music when you are upset or highly emotional. Who knows what sort of mayhem you could accidentally cause?”

Leryn shivered, not wanting to discuss Arianrhod. He had refused to elaborate on his experience to either of his teachers, but it preyed on his mind constantly. “I just have to school my thoughts. I can still play the silly drinking songs everyone likes and spin epic tales.” He grinned, although he felt anything but mirthful. “Your words of wisdom will be strictly adhered to, not unlike your advice regarding symmetry.”

Bramblestein chuckled. “You did pick up on that rather quickly. Bleakbourne sits at the crossroads of the Fae and mortal realms. Last night you cast a spell you were never taught and were unaware you were doing it. That can’t happen in Bleakbourne, for any reason.”

Leryn refrained from screaming although the frustration was nearly more than he could bear. “I admit it frightens me. But, since music is the foundation of magic, I’ll have to make certain the songs and stories I perform are mild, confined to the traditional bardic role of maintaining peace and keeping a happy tap-room. I’m already well-trained in that aspect of the craft. What I have to work on is being aware of what I am singing or playing, and controlling my emotions.” He met Merlin’s gaze. “If you believe me unable to do this, you should kill me to preserve your own secrets, because I won’t give up music.”

Merlin capitulated, reluctantly. “I suppose Mordred will expect you to be in the tap room playing your pipes, so you’ll have to continue.”

As they wound around a hill, the road narrowed and passed through a small canyon. From there it would enter a broad valley. Deep inside the canyon they found the road blocked a fallen tree. Looking at the blockage, Leryn sensed something wrong.

Bramblestein also examined it. “This is no windfall. It was cut…!” His words broke off as two raggedly dressed men leaped out of the brush, waving blades.

A tall, thin man shouted, “Old men! Drop your purses! You too, bard!”

Bramblestein made a rude gesture, drawing his sword. “Make me, assholes.”

Rage flashed to the surface and Leryn also drew his sword, “Come and take my purse, if you can.”

An arrow whistled downward from above, narrowly missed Leryn, startling his horse. As he regained control of Elsinore, Merlin’s resonant tones rang out, casting a fire spell. Screeching, the archer fell from the rocks above, thrashing and trying to put out the flames. The two others panicked, attempting to run but were blocked by their own fallen tree. Leryn and Bramblestein quickly dealt with them.

As Leryn’s blade cut the throat of the burnt man, he heard a strangled cough from behind him. He turned, in time to see Merlin swaying, his hand clutching the arrow protruding from his right shoulder. His eyes glazed, and slowly, he slid from his saddle. Leaping from his horse, Leryn was just in time to catch and hold the much larger man, lowering him to a sitting position against the tree trunk.

Merlin tried to speak but lost consciousness.

“Oh, god…please don’t be dead, you insane old man. Don’t you dare die.”

Bramblestein hurried to Merlin’s side, his heart sinking. “Help me get him laid out. I’ll be better able to see what the damage is.” After they had the wizard positioned, Bramblestein examined him. “It’s missed his lung. He’s not bleeding too badly, which is good and also bad.  Blood cleanses the wound, but until I get it out I can’t tell if any major arteries or veins are involved. Right now it’s plugging up the wound.” He met Leryn’s stunned gaze. “I’m going to have to remove it, but I can’t do that here. In the meantime, since he’s out cold anyway, I’ll cut the shaft off it, so that will help somewhat.”

“If it’s not life-threatening, why is he knocked out? It must be bad.” Leryn looked at the sky, trying to gauge the weather. “We’re in for some rain. We’ll have to cover him up. He’ll get a chill on top of it, and we don’t want that.”

“Ordinarily he probably wouldn’t be unconscious, but he’d be in enough pain he’d wish he was. He’s out because he cast that fire spell, with no chance to prepare. That always takes twice the strength it would have with planning. He’ll have to sleep for at least twenty-four hours. Then taking an arrow in the chest on top of that—he may not survive this. If he dies….” Bramblestein clamped his teeth shut.

“That can’t happen. We won’t let it.” Leryn looked at the tree that still blocked their path. “We’ll have to backtrack. We passed that Chapel of the Moon not too long ago. We can seek shelter there.”

“Good idea, but he can’t ride this way. We’ll have to rig a sling litter and carry him there.”

Leryn agreed. “Once we get him situated, you can do what you have to.” He paused to figure what to do about the horses. “I’ll tie Elsinore to my waist, so he’ll follow me. If we tie the other horses to him in a string, we should be able to do this.”

Bramblestein snorted. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t hold up your end of the sling and drag the horses too.” He too looked at the threatening sky. “But I don’t have any better ideas, so we’ll give it a try.”

>>><<<

After a great deal more struggle than they’d hoped, carrying the makeshift litter and leading the horses, they arrived back at the Chapel of the Moon, a small stone building standing alone in the forest. The door was closed, which meant the priest or priestess was not there. “There should be a cottage behind the chapel–whoever is on duty here won’t mind if we make Merlin comfortable.” Bramblestein led the way.

Setting the litter down, they picketed the horses. No one was at home in the small house, but from the looks of the garments hanging on pegs, it was occupied by a priest. “Perhaps he’s out gathering his dinner,” said Leryn.

“I don’t know. Perhaps,” replied Bramblestein. “I did see winter purslane earlier. But something doesn’t look right here. Monks usually keep thing much tidier, and he wouldn’t just leave the place.” His forehead wrinkled with his attempt to see what was amiss and failing, he put it out of his mind. “It just so happens, one of the herbs I gathered while we were at Emydin’s cave was early woundwort. I’ll make a tea of it and once cool, we will use it to wash the wound. Then you can make poultices of woundwort, speedwell, and plantain to bandage the wound with once we’ve gotten the arrow out—if it can be safely removed.”

Leryn nodded. “I know what to do. I’ve watched my grandmother make poultices.”

Some light entered through the windows, but Leryn lit the oil lamp that stood on the mantel to give Bramblestein more light to work by. The dwarf worked slowly and carefully, making sure his patient didn’t bleed to death. To Leryn’s relief, Merlin remained unconscious during the surgery.

After what seemed a long time, Bramblestein handed the bloody arrow to Leryn, who set it to one side. The dwarf carefully bandaged Merlin. “Thank all the gods and goddesses, nothing vital was damaged. He should wake up soon. But he’ll be several days healing, even with my spells and the poultices. He can’t travel like this, so we’ll have to wait here until he’s well enough to continue on to Bleakbourne.”

“We’ll need more light, and I’ll have a look in the chapel to see if the priest has returned. I’ll refill the lamp first.” Leryn rose and looked around for more oil.

“The monk probably keeps his supplies in the lean-to around back.”

Leryn walked around back to the shed and filled the lamp. With that done he went around to the chapel, entering through the massive, ornately carved front door. He was immediately assailed by the stench of death. “Oh, no….”

The chapel had been ransacked. On the floor behind the altar lay the body of the monk whose task it had been to tend the place. The elderly man had been beaten to death at least one day before. His prayer beads had been stolen, and the vessels for the sacraments smashed against the floor. Kneeling, Leryn closed the old man’s eyes, saying a prayer for his soul.

Shaking his head in disgust, he returned to Bramblestein. “It appears the thieves stopped here before they set the trap that caught us.” He told the dwarf what he’d found. “No wonder the priest wasn’t in his home. It’s a disgrace. The poor old thing never harmed anyone, and to be treated so badly…it makes me ill.”

“We’ll have to bury him properly,” Bramblestein said.

Leryn shuddered. “That’s going to be an ugly mess.” He looked closely at his mentor. “I can handle it by myself. You’re done in, and I don’t think you should leave Merlin.” Going to the late monk’s cupboard, he found a wheel of cheese and a jug of ale. “I don’t think our late host will mind if we partake of his cheese and beer.” He served Bramblestein, watching as his color began to return.

“Thank you. I won’t argue with you.” The dwarf’s voice shook from exhaustion and more. “The Brotherhood of the Moon found me and took me in when I was a boy of six and left alone in the world after the Scotti overran Lugdumnon. The monks ensured I was apprenticed to Merlin, once they realized I had a knack for certain kinds of magic.”

“I always wondered how you came to be so far from the Dwarven Lands.” Leryn steeled himself for the task. “I’d best get started. The priest may be in heaven, but his mortal remains aren’t getting any prettier. If you could keep the water hot, a good wash-up afterward will give me something to look forward to.”

>>><<<

To Read Previous Episodes of “Bleakbourne on Heath” click here:

Bleakbourne on Heath Series


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017  Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.

#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath: Hard Truths

Meyndert_Hobbema_The_TravelersThe sea had calmed, making Gawain’s journey to the island of An Tuscar possible. Approaching the shore to pick up the two castaways was a feat that took all of his skill and seamanship. Both Lancelyn and Galahad were battered and covered in contusions, but neither man uttered a complaint. Bodies that had washed ashore were given a sea burial, a thing that affected every man on Gawain’s crew.

When Gawain asked about Branor, Geraint’s son, and his ship, the Ettar, Lancelyn could only say, “We lost sight of them in the storm, as we did you. We thought you lost too, so perhaps they survived.”

“God willing, we’ll find them in Wixfyorde.” Having seen the wreckage of the Morag, Gawain held little hope.

Lancelyn, grim and silent, only nodded. He pulled himself together to handle the business side of things as Geraint would have done, picking through what little cargo was salvageable with Gawain. The footing was steep and treacherous on the rocky island.

In truth, the harsh reality had set in. He was now the only son and stood to inherit what was left of the fleet when his father passed on. Of course, he’d gone to sea at the age of fourteen. He hadn’t hated it, but with his romanticized idea of knighthood and all that entailed, he’d never intended to spend his life sea as his father and brother did. Even if he had wanted it, he was never going to have a son to pass his family’s fortune on to.

He was overwhelmed by the fact he hadn’t been able to save the men who’d depended on his family to get them to safety. That had been his knightly duty, and deaths of so many filled him with a deep sense of personal failure.

Yet, he had to make the effort. He was the senior Reynfrey present and was therefore in charge. Gawain and his crew were now looking to him for direction—this despite the fact Gawain was ten times the captain Lancelyn would ever be. It was just how things were done.

The loss of the Morag would severely impact the fortunes of everyone in the town of Tyrwyddn, and not just the Reynfrey family. The men who’d lost their lives had left behind families, who would suffer. Gawain’s ship, the Olwenna, was heavily laden, but Gawain agreed they had to save what cargo they could from the Morag, for the widows and orphans.

They shoved off, and the oarsmen began the task of getting them out to sea and headed northwest, in the direction of the large harbor where the city of Wixfyorde was situated. Lancelyn stood beside Gawain, staring out to sea, searching for any sign of Branor’s ship, the Ettar, as did Galahad. No red and white striped sails were visible, anywhere.

>>><<<

Once they made landfall, Gawain delivered the goods they had saved and arranged for a return cargo. They made a small profit, but not nearly enough to cover the loss of so many lives and not nearly what they had hoped. Still, they had salvaged enough of Morag’s cargo that it was not a complete loss.

Since they still had to acquire the sand, Lancelyn immediately began making inquiries for several small wooden casks. A local cooper had several small kegs that would suffice.

After purchasing them, and while Gawain arranged for the return cargo, Lancelyn and Galahad hired a man with a donkey to help them acquire the sand. They walked along the beach, searching carefully until they came to the perfect dune. Bramblestein had impressed on them that only the cleanest sand, nearly white with a faint golden sheen would do to create the orb.

Lancelyn remembered how large and heavy the water orb had been, about the size of a small melon, but dense as a rock. He reflected that even though the dwarf had forgiven him for the theft, he owed him recompense, and so he made sure to gather enough sand for several orbs.

They returned to the village with no incident, stowing the casks in Olwenna’s hold. After a brief shore leave, they set sail for Tyrwyddn, arriving home with no trouble three days after the terrible storm.

>>><<<

During the previous days, Lancelyn had come to some decisions. After breaking the news to the families of the dead men and to his father, Tristan, Lancelyn sat in his family’s great hall, with Gawain. His older sister, Leothe, remained upstairs, caring for the old man, who had fallen ill upon learning of Geraint’s death.

Lancelyn broke the silence. “I am making you and Branor if he still lives, my heirs.”

“What? Why?” Gawain was more than surprised. “What about your children?”

“I have none, and Morgause—for various reasons, we won’t be having any children. My wife and I have made a new life in Bleakbourne now. I won’t be parted from her for any reason ever again.”

Gawain sat back. “What’s really going on, Lance? She can’t possibly accept you and Galahad. I can see your relationship with him hasn’t changed, yet here you are, swearing eternal fealty to your unwanted wife. It made our Yule quite merry when you suddenly took her and your catastrophic marriage away from Tyrwyddn.”

Both Lancelyn and Galahad winced at the word ‘catastrophic. “I know it was bad, but—”

Gawain plowed over his words. “The day I received your note saying you had resolved things, and then we found her gone was a good one. I will tell you this—many hoped it meant you had finally murdered her.”

Lancelyn’s features darkened, his flash of anger surprising his nephew. “Morgause has paid dearly for her sins, as have I. No amount of regret on our parts will change what has happened. I treated her abominably, so of course she lashed out. We’ve had to put that aside. I care deeply for her.”

Galahad said, “We both do and have worked things out between the three of us.” He met Gawain’s shocked eyes.

Lancelyn nodded. “The three of us are living well together.”

Gawain sat back, plainly disconcerted. “Well, if you say so. That’s more than likely not going to make Grandfather happy, though, so I suggest you don’t tell him of this triangle. The fact you’re remaining married and living with your wife is all he needs to know.” He rolled his eyes. “Certainly it must take two men to keep her in line. But if you’re so happy, why isn’t she here too?”

“Don’t blame Morgause for the wreckage of our marriage. I was a complete bastard to her, and despite that, she’s forgiven me. She couldn’t make this journey, but believe me when I say she is content with our life. In some ways, although it’s…different, I think she’s happier than she’s ever been.”

>>><<<

Preparing to leave Tyrwyddn, Lancelyn climbed aboard his heavily laden wagon. His father tried to force him to take enough coins to buy a cottage in Bleakbourne. He refused, saying he already had a home there, and the family fortunes were shaky enough as it was. “Put it into rebuilding the fleet. This way, Gawain’s son will have something to inherit.”

Compounding the misery, his nephew, Branor, and his ship had not been seen or heard from and was presumed drowned. Three of Galahad’s cousins had been lost with him. The deaths of so many hit Tyrwyddn hard, and many wondered if the town could survive.

Where once Lancelyn had been rash and oblivious of anything but his own interests, he couldn’t seem to find joy in anything, anymore. At the strangest times, the memory of the last sight of his brother, and his failure to save him came back to haunt him.

Galahad knew he was obsessed with Geraint’s death, but could find nothing to pull him out of it.

>>><<<

After a week on the road, they approached the ferry town of Ceridwen Ar Usk. They arrived just after nightfall, camping at the edge of town. After their supper, they sat before the fire. The silence stretched until Galahad broke it. “Are you going to tell me what’s on your mind? You haven’t been yourself since An Tuscar.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Nothing’s on my mind, particularly.” Lancelyn couldn’t meet his eyes. “I just have to get over things on my own.”

“You lost your brother. Of course, you’re taking it hard. It was a mess. You could have done nothing to change anything. I saw how it happened, but there was so much debris in the way I couldn’t reach you.”

“But I was right beside him, and I let it happen.”

“Don’t be absurd. You didn’t ‘let it happen.’ The timber struck his head with such force that he wouldn’t have survived, even if we had been able to drag him from the sea. I tried so hard to reach you, but then the sea took me down, and I couldn’t hold my breath. And just when I thought I was never going to see you again, I was flying through the air and dashed onto the rock. After that, all I remember is waking up and thinking I was home in bed, with Morgause licking my face the way she does when she wants me to get up.”

Lance looked up sharply. “Really? I felt the same thing. It seemed so real…but it was just a dream.”

“Was it? She was no ordinary woman before, and she’s no ordinary cat now.”

Lance exhaled heavily. “I know. And I’m sorry. Your family lost as much as mine, so why I’m feeling this way…I don’t know.”

Galahad gripped Lance’s forearm, holding his gaze. “I understand you. I know how you think, better than you do yourself. You have this vision of nobility that you must live up to, and it’s not always possible.”

“It should be possible to do better than this…this miserable failing of my entire family. I let everyone down. I let my inability to accept reality destroy Morgause, who actually loved me, despite my selfishness. I said things deliberately to hurt her and pushed her into such a jealous snit that she cast that dirty curse on me, which destroyed your life. But I learned nothing by going through that ordeal. When I discovered you might have fathered a foal while you were wearing a horse’s body, it seemed so unnatural. I allowed my rage to rule me. I just had to have revenge against her, no matter what the cost, never once considering how high the price might be.”

“Lance…”

“Oh, god. Don’t you see? I planned it. I went home and deliberately goaded her until she lashed out at me. And then, the fear in her eyes when she realized…but it was too late. The curse bounced off me and reflected back on her. I wanted to take it all back right then, but there’s no way to reverse it. I was so arrogant, so self-centered that I just wanted to hurt her. And I did hurt her and look what happened. Geraint died, and I would take it back, all of it, if only I could have Geraint back and Morgause a woman again.”

Galahad didn’t know what to say to Lance’s complicated rant. “Geraint’s death was not punishment for our sins. The miracle is that we survived. Morgause rescued us. I know it. Gawain has more common sense than any five men put together, and he’s there with your father. You don’t have half the skill he does for the business. He’ll take care of things.”

He gripped Lance’s hand. “You were only unfaithful to your wife because of me, and I was wholeheartedly a part it. Yes, she cast a spell to trap you, everyone knows that. She was madly infatuated with you. Who wouldn’t be? You were handsome, chivalrous, and from a rich family—everything a young woman imagines she wants in a husband.”

Lance rested his head in his hands. “But I did marry her, and I had no business staying involved with you.”

“I didn’t turn you away. Instead, I allowed her to catch us together. She was quite justifiably shocked and devastated by the discovery. Apparently no one had seen fit to tell her why your father was so eager to have you married off that he hired a matchmaker. So, here we are, the three of us filled with regrets, and no way of changing what has happened.”

Lance looked up. “I don’t know what the honorable thing to do is anymore. I used to think I did—but I was a lying hypocrite, concerned only that I looked noble to other people. And when you were punished for my sin, I lied, stole, and deliberately endangered Rosie to have you changed back.” Guilt stood stark in his eyes as he said, “I brought it upon us all. And I know my brother died for my sins.”

“What? How can you say that?”

The words were forced from Lancelyn’s lips. “We wouldn’t have had to make that accursed journey if Morgause had been able to be the third sorcerer. She had the abilities Merlin needs, but because of me, she’s trapped in a cat’s body.”

“You’re an idiot. Geraint was already going to Wixfyorde on a trading run, whether we were on that ship or not.”

“Yes, but that was a demon-damned storm, and it was sent to stop us.”

Galahad shook his head in disbelief. “Perhaps. But it’s just as likely it was a natural tempest, and we happened to be caught up in it. If it was sent by the demon, he’s unforgivably clumsy. All those deaths and we survived? I still say Morgause saved us, somehow. She was with me when I was most alone. I’d have given up and died without her intervention.”

“Me too.” Lancelyn exhaled heavily “What will I do if she dies before we can get her changed back? She’s a cat. How long can she possibly have?”


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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