Authors: Holly Taylor
To my sisters Julie, Kerry and Christine, my companions in
joy, in grief and in life. I love you all more than I can say.
Published 2008 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered tradmark of Medallion Press, Inc.
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment from this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 2008 by Holly Taylor
Cover Illustration by Adam Mock
Interior map by James Tampa
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Previous accolades for
“… excellent fantasy … There is plenty of action, irony, and emotion in this tale of two kinds of people: religious zealots and paranormals. This is a richly crafted book. We look forward to reviewing the rest of the series and rated this book a score of five hearts.”
—Bob Spear, Heartland Reviews
“This is a terrific epic fantasy with an enjoyable final twist that readers will sort of see coming, but will be surprised anyway. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action as the ethnic cleansing seems heading into Armageddon unless Rhiannon and Gwydion can stop the obsessed Warleader from his final solution. Sub-genre fans will enjoy Holly Taylor’s fine tale once the genocidal countdown to a country-wide High Noon begins.”
They sing after thy song,
The Kymri in their grief,
On account of their loss
Long is the cry of sorrow.
There is blood upon the spears.
The waves are bearings
hips upon the sea.
Fifth Master Bard of Kymru
Dismal is this life, to be without a soft bed;
A cold frosty dwelling, harshness of snowy wind.
Cold icy wind, faint shadow of a feeble sun,
The shelter of a single tree on the top of the level moor.
Enduring the shower, stepping along deer-paths,
Traversing greenswards on a morning of raw frost.
High King Idris
Kingdom of Prydyn, Kymru
Bedwen Mis, 499
Suldydd, Disglair Wythnos—night
wydion ap Awst, Dreamer of Kymru, twisted and turned on his narrow, sweat-soaked pallet. His face, illuminated by the shining moon that slipped through the shimmering waterfall and into the cave, was rigid with loss, with grief, with unyielding pain. And the dream unfolded.
He stood in a dark forest, lit fitfully by the pale light of the waning moon riding high overhead. The dark trees surrounded him, hemming him in tightly. The night was cold, and he was alone in a strange place he did not know. The silence hummed loudly in his ears, drumming like thunder with every beat of his heart. Inky black shadows stretched around him, growing and wavering in the uncertain light.
Suddenly the trees shivered as a chill wind blew through the forest, moaning and wailing of loss and despair. Leaves fallen from nearly bare branches rustled around him like the rattling bones of a restless corpse.
Faintly, so faintly he could not be sure at first that he really heard it, a horn began to blow, the note drifting through the forest on the wings of the sobbing wind. Again, he heard the call, coming closer now. And though he thought he knew who sounded that call, it was not the cool, clear note he had heard in times past. It was soft, mournful, as though sent vainly into the air with a dying breath.
The sound of horses’ hooves on the ground was muffled, and came slowly. He turned toward the sound, and the aching slowness of it frightened him, until he was terrified of what he would see.
Perhaps they had come to him too late. Perhaps they were dying even now, this moment. Perhaps there would be nothing left of them for him to save.
A faint glimmer of topaz through the dark trees caught Gwydion’s terrified gaze. The horse was pale and skeletal. The rider was slumped over the horse’s neck, the horn dangling in his hand, forgotten. With an effort, he raised his head, staring at Gwydion with the eyes of an owl. The antlers that grew from his once-proud forehead gleamed faintly in the moonlight. His once-muscular, bare chest was hollow and frail.
“Cerrunnos,” Gwydion whispered past the ache in his throat. “Leader of the Hunt. Protector of Kymru.”
A rustling of leaves, stirred by the hooves of a black horse, a glimmer of amethyst, and she was there. As her dark horse staggered into the tiny clearing, she slowly straightened and lifted her head. Her once-white tunic was tattered and stained with dirt and blood. Her shadowy hair was tangled and dusty. But her amethyst eyes still had the power to awe him with their pitiless gaze.
“Cerridwen,” Gwydion whispered. “Lady of the Wood. Protectress of Kymru.”
The two figures stared down at Gwydion but did not speak. Their harsh, labored breathing frightened Gwydion. “What have they done to you? What have they done to you both?” he cried.
“You know what they have done, Dreamer,” Cerrunnos replied, his voice hollow. “They came and took Kymru for their own.”
“Two years ago they came,” Cerridwen whispered. Once, her voice had been like the silvery chime of bells. But no more.
“You … you are dying. I did not know that the Shining Ones could die.”
“Didn’t you?” Cerridwen asked slowly. “For we can. But not yet. Not just yet. Still do I ride with the Horned God, the Master of the Hunt.” She reached out with her pale, wasted hand to the god by her side. Cerrunnos, with a mighty effort, took her hand in his own. The god’s topaz eyes fixed on Gwydion, and the Dreamer was startled to see the life that still blazed there. No, the gods were not dead. Not yet.
“Now is the time, Dreamer,” Cerrunnos said. “Kymru is crushed beneath the heel of the enemy. The Druids have turned from Modron, and so our Great Mother will not allow the land to be fruitful. The King of the Winds moans of death and sorrow. The Lord of the Sun turns his face from the land. The Lady of the Waters looks upon rivers of blood. The Lord of Chaos is glutted with the souls of the dead. The Weaver cuts thread after thread. And now, the Wheel prepares to turn again.”
“And so we have come,” Cerridwen said, her voice merely a whisper. “Now is the time, Dreamer. And this is the dream we have promised. The Hunt for the Four Treasures begins. Your task, to make a High King for Kymru, one who will drive the enemy from this land, continues. Look, now, for these are the ones who hold the key.” She pointed to the ground at Gwydion’s feet. Moonbeams began to gather on the dead ground, forming a silvery pool of light.
Trembling, Gwydion gazed into the pool.
“Complete is the prison of the Queen in Caer Dwyr,” Cerridwen chanted. Within the pool Gwydion saw the face of a young woman. Her auburn hair was scattered with pearls, her deep blue eyes filled with anger and pain. Manacles shackled her wrists, and though she twisted and turned, she could not break free. The pool shimmered again, and the face was gone.
“Sorrowful was the exile of the King from Caer Tir,” Cerrunnos intoned, and the pool began to cast an emerald glow. Gwydion saw a man with golden hair, lines of pain and sorrow chiseled into his handsome, pale features. His blue eyes were dark with loss and despair as he strained his arms toward something he could not reach.
“Fast was the trap of the woman in Caer Erias,” Cerridwen sang, as the pool shimmered again, glimmering like the fire in the heart of an opal. A young girl, with hair of reddish gold, struggled against unseen bonds. A wedding veil spilled from a gold circlet across her brow, and silent screams of horror poured from her blue eyes.
“Many were the girl’s tears for the dead of Caer Gwynt,” Cerrunnos chanted, as the pool shimmered sapphire blue. The face of a young woman swam to the surface. Her auburn hair was dusty and tangled, and tears streamed from her dark eyes, spilling down her cold, set face.
Then the pool shimmered again, casting a rainbow of light through the trees—silver and green, yellow and blue—sending a glimmer of hope spinning up into the sky. A huge eagle sprang from the pool with a cry of defiance, and followed the light up through the trees, soaring free, unfettered through the dark night.
“Look now, Dreamer, and see what you must see,” Cerridwen said softly. Gwydion wrenched his eyes from the eagle’s flight, returning his gaze to the pool.
A large, square-cut stone swam to the surface. It was shot through with streaks of silver, which crosscrossed the stone like a net. At each silvery junction a white pearl gleamed.