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Authors: Gillian Bradshaw

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BOOK: Hawk of May
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“Agravain…” I repeated, gathering my courage.

“What's the matter now? Are you afraid to throw? Stop being foolish.”

I felt foolish. I clutched the spear desperately. I would throw it standing my way. It was not the usual stance, but it did not leave me vulnerable, either. I put my left leg forward, dropped my left arm. I really am good, I told myself. I can hit the target this way. I have to now. I must.

I threw and missed.

Agravain nodded reasonably. “Now will you do it my way? If you want to be a man and a warrior you must listen to…”

“Stop it!” I shouted, furious.

Agravain stopped, astounded.

“You are not helping me. You aren't trying to help, though you may think you are…”

“I am trying to help you. Are you calling me a liar?”

“No! But I don't want your help. If I'm no warrior, let me fail in my own way, and don't bother me with right ways and wrong ways. If I'm not a warrior, perhaps I will be a bard or a druid. Mother is teaching me to read so…”

“She is doing what?” demanded Agravain, aghast.

“Teaching me to read. She's been doing it all summer, while you were gone…”

“Do you want to be a sorcerer?” Agravain's eyes blazed and his bright hair glittered like the sun.

“No…I just want to read…” I was confused.

He slapped me across the face, so hard that I fell backwards. His face had gone red with anger. “You want to be better than us! Morgawse is a witch, everyone knows that, and you want to learn from her because you're such a poor warrior. A word in the dark instead of a sword in the sunlight, that's what you want. Power, the sort of power fit only for cowards, for traitors and kin-wrecked men and women and clan-murderers…”

“Agravain! I don't! I only…”

“Stop lying to me!”

I scrambled to my feet, facing my brother. I felt a blind fury descend on me, cold as ice, cold as Morgawse's eyes. “I am not a liar,” I said, hearing my voice cold and quiet, like someone else's, “I do not dishonor my clan.”

He laughed at me. “You are always dishonoring our clan. Do you call it no dishonor that the king's own son can't throw a spear straight? That he can't kill as much as a sparrow when hunting? That all he
can
do is ride horses and play the harp—play the harp! That you want to learn sorcery and the casting of curses so that you won't have to fight…”

“It's not true!” I screamed.

“Now you want to make me a liar!” yelled Agravain, and struck out at me.

It is good that I was not right by the spears: if I had been, I believe I would have used one. I jumped on my brother with a fury which surprised him, and struck as hard as I could. I felt cold, deathly cold, filled with a black sea. My fist hit Agra-vain's face, contacted again. He grunted with pain, and I felt a thrill of exultation. I wanted to hurt him, to hurt everyone who hurt me, who hurt Morgawse, who hurt Medraut, who belonged to a world I could not enter, and hurt, and hurt, and kept on hurting.

Agravain flung me off and fought back, coolly, calmly, not even very excited any more. I realized that he had not really believed his own accusations, had only been angry at my doing something he could not…I tripped and sprawled on the grass. Agravain kicked me, jumped on top of me, and told me to yield.

I thought of Morgawse's eyes; of Medraut's, admiring. I thought of my father smiling and imagined praise, of warriors, bright weapons, and swift war-hounds. I tried to fight some more. Agravain became angry and hit harder. I scratched him. He cursed.

“Call you a hawk, but you fight like a woman! Like a witch! Yield, you little bastard—you're no true brother of mine…”

I tried still, to fight, and was hurt worse. The black wave ebbed a little, taking with it the insane strength it had lent me. I was no warrior, I knew. Not really. I couldn't fight Agravain. I was no true brother of his anyway, and had no real claim to the honor of our clan, so he and Lot, at least, must believe…I went limp.

“Yield?” asked Agravain. He was panting.

I felt sick. I had no choice. If I didn't yield, he would only hit me some more, and call me names, and laugh at me.

“I yield.”

Agravain rose, dusted himself off. Two bruises were beginning to blotch his face, but he was otherwise unmarked. I rolled over, got on my hands and knees, stared at the packed earth under the grass of the practice yard, damp from winter rains. I was smeared with it and with blood.

“Remember this, little brother,” said Agravain “and forget about reading. Try to learn how to throw a spear straight, the right way, and maybe you'll someday make a warrior. I'm willing to forget about this and come and help you some more tomorrow.”

I heard his footsteps going, striding, confident. A warrior, my brother, a sun-bright prince, first-born of a golden warrior king. But I remembered Morgawse, dark and more beautiful than anything on earth, who held Lot's fate in her slim white hands. Morgawse, who hated. Hate. I realized that the black tide had not left me, but was coiled down within my being, waiting. It was hate, strong hate. I was my mother's son.

Morgawse knew when she saw me. I had washed myself somewhat before coming to her, but I had clearly been in a fight and it needed no guessing with whom. She saw when I came into her room that I was ready, and she smiled, a slow, triumphant smile.

She said nothing of it at first. She poured me some of the imported wine from a private store, told me to sit on the bed, and spoke to me gently, compassionately, asking what had happened, and I told her of the quarrel with Agravain.

“He said that you were a witch,” I told her. “He accused me of wanting to fight my enemies with curses and magic in the dark of the moon, rather than with honest steel.”

“And you wanted no such thing,” she said.

“That is so. I wanted only…to be a warrior. To bring honor to our clan, to please Father…and even Agravain. Diuran, the warband, everyone. I wanted them not to think that I was worthless. I wanted…” I found my throat constricted, and it hurt with a sudden intensity that all my wants were vain. I sipped the wine, rolled it about my mouth, swallowed. The taste was dry and rich. It was red wine. In the shadows of Morgawse's room it was dark as blood, not the ruby fire it had been that day with Lot when I heard that the Pendragon was dead.

“I don't want those things any more,” I said. “I'm not a warrior.”

“Not of their sort,” said Morgawse. She sat beside me, close. She and the room both smelled of musk, of deep secrets. The pupils of her eyes had expanded, drinking all the light of the room into her sweet darkness.

I sipped the wine again. It was stronger than the ale I was used to. It was good.

“But I want to fight them,” I said. “With knowledge. With things they don't understand because they are afraid to look at them. I want to show them who I am and make them know I am real.”

“Ah?”

“Is it true that you are a witch?”

“And if it were?” Her voice was soft, softer than an owl's feathers in the darkness.

“If it were, I'd ask you to teach me…things.”

She smiled again, a secret smile just between the two of us. “There are many sorts of power in the world, Gwalchmai,” she said. “Many powers. They can be used by those who know how to use them, but each sort has its own dangers. Yes, the dangers of some are so great, my hawk, that you could not understand them. Yet the rewards also are great; the greater the power, the greater the reward.” She clutched my hand suddenly. Her grip was cold as winter, strong as hard steel. “Great rewards, my spring-tide falcon. I have paid certain prices…” she laughed. “There will be more to come. But mine is the greatest sort of power. I will gain…immortality. There are none living who can match me in magic now. I have power, my son! I have very great power. I have spoken to the leaders of the wild hunt, to the lord of Yffern, to the kelpies of the deep sea and the demons who dwell in the far keeps of the underworld. I am greater than they. I am a Queen, Gwalchmai, a Queen of a realm which Lot only suspects and is afraid of.

“And I have watched you, my hawk. There is power in you, and strength. Now, at last you have come and asked for teaching. You will receive it.”

I felt fear, but remembered Agravain's contempt and ignored it. Morgawse spoke of serving Darkness, but what of that? She also spoke of ruling it.

“Then show me,” I said, my voice as low as hers.

“Not so quickly! You forget, I also spoke of dangers. I will teach you, Gwalchmai, but it will be long before you can control the power you seek. But you will learn to. Oh, learn it you will, my hawk, my son…”

Taking a knife from a hidden sheath she made a cut at her wrist, then held her arm so that the blood flowed into the cup of wine. She handed the knife to me and, without being told to, I did the same.

Morgawse took the cup and drank from it, lowered it, the red wine and red blood dark about her mouth. She handed it to me.

It was heavy in my hands, fine copper overlaid with gold, rich, cold, fine and beautiful. I thought of the winter sunlight outside, of Agravain, of the scorn of warriors. For a second the thought returned to me of Llyn Gwalch and the wide purity of the grey sea. No, I thought. That is a lie. I raised the cup slowly and drained it. It was thick, sweet and dark—darker than the deep heart of midnight.

Three

Things were somehow different after that. My mother taught me nothing but more Latin, Agravain “helped” me in weapons practice and I grimly accepted his help, laboring with the rough wood and heavy metal that was so light and flashing in his hands; I rode about the island, practiced my own style of fighting, sometimes on horseback. Agravain quarrelled with me over this, saying that I was ruining myself as a warrior, and that I ought to listen to him—life seemed to have settled into its usual pattern. But there was a difference, a shadow that made all the familiar things seem strange. I had made a pact and was bound to it. A seed had been planted, and I waited sometimes, awake in my bed at night with the soft sleeping breath of the other boys about me in the dark, waited for the plant to grow and blossom with some fantastic black flower.

Agravain noticed nothing. He beat me less hard when we fought, but this was only because I did not fight as hard. I no longer wished to defend an honor I could not understand. Honor belonged to Lot's world, Agravain's world. My world had no room for such things.

Medraut, however, noticed almost immediately. I began to catch him staring at me with confused eyes in the middle of some talk or game. He would ask the question plainly some time, I guessed. I wondered how I would answer.

On Medraut's eighth birthday Lot gave him his choice of any pony in the royal stables. I went with my brother to help him choose one. When Lot named the gift Medraut had been very excited, but on the walk to the stables he calmed down. Together we looked at the ponies—they were all the small shaggy breed common to the northern islands—and discussed the merits of each of them. Medraut listened to my horse-talk in his grave intent way, then, quite suddenly, as I was checking one of the animals' legs, asked, “Is there something wrong, Gwalchmai?”

I started and looked up from the pony, twisting about on my knees to face him, “No. Not with his legs, but he has no withers at all…”

“No, no, not with the pony. Is there something wrong for you?”

For me? No. What makes you think so?”

He stood facing me in the cold dusty sunlight of the stable, drably dressed, his grey eyes wide and anxious. The light glinted palely on his hair, the only touch of brightness in the place. He looked vulnerable, and very innocent.

“You've been so strange,” my brother said nervously. “You go away...”

I smiled. “Well, I've always liked to go riding. Now that you have your own horse you can come with me more often.”

“That's not what I mean.” Medraut's voice was sharp. “All summer, you've been here. You were here, with everyone. You used to go away with Agravain and Lot, but you were here this summer. But now…” Medraut bit his lip and looked away from me. “Now you're gone. I can't talk to you any more. You even go away with me.”

“I don't understand,” I said, though in truth I had a very good idea of what he meant.

“You had a big fight with Agravain,” said Medraut unhappily.

I looked away, shrugged.

“After that, something happened. You went away from everyone after that.”

I had felt, on some of those days, that I watched the world from a great distance behind the mask that had been my face. Went away…

“And you haven't gone to Llyn Gwalch.”

I thought of Llyn Gwalch, the seaweed gleaming on the rocks, the drops of mist and seaspray on the mossy boulders. Such places have no bearing on the world, I told myself. One must live in the world which is real. “That was a childish game,” I said. “I'm too old for it now.”

“But what happened?” Medraut crossed the space between us and caught my arm. “You must tell me!”

“Why?” I glared at him, aloof as the hawk of my name.

He stared at me for a long moment, then put his arms round me and buried his face in my shoulder. It hurt. I had never deserved his love and trust, and now that I had failed in the path he would follow, now that I would never be a warrior and one that a brave man could honor, now I deserved it less than ever. I could not go on lying to him.

Indeed, I suddenly felt that for too long I had been living a pretence. I had told no one of what had happened, and I had been alone, training and eating and sleeping next to other boys, pretending to be one of them, but alone. The feeling grew in me until I could not bear it. I would tell Medraut, who trusted me, who, alone, might understand.

“I went to Morgawse and asked her to teach me sorcery.” I whispered.

He lifted his head from my shoulder, eyes wide, and went still. I put my arm round his shoulder and we were quiet.

“Why?” he asked at last.

“Because I can never be a warrior.”

He thought for a while. “I wonder…do you think I could learn sorcery?” he asked, finally.

I felt the shock as physically as if someone had kicked me in the belly. Not Medraut. Not the young warrior, the child of light, who was everything I wished I could be: proud without being arrogant, fierce without cruelty, sunlight with the searing heat of Lot or Agravain. He could not follow me into failure and darkness. He must not become too close to Morgawse. I thought of her light-drinking eyes.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“It is wrong for you. Very wrong,
mo chroidh,
my heart.”

“But Mother is a sorcerer, and you will be. Why shouldn't I know something about it too?”

“Morgawse is Morgawse. I am only myself. You are Medraut.”

“Why couldn't I learn it? I am clever enough…”

“That isn't the point! It is wrong.”

“Is Mother wrong, then? Are you?”

I stopped in the middle of my reply. Medraut had always trusted and admired me. Still…

“It is wrong for you. You can be a warrior and fight in the sunlight. I can't, and Mother can't, and that is why we used this path.”

He argued further, but I argued against him, hard and fast. Eventually he abandoned the subject, cheered up, and chose for his pony a grey with a white mane and tail. He called it Liath Macha, “Grey of Battle,” after CuChulainn's horse, and was happy.

Spring came slowly, barely noticeable after the mild winter of the Orcades. But the days grew slowly warmer, the sky was occasionally blue, and the great cold grey sea-fogs rolled less frequently up from the west.

Agravain and I had yet another quarrel over my habit of practicing with my weapons on horseback. Lot, however, who happened to be nearby and inquired into the reason for the difference, looked thoughtful.

“Perhaps you are doing ill to punish Gwalchmai for this,” he told Agravain. “True, we do most of our fighting on foot, and to be able to ‘jump about a horse's back like a juggler at a fair,' as you were pleased to put it, is no great use to a warrior now. But Arthur the war-leader has taught all his men to fight from horseback, and they say that his victories over the Saxons spring from the strength of his cavalry. Let Gwalchmai be.”

Agravain frowned uncomfortably. He had no liking for the idea of the styles of warfare changing, and less for being told that he was wrong. He found a pretext for another quarrel later that day. But he left me more, though not entirely, alone afterwards, and sometimes watched me with a frown. I think that even he was beginning to notice the change in me, and it puzzled him.

By that time Morgawse was beginning to teach me, as she had promised. Not the important things, the summonings and dark spells, but the basic things: the characteristics of that universe that exists alongside of and within our own. I do not know all the law that governs it; neither did Morgawse. But some of it I learned, and many things that before I had not seen became apparent to me.

Once Medraut adjusted to the change in me, we were as close as ever, perhaps closer, though he gave me occasional measuring looks I did not like. But I took him with me on my rides about the
island, told him more and more stories, and played the harp for him. I was becoming very good at singing. Any bard, of course, did far better, but I have some small gift for it. I no longer cared that my father considered it shameful for me to spend time harping. I no longer cared what anyone found shameful.

April arrived, a bright month, and my father still had not left for Britain. The war was late in starting. All the labored-over alliances of the winter fell apart again with the spring, and the British kings scurried to build new ones. Several blood feuds had started, and some old ones reopened, and a war had begun between two of our enemies who had formerly been staunch allies, springing from a quarrel over some plundered cattle. This catastrophe disrupted all the old alliances and added a new faction to the civil war.

All that summer the war wore on without anything becoming clearer, and Lot made ready to invade, fumed, and waited for an invitation. Agravain, sixteen years old and considering himself a man, polished his weapons and hoped.

In early August, Gwynedd's old enemy Dyfed and our one constant ally Gododdin decided to attack Gwynedd. It was a sensible idea, but ill-timed, and our allies finally made the long-awaited step of calling for my father to join them. It was nearing harvest time, and my father knew he could not raise his army, but he summoned his subject kings and their warbands, and sailed by night past Dalriada to attack Strathclyde, and proceed from there to join his allies.

Morgawse rejoiced in her husband's departure. She ruled the Orcades absolutely while he was gone, and she loved the power. She spent very little time with me. There were two reasons for this. The first was simply that, unlike the summer before, there was a great deal for her to do. Most of the men remained in the Orcades to bring in the harvest, and from the harvest she must see that the king's tribute was exacted and collected and stored. But the more forceful reason probably was that she no longer needed to draw me to her. I had come, and been trapped. She did not think that I could escape.

Knowledge of sorcery had not brought me happiness, as I had thought it would. It gave me a secret place, and a secret cause for pride, yes, but I was never entirely certain whether what I felt was pride or whether it was shame. The burdens were heavy. I would see things that no other saw, and they frightened me. Sometimes I heard overhead, the baying of the Hounds of Yffern, which hunt the souls of the damned to Hell, and the clear silver sound of the huntsman's horn. I puzzled at the meaning of this, and it always meant death. I came to realize that I would die, and I feared this. Morgawse also feared it, but she had done something to keep the hunter from her back, something she would not explain, and this gave her security. I envied her. I sought to know more, to cure my fear, to lighten the burden, but I only succeeded in deepening the fear and loading my heart until it sank into the black sea which sometimes possessed me. And I did not think I could escape, either. Nor did I truly want to. There was nowhere else to go.

It was a hard winter. It does not usually snow in the Orcades, but it snowed that winter. In northern Britain, where the war had by then settled, the cold clasped the mountains with a brutal hand, casting great drifts and barriers before the path of any warband hardy enough to plow through them. Usually, most kings allow their warbands to rest in the winter, and most of the warriors scatter to their own households, to gather again when the leaves first begin to bud. That winter was different.

In the east, the Saxons were restless. They had by no means been altogether neutral in the war, but had enthusiastically taken part in the plotting and politicking, and taken what advantage they could from the fighting. They made small border raids which grew into larger ones, driving further and further across the boundaries which had been established in blood in the last major war against them. Arthur, the war-leader of the old Pendragon, tried to fight them. But he was a clanless man, and relied on Constantius, the king of Dum-nonia, for his support. Constantius had his own warband as well as Arthur's to pay for, and could not spare tribute enough to keep the whole royal warband, for which the whole of Britain had paid taxes when there was a High King. Many warriors followed Arthur by preference, giving up much of the wealth a good warrior expects, but still there were not enough to protect even a part of the border.

The Saxons are a fierce people, young, vigorous, wholly barbarian, overflowing with brutal energy. They seem, however, to have an ability to keep peace among themselves which British kings have never learned. Some of the Saxon kingdoms were officially tributary to the British High King, since they were founded as colonies by the Romans under the last emperors, and sworn to protect the empire. But they are always land hungry, for their numbers increase more and more as other Saxons come over the sea, and the newer kingdoms acknowledged no ancient oaths. Only the strength of the High King, and his warband keeps them from overrunning Britain altogether. Like wolves about a stick stag, they watched the British kings at war.

We did not fear the Saxons in the Orcades, of course, nor did we have to worry about the other menace to Britain, the Scotti, who came from Erin in their long war-curraghs to plunder all the western shores of Britain. There was no peace between the Scotti and the Orcades—my father had left Erin because of a quarrel with the kings who led them—but the raiders would not brave the long journey to our islands, where they would be met with the cliffs and walls of Dun Fionn.

There were no raiding ships so foolhardy as to brave the Irish Sea in winter, but the Saxons and, most of all, the winter itself, made the British kings cautious, highly unwilling to leave their fortresses. Only my father, faced with no domestic enemies, felt free to travel. Our warband went the length and breadth of Britain, winning rich plunder and supplying themselves from the goods of their enemies.

Medraut was always full of talk of the war, though even more full of talk of how Morgawse was governing. She controlled the realm in a way which made my father's grip seem light. My father required supplies: my mother commanded his subject kings to ship their portion of the yearly tribute they paid directly to Gododdin, using their own ships to do so. They were reluctant, for the journey was long and costly, as well as dangerous, as the North Sea in winter is treacherous and cruel. They asked, at least, for a reduction of the tribute. She refused, and threatened to raise the tribute if they did not comply. One ship making the journey was lost, with all its crew. She told the king concerned that another shipload of tribute must be sent to replace it, saying, “You must pay for your carelessness.” Justice she administered severely, commanding always the harshest penalties without compromise, and no clan was permitted to conceal a quarrel or offence from her: somehow she discovered their most secret concerns, and summoned them to give her an account of them.

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