Authors: Michael A. Hooten
The Two Tanists
A Bard Without a Star Book 2
by Michael A. Hooten
Text Copyright © 2013 Michael A. Hooten
All Rights Reserved
Fantasy scenery 15
For my friend James, who weaves powerful magic with
Other books by Michael A.
Hooten, available from
The Cricket Learns to Sing
A Cricket at Court
The Cricket That Roared
A Bard Without a Star
Gwydion ap Don dressed in
his finest red trousers with the yellow silk tunic embroidered with a great red
dragon. His four colored cloak, clasped with a dragon shaped pin, had more
muted colors. The room was closed except for a single window, and every now
and then he could hear a stray comment brought to him by the cool spring wind.
He brushed his long chestnut hair, wiped a scuff off his boot, and proceeded to
the great hall.
the center of authority in Gwynedd, was in the midst of the annual Beltain
festival. Gwydion stepped into a courtyard full of people dancing, eating, and
singing. Musicians offered widely scattered songs, but somehow it all came
into a delightful harmony. Several pretty girls tried to draw him into the
festivities, but he shook them off gently and continued to the hall.
doors, tall as three men and thick enough to withstand a siege, stood wide open
to the courtyard, and people passed freely in and out of the hall. He could
see soldiers scattered throughout the crowd, charged with keeping the peace,
but none guarded the hall doors proper. Gwynedd was a strong cantref, and Caer
Dathyl feared no hostile interruption.
ceased as Gwydion passed. He barely noticed; his attention was focused on Math
ap Mathonwy, Lord Gwynedd, who sat on a dais at the far end of the hall,
stroking his long white beard, with his feet in the lap of the beautiful young
woman Goewin. Like Gwydion, he was dressed in reds and yellows, but his
clothes were more ornate and peppered with jewels, and his cloak had five
colors in it.
Bard stood slightly behind the gilded couch Math lay on, playing a song that
could not be heard above the din. But as Gwydion strode towards the dais, the
hall began to quiet down, and he could hear what the bard had chosen, and it
made him smile; it was a song he himself had composed more than a year ago,
when he thought his only skill was with the harp. Now he could hear the winds
like Math did, and had learned to be fearsome warrior as well, much to
climbed the steps and knelt at Math’s side. The old man regarded him for a
moment before placing a hand on the young man’s head. He looked out at his
people and said, “My nephew Gwydion ap Don is now seventeen, and has shown
himself worthy. I hereby proclaim him to be Tanist of Gwynedd, the full heir
of my power and my cantref, speaking in my name and acting on my behalf. Does
anyone gainsay this choice?”
The crowd signaled their
approval, and Math released the pin on Gwydion’s cloak, letting it fall to the
floor. Talyn stepped forward, and placed a new cloak on his shoulders, with
five bright colors. Math closed the pin, and Gwydion got to his feet. Math
looked into his eyes for a moment, nodded, and turned back to the crowd. “We
will now retire to the feast.
The crowd responded with a
great cheer, which was welcomed by an answering cheer brought on the wind.
Gwydion looked to Math, who simply nodded. Gwydion left the dais and entered
the festival, but even away from his uncle, the wind insisted on bringing him
every scrap of sound that it could.
He didn’t know what had
changed, but he spent the rest of the Beltain festival barely able to hear
anyone through all the noise in his head. Even at night, by himself, the wind
came under the door with voices from all over the caer. He didn’t know if Math
had made the change, or becoming Tanist had caused it, but every door that
opened brought new scraps of conversation, and venturing into the open was like
descending into a boisterous crowd, even if there was no one about.
The festival ended after a
week, and Gwydion’s normal training resumed. His morning run and weapons
training did not go too badly, despite the ruckus in his head, but it became
much worse as he stood in Math’s tower after lunch, with its wide windows open
to every direction. He saw Math’s mouth moving, but couldn’t make out the
“I’m sorry,” Gwydion said.
“Could you repeat that?”
“I said, are you ready to
tour the caer and take my greetings to my lairds and chieftains?” Math said
with a touch of sternness.
“I think so,” Gwydion
answered. “But I don’t know. The winds are starting driving me to
distraction. Is there any way to limit what I hear?”
“Practice,” Math said. “The
winds see you as a new toy, and it is up to you to convince them otherwise.”
“Are the winds sentient
“Not quite,” Math said
slowly. “You are like a flag. Until recently, you were furled, and the wind
had nothing to do with you. Now, you are unfurled, and the wind is flapping
your colors for all to see. And it is new and unusual, and neither you nor the
wind is used to it. But after a while, it will become natural and normal.”
Less than a week later,
Gwydion left the caer and headed towards the outlying areas of the cantref. He
half expected Math to send him with an escort or a bodyguard, but Math said he
had proven himself perfectly capable of taking care of himself by himself.
Gwydion knew that the winds would be telling Math about anything he did as
well. He was told to be back by Samhain, which gave him almost six months to
wander through the country.
He had hoped that being away
from all the people in Caer Dathyl would decrease the noise in his head, but he
found that the winds still went out of their way to bring them to him. On the
windswept moors he heard every grunt from every shepherd, and as he passed
through the mountains, he heard voices in languages that he didn’t understand;
he could only guess how far they had been carried.
In every dun he came to, he
announced himself as the Tanist, and was treated with polite but guarded
respect. He used his harp to break the tension. Trying to concentrate on the
playing while ignoring the winds made his head hurt, but he made the best of
it. He heard whispers about his remoteness or aloofness, but he couldn’t do
much else but muddle through. He continued on this way for a month as the last
bit of spring gave way to the heat of summer, which didn’t help him any.
One night, he was playing for
a laird and his people, some one hundred souls in all, after a dinner of
roasted boar that Gwydion had politely declined. The people, curious about his
refusal to eat the pork, whispered while he played, and the winds seemed intent
upon bringing him every remark. The buzz in his ears was worse than normal,
affecting his playing.
The laird noticed. “Lord?”
he asked politely. “Is there something wrong? You have a reputation for being
a fine harp player. Are you distracted by something?”
Gwydion looked at the man,
remembering his name: Moryus. “I apologize if my playing has been offensive,
laird Moryus. Truly, I have much on my mind these days.” And in my ears, he
Moryus nodded. “Taking on
new responsibilities will do that. Tales of you have been circulating
throughout the cantref, some of which seem too outrageous to believe.”
Gwydion knew that the tale of
the bandits, complete with his shape shifting, had gotten out, most likely from
Gil. Gwydion cursed him offhandedly; steps were already being taken by Math,
who used Bran to spread the counter rumor that some people were so skeptical of
Gwydion’s ability that they had included shape shifting into the tale to
explain how Gwydion had been able to defeat anyone. Still, the true tale had
better legs than any of them had expected.
One of the farmers left the
hall, letting in a fresh wind from the outside. It insisted on bringing
Gwydion all the noise from the yard, from the lowing cattle and the men talking
about the crops to the squeaking rats and the sound of a scullery maid
sweeping. He saw Moryus speaking again, but could not hear his words. Gwydion
could feel a headache developing behind his eyes.
He nodded at Moryus and made
affirmative noises in what he hoped were the appropriate places. He touched
the strings of the harp in his lap, strumming them lightly. The music had
helped soothe him before, and maybe he could use it to stave off the pain
before it got too bad.
He used his mind to twist the
notes a little, and the noise of the winds began to die down. Moryus voice
became clearer; the laird was telling him a story about a cattle raid. Gwydion
didn't know how the topic had wandered into that area, but he didn't care. He
was reveling in the fact that he could hear the man at all.
“So that's how I focused on
the task at hand,” Moryus said, “Even with all the shouting men and cattle
running all about.”
“Thank you, laird,” Gwydion
said. “You have been very helpful. Very helpful indeed.”
Moryus looked flattered.
“Would you like to try it, my lord? Would you play us one last song for the
“Yes, I think I will.”
Gwydion lifted his harp but
into playing position, and set his fingers to the strings. “To make up for my
poor performance thus far, and to thank you for your story, laird Moryus, I
shall now play the Cattle Raid of Coomly.”
Throughout the hall, people
sat up, and shushed their neighbors who hadn't heard. The Cattle Raid was one
of the three great stories of Glencairck, and as the telling of it often took
hours, it was normally reserved for special occasions. Moryus flushed to the
roots of his hair, flattered beyond words that Gwydion would give them such a
But Gwydion, having
discovered a way of hiding from the winds, had also discovered that he could
think clearly for the first time in days. He analyzed not only how he was
using the music, but also it exactly how it affected the winds. The length of
the story gave him time to play, seeing how many or how few of the winds he
could let in at one time, and testing whether or not he could expand the
influence of his magic. All the lessons that Math had given him came into
play, but even so, he gained only the broadest understanding of what he was
doing by the time the song came to an end.
Laird Moryus rubbed his
eyes. “My lord,” he said, “Forgive me for questioning your talent. And many
thanks both for me and my people.”
The folk of the caer began
streaming out, letting in the cold, grey light of early dawn. Many were
yawning, but all were smiling, and Gwydion watched them go, knowing that he too
would sleep well. “The thanks are mine,” he said. “You have given me a
greater gift than you know.”
Gwydion slept most of the
day, awakening in time for the evening meal, where he was greeted more warmly
than he had been in a long time. Laird Moryus bowed to him, and when the food
came around, offered him the first choice. The same form had been followed the
night before, but it now felt genuine, not merely protocol.
After the meal, everyone
looked to Gwydion expectantly, and he said with a laugh, “I doubt that I can
play all night again.”
“Just a few songs,” Laird
Moryus said. “Perhaps a bit of dancing, and a story or two— “
The door banged open, and a
farmer rushed in. “Cattle raid,” he said, trying to talk and catch his breath
at the same time. “Dyfedians, ten or so, Cofach’s dun.”
Moryus called for his sword
and his horse, and Gwydion quietly put his harp away and checked his own
blade. He followed the men of the caer into the courtyard, and saddled his
horse. The laird did a double take to see him in the group. “Tanist!” he
exclaimed. “You can’t go with us! Your uncle would raze my caer if something
happened to you.”