The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2) (4 page)

BOOK: The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2)
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Shock turned to understanding
in a moment, and Cofach nodded. “He is not the only Dyfedian that is acting
dishonorably. It seems these days that all the border lairds are seeking our
lives along with our cattle. There’s even rumor that some young girls have
been dragged away, though I doubt that part.”

“And the lairds on our side?”
Gwydion said. “Do they all follow the rules, or are there some rogues among
them?”

Cofach shook his head
emphatically. “I’ve heard of no one crossing Math. The Dyfedians may be
getting more warlike, but I know of no Gwyneddian who would dare Math’s fury.”

Gwydion nodded. “That’s very
wise.” He began pulling his harp out of its case. “You have earned your
reward, chieftain.” As he tuned it, he said, “What would you do if Deykin
killed Moryus as he intends?”

“We’d petition Math,” Cofach
said. “We’d let him deal with the issue. It’s part of the Rules.”

“I see,” Gwydion said.
Setting the harp in playing position, he said, “I give you
The Birth of Finn macCuhal
.”

He played all night for the
dun. They listened raptly, and sighed in disappointment when it was over.
Gwydion didn’t even stay for a few hours of sleep, but immediately took his
leave. Cofach protested strongly, but Gwydion walked out of the gate before
the day was an hour old. When he was certain he was out of sight of the dun,
he changed into a raven, and began flying towards the northwest.

He landed outside the gates
of Caer Don, the home of his ancestors. Approaching the open gate as a man, he
was nodded through by guards that he had known since he was a child, who showed
no surprise at the appearance of the Tanist alone in the middle of winter.
Nothing was said, but by the time Gwydion had reached the main hall, a small
feast had been laid out for him, and Tewared, Gilventhy’s father, sat at the
head of the table with a warm but cautious smile. “You travel far and oddly,
nephew,” he said by way of greeting. Arianrhod sat beside her father, but
Gwydion did his best not to stare. He knew that she had dressed for him, with
her platinum blonde hair falling artfully in waves over the bodice of her deep
blue dress, and knew that she knew he knew. It was enough for both.

“Uncle,” Gwydion replied,
bowing low. “I’m a bit surprised that you are not scolding me more soundly,
and banishing me to my chambers until a suitable escort can be found to drag me
back to Math.”

Tewared shrugged. “A year
ago, you would have been right. But things change. Boys become men, hopefuls
become Tanists.”

“I see,” Gwydion said. He
sat down and started wolfing down his food, heedless of even Ari’s stares.

Tewared smiled. “You have
changed. I remember a very careful boy who would have been aghast that he was
appearing uncouth with the way you’re eating.”

Gwydion paused long enough to
say, “Hunger overcomes manners.”

“So it does, so it does.”
Tewared sat back and folded his arms, saying nothing while Gwydion devoured
enough for three men. Arianrhod, realizing that she was not going to be the
center of Gwydion’s attention, excused herself. When Gwydion had slowed down
somewhat Tewared said, “So what brings you to our hall in the middle of
winter?”

“Curiosity, and advice,”
Gwydion said, leaning back in his seat.

“Are you offering or seeking
advice?”

“Seeking, of course.”

Tewared grunted. “You never
know with young ones.”

“I’m wondering why Dyfed
hates us so much.”

“That old sore? I’m surprised
you don’t know the story.”

Gwydion said, “Why should I?”

“Because you’re named for one
of the men who started it all.”

“This goes back to Pryderi?”

“And the pigs that were
stolen from him, by the bard Gwydion.” Tewared cocked his head. “You didn’t
know that one was of the reasons why you’re hated?”

“No,” Gwydion said.

“It doesn't help that you are
known for your harping, you know.”

“I can imagine,” Gwydion said
dryly. “So the Dyfedians hate us generally for Gwydion’s theft some six
hundred years ago, and me particularly because I bear his name.”

Tewared said, “Don’t forget
that their land is much poorer than ours as well. Had they prospered all these
years, this would all be unimportant.”

Gwydion sipped his drink
slowly. “Is there anything to be done?”

“You’re asking me?” Tewared
said. He leaned forward, and tapped the table in front of Gwydion. “You’re
the Tanist. Talk to Math. Maybe he’ll listen to you. Heaven knows he isn’t
listening to the rest of us.”

Gwydion looked at his uncle
with new understanding. “An old sore indeed.”

He sought out Arianrhod that
evening, after the caer had begun settling down. A maid servant led him to her
bedchamber, and although she invited him in, he declined, even after she
dismissed the maid. “Appearances to maintain?” she asked.

“We are in your father’s
house, and his room is very nearby,” Gwydion said. “I would like to remain on
good terms with him.”

“Very wise of you.” She
looked him up and down like a cat sizing up a mouse. “Shall I meet you
someplace?”

“The only prudent choice
would be the hall. There should be enough people about to avoid unnecessary
rumors.”

“I’ll be there shortly.”

Going back to the hall,
Gwydion passed the maid. He had heard her whispers to other servants, and knew
that every detail of the evening would be fodder for the caer gossip for days.

They sat across the high
table from each other, not even touching their fingers together. Gwydion
longed for more, but the whispers about them were clear in his ears. “You seem
distracted,” Ari said.

“Your beauty does that to
me,” he said.

She sighed sadly. “You used
to be such a good liar.”

“It is true that you are
beautiful,” he said. “But you are also right that I wasn’t telling you the
truth.”

Arianrhod looked at him
closely. “You
are
different.”

“Mari said the same thing
when she saw me last.”

“She’s smarter than she lets
on.” Ari drummed the table in front of her with her long fingers. “You have
always been more than you seem, but before it seemed like a game, a joke you
were playing on the world.”

“And now…?” Gwydion prompted.

“Now I look at you, and I
know that what lies behind your eyes is more than just a lusty young man.”

“Oh, that part of me is still
around,” Gwydion said.

“No doubt,” Ari said. “And
maybe someday… but there is more. Now you seem older, more experienced. I
like it.”

“There will come a time for
us, you know.”

“And will it happen when our
chaperones are all dead and buried?” she asked.

“Somewhat sooner than that,
if all my plans bear fruit.”

There was a brief moment of
naked lust in her eyes, but all she said was, “You seem awfully sure of
yourself.”

“When I visit you next, you
will see.”

“I will see more servants
spying and taking reports back to my father, no doubt.”

“I could court you in a more
traditional way.”

“It seems to be taking just
as long,” she shot back.

Gwydion laughed. “By the
gods I love your spirit!”

She frowned slightly.
“There’s more to me than just that, you know.”

“Oh, I know. You have a fine
dowry, too.”

She laughed, low and
throaty. “Yes, there is that.” She stood in a swish of skirts, making his
heart race. “It is getting later than proper for a young lady such as myself
to be talking to you.” She gave him another smoldering look, and then was
gone.

Gwydion spent three days at
Caer Don, resting and flirting with Arianrhod. At night, he dreamed of her and
tried to figure out a way to help both himself and Gil. When Tewared stopped
hinting that he needed to go home and started mentioning it directly, he still
had several days before Math expected him back. He left the Caer, transformed
into a wolf, and headed south to Dyfed.

Chapter 4: Offense

In Caer Arberth, a heavily
disguised Gwydion nosed about, looking for clues about the Dyfedians and their
intentions. It was a small Caer, and he was immediately noticed, and tagged as
an outsider. The patrons of the few public houses refused to say a word, kind
or unkind, and even the innkeepers were very grudging in their acceptance of
his business. Reluctantly, Gwydion decided that his best choice would be to shape
shift.

As a mouse, Gwydion found the
Dyfedians to be much more open and talkative. He scurried throughout the caer,
looking for good conversations, but he noticed that two topics kept coming up:
Gwynedd and the lord’s son, Kyrnin. Even more intriguing to Gwydion, the major
difference in the tone was that Gwynedd was hated directly, where Kyrnin was
not, although most people found his actions and attitude worthy of complaint.

Curious, he followed a
servant who had been ordered to prepare Lord Dyfed’s chamber for a meeting with
his son. Gwydion perched on a rafter while the servant laid out bread and
wine, and stirred the fire to life. Gwillim, Lord Dyfed came in before he had
finished, said a few quiet words to the servant, who quickly completed his
tasks and bowed himself out of the room.

Gwillim paced the floor a
moment, looking somber and somewhat sad. Gwydion could see that his hair was
almost completely gray, though he was not very old, and his face showed deep
lines. He sat finally in one of the chairs by the fire, putting his head in
his hand.

Kyrnin, Tanist of Dyfed, came
in with a spring in his step, slapping his gloves against his leg. “You wanted
to see me, Father?” he said.

“I did.” Lord Dyfed looked
up. “You seem awfully pleased with yourself.”

“Why shouldn’t I be? My
heifer continues to produce fine calves, and we continue to weaken the Gwynedd
border caers.”

Lord Dyfed sighed deeply. “I
am grateful for your prize heifer and the calves she gives us. But the other…
you play a dangerous game, one that may soon be addressed more strongly by
Gwynedd.”

Kyrnin snorted. “What, Math
is going to rouse himself from that tower? He’s too old to do much more than
hobble to his bed, I’ll wager.”

“He has named a Tanist—”

“And you think that he would
send him to confront you?” Kyrnin laughed. “He’s barely of age; he wouldn’t be
up to confronting me, much less you.”

“Maybe,” Gwillim said. “But
some of the stories that are being told about him make him seem quite capable.”

“Do you believe that pap
about him killing a bunch of bandits?”

“I believe that he foiled a
cattle raid by Deykin.”

Kyrnin shrugged. “Beginner’s
luck. And besides, Deykin has now taken care of his grudge in that particular
caer.”

Gwydion leaned so far forward
that he almost toppled off the rafter.

“Then it is true,” Gwillim
said. “Deykin killed Moryus.”

“Night before last,” Kyrnin
said. “I just got the confirmation this afternoon.”

It took all of Gwydion’s
self-control not to shape shift and challenge the smirking Tanist right then.

Lord Dyfed stood up and
looked his son in the eye. “I hope you have not doomed us all.”

“Me?” Kyrnin said. “I had
nothing to do with it.”

“You encourage the boldness
of the northern lairds. Don’t deny it; it’s one of the worst kept secrets in
the cantref. I know that you have encouraged Deykin in his grudge, and
supplied him with ideas if not weapons.”

Kyrnin said, “They’re just
ideas. What he does with them is up to him.”

“Tell that to the bards when
they come down here to judge you for breaking the Ard Righ’s peace. Or better
yet, tell Math.”

“It won’t happen,” Kyrnin
said. “The King doesn’t give a damn about us, and Math will do nothing.”

“And you’re betting my
cantref on those to hopes,” Gwillim said.

“It’s my cantref too,” Kyrnin
complained.

“If there’s anything left by
the time you’re done,” Gwillim shot back. “Now go, and see if you can’t keep
Deykin from launching a full invasion now that he’s feeling so bold.”

Kyrnin looked like he was
going to protest, but finally just nodded. Without another word, he turned and
left. Alone, Gwillim sat heavily back in his chair, and stared moodily into
the fire. As mad as Gwydion was, he felt a moment of pity for the old man; he
obviously did not want the strife that was gathering on his doorstep, and was
just as obviously powerless to stop it.

Gwydion scurried out of the
Lord’s chambers, and spent a few more hours listening at the various
conversations with his new knowledge. He still felt murderous, but it settled
into a cold stone in his heart. Gil was going to get his wish, perhaps sooner
than Gwydion had expected. It was going to be all Gwydion could do to keep in
control of the situation.

He spent the night in the
stall of Kyrnin’s prize heifer. She was a beautiful creature with her shiny
brown coat and mellow demeanor, and she was obviously well cared for. Gwydion
ate some of her oats, and curled into a hay filled corner for several hours
sleep. He knew he was going to need his strength for the coming days.

Three days later he stood in
front of Math. “I want to go to Dyfed and get them to agree to the Rules
again,” he said.

“I know about Moryus,” Math
said.

“And I know that the Tanist
of Dyfed has been encouraging the border caers to be aggressive and
belligerent,” Gwydion replied. “It has to stop.”

Math regarded him gravely.
“Do you think that you are capable of this?”

Gwydion sighed. “I’m not
sure. I know that it would be better coming from you directly, but I also know
that you are unlikely to go. That puts the onus on me.”

“I see.” Math sat back and
stroked his beard. “You feel some responsibility for Moryus’ death, don’t
you?”

“I saved his life this
summer,” Gwydion said. “And I was in his caer just days before this happened,
trying to find out more about your Rules.”

“Do you think your visit
caused Deykin to act?”

Gwydion said, “I don’t think
Deykin knew I was anywhere near there. But I know that he was seeking Moryus
life, and that Kyrnin was encouraging him.”

“That is a grave charge,
nephew,” Math said. “How do you know this?”

“Because I was in Dyfed when
Kyrnin found out,” Gwydion said. “He seemed pleased by the news to me.”

“Did he know you were
watching him?”

“No, Uncle.” Gwydion cocked
his head. “Didn't you know what I was doing?”

“I knew you were in Dyfed,”
Math said. “I did not know you were spying on Lord Dyfed’s Tanist.”

“Are you upset?”

Math looked a bit surprised.
“Not at all,” he said. “Your methods may be somewhat unorthodox, but you are
taking your duties seriously, which is what I have been training you for.”

“Then may I go down there
officially?”

Math sighed. “Something must
be done. So we will try your plan.”

“I will leave immediately.”

“No,” Math said. “Remember
that you are not travelling alone this time. Wait for the weather to break.”

“As you wish, Uncle,” Gwydion
said with a bow.

“And take Gilventhy,” Math
said.

“If you would like,” Gwydion
said. “May I ask why?”

“Because he is moping around
like a lovesick bull,” Math said. “I know not which woman has his attention,
but he needs to be distracted.”

Gwydion found Gil in the
training area, but instead of swinging his sword, he was sitting on a bench,
head in his hand. Gwydion sat next to him, but he only grunted an
acknowledgement.

“You’re thinking about her,
aren’t you?” Gwydion said.

“I can’t help it,” Gil
replied.

“You’d better,” Gwydion
said. “Even Math knows that you’re pining for a woman.”

“Does he know who?”

“No, but I think that’s
mostly because he doesn’t want to yet.” Gwydion leaned close. “And if he
finds out, I suggest you leave Glencairck.”

“And where would I go?” Gil
asked.

“Some other world,” Gwydion
said. “And even that might not be far enough.”

“Are you trying to make me
feel worse?”

“Actually, I have a way to
make you feel a little better.”

“Of course you do,” Gil said
sourly. “You’re going to let me beat you up.”

“Better,” Gwydion said.
“We’re going on a little trip to Dyfed.”

Gil sat up. “Is this what
you’ve been planning?”

Gwydion said, “I don’t think
this time will do it, but you never know. I certainly am going to push them
hard.”

“And Math knows?”

“He suggested taking you
along.”

Gil whistled lowly. “I sure
as hell hope you know what you’re doing.”

Gwydion ignored the nagging
doubts in his mind and said. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Three weeks later, Gil was
champing at the bit to leave, and Gwydion had made all the preparations
possible. He talked to winds in the morning, getting a feel for how the
weather was changing, and finally he gave the order to leave. Gil said, as
they rode out of the gate, “I thought winter would never end.”

“It’s not, quite,” Gwydion
answered. “We have one more good storm coming, but it will be about ten days
before it gets here.”

Gil looked at him slyly. “I
suppose that’s part of your plan.”

“I’m not that good,” Gwydion
said.

“No, but everyone thinks that
you
think that you are.”

Ten kerns rode with them,
making the progress painfully slow for Gwydion. It took them two days to get
to Caer Don, where three more kerns joined them. Gwydion felt a huge
responsibility settle on his shoulders as he led them all south and across the
border into Dyfed.

They arrived at Caer Arberth
five days after leaving Caer Dathyl. A guard on the wall of the caer called
out to them. “Who are you, and what are your intentions?”

Gwydion pushed back the hood
of his cloak. “I am Gwydion ap Don, Tanist of Gwynedd. I come in peace to
seek council with Gwillim, Lord Dyfed.”

The guard disappeared, and
after a few minutes, a new kern appeared. “I am Adaf, chief of Dyfed’s
warriors. Do you come in peace?”

“We do,” Gwydion answered.

“Then lay down your arms.”

Gwydion nodded, and
dismounted to remove his sword. Gil muttered, “I feel naked,” but he put his
claymore on the pile with the rest of the weapons. Gwydion understood, but the
formality did not concern him. So far, everything was according to tradition
and custom.

The gates creaked open, and
they led their horses into the courtyard. Grooms appeared and took the
animals, while Adaf came down and greeted them. “My Lord Dyfed has agreed to
meet with you,” he said. “Only the Tanist and two others will be allowed. The
rest will wait here.”

Gwydion nodded to Gilventhy
and the senior kern, Neith. They walked into a quiet hall where all eyes
watched them as they made their way to the high dais. Gwillim’s seat was the
largest in the hall, though not a throne, and Kyrnin stood just behind him, looking
disdainful.

Gwydion bowed low before Lord
Dyfed. “Greetings from Math, Lord Gwynedd to his peer.”

“We welcome you to our
cantref and our hall,” Gwillim said. “What do you seek?”

“The honor price of Laird
Moryus.”

“Are you accusing a cantref
lord of murder?” Kyrnin said.

“Not at all,” Gwydion
replied. “But he is responsible for the actions of his people.”

“What honor price do you
seek?” Gwillim said after a stern glance at his son.

“I want the head of Laird
Deykin on a pole.”

The people gasped, and
Kyrnin’s scowl deepened. “Impossible,” he said.

“It does seem a bit steep for
his crime,” Gwillim said. “Didn’t this happen during a cattle raid?”

“If it were just an
accidental death during a friendly cattle raid, I wouldn’t be here,” Gwydion
said. “But Laird Deykin has been violating the Rules established between Math
and your Grandsire, Erdyn.”

“Do you have any proof of
this?” Kyrnin asked with a trace of smugness.

Gwydion addressed him for the
first time. “I was there when Deykin tried to kill Laird Moryus. Twice.”

“And how many cattle raids
have you been on exactly?”

“That was my only one.”

Kyrnin smirked. “So you may
have misinterpreted high spirits and the rush of excitement for attempted
murder.”

Gwydion said. “I could
have. But I didn’t.” He turned his attention back to Gwillim. “You don’t
ambush a party with archers in good sport.”

BOOK: The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2)
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