The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2) (9 page)

BOOK: The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2)
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“We should have several days
together,” Gwydion said. “No family, no chaperones—”

“What about your so-called
bodyguards?” she asked.

He pulled her into a
passionate kiss. When he could breathe again, he said, “Nothing will interrupt
us, I swear.”

He was wrong. The winds
started trying to get his attention on the second day. He didn't want to hear
any news from outside, so he played his harp to block their voices. But the
next time he fell asleep, he dreamed that he was on the road between Caer Don
and Caer Dathyl, floating along without a body. He came upon two riders, and
he soon recognized Bran and Gil. They were moving along at a fast trot, and
Bran said, “I would have thought that you would be begging me to let you go
back to the battle.”

“What?” Gil said.

Bran looked at him closely.
“What’s going on? It’s not like you to want to get back home so quickly.”

“Oh, you know,” Gil said.

“No I don’t,” Bran said.

Time seemed to speed up for
Gwydion, and he was looking at Bran and Gil eating their supper in front of a
small fire. Gil said he was not hungry, and Bran said, “It’s a girl, isn’t
it?”

Gill looked sheepish. “Is it
that obvious?”

“Not until I figured it out,”
Bran said. “You know how Math feels about these kinds of things.”

“He’s not going to find out,”
Gil said.

Bran laughed. “He finds out
everything, you know.”

“Well, eventually,” Gil
said. “But I have this time, while he’s at war, and I intend to use it.”

“She must be something
special.”

“She is,” Gil said. “Gwydion
and I have been working on this for months.”

Gwydion wanted to tell him to
shut up, but he had no voice.

“Gwydion started this war for
you?”

Gil seemed to realize that he
had said too much. “No, not just for me. It was for him, too.”

Bran’s eyes widened.
“Arianrhod?”

Gil hesitated just a moment
before saying, “No. To teach the Dyfedians a lesson.”

Bran nodded. “Proving
himself a worthy Tanist.”

“Yes, that’s what it was
mostly about. Getting our women alone was just a bonus.”

“Of course it was,” said
Bran.

Gwydion woke with a start.
The bedclothes were soaked with sweat, and his shoulder ached, shooting pain
from his head to his fingertips. He knew that Bran suspected anything that Gil
was telling him, and that he was beginning to doubt everything he had been told
by the cousins so far. He grabbed his harp instinctively, though he did not
know how it might help. Gwydion’s room had a balcony overlooking a small
garden, and he stumbled out to it and opened himself to the voices on the wind.

It took him a few minutes to
sort through everything they brought to him, but Gwydion soon found Math’s
voice, calling out commands to his generals. His voice was confident,
unconcerned. Gwydion tried to call to him, but he did not answer.

Gwydion searched for Gwillim
next. The lord of Dyfed was hard pressed, sounding panicked and scared.
Gwydion listened to his commands, and knew that the war would soon be over.
Dyfed would return home, beaten and discouraged from any more forays north.

He then sought out the winds
from the north, listening for Bran and Gilventhy. He did not hear Arianrhod
come onto the balcony, and when she wrapped her arms around him, he only
grunted an acknowledgement. She kissed the back of his neck, and he wanted to
respond, but then he heard the voice he had been seeking.

“I am dead,” Bran said.
“Gilventhy ap Don has stabbed me, and I am alone, with no help. I am hoping
that wherever you are, Math, Lord Gwynedd, that you will hear this, my final
message.”

“No,” Gwydion said.

“What is it?” Arianrhod asked,
but he shushed her.

“Gilventhy is now on his way
to Caer Dathyl, convinced that Goewin lusts for him as much as he does for
her. All was planned by Gwydion ap Don; he is currently slaking his own lust
with Arianrhod at Caer Don.”

Gwydion groaned to hear his
own part so damned, but he knew it to be more true than not. Arianrhod began
stroking his hair, which made him shiver. She misinterpreted why, and began to
nuzzle his ear.

He pulled away. “I have to
go,” he said.

“What’s going on” she asked.
“Are you crying?”

“No, of course not,” he said,
but he wiped tears from his face. “Yes—I don’t know. But I have to leave.
Now.”

“But your shoulder—”

“It will be fine,” he said.

“—and us—”

He took her by the
shoulders. “I love you Arianrhod, and I will return to you.”

Her eyes bored into his.
“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

She nodded. “Then go, and do
what you must.”

He kissed her, then turned
and leapt into raven form. His shoulder twinged, and he fell a few feet. He
heard Ari gasp behind him, but he quickly righted himself, and began following
the whisper on the wind.

Gwydion found Bran as the
evening lengthened the shadows all around him. He lay next to a dead fire, his
pack and horse just a few yards away. Gwydion could see the blood beneath him,
a large, dark stain on the earth. Landing beside him, Gwydion became a man
again, kneeling beside his friend.

He thought he was too late,
but as he lifted Bran’s head, his eyes fluttered open. “You?” he said in
confusion.

“I know, and I’m sorry,”
Gwydion said. “This was not supposed to happen.”

Bran smiled bitterly. “I
don’t think a lot of things happened like they were supposed to.”

“What can I do?” Gwydion
said. “How can I make this right?”

“You can’t,” Bran said. He
turned away. “Leave me to my peace.”

“No,” Gwydion said. “Not
when I might save you.”

Bran laughed, but it turned
into a cough. When he could speak again, he said, “Do you have your harp?”

“I do.”

“Then sing me a requiem. I
cannot be saved.”

Gwydion bowed his head, and
pulled his harp around. He didn’t know what he could play, but he put his
fingers to the strings and began plucking them almost randomly. All he could
think about was easing Bran’s pain; the song became almost a lullaby, though
tinged with sadness.

“Thank you,” Bran whispered.
“You always were a fine harpist, no matter what your other faults.”

Gwydion could barely see
because of his tears. He didn’t know how to stop them. He fed power into the
music, but instead of hiding from the winds, he opened himself to them, demanding
to know of Gil and Goewin. And Math.

Math’s voice came first,
surrounded by bards singing victory marches. He was directing the plans for
the next day, when they expected to begin their return journey to Caer Dathyl.

But any joy that Gwydion felt
was tempered by Gil’s voice, greeting Goewin confidently, and her puzzled
response. Gil’s assurance turned to confusion, and her voice sounded
dismissive.

“Walk away, Gil, walk away,”
Gwydion whispered.

But Gil didn’t walk away.
His voice turned angry, demanding. Goewin tried to soothe him, which he
mistook as belated interest. When he renewed his advances, Goewin got
frustrated, and tried to leave.

“Let her go,” Gwydion
whispered.

But Gil was angry again, and
his wounded ego demanded action. Goewin very clearly said “Let go of me!” Her
screams after that confirmed to Gwydion that he hadn’t.

Gwydion listened in horror as
Gil ripped her clothes, and slapped her when she fought back. His grunts
sounded bestial, and her sobs ripped at his heart. But he could not stop
listening.

It seemed to last forever,
but eventually Gil finished. He said a few words to her, trying to be somewhat
kind, but not at all apologetic, but Goewin said nothing in return. Gwydion
was grateful for her soft crying, because it meant she was still alive.

Gwydion still played, but the
song had truly become the requiem that Bran had requested. He played it for
Gil as well, who had shown himself to be both murderer and rapist.

He looked down at Bran, but
the warrior looked peaceful, despite his pallor and the labor of his
breathing. Gwydion said, “It’s not fair.”

He changed the song again,
reaching for all the power he had always felt at the edge of his consciousness
when he played. It came in a rush, making his hair stand on end. He felt like
he was glowing. And he didn’t know what to do next. He cried out in fear and
frustration, and heard an answer from beyond the pale.

Ruchalia, the boar who had
taught him so much about shape shifting, stepped from the air, taking in the scene
with one quick glance. She became human and said, “What the hell are you
doing?”

“Trying to save this man from
dying,” Gwydion said.

“You look like you’re trying
to destroy yourself,” she said. “You’ve got to let some of that magic go!”

“I don’t know how!” he said.
“Can you help me?”

She shook her head slowly.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Are you using Cymric or bardic magic?”

“Bardic, I think.”

“Okay, then try this: form
the image of what you want in your mind, then start pouring the power into that
image.”

“Like shape shifting?”

“Kind of, but bards affect
the world more than themselves. You have to have an iron will. If you get
distracted, you could kill us all.”

Gwydion shook with the effort
to hold all the power. “Image, iron will, caution. Okay.”

He looked at Bran, and
instead of pale and wounded, he saw him as whole and energetic, like he saw him
on the training grounds. He tried to channel all the magic he felt into his
vision, but almost lost hold of it entirely. Ruchalia gasped, so he knew she
had seen it, too.

“You forgot to say slowly,”
he told her.

“I didn’t think I had to,”
she shot back.

Gwydion looked back at Bran,
but his sight had changed, and he saw him not as a man, but as a faint glow,
barely visible. He glanced at Ruchalia, and saw a boar shaped glow, but bright
and vibrant. He began to release the magic again, slowly, trying to brighten
Bran’s glow. It felt like almost like blowing an ember into flame, and like an
ember, Bran’s glow remained stubbornly dim, with only hints of flaring to life.

Still playing, Gwydion tried
harder, increasing the magic gradually, finally seeing the radiance respond,
becoming brighter and steadier. He continued playing and focusing his will
until with a snap, his vision returned to normal, and Bran, looking healthy and
whole, sat up and said, “What did you just do?”

“He saved your life, idiot,” Ruchalia
said, but the wonder in her voice softened the rebuke.

Gwydion smiled at her.
“Thank you,” he said, and then slid into oblivion.

Chapter 8: Consequences

Gwydion awoke back in his
room at Caer Don, surrounded by women. “Am I dead, or dreaming?” he said.

Mari touched his forehead.
“Alive, I’m thinking.”

Arianrhod stood very stiff,
but he could see some relief in her eyes. Ruchalia, still in human form, was
grinning from ear to ear. “He’s fine,” she said. “He’s just worried that
we’ll start talking about our experiences with him.”

Gwydion groaned. “That
hadn’t occurred to me. The dream just became a nightmare.”

Even Arianrhod managed a faint
smile. “Yes, he’s fine.”

Gwydion tried to sit up, but
Mari pushed him back down easily. “Is Bran here? Is he okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “He’s in a
room nearby, and even testier than you about being confined to bed. I’ve been
examining him, but even though he says he was stabbed, I can’t find any
evidence of it, except for the blood stains on his clothes.”

“He’s telling you the truth,”
Gwydion said. “It was Gilventhy.”

Arianrhod frowned. “Why
would he do such a thing?”

Gwydion hesitated. “I have
to get back to Caer Dathyl,” he said.

“You’re not in any condition
to go anywhere,” Mari said.

Ruchalia snorted. “He’s a
lot stronger than you know. I wouldn’t try to hold him against his will, if I
were you.”

Mari and Arianrhod looked
offended, which only intensified when Gwydion said, “Ruchalia? Can I talk to
you alone?”

“I have to check on Bran,”
Mari said. “Come on, Ari.”

Arianrhod looked furious, but
Gwydion couldn’t help it. He needed someone with Ruchalia’s wisdom to help him
figure out what to do.

When the door closed, Ruchalia
said, “Are you up to shape shifting? I think this conversation would be easier
as boars.”

Gwydion nodded, and made the
change. He thought it might be a strain after everything that he had done, but
it happened easily, and Ruchalia snorted, “Don’t look so surprised. I meant it
when I said you were strong.”

“That may be,” Gwydion said,
“But I don’t know if I’m strong enough to face my uncle.”

“Why would you be afraid of
Math?” Ruchalia said, so Gwydion told her the whole story, sparing nothing. It
went surprisingly fast in boar form, but he still felt ashamed and guilty over
everything that had happened.

“What do you think I should
do?” he said.

“First of all, Gil’s guilt is
not your own,” Ruchalia said. “Yes, you plotted with him to get him alone with
Goewin, but you had no idea that he would try to murder Bran on the way, or
that when Goewin said no he would resort to rape.”

“But I feel like I should
have,” Gwydion said.

“You are not responsible for
any actions but your own,” Ruchalia said. “Feel guilty for those all you like,
but Gil must face his own consequences for what he did.”

“All I want to do is run
away,” Gwydion said. “I want to hide from all of this, and let it pass by.”

“And that would be great
folly,” Ruchalia said. “In the end, despite your crimes, which are not as
serious as you want them to be, you are a good man who knows that you must face
the consequences.”

“I won’t be Tanist anymore,”
Gwydion said. “Math will never trust me that much again.”

“And is that so horrid?” Ruchalia
said. “You have many talents and abilities. I have no doubt that you can make
your way just fine in the world without needing to be Lord of Dathyl. And the
truth is, you were worried about having that title anyway.”

Gwydion grunted and gave her
a little nuzzle. “This is why I wanted to talk to you. You have a way of
seeing to the heart of things.”

“It’s a boar thing,” she
said, nuzzling him back.

He pulled back and became a
man again. “I have to go,” he said. “Would you tell Arianrhod and Mari where
I have gone?”

Ruchalia shape shifted to
human form. “You should tell them yourself, you know.”

Gwydion sighed deeply. “I
think I have courage for either one or the other. Not both.”

“Go,” she said. “But don’t
forget that these women deserve to hear from your own mouth what is going on
and why. They love you, and they love Gil and Math as well. This will affect
you all.”

“And don’t I know it,”
Gwydion said. He hugged Ruchalia tightly, then went to the window and leapt
into raven form, winging his way determinedly towards Caer Dathyl.

Goewin swore she wouldn't
cry. Whatever else happened, whatever further shame she might have to bear,
she would not humiliate herself by crying. She had burnt the clothes that he
had ripped from her, but her shame still felt like a clamp around her heart.
She paced about the tower, scared to leave, and scared of what would happen
when Math returned.

She heard the war pipes
coming through the windows, and she rushed to the window. Far below, Lord
Dathyl rode at the head of his army, waving in easy triumph to the people who
flocked to watch. The long white beard, still so incongruous against his
armor, looked tangled, and she wondered how long it would take her the brush it
out. The thought of doing something so simple and so familiar made her smile
despite herself. Then he looked up and caught her eye, and she turned away,
unsure once again what she would do. All she knew is that she refused to cry.

After a while, Math came into
the tower and gave her the same smile he always did, and the pain came back
sharper than before. Goewin managed to smile back, though, and helped him
remove his armor.

She avoided his eyes as much
as possible, but she could not avoid them forever. When she finally looked
into the clear blue depths, he frowned and said, “What's wrong, my child?”

“Nothing,” she said, looking
down.

“It's hardly nothing,” he
said, tilting her chin up with a finger.

She kept her eyes lowered.
“It's something I must deal with on my own, my lord.”

“You will tell me if I can
help?” he asked.

The compassion in his voice
made her eyes burn, but she swallowed several times and said, “Of course I
will.”

“You may ask me for anything,
child.”

Even for you to punish your
heir and his cousin?
she wanted to scream. But instead she simply said, “Thank you,
my lord.”

After the last piece of armor
came off, Math put on a fresh robe, and sighed contentedly. “War is
interesting,” he said, reclining in his throne, while Goewin took his feet.
“But it is—”

He sat up suddenly. “Who did
this to you?” he demanded.

“My lord?” Goewin said,
frightened at the anger in his eyes.

“Who abused you this way?”

“I— I don't know what you're
talking about.”

He smiled grimly. “You do
not have to protect anyone. In fact, I hope you would not, because I can tell
that a man took you against your will. I am sure you loved him at one time,
but if he was willing to commit this crime, then you must know that he never
loved you in return.”

“I never loved him,” Goewin
spat. She struggled to regain her calm. “But I am reluctant to speak his
name.”

“Why? You have nothing to
fear.”

“But I do,” she said. She
could feel her eyes burning again, and clenched her jaw. “I do not want to
test your loyalty to me.”

“Goewin.” He spoke her name
softly, but it drew her eyes to his. “You know that I can find the truth
whether you tell me or not. But I would rather you told me yourself, because
this is not an issue of loyalty. This is an issue of justice. No matter where
the guilt lies, I must uphold the laws of the Creator and men, else I mock my
position as lord of this cantref.”

“Even if the guilty party is
someone you love?”

“I said anyone. Do you doubt
my word?”

She wrestled with it for a
moment longer, but the calm assurance she felt in his presence finally won.
“Gilventhy ap Don did this,” she said.

“Thank you, my love. I
promised I would not fail you, and now I will prove it.” He cocked his head at
her. “No matter what happens in the next few minutes, do not let go of my
feet, and you will be safe.”

She swallowed and said, “Yes,
my lord.”

He seemed to withdraw, as
though he was listening to the winds, but his eyes still glinted dangerously.
A howling storm came through the open windows, growing louder and shaking the tower,
although Goewin could barely feel it. The sky grew dark, and flashes of
lightning arced across the heavens, followed closely by booming thunder.

Gwydion had just shape shifted
from raven form at the gates of Caer Dathyl when the winds found him. He was
surprised at the strength they had as they pushed him towards Math’s tower, but
he didn’t fight very hard, either. When he walked in, however, he saw that Gil
had; his cousin was pinned to the floor, and his the cords on his neck stood
out as he tried to simply lift his head.

Math sat on his throne, his
feet in Goewin’s lap, but he didn’t look the least bit relaxed. “Gwydion ap
Don,” he said. “Approach me.”

Gwydion knew he had little
choice, but he came even with Gil. “Help me,” his cousin said.

“Quiet!” Math roared. “The
two of you are here on charges of treason and rape. All I want is the truth.”

“Treason?” Gwydion said. Of
everything he had done, or felt guilty for, treason had never been a
possibility.

“What else would you call
subverting my authority?”

Gwydion said, “Uncle, I have
done much that I regret, and much that can be considered wrong, but I do not
think that treason is one of them.”

“That is for me to decide,”
Math said. “The two of you have conspired to wage war with Gwynedd, and to use
that war as an opportunity to seduce a couple of women. You, Gilventhy ap Don,
were not content with seduction. Were you?”

“I thought she wanted it,”
Gil said.

“And at what point did you
realize you were wrong?” Math said, but Gil had no answer. “Just as I
thought. So rape is your charge, and Gwydion, you are guilty of abetting that
crime.”

“Even though I had no idea he
would do such a thing?” Gwydion said.

“You gave him the
opportunity.”

“And you gave me the ability
to make that opportunity happen,” Gwydion shot back. “Does that make you
guilty also?”

Math narrowed his eyes. “You
should be careful, nephew.”

“Yes I should,” Gwydion
said. “So I want to be judged by a bard.”

“You would gainsay my
judgment?”

Gwydion hesitated at the tone
in his uncle’s voice, but he said, “I think it would be best.”

The winds died, and silence
filled the hall like a fist. “I could destroy you now,” Math said quietly.
“And I should. You have no respect, and no control. Your talents are merely a
way to get what you want, and you would damn anyone who got in your way.”

“That may be true. But I
would prefer calmer, wiser heads to decide this issue.”

BOOK: The Two Tanists (A Bard Without a Star, Book 2)
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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