A chapter from The Path to Misery: Book I of the Hallowed Treasures Saga in which the Princess Eluned is led to one of the Hallowed Treasures.
That evening the quartet detoured off the main road, travelling nearly half a mile down a dry wash until they found a suitable camping spot. The flat area was high enough above the wash to keep them safe should the wind, that was now gusting more often than not, blow in a storm rather than clear the sky. Eluned found a flat spot between two boulders that was relatively protected from the wind in which to set up her tent.
Once everything was set to her satisfaction, she went in search of wood to feed what she hoped would soon be a blazing fire. Eluned stacked a pile of downed branches and twigs from the cottonwoods, creosote bushes and ponderosa pines that grew sparsely alongside the wash next to the fire ring Bonpo was building before returning to her tent to warm up again.
Within a quarter of an hour, Bonpo hailed her with the news that the fire was well underway. She joined him and Jabberwock by the fireside and watched as Bonpo set about preparing the evening meal.
“Where’s Gwrhyr?” Eluned suddenly realized he was missing. She’d spent so many evenings camping alongside Bonpo and Jabberwock, that she’d forgotten for a moment their party contained a fourth.
“Taking care of the horses,” Jabberwock explained.
“Oh. Right.” Obviously Honeysuckle, Heiduc and Hayduke needed to be settled for the night.
“Don’t worry,” Jabberwock assured her, “they’ll be well protected.”
“Are there catamounts?”
“Fire wirr keep away,” Bonpo reassured.
She had no choice but to trust them. Besides, she couldn’t exactly fit Honeysuckle in her tent.
Because of the biting wind, Bonpo readied a hearty stew for their supper and Eluned found her stomach once again growling in anticipation. She spent a lot of time hungry these days, she continued to marvel. While she was waiting for the stew to cook, she nibbled on a leftover biscuit and gazed longingly into the pot in which the wine was just beginning to simmer in its spices.
Gwrhyr joined them just as Bonpo was ladling the wine into their mugs.
“Your timing is impeccable,” she noted, drily.
“I do seem to have the touch, don’t I? Mind if I share that log with you?” As it was the only place to sit, other than the ground, Eluned was forced to move over to provide Gwrhyr with room. It was a tight fit, and Gwrhyr didn’t seem to mind the fact that he was practically sitting on top of her.
If she could have done so without seeming rude, the Princess would have gladly moved to the ground. She had the feeling Gwrhyr was taking special pains to make her feel uncomfortable and she was determined not to let him know that she’d rather sit next to a catamount or a venomous desert snake than rub elbows with the likes of him. She could swear she saw glints of amusement in both Jabberwock’s and Bonpo’s eyes and it made her grouchy. Once again she longed for the company of a woman, someone with whom she could commiserate. She avoided Gwrhyr’s eyes. She really didn’t want to know what they might be saying.
The only advantages to his sitting so close, she consoled herself, were that he blocked some of the wind and provided some body heat.
The stew was, not surprisingly, wonderful and the four of them managed to have a rather stimulating conversation revolving around philosophy and religion and politics without anyone getting their feelings hurt. Eluned’s knowledge of the politics of any but her father’s kingdom was slim, and she listened with enthusiasm to their discussion of the various machinations of kings and queens, and who was allied to whom and who was so far neutral and who they might side with if the growing rumor of war ever came to fruition.
The Princess was dismayed by the fact that there were indeed grumblings from a number of kingdoms, and that a war was even a possibility. She knew there were always small rebellions going on in individual kingdoms, particularly those who weren’t allied to Zion. And she had heard that there were occasional skirmishes along borders, particularly along Adamah and Tarshish or Dyfed; and Simoon and Draconia.
What she didn’t understand is why she had been so sheltered? Surely as the only child of the king and the future wife of a king (whether she liked it or not), she should have been schooled in the world’s political situation. Well, she was determined to learn now.
“I understand that Annewven was once home to all thirteen treasures,” she said, “but doesn’t it seem risky to ask for asylum from my father’s enemy?”
“Risky, yes,” Jabberwock agreed, “but it will make it all the more likely that Arawn will take us in, which will gain us even more access to his secrets.”
“Secrets? So this isn’t just about the treasures? It sounds like spying. Is that what you’re doing, Jabberwock? Spying for my father? Has this been the plan all along? Is that what you are, Gwrhyr, a spy?”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a spy, but yes, we’ve agreed that while searching for the treasures, it wouldn’t be bad to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.”
“Where’d you say you were from? Aden?” The kingdom to the southwest of her father’s and an ally. And, she grimaced, her future home. She had only three more years of freedom.
“Did Uriel ask you to spy for him?” Eluned demanded.
Gwrhyr looked taken aback. “No, absolutely not. But when the chance came along to join the hunt for the treasures, it seemed a perfect opportunity.”
“To kill two birds with one stone?” She gazed deeply into his eyes attempting to detect whether or not he lied.
“Yes,” Gwrhyr admitted.
“And it would help you gain in Uriel’s favor if you could report any findings to him?” She pressed.
“It couldn’t hurt,” he agreed.
“Or, perhaps, bring him back a treasure or two,” she continued.
“Obviously it would be nice if all the treasures were in the allied kingdoms of Zion and Aden,” Gwrhyr said.
“True, it would definitely be to our advantage,” Jabberwock affirmed.
“What did the book say?” The Princess tried to remember. “That if a righteous man gathered all the treasures he could bring peace to the world?”
“Something along those lines,” Gwrhyr agreed. At least, that’s what he’d been taught.
“What about a righteous woman?” Eluned frowned. “Besides, who’d claim to possess them all even if we did find them? My father? Uriel? That doesn’t sound fair to me. Besides, they could be anywhere. Well, all but the one we do know about.” She twisted the ring on her finger. “That still leaves twelve treasures to find. It seems an impossible task.”
“It is rumored that King Uriel actually possesses one of the treasures as well,” Jabberwock informed her.
“Really,” Eluned looked surprised and turned to Gwrhyr. “Is that true? Have you heard that rumor?”
“I have heard that the Mantle of Arthur is in the possession of the royal family,” he replied.
“Hmmm,” Eluned mused on this for a moment. “That seems more than coincidence.”
“What is?” Bonpo asked.
“That both I and the man I am betrothed to are heritors of not only two of the thirteen treasures, but the two that allow one to become invisible.”
“Yes, definitely an Omnincidence,” Jabberwock agreed.
“So the spying is incidental, but you were planning to hunt for the treasures as part of the journey?” The Princess continued to press the Bandersnatch.
“Let’s just say that I hoped that it would happen,” Jabberwock admitted.
“No. I want to know. Is this a call from Omni or something you and Brother Columcille planned?” Eluned leaned forward to look into Jabberwock’s eyes.
“You know it is Omni directing my footsteps, my dear.” He didn’t flinch from her gaze.
“Yes, I did think so, but I’d begun to wonder. Yet the Omnincidences have been too many—Bonpo, Gwrhyr, the book, among others—that I couldn’t believe I wasn’t part of some larger plan,” she mused.
“Me?” Gwrhyr asked.
“Yes, the fact that you were right there in that inn, the only one to speak for us, having all the skills we needed to continue our journey. That couldn’t have been a coincidence, could it?” She turned her scrutiny to him.
“True,” he considered this for a moment. “It does seem ordained.”
“Now, if Omni could just drop a maidservant or some other suitable female,” she stressed the word, “companion into our camp.”
“I agree,” said Jabberwock, “It will appear unseemly for you to arrive at Arawn’s court in the company of two men.”
Eluned stifled a yawn. “I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“It get rate. You need sreep.” Bonpo said.
“I agree.” She stood up. “I think I’ll get ready for bed. Where are the horses?”
“Why?” Gwrhyr looked puzzled.
“I want to say goodnight to Hayduke and Honeysuckle.”
Gwrhyr stared at her, dumbfounded. “You want to say goodnight to your mule and a horse?”
“Not just any mule and horse. My mule and horse. Hayduke and Honeysuckle. I brought them a treat,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of sugar cubes. “And I’ll even give one to Heiduc.”
“That’s very generous,” he said, but it was clear he was laughing at her.
“I don’t understand why being kind to animals, particularly those who are serving us, is so humorous?” The Princess frowned at him.
“Were you kind to your servants?” Gwrhyr asked.
“I like to think so,” she replied.
Gwrhyr glanced at Jabberwock, apparently for confirmation.
“I’ve never heard otherwise,” Jabberwock allowed. “Eluned is well loved by the people who know her.”
“So, I must be the exception,” he teased her.
“Ha! Very funny. You intentionally harass me,” she clenched her fists. She wanted to rap him on top of his annoying head. “When you’re not trying to drive me crazy, I like you just fine.”
“I don’t try to drive you crazy,” he began.
“True, you don’t try, you succeed,” she interrupted.
“I was trying to say that if you think I’m harassing you intentionally,” Gwrhyr tried again, “then why do you react?”
“So you do intentionally harass me?” Her eyes narrowed as her frown deepened.
“Not as often as you seem to think I do,” he insisted. “You’re just overly sensitive.”
That was too much. “Well, fine then. I’ll just ignore you from now on,” she turned quickly and stomped off.
“Where you go?” Bonpo shouted after her.
“I can find the horses on my own,” she sounded petulant. Once again, she wanted to cry. Why did Gwrhyr always make her lose her temper? Why couldn’t she, as he’d suggested, just not react? Were all men as infuriating as he was? She hoped not. If so, her chances of finding love seemed dismal.
She stumbled on, sight blurred by the tears she was trying to hold back. “Hayduke,” she called, “Honeysuckle, Heiduc.”
About forty feet ahead, two lights flickered about six feet or so above the ground. Eluned stopped. Were they eyes? The wind had stopped and the stars and a waxing moon, nearly full, helped illuminate the slick rock landscape. The eyes, if that’s what they were, continued to glow steadily.
Her first thought was, ‘Why did Gwrhyr hobble the horses so far from camp?’ Then she realized that despite what she thought of him, he wasn’t actually that cruel or stupid. The horse must be large for its eyes to be that far off the ground; perhaps Heiduc had gotten loose.
“Heiduc?” she questioned, taking a few steps toward the eyes, which were still all she could see. Eluned was nearly entranced by the way they seemed to glow more than the light of the moon warranted. It was unearthly. As she moved closer, the shape of a head and the body of a horse became more defined. But it couldn’t be Heiduc, she realized, because it was clear that this horse was black not chestnut.
And it was sleeker with a long, flowing mane, and now that she was closer, she realized its eyes were literally luminescent. The golden eyes on the stallion were surreal. She found she couldn’t look away. Her hand seemed to dip of its own accord into her pocket and remove a couple of sugar cubes. Eluned extended her flattened palm toward the horse never breaking contact with its eyes.
The horse very gently lipped the cubes from her palm and whickered a thank you. Or did it whicker? Eluned was suddenly absolutely sure that it had been a verbal ‘thank you’ she had heard. But had it actually been verbal or had it been telepathic, the way Jabberwock could speak to her occasionally?
Whom do you belong to and what are you doing here? she thought, stroking the velvet of its muzzle.
“Follow me and you shall soon discover the why,” a voice as soft as satin answered in her mind. She felt the hairs on the nape of her neck prickle and her knees weaken. She slumped against the horse because it was the only thing to support her. Either she was losing her mind or this huge, incredibly beautiful creature with the hypnotic eyes was speaking to her. In which case, it couldn’t be a real horse, could it? In many ways he seemed real. He was solid. The Princess could not only touch him but she could feel the difference between the velvety softness of his muzzle and the coarseness of his mane. It had eaten the sugar cubes. She had felt the warmth of its breath. Yet, it could speak to her and its eyes were hypnotic in their effulgence.
“Follow me,” he repeated.
“Who are you?” she asked as the horse turned slowly away from her. “What are you?”
“You must trust me.” He had stopped next to some tumbled boulders. “Climb on,” he ordered.
Despite the fact she was afraid, she was also intrigued. His intentions apparently were not to harm her. There was something else going on and the only way to find out what that might be was to do as he commanded. Soon she was balanced, albeit precariously, atop the largest rock. From there she was able to scramble onto the stallion’s strong back, grasping his mane to prevent her from sliding off.
The horse began to move smoothly but quickly back toward the wash, its lantern-like eyes lighting the way. Eluned caught flickering glimpses of slick rock, ponderosa pines, mesquite and cacti and then cottonwood as they reached the dry watercourse. She spotted the flash of a white tail as they startled a cottontail rabbit nibbling on a small shrub. Its wild-eyed look as it leapt away was not dissimilar from hers. As they descended into the gully, the horse veered to the right and soon they were heading south down the wash.
Eluned was silent as she tried to come to grips with what she was doing. It was just now occurring to her that Jabberwock and Bonpo and perhaps even Gwrhyr were probably wondering what had happened to her or would be soon.
Had the stallion left any prints? Would they think she had wandered off into the darkness of the desert and lost her way? Until they had dropped down into the watercourse, she had been able to see where the light of their campfire pierced the darkness. The horse began to move faster, preternaturally gliding above the sand and gravel of the wash. It was almost supernatural, she realized, as if it were galloping on air.
And that, of course, explained everything. This wasn’t a horse but something else. A ghostly version of a horse, perhaps? Or was it a phantom or a faery? She wasn’t sure and the further they moved away from camp, the more anxious she grew. Where were they going? Would it return her to the camp? What if it left her in the desert never to be seen again?
“Trust me,” the voice coaxed once again.
“I want to trust you but I know so little. Do you have a name? Is this really happening? Maybe I slipped and fell back there and hit my head and I’m lying unconscious on the desert floor and having an amazingly realistic dream. I’m no longer sure I can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.”
“And what is real?” Eluned felt the amusement in its question.
“Actual rather than imaginary.”
“You are neither dreaming nor imagining this.”
“So you are real?”
“Can you not feel me, see me, hear me, touch me?”
Indeed she could. The Princess could even smell his musky animal scent, practically taste the cool night air scented with sage and other desert plants. She lifted her eyes to the night sky where the stars glittered coldly. She was able to pick out constellations she recognized. Yes, this is definitely happening, she thought. Eluned could pinch herself to further reassure herself, but realized that it was unnecessary.
So, destination unknown, she tried to settle down and enjoy the ride. And just think of the story she’d be able to tell, she smiled.#The horse seemed appeased by her decision to fully trust him. “You may call me Aeron,” he said. “Now hold on tightly, I am going to run at full speed now.”#Fly would have been a more appropriate verb, Eluned thought as they sped down the wash. The wind rushed past her cheeks and she had to close her eyes to prevent them from tearing. Leaning down as close to Aeron’s neck as his gait permitted, she hung on for dear life.
Nearly half an hour later, Aeron began to slow down. As he slowed to a trot, Eluned was able to lift her head and survey the surroundings. A trail on the left ascended upward through cottonwoods and Aeron turned into it and began the short climb. Soon they began descending as they approached an oasis of giant fan palms.
The trees towered over them, their crowns of fronds whispering in the night breeze. Beneath their unkempt and shaggy skirts, she could hear small creatures—black widow spiders, lizards, snakes, rodents and other desert creatures—skittering and slithering away from their approach. Aeron halted in the center of the grove and the Princess slid from his back. Her legs protested. She was unused to so many hours spent across a horse’s back.
It was dark beneath the palms but once again Aeron’s eyes helped illumine the night. Through the gaps in the tall trees, milky white moonlight puddled the ground. She could almost see the pupfish swimming in the quiet pools that winked here and there around the oasis. Even the emerald grass contributed to the mood of enchantment as it fluttered in the wind. It was as if Pan were nearby rendering a hauntingly primal tune on his pipes.
“This way,” Aeron directed and she followed him toward another towering stand of palms almost completely denuded of thatch. The powdery sand of the oasis clung to her boots painting them white.
Aeron led her down a trail nestled amongst these trees. The path was littered with the debris of discarded fronds and their footsteps crunched as they followed the trail through the grove dotted with smaller trees and shrubs. A final curve brought them out of the stand of trees and onto the shore of a lakelet encircled by more palms. The moon reflected in its still waters shimmered like pearl and Eluned’s hand unconsciously clutched the small leather pouch that contained her moonstone.
It was exquisitely beautiful. Magical even. And it wasn’t until her breath rushed from her throat in a loud sigh that she realized she’d been holding it.
“I’m speechless,” she whispered as she continued to gaze around her in awe.
Aeron whickered his pleasure at her reaction and asked, “Do you not wish to know why I brought you here?”
The Princess turned to him in amazement, “You mean there is another reason? I mean, other than that this is the most amazing place I’ve ever seen. I could stay here forever.” It was like her own private paradise and maybe as close as she’d ever get to the Favonian Islands, particularly if Gwrhyr and the Bandersnatch had their way.
Aeron nodded toward the lake and Eluned studied it but saw nothing but its mirror-like surface shimmering in the moonlight. And then she noticed a curious movement towards the middle. The water began to roil as if something were moving just below the surface. Soon it began to glow and Eluned felt her heart begin to race in anticipation of discovering what was causing the light and motion. The air fairly crackled with expectancy.
The Princess jumped when Aeron said, “See that punt there beneath the palms?”#Her eyes searched the shadows to the right and then she did see, in the dappled moonlight that had camouflaged it beneath the trees, a small, flat-bottomed boat.
“Take it out on the lagoon.” Aeron instructed her.
“You mean,” she pointed toward the center of the lake where the water continued to bubble and burn with an eerie incandescence.
Aeron nodded. And, with her heart in her throat, Eluned walked over to the punt and dragged it halfway into the water. She tossed her cloak on the ground and removing her boots and socks and rolling up her leather pants, she pushed the boat the rest of the way into the lagoon and stepped inside. Lying on the bottom of the boat was a small oar. Eluned seated herself and began to paddle slowly out to the middle.
Her heart continued to thunder in her chest as she approached the disturbance in the center of the lake. This was all way beyond her limited experience. Aeron definitely seemed a benevolent spirit and she did trust him, but she could not even begin to fathom what might possibly happen when she reached the centermost part of the lake.
But, as she drew closer, the water quieted although something continued to glow just below the surface. She drew up alongside and attempted to peer beneath the surface. This close to the source of the light, the waters of the lake were nearly translucent. She gasped when she saw what floated less than a foot below the rippling waves of the lake. Not only was it floating, which struck her as impossible, but also the object was responsible for the blaze that was setting the waters aflame.
It was a sword, and it pulsed just below the ripples caused by the presence of the punt. Eluned looked back to the shore where Aeron was watching her.
“Retrieve it,” his voice echoed in her head. Pushing the sleeve of her sweater up past her elbow, she slowly lowered her hand into the water. The Princess was startled by the cold; because of the radiance emanating from the sword, she expected the water to be warm, at least. Her hand slid easily around the white and gold hilt, and she began to withdraw it from the lake. The sword was heavy but seemed to glide smoothly from the water as she pulled it up. As she held it up to the moonlight, blue fire seemed to race along its blade down over the guard and into her hand and wrist—a not unpleasant tingling sensation darted up her arm and she experienced a sense of strength and purpose.#The beauty of the sword awed her. Twin dragons of gold climbed the mother-of-pearl inset in the handle and twined around the guard, each side ending with a dragon’s head whose ruby eyes seemed to spark fire. The pommel was encrusted with jacinth, topaz and diamonds and the blade continued to shine with an eerie blue incandescence. Eluned could see upon the blade ancient runes but could not make out their meaning. She would have to ask Jabberwock.
The Princess was loath to set the sword down in the bottom of the punt but she couldn’t paddle one-handed. And, she was afraid if she set it on her lap, it might slide off and sink into the depths of the lake never to be seen again. Reluctantly she set it on the floor of the hull and gripped it firmly between her feet. Then, she began the return trip to shore.
“It’s beautiful, and I have to admit it feels somehow right in my hand, but I don’t understand,” Eluned told Aeron once she had pulled the punt back up on shore and nestled it amidst the shaggy thatch of the palms.
Aeron, who was standing beside her, said, “Yours is not to understand. Just remain open to what may happen and be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“That I cannot tell you.” His thought was uncompromising.
“Can’t or won’t?” When he didn’t answer, she groused, “You know, you’d get along really well with Jabberwock.”
The whicker of amusement again.
“Well, can you tell me this, is this the sword I think it must be?”
“And what would that be?”
“Dyrnwyn, I think. White Hilt, the sword of Rhydderch.”
“And why do you think it is Dyrnwyn?” he asked as Eluned pulled on her socks and boots and donned her cloak.
“Because,” she said, unrolling the sleeve of her sweater, which had managed to get damp anyway, “we’re on a quest for the thirteen hallowed treasures and I already possess one of them, and I can think of no other reason why. I just read the book, which seems to have fallen into my hands by Omni’s grace, yesterday. And I found out last night that this ring,” she held out her hand, “and the moonstone in this pouch,” she pulled the leather thong that held it from beneath her sweater, “can make me invisible. It’s one of the thirteen treasures and it just seems highly unlikely that you should appear and lead me to this sword unless it is THE sword, and yet another treasure.”
“But why would you be chosen to find the sword and not a man?”
“Like Bonpo or Gwrhyr?” He was silent and she puzzled over that for a moment. Why indeed? She had no fighting skills other than the minimum of instruction in self-defense. Was it because of her royal blood? But again, why her and not Uriel or Arawn or someone from the other ten kingdoms? Eluned was from what was considered one of the “good” kingdoms, as was Gwrhyr, who she still secretly suspected of being an agent for Uriel, keeping tabs on his future bride, maybe? But that didn’t make sense, she shook her head, he’d kissed her! Surely he wouldn’t kiss his master’s betrothed? She’d worry about that later. As for being from a peace-seeking kingdom, maybe Omni wanted the treasures returned to the peaceful kingdoms? “I honestly don’t know,” she finally admitted. “But I am deeply honored, and I hope I can live up to whatever is expected of me.”
“Then perhaps it is time to return. I have no doubt your friends have noticed that you are missing.” Using the boat as a mounting block, Eluned once more climbed upon Aeron’s back.
With the sword clasped firmly against her chest, Eluned used what little strength was left in her legs to hold herself on as Aeron trotted back through the oasis and back to the trail that led to the wash. Once in the gully, Aeron was once again able to use his full speed to propel them back toward camp. Eluned was now able to lean forward and use her body to protect the sword while holding on to Aeron’s mane with both hands.
About a mile distant from where the quartet had sheltered for the night, Aeron slowed to a walk and finally stopped. “I’m afraid I can take you no further,” he said.
Eluned groaned and slid from his back. She understood but it would have been so much easier to explain had Aeron been with her. Were they really going to believe that a horse that could speak had taken her to an oasis where she had pulled Dyrnwyn from a lake? Of course, she did have the sword so she had to have found it someway, right?
“You will be fine,” Aeron promised.
The Princess felt a pang as he turned to disappear back down the watercourse. “Thank you,” she said, tears pricking her eyes, “I will never forget your kindness. I don’t know how I was chosen or why but I thank Omni that you were selected to take me to the sword.”
“It has been my honor,” Aeron said with sincerity, and then he was gone as mysteriously as he had appeared.#Eluned took a deep breath and began the trek back to camp, cradling Dyrnwyn in her arms like a precious child. “I’ll have to find a scabbard for you as soon as possible,” she promised it. The moon was hanging lower in the sky and she no longer had Aeron’s lantern eyes to light her way but the sandy wash stood out from the slick rock on either side.
The Princess hadn’t walked a quarter of a mile when she heard a deep voice bellowing her name.
“Bonpo,” she yelled but her throat emitted no more than a squeak and tears were suddenly spilling from her eyes. She cleared her throat and tried again, “Bonpo!” For some reason, upon hearing the gentle giant call her name she felt she was returning home. Eluned could no longer remember what Gwrhyr had done to cause her angry retreat.
“Leened!” She heard Bonpo whoop in relief. Within minutes they had reached each other in the wash. “Tank Omni,” he said. He scooped her up into his arms. He looked so happy to have found her that Eluned began to sob and apologize.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll tell you the whole story, but I’m so tired I just want to get back to camp first.”
“We be dere no time.” And true to his word Bonpo jogged the last three-quarters of a mile back to camp and they were there in minutes. “Found her!” he yelled as they made the final approach to camp. Eluned bit her tongue to keep from correcting him. Technically, she’d never been lost; had been within a mile of the camp when she heard his call. But if he needed to feel like her savior, she was happy to let that happen.
Jabberwock’s normally deep voice had risen an octave or two as he trotted up to them, “Where in Omni’s name have you been? I’ve been worried sick.”
“It’s a long story. Can I please have some wine?”
“I don’t know whether to be angry or relieved,” Gwrhyr stormed, then his eyes widened. “Where did you find that?”
It was then Jabberwock and Bonpo noticed what she had clasped to her chest.
“Is dat?” Bonpo stuttered.
Jabberwock just shook his head in wonder, his glassy eyes catching the fiery hue of the dragons’ ruby eyes, “I should have known there was mischief afoot. The way your footprints just disappeared . . .”
“Please,” she tried again, “it’s been a long day . . . I just want to sit down, some wine . . .”
“I get wine,” Bonpo hurried toward the stash of food and cooking equipment.
Gwrhyr took her arm and propelled her toward the campfire. “May I?” he asked, gesturing to the sword. She was still clenching it tightly to her, and only with reluctance let Gwrhyr pry it from her fingers.
Bonpo handed her a cup of wine and then joined Gwrhyr and Jabberwock, who stood facing her.
The Bandersnatch, voice returned to its normal range, recited:
“There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery.”
“My word,” Eluned breathed, “that fits it almost perfectly. Of course, it’s not Excalibur.”
“Well, some say that Dyrnwyn and Excalibur are one and the same,” Gwrhyr noted.
“I guess in the long run it doesn’t really matter,” she sighed.
“So, will you be gracious enough to tell us how you ended up with yet another of the treasures?” Jabberwock asked.
She took a long swallow of wine and moved over, patting the log. “Please join me,” she offered. Gwrhyr complied with pleasure, happy to be back in her good graces.
She began with her assumption that the horse she was seeing was Heiduc.
“A pwca,” Gwrhyr stated once she’d described the stallion.
“Poo-ka,” he said slowly. “It’s a solitary faerie. They’re shape changers, sometimes a horse, sometimes a rabbit. Usually mischievous but they can also choose to lead one to treasure.”
“Fortunately I ran into the latter,” Eluned laughed and continued her tale.
“Do you think you could find it again?” Gwrhyr asked when she finished.
“Find what?” She was tired and the question confused her.
“The oasis,” he replied.
“Honestly, I don’t know. Aeron was running so fast I had to keep my eyes closed. I just know we went south down the wash and the trail to the oasis was on the left, but how far from here? That I couldn’t tell you. Why?”
“I would just love to see it,” Gwrhyr explained. “But, I imagine that even if you could find the trail, the oasis would no longer be there.”
“Really? You think it would disappear like a . . . what is it called?” Her exhaustion was making it difficult to think.
“Mirage?” Jabberwock supplied.
“Yes, mirage,” she agreed, taking another sip from her mug.
“Well, we are in the desert,” Gwrhyr said.
“But I thought mirages were caused by heat, and it’s night time.” It’s all so confusing, she thought. She was so drained by the adventure and the long day that her thoughts were muddied with exhaustion.
“True, but has anything that happened since you met Aeron struck you as anything other than supernatural?” Gwrhyr asked.
“It has been both super-real and surreal.” She turned to Jabberwock, “So, do you know what the runes on the sword say?”
“I’d have to study them,” the Bandersnatch replied, “but the legends say that one side of the blade is engraved with the words, ‘one edge to defend’ and the other side says, ‘one edge to defeat’.”
“So either way I can’t lose, right?” Eluned grinned.
“Why? Are you intending to ride into battle soon?” Gwrhyr laughed.
“Hopefully never,” she said, “but it’s nice to know that should I ever have to, I have Dyrnwyn to help protect me. Until then, though, I could really use a scabbard. It seems wrong to carry it so exposed.”
“Yes,” Jabberwock agreed, “it would be nice to find a way to disguise it before we get to Annewven.”
Eluned yawned. “I’m so tired. How long ‘til dawn?”
“Few hours yet,” Bonpo answered. “You need sreep. Go sraight tent dis time.”
“Yes sir,” she stood and stretched, before slowly heading that way. Her legs felt like lead.
Gwrhyr, Bonpo and Jabberwock watched her go. The sword seemed happy to be back in her hand; blue light sparkled along the blade and glowed through her fingers.
Gwrhyr swallowed hard. “Damn,” he allowed, “the sword was meant for her hand.”
“Jealous?” Jabberwock chuckled.
“I honored,” Bonpo stated.
“Yes,” Gwrhyr agreed with reluctance as he stood, “me too.”