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The Swordsman and the Witch
HE LOOKED at her perplexed, an expression of confusion that caught the young woman off her guard, and, with an ambush set so close at hand,
surely unnerved her.
"What do ye know?" Rhiannon asked, brushing her raven black hair from her face, her crystal blue eyes shining, flashing, to match the diamond that was set in her foreheadthe mark of magic that identified her as a witch.
"The day," young Bryan of Corning replied absently, a wistful smile brightening his face. "This day."
"Ayuh," Rhiannon prompted, glancing about nervously. "Are we not to fight them then?"
"My birthday," Bryan explained with a wry smile.
Rhiannon's face lit up, as much with relief that the lad had not seen any dangerous flaw with their ambush plan as with her sincere joy at the news of Bryan's birthday.
"Sixteen," Bryan announced proudly. "Today I am sixteen years."
Rhiannon's smile only widened, but behind it came an honest surprise.
Sixteen? she echoed in her mind, over and over, incredulously. With his delicate features and shining hair and eyes, the same brilliant gray orbs of his elven father, Meriwindle, Bryan did indeed have the appearance of youth. But his heritage was half elven, and even Arien Silverleaf, who was eldar of the elves and had lived through centuries, appeared youthful.
Rhiannon had spent three months beside Bryan, fighting talons along the southwestern fields of Calva and in the Baerendil Mountains, and never would she have guessed that this cunning warrior, this hero to so many of the folk who had been trapped on this side of the great River Ne'er Ending after the war, this strong young man who had slain so very many evil talons, could possibly be so young!Rhiannon herself had just passed her twenty-first birthday,
and she had thought Bryanso wise, so composedto be at least her own age.
"A birthday kiss?" the young man asked slyly.
"Yer thoughts should be to the fight," Rhiannon replied dryly.
"A kiss for luck, then?"
"A kiss for victory, when the day is won."
Bryan seemed satisfied with that. He gave a quick salute, then hoisted his shield, emblazoned with the crescent moon symbol of Illuma, the enchanted valley of his elven father's people, and the bow that Rhiannon had created for him, and ran off to his appointed place.
Rhiannon watched him go with mixed feelings, both for him and for her promise. She had indeed grown to love Bryan, to admire and respect him fully. And he had saved her life, she understood, for without his companionship,
without him holding her hand and calling out to her, bringing her back from the depths of the darkest and strongest magic the young witch had ever known, she never would have survived the great battle with the Black
Warlock, Morgan Thalasi. In that battle, young Rhiannon had come fully into her magical power, though that power and all the magic remaining in all the world paled beside the glory the four wizards of Ynis Aielle had known only a few short months beforebefore the power-hungry Thalasi had reached too far, had torn the very fabric of universal strength, had torn out the heart of the wizards' secret domain.