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Will pedalled hard, blessing the valley road for its winding flatness, and freewheeling only when his pounding heart seemed about to leap right out of his chest. He rode one-handed. He had said nothing about his hurt arm, and Bran had not noticed, but it hurt abominably if he so much as touched the handlebars with his left hand. He tried not to think about the way it would feel when carrying the golden harp.
That was the only thing to be done, now. The music of the harp was the only magic within his reach that would release Pen from the power of the warestone. In any case, it was time now to bring the harp to the pleasant lake, to accomplish its deeper purpose. Everything was coming together, as if two roads led to the same mountain pass; he could only hope that the pass would now be blocked by some obstacle able to hinder both at once. This time more than ever, the matter of holding the Dark at bay depended as much on the decisions and emotions of men as on the strength of the Light. Perhaps even more.
Broken sunlight flickered in and out of his eyes, as clouds scudded briskly over the sky. At least, he thought wryly, we've got a good day for it all. His wheels sang on the road; he was nearly at Clwyd Farm now. He wondered how he was to explain his sudden arrival, and equally sudden departure afterwards, to Aunt Jen. She would probably be the only one there. She must have been there for Caradog Prichard's appearance earlier that morning, and the changing of his two mutilated tyres. Perhaps he could say that he had come to get something to help put Prichard off the scent, to keep him from finding Pen... something John Rowlands had suggested... but still he would have to leave thehouse with the golden harp. Aunt Jen would not be likely to let that sacking-swathed object past her sharp eye without at least inquiring what was wrapped up in there. And what possible reason could anyone have, least of all her nephew, for not letting her see?
Will wished, not for the first time, that Merriman were with him, to ease such difficulties. For a Master of the Light, it was no great matter to transport beings and objects not only through space but through time, in the twinkling of an eye. But for the youngest of the Old Ones, however acute his need, that was a talent too large.
He came to the farm; rode in; pushed through the back door. But when he called, no one came. He realised suddenly with a great lightening of the spirits that he had seen no cars in the yard outside. Both his aunt and uncle must have gone out; that was one piece of luck, at any rate. He ran upstairs to his bedroom, said the necessary words to release the golden harp from protection, and ran down again with it under his arm, a rough sacking-wrapped bundle of odd triangular shape. He was halfway across the yard to the bicycle when a Land Rover chugged in through the gate.
For a second Will froze in panic; then he walked slowly, carefully, to the bicycle, and turned it ready to leave.
Owen Davies climbed out of the car and stood looking at him. He said, "Was it you left the gate open?"
"Oh, gosh." Will was genuinely shocked: he had committed the classical farm sin, without even noticing. "Yes, I did, Mr Davies. That's awful. I'm most terribly sorry."
Owen Davies, thin and earnest, shook his flat-capped head in reproof. "One of the most important things to remember, it is, to shut any gate you have opened on a farm. You do not know what livestock of your uncle's might have slipped out, that should have been kept in. I know you are English, and no doubt a city boy, but that is no excuse."
"I know," Will said. "And I'm not even a city boy. I really am sorry. I'll tell Uncle David so."
Taken aback by this implication of honest confidence, Owen Davies surfaced abruptly from the pool of righteousness that had threatened to swallow him. "Well," he said. "Let us forget it this time, both of us. I dare say you will not do it again."
His gaze drifted sideways a little. "Is that Bran's bike you have there? Did he come with you?"
Will pressed the shrouded harp tight between his elbow and his side. "I borrowed it. He was out riding, and I was... up the valley, walking, and I saw him, and we thought we'd have a go at flying a big model plane I've been making." He patted the bundle under his arm, swinging his leg over the bicycle saddle at the same time. "So I'm going back now. Is that all right? You don't need him for anything?"
"Oh, no," Owen Davies said. "Nothing at all."
"John Rowlands took Pen to Mr. Jones at Ty-Bont all safe and sound," Will said brightly. "I'm supposed to be having dinner there, late-ish Mrs. Jones said would it be all right if I took Bran back with me too, Mr Davies? Please?"
The usual expression of alarmed propriety came over Owen Davies's thin face. "Oh, no, now, Mrs Jones is not expecting him, there is no need to bother her with another -- "
Unexpectedly, he broke off. It was as if he heard something, without understanding it. Puzzled, Will saw his face become oddly bemused, with the look of a man dreaming a dream that he has dreamed often but never been able to translate. It was a look he would never have expected to find on the face of a man so predictable and uncomplicated as Bran's father.
Owen Davies stared him full in the face, which was even more unusual. He said, "Where did you say you and Bran were playing?"
Will's dignity ignored the last word. He kicked at the bicycle pedal. "Out on the moor. Quite a long way up the valley, near the road. I don't know how to describe it exactly -- but more than halfway to Mr Jones's farm."
"Ah," Owen Davies said vaguely. He blinked at Will, apparently back in his usual nervous person. "Well, I daresay it would be all right if Bran goes to dinner as well, John Rowlands being there -- goodness knows Megan Jones is used to feeding a lot of mouths. But you must be sure to tell him he must be home before dark."
"Thank you!" said Will, and made off before he could change his mind, carefully closing the gate after he had ridden through. He shouted a farewell, with just time to notice Bran's father's hand slowly raised as he rode away.
But he was not many yards along the road, riding awkwardly one-handed and slowly with the harp clutched in his aching left arm, before all thought of Owen Davies was driven from his head by the Grey King. Now the valley was throbbing with power and malevolence. The sun was at its highest point,
though no more than halfway up the sky in that November day. The last part of the time for the fulfilling of Will's only separate quest had begun. His mind was so much occupied with the unspoken beginnings of battle that it was all his body could do to push the bicycle, and himself, slowly along the road.
He paid little attention when a Land Rover swished past him, going fast in the same direction. Several cars had passed him already, on both journeys, and in this part of the country Land Rovers were common. There was no reason at all why this one should have differed from the rest.