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Every light casts a shadow. So does the dweomer. Some men choose to stand in the light; others, in the darkness. Be ye always aware that where you stand is a matter of choice, and let not the shadow creep over you unawares.…
—The Secret Book of Cadwallon the Druid
Back in the eleventh century, when the far-flung kingdom of Deverry lay sparse and tentative across the lands men claimed in the king’s name, Eldidd province was one of the most sparsely settled areas of all. Particularly in its western reaches, towns were rare, and in the west Dun Gwerbyn was something of a governmental seat, even though its high stone walls circled barely five hundred thatched houses and three temples, two of those little better than wayside shrines. On a hill in the center of town, however, stood the dun, or fort, of the tieryn, large and solid enough to be impressive in any province at that time. Inside a double set of earthworks and ditches, stone walls sheltered stables and barracks for the tieryn’s warband of a hundred men, a collection of huts and storage sheds, and the broch complex itself, a four-story round stone tower with two shorter towers built on to the sides.
On one particular morning, the open ward round the broch was abustle with servants, carrying supplies to the kitchen hut or stacks of firewood to the hearths in the great hall, or rolling big barrels of ale from the sheds to the broch. Near the iron-bound gates other servants bowed low as they greeted the arriving wedding guests. Cullyn of Cerrmor, captain of the tieryn’s warband, assembled his sen out in the ward and looked them over. For a change they were all bathed, shaved, and presentable. He himself, a burly man well over six feet tall, had put on the newer of his two shirts for the occasion ahead.
“Well and good, lads,” Cullyn said. “You don’t look bad for a pack of hounds. Now, remember: every lord and lady in the tierynrhyn is going to be here today. I don’t want any of you getting stinking drunk, and I don’t want any fighting, either. This is a wedding, remember, and the lady deserves to have it be a happy one after everything she’s been through.”
They all nodded solemnly. If any of them forgot his orders, he’d make them regret it—and they knew it.
Cullyn led them into the great hall, an enormous round room that took up the full ground floor of the broch. Today freshly braided rushes lay on the floor; the tapestries on the walls had been shaken out and rehung. The hall was crammed with extra tables. Not only were there plenty of noble guests, but each lord had brought five men from his warband as an honor escort. Servants sidled and edged their way through the crowd with tankards of ale and baskets of bread; a bard played almost unheard; over by their hearth the riders diced for coppers and joked; up by the honor hearth the noble-born ladies chattered like birds while their husbands drank. Cullyn got his men settled, repeated his order about no fighting, then worked his way to the table of honor and knelt at the tieryn’s side.
Tieryn Lovyan was something of an anomaly in Deverry, a woman who ruled a large demesne in her own name. Originally her only brother had held this dun, but when he died without an heir, she’d inherited under a twist in the laws designed to keep big holdings in a clan even if a woman had to rule them. Although she’d come to her middle age, she was still a good-looking woman, with gray-streaked raven black hair, large cornflower-blue eyes, and the straight-backed posture of one quite at home with rulership. That particular day she wore a dress of red Bardek silk, kirtled in with the red, white, and brown plaid of the Clw Coc clan.
“The warband is in attendance, my lady,” Cullyn said.
“Splendid, Captain. Have you seen Nevyn yet?”
“I haven’t, my lady.”
“It would be like him to just stay away. He does so hate crowds and such like, but if you do see him, tell him to come sit with me.”
Cullyn rose, bowed, and returned to his men. From his seat he could see the honor table, and while he sipped his ale, he studied the bride at this wedding, Lady Donilla, a beautiful woman with a mane of chestnut hair, clasped back like a maiden’s now for the formality of the thing. Cullyn felt profoundly sorry for her, because her first husband, Gwerbret Rhys of Aberwyn, had recently cast her off for being barren. If Lovyan hadn’t found her a husband, she would have had to return to her brother’s dun in shame. As it was, her new man, Lord Garedd, was a decent-looking fellow some years older than she, with gray in his blond hair and a thick mustache. From what the men in the warband said, he was an honorable man, soft-spoken in peace and utterly ruthless in war. He was also a widower with a pack of children and thus more than glad to take a beautiful young wife, barren or not.
“Garedd looks honestly besotted with her, doesn’t he?” Nevyn remarked.
With a yelp Cullyn turned to find the old man grinning at him. For all of Nevyn’s white hair, and a face as lined as an old leather sack, he had all the vigor and stamina of a young lad, and he stood there straight-backed, his hands on his hips.
“Didn’t mean to startle you,” he said with a sly grin.
“Here, I never saw you come in!”
“You weren’t looking my way, that’s all. I didn’t turn myself invisible, although I’ll admit to having a bit of a jest on you.”
“And I took the bait, sure enough. The tieryn wants you to come sit with her.”
“At the honor table? What a blasted nuisance. It’s a good thing I put on a clean shirt.”
Cullyn laughed. Usually Nevyn dressed like a farmer in shabby brown clothes, but today he’d actually put on a white shirt with Lovyan’s red lion blazon at the yokes and a pair of patched but respectable gray brigga. Still, he looked like a shabby townsman or maybe a minor servitor, anything but what he was, the most powerful master of the dweomer in the entire kingdom.
“Before you go,” Cullyn said, “have you had any, well, news of my Jill?”
“News? Why don’t you say the word ‘scrying’ right out? You’ll have to get used to sorcery sooner or later, Captain. Here, come along.”
They made their way over to the servants’ hearth, where an entire hog crackled, roasting on a spit so large that it took two kitchen boys to turn it. For a moment Nevyn stared intently into the flames.
“I see Jill and her Rhodry looking in good spirits,” he said at last. “They’re walking through a town on a nice sunny day, going up to a shop of some sort. Wait! I know the place. It’s Otho the Silversmith’s in Dun Mannannan, but he doesn’t seem to be in at the moment.”
“I don’t suppose you can tell if she’s with child.”
“She’s not showing the baby if she is. I can understand your concern.”
“Well, it’s bound to happen, sooner or later. I just hope she has the wit to ride home when it does.”
“She’s never lacked for wit.”
Although Cullyn agreed, worry ate at him. Jill was, after all, his only child.
“I just hope they have enough coin for the winter,” the captain remarked.
“Well, we gave them plenty between us, if Rhodry doesn’t drink it all away, anyway.”
“Oh, Jill won’t let him do that. My lass is as tight as an old farmwife with every cursed copper.” He allowed himself a brief smile. “She knows the long road well.”
Because the mattress was full of bedbugs, Rhodry Maelwaedd, formerly heir to Dun Gwerbyn, sat on the floor of the tiny innchamber. Nearby Jill sat in the light from the one tiny window. She was dressed in a pair of dirty blue brigga and a lad’s plain linen overshirt, and her golden hair was cropped short like a lad’s, too, but she was so beautiful, with her wide blue eyes, delicate features, and soft mouth, that he loved simply looking at her. Frowning in concentration, she was mending a rip in his only shirt.
“Ah, by the black hairy ass of the Lord of Hell!” she snarled. “This’ll just have to do. I hate sewing.”
“You have my humble thanks for lowering yourself enough to mend my clothes.”
With another snarl she threw the shirt into his face. Laughing, he shook it out, once-white linen stained with sweat and rust, as well, from his mail. On the yokes were embroidered the blazons of the red lion, all that he had left of his old life. But a month earlier his brother, Gwerbret Rhys of Aberwyn, had sent him into exile, far away from kin and clan both. He pulled the shirt on, then buckled his sword belt over it. At the left hung his sword, a beautiful blade of the best steel with the hand guard worked in the form of a dragon, and at the right, the silver dagger that branded him as a dishonored man. It was the badge of a band of mercenaries who wandered the roads either singly or in pairs and fought only for coin, not loyalty or honor. In his case it branded him as something even stranger, which was why they’d come to Dun Mannannan.
“Do you think that silversmith will be in by now?” he said.
“No doubt. Otho wouldn’t leave his shop for long.”
Together they went out into the unwalled town, a straggling collection of round thatched houses and shops along a river. On the grassy bank fishing boats lay bleaching, from the look of their cracked keels and gaping planks barely seaworthy.
“I don’t see how these people make a living from the sea,” Rhodry remarked. “Look at that mast. It’s all held together with wound rope and tar.”
When he started to walk over for a better look, Jill grabbed his arm and hauled him back. Two local men, hard-eyed and dressed in filthy rags, were watching.