After the SwordBy Teri White
Page 2 of 11
|Five days later, they were still riding.
By now, they were nearing the southern-most regions of the kingdom, places where few men ever ventured. There were stories--myths--of strange happenings in this country and although few believed the tales in this enlightened age, it was still thought wise to exercise caution.
Neither man knew where they were going, or what they would do when they finally reached the end of their journey. The King was still too anguished for clear thought, and Bedwyr could only stand by and await whatever decisions his liege might make. That was his sworn duty.
As the purple darkness crept more fully over the valley, Geraint gave another weary sigh. "Perhaps we have gone far enough for this day," he said.
Bedwyr nodded in silent agreement. They had been riding since dawn, and both animals and men were tired.
They went on only a little further, soon finding a small clearing that suited. Geraint sat heavily on a fallen tree trunk, his gaze distant. Bedwyr, meanwhile, busied himself with seeing to the needs of the horses, before turning his attention to the building of a fire. That done, he spread their rough woven blankets on the ground.
All of that was accomplished in silence.
Supper was simply dried meat and some bread, washed down with water from a nearby stream. Bedwyr ate his portion crouched beside the King. "Eat," he ordered the morose Geraint.
"I have little appetite," Geraint murmured. He made an effort at a smile. "Have you not always said that I could stand somewhat less flesh on my bones anyway?"
Bedwyr did not respond, except to shove more meat and bread into Geraint's hands.
It was not until later, when the meal was finished and both men lay wrapped in their blankets, that Geraint spoke again. "We have travelled a long road together, Bedwyr," he said, for once sounding thoughtful rather than sentimental.
Bedwyr softly agreed. He was watching the dancing flames.
"Do you remember the day we first met?"
He shifted slightly so that he was looking at Geraint. "Of course."
Geraint smiled at him. "We were so young. Just become ten, the both of us, and already we knew that our futures were forever intertwined."
"You were to be King. I was in training to be your Knight. Of course our lives would follow a common path."
Geraint shook his head. "It was much more than that," he insisted.
"Oh, you always put an emotional cast upon things," Bedwyr said, mild scorn in his voice.
"That is a failing of mine, I know," Geraint admitted.
"Ahh, well, I am so accustomed to it by now that the habit scarcely annoys me," Bedwyr said almost tolerantly.
A slight smiled played at the corners of Geraint's mouth, but he did not say anything.
Abruptly, Bedwyr jumped to his feet, his sword appearing as if from nowhere to rest in his hand.
Startled, Geraint sat up. "What?"
"Someone is out there," Bedwyr hissed, gesturing for the King to remain where he was. He raised his voice. "Step into the light of the fire so that I might see you. Do not show a weapon or I shall certainly run you through."
The man who stepped from the darkness held no sword. He was a mild-looking fellow of middle-years, who wore a slightly bemused expression on his face. "I come with neither weapon nor malice," he said, holding both hands out quite innocently.
"You may come closer," Bedwyr said in a hard voice, not lowering the blade by even a fraction.
As the stranger stepped nearer, they could see his garb. He wore a dark blue cloak edged with silver stars. "Turn aside your sword, Bedwyr," he said in a faintly chastising tone.
"You know my name?" he said, holding the saber as it was.
"Of course. And you know mine. Or you should."
Bedwyr just shook his head. "You are not familiar to me."
The man turned to Geraint. "And you, sire? Does your memory hold my visage within?"
Geraint stared and then shifted slightly. "I remember you," he said at last.
Bedwyr glanced a question at his King.
"Your name is...Maelgwn. You were the seer at my coming of age celebration."
Maelgwn inclined his head slightly.
Bedwyr merely looked skeptical. "That was twenty-five years ago."
"And Maelgwn has not changed at all," Geraint said.
"This seemed a suitable age for me," Maelgwn told them. "So at this age I have remained."
Bedwyr took a step closer. "Be all of that as it may," he said. "What are you doing here now?"
Maelgwn seemed to grow impatient all of a sudden. He gave a slight wave of his hand.
There was a flash of golden light.
Bedwyr dropped his sword immediately, giving a muffled curse as he did so. He glared at his burned hand, and then at Geraint.
The King smiled at him. "Sit down, both of you," he suggested mildly.
After a moment, they did so. Maelgwn settled on the other side of the fire, as Bedwyr crouched next to Geraint.
"Your troubles are great, King," the seer said solemnly. "Your castle and your kingdom are in the hands of a villainous pretender, your cousin Griffin."
"We know all of that," Bedwyr said sharply. "It scarcely calls for magickal powers to reveal those things."
Geraint touched his arm lightly. "Hush, my cydymaith," he said softly.
Bedwyr frowned fiercely, but kept silent.
"I foretold all of these events on that day so many years ago," Maelgwn went on, seemingly oblivious to the interruption. "But it seems that my words did not remain with you."
"We were so very young," Geraint murmured.
"And no doubt whatever foolish predictions you made were couched in terms of complete obscurity," Bedwyr muttered, seemingly to himself. "That is the way of your type. Then, no matter what comes to pass, you can claim to have foretold it."
The two others ignored him.
Geraint took a deep breath. "Can you help me now?"
"Would I have come here otherwise?"
"Have you an army to offer us then?" Bedwyr said scornfully. "Or will you merely wave your hand once again and drive the traitors from Caerwent?"
"If I could do so, Bedwyr, I would. But that is beyond my powers."
Bedwyr snorted. "As with all magicks, in my experience. In the eventuality, the power is always just short of what is needed."
"My cydymaith is a skeptic," Geraint said almost apologetically.
"Your friend was the same at age thirteen, as I recall," Maelgwn said. His gaze flickered in the firelight as he studied the Knight. "No, Bedwyr, as much as I would like to, I cannot drive the invaders from the castle. But you can. Geraint can."
"The two of us alone?" Bedwyr said.
"The two of you. Alone. If you are armed with the right weapon."
"And what might that be?" Geraint asked eagerly.
"The Taf Gleddyf," Maelgwn replied almost off-handedly.
Bedwyr gave a bark of bitter laughter.
"The Taf Gleddyf," Geraint repeated, and there was palpable disappointment in his voice. If, for a moment, he had dared to hope a little, the King had obviously been plunged right back into despair by the seer's words.
"I mean what I say," Maelgwn told him firmly.
"Ahh, wizard," Bedwyr said. "The myth of the Black Sword has been told for more generations than can be counted. It is the stuff of crythors. Who knows how many songs have been written about the Taf Gleddyf?"
"Myths are more often than not based on truth," Maelgwn said. "Minstrels are not simply story-tellers. The Black Sword does exist, and the man who wields it will defeat his enemies."
"So you will give us the sword?" Geraint asked.
Maelgwn smiled at him. "Of course not. As your loyal Knight has pointed out, we all know the legend too well. You must find and take possession of the sword yourself."
Maelgwn shrugged. "That you must reason out on your own."
Bedwyr grimaced in disgust. "What is more useless than a magick?" he said to the night sky.
"But how do we even begin?" Geraint asked helplessly.
Maelgwn seemed to consider his words carefully. The seer rose. "I can tell you this much. Go first to the Tylwyth Mynydd. Perhaps you will find the answers you need there."
Bedwyr, cautious, stood as well, his gaze leveled at Maelgwn. "And when we reach their mountain, if such a place actually exists, shall we expect the fairies to help us?"
"It is possible. I suppose if they find you worthy, they might well do so. Fairies are an unpredictable race."
"I'm sure," Bedwyr muttered.
Maelgwn started to walk away, then paused. "You must beware," he said, his voice deadly serious. "There are many dangers ahead. Some of this world, and others from worlds you have not even imagined."
The King and the Knight were silent.
Maelgwn lifted his hand again, but this time it was in what appeared to be a blessing. He whispered some words that they could not quite hear, and then, he vanished.
That was the only word for it. He vanished. One instant he was there, and the next he was gone.
There was a long silence in the clearing.
Finally, Bedwyr returned to his blanket, lay down upon it, and stared at the stars overhead.
It was Geraint who spoke first. "Will you accompany me?" he asked very softly.
"To the Fairy Mountain." He named that place as if it were the most natural of destinations.
"To fetch the Black Sword?" Bedwyr's voice was weary.
"If it can be done."
"Oh, my Liege," Bedwyr whispered. "It cannot be done."
"But I must try."
Geraint moved, gracefully and quietly for such a large man. He came close and leaned over to see Bedwyr's face in the moonlight. "I will release you from your blood oath, Bedwyr," he said. "If that is your desire."
Bedwyr stared at him, gazing into the face that was as familiar as his own, and knew that Geraint meant what he said. Knowing, as well, what it cost him to say the words. The Knight shook his head. "Death is the only release," he said.
"That is not an answer," Geraint replied.
"I have no desire to be released from my oath," Bedwyr said. He gave a wry smile. "Unless my King desires to be rid of my irritating presence."
Geraint grinned. "There have been moments over the years." Then he rolled away and returned to his own blanket. "I need you. If you will come."
"I will go with you. Of course. Although--"
"Although?" Geraint encouraged softly.
"I do not believe a word of what that seer has told us. And I sense trouble ahead if we attempt this folly. But if you will face it, Geraint, I will face it. That is the way of my life."
"By your father's decision when you were ten?" There was doubt in Geraint's tone. "Or by your own choice?"
"Every choice I have made in my life has been my own."
"Thank you," Geraint whispered.
They spoke no more after that, although both the King and the Knight lay awake for hours under the pale yellow moon.
While he could not have said what Geraint was thinking of, Bedwyr found himself lost in memories. He remembered the boy he had been on that day so many years ago. The day he had met Geraint and his fate was sealed.
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