Bran dreamt of the Mari Llwyd. He was terribly small, only a boy, frozen in place with nightmare terror while the horse of bones bore down upon him and pale blossoms fell like rain.
"Could I ask you a favor?" Barney Drew asked, hovering uncertainly in the doorway, Ector's leash twisted 'round his hand. He looked faintly apologetic.
"Of course," Will said, marking the latest case off on his timesheet and getting to his feet. "Come in, Barney." Barney obeyed, Ector trotting placidly after, and closed the door behind him. A couple of unnecessarily adorable terrier puppies looked down upon them from the poster on the inside of the door, along with the stern red instructions BE SURE TO VACCINATE YOUR DOG! Barney gave the poster a grin. "Nice."
"So," Will said, kneeling down beside Ector, rubbing the dog behind the ears and peering carefully into Ector's face, "I'm guessing this is babysitting, not a medical emergency."
"If you don't have too much else," Barney admitted. "It's just for the week. Jane wants to go on holiday and I could do with some nice country to look at for a change. I suppose I could ask Simon, but he's so busy dithering about his engagement."
Will grinned. "How is Elaine doing?"
"Positively glowing," Barney said cheerfully. "Goodness knows what she sees in Simon, of course. I'm just waiting for the day when she decides to have children. Hundreds of weddings will be worth the look on his face." Suddenly serious: "But Will, you can take Ector for the week? No horses with incurable diseases taking up your time?"
"Only a couple of rabbits," Will returned with great solemnity, and waited for surprise, indignation, and resigned amusement to chase themselves across Barney's face before saying, "Yes, of course. Where are you and Jane so eager to be off to?"
Barney made an expansive gesture of joy, which caused Ector to give a yelp of indignation as his leash was tugged. "Logres, Will! Good old Trewissick."
"Ah," said Will. "Yes, of course."
When he awoke, it was still dark and he was drenched in fear-sweat with the sheets twisted into ropes about his legs. He kicked them off and climbed out of bed to make tea, not because he was thirsty but because the ritual motions and the cheerful yellow light of the kitchen lamp calmed him. As sometimes happens upon waking, a rhythmic snatch of verse was stuck going 'round his head: a white bone will prevent you, a white bone will prevent you. Prevent him from what, Bran had not the least notion. The faintest silvery predawn light was beginning to gather outside the window. Bran clutched at the warmth of his teacup and drank slowly. He had not dreamt of the Mari Llwyd in ages, not since Cafall as a puppy had lain warm and alive at his side to lick his face in comfort.
It was no use trying to return to bed; tattered red ribbons fluttered behind his closed eyelids when he reached up to rub the sleep from his eyes. So Bran rinsed out his teacup, poured the rest of the still-warm tea into a thermos, and pulled on a coat and Wellingtons, setting out across the half-dark fields to John Rowlands' house.
Rowlands was already awake, as he often was these days. "I go with the light, Bran," he would say, with a funny wry twist to his weathered face. This morning, as dawn began and the first streaks of light spilled down over Cader Idris into the valley, John Rowlands sat in his shepherd's hut and played the harp. The melancholy of the music caught Bran into stillness outside the door. Rippling chords filled him top to toes, and drove the nonsense of the Mari Llwyd from his mind, pulled him gently and painfully back to reality.
The harp stilled and Rowlands came to the door. "Bran. Come in." He looked tired, and old, very old. I wish you would not play those songs, Bran thought, for the tune Rowlands had been playing, improvisational and familiar, had been one of Blod Rowlands' favourites. "I brought tea," he said only, and Rowlands laughed.
"Bad dreams, cariad?"
"Yes," Bran admitted, and allowed himself to be pulled inside, and sat down at Rowlands' little table, and fed toast with jam. Rowlands asked after his dogs: Gwennie was well, thanks, and last week he'd run the puppies down to Tywyn. Rowlands listened, drinking tea from Bran's thermos and absorbing everything with a quiet seriousness. Bran could think of no more to say, and returned to his toast.
"We take care of each other, you and I," Rowlands said at length. "Me without my Blod, and you --"
"Yes," Bran agreed, pushing his plate aside. "We do. Mr. Evans says we're to start on the fences today." He got to his feet. "Shouldn't be fog, it looks clear as anything. You can return the thermos later."
Concern filled Rowlands' swarthy face. "Bran --"
"I'll see you later," Bran said, and went.
At the end of spring term, Jane took the train down to Trewissick. Barney went with her, talking all the while about colour and lighting and inspiration, so that Jane had to remind herself more than once that Barney's shop talk was far better than Simon's. She'd spent an otherwise nice Christmas with Simon and Elaine, marred only by Simon's fussing over what such a cold winter would be doing to his very old and very young patients. More and more Jane found herself preferring Barney's company to Simon's, since she spent far too much time thinking seriously about what she was to do with her life, and Simon's life was also serious.
"Stop looking so melancholy," Barney told her firmly once they were installed in a cozy little inn near the wharf and Jane had finished unpacking. He was the very picture of an overgrown boy in high spirits; despite the spring damp he was wearing a pair of shorts with great optimism, and looked quite as delighted with the prospect of a holiday as he had when they were children.
"I'm not melancholy," Jane said, hitching up her ponytail. "I'm only hoping I'll be allowed to come along to the Greenwitch ceremony tomorrow night."
Barney, gathering up paints and easel, gave her a grin. "So that's what this is about. It's not just nostalgic holiday-making, is it? You want to wish for something." He considered. "I don't suppose I can ask about your wish. Probably if you tell it won't come true. Like birthday candles."
"Yes," said Jane absently. "Something like that."
On Sunday afternoon the phone rang.
Only Will Stanton dared to call on Sundays. Sometimes Bran let it ring, and called Will back on Monday night, and guessed how many nieces Will had underfoot, or how many stray animals in cardboard boxes. Today the fog had come down from Cader Idris; Luce and Ink and Gwennie were in a doggy sprawl near the radiator. Bran had started the crossword, and laughed at himself, and tried to practice the harp, and stopped when the noise became too loud. Will's call briefly jangled his nerves, but he answered the phone in relief.
Will did not say How are you; Will did not ask foolish questions. Bran said "Hello" and Will said, "Barney Drew left me to look after his dog for the week. Lovely fellow, spaniel by the name of Ector. Did you find the puppies good homes?"
"Every last one," Bran said, smiling into the phone. "Where's Barney, then?"
"Went to Cornwall with Jane," Will said. "Her students are off for the week. Easter hols."
"Poor Jenny," said Bran. "Doomed to school forever."
"Poor Bran," Will said gently. "Doomed to Clwyd forever."
"That's my own choice --" Bran started in indignation. "Now none of your tricks, English. I like it here. If you've gone worrying I'm becoming a hermit, visit me." He heard Will's beginning protest, and added, swift as thought, "I can't leave my animals any more than you can leave yours. You want me to have company, convince Barney to come out here and paint Cader Idris. That should be just as authentic as those Cornish villages. More. Tell him Wales is the real thing, boyo, if he wants good illustrations for those Arthurian books he should come visit."
He stopped, feeling winded, not physically but in his soul. With only Rowlands and the other taciturn tenant shepherds for company, or the Evanses now and again if they ran into him with a message, he sometimes forgot how many unspoken words he kept bottled up. Bran Davies the cork, Will Stanton the corkscrew.
"I'll tell him," Will said, laughing. "Word for word." And in his easy way he was speaking again, of the sheepdog he'd treated the week before, of his growing fondness for cats, of his brother Max's instant and somewhat alarming friendly rivalry with Barney upon their introduction, of Simon's upcoming wedding. There was nowhere in all the harmless talk that Will's voice so much as hinted Bran should leave Clwyd and come to London, but all the same Bran was left with the powerful feeling that Will Stanton was worried for him, and missed him dearly.
"If Simon ever actually announces his wedding day," Bran said, with a little difficulty, "I'll give my dogs to Rowlands for the week and come for it. If I'm invited, mind."
Through hundreds of miles he could feel Will relaxing. "June, Elaine said. You'll have your invitation."
Jane sat at the dimming edge of the light cast by the bonfire, shivering, dozing on and off. None of the women in the village had explicitly invited her to come to the making, but neither had anyone tried to make her leave; on the contrary, earlier that night someone had given her tea and biscuits on the rounds. Now she half-slept on a small rock, and she dreamed that the Greenwitch recognised her.
I know I shouldn't ask more of you, she wanted to say, but the Greenwitch recognised her, and the Greenwitch understood, and the Greenwitch told her, immense and immutable and emotionless, You have never asked anything for yourself; you speak only in feelings, and what must be done.
And Jane awoke to the beginning of dawn, certain that something must be done, only half-unsure what.
She had a vague memory of how this was supposed to go, having come here years before as a child. She'd made some silly wish, but not, she saw now, amused, any less silly than the wishes the other young girls were making. She heard shrieks and giggles and joking requests for love, and came up to the Greenwitch on sleep-unsteady legs. Someone asked for good harvest, another for a cure to various ills. Jane placed a cold hand on the Greenwitch's woven side, and felt the same awe and great sadness she dimly remembered feeling here once as a child.
"I wish --" she said, and thought of all the things that needed to be done. Exams to write, a wedding to help Elaine plan, well-wishing to be made for Barney's life, for Will's, for poor lonely Bran's; happiness for herself, a husband, no more gently pointed remarks, no more dreadful uncertainty, a goal, purpose.
"Oh," said Jane, miserably, "I wish I knew."
"What about Will Stanton's family?" Elaine asked, biting the end of her pen in thought.
Simon laughed and set aside the report he was reading. "Invite Max," he said. "I'd like to see the fireworks. We can sit him at a table with Barney. Oh, and invite Mary, so Jane won't feel like the only spinster in the place. James and his wife, too, James will feel awful if we leave him out. And Will. We can't very well have the whole Stanton clan along, though. Far too many mouths to feed."
Elaine carefully wrote these names down, and said, "Along with immediate family, that brings us to about thirty. Oh, and my friends from school, that's another ten or so -- have you got anyone else?"
"No," Simon said, not having to consider. The men he'd met in medical school and the people he worked with at the clinic were colleagues, not friends. Stantons and Drews in it together, he felt, along with Elaine Wick-nearly-Drew and family; that was enough for him.
"Lovely," Elaine said happily. "Nice small wedding down in Buckinghamshire; oh, Simon, it will be so nice to get away for a few days."
Her happiness was infectious. Simon found himself grinning too. "Yes," he said. "The country. Brilliant." But it was reminding him of something. Will, the country, holidays. "Hang on," he said. "God, now I feel like a bit of a plonk. Make that one more invitation. Bran Davies, over Tywyn way." At her blank look, he grinned again. "Middle of nowhere up in north Wales. He probably won't come, mind, but he's been Will's best mate since nearly forever, and he's quite nice. Odd, but nice. Send him an invitation too."
Barney was painting watercolour illustrations for a children's book. The story was a good one: a little boy and a little girl, physical description unspecified, were on holiday out in the country, and in an abandoned church came across the restless ghost of Sir Kay, who felt he had done wrong by his younger brother the king. It was everything Barney would have loved to read as a child: magic, tales of King Arthur's court, a quest to help a ghost complete its task, and even the message that one should be nice to one's younger siblings. The watercolouring itself would be a joy too, full of mist and beautiful country and old buildings. Barney even knew exactly how King Arthur should look, his eyes the colour of the sea and his brown hair streaked with gray.
But Sir Kay's final message, before thanking the children for helping him and drifting off out of time, was that they were helping King Arthur in his coming again. It was a perfectly natural ending to such a story. Barney read the closing lines over and over, frowning to himself. In pencil he scribbled, in the margins of the manuscript page, Drake he's in his hammock and a thousand miles away, some weird old line of poetry. He crossed it out, and wrote, Eirias, and erased it all.
"There is no second coming," Barnabas Drew said aloud, and began to sketch Merlin.
She dreamed again: she was standing on cold stones, barefoot and wearing only her nightdress. How silly, she thought; I would have dressed far warmer if I'd known I was going out. She was in a hall, she saw, dim, with high rafters, and narrow windows through which shone the stars. She shivered. At the opposite end of the hall was a fire, shining bright, not entirely inviting; the flame looked cold and white, and before the fire were two figures, casting long shadows that reached out towards Jane.
The first step was a difficult one, but the rest were easy. She came down the hall and stood before the softly crackling fire, the two figures beside her. She could see neither of them clearly, for the fire was half-blinding, but she knew both were women, full of immense power and age. In the way of dreams, Jane did not feel out of place standing with them.
"You want answers," said the figure on Jane's right. Her voice was soft, and kind in a way that made Jane feel afraid.
"Yes," said Jane.
"Do you want happiness?" asked the figure on Jane's left. This one Jane recognised, and turned, staring into a face as old as the sea and hills. Afterwards Jane could not have described how the face looked, but in that moment she knew it as though it belonged to her own sister.
"I want answers," Jane said resolutely. "How can I be happy if I don't know?"
"How can you be happy if you do?" the figure on Jane's right asked in gentle query, and Jane forced herself to turn from the face of hawthorn to the face of light, heart-shaped and old in an ageless way and full of that terrible kindness.
"We were never given a choice," Jane said.
"She's right," said the Greenwitch.
In a burst of impatience Jane went on, "I shouldn't be on trial to answer for my sins. Jane, Jana, Juno, Jane, y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu. We aren't meant to remember only in dreams! You trusted me; we trusted the Light. But anything that has been in the world can't truly leave it. You're still here."
"I am above --" the Lady said.
"No one is," Jane said with quiet conviction, and awoke.
She lay in bed for a long time, terribly puzzled.
"Goodness," said Barney. "You look awful."
"Thanks," Jane said dryly, sitting down across from him. Barney watched her in concern. Friday afternoons were their time together: Jane was out of school for the weekend, and Barney made a concentrated effort to cram as much creativity into Thursdays and Fridays as possible and take some time off afterwards, to catch up with his sister. Before the engagement, Simon had shown up whenever his work allowed, but sometimes Barney liked it better this way; both he and Jane had been closer to Simon than to each other as children, and he enjoyed the feeling of connection.
They were regulars at this particular London café, so a quick smile and "The usual, thanks," took care of their orders. Barney persisted, "Jane, it looks like you haven't slept in days."
"Essays to go through," Jane said, and relented. "Essays and bad dreams, that's all."
Barney shook his head. He hadn't been prone to nightmares in years. "What about?"
"This is going to sound silly," Jane said, and sighed. "We're talking about good and evil in my course right now, and we started off with a list of --" She broke off and laughed. "The most popular contender for good in the world was King Arthur. I thought of you."
"I've had to draw King Arthur for a book," Barney said, leaning back in his chair. "I can't quite get his face right."
Jane was silent, fiddling with her fork. "Barney," she said at length, "something's ... wrong, isn't it. It has been for years. When we found the chalice down in Trewissick, how it seemed part of something wonderful. It was our grail quest."
"Maybe that's why you teach kids," Barney offered. "Maybe that's why I illustrate books for them." But Jane was shaking her head, and he shrugged. "The world did seem brighter then. And it's stayed with me for the longest time, Jane. I can't get Arthur's face right because I know how he looks. I've dreamt of him so often."
"Yes," said Jane, painfully. "I know exactly what you mean. I -- oh, I don't remember."
Barney chewed on his lip, thinking, but after a moment he brightened. "Chin up, Jane," he said. "You're about to indulge in little teacakes and crushing criticism. Here." He fumbled with his bag and pulled out the roughs for his drawings, watching the worry smooth itself from Jane's face and be replaced by a smile. That was the way it was supposed to be.
Walk-ins were on Tuesdays; that was the day that Simon had in some of the funny patients. To begin with, he'd hated it, seeing all the hypochondriacs and pill junkies, but after meeting Elaine, Tuesdays had become his favourite. Elaine listened with sympathy or laughter over dinner, and every Tuesday Simon fell a little more in love.
This particular Tuesday was quiet. Around lunch there had been a wretched university student with strep; Simon dashed off a prescription and listened to her going on about record numbers of rooks in London or something of the sort, and that had been that, until nearly four in the afternoon. Then two people came in, one miserable, one bewildered. The miserable one, who looked like she must be the bewildered one's older sister, hardly waited until Simon ushered them into the room before blurting, "I don't know what to do with Alan, Dr. Drew. First he went on about all sorts of mad things, and now he doesn't remember saying any of them!"
Simon's first impulse was to tell the woman gently that he was a doctor of the physical, not the psychological, but she looked so terribly distraught that he said, very calmly, "What sorts of things, Ms --?"
"Baxter," the woman said, "Hilda Baxter," and thrust out a hand, then dropped it halfway. "Alan's ... nearly fifteen now, Dr. Drew, and --"
"Hilda." Alan had gone bright red. "Honest, I don't need to be here, Dr. Drew."
"He kept telling me he was ... seeing things," Ms. Baxter said, sounding strained. "Terrible things. Men made of rooks and horses that breathed fire. First he swore me to secrecy. He seemed so afraid, and I thought -- I thought he might be a bit mad, and now he swears he doesn't know any of what I'm talking about."
Simon studied the blushing, still-bewildered Alan closely. "Alan," he said, "is this just a bit of fun at your sister's expense?"
"No!" Alan burst out. "I just honestly don't know what she's going on about, she sounds like she's convinced I've gone off to fairyland or something. Maybe she's touched."
"Look," Simon said, meaning to explain that really they should go to a psychologist about this, but found himself saying instead, "Might I talk to Alan alone for a moment?"
Ms. Baxter nodded resignedly and let herself out into the waiting room. Simon closed the door behind her and turned to Alan. "You really have no idea what she's on about?"
"None," Alan repeated, a little less indignantly now, but very firmly. "Just -- she says I've been talking about this great good and evil thing, and I know how that sounds, Dr. Drew. I mean, what she says, it sounds like a -- a fantastic dream I might have had once, or a nightmare. But --"
"Did you?" Simon asked quietly. "Dream the things she's telling you?"
Alan scrunched his nose for a moment in thought. "Maybe," he admitted. "But you know how it is with dreams. They go all to pieces when you wake up; you lose them, or they stop making sense."
Simon remembered suddenly a dream he sometimes had: running until he could run no more as though all hell was lose after him, clutching something terribly precious to his chest. "Well," he said, and for perhaps the first time in his life ignored everything professional practicality was telling him, going with his instinct, "I don't think you're anywhere close to mad, Alan Baxter. Let's explain that to your sister, and I'll give her a couple recommendations in case she's still worried."
"Thanks," Alan said, breathing out in a great relieved huff.
When Simon came home that evening, Elaine greeted him with a kiss and the customary, "How was mad Tuesday?" Simon smiled absently.
"Sane today," he said. "Quite sane."
Bran dreamt of Cantr'er Gwaelod, walking a straight path with green grass around and blue sky above and a shining glass tower in the distance ahead, and Will Stanton walking sturdy by his side. Bran was not surprised to see Will, but was surprised at how he had grown.
"It all went under years ago," he commented.
A faint grin crossed Will's face. "Hundreds," he said.
"No," said Bran. "The things in my head. Whatever happened to my sword, Will?"
A distant look came over Will's face. "You gave it to your father."
Bran's throat closed up, the feeling no less real for being inside his mind. "My father," he said, and was suddenly afraid. "Will, I'm going to lose you. I've lost -- I've lost --" and Will understood, in the merciful way of dreams, in the merciful way in which Will always understood Bran, and was at his side, cradling Bran's head to his chest as Bran would have never allowed while waking. "It all goes on and on, Will," he said, ragged. "People die, but not the Brenin Llwyd, and if all the loving bonds -- they die, all the reasons die, and I want to rest, and I --" His hands stuttered across Will's shirt. "I'm sorry, Will, God, I'm sorry."
Will shushed him, held him close and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I know," he said. "No one should be alone."
"Will," Bran said, "I --" and the phone rang, jolting him out of sleep. He groaned and rolled over, groping for the phone; nearly dropped it, and finally croaked, "'lo?"
"I was thinking," Will's voice said on the end of the line without preamble, sounding a little sleepy too, "I shouldn't mind a trip to Wales before the wedding. Shall I come over for a couple of days?"
Bran squeezed his eyes shut against the morning light and against the relief welling up inside him. "Meddling English madman," he told the receiver. "You'll have to earn your keep if you do. You'll be a shepherd just as much as the rest of us.
Will laughed, sounding rather more awake. "I know."
"Good," Bran said, blinking, light refracting through his eyelashes. He took a moment to feel steadier. "Come, then."
Simon returned from work early to find Elaine sewing by the window. Simon had papers under his arm and more than half a mind to stop worrying about his practice entirely until after the wedding, despite the growing number of peculiar cases coming in. "I was thinking," Simon said, and Elaine glanced up, the light catching her strawberry curls. "I've gone over the sums a few times, and even if we do our share for the wedding proper we should certainly have enough left over for a real honeymoon somewhere."
"It's sweet of you," Elaine said, "but really, Simon, I don't like the thought of leaving. We can see a whole rash of plays in London if you like, or keep hiding out in the country, but either way I'm content near home."
"All right." Simon shrugged, half-conceived notions of tropical islands or the snowy Alps dissolving out of thought. Elaine was practical. That was one of the things Simon most loved about her.
He set his papers on the table and made himself a cup of tea, then came to sit with his fiancé by the window. Out of friendly half-formed habit, conversation rather than curiosity, he asked, "What are you up to?"
"Embroidering roses," Elaine murmured.
Simon looked at the riot of roses across the cloth Elaine was holding. "It looks a bit like a medieval tapestry," he said in admiration. "Barney would love it. Is there going to be more?"
"Lots." Elaine set the cloth aside and gave Simon a smile. "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that's for thoughts." She laughed, wound up the thread. "There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: you must wear your rue with a difference --"
"That's quite a lot of flowers," Simon interrupted with a sudden niggling discomfort. "Just as long as you don't turn into Ophelia on me."
"You knew the quote." Elaine looked pleased. "Of course you did. You played Prospero at twelve, you said. Silly of me."
Water, Simon thought. Water, exile, rosemary for remembrance, we mustn't drown, and saw Elaine watching him oddly. "Sorry," he said. "Sorry, I missed that last."
"I said, do you think Barney would really like it?" Elaine repeated. "My embroidery and that. It's just a hobby, but Barney's an artist and I know he and Jane don't know me too well; I'd like to do something they'd like."
"I think Barney would like it very much," Simon said. I would give you some violets, but they withered all. He rose and left her there at the window.
Barney appeared in Will's office doorway, pale and unhappy. "It's Ector," he said.
Will, crippled with a pounding headache and utterly bewildered, looked up as soon as he was able. "Is he howling?"
"Well -- yes," Barney said, puzzled now. "Are yours --?" He stopped abruptly, listening to the din in the back room. "Stupid question."
"It's like someone broadcasting a dog whistle across London," Will confessed, getting painfully to his feet. "And I have to leave this afternoon. I promised Bran I'd come out to Wales the week before the wedding."
A faint smile started on Barney's face. "Imagine if it was the sort of dog whistle that broadcast all the way to Wales." Smile fading, he added, "Have you been able to get them to stop?"
"No," Will admitted. "They don't seem to want me going near them. Probably it's better if I get out of town for a few days." Saying this made the clamped-down panic start to rise in his chest. All his senses as an Old One were vibrating at the same frequency that was causing the dogs to howl; the Dark, the Dark; and Merriman was gone, to a place Will could not follow. Unless ...
"Will?" Barney asked cautiously.
"I'm sorry, Barney," Will said, smiling a little, distracted. "Talk to Ector. Get him out of town for a bit if you must." He laughed then, feeling a bit more sure of himself now that an idea had come to him. "Elaine and Simon are out in Buckinghamshire already, yes? Go out and quibble with Max over the wedding decorations."
"You're no help at all," Barney said, brightening a bit at Will's change of spirits, and punched Will's shoulder. "And Max has no artistic vision. I'll see you Monday."
Will waved him off, then went through the back room, avoiding the cowering animals as much as possible, and collected his bags. He couldn't, he knew instinctively, be in London for this; London was far too young. It would have to be Welsh land. He headed to Paddington and took the train out.
Riding into Wales, he watched the growing hills rush past and thought of swiftness, clear air, the age of the hills, and was sitting comfortably astride a magnificent dun mare, the air cold and sharp on his face. Will Stanton laughed and leaned joyfully into the wind.
At length he came under the shadow of Cader Idris, and reined in his horse. Dismounting, he patted her neck in thanks and began the trek up the mountainside. After a few minutes' walking Will saw above him a figure beginning to resolve itself out of the mist, and made for it.
Merriman looked the same as ever, his shock of wild white hair full of droplets of fog, but as Will came towards him, he made no sign of recognition, and Will knew that he had done right. He came up to Merriman and stopped before him, only a little out of breath. "Greetings, Old One."
Merriman nodded, and Will saw that his first impression had not been quite accurate. Merriman's hair was not entirely white; there were hints of black and silver in it still. He said, his deep voice thoughtful, "You must be the first Old One."
This caught Will quite off-guard. "No," he said. "No, I'm the last."
"Yes," Merriman said, with patient weariness. "So I also said, at the time of the last great Rising."
"The last?" Will repeated, the beginnings of understanding forming in his mind. "But there have only been two. One in the time of King Arthur, and one --"
Merriman looked dreadfully worn. "And at the sacking of Rome," he said, in his voice a terrible resonance, "the Dark rose, and all of the Light was flung out of Time, but for a small boy, the last of the Old Ones. He took with him the Book of Gramarye, and followed the burning fires of the servants of the Dark, from all the provinces of Italy up through Gaul into the kingdom of Gwynedd. The Brython king Vortigern, advised by men capable of good and evil in equal measure, seized that boy in the fields. He told the last of the Old Ones of his attempt to build a city at Dinas Ffaraon."
"Whenever he tried to build the principal tower, it collapsed," Will said, a familiar refrain.
"The prophecy of a child without a father," said Merriman with a small twisting smile. "The last of the Old Ones was an orphan."
"Merriman," Will said, hurting for the fierce hawklike man standing before him in the mist. "You've done so well. You do."
"You did not come to this place to share your sympathies," Merriman said with a sudden flash of humour, shrugging off the old story entirely. "You came to tell me how the Dark is rising again."
"Yes," Will admitted, the reminder pulling him back into misery. "We fulfilled all the prophecies, and cast it out of Time, and still --"
"Still it comes again, out of the dark places in the worst of minds," Merriman finished for him. "We are the first and final defenses, Old One, you and I, the outer edges of the circle. For a thousand years we fight the Dark, and a thousand years again. Rome burned; the Dark rode the streets, sheltering the invaders, and my master bade me hide. Here and now perhaps they will win, he told me, but nothing is forever. Our battles are no greater or lesser now than they have ever been. Sometimes the Dark is cast from the world, and the world gets better for a time. For a time."
"Nothing can end or die that has once had a place in Time," Will said, remembering Gwion, the faraway look on his face, and Bran standing beneath a spreading apple tree.
"Yes," Merriman agreed; he looked so old already, Will saw, so tired. "And you --"
"I'm your watchman," Will said, with a small smile, half love and half pain.
"Here to correct the mistakes made by the last Circle of the Light," Merriman said, very gently. "In Rome, we did not trust mortals to be anything but tools of the Dark, and it was our downfall. In my own time -- as the first -- I will trust those from the track."
Will nodded. "So I am the last of the Old Ones, and the first now."
"There will be new prophecies," Merriman said, "in other lands. The next great Rising may not be for centuries of your time -- or it may be tomorrow."
"But there's only me," Will said in sudden panic. "I have no one --" He stopped abruptly. "I must correct mistakes." He turned swiftly and clasped Merriman's shoulders. "Go well, Merriman. And --" grinning, he was for a brief moment no longer an Old One, but a young man, freed from care and full of pride for Merriman, "you shall go well, I promise you."
Merriman clasped his shoulders in return, a brief hard thanks. "I shall see you again," he said, and laughed, making Will's chest go tight with fond remembrance. "Before," and he was gone, back into the mist.
It swirled around Will more thickly now, until he could barely see his hands in front of him, and did not resolve. Will blinked, frowning, and took a step forward. He was on the platform of Tywyn station, his travel bags beside him. The station clock showed him it was far past time for Bran's arrival to meet him. Will hesitated, thinking he should perhaps call Bran's house -- but his senses as an Old One were still alive and jangling. He glanced swiftly around the station, and it came to him: the mist. The thick fog about him was the Breath of the Grey King.
Cold with terror, Will set off for Cader Idris at a run.
When Bran awoke that morning, Gwennie was missing.
He'd made sure the door was shut tight the night before, as he always did, but coming out of sleep he found the doggy heap on the hearth one body short. Ink and Luce were still half-asleep and relatively undisturbed, but Bran's pulse was already racing, and his hands shook as he dressed.
He seemed to be still half in a dream as he stumbled up the mountainside with his feet slipping against loose stones and tussocks of grass. It was a clear morning, but between one breath and the next the world around Bran went cold and vague. Breath of the Brenin Llwyd, Bran thought, unsurprised, shivering. The fog seemed to be pressing down upon him, as oppressive as a physical force. "It will not work," Bran told the empty air, fierce and furious. "Davies men do best in adversity."
And then it came upon him, as it sometimes did, the grief as swift and unexpected as any of the Grey King's weather: his father.
It had been on a day exactly like this one, ordinary, a clear afternoon until the fog descended. Rowlands was the last to see him. Bran had never blamed John Rowlands, never -- but here, now, through the sadness a fury came upon Bran. Rowlands should have done something about Owen, as Will should have done something about Cafall --
"Gwennie!" Bran found himself calling, plaintive, panicked, muffled by the mist. "Gwennie! Gwen!"
There was no answering bark. Bran stumbled on. The fog masked everything: craggy outcrops, precipices, the treacherous edges of scree slopes. Owen could have fallen anywhere, anywhere, from a place towards which Bran might now be walking. And who would care if Bran Davies fell too? Not the men of Evans' farm, already uneasy around his white hair, his dark glasses. Not his schoolfellows, having taken themselves off to Cardiff or Swansea or London, leaving the freak behind and gladly. Not John Rowlands, not really; Jen Evans could take care of him better than Bran ever could. There was no one.
"Gwen!" Bran called. "Gwen!" Nothing. But Bran did not care now. He tramped up Cader Idris, hating it, hating the pressing malevolent fog and the mother who abandoned him, the father who had vanished, even poor melancholy Rowlands, hating, hating the years and the aimlessness and his own slowly-wasted life.
Then Bran thought, with a clarity that startled him: but Will expects me at the station.
He stopped, vibrating like a taut string, shocked into stillness. His throat was raw from shouting, his feet sore, his breath coming in great drags as though he had been climbing for quite some time.
And Bran thought: my mother came from Cader Idris, and returned. My father knew. My father raised me; loving bonds have made me his son, and the Brenin Llwyd took him from me. The Brenin Llwyd wants me now. The Brenin Llwyd does not want me to remember. Time is running out; Will is coming. Will, he thought, and remembered Cafall's death, and remembered -- Cafall was never a part of it either, or a part of your pretty pattern; remembered: at the centre of the Light there is a cold white flame.
A little farther up the slope, he heard the whine of a dog.
Bran Davies rose to his feet and went on up the slope, teeth grit in determination, until he came upon Gwennie helplessly tangled in a thicket. It took long minutes for Bran to help her out, but the work was mundane, ordinary, comforting. It kept him from the turmoil in his head. For what, a small voice in his mind whispered, anger still with the upper hand on fear, for what had he relinquished his true father's side, if the Dark's defeat was not forever and ever, if the Grey King could lead Owen Davies casually to a treacherous death, if his own ignorance and John Rowlands' made neither of them happy; if.
Nearly back in the valley, he ran into -- nearly crashed headlong into -- Will Stanton.
Will was out of breath, with a strained desperation on his face. He stopped up short, seeing Bran. "You're all right!"
Bran snorted. "Can't say the same of you."
"I had a bit of a fright," Will admitted. "Just the weather. And -- bother it, I left my bags at the station. I'd better ..." He trailed off, half-turning back the way he'd come. It was good, this aimless harmless good-natured English bumbling; it was convincing, if only for the moment before Will turned back and saw Bran's face. Then something in his own face crumpled, amiability giving way to an emotion Bran could not quite read. Will said only, "You remember," and took a deep breath. "Bran. There is something -- I must correct mistakes."
"Yes," said Bran, his voice hard. "I think you'd better."
They were to go to the Evans' house for tea -- Will's Aunt Jen was expecting them -- but first they tramped in silence to Bran's cottage, left Gwennie just inside the door, and piled into Bran's truck, heading off, still silent, for the Tywyn station.
Voice startling in the quiet, Bran said, "Couldn't just snap your fingers and have the bags, could you."
It was not quite a question, nor quite a challenge, and Will drew in a breath unhappily. "No," he said. Silence again. Bran drove, his face impassive behind his dark glasses, his hands on the wheel tight but his knuckles no whiter than they ever were. At length Will said, choosing the words with care, "How did you remember?"
"Well, that's irony, isn't it," Bran said, deliberate and conversational. "Could be Gwennie's related to old Cafall. She got out of the house, and I don't think the Brenin Llwyd wanted me around, snooping and remembering. Best thing he could have done was leave well enough alone. Then it would be 'Will, what's troubling you? Why did you leave your bags at the station?'" Bran hesitated. "Why did --?"
"I was afraid," Will admitted, twisting his fingers together. "I'd just realised what it is I have to do, and I thought perhaps the Grey King could sense it. That I was going to do something which might harm him."
Bran nodded, accepting this. They bounced on down the road, the mist in tatters around them. At length Will added, "It was your choice."
The flash of anger was visible on Bran's face this time. "Do you think I don't know that? Do you think it makes it better, knowing you didn't have one? Or that it was right we should forget?"
"But it wasn't," Will said, and watched the spasm of shock cross Bran's face. He took a deep breath. "I have been thinking. One of the old prophecies. Five shall return, and one go alone."
"That's easy," Bran said, his shoulders relaxing a little. "That's your Merriman. Tywyn station: get your bags."
Will hopped out and trotted over to the platform. His bags were still sitting there forlornly, only a little damp. Throwing them into the back, he climbed back into the cab beside Bran and said, over the revving of the engine, "But that's just it, Bran. Arthur didn't expect you to return, and I don't think it was a one-for-one exchange. Merriman was going too." He saw the look starting on Bran's face, and added swiftly, "I don't think the High Magic knew what your choice would be. That would make it less than a choice."
"Five shall return," Bran muttered, frowning out at the road. Will felt a wash of relief and gratitude; Bran was still angry, he could see, but also exactly where he should be: at Will's side, working through words and sorting through actions. Bran was still watching the road, and did not see any of these things in Will's face. He said, "I returned; so did Jenny and the boys. But your Merriman ... he returned home too, in a way. And you --"
"Prophecies are instructions," Will said. "That is all." He looked away from Bran, out his window at the Welsh hills rolling by.
"I'll make my excuses to Mrs. Evans," Bran said, his voice low. "You were tired from the trip."
"Thank you," Will said softly.
They did not speak further, but the tension in Bran's shoulders had smoothed out, and Will breathed easier. Bran stopped the truck in front of his cottage and snatched one of Will's bags from the back before Will could protest, so he followed Bran in silence.
It had been nearly two years since he was here last, and the place was changed. Two autumns ago they had been packed into the Evans' farmhouse for the reception following Owen Davies' funeral at St. Cadfan's in town; Will had returned for a brief time to the Davies' cottage with Bran, to help him start packing Owen's things and do the work Bran could not while distracted by aimless grief. Now nearly every trace of Owen was gone. The dishes and furniture were the same, of course; neither had Bran taken down the little cross that hung above the kitchen sink, and the cottage was scrupulously clean. But the front room was a riot of Welsh sheepdogs, happy to see Bran and nearly as happy to see Will, and Bran had his own harp now, set up in what had been Owen's bedroom, the bed converted into a makeshift couch.
Bran took Will into the kitchen and put on a pot of tea. "What now?" he asked, quiet and abrupt.
"I don't know," Will admitted. "I think we should still go to Simon's wedding. That's what I came here for."
"Did you," Bran said, expressionless.
"There will be new prophecies," Will said, and drew in a breath. "New instructions. But not yet. Merriman said, last time -- the last great Rising, the fall of Rome -- the Light didn't trust mortals. That's how we won this time: with you. With you and the Drews."
"Three from the track," Bran said. The teakettle began to whistle; he pulled it off the stove and poured two steaming cups. "Just following orders, wasn't it."
"Having instructions is only half of it." Will accepted his tea with a small nod of thanks, and waited until Bran had sat down across the table from him before going on, "You also need to understand what the instructions mean. Three from the track -- that could be Wayland Smith, two Old Ones from crossroads. But Merriman thought it might be mortals, so he trusted three children."
Bran curled pale fingers around his teacup and stared into it as though attempting to divine from the leaves. "Hell of a thing to dump on children," he said. "And you --" He looked up at Will. His dark glasses had slid somewhat down his nose, and his eyes flashed golden. Will swallowed. "You must have been called when you were, what --?"
"Eleven," Will said very quietly. "Is it any wonder the Light didn't want them remembering, nor you when you decided to stay?"
"Hell of a thing to remember alone," Bran said, with a flare of fierceness. "Will ... how did you manage?"
Will tried a smile. "What happened to being angry with me, then?"
"Shut up," Bran said quietly, and stared at Will with an intensity that, had he not been an Old One, would have made Will very uncomfortable. Instead he sat and endured it, and without meaning to he listened to the turmoil in Bran's head. Bran was terribly unhappy, wanted something to be angry with, but not at Will, never at Will, I can't possibly; and beneath the unhappiness was a depth of love Will had not been expecting, made up of equal parts grief and wonder and ardent loyalty. Will was the first to look away.
"Tea's getting cold," he whispered.
Bran laughed hoarsely and drank his. "And I ask again: what now? We turn up at the wedding and say 'Oh yes, hello, Simon Drew. I don't suppose you remember saving the world when you were small. I hope that ties up any loose ends for you'?"
"There's a reason the Dark came back," Will said with effort. "We were all told to keep the world alive; beauty and joy, Merriman said. But perhaps -- I've had the memories to hang onto. None of you ..."
"Beauty we have in plenty here," Bran said, a wave of his hand indicating the Dysynni Valley at large, "but your Merriman's marvelous joy has been in short supply." He studied his tea again. "And Jane. Simon and Barney. They're happy, Will?"
"Barney seems to be." Will sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Simon, I suppose, as much as being in love makes anyone happy. Jane, I don't know. I don't think so."
Bran laughed again, a bitter thing. "You know what keeps coming back to me? The moment after we'd forgotten. Just that first moment. I found that little stone in my pocket, the one Gwion had given me, and I didn't remember what it meant, or where I'd found it; I thought maybe I'd found it down on the beach weeks before. Just gave it away to Jenny." Bran's face went hard. "All that meaning -- nothing. Yes, that's a mistake worth correcting."
"I hated it," Will said. He did not mean to, nor had he known it, but now the words were out. "I hated it, but I didn't know -- I don't know how to give back memories. Only how to take them away. I don't think the memories themselves can be given, just called back. But even if I'd thought it then, I wouldn't have done it. It would have felt like selfishness."
"Stupid," Bran said with feeling; what feeling, Will could not at first place, before recognising the love he'd sensed in the undercurrent of Bran's thoughts. "A fine thing, both of us spending ten years in the dark --" a sharp laugh -- "for something you could have fixed right off."
Will was silent. He drained his tea, and asked quietly, "Did you love him any less for it? Your father?"
Bran's fingers curled tight around his teacup. "No," he admitted. "But everyone else -- myself, John Rowlands, you --"
"Me," Will repeated, startled. Bran looked up at him again, that quick flash of gold, and for all his knowledge he was unexpectedly afraid. Bran's fierce love was all right in the abstract, even admirable, but now it was focused on him. Will's mouth went dry. He wished very much he had not already finished his tea. "Bran --"
"Don't let it go to your head," Bran said easily, with a quick grin; letting him off, Will saw. But he did not want to be let off. This was Bran, the boy who had been brilliant, calmly facing the Lords of the High Magic and the entire might of the Dark, watching Will's back at every turning. This was Bran, the Pendragon, his comrade-in-arms, the rightful wielder of Eirias. This was Bran, who had grown up unknowing and angry, wearing his dark clothes and dark glasses, his unnaturally pale skin and vivid white hair, not with pride but with defiance. This was Bran, and he had forgotten what Will was, but never who Will was, had been happy to see him every holiday Will visited no matter how much time had gone by. Even before Bran had really known, he had trusted him.
"I don't mind," Will said, his voice only a little hoarse. "I mean --" and all the eloquence of the Old Ones failed him.
Bran grinned. "So Simon's wedding," he said. "Thought of a present yet?"
He dreamt he was in the Empty Palace, black floor beneath his feet, silvered mirrors reflecting a thousand Brans about him, a thousand freaks, a thousand Pendragons. Will had no reflection. He stood before a glass, staring at it with the corners of his eyes crinkled in concentration. "What do you think?" he asked.
"We only need a password," Bran said. "To hell with guidelines."
Will laughed, and breathed upon the glass, as though to draw a symbol, or a diagram. He wrote I am the love in every heart.
And Bran awoke, his own heart pounding as hard as though it had been a nightmare. It was quite dark out, so he could not have been asleep more than a few hours. All lights were off. Bran padded out into the hall to make sure, shivering in only his pajama bottoms; the light was out in Owen's old room, where Will was sleeping now, and none of the dogs had stirred. Bran shivered harder. I am the tomb of every hope, he thought, and nearly turned back to his own room before remembering the look on Will's face at tea. It was enough to make Bran grit his teeth and go into Will's room.
The bed was big enough for two. Bran slid in beside Will, who stirred a little and then made a soft, sleepy noise of complaint. "Y'r feet are cold." Bran had to chuckle at that, and Will's eyes flickered open. Bran's own were used enough to the dimness that he could see the half-awake confusion fill Will's face. "Bran?"
"I dreamt," Bran said, and struggled to recall. "I told you, no more prophecies, just -- just a password, and --" At first he could not go on. The words blazed up in his mind. "You said, I am the love in every heart."
"Oh," Will said, still not quite awake. Something flickered across his face, as though the words had unlocked something, an invisible wall vanishing. He reached for Bran, like a recognition. "The blaze on every hill," he said, "yes," and kissed Bran.
It was too sleepy to be graceful, but it was Will. Bran was suddenly so weak with joy and wonder that his arms could not support his weight. He sank down next to Will, and they lay together, hands in each other's hair, slowly waking.
"In the morning --" Bran murmured against Will's mouth, and Will shivered and said, not quite jokingly, "If you panic, Bran Davies --" but let the threat hang in the air between them, swiftly becoming meaningless.
"I won't," Bran said, and meant it.
Barney dreamt he was sitting on one of the high-tide walls in Trewissick, sketchpad on his knees. Ector, and old Captain Tom's dog Rufus, whom Barney had not seen in years, were frolicking together down by the water's edge, their happy barks echoing back. Barney was drawing them, in gesturing lines of motion. He kept his eyes fixed very firmly on the dogs, his sketchpad, the dogs again, and did not look up. He knew the sky was the sickly yellow-green of nightmare. The drawing would not come out right, and the unseen sky was very distracting.
Sir Kay came by, and sat down next to Barney. For a time he watched Barney sketch. Then he said, "You will have to look eventually."
"I'd rather not," Barney said. "Thanks all the same."
"How can you be an artist," Sir Kay asked, "if you will not try to see?"
"Now you sound like Jane," Barney said, snorting in disgust. Jane never said anything of the sort, but the tone was the same. "Don't you feel something's wrong, Barney."
"How can you not?" Sir Kay said mildly, in serious answer to Barney's mocking. "One need not be an artist nor a prophet to see the weather now."
"I just want to paint," Barney said firmly, but curiosity got the better of him, and he looked at Sir Kay to see if he had got the likeness right. With a sick nightmare jolt he saw it was not Sir Kay at all, but Great Uncle Merry, his white hair reflecting the garish green sky. "But," Barney gasped, "Gumerry," and Great Uncle Merry was still standing there, but much farther away; the sky was a brilliant blue now, and Great Uncle Merry was saying goodbye --
When Barney awoke, he found he was clutching his pencil and sketch pad. He kept them on his beside table, in case he woke with some burst of inspiration, but he'd never actually drawn in his sleep before. Hand shaking, Barney flicked on the bedside lamp.
There was no drawing. There were words scrawled over every inch of the sketch pad, in handwriting just barely recognisable as Barney's own: remember.
Elaine's family rented a lovely old manor-turned-hotel for the wedding reception, just down the road from the church. People had been coming in slowly, more of them at breakfast every day when Simon came downstairs. Barney had arrived earlier that week, Jane yesterday. Will and Bran were to come tomorrow, Midsummer's Eve. The thought made Simon unaccountably nervous; wedding jitters.
This morning Elaine was still sleeping when Simon woke. He watched her, trying to banish his dream from his mind. Elaine was lovely, her hair spilling around her in sleep-mussed curls. But watching her was not enough to free Simon's memory from the dream: he had been drowning, inside a cave or under a wharf, clutching at a telescope case he was on no account to let go of. He doubted he could explain the dream away with wedding nerves.
It was early, and not many people were awake when Simon came downstairs. In fact there were only two people in the breakfast room: Jane and Barney, hunched together over tea and toast. Simon came over, trying to muster up something jovial and inconsequential. He sat next to them in silence.
Jane handed him toast and poured him a cup of tea. Simon drank and fiddled with a crust. Barney said, "Here," and passed a much-creased piece of paper across the table to Simon. It was in Barney's handwriting. Remember, remember, it said. For a mad instant Simon thought of Guy Fawkes. "What --?" he started, and Jane interrupted in a tense voice, "Keep reading."
Barley, rye, lilies, willow, aspen, Barney's scrawl went on, like a mad grocery list. Pansies, fennel, columbines, daisies, violets, and Simon went hot and cold with shock.
"Not my best work," Barney offered, and made to take it back, but Simon put a hand over it.
"Something," he said. His brother and sister stared at him. He let go of the paper slowly. "You forgot rosemary."
The half-hearted effort at a smile melted from Barney's face. "I'll put in word to my subconscious."
Jane took the paper from between them and peered at. "Daisies, violets," she murmured. "Four walls, four towers. Barney, did you dream something about a walled garden?"
"Not a bit of it," said Barney in frustration. "Something about drawing Ector down in Trewissick, but nothing that would make --" He gestured at the paper and turned to Simon again. "Try this for size: I wrote all that sleeping."
"Not possible," Simon said, Dr. Drew in an instant. "During REM sleep the body is paralysed, and you haven't gone sleepwalking since you were four. It's likely you had another dream afterwards that you don't remember, and wrote it down. Loss of memory is a more common occurrence than drawing in one's sleep."
"All right," Barney said, and stabbed at his toast, looking less than convinced.
"Four towers," Jane muttered. "Doesn't it remind you of anything?" Her brothers both shook their heads blankly, and she sighed. "I'm sorry, Simon. It's your wedding, and we're dumping these silly things on you."
"It's all right," Simon said, more to Barney than to Jane. "That is, I came down so early because I had the most horrible dream. Like I was drowning." He frowned. "Someone was supposed to come save me."
Barney brought his fist unexpectedly down on the table, making the tea things clatter. "All we've got is dreams!" He calmed down a little. "Jane's right, Simon. It's your wedding. We can't let a few bad dreams get in the way of that."
Simon sighed. "I'd better take some breakfast up to Elaine, then."
Will awoke alone in rumpled sheets with the smell of frying eggs wafting into the room. He sat up, untangling the bedclothes, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He set his feet on the cold floor. He found his trousers and pulled them on. He squinted out the window at the beautiful Welsh morning. He pulled on his shirt. He padded into the next room, cleaned his teeth, brushed his hair. He stared at himself in the mirror and unremarkable Will Stanton blinked mildly back at him.
He had not felt so changed since that Christmas he had woken to a snowed-in wood. That Clwyd Farm looked the same as ever, that his own face showed no difference, was a comfort. Will scrubbed his face and went to the kitchen.
Bran was there in his habitual dark clothes, but he moved about the room with a new looseness. He was not yet wearing his dark glasses, and upon seeing Will in the doorway such naked happiness filled his face that it struck Will to the core. "Good morning," Bran said, setting a plate of toast and eggs on the table. Will sat and said, "Thank you," running on automatic.
They ate in companionable silence until Bran shoved his chair back and announced, "If we're off to Simon's wedding tomorrow, I'm doing early penitence and moving the sheep. Time waits for no man." He tilted his head, considering. "Well, maybe you."
Will laughed and began collecting plates. "Might I come with you?"
Bran flashed him another smile and slid on his dark glasses. Brightness lingered in the air between them. "Of course."
They set off with Bran's dogs in the direction of the Evans' house. Will could feel nothing of the Grey King's presence, and allowed himself to relax a fraction. Now, out here in the morning sun, with no breakfast to distract him and Bran tramping cheerfully at his side, Will had no more defenses.
Thought and memory opened like a floodgate: Bran, luminous and pale in the dark, swearing in Welsh when their clothes caught in the sheets as they fought to undress; Bran going unexpectedly reverently quiet, so Will had not felt foolish pressing his face to the crook of Bran's shoulder and neck, had not felt foolish because Bran had wound his hands into Will's hair and whispered something Will was too happy to properly hear. Having Bran so close was like reading Gramarye again, with the same attendant awe and vast unfolding scapes of knowledge.
"Penny for your thoughts," Bran said, pulling Will back to the bright morning. Will opened his mouth, ready to tell one of the automatic lies he had on hand whenever Bran interrupted ruminations on his other life; but he would not need those lies now, and he began laughing from the absurdity of it, and from delayed shock. He sank down onto a little patch of rock, and Luce bounded over, nuzzling his hand. He scratched behind her ears and breathed deeply until he no longer felt compelled to giggle.
Bran folded down next to Will. "I should have told you if you panicked I'd let the dogs eat you."
"They wouldn't dare," Will murmured.
"I am their lord and master." Bran reached out and scratched behind Luce's ears too, his fingers briefly brushing Will's. "Does your wisdom of the ages tell you to run screaming?"
"It doesn't tell me anything," Will admitted.
Bran looked smug. "I'm unprecedented."
"Don't let it go to your head," Will said, squinting out at the mountains. "It tells me you are Bran Pendragon come into your own age, and it tells me I am your vassal."
"No problems, then," Bran said, and only the slight tilt of his head towards Will betrayed any question in the words.
Will said nothing, trying to get his thoughts in order. Bran shifted a little closer and settled his shoulder against Will's, the warm press of solidarity. It was such a small gesture. Will felt around him the vast pull of Time. He could name all the distant stars and everything of the earth that was carried in Gramarye's great knowledge, and if Bran's true name was Pendragon it was mortal still, Bran Davies carried by that fathomless anger Will could not erase, Bran still unwritten. For all the ages of the world Will could not leave him.
"No problems," Will repeated, very firmly.
"Good," Bran said, and pressed a surprisingly gentle kiss to Will's forehead. "Now on your feet and let's say hello to your Aunt Jen. We've work to do."
In the evening Simon came upstairs from a game of cards with Elaine's father to find Elaine bent over cloth by the window. "Shouldn't you be fussing over your dress or something?" he asked, half-laughing. Elaine looked up, and his smile died. "Elaine?"
She appeared feverish, curls pressing damply to her forehead, but after a second she seemed to recognise him and brightened. "I'm sorry, Simon, I just got caught up in -- I wanted to finish this for Barney before the wedding."
It was that damned tapestry project, roses and rosemary and rue; the Thames Valley, Simon noticed now, and delicate blue curls of threaded water. He opened his mouth to say something admonishing about getting enough sleep and not becoming caught up in silly projects. He said, "How can I help?"
"Gold thread," Elaine said with some peculiar mix of exhaustion and relief. "Bottom drawer." Simon rummaged about for it, their fingers brushing when he handed it to her. Elaine's eyes met his, the same unfathomable blue as her embroidered River Thames. "Thank you, Simon."
"As long as it's done in time," Simon said.
Will and Bran caught a cab from the station to the address Simon gave them, a beautiful sprawling four-storey stone house in the Thames Valley. Bran felt a little uncomfortable so far from real mountains, but he saw at once his feeling was nothing on Will's. Buckinghamshire was Will's home, but all the same he looked about as far from at home as was possible to be, gone very pale and his jaw clenched.
Bran paid their driver and fetched their bags from the boot. "Will?"
"It's --" Will shifted his shoulders. "Nothing specific. Like feeling a thunderstorm coming on."
"Tomorrow's Midsummer," Bran pointed out, scuffing his trainer in the dirt. "Wonder if Simon picked it for a reason without knowing?"
"Possible," Will agreed. "Probable, even." He turned for the house.
"Will," Bran said. "I'll need help with the bags."
"Oh," Will said, turning back. "Yes, of course."
Together they walked up to the house. Someone must have seen them coming, for almost at once a young woman opened the door and came out to meet them. "You must be Bran and Will," she said happily. "I'm Elaine. You'll be up on the third floor, across the hall from each other; lift's down across reception."
Bran's first impression of Elaine was clean and genuine surprise. Everyone stared at him when they first met him; even Will had. But Elaine's glance had lingered on him no longer than on Will. There was nothing cold in this treatment, so Bran favored her with a smile in return and lugged their bags inside.
"Pretty," was his observation when he and Will were alone in the lift. Will said nothing, only frowned, and Bran had the fleeting ridiculous idea that the comment had made Will jealous. His second thought was nearly as mad, but nevertheless he said, "You don't suppose she's from the Dark, then, and Simon's going the way of poor John Rowlands?"
"No," Will said absently. "No, but -- didn't she strike you as familiar?"
Bran shrugged. "Not at all." The lift doors slid open. "Let's get the lay of the land, shall we."
In ten minutes they were both unpacked and downstairs, where they were accosted first by Simon, nearly as glowing as his fiancé, then by Jane, who embraced Will quite happily and then, after a hesitation, offered Bran her hand. He and Jane had exchanged letters on and off over the years, first with some adolescent embarrassment and then with good cheer, but Bran had not seen her since her summer holiday in Aberdyfi -- since the last rising of the Dark, murmured an awareness in Bran's head that he was only beginning to get used to again. Jane looked lovely and very grown-up, although this latter seemed a little self-conscious. Bran was amused to see she still had her hair in the same old ponytail.
"Jenny," he said with a grin, and shook Jane's hand with such solemnity that Jane blushed and relented, grinning too.
"And where's that rascal Barney?" Will wanted to know. "Off harassing Max?"
"No," Jane said, laughing. "Max is helping Mrs Wick with bunting or something. Barney's ... upstairs." Bran spared a quick glance at Will, and saw that he too had noticed Jane's fractional hesitation. "I think he's trying to finish up some illustrations for a book."
"Won't mind horribly if we interrupt, will he?" Will asked. "At the very least we could offer to take Ector for a walk."
Jane's smile was still quite genuine, but Bran noticed now that she looked as though she had not slept well in quite some time. "I don't think he'll mind," she said. "He likes having second opinions on his work. Room two-oh-six."
"Excellent," Will said, halfway to the lift already.
"Well?" Bran asked as they went up. "Professional opinion?"
Will frowned. "When you remembered things, what --?"
"Dreams, mostly. Not enough to make sense of," Bran said, shrugging. "A few screaming nightmares about the Mari Llwyd. Some about playing the golden harp, or walking through the Lost Land -- never enough to make sense of it."
The lift doors opened. Will hesitated, and stepping into the corridors asked, "How many were screaming nightmares?"
"Not many," Bran said. "Enough."
"Yes," said Will grimly, and knocked on Barney's door. "I thought so."
Jane had told Barney she'd found a toaster for her wedding gift, with such seriousness he was sure she was joking. Barney supposed she'd purchased something a bit more thoughtful, but as a good twenty-something bachelor he really couldn't think of anything better than a toaster himself. In a moment of inspiration he'd snapped a Polaroid of Simon and Elaine, and was copying it over, acrylics on canvas. By now Barney was almost entirely finished, shut in his room with the windows open to the summer air, touching up the painting, trying with light to pull Simon's eyes out of flatness.
At the knock, Barney jumped a little, mercifully without smudging anything. "Who is it?"
"Will Stanton and a mad Welshman," came the reply. "Let us in, Barnabas Drew."
Barney went to the door and pulled it open. "Keep sounding that ponderous long enough and you'll become Great Uncle Merry. Bran, it's wonderful to see you again." He shook the pale proffered hand and studied Bran's face, impassive behind his dark glasses. "Good journey?"
"Yes," Bran said, with a smile that may have reached his eyes. "Art project?"
"Oh, yes," Barney said, backing into the room so Will and Bran could come in. "Wedding present, actually."
"It's lovely," said Will, studying the painting closely. He sounded sincere enough, but his face was drawn into peculiar lines of tension. Barney thought, I've known Will for years, and I haven't him seen like this since -- But whatever he'd been thinking was gone before he could think it. Barney was left with a peculiar lingering certainty that Will would understand.
He said abruptly, "Will, something's going wrong."
"Yes," Will said, not surprised at all, turning to Barney. He was still the stocky London veterinarian who loved Ector as much as Barney and genuinely appreciated his art, comfortable and ordinary. But now something was burning in his usually mild eyes, and when he said, "Tell me," Barney did not even hesitate to obey.
He fetched the paper that read remember and handed it to Will, who gazed down at it in silence. Bran peered over Will's shoulder and swore softly in Welsh, then looked up at Barney sharply. "Does Jane know? Simon?"
"I showed them," Barney said. "Look, you don't just think we've gone mad?"
"Quite the opposite," Will said. "Listen, I don't want to bother Simon, not when his wedding is tomorrow, but -- Bran, would you fetch Jane?" Bran nodded, and a quick smile flashed across Will's face. Bran slipped out, and Will said, very carefully it seemed to Barney, "Has this happened before? How did it happen?"
Barney told him. Will frowned down at the paper. Barney fidgeted. "Will -- you're sure --"
"You're not mad," Will said with conviction. "You're dreaming things you can't possibly remember now, although obviously --" he waved the paper, then set it aside with a sigh -- "you very much need to. I might have guessed you were prophetic; artists often are, and the painter from the Dark used you ..."
"He painted the sky green," Barney said, feeling suddenly ill. "Will, what don't I remember? What is all this rubbish I've written down? What on earth is going on?"
"One question at a time." Will leaned against the window frame and gave Barney a long look. "Things you remember from your childhood, games -- they weren't games. The treasure hunt you took to find that chalice in Trewissick was deadly serious, and the summer you spent in Aberdyfi was more serious still." His knuckles on the edge of the frame were going white. "Whatever happened to your uncle Merriman?"
"Great Uncle Merry?" Barney sifted through childhood fondness and came up with a curious blank. "I suppose ... well, he sort of adopted my mum as family and he'd take us on holidays now and then, but he was important and busy, and he stopped having the time. He must have died a while back. I haven't thought of him in -- In my dream, Will, he was in my dream, saying goodbye." Barney rubbed his aching head. "It's just not the stuff you worry about."
"Yes," Will said. "The brain's very good at making up all sorts of excuses for the things it cannot explain."
"Jane's been dreaming too," Barney offered. "I don't think any of us are sleeping very well."
"But it's recent?" Will asked. At Barney's nod, he frowned and asked, "How recent? Be specific."
Feeling rather as though he was being cross-examined for a sort of medical affliction, Barney said, "A few months. Maybe since the new year? Jane will probably remember better than me."
Will nodded, and repeated the question to Jane when she arrived with Bran a short time later. Rather than looking surprised, Jane replied, "March," with great promptness. "I'm sure it started when I went to Trewissick."
"You went to the Greenwitch?" Will asked, sounding more as though he was asking after Jane's trip to the chemist's than about a spring holiday. "What did you wish?"
"Oh, I didn't," Jane said, tugging at her ponytail. "I mean, I don't know." She glanced over at Bran, impassive behind his dark glasses. "Something about wishing that I knew."
"Knew what?" Bran asked, in that particular kind tone he only adopted around Barney's sister.
Jane shrugged. "I think I was wishing to know that."
Bran made a little humming sound of consideration. "Will?"
"And since then, you've been dreaming, both of you?" At their nod, Will's face cleared a little. "I think your wish was well-timed, Jane, although perhaps not well-worded. Now what about Simon?"
"He said he'd dreamt of drowning," Barney offered. "But that sounds normal."
"I don't think so," Will said. "Not just now." The uncertainty was back in his face. He turned to Bran. "I can't make them remember, Bran, but they must. How --?"
"I was angry." Bran's mirrored shades turned in Barney's direction, in Jane's. The two siblings drew instinctively closer, although Barney knew what he was feeling was not quite fear. "I think they could both remember easily enough if they only tried." The sunglasses flashed; he turned to Jane. "Jenny, think of that holiday in Aberdyfi. We went on a walk, and you went down to the lake alone. Tell me what happened after."
The cool command in Bran's voice astonished Barney, and made him feel a strange echo of childhood, the thrill in his heart for Mallory and White. Jane beside him stood a little straighter, and said: "Will sang. I don't remember what; some church music, maybe. It made a great echo, like the mountains were singing too ..."
Then a peculiar change came over Jane's face. She went surprised and distant for a moment. "The mountains are singing, and the Lady comes," she murmured. "Like to like," and she shuddered, a whole-body shudder which reminded Barney strongly of Ector coming in out of the rain. "Oh Will --"
"I'm sorry," Will said, but Jane just shook her head. She looked very lost and small, and Barney was suddenly angry.
"All right," he said. "There is something terribly important happening, and now Jane's in on it, I see, so you'd better say the right words and quickly, Bran."
The mirrored shades turned on Barney again, and Bran slid them a little ways down. Barney was pinned for a moment by tawny eyes. Then Bran smiled. "You half-know already, I think," he said. "I think any of us could tell you, and you would know. But here it is, and quickly: your Merriman is Merlin out of the old stories. You have met King Arthur on a midsummer morning, and I -- no, don't."
This last Bran said because Barney had impulsively kneeled; but despite the protest he did not look uncomfortable, and Barney did not rise. Instead he bowed his head too, and stared at the floorboards to compose himself, remembering sandy beaches and the painter from the Dark and a high lonely hillside and the cool quartered circle he'd held clutched to his chest. Bran's booted foot came into his sight, and Barney did look up then, and accepted the pale hand Bran held out.
"All right," Barney said. "That's one difficulty over with. Now what on earth is going on here, and what is the matter?"
Jane went to Elaine's room with her thoughts in disarray. Part of her was terribly excited to be once more in the middle of this great battle, and happy that the Greenwitch had given her what she'd asked. Another part of her was shrinking back from the task that might be before them, because now that she was grown up, she understood the full horror of what they were up against in a way she simply hadn't been able to at eleven years old. And underneath all this was Jane's decision to be practical. Barney's writing was a prophecy, or it wasn't, and the Dark was trying to rise again, or it wasn't, but either way, Jane still had to help put on her brother's wedding.
She raised her fist and knocked smartly on Elaine's door.
Elaine answered the door looking quite as exhausted as Jane felt, or perhaps more so. Next moment, Jane wondered if she'd imagined it; at second glance, Elaine was fresh and bright-eyed, smiling out at Jane. "Yes?"
"Is there anything you need me to do?" Jane asked. "I'm at loose ends right now, so I thought I'd be useful."
"No, I'm --" Elaine started, but Jane caught a flash of colour past her shoulder. It looked like the corner of some beautiful, elaborate embroidery. "Oh, that's beautiful!" Jane cried.
Elaine went rather pale, not looking so bright-eyed and welcoming anymore. "It's nothing," she said, and attempted to shut the door in Jane's face.
Jane stuck her foot out. "No," she said, "please do let me see it." At any other time -- or even an hour ago -- she would have done everything she could to keep from being so inexcusably rude. Now everything seemed full of the potential for vast importance, and Jane supposed that offending Elaine was much preferable to giving the Dark any kind of foothold because she was concerned with social niceties.
"Well," Elaine said, wavering, and allowed Jane to come in. She trailed Jane to the embroidery, which turned out to be a richly-coloured tapestry of what looked like the Thames Valley in wilder days. "I'm terribly busy, Jane, I'm sorry," Elaine said, hovering at Jane's shoulder. "If you want to be useful I'm sure there's plenty of errands to be run."
"But what is this?" Jane asked, entranced. "Why, it looks nearly finished." She turned to Elaine in astonishment. "Have you been working on it here? With the wedding tomorrow?"
"I have to finish it before the wedding," Elaine said, very calmly. Jane could see tears starting to waver in her eyes, and realised that Elaine must be under a very great deal of pressure.
"Why?" she asked gently.
Elaine shook her head, turning away. Curls obscured her face. "I don't expect you to understand," she said. "You'll think I'm silly, or mad --"
"I'd believe just about anything right now," Jane said truthfully. Elaine still wouldn't look at her, though, and Jane frowned at the tapestry. The whole foreground was a riot of flowers .Something was beginning to itch in Jane's mind, some half-forgotten memory, not enchanted away but lost to inconsequence. She felt as though she was looking at something very obvious, if only she could puzzle it out. Flowers. Simon must know about Elaine's project, Jane realised, from his reaction to the strange list Barney had written up while asleep. She remembered, too, saying, Four walls, four towers; doesn't it remind you of anything? And suddenly it did.
"Four grey walls, and four grey towers," Jane said aloud, dusting off the old school memorization in her head, "Overlook a space of flowers,/And the silent isle embowers /The Lady of Shalott."
Elaine looked up, her eyes very wide.
"There she weaves by night and day," Jane went on slowly, "A magic web with colours gay."
"Stop," Elaine whispered.
"But she fell in love with Lancelot, and died," Jane said, with some confusion.
"It wasn't for loving," Elaine said. "The mistake was in falling in love with Lancelot, you see. When she did, she stopped working on her enchanted tapestry, and without its protection the enemies of the King gained another foothold in the world."
"But what about this time?" Jane asked, suddenly alarmed. "What makes Simon any different?"
Elaine was silent. They stared at each other for an awful moment, in which Jane wondered whether there was any coincidence in the world at all, and in which Elaine realised that Jane understood a little of who she was. "Lancelot didn't love me back," Elaine said finally.
"Oh." Jane didn't know if there was a right thing to say to that. "How did you come here from -- from there?"
Elaine took a deep breath. "When my enchantment failed, Merlin brought me and my father to this time. He said the tapestry would be stronger here; it would work like a defense to help the one Old One left in the world, until others arrive."
"To help Will," Jane said, and Elaine nodded. So she did know. But she still looked almost frightened. "It's all right now," Jane said. "Don't you see? Will's the last Old One -- or the first, he did try to explain -- and Bran --" Here she stumbled, not sure how much Elaine knew. Jane settled for, "Bran and Barney and I all know it. We only haven't got 'round to Simon yet because he's been out all afternoon making sure everyone's settled in here."
Elaine went very pale. "You mustn't tell him."
"No, listen." Elaine caught Jane's shoulders. "You can tell him anything you like after the wedding, but if he knows about the enchantment beforehand it will undo everything I've done. Weaving the tapestry and having it finished by Midsummer is only half of it; he also has to love me, for no reason but myself, as Lancelot did not."
"Or you'll just fade away pining?" Jane asked indignantly. "Elaine, I know I haven't spent enough time with you yet to say I know you well, but surely --"
Elaine smiled, small and sad. "Of course I'm stronger than that. But the enchantment must be held by two people. It's like weaving, in a way -- alone a thread is frail, but twine it with another and it becomes much more difficult to break." She let go of Jane and sank down onto the chair next to the tapestry. "I hope you'll forgive me. I didn't mean to bring any of you into this, but ... I love your brother, Jane."
"I know," Jane said quietly. "And don't worry. He loves you too, and Simon's the sort of person who always comes through."
Elaine only nodded. She couldn't afford too much hope, Jane supposed. So she slipped away, leaving Elaine to her sewing, and going herself to search out Will and Bran and Barney, to warn them.
Will barely touched his dinner that night. He'd heaped on just as much food as Bran, but when they'd sat down, he stared down at his plate as though he didn't understand what it was for. Bran, for his part, ate heartily and gently herded Will out of the dining hall and up to their rooms as soon as it was polite to do so.
"All right," Bran said, shutting the door behind him and giving Will a stern look. "Talk to me." Will simply shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed, so Bran rolled his eyes and sat beside him. "From what Jenny says, we're safe once they're married. You don't think Simon's the sort to get cold feet?"
"No," Will admitted. "But I still have the feeling that something awful will happen. The Dark can be subtle." He met Bran's eyes, very serious. "You know that."
Bran flinched. The reminder of what Will was left him a little shaken, though of course Will would do what was necessary before he would do what was kind. "I do," Bran said, more subdued than he would have liked.
Will winced. "Oh, Bran," he said. "I'm not -- I'm afraid I'm not very good at any of this. I've become so used to being secret about all this that the sharing feels dangerous." He gave Bran an apologetic smile, worn like a mask, but just as he had a Tywyn Station, Bran saw straight through. There was uncertainty in Will's eyes, and Bran couldn't help but let go of his stiff cold anger in the face of it. Will could name every star, but he did not know everything.
"Dewin," Bran said, gentle. "You do not live apart from this world, Will. You are more than an ordinary mortal, but --" and here Bran tilted his chin up and gave Will a look of deliberate arrogance -- "I have been more than mortal too. Trust yourself. And don't ever make me give encouraging speeches again."
Will smiled, a real smile this time. "You're the best lord a man could ask for, Bran."
"So I am," Bran said, since it was not in his nature to debate honest compliments. He leaned forward and kissed Will gently, and then less gently when Will responded. Some time later, they lay entwined on the bed with their clothes in complete disarray, Will's eyes shining with a half-disbelieving joy that Bran wanted to see every day forever, and Bran remembered the thread of his thoughts. "Whatever happens tomorrow," he said, "you know I have your back."
Even as he said it, he knew it hardly needed saying. Will just nodded, his face suffused with light, and Bran discovered, slow and wonderful, that he was happy.
Simon woke up on Midsummer morning in utter terror. Happily it was a very ordinary sort of terror. He hadn't had any nightmares; he was just getting married.
He looked across the pillows at Elaine, and saw that she was staring back at him with what was very likely a mirror image of his own deer-in-the-headlights look. Both of them managed smiles at each other that were equal parts fear and delight, so that was all right. Simon probably would have been worried if Elaine was calm.
The morning passed in a flurry of activity. There was a delicious breakfast in the now very full dining hall. Simon noticed in passing that Jane had engaged their mother in spirited conversation, which kept emotional scenes to a minimum. Barney was less successful at distracting their father, and was in fact looking very nervous and excited himself. It was just like Barney to take being Best Man so seriously. Simon was grateful for his company, though, in the time that followed: it was Barney who helped him tie his bowtie properly, Barney who made nervous jokes to pass the time before they were to walk out to the church down the road.
"I can't tell you how glad I am to have you here," he said fervently to Barney.
"Tell that to Elaine in an hour," Barney replied. Before either of them could say anything more, there came a spate of loud barking from the hallway, and Barney's eyes went wide. "How did Ector get in here? I'm sorry, Simon, it won't be but a minute."
"That's all right," Simon told him. Barney dashed out. Simon heaved a huge sigh of relief in the sudden quiet. The murmur of the crowd outside in reception was just starting to become annoying when someone slipped into the room. It was one of Elaine's cousins, Simon saw after the brief struggle to recognise him: Walter, or something like that. "Ah, hello," Simon said.
"I've come to bring you your buttonhole," Walter announced, brandishing a sprig. Simon eyed it doubtfully. It was certainly a plant, and it even had delicate blue flowers on it, but it was not a buttonhole.
"Er," Simon said, taking it in bewilderment. "I think this is rosemary."
"Oh, so it is," Walter said, laughing. "I'll forget my own head next. I was out this morning in the gardens. Silly me. Here's your buttonhole." This time he produced a much more respectable white carnation, and helped Simon thread it into his jacket. He didn't offer to take the rosemary back, though. "Well! I imagine you're excited."
"Yes, very," Simon said. He knew this was the normal, polite pre-wedding conversation, but the light oil on the rosemary sprig was making his fingertips tingle where he held it, and he could hear Elaine's voice in his head saying, Pray, love, remember. He was starting to feel very uneasy about the whole business.
"It's exactly like summer holidays, I should think," Walter went on. "Did you ever --"
Then something very strange happened. He stopped, going very still and quivering slightly as Simon had seen dogs do when they sensed danger. From behind Walter, in the doorway, came Bran's voice. "Hello."
"Bran!" Simon said, leaning around Walter. There Bran was, in his dark glasses and a well-cut suit, looking rather like an escapee from a gangster film. Never had Simon been so relieved to see Bran, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why.
"So you'll just be going, then," Bran said to Walter. To Simon's faint astonishment, Walter slunk out past Bran. Bran closed the door with a smart snap and turned to Simon. "I'll be taking that," he added, plucking the rosemary sprig from between Simon's fingers.
"I'm quite sure something important just happened," Simon said.
Bran sized him up. "Yes," he said, "and it's worth working out, but it can wait until after the wedding." He quirked an inscrutable smile. "You're wanted at the altar, Simon."
"Ah," Simon breathed with renewed terror, this information banishing everything else from his head. He followed Bran out into reception and across the wide green lawn to the church. Organ music floated out to them. Simon took a couple of deep breaths, and calmed a bit when they were actually inside. In here his lines were scripted, and Simon had more than enough motivation to play this part well.
He did as he was supposed to, moving to the front of the room to stand beside Barney, who gave him a discreet thumbs-up. Then the man at the beautiful old church organ began pounding out the wedding march, and Simon forgot everything except Elaine. Her hair was bound up in a crown of flowers, her white dress was trimmed with gold, and her face, when she met Simon's eyes, was full of that morning's hope and fear, turned incandescent. She looked like nothing so much as a Waterhouse painting brought to glorious life.
Simon could smell, faintly, the wild spice of rosemary.
Elaine glided up, arm in arm with her father, and slid her hand off his arm to clasp Simon's. He squeezed back, and they beamed at each other, hardly paying attention to the minister's words. Simon didn't much care about the sacred beauty of their union, anyway: he loved Elaine, and wanted to be with her, and the obvious thing to do was to marry her.
For a moment Simon glanced away from Elaine's face, out at the crowd. What he saw surprised him. Everyone was watching them, of course, but among the faces he could see Bran and Will and Jane and Walter all staring avidly, as though something much more important than a wedding was taking place. From the sudden prickling at the back of his neck, he could guess Barney was doing the same.
When he turned back to Elaine, there was a moment of stark terror in her face before she smiled again.
The smell of rosemary was much stronger. Simon blinked, trying not to sneeze. Worse, he couldn't quite focus on what was happening right in front of him. Instead he was thinking about summer holidays. Come to think of it, he hadn't properly seen Bran since that summer in Aberdyfi. That was the summer he'd nearly drowned, the last summer with Great Uncle Merry, the summer they'd all come together to stop the great Rising of the Dark --
"Oh," Simon said, greatly startled, taking a step back. The room had gone very still, the minister silent. He flushed, knowing he'd interrupted the service -- but when he looked around, almost everyone was frozen in their seats, not moving, not even breathing. The only mobile figures in the room were Simon's siblings, Will, Bran, Elaine, and Walter. Will was standing tall, his hand stiffly outstretched. Of course. He'd frozen everyone in Time.
"What --?" Simon started.
"You," Elaine breathed. He turned to her in alarm, but Elaine was looking past him, staring down Walter, who was starting to look nervous. "After all my father's done!"
Walter didn't try to make excuses. He fled. Bran started after him, but reluctantly subsided when Will shook his head.
"I would like to know what just happened," Simon said loudly. He had to be loud, for it sounded as though a summer gale was picking up outside.
"Walter got to you before we finished this." Elaine gestured sadly to the chapel around them.
"There might still be time," Barney put in, but Elaine shook her head. The doors began to creak, and Will started to look quite strained.
"I can feel the threads weakening," Elaine said. "It's over."
"What is over?" Simon demanded.
Jane and Elaine exchanged a look. Jane said, unhappily, "That tapestry she was weaving was a spell, to keep out the Dark until other Old Ones can join Will. Only she tried it before, and Lancelot ruined it. She was going to try it again, but ... you had to marry her without knowing you'd be aiding the spell, you see."
Simon gaped around at them. "That's the silliest thing I've ever heard," he said. Bran made a small, rough noise that might have been a stifled laugh or a sound of disapproval. Simon didn't bother sparing him a glance, but turned to Elaine. The wind outside the doors was very loud by now, but Simon spoke softly. "I suppose I'm glad to know that marrying you would make the world a safer place," he said, "but I'm marrying you to marry you, or at any rate I will be if you tell me I wasn't just a safe bet."
Elaine gave a watery laugh. "You're more difficult than a dozen men, Simon Drew."
"Then," Simon said, taking her hands, "you tell that spell of yours that I don't care whether it works, and I don't care how much mad magic you do without explaining it to me. I'm going to marry you anyway."
Elaine's eyes shone. Whatever she might have said, though, was cut off by the renewed sound of the minister's voice over the small noises of the assembled crowd. "Do you, Simon Drew," the Minister said, "take Elaine Wick to be your wife, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do you part?"
"I do," Simon told her seriously.
The sound of wind outside vanished as though it had never been.
"I think it worked," Elaine whispered to him, and wept.
The reception ended with Simon and Elaine roaring off in a gorgeous old car that belonged to Elaine's father, the JUST MARRIED banner on the back painted by Barney. He and Jane stayed outside the house with Will and Bran long after the car had vanished down the lane, but eventually Jane said, "Come on, we'd better help pack everything in."
Barney lingered for a moment. "I should thank you," he said to Will and Bran. "The world feels much ... fuller, now, somehow."
Will gave him a smile, grateful beyond words, but Bran turned to Jane. "Jenny?"
"I think I'm glad, at least," Jane said, after a long moment. She tugged at a lock of hair, down by her shoulder, since her ponytail had been let down for the wedding. "I'm not sure I'll know for a while. But I am glad of the company."
Bran nodded, then stepped forward and hugged Jane with the impulsive swiftness that Will liked so well. She went pink with happiness. It was hugs all 'round after that, but eventually the Drews disentangled themselves and went inside.
Will and Bran sat down on the stone steps at the front of the house, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder. "I think it went well," Bran said.
"For now, yes," Will said, and ducked his head in acknowledgement of the quelling look Bran shot him over his dark glasses. "All right, I won't be doom and gloom."
"Good." Bran stretched out his legs, impossibly long in their well-cut suit trousers. Will stared at the dust dulling the shine of his dark shoes and tried to think of a way to broach the next subject. He couldn't very well ask Bran to leave Clwyd Farm, no matter how Will longed to be near him. Nor was there much future for them; the knowledge that other Old Ones would come did nothing to dull the ache of knowing he must go on without Bran.
"How shall we do this?" he asked when he could no longer bear the silence.
Bran turned to him. "Go away for days at a time," he said, carefully, sounding out his idea, "for months of your own, for years, and come to me with new crow's feet at the corners of your eyes, with new visions of the universe, with new battles to fight, and I shall listen, and talk them out with you. So it will be a long while before we leave each other's company."
Will thought of it. It didn't sound half so bad as he'd feared. "And if I visit you on every day you have?" he asked.
Bran laughed. "I'll make you help with the sheep so you don't eat me out of house and home."
The last knot of fear and loneliness eased in Will's chest. "I should like that very much," he said.
Bran dreamt that he was standing outside a crooked old cabin in the Lost Land, Eirias a heavy, sure weight against his back. He went over to Will, and they walked on up the bright road while around them pale blossoms fell like rain.
When he awoke, Will was still beside him.