The sea. Everywhere, the sea. It was everywhere he turned, everywhere he looked. Slate-blue, laced with white foam, heaving up and down gently but massively, like a gigantic animal breathing.
The sea had been his world for a long time, longer than he could have imagined. Once he had dreamed of his old life, on the land, but nowadays the sea had even invaded his dreams. He was too exhausted to even resent it any more.
He woke up from yet another monotonous dream, and saw Calder doing something with a rope.
‚ÄėSnapped again,‚Äô came the explanation.
He sat up, blinking in the glare of the sun. ‚ÄėCan you fix it?‚Äô
‚ÄėDoing my best,‚Äô Calder said briefly. ‚ÄėYou sleep well?‚Äô
‚ÄėNo.‚Äô He rubbed his eyes. ‚ÄėYou would think I should, with all the practise. There‚Äôs nothing to do on this cursed boat.‚Äô
Calder scooped up some water to wet his face with. ‚ÄėI think you sleep worst of us all, Baragher.‚Äô
‚ÄėMaybe. I‚Äôve never been able to watch.‚Äô Baragher grinned weakly at his own joke and groped around for his waterskin. It was only half full, and the contents tasted vile, but he drank it anyway. He would have to refill the skin soon, but he didn‚Äôt relish the prospect. Visiting the water-barrels would only remind him of how low they were getting.
Calder had gone back to his work. Like all the men under Baragher‚Äôs leadership he was thin and weatherbeaten, his face reddened and leathery from exposure. He had always had an impressive beard, but recently it had grown longer and more matted, its reddish colour darkened to a grimy brown.
Baragher got up, ignoring the pain in his legs, and shuffled out from under the crude sealskin shelter. The boat had no decks, only a few wooden planks braced between the sides to serve as seats, and most of it was exposed to the elements. There was only just enough room under the shelter for every man on board to sleep, and the heat meant that most of the others preferred to stay outside.
Forty men had travelled with Baragher from Amoran, forty men who had won their freedom. He had led them over the sea to the islands of Meejain, confident at finding a new and better home to call their own. But there had been nothing on Meejain to satisfy Baragher.
Of those forty men, twenty-six had agreed to continue the journey further West.
Now, nearly a year later, only six were left.
Weeks ago their little train of boats had run aground on an island. It was tiny, barely big enough for a single village, but after long months of starvation it had seemed like paradise. They had gone ashore with the little herd of goats that had come with them from Meejain, and there most of Baragher‚Äôs followers seemed happy to stay.
But something had stirred in him, even then. Even after his friends had begun building themselves huts and had discovered fruit-bearing trees and bushes, he had not been content. There was still something left to do.
Only seven had agreed to continue the journey West. Seven men still loyal and mad enough to follow Baragher the wanderer. Now, they were six. Old Dolan had not been strong enough to survive this last leg, and they had buried him at sea.
When he emerged into the sunlight, Baragher looked toward the Western horizon yet again. There was no sign of anything but more water.
‚ÄėNo sign of land,‚Äô said a voice. ‚ÄėAs always. Look all you like, Baragher.‚Äô
The others were already up and about, all listless and crabby under the blazing sky.
‚ÄėThere‚Äôs no land,‚Äô young Fergal repeated. ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs nothing.‚Äô
‚ÄėI can see that,‚Äô Baragher said sharply.
The boy looked away. ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs no point. There‚Äôs nothing out there. We should have stayed with the others.‚Äô
Baragher ignored him and went forward. A sack of food, brought from their one remaining supply boat, had been stashed there. He opened it and gloomily selected a chunk of badly dried meat and some withered nuts. There wasn‚Äôt much else left to eat.
As he sat in the bows and chewed listlessly, the boat lurched alarmingly. He started, choking on his food, and the boat lurched again more violently. As it righted itself, something big and wet flopped over the side and landed at Baragher‚Äôs feet.
‚ÄėBragger!‚Äô the intruder bounced upright, grinning broadly. ‚ÄėSunrise at last!‚Äô
Baragher growled and sat down again. ‚ÄėTreeg. I might have known.‚Äô
The man grinned more broadly, showing several broken teeth. ‚ÄėTreeg visited the food.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou‚Äôd better not have stolen any,‚Äô said Baragher.
Treeg looked offended. ‚ÄėOnly checking.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow much do we have left?‚Äô
‚ÄėNot much for fat men like you!‚Äô Treeg said, and poked him in the stomach.
‚ÄėWe‚Äôll survive,‚Äô said Baragher, trying to convince himself.
‚ÄėYou eat Treeg next, for sure,‚Äô Treeg frowned and stomped off to find somewhere to sit.
Baragher watched him idly, wondering yet again just how much he really knew about this late addition to their group. The strange, black-haired man had joined them at Meejain. He spoke Eirean, albeit in a fractured and childish kind of way, and had seemed anxious to be off the island. The others had been suspicious of him, but he claimed to know many useful things about navigation, and after a while Baragher had warmed to him. He had certainly proven that he knew how to sail, and he had an uncanny ability to eat almost nothing without ever seeming to be affected by it.
Still, it was often hard to know what was going on behind those black eyes and that overenthusiastic smile. Treeg rarely talked about his past, and once when Baragher had asked him directly he‚Äôd got an odd response. Treeg had frowned at him and said ‚ÄėNever say where or why.‚Äô
That was all Baragher had been able to get out of him. Still, he was useful to have around, and it was hard not to like him.
Baragher glanced around the boat, mentally naming all of his companions. Fergal. Carag. Bevyn, his own younger brother. Kael. And Tarmon, barely fourteen, who had defied his grandfather to come along. Just now he was in halting conversation with Treeg ‚Äď the black-haired man fascinated him.
Baragher ran a hand through his own dirty-yellow hair, and smiled to himself. Not many of them, he thought, but they follow me. And he would lead them, come what may. No matter how far he had to go, how many days without food, he would find this new land. A land with no name, a land with no master. A virgin land, big and rich and full of wonder.
A land that he alone would rule.
Baragher‚Äôs blue eyes narrowed. I will find it, he thought yet again. I will. I won‚Äôt go back to Amoran, not for anything. In my land, there will be no master but me.
Several more days dragged by. On the sea, Baragher had found that there were many dangers. The heat. Bad water. Lack of food. The weather, always.
But one of the worst things, he had come to think, was boredom. It rotted the mind and frayed the temper. Arguments were common, and if they lasted or turned violent it was up to him to put a stop to it.
There were ways to fight the boredom, and storytelling was one. True stories or invented ones ‚Äď it didn‚Äôt matter. Baragher had no talent for it, but he enjoyed listening to the others. Treeg was one of the most enthusiastic storytellers, despite the fact that his audience usually didn‚Äôt understand half of it. He would shrug that off by bursting into song instead ‚Äď songs in his own harsh language, which he sang hopelessly off-key. More than once Baragher had had to haul him back into the boat after somebody tossed him into the sea. Treeg didn‚Äôt mind; he seemed to think it was hilarious.
But Baragher soon had other things to worry about.
They had sailed on doggedly, keeping the rising sun behind them as much as they could. But the sea and the wind had other ideas. Storms stuck, several of them. They weren‚Äôt hugely powerful, but they were enough, and all of them knew their boats weren‚Äôt strong enough to weather it forever.
The shelter was the first thing to go, finally breaking free from the last of its restraints to be hurled away by a powerful gale. Treeg leapt overboard and made a valiant attempt to swim after it, but the current dragged him away and he was barely rescued by a small barrel on the end of a long rope that Baragher hurled after him.
The weather calmed a little after that, but the departing storm had left something behind. Rain.
It pounded down relentlessly, day after day, and while it provided plenty of drinking water it did more harm than good, forcing the crew to constantly bail it out. Worse, it soaked into the food-sacks, and slowly but surely nearly all their supplies rotted. Without the shelter, everyone on board was constantly wet and chilled, unable to sleep properly, praying for the sun to come out again.
But it seemed the sun had abandoned them too. Fergal, Bevyn and Kael all fell sick, and with no medicine or good food to treat them Baragher knew they had little chance of surviving.
Then came the final blow. Another storm struck, much more violent than the last. The few people on board who were still strong enough did what they could to save themselves, but they fought a losing battle. Baragher stayed at the back of the boat, clinging on to the rope that connected it to the pair of supply boats that trailed behind it. Bevyn and the other sick men were on them, with the rest of the supplies, clinging on desperately while the sea‚Äôs relentless pounding tried to shake them loose.
The rope was hard and slick under Baragher‚Äôs fingers. He could barely see. The world around him was a roaring mass of grey water and grey sky, woven together by endless strings of rain. His hair and beard had turned into thick, dripping strands like seaweed, and the wind tore them back and forth to slap him in the face and neck.
Whipping me, he thought wildly. Whipping me to make me work harder. Work! Pull! Don‚Äôt let go! The whips-!
His neck ached, along those old scars.
Don‚Äôt let it end like this.
He felt the rope begin to come apart in his hands. Too exhausted to yell, he caught at the strands, trying to tie them back together. The rain slapped at his face, forcing his eyes closed. He gritted his teeth and threw himself forward, catching hold of the rope further along where it was still whole. The boats bucked and twisted, so hard it felt as if they were trying to escape the rope. Baragher hooked his legs under the seat at the back of his own boat, and held on grimly.
The rope beneath him snapped, and all the weight passed to him with an agonising wrench. He yelled, aware now of the others behind him tugging at his legs and waist, trying to help him. There wasn‚Äôt enough room for them to take the rope as well. He had to hold on alone.
He could feel the rope slipping out of his grasp, and dug his fingers in until his fingernails broke. It couldn‚Äôt save him. He kept up the struggle for as long as he could, until the storm finally stopped playing. It wrenched the rope out of his grasp with an easy twist, and he fell headfirst into the water. The sea forced itself into his mouth and nose, icy cold and burning with salt. Even then he tried to fight back, lashing at the water in an effort to swim after the vanishing boat. His whole body felt cold with the knowledge of what had happened, what was happening, inevitably pulling itself out of his control.
A bony hand caught him by the ankle and held on. Baragher kicked out, trying to break free, but the hand did not let go. When he finally surrendered to exhaustion and let himself begin to sink, he felt the hands catch at his tunic, dragging him upward, wrapping a rope around his middle. He knew he was being rescued, but he didn‚Äôt care.
When morning finally came, it brought Baragher consciousness.
It also brought the quiet knowledge that he had failed. He sat and listened dully as Tarmon told him what he had already guessed.
‚ÄėThe mast is cracked. One more strong wind and it breaks. The other boats are gone‚Ä¶ so are the others on them. And our food. There‚Äôs one water-barrel left. Some scraps of food.‚Äô
Baragher could see the survivors, lying exhausted around him. Carag and Treeg. They and Tarmon were all he had left.
Three of them. Three, when there had been seven to leave the island. And soon there would be none. Baragher had no illusions about that.
‚ÄėTreeg saved me,‚Äô he mumbled, latching onto something that felt like a minor detail.
Tarmon shook his head. ‚ÄėI did, sir.‚Äô
Baragher blinked. ‚ÄėThankyou.‚Äô
The boy didn‚Äôt seem to expect any further thanks than that. ‚ÄėCarag thinks we should fish again, sir.‚Äô
Baragher pulled himself together. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs got to be worth a try. Do we still have nets?‚Äô
Carag had been listening. ‚ÄėJust one.‚Äô He held it up. ‚ÄėI‚Äôve been getting it ready.‚Äô
‚ÄėGood. Throw it in as soon as you‚Äôre finished. Treeg, what are you doing?‚Äô
The black-haired man waved listlessly to him. ‚ÄėTreeg is happy to see you wake.‚Äô
‚ÄėAre we still on course?‚Äô Baragher asked curtly.
Treeg looked skyward, and shrugged. ‚ÄėWest, always West. Soon, we will find where the sun sleeps.‚Äô
‚ÄėThe only thing we‚Äôre going to find is our deaths, and you know it,‚Äô Carag growled.
An uneasy silence settled over the boat, as the tiny remnant of Baragher‚Äôs crew finally began to think about what they had lost ‚Äď and what the gods would surely take next.
Baragher closed his eyes, holding his grief deep inside him the way a man should.
At the back of the boat, Treeg looked skyward at the gulls riding the wind over the sea, and smiled to himself.
Despite all their efforts they didn‚Äôt catch any fish that day. The weather had calmed, but as if to mock their situation the sun came out from the clouds and shone down viciously, turning what had been cold and wet unbearably hot.
There was no sign of the lost boat, or of its occupants.
Of the four survivors, only Treeg seemed calm. He stayed in his accustomed place at the back of the boat, sharpening his precious spear and humming to himself.
That evening, when the time came to share out the pathetic remains of the food, Baragher refused to take any. He left Carag, Treeg and Tarmon to it and stayed in the bows, brooding in silence.
Night came at last, bringing blessed relief from the heat, and the others began to settle in for sleep. Baragher didn‚Äôt join them. Staying upright despite his exhaustion, he stared at the water and thought of Bevyn.
They had both been seperated from their parents and from each other when they were very young, as the way was in Amoran. But though Baragher had never seen his mother or father again he had been reunited with his half-forgotten brother many years later when they had been sold to the same mine. Bevyn had attached himself to Baragher from that day on, looking to him as a father-figure as much as a brother, and they had become inseperable. Many of Baragher‚Äôs original followers had been Bevyn‚Äôs friends ‚Äď Tarmon in particular.
And now Bevyn was gone. Just like that, he was gone. No reason, no explanation, just cold hard reality. He had been snatched away before his brother‚Äôs eyes, killed for the sake of a mad dream.
My dream. Baragher clung to it as he had clung to the rope that protected Bevyn‚Äôs life. My land. Our land.
But Bevyn was gone, and Baragher‚Äôs dream had gone with him. The new land had been nothing but a mirage, and so were all their hopes.
The boat lurched slightly under Baragher, and he turned and glared at the intruder. It was Treeg.
Treeg sat down close by. ‚ÄėMissing Bevyn, yes?‚Äô
Baragher looked away.
‚ÄėLook up,‚Äô Treeg advised. ‚ÄėSee up there? See the stars?‚Äô
They glittered endlessly, studding the blackness like a handful of tiny crystals.
‚ÄėAll souls go to the sky,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėTo be with the gods.‚Äô
‚ÄėGo away,‚Äô Baragher said again.
Treeg stayed where he was, but he stopped talking.
‚ÄėYou know why Treeg join you?‚Äô he said eventually.
‚ÄėYou are a man who dreams,‚Äô Treeg persisted. ‚ÄėTreeg sees that. Treeg knows you were going to places not Amoran. Treeg wants to go too, because Treeg has no home.‚Äô
Baragher finally stirred. ‚ÄėWhere did you come from, Treeg?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg comes from very far away,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėFrom a desert of snow. There are dark trees with no leaves, only many many spikes. Giant beasts live there, and kill many men in wintertime. Wolf, we call them. Great wolf. Hawoo!‚Äô¬† Treeg grinned and cupped his hands around his mouth, sending the call out over the dark waters. ‚ÄėHawoo! Like that, they yell over the snow. Bears, too. Very dangerous. But with good fur!‚Äô Treeg patted the shaggy pelt that was his only piece of clothing.
Despite himself, Baragher began to get interested. ‚ÄėYou were born there?‚Äô
‚ÄėAye, like all my people,‚Äô said Treeg. His black eyes became distant. ‚ÄėTara. Tara, it is called. Where my tribe hunts the deer and wolves call.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhy did you leave it, then?‚Äô
Treeg grinned his famous grin. ‚ÄėTo find a new land to rule. Like you. Treeg wants more than deer meat and peas and singing old songs! Like you. That is why Treeg follows this way.‚Äô
Baragher rubbed his head. ‚ÄėYou‚Äôve followed me to your death, Treeg. Like the others.‚Äô
Treeg only cackled and thumped him on the back. ‚ÄėTreeg has no fear, and the others should do like he does! This boat still lives, and this boat will float on.‚Äô
‚ÄėIf you aren‚Äôt afraid then you should be,‚Äô Baragher warned.
‚ÄėTreeg should be nothing!‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėTreeg knows this boat has something for hope.‚Äô
Treeg thumped him again. ‚ÄėThis boat still has its Bragger. Bragger brought it this far, and Bragger should fear nothing, because Bragger has Bragger. Always.‚Äô
Two slow days passed, while the crippled craft drifted Westward. The last of the rations were gone, and the water would follow soon enough. They caught a few fish in Carag‚Äôs net, which they ate raw. It was revolting, but by then they were too hungry to care. And still, it wasn‚Äôt enough.
And then, after nearly four days of starvation, their luck changed.
Treeg had taken to staying close to the side with his spear close to hand. Baragher had thought that could be partly out of nervousness ‚Äď Carag and Tarmon had both started muttering about how their navigator was bad luck and must have brought them to this on purpose. But if Treeg was afraid, he didn‚Äôt show it. He watched the sky and the water as if expecting to see something in particular, though he wouldn‚Äôt say what that might be. Then one day, not long after the sun had reached its highest point, he found it. Everyone, including the dozing Baragher, jumped in fright as Treeg, who had until that moment been sitting so still he might have been asleep, snatched up his spear and hurled it into the water. It disappeared with a faint splash.
A moment later, something huge flopped about just below the surface, dusturbing the endless ripples. It thrashed like a drowning man, and for a moment Baragher thought it was a man. But then it reappeared, moments later, leaping so high it nearly left the water altogether.
Treeg‚Äôs spear was stuck in it.
Grinning, Treeg seized a piece of rope that had been tied to the boat beside him, and began to pull. The thing he had speared came to the surface again, struggling mightily. Now Baragher could see the great rounded head, the sun gleaming off a silver surface, and for an instant the mad thought struck him that this thing was wearing armour.
Carag and Tarmon had realised what Treeg was doing, and they hurried to help him. Tipping the boat alarmingly, they took hold of the rope and helped the black-haired warrior haul in his catch.
The creature came, fighting every inch of the way, but when it was close enough Carag wrenched his knife out of his belt and stabbed it. Dark blood clouded the water, but the beast wasn‚Äôt done yet. It continued to struggle as Baragher threw the net over it, and the four men continued to beat and stab it, in a frenzy of violence driven by hunger.
Finally it was over, and their catch hung from the side of the boat, bleeding from a dozen different wounds.
The laughing Treeg leant over and worked his spear loose, careful not to break the tip. It was intact, and he dipped it in the sea to clean it before untying the rope he had attached to the shaft. ‚ÄėMighty hunters we!‚Äô he crowed, clapping Carag on the back.
Carag thumped him back and laughed out loud. ‚ÄėNot as mighty as you! Quick, help me get it into the boat!‚Äô
It took all four of them working together to drag it over the side, but none of them were unwilling. The huge fish landed with a thud on the dry timbers, its tail still twitching.
Baragher sat down to examine their prize, murmuring his astonishment. ‚ÄėBy Xanathus, what kind of fish is this?‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôve never seen the like,‚Äô said Tarmon.
The fish was nearly as long as the boy was tall, and much heavier. Its head was rounded, equipped with an enormous curving beak like a parrot‚Äôs, and its entire body was covered in segmented silver armour. The armour was made of some kind of thick and rigid scale, but it shone like metal. The eyes were big and boulbous, black all over, but the fins were small, and Baragher guessed the fish was a weak swimmer.
‚ÄėArmourfish!‚Äô Treeg declared.
‚ÄėDoesn‚Äôt matter what sort of fish it is,‚Äô said Carag. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs food.‚Äô
‚ÄėExactly!‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėFirst one to cut off a piece eats it!‚Äô
None of them needed any further encouragement. They took their knives and hacked the fish apart, tearing off the armour in big plates. Underneath there was thick, pale meat, and they sliced it away and ate the pieces at once. It was oily and rich, and to the ravenous travellers it tasted like the food of paradise.
As Baragher ate, some of his former confidence began to return. They weren‚Äôt going to starve. They were going to survive.
By the time they had eaten their fill there was still plenty of fish left, and the atmosphere on the boat was almost festive. The looks toward Treeg were much friendlier as well.
‚ÄėThankyou,‚Äô Baragher told him. ‚ÄėYou saved our lives, Treeg, and I can‚Äôt thank you enough for that.‚Äô
‚ÄėNeither can we,‚Äô Tarmon grinned.
Carag, on the other hand, looked solemn. He inclined his head to Treeg and said, ‚ÄėI owe you my life. If there is ever anything I can do in return, ask me and I will do it.‚Äô
Treeg accepted this graciously. ‚ÄėWe all eat now. And soon, we find land.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow can you be so sure?‚Äô Baragher asked at last.
Treeg pointed skyward. ‚ÄėThe birds,‚Äô he said.
The others looked too.
‚ÄėWhat about them?‚Äô said Tarmon. ‚ÄėThey‚Äôre only birds.‚Äô
Treeg clicked his tongue. ‚ÄėA bird never lands on water. Bird needs land to fly home!‚Äô
Baragher looked at the circling birds, very intent on them now. Slowly, the sense in Treeg‚Äôs words dawned on him. ‚ÄėThe birds‚Ä¶ then we‚Äôre close?‚Äô
‚ÄėHow close?‚Äô Carag demanded.
A shrug. ‚ÄėClose.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe‚Äôre going to live,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėI know it.‚Äô He gestured brusquely at his companions. ‚ÄėCut up the rest of the fish and wrap it up. Then get some rest. We‚Äôll need all our strength.‚Äô He grinned and pointed Westward. ‚ÄėOur new land is waiting just beyond the horizon. Soon, it will be in sight.‚Äô
If leaving the island had marked the true beginning of their journey, then the catching of the armoured fish marked its ending. On the following day a strong wind blew up, pushing them relentlessly Westward. Despite their earlier predictions the mast held up, and the boat ploughed through the waves toward the blaze of the setting sun.
Baragher didn‚Äôt sleep at all that night. He was still awake when the sun rose again.
And that was why he was the first to see the new land appear at last.
It was nothing at first. Just a blob on the horizon, only visible because of the flat greyness of the sea. When Baragher first saw it he thought he was imagining it. But it did not disappear, and he quietly realised that it was real.
Even then, he did nothing. Once he might have rushed to wake up his friends. Once he might have shouted, or prayed. But not now. He stayed where he was, quiet and still, and watched as his new land grew before him, little by little.
By the time the others woke up, the dark blob of land had taken on a shape ‚Äď vague, but enough. When Tarmon greeted him, Baragher said nothing ‚Äď only smiled and pointed.
The boy followed his finger, and his mouth dropped open. ‚ÄėIs that‚Ä¶?‚Äô
That was all Baragher needed to say. Moments later the boat had erupted. Carag began to laugh out loud, pulling Tarmon into a clumsy one-armed hug. Baragher too finally broke out of his strange calm and laughed with him, and the sound broke the cool stillness of the morning.
Only Treeg did not laugh. He smiled in a satisfied kind of way as he passed out pieces of fish, but he said next to nothing, and only watched for the rest of that day as the new land came closer bit by bit.
Baragher would never forget the first true sight of his new land. It rose out of the water, mountainous and craggy. Pale sand reached down to the sea, and beyond it the land was dark with the first vegetation he had seen in nearly a month. The sun was bright and the rocks along the shore looked almost golden under it.
Far below, seeming tiny in their little boat, the four men were awestruck. For Baragher, that moment was the moment when his dream came true. But just then he felt no joy ‚Äď only bone-deep exhaustion. He felt almost resentful.
The boat reached shallower water, and its occupants prepared to go ashore. Treeg, however, had other ideas. He picked up his spear and tied it to his back, stuffed an axe into his belt and dived overboard.
‚ÄėHey!‚Äô Baragher watched, infuriated, as the navigator swam ashore. He climbed up onto the beach, dripping on the sand, and turned back to look at his companions. Carag yelled a curse at him, but Treeg only waved back mockingly and walked off to sit on a rock.
Baragher hurled the anchor overboard, and half-fell over the side. He swam shoreward, clumsy after so much time spent in the cramped boat. Sand rose up to meet his feet, and he stumbled up and onto the beach.
Treeg stood up to meet him as the others struggled ashore. Typically, he was grinning as he made an expansive gesture at the land around him. ‚ÄėSo Bragger finds his new land!‚Äô he crowed. ‚ÄėJust as Treeg said. But old Treeg is still faster!‚Äô
Baragher took three long strides forward, and punched Treeg in the face.
The others ran up aggressively, expecting a fight. But Treeg got up, blinking, and didn‚Äôt try to hit Baragher back. He put a hand to his swelling cheek. ‚ÄėBragger‚Äôs right arm is strong.‚Äô
Bragger cracked his knuckles. ‚ÄėIt could have been much stronger. Mock me again, darkman, and I‚Äôll show you how strong.‚Äô
Treeg gave him a sly look. ‚ÄėRulers need strong right arms. Treeg knows! Come see your new land with him, and be happy.‚Äô
Baragher shoved past him and walked up the beach toward the trees, leaving his companions to follow. He quickly forgot the smirking navigator once he had left the beach and his boots crunched over dry leaves.
He lifted his head and sniffed, filling his nostrils with a dry, spicy scent unlike anything he had ever smelt before. He went over to the nearest tree, running his hand over its smooth white trunk. Scraps of brown bark were clinging to it, but they fell away easily, and underneath it was as pale as milk. Some of the whiteness came away in a fine powder on his fingers, and he sniffed it cautiously.
Nearby Carag and Tarmon were wandering around, murmuring in astonishment at each new thing they found. The white-trunked trees had leaves with a tapering shape completely different to anything he had ever seen before. They were an extraordinary grey-green colour, and had a waxy shine to them. Baragher tasted one and spat it out at once ‚Äď it tasted vile.
‚ÄėLook at this!‚Äô Tarmon had found a plant that looked like an oversized grass. Long, slender stems rose out of the blades, heavy with some odd bean-sized purple fruit.
‚ÄėAt last!‚Äô Baragher laughed, eagerly snatching several fruits. He stuffed one in his mouth and chewed it. A moment later he spat it out. ‚ÄėUgh!‚Äô
Carag and Tarmon had already tasted the fruits and had had similar reactions.
Carag wiped his mouth on his arm. ‚ÄėFoul. Is there nothing here we can eat?‚Äô
‚ÄėWe‚Äôll find something soon,‚Äô said Tarmon.
They wandered further in among the trees, in search of anything edible. There was nothing. The few berries they found were tiny and bad-tasting, and the roots they dug up were nothing but dirt-encrusted woody tangles.
Dispirited, they walked back toward the beach. Treeg was nowhere in sight, but they ignored the fact and began to forage around the shoreline and the rocks. To Baragher‚Äôs great relief, they found plenty of shellfish and some edible seaweed, and even a small octopus that Tarmon caught. It would do.
Carag swam back to the boat and brought back their meagre luggage, and together the three men returned inland. They had all seen enough of the sea to last them a lifetime. Further in among the trees they found a stream. The water in it was silvery-clear and delicious, and there were frogs and small fish to catch.
‚ÄėWe‚Äôll go further on,‚Äô Baragher declared. ‚ÄėFollow the stream until we find a good camp.‚Äô
The others agreed, and they walked on at an easy pace, enjoying the scenery.
‚ÄėWhere did Treeg go?‚Äô Tarmon wondered aloud at one point.
Carag shrugged. ‚ÄėHe‚Äôll show up again, or maybe not. It makes no difference to me. We‚Äôve found our land, and that‚Äôs all that matters.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt is,‚Äô Baragher said, from up ahead. ‚ÄėThis land is ours now. Our journey is done.‚Äô
Carag and Tarmon both cheered at that.
The stream eventually led them to rocky country at the base of the mountains. They found a large overhang, perfect for camping, and traipsed into it gratefully.
As Carag stepped over the smooth dirt floor, he stopped and crouched. ‚ÄėWhat‚Ä¶?‚Äô
Baragher went over to him. ‚ÄėWhat is it?‚Äô
Carag had found a dark patch on the floor. He scraped some dirt away and removed a black lump. ‚ÄėCharcoal,‚Äô he said.
‚ÄėLook at this!‚Äô Tarmon called from nearby. ‚ÄėI don‚Äôt believe it!‚Äô
Baragher stood up. ‚ÄėHoly sun‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėPaintings!‚Äô Tarmon exclaimed. ‚ÄėThey‚Äôre everywhere!‚Äô
Baragher walked to the nearest wall and examined the marks. Someone had made pictures, in reds and browns, whites and yellows. Animals, mostly, but drawn in a style he had never seen before.
Tarmon had gone pale. ‚ÄėWho could have done this? Treeg?‚Äô
‚ÄėDon‚Äôt be ridiculous.‚Äô Baragher scraped some of the paint away and examined the stains on his fingertips. ‚ÄėCrushed rock?‚Äô he wondered aloud. ‚ÄėMud?‚Äô
Carag looked openly afraid, something very unusual for him. ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs something else here, Baragher,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėThis land could have anything here waiting for us. I‚Äôve heard the stories. Giant insects with the face of men, who paint their lairs with the blood of children. Harpies. Even demons. Nobody‚Äôs ever been here ‚Äď we don‚Äôt know what could be hiding in these rocks.‚Äô
‚ÄėNo.‚Äô Baragher took him by the shoulder. ‚ÄėCalm down. I know what did this. And it wasn‚Äôt monsters. It was just men.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow can you be so sure?‚Äô Tarmon demanded.
‚ÄėLook.‚Äô Baragher pointed. There were prints on the wall to his left.. Baragher spread his fingers and placed his hand over one. It was almost exactly the same size. ‚ÄėHand prints,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėHuman hands.‚Äô
Carag looked only slightly less disturbed. ‚ÄėThen this land isn‚Äôt empty. And whoever lives here won‚Äôt be pleased to see us. They could be a danger.‚Äô
‚ÄėAgreed,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôll have to keep our weapons close.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt stay here,‚Äô said Tarmon. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs their place.‚Äô
‚ÄėLook around,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs obvious this place has been abandoned for a long time. I don‚Äôt see why they‚Äôd come back. And if they do, we‚Äôll‚Ä¶‚Äô he hesitated. ‚ÄėTry and be peaceful. There‚Äôs no need to fight. They could be friendly.‚Äô
‚ÄėI hope,‚Äô Tarmon murmured.
Baragher grinned. ‚ÄėAfter what we‚Äôve survived, nothing can be a danger to us. Besides, aren‚Äôt you dying to eat cooked food again?‚Äô
‚ÄėYes sir!‚Äô Tarmon almost ran to gather firewood.
Baragher and Carag helped him, and before long they had a good fire going. The leaves of the white-trunked trees burned well and gave off a wonderful smell, and the food they cooked over it picked up the flavour. The three travellers enjoyed a makeshift feast, too tired and relieved to care about any danger, or even the question of whether they would find more food tomorrow. Tarmon even sang a song after they had eaten, and Carag joined in.
‚ÄėWe should make a new song,‚Äô the boy remarked afterwards. ‚ÄėA song about our voyage. A song about Baragher‚Äôs great journey!‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll leave that to people who can sing.‚Äô Baragher laughed.
A little later Baragher got up to examine the paintings, taking a burning branch with him for light.
‚ÄėWhat are you doing, sir?‚Äô Tarmon asked.
‚ÄėI want to see more of what they painted,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėIf they painted animals, I want to see those. I want to know what we might meet.‚Äô He peered at the nearest painting. It depicted a snake, criss-crossed with slender white lines. Further along there was a doglike animal, and something with what looked like spines. He saw birds, too, and an oversized lizard. And beyond that, there was‚Ä¶
There was a shout from Carag, behind him. Baragher turned sharply, reaching for his knife, but relaxed when he saw that it was only Treeg. The black-haired man had wandered into the overhang, carrying his spear and humming to himself.
‚ÄėTreeg. There you are,‚Äô said Baragher, a little more friendly now and thinking that it would be useful to have him back if they ran into these mysterious cave-painters.
Treeg held out an arm. ‚ÄėBragger! Treeg is happy to lay eye on him again. And his good friends.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhere have you been, Treeg?‚Äô Tarmon asked, with a note of relief.
‚ÄėSeeing Bragger‚Äôs new land,‚Äô Treeg replied. ‚ÄėHunting its beasts.‚Äô He unhooked a furry bundle from his belt and offered it to Baragher. ‚ÄėGood game here!‚Äô
Baragher took the dead animal gladly. It was about the size of a cat, but its naked paws were ratlike and it had a pointed face with large, petal-shaped ears. ‚ÄėThankyou, Treeg. Do you want to eat it with us?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg would be honoured.‚Äô Treeg sat down by the fire, leaving Baragher to skin and gut his catch. ‚ÄėSo Treeg‚Äôs friends have come to find caves to live in.‚Äô
‚ÄėNot just caves,‚Äô said Tarmon. ‚ÄėLook at that.‚Äô He gestured at the paintings.
Treeg got up and went to inspect them. ‚ÄėAh! Beautiful!‚Äô
‚ÄėDangerous,‚Äô Carag growled. ‚ÄėWe don‚Äôt know who left them, but they must be here somewhere.‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg, have you seen anything?‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėPeople? Signs of them, maybe?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg saw them. Most clever painters.‚Äô
Baragher stood up sharply. ‚ÄėYou saw them?‚Äô
Treeg nodded. ‚ÄėMenfolk with their spears. Treeg did not know their speech.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat were they like?‚Äô Tarmon asked. ‚ÄėWere they like us?‚Äô
Treeg shook his head. ‚ÄėDark people. Earth people.‚Äô
‚ÄėDark like you?‚Äô said Carag.
‚ÄėNo. Dark in the skin.‚Äô Treeg slapped his arm. ‚ÄėAmorani.‚Äô
Baragher‚Äôs heart sank. ‚ÄėAmoranis? There are Amoranis here?‚Äô
‚ÄėWere they friendly?‚Äô said Tarmon.
A grin. ‚ÄėPerhaps. Not to Treeg. They were afeared of Treeg. Wise people,‚Äô he added, to himself.
Tarmon rubbed his eyes. ‚ÄėAmoranis. I don‚Äôt believe it. They came here first. This must be their land. And if they see us‚Ä¶ sacred sun, we shouldn‚Äôt have come here.‚Äô
‚ÄėMaybe this wasn‚Äôt the new home we hoped for after all,‚Äô Carag said unhappily.
Treeg had been inspecting the paintings. Now he turned abruptly to look at them all. ‚ÄėSo what does Bragger‚Äôs brave people do now? Go away? Does this land not want them?‚Äô he went to the wall and pointed at the paintings. ‚ÄėTreeg sees more. Treeg sees a land not far from his home. Different, but good! New things, old things. The spirits gave signs for him to see.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat signs?‚Äô said Baragher.
Again the grin, and Treeg began to walk along the wall. He slapped the painting of the doglike creature. ‚ÄėWolf!‚Äô he said. Now a bird with a pointed beak. ‚ÄėCrow!‚Äô the snake now. ‚ÄėAdder!‚Äô Now he found a picture of a small, squat creature with round ears. ‚ÄėBear! Here, here is Magpie. Owl. Hedgepig.‚Äô
‚ÄėNo deer,‚Äô Carag muttered.
‚ÄėDeer comes later!‚Äô Treeg waved the objection away. ‚ÄėTreeg did not come to find a land he knew, but he came to know it. Soon, he will know.‚Äô
‚ÄėHe‚Äôs right,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėThis land might be strange, but we‚Äôll learn to understand it. All we have to do is try.‚Äô He squared his shoulders. ‚ÄėAnd if these Amoranis give us trouble, well then‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėThey destroyed our homeland,‚Äô said Carag. ‚ÄėSo we‚Äôll make this our new homeland. And by the great sun, if they try and stop us we‚Äôll repay them in kind!‚Äô
‚ÄėYes!‚Äô Baragher thundered. ‚ÄėThat‚Äôs exactly what we‚Äôll do. We‚Äôve come to far to be stopped now.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut there are so few of us,‚Äô Tarmon said.
‚ÄėWe‚Äôll go back, then,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėBack to the island. We‚Äôll meet the others there and bring them with us. But later,‚Äô he added. ‚ÄėWhen we‚Äôre ready.‚Äô
Treeg had been listening politely. ‚ÄėFight, brave Bragger,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėAmoranis are nothing. This land has worse danger.‚Äô
Baragher stopped to look at him. ‚ÄėWhat do you mean? What danger?‚Äô
Treeg had lost his smile. He picked up a burning stick from the fire and lifted it over his head, illuminating the roof. High above them, covering the stone, there was another painting. But this was of something huge.
Wings spread from wall to wall, the feathers reaching like fingers. Talons curved around to grasp the head of a flailing man many times smaller than their owner. Baragher saw the beak, open to spew some kind of red and yellow river. Further back there were long, powerful hind legs and a curving tail, and bewilderment struck into him. Wings, but four legs. Not a bird, not a beast. What‚Ä¶?
‚ÄėWhat is that?‚Äô he whispered.
Treeg looked grim. ‚ÄėGryphan,‚Äô he said.
It was warm that night, and the four travellers prepared to sleep in the overhang. Carag and Tarmon fell asleep quickly, but Baragher didn‚Äôt join them. He was exhausted, but his mind was too full to sleep. And it was strange, to be lying on a surface that didn‚Äôt move.
Finally giving up, he rose and walked quietly out of the overhang. The moon was bright, and he found a log to sit on and look up at the stars.
On a boat at night, the stars were the only thing worth looking at. Here they were framed by trees, and Baragher traced the shapes of the constellations, wondering if any of them had names.
As he sat, lost in thought, a faint sound disturbed him. He glanced around despite the fact that it was too dark to see anything, and realised it was coming from above.
His skin prickled.
Moving slowly and carefully, Baragher stood up, drawing his knife. He inched closer to the sound, listening intently.
Eventually, he realised it was a voice.
‚ÄėWho‚Äôs there?‚Äô he called.
The voice went silent at once.
Baragher gripped the knife more tightly. ‚ÄėSpeak out. Tell me who you are.‚Äô
Silence, and then a rustling of leaves. ‚ÄėBad luck to disturb Treeg when he prays.‚Äô
Baragher relaxed. ‚ÄėTreeg! Damn it, don‚Äôt do that.‚Äô
‚ÄėNo man tells Treeg he cannot pray,‚Äô the navigator said, into his ear.
Baragher jerked away and nearly stabbed the man in his fright. ‚ÄėWhat the-?‚Äô
Treeg cackled as he slid into the moonlight. ‚ÄėTreeg moves quietly. No need to fear.‚Äô
‚ÄėI wasn‚Äôt afraid,‚Äô Baragher snapped. ‚ÄėWhat were you doing?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg prays,‚Äô said Treeg.
‚ÄėIn a tree?‚Äô
‚ÄėTree is closer to moon,‚Äô Treeg pointed out.
‚ÄėI see. You worship the moon?‚Äô
‚ÄėThe moon rules Treeg‚Äôs tribe,‚Äô said Treeg. He made an arc in the air with his hand, fingers spread. ‚ÄėIn moonlight, many things happen.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut the sun gives life,‚Äô said Baragher.
‚ÄėSun burns,‚Äô Treeg said darkly. ‚ÄėSun dries. The moon is gentle. See how her sweet light shines! She tells us, there is no fear in darkness. Night is a friend. Warriors of Tara, take heart!‚Äô
‚ÄėDarkness is deception,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėLies. Fear. Death.‚Äô
Treeg, visible only in sillhouette, nodded. ‚ÄėFriends a man uses, when he does not fear them. Treeg fears nothing. Fear is what he gives to his enemies. And Bragger?‚Äô suddenly Treeg was much closer. ‚ÄėTreeg wonders what Bragger fears.‚Äô
‚ÄėI fear nothing.‚Äô
‚ÄėDeath.‚Äô Treeg prodded him with a long finger. ‚ÄėFailure. Chains. Hunger. Bragger fears many things!‚Äô
‚ÄėStop that,‚Äô Baragher snapped. ‚ÄėI want to know something.‚Äô
‚ÄėThat painting you showed us ‚Äď that thing on the ceiling. What did you say it was?‚Äô
‚ÄėGryphan,‚Äô said Treeg.
‚ÄėWhat is that?‚Äô
Treeg stood against the moon, raising his hands dramatically. ‚ÄėGryphan is not beast, and is not bird. Eagle‚Äôs wings, lion‚Äôs paws, beak and talons sharp as bronze. Gryphan flies, and runs. Bigger than a horse, cunning like a man. Vicious like nothing but Gryphan.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou‚Äôve seen one?‚Äô
‚ÄėOnly one,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėGryphan is in Amoran, too, in the wilds where man never goes. Treeg saw one come when hunters went near its lair. Treeg saw it tear a man‚Äôs head from his neck.‚Äô
Baragher thought of the terrible painting. ‚ÄėThey‚Äôre here too. They must be.‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg sees no other reason for the earth-people to paint them. Bragger must beware, or it will be his head Gryphan takes.‚Äô
‚ÄėDo you know if they can be killed?‚Äô
Treeg shrugged. ‚ÄėGryphan is alive. What lives, dies. Treeg knows! But the fight will be hard. Kill a wolf, kill a bear ‚Äď hard, but men can do it. Gryphan is not wolf, Grphan is not bear. Gryphan thinks. Gryphan has magic.‚Äô
‚ÄėMagic! What magic?‚Äô
‚ÄėMagic to kill.‚Äô
‚ÄėGreat sun.‚Äô Baragher slammed his head onto his hands. ‚ÄėWhat will we do if we meet one? And what about these Amoranis? There are so few of us‚Ä¶‚Äô
Treeg laughed. Not his usual slightly mad cackle, but a low, cool laugh that sounded rather contemptuous. ‚ÄėTreeg thinks Bragger is brave, but not clever like Treeg. Always questions, never answers! If Bragger needs others, then Bragger must find them! Go to the island and bring them back! Send men to Amoran, to spread stories of Bragger‚Äôs new land.‚Äô
‚ÄėI could do that,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėBut to bring enough people here‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėTell them there is freedom, tell them there is wealth,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėTell them every man here would be rich. They would know nothing but what Bragger said.‚Äô
Baragher grinned to himself. ‚ÄėA land of milk and honey, eh?‚Äô
‚ÄėBragger‚Äôs land is what Bragger tells it to be,‚Äô Treeg said firmly. ‚ÄėSay it is warm and wonderful and full of Cymran fruits.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs a good idea,‚Äô Baragher admitted grudgingly. ‚ÄėI might do that.‚Äô
‚ÄėNew lands need men,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėAnd women!‚Äô he cackled. ‚ÄėSweet women, to cook and to gather, and to make little Braggers!‚Äô
Baragher couldn‚Äôt help but have a moment of wistful reflection. It had been a very long time since he had seen a woman.
The two of them sat in silence for a while, almost companionably.
‚ÄėTreeg?‚Äô Baragher said eventually.
‚ÄėYou‚Äôve helped us so much. I have to admit that. If it wasn‚Äôt for you we never would have landed here alive. And now we‚Äôre here, you‚Äôre still helping us.‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg thinks Bragger needs help.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe all do. You‚Äôre a mystery, Treeg. I‚Äôve known you for a long time, but I barely know you at all. Is Treeg even your real name? Why were you at Meejain? How do you know so much?‚Äô
Treeg was silent for a while. ‚ÄėTreeg‚Äôs time is ending,‚Äô he said at last. ‚ÄėEnding soon. That was why he prayed.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat do you mean, ending? Are you dying?‚Äô
Treeg laughed softly. ‚ÄėSoon Treeg will be gone. Maybe the eye of man will never see him again. But Treeg is happy. His time was his own and he liked it well.‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt understand,‚Äô said Baragher.
‚ÄėLife is for learning. Treeg knows!‚Äô with that, Treeg laughed again and vanished into the night.
Baragher expected Treeg to be gone by morning, but after sunrise when Carag and Tarmon were building the fire the navigator returned. He had a large dead animal slung over his shoulder, and dumped it by the fire without ceremony.
Carag turned it over. ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs this, Treeg?‚Äô
‚ÄėBear,‚Äô Treeg said briefly. ‚ÄėBurrowing bear. Treeg dragged it from its hole.‚Äô
‚ÄėI know!‚Äô Tarmon said. He pointed at the wall. ‚ÄėThere it is! See? It‚Äôs painted there!‚Äô
Baragher followed his pointing finger. Sure enough, the painting depicted a barrel-shaped creature with short legs and heavy talons meant for digging. Its head was blunt and had small ears and a big round nose. The painting wasn‚Äôt exactly true to life, but it was very close.
‚ÄėWell done,‚Äô Carag told Treeg. ‚ÄėHere, help me clean it and we‚Äôll eat it.‚Äô
‚ÄėThe bear is food for Bragger and his friends alone,‚Äô said Treeg.
‚ÄėWhy?‚Äô said Tarmon. ‚ÄėNot hungry?‚Äô
‚ÄėToday is Treeg‚Äôs day.‚Äô
Baragher stepped closer to him. ‚ÄėWhat do you mean? What happens today?‚Äô
Treeg was smiling. ‚ÄėToday Treeg goes. But first, he has a thing he must do.‚Äô With that, he drew his arm back and punched Baragher square in the jaw.
The blow was shockingly powerful. Caught off-balance and with stars exploding in his eyes, Baragher toppled backward.
Treeg stood over him, still smiling. ‚ÄėEvery blow Treeg takes, Treeg returns.‚Äô He knelt and snatched up the axe Baragher had dropped, taking the opportunity to steal the knife from his belt as well.
Carag and Tarmon yelled in outrage and rushed at Treeg.
The black-haired navigator showed no fear. He shoved the knife into his bearskin and ran away into the trees, laughing like a lunatic until he was out of sight.
Baragher had managed to get up, and he pushed away Tarmon‚Äôs attempts to help him. ‚ÄėLet him go,‚Äô he growled, rubbing his jaw. ‚ÄėHe won‚Äôt be back.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut where was he going?‚Äô said the boy.
‚ÄėBragger doesn‚Äôt know and Bragger doesn‚Äôt care,‚Äô Baragher muttered. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôre on our own now.‚Äô
Treeg walked with his spear in his hand and the axe at his hip, barefoot on the dry earth. He moved unhurriedly but deceptively fast, making scarcely a sound.
Now that he was out of sight of Baragher, the ever-present smile had gone. His eyes were narrowed against the sun, and he moved with purpose, heading Northward.
Treeg did not like this new land as much as he had hoped. It was too dry, too barren, too full of stones. The sun was too bright. It baked the land and leeched the life out of it, and it beat on his pale skin and burned it. His eyes ached in the glare, and he felt sick and uneasy.
He had meant to stay with Baragher a little longer than he had, but after the first day and night following their arrival he had quickly realised that there was nothing to be gained from staying. The pale-haired ones had brought him as far as they were going to, and it was clear enough from their dithering about that they weren‚Äôt going to do much more soon. Most likely they would starve to death, or be killed by the earth-people. Treeg had his own affairs to worry about now, and Baragher‚Äôs mad schemes could play out however they chose.
Treeg walked for the rest of that day, without stopping to rest. He wished the sun would sink. The night had been made for hunting, but most of all it had been made for him.
Toward evening, he saw earth-people again.
He heard them before he saw them, and when the faint sound of voices reached his ears he tensed and moved sideways into the shadows. Safely hidden, he crept closer to see.
There were only a handful of them ‚Äď a group of four men, dark as night. They wore nothing but simple loincloths, and from the spears and stone-bladed axes they carried Treeg knew they were hunters.
The earth-people stood together in a little group, talking quietly in their own language. Debating where to go, perhaps. Treeg listened despite being unable to understand, relishing the rich, clean sound of the words.
They talked on for a while, unaware of his presence, and then walked away in a loose group.
Treeg watched them go. This was only the second time he had seen them, but he found himself admiring them. These were people who knew this land, knew it in their bones. And no matter what happened or how many pale-faced men came to take it for themselves, that would never change. Treeg recalled Baragher and his friends, how clumsy and out of place they looked here. They were as alien to this place as Treeg himself. The earth-people were not.
Treeg waited until the group of hunters were well away from him, and then emerged into the light again. He brushed some bark off his bearskin tunic, and frowned thoughtfully. If he were going to survive here, he should do as the earth-people did. They knew better than he did.
A little while later, he came across a pond. He stopped there to drink and splash his face. His knees sank into the rich mud, and as he stood up he glanced down and saw that they had turned dark brown.
Treeg‚Äôs old grin returned. He tore off his bearskin tunic and put it aside along with his weapons. Naked, he lay down in the mud and rolled over, then sat up and gathered big handfuls of the stuff, rubbing it onto his skin. The mud coated him from head to toe, covering even his face and stiffening his hair.
Still grinning, Treeg bundled up his tunic and tied it to his waist, over his backside. Stuffing the axe and the knife behind it, he took his spear and walked on, looking like a skinny golem.
The mud coat did a lot to protect his skin from the sun, but he was still immensely relieved when night came at last. Rather than stopping to sleep like most people would have, he walked on through the night ‚Äď revelling in the cool air and the darkness. Truly, the night was the time to live.
At last Treeg began to feel better about where he was. The nights here were fine and clear, and the further North he went the cooler it would become. Now that he was alone, the travelling should be easier.
Treeg walked on like this for two more days, enjoying the solitude. He hunted for food when he felt like it, tasting unfamiliar fruits and the flesh of unknown animals. He kept the skins of the animals he killed, scraping them clean with Baragher‚Äôs knife, until he had a fair-sized bundle of half-cured hides to carry with him. They would be useful later.
On the evening of the second day, he met the gryphan.
He had found a rocky area where rainwater had made small pools, and had stopped there to drink. As he rested in the shade and picked at his peeling skin, a scream split the air.
Treeg‚Äôs head turned sharply. A moment later another scream came, and he snatched up his spear and went to investigate.
Just beyond the edge of the rocks, the ground dipped sharply into rough scrub. Just beyond it, something huge was moving.
Treeg heard another scream and a shout, followed by an ugly, wet gurgle. His mind made up, he crept down toward the scrub and slipped into it, thrusting the branches aside to peer through.
He hadn‚Äôt been afraid in a long time, but what he saw beyond frightened him as nothing else had in years.
A massive beast, nearly twice the size of a horse, was crouched on the grassy patch beyond the scrub. It had its back to Treeg, but he saw the rough brown fur, the lashing tail as thick as his arm, the wings draped over the back.
‚ÄėGryphan,‚Äô he said under his breath.
The gryphan turned partly sideways, showing an enormous birdlike forepaw. The talons curled, cutting through the earth like knives, and the creature made a soft rasping noise.
Looking in under its belly, Treeg glimpsed something pale and ragged. Something that had a hand, splattered with blood.
Unaware of his presence, the gryphan lowered its head and tore its meal apart, throwing its head back to swallow the pieces. Treeg saw an arm, still twitching like a dying fish as it thrust out the side of the creature‚Äôs beak.
There was nothing he could do here. Best get away before he was spotted. Treeg began to move back into the bushes, but at that moment he heard a sharp crack from overhead. He looked up, and pulled a bewildered face when he realised that there were two people perched in the trees not far away. They were pale-faced, not earth-people, and sheer terror had turned them paler as they watched the gryphan finish its meal.
Treeg quickly deduced what must have happened. Obviously, the two men had been travelling together with a third man, maybe more. They had stumbled across the gryphan, and it had killed one or more of their number, leaving the survivors to try and hide in the trees.
‚ÄėIdiots,‚Äô Treeg muttered. ‚ÄėTo run would be better.‚Äô
Still‚Ä¶ perhaps there were more of them he couldn‚Äôt see, blocking escape.
The gryphan had finished eating now. It gagged revoltingly on the last chunk, then shook itself and walked forward, almost swaggering toward the treed men. The hapless prey tried to climb higher, out of the beast‚Äôs reach, but it was painfully clear to Treeg that they weren‚Äôt going to escape. The gryphan could pick them out like fruit.
The gryphan obviously knew that too, as it unhurriedly chose one tree and reared onto its hind legs. Gripping the trunk with its talons, it stretched its head into the branches, opening its beak as if in the hopes that the petrified man would fall inside.
At first, Treeg decided to do nothing. This wasn‚Äôt his problem; intervening would only put him in danger as well.
But it occurred to him to be curious ‚Äď who were these men? Why were they here? Were there other pale-hairs here that he didn‚Äôt know about ‚Äď other explorers who had found the new land? The answers were vital.
Better that these men live, then.
Treeg paused a while, calculating while the gryphan bit through the tree branches as if they were twigs. He made a quick inspection of the other trees in the area, and nodded to himself. It could work.
His mind made up, Treeg slipped out of the bushes, leaving his bundle of skins behind. He moved in absolute silence, tucking his spear into the back of the crude belt he had made. He took Baragher‚Äôs axe in his right hand, holding it tightly.
Caught up in its little game, the gryphan neither heard nor saw Treeg. Even the cornered men didn‚Äôt notice him.
Treeg did not waver or hesitate. He darted over the grass, bringing the axe back with both hands. Using his momentum to give the swing more power, he hit the gryphan in the hind leg, just above the heel. Stretched taut, the enormous tendon that moved the leg was an easy target.
An almighty screech tore through the air. Bleeding and flailing, the gryphan turned. Treeg was already running. He heard an enormous thud and felt a rush of air, and ran as he had never run before, praying silently that his attack had done its work.
A scream and a scatter of crashing paws told him that it had. But even crippled, the gryphan was faster than him. He felt the shape of the talons in the wind, and threw himself sideways. The gryphan‚Äôs paw caught him in the shoulder and hurled him onto the ground, and for a moment it seemed that the entire world had turned sideways and thumped him in the head.
Stunned, Treeg rolled over. The gryphan‚Äôs beak speared into the ground, taking a chunk of his flesh with it. Pain gave him new strength, and he rolled again, levered himself upright and ran. Reaching the nearest tree, he vaulted into the branches with a speed he never would have thought he was capable of.
The maddened gryphan reared up, spreading its wings wide. From his vantage point Treeg could see that its wounded leg was barely touching the ground. But the gryphan compensated by leaning on the tree and, as before, it thrust its beak into the branches.
Treeg could see its eyes now. They were big and yellow, with rounded pupils as black as his own. And they were fixed on him.
He realised that there was blood running down his arm. The whole limb was trembling. Gritting his teeth, he yanked his spear free and climbed higher to avoid the gryphan‚Äôs attacks.
Frustrated, the gryphan began to bite through branches. Treeg marvelled at the sheer power of its beak; it sheared through a bough thicker than his leg with scarcely an effort, scattering splinters everywhere. Its eyes remained fixed on him, as if to say, soon I shall do the same to you, human.
Treeg put a hand to his wounded arm. Three deep slashes, all perfectly aligned. A knife could not have done better.
He managed a shaky grin. ‚ÄėBeautiful beast,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėMagnificent beast! Bear and wolf and eagle and viper, all must bow to you!‚Äô he almost sang the words, into that savage, raging face. ‚ÄėOne day there shall be Tribe of Gryphan, and that tribe shall rule over Bear and Wolf and Deer. All for the glory of Gryphan.‚Äô Treeg held the spear point-downward, rolling the shaft between his blood-slicked palms. ‚ÄėAll for the glory of Man.‚Äô
He thrust the spear straight downward, into the gryphan‚Äôs open beak and down its throat.
The gryphan reeled away from the tree, nearly toppling it in the process. It spasmed on the ground, hacking and choking on the spear stuck in its throat. Finally its beak snapped shut, breaking the wooden weapon into pieces. It hooked the remains out with its talons and flopped onto its belly, flanks heaving.
Drool, laced red with blood, drooped out of its beak.
‚ÄėDoes Gryphan still fight?‚Äô Treeg called from his tree. ‚ÄėTreeg has no more spears for him to eat, but knife tastes good as well.‚Äô
The gryphan had had enough. It glared at Treeg and hobbled off, dragging its hind leg.
When it was well gone, the two men Treeg had saved climbed down. They met to reassure each other, and then went to see the remains of their friend.
Treeg slid down from his own tree. Grimacing in pain, he limped toward the two men. They turned to look at him, and he stopped and peered at their faces.
‚ÄėDoes Treeg‚Äôs bleeding make him see dreams?‚Äô he murmured at last. ‚ÄėOr does he see truth? Does Bevyn brother of Bragger live?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg! That really is you! What are you doing here?‚Äô
Treeg squinted. ‚ÄėAnd Fergal, he lives too.‚Äô
Fergal looked filthy and half-starved, like his companion. ‚ÄėJust barely.‚Äô
Bevyn moved to grab Treeg‚Äôs arm, then thought better of it. ‚ÄėTreeg, why are you here? Is Baragher alive? And the others?‚Äô
‚ÄėBragger lives,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėIn his new land to rule with two men. He thinks that his dear brother is gone.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe survived,‚Äô Bevyn sighed. ‚ÄėKael, though‚Ä¶‚Äô
Treeg glanced down at the pitiful remains. ‚ÄėWhat finer grave than the belly of Gryphan?‚Äô
Bevyn was shaking slightly. ‚ÄėIt came out of nowhere‚Ä¶ it was so huge. What was that thing, Treeg?‚Äô
‚ÄėGryphan,‚Äô Treeg said simply. ‚ÄėNow tell Treeg how you came to be here and not dead.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe weathered out the storm,‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėMade paddles out of spare wood. We had plenty of food and water. It held out until we drifted ashore. And then‚Ä¶‚Äô
Treeg cocked his head. ‚ÄėYou were ill.‚Äô
‚ÄėYes. We probably still would have died, but‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėAmoranis,‚Äô Bevyn interrupted. ‚ÄėThere were Amoranis living near where we landed.‚Äô
‚ÄėEarth-people,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėMen of this land. They found the brother of Bragger?‚Äô
‚ÄėThey were friendly,‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėWe didn‚Äôt understand them, but they cared for us ‚Äď gave us food and medicines. When we were well again they gave us some supplies and let us go wherever we wanted.‚Äô
‚ÄėAmorani who help invaders,‚Äô said Treeg. ‚ÄėVery stupid, or very kind. Maybe both.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe were hoping to find Baragher, or at least a place to stay,‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėWhere is he, Treeg?‚Äô
Treeg covered his forehead with his free hand. ‚ÄėBragger‚Ä¶ Southward. Three days and three nights to‚Ä¶ walk.‚Äô
Fergal was frowning. ‚ÄėTreeg, are you all right? You‚Äôre bleeding badly ‚Äď Treeg?‚Äô
Treeg peered at him, and then toppled onto his knees.
Bevyn knelt at once. ‚ÄėTreeg ‚Äď oh great sun. Fergal, we‚Äôve got to help him.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat should I do?‚Äô said Fergal.
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know ‚Äď find something! We have to bind up the wound before he bleeds to death.‚Äô
Treeg‚Äôs head was lolling. ‚ÄėTreeg is tired‚Ä¶‚Äô
Fergal pulled off his tunic and tried to tear a bandage off it. ‚ÄėHelp me‚Ä¶‚Äô
Blood oozed between Treeg‚Äôs fingers. All the colour was draining out of his skin. ‚ÄėPain‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėYou‚Äôll be all right, Treeg,‚Äô Bevyn said. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôre going to help you, I promise.‚Äô
Treeg‚Äôs face spasmed. ‚ÄėTreeg is‚Ä¶ cold.‚Äô He grabbed weakly for Bevyn‚Äôs arm, but his grip slackened and he silently crumpled onto his side.
Bevyn and Fergal did their best to care for their rescuer. Fergal bandaged his wound and carried him up among the rocks, where they found a small cave. Bevyn had found the bundle of skins hidden in the scrub, and they used it to make a comfortable bed. Treeg lay on it, scarcely breathing.
Bevyn fetched some water and dripped it into the navigator‚Äôs mouth, and Treeg‚Äôs throat moved slightly as he swallowed it. At least there was enough life left in him for that, but both Bevyn and Fergal saw that there was very little they would be able to do for him. They could keep him warm and bring him food, but nothing could replace all the blood he had lost, and nothing could close the dreadful wounds that had let it out.
Still, Bevyn insisted that they could not leave him.
At noon, a brief crackle of thunder announced the coming of rain. Bevyn and Fergal did their best to shelter from it in their tiny cave, but both of them were soon soaking.
The rain fell on the unconscious Treeg, too, washing away his coating of mud. He had made his tunic into a rough loincloth, but his chest was still bare, and as the mud dissolved Bevyn leant closer.
‚ÄėLook at that.‚Äô
On Treeg‚Äôs chest, where it would normally have been hidden by his tunic, a massive scar sank into the skin. It was red and puckered at the edges; it looked as if it had cut down to the bone ‚Äď possibly deeper.
‚ÄėGreat sun, what did that to him?‚Äô said Fergal.
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs a wonder he survived it,‚Äô said Bevyn. He smiled weakly and patted Treeg‚Äôs uninjured shoulder. ‚ÄėYou survived that, old Treeg. You must have the strength to survive this.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat are we going to do?‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt leave him, but if we stay here too long we‚Äôll be in danger. That thing could come back, or something worse might find us.‚Äô
Bevyn shrugged. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôll stay as long as we have to. If Treeg wakes again, he can tell us where to find Baragher. Besides, we owe him our lives.‚Äô
‚ÄėOh, I know. I know that.‚Äô Fergal looked out into the rain. ‚ÄėI think I remember some of the herbs those Amoranis used on us. Maybe I can find some of them.‚Äô
‚ÄėGood idea. Wait until it stops raining.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhy? I‚Äôm already wet.‚Äô Fergal got up and trudged off into the downpour.
Bevyn watched him until he was gone, and then looked down at Treeg again. ‚ÄėYou‚Äôre a strange one, aren‚Äôt you? But you know, I always liked you. From the beginning. You like to play the fool, but you‚Äôre wiser than most people realise.‚Äô Bevyn smiled. ‚ÄėFunny, too. And brave.‚Äô He laughed. ‚ÄėMad might be a better word! But you saved my life, and I can‚Äôt forget that.‚Äô
Treeg stirred slightly, but did not open his eyes.
Fergal returned some time later. He was even wetter than before, and carried a little bundle of half-dead plants in his fist.
‚ÄėThis was all I could find. Three different kinds‚Ä¶ I don‚Äôt know which is which.‚Äô
‚ÄėNever mind. They‚Äôll do.‚Äô Bevyn stripped the leaves off the plants and chewed them into a paste, grimacing at the horrible flavour. When he had a handful of soggy leaf-pulp, he gingerly removed the bandage from Treeg‚Äôs arm. The wounds had stopped bleeding, but when the bandage came away the scabs tore and a red trickle broke free.
Bevyn quickly packed the leaf-pulp into the wounds and covered them up again, pressing them down in the hopes that would at least slow the bleeding. Treeg twitched and gave a small cry of pain, and Bevyn quickly withdrew his hand.
Treeg‚Äôs eyes opened partway. ‚ÄėMeir‚Ä¶wen‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg!‚Äô Bevyn reached down to wipe the water away from his face. ‚ÄėHow are you feeling?‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg is weak,‚Äô Treeg croaked. ‚ÄėHis death‚Ä¶ comes soon.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou saved my life,‚Äô said Bevyn.
A slight nod. ‚ÄėLife‚Ä¶ much‚Ä¶ use.‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg, can you tell me where to find Baragher? I need to know.‚Äô
Treeg lay silently for a while, breathing slowly. ‚ÄėYou‚Ä¶ love the sun. Follow the sun you love. Let‚Ä¶ it lead you. Water‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėWhich way?‚Äô Bevyn said urgently. ‚ÄėWhich way, Treeg?‚Äô
Treeg raised a shaking arm, and pointed. ‚ÄėEast‚Ä¶ where the sun‚Ä¶ is born. Find‚Ä¶ sea, then go‚Ä¶ go‚Ä¶‚Äô
The arm fell back down. ‚ÄėSouth,‚Äô Treeg gasped. ‚ÄėSouth‚Ä¶ to Bragger.‚Äô
‚ÄėThankyou, Treeg.‚Äô Bevyn pulled a hide over him. ‚ÄėYou‚Äôve done so much to help us. Please, if there‚Äôs anything we can do in return, just say.‚Äô
Treeg rested a few moments before replying. ‚ÄėSpear.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou want a spear?‚Äô
The navigator‚Äôs fingers curled. ‚ÄėTreeg cannot go on his final journey without a spear. His old spear is in the throat of Gryphan.‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll make one,‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėJust like your old one. I promise.‚Äô
‚ÄėGood‚Ä¶‚Äô Treeg‚Äôs eyes closed. ‚ÄėMake the spear and put it in Treeg‚Äôs hand. Then leave him here and go.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt-,‚Äô Bevyn began.
Treeg took another shuddering breath. ‚ÄėAll men die alone. Do as Treeg asks.‚Äô
Bevyn glanced at Fergal. ‚ÄėIf that‚Äôs what you want.‚Äô
Treeg said nothing more, and remained apparently unconscious for the rest of that day. The rain stopped, and Bevyn went in search of wood while Fergal stayed at the cave. After some searching he found a good long branch that was more or less straight. It came free with a few chops of the axe, and he trimmed it and stripped off leaves and twigs before carrying it to the cave.
Treeg was unchanged, and Bevyn sat down on a rock near the cave to begin work on the spear. He had seen the old one plenty of times, and remembered the design quite well. Unlike Amorani spears it had no metal point on it; only a sharpened tip with barbs cut into the wood behind it. Good for fishing, and hunting small animals.
Working methodically, Bevyn cut and shaped the branch, shaving off knotholes and other irregularities. He made it as smooth as he could manage, impressed by the beautiful reddish colour of the wood.
When he was satisfied, he set to work carving the point. He added several barbs, placing them in a ring around the shaft. It was an unusual design, but looked good, and this would only be a ceremonial weapon anyway.
Once the spear was finished, he placed it gently in Treeg‚Äôs hand. The fingers did not move to grasp it as he had half-hoped, but he nodded in satisfaction anyway. Treeg had the weapon he wanted now, and with luck he would wake up again if only just long enough to see it and know his wishes had been carried out.
Fergal, who had gone foraging while Bevyn worked, returned a few moments later. He had an armload of edible plants with him ‚Äď things they had been shown by their mysterious rescuers.
Bevyn accepted the food gratefully, and they sat down together to eat.
Fergal looked skyward, where a tinge of gold and orange laced the receding clouds. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôll be dark soon. We may as well spend the night here and move on in the morning.‚Äô
Bevyn looked down at Treeg. ‚ÄėNot here. We‚Äôll find another shelter. There‚Äôs no room here anyway.‚Äô
‚ÄėI saw another cave on the way back,‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėIt should do. We‚Äôll take these extra skins with us.‚Äô
Bevyn nodded and finished his food before gathering up what was left of Treeg‚Äôs little bundle of furs. They would be very comfortable for sleeping that night.
Fergal‚Äôs new cave turned out to be cramped, but big enough for the two of them, and they settled in for the night.
Before the last of the light had gone, Bevyn returned one last time to look at Treeg. The navigator had gripped the spear and pulled it to his side, and he looked peacful as he lay there, as if he were sleeping.
‚ÄėThankyou, Treeg,‚Äô Bevyn said, and turned sadly away.
Bevyn slept badly that night, while Fergal kept watch, haunted by dreams of Kael‚Äôs horrible death. The gryphan appeared in his dreams too, and countless times he woke up with a start, convinced it was standing over him. By the time it was his turn to watch for danger, he had had almost no sleep at all.
He sat up at the edge of the cave and stared out at the darkness. The night was warm and full of insects, and lightning flashed somewhere far on the horizon. He thought of Treeg, dying alone in his little cave, and a lump formed in his throat.
Silently he cursed the gryphan. The monster had torn Kael to shreds before the eyes of his friends. If it hadn‚Äôt been for Treeg then Bevyn and Fergal would have suffered the same fate, and the reward for his heroism was death. How could men live in this place, where the earth was dry and the plants were dull and tough, and monstrous creatures could appear at any moment? From the moment Bevyn had arrived on its shores he had had only suffering and fear.
One thing he knew for certain was that this land was not Baragher‚Äôs paradise. It was nothing like the wonderful, bountiful new home he had talked about all those months ago before the voyage began. The journey had killed so many of them, and even after its end nothing had changed.
Bevyn hated this place, and he silently vowed that when he found Baragher he would say so. He went over the words in his head. ‚ÄúThis place is no home. It‚Äôs a wasteland, and I‚Äôm leaving.‚ÄĚ Surely Baragher would agree.
With that thought, Bevyn drifted off to sleep.
Morning came wet and gloomy. Bevyn got up, mumbling irritably when he realised his clothes were wet through.
‚ÄėFergal, are you awake?‚Äô
The man stirred. ‚ÄėNgh. Hm?‚Äô he sat up. ‚ÄėWho pissed on me?‚Äô
‚ÄėNobody. It rained again before dawn.‚Äô
‚ÄėUgh.‚Äô Fergal got up, brushing himself down. ‚ÄėHow‚Äôs Treeg?‚Äô
Bevyn‚Äôs stomach twisted. ‚ÄėWe should go and check on him before we go. I just want to be certain.‚Äô
He took off his tunic and spread it out to dry in the sun before climbing back up over the rocks. When he reached Treeg‚Äôs cave, he paused at the edge to brace himself.
Moving carefully, he took a few steps forward and looked into the cave.
It was empty.
Treeg had gone. The skins he had lain on were still there, but Treeg himself was nowhere in sight. The spear, too, had vanished. Bewildered, Bevyn searched inside the cave and around the entrance, but he found nothing. Not a footprint, not a scuff of dirt. No sign that anyone had been there.
Fergal came to join him. ‚ÄėIs he‚Ä¶ gone?‚Äô he asked quietly.
Fergal looked toward the cave. ‚ÄėShould we bury him?‚Äô
Bevyn found himself trying not to laugh. ‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt. He‚Äôs gone.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat d‚Äôyou- you mean, gone? Disappeared?‚Äô
‚ÄėYes.‚Äô Bevyn rubbed his eyes. ‚ÄėI can‚Äôt find a trace of him anywhere.‚Äô
Fergal was already searching inside the cave. ‚ÄėGreat sun. He must have been taken by animals. Maybe a gryphan,‚Äô he added darkly.
‚ÄėI suppose so.‚Äô Bevyn shuddered. ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs just that‚Ä¶ where did the spear go?‚Äô
‚ÄėWho knows?‚Äô Fergal scratched at a fleabite. ‚ÄėWe should look around, maybe.‚Äô
They did, while they looked for desperately-needed food. Neither of them saw anything.
Bevyn went in search of water, and found a small pool left by the rain. Something was lying in the dirt by the edge, and once he had drunk he went to look at it.
It was the remains of a crude leather bandage, caked in blood.
Storms drifted over the land. Pale lightning laced the clouds, and rain drummed on the parched earth. A new season was coming. A time for change. A time for travel.
Bevyn and Fergal found the coast and trekked on, Southward, in search of Baragher.
And a man with no name walked alone. He carried nothing but a spear, wore nothing but a loincloth. His feet were bare, and three ragged scars stood out on his arm like a brand.
He saw other people ‚Äď earth-people ‚Äď but he avoided them. He saw gryphans, too.
The months passed and the season changed and changed again. The man with no name walked on until his feet were black with dirt and his skin was tanned and weatherbeaten. He saw the land change around him as he continued endlessly Northward, saw them grow colder and colder, saw the plants and the earth change. One day he found mountains ‚Äď massive, grey stone. High on their peaks, he saw something he had not seen in many long years. Snow.
He smiled then.
The mountains had more than snow. They had gryphans. Every valley was home to another of the massive predators. The man with no name saw them flying overhead, monstrous wings spread wide and fanned against the sun. The man heard them screech in the evening, claiming their territories. He fingered his scars and smiled to himself. The gryphans were guarding something, and he would have it.
The mountains were unfriendly, but he followed them until he found a pass. It took several dangerous days, but eventually he pass took him through the mountains and into the land beyond.
The moment he set foot on it, he knew that this land was what he had been searching for. A laugh burst out of him, and he ran out over a huge grassy plain. Icy wind whipped through his hair and caressed his skin, and he laughed again. This was it, this was the land he had dreamt of, this was what had been calling to him.
As he journeyed on, he found dark, bristled trees and snowy hills, dark valleys where owls called, frozen lakes and plateaus where the moon made the earth glow.
The man with no name knew that he had found true beauty. He had found the lands of the risen moon.
But his journey was not done. Not yet.
The man with no name did not stay long. He went on, through snowbound forests and stark mountains, on and on for months until at last the land ended and the sea blocked his way.
There, he set to work. He took the axe he had stolen and cut down the bristly trees, tying the trunks together with leather strips and filling the gaps with melted resin. He made a mast and a leather sail, and set out over the sea with nothing but some skins of water, a net and a spear. The final journey of the man with no name had begun.
The shores of Tara were ice. Even now, at the beginning of Spring, the land was covered by snow. Further inland, pale grass had begun to poke through, and birds sang in the pine trees. The season was changing steadily, but Tara stubbornly held onto its cold.
At about midday, a young woman emerged from her home. It had been dug in the side of a hill, protected from the snow. During winter she had been all but trapped inside with the rest of her family, surviving on dried food and melted snow. It was the hardest time of the year. Now she emerged gladly into the weak sunlight, and went down to the shore.
Inside her, her child kicked. She stroked her belly and murmured. ‚ÄėNot to fear, little one. You will be born in Spring.‚Äô
She stopped at the water‚Äôs edge and looked out over the sea. The wind tugged at her curly hair, and she smiled. This was her favourite time, when the land was full of promise. Soon she and her husband would have fresh fish and venison to eat, and Spring peas and apples to go with it.
As she walked along the shore, she let her mind wander. This winter had been the hardest in years. Winter had always been a time for death, but this year it had claimed more lives than she could remember. The old and the young ‚Äď it was always the same. She had been deeply afraid for her own infant, though the other families had donated food ‚Äď going without so that the child might survive. And survive he had, wisely staying warm in her womb to be born in Spring. She smiled to herself again ‚Äď Spring was a lucky time for children to be born.
Further along the beach, she saw something dark in the surf. Curious, she went closer to investigate.
Her heart jolted. For a moment she stood still and stared, before she ran. Ahead the dark shape resolved itself, and her fear increased as she saw it was exactly what she had thought ‚Äď human.
The man lay half submerged with his head resting on the ice and his hand outstretched, reaching inland. His skin was deathly pale, and he was nearly naked.
She crouched awkwardly and turned him over, expecting to find him frozen solid. He wasn‚Äôt, but he was pathetically thin and his skin was chapped and fissured. An ice-crusted beard covered most of his face. Another victim of winter, she thought sadly, who had run out of food and, rather than suffer a slow death, had gone outside to let the cold claim him.
She found a spear floating nearby, and picked it up, deciding to go and speak to her mother. The old woman who had miraculously survived the winter was the tribe‚Äôs wise one, and it was her duty to perform the death ceremonies.
She found her in her home, gutting a fish. ‚ÄėMother.‚Äô
The old woman stood up stiffly to meet her. ‚ÄėTynadd,‚Äô she smiled. ‚ÄėAre you well?‚Äô
‚ÄėI am.‚Äô Tynadd lowered her eyes. ‚ÄėI found a dead man on the shore, Mother. This was with him.‚Äô
The old woman took the spear, inspecting it. ‚ÄėWhat a strange weapon. What wood is this?‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know. But the poor man needs your help now.‚Äô
‚ÄėYes, yes.‚Äô The old woman nodded. ‚ÄėShow me.‚Äô
Outside, a man came to join them. He bowed to the old woman. ‚ÄėDoethwr ‚Äď do you need my help to walk?‚Äô
‚ÄėNo, Arnallt. But come with us. We need strong arms.‚Äô
Arnallt followed them. ‚ÄėWhere are you going?‚Äô
‚ÄėI found a dead man,‚Äô said Tynadd.
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt recognise him.‚Äô
‚ÄėHm.‚Äô Arnallt scratched his neck. ‚ÄėMaybe lost from another tribe. But we should send him to his rest.‚Äô
‚ÄėYes. Tynadd, are we close?‚Äô
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs just up here,‚Äô said Tynadd, hastily looking for landmarks. She spotted the body ahead and sped up, leading the others.
The old woman bent to inspect the dead man. ‚ÄėPoor thing. He‚Äôs wasted away to twigs. Arnallt, can you carry him?‚Äô
Arnallt lifted the corpse without much effort. ‚ÄėNot frozen yet,‚Äô he remarked. ‚ÄėHe must not have been here long. Where shall we take him?‚Äô
They carried him inside and laid him down by the fire, where the old woman began to prepare the blue clay to paint ceremonial designs on his face and chest. She threw a handful of herbs on the fire, releasing a cloud of pungent smoke. Arnellt politely left, but Tynadd lingered. ‚ÄėMother, do you need my help?‚Äô
The old woman nodded. ‚ÄėLay the spear down beside him. It will do for a burial weapon.‚Äô
‚ÄėLook at this.‚Äô Tynadd gingerly touched the man‚Äôs upper arm. Three deep scars stood out. There was another on his chest that looked even deeper.
Her mother frowned. ‚ÄėOdd. Now then, let‚Äôs see if we can find his tribe.‚Äô She picked up a bowl of snowmelt, and began to wash him, wiping away encrusted dirt and peeling skin. Soon she began to uncover what she was looking for ‚Äď faint blue lines, just visible on the man‚Äôs body. They formed complex patterns of interlocking spirals and crescents, and she inspected them closely, her brow wrinkling.
‚ÄėI know these‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat tribe are they?‚Äô Tynadd asked.
Her mother didn‚Äôt look at her. Her single eye was on the man‚Äôs face. ‚ÄėThese‚Ä¶ these are from our tribe.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow can that be?‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôd recognise him.‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know, but he has the wolf markings. Old ones, faded. And this scar‚Ä¶‚Äô she trailed off.
‚ÄėWhat is it, Mother?‚Äô
The old woman turned on her. ‚ÄėGive me that knife,‚Äô she snapped. ‚ÄėNow.‚Äô
Tynadd found it hanging on the wall, and passed it over. Snatching a handful of the man‚Äôs beard, her mother took the knife and hacked it off. Ignoring her daughter‚Äôs questions, she cut the hair away in clumps, dipping the blade in animal fat before shaving away what was left.
Crudely shaven, the man‚Äôs true face was revealed.
The old woman dropped the knife. ‚ÄėNo.‚Äô
‚ÄėTynadd took her arm. ‚ÄėWhat is it? What‚Äôs wrong?‚Äô
‚ÄėThis can‚Äôt be.‚Äô The old woman grabbed the man by the shoulder, shaking him. ‚ÄėYou can‚Äôt be here again!‚Äô
‚ÄėMother!‚Äô Tynadd grabbed her wrist to stop her. ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt do that! Who is he? Do you know him? Mother, who is he?‚Äô
The old woman turned away. ‚ÄėWe must burn him. At once.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut the death ceremonies-,‚Äô
‚ÄėWe burn him. There will be no ceremonies.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou can‚Äôt do that!‚Äô Tynadd exclaimed. ‚ÄėHis soul would-,‚Äô
‚ÄėIt doesn‚Äôt matter. Go into the forest, to the clearing by the pond. Gather wood. It must be done quickly.‚Äô
‚ÄėNow! Now, before-,‚Äô
Tynadd looked down, and screamed.
The man‚Äôs eyes had opened. He blinked a few times, and looked straight at the old woman. Slowly his face creased into a smile. ‚ÄėMeirwen.‚Äô
Tynadd made herself breathe deeply. ‚ÄėBy the moon, I thought‚Ä¶ we thought you were dead!‚Äô
The man cackled, showing broken teeth. ‚ÄėIt would take more than that to kill me. Isn‚Äôt that so, Meirwen?‚Äô
The old woman had become calm. ‚ÄėI know.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou know this man?‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėIs he-?‚Äô she stopped herself. ‚ÄėWe have to help him! Come, he needs food‚Ä¶‚Äô she fetched a blanket and laid it over him, rubbing his arms to warm him.
He sighed appreciatively. ‚ÄėThat feels nice. Thankyou.‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll get you some food,‚Äô said Tynadd.
The man coughed. ‚ÄėWater. Warm water.‚Äô
‚ÄėOf course.‚Äô Tynadd began heating some snowmelt over the fire.
Meirwen knelt by the man‚Äôs side. ‚ÄėYou weren‚Äôt supposed to come back here,‚Äô she said softly.
He grinned weakly. ‚ÄėOh but why not, when I love my homeland so much?‚Äô
Tynadd looked up. ‚ÄėMother, who is he?‚Äô
Meirwen closed her eye. ‚ÄėHe‚Äôs a cruel and dangerous man, and he shouldn‚Äôt even be alive.‚Äô
He gave her a mildly offended look. ‚ÄėThose are cruel words, to come from my own wife.‚Äô
‚ÄėWife?‚Äô Tynadd stood up sharply. ‚ÄėMother, please-,‚Äô
Meirwen stood too. ‚ÄėI‚Äôll help you now, Traegan, but only in secret, and you‚Äôll leave as soon as you‚Äôre well. And this time, don‚Äôt come back.‚Äô
‚ÄėOh, I‚Äôll leave, wife,‚Äô he said venemously. ‚ÄėBut this time it won‚Äôt be alone. This time it won‚Äôt be in secret. I can promise you that.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou really think anyone is going to follow you now after what you did, Traegan?‚Äô
‚ÄėAnyone will follow,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėIf they‚Äôre being led to something they want. And now Traegan has something they want. Traegan has something they want very much.‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd what‚Äôs that?‚Äô she demanded. ‚ÄėA path to the meadows of heaven, perhaps?‚Äô
He grinned. ‚ÄėJust that, wife. Just that.‚Äô He looked at Tynadd. ‚ÄėCan I have my water now?‚Äô
Shaking inside, she helped him to drink it. ‚ÄėTraegan. You‚Äôre Traegan. You‚Äôre my-,‚Äô
‚ÄėThat‚Äôs right.‚Äô He examined her, and smiled. ‚ÄėThe last time I saw you, you were in the cradle. And now look at you. Strong and beautiful, with a child of her own on the way. My grandchild. How many years has it been?‚Äô
‚ÄėThirty,‚Äô said Meirwen. ‚ÄėAnd you haven‚Äôt changed at all. Traegan, why have you come back?‚Äô
‚ÄėTraegan does what benefits Traegan. Always has. Let me rest a while. When I‚Äôm better, you‚Äôll see.‚Äô
‚ÄėGet out,‚Äô Meirwen snarled. ‚ÄėGo back to the sea you came out of and freeze. I won‚Äôt have you in my home again.‚Äô
‚ÄėMother!‚Äô Tynadd took her father‚Äôs hand. ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs wrong with you? He‚Äôs your husband-,‚Äô
‚ÄėHe was once,‚Äô said Meirwen. ‚ÄėNot any more. He isn‚Äôt one of our tribe any more, Tynadd. He‚Äôs an exile and a traitor.‚Äô
‚ÄėHe‚Äôs my father.‚Äô Tynadd held his hand in both of hers. ‚ÄėCome with me, Father. I‚Äôll care for you.‚Äô
His eyes crinkled as he smiled. ‚ÄėThankyou, daughter.‚Äô
Meirwen stood by as Tynadd lifted Traegan into her arms. ‚ÄėYou don‚Äôt understand. What he did‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll find out what he did,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėBut for now he needs my help.‚Äô
Traegan quickly grabbed his spear, and let his daughter carry him out. ‚ÄėThe time was when I carried you, Tynadd.‚Äô
‚ÄėNow it‚Äôs my turn.‚Äô She ignored her mother‚Äôs protests, and took him to her own home. There she did her best to make him comfortable, and fed him a warm fish gruel. He ate ravenously and then slept.
Tynadd watched him. He looked peaceful, and she wondered at her mother‚Äôs reaction to him. Could he truly be dangerous? He didn‚Äôt look it.
She had always known that her father‚Äôs name was Traegan, but Meirwen had never said much about him. Tynadd thought he looked younger than she had expected, but she felt sympathetic and curious toward him rather than suspicious.
Tynadd made her mind up. She would care for him until he was well again, and when the time was right she would ask him to tell her the truth. If he wouldn‚Äôt, then she would ask her mother. When she was calmer, Meirwen would be ready to talk.
Tynadd‚Äôs husband came home later that day, while Traegan was still asleep. He stopped in the doorway and stared at the strange man who was in his home.
‚ÄėTynadd? What‚Äôs this?‚Äô
She rose to meet him. ‚ÄėGruffudd, welcome. What did you catch?‚Äô
He grinned and waved his spear at her ‚Äď there were several large fish hanging from the end. ‚ÄėOnly the finest salmon for my wife. But who is this man?‚Äô
Tynadd crouched by Traegan‚Äôs side, tucking the blanket in around him. ‚ÄėMy father.‚Äô
Gruffudd looked shocked. ‚ÄėBut isn‚Äôt your father dead?‚Äô
‚ÄėMy mother said so, but she was wrong. He‚Äôs alive, and he‚Äôs come home.‚Äô Tynadd smiled. ‚ÄėI must take care of him.‚Äô
‚ÄėWould your mother not take him?‚Äô
‚ÄėNo.‚Äô Tynadd hesitated briefly before saying, ‚ÄėShe‚Äôs too old for this. We can nurse him ourselves.‚Äô
Griffudd sat down by the fire, warming himself as he examined Traegaen. ‚ÄėOf course. Your father would always be welcome in my home. And everyone knows what a fine hunter he was. They will all be glad to see him back.‚Äô
Tynadd thought of her mother‚Äôs angry and frightened reaction, but pushed it aside. What could he possibly have done that she wouldn‚Äôt have heard of? Surely it was just a misunderstanding, or an argument of some kind. Just now she was too excited to care as much as she might have.
Griffudd, for his part, seemed curious and sympathetic toward Traegan. ‚ÄėWhere did you find him?‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd your mother?‚Äô said Griffudd. ‚ÄėShe should be here, to heal him ‚Äď why is she not?‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt think‚Ä¶‚Äô Tynadd twisted her fingers together. ‚ÄėI‚Äôm not sure. I think maybe‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėShe wasn‚Äôt‚Ä¶ happy to see him. I think she was shocked to find out he was alive.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut she should still be here,‚Äô said Griffudd. ‚ÄėLook at him! He looks about to die. He needs medicines.‚Äô
Tynadd looked at her father, noticing yet again how wasted he was. ‚ÄėYou‚Äôre right,‚Äô she said. ‚ÄėI‚Äôll go and talk to her.‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll keep watch,‚Äô Griffudd promised.
Tynadd found Meirwen in her home. The old woman had brought out her magic stones and was muttering the special words over them ‚Äď something she only did when strong spells were needed. Seeing her, Tynadd hastily retreated. Interrupting the wise one while she was using magic was a good way to become cursed.
She waited just outside the doorway until the muttering had ceased, and then peeked back in. Meirwen was putting the stones away in their rabbitskin bag, pausing to throw a herb into the fire.
Tynadd strode in. ‚ÄėMother.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat!‚Äô the old woman started violently. ‚ÄėTynadd! Never disturb me when I work magic!‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôm sorry,‚Äô Tynadd said. ‚ÄėI needed to talk with you.‚Äô
‚ÄėTalk, then,‚Äô Meirwen snapped.
‚ÄėYou must come to my house,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėFather needs your magic.‚Äô
‚ÄėHe can rot in the void for all I care.‚Äô
‚ÄėMother!‚Äô Tynadd came closer. ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs wrong? Why are you so angry? What did he do?‚Äô
‚ÄėReturned when he should not have,‚Äô Meirwen muttered. ‚ÄėViolated sacred laws that should never be broken. Defiled the spirits of the night.‚Äô
‚ÄėBlasphemy?‚Äô said Tynadd.
Meirwen stood up. ‚ÄėThe most terrible blasphemy.‚Äô
Tynadd‚Äôs heart sank. ‚ÄėBut can he be forgiven? Have the stars not punished him enough?‚Äô
‚ÄėThere can be no punishment for what he has done.‚Äô
‚ÄėThen can you forgive him?‚Äô
Meirwen turned her head, so that the firelight fell over the twisted scar that had claimed he eye so many years ago. ‚ÄėBefore he left ‚Äď before I helped him to escape justice ‚Äď before he went into exile ‚Äď he repaid me with this.‚Äô
‚ÄėGo,‚Äô Meirwen growled. ‚ÄėGo back to your godless father, and hope he rewards you better than he rewarded me.‚Äô
Tynadd couldn‚Äôt find anything else to say. She turned and walked out in silence.
Traegan had never felt so confident in his life. He lay back comfortably, bathed in warmth from the fire, and savoured the hot, herb-flavoured fish that his hosts had made for him. There was water too, sweet water, and fresh spring grass-shoots. He didn‚Äôt say much, conserving his energy and letting Griffudd do the talking. While he ate the man filled him in on everything that had been happening in Tara. Traegan listened attentively, noting the most important details, like how this winter had been one of the worst in living memory, how the Bear tribe had sent several raids that autumn and carried off twelve Wolf women, how the Snake tribe had seemingly vanished into the mountains. Times were bad.
Tynadd didn‚Äôt say much. She kept a slight distance from her father, and the looks she sent his way were wary. Tragan pretended not to notice. He wondered what her mother must have told her. Bitter things, no doubt. Hateful things. True things.
He thought back to the night he had left Tara, long years ago. There had been remorse later on, but oh how good it had felt, to slash the hatred away from Meirwen‚Äôs pretty face and leave it bleeding. Truly, it had been the only satisfaction he had had that night.
But soon, he promised himself, that would change. Soon he would be ready. When he was recovered from his journey, it would be time. He would undo all his pain, all his humiliation. He would sing the song he loved so much, and his people would have what they had always deserved from him. He promised himself that.
‚ÄėBevyn!‚Äô Baragher took his brother in a fierce embrace. ‚ÄėYou‚Äôre alive!‚Äô
Bevyn hugged him back, joyfully. ‚ÄėBaragher!‚Äô
Fergal was busy being slapped on the back by Carag and Tarmon. ‚ÄėSeems we were blessed when we came here, Baragher,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėOr most of us were,‚Äô he added darkly.
‚ÄėWhat happened to Kael?‚Äô Baragher asked.
‚ÄėHe died,‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėBaragher, listen, there‚Äôs something you have to know.‚Äô
‚ÄėCome on,‚Äô Baragher gestured at him and the others. ‚ÄėLet‚Äôs go inside and sit down before we hear your story.‚Äô
They gladly retreated out of the glaring sun and into the overhang Baragher still called home. Grateful for the shade, Bevyn sat down on a rock. ‚ÄėThis is your new home?‚Äô
‚ÄėFor now. See the paintings?‚Äô
Bevyn inspected them briefly. ‚ÄėWe saw others like them on our way here. But that‚Äôs not important. Baragher, there are monsters here.‚Äô
Carag tugged at his beard. ‚ÄėMonsters?‚Äô
‚ÄėOh!‚Äô Tarmon almost smiled. ‚ÄėWe already know about them. Look.‚Äô He pointed at the image on the ceiling.
Bevyn shuddered when he saw it. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôve seen a real one. It killed Kael.‚Äô
‚ÄėGreat sun,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėWas it as big as‚Ä¶?‚Äô
‚ÄėYes.‚Äô Bevyn looked him in the eye. ‚ÄėIt tore him to pieces and ate him. If it hadn‚Äôt been for Treeg-,‚Äô
‚ÄėTreeg?‚Äô Carag interrupted. ‚ÄėYou saw him?‚Äô
‚ÄėHe was travelling on his own up near where we were,‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėSaw us in trouble with the gryphan. Saved our lives.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhere is he now?‚Äô said Tarmon.
‚ÄėHe died,‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėSacrificed himself to save us. Before he died, he told us where to find you, Baragher.‚Äô
Baragher shook his head. ‚ÄėMad old Treeg.¬† Who would have thought it?‚Äô
‚ÄėHe was a great man,‚Äô Tarmon said stoutly. ‚ÄėI‚Äôm proud to have known him.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe owe him everything,‚Äô Fergal agreed.
‚ÄėPerhaps,‚Äô said Baragher.
Carag grinned. ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt listen to him. He‚Äôs just angry because Treeg punched him in the face and got away with it.‚Äô
Baragher turned on him. ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt even-,‚Äô
‚ÄėStop it!‚Äô Bevyn shouted. ‚ÄėBaragher, stop it.‚Äô
Baragher looked at him in surprise. ‚ÄėBevyn, what‚Äôs the matter?‚Äô
Bevyn looked deeply distressed. ‚ÄėThis place isn‚Äôt what you thought, Baragher. It‚Äôs not a paradise. It‚Äôs not a home. It‚Äôs a wasteland. It killed Kael, it killed Treeg. These monsters ‚Äď these gryphans ‚Äď if there are more of them, we don‚Äôt have a hope. We‚Äôll all die. Starvation, heat, thirst, or gryphan. Sooner or later one of them will get us.‚Äô
Baragher patted him on the shoulder. ‚ÄėTake heart, Bevyn. We‚Äôre stronger than that.‚Äô
‚ÄėLook at us!‚Äô Bevyn exploded. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôre five men! Five! How are we supposed to make a new country?‚Äô
‚ÄėMore people will come,‚Äô said Baragher.
‚ÄėThe same way we did.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt won‚Äôt work. I‚Äôm sorry, Baragher, but I can‚Äôt do this. I‚Äôm leaving.‚Äô
‚ÄėLeave, then,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėI won‚Äôt stop you.‚Äô
Everyone stared at him.
Even Bevyn looked surprised. ‚ÄėBut-,‚Äô
‚ÄėLeave.‚Äô Baragher pointed toward the beach. ‚ÄėOur boat is still here; all it needs is some repairs and fresh supples. Take it and go.‚Äô
‚ÄėI can‚Äôt go without you, Baragher.‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôm not going anywhere. Besides, I need you to leave. I want you to go back to the island, Bevyn. Our island, where the others are. If you want, you can stay there. All you have to do for me is tell the others where we are and tell them that I want them here. Can you do that for me?‚Äô
Bevyn‚Äôs mouth twisted. ‚ÄėI suppose‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėPlease, Bevyn. You‚Äôre my brother. Please just do this thing for me; it‚Äôs all I ask.‚Äô
Bevyn pushed his hair away from his forehead. ‚ÄėFor you.‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôll go with him,‚Äô said Tarmon.
‚ÄėAnd me,‚Äô said Fergal.
‚ÄėWe‚Äôll go, then,‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėWe‚Äôll tell the others to come here.‚Äô
‚ÄėAs many as possible,‚Äô said Baragher. ‚ÄėWe need them.‚Äô
‚ÄėBut how are you going to make them want to come?‚Äô said Bevyn. ‚ÄėWhat should I tell them?‚Äô
Baragher thought fast. ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt tell them about the gryphans. Only tell them the good things.‚Äô
‚ÄėTell them it‚Äôs a beautiful country, full of green plants. Tell them‚Ä¶‚Äô Baragher stood up and paced around, searching for inspiration. ‚ÄėTell them our land is a free land, where every man can have a territory big enough to fit the entire city of Instabaan twice. Tell them there are silver rivers and a sky that turns gold at night. Tell them‚Ä¶ tell them they can live here free all their days, feasting on cymran fruits.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat?‚Äô Bevyn‚Äôs nose wrinkled. ‚ÄėCymrans?‚Äô
‚ÄėWhere?‚Äô said Fergal. ‚ÄėI haven‚Äôt seen any.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt doesn‚Äôt matter. We can plant some one day. Just tell them.‚Äô
‚ÄėFine,‚Äô Bevyn said sarcastically. ‚ÄėWhat shall I tell them this wonderful new land is called?‚Äô
‚ÄėCall it‚Ä¶ uh‚Ä¶ call it‚Ä¶‚Äô Baragher rubbed his head. ‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know.‚Äô
‚Äė‚ÄúBaragher‚Äôs Land‚ÄĚ?‚Äô said Carag.
‚Äė‚ÄúBraggerland‚ÄĚ?‚Äô Tarmon grinned.
‚Äė‚ÄúNew Eire‚ÄĚ?‚Äô said Fergal.
‚ÄėNo, no. It has to be something that sounds good. Something that makes you think of wealth.‚Äô Baragher turned to his brother. ‚ÄėCall it Cymria.‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd what happened then?‚Äô the boy leaned forward, bright-eyed.
Sitting up by the fire, Traegan adjusted the blanket around his shoulders. ‚ÄėThen Traegan said, ‚ÄúI know the stars and the sun and the moon, I have sailed many seas. I shall guide you‚ÄĚ.‚Äô
‚ÄėDid he say you could come?‚Äô
‚ÄėHe did.‚Äô Traegan grinned. ‚ÄėThey were very curious to see Traegan.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhy?‚Äô someone else asked.
Traegan regarded his audience. ‚ÄėNo man of Tara ever leaves. Out there, the world is full of many peoples. None of them know our race. To the men in this strange land, Traegan was a mystery ‚Äď a man not like any they had ever seen. They trusted his foreign wisdom, even if they feared it.‚Äô His grin widened. ‚ÄėAh, and Traegan was cunning. He knew they would fear him more than they admired him, but he sang the song to make them forget their fear.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow did you do it?‚Äô Griffudd asked.
‚ÄėTraegan played the fool, as only Traegan can. He played it very well. He played it until the pale-hairs thought he was simple, thought he was for laughing at.‚Äô
‚ÄėDid you talk the way‚Ä¶ like how you are now?‚Äô a small girl asked, somewhat nervously.
Traegan nodded. ‚ÄėTraegan has spoken this way for many years, when it suited him. A thing done too much becomes a thing done always. And perhaps Traegan does not mind. It is a good thing, to be a man who jokes.‚Äô
Griffudd nodded. ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs more to you than meets the eye, Traegan. So tell me ‚Äď did you journey with them?‚Äô
‚ÄėTraegan did, and for many months.‚Äô
There was a stirring of excitement amongst the listeners.
‚ÄėWhat did you find?‚Äô the boy asked.
Traegan ruffled his hair and chuckled. ‚ÄėWhy, Bragger found his new land ‚Äď with Traegan‚Äôs help.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat was it like?‚Äô several people asked at once.
‚ÄėA mysterious land. A beautiful land! A land of beasts Traegan never saw before. A land where silver water flows and the sky turns golden when the sun sinks. A land where the moon shines more brightly than Traegan has ever seen.‚Äô Traegan‚Äôs voice rose with excitement as he spoke, and he waved his hands about, as if trying to draw a picture of the land as he had last seen it in the air.
‚ÄėWere there people there?‚Äô Griffudd asked.
Traegan nodded. ‚ÄėWise people. Friendly people. But not many of them. This land is a big land, bigger even than Tara. Land enough for many thousands of people.‚Äô
‚ÄėIs there food?‚Äô
‚ÄėFood, much food,‚Äô Traegan lied. ‚ÄėFood more wonderful than anything Traegan ever tasted.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt sounds wonderful!‚Äô someone exclaimed.
‚ÄėBut aren‚Äôt there monsters?‚Äô said a child. ‚ÄėEveryone knows monsters live over the sea.‚Äô
‚ÄėMonsters!‚Äô Traegan showed off his broken teeth yet again. ‚ÄėNo. No monsters. Traegan found something far greater than monsters.‚Äô
They all leaned forward. ‚ÄėWhat? What is it?‚Äô
‚ÄėA guardian beast,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėA magnificent beast! It lives in this land, guards it, watches over it. Its spirit is mighty and beautiful; it is‚Ä¶ regal.‚Äô
‚ÄėLike a wolf?‚Äô
‚ÄėMany times greater!‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėTraegan fought with one and showed it his strength. In return, it blessed him with its mark.‚Äô He slapped his arm, where the scars stood out.
‚ÄėIt did that to you?‚Äô said Griffudd.
Traegan nodded. ‚ÄėThis is the mark of Gryphan,‚Äô he said, sounding almost proud. ‚ÄėSee, here?‚Äô he ran his fingers along the scars. ‚ÄėEach line, a claw. All three came in one blow.‚Äô
Griffudd held his hands out, measuring the width. ‚ÄėSacred moon! Its paw must be-,‚Äô
‚ÄėLarge, and strong,‚Äô Traegan said. He held up a hand, fingers spread. ‚ÄėLike a human hand, but scaled like a bird‚Äôs.‚Äô
One of the children looked frightened. ‚ÄėA monster!‚Äô
‚ÄėGryphan has the heart of a warrior,‚Äô Traegan said sharply. ‚ÄėIt is the guardian spirit of heroes. One day, there shall be a Gryphan Tribe, to honour it and know its ways. Traegan swears this.‚Äô
Griffudd looked thoughtful. ‚ÄėDoes this new land have a name?‚Äô
‚ÄėYes.‚Äô The grin reappeared. ‚ÄėTraegan calls it‚Ä¶ New Tara. And one day soon, he will call it ‚Äúhome‚ÄĚ.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou‚Äôre not staying?‚Äô said Griffudd.
‚ÄėTraegan would like to. But New Tara calls, and he must return.‚Äô
‚ÄėI wanna go!‚Äô the boy declared. He tugged at Traegan‚Äôs arm. ‚ÄėPlease can I go with you?‚Äô
‚ÄėNo!‚Äô the boy‚Äôs father stepped in. ‚ÄėStop that at once. You‚Äôre not going anywhere.‚Äô
‚ÄėYou can come too,‚Äô the boy said.
‚ÄėListen to me.‚Äô Traegan stood up shakily, with Griffudd‚Äôs help. He addressed everyone there ‚Äď all the relatives and neighbours who had come to listen to him. ‚ÄėLife is hard here. Every winter the cold kills more of us. Every summer, the Bears and the Crows carry away our daughters and slaughter our men.‚Äô His lip curled. ‚ÄėAnd now the Snake Tribe have slithered back to their nests in the hills. You can‚Äôt rely on their sorceries any more. I have come home for only one reason: to tell you of this new land, this New Tara. Come with me, mighty warriors of the Wolf Tribe. Follow me to New Tara, and you will have a new life. The winters are warmer, the plants are greener. There will be no more raids, no more ravaged daughters. New Tara is where the moon waits and Gryphan calls. Trust in Traegan, and you will see.‚Äô
Many people there looked unsettled, but plenty of others moved closer to listen.
‚ÄėHow would we get there?‚Äô one woman asked.
‚ÄėWe will build boats,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėMany, many boats. We shall bring plenty of food ‚Äď now is the time to gather it, after all. Make boats and gather food, and Traegan shall do the rest.‚Äô
‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt do that,‚Äô a man said. ‚ÄėThis is our home.‚Äô
‚ÄėHe‚Äôs right,‚Äô a woman agreed. ‚ÄėThis is the land the moon blessed; if we left we would lose that blessing.‚Äô
But Griffudd moved closer to Traegan, standing tall beside him. ‚ÄėTraegan is right,‚Äô he said. He turned to face him. ‚ÄėLet me come with you.‚Äô
Several people yelled protests at that.
Griffudd turned on them. ‚ÄėI lost my mother and father this winter,‚Äô he snarled. ‚ÄėAnd all of you know what happened to my first wife, and my son. The moon gave me no blessing. I will go with Traegan.‚Äô
‚ÄėSo will I!‚Äô a woman declared.
After that, at least a dozen other people spoke up in support of Traegan. Surrounded by new-found followers, Traegan laughed and slapped Griffudd on the back.
‚ÄėWill Meirwen go?‚Äô The voice rose above the hubbub. The crowd quietened down and turned to look at Tynadd as she stood up from her seat by a tree.
Traegan craned his neck to see her. ‚ÄėDaughter!‚Äô he smiled.
Tynadd walked through the crowd, awkward with her pregnancy, and confronted him. ‚ÄėWill Meirwen go?‚Äô she said. ‚ÄėWill the wise one go?‚Äô
‚ÄėI‚Äôm sure-,‚Äô Griffudd began.
‚ÄėNo,‚Äô Traegan interrupted flatly.
Tynadd folded her arms. ‚ÄėWhy not?‚Äô
Traegan hesitated. Then he smiled and put his hand on her shoulder. ‚ÄėMeirwen is too old. But my beautiful daughter will take her place in New Tara.‚Äô
‚ÄėShe doesn‚Äôt know the spells!‚Äô someone protested.
‚ÄėNew Tara has its own magic,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėIts own spells. Spells for sweet Tynadd to learn. She knows the healing magic, and that will be enough for now.‚Äô
‚ÄėI will not go with you, Father,‚Äô Tynadd told him. ‚ÄėNot for any reason.‚Äô With that, she turned and walked away.
‚ÄėTynadd!‚Äô Griffudd started after her.
Traegan caught his arm. ‚ÄėTraegan will do this. Stay here.‚Äô
‚ÄėAll right, but be careful. You‚Äôre still very weak.‚Äô
Traegan nodded and smiled, and walked off into the trees after his daughter.
He caught her easily ‚Äď she was slow with her pregnancy, and besides, she had been expecting him to follow her. When she saw him coming, she slowed and turned, waiting for him to catch up.
‚ÄėWhy so angry?‚Äô Traegan enquired.
Tynadd turned on him. ‚ÄėI know what you did, Traegan,‚Äô she said. ‚ÄėYour wife told me.‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd what did she tell you?‚Äô said Traegan.
‚ÄėYou hurt her. You took her eye. You‚Äôre an exile.‚Äô
‚ÄėOh yes,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėI took her eye. And I am an exile.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhy?‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėWhy did you do it? Why were you exiled? Tell me. I deserve to know.‚Äô
Traegan walked in silence for a while. ‚ÄėDid you wonder where your mother learned her magic?‚Äô
‚ÄėFrom the Snake Tribe,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėEveryone knows that.‚Äô
‚ÄėAh, but did you ever wonder why?‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėWhy they taught her, when they have never shared their secrets before?‚Äô
‚ÄėShe traded with them,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėPaid them for their knowledge.‚Äô
‚ÄėHmmm.‚Äô Treagan hummed the sound. ‚ÄėBut paid them with what, Tynadd wonders? What could the Snake Tribe want, that a simple woman of the Wolf Tribe could offer?‚Äô
‚ÄėFood,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėThere was a famine that year.‚Äô
Traegan barked a laugh. ‚ÄėThe Snake Tribe is the holiest tribe. The moon shines most brightly on them, and shares its deepest secrets. Meirwen was always curious about them. She always wanted their power. But the Snake Tribe would not share.‚Äô He rubbed his shaven chin. ‚ÄėI warned her that they were dangerous, and she should stay away from them. She wouldn‚Äôt listen to me. Traegan was the tribe‚Äôs storyteller, who joked and sang. And who could throw a spear through a bird‚Äôs eye, when he wanted to. But why should Meirwen the wise woman listen to him?‚Äô
‚ÄėBut the Snake Tribe traded with her,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėShe found a way.‚Äô
‚ÄėShe found a way,‚Äô Traegan agreed. ‚ÄėShe found the one thing they would accept, as a gift.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhat was it?‚Äô said Tynadd, apprehensive.
‚ÄėThe Snake Tribe knows the moon well,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėThey know it will only share its power in return for a price.‚Äô
‚ÄėBlood. Human blood.‚Äô Traegan rubbed the scar on his chest. ‚ÄėSo Meirwen found the one thing she could trade: her own poor foolish husband.‚Äô
‚ÄėNo!‚Äô Tynadd stopped dead. ‚ÄėThat‚Äôs not true!‚Äô
‚ÄėIs truth!‚Äô Traegan said, slipping back into his old pattern of speech. ‚ÄėTraegan remembers it in his dreams every night!‚Äô he resumed, speaking in a low, feverish voice. ‚ÄėThe trade was made in secret. Traegan was fooled, tricked. Carried away by the Snakes. They took him to their circle, laid him on the altar. The moon was full, the knife was sharpened‚Ä¶‚Äô He closed his eyes, and broke off.
‚ÄėThen what happened?‚Äô said Tynadd.
Traegan grinned, but without his former abandon. ‚ÄėMeirwen did not expect to see her husband again, but she did. Traegan returned, in the dead of night, with his chest gaping wide. Meirwen said, ‚Äúyou must leave at once. Leave and never return. No man returns from the circle of the Snake Tribe. If our people knew it, you would die.‚ÄĚ By then, Traegan did not want to stay longer. There was pain in his heart, and he wanted to flee from it. So he kissed his little daughter goodbye and was gone. But before he left, he gave his wife a gift.‚Äô Traegan‚Äôs eyes narrowed. ‚ÄėTraegan never takes a blow that he does not return.‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt believe you,‚Äô said Tynadd, but there was no conviction in her voice.
‚ÄėThink,‚Äô Traegan suggested. ‚ÄėIf she had done nothing wrong, why would she not speak out? Why not tell the tribe what Traegan did?‚Äô he rubbed his knuckles. ‚ÄėFear keeps her silent. Fear that Traegan will say what she did.‚Äô
‚ÄėWhy didn‚Äôt you?‚Äô said Tynadd.
‚ÄėAh.‚Äô He looked sad. ‚ÄėTraegan said nothing because some things are best left unsaid. And beside that Traegan still loves his wife. Meirwen is punished enough by knowing what she has done.‚Äô
Tynadd wanted to cry. ‚ÄėWhen everyone leaves, she‚Äôll be all alone here.‚Äô
‚ÄėSome will stay,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėBut Meirwen will not. She gave up her love for power, and in his heart Traegan knows that for her punishment she will be alone until the end of time.‚Äô
‚ÄėI couldn‚Äôt do that to her,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėI have to stay with her.‚Äô
‚ÄėThen go to her now,‚Äô said Traegan. ‚ÄėBut Meirwen knows her fate. She has known it many days now.‚Äô
‚ÄėI have to see her, Father.‚Äô She reached out to touch his chest, where the scar was. ‚ÄėI‚Äôm sorry for what I said.‚Äô
‚ÄėTraegan forgives you.‚Äô
Tynadd bowed her head and walked away.
Meirwen‚Äôs home was close. Tynadd walked slowly through the slushy snow, her apprehension lifting when she saw the light in the entrance.
‚ÄėMother? Mother, it‚Äôs Tynadd.‚Äô She ducked through the wolfskin hanging, and entered.
Meirwen‚Äôs home was deserted. Tynadd stood in the doorway, her stomach twisting.
The place was barren. Pots and blankets, the dried fish that had hung on the wall, clothes and sleeping furs ‚Äď everything was gone. Only the sacred spirals painted on the walls were left to mark the wise woman‚Äôs home. The fire guttered in the middle of the floor, close to death.
A small bundle had been left lying beside it. Tynadd knelt and unwrapped it.
Inside were bundles of dried herbs and a dried owl‚Äôs wing, human teeth, a wand made from a yew branch, and a long copper knife. Everything Meirwen had ever used for her spells.
Tynadd crumbled a deertail leaf, releasing the sharp scent.
If Traegan‚Äôs story had needed any proof, this was it. Meirwen‚Äôs leaving, alone and without any warning or farewell, was as good as a confession of guilt.
Tynadd wrapped the bundle up again and kicked dirt over the fire. Then she left, without a backward glance. Returning to her father‚Äôs side.
Wrapped in a heavy bearskin, Meirwen trudged through the trees. The bundle on her back weighed her down and made her old bones ache, but she pulled it up onto her shoulders and pressed on. Her dead eye hurt, but nowhere near as much as her heart.
The old woman shuddered, trying to push away the image of Traegan in her head. But his face kept returning.
To her, what had frightened her so much was something unexpected. She had expected anger, expected hatred. She had never thought that seeing his face again, even after so long, would have awakened the feelings that they had.
She thought of old days under golden suns, nights when the moon was bright. Times spent with Traegan. The tribe‚Äôs eccentric, the one everyone secretly thought was a little mad. Meirwen‚Äôs father had warned her away from him, saying he was too odd, too unstable. But Meirwen liked his bright eyes, and the easy way he laughed. She liked the way he referred to himself all the time, she liked his stories. He was wise, she had thought. He hid his wisdom under a veil of jokes, but underneath‚Ä¶ oh, underneath‚Ä¶ underneath he was sweet and wonderful, and she loved him.
And despite everything, despite what each of them had done since those days, Meirwen knew she still loved him deep inside. She realised, there in the night forest, that she had missed him all this time. It had only begun to hurt now.
Meirwen gritted her teeth and walked on faster. Traegan didn‚Äôt deserve her love. The others still saw the joker, the cunning fool. They only saw what he wanted them to see. His jokes were still a veil, and what hid beneath them now‚Ä¶
There was only one place for her to go now, and she had only a short time to reach it. No time for self-pity, or for fear. Not even worry for Tynadd. But she would be safe. Traegan would never hurt her.
Or would he?
Meirwen thrust that thought away. There was an answer to her troubles, and it lay with the Snake Tribe. If she could find them.
When Tynadd returned, she found her father talking to Griffudd ‚Äď describing the methods of boat-building that he had learnt in Amoran.
‚ÄėSimple,‚Äô Traegan kept saying. ‚ÄėSimple! Traegan built boats in Meejain before he found Bragger. All his friends must do is follow his guide.‚Äô
Griffudd saw Tynadd. ‚ÄėThere you are!‚Äô he put an affectionate arm around her shoulders, pulling her to his side. ‚ÄėWhere did you go?‚Äô
‚ÄėTo visit my mother.‚Äô
‚ÄėHow is she?‚Äô
Tynadd looked straight at Traegan. ‚ÄėShe‚Äôs gone.‚Äô
Griffudd let go of her. ‚ÄėGone? You mean she left?‚Äô
‚ÄėAll her things are gone,‚Äô said Tynadd. ‚ÄėEverything. I found tracks in the snow, leading inland.‚Äô
‚ÄėShe left nothing behind?‚Äô said Traegan.
‚ÄėOnly this.‚Äô Tynadd showed them the bundle. ‚ÄėHer herbs and her magical things. I think she wanted me to have them.‚Äô
‚ÄėThen the wise one has gone on her final journey,‚Äô Traegan said.
Griffudd looked distressed. ‚ÄėShe didn‚Äôt even say goodbye.‚Äô
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs not the way,‚Äô Tynadd said, hugging him. ‚ÄėShe‚Äôs going to her peace.‚Äô
Traegan‚Äôs eyes narrowed briefly, but his voice was sorrowful when he said, ‚ÄėTraegan would have liked to see her one final time. He would have told her that‚Ä¶ that he loved her.‚Äô
‚ÄėShe knew,‚Äô said Tynadd, hating the lie.
‚ÄėMeirwen will carry the memory of Traegan‚Äôs love, and that is enough.‚Äô Traegan looked solemnly at Tynadd. ‚ÄėNow you are our wise one, beautiful daughter. New Tara awaits.‚Äô
Griffudd bowed his head to her. ‚ÄėWhat is your advice, wise woman?‚Äô he asked with a smile.
Tynadd clutched the bundle to her heart. ‚ÄėWe go to New Tara,‚Äô she said. ‚ÄėI trust you, Father.‚Äô
Traegan touched her cheek. ‚ÄėTrust in Traegan,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėFor he loves you.‚Äô
‚ÄėI know,‚Äô Tynadd smiled sadly.
Meirwen‚Äôs journey took far longer than she had expected. She travelled through the hills, sleeping in her bearskin at night and living on the food she had brought with her. A younger woman might have made the journey easily, but Meirwen had aged far more than she knew since the last time she had come this way. The cold got into her bones and made them stiffen. Hills took forever to climb.
There was danger about, too. Wolves, returning to the area with the Spring, prowled among the trees in packs and howled to the moon at night. Meirwen never saw them, but she knew they were close, and she knew, too, that if she ever weakened they would find her. Wolves would not attack a healthy human, but the sick and injured were easy prey.
Meirwen tried her best not to fear them, but it was hard.
Sometimes she thought she heard accusation in their howls.
Still, the wolves seemed content to stay away. She did come across a foraging bear, but the big beast was sleepy and only made a half-hearted attempt to catch her.
The hills seemed endless.
After nearly a month of walking, Meirwen climbed the plateau at the edge of Snake territory. At the top, standing proud against the wind, were the stones. There were thirteen of them, arranged in a perfect circle. At the centre, a flat-topped block long enough for a man to lie on had been placed.
Meirwen went to it, limping and stone-faced with pain.
The slab had been carved deeply with spirals that ran over the edges and down the sides. Dark stains had run through the grooves and soaked into the rock.
Meirwen put her hand on the marks and closed her eye. ‚ÄėTraegan,‚Äô she whispered.
The wind among the stones sounded like the echo of a scream.
Every bone in Meirwen‚Äôs body told her to leave the circle ‚Äď to run from the circle and never return. She fought the feeling, and sat down with her back to the altar, pulling the bearskin over her shoulders.
Eventually, she dozed.
When she woke again it was night, and the circle was full of starlight. She stood up, confused, and they were there.
Young, scarred, bare-breasted despite the cold, the women who stood around her wore wooden animal masks and carried sickles. They regarded her in silence, eerie in the dark.
Meirwen did not bow to them. ‚ÄėI am Meirwen of the Wolf Tribe.‚Äô
The nearest of the Snake Tribe women turned her masked head. ‚ÄėWhy have you defiled our circle?‚Äô
‚ÄėBecause Traegan has returned,‚Äô said Meirwen.
They did not react.
‚ÄėWe thought he had been driven away from Tara,‚Äô said the one who had spoken before. Her mask was a crow‚Äôs face, the eyes inlaid with copper.
‚ÄėHe returned,‚Äô Meirwen repeated.
‚ÄėFor revenge?‚Äô the crow-mask said.
‚ÄėNo.‚Äô Meirwen shook herself. ‚ÄėHe came back with stories of a new land he had found. A land he says is wonderful and rich. The Wolf Tribe believes him, and when I left they were preparing to build boats and go with him to find it.‚Äô
‚ÄėThere are no lands but Tara,‚Äô the wolf-masked woman intoned.
‚ÄėTraegan found them,‚Äô said Meirwen.
‚ÄėYou allowed him to lead the Wolf Tribe away,‚Äô said the crow-mask.
‚ÄėHow could I stop him?‚Äô said Meirwen. ‚ÄėI‚Äôm an old woman, and my spells would have no control over him. The tribe listens to him. And if I argued, he could‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄėTell them that you betrayed him,‚Äô said the crow-mask. ‚ÄėThat you offered his blood for our power.‚Äô
‚ÄėYes. Meirwen‚Äôs single eye was wide. ‚ÄėHe must be stopped. The moon‚Äôs spirit could never allow him to-,‚Äô
‚ÄėThe moon‚Äôs will is our knowledge, and ours alone,‚Äô the wolf-mask snapped. ‚ÄėYou can never know, old woman.‚Äô
‚ÄėYes,‚Äô the crow-mask interrupted. ‚ÄėWe know the moon‚Äôs will, Wolf-Mask, and I know it more than all of you. Meirwen.‚Äô She stepped forward, offering up a leather pouch. ‚ÄėTake this.‚Äô
Meirwen reached for it, but stopped. ‚ÄėWhat is it?‚Äô
‚ÄėThe power you seek, perhaps. We have no use for it now. Take it. It is the fruit of your betrayal.‚Äô
Meirwen took the pouch. ‚ÄėWhat should I do?‚Äô
‚ÄėWe do not know,‚Äô said the crow-mask. She glanced at her fellows. ‚ÄėIt is time. Do you still seek power, Meirwen?‚Äô
She looked away. ‚ÄėI don‚Äôt know any more. I‚Äôm so tired‚Ä¶‚Äô
The crow-mask ignored her. ‚ÄėOnce we thought he could be the one. We were wrong. Whatever your husband is, it is not what we have searched for.‚Äô
Another woman came forward. She looked older than the others, and wore a snake mask. ‚ÄėWe have realised the truth now, Meirwen. The one we looked for was not him ‚Äď it is you.‚Äô
Meirwen backed away. ‚ÄėWhat do you mean?‚Äô
‚ÄėYou want power,‚Äô said the crow-mask. ‚ÄėYou always have. You are the one.‚Äô
‚ÄėI don‚Äôt want it any more.‚Äô Meirwen felt as if her throat were closing up; her voice came out a whine. ‚ÄėI want to go.‚Äô
The snake-mask laughed. ‚ÄėThere is no escape from the power of the circle. Wolf, Bear ‚Äď lay her on the altar.‚Äô
Meirwen turned to run away, but she was already lost. Young, strong hands closed around her arms and her neck, dragging her sideways. She struggled as they pushed her onto the altar, tearing away her clothes to expose her chest.
Pinned down, Meirwen screamed. ‚ÄėNO! Please, no!‚Äô
The snake mask loomed over her, its eyes big blank globes ‚Äď mirroring the full moon above. To her left, the wolf mask drew a long stone knife.
Meirwen struggled with all her might, fighting as she had never fought before. ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt! Please, I don‚Äôt want to die!‚Äô
They ignored her, and the knife lowered toward her chest, lifting again for a strike.
The snake-mask raised a hand. ‚ÄėNo!‚Äô
The wolf-mask turned, waiting for a command.
‚ÄėNot there,‚Äô the snake-mask said. ‚ÄėBut there.‚Äô A long finger extended, pointing toward the scar that sealed Meirwen‚Äôs eye away.
The knife came down.
The sea. Everywhere the sea. It was everywhere he turned, everywhere he looked.
But the sea had an end.
Traegan looked beyond the heaving grey, and smiled to himself.
‚ÄėCan you see it, Father?‚Äô
Traegan glanced at Tynadd. ‚ÄėTraegan sees.‚Äô
She smiled and hugged her child close. ‚ÄėAt last.‚Äô
‚ÄėSoon New Tara will touch our feet,‚Äô Traegan declared. ‚ÄėSoon, we will be welcomed.‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd my son will have a home at last,‚Äô said Tynadd.
‚ÄėTraegan shall give him that, as he promised.‚Äô
Tynadd gave her father a one-armed hug. ‚ÄėTraegan always keeps his promises.‚Äô
‚ÄėAnd he always returns a blow,‚Äô Traegan cackled. ‚ÄėCome! Prepare with him. The time is soon.‚Äô
The word soon spread through the fleet of boats, and before long the Wolf Tribe were shouting in excitement ‚Äď pointing at the new land as it grew closer, exclaiming over the beauty they claimed they could already see.
When they were close enough to see the trees, Traegan stood in the bows of his own boat and held his spear over his head. ‚ÄėSee here, New Tara opens her arms to her new sons and daughters!‚Äô with that, he dived overboard.
Tynadd found him waiting on the beach when the boats had anchored. She trod over cool sand, marvelling at the thick forests and the snow-capped mountains inland. Unfamiliar smells filled her nostrils, and she heard the chirps of insects she had never seen. A strange land, but so beautiful.
Traegan stood up to meet her. ‚ÄėIs New Tara magnificent?‚Äô
‚ÄėIt is!‚Äô Tynadd almost laughed. ‚ÄėAll this time I‚Äôve wondered, but I never imagined‚Ä¶ if only my mother could have seen it.‚Äô
‚ÄėShe sees it.‚Äô Traegan gently lifted the child into his own arms. ‚ÄėHer eyes came with us, in her grandson. And her daughter.‚Äô
Tynadd smiled. ‚ÄėI‚Äôll have a daughter of my own one day. And I‚Äôll name it after her.‚Äô
‚ÄėTraegan believes you will,‚Äô Traegan cradled the infant. ‚ÄėBut for now, a son needs a name.‚Äô
‚ÄėNot until he‚Äôs older.‚Äô
‚ÄėNo!‚Äô Traegan grinned. ‚ÄėTraegan names him now.‚Äô He touched the child‚Äôs head, stroking the fine black curls. ‚ÄėTara shall be his home, and Traegan names him‚Ä¶ Taranis.‚Äô