Bronwyn Davidson is an American Archaeologist who lives and breathes Welsh History – especially if that Welsh history is related to the myth of Madoc the Explorer. With an ugly divorce behind her and a year imposed teaching assignment in front of her, she takes a final walk-through of her now closed dig that has a lot of people excited. A dig that yielded a 1000 year old Druid burial.
But unbeknownst to her, she’s getting ready to meet that Druid.
As well as the Welsh Warrior who has been riding her dreams…
A/N – due to the vagueness of some dates, I’ve had to fudge a bit here and there. Or guess.
When the Ribbons Dance
Somewhere in Ceredigion, Deheubarth, Cymru
Late Fall 1170 A.D.
The fog in the early morning air was particularly succulent.
While succulent wasn’t a term the warrior would normally use to define the miasma, it seemed to sum up the feelings he pondered over and over until his head throbbed. Things bothered him, worried him, kept him up all night.
No. Things didn’t bother him. She bothered him.
The mist swirled around his boots; gentle, lacy tendrils fingering its way through the lacings and up under his wrap. If this aggravated him, he didn’t show it. Instead he watched as the settlement slowly came to life in the early dawn. Low voices began to ebb from the covered openings of homes; to his left, a baby began to cry.
That one would be Deidre’s get. A girl rumored to have his eyes. Deidre started that rumor, fueled it with flame from aged wood, but both knew he had not lain with her since that drunken night 11 moons…
He shook his leonine head, to rid himself of cloying, unhealthy thoughts. No, best not think about it. He was seeking comfort; she gave him it to him. It dawned on him she might come from her hut, find him close by and this was enough to get him moving again. A faint glow came from the old Druid’s hut, so he headed towards the dwelling.
Aelhaearn looked up from the central fire as the animal skin that served as a door and screen was pushed aside. “Meaurig,” he spat in feigned ill humor, “you should learn to warn a man before walking into his home.” He threw something into the flames and watched the sparks rise towards the smoke hole. “You could have interrupted me in the throes of making some wench scream for joy.” He nodded to the not-quite woman crouched in the shadows. “Glenys, be a good lass and fetch four eggs from the henhouse. Two for me, two for our unexpected, rude guest.”
“What? And be graced by the sight of your bony, pasty arse-cheeks, flapping in the air?” Meaurig leaned over and touched the girl on the shoulder as she slipped around him. “Get two eggs for yourself and put on a cloak. ‘Tis chilly out.” Her mouth opened in protest. “If your grandfather as much as raises an eyebrow for you taking two eggs for yourself, tell me and I’ll read his entrails before the next battle!” Meaurig winked at her deviously, catching her grin as she sped through the entrance way.
“You’ll spoil her.” Aelhaearn removed the pot on the fire and replaced it with a flat sheet of hammered iron.
“You already have.” Meaurig settled down to the man’s right. “It’s past time for her to be tending her own hearth.”
“I know it, you know it, but who will tend mine?” More dust was thrown into the coals, causing more sparks and colors to flare. A strange, unusual scent filled the air. “I wanted to talk to you-“
“It’s past time you found someone to tend to your hearth.”
The old man sighed, sorrow etching his face. “Adaryn has been gone how many moons? Seasons?”
“Too many.” Meaurig whispered. “Five summer solstices,” he muttered a little louder. For a short time, the only sound was the wind slowing churning the dirt outside.
“Meaurig,” the old man began gently, “the usurpers over the mountains won’t be returning her after all this time-“
“Shh!” Meaurig stopped the sentence, the thought with a labored hiss and a chop of his hand. “I know she’s been gone too long and won’t be returned, if ever.” It was quiet in the dwelling for a few moments. “Even if she is returned… who knows where her mind will be.” Both of his hands dropped below his knees. “I don’t know who’s worse. Believing she is dead or the British soldiers, using her for sport. I pray she is dead, rather than…” His voice drifted off and he looked up, scrutinizing the Druid with the stare of a hawk. “Will we ever know peace?”
The old man picked up the thought. “They say the woman of the blacksmith in Mynyw was returned and he still can’t look at her without her screaming.”
Meaurig nodded sullenly. He knew Tudri and his woman; had seen her the last time they had traded. He didn’t recognize her, knotted hair and crazy, glazed eyes. She screamed at everything. The thought of his Adaryn, his little bird, being that way; he was ashamed that he admitted it out loud, he wished her dead than suffering the fate Tudri’s wife suffered. He realized Aelhaearn was still looking at him intently. “I’ll become bonded and married in my own time, old man! And not to Deidre” Aelhaearn started to chuckle, thin bony shoulders shaking. “Or Glenys!”
It was a low growl and Aelhaearn raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t going to suggest you take her.” He frowned at the shapes being made by the smoke and reached for a sack made of moleskin. “Niclas, the tanner has an apprentice – Arvel – and they’ve been seen whispering in the shadows of the early evening.”
“Whispering,” Meaurig chuckled. “Such innocence.”
“Which is something you’re not.” The old man pointed with a gnarled finger, “and she is.” He shoved his hand back in the moleskin pouch and pulled out an aging pear. “He will be good for her, keep her fairly well.” He pointed again. “He’ll have a trade.” The Druid inspected the pear, clearly not liking what he saw. “You’ve come for a reason. Tell me quickly before Glenys returns.” He took a bite from the darkened, wrinkled fruit and made a face.
Meaurig inhaled once. “There is change in the air. I can’t sleep.”
“You want a sleeping powder?” The old man’s voice bordered on incredulous. “What am I?” he muttered under his breath, bits of sour pear splattering the front of his robe. “A witch? A wise woman? Next he’ll be asking for a potion to keep him erect!” he grunted more to himself than to the hulking figure squatting next to him.
“I heard that!” Meaurig threw his hands to the roots of his hair, pulling the long, dark locks away from his face. “Damn you. She keeps me awake.”
A smirk graced the Druid’s stone-carved features. “If she keeps you awake, I suggest you find a more peaceful sleeping partner.” The half eaten pear was thrown in the embers. Another scent added to the air…
“Not that. She keeps me awake. Her… voice.” For all of Meaurig’s height, he slumped low. “I’m hearing her. I hear cries and her whispering in my head.”
Aelhaearn munched on what mouthful of his pear was in his mouth, sucking the meat from between his teeth. “She comes.”
“So you say,” Meaurig snarled. “So you say. You say she will save us; rescue us from those that will encroach upon our lands and our beliefs. Our holy days are drying up, overtaken by the Christ followers. When will she come?”
The old man chewed the last bite slowly and dipped once again from the endless depths of the moleskin. He swirled the powders in the palm of his hand, spitting phlegm and masticated pear skins in it before throwing the mixture on the coals. “Owain is dead.”
Meaurig’s gasp was loud. “What? That cannot be!”
Aelhaearn nodded morosely. “Owain, King of all Wales is dead and Cristiana’s sons scramble for position.” He took a long, crooked finger and drew in the ashes on the outer edge of the fire. “No one is safe until they have what they want.”
“Owain cannot be dead!” His eyes darted back and forth in the sparks of the fire. “How do you know this? There has been no messenger?”
The Druid glanced at the warrior from the side of his sockets. “Question me? Have you known me to be wrong?”
Meaurig shuddered. “Never.” He bowed his head. “If Owain is dead, Hywel will be king. It was decided long ago.”
“And if Dafydd and Rhodri decide otherwise, who will enforce Owain’s will? Certainly not his queen.”
“There will be war. Brother against brother. Owain had too many sons.” He put his head in his hands. “And I have a woman in my head! When will she go away?”
Aelhaearn’s granddaughter returned, pushing the side of the animal skin away, eggs bundled gently in her skirt. As the breeze from the opened hide stirred up the smoke and embers, a mist of many hues rose from the fire.
“When the ribbons dance in the late fall sky, she will come.”