"Imagine our luck, then, for being here during one of the nights of spectacle," a red-eyed Conner murmured.
"I'm pretty sure that's your fault," she replied mildly enough.
"I really didn't want to hear that, I'm dreadfully sorry for any problems that we might have brought upon your village...."
"Don't look at me, wasn't my house with all the dead people falling on its roof."
"I'll apologize to her later," he promised.
"She seemed a little bit annoyed."
"It wasn't our fault that they chose to fight over her house," Meara offered.
"They could have fought over the bay, where it wouldn't bother anybody," Conner agreed wistfully. And where he wouldn't have been able to see what was happening.
"And the giant weird creatures that no doubt live there could have snapped up the scraps," I finished. If the river fish were that big, what might be living out in the nearby ocean?
"Out of curiosity, how deep is that bay anyhow?" Meara asked.
"And how do you avoid getting eaten by giant fish?"
Gaenor shrugged. "Never found a bottom to it."
"All I needed to know, really." Meara wasn't surprised.
"Not out in the deep part, anyway. There's a bottom by the shore."
"I figured that you meant it that way. Out of curiosity, when was the last time the battle of the various dead factions happened?"
"Year ago, maybe two. Something like that."
"Do you know of anything that might have caused it then?" I asked.
"No. They tend to do that every year, two years."
"They're not very good at it," Meara observed.
"I've noticed that, yes. I don't know who's doing their battle planning, but they're failing at it."
Conner spoke up, "There are goblins on all those crows." Or something about that size, at any rate. "Goblins can't fight worth a damn. No wonder they're driven off every time."
"There is that," Meara agreed. "Those might be goblins."
"About the right size."
"About the right size, that stupid, too. Hm."
"So it's daytime, are we going to go investigate this mine or what?" I asked impatiently. The mine now seemed of more central importance than the castle, associated as it was with the unnatural birds. The ghost might just be a ghost.
"Yeah, I think so. Let's arrange for the message to go south."
"What?" I added; Conner was giving me that look he always got.
"She's right; we have to go," Llweder shrugged.
"I think I know somebody who knows the way to Londinium," Gaenor nodded. "Anything you want while he's there?"
Conner shook his head. "I have this real urge to just ask the rest of you to leave, and I'll stay here, living in the town where everyone goes 'Oh look, a curtain of night, how nice' and goes on with their regular everyday affairs, and there's no pointless spirit of inquiry!"
Gannon slapped him lightly to snap him out of it. Conner's not really a coward, I should mention; when things get exciting he's always there and does what he's supposed to. He just doesn't enjoy it, which is something of a shame.
"Maybe next time we watch something like this you might not want to look quite so closely," Meara suggested.
"So what was I saying, anyway?" Llweder asked the others.
"This is the spot " she stopped. "All right, I'm paraphrasing, and I'm skipping certain important details."
"Why?" I demanded. I would think important details would be the ones you'd want to be sure to mention.
"Because we don't want the stars to run backwards and the waves to leave the shore," Conner supported.
"Because I'm a poet who serves a goddess of poetry, I'm likely to slip into ancient Powian and start it all up again. This is the spot where" mumble "cast the last spear," mumble mumble, "you know the story, don't you Gaenor? When Llwys fought the... the Fomorians were giants, weren't they?" she asked Conner, who nodded.
Oh that Llwys. The rest of us could now figure out what she was talking about. Long, long ago a race of giants (the Fomorians) lived in Powys, and the Tuatha de Danaan made war on them for many years. The Fomorian king was Balor of the Lidless Eye, and his opponent his own grandson, Llwys. At the last battle Llwys put out his grandfather's eye and drove the other Fomorians beneath the waves. Balor himself had been, according to the tree although not in most versions of the story, "wrapped in iron and sunk beneath the hills."
According to the willow tree, this valley was his burial site. Now, obviously, Balor himself wasn't walking around, that would have been noticed without a doubt, but something strange was certainly going on, and this was a bad place for that to be happening. Meara and I wrote our letters while Gaenor rustled up the man with a boat that could stand the journey. Finding a crew didn't take long.
Translated into normal language out of Court, mine went something like this: Dear Dad. Found missing exchequer murdered by mysterious forces. Castle not heard from because lord has become ghost. Veil of darkness over half of valley, possibly Balor's burial site. If you never hear from me again, send army. Love to mom. P.S. In the future, suggest exchequers report things like curtains of darkness, apparently been here fifty years.
Meara's letter to her abbot consisted of a series of squeaks followed by the poem the tree had recited, though she translated it into modern Powian to avoid any unpleasant side effects.
"Do us a favor and don't harry anybody on the way there," she told the captain, who pretended not to understand what she meant. "You know something," she said to me as the boat got underway, "I realize that this is probably not the proper thing to say to a well-brought-up young daughter of Rhys, but this would make a hell of a smuggler's port."
I nodded. "I was originally thinking that that was where the gold had come from. Apparently I was wrong on that score...."
"It might be where the king got the gold originally."
"Well, we'll have to ask him about it."
"Yeah. You want to ask him, or you want to go find goblin mines?"
"I want to check the goblin mine out first, just to see what we're dealing with."
"Yes, but remember if we find the goblin fair, let's not tarry."
"Of course not; horrible things happen if you do that."
Artos was waiting for us at the landward end of the dock. "So, are you heading back over to the darkness?"
A chorus of affirmatives answered him. "They seem to think it's a good idea," Conner said glumly.
"Plan on bringing back more friends?"
"Lord, I hope not...."
"I think 'plan' is probably not the right phrase," Gannon suggested.
"Is it likely?"
"For us to have a plan? Not in my experience," Conner told him honestly. "I mean, not to date...."
"This is great, I might get to have a fight tonight." He didn't seem upset. I liked the guy more all the time.
"Want to come with us?" Meara offered.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al