Staff of Winter, Part Eight - Farewell to Lys Derwen
The companions flew rapidly through the woods of Annwyn. One of their number, paler than the others, quickly fell behind, clearly struggling to keep up. The blue-eyed Brea-bird circled around, carefully shepherding Storm to compensate for the imperfect transformation of his shattered dragonborn bones.
Arriving at the great tree-hall of Lys Derwen, the group of swallows fluttered through an open window, following Brea as she landed and shifted into her elven form. Sophia’s nausea immediately returned, and Tector grimaced in pain as the open punctures left behind by the spikes that had protruded from his bones began to weep. Storm let out a terrible scream as he returned to dragonborn form, the pain of his shattered bones lancing through him. Sioc also transformed, a determined look in his eye as he pushed down the pain of his internal burns, followed by Cothu last of all.
Brea stepped lightly over to Storm, a look of concern on her face. “Help me lift him,” she asked. Tector, Sophia and Sioc hoisted Storm as gently as they could, but the smallest movement jarred his broken bones and caused agony, and the dragonborn let out a shriek before passing out.
The companions carried Storm up a spiral stair of living wood, following Brea into a simple chamber, where they deposited him on the bed. The elven healer immediately set to work examining the sorcerer, and after a while the others returned to the hall below. Sophia washed and bound Tector’s wounds, while Sioc found fresh spring water, berries, dried meat and fresh bread. The companions ate in silence, watching Cothu as she slowly explored Lys Derwen, her twig-like fingers gently tracing the contours of the hall of living wood.
After some time the companions heard voices, and Gwydion strode into the hall, accompanied by Derriol and Ffreath. The elf-lord’s right side was blackened, with some of his hair burned away, and his skin had an unnatural greyish pallor. Blood oozed from deep slashes in Derriol’s armour which stretched from her right shoulder to her left hip, and her skin was pale from blood loss beneath a sheen of ash and sweat. Ffreath moved slowly, favouring her right leg.
The companions stood, and Gwydion responded to the unasked question burning in their eyes. “Morrigan is banished.”
He shook his head. “Gods, but it was a hard fight! It seems you landed some hard blows on the Black Queen even before our intervention, she was disoriented by some form of enchantment and had been scorched by lightning. Just as well, as it took the combined might of Derriol, Ffreath and I to drive her off, and might have been much the harder without your contribution.”
Gwydion unbuckled his armour and took a deep draught of crystal clear spring water before continuing. “If you were unknown to her before, or perhaps underestimated, Morrigan will have marked you now, of that you may be certain. I sense that you carry artefacts of great power, and that is just as well. Although the Black Queen does not possess the far sight and divinations of her fairer sister, she has the craft to find her enemies nonetheless, if they are not shielded as you are. Still, I would advise caution. She will surely seek revenge, and you will need powerful allies at hand if she is able to confront you.”
Tector and Sophia thanked Gwydion and his daughters for their aid, and the elves took their leave to tend to their wounds, leaving the companions to rest.
After a good night’s sleep, Sophia and Tector looked in on Storm. He was conscious but still in great pain. They both offered their aid to Brea in healing their friend. “I thank you,” she smiled. “It is slow work, but repairing the damage of Morrigan’s sorcery must be done carefully, and by one of sufficient skill, to ensure that the bones knit together properly. It is particularly important for Storm, as his wing bones need to set perfectly if he is to fly again.”
Over the next few days, the companions rested and healed. Tector exercised in the meadows around Lys Derwen, and began to practice the power he had glimpsed in the mists of Annywn, swinging his greataxe in a wide arc and throwing out a wake of radiant energy in front of him. Storm was able to leave his bed and began to hone his latest spell, crouching to stab freezing talons into the ground and causing stalagmites of ice to erupt from the earth nearby.
While her friends healed and trained, Sophia was troubled. She had thought long and hard about her encounter with Morgause in the mists of Annwyn, and the insights she had gained as a result, but despite the similarity of their talents, the creed of Morgause was anathema to her. Determined not to follow the White Queen’s lead, the young noble instead practiced her archery, spending long days in the meadows shooting at makeshift targets.
One afternoon, as Sophia retrieved her arrows, Gwydion approached her. “That is a fine bow,” observed the elf lord. “Elven make, the finest quality. How did you come by it?”
Sophia explained that it was a gift from Queen Dienwe, which drew a look of surprise from the languid elf-prince. “Indeed!” he exclaimed. “I sensed it had rare power, but dismissed the notion. I should have trusted my instincts. I see now that there is more to your little fellowship than meets the eye. Please give my best wishes to the Queen when next your paths cross.”
They talked for a while of the group’s work in the war against the Witches, and gradually their conversation turned to archery. Gwydion explained that sorcery could be used to enhance an archer’s prowess, sometimes in quite surprising ways, and offered a demonstration by way of example. Sophia readily agreed, handing the elf Dienwe’s bow.
Gwydion notched an arrow, sighted at a tree a hundred feet away, and let fly. The arrow struck the trunk, and as it hit Gwydion disappeared, only to reappear instantly next to the still-vibrating arrow he had just fired! Quick as a flash, he knocked another arrow and let fly, neatly skewering the target Sophia had been practicing with.
“The target does little justice to the trick,” called the elf-lord. “It works particularly well with a worthy opponent. When your enemy attacks, use an arrow to escape his clutches and then skewer him from an unexpected angle!”
Sophia clapped her hands in delight as Gwydion walked back to her, and asked the elf-lord if he could teach her this magic. He agreed, and they spent hours in practice, Sophia fascinated by this new skill and Gwydion energised by the enthusiasm of the young lady. She was a quick learner, and took to calling her new talent ‘Gwydion’s Arrow’.
More nights passed, and Storm’s strength gradually returned. He was able to take to the air once more, making short flights across the meadows around Lys Derwen at first, gradually extending his range. The mental and physical scars the companions carried slowly healed, and as Cothu continued her symbiotic exploration of Lys Derwen, the conversation of the companions began to turn homeward, to England, and the fact that they would soon have to return.
A few days later, each of the companions felt a strange sensation flowing from their Solstice Stone, an almost magnetic pull, weakened as if by a great distance. Storm, thinking that this would likely be Myrddin seeking the group, immediately sought out Gwydion and asked his advice. The elf lord suggested that their best route home would be by way of the standing stones, deep in the forest of Annwyn, through which they had arrived several weeks before. Wasting no time, the companions gathered their belongings, explained to Cothu that it was time to leave, and said their farewells to Brea, Derrioll and Ffreath.
Gwydion himself escorted them to the standing stones. They waited for several hours within the circle of monoliths before a familiar sensation washed over them. The stones rapidly began to blur and they were catapulted once more into the ether between the Otherlands.