Chapter 4

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The trip to see Dewines did little to settle Eleri's heart, but there was nothing she could do except watch and wait. Arwel being sworn to the Lord of the Land of Annwn didn't mean a thing unless he did something harmful or dangerous. Although she had taken an instant dislike to the king, it didn't prove anything and the sorceress had not been able to offer her anything more substantial than warnings. But still, her worry did not fade.

The sun was passed its peak when the priestess stepped out of the forest. The day was warm and bright and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Instead of pausing and looking out across the valley – or over at the stone circle on the hill opposite – she continued on down to the summer camp. All she wanted was to see Celyn. Perhaps then this melancholic cloud that was hanging over her would dissipate.

Once the hill was behind her, she chose her path carefully through the summer camp. She did not want any unexpected meetings with the River Folk again; the one in the forest this morning had been more than enough. So, she took the circuitous route, sticking to the places where she knew the people – and which kept her furthest away from the high status camp sites, where all the kings were staying.

Just as Eleri was about to cut a walkway through between two camp fires, a voice called out to her.

'Lady Eleri? Is that you?'

She turned to her right to find the oldest member of her tribe sitting alone in the half-shade of a tent.

'Hen, blessings of the Green Lady upon you,' Eleri said enthusiastically. Hen was now blind, his sight having dwindled through old age until he could no longer see at all. However, he made up for his lack of one gift with another two: he was knowledgeable in the lore of the tribes and his hearing was as finely attuned as any tracker.

'Thank you, dearest. Do you have time to sit with an old man or are there matters calling for your attention?'

Eleri smiled. 'Of course, I have time for you. Are you all right sitting out here beneath the sun? Let me fetch you some water.' She headed over to a barrel that had been sitting in the shade opposite and retrieved a cup for the elder.

He touched it to his forehead and then drank greedily. 'Tell me what you see,' he said, when his thirst was slated. 'What is going on over there?' He pointed towards the far side of the camp where a procession of druids was heading out of the encampment.

'The druids are leaving for their meeting, Hen. But I guess you knew that, didn't you? You may have lost your sight but your hearing is as sharp as ever.'

'I can fool some people but not you, priestess,' he chuckled. 'How was the forest this morning?'

'You heard me leave before dawn?'

His face cracked a smile. 'I would like to say "yes", but no. Your footsteps are too light. It was that warrior of yours I heard stomping through the camp as he chased after you. And now the druids are on their way to their meeting are they? I wonder what great subjects they discuss in secret...hmm...what of the forest then, dearest? Did any adventure befall you?'

Eleri didn't want to dwell on Arwel and their unsettling meeting in the forest, but having this man before her with a wealth of information stored in his head, she couldn't help it. The words flew out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop them. 'I met by chance some people on the forest road. What do you know of the River Folk, Hen?'

Suddenly Hen turned his blind eyes up at her and hissed. 'What business is this of yours, priestess? Don't meddle. This is beyond you.'

Eleri gasped and backed away, but the second she did so, the moment passed and Hen was his usual self again, as if nothing had happened.

'The River Folk, you say? The People of Afon...hmm...let me see...'

As he pondered her question, it became clear to Eleri that Hen had no idea what had just occurred; he had no knowledge of the change that had come over him. But what did it mean? And who – or what – had tried to speak through him?

'I know this,' he said, bringing the priestess' attention back to the question she had put to him. 'They have a new king. Arwel is his name. He's been king since Midwinter, I heard. Lofty ambitions that one. But then, the River Folk have always believed themselves apart and above, if you catch my meaning.'

Disappointed at his answer, she asked quietly, 'Is that all you know?'

'Almost, I'm afraid. They don't often leave the Riverlands to mix with the other tribes. They usually just send their druid. I did hear that before he became king, Arwel was, and maybe still is, their champion. Undefeated since becoming a man. I've listened to a few songs that tell of his heroic deeds. He fought and defeated three rivals in one night to take the torc and chair for his tribe.'

When Hen fell silent, Eleri doubted whether she had learned anything of significance. She thanked him for sharing his words with her and to show her gratitude, got for him another drink.

'You know, you shouldn't sit out in the sun when it's so hot, Hen. You could get sun-sickness. Why not spend a little while in your tent and then come back out when it's less intense?'

'Oh, dearest. You're kind to worry so about an old soul like me, but I've been on this earth long enough to know what I can and can't do.'

Eleri smiled once more and said goodbye, then continued on her way back to her own tent. She wouldn't convince him to go inside if he had a mind to stay put.

It was only early afternoon, but the day had already been a long one. Soon the summer camp would be ceasing all chores and tasks for the day and a festival mood would descend on the valley.

If Eleri was hoping to join in, she was going to need to rest. But would her troubled mind let her?


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