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On the Boundary Walls

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Trewyn felt herself shifting and changing, her body reshaping itself just as it had when Fúamnach had caused her transformation. But this time, she retained control over her own limbs, as they shrank and were covered all over with the soft, white down of feathers. Her arms refashioned themselves into wings, her neck became elongated, and her bones felt as light as driftwood. Juniper, beside her, had been going through a similar transformation, and before anyone else in the hall could react, the two women had lifted into the air, as a pair of graceful swans. Trewyn’s heart was fluttering and birdlike, and for one brief moment she feared someone would try and stop them — Eochu made a feeble gesture in their direction, but his hands clutched empty air. Midir seemed to be trying to say something, but Juniper and Trewyn soared high above him, out of the hall and out of reach.

And then they were rushing along a strange and otherworldly path, travelling at an inhuman speed through the dark skies above Temair. The green hills and plains unfolded below them, the stars glittered above them, and Trewyn flew, following Juniper, whose flight was sure and steady. After a while they were crossing the ocean — Trewyn marvelled that she felt no fatigue — dipping and diving and gliding over ink-dark waves, the sea-salt seeping into their feathers. And, after the sea, the land again, green and familiar, jagged with cliffs and steep mountains. And, at last, a house. Juniper led Trewyn downwards, and, as they hit the ground, they became women once more. Trewyn’s heart was racing as she looked around wildly, trying to get her bearings, and, as her breathing slowed to a calmer pace, she became aware of Angharad, standing at the entrance of the house.

They had returned to Angharad’s dwelling in the west of Britain, the site of Trewyn’s apprenticeship as a doran-in-training, the place where she had first met Juniper — then Ninnoc — and taken her tentative initial steps towards the life she now led. Angharad greeted the two younger women at the door with warm, woven cloaks, and bread, and hot, spiced wine, and ushered them inside.

‘You must be exhausted,’ she said.

She led them through into the central room, where the chairs had been covered with piles of cushions and soft, woollen blankets, and the tables had been laden with food and drink. A fire had been made up, and was burning brightly. Trewyn curled herself up in a corner of the softest-looking chair. She felt as if she would need to sleep for a thousand years.

‘You should hear the stories they’ve been telling about you,’ said Juniper.

‘Stories about me have made it across the ocean?’ asked Trewyn, in shock.

‘You’re apparently an intoxicating and powerful woman — the storytellers can’t agree if you’re human or something else entirely — who tempted two men and at least one other being to lose their minds and tear up every hill in Ireland to recover you. Or you’re Ailill’s daughter, stolen from him by fairy trickery and trapped in the Otherworld for a thousand years. Or you caused a fairy woman to go wild with jealousy so that she cast you back into the world of humans and politics, with your memories gone and your love for her husband forgotten. And so on,’ said Juniper, laughing.

‘There are tiny grains of truth in all of that, but it wasn’t like that, really. I didn’t feel as if I was living in a story, at the time. I certainly didn’t feel powerful, or even useful, mostly. By the end I felt like an insect, or fast-flowing water, buffeted this way and that by the political tides.’

Juniper nodded, and poured more wine into Trewyn’s cup.

‘That kind of work at the courts of kings is draining,’ she said. ‘It can involve really intriguing magic, but more often than not you spend your days brewing tisanes and advising scarred mercenaries about their love lives.’

‘You’ve done that kind of thing before?’ asked Trewyn.

‘Not in Ireland, and not for as long as you, and never again. I think it must have been two years since we parted, after our time together on the road, roaming from hearth to hearth and hedge to hedge. I tried a few things after that — being a court doran included — but nothing felt right. I was heading south to Cornwall, to my father’s kingdom, to spend some time there, when I felt your need, like a faint call reaching out across the ocean. And you know what happened next. This time with Angharad is just a pause, a break in my journey, because you needed my help.’

‘You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like — you know that, Ninnoc,’ said Angharad.

‘I’ll stay until Trewyn’s got her strength back. And then, we’ll see,’ said Juniper, reaching across the table to help herself to a plate of apple cooked with hazelnuts and spices.

‘And you, Trewyn?’ asked Angharad.

‘I think ... I think I will rest here, for a while,’ said Trewyn. ‘I feel as if I’ve lived through more lifetimes than my own. I need to be still, to sit quietly and weave, until I feel more like myself. I need to watch the plants grow, and the birds return with the spring, and think about what to do next. I’ve been rushing along every path for so long, and I need to remember stillness.’

‘I heard they dragged you out on a circuit of Ireland, like some kind of talisman,’ said Juniper.

‘That part was true!’ said Trewyn. ‘Oh, Juniper, the things those kings did to signify their own power, as if to reassure themselves of their own might. What a strange, strange time I’ve had.’

‘You can tell us all about it later, but for now, you need to regain your strength’ said Angharad.

The flames in the fire leapt and danced, and, in this room at the heart of her childhood home, surrounded by two dear and familiar women, Trewyn allowed herself to rest.