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At War in a Time of Peace

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On the night before the Sons of Don were to depart Prydain forever, Gwydion walked alone in the forest near Caer Dallben. The golden ships lay at anchor off the beach-strand, and the fires of the encampment flickered and flamed to ash as he watched silently, hidden from view by the sheltering trees. Turning away, Gwydion sought blindly northward, toward the Eagle Mountains he could not see from here and the lands beyond that he could no longer call home. Inner vision - sharpened in Oeth-Anoeth and now never far from him - flared alight, much like the campfires, bringing memory.

* * * * * * * * * *

He would always remember this, in days to come. Gwydion stood upon the heights of Caer Dathyl, looking down upon the gathering forces. A strong wind blew, ripping at the banners of the cantrev kings and further disordering shaggy, gray-streaked hair, but the prince of Don paid it no heed. Green eyes glittered brightly as he calculated the strength and numbers of those assembled, and then, spying the approach of a new force, he strode along the parapet and down the stairs to the courtyard below.

A blond figure hurried to meet him. "Great Belin! Lord Gwydion, it's good to see you! The northern cantrevs have rallied in answer to your call, and we are ready to serve as you command."

Grinning wolfishly in return, Gwydion clasped the extended hand. "You have my thanks for your aid in these troubled times, Fflewddur. We shall need every good man and stout heart, and I have long counted you as both. Already I must ask something of you."

"A Fflam never hesitates! Show me the enemy, and I will fight until either death or victory!" From the harp slung at his shoulder, strings jangled as the bard gestured enthusiastically, but not a single one gave nor even strained.

Gwydion laughed. "All in good time, my friend. For now, I ask that you take men and ride out; another force approaches, and they carry at their forefront the banner of the White Pig. I must go to the High King; do you go forth and welcome Taran and the men of the Free Commots to Caer Dathyl in my stead, and send him to meet me in the Hall of Thrones when he arrives."

As Fflewddur hurried off, calling for men to gather and horses to be brought, Gwydion made his way deep into the castle and into the presence of Math, son of Mathonwy, upon his throne. A few quick steps brought him before the High King, and he bowed low.

"There is no need for you to stand on such ceremony, Gwydion." The rich voice was quiet, yet strong, and Math continued, "I sit upon this throne for the moment, but Gwyn rides ever nearer, and you will rule when I am gone."

"That day is not yet, my king, and until it comes I shall continue to do you the honor that you deserve." Familiar ritual, familiar words, and yet no less heartfelt for all of that; Gwydion's smile was quick and sharp, like a wolf leaping, and he moved to Math's side. "Fflewddur Fflam has arrived with the armies of the northern cantrevs, and Taran Wanderer approaches even now, leading men of his own. Smoit is delayed in the south, in Ystrad Valley, but may serve us well there even so."

"We wait now upon Pryderi and the forces of the West Domains, but word has arrived already that the numbers are great," Gwydion continued. "With such strength, we can send our people in numbers to face the armies of Annuvin, the Cauldron-Born and the Huntsmen, and I now hope to engage them in a series of smaller battles long enough that their strength wanes and they fail, so far from Arawn's fortress. If we can succeed at that, we may then be able to strike a crushing blow and weaken or even shatter the power of the Lord of Death."

With a weary sigh, Math nodded. "I have no great gift for war, Gwydion; all my life I have sought only peace for these lands. This is your strength and your skill, and we must depend on you to win it. I leave these choices to you, and shall trust in what you decide."

The High King looked up then as another entered the Hall of Thrones, and Gwydion turned as well to face Taran and consult with him.

* * * * * * * * * *

The sea breeze stirred, bringing Gwydion back to himself. Math's trust had been misplaced, and Caer Dathyl had fallen. Bitterness surged for a black moment in the prince of Don before he crushed it, ruthlessly. Caer Dathyl had fallen, but so had Annuvin; the Iron Portals had been breached, and the Lord of Death had at last been slain, although not by him. Arawn's power had been shattered, like the Black Crochan long before, and scattered to the winds.

The shining ships which had sailed from the mouth of the river Kynvael bore far fewer folk from Annuvin to the harbor at Avren than had come there originally in battle. Many had died, for Prydain's sake; for Gwydion's sake, and that of the Sons of Don, in order to bring about Arawn's destruction in the end. The hosts of all the assembled cantrevs rejoiced for the new world before them, even as they mourned for that which was lost.

So also did Gwydion now rejoice and mourn together, as he gazed out over the land. The task was complete, and the long purpose of the Sons of Don had been fulfilled; the ancient destiny had come upon them now, and the Summer Country beckoned. Math's dream of peace had been achieved, although the old king was not there to see it. Nor would Gwydion truly see it built, for he must also depart, setting sail from Prydain with the morning light, never again to return to his beloved northern lands. He bowed his head and clenched his fists, struggling with his grief.

From behind him, a voice called out, "Hail and farewell, High King."

Gwydion spun about. Three figures stood before him, fair of face and calm of demeanor; the third was cloaked and hooded, and the first carried a tapestry of some design that he could not see. "I know who you must be, although we have not met before; Taran has spoken of you - Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch."

"Those names will do well enough. But have we not met, my pet? Are you certain?" The middle woman, Orwen, laughed girlishly as her sister Orddu continued. "You are right to think that Taran knows us perhaps more directly than you, but we ourselves are not strangers."

He drew himself up then, wary and watchful. "Why have you come?"

"Not for you, High King who would be. We have something for Taran, although that is neither here nor there, but we saw you here and thought to stop for a moment." Orddu took a step toward him, then, and her smile was strangely sad. "It is not for you, Gwydion."

"I know," he said. "I have always known, though it is hard here at the last to leave a home that I have grown to love. I am a warrior - what use is there for a war leader in the Summer Country? There will be need here, I know it."

"What use is there for a leader anywhere, my duckling?" Her eyes were bright upon his as she asked, "Could you see yourself leading this land now?"

Long moments of silence passed as the prince of Don fought against the sudden temptation rising in him. Finally, once again, Gwydion bowed his head. "No. No, I cannot. I myself have said it; I am a warrior, and this is a time now for peace and rebuilding." He straightened, and bowed to the three enchantresses. "I thank you for your counsel."

Orddu clucked. "You knew the answer already, my dear. The hardest battles are the ones we fight with ourselves." She turned to her sisters, and then back to him. "Hail and farewell - Gwydion."

Before he could speak again, they were gone. He remained for a while longer in the forest that he loved, and then went down to the campfires and moved quietly among the people there, speaking calm words of friendship and farewell to those who knew him or who merely wished to. When the sun rose, Gwydion, son of Don, victorious in his final battle, turned away from Prydain forever and went down to the golden ships which would bear him to the Summer Country.