Chapter Thirteen - Grotto God
This past week was my birthday. I had a wonderful time hanging out with friends, and playing with yarn another friend had sent me. It's when I play with yarn, whether by knitting or weaving, that I feel the most like one of the Gwion. I hope you have enjoyed the chapters. Post comments down below telling me what you think.
Outside, the prince had gathered a small entourage and all had gone down to enjoy the beach. "He's staying at the castle," a passing girl gushed. "Someone said he's wooing the daughter. Oh. my. word. I'd die if he'd show up at my place."
"I'd almost pay to see him show up at Uncle Cynwal's place," Caradoc said.
"You have an evil streak," Hugh grumbled.
"Mischievous. Just because I don't like him on matter of principle, doesn't mean I wouldn't mind seeing Mederei kick his sorry arse. I can't at any rate without resorting to violence; Mederei could, and no one would be the wiser, but he happens to be friends with Tewdr at any rate. Not like you and I, but like you and Brys. Friendly enough all around. He apparently has visited more often this past year. Gwen likes him." He pointed ahead of them. "That's where the third one is, but we have to go down into a cave system to reach it."
"How many of these are in caves?"
"Just the two. The other three are all in the surrounding countryside. This is the only one directly in the town, but when we arrived here yesterday, the site was already closed. It's a tourist attraction."
"And the others aren't?"
"Being where they are, and the trouble to reach them lends them to the not category, but this is one is within walking distance of the beach and most of the town. I think it might even still in use, but I'm not certain."
"That could be the source Mederei meant," Ramses suggested.
"It could be," Caradoc confirmed, "but most likely it isn't. After all, when plotting support for the tapestries, the best choice would be to create something akin to a self-generating power. Even something like wind could be the power source so long as the energy provided taps into a magical entity. Magic's just another unending power source."
The shrine in the center of town was accessed through a garden entrance. While no one had to pay to enter, the constant stream of people slowed at the entrance forcing everyone to slow down. Ramses squeezed into a space near the back of the main room. "Looks like something happened earlier."
"That would have been yesterday," a guard said. "There was a flash of light, followed by a faint glow of an image." The guard blinked and looked at Caradoc, his gaze shifting from Caradoc's oddly colored bluish-green eyes to his russet hair. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"One of what?"
"Excuse me?" Caradoc said with a glance at the actual demihabil. "I'm a what?"
"You have to be a demihabil. You look just like the one on the wall," the guard inside the grotto raised his voice in excitement. "We don't have many here, so it's a rare treat to meet an actual demihabil."
Caradoc held up his hands. "I can see that not many visit, considering your response, but I'm not demihabil. My ancestors were, but ... wait ... What sort of image?"
"A couple - male and female." The guard motioned behind him. "It's a demihabil and a witch. You're certain you're not a demihabil. I know I've seen you before."
"He isn't," Hugh promised, smoke curling from his mouth. "I am, though."
The guard looked at Hugh. "You don't look like a demihabil."
Ramses coughed. "Tough luck, there, Hugh."
"I know I've seen you before," the guard insisted. He shifted his weight to rest on his right leg while he tapped his temple. "Let me think. It was last year ... No ... Last night. Nope; there was sunlight..."
"Have you ever been to the capital?" Caradoc suggested.
The guard snorted. "No, not likely."
"This is my first time to Ruskisimos," Caradoc said. "How can you have met me before?"
"Didn't say met; just seen. It was down here, yesterday around one." The guard jabbed the air. "I remember because Charlie said he felt uneasy a moment before you turned the corner."
Caradoc shrugged. "Have me there."
Pleased, the guard moved on, but Caradoc watched him leave, his expression pensive. "We were out at the sea grotto at one yesterday," he informed the other two. "If that's the corner he means, then there might be a tapestry there."
Hugh turned his back to the crowd of tourists. "You think your image flashed to the other ones or something?"
"Don't know what to think, but if he said he saw me here then something happened." Caradoc tugged at his chin. "What's strange is that he believes I was physically present, and not just the image. What if we're discussing two separate scenes? Like one was from the past and one from the present?"
"Who would the man be? The woman could be one of the sisters ... "
"He said it's a witch, though, and I don't know if any of our ancestors were ever classified as witches." Caradoc turned to look around the room. "Which was the image he meant? He mentioned I looked like the demihabil."
"Please don't remind me of that egregious error in his judgment," Hugh groused.
"If it's Aoife," Caradoc continued, "it could be her husband, fitz Hugh; Tewdr and I are said to resemble him."
"Her husband was fitz Hugh?" Ramses asked, clearly impressed. Most everyone knew stories about fitz Hugh, and finding out that friends were related to him was like finding out your family is related to a favorite character. "I didn't know that. Are you named after him?"
Hugh nodded his head. "His father, actually, but yes. My mother is mildly obsessed with fitz Hugh."
"She has every book based on him, and the only known tapestry image of him," Caradoc said. "Her doctoral thesis was on him too, wasn't it?"
They had moved from the main room into a smaller room with more people. Here everyone collected around a corner where two walls met. On the right wall was a black-skinned woman with her hand extended to the ruddy man who was on the left wall. The woman wore loose clothing tied under her bosom. Her hair was pulled up into the intricate knots indicative of the Silver Age of the ancient Caergwlanian United Kingdom, or the First Classical Period. She wore no shoes, and in her hand was a piece of wood.
The man wore a kilt and had a tail trailing behind him.
Caradoc crossed his arms. "That's new."
"He does look like you, in a weird sort of way," Ramses said, cocking his head first to the right then to the left. "I could see why someone might mistake you for him, at a glance." He pointed a finger to the woman. "She's not a Gwion, though. Only those in the capital region are that dark, aren't they?"
"Aoife and her sisters were most likely that dark. My mother believes that it's the demihabil blood in the Gwion which has lightened their skin tones. Besides, look at Mederei and Caradoc's family. They're two of the lightest in the family. Mederei's nieces and nephews are all dark-skinned because both Arlan's wife and Ceinwen's husband come from pure South Caregwlanian bloodlines."
Ramses scratched his head. "I did not know that. Mederei doesn't show many images of her family, just talks about them. Then would that be fitz Hugh?"
"No," Caradoc and Hugh said. "There's a tail, that can only be one person - Kamron fitz Ciarbogu - the half-dragon."
"Never heard of him," Ramses said after a moment.
"He's not well-known outside the island," Hugh admitted. "He had a rare disorder which prevented him from turning his body fully into the demiform. He remained with a portion of his body as a dragon body, though usually, he is portrayed with a dragon's arm, not a tail."
"Wasn't there a legend about him wiping out a thousand ships with that tail though?" Caradoc tapped his toe on the floor. "I'm certain there's a random story out there."
Hugh shook his head slowly back and forth, before changing his expression with a snap. "Oh, I know which one you mean. Yes, there is a legend, but hardly anyone ever speaks about it. It's one of Alfny's favorites."
Caradoc shrugged his shoulders with a motion of his eyes as if to remind Hugh who they discussed.
Of course he was right - Mederei probably would have taken Caradoc on an adventure and they would have learned about it then. "No one knows where it takes place, though, and I didn't think he knew the sisters."
"But he probably knew fitz Hugh, considering they were probably related," Caradoc reminded him. "Anyway, there's another thing to look into, and this time we will need Mederei down here after hours. If the woman's one of the Gwion, there's going to be something, and from what I'm beginning to put together, this is probably the center of the web of magic."
"What brings you here, sons of Gwion?" A man inquired. "I don't often see you two together anymore. The man, tall, dark and built, was three years older than Hugh, and the personal bodyguard to Kiango. Thuweni looked around the grotto area. "And where is that redheaded obnoxious cousin of yours?"
Given the situation, there was only one redheaded obnoxious cousin he could mean. After all, Brys remained in the capital at last account.
"At the library."
"Probably safest place considering Kiango plans to remain at the beach for a bit." Thuweni shifted his weight. "About that ... Where are you staying?"
"The inn on the beach," Hugh answered. There was an uneasy truce between he and Thuweni, even to Caradoc to an extent. Where Mederei and Kiango rarely saw straight with one another, their closest companions were often more amicable.
Well, at least to the point of not being childish.
"I will endeavor to keep him from the location, however ... what brings you here? Surely it isn't for the sun?"
"We're on assignment," Hugh answered. "You?"
"A whim, he hasn't bothered to tell me the exact reason."
That was highly unusual for Kiango who considered Thuweni his closest ally and friend. What had changed?
"And you have brought a wizard with you?" Thuweni pressed. "You all know the rules concerning said wizard."
"We're here for the tapestries," Hugh continued, his voice even. "The wizard came because of what she can see. No rules against that."
"And I'm here because of laws," Caradoc groused.
"They're not my laws," Thuweni reminded him.
"No, but you protect the one who enforces them."
It was an old argument amongst them - Mederei's protection. Despite it all, even Kiango acknowledged and respected Mederei's talent. She had powerful allies in the royal family both of Caergwlan, and the High Court. It helped that her cousin was the bodyguard to the High Queen who also happened to Kiango's eldest sister.
Thuweni held up his hands. "How much will she need here?"
"Very well; I'll cover as best we can. Kiango wants to save the world from some mischief, and if you're here on assignment then there's a high chance that both will be involved. Watch our backs if we protect yours?"
"Isn't that what we usually agree to do?" Caradoc inquired.
"It is," Hugh and Thuweni concurred.
With that, Thuweni departed farther into the grotto while the others left. "He seemed relatively normal. Is Kiango not as bad as I assumed?"
"Thuweni is normal," Caradoc insisted. "Kiango is an entirely different breed.
"Ah," Ramses decided. "Where's the next place?"
The second on their list was the farthest east, and sat in a shallow cave, more of a overhang than a cave. Highest of the the four outlying locations, this was the only one to provide a windswept view of the territory. The fastest way to reach it was by flight, and having a demihabil there was handy. "Luna said this belonged to the god of the land," Caradoc explained in flight.
At the cave, Hugh returned to human form and with his shoes back on, looked out across the landscape. "I can see that. What was this about a witch's hole?"
"It's a hole where a witch can send magic coursing through it. We found them at the first two; couldn't really see anything at the third one, and I'm not seeing anything here."
"Where's the tapestry?" Ramses inquired.
"We're standing on it," Caradoc said, looking at his feet. "Strange." He cocked his head. "That isn't the tapestry, but it is a Gwion tapestry."
"Two of them?" Hugh knelt down. "This looks like one of those that you keep in the bags." He held a small ball of flame in his hand and dropped it into one of the corners. The tapestry sucked the flame into itself, and instead of burning, the cauldron where Hugh had set his flame began to glow as though on fire. Heat circled around the edges of the tapestry until the rocks in the center began to heat up.
"This would be perfect for the random visitor cold and tired," Ramses said. "What if there wasn't a fire mage or dragon with you though?"
"Any fire activates it, not just magical fire," Caradoc explained. He spread his hands over the tapestry. "These are increasingly rare outside the family."
Ramses looked at him, eyes wide. "Why's that? Seems to be a good form of business, if you ask me."
"It's storyteller magic," Hugh answered, rising to his feet. "Some of the simplest forms of it. Even someone like Gwen, who can do little beyond combine her two forms can produce these. Why have a tapestry like this out here?"
"Heating the followers," Caradoc reminded. "Look at this place. It's nearly impossible to protect oneself, but to remain warm, you need a fire, but to have a fire, you need light, and with that you can draw attention to yourself. It was the god's way of protecting people, I suppose, not to mention keep them warm. The other three tapestries have all depicted a god, but this is only rocks and fire." He snapped his fingers. "The first one was hidden behind an image, so maybe this one's hidden as well."
"With the witch's hole?"
Caradoc looked at Ramses and sighed. "Witch's hole, and we have none of the magic, but is acquired magic that different from innate magic?"
"We can't use acquired magic," Ramses began.
"It would be simpler to bring Luna back," Hugh agreed. "Find what we can while we're here and go from there."
The back wall of the shrine was potted and craggy. In some of the small pockets, fragments of moss grew, surprisingly capable despite the cold. The actual shrine itself was hewn from the rock, cut down the back to separate it from the wall, leaving only a small portion of it connected to the rock, almost as though it was an umbilical cord.
After an hour, the men sat down beside each other to enjoy the bread and cheese they brought. "This one is a bust," Hugh muttered, keeping his barefeet over the tapestry. "Wonder what connects everything here."
"No idea," Caradoc agreed.
Ramses, however, pushed the edge of the tapestry. "Why won't it roll?"
"Why won't what roll?"
"The tapestry. I can't move it enough to roll it. Is it so caked with dirt to be impossible to move?"
"Shouldn't be; these types of tapestries are impervious to the weather." Caradoc knelt beside the tapestry, running a nail along it's edges. "The magic's stronger here, like a connection to the earth itself."
"To the god of the land?"
"This is the tapestry?"
"Can't be; no images of the gods on it," Caradoc argued. He looked over the tapestry. "Very strange. There's the tapestry with the fire ..."
Ramses pointed to a vessel beside the cauldron. "And this?"
"Water jug," Hugh and Caradoc answered. "An old one," Caradoc continued, reaching for the flask of water he had with him. He poured a cup of water onto the flask and it sizzled and popped as the water began to heat. A soft whistle traced around the blue perimeter of the tapestry, and steam rose, enough to cause them to brush it away from their sight.
"Looks like something's on the stones," Ramses said. "See?"
The stones, which had been cracked to begin with, now glowed with a brilliant blue. The cracks themselves were not all blue; some remained black, a few others glowed orange, but between the three colors, and image appeared of a man holding two jars - one of fire and one of water. "Bastllyr, the god of the land," Caradoc read.
The ground shook beneath them, causing all three to stumble forward, catching each other.
"Who called my name?" A deep, gravelly voice, ordered.
"Caradoc ap Adsilistia merc Gwion."
The shaking stilled, but the rock behind the shrine began to shift and move as though someone was stuck inside it. Eventually, a gray-skinned man with eyes of granite and hair of moss emerged from the rock and smiled at them. "Haven't had someone call my name in many years. Almost thought I was going to be sent back to the celestial courts."
"Wouldn't you rather be there?" Hugh inquired.
Bastllyr shrugged. "Depends on the day of the week. What can I do for you, Gwion?" He looked at Caradoc, turning his head from side to side then walking around Caradoc. "You don't look like a Gwion, but then you look like a Gwion. You gave your mother's name? Your father isn't one?"
"No; my father's family owns one of the liquid gold plantations in the north, but I'm a weaver."
"Who is the head of the Gwion?"
"Cynwal ... Good man. I remember when he was boy. Left me a sweetcake one midsummer. Who are you in relation to him?"
"His nephew. My mother is his sister. Can you tell us what has happened?"
"With the magic?"
The men nodded their heads.
"It's not enough." Bastllyr raised an arm to point out at the sea. "It gains its energy from the sea, far out beyond what we can see, but the source has diminished. The reservoirs are nearly depleted. I can remain because my location is safe from the winds and rains, and people stop by to warm up or sleep. Everyone knows that the shrine of Bastllyr is safe for travelers. Many offer thanks, and it keeps my memory alive."
"The one in town?"
"She's left ages ago. Didn't appreciate them turning it into a tourist attraction. Is this why the Gwion have come?"
"We were hired to look into the matter," Ramses explained. "I'm an earth mage, and he's a demihabil."
"You're going to need a daughter to help with this. Their storyteller magic will make it easier to reconnect the five tapestries."
"Once our energy is reconnected then the tapestries can recharge their magic. Until then, everything remains the same."
Ramses leaned forward to whisper to Caradoc and Hugh, "How does one go reconnecting magical energy?"
The other three shrugged. Bastllyr blinked and yawned. "Don't remember. Come back tomorrow. I'll ask the others."
"At the celestial courts?"
"Indeed, but it'll take a little while." He stepped back into the cave and closed his eyes, once again merging with the rock.
Hugh lifted a hand. "Was that anyone else's first time talking with one of the gods?"
"You say that as though you expect this to be normal for someone," Ramses retorted, lifting his own hand.
Caradoc stared at the wall and lifted his hand. "Wonder if Uncle Cynwal remembers coming here?"