The Pendragon's Challenge (The Last Pendragon Saga Book 7) (6 page)

“What are we talking about?” Catrin looked from one man to the other.

Taliesin tsked through his teeth. “You would have heard of Goronwy’s mother. Her name was Nest.”

“The great seeress!” Catrin spun on her heel to face Goronwy. “When were you going to mention that you have the sight too?”

Goronwy cursed himself for letting down his guard and Mabon for distracting him. “Never.” He just managed not to shrink away from her glare. “Let’s just say that my abilities in that area are of far less consequence than yours.”

Catrin’s eyes flashed again, and she took a step towards him. “I knew from the first that there was something different about you, but you so steadfastly hid your gift that I kept telling myself I was mistaken. I wasn’t!”

“No.” Taliesin hummed a little tune under his breath.

Goronwy would find no help from that quarter, so he tried again to explain to Catrin. “I know so little—”

“That would be because you push your gift away and refuse to use what has been given to you. You should be ashamed of yourself.” She huffed away from him, but then pulled up at the sight of Mabon, who had stopped his carnage among the flowers and was watching their exchange with blatant curiosity.

None of them thought it was a good idea to show weakness or disunity in front of him. So, under the watching eyes of Taliesin, Goronwy closed his eyes and quested into the depths of his soul for the power that lay dormant in the center of his being. He knew it was still there, even after all these years. All he had to do to awaken it was open the box where he’d hidden it.

Except it wasn’t quite that easy. Even as he moved towards it in his mind and felt a flicker of power, he shied away—not so much at the light or heat, but at the uncomfortable feeling it gave him, like ants running up and down his arms. He recoiled and opened his eyes.

“It’s still there,” Catrin said, in what he sensed was meant to be a reassuring manner. “You just need practice.”

Mabon guffawed. “I could have told you that.”

Goronwy reached for Catrin’s hand and spoke in an undertone meant only for Catrin’s ears. “But would he have?”

Her mouth twitched, which was what he’d hoped for.

“You’re not forgiven,” she said.

“I should hope not.” Goronwy smiled to himself. Amusement was better than fear or anger, and if any of them were going to survive the next few days, they would need to keep their wits about them. “You are not wrong. I shouldn’t have let my gift go unused all these years.”

She canted her head. “Then again, perhaps you didn’t. Aren’t your abilities on the battlefield in part because you can sense a warrior’s movements before he makes them?”

It was what Goronwy himself had thought. He cleared his throat, realizing as he did so that he should never disparage his gifts again in front of her. He wondered if Cade knew too and decided immediately that if he hadn’t fooled Taliesin, he hadn’t fooled Cade either. Then Catrin squeezed his hand to show that maybe she really had forgiven him. The sight of her upturned nose and the splash of freckles across her cheeks left him momentarily nonplussed.

To mask his confusion, he took a few quick steps to move slightly in front of her so she couldn’t see his face—though he continued holding her hand. Silently, Goronwy and Catrin followed Taliesin, filing past Mabon who stood in the middle of the road, not moving. For all that he had wanted to carry on earlier, now he was unhappy. Perhaps Goronwy’s jibes had gotten to him after all. Goronwy didn’t look back, but after they’d gone a dozen yards he wasn’t surprised to hear Mabon’s crunching footsteps on the road behind them. Then Mabon came abreast, swinging his arms, the supercilious expression returned to his face. “I don’t need looking after.”

“Good,” Goronwy said. “Because I have no intention of looking after you.”

Mabon quickened his pace in order to pass Goronwy and Catrin and catch up with Taliesin. “I could go my own way, and you would have to come with me.”

“I would have to do no such thing.” Taliesin’s legs were long, and Mabon skipped once to stay on pace.

“Where are we going? You must tell me.”

Taliesin continued walking, making Mabon wait for an answer or, more likely, lost in his own thoughts and only remembering after some time had passed that Mabon had wanted something more from him. “We are going to the abbey.”

That they finally had a destination was welcome news to Goronwy, but Mabon recoiled. “Which—which abbey?”

Taliesin gestured ahead. They had come the last few paces down the mountain. “Valle Crucis Abbey, which lies along this path northwest of the castle.”

“Why would you go there?” Mabon said.

“To find answers.”

“What answers?” Mabon said.

“If we knew the answers, we would hardly need to go there to find them, would we?” Goronwy said.

Mabon swung around to glare at Goronwy. “I have a right to know—”

 Goronwy overrode him. “When you are ready to tell us what you’re really doing here, we will let you in on what we’re doing here. Until then, you can cease to speak.”

Likely, nobody had ever spoken to Mabon this way in the eternity of his existence. The
clenched his hands into fists and stepped in front of Goronwy. “How dare you—” But instead of finishing his sentence, he swung with his right fist at Goronwy in a roundhouse motion Goronwy saw coming before the thought of hitting him had formed completely in Mabon’s mind.

Although Goronwy had many weapons at his disposal, he didn’t need any of them. He merely sidestepped Mabon’s punch, such that Mabon, who’d expected to connect with Goronwy’s face, lost his balance on the follow through, spun, flailed, and then, having reached the edge of the road where it ended in a downward slope, lost his balance. He shrieked in a satisfyingly ungodlike fashion and fell.

Catrin edged closer to Goronwy as they looked over the edge of the road at Mabon. “He will hate you forever for this.”

“He will, but how is that different from how he felt about me—and all of us—before today?”

Mabon growled as he clambered back up the slope. Despite his supposed lack of power, his clothes showed no evidence of dust, which meant his glamour was firmly in place. He glared at Goronwy, and then he transferred his gaze to Catrin. The god’s lecherous smile made Catrin look down at her feet, and Goronwy wanted to punch him for real this time.

But instead, he took Catrin’s elbow and set off with her down the road towards the abbey. Meanwhile, the awful truth resonated through his whole being, and he didn’t need to tap into his sight to see it: controlling Mabon in human form might prove to be even more difficult than controlling him as a

Chapter Six



ow far to the abbey from here?” Mabon hustled to catch up with them instead of affecting his usual arrogant saunter.

“Eight miles,” Catrin said.

Mabon was silent for a moment. And then, “Did you say eight?”

Catrin didn’t answer. Neither did the men, though Catrin caught the twitch at the corner of Goronwy’s mouth. He would have complained about the distance if Mabon hadn’t been with them—and he knew it. Taliesin, of course, didn’t usually answer any questions or say anything at all. He’d spoken more in the last hour than Catrin had heard from him ever. Sometimes Taliesin’s silence was an aggravating trait, but in this case, he was right not to answer. Mabon had heard Catrin fine the first time.

“What’s wrong with riding horses?” Mabon planted himself in the middle of the road and spoke in a loud voice—loud enough to wake the peasants in the house across a pasture from the road.

It was Goronwy who answered. “Taliesin likes to feel the earth beneath his feet.”

Mabon snorted at that—a remarkably similar sound to the one Goronwy had made in response to the same information. This time Goronwy defended Taliesin, which was equally amusing in its way. “Taliesin says that where we’re going, horses would be a hindrance.”

Mabon stared at the back of Taliesin’s head while the bard marched steadfastly on, ignoring them. Catrin had come to understand that it wasn’t that he was absentminded. It was rather that he was listening to so many different voices—in his head, from the earth, from the
—that it took all his focus and energy to keep them distinct. Speaking to an actual, living person was a fourth voice that at times was beyond his abilities.

For her part, as Catrin started walking again, avoiding the rain-filled ruts made by centuries of cart wheels, she felt connected to the earth for the first time in weeks. She tested the currents in the air and breathed deeply. Neither the unrest within Mabon nor her uncertainty about journeying with Goronwy once again, could dismay her. When she’d arrived at the gate and seen Taliesin leaving, she’d known that it was her role to go with him. It hadn’t been in any way part of her plan—and quite the opposite, in fact—to find Goronwy alongside her too.

“You mean the world of the
.” Mabon hurried to pass Taliesin and then turned around to come to a halt in front of him, forcing Taliesin to choose between stopping or going around him.

Taliesin stopped.

“How are you going to get there? My mother said—”

Taliesin sighed. “I know what your mother said, but Beli’s restrictions apply to you, not me. A path that should still be open lies beneath the abbey, which is why we’re going there.” He looked Mabon up and down. “As I said.”

Taliesin actually hadn’t said anything before about a path to the Otherworld underneath the abbey. Catrin was sure of it. Still, she could see now why horses might prove a hindrance, even if a three-hour walk in the middle of the night meant no sleep for any of them. Maybe Taliesin didn’t need to sleep at all. Catrin didn’t know the bard well enough to judge.

Mabon’s eyes were still narrowed at Taliesin. His earlier amusement had vanished as quickly as it had come. If they were going to survive, they would all need to get used to these abrupt mood swings and figure out how to manage them. Mabon pointed with his chin at Catrin, who was standing just beyond Taliesin’s left shoulder. “I wouldn’t have brought a woman on this adventure, but I can see why you couldn’t resist, old boy.” He clapped a hand on the Taliesin’s shoulder. “She provides good sport, does she?”

Catrin was so shocked, she laughed. Taliesin stared at Mabon blankly, and Catrin laughed again because she wasn’t sure that Taliesin realized what Mabon had just suggested. Goronwy, on the other hand, moved so quickly that, before Mabon could see him coming, he had Mabon’s feet pulled out from under him with a sweep of a leg. Mabon sprawled on his back on the ground, with the tip of Goronwy’s sword to his throat. If Mabon had still been a
, he could have slowed time and deflected Goronwy, but he’d lost the ability for now.

Despite her appreciation of his actions and skill, Catrin put her hand on Goronwy’s free arm. “Don’t kill him.”

“I don’t care who your mother is.” Goronwy glared down at Mabon. “You will never speak of Catrin that way again.”

Mabon put up his hands, palms out. His eyes were so wide it looked as if he was trying to see under his chin to determine how close the sword was to breaking the skin. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“You most certainly did,” Goronwy said.

Catrin glanced at Taliesin, who was gazing north and not speaking—not even paying attention as far as Catrin could tell. The man truly was a mystery. She turned back to Goronwy. “Let him go, my lord. He isn’t worth whatever trouble killing him would cause.”

“It would be worth it,” Goronwy said, but he stepped back and sheathed his sword. “He calls himself a god, but he isn’t worthy to polish your boots.” He spat on the ground beside Mabon.

Mabon scrambled to his feet and scuttled away, putting Taliesin between him and Goronwy.

“Apologize to Catrin.” Taliesin still hadn’t looked at any of them, but his words proved he’d been listening all along.

Mabon’s mouth worked. At first Catrin thought he was going to refuse, but then he straightened and bowed in Catrin’s general direction. “I apologize, Madam. I meant no disrespect.” With an abrupt turn, he faced north and set off walking. A moment later, Taliesin was marching along after him.

From beside Catrin, Goronwy growled something barely intelligible, but included profanity and a comment about Mabon’s antecedents.

“You shouldn’t say such things, even if Arianrhod and Arawn aren’t listening.” Catrin still had a hand on his arm, and she squeezed it once, gently, before letting go. “Thank you. No one has ever defended my honor before.”

Goronwy growled again. “That almost makes it worse. It was an honor to defend you.”

Ahead of them, Mabon’s mouth remained closed and his shoulders hunched, momentarily subdued by what had happened.

Goronwy aside, it was good to have more proof, before they traveled any farther on this journey, that Mabon was a mortal man as Arianrhod had promised. Goronwy could have killed him. Catrin almost regretted that she’d intervened.

Catrin eyed the god as he stalked a few paces away. Once they resumed walking, he kept his distance from them all, to the point that it seemed at times that he was leading their party down the road instead of Taliesin. Certainly he was actively avoiding Goronwy. Another few paces, and they had reached another house. A baby cried inside, and his mother hushed him. Catrin didn’t think she was mistaken that she heard a hint of fear in the mother’s voice.

Goronwy poked his head through the doorway, which was covered by a leather curtain, and spoke softly enough that Catrin couldn’t hear him. Then he backed away as a young man—perhaps only a year or two into his manhood—stepped out.

“You have need of me, my lord?”

“I have a message for you to deliver to the castle,” Goronwy said.

“At this hour? The woods are full of demons!”

“Don’t pretend to me that you care. You aren’t afraid of the dark; anyway, you were getting up within the hour to visit your girl in the village.”

The boy’s expression turned sheepish. “It’s a long way up to the castle though, and she’s waiting for me.”

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