'You may trust Gwion with your lives—as once long ago I trusted him with mine,' Merriman had said to Will, through the mirror that cracked the barrier of the Lost Land, brought his face and his voice to Will for a minute, an insufficient minute. Now he stood, fists clenched at the end of his long arms, braced against the mantel above the fireplace, staring down without seeing into the dancing, twisting flames. To wait was all that could be done, but it was hard to bear.

He had faith in Will, of course; the fierce proud faith of a father who had watched a beloved child grow into all that he had hoped and more. And Bran was Arthur's son; between them, they would win through to the sword... And Gwion would help them to it.

Gwion. Even in the non-linear years with which they each measured their lives it was a long, long time since Merriman had seen him in the flesh; even longer since their first meeting, if meeting it could be called, in the forest after the battle. Merriman had hung there, on the apple tree, had lashed himself to it with cords torn from his own robe in order to keep himself upright; hunger and physical wounds had drained his strength until it was all he could do to set wards about him, drawing on the power of the tree as he had never before needed to in his life. The men of the Dark encircled him, waiting: for his strength to fail, or their Master to come, whichever should happen first. And so Merriman waited, bleeding and afraid, hidden within the branches as the sun set and rose and set.

Strung to the very edge of consciousness, he had not realised at first that the beautiful thunder that rang out around him at dawn was a voice, singing, nor that it was real, and not part of some dream. And when the song ended, the voice said Release yourself to me, hawk; I will take you where you shall be healed. With the last of his strength Merriman released the wards, released the cords that bound him, and he fell. But then there had been hands on him, gently lifting him down from the trembling branches amidst a rain of white petals, and Merriman had passed into true dreaming for a while.

When he woke, he wept. Again, again, in great throngs they came, he said, seven rivers of blood, from seven fallen chieftains— and the calloused hands were on his head, smoothing back the hair that was not yet white as his sister stitched his wounds together; there would be scars, but there was also music, the unearthly-beautiful playing of a harp.