In the north of the Land of Prydain, the golden summer was waning.
The Lady Arianllyn usually regarded the end of summer with a sense of melancholy, as she was fond of her time spent in the forest, and when autumn came, even with all its beauty, she would miss the green.
This year, she welcomed the passing of summer, and hated it.
Welcomed it, because the passing of another season brought her closer to spring, when she would wed Adaon, son of Taliesen.
And hated it, because this autumn, Adaon rode south with the warriors of Prince Gwydion.
Her tapestry work lay forgotten in the grass beside her. It was a gift for Adaon, should she ever finish it – a chronicle of his father's deeds as Chief Bard. Taliesen had been her teacher, and she had learned lore and music beside his own son when they were children. Her father was a bard, and her mother an artist in cloths and threads. She'd always been a little unsure what to do with both of the gifts they'd given her - her ears were as finely attuned to pitches as her eyes were to the colors of her threads, and her fingers were as clever with harpstrings as with a needle.
But her fingers were at present occupied with tracing the map of callouses that marked Adaon's beautiful hands. He lay stretched on the grass beside where she sat, one hand behind his head, and the other in her keeping.
His fingertips bore the thick callouses of harpstrings, just as hers did. But his palms were also moulded to the shape of a sword hilt, and his knuckles notched by his bowstring. There were others too, that she couldn't identify or match to a labor. These new ones had been acquired since the last time she'd caressed his hands, while he was trying his hand at the labors of the people.
But he had returned to her, only to leave again.
He opened his eyes, and shifted a little to look at her.
"You look so sad," he observed quietly, reaching his hand up and out of her grasp to softly brush his fingers against her cheek for a moment.
"The reason for that is not difficult to imagine," she replied softly, pressing his hand against her face for a moment, then securely interlocking their fingers.
"And yet I know you would not keep me away from my duty, even if you could."
Arianllyn sighed. "No, I would not. Perhaps I ought to cut off my hair and disguise myself that I may stay by your side." Adaon, slightly alarmed, lifted his head quickly to reply, but Arianllyn laughed before he could speak. "I would hardly be foolish enough to tell you about it beforehand even if I was foolish enough to do such a thing. But that foolishness is not mine. Alas, a needle is a poor weapon against the warriors of Arawn," she concluded, voice light over its bitterness.
"As is a harp," Adaon replied softly, putting his other hand on top of hers.
It made her ache to know that this sweet, gentle young man who held her hands so tightly just now, was no more suited to be a warrior than she was. Their minds and spirits were so closely alike on this point – abhorring violence and longing for peace. But nature had given Adaon strong capable hands, just as it had given Arianllyn slender, delicate ones.
"It will give me peace to know that you are safe," he said, voice still quiet.
"And I shall have no peace until you are with me again," she answered quickly, grasping his hands as if she never intended to let go of them. And perhaps she didn't.
"No one would blame you if you did not go. Least of all Gwydion."
Taliesin spoke to his son without looking up from the little harp he was restringing. He wondered, as he tenderly touched the child-sized instrument, if Adaon recognized it as the harp he used when his father had first taught him to play. And many long years ago, it has been Taliesin's first harp as well. Taliesin noted how Adaon's eyes lingered on the instrument and the smile that touched the young man's face, before he replied to his father's words.
"Who said I was not going?" Adaon asked.
Taliesin paused his careful labor and lifted his head to meet Adaon's clear grey gaze. "It cannot come as a surprise that Arianllyn does not want you to leave her."
Adaon shook his head gravely. "No, it cannot. But it would surprise me if she spoke to you of hindering me."
"She has not. I see it in her face, her eyes, her every gesture, when she is with you." Taliesin turned his eyes back to the harp, and spoke slowly. "You could wed earlier than planned. A young man with a new bride ought not to be expected to go into battle."
"Indeed not. Which is why I will wed Arianllyn in the spring, and ride with Gwydion this autumn."
"Something more than Gwydion calls you, my son," Taliesin observed.
"Each person must do his or her own part in the struggle against darkness. And it seems to me that this is mine. So I answer Prince Gwydion's request not only as a warrior obeys his war-leader, but as a friend comes to his friend's aid."
Taliesin was silent for a moment. "Then will you not at last present yourself before the Council*?" he urged. "You could ride south as a full Bard, and when you return, marry as a member of the Council. Heaven knows, you have the skill – more than I had at your age…"
"Father," Adaon interjected gently, "was it not you who said that it takes more than mere skill to become a true bard?"
Taliesin grimaced. "Likely."
Adaon smiled. "Then trust the judgment of my heart when I tell you I do not yet feel ready."
Shaking his head, Taliesin sighed. "I wish I knew what you were waiting for."
"So do I," Adaon replied with a gentle laugh.
With the little harp in his hands, it was hard for Taliesin to keep his mind from Adaon as a boy – grey eyes shining as he reverently handled his little harp, wanting nothing more in the world than to please his father.
Those grey eyes still shone in a face that was different, but the same. And Adaon still sought the blessing of the father he loved.
"As always, my Adaon," Taliesin told his son, "I have faith in the wisdom of your heart."
*[…is it just me, or does it sound like he's going to become a Jedi?]
[You'd think I would content myself to playing in Middle-Earth… but you'd be wrong. I feel about as guilty about ficcing Lloyd Alexander's work as I do Tolkien's. And perhaps a little more uncomfortable, as Lloyd Alexander is, er …alive. But this little story wanted very badly to be written, so I have indulged it. Even for the very short time in which he appears in The Black Cauldron, Adaon has always been one of my very favorite people in Prydain. He reminds me rather strongly of another grey-eyed reluctant warrior, Captain Faramir of Minas Tirith in Middle-Earth, but that is rather beside the point. At any rate, all the beautiful people and places of Prydain belong to their brilliant creator, Lloyd Alexander. So do the not so beautiful ones, but I don't really want them, so that is not being called into question here.
Many many many many thanks to Ekuboryu (and someday I WILL be able to spell your penname without looking it up) for her beautiful title.
If you read this far, PLEASE PLEASE review me. It's so easy! Just click the little button. Come on, you can do it! Please?]