"I haven't seen Morwen in a long time," [Telemain] said. "How is she?" – Talking to Dragons, chapter 13
When it came to healing, Morwen was a seasoned professional, so sitting by the bedside of a man with his shirt laces open, inspecting his bare shoulder, troubled her not at all. She scrutinized the wound with a practiced eye, and began applying medicinal herbs without ever showing the least sign of being flustered. All in all, Telemain found that it was he who was most affected, for as her fingers prodded the flesh around the gash in his shoulder, he discovered that he was ticklish.
"Hold still and stop squirming," Morwen snapped, never taking her eyes off his shoulder.
"I am not squirming," he protested. "I'm... adjusting. I'm not accustomed to spending so much time confined to bed rest."
Morwen glanced up at him with a raised eyebrow. "Like I said, Telemain... hold still." He heaved a sigh, causing his shoulder to shift beneath her hands. "And none of that either."
For all that her tone was sharp, her fingers were surprisingly gentle. And warm. Telemain's brow crinkled as the sensation of those fingers traipsing across his skin tickled at something in a far corner of his memory. "How long has it been?" he asked.
"Since you last managed to get injured?" she said shortly. "Two years."
"No, no, not that." Telemain waved his good hand dismissively. "I mean how long since we've seen each other?"
Morwen did not look up. "Two years," she said matter-of-factly.
"Oh," Telemain said. And then, after a moment's reflection, "Oh," drawing the syllable out as it all came back to him. Now he remembered...
It had been two years previous to Daystar's fateful trip into the Enchanted Forest that Telemain had contacted Morwen via magic mirror. Over the decade and a half since Mendenbar's disappearance, they had kept in touch – if somewhat sporadically at times; he was always getting caught up in his research – through letters, magic mirrors, and visits, so the call had been no particular surprise to Morwen... even if the request itself was.
"I need your assistance with a current project," he was explaining. "The balance of the secondary flow is still unstable and I believe it requires a dual focus to ensure an even distribution of the variable energies. I've attempted the spell using an inanimate object as the secondary focus, but it's proven to not be adaptable enough to react to the wavelength shift."
"So," Morwen began slowly, "you need a second magical practitioner who can compensate for fluctuations in the magical field."
"Exactly. And since the spell requires the user to compensate for the instabilities inherent in the forest's makeup, it's difficult to find someone competent enough to successfully manage the task."
Morwen's lips twitched but only said. "So you'd like me drop by, would you?"
"As soon as you can. I'm afraid the preparations for the spell are extremely time sensitive, and beginning again from scratch would require considerable effort."
When Morwen did arrive a short while later, it never occurred to him to offer her something to drink or eat before ushering her into the largest of his tower's workrooms. In the centre of the room stood a circular stone pedestal on top of which rested a plain wooden bowl. It contained a collection of jagged white pebbles submerged in water, on the surface of which floated a single brilliantly blue feather. The floor was decorated by a complex network of lines and notations at the four corners of which stood a flickering torch.
"Now," Telemain said, pointing to a spot near the stone pedestal, "if you would just take your place right there."
He stopped and looked up at her as he noticed her tone. "Yes?" Her black robes fell in loose folds around her as she stood, arms crossed, with a look on her face that she sometimes used when her cats were giving her particular difficulty.
"I'm not one your inanimate foci, so perhaps you could tell me exactly what this spell is for?"
"Oh, of course," he said, stroking his black beard as he considered. "The purpose of the spell is to enable the storage of magical transference energies to allow for later use without a specific localization node."
Morwen frowned. "You're working on a portable transportation spell?" she ventured after a moment.
"That's what I said," he huffed. "The magical wavelength properties are–"
"In layman's terms."
Telemain sighed and, brow crinkling with concentration, went on. "As you know from our past adventures, transportation spells can drain the caster's magical stores, particularly if a great deal of mass is involved."
"Like transporting a dragon," Morwen said with a nod.
"Yes. Theoretically, it should be possible to store such energies in an enchanted object and allow them to be used at a later point in time."
"I can see how that would be useful. Now, you said something about instabilities..."
He explained to her what he needed her to do. She interrupted him several times to ask for clarification on one point or another, but finally she appeared satisfied with his explanation and took her place by the stone pedestal across from him.
Telemain glanced at Morwen, and when she nodded he cleared his throat and began. He raised his hands and made a circular motion in the air while speaking an incantation:
Take my power that I hone
Bind it to this lowly stone
That the leagues away from home
Freely I can always roam
The torches around them flared to life and within moments the water in the bowl had begun to roil and bubble. The feather on its surface came apart, transforming the water into a thick azure mixture. Bubbles, blue-tinged but otherwise much resembling normal soap bubbles, rose out of the concoction and drifted into the air above them. A cluster landed in Morwen's ginger hair and popped on contact. She started as if stung. He himself winced when one of the bubbles popped on his cheek, sending an electric shock into his face. It was then that he realized that there remained a problem with the spell; magical energy was still escaping rather than being contained in the stones.
His suspicions were further confirmed when the roiling blue mixture began to froth over the rim of the bowl and dripped onto the stone pedestal... with explosive results. A backlash of magical energy sent the contents of the bowl flying in all directions and knocked both Morwen and Telemain off their feet.
Telemain groaned as he moved from the floor of his workroom to prop himself up on his elbows. "There seem to still be difficulties surrounding the energy storage matrix."
"I never would have guessed," Morwen said dryly.
He reached for some of the debris scattered across the floor and was inspecting it for residual energy charges when Morwen approached him. "Telemain?"
"Look at this, Morwen. It's fascinating." He held up one of the pebbles, which had gone from white to blue and still buzzed with energy. "If I can just narrow the focal energy–"
"Telemain, are you all right?" Morwen cut in and the tone of her voice puzzled him.
He waved a hand vaguely. "Of course. I'm fine."
He turned his attention from the stone to his hand, only then noticing the splotch of red smeared on his fingertips. Scowling, he turned his hand over and saw nothing to suggest the source of the blood. Morwen was already kneeling on the floor next to him. She drew back his vest to reveal a red stain blossoming on the grey shirt, just beneath his left collar bone. A cluster of holes in the fabric revealed a similarly-placed cluster of small wounds in his chest. She undid the laces of his shirt and peeled away the soaked fabric to inspect it. "It looks like the backlash from your spell turned the stones into projectiles."
"An unfortunate side effect of its instability, I'm afraid," Telemain replied, wincing.
Morwen rolled her eyes and began rummaging for her herbs in the enchanted sleeve of her robe while Telemain continued to scowl at the sticky red spot on his chest. But then his attention turned once more to the blue stone in his hand and for a moment he forgot completely about the unpleasant stinging sensation.
"For once in your life be sensible and hold still," Morwen snapped.
"It's nothing," he said. "If you'd just be kind enough to bandage it, it'll be fine and I can perform an inspection of the remnants of the spell to try to ascertain what went wrong." She goggled at him as if he'd turned blue, sprouted wings, and begun to hover several inches off the floor of his workroom. "What?"
"Are you overlooking the fact that you have at least six magical stones embedded in your skin?" He opened his mouth to reply but nothing quite came out – perhaps due to the glower on Morwen's face. "If I'm to apply the proper herbs, I need to know what is coating those stones. If that was a cockatrice feather you used, then the effects could be–"
"No, nothing so deadly. It was only a gryphon feather. Completely inert."
As she was selecting herbs from the assortment she'd withdrawn from her enchanted sleeve, Telemain found himself wondering if she always left home with a supply of healing materials or if it was just when she came to visit him. It was not that this sort of thing happened to him often – well not precisely at any rate – but new spells did require a good deal of adjustment before they were perfected and there was bound to be the occasional hiccup. Witches like Morwen always seemed to have difficulty accepting the hazards of experimentation. They relied on tried and true methods, but in so doing denied themselves the rewards of new discoveries.
No sooner had Morwen applied a coat of herbs, than the sharp stinging faded into a dull throb. When she had bandaged the wound, he assumed they were done and that he could get back to work. No such luck. "Do you have any marsh nettle?"
"I should in my storage room. Why?"
"It's sometimes known as 'sapsucker root.' I can use it to draw out the stones."
Telemain's eyes widened. "I had no idea the plant had such secondary properties. Is it used with an enchantment or–"
"You can get a firsthand demonstration when I get back. Just tell me where to find it and don't stir in the meantime."
For some minutes he did wait, but his mind kept returning to the spell and what had gone wrong. He was so close to a solution now and he was certain that the answer lay in narrowing the focal energy distribution, which would require refining the working materials used to set up the enchantment. With this is mind, Telemain rose to his feet and took two steps towards the pedestal, blinking away white spots that danced before his eyes. One hand shot out to lean against the stone pedestal as the world suddenly seemed a little less than stable.
"Telemain." He knew that tone even through the haze of lightheadedness.
Morwen slipped his arm around her shoulders to steady him. "I'm fine," he murmured.
"Fine indeed," Morwen said with a sniff. "I told you to keep still." This time she led him out of the workroom completely and settled him in his own room. He did his best to concentrate on the spell she was casting as she applied the marsh nettle, but the sensation of those jagged pebbles, even with the numbing from the earlier poultice, proved to be too great a distraction. When it was over, he was pale and clammy, his breathing ragged.
Morwen reached out to push strands of dark hair from his slick forehead, her fingers brushing over his skin with a healer's touch. "It's done now." For once her tone was as gentle as her fingers.
"As experiences go," he said between breaths, "that was most unpleasant."
"You're lucky. If one of those stones had taken out your eyes there's nothing I could have done. Why don't you take better precautions when you work?"
He shook his head and then regretted it as white spots blotted his vision again. "It's impossible to prepare for every eventuality and too many extra spells can interfere with the results of the experiment."
Morwen only sighed and went about re-bandaging his wound, winding long strips of cloth around his chest, and for a while, instead of enchantments and magical herbs, Telemain found his mind fully occupied by the sensation of her warm fingers brushing across his skin.
She glanced up at him, arching an eyebrow when, all at once, he caught her wrist. "That... tickles," he said by way of explanation.
"Good." She smiled in satisfaction as she finished with his bandages. "That means the herbs are taking effect. How does it feel now?"
"Just an ache."
Telemain leaned back against a heap of pillows as Morwen finished cleaning up. He knew enough of herb lore to take care of most of the bumps and scrapes that could sometimes come of magical research, but even he had to admit that some things were better left to professionals. This wasn't the first time Morwen had had to patch him up, but it was certainly one of the more dramatic instances.
When she was done, she came to sit by his bedside, shaking her head. "You foolish, foolish magician," she chided. "I told you to hold still and what do you do but the exact opposite."
"I was only trying to ensure that I learn something from today's experiment so that it's not a total loss."
Morwen shook her head. "I wish you had as much regard for your own welfare as you do for your research."
His brow crinkled in a scowl. "I've managed my own welfare adequately for all these years."
"You mean aside from the time you were nearly toasted by Kazul, or when you got knocked out by the wizards' transport spell, or the accident with the bristle briar, and the incident with the transmutation spring, and–"
"The instances were few and far between," he cut in, waving a hand dismissively. "There's no need to enumerate every misstep of the past fifteen years."
"What exactly did you do before you came to live in the Enchanted Forest?"
Before he could just ask her to come over and patch him up; he knew that's what she meant. A small part of his mind wondered if perhaps he had been taking greater risks simply because he knew she was only a magic mirror call away and trusted in her skill. A greater part of his mind was irked by the suggestion that he was not competent enough to handle matters on his own.
"You need to rest," Morwen announced, rising to her feet. "I'll stop in again tomorrow to change the herbs."
Telemain huffed. "There's no need for that. I'm entirely capable of doing it myself."
"The wound won't heal well if it isn't cared for properly."
"I understand the basics of healing magic, Morwen. There's no need for you to– to– bother yourself."
There was a long moment of silence. A lock of ginger hair had gotten loose and she absently brushed it behind one ear. "All right. If you're sure, Telemain," she said finally. "You let me know when you need me."
He was still scowling. "I will." And that was all he said before she left.
Later, when he replayed the scene in his mind, he wondered if perhaps it wasn't anger he'd seen on her features, but rather if she'd looked... hurt.
Sitting up in a bed in the newly liberated castle of the King of the Enchanted Forest, two years later, Telemain squirmed again as Morwen's fingers continued to tickle over his skin. She'd not said a word since pointing out the two year gap in their communications. "I meant to visit," he said, "but–"
"But you got caught up in your research," Morwen supplied, eyes still fixed on his injured shoulder.
"No it– well of course I did have that one project–" He shook himself. That was not what he wanted to say. "I did write."
"Yes," Morwen agreed. "You wrote me a treatise on elemental influences in secondary matrix nodes. And another about the congruence of ambient spell energies."
"I thought you were interested in congruence."
"I am. But I thought you'd realized by now that if I'm going to discuss magical theory I'd prefer to do it in person over lunch and a cup of cider."
"And besides that, the letters were remarkably impersonal even for you."
"I meant to drop by, but..." But he knew she'd ask about the herbs. He heaved a sigh and with his good hand drew back the left side of his shirt. There, just beneath his left collar bone, were six pockmarks where the enchanted stones had been removed from his chest.
"You forgot to change the herbs after I left, didn't you?"
"I'm afraid so," Telemain said. Somehow, after everything they'd been through in the past few days, it seemed easier to simply admit it. "It appears we now have tangible evidence that your concerns were not totally unfounded."
"Not totally unfounded?" she repeated with a raised eyebrow.
"Or–" He cleared his throat. "More precisely, that they were quite well-founded."
Morwen shook her head. "I knew I should have looked in on you."
"No, no. I'm afraid I was a bit... ungrateful. I did insist I could handle matters on my own after all."
Morwen's fingers moved from his injured shoulder to trace the six small scars, which, he knew, he could have avoided if he'd heeded her advice about the herbs. Instead he'd gotten distracted by his attempts to tweak the energy distribution for his teleportation spell. Her fingers travelled over the scars one by one as she shook her head. She only raised her eyes when he caught that hand in his good one. "Still ticklish," he murmured.
For a minute, Morwen peered at him intently, and in spite of all the years Telemain had known her, he wasn't sure what to make of the expression on her face.
"You've been avoiding me for two years? Because of this?"
"Well I wouldn't say 'avoiding' precisely." Telemain hurried on as Morwen scowled. "And in any case, I'm sorry. I did rather miss our discussions."
Telemain knew he wasn't the sort of person who craved constant companionship. As he'd made quite clear to Daystar and Shiara when they'd visited, as a matter of course he didn't care to be disturbed. In this he was quite unlike Morwen, whose home saw a constant parade of guests, in the form of friends, or, just as often, the hapless princes, knights, woodsmen's daughters, and other such, that wandered around the forest and found themselves on her doorstep. And though he took pains to avoid these kinds of distractions, he had never considered Morwen among them. In fact, since moving to the forest a decade and a half ago, he'd come to enjoy her presence as his almost-neighbour. If she occasionally took him away from his work, he returned to it refreshed, with new insights. He also appreciated that with Morwen he could speak freely about magical theory without having to water things down, as he did with Cimorene and Kazul, and, as a witch, her perspectives on magical matters provided him with alternative views that could be quite helpful in his work. Furthermore, she was good company, even when they were discussing topics other than magic. He'd spent many an evening sitting in her kitchen sipping cider, just talking. He had missed that these past couple of years.
She tugged his shirt back into place and shook her head. "I wish you'd be more careful, Telemain. You realize you could have been killed yesterday?" she said sharply.
"I'm sorry," he shot back. "That was clearly not my intent."
"Your intent! Telemain–"
And before she could launch into a tirade, he cut in with, "That being the case, I'm glad you were there." He paused a beat to squeeze the hand he still clutched in his, and offered what he hoped was an apologetic smile. "And willing to put up with me."
"My willingness has never been in question."
He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Morwen smiled fondly at him and, freeing her hand, did up his shirt laces. Once this was done she nodded in satisfaction. "You need to rest." She rose to leave. As she did, she brushed a lock of ginger hair behind one ear and for an instant he was back in his workroom two years ago. You let me know when you need me.
The backlash that sent him reeling this time was not magical in nature, but it did, he realized, have a concrete and obvious solution.
She raised an eyebrow but did, after a second or two, move to sit once more.
"I made certain observations after the incident two years ago," he began.
Morwen heaved a sigh. "Telemain, we can discuss transportation spells when you're better."
"No, hear me out. Please."
She titled her head, studying his features, but at last she nodded. "All right."
"The most notable of these observations is that my tower has been somewhat too... quiet. Even for my tastes." Her features softened and he went on. "You said–" he began and then broke off to moisten his lips. His entire mouth felt dry. "That I should let you know when I needed you. I believe we have ample evidence now that I do." She sat very still and watched him as he spoke, her expression unreadable. "Perhaps if I were to–" He cleared his throat. "That is, if you would be willing to put up with me on a more... long-term basis then you wouldn't have to worry nearly so much."
It was to his great relief that, after staring at him for several moments, a smile broke onto Morwen's face. She leaned in and pressed a kiss to his brow. "That is the most sensible thing I have heard you say in years."
He took her hand in his again, squeezing it and smiling – a tad nervously perhaps. "So... we're agreed then?"
She was still smiling and he found himself looking forward to the notion of seeing that smile on a daily basis. "Yes. After all, we seem to be in the midst of a happy ending and what happy ending would be complete without a wedding?" Telemain laughed and Morwen smiled more broadly than ever.
His lips were quirked as he said, "Should I be asking your cats for their approval first?"
Morwen sniffed. "I'm afraid approval isn't something you're likely to ever get from a cat."
Though there was much to be done around the castle and Telemain needed his rest, Morwen lingered with him for a long time. There was, after all, quite a lot to discuss: what Telemain would do with his tower, how many rooms Morwen would need to add to her house to provide him with a proper workspace, what sort of new enchantments they would have to put up, and so on and so forth.
And if Cimorene happened to come by to check on them later and found them like that, hands still clasped, she only smiled to herself and said not a word.
A/N: Like everyone, I was really curious how the conversation in which these two decided to get married must have gone down (I'd still love to see Wrede's version of events). But I was also curious why Morwen and Telemain hadn't seen each other in a while. How do you get from not seeing someone in a long time to deciding to get married?