The Forest was getting closer and so was home. Admittedly the Forest Was Home, at least to Cadry’s thinking. He had spent more nights sleeping out among the trees than he ever spent sleeping under the ancient roof of the longhouse at Tisbury.
The days traveling from Stonehenge to Tisbury had been unnaturally drawn out even accounting for the slow pace set by the commoners who were dragging and pushing the giant stone monolith. Even accounting for the rituals and spells that the ovate Athanwyr had to perform in order to ensure that no gods were angered and to make sure that the magic of the large stone did not spill out into the surroundings and causing some unnatural event. And finally even accounting for the fact that the weather had turned unusually strange just two days away from Stonehenge itself.
Cadry’s mind was at rest though, despite these delays and complications. The Count himself had asked for Cadry to travel to the wise druids at Stonehenge and assist them with a important task. Druids being the mysterious group that they are didn’t explain much but simply told Cadry that one of the stones from the circle at Stonehenge had been "borrowed" once upon a time from the stone circle in the forest near Tisbury and that now it needed to be returned. Without further ado the young knight was sent away in the company of an ovate, a large stone, several peasants and a couple of large oxen.
When the bad weather had appeared a few days into the journey, Athanwyr had told Cadry in strict confidence that it was no natural weather but rather something conjured up by some manner of malign force. Whether it was some mortal agency or some type of spirit or faerie he could not say but he took steps to ward of any curses or ill luck that might befall the company. This in turn had required Cadry’s aid at several junctures with retrieving some strange items and at one time even demanded that the young knight stand watch over the ovate as he slipped into a trance. Several strange things happened during this vigil that conspired to draw Cadry away from his ward but at the back of his head he kept Sir Amigs words "Fulfill your duty" as a shield against the distractions. The hardest to resist proved to be when Cadry could swear that he heard Brangwens voice and caught a glimpse of her red hair among the trees surrounding the clearing where the ovate lay. At the last moment Cadry reminded himself that Brangwen wasn’t here but rather waited at the end of the journey and thus held fast.
When Athanwyr’s trance was over and he was told what had happened he seemed to look at Cadry with different eyes and told the young knight that he had done well to resist the temptation. The ovate also seemed to open up a bit more during the rest of the journey and told a bit about his own past. He also told some of the things that he studied and demonstrated his great lore of the gods, at least the parts that weren’t secret and hidden.
Having found an eager listener in Cadry, Athanwyr also started asking about the life as a warrior and if Cadry ever had heard the call of any of the gods. When Cadry told of the times that he had seen Ol’Tiss on Tisseberrie and the histories that surrounded the old guardian of the hill Athanwyr turned intrigued since he claimed that it was seldom that the gods choose to walk clad in a form that could be seen by mortals.
The ovate continued to study Cadry during the rest of the trek across Salisbury and when they finally arrived at the forest of gloom Athanwyr seemed to have reached a decision. He proclaimed that he would like to further Cadry’s education in the lore of the gods and that by doing this Athanwyr himself might gain the answers to a conundrum that he been plaguing him for several years. Feeling honored by the offer, Cadry gladly accepted with the reservation that he still had to serve at Count Rodericks pleasure since he was still a household knight. Thus a new and strange friendship began with one man living in this world and one living mostly in the other.
Once the stone had been returned to its original resting place something odd came over the glade where the stone circle stood. It was as if some power that had been dormant once again woke up and Cadry could swear that he felt unseen eyes staring at him. "The gods are present young knight_" Athanwyrs words rang out in the glade "_and they are listening. They will hear you if you speak here and now". Looking uncertain, Cadry looked at the stone on which he had almost died and where the priestess Meleri had given her life to protect his. He could feel an unbalance that had been present his entire life but not until this moment had he understood what caused the feeling.
Athanwyr stepped closer and held forth a simple leather flask. "Drink this and you will open yourself up to the voices of the gods and maybe you will catch a glimpse of what they have in store for you". Taking the flask and gazing at it before drinking his fill of the foul tasting liquid, Cadry felt a certainty that he would indeed see something of what was to come. The gods had already taken a hand on that fateful day when his father died and he fully intended to face his destiny. He would also balance the scales by giving service to the gods to repay the blood that been shed in his name.
Returning from the place where he had walked with the gods Cadry rose from the grass where he had lain. Feeling utterly exhausted, thirsty and nauseous he faltered and had to take a few steps and brace himself against the newly settled stone in the stone ring. Feeling like the fading daylight were stinging his eyes he looked around to locate Athanwyr. At first he didn’t see the ovate but when he focused his gaze on a dark spot over by one of the stones the rake thin man with his shaved head almost seemed to fade into view. Without looking up Athanwyr asked "So, what did you see young Cellydon?" and reached down into his sack and brought forth a new flask. The ovate took a swing from the bottle and handed it over to Cadry. Answering Cadry’s unasked question he said "Just water this time". The young knight sat down by the thin man and drank from the leather flask and tried to collect his scattered thoughts.
"I saw many strange things and lived many lives while I was walking with the gods." Cadry began hesitantly. Athanwyr just regarded him silently and let the young knight speak on his own terms. "My journey began here and it took me to distant lands but always there was one thing that was familiar: The Oak. It was the oak that stands at home near our house. In all the places that I saw it was always present. In some of the places it looked younger and in some it bore acorns." Cadry turned to Athanwyr with questions in his eyes.
The ovate’s gaze seemed distant but suddenly he spoke in a strange voice.
Before him, tremble heaven and earth.
A valiant door-keeper against an enemy,
His name is considered."
"What you saw was in all likelihood a few of the places where Cad Goddeu – The Battle of the Trees happened. The mighty Gwydion woke the trees and bade them to march on his enemies in order for Gwydion to help his nephew Lleu Llaw Gyffes and his brother Amaethon. The enemies they were fighting were the forces of Annwn, beings from the otherlands. Gwydion and his relatives won in the end even though it was said that any man who fought on the side Arawn, the king of Annwn was invincible. It is said that Gwydion knew a secret that unbound the spells of the king of Annwn and that was how they could win in the end." Seeming to consider the meaning of the words Cadry had uttered, Athanwyr seemed expectant to see what the young knight would make of his vision.
"So my family is somehow connected to these battles or to these persons?" Cadry seemed to consider something and then quickly spoke again "I do know for a fact that my father carried a lock of hair that is said to be from Gwydion himself. Maybe me or one of my ancestors were Gwydion or one of his relatives in a former life? Maybe it means that the oak remembers the one who once upon a time woke it from its long slumber?"
Athanwyr smiled an enigmatic smile and said "It seems to me that my gut feelings about you might have been right. You can see connections that few others would have or for that matter believed in. I can’t say for certain if what you are saying is the entire story but your family’s ties to the trees and the oak in particular is undeniable."
Cadry nodded to himself with a feeling of pride welling up in his chest and he forged ahead with his retelling "The other part that I can remember with clarity is also more mysterious. In the first part I was a sword in the hand of a warrior, his hand was cold and otherworldly. It might have been Ol’Tiss that wielded the blade but that was just a feeling that had. In the second part I was a shield carried by a man defending his family. His hand was hot with rage and a fierce love for the ones he defended. Somehow I think he was my father Cadwallon or it at least reminded me of him." Cadry stopped to wipe away tears from his eyes, overcome with a feeling sorrow and longing for a man that he almost couldn’t remember.
When he had collected himself Cadry kept speaking "In the last part I was the strings of a harp vibrating with a music more wonderful that I have ever heard. The one who played the harp was old and at the end of her life. The music she played told of a long life of peace and all that she had wrought. At the same time I think she was eternal, I think it was Don herself playing the harp." Staring emptily ahead of himself the young knight seemed to have been struck by fey mood and he could almost hear the music once again but somehow his mind wasn’t large enough to encompass it in its entirety.
In the silence Athanwyr spoke in his strange voice as if reciting an old truth
Who can tell you the age of the moon, but I can!
Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea, yes I can!
Who can change the shapes of the hills and the headlands, I can!
I have been a sword in the hand,
I have been a shield in a fight,
I have been the string of a harp,
I can shift my shape like a god."
In his normal speaking voice the ovate carefully continued "I think the lessons of these vision are more evident. They speak of the important things in your life to come. Firstly to act with purpose whether it be a divine purpose or mortal. The gods have taken note of you and will put challenges in your way. Make the most of them. The only things that the gods truly hate is a man who will not act when given the opportunity. The gods watch and wishes to see lives lived to the fullest."
Drinking some more from the water flask Athanwyr drew a breath "I’m given to understand that your father sacrificed himself for you and several others. Protect what is important and when it really comes down to such a decision put everything else aside. But be also aware that your actions will have repercussions. Your fathers decision have brought a debt on your bloodline that the gods will sooner or later ask that it be repaid. "
Cadry seemed to listen intently and it was something almost hypnotizing in the way the ovate spoke "Lastly a reminder that love is what underlies everything. The gods put us into this world because they love us and the great mother wanted to give her children what was most precious to her: this world. Try to remember all these things when you gaze towards the future and hopefully it will be bright."
Getting ready to ask more questions Cadry opened his mouth but Athanwyr interrupted him "I will answer your questions tomorrow but now dark has fallen and there are things in these forests that should not hear of what we have to speak."
The knight and the ovate left the glade with the stone circle that seemed to give of a new sense of mystery.