Arawn came upon Gwythyr’s men just as Aonghas’ warriors began bellowing about the impending execution of his sons and his own death. He did not need to be told what had occurred, though the fact that Neirin had escaped filled him with a cold dread. No matter how hard he had tried, and he had tried very hard over the years, he could not think of one thing which he had done to fill the boy with such hatred. At one point, he had even supposed it might be a curse, from his dead brother or from Lady Muireann, though his lack of success in lifting it was so singularly unsuccessful that he had abandoned all hope in that direction.
Now the boy was free once more, and who was to blame for that? Neirin’s mother, the one person who had routinely sabotaged his every effort in setting their son straight, if Neirin was even his… not that he had ever treated him differently for all that. He loved both his sons, whether or not they were truly his own. He would never have married Addfwyn at all though, if Hafgan had not wooed and won his only love before he even had the chance to speak to her. There was no forgiveness for such a betrayal, especially knowing that Hafgan had done it only to escape the arranged marriage their father had set up before either of his sons were born. And what a debacle that had been, with her father ready to declare war over his scorned daughter. Likely her own idea, as her tongue, even then, was sharper than any blade. She was ever trying to find a way to further her own fortunes. In order to protect Annwn, he’d gone to Addfwyn’s father and humbly requested her hand in marriage, and regretted it every day since. Perhaps war would have been better, considering how things had turned out.
No matter what the stories said, he had never asked Pwyll to kill his brother. No matter how selfish Hafgan was, he wanted only for Muireann’s happiness and that meant not taking revenge on his bully brother for his spite. He suspected, though she had always denied it, that Addfwyn had known of his year long deception and enlisted Pwyll’s aid in finally making herself queen of Annwn. His own dalliance with Muireann had been poor timing and worse judgment, but even if Gwythyr was not the seed of that union, he loved the boy with all his heart, just as he loved Muireann. He wanted her to be happy, though he doubted there was anything he could ever do to ensure that beyond dying.
As he and his small band of warriors made their way to the village green, Glory also worked her way closer to the gathering. Many of Arawn’s people had already arrived and given up their weapons to stand dejected within the circle of Fomorians. Though she tried to convince them otherwise, his warriors seemed to think there was no more reason to fight with their king dead and his sons about to be executed. Most of them ignored her as they brushed past on their way to the center of the settlement. Spying Arawn and his band as they approached, she stealthily worked her way to where they were hidden between the stables and smithy.
“They are just… giving up!” she hissed in frustration, waving her hands in the air. “They won’t listen to me, and they are just walking up and giving away their weapons!”
Arawn nodded as if he expected nothing less, and Glory had to grit her teeth to keep from shouting at him and giving away their position. She might not know a lot about fighting, but she knew a battle couldn’t be won if you gave up without a fight. To make matters worse, it meant the Fomorians had more hostages.
They crept up on the village green, corralling any of Arawn’s people who passed their way, but mainly trying to keep hidden from the Fomorians. By the time they reached the gathering, they had doubled their number of warriors but were still easily outnumbered three to one. To make matters worse, there was no way to launch an attack without the Fomorians threatening their hostages.
Gesturing at several of his people, Arawn began laying out his battle plan. “Take several men and spread out around the green. I will give myself up to the Fomorians, and when I do, you will use that as a distraction and attack from all sides. Their attention will be on me, and it will give you time to even the odds before the battle is joined.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s stupid,” Glory announced and watched as Arawn’s face turned interesting shades of red and purple. “You give yourself up and as soon as your people attack, they’ll kill you or at least threaten to do so. Your people will lay down their weapons the very next second. They’re already doing it as we speak!” She gestured to the growing crowd at the center of the village.
“Then what do you suggest?” he asked, barely containing the anger in his voice. Stupid had probably been a poor word choice.
“I’ll give myself up. Aonghas wants me alive, and even if he threatens me, I’m harder to kill. Besides, my death isn’t going to keep your people from attacking.” As Arawn considered her offer, she added, “Just let me get close to the center of the gathering. There’s something I can try. I don’t know if it will work, but it’s bound to be distracting either way and keep the Fomorians looking inward instead of out.”
She didn’t waste a second as he grudgingly nodded, but trotted out towards the village green where a huge bonfire had been lit from wood and pulled down thatch. At her approach, several of the laughing Fomorians reached out to grab her and pull her in among the prisoners, pinching and fondling as they did. As she pushed and punched and even kicked a few, they eventually cleared a corridor for her right to where Aonghas stood waiting for all his prisoners and future slaves to assemble. His eyes lit up as he caught sight of her, and he walked forward, arms flung wide.
“Let Gwythyr go, Aonghas,” she announced loud enough for everyone to hear.
Though his face fell, he caught her up in his arms, his grin tightening to more of a grimace. “And why should I, pretty lady? When I am about to have everything I want?”
“Let him go, and I will go with you…willingly,” she added as he seemed about to laugh over the fact that he already had her.
“That is… quite tempting,” he murmured, lowering his mouth to her ear, inhaling and brushing his lips over her earlobe and nuzzling her neck. Most likely he thought he was charming. She’d have liked nothing better than to knee him in the groin, but he held her close for a moment, and she made no effort to free herself. Raising a hand, he caressed her cheek then tilted her head up to force a lingering kiss on her. “But I am afraid I cannot do that, my dear,” he declared loudly as he stepped away. Grabbing her by the arm, he dragged her to where Neirin and Aonghas knelt as his men laughed, but let her go as if unafraid that she would interfere.
The big pig-face Fomorian stood, swinging a huge axe around as if limbering up or putting on a show. Gwythyr looked up as she approached, then glanced at Neirin who grinned like a fool. With a casual shrug, Neirin laughed and said, “Oops, my mistake. Hmmm, whose heart was it I ate?” He made a face as if deep in thought.
Two men held Neirin and Gwythyr down as Aonghas nodded to his executioner. The man who held Gwythyr, kicked him repeatedly as he resisted, finally grinding his face into the dirt until he stopped struggling. Now or never, Glory thought to herself, and let her sword out. She had already noticed weeks ago that she could more or less control the shape and extent to which the fiery sword extended from her hands, but she hadn’t really tried to extend it more than the length of a regular sword, and often much less. In all honesty, the thing intimidated her, for all that it was part of her. It responded to her mood, in that it came more easily if she was upset or angry, and it responded to her will, assuming a particular shape if she concentrated hard enough.
Now that she had discover the real drawback to having it, mainly that it would leach the energy from whomever she killed with it, she was even less inclined to play with it. But these people were killers, had killed wantonly and simply to take what Arawn’s people had. As she extended her sword more, she focused on that thought, forcing the sword to expand, to divide, to become many writhing tentacles of hungry energy. She kept them close, wrapping around her arms and coiling along her legs and the ground. The more of the sword she extended, the more she felt it wanted to be let out. The bonfire hid its light, but not for much longer. The sticky strands ticked along the ground, reaching for the men and women gathered round the fire to watch the execution.
Glory knew that Arawn would not wait much longer, but as the hungry tentacles groped along the ground towards their prey, she began to have misgivings. They might go after anyone in their path, even the prisoners, and she couldn’t bear the thought of killing innocent people. Thinking better of her plan, she tried to reign the fire in, but felt resistance, anger. It was the first inkling she had that the sword might not be just a weapon. Parasite, symbiote… it was hungry and she was denying it the energy it wanted to restore itself.
She watched as the axeman approached Gwythyr and gritted her teeth as she wrestled with her hungry sword. It was by a supreme force of will that she sent the tendrils of light back into the bonfire instead of at the Fomorians as she had initially intended. The thought of letting the thing kill anyone in its path, and she had no reason to believe it would spare the prisoners, filled her with revulsion. Glory sent the fiery strands into the bonfire and then suddenly released them, letting them erupt harmlessly but spectacularly from the center of the conflagration.
As the Fomorians stepped back, shielding their eyes, Arawn’s force fell upon them, killing those furthest away from the fire who were off balance after being stepped on and battered by their startled countrymen. For a moment, he maintained the advantage as men who could not see in the dark with blobs of color dancing before their eyes were struck down. But too soon, the Fomorians regained their senses and fought back, and Arawn’s forces were still outnumbered two to one.
The tendrils were still hungry, and angry, very angry. They wanted someone and refused to return until they had taken a life. Though there were no words exchanged, internally or externally, she knew that the sword or whatever it really was, would not obey her in the future if she did not allow it to satiate itself now. As the axeman raised his weapon to at least take Gwythyr’s life before Arawn and his warriors could intervene, Glory sent the fiery strands at the man. They leapt on him eagerly and wrapped around him like a cocoon, squirming under his armor like worms or snakes, and sucking the life out of him in an instant before sullenly allowing her to reel them in. Unlike others she had killed, as the cords of light unwound from his body the pig-face Fomorian crumpled like dust, his axe clanging off his armor as his desiccated bones could not longer bear their weight.
Aonghas look at her with surprise and loathing as the fire recoiled and came bounding back into her hands like a puppy on a leash. Though she’d felt instantly rejuvenated by the death of the Fomorian, Glory fell to her knees. Her senses were once more completely deadened. She felt neither weak, nor strong, but capable… of going on forever, or at least until her inner demon needed to be fed again. If she’d been able to feel her stomach, she was sure she’d have been ready to throw up.
Aonghas took a step towards her, pulling his sword as he did. Apparently she was no longer his favorite person. She watched with disinterest as he approached but stopped several yards away as he looked beyond her to the battle. Apparently the tide was turning. She glanced behind her and saw new combatants in dark blue livery fighting the Fomorians and knew that Lady Muirrean’s warriors had finally entered the fray. When she looked back at Aonghas, he was standing in front of Neirin and Gwythyr as if trying to decide what to do.
After a moment’s hesitation and a glance behind him as his former ally drew closer, he hauled Neirin up by his shirt and pushed him before him, flanked by his two men as bodyguards. They disappeared into the darkness beyond the bonfire. Emotionally exhausted, Glory climbed to her feet and went to Gwythyr, kneeling beside him to untie his bonds. If he had any thoughts on what she had done, she was grateful that he kept them to himself.
to Book 4, part 2, page 16