He is a king, a warrior, the last hope of his people-and the chosen one of the sidhe …
Faced with the unleashed might of the Underworld, Rhiann, Cade, and their companions travel to the world of the sidhe. And it is there, in the heart of Arawn’s domain, that Cade finds himself finally able to grasp the reins of his own power to become the Christian king and pagan hero that has always been his destiny.
Song of the Pendragon is the third installment in The Last Pendragon Saga.
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“Rhun tells me you can shoot a bow?” Bronwen said.
Rhiann looked up from her mending, smiling. She was trying to be helpful, but any distraction from the basket of torn clothing at her feet was welcome. “Did he?”
Bronwen smiled. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. How did you learn?”
Rhiann rested her hands in her lap, wondering how much she should reveal, and then decided to accept the friendship Bronwen offered. It was rare in her experience. “When I was a young girl. I dreamt there was another mother and father somewhere in the world, missing me. For a while, I examined every family that entered my father’s hall for the possibility that they were my parents. But I was small, skinny, and shy, and never even had the courage to approach a likely couple. Instead, I would behave foolishly to gain attention, laughing too loudly at a joke perhaps, or chasing one of the kitchen cats around the tables, getting underfoot, to the point that, invariably, my nurse would send me to my room.”
“That’s not so unusual,” Bronwen said. “All girls behave in such a manner, one time or another.”
Rhiann gave her a rueful smile. “Perhaps. All I know is that I would go, protesting, to fall sobbing on my pallet. My life changed, however, when the captain of my father’s guard, a man named Owain, befriended me. Although my father’s desire for me to learn the bow was not meant for either Owain or me to take seriously, not really, Owain did—or at least took it seriously enough to encourage me to keep trying.
“After my first lesson, which I’d participated in under protest since I deliberately did everything in my power to displease my father, I surprised myself by waking early the following morning and putting in an appearance at the archery range. I remember walking down the path to the clearing near Aberffraw, dressed in a boy’s breeches and linen shirt. The mist had been hovering just above the grass and at first we couldn’t see the targets.”
“‘Imagine them,’ Owain urged. ‘There will come a time when you’ll be able to close your eyes and loose your arrow, and find that you hit your target. This won’t be because of luck, or a magic arrow. It will be because you have practiced every day until your arms trembled. Your skills will have grown with you, and the bow will come so naturally to you that you cannot miss.’”
“Rhun says much the same,” Bronwen said. “Already, Cador begs his father to take him to shoot, even though he is only big enough to hold the tiny bow Rhun made for him.”
“Cador loves his father,” Rhiann said. “He wants to please him.”
“Yes,” Bronwen said.
“It was the same for me,” Rhiann said. “For the first time, I had someone who genuinely cared about me. I’d been such a lost and lonely child I hadn’t even known I was capable of feeling love and certainly hadn’t ever had it returned. For the first time ever, another person had seen me, Rhiann, as a human being—not a burden, or a bastard princess, or an embarrassment—but as someone worthy of his attention. From then on, I went to Owain with all my girlish sorrows and foolish complaints. All he’d ever do is pat me awkwardly on the shoulder and hand me my bow and quiver. ‘Let’s go shoot,’ he’d say, and off we’d go to spend an hour in peace.”
Rhiann paused, remembering the comforting routine of practice: Press, loose. Press, loose. After Owain had died, when Rhiann was fifteen, she’d found solace with the bow, spending hours at the range. But then, she’d made the mistake (not intentional, of course) of blossoming into a woman. The difference between fifteen and seventeen was the difference between her father ignoring her and suddenly discovering that he had a valuable commodity on his hands. Rhiann had even heard him comment to one of his advisors, a gleeful note in his voice, that his ‘ugly spit of a girl had turned into a beauty.’
Rhiann hadn’t necessarily believed him, since he had a vested interest in her looks since it raised her selling price. Unfortunately, one consequence of his interest was that in the following years, Cadfael more closely scrutinized her actions. While he hadn’t actually forbid her from continuing her archery, she’d kept it as much to herself as possible. He’d caught her three months ago, coming back to the fort adorned in her usual male clothing, the sun high in the sky. Quoting the Old Testament, he’d cursed her for bringing disgrace upon his house and confined her to her room. Her clothes had disappeared into Alcfrith’s trunk, although Rhiann hadn’t know that at the time. Her father burned her bow and wouldn’t allow her another.
With this, the distance between them hardened and became permanent. By the time Cade came to Cadfael’s court, Rhiann had not spoken more than four words to her father in months (those words being “No,” “Yes,” and “My lord.”). In retrospect, it was no wonder he’d wanted to sell her as bride to a Saxon, if only to be rid of her somber presence behind his chair. And now he was dead. It occurred to Rhiann that someone ought to send word to Alcfrith that she was a widow for the second time, and more free than she’d ever been.
With that task on her mind, Rhiann took leave of Bronwen, whose attention had been caught by Cador, and entered the great hall to find Cade and many of his companions slumped in chairs around the fire. They’d been conversing, but stopped as she appeared.
“What is it?” Rhiann looked from one to the other. “I can tell by the way you suddenly stopped talking that something’s happened.”
Dafydd had stood at her approach and now indicated that she should take his chair. Rhiann smiled at him, a little nervously, and sat.
“I made a mistake last night,” Cade said. “My friends are impressing upon me the error of my ways.”
“Not that some good hasn’t come of it, mind you,” Rhun said. “You saved a life, learned humility, and we know more about Teregad and Mabon than we did before.”
Cade bowed his head gravely. “Thank you, Rhun, for that small consolation.”
“What mistake are you talking about?” Rhiann said.
Goronwy spoke. “Our most noble lord took it upon himself to attack a large encampment of Teregad’s men all by himself. I hate to think what would have happened if we hadn’t arrived in time to rescue him.”
Rhiann looked over at Cade who actually looked sheepish. “It’s true. I’ve apologized profusely and admitted the error of my ways. No need to pile on.”
There probably was a need, but Rhiann let it go. “Now tell me of Mabon and Teregad. What have we learned?”
“We know that they are less confident in their powers than they want to be,” Bedwyr said. “They sent men to camp on our ridge because they want Cade dead. They’ve given up on the idea of bringing him to their side and want to kill him instead.”
Rhiann stared at Bedwyr. “That’s the good thing to come out of this?”
Taliesin smiled. “Mabon already admitted Cadwaladr’s power when he asked him to serve him, and now, with this action, Mabon has acknowledged that Cadwaladr will never submit to him.”
“Since Lord Cadwaladr escaped from Caer Ddu, Mabon has been worrying that Cadwaladr has resources greater than his own,” Siawn said. “He doesn’t understand how Cadwaladr escaped—who could have helped him or why—and now Mabon’s only thought is to destroy him.”
“Mabon’s a god,” Rhiann said. “The son of Arawn and Arianrhod. How can Cade be more powerful?”
“Cade offers the people of Wales exactly the opposite of the gods: order, reason, justice,” Taliesin said.
“And I’m sidhe,” Cade said, in case anyone had forgotten. “That makes me stronger than any human.”
“Which Mabon doesn’t know about,” Rhun said, “especially as we have so far killed anyone who might report it to him.”
“And all of this is important—why?” Dafydd said. Rhiann loved that he just asked the questions that came into his head. Often they were the same as hers, but ones she was too shy to ask.
“Because it clarifies what we must do,” Cade said.
“Right,” Goronwy said. “We must stop Mabon. He can’t be allowed to continue interfering with our world and loosing more demons among us.”
“I thought only Arawn could release the demons,” Rhiann said.
“It seems Arawn is humoring Mabon,” Cade said.
“Humoring him?” Rhiann said, indignation in her voice. “Even though he’s a grown—man, god, whatever he is—his father does whatever Mabon wants in order to make him happy?”
“Exactly,” Cade said.
“It’s one thing to challenge Mabon,” Rhiann said. “It is quite another to fight Arawn. He’s the Lord of the Underworld!”
“We know that, Rhiann,” Cade said. “But our choice is to do nothing, or to do this.”
“Our path is laid before our feet,” Taliesin said. “Regardless of our numbers, regardless of which other lords support us, we will ride to Caer Dathyl and descend beneath it to the entrance to Annwn. If it’s there, of course.”
“And we will close the cauldron before Mabon turns Wales into his personal playground,” Rhun said, nodding. “Sounds straightforward.”
That broke the tension in everyone’s face and they laughed. Then Goronwy turned serious again, focusing on Cade. “Or we’ll die in the attempt.”
Cade nodded slowly. “Yes. Or we’ll die in the attempt.”