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“So let me get this straight,” Alex said. “The Earl of Arundel himself saves your sorry hides, why? Because he couldn’t have known you guys from Adam and would’ve cared even less.”
Gwyn shook his head. “Someone who appeared to be the Earl of Arundel showed up and rescued us from a possible hanging.”
“Wait! You’re saying that it wasn’t this earl?” Derek demanded, looking confused.
“No, Derek. I’m saying that someone whom the sheriff and everyone else in the castle recognized as Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, showed up in the nick of time, as they say, and managed to get us away from the sheriff and neatly put doubt in the Man’s mind as to our being the deserters and thieves the Templars were looking for.”
There was a brief silence as people digested that. Finally, Glorfindel stirred. “So which of the Maiar do you think it was?”
Both Gwyn and Gareth shrugged. “We never learned and we never really spoke of it, not even to our parents. We simply told them that we went to the sheriff who told us where to find them. We never mentioned FitzAlan rescuing us, which is just as well.” He shook his head at the memory, his expression pensive.
“He was dead by thirty-five,” Gareth interjected sadly, “FitzAlan, I mean. His son and heir was still a minor at the time.”
“Typical of the era,” Vorondur said with a shrug. “Most people rarely made it to fifty back then.”
“So if that was a Maia, where was the real earl and did the sheriff ever decide that the whole thing was fishy from one end to the other and come looking for you?” Alex asked, deciding to steer the conversation to something more interesting than Mortals dying young.
Both brothers nodded. “Turned out that FitzAlan was still on his way north from Arundel Castle at the time. He arrived at Shrewsbury the next day, sending a messenger to alert the sheriff and he was suitably escorted as was only proper for his station. That’s when we realized that the person whom everyone thought was FitzAlan wasn’t, but we had never had any experience quite like that before so we didn’t know what to think. As it is, the sheriff never sent his men to find us, so perhaps the Maia somehow altered everyone’s memory of our having been there. I don’t know and I don’t really care, but I sure would like to know just who that was. I will confess that I still have nightmares where we are never rescued and end up being executed while our parents are forced to look on.” He put a hand to his mouth and they could all see him struggling not to break down.
Gareth squeezed his brother’s arm in sympathy, his own expression one of deep pain. Vorondur stood and went over to crouch before them. “It’s all right, Gwyn. No one here faults you for your fears, however unfounded they might be, knowing how very close you were to being arrested. I want you to remember this, though: it did not happen. Eru was definitely looking out for your welfare and authorized a Maia to come to your rescue. That is the reality you need to hold on to. Your nightmares, however terrifying, have never been realized.”
“I know,” Gwyn whispered, sniffling a bit as he attempted to hold back tears, “but I can still hear the tramping of boots as the guards came to take us while the sheriff sent word to the nearest Templar preceptory. We would’ve been sent to London in chains and then tortured to make us confess our crimes before they hung us and it’s unlikely our parents would ever have learned of our fate. That is the true nightmare: that they would continue through all the ages never knowing what happened to us.”
At this point, he broke down completely and Vorondur stood, pulling the younger ellon into his embrace and holding him while everyone looked on in sympathy. Someone entered the clearing and people turned to see Eönwë striding toward them, garbed as usual in chainmail, his surcoat with the eagle emblem of the Elder King stitched upon it, his cloak streaming behind him. Everyone stood in respect which he acknowledged with a gracious nod. Gwyn, aware of the Maia’s entrance, stepped out of Vorondur’s hold and was drying his eyes with the backs of his hands. Gareth thrust a bit of tissue in his hand so he could blow his nose.
“Lord Eönwë, welcome,” Finrod said, giving the Herald of Manwë a bow.
“Thank you, Findaráto,” the Maia said. He turned his attention to Gwyn, giving him a fond smile, then turning to Gareth. “Allow me to offer my congratulations to you and Nielluin, young Gareth. I am glad that you and your brother remained faithful to your task so that you and Nielluin could eventually meet.”
“Huh? I mean… task? What task?” Gareth asked in confusion and the others looking on appeared equally confused by the Maia’s words.
“The task of being the Guardians of the Talisman, of course,” Eönwë said in a tone that indicated that he was stating the obvious.
“Guardians of the Talisman?” Alex couldn’t help saying with a grin. “Sounds like something out of a Marvel comic book or something.”
“Makes a great title for a movie,” Derek chimed in. “Guardians of the Talisman,” he said in an exaggerated voice-over manner. “In a time of darkness and despair heroes shall arise, ordinary men who will become the saviors of the world, for they are… duh-duh!… Guardians of the Talisman, a powerful weapon sought after by the forces of evil.”
Several of the Elves snickered at Derek’s performance, while not a few, including Gwyn and Gareth, rolled their eyes. Alex just shook his head at his gwador’s antics. Surprisingly, though, Eönwë nodded. “Sounds just about right,” he said.
“Seriously?” Alex asked in disbelief.
Eönwë, however, did not answer, but turned to Gwyn and Gareth. “Do you think it was just bad luck on your part that you ended up being taken prisoners by the Saracens and given to Saladin after the Battle of Hattin? Do you think that when you attempted to escape, it was just bad luck that none of the ports were opened to you, that you had to flee north to Acre and ask for sanctuary among the Templars? Do you think it was just a coincidence that when you arrived in Acre you met the Templar knight Valeran de Raineval while attempting to find passage on a ship leaving Palestine and he brought you before de Sablé? And why the Templars? Have you never asked yourselves that? Why not go to the Hospitallers who would have actually helped you to leave the city? Do you think that being forced to remain with the Templars, passed down from one Grand Master to another for the next century like some prized heirloom, was just bad luck on your part? No, my children. None of those events were random or serendipitous. They were minutely planned so that when the time came you would find the talisman and become its guardians until the time when you would hand over the guardianship to another. That time is now.”
All the while as the Maia was speaking, both Gwyn and Gareth became paler, their expressions stricken as they listened to what Eönwë was saying, replaying the events he spoke of in their minds.
“I… I dropped my sword,” Gareth whispered, his eyes unfocused as he looked into the past. “I don’t know why I dropped my sword, but I did and… and then Gwyn was trying to save me and….” He blinked a few times, trying to focus through sudden tears as he looked at the Maia standing there in compassionate silence. “Why did I drop my sword?”
Eönwë shook his head. “Because you were meant to,” he answered softly. “In every scenario that Lord Námo played out, you always dropped your sword at that moment.”
“I… they made me drop my sword?”
“No, Gareth. You dropped your sword. That was your doing. No one else’s,” Eönwë said firmly, “but my masters are not above taking advantage of your own free will choices. You dropped your sword. You should have died on that battle field, and Gwyn possibly may have died as well in trying to rescue you. Instead, by order of the Elder King, we who oversaw the battle inspired the amir against whom you were fighting to capture you, you and Gwyn both, and give you to Saladin. Once that happened, then events were orchestrated to bring you to Acre, to Robert de Sablé, who again was inspired to accept your plea for sanctuary. It was I, in fact, who made sure that once the initial threat was removed with Saladin’s death, you remained in Acre until its fall. That was vitally important. Had you left the Templars earlier, you would never have found the talisman and it was important that it be found and given into your hands so that someday you would find yourselves on a newly discovered continent and eventually make your way here to Wiseman where others of your people prepared for the Final Battle.”
Silence hung over the clearing as the Elves and the two Mortals contemplated the Maia’s words. Finally, Gwyn said, “So, who rescued us in Shrewsbury? Was that you?
“Oh, no,” Eönwë replied with a laugh. “I’m much too busy to deal with such trivialities. That was Manveru. You did, after all, pray to St. Michael to see you safely to your parents, did you not?”
“Manveru!” Glorfindel exclaimed. “Well, I guess that makes sense seeing as his name would translate to Mika-el in Hebrew.”
“Yes, exactly,” Eönwë said with a nod, giving the ap Hywel brothers a fond smile. “So you see, my children, you have been the instruments of fate from the very beginning. It was not just a sudden desire to see more of the world than Wales that sent you two to join the Crusade. You were always meant to go there and to be in Acre when it fell so the talisman could be discovered by you and brought forth out of the hands of ignorant Mortals who would never understand what they had in their possession, for it was never meant for them in the first place.”
“So, is it a Silmaril?” Finrod asked.
“As to that, you will have to decide for yourself,” the Maia said. “It is, however, a weapon.”
“My uncle did not make the Silmarils to be weapons, though,” Finrod countered.
“That was not his intent, true, but that is not to say that becoming weapons was not the ultimate purpose for which the Silmarils were created. Fëanáro thought he was creating one thing and had he remained true to himself and to Eru, he would have learned the truth of the matter. At any rate, what the talisman is and what it can do is for you to discover. Now, I will leave you.”
“Wait!” Gwyn cried, looking angry. “That’s it? We went through all that just for us to hand the knife over to them?” He nodded toward Glorfindel and Finrod. “What about Gareth and me? Is that all we get is a thank-you and a hearty handshake for a job well done?”
“Hey! You’re not looking at this in the right way, mate,” Derek exclaimed before Eönwë could reply. “You found the talisman and took up the guardianship, even if you didn’t know that’s what you were doing. You survived all those centuries and completed the mission and as a reward you both got the girl or elleth or whatever.”
“What are you babbling about, Derek?” Gwyn demanded with a scowl.
“Hello! Misty? Nell?” Derek said with feigned disgust. “Sheesh. Are Elves always this dense? Don’t you guys ever read fairy tales? In the end, the hero always gets the girl.”
“And this is where I will leave you,” Eönwë said with a smile at the nonplused expressions on the brothers’ faces and then he was no longer there, leaving behind the mingled scents of lavender and lovage.
For a long while, no one moved or spoke, all of them staring at the space where the Maia had been. Finally, though, Glorfindel stirred, looked at Finrod who shrugged, and then turned to Gwyn and Gareth as he sat down. “So, when last we left our intrepid heroes….”
Several people started laughing and even Gwyn, who had been scowling, smiled a little at the levity and he looked less tense as he and Gareth resumed their own seats and Vorondur went to sit with his wife and sons. “Do you really want to hear the rest of this?” he asked, looking at Glorfindel. “I mean, what is the point now? Shouldn’t I just tell you where to find the talisman and let you go get it?”
It was Finrod, though, who answered, shaking his head. “No. That is not how it works, child. You and your brother are the Guardians until such time as you personally hand the talisman over to us. We cannot just go and take it even with your permission. Besides, I am curious to know your parents’ reactions upon seeing you again.”
“And didn’t you say that the talisman warned you of danger another time?” Alex chimed in. “I want to hear about that.” Several others nodded.
“You have a captive audience,” Vorondur said with a smile.
Gwyn nodded and turned to Gareth. “You want to tell them this part?”
Gareth raised an eyebrow. “Sure, if you want.” He started to take a sip from his goblet, realized it was empty and scowled. “Are there hobgoblins about because I swear I don’t remember draining my mug.”
“Hobgoblins, is it?” Glorfindel asked with a grin. “No. No hobgoblins to blame. Sorry. Conan, fill our young teller of tales’ mug for him, will you?”
Cennanion grinned as he picked up a bottle of wine and poured it into the mug that Gareth held out to him, trying not to blush as people snickered and Thandir asked what hobgoblins were and why they would drink someone else’s wine.
“Story for another time,” Glorfindel said, waving a hand in dismissal. “All set?” he asked Gareth, who nodded, took a quick sip of his drink and then sighed. “Well, so we went into the apothecary shop and there was no one in the front, but with the ringing of the bell, someone came out from the back and….”
For a long moment, Tristan ap Hywel stood staring at the two who stood before him while they stared back. Then, without a word, he opened his arms wide and his sons dropped the saddlebags they had been carrying and fell into their father’s arms, all three hugging and crying.
“What is all the—Gwyn! Gareth!” Iseult screamed as she came from the back of the shop and saw her husband with their sons.
“Nana! Nana!” the two ellyn cried and it was several minutes before they all had calmed down enough to speak coherently to one another.
It was Tristan who spoke first. “So, you got our message.”
“Well, yes, of course,” Gwyn said with a laugh, “else we would not be here, would we? Though I have visions of you and nana wandering about Wales, defacing church property with cryptic messages that look like prayers or psalms.”
Tristan laughed. “We’ve only done it the one time and for good reason. I was unsure you would actually receive the letter that we gave to Elen ferch Dewi to send on. She was very young at the time and well, I just wished to be sure. We knew you got our previous letter because you wrote back, but the times being what they were and still are…” He shrugged.
“Well, we met Elen, poor lass,” Gwyn said. “It is not a happy situation in that village. The priest… well, it makes no difference now. All that matters is that we’re together again.”
“Close up the shop, Husband,” Iseult said, “and let us celebrate the return of our sons from the Crusades.”
Tristan nodded and went to put up the shutters, but Gareth and Gwyn forestalled him, insisting on doing it themselves while their father barred the door.
“Bring those bags with you, my sons,” Iseult said as she led them behind the curtain into the back room which turned out to be a combination kitchen and workshop with a hearth on one side and a work table on the other that held all the paraphernalia of the apothecary’s trade. A door on the opposite wall from the curtained entrance led out to the back garden and the privy. Hanging from the rafters were a variety of sweet-smelling herbs, both fresh and dry, as well as ropes of onions and garlic. Stairs led to the second floor apartment, a tiny two-room affair with the doorway separating the rooms covered by a colorful quilt. The front room held a small grate that provided meager warmth, while the bulk of the space was taken up by a table with a bench and a couple of chairs and a tall cupboard which held linens, dishes and other household items.
“Sit, sit,” Iseult insisted, pointing to the bench. “I will just go and bring up our dinner. It is good that we have the haunch of beef your ada bought instead of the rabbits I sent him out for. It makes a nice change and stews well. We’ll have plenty for all.”
Tristan just grinned. “I was all set on buying the rabbits, too, scrawny though they were, but then I saw the beef hanging there and something told me to buy it instead, though it cost me dear. Now I know why.”
“Let us help you, Nana,” Gwyn said, but Iseult waved her hand in dismissal.
“Nay, nay. Stay and keep your ada company. I shan’t be long. Husband, open some wine for us.” She went back down the stairs as the brothers sat on the bench.
“With a good will,” Tristan said as he went to the cupboard and brought out several earthenware mugs and bowls. “We heard tell of the fall of Acre,” he said as he opened the jug of wine and began pouring. “We feared for you, for we heard that all the Templars in the city were killed.”
“Not all,” Gwyn said after taking a sip of the wine. “Some few of us escaped under cover of darkness before the final assault, taking the treasury with us.”
“And now you are here,” Tristan said as he sat in one of the chairs. “When do you have to go back?”
“Back? Back where? Gareth asked in confusion.
“Why back to whichever preceptory you’ve been stationed in,” Tristan exclaimed. “I am assuming you were given leave to come here.”
Both brothers shook their heads. “No, Ada. We left the Templars at Sidon,” Gwyn said.
“Left? What do you mean, left?” Tristan asked with a frown.
“Just that,” Gwyn replied. “We left. As far as we were concerned, the Templars no longer owned us. When de Severy sent us away, we left at our earliest opportunity. We removed all signs in our dress of our ever having been with the Templars. We wanted no part of them.”
“But why?” Tristan demanded. “After all they did for you—”
“Did for us?” Gwyn exclaimed. “What did they do for us, Ada? We were as much their prisoners as we were anything.”
Tristan gave them a troubled look. “They succored you when no one else would, gave you food and clothing and a purpose,” he said quietly. “They kept you safe for your nana and me and you reward them by just leaving?”
“You don’t know what it was like,” Gwyn hissed angrily. “You don’t know how very close we both came to dying. You don’t know what it felt like to be slaves to the Saracen. However well Saladin treated us, we were still his slaves, forced to do his bidding whether we wished to or not. When we escaped from him during the negotiations with Richard, our only intent was to come home, but, in the end, we were forced to flee to Acre and then we spent the next century with the Templars, though neither one of us wished that.” He paused to gulp some wine before continuing.
“We spent the next century virtually prisoners. Even after Saladin was dead and we were no longer being sought for, we could not leave, were not allowed to leave. We were handed down from one Grand Master to another like… like favorite hounds, and we had no choice but to allow these Mortals to dictate to us. Well, no more. When the opportunity arose, we took it and good riddance to them all.” He took another pull of his wine and scowled at his father.
Tristan glanced at Gareth sitting quietly beside his brother. “And do you feel the same, Gareth?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gareth replied, not looking up. “It was my fault that we were ever taken in the first place.”
“No, Brother,” Gwyn said, giving him a one-armed hug. “I have never blamed you for what happened. It was just what it was. We could both have been killed or sent to Egypt and separated, never to see one another again. I am only grateful that circumstances allowed us to remain together.”
About then, Iseult came up the stairs with a loaf of warm bread and placed it on the table. “The stew’s ready,” she said to Tristan, who nodded and went downstairs while Iseult went to each of her sons and hugged them from behind, planting kisses on top of their heads. “And I am grateful to Eru for returning you to us, my sons,” she said. “I never wanted you to go, for there was always the chance that you would not return, but I look at you both and you have become ellyn in truth and are no longer my elflings.”
Gwyn smiled up at her. “We will always be your elflings, Nana, no matter what.”
Iseult kissed him again and then sat as Tristan came up the stairs with the kettle of stew which he placed on the table. All conversation ceased for a time as the family ate, the brothers praising their mother’s culinary skills and their father’s good sense in listening to his heart in buying the beef instead of the rabbits. After a while, Tristan insisted on the brothers describing the last days of Acre. When Gwyn got to the part about finding the knife, their parents gave them troubled looks.
“You stole the knife?” Tristan finally said.
“We liberated it from the Mortals,” Gwyn retorted, “or at least that is the excuse I came up with to justify what Gareth did.”
“And the Templars never knew?” Iseult asked somewhat doubtfully.
“Well, as to that, I don’t know for sure,” Gwyn admitted. “Here, Gareth, show them the knife.”
Gareth hesitated for a moment before getting up and going to the bags which had been shoved in a corner out of the way, rummaging in one of them and then drawing out a bit of velvet. Tristan, on Iseult’s order, cleared the table and when Gareth returned he placed it in the center and carefully unfolded the velvet until the knife was revealed.
“Glory be!” Tristan exclaimed in shock. “Is that a Silmaril?”
1. There was an actual Valeran de Raineval, but he was not a Templar knight. He was, in fact, Count of Fauquembergues (b. 1360) who died in 1415 fighting the English at Agincourt. Nothing else is known about him except that he was the oldest son of Raoul II de Raineval. I borrowed the name for the Templar knight whom Eönwë mentions because I liked it.
2. Manveru (man-ve- Eru) = Michael = Mika-el “Who is like God?”
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