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Jean

 

 

Annwn

Not only do I not own Lancer, nor do I have any ownership over Annwn, its legends or beings.
Once again, my thanks to Karen for beta-ing for me, I have tinkered (a lot) so those mistakes are mine, all mine!

Prologue
The Celts are an ancient people. Themselves invaders, they were driven by the Angles, Saxons and Romans to the extremes of Europe (Brittany in France, Cornwall in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man). If the Celtic tribes had been able to stop fighting each other long enough to join forces against the Romans, then things in Europe could have been very different. The Celt's day began in the night and their year began during the dark of winter. Samhain (pronounced sowen) is Irish Gaelic and means 'summer's end'.

However, many will know of Celtic artistry such as The Book of Kells and the Celtic Knot represents 'Eternity as the know has no perceivable beginning or end.I have borrowed from a number of Celtic sources for this story, so I apologize in advance if I upset any purists. Annwn (pronounced anoon) is Welsh, but all the Celtic tribes believed in the otherworld, a land of myths and legends, existing in parallel to our own where heroes went to live after their deaths. Mortals can visit if they are fortunate enough to discover one of the portals and brave enough to enter. They can return if they wish and providing they remember but that is for later in the story.

Annwn : A Tale of Samhain

 

29 October

It still hurt to come this way. Barranca picked his way carefully through the rocky river bed, as he had that day; the day he had lost his sight; and his heart. His heart was heavy today, too; how could he have said those things to Scott? The look in his brothers eyes spoke volumes of the pain those words had caused; and he didnt deserve it.

The palomino snorted and threw his head back without warning, jolting Johnny out of his reverie. It took a few moments for him to see what had startled his horse, and even then, he had to rub his eyes to convince himself he was really seeing what he thought.

Half way up the hill sat two white dogs, whose red-tipped ears stood pricked as though listening for something.

Dwch! (d-ow-k) a single command and both dogs turned, bounding up the hillside towards the female voice.

Barranca danced around, diverting Johnnys attention from the scene just above him, but gradually he brought the stallion under control so he was able to follow the sound.

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Johnny was late to dinner that night, incurring Murdochs double wrath, as they had guests; some newcomers to the area, Dafydd Williams and daughter Olwen. He had eaten alone in the kitchen and paused outside the door of the great room for a few moments listening to Teresas excited voice as she detailed her plans for the upcoming Halloween party. He tried to slip unnoticed into the great room but succeeded only in interrupting Teresa in full flow.

Good evening Johnny, are you feeling better now youve had something to eat? Teresa enquired.

Wasnt really hungry, thanks, he apologized.

And how is Barranca? She had seen him walking his horse into the yard.

Would you like me to take a look at him? Dafydd asked. Im a veterinarian.

I think hell be OK with a few days rest. Shouldnt have pushed him so hard; he didnt deserve it. But if he dont start pickin up tomorrow Id sure appreciate it.

Want to talk about it, Johnny? Scott asked.

Johnny, amazed that his brother should even speak to him shook his head.

No, youll all think Im crazy and it wont happen again. Then he remembered that Scott was a gentleman and they had guests, so any arguments would wait till later.

Scott turned to his father and resumed the conversation. So, Murdoch, how did you celebrate Halloween as a boy?

Father was a dominie - a schoolmaster, he explained, and an elder in the kirk, so he couldnt openly support a pagan ritual but we used to watch the other bairns guisin.

Translation please Murdoch. Scott prompted. Bairns? Guisin?

Bairns are children and guisin, well the children would dress up in anything they could find and take months making their masks. It was almost a competition to be the best. A rumbling began deep in his chest and percolated up through his throat to escape as a laugh. I remember the McKenzie boys one year; there were nineno ten of them. The laugh continued and Scott, Johnny and Teresa exchanged looks of incredulity. They had these masks, covered in feathers and two o them had long, blue green feathers suspiciously like those previously owned by Archie Duncans cockerel. They made the mistak o goin tae Archies cottage. There was no mistaking the Scottish burr creeping into Murdochs speech as he remembered his childhood. Archie taks one look at them and grabs his besom, err broom, an begins weildin it like a claymore held by Rob Roy himself. At this point Murdoch stood up gripping both hands together and demonstrated Archies sword wielding expertise. He ran doon the road after them, yelling Ya wee rascals, yell feel the sharp edge o ma broom an ken how ma cockerel feels wi a sore backside!; an true tae his word, he caught em wi just aboot evra stroke. He collapsed into his chair in paroxysms of laughter, tears steaming down his face.

No-one had ever seen Murdoch in this state before and certainly never in front of guests but the laughter was infectious and as the story progressed even Johnny joined in.

Murdoch recovered his breath and his sanity.

I havna thought aboot that for years. Father laughed so hard, I thought hed be asked tae leave the school at least aye, an maybe the kirk. But everyone in the village was in the same way. He suddenly went quiet as though completely immersed in the memories.

What else did you do? Scott prompted

We were allowed to go bobbing for apples - a large bowl or a tub would be filled with water, the water would be stirred up and the apples thrown into it, then you had to try to catch one in your teeth as it floated past. That wasnt as easy s it sounds because you couldnt use your hands. There was also the bonfire, the whole village built it up and everyone went. Near the end, wed put our tatties - potatoes to you - in the embers and let them cook - and then at the end of the evening, everyone would take an ember home to begin a new fire in the ovens.

Why?

To scare away any sprites who might be left behind, send them back to their own world.

Did you know, Murdoch, that guisin was originally intended so mortals could confuse the sprits and walk among and talk to them freely . Bobbing for apples is partly reminder of the Druid reverence for water and the Roman goddess of fruit trees, Pomona, Davydd said.

Romans, like the Romans in the Bible? asked Johnny. You mean they really existed?

The Roman Empire was one of the greatest that has been recorded, Scott said. I had to learn Latin - that was their language.

They did overrun Europe somewhat, agreed Davydd. Samhain was a time when the animals were brought down from the summer pastures and the best selected to be fed through the minter. The rest were slaughtered and the meat preserved, their bones were burnt on a fire - the original meaning of the word bonfire.

You see, the Celts believed that around the time of Samhain, your Halloween, the barriers between the spirit and the mortal realms were weak and the sprites and other magical creatures could pass into our world easily. Olwens melodic tones broke into the conversation. A place would be set at table for the ancestors or theyd get annoyed and not help in the coming year.

Hm, I remember one year you telling us that Great Aunt Rowena had demanded we remove the carrots from her plate, Davydd interjected. As she died some 40 years before Olwen was born it gave us a bit of a stir, I must say. He smiled fondly at his daughter. Some still believe that the borders between the two worlds is thinner on Ancestor Night, Davydd continued. The souls of the dead can enter the land of the living and speak to anyone sensitive enough to hear them. The ancient Celts looked for guidance from their ancestors and very much hoped to communicate with them. It was a time to celebrate life over death and remember those who had lived and died before.

Something like Dia de les Muertos, in Mexico. Its a three day holiday when we remember the dead. We take food to the graves and. Johnnys voice trailed off as he realized everyone was looking at him.

Odd, isnt it, that two nations so separated by time and distance should have a similar outlook to their dead. Davydd mused.

So, what do these spirits look like? Do they take the form of dogs?

Why Johnny? Olwen queried

Because I saw two dogstwo white dogs but their ears were kinda funny. See they looked like they were tipped red an they didnt make a sound, not even when they started runnin when she called em.”

The Cwn (coon) Annwn, the hunting dogs of Gwyn ap Nydd, Lord of Annwn. Then what happened Johnny? What did this ‘she’ look like?” Olwen encouraged him gently.

We were in the river bed, you know Murdoch, the boundary stream tween us and the Wade place.

Murdoch nodded. But the Johnstons have been living there for some time now.

Itll always be the Wade place ta me. Anyway, I got up onto the high ground and thats when I saw her; the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, she had long blond hair that kinda folded over and in on itself, and her eyes were so dark I could swear they were black. She was on this white horse, no saddle or bridle, nothing an her dress looked as though it was spun outa pure gold, but just as I got close enough to talk ta her, she rode off. I tried ta catch her, Barranca give it all he had but I had ta pull him up cause he was gonna kill hisself tryin ta catch them. Then she just disappeared. Had ta walk Barranca back ta Lancer, thats why I was late. See, told ya yad all think I was mad.

Not mad Johnny, it sounds like you came across Rhiannon, Maid of Annwn. Olwens voice was soft. Tradition has it that she still responds to people in emotional pain, she brings acceptance and reconciliation.

Annwn? You keep saying the word, but what is it? Scott asked.

Otherworld, it exists alongside our own and is where heroes go when they die. Legend is that it lies to the west, although I dont think the Celts thought of this far west, but then, they didnt know there was anywhere this far west. She paused for a few moments appraising the younger of the two brothers. When you see her again, Johnny, ask her to please stop and talk; for youll never catch her.

You think I will?

Im sure of it. Her dark brown eyes regarded him appraisingly and saw much to admire; after all, who was she to argue with the assessment of the Maid of Annwn.

 

30th October

Barranca didnt seem to be too affected by the mad chase the previous day, although he was walking stiffly. Johnny decided it would be better to release him into the paddock rather than keep him cooped up in the stable.

Johnny had been in the wrong saying what he had to Scott; he was determined to sort things out with his brother which was the reason he was saddling the bay as Murdoch entered the barn.

I need to speak to Scott. Johnny said simply. He had his scheduled work but it wouldnt be done till hed had a chance to talk to Scott. He wasnt asking Murdoch, he was stating a fact.

Everyone has noticed the atmosphere. Want to tell me what happened?

Nope. Hed finished saddling the animal and prepared to lead him out. I hate what I did and I gotta try ta make it right - if Scott will listen ta me. Cant leave it any longer.

Well, Ill get your chores covered till you get back.

Johnny paused and looked at Murdoch in surprise; his father wasnt usually so quick to agree with him not doing his allocated work; but this was important and they both knew it. As Johnny mounted up, Barranca called out to him as he clearly didnt want to be left behind. Johnny still felt guilty at his treatment of his compadre and couldnt bear to look in his direction.

I hope you get this sorted, son. Murdoch gently placed his hand on Johnnys knee.

Me too Murdoch. He turned the horses head south to the pasture Scott had headed for a short time ago.

They made haste slowly. Johnny was torn between wanting to see Scott and fear of being rebuffed. That was something he feared more than anything else that had ever happened in his life.

He saw his brother just ahead riding with the hands. He sensed that Scott was aware of his presence but didnt acknowledge him.

Scott, Johnny called.

What do you want? Scott reined back, unwilling to let the hands know that they had argued.

I cameI want to say Im sorry.

And that is supposed to make everything OK, is it? Scott demanded angrily.

No, Scott, Im sorryI got mad and…”

Oh well, thats OK then. The sarcasm in Scotts voice cut him to the bone. So Johnny Lancer - or was it Madrid who drew on me - gets mad then calms down and Im supposed to say Dont worry about it, it was just in the heat of the moment thing. You could have killed me! Scott stormed.

I would never hurt ya, ya know that!

No, I dont! Did you even see who it was in front of you?

Of course I did!

But you still drew on me!

It was a reflex action. Kinda like when ya touch somethin too hot, but I swear, I would never have shot ya! Johnny protested.

When youre looking down the barrel of a gun, thats a fine distinction you dont consider. Have you any idea what it was like for me? Scott turned away.

Ive said Im sorry Scott, what more can I do ta prove ta ya…”

Nothing, absolutely nothing, Scott spat. You dont get it do you? Theres nothing you can say to put this right. Dont you have some work to do? Because I have.

"Murdoch knows I wanted ta come over ta talk, said hed get someone ta cover me.

Does he know what you did? Scott demanded.

Not unless ya told him. I havent.

Well, youve said your piece and Im not interested. So you might as well be on your way. With that, Scott swung his horses head round to catch up with the hands whod continued with their journey.

Wait up, Scott, PLEASE! But his brother didnt stop or even pause and Johnny felt more alone than he had at any time since arriving at Lancer. He realized how much hed hurt Scott; if he could go back and change things he would, hed give anything to put things right.

He felt her before he saw her. Horse and rider immobile, the only perceptible movement the rippling of errant hairs by the morning breeze. Johnny recognized the hidden tension in the pair, poised to run as soon as he moved towards them, but he remembered the instructions given to him the previous night.

Please, wait, I only want to talk, he said.

Her smile broke through the clouds of his despair.

Had you said that before, it would have saved you and the golden one much distress. He is unharmed, I trust.

Barranca? Hell be fine in a day or two. An as for not askin ya ta wait; no-one told me tha rules.

Ah, The Rules. You need my help Ieuan (yayan).

Names Johnny, maam.

As you wish, the question is the same.

Aint gonna figure this out myself. I wanna fix things with my brother.

Not just your brother, there is another.

Ya mean Murdoch?

She gave a slight nod.

After your next sunrise come to where you first saw me. It needs to be all of you

How am I supposed ta do that?

The truth is a good basis when beginning a quest. she said simply. Until our next meeting.

What if I cant…” he didnt finish his thoughts.

You will, its too important to you for you to fail.

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Johnny was relieved that Aggie had been invited to dinner that night; maybe Murdoch had done it deliberately knowing Scott would never be less than his most charming and polite self in company.

Johnny, drink? Murdoch asked as Johnny entered the room.

Thanks, he muttered in response.

Catch up with Scott?

He nodded.

Do I need to ask how it went?

Didnt. he replied tersely. Wheres Scott?

He hasnt come down yet. Aggies talking to Teresa.

Can I ask ya ta do somethin tomorrow without askin too many questions.

Shoot.

Almost doing that had caused the whole thing, Johnny thought, but prevented himself from saying it.

Could ya get Scott ta go ridin with ya tomorrow, meet me by that waterfall on the stream tween us an the Wade place. Only dont tell Scott ya goin ta meet me or he wont go.

Is it that bad between you?

Johnny nodded miserably.

Im gonna keep tryin Murdoch. He aint jus my brother, hes the best friend I ever had an I cant lose him. Jus cant.

Murdoch looked at his younger son and saw the pain in his eyes.

OK, I know where you mean. Well be there - even if I have to knock him out and tie him to his horse! If I can helping any way, I will, Johnny, you know that. He smiled.

Thanks.

Any further discussion on the subject was ended as Teresa and Aggie came bursting in through the door, rapidly followed by Scott, each carrying a serving dish.

We need you two as well, Teresa announced. That is, if either of you want to eat tonight.

Weve got ours. Scott laughed. He was carrying the platter of roast beef and the aroma preceded him.

Come on, Johnny, I know when Im beaten, Murdoch muttered as he went through the door with Johnny in close pursuit.

Be careful, the dishes are…” Teresa began but was interrupted by a yell from Johnny in the kitchen. hot! she finished, grinning mischievously.

Ya coulda warned me! he grumbled as he came back in; placed the dish on the table and blew frantically on his damaged fingers.

I did, she asserted, just a bit late for it to be of any use.

I see things are coming along well for the party tomorrow, Aggie said.

Hmph, if you can call losing some of my best hands to Teresa well, Murdoch grumbled. She has two of them carving pumpkins, four building a bonfire, one hunting for apples and one doing the rounds of the guests to say that fancy dress is an option with a prize for the best one!

Well, the pumpkins I understand, but the fire, apples and fancy dress?

Scottish customs, Teresa said. Mr Williams and his daughter were here last night and they and Murdoch were talking about customs in Wales and Scotland.

The Williams, theyve recently moved in. Nice family, Gareth is away somewhere building a narrow gauge railway.

Dont see no point in them toy things, Johnny announced.

They arent toys Johnny, theyre extremely efficient and much cheaper to build than standard gauge, Scott explained. Id love to have a talk with Gareth when hes home, he added.

Have you seen that stallion of theirs, though? Its called a Shire and is the biggest thing Ive ever seen, looks as though it could pull a fully loaded wagon on its own. And that pretty Arabian mare, pity they cant breed from her.

Why cant they? Johnny asked, forgetting his singed fingers.

Wont let a stallion near her. Seems last time she caused a lot oferrdamage to thewell, you get the idea. Just as well Davydd is such a good veterinarian.

So how come you know so much about them? Murdoch enquired.

Oh, Murdoch! Aggie teased. Talking of your Scottish connections, has Murdoch told you about your noble connections?

Not now, Aggie! Murdoch pleaded.

Yes, Aggie, now, Scott almost pleaded.

Yeh, come on Aggie, ya cant leave it there, Johnny added.

Seems that Murdoch should have inherited the title of Laird of Lanchreisch but his grandfather (your great grandfather) lost the title and the lands that went with it…” she paused, to continue eating her dinner. This is delicious, Teresa.

Aggie, please!

Aggie, please!

Both boys shouted in unison.

It appears your great grandfather bet his heritage on the slower. Aggie was clearly enjoying the discomfort of Murdoch and teasing the boys. Taking another mouthful, she chewed slowly.

This is killin me, Aggie. Johnny was the first to break.

The slowerSNAIL! she finished triumphantly.

It was unfortunate that Johnny had taken a sip of milk as it was sprayed over his dinner then began to choke. Scott went into fits of laughter, holding his ribs as they began to ache.

Aa.snr…” he was unable to get the full words out as breathing was impossible to achieve.

I fail to see what is so funny about it! Murdoch pushed back from the table, his appetite clearly gone, I told you that in confidence, Aggie.

No, Murdoch, you told me that when you were drunk!

Murdoch, when did you get drunk? Teresa almost shrieked, like Scott and Johnny, she found the story hysterically funny. She could never remember either her father or Murdoch ever getting drunk.

Murdoch got up and went over to the array of bottles on the dresser. Drink had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion.

Hey, Scott, ya missed out on bein a Laird. Johnny announced.

If the title had remained on Murdochs side of the family, he would never have been allowed to leave Scotland; isnt that what you told me? Aggie interrupted.

So he would never have met either of our mothers, Scott announced.

We owe our existence to a slow snail. Johnny sniggered.

Seems like it. Scott looked at his brother and realized in spite of everything, he couldnt imagine life without Johnny.

 

31st October

Johnny left early; he wanted a head start on his father and brother. He wondered if Murdoch would be able to pull it off, whether Scott would turn up, and if it would make any difference.

The morning was misty, the chill in the air a herald of winter as he made his way to the stream and the waterfall, his thoughts full of Mattie. What was she doing? Was she happy? Had she met anyone else? He pulled his jacket tighter to close the gaps the mist had found, chilling him to the bone.

He eased his horse to a halt and dismounted with fluid grace. Then he looked for somewhere to tether it out of sight.

They will not see it. Her voice made him turn with a start.

You know, maam, sure wish ya wouldnt sneak up on a body. Likely ta get yaself shot. He warned.

I do not believe that your weapon could harm me.

Yeh, well I dont wanna take the chance.

Are you ready to begin your quest? she asked.

Thought we had ta wait for the others.

There is someone waiting to see you. She is most anxious.

She? She who? he quizzed.

To know that you will need to come with me. Are you ready?

It would be rude ta keep a lady waitin, specially if shes anxious ta see me. She come far? He hesitated as they approached the waters edge, remembering how cold the water was.

Trust me.

How often had he heard that before - and been betrayed? This time, he knew, it was different.

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She had her back to him but he recognized her immediately.

Mama, he said softly.

She turned, as young and beautiful as she had been the day she

.his mind refused to go further.

Juanito! She ran to him, launching herself into his arms, clinging to him for several minutes before prizing herself away. How handsome you have grown. Of course, I knew you would be. You take after your mama.

He struggled to contain his emotions, uttering just one word.

Why?

Phhhtttt! she uttered and with a flick of her hand took Johnny back more than ten years. It had been her standard reaction to anything she didnt want to answer. It meant the situation was of no consequence and not worth bothering about.

Not this time, mama. It matters. It matters to me. Why did you take me away. Why did you lie to me all those years? he pleaded.

He told me to go, she replied petulantly. And I couldnt leave you behind! How could I leave you?

You told me Murdoch didnt want me. And he didnt tell you to leave.

As good as. And what would you have done if Id told you the truth, Juanito. When those men your father sent caught up with us, you would have gone to your papa and I would have been left alone.

No, mama. I love you. Murdoch still loves you, Johnny protested. You mean you knew that Murdoch was trying to find us?

Of course I did, why do you think we moved around so much. I was trying to shake them off! I loved him! But I heard the comments from his good friends and neighbors when we married and later when you were born. You arrived only eight months after the marriage. The other landowners, they disliked me, thought Id trapped Murdoch into marriage. But your papa was so proud of you, and they were polite to his face. When they thought he couldnt hear, it was another matter. . She stopped.

So you took me away from where I could have been safe.

Nowhere would have been safe for you. Her tone was regretful. I knew the kind of life you were destined for, I realized what we had done bringing you into the world, but it was too late. We both loved you so much. I loved your papa more than any who came after. They meant nothing.

You let them beat me!

I was afraid, Juanito!

So was I mama! After you died and I was on my own, I was afraid. I couldnt go to Murdoch because you'd told me he didnt want me. I was eleven years old and alone!

Im sorry! Dying wasnt part of my plan. I always thought I had time to tell you the truth. So you could go back to your papa and let him see what a fine young man youd grown into.

I spent a lifetime hatin a man for no reason! I leaned how ta use this. He took the gun from its holster and thrust it into her face. Im good at it mama, real good. How proud do you think he was of me when I first came to Lancer? An ya know where I was when the Pinkerton man found me? About ta step in front of a firin squad. Thats where your lies took me!

I am sorry Juanito. So, so sorry. She folded to her knees sobbing.

Johnny dropped beside her, cradling and gently rocking her.

I know. Mama, I know. Please dont cry.

Maria!

Johnny and his mother turned to face Murdoch.

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So, Murdoch, this estate that our great grandfather lost, how big was it? Scott mused as the rode.

A few thousand. Aggie had it wrong, you know. The title of Laird simply means landowner even though it sounds similar to the English Lord.

A few thousand in Scotland, a hundred thousand in California - you certainly restored the family honor, didnt you!

It wasnt like that, Scott. It isnt why I came to America.

Why did you?

Oh, a man could find out for himself who he really was and be judged on his abilities not who his father was. I wanted something different, but wasnt sure exactly what. Then I met your mother in Boston and the rest is history.

She knew what she wanted. Scott said simply. Its still like that in Boston, you know - connections are everything. If you arent from an accepted family, you cant break into the right circles. Grandfather may have looked at you with different eyes had he known you were descended fromwhat is the term…‘landed gentry. It isnt like that here, although the Lancer name doesnt hurt. He finished with a grin.

Oh it would have gone down very well with Harlan that I was the grandson of an inveterate gambler who lost the family fortune to his younger brother in a snail race, of all things! Murdoch thought for a moment. The big difference here is that the name is a sort of introduction only; what you do with it after that is your own affair. If, as you and Johnny have proved, youre a fine young man with principles then youll be accepted as that.

You realize Johnny and I have argued, Scott said. Both men were riding side by side. Scotts head was down and he glanced sideways at his father.

It would be hard to ignore the fact that something has happened, Murdoch agreed. And I know hes desperate to try to make things right.

Im really not sure we can get round this. At least thats how I felt until last night.

And now? Murdoch prompted. They had reached the spot Johnny had asked Murdoch to meet him but there was no sign of his younger son.

I suppose I realized how close we were to not being here at all - Johnny especially. Perhaps this is the way things are meant to be.

Indeed they are. The two men turned to face the direction of the sound. There was no doubt about it, this was Johnnys lady. Neither man had heard her approach yet there she was. “Iuean has gone ahead. Do you have the courage to follow?”

“Who is ‘Yay-an’?” demanded Murdoch

“Your son and brother - John. He has much pain within him and he has gone to confront the one who forced him to repeat the lies about you.” She looked at Murdoch.

“Maria? But she’s dead! How can Johnny possibly talk to her? ”

“Maria is nothing to do with me,”

Scott responded. “Did you know Johnny was going to be here?” He rounded angrily on his father.

“He asked me to bring you. He said you wouldn’t come if you knew….” Murdoch didn’t have time to finish.

“I asked him to bring you so that I could help all three. Do you have the courage to follow him?” she asked a second time.

Scott turned his horse to leave but changed his mind, dismounted and walked toward the…girl? Woman? It was difficult to think of the correct term, if what Olwen had told them was right; this apparition was a goddess.

“Murdoch and Scott Lancer, do you have the courage to follow?”

“You know us?” Murdoch asked as he, too, dismounted and walked over to Johnny’s lady.

“It would have been rather pointless for me to offer to help if I didn’t know who you are - don’t you think?” she responded, smiling. She pointed towards the waterfall. “I ask you again, do you have the courage to follow him?”

“Let’s get this over with, I don’t have time to waste.” Scott felt irritated, but wasn’t about to let anyone think Johnny had the ‘courage’ to do something he wouldn’t.

“Fine, let’s go. If you would care to lead the way.” Scott felt guilty at being impolite, it wasn’t Rhiannon’s fault that he was furious with his brother once again .

She led them towards the water, then turned.

They followed her lead and Scott suddenly realized that not only were they not getting wet, they weren’t sinking either! He looked into Rhiannon’s eyes then caught that ‘smile’ again; the one Johnny gave sometimes and Scott found so…annoying! The one that said ‘I know something you don’t’.

Murdoch and Scott could see only solid rock and feel the chill of the falling water as spray hit them. She extended her hand gracefully, reminding Scott of a ballerina, and the rock shimmered to be replaced by the image of land behind.

Welcome to Annwn. Rhiannon turned slightly. “There is one thing you must remember. Take nothing from this place save your memories. Neither may you eat or drink for if you do, you will forever remain here.”

They followed Rhiannon along the path where the grass was considerably shorter than the surrounding land with its many different forms of plants. The greens were so vibrant, their eyes could almost feel them. They emerged from the forest path to a clearing. Tree branches arched over like a cathedral vault and they saw two figures in the middle. Scott recognized his brother and he assumed the lady with him was….

“Maria!” Murdoch shouted.

Johnny and Maria turned in the direction of Murdoch’s voice.

“Guess you two gotta lot ta talk ‘bout,”

Johnny said as he released his mother. Every instinct screamed at him to stay with her, never to let go again. His needs had to take a back seat his parents needed time together.

“You took your time,”

Johnny whispered to his father as they passed each other.

He saw a tall, blonde lady approach his brother. Scott did take after his mother, Johnny thought, crouching, leaning against a tree for support.

“You’re alone, there are two groups you could join,”

Rhiannon commented.

“I been on my own much of my life, so nothing’ new there. I figure mama and Murdoch got things ta sort out and Scott never had a chance ta know his mama so they need time ta sort things out. Looks like I got you though, ma’am,”

Johnny drawled.

“You are presumptuous, mortal.” she teasingly scolded.

“If’n I knew what that meant, I might agree with ya.” He said, “I might jus’ ‘gree with ya anyways, ma’am.” He grinned, the light of mischief in his eyes. “Do you know why Murdoch went ta speak ta my mama ‘stead of Scott’s?”

“He can’t see her yet. You said it yourself, Scott and his mother have a lot to talk about.”

“So, ma’am, you gonna tell me why we’re here?”

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Murdoch’s heart stopped when he saw Maria and Johnny. They were kneeling on the grass and Johnny had his arms around his mother. His Maria! He shouted her name and watched the pair turn to look at him. As Murdoch closed on them, Johnny stood up and walked away, taking the time to comment on how long Murdoch had taken getting there, though Murdoch was sure they’d arrived soon after Johnny.

She remained on her knees her head down; a pose so often reflected by her son.

“Maria,” Murdoch said softly.

She looked up at him through long eyelashes, her eyes still red from crying.

“Maria,” he repeated, holding out his hand.

She hesitated before accepting his help to stand up.

“You have the same question, si?” she muttered.

“I need to know why you left, Maria.”

She sighed.

“I have never stopped loving you.” He said, “I hated what you did, but I could never hate you.”

“And I never stopped loving you, my husband,” she responded.

“Then why? And why take Johnny? You must have known the kind of life he’d live in those border towns.”

“Si and I knew the kind of life he would live among your so-called friends. You didn’t know what they were saying about our son and me, what they were saying about you. What we did was wrong, it was so wrong for Juanito. I realized the moment I saw his beautiful eyes that our son would have no place anywhere. You were so determined to bring Scott home that I knew it would only be a matter of time, then you would not miss Juanito so much.”

“Scott and Johnny came home only six months ago. Harlan refused to let Scott come with me.”

“Murdoch, I…I didn’t realize, I didn’t know. I really thought Scott would grow up at Lancer. I would never have left you without both your sons.”

“You were wrong that I didn’t know what they were saying. I did, I just didn’t care. You and Johnny were everything to me. When you left, the only thing that kept me going was the hope you’d come back home. I kept looking up the trail and willing you to be coming down it.”

“And I kept thinking how I wanted to return but thought you wouldn’t want me after I’d humiliated you. Wasted lives, my husband. Wasted lives,” she mused sadly.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Catherine, his beloved Catherine.

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Scott neared his mother - he had never known her, but he was sure who she was. She held out her arms and he responded. For the first time in his life, he felt his mother’s arms embracing him.

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined you would turn out so well,” she said as she disentangled herself.

“Murdoch told me you were beautiful, I just never thought you could be so…but what should I call you? Under the circumstances, ‘mother‘ doesn‘t seem…“

“For the time we have together, whatever you choose. I shall call you Scott,”she announced with a laugh. “I’m glad my father gave you the name Murdoch and I agreed on.”

“And why, how?”

“My favorite author is, or was, Sir Walter Scott and my favorite story ‘Ivanhoe’.”

“Don’t tell me, you were going to call me Walter.”

“That wasn’t my first choice - I wanted Ivanhoe!” she laughed.

“I’ve an hoe an’ pick an’ shovel!”

“Your father said something along those lines. Then I said ‘Walter’ and Murdoch just looked at me with that ‘glare’ of his.”

“He still has it. Johnny, my brother, is usually on the receiving end! Anyway, Walter Lancer, doesn’t have the same ring about it as Scott Lancer.”

“Seeing you now, I’d say you’re definitely not a ‘Walter’…or an ‘Ivanhoe’. How I wish I could have been with you growing up - you would never have been brought up by my father. Great mausoleum of a place, never allowed to run or laugh, always had to be quiet.”

“It was the same when I was growing up,” Scott agreed. “I wish you could have been there too, and I know Murdoch would have wanted it.”

“It was my time, Scott. Remember that. Remember too, that had I lived your brother would not have been born.”

“If Johnny didn’t exist, someone would invent him,” Scott muttered. “We argued, he drew on me. I didn’t think he’d ever do that! I don’t know that I can ever forget it.”

“You need to forgive, though, Scott,” she soothed.

“What is so special about him?” Scott demanded, angry that his brother should intrude on this; the first time he had ever been able to speak to his mother.

“Not just Johnny, you and Murdoch too. By forgiving Johnny, you will forgive yourself.”

“Just what do I need to forgive myself for?”

“For thinking that I died giving you life.”

“Catherine!” Murdoch called.

Scott was about to move away when his mother took hold of his hand and stopped him. Murdoch closed in on the two and hugged his wife.

“Catherine, I’m sorry. I was so wrong to send you away,” he said.

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The day passed with the four talking, coming together and splitting into groups. As the sun began to drop in the sky and the shadows lengthened Rhiannon informed the men it was time to leave. First, she asked if they had anything belonging to Annwn.

“No,”the three men answered in unison

Had they had anything to eat or drink?

Again, the answer was, “No.”

“Then you may leave,” Rhiannon announced.

“We’re gonna hafta get quick baths,” Johnny declared as they followed Rhiannon along the path.

Emerging from the shelter of the waterfall, they blinked hard. It was still early in the day, the sun hadn’t begun to burn the mist off.

“Whaaat!” Scott queried

“Time is different in Annwn. You needed time together, time to talk through your hurts and questions; for another challenge approaches. You must think and act as one if you are to succeed.”

“Ya mean we’re gonna win?” Johnny asked.

“If I were to say you will prevail, you will not try your utmost and you will fail. The outcome is uncertain. But if you think and act as one, then it makes it more favorable to you.”

She saw them safely to the shore, then left them to collect their horses and their thoughts. The argument forgotten and the brothers reconciled.

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That night at the Halloween party, Murdoch looked to his left and right at the ladies who were attached to his arms. He could hear his friends wondering who they were.

He knew even though their faces were hidden behind masks made of hens’ feathers. The plumes, flashing green and peacock blue in the light of the bonfire, looked suspiciously like those previously owned by Archie Duncan’s cockerel.

 

1st November

Did yesterday really happen? Johnny asked as he helped himself to pancakes, ham and eggs. Maria had prepared breakfast before disappearing to help Teresa tidy the yard.

Scott made a big show of looking out of the window at the debris strewn across the yard.

I would say yes.

Ya know what I mean, Scott.

Logic says it couldnt happen, but if it was a hallucinationwell, I guess we all shared it which wouldnt seem logical either.

Ya see Murdoch tryin ta keep up with the pair of them at the party last night?

I thought he was going to have a heart attack, Scott agreed.

Maybe they wanted to keep him, Johnny sniggered.

Who wanted to keep who? Murdoch enquired as he slowly poured a cup of coffee.

That should be whom Murdoch, commented Scott, and how are you feeling this morning?

Think I must have twisted my back on that ride yesterday morning, Murdoch replied.

Johnny sniggered and was on the receiving end of one of his fathers glares.

You spent some time talking to Rhiannon; did she give you any idea why we were chosen? Scott asked.

Yeh, kinda. She tries ta contact lotsa people but they dont see her. She also said that we reprepairres…”

Represent, Scott suggested.

Thats it. Maybe you shoulda talked ta her, Scott, probably woulda understood moren me.

I think she had her reasons.

Come on, Johnny, did she say how we represented.well whatever it is were supposed to represent? Murdoch prompted.

Er, yeh. We represent a part of her story. Its kinda involved an it was long, so Ill try ta keep it short. Seems Rhiannon was promised to this old guy she just didnt like as shed fallen in love with someone else. She wanted ta marry him but her family said she should stick with her own kind, but shes kinda stubborn an went ahead anyway an that meant that her family would have nothing more ta do with her an she was banished. Two years later, she had a baby boy, but the night he was born, he was stolen from his crib while she slept. There were some maids who were supposed ta keep an eye on him but they fell asleep an rather than admit ta what they done, they said Rhiannon had eaten the baby. That sounded kinda crazy ta me, but she insisted thats the way things were. Cause they didnt have proof that shed killed the baby, they didnt hang her but said she had ta sit outside the city walls an tell visitors what she done - even though she hadnt done nothing - an offer ta carry them ta the palace on her back. She did it all without complainin or cursin her husbands family an no one ever made her carry em because of it. After seven years the kid turns up, everyones happy and Rhiannon was allowed back into the palace.

She said you, Murdoch, had not one but two sons stolen from ya. Scott, you blame yourself for a death that had nothing ta do with ya. Me, well…”

You were forced to repeat a lie, Murdoch said softly.

Somethin like that. She wanted ta give us a chance ta confront our pasts an get answers.

She certainly did as far as Im concerned, said Scott.

Murdoch and Johnny nodded in agreement.

 

22nd December

The day after the winter solstice. Murdoch had chosen this day carefully. It was the turn of the year, from today the days grew imperceptibly longer. Tomorrow everyone would be caught up in the celebrations for Johnnys birthday and it would be impossible to slip away. No one had brought up the extraordinary events of Halloween since the day it had all happened but Murdoch had recalled a story from his youth. A pond had been drained and various artifacts found in the mud, thought to be gifts to the gods. Rhiannon had done so much for his family, he wanted to give her a gift in return.

It was in his breast pocket; a silver broche in the shape of the Scottish thistle, the flower palest amethyst and the Circle L entwined through the flower and leaves. Hed intended it to be a solitary journey, but Scott and Johnny had, somehow, sensed what he was going to do and were his silent companions. The mist clung to the water in the chilled air along the river and over the pool, separating to allow them entry, then settling behind them.

The three men dismounted and stood at the edge of the pool. The sound of the water was muffled as though the mist were reluctant to release it.

Murdoch extracted the broche from its hiding place, caressing it before breaking the clasp and throwing it high into the air. As it arched its way towards the water, the three gave their thanks to an ancient being who had come from another world to help them.

As the broche neared the water, a hand broke the surface without causing a ripple, deftly caught it and sank silently beneath the pool.

Think she likes it? Johnny asked.

Murdoch looked at his sons, shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

Wonder if well see her again? Scott asked, not really expecting a reply.

 

~end~

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