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Sing my Victory Songs

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Taliesne made the decision to voyage to the Poet’s Mountain at dawn on the day before the woman she loved was to be married to another.

She spent the morning writing poetry. There was no canvas or parchment that could contain the way she felt that morning; the emotions rioted up in her chest and lungs, wild like sea serpents twisting up out of the deep. So instead she used the Lady Esyllt’s chest and back as a canvas instead, the brushstrokes twisting sinuously over her shoulders, ink catching on the downy hairs at the nape of her neck. Esyllt sat patiently on the bed they shared, eyes closed and breath steady.

“I do not want to marry any of them,” she suddenly said.

Taliesne finished the poem with a swirl of ink that trailed across Esyllt’s neck and put the brush back into its inkstand. “Would you marry me in their stead?”

Esyllt turned to smile sadly at her. “You know I would. But I’m afraid there’s a bit of a line.”

Lord Maelgwyn was a petty lord with land fit only for goats and sheep, but there seemed to be a million men who wished to marry his youngest daughter. The suitors had come for Esyllt’s hands in droves, and as far as Taliesne was concerned, they had come for all the wrong reasons. There were aged warriors that had come because they had heard she was beautiful, with hair like raven feathers and skin like milk. There were unctuous counts and barons from the nearby holdings that had come because Esyllt was her father’s favorite child, and surely Lord Maegwyn would support their political ambitions if the ties of marriage linked them. And there were merchants with bad teeth and fat bellies who had heard the rumors that Esyllt’s mother was one of the Fair People, and had left her a horde of magicked trinkets and precious gems as a dowry.

None of them seemed to care about the way Esyllt’s cheeks dimpled when she laughed, or the way she absentmindedly braided her hair as she read, or the way her eyelashes fluttered against her cheeks while she slept.

“There are no other poets here, dear one,” Taliesne said, trying to sound hopeful. “Maegwyn would give you a poet over a warrior or a merchant or even a lord, I think.”

Who wouldn’t? A king might command ten thousand men and a warrior might kill a king, but a poet could make them both immortal or condemn them to dust with a stroke of his pen or a few trills of his voice. The great Kings of yore only lived on in memory because they had respected the great poets; how many rulers’ names had been forgotten to the winds of history because they had not done the same?

Esyllt sighed and looked away. “He would give me a poet, yes. But he would not view you as such, if he even knew who you were. He would see a peasant girl, and you know it.”

“Then I will have to become one in his eyes.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “I will go to Cadair Idris tonight, and come back with the Burning Eye on the morn.”

Esyllt seemed sad but not surprised, as if she’d known Taliesne wouild suggest the trek up the Poet’s Mountain. She bit her lip once, twice, her hands twisting in the silken shadows of her sheets. “Or you’ll come back mad or not at all,” she finally said.

“Some things are worth braving madness for.”

“You cannot be dissuaded?”

Her voice seemed impossibly fragile, and for a moment Taliesne felt her heart seize up with guilt for causing Esyllt pain. But then she remembered the droves of old men who had come salivating for a share of the lady’s wealth and a place in her bed, and remembered that some things were worth feeling pain for. Looking Esyllt in the eye, she gently shook her head. “No, I cannot be.”

Esyllt was still for a moment before nodding swiftly and drawing herself up from her nest of blankets, her limbs pale in the predawn light. The lines of Taliesne’s poetry seemed to ripple across her skin, ink blurring into the shadows of her collarbones. “Then I will see you come back alive.”

She walked in measured steps to the heavy cedar chest that sat at the foot of her bed, unlocking each of the seven latches on the lid one by one. Taliesne had never seen her open it before. “You will need help on the mountain,” she murmured, “and I cannot come with you.” Reaching into the depths of the chest she drew out three objects, each wrapped in soft muslin cloth. She handed them across the bed to Taliesne one by one. “These will keep you safe where I cannot follow.”

The first bundle held a scepter carved from milk-white beech wood that felt warm to the touch. The second cradled a cloak woven from dove-grey silk that seemed to bend the light of the room around it in peculiar ways. And the third held a gem the size of her fist that glittered red one moment and purple the next, with bright bits of light in its depths that shone like stars.

“A cloak so that none shall see you. A scepter whose light shall protect you,” Esyllt said. She sat down on the bed next to Taliesne and brushed her fingers over the surface of the opal. “And the opal my mother gave me on my first name-day.”

Taliesne realized she was staring; she couldn’t help herself. Her father had been a trapper and her mother a goatherd; this was more wealth than she had ever held in her life. “These are kingly gifts,” she managed to say, not looking up.

“Then they are gifts worthy of you,” Esyllt murmured softly.

Taliesne looked and saw that her lover’s eyes were over-bright, tears rendering them into shining pearls in the darkness. It was suddenly all too much- that she could lose Esyllt tomorrow, that she herself could die and leave Esyllt in numb twilight for the years to come. She set the gem and scepter down in the folds of the cloak and then stumbled into Esyllt’s arms, unbidden sobs tearing themselves from her lips into the curls of her lover’s raven hair. “I cannot repay you for these gifts,” she said meaning more than just the precious objects on the bed.

“Come back to me alive and whole,” Esyllt murmured into the crook of Taliesne’s neck as she stroked the back of her head, “and I shall consider the debt paid.”

***

Taliesne spent the rest of the day in the small croft she shared with her Grandmother, packing and repacking her rucksack and trying to keep the tremors in her limbs from taking over and sending her spinning onto the earthen floor. It was madness and she knew it was madness- no one had come down from Cadair Idris with the Burning Eye in more than fifty years, and the last man to succeed had already been a mighty poet when he made the trek, his neck adorned with gems from grateful kings and his pockets filled with sheaves of songs he had written, songs so beautiful that they could turn away the edge of a sword mid-swing and make nightingales weep with envy.

In contrast, Taliesne was an awkward girl of two-and-twenty who had never sung before any kings to speak of. Her verses were not bright things that surged to fill the air, nor were they strident songs that made men’s jaws drop in wonder at their singing. Her poems were soft and precious lines of ink over Esyllt’s back and breasts, her poems were made in shadows and lingered there, as if the full light of day or the scrutiny of strangers might break them. How could they possibly be enough, how could she ever hope to survive the trials of Cadair Idris?

But then she would hear the loud guffaw of one of Esyllt’s suitors as he passed by her door, the scent of sour mead clinging to the air in his wake like an insistent lover. And she knew she could never forgive herself if she didn’t try.

It was that thought that girded her, caused her to straighten her shoulders and step out into the hazy purple of twilight with her rucksack clenched tightly to her chest.

“And where are you going, child?”

Taliesne spun around, letting out a nervous laugh when she saw it was only her grandmother, wrapped in an old woolen shawl and peering suspiciously up at her.

“I go to seek a kiss from the Gleaming Ones on the mountain,” she said, putting on a brave smile she didn’t feel, “so that my eyes shine, and everyone will know me for a true poet.”

The old woman’s eyes widened under the heavy wrinkles of her forehead, and her face puckered in on itself with disapproval. “Pride is a silly thing to risk your life for, my shining one. If it’s others you’re going for, you won’t come back.”

“Not for others. For one other.”

“Ahhh.”A knowing gleam appearing in her hooded eyes. “You go for love.”

The memory, unbidden, came into her head of Esyllt sighing beneath her, the slide of Esyllt’s silver-smooth skin under her hands, the lazy smile on Esyllt’s lips as she looked up at her, just after rising from the throes of sleep. Taliesne resisted the urge to scuff her boots in the dirt like a hesitant child. “Do you have any advice?”

The old woman looked pensive at that, worrying at her one good tooth with her tongue as she stared off into the distance. “Might be that I have,” she finally said. “Lately I’ve taken to listening to the sighs of the wild geese, and watching the waxing shadows cast by the elm trees.”

Taliesne nodded seriously; Grannie had been a wyrdwoman for as long as anyone could remember. She saw the true shape of things and knew the names to call them by; sometimes they called back. “And what have the wild geese and the elm trees told you?”

The old woman laughed a toothless laugh. “Why, they’ve told me many things about the Poet’s Mountain. They told me that a poet must be brave, a poet must be clever.” She abruptly took a step closer, and seized the front of Taliesne’s cloak, pulling her close so that her lips brushed Taliesne’s ear. “And most important of all,” she whispered, “they’ve told me that a poet must never, ever, tell her true name to the Queen under the Mountain.”

A sudden chill seemed to descend over the stoop; despite the unseasonable warmth of the day, Taliesne found herself shivering.

***

She set out at twilight, planting her feet solidly on the path that led to the mountain and humming loudly, as if to ward away bad luck. For a while the journey was uneventful, and Taliesne contented herself by watching the trees at the edges of the path grow more gnarled, and the underbrush more wild. A few fireflies, late for the season, hung in the shadows between the branches. It was altogether peaceful.

The shrieking began as Taliesne entered the foothills of the mountain.

It was only echoes at first, mournful trails of sound that faded into nothing against the rocks. Haunting, but likely nothing more than a buzzard singing a dirge for carrion. Yet the calls grew louder and more frequent as she walked until they were overlaying each other in jarring and discordant patterns.

When the noise became so loud that Taliesne could hardly stand it even with covered ears, the first Hag appeared in the sky. She was ugly even in the muted twilight, with peeling skin that hung loose on her bones and teeth like paring knives. Occasionally she would open her mouth to shriek; dozens if not hundreds of matching cries rang from the air around her.

It was sheer luck that she didn’t see Taliesne; the branch of an oak tree hung in the way. Taliesne quickly retreated so that her back was pressed up against the tree, hardly daring to breathe.

She felt the overwhelming urge to turn tail and run back the way she came. She glanced over her shoulder at the path behind her, only to find it swallowed up by the forest and the shadows of the evening, hidden from her view. Some part of her didn’t care, wanted to run anyway, in any direction she could- yet even as her calves clenched in anticipation of a sudden sprint, she knew the effort would be futile. She'd heard stories; the Hags rode the air as fast as the wind itself, and were not hampered by tree roots or rocks in their path. They would hunt her down in a heartbeat, and that would be the end of her. And then Esyllt’s father would force her to marry some boor of a man that treated her like a precious jewel to be locked away from the world.

Taliesne clenched her jaw and planted her feet firmly on the trail. She would continue on then. But how to make her way past the Hags? She peered up at them through the leaves of the oak tree. They were dancing over the tops of the trees now, hooting madly and peering down at the length of the path as if they knew she was there, as if they could smell her fear.

It must have been her imagination, but for a half-blink of a moment she thought she could hear the voice of her grandmother on the wind. A poet must be clever.

With trembling fingers she reached down to the opening of her rucksack and felt around until her fingers found the soft cloth of Esyllt’s cape. Drawing out, she swung it over her shoulders carefully and tightened the string of the cowl as tightly as it would go.

Then, her heart in her throat, she edged away from the tree and onto the path. She took one step, and then another. The Hag was suspended a mere hand span above her; If the cloak was not enough to hide her there would be nowhere to run. Taliesne watched as the Hag’s beady eyes narrowed and scanned the path. They paused facing exactly the spot where she stood, and it was all she could do not to cry out in fright- but then the Hag turned away, on to examine the next section of the trail, and she hurried onward.

***

The shrieks of the hags seemed to go on forever, but eventually they subsided into the stillness of the dark, leaving only the faint trills of night birds and the slither of branches in their place. The path began to slope upward, following the rolling contours of the foothills of the mountain. Taliesne kept the cloak wrapped around her shoulders and focused on the steady crunch of her feet on the gravel of the path as she walked. There was a mesmerizing rhythm to it, ­one-two, one-two, even as the drip of water off the eaves after a sudden summer storm.

She was so absorbed in her own footfalls that at first she did not notice that the moon had gone missing. It was only when she realized she could no longer see her own feet below her that she stopped and looked around.

The air hung heavy with the prescient, pressing stillness of a crypt. The trees stood frozen, untouched by the normal night breezes of the season and the birds, if any remained, were utterly silent.

Taliesne’s feet skated in a nervous circle through the gravel as she spun around; a distant part of her mind noted that even the scrape of the gravel was muted to her ears, as if she’d heard it through a thick cowl of wool. She could see no stars, no moon, not even her own hands before her.

In her eighth year a young man had braved Cadair Idris for the Burning Eye, and come back a shivering husk. He would mutter to himself; she always heard angry vowels tripping out of his mouth like spitfire when she walked by him on her way to the well in the mornings. She had stopped once, curious of what he was saying. He hadn’t seemed to notice her until she was less than an armspan away, at which point he’d sat bolt upright and fixed her with an anguished stare, his eyes focused on some point beyond her. “The hollow hills will swallow you,” he said, “and flay apart your mind.” She’d run away after that, but the wild look in his eyes had stayed with her, an ill omen that surfaced in her nightmares for many years to come.

It occurred to her that she very well might be in the place he had been when the madness took him, when the fear of the overwhelming dark had caused him to turn tail and run back down the mountain, leaving some vital bit of his soul behind in the darkness. She felt the same compulsion; she could feel her heart beating against her rib bones like a nervous rabbit; the overwhelming need to flee made her feet skittish.

Meanwhile the darkness was becoming stronger; it was almost as if she could smell and taste it, hovering over her nostrils, prying at her lips, wanting to fill her mouth and drown her.

She clenched her teeth. A poet must be brave. She had come this far. Resisting the urge to wave the smothering night away from her face she knelt and felt around for the opening of her rucksack. For a heartrending moment she couldn’t find it. But even blind and deaf, her fingers knew the fabric well and quickly found the knot at the top, pulling it apart by memory.

She reached inside and felt the grip of the scepter fall into her palm, almost as if it had been waiting for her.

The wood felt smooth beneath her fingers, smoother than carved beech wood had any right to be. There was warmth too, a steady heat that radiated into her clenched fingers and up her arm. If she didn’t know better, she could have sworn she felt a faint heartbeat resonating from within the scepter, as if it were alive.

With a deep breath she tightened her grip on the scepter and swung it high in the air over her head; a sharp whistle rang through the air as it swung over her, clear as the clarion call of a trumpet. A burst of light followed the noise; it was soft, like butter-lemon sunshine on a meadow in late afternoon. It winked out a moment later, and Taliesne found herself holding her breath as she waited for her eyes to readjust to the dark.

The darkness swirling around her somehow seemed to become less suffocating, and she could almost catch faint trills of night birds from within the shadows of the trees. A minute passed, then two. An owl hooted, and a cool breeze blew across her forehead. The dark was the normal dark of a late summer night; Taliesne could see the outline of the trees against the once again star-lit sky. She watched them for a moment, winking to and fro in the distance, before letting out a shuddered breath and continuing up the path.

***

It was the shadowed hour before dawn when she finally reached the summit of Cadair Idris, and her hands were covered with scrapes from scrambling over boulders. The rocks of the peak were cast in muted purples and greys; as she stumbled over them the fear that she was too late and the night had already run its course seized her and refused to let go.

“Gleaming Ones!” she yelled, “I’ve passed through air and darkness; I’ve come to win the Burning Eye!” She listened for a reply with bated breath, her hands clenching and unclenching in the chilled air. But there was nothing, only the soft echo of her voice on the craggy granite shelves of the mountain.

It was lucky that her panic got the best of her and drove her to her knees, for from that vantage point she was able to see the door. It was hewn into the rough stone of the mountain, barely large enough for a young child to crawl through, hardly visible under a craggy outcropping.

She hurried over, smoothing a hesitant hand over the outlines of the door, looking for hinges that weren’t there. It swung open silently; Taliesne hesitated for a moment before crawling into the inky blackness. The tunnel was narrow and sloped sharply down into the bowels of the mountain; after what must surely have been hours on her hands and knees Taliesne began to wonder if it went on forever, if she would grow old and die in inky darkness.

She thought the light was perhaps an illusion when she finally saw it, the laughter and music definitely so. The tunnel widened until she could stoop, then stand up. When at last it ended it had become a grand passageway, with a buttressed ceiling and a floor paved with marble shot through with glittering veins of quartz.

The hall she walked in to defied description. If there was a ceiling she couldn’t see it; the perfect stone of the walls went up and up and up until it was lost in darkness. A million candles hung suspended in the air, their light flickering off the flawless mirrors that lined the walls. There were tables piled high with more food than Taliesne had seen in her life, and all around danced pairs of gleaming figures, almost all of them tall, graceful, and achingly beautiful. A few men and women of more normal proportions milled about with wineglasses in their hands and glassy smiles on their faces as they watched the courtiers dance.

Taliesne felt a chill run through her. She recognized some of the men; they had passed through Maegwyn’s court on the way to Cadair Idris, some mere months ago, some years ago. A few glanced over at her, but there was no recognition in their eyes, only a very mild curiosity.

“Welcome to my hall, Shining One.”

Taliesne spun around and promptly felt her mouth fall open. The woman who stood behind her was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. It was a hard beauty though, a cold beauty, a beauty so complete and perfect that it hurt Taliesne to look at her directly, almost as if she were looking at the sun.

“You’re the Queen under the Mountain,” Taliesne blurted.

The Queen laughed; it sounded like spring rain dancing on roof tiles. “I would know your name, Shining One, since you seem to already know mine”

Taliesne felt an immediate urge to tell this woman everything; the name of each of the goats in her mother’s herd, her nickname for her first lover, what her father had called her while she was still a babe in a cradle. She opened her mouth- and then remembered the words of her Grandmother. A poet must never, ever, tell her true name to the Queen under the Mountain. Yet it would be impolite to refuse. “Call me Dienw,” she finally said.

The Queen arched an achingly perfect brow and folded her arms in a graceful motion over her chest. “Very well, very well.” She stalked closer, so that barely a hand span separated them and then smiled down at Taliesne like a hungry hunting cat. “I will challenge you to a contest, and if you win your prize will be the Burning Eye. Do you accept?”

Would it be a duel to the death, to see if she was daring? Taliesne cast a nervous eye at the courtiers who were now staring at the pair of them in abject silence. Gleaming swords hung from the men’s belts; even from across the room she knew they would be deadly sharp. Or perhaps it would it be a dancing contest, aimed at measuring her grace? She looked to the female courtiers, each of their motions an iteration in smooth perfection and unity.

Either way she could never hope to win. But what choice did she have? “I accept,” she said, proud that her voice had not quavered as she spoke.

The Queen seemed neither pleased nor disappointed. “The contest is one of riddles. I shall ask one riddle, and if you answer correctly, the Eye is yours.”

Taliesne almost laughed out loud. A riddle was nothing to her; she knew all the old riddles that the famous bards had crafted, and had composed many of her own besides. “Ask me, my lady.”

The Queen nodded once, twice, and began to speak.

“Sun on the river’s edge at dawn,

The place on which hands rest the crown,

A golden youth come singing songs,

What am I?”

A ringing silence hung over the court in the wake of the Queen’s words; her unblinking eyes remained trained on Taliesne like a cat’s on a mouse. The courtiers, Gleaming Ones and mortals alike, were silent, bits of conversation and errant words frozen on their lips in anticipation.

Taliesne felt the air go out of her lungs. This was not a riddle she could answer.

Not because she didn’t know the answer. No, she knew with a bone deep certainty what the Queen wished her to say; her conviction had only grown stronger as each damning line of the Queen’s riddle dripped from her honeyed lips. Water in the morning sunlight was shining water; a crown rested on its wearer’s brow. And in the old tongue, in the speech of the Gleaming Ones and the language of high poetry, tal was the word for brow and iesne the word for shining. The golden youth was her, Taliesne, come to the Gleaming Court under the mountain, singing songs.

And if she gave her name to the Queen of the Fair Ones, she would stay under the mountain forever, feasting and dancing and singing until the end of time. And she would forget the light of the stars and the songs of birds. And she would forget Esyllt.

She forced herself to take a ragged breath. “I cannot answer your riddle, my lady. I know this means I have failed your test, and I would beg you to let me return down the mountain anyway.”

The Queen’s eyes flashed like agate in the shifting candlelight. “You mean you do not know the answer?”

“No, my lady. Only that I cannot say it.”

The Queen walked slowly down the length of the banquet table, the tips of her fingers skirting over the mounds of fruit and through the flames of the candles. “You have come all this way, and you would give it all up now. Would not a true poet risk everything?”

“Then perhaps I am not meant to be a poet,” Taliesne finally forced herself to say. “For there are some things not worth risking.”

The Queen turned back to stare at her; the two stood suspended in silence as the Shining Court began to dance on around them, whirling faster and faster as if Taliesne and the Queen stood in the eye of a storm.

And then, slowly, like water trickling through a stone dam, the Queen began to chuckle, then laugh. “You already are a poet. Anyone can be a poet. If you had come because you were not a poet, you would have perished or gone mad on the mountainside. And if you were here for a petty reason you would have answered my riddle and stayed with me, for it would have been worth it to you.”

“Then you will let me go?”

The Queen nodded. “I will let you go. But you have not answered my riddle, and I cannot give you the Fire for nothing.”

Taliesne felt her hand move, almost with a mind of its own, to the opening of her rucksack. Her fingers slipped inside, felt past the cloak and past the scepter, and finally closed around the cool smoothness of Esyllt’s opal.

“Take this then. As a gift,” she said, pulling it out and offering it to the Queen.

The Queen peered at the jewel, her mouth twisting into a frown. “A gem? Child, I am Queen under the Mountain.” She plucked the stone from Taliesne’s hand, tilting her head slightly as she did so. “I have goblets and vases carved from malachite, and soup tureens made from pure emerald. I have ballrooms hewn from marble as white as goat’s milk that a thousand maidens cast from shining bronze dance in them every night. I have trees that grow deep underground, trees with silver roots and golden branches that grow perfect rubies in their boughs as fruit. I have subterranean seas and shores in caverns that have never seen the sun, where every wave is made from sapphire and tourmaline gems and every grain of sand is a perfect diamond. What use do I have for another jewel?”

Taliesne met the Queen’s gaze and did not look away. “It was carved and polished with loving hands,” she said. “And it mirrors the light of the stars.”

The Queen was quiet at that, and for an agonizing moment of hanging fire Taliesne was sure she would hand the stone back and turn her away. But at last a deep sigh rippled through her, like wind over barley stalks, and her perfect fingers closed over the surface of the jewel. “It has been so long since I last saw starlight,” she murmured, so quietly that Taliesne could barely hear her.

She took a hesitant step forward “My lady?”

“Yes, my little poetess,” the Queen said in a louder voice. “You will have your eyes of fire. They will burn like suns deserving their own skies, bright like wildfires on the northern mountains, soft enough to put starlight to shame. And you will sing poems for a hundred years, and others will sing your poems for a hundred hundred years after you pass into shadow. You will sing for kings and queens and heroes, and they will kneel before you and weep, and thank you for the honor that you do them with the miracle of your voice.”

Then the Queen reached forward with both hands to caress the sides of Taliesne’s face before pulling her forward and placing a single kiss on Taliesne’s brow.

Her skin was burning, and then her head and her lungs and her limbs, she could feel the sharp sting of flames from the back of her throat to the pit of her stomach to the flesh beneath her fingernails. It was beauty and pain and words she had no name for, visions of the birth of stars and fever dreams of dying suns danced before her eyes, spinning faster and faster until everything was a blur of white.

When her sight returned she was sitting on the cold stone plateau of the mountain top, pink rays of dawn cresting the horizon and setting her awash in golden light.

She stood slowly, marveling at the morning sky. And then she turned back to the path that had brought her there and began to jog, then run, down the mountain.

***

There would be many poems written and songs sung about Taliesne’s return to the court of Maegwyn on the day of his daughter’s betrothal. It was said that she stumbled into his hall in the middle of the betrothal ceremony, covered in ash and naked as the day she was born, her hair burned clean away from her body. It was said that Maegwyn rose from his ivory throne in anger and began to draw his sword, furious at this stranger’s impropriety.

And it is said that he stopped in awe and in wonder when Taliesne looked up at him with unblinking eyes, for her left eye shone golden like the sacred fire of the sun, and her right eye gleamed silver with the light of all the stars in the sky.

“Who are you?” he finally asked.

There was no hesitation in the young poet’s voice, the words sprang from her lips to fill every nook and corner of the hall, soaring up into the rafters and humming over the rushes of the floor. “I am Taliesne.” she said. “I have slipped past the howling hags and braved the endless night of Cadair Idris, I have won a kiss from the Queen of the Mountain and spent the night in her shining halls unharmed. I am a poet; I sing in perfect meter which will last to the end of the world. And I would ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage.”

Maegwyn blinked dumbly before letting his sword slide back into his scabbard and sitting back down on his throne. He looked at the suitors who had come for his daughter, seeing for the first time the cheap gilt of their golden jewelry, the rust on their weapons, the age-lines on their face. “I would be honored to have you in my court and my family,” he finally said. “I am sure you have come very far to visit my humble lands, and I am sure you could have any maiden or youth that you desired for your consort. I am honored that you have chosen my daughter.”

“All I would ask in return for her hand,” he said, “is a chance to hear you sing.”

Taliesne began to open her mouth, then paused. She looked to the smaller throne behind Maegwyn, where the Lord’s daughter sat. Esyllt was radiant in white samite, her hair tumbling in soft waves down her back. Yet it was her eyes that captivated Taliesne; they were awash with tears of joy.

Catching her gaze, Esyllt gave her a slow smile.

Taliesne winked back. And then she began to sing.