They did not leave as early in the morning as Gerraint would have liked. Despite Rhiannon’s claim of protection, he started getting very worried. All the same, they arrived at Glastonbury before nightfall, and Mesalwig made them a great feast. No telling exactly what the old man thought of Arthur and his companions at that point, or how he might respond to the presence of Gwynyvar, whom he once held captive for nearly a year, but there was no doubt of his interest in adventuring on the quest, once the details had been explained to him.
“The old fort at the top has been torn down,” Mesalwig explained. “I must tell you, after a series of terrible dreams I took great pains not to ruin the spirals. Apparently, it worked the same for my father when he built the fort after the Romans left. I had no idea the paths went anywhere, though. But say, how can we climb a hill in the marshes and end up in Ireland? It makes no sense to me.”
“Me, either,” Gwillim admitted.
“Ours is not to reason why.” Lancelot started, having heard Gerraint use the expression often enough; but this time Gerraint interrupted him.
“It is part of the old ways itself,” he said. “I am still reluctant to travel that way, but there appears to be no other choice.”
Gerraint nodded slowly. “We should arrive just before or just after them if I calculated correctly.”
“After?” Arthur wondered.
“The way to Avalon from Tara is hidden and difficult. Even after should be sufficient to catch them. I can’t imagine they can get the kind of help that would move them along quickly from Tara,” Gerraint said.
“That would be a betrayal of the first order,” Macreedy agreed. He looked at Gerraint. Both knew it was possible, but neither was willing to speculate further on the matter.
“So, will you be building a new fort at the top?” Lancelot got curious and always thought in military terms.
Mesalwig shook his head. “Not with the Saxons cowed. All I see is peace. Maybe I’ll give it to the church.”
“Not a bad choice,” Peredur said.
“What a waste,” Macreedy mumbled at about the same time.
Mesalwig looked at his ale and then smiled. “As for me, I would like to know about these maids you have taken for you hand.” He turned the conversation in Gwynyvar’s direction.
“Not mine,” Gwynyvar said, though the maids sat around her and to some extent behind her, depending on the Lady’s protection in this strange land. “These are Macreedy’s daughters, if the report is true.” She did not doubt Macreedy, exactly, but like Arthur, she knew enough to know the little ones sometimes played loose with relationships and were not inclined to complete truthfulness in any case.
“True enough,” Macreedy said and looked at Gerraint again. He wrinkled his face where Mesalwig could not see, took a deep breath and another swig of Mesalwig’s home brew. Gerraint caught the thought from Macreedy who wondered how humans could survive on such bile. Macreedy imagined it was one reason why humans lived such a short lifetime. In this case, though, the rest of the crew had an equally hard time swallowing the stuff, except for Peredur, who seemed to have had his taste buds blunted with age, and Gwillim, who seemed a man who could wring pleasure out of almost anything he could get past his lips. Finally, Gerraint’s answer to the problem was a simple one.
“If you don’t mind, I would like to bed down,” he said. “I would appreciate an early start in the morning.” He started off, but Gwynyvar reached for his hand.
“I am sure they are all right,” she said. “I am believing and praying with all of my heart.”
“Here, here.” Several agreed.
Gerraint just smiled and went to bed.
After a nearly sleepless night, Gerraint woke everyone at dawn. They made him wait for a good breakfast, and then wait again while they packed such supplies as they imagined they might need. The elf maidens packed nothing, of course, and looked as fresh as the springtime they inhabited. Macreedy waited patiently and only Gerraint understood how difficult that was for him. Bedivere got impatient for the both of them. Uwaine learned to be more sensible about such matters.
At last they traveled the short way to the hill. The marshes seemed especially soggy from all of the spring rains and winter melt, but they walked a wood plank path that led to the base of the oval hill.
“The stone of starting is just a little way up,” Macreedy said. He held Arthur’s arm. Arthur joked that he wasn’t that old yet, but he understood. Besides, it seemed Macreedy had things he wanted to discuss with the Christian Lord, and Arthur knew any conversation would be better than none on a long, dreary climb.
“Well met,” Macreedy called out as they climbed. His sharp elf eyes saw the hidden couple well in advance of the others. Luckless and Lolly waited by the stone of starting. Gerraint immediately took them aside.
“Lolly, I apologize, but you will have to escort Trevor. He is a would-be sailor, but in truth he is a cook, and a rather good one as far as humans go.”
Lolly’s eyes brightened. She wondered how this man knew her so well, Kairos though he might be. “Maybe we could share some recipes along the way,” she thought out loud.
“I knew I could count on you,” Gerraint said, with a smile, and he turned to Luckless.
“True to your name, you will have the hard duty,” he said.
“Wouldn’t expect less.” Luckless sighed. “It is my lot in life, you know.”
“Yes, well, you will have to escort the Lady Gwynyvar,” Gerraint said.
“I am honored,” Luckless said, and he looked genuinely pleased, almost too pleased for Lolly. “But I thought you said hard duty.” He knew the Kairos well enough to squint and wait for the other shoe to drop.