Chapter twenty-eight: Avebury

 

Before them, barely a mile away, rose the mound of Silbury Hill. They would be in Avebury by late afternoon. There, if Bran's dream was correct, Will would die.

 

Did he believe it? If Bran had dreamt it years ago, in Oxford, Will would have considered it nothing more than an expression of Bran's own fears. But Bran had become something else now, and had the potential to become something far more than he was now. His dreams could not be discounted. That was why Will had no choice but to come here. If the Wild Magic was focusing their attention on this place, Will had to be there.

 

Bran clearly did not understand it. He had made that clear every day of their journey. Mostly, though, he stayed miserably silent. If something had eased between them after Hereford, it had returned in full force since Bran had revealed his dream. Will had found an Old Way and stuck to it, Bran walking twenty yards away to his left.

 

"We don't have to," Bran said now. He had edged closer than he was accustomed to. "There's still time to turn back."

 

Already he could see a few of the stones, pale flashes against the green. The hill had been raised by the hands of man, for reasons not even known to an Old One. There was magic here – fierce Wild Magic, born from thousands of years of man's rites, but High Magic, too, for this was one of the old places of the world. It was the perfect place for the final ending. No Old One was ever able to walk away from what had to be.

 

He gave a slight smile. "I can't, Bran."

 

Bran moved closer still. "It was only a dream. It was stupid. It doesn't mean anything. This is a waste of time. We should go somewhere else."

 

"Maybe it was just a dream," Will admitted. But it wasn't, not with Bran as he was. "But we have to try it, just in case. That's what life is like nowadays – trying every chance that's given us, just in case this is the one that will really make a difference." All inclination to smile flowed out of him as he spoke. Seven years of it. Seven years, and this was the result.

 

"Then I'll…" Bran stopped with a grimace. He pressed his clenched fist to his mouth, and turned his face away.

 

Will almost said it aloud. I know what you kept from me, Bran. I know that you were the one who killed me in your dream. Bran's emotions were clear on his face. An Old One was not always good at understanding human emotions, but Will could read Bran clearly now, and knew his secrets. Maybe it was because they had once been lovers. Maybe it was because Bran was part of the Wild Magic now, overflowing with feeling that could not be contained. Will knew the truth. And still he went on.

 

"Let's stay here until tomorrow," Bran pleaded. "We can rest – maybe talk. We haven't really talked for ages, have we? I know we're closer to people than you like, but we can hide."

 

A car passed on the road, not too far away. Someone was moving on a distant field, ploughing it with horses, while their farm machinery rotted in a shed for lack of fuel. A dog barked. But the hedgerows were thick and untended, and he remembered suddenly a game from childhood – making a den at the heart of a clump of trees, hidden from the eyes of adults…

 

Hidden from the world, the two of us together, just James and me. 'We should live here.' Sneak some food from the kitchen, and bring a blanket, and live here forever in our own little den, and no-one will ever find us. And so we do, but then we find that there's not much we can do, kneeling on the flattered earth, with knobbly roots pressing into our knees, and branches tangling in our hair. We tell each other stories, but it gets boring without the others. And Gwen is shouting that dinner's ready, and I can smell it, and it's going to get dark soon, and I don't like the dark – have always been scared of it, even though Stephen tells me there's nothing to be afraid of…

 

"They always find us in the end," he said, "and hiding isn't possible." And not with Bran, never with Bran – the enemy welcomed into his den. No-one could run away from their own nature. You could hide from enemies, but not when they were within.

 

"I didn't tell you everything," Bran blurted out. "In my dream…"

 

"I know." Will squeezed Bran's hand, and felt a great serenity sweep over him. "I've always known. But I can't run away from it, even so."

 

******

 

The place was exactly as he had dreamt it, and that was the worst thing of all. "Perhaps I saw a picture in a book somewhere," Bran said out loud. "Perhaps that's all it was."

 

You know it is not, said a voice in his head that did not come from himself.

 

The sun was sinking. The shadows of the standing stones were dark fingers, each one seeming to point straight at Will. The stones were tall figures, hunched with menace. Bran knew of legends where stones walked at midsummer. Were there English legends where stones could kill?

 

How could he even approach Will? Bran kept opening and clenching his hand, desperate to prove to himself that there was no knife there. But the Wild Magic was there, all around him, and in his head. He wanted to stand far enough away from Will that he couldn't hurt him, but he wanted to be close to him, too. He needed Will's strength, his calm, his solidity. Will had answers, but Bran was flailing in the dark.

 

He concentrated on every step; stopped two paces short, and managed to force out some question. The words felt like an exercise of will, as if he had to fight to prevent each word coming out completely different. He thought he had won, and framed the question as his own. After he had asked it, though, he had no memory of it, as if it had been someone else's, after all.

 

"No," Will said, treating the question seriously, and like nothing amiss. "The stones are just stones. Any power that they have comes from the way people have thought about them over the years. A thing used in a ritual becomes… important. And, of course, all stone has power, merely as part of the earth. Man builds things with stone, but they do not become entirely his."

 

Words. Words. Words were soothing. They went some way towards stilling the pressure and confusion in his head. But they were just words. How could the Old One be so calm when death gibbered all around him? How could he be so inhuman? How could he be so uncaring? Couldn't he see Bran's pain?

 

His hand clenched on coldness. He opened it, but there was nothing there. No knife. No metal. No betrayal.

 

He walked away, pacing, leaning on a stone. Only a stone. Dead stone.

 

No, no… He lies.

 

Hands flat on the stone. Swallow; blink; stare at the fading blue of the sky.

 

There were people there, living in the village at the heart of the circle. If this was a place of power, how had they lived here for so long, untouched? He grasped at that thought, and clung on to it. The fairies had lied to him more than Will had ever done. If anyone was trying to trick him here, it was the Wild Magic. "Go away," he told it. "I am not yours."

 

He saw it in the movement of every blade of grass. He saw it in the angle of the sunlight. He heard it in the sound of dogs in the village. He heard it in the squeaking of a faded sign, advertising a tea shop. The days of tea shops were over. The pub served only locals, now. The gift shops and postcard shops were closed. Vegetation claimed the charming cottages. People still held out, but not for long. For this place is ours, as all the world is ours, but it is stronger here, because of what this place has been.

 

"Help me, Will," he whispered, but he could not let Will near him. Bran was alone.

 

And Will thought Bran was going to betray him. Will was sure of it. Will had never given him a chance. Will had stood there coldly and stated that he would never love Bran again. Will refused to contemplate the possibility that Bran would prove stronger than the urges that ran in his blood. He refused to help. He just stood back and walked to what he thought was his doom. Will had betrayed Bran first. Any actions Bran took in return were entirely justified. Will had forced him to them.

 

"No," he moaned. He pushed off from the stone, and tottered a few more steps away from Will. He ground his fists into his brow. Get out. Get out. Get out.

 

But we are you.

 

Someone crept towards an upstairs window in one of the houses, and looked at the two strangers with fear in their heart. They called to someone else, whose suspicion turned to hostility. He saw an image of a shotgun, to hand on the cabinet. He saw locked doors, and keys, and a memory of blood on the stone flagged floor, and the dark eyes of the stranger who had come the year before.

 

I'm not supposed to know these things, he thought. I don't want to know these things.

 

Part of him felt like a parched man who had been led by the hand and brought to an oasis. Whatever Will said, something was here. Maybe it lay in the stones. Maybe it lay in something that had happened here in the past – A massacre. It was a massacre. The Lord and the Lady of Fairy would come to him here, and all his latent powers would burst into fruition, and he would never be able to go back, not ever again.

 

An avenue led away from the stones. He imagined himself walking it, each step taking him closer to his powers. He was the son of King Arthur, destined for greatness. Through his mother – mother! ­– he was related to the beings that ruled the Wild Magic. This was his birthright. Why shouldn't he assume the powers that were rightfully his? Better that than tag along in the wake of the Old One, unloved, distrusted, and ignored.

 

He turned his head round slowly, painfully. The Old One – Will! – was far away, a never-ending expanse of grass and stone between them, as uncrossable as the void. See how little he cares… He shook his head agonisingly. "No." Will was closer than he had been. Bran was the one who had moved away, walking further than he had been aware of. Will had come some way towards lessening the gap. His feelings were a blank to Bran, but there seemed to be concern on his face.

 

Bran pressed his face into his hands. But as soon as one train of thought was arrested, another came in. Bran needed to accept his powers, not to harm Will, but to help him. That was why he had argued his way into Will's company, after all. As a human, Bran could do nothing. As blood-kin to the rulers of Fairy, Bran could do something to oppose them. He had to embrace all this – embrace the power, embrace the voices, embrace the empathy and the thought and the urges… He had to…

 

Cold in his hand. Cold air, cold dew, cold knife.

 

"Bran."

 

He had no idea if it was Will calling his name. He had no idea of anything.

 

I have to leave him, he thought, but even now he did not know if the thought came from himself, or was pushed there by Will's enemies. I have to protect him from myself.

 

The wind sighed with longing.

 

But I love him.

 

Twilight was encroaching on the stones. He saw shadows move; begin to take shape as misty figures, with a gleam of light upon their brows. They beckoned to him, and his blood responded. The earth was breathing beneath his feet, ancient and marvellous beyond words. He felt the tears of rivers, moved out of their rightful course. He felt the gleeful hope of vegetation, reclaiming what they had lost in centuries of rape by the axe.

 

He felt the terror of the people in the village, who had lost so much, and feared they would lose everything, before the end.

 

I am stronger than this, he thought. I am strong. I am strong. I am strong.

 

But the cold dew coalesced and became a dagger in his hand, and the stones were calling, and Will was a cold pillar of Light at the heart of the living, vibrant earth. He was the invader that had to be eradicated. He was the illness that had to be cured.

 

The mist had eyes that gleamed. The dying sun fell on the blade in his hand.

 

Bran ran.

 

******

 

The last edge of the sun sank beneath the trees. Twilight crept towards night. And Bran had gone.

 

Will had watched him run, and had stopped himself from the instinctive act of starting after him. This place was not just a bastion of the Wild Magic. The Light had a place here, too, for there had been a time, in the past, when everyone who lived in Britain had known of the Light, and respected it. Arthur had walked here, and Merriman. There was enough echo of their presence for Will to draw on. There was enough Light for him to remain an Old One, his heart hardened to anything to do with Bran.

 

It was a good thing that he had gone. For this whole long journey, Will had been so sure that Bran was going to betray him, but still he had let him come along. It was irrational. It had been a mistake. He had justified it at the time by arguing that it was better for Bran to come into his new powers under Will's eye, than far away. Now he knew that he was wrong. With every step, Bran had grown more miserable, more conflicted, more torn. He should have been left behind on the farm. Between them, the normality of Owen Davies and the wisdom of John Rowlands would have ensured that he would have remained human, and his sojourn in the land of Fairy would have become no more than a distant memory.

 

Why had Will let him come? The Old One had no answer. Deep inside him, the boy who had once been Will Stanton whispered that he had needed a friend, and here was Bran returned to him, the only person in the world who knew what it was like to live as a human, while possessing powers that made you something far more than human.

 

Will had been without people for so very long.

 

"Fool," he chided himself, as he leant against the stone, and waited for the attack to begin. This was no more than the last vestiges of humanity being burnt away. He could no longer love, but he had not yet entirely forgotten what it was like to crave love. He could not live with others, but a tiny part of him still remembered what it was like to be lonely. He could not give Bran the friendship, love and companionship that Bran wanted, but part of him could not bring himself to part with him. And so he had dragged Bran along, although he was incapable of giving Bran any of the things he needed.

 

And now Bran had turned against him, as Will had always known he would. Oh, Bran was fighting it, but he would succumb. He had already succumbed.

 

Things were moving in the shadows. Will wrapped the Light around him like a cloak, and readied himself to defend. He had already woven spells around the people in the village, to keep them from harm. He had no need to weave spells around himself, for he was already protected by his very nature. Only those parts of him that were human could bleed and die. Only his human heart could break.

 

Twilight became evening, and silver stars floated into existence in the dark blue sky. He greeted them by name, and they silently acknowledged him. There was nothing they could do. If the world fell tonight, they would greet the new world order. If Will passed from this life tonight, he would move amongst them, and be glad.

 

Why did you come here? The thought was silver in his mind, as if it came from the stars themselves, but the smile that followed it made him think of Merriman.

 

Why? He stood very still, hand resting on the stone. Because Bran had dreamt it. Because, from the moment Bran had told his dream, Will had known that this could be the end of their troubled journey. Bran would turn against him. The long wait would be over. The hope would be dead forever. He could carry on enduring, as he had endured for seven years. He had learnt how to live behind his armour, with a cold, cold heart.

 

His thoughts stopped. His breathing stopped. For a long time, he stood there, utterly still beneath the stars. Wind touched his cheek like a back of a hand. A dog barked, a sharp note of warning.

 

I wanted Bran to betray me.

 

He had never given Bran a chance. He had pushed him away, and ignored him. He had wrapped himself in Light, pushing Bran ever further away into the land ruled by Wild Magic. He had told himself that he was doing his duty as an Old One, but Will had been acting for reasons that were all too human. He had been trying to protect himself from being hurt. I cannot love, he had told Bran sadly, and had meant it as utter truth. What he had meant was, I am scared to love.

 

Bran had hurt him desperately seven years before. Slowly, painfully, Will had thawed his heart and opened himself up to human contact, but Bran had chosen to leave him. His new resolutions had been too weak to survive the heartbreak. He had become every inch the Old One, cutting himself off from his family, retreating behind walls of Light. He told himself if was necessary, if he was to fight what the Wild Magic was doing to the earth. But when had he ever been successful against the might of the Wild Magic? In Oxford, when he had loved, he had been able to bind the river spirit, and he had managed to gain a small weapon against the Wild. When he had sealed his heart to all human emotion, he had lost even that.

 

He had not been speaking as an Old One when he had denied his capacity to love, but as the damaged child that he was. He had withdrawn to protect himself from further heartbreak. He had become cold because he was broken. If Bran turned against him now, it was all his fault.

 

"Bran!" he cried, and started to run in the direction Bran had gone, an hour before. "Bran!"

 

And that was when the full might of the Wild Magic came down upon the earth. 

 

******

 

He was hiding, curled tightly around the bitter knife. No-one would find him, no-one… but the hedges had eyes. The ground had breath. The air had ears. They were part of him, and they flowed through him, and he flowed outwards into them, as if his skin itself was nothing, and he was just one molecule of the air. He was part of the world, and he had to embrace that, he had to accept that…

 

But they were his enemies. They had ears and eyes and were spying on him, reporting everything he was doing to the Lord and the Lady who wanted him to kill the man he loved. He had to reject them, to push them away, to become only himself, alone, in the frail shell that was his body. To be alone. To be alone…

 

He had to return to Will. He had to go back and kill him. He had to go back and save him.

 

No, no. He had to stay here, to stay hiding. He had to keep away from Will, to protect him. He had to keep away from him, to punish him, so he would ache in his loneliness, and no-one would help him when the Wild Magic rushed in to destroy him.

 

He rocked forward; rocked back. Rocked forward; rocked back. Each time deciding to go; each time deciding to stay. The knife was real, made from dew and magic and the deep minerals of the earth. It had carvings on the handle that he knew he would be able to understand if he chose to look at them, rather than run his fingers up and down them, hard enough to hurt.

 

A storm was erupting all around him. He felt thunder and lighting. He felt the earth heaving up in great churning masses, and rain tear the leaves from trees. Then, when he blinked, he saw that the sky was still clear, and the ground was smooth and dry. A storm was raging, but not in the material world. The Wild Magic was attacking, but the enemy was not him.

 

"Will," he whispered. "Will." Old One. Enemy. Lover. Will.

 

He heard laughter. And then Will's voice screaming his name. Screaming, screaming, screaming…

 

Wrestled to the altar by beings whose eyes have seen a thousand mortals die beneath their blades. Fighting, but defenceless, because even the strongest flame goes out in the fiercest storm. Chained there, taunted, tortured, mocked. Bloody slashes opening up on his naked chest. And screaming for Bran, screaming…

 

He tasted blood in his mouth and gagged. A moment later, he felt the pain in his palm, and knew that he had nicked it the knife blade, and pressed it to his mouth. Blood; iron blood…

 

And Bran is one of the ones chaining him, delighting in his pain. It is his birthright. As blood-kin of the Lady of Fairy, it falls to him to take the life of their greatest enemy. As Bran Davies, it is his right to kill to one who has most hurt him. Will screams, and it is sweet as honey to him. He drinks his blood, and he will claim his body as Will never let him claim him before, when he pulled away from every touch. He will make Will show emotion at last. He will make Will scream…

 

"No," he sobbed. "No. I won't." He unbent his cramped fingers, prising them away from the knife, and let the blade fall. "I won't."

 

The storm raged unchecked, but this time he managed to find faint shields to keep him from the worst of it. He no longer felt as if he was flowing out into the earth.

 

"Will doesn't love me," he said out loud, "but that doesn't matter. I won't turn against him. I won't be party to the murder of mankind. I will make my own decisions about what I do, and I won't do anything against my will."

 

"So be it," said a voice, and a shape blotted out the last of the stars.

 

******

 

And he was not a proper Old One after all, for he could feel Bran's presence, could sense his confusion and his fear. He sensed his hatred, and that, too, he forgave. He was bound to Bran by a shining cord – always had been, and always would be. Now that Bran was awake, it throbbed with emotion. It could never be a bond merely of the Light.

 

It led him to where Bran was hiding, child-like beneath a hedge. The Wild Magic raged around him, gleeful in its destruction, virulent in its hatred. Will ran with one arm above his head, hand outstretched, keeping himself from harm. All around him, vines writhed, and columns of dust whirled in dark maelstroms. A dog in the village howled in terror, a birds with dark wings passed before the stars.

 

"Bran!" he called. "Bran!" But, even now, at the end, the strength of their rediscovered bond betrayed them. Will was focused only on Bran. The Lord of the Fairies stepped forward from the shadows, and Will had not even realised that he was there.

 

He struggled for full control, Old One against his enemy. "Leave him alone," he commanded. "He is not yours."

 

"No," the stranger said, his eyes cold. "He never was. And so he must die."

 

He had a sword unsheathed in his gloved hand. In the roiling shadows of the night, Will thought he could see blood on the edge of the blade. "Bran," he rasped. And that was his undoing, the chink in his armour. The stranger reached in effortlessly, found his pain, and twisted.

 

Will fell to the ground, unable to move.

 

******

 

"Will!" Bran hurled himself at the lord, struggled desperately to get past him to where Will lay. "What have you done?"

 

"There he lies," the lord said, "ready for you to bind him and do what needs to be done."

 

The storm outside was subsiding; the attack had achieved its purpose. "Of course I won't," Bran said, and this time there was no doubt in it, no doubt at all.

 

"What have you got to look forward to if you continue to defy me?" the lord asked, his eyes gleaming. "You are not human. No humans will accept you. You will become ever more like me, and the Old One will not be there to let you follow him out of pity. You will have no-one." He took Bran's chin in his gloved hand, fingers strong but caressing. "Accept me as your master, Bran Davies."

 

Bran lashed out instinctively, and the lord recoiled, his hand slipping away from Bran's face. Bran made his voice was cold as possible; inside, his heart was pounding. "I have refused you before, and this is the third time. I will never follow you."

 

The lord raised his sword. "I thought not." His smile showed the cruel whiteness of his teeth. "So I will kill you now, before you come into your powers."

 

Bran hurled himself backwards, but even the stones of the earth were under this lord's command. A root entangled him, a pebble tripped him, and he was powerless on the ground, helpless before the blade.

 

******

 

He could not be human, not this time. For perhaps one last time, he had to fight entirely as an Old One, his heart hardened to the fact that was Bran was in danger. It didn't matter; it couldn't matter. Emotions were too new to him. He had forgotten how to feel emotions, and still remain strong. He could relearn it, but not today. Not tonight.

 

Armoured in Light, Will rose from the ground.  He could not care about the fact that the Light would hurt Bran, as he now was. With a stiff gesture of his hand, and a sharply snapped word, Will encased Bran in a shield of Light. Bran screamed in agony, the sound pulsing through Will's magic and threatening to rend his heart in two. The stranger's blade slid off the shield, and he howled.

 

"You can't!" the stranger screamed.

 

Will pressed his hands together in front of him, desperately trying to still their shaking. Not Bran. Not Bran. Just anyone. "I can," he said, as calmly as he could make it. "Not destroy you, but intervene to protect those you are trying to destroy. That is according to the law. That was always according to the law, even before you made all laws change."

 

Speaking helped. Words helped. Talking of the law helped him still the racing of his heart. Bran was only whimpering now, but it was imperative that Will did not care. The true enemy stood before him.

 

"You have no right to protect him," the stranger snarled. "He is one of us. It is my right to discipline him. It is my right to destroy him."

 

"But he is also human," Will informed him. "It is his right to make his own decisions."

 

The stranger's face twisted in hatred, but there was something else there. Will considered it for a while. Fear, he concluded. The Lord of Fairy is afraid.

 

Another moment passed. Bran moaned, and the stars looked down, interested, but uncaring.

 

But not of me.

 

"The dream was a trap," he realised, "but for Bran, not me." The lord had sent the dream, knowing Bran well enough to know that he would tell Will. He clearly knew Will enough, too, to know that Will would respond by going to Avebury, after all. Once there, the lord had used all his powers to awaken the place, and to try to get Bran to turn against Will. "You wanted to drive him mad," he said, "and, if he resisted, you would have the excuse to kill him."

 

And Will had led Bran straight into the trap, ignoring all Bran's pleas. He had been so sure that the trap was meant for him. He had acted so predictably all along that the Lord of Fairy had been able to manipulate him. Cold indeed. Cold, misguided, and foolish.

 

But guilt served no purpose. Will raised his hand. "But you will not have him. Whatever blood flows in his veins, he is under the protection of the Light, and I forbid you from harming him."

 

He almost had him. The lord raged, but his eyes showed defeat. Almost he started to walk away. Almost he faded. Almost…

 

And then the world around them erupted.

 

******

 

Chains. Cold, hard metal. Iron bars. A shroud of white.

 

He was choking; he was suffocating. White light oozed down his throat, and he gagged. It raked across his skin like a thousand knives. It was wrong. It was alien. It was surrounding him, encasing him, imprisoning him.

 

He did the only thing he could do. He broke free.

 

He became the world around him. He commanded the earth, and it obeyed. He called down the air in torrents of wind and rain. He called to the rooks to shroud him with their wings. He called to the stones to stand tall, and forbid.

 

He did not have a body. He was everywhere, and everywhere was him. He found frightened sparks of creatures in stone prisons, and shattered the walls to set them free. He found pain and grief and sorrow, and he drew them out, rejoicing in their freedom. "Find the one that hurt me," he told them. "Terrorise anyone who is not like you."

 

He flew through the stones, weaving through their solid bulk. Everywhere was darkness, shot through with streaks of lurid colour. The only light – light! – was a fierce white pillar… White light, like prison bars. It blazed out, and it sought him, in darting attacks, like five fingers extended into scores that cut through the night. It came with a snapped word, with a constantly repeated sound, a single syllable.

 

The things he had awoken clustered around him, shrinking from the light. It cannot hurt you, he told them. But you can harm it. He tried to concept again, savouring it like salt. You can break its heart.

 

He saw the beings through things that had once been eyes. He saw a man in long grey robes, weeping tears of blood from empty eye sockets. He saw a woman without a hand. He saw two lovers clinging to each other, torn apart by hands he could not see. He saw a boy with a bloated grey face, dripping duckweed from lank, dead hair.

 

Keep me safe, he beseeched them. Keep me from the Light.

 

But other things were there with him – things he had not raised. The white light left him blind, but some of his creatures had pale grey candles. He saw a creature of mist, with stars upon its brow. He saw a proud man with tawny hair, a silver blade in his hands.

 

And he is my enemy, too.

 

He turned the power of the earth upon him. He raised his hand, and the plants obeyed. His summoned creatures raised hands like claws. "Destroy him," he ordered them. "Destroy him, because he would have destroyed me."

 

And through it all shone the light, strong and cold and never ending. Through it all came that single sound. Through it all… But he did not hear it. All he lived for was revenge.

 

******

 

"Bran!" Will never stopped calling his name. "Bran!"

 

Bran was far away from him. In body, he lay only inches away, still sprawled beside the hedge. His eyes were closed, but his heart was racing, fluttering visibly at his throat. All around him, emanating from him, the world was in turmoil. The Lord of Fairy screamed; Will could not turn round to see what was happening. The echoes of a thousand years of death and suffering were walking all around him. This was a possession worse than he had seen in Oxford.

 

Avebury was possessed by Bran.

 

"Bran!" Will shook Bran's shoulder, clutched his arm, cupped his face. "Bran!"

 

The beings were all around him, clawing at him, but Will ignored them. They were not real, but merely shadows of griefs long past. Far away, in the village, he heard screams. And this was Bran – Bran who was doing this. This was Bran.

 

The sky darkened. Wind tore at Will's hair, and dirt and twigs lashed at his face. It was all he could do to still remain kneeling. An apparition touched him, and he could almost feel the chill of its fingers. Beneath his knees, the earth started to shake. The village would fall, and everyone within it would die. And as for Bran… When Bran awoke from this – if Bran awakes from this  - how would he live with himself?

 

Will closed his eyes, just for a moment. Perhaps the Lord of Fairy was still behind him, but he could not look. Perhaps the lord's sword would descend as soon as Will relaxed his guard, but when you had fought so hard, and for so long, some things were a mercy. Bran had to be stopped, and Will could not reach Bran like this.

 

Will drew all his power back into himself. He cancelled all spells and all protections. Not as an Old One, but as himself – as Will Stanton, the boy he had been so long ago, and the young man he had been for such scant few weeks in Oxford. "Bran," he called, and kissed him lightly on the unresponsive lips. "Bran." He felt tears seep from his eyes, and fall on Bran's closed eyelids. "You have to stop this, Bran."

 

******

 

The light winked out. The pain went, and all he was left with was darkness. The world raged in response to his command, and all around him was nothing but hatred.

 

And then came the sound again – the single syllable spoken again and again.

 

And it was not a threat after all. It was not a prison. It was not a link in a chain, wrought by the coldness of the light. It was name. It was his name.

 

And it was spoken with love.

 

Not a chain after all, but a rope – a rope to guide him home, a rope to lead him out of this darkness, out of this hatred, out of this mass of creatures who were dead.

 

He delayed only for one half-regretful moment. Then, with a sigh of release, he reached out a hand, and caught hold of the rope that was his name, spoken in the voice of Will, who loved him.

 

******

 

End of chapter twenty-eight


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