Chapter eleven

"Look to the morning"

___

 

He waited until the house was utterly silent, then quietly crept out of bed. Bran was asleep on an airbed on the floor, snoring quietly, his face turned away. Louder snores came from the next room. Paul, perhaps, or Jon. An hour before, Will had heard Simon or Barney go to get a drink, but there had been so sound from downstairs since then.

 

Will walked to the window. The stars were hidden by a thin smear of smoke, but the fires were out. Sirens still passed occasionally, but Will had no more way of knowing what was happening in the city than any other mortal.

 

He moved unseen and silent, stepping over Bran, opening the door without making a sound, and heading downstairs. The floorboard that normally squeaked was silent. Barney and Simon still slept in the living room. The front door opened without anyone stirring. Outside, a cat passed him in the street, oblivious. A couple kissed in a doorway, but did not see him.

 

Will walked to the park at the end of his short road. It was littered with rubbish and footprints, but there was no-one there. On, he went, and on, across the field, and through the years, until he stood in the same place fifty years before. It was little different. The houses had all been built by then, and the park was just an open space. The skyline of central Oxford had changed little in five hundred years, and night was night, and few people chose to walk in it.

 

Will pressed both hands into his face, and drew them down over it. It was like removing a mask.

 

Fifty years ago, one thing was different. The enemy had not yet come into his full power. He was there, because he had been there from the dawn of man, but he was contained, caught between the twin poles of Light and Dark. Here, Will could think without risk of the enemy hearing his thoughts. Here, Will could be himself.

 

It was a dangerous game that he was playing, but it was the only game that he could play. One of his companions was dead, their body being used as a host by the enemy. He did not have proof of that, but he was sure of it even so. It was what the enemy would do. The enemy had already targeted Will once, by pretending to be a friend and ally. He would do so again. It would amuse him.

 

Everything Will said to them, the enemy could hear. One of the people, nodding at him as they made promises, was the enemy. The enemy knew all his plans. The enemy knew everything he was saying. The only solution was to speak in lies. The enemy could sense his thoughts, so the only solution was to think in lies, too. Mind as blank and as smooth as his face. Lies within and lies without.

 

He sat down, his legs giving way beneath him. The grass was moist, cold, real. He plucked a stem, pressed cold fingers to his brow.

 

He had not lied to Jane. He had not lied to Barney, or Paul, or Bran. None of them could be trusted, but that also meant that all of them had to be trusted. To each one, he had to act simultaneously as if they were the enemy, and as if they were untainted. Five of them had to be strong in mind and untroubled in heart, so they could resist the wiles of the enemy when he struck. They all had to be comforted and strengthened, even as one of them was the thing that needed to be fought.

 

It would happen in Wales. He had told them all that, and that much was true. In the morning, they would all journey back to Bran's house, and the final confrontation would happen there, on the mountains.

 

"I need you all," he had told them, solemn on the meadow. "I need your strength to fight him."

 

That had been a lie. I need you all there, because one of you is him. I need to keep you all close, because then I know that I have him.

 

"He wants me. If I shout a challenge loud enough, he will come, if only to gloat about his supposed victory. It has to be Wales, because he will feel strong there, because he's walked there already. I just have to trust that, in the end, the Light is stronger than shadows and chaos. The Light, and the bonds of friendship and fellowship."

 

Lies. All lies. He planned a trap, but that was not it. He would give the enemy a display of ignorance and error and over-confidence. All along, underneath, he would be arming himself, ready to hazard everything on a single strike.

 

There were reasons for making it Wales. The dead were there, bound to Will by blood, hungry to possess him. The enemy knew that, of course, and it would make him confident, but a binding could, perhaps, be turned the other way, and become a weapon rather than a weakness. And Owen Davies was there. Bran needed to see him as soon as possible, to make his peace. The enemy exploited dark emotions, so Will needed Bran to be healed and whole.

 

No, Will thought, shaking his head with a rueful smile. That was not the reason. He was not thinking as a general who wanted his troops to be in peak condition. He was thinking as a friend. He wanted his friend to be reconciled to his father, and that was the end of it, and he would not apologise for it.

 

It would start tomorrow. In the morning, they would rise early, and set out for Wales. Bran would talk to Owen, and there was something Will needed to do, too. Then he would seek the dead, and then… And then…

 

He pressed his hands into his eyes. He could not think about that, even here in the relative safety of the past. It had to be a plan of the most fleeting impressions and glimmers. It would happen when it happened. If not, he was lost.

 

He stood up slowly, brushing himself down.

 

One of them was the enemy. He could never forget that. One of his companions was dead, and he had no idea which one. He had no idea who to mourn.

 

The night was warm, but he was trembling. His biggest fear was that he would lack the strength to do what he needed to do, when the enemy looked at him with the eyes of a friend. His biggest fear was that, in the end, he would be too human.

 

******

 

Even the division between the cars went without a question. Will took Bran, Paul and Jon in his car, and the Drews were relegated to the other. They lost each other on the Oxford Ring Road, and that was it for the journey. There had been a vague agreement to stop a break at the same service station, but Jane and her brothers ordered their snack, ate it, and finished it, all without seeing the others.

 

Jane was drumming her fingers on the plastic tabletop, swirling the dregs of coffee in her mug, alternately staring at the crumbs on the table, and at the lobby outside.

 

"Easy way to find out," Simon said, with a chuckle. He got up and sauntered over to the waitress, all smiling charm. She blushed, and responded. Jane could not hear what Simon was saying, but saw him gesture to his hair, and his eyes. He was probably describing Bran, the most distinctive of the four. His body blocked the waitress's face from view, so she could not guess at what the answer was. 

 

"They haven't been here," Simon told her, when he returned. "Maybe he got behind us, and there was an accident, or something, that held him up. Either that, or he deliberately didn't stop."

 

"Will wouldn't do that," Jane said, but a little voice inside her told her that he would. Will and Bran, going off together again, leaving her behind. She had been second-best right from the start, and now she was nothing at all.

 

They walked back to the car, and she turned on the radio, tuning it to the local traffic reports. There were no reports of accidents or delays. A police car with flashing lights raced past her in the car park, but it seemed to be in response to some incident inside the service station, and not related to problems on the road.

 

"I don't know whether to wait," she said.

 

"It wasn't a firm arrangement." Barney gave a poor attempt at a laugh. "Maybe you've finally met someone who drives even slower than you do on a motorway."

 

"I haven't met him," Jane retorted. "You make it sound as if we're…" She stopped. Of course it hadn't sounded like that. She clutched the steering wheel tightly, and wanted to drop her head down, to sigh, to weep.

 

"Carry on," Simon said, the airy older brother in the back. "Make him pay afterwards. That's what women normally do, isn't it?"

 

Jane pressed her lips together, and snapped the radio off. She rejoined the motorway, and soon they were over the border into Wales. There was still a long way to go. She glanced in the mirror, and saw that Simon had fallen asleep. Barney was staring out of the window, the atlas open on his lap in an empty show of navigating.

 

Jane wondered whether to ask him, and decided it had to be said. "What did Will say to you last night?"

 

She had to keep her eyes on the road, and could not watch Barney's face. "Nothing important," he said. "Nothing that makes a difference."

 

He sounded so bleak. I did this, Jane thought, with a pang. She had been so insistent that Barney and Simon be told the truth, because she had wanted someone to share it with. To her, the truth had been the triumphant answer to a question she had asked all her life, but Barney already had his answer. Now, because of her, he feared it had been the wrong answer all along. "I'm so sorry," she said, meaning it with all her heart. "If only I hadn't…"

 

"Best to know," Barney said. "That's what Simon said. Only a coward hides from the truth. So now I know. But I don't think I'm a coward. I'm here, aren't I? I going with you towards who knows what."

 

"I know." Tears welled up in her eyes, so she could hardly see the road. She wiped at them fiercely.

 

"I told him I was doing it for you." She faintly saw Barney turn to face her, but all she could look at was the endless grey road ahead of her. "I didn't want to believe it, but I couldn't deny it. Even so, I'd have stayed there and buried my head in the sand. I'd have done my job and my duty, and that was all. But I knew you were out there, fighting this… enemy. You'd thrown your lot in with Will. I didn't like to think of you by yourself."

 

"Thank you," she whispered. "I…"

 

"Simon said the same," Barney broke in. "We're family, in this together. I know we've gone our separate ways, but these things matter, don't they?"

 

Jane nodded. Family, she thought. Who were Will and Bran, after all, but near-strangers she had known for less than a week? They had made clear that they didn't want her around. They hadn't even waited for her. The people who mattered most were her in the car with her.

 

"We don't need them," she declared. "We don't want them. Do we?" Barney said nothing, but she saw Simon open his eyes, and nod in sleepy agreement.

 

******

 

They stopped for lunch in a small town an hour away from Bran's home. When Will wandered over to the stream, Bran took the opportunity of following him.

 

"We have a problem with Jane," he said, without preamble. 

 

"Oh?" Will's sleeves were rolled up, and he was leaning on the stone parapet of a bridge, toying with an apple that he had not yet started to eat.

 

"She's jealous," Bran said. "It could cause a problem."

 

Will said nothing. He seemed to be staring at something in the distance, a gleam of light where the sunlight played on the water.

 

"I don't know which of us she's jealous of, really," Bran said. "Me, probably, because you're spending time with me. But maybe…" He took a deep breath. "I… was attracted Jane when I first saw her. I know she doesn't think of me that way, but perhaps she was flattered by the attention. Sometimes you don't want something when it's offered to you, but you still hate it when someone else gets it."

 

Will turned the apple in his hands, green shading into red. Bran leant on the bridge beside him. His arms were bleached of colour, and looked lifeless next to Will's.

 

"I thought I should tell you," Bran said, "in case… I mean, you have so many other things to think of. Sometimes you seem to know everything, but other times you're almost clueless. I thought you might not have known about her."

 

"No," Will said quietly. "I didn't know. Thank you." He threw the apple in the air, and caught it with one hand. "Clueless, yes. Thank you for that, too." But he was smiling, and his tone was light.

 

"Well…" Bran shrugged. "I suppose you wizard types have far more important things to think about than the people who buzz around at you with their silly little emotions."

 

"Do you think that?" Will looked hurt. "No," he said, when Bran opened his mouth the apologise. "I deserve it. I'm not always… good… with people. I'm trying to change that. Please point out anything I'm missing. Stop me before I do damage."

 

"I just meant it as a joke," Bran said. "A poor joke. I'm sorry." He felt strangely ill at ease, and not because of the enemy they were going to face. He had planned how to tell Will about Jane, but the words had come out all wrong.

 

Will turned back to the stream. "We need to watch Jane, then."

 

He did not have to say any more. Bran knew more than most how the enemy could slip into your mind and amplify all those unpleasant little emotions you were feeling. You were not even aware that it was the enemy doing it. His resentment of Will had become hatred. His anger at a father who had lied to him had become fury at the whole world, and had led him to attack strangers.

 

Will turned so his back was against the bridge. The movement subtly took him further away from Bran.

 

Of course, Bran thought sadly, Will knew that any of them could be the enemy made flesh. He had to distrust their motives at all time. For all Will knew, Bran was the enemy, trying to turn him against Jane.

 

"I'm not him," Bran said. "I know you think it's one of us, but it's not me."

 

Will looked at him, and fear blazed in his eyes just for a moment, then was gone, hidden behind the usual calm. Even that, Bran understood. Will had thought they were all fooled by his bold talk on the meadow. The enemy was somewhere else. The seven of them would stand tall and together, and the enemy would come sweeping in from somewhere other, and fall into their trap.

 

"I knew all along," Bran said. "I know what you're doing. I won't tell the others."

 

"How?" Will asked. He passed his hand over his brow. "No, don't answer that. You just… You understand me too well. Even when you were hating me, you saw things so clearly. You saved me on the mountain, not Jane. I don't know how you do it. Sometimes it scares me…"

 

His voice trailed off. Bran knew what he had been about to say, but did not know how to answer it. Instead, he just said again, "I won't tell the others."

 

He turned round so they were side by side together, looking towards the heart of the small village, where locals strolled to the shops, and tourists took photographs of the hills. It was a pleasant and serene scene, but he knew that Will was looking anxiously for arguments and fights, just as earlier he had been scanning the river for the drowned dead rising from its waters. He was looking for signs that the enemy was close, though the absence of such signs proved nothing. The enemy could be close, just choosing to keep himself hidden.

 

"If it's so clear to you, you see," Will said, "then surely it's clear to the others."

 

Bran shook his head. "It isn't. The others don't…" He pressed his palm against the cold stone, smooth from generations of hands. "I've seen you at your worst. I think that's probably it. They still see an Old One who has all the answers. I saw you almost die when you faced those dead things. I've hated you and fought you. It all helps, I think. So that's why."

 

"At my worst…" Will smiled. "You have a good way of putting things, Bran Davies."

 

"Better than you," Bran agreed. "You sound like someone out of a bad film half the time, all swords and dragons and people with pointy hats."

 

"I do, don't I?" Will chuckled. "Can't be helped. I plan to change lots of things if…"

 

And so, instantly, they were sober again. The finger of a cloud crossed over the sun, but was a great grey shadow on the main street of the village.

 

"You'll go and talk to your father?" Will said suddenly. "To Owen, I mean."

 

Bran bridled. "It's none of your business."

 

"It is," Will said calmly. He was more nervous than he sounded, though. Bran could tell that.

 

"Oh, I get it." Bran folded his arms. "It's like Jane and her jealousy. You think this is an open wound that will let the enemy in. It will get in the way when…"

 

"Yes, it could," Will said, looking Bran full in the face, as if his dark glasses were no obstacle at all, and everything between them was fragile. "You've said you'll help me, and that gives me the right to ask you to make sure you're prepared, mentally. But that's not why. It's not a case of right. A friend has the duty to suggest something, if they think it's the best... If they think if will make a friend happier… Even if they don't want to hear it, you have to… to try."

 

Bran looked at the sky, blue and almost clear. "For someone who doesn't mix much with people, you can be a wordy one, can't you?"

 

Will began to turn away. He attempted to mask his hurt, but not well enough.

 

Friend, Bran thought. His throat thickened, almost as if with tears. He had been lonely all his life, and had never really had a friend of his own age. How pathetic does that make me? he thought. Really, he was in no position to lecture Will about how to understand people's feelings. Sometimes Bran had gone for months on end without exchanging any words with anyone but two old men, both of them prone to silence.

 

"I will talk to him, yes," he said. "I'd always intended to." He almost said more, stopped himself, then said it anyway. "Thank you for asking, though."

 

Will smiled. The whole village seemed to hang behind them like a painting of a place, still and beautiful and wordless.

 

"Are you going to eat that, or what?" Bran snatched the apple from Will's hand, and took a large bite. "If you want something, you have to keep hold of it."

 

"Yes," Will said. "I know."

 

******

 

They met John Rowlands first, walking with his dogs along the unsurfaced road that led to Owen Davies' home. Will stopped his car, still a few hundred yards short of the farmhouse.

 

"I'll go on, then," Bran said. He sat still for a few seconds, making no attempt to move. "Right." He climbed out of the car, and walked on alone. Will knew that he was nervous, and there were things he wanted to call out after him, but not with Paul and Jon in the back of the car, not with John Rowlands watching.

 

"I won't be long," he said. Will got out of the car, closing the door behind him.

 

"You brought our boy back to us, then." There was no welcome in John Rowlands' face.

 

Will nodded. There was too much that he could not say. It was not for him to tell anyone else about Arthur, or about the things he had revealed to Bran.

 

"I knew he would come back eventually," John said. "He's quick to anger, that boy, but he has a good heart. There's more sentiment in him than he would ever let on."

 

Will nodded.

 

"I thought I would set my dogs on you, if you ever showed your face again." John said it casually, as he stroked the head of the nearest dog.

 

"It was his choice to leave," Will said. "He's an adult. It's not my role as… as what I am, to interfere with free choices."

 

"As a friend, though…"

 

Will smiled. "Do you think he would have listened to me? If I'd argued one way, he'd have done the other, just to spite me."

 

"Yes." John closed his eyes. "I'm not an unreasonable man. I understood things better the morning afterwards. It was too… raw that night. If Bran had stayed, things would have got worse and worse, and gone too far to be mended. At least this way he's had time to think about things, to come to terms with things. This way is best."

 

Will glanced at the car, but Paul and Jon were talking in the back, seemingly oblivious to him. Bran was still walking towards the farm, but he looked back more than once. Will watched him, but did not wave.

 

"He must know we're talking about him," he said. He turned back to John. "I won't do this any more. Talk about Bran, I mean."

 

John's eyes seemed to bore right into him, as wise in their way as Merriman's eyes had always been. "Because it's not only because of Bran that you're here. Something's going to happen. Something's going to happen here that changes everything."

 

"Yes." Will nodded. "It all ends here."

 

The sun was high; the mountainside was as lovely as he had ever seen it. Every blade of grass was picked out and limned with light. Tiny clouds drifted in the perfect blue, white and languid. Specks of people climbed the mountain, and picnicked, and laughed. They did not know that the future would be decided here. They did not know that Will stood below them, not knowing if he would see the sun rise again.

 

"I'm not… comfortable with what you are," John said, "but I'd be a fool not to realise that you're on the side of right. What can I do to help?"

 

"Nothing." Will smiled, genuinely warmed by the offer. With such small things could the advance of the enemy be halted. As long as there were acts of kindness, the enemy had not entirely won. "Spend the night with Owen. Eat good food, have a drink, and play your harp, or talk about all the good things in your past. Let the lights blaze, but do not open the door. Do not let the darkness in. Look to the morning."

 

"I have never been one for chapel, but I will pray for your success." John's voice was husky as he took Will's hand and squeezed it.

 

Bran reached the farmhouse, paused on the doorstep, then let himself in. Paul and Jon had fallen silent, watching Will. A kestrel soared, and a helicopter circled in the valley, gleaming silver.

 

"I will do what you said." This time John lowered his head, a formal bow. "I will look to the morning."

 

Whistling to his dogs, he walked on. Will could only stand there, watching him.

 

******

 

He closed the door quietly, and leant back against it for a while, just breathing. The house was dark, and felt empty, devoid of life. Owen Davies was not one of those people who could fill a house with his light, just by being there. The radio was never loud, the television seldom on. Bran had often come home and thought the house deserted, only to find his father sitting in semi-darkness, nursing a mug of tea, thinking.

 

"Da?" Bran's voice was hoarse, barely there at all. He cleared his throat, wincing at the noise it made in the silent hallway. Something thumped upstairs, the distinctive sound of a cat jumping down from the windowsill, front paws and then back.

 

Bran walked down the hallway towards the kitchen. "Da? It's me."

 

It was only then that he realised what he had been saying, calling out to Owen as if nothing had changed. One step later, and he realised how right it was. Arthur was his father, but Owen was his da. Twenty years ago, Bran had known everything, and had chosen to stay with Owen. Loving bonds were more important than blood. He had made his choice, wiser as a boy of twelve than as a man full grown.

 

He opened the door, and there was Owen, hunched on a hard chair, bleak and still. He seemed to have aged ten years since Bran had last saw him. His eyes froze when he saw Bran.

 

"Da," Bran said softly. And, really, that was all that was needed.

 

******

 

Jane slammed the car door shut, and stalked towards Will, but even before she had reached him, she had already decided not to say anything. So he hadn't waited for her at the service station. Did it matter? Of course not. She owed nothing to him. Nothing.

 

"So what now?" she demanded.

 

Will was leaning against a low stone wall. His sleeves were rolled up, and he looked flushed and healthy in the breeze and the sunlight. Paul and Jon were nearby, but she could not see Bran. "Bran has something he needs to do first," Will said. "We're just waiting for him, before we…"

 

"Outside?" Jane shook her head incredulously. "What if he's hours? What if it gets dark? What if it rains? Why are we waiting for him, anyway. If he's gone off…"

 

"He's not gone off, as you put it." Will turned casually, but his eyes were steel. "He's doing something important. And it doesn't matter if we're outside, or in. Walls make no difference to the enemy. Neither does light."

 

She wanted to hit him. She wanted to hold him. Different urges chattered in her mind, until she wanted to scream, or sob, or fall to the ground and beg for help.

 

She clenched her fist, nails digging into her palm. "How long have you been here?"

 

Will shrugged. "An hour? I probably drive too fast." She did not like the look of his smile. She thought his smiles had always been false. "We looked for you at the service station, but you weren't there. We thought you must have stopped somewhere else instead. It was only a suggestion, that we meet up."

 

She dug her nails deeper. "It doesn't matter." She knew he was lying. Simon had spoken to the waitress, and she had not seen them. He had been here an hour, so clearly had not stopped at all, so eager was he to get here with Bran, and shake her off like something unwanted.

 

He blinked. The wind stirred his hair, like a human touch, invisible, dead. She thought she heard laughter in the sound of the wind, in the cry of the birds, and she shivered, but then it was gone.

 

"Jane…" He began to reach towards her, one hand only, offering nothing.

 

She took a step back. "I'll wait in the car with my brothers," she said, "until you decide what you want us for."

 

His hand seemed useless, powerless, hanging  hatefully at his side. "Not inside, surely," he said. "It's such a lovely afternoon. You can…"

 

"You," she echoed, her voice bitter. She had not meant to say it. Careful, her mind whispered. Don't let him know. He thinks you're still meek little Jane, who worships him. "I mean…" She moistened her lips. "Do you mean that you're not…?"

 

"I have something to do, too," Will said. "I was only waiting here until you came."

 

"Something important, like what Bran's doing?" She still could not keep the bitterness out of her voice.

 

"Important to me," Will said. "Important to… things? I hope so."

 

He did not say more, of course. He would never say more. He had told everything to Bran, closeted together for the long journey, stopping together, eating together. Bran got confidences, and Jane only got lies.

 

I was the first! she wanted to scream. Bran had hated Will, and she alone had been loyal. She had defended him, helped him. Bran only knew the truth because Jane had worked it out for herself, and told him. Will would be lost on the mountain if she hadn't gone after him. She had been the first, and now she was nothing. He had rejected her love, rejected her friendship. He had rejected her.

 

She locked it all inside, where it screamed and chattered and howled in the walls of her mind. "I hope you're not long," she said. "We're nothing without you."

 

Will looked at her sharply, but he did not correct her. He did not assure her that she was of use after all, that she had a vital role to play, that he needed her. It was just that one look, and then he was gone.

 

"So it's the waiting game, then?" Simon had come up behind her, unnoticed.

 

Jane was clenched so tightly she was trembling. "Yes," she hissed through clenched teeth.

 

"Waiting for what, I wonder?"

 

Images filled her mind, sheeting like blood, and they horrified her, but she could not drive them away. She could not unsee them.

 

******

 

End of chapter eleven