The torches flickered in their holders on the wall, casting leaping shadows on the rough stone and providing orbs of light for the guards who patrolled the passage in pairs. Sometimes Aderyn wondered why King Habren bothered to waste men guarding the Druid prisoners—they weren't going anywhere anytime soon.
He rested his head back against the wall, which was slimy from some kind of moss or mould. There were no windows in the cell, so the air was stale and thick like sludge. Nevertheless, the torches gave enough light for him to make out the huddled shapes of his four cellmates; two young children, a boy of about eleven or twelve and an old man. They were all sat at the far end of the cell, by the wall opposite the iron-barred door. Though they were all very still, Aderyn could sense that one of them was watching him—probably the boy. The other prisoners stayed away from him, and he didn't blame them. He was a traitor, after all. The boy, however, would sometimes come and sit by him when the old man was asleep. He never said anything, just sat. Aderyn quite enjoyed the silent company; the boy was about the same age as his son, but the similarities ended there.
The Druid was aware of a shuffling sound before he felt a small body sit down next to him, though he couldn't see any detail in the gloom. Even so, he was sure it was the boy—nobody else ever communicated with him in any way.
"What's your name?" the child asked after a brief silence.
Aderyn started in surprise. He had never expected the boy to actually talk to him. Before answering, he glanced at the old man warily; he seemed to have taken the boy under his wing, and would undoubtedly disapprove of their conversation.
"Aderyn," he answered cautiously. "And you are...?"
"Elwyn. Can I ask you something, Aderyn?"
Aderyn repressed a sigh. "Go on, then." He had a feeling this would not be a simple question with a straightforward answer.
Elwyn hesitated, deciding how to word his question. "Where does Air-magic come from?"
The older Druid stared at the boy through the darkness. "Our powers come directly from the gods. You should know that; it's the first thing Druids learn in training."
"I know. I just like listening to stories. You're not going to tell me, then?"
Aderyn expelled an irritated huff; he was not in the mood for games. "Not if you already know the answer, no." Perhaps, he thought, this Elwyn isn't so different from my son after all. Why is it that children ask so many questions all the time?
"Well then can you tell me something I don't know?"
"Like why we're here?"
That question caught him off guard. "What do you mean, here?"
"In these cells. I don't remember being captured, it was so long ago. Did I do something bad?"
Aderyn's heart softened a bit. "No, you didn't do anything wrong. Nobody here did. We're here because..." He struggled to find the right words. "Because we can do magic and the King doesn't like that. He doesn't like anyone who can do magic and he hates all magical creatures like trolls and dragons and unicorns, and we hate them because they hate us."
The boy was invisible in the dark, but Aderyn pictured him furrowing his brow in an effort to comprehend. "But why? Why can't we just tell them to leave us alone, and all the Druids and magic creatures can just go somewhere else?"
"Because that's not the way it works," Aderyn snapped. Why did children have to be so inquisitive?
Elwyn seemed to notice his elder's frustration and was blissfully silent. Aderyn would normally have enjoyed the peace, but he couldn't help feeling guilty for snapping at the boy. It brought back the painful memories of the times when he would yell at his son for talking or laughing too loudly and disturbing the spirits. As he sat in the castle's dungeons, smothered by the silence, he would have given anything to hear that laugh again.
"Myrddin?" Morwenna asked as she finished off the last of the chicken soup they'd had for dinner, "where does magic come from?"
Her tutor looked up, his face neutral but his eyes smiling. "That's a rather sudden question. Any particular reason you're asking?"
Morwenna shrugged. "No. Just wondering."
"Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Forgive me, it's a very difficult question to answer. There are many versions of the legend, so I'll just tell you the one that's most common around these parts." He held up a bony finger, as if in warning. "Bear in mind, nobody knows what really happened. This legend has been passed down from warlock to warlock, Druid to Druid, for countless generations, and the millennia have distorted its words. Trying to decipher this story is like trying to read from a piece of burned parchment." The warlock's voice had taken on a deep, mystical quality.
Morwenna leaned in closer. The hearth cast eerie shadows on his face and his eyes sparkled, making him look almost mad. Which, Morwenna supposed, he probably was.
"Long ago," he began, "there was no mortal world, there was only Avalon. At this point, Avalon was not the lush paradise it is today—back then, it consisted only of mist. Its only inhabitant was the goddess Blodwen, sometimes called Nature. Over the years, Blodwen had four children; the oldest was Daear, who Blodwen made the god of Earth. Then came Ufel, who became the god of Fire; after that Blodwen gave birth to Alaw and Dwfr, the goddesses of Air and Water. However, these children were too lively for poor Blodwen, who was getting quite old, and they were continuously fighting. Eventually, their mother grew tired and banished the children from Avalon until they learned to get along. Since there was nothing outside of Avalon, they were forced to come together and create the world so they had somewhere to live. Blodwen, not wanting to leave her children alone, decided to watch over them and help them keep balance with one another.
"Eventually, the world developed until the elements were in complete harmony. It was then that Blodwen decided the world was too good for the children to keep to themselves, so she created people and animals and sent them to live in the mortal world. The best people were turned into gods and spirits after they died and were allowed to live in the heart of Avalon with Blodwen. There were also some souls who were randomly selected by the spirits before their birth and gifted with the same powers as the children, essentially making them living gods—these people were the first sorcerers, and their powers were passed down through their families."
"So my ancestors were like living gods?" Morwenna's voice was hushed with awe.
"Yes, and mine too. As well as sorcerers, who have power over all the elements, some people managed to harness at least one element, but nobody knows how they did it."
Morwenna bit her lip thoughtfully. "Myrddin, how many people can do any kind of magic today?"
"Not many," he admitted, "I know of no other sorcerers who are still alive. Many Druids, who practice Air-magic, have fled the Tintagel area, and there are only a few communities left in the Western part of Avalon. There have been very few sightings of dragons in recent years, and unicorns have all but disappeared. Trolls were once quite common as well, but I can honestly say that I have never seen one."
"Why did they all disappear? The Druids and magical creatures, I mean."
"You've heard of King Arthur, haven't you?"
Myrddin conjured a flame in his hand and began to absentmindedly play with it, making it curl and twist and bow. "I was once King Arthur's advisor and friend."
Morwenna gaped. "Really? You knew King Arthur?"
There was a hint of pride in Myrddin's voice as he continued. "I certainly was. He was a good king and a great warrior, but even the best soldiers cannot win every battle. Arthur lost his crown to his nephew, Mordred, who proceeded to purge all magic from the kingdom. He was an extremely paranoid and cynical man who hated things like religion of any kind, magic, legends, anything he did not understand."
"My parents used to say that people who hate things they don't understand are just scared of the unknown."
Myrddin smiled wryly. "That would describe Mordred. He taught his children that magic was evil, never letting them see the other side of the story, so naturally they grew up without questioning the way their father treated people. The citizens of Tintagel were too scared to protest, and many still are. This is where you come in."
"Me?" Morwenna had not expected the conversation to turn to her.
"The citizens of Tintagel are far too scared to do anything—King Habren's army is huge, and their fighting methods are vicious—but I have no doubt that an extremely large rebellion could unseat Habren and bring peace and equality back to the land."
"So I have to start this uprising?"
"No, it has already begun. There are many people in Tintagel who support or secretly practice some kind of magic, but they need a figurehead, someone to motivate them. You must master the elements first—that could take another ten years. But yes, one day, you must set the uprising in motion and lead the rebels to victory," her teacher answered solemnly.
Ten years. Morwenna stared down at her hands, transformed into flickering beasts in the candlelight. When my mother was twenty, she'd got married and was pregnant with my eldest brother. When I'm twenty, I'll be leading an army, or helping to lead it at least. I might even die in the process. For the first time since meeting Myrddin, Morwenna began to feel the weight of responsibility on her skinny shoulders.
"But you must promise me something, Morwenna."
Morwenna looked up. "What?"
"That, in the ten years it takes you to become my successor, you must never, ever forget who you are and you must never allow yourself to become corrupted by power. There are many people who wish to use magic for themselves, or to hurt others. Promise me you won't become one of them."
"Look, Elwyn," Aderyn sighed, unable to tolerate the boy's hurt silence for another minute, "I'm sorry I got angry with you."
"That's alright," he muttered.
"It's just that I don't like thinking about the reason we are here. It won't help us."
"Then what do you like to think about?"
Aderyn closed his eyes. The boy was at it again. "I don't know, I suppose..." An idea struck him. "Elwyn, have you ever heard of a warlock called Myrddin?"
There was a moment of silence as the boy searched his memories. "Yes, I think so."
"Part of the reason they keep me here is because I can talk to birds with magic, and the King uses me to spy on Myrddin." He paused, waiting for an accusation of treachery, but none came. He continued. "The other day, my raven told me that he's found a young sorcerer to take over from him when he dies." He strained to keep the excitement out of his voice.
"But Myrddin hasn't even tried to help us yet. I know he's an old man, but what if he's told the new warlock to stay away from us as well? Then we'll be stuck here forever!" Elwyn wailed, and started to sob.
Aderyn was about to comfort the child, but then the thought crossed his mind that maybe Elwyn had a point. Was it possible that Morwenna had been told not to risk her life and save them? It would make sense. No, he decided, Myrddin wouldn't do that, would he? He pushed the thought from his mind. He could not afford to allow his grasp on hope to slip.
A/N: Sorry there was so much talking in this chapter. I hope there wasn't too much of an infodump. Anyway, I have something very special planned for the next chapter but unfortunately, it may be about a week before it gets uploaded because I'm going on holiday and won't have Internet access. You never know, I might get it done before then, but I doubt it. So I'll see you all then! Bye!