(514-08-01) A New Morning, A New Life
Summary: An interlude at Stonehenge during a solar festival finds Amesbury packed to the gills. Of course.
Date: 514-08-01
Related: None
eirian elrick 

Note: Originally set during the Summer Solstice but after checking with the time cop, it would have conflicted with the Sussex Raid, so pushed the scene back to Lughnasadh. Some timing issues may not have been edit'd in the log to reflect, so please forgive!

Instead of returning home for a couple of days to get things in order and perhaps notify family members about him disappearing to Amesbury for a few days, Elrick decided to proceed on with Eirian after their brief stop at one of the stone formations located between Sarum and Amesbury. He is certainly one that makes choices based on what he feels is right instead of what is traditional. To him, tradition is just history, the way things were done in the past. The Laverstock's heart is set and his mind made up, all it took was maybe a little convincing from the Burcombe maiden with him, as if any would even be needed.

Riding into Amesbury like a proper escort, with the Calan Awst in full swing, the town is definitely bustling with activity and merrymakers. Riding into town, Elrick sides his charger closer to Eirian's mare, making sure they are not separated though people usually give horses wider berth, not wishing to spook them and get trampled on. Looking down the busy boulevard, the knight glances over to his lady and says, "Shall we see if we are lucky enough to find space in a stable? Perhaps they will favor a pagan knight who needs to shelter his war steed."

Amesbury is a respectable town, the oldest continuously occupied space in Britannia even as people know it. A seven mile ride up the River Avon from Sarum, the handsome community nestles against the chalk downs under a serene blue sky. Multiple large camps occupy the low wooded hills surrounding Stonehenge, the largest of them the hillforts. But most travellers head for the double priory that also hosts the mightiest monks and nuns in the realm; among their cherished guests are the retired queens of Aurelianus and Uther, and a host of other noblemen and women. The larger Romano-Cymric settlement lies along the flanks of the river, a heady track of pilgrims headed steadily outwards to great site. The trilithon stands above the surrounding countryside, the horseshoe cut by the hands of gods or men or fae, beckoning to revelers called to the site. Once it would have been used on an even more massive scale. Night closing in brings out the bonfires, and many cook fires further out from the occupied site provide plentiful mouth-watering scents and meals. Beltaine in Sarum, though remarkable, is nothing compared to the congregation from all over the West Country to the holy site.

Macha plunges ahead on the old Roman road to be called the Avenue in future days, perhaps even now. The blood mare leaves a little room to Havoc, even with so many around, though Eirian is a competent enough hand to maintain control over her horse. Black pointed ears and tail twitching, the equine's response to so many people is a snort. "Come, then, we should let our bold pilgrims have a night's rest. We will need to be ready for the dawn there, and I cannot imagine it is so wise to pin up a thousand horses in the fields around the menhirs."

Though Elrick has made this trip before with family, the grandeur of this entire scene a spectacle to the eyes. From the number of traveling pilgrims to each light that scatters over the horizon, one could mistake it to be a vast army encampment. Though the rider may be distracted, Havoc is not and without command from his knight, follows Macha who has decided to take the lead as they proceed down the Avenue. "No, it would not be wise. I would not want to lose track of Havoc or Macha, our prized and trusted companions."

Though not in his suit of linked chains, Elrick has his ribbon wrapped sword at his hip and shield over his back, easily revealing that he is a knight of the realm. "My wish is to have the vows made between us, for some reason, the closer we were to Amesbury, the more anxious I became." There is a slight shake of head as if he doesn't fully comprehend the feeling that is coursing about inside him, "I've never felt this heavy feeling even when readying a charge against Saxons who had their longspears bristling and waiting."

The crush of mankind swells the population of Amesbury well beyond its borders. Tents are pitched by the hundreds and revelers old and young take to the various fields. For those within an easy ride of the holy sites of Wiltshire and Salisbury, the summer weather provides an ideal time to set forth as the crops and household chores allow. Elderly sorts gather together around early fires, whereas the young chase one another in screaming gaggles, disturbing the parents tending to their babes at the breast or lovers staring off into the distant future. Eirian wears her hood down so Elrick might better spot her among the masses, for one red horse ridden by a dark-haired maiden is just that in a heaving sea of thousands. "Then we picket them if we cannot find out way, and if this is not meant to be, retreat to Avebury or another circle? They are not so far," she replies over her shoulder, pushing her way through the throng towards the polite buildings lining the way. Some constitute actual Roman-style inns and architectural motifs, whereas others are little better than wattle-daub huts with a high price for their shelter. Not that she minds, either way.

Anxiety does check her gaze away and she slows the horse to an ambling walk, the best they can hope to manage without whistling or annoying the pilgrims. "Anxious, Sir Laverstock?" Her eyebrows arch. "Do you wish to pause? There is no rush." Other than the ticking of the sands through the hourglass of fate, spinning on age upon them all. Nonetheless, her smile coyly turns up. "The only rush might be to a quiet tree where we can raise some sort of shelter against the night. No likelihood of being hungry or alone tonight."

Despite the massive number of people that gather at Amesbury, Elrick has no intention of losing Eirian in the crowd, nor allow her to be swept away. With his larger than average stature, he will easily play the role of protector as well as companion for the Burcombe maiden. "It is meant to be, Eirian." The stubbornness that he possesses revealing itself, especially when faced with a challenge like this. A lancer is what he has trained to be, and for knights like him, when set to charge, there is only one path. Forward. Regardless the obstacles or dangers, as he will brave them all. "And we're not pausing, though you are right, we may have to find our own camp. The innkeepers no doubt will be charging a premium with this many people. Though it will be a trek to find a Priestess for us."

The softening of her expression is a brief slip through the sunbeam mask worn to elude those about. She smiles, the almost shy expression of a young woman still on the cusp of adulthood, not fully come into the power of her virtuous awareness. He stole one face of the goddess from her and replaced it with another, the richer some might say. Curling her hands around the reins, Eirian nods gently towards him and gestures by tipping her palms together in the direction of an inn. "We need only for a night. Alas it is the night everyone gathers. Let's see what we can negotiate and go from there. The priestess will be no trouble; there are enough of them."

Elrick checks his awareness at 10, you rolled 11.

At the inn that Eirian points out, Elrick's gaze focuses onto their destination and nods his head in approval as it doesn't appear to be a large hovel where people will just congregate together and sleep or eat. Cost is the least of the Laverstock's issue right now, as he isn't an unsuccessful knight, especially since their trip to Sussex. "Perhaps the innkeeper will find heart for a pair of lovestruck nobles." He begins to guide his charger in that direction, looking for the stable to the establishment and the stableboys that are waiting eagerly to help for the chance of coin.

Amesbury's streets are laid out in a rough radial pattern around the new, imposing double priory which stands over the rather mean village. The newest buildings seem to cluster in that direction but, as a rule, Christian tenements tend not to be the fanciest of places unless catering to the very wealthy class where handfuls of denarii might be spent in pursuit of a truly remarkable experience. Not quite the goal in mind, likely. Moving up the rutted dirt road will eventually loop Elrick around past a number of waystations bulging under the weight of their guests to a quieter quarter taken over by merchants given all the lean-tos. They rather fill up the place and spill out into the street, making it hard to measure what might be quality.

A guess for the quality of the inn he picks thus is made difficult by that. Nonetheless there's a friendly young man out there willing to scrounge every last denarius from the unsuspecting. Or rather those willing to actually pay for the services. One, a fellow about 5'5" and tow-headed, comes trotting out. He knows the difference of a rouncy from a nag, and a charger from a lady's mare. Or maid, for that matter. "I help you, sir?"

Eirian is a quieter figure behind him, shaking her head slightly. "Shall I tell him we are escaping the census? It might be more believable if I spoke in Latin."

(Elrick) You check your courtesy at 10, you rolled 11.

Eirian rolls 1d4 and gets (2) for a total of: (2)

Too many fully occupied buildings slowly wears at Elrick who was already anxious to begin with, the usual relaxed demeanor where he is in control fleeing him for the moment. When intercepted by the young man, who is most likely the proprietor of the establishment that he had scurried out of, the Laverstock Knight fixes his gaze on him. "You can." Quick and to the point, almost as if worried any delay would somehow jeopardize their plans, where the nobles from their respective Houses have already sent hounds after the pair that have chosen to proceed to Amesbury. The usually courteous and polite knight is a bit blunt with his words today as he looks towards the building behind the man, "Do you have a vacant room and a stable for our horses?" No friendly words of greeting to make the keeper feel more amicable, a failure to attempt to negotiate from the standard or even inflated rate that may be charged.

For payment of a few coins, the horses will be stabled among the others in conditions less than superior than might be expected. Dark and smelling heavily of tack and moldering straw, the interior nonetheless holds horses of a broad crosscut of breeds brought by the Romans during their conquest. The lad is happy to take the coins out of his hand, and hurry the pair of horses along into one of the few vacant stalls. No one's squashing a courser beside another horse, but the mare can share space with a donkey that heehaws because donkeys are dicks like that.

"Take up your questions with the innkeeper inside. He'll know. I just manage the stables." The boy at least is honest. The stables are a world apart from the convivial atmosphere of the inn proper, where the common room is thick with diners. In a few hours after the meals are cleared out, tables will be pushed aside for space where anyone might bed down wrapped up in their cloak. Private rooms, some six people to a spot, are upstairs. Smaller parties are committed to the back room, the extortionate rates for privacy measured in denarii for the discomfort. Eirian spares little time offloading her pack from the saddle and pulling Elrick by the arm into the commons. She flips her fingers through her coin purse, pressing them into his palm. "Take what you prefer. We could sleep on the roof for all I care. 'Tis only a few hours."

Eirian checked her courtesy of 10, she rolled 15.

Dismounting from his charger in a smooth motion after gesturing to the young man to assist the lady if she needs it, Elrick takes the time to pat down his charger in a reassuring manner. He then takes the pack that he had brought along, mostly personal belongings that he does not trust to remain safe while in the stable. No more words are wasted on the stable boy who is seeing to their steeds as he walks with Eirian inside, looking a touch disappointed at what he sees. There is no argument or complaint when the coins are placed into his hand, nodding his head at her words, "Once our vows are done, we can return south to Sarum or even Wilton. I will see to securing us somewhere to sleep." He then turns and heads to seek out the innkeeper, waving the man down when his attention is turned towards the knight. The question of prices for accommodations will be raised, and the numbers no doubt balked at by the Laverstock.

Eirian sighs as she tries to endure the crush of souls, though the chance she will sleep on the floor is next to nil when a clutch of young men and women sniggering look up at her. One of them laughs into his fist and the others collapse against their sides, losing their composure all over. Tankards have something to do with their state of inebriated affairs, but she pushes herself over towards the corner of the room nearest the bar and snatches up a loaf of bread for the taking. After all, theirs will be a room somewhere as Elrick attempts to haggle his way down to a reasonable price or a rooftop. The innkeep is altogether unwilling to do much on the way of offer lovebirds a private room for less than a killing, but a group might be reasonable.

Elrick checks his courtesy at 10, you rolled 13.

So much for getting that price down. The innkeep is pretty firm on whatever the damn book said the cost was, like the asshole donkey is all about sharing a stable.

The look of displeasure is evident on Elrick, which is no doubt the wrong way to go about negotiating a good rate for the night's stay, even if the night is half over. The amount for the private room that is quoted almost has the Laverstock reaching over the counter and grabbing the other man by the collar of his tunic. But he is at least courteous enough to know that it will only result him being thrown out. So the next best thing would be a room that is occupied by others, which the knight finally relents to, placing the coins on the counter. He would of course demand that food be brought up for them, the least the innkeeper could do for committing robbery with the current rates. With the lodgings for the night secured, Elrick turns and heads back to see that Eirian has fled to a corner, a look of disappointment on his face revealing that he had failed in his quest to find them better accommodations.

"It is not a roof," says Eirian from that corner when he approaches her. "Yes? Nor a stall? I can be grateful. I sleep in trees, beloved, or fields as the mood takes me. No maiden of the Roman Empire am I, too good for the solid earth." She pulls her hood high and throws her shoulders back, committing herself to the night's fate. What are a few hours and a predawn ride through the cool, clammy advent of a warming spring as it slips into Lugh's summer? "You are the King of Winter. No wonder the summer lands would charge you dear." So they may go forth, hand in hand.

The room they enjoy is, at the very least, quiet in the back of the inn. Through a dim, low hallway it opens into an oblong rectangle much smaller than one would like. An elderly couple is already turned in on a straw pallet, wrapped in cloaks and a light wool blanket. In another are a trio, a small family with a teenaged son, performing their final preparations as the young couple enters. The back corner is given a hint of privacy by a stack of packs, a box or two shelled out to contain space for their things if they so wish. In truth the only need one has is probably lying outstretched after a long ride, and the ground is at least strewn by sweet rushes and herbs to allow for a pleasant odor. Wrapped in her cloak, she will sleep uneasily at best.

Shaking his head slightly, Elrick releases a sigh of resignation first before he gathers himself in front of his beloved, trying to soothe his own frustration and not keeping his wits about him. "We have a room, though there are a couple of other occupants." His eyes do look towards the lot that are here in the common area, the look of disgust hidden for now, "It was a bit pricy but I have a feeling that the occupants will mind their manners." There is a touch of a threat in his tone, as if he would make them behave if they choose not to. "Ah, to return to our castle. I miss it dearly, but I will be at your side tonight, so any worries can be set aside." Summer is indeed extracting vengeance upon him for besting the god's avatar on Beltaine.

Upon entering the room that their lightened coin purse had paid for, Elrick sees that the occupants are not brigands or scoundrels, but harmless commoners that appear to be more civilized than the lot outside in the common room. He begins making preparations to bed down as well, the shield and pack being placed against a wall next to where they are settling down. The sword belt is undone, removed from his waist though he will keep it at his side. They have slept in worse, namely the nights following the siege at Sarum, so the cloak that is offered by Eirian is eagerly accepted.

Eirian has her own travails in attempting to sleep out of pure weariness and excitement, but she will eventually surrender anticipation to sheer exhaustion.

Night will slip away all too soon and the paling hues of the false dawn shattering the far horizon. With it comes the brightening of lanterns lit by the wenches and innkeeper, and stirring the guests not with a clang but softer words. Those who are headed to the henge — literally everyone — are roused, and gathered to the common room where fresh bread, cold meat and cheese are doled out in part. These blessings will see the sleepy stragglers on their way, while the yawning, jaw-cracking sounds of exhausted little stablehands handing out donkeys and mares and warhorses is part of the procession to the far western site.

Weariness will also claim the valiant knight whose charge rests at his side, though his will be light, occasionally opening his eyes when there was a sound heard, or shifting from either the elderly couple or the small family. Morn arrives too soon but then again, not soon enough for the Laverstock as he stirs awake even before the inn staff arrive at their door. With kit and pack gathered again, a gentle hand is placed at Eirian's back when she is ready to depart, so they can collect their morning meal and be on their way, happy to see that their horses have been cared for. They may have had better rest than the weary couple.

The process of dressing and going through morning ablutions is forestalled for the most part, limited by the simple task of donning a fresh undertunic and storing the previous one in her pack. That happens to be shorter and simpler than her usual attire but stiff outer layers, and outer garments in general rarely need to be washed. The flowers in her hair are discarded, and a comb run through the tangled locks where they escape their usual plaits and braids. She sighs, hugging herself and the pack in her slim arms, hazily following after him. The meal is nothing she wants, shaking her head with a pallor showing through the luminous quality of her complexion. No thank you, no morning meat. It will be a task already to make her stiff fingers obey to link saddle to the straps used to hold her pack in place.

Their route, for sake of expediency, is not fast unless they bypass all the walking pilgrims on foot by taking their horses. Otherwise, it's a walk with the rest of them, a realistic prospect if they wish to keep their horses at the stable overnight. She will defer to him, but otherwise take the chance of having to picket them on the green. Otherwise the river and the great road swing northwest towards Stonehenge. And what can be said for it, the monoliths alive in the glow of so many bonfires, a series of watch-flames lighting up the countryside? They are a long, radial path of golden brilliance beckoning the return of the sun on the longest day of the year. Processions carry torches, led by any who dare to keep up the pace.

Convenience and speed was certainly a preference for the Laverstock when they arrived in Amesbury, but once he saw how almost all of the pilgrims were on foot, he decided that was the most prudent choice. It would also draw less attention than two nobles on horseback. A couple more coins were placed into the stable boy’s hand to ensure safe keeping of their charger and mare, their most trusted companions. With the path lit before them, Elrick takes Eirian’s hand in his, as if it was something natural now that they are on the final leg of this particular journey, looking more at ease than he was yesterday. “Do we search for a priestess first or wait until we finish our trek to Stonehenge?” This is unfamiliar territory and with his lack of full understanding of their religion, he would follow her lead.

Stonehenge is a two mile walk from the outer reaches of Amesbury, an easy amble of about a half-hour if things go well. The bridle way aligns to the processional routes taken by the ancients for nearly three thousand years, guiding those who wander through the quiet greens and spreading trees. Signs of ancient occupation are everywhere, beyond the fires and encampments sprouting up after a storm of activity. Wild flowers nod where not flattened down, and skylarks sing their joyous songs even this early, the interruption to the natural cycles beckoning the wildlife to partake of the hymns in the predawn quiet. Crickets sing in the rougher grasslands stretching to the far rim of the site, thickets of vetch and scrubby flowers still tightly closed in anticipation of the sun. Slow, ambling paths meander through a string of freestanding wood poles weathered down to nubs and much taller stone blocks that mark the Avenue.

And throughout it all are men and women, children and adults. Foreigners come less than they used to, but the Cymri are among the Cambrians, Cumbrians, Cornwallish, Bretons, and a dozen other nations represented under the banners of pale green and yellow marking the advent of the sun. Priestesses and priests in rough spun gather together, their bleached or grey garments marking their state. Some gather by torchlight to pray and leap the fires like Beltaine, An air of anticipation matches the festivities and excitement captures so many souls.

"We seem to have our choice," Eirian answers, looking about as they join the stream of hundreds headed towards the flat plain dominated by the stone circle. Stonehenge is impossible not to see by dark. It looms in a way, a marker on the soul. "We may wait for the dawn and attract their attention then, or seek someone now and greet the breaking of dawn together, as one self."

The atmosphere being so alive is not something that Elrick had particularly noticed before, in the past, the journeys with family would be there for him to past time while following the proper steps and behavior required of him. Today, it is special, as he is not here with family but with one dearest to his heart, one who has captured it. His gaze continues to wander, sweeping left and right, not looking for dangers but picking up minute details here and there, a different sense of awareness. The holy men and women are noted of course, even before Eirian spoke up. The Laverstock Knight nods his head as he looks at a few that are clustered together, “Leaping the fires, I recall doing so at previous Beltaines. Though it would take liquid courage before my brother and I could make the jump, words from siblings not nearly enough to push us forward to such daring deeds.” As for the choice of finding a priestess now or later? He chooses now. “Let us find one that looks more… experienced, perhaps less likely to judge our intentions.”

The weakening grip of darkness on the lowest curve of the earth changes that limb from black to ultramarine, streaks of pale cyan emerging through a patch of hazy cloud. Breaking out into song, the huddled masses braving the cooler, damp spring join an old folk tune greeting the dawn.

"And see between the windswept plain
The first light of summer as night wanes.
The dancing flames of summer fires, //
jump, and I'll jump higher,
We'll dance the dawn across the fires.
Meet me at the winding track,
And see the sharp outline black
Of the mighty henge and its great heel stone,
Walk with me east round the loam.
You jump, and I'll jump higher,
We'll dance the dawn across the fires."//

Eirian adds her voice to the chorus, knowing that much, though she turns a slow pirouette and hops towards the end, a pale cousin to daring the high flames of the Calan Awst. Her cloak settles around her legs, a glimpse of her calf and hip drawn in leather rather than her usual long skirt. The undertunic is filmy and fair, the heavier one over top more suited for riding. "Less likely to judge? Why ever would a young priest or priestess question us, when we are not the heirs? Besides, Arthur himself would have wed here if he could. Perhaps he will affirm the Goddess and God here with Guenever." And pigs will fly. Nonetheless, there are enough people about to choose from and wade through. Taking his hand, she pulls him towards a clutch of three women doing their duties as the fates, or more importantly, blessing children by waving boughs of leaves and herbs over them using a sacred kind of smoke. Pregnant women come forth, their stomachs touched in a similar fashion. A couple comes together, their wrists bound in red and white cords, their brows painted by a round circle of ochre for one, an arrow in green for another.

Even those who are not heirs are sometimes in control of others, to be moved about like pawns on a chessboard. Elrick had known that much and was afraid of such, which is why he refused to be a pawn, to take control of his own destiny, consequences be damned. He shall face them later as he would face a wall of Saxon longspears. For Eirian, he would march into the gates of Christian hell if it is needed. As he is pulled along, there is no resistance offered as he is lead towards that small group of priestesses, eager to wait in line as if he was one of those young children waiting for a blessing. In a way he is, for the vows they will soon speak to be sanctified by the holy woman would offer him soothing comfort. A weapon for him to wield if he were to be challenged at home or by the Burcombe contingent. As they wait, his gaze shifts to the lady at his side, his hand offering a gentle squeeze.

The three women represent a span of ages. The maiden is more woman than girl, wearing several strings of flowers in her hair. The matron could well be Elrick's own, of an age with dark hair and unusually pale eyes, bestowing the gifts on the pregnant women and children with obvious delight. As eldest, the Crone is not entirely old though her salt-and-pepper hair shows warm hints of dark blonde, and she wields the branches in the smoke with long expertise. Woad tattoos on her weathered skin mark her similarly to the rest, though they all have a kind of grace in their actions. A shuffling pathway moves up towards them within the shadow of a looming henge, each of the stones massive enough to require teams of oxen and many men to place. A wonder: not even Rome built like this.

"Come, come!" calls the maiden in her clear, laughing voice. She draws up the next child, a toddling boy of two, who gives her a sleepy protest. "Ceridwen grant you wisdom and Govannon give you strength of arms and artifice. A strong young man blessed by Lugh to be as gifted in all seven noble arts. Grow strong and straight, dear one. Here now!" She offers him a small trinket from her basket, a wooden horse painted in bright, gay shades. He clutches it in hand, and shuffles back to his mother through a stream of smoke swirling around him. The boy all but falls into waiting arms, sleepily hoisted up, and carried off.

Falling in step is painstakingly easy. Elrick and Eirian are pushed forward by some silent gravity towards them, the magnetism irresistible in a large crowd being anointed and welcome. Herbs smell sweet as the dawn encroached and excitement staggers towards a pitch, the cries and songs from the revelers building up. She clutches his hand, and leans in, calling out to an acolyte waiting by the side to hear their cause. "Tell him! The king makes his claim, it will not be I to say I took my own leader." She kisses his jaw.

Ahead, the women laugh and welcome the next, giving their trifold benediction.

When the child is given its blessing, Elrick can’t help but smile, perhaps imagining a time when he was of that age being blessed in the same manor, or a glimpse into what the future might hold for himself and the maiden at his side. Though his gaze may follow the boy as he returns to his mother and father, his attention immediately returns as now it is their turn. The anxiousness returns but it is not one of worry or panic, but more an eagerness. Hearing her determined words in turn offers him strength and the playful kiss on his jaw only encourages him further. He will make his claim, loudly and boldly, with words he feels is right, “I, Elrick de Laverstock, avatar to Gwyn ap Nudd at Beltane, comes to seek your blessings and to bear witness as I would claim the May Queen of Beltaine, Eirian de Burcombe, my beloved, to be my wife! For I vow, till the ends of time, to hold this sacred bond above all others, no matter the trials or test that I may face in the coming days and years!” Unorthodox words perhaps, but when spoken, there was no hint of uncertainty or hesitation. Such is the strength and conviction he possesses.

The poor acolyte, not even to the level of an ovate, faces down truth and circumstance in somewhat straitened circumstances. He produces a pair of cords similar to the others from a pouch at his waist. One is pure as snow, the other a bright flame, dyed to reflect the eternity of the seasons. "Y-your wrists. That is, you hold hands," he stampers, trying to find his rote learning again. "Those who seek the blessing in partnership come to one another as the God and the Goddess. Theirs be the perfect union, the balance of nature found in one another. Let their strengths make shallow your flaws. Let your strengths meet their needs." He holds out the cords to loosely drape over their presented forearms, and then the mercy of the trinity descends in the form of the maiden, waving her hand to bring them up.

"Fresh love, so sweet! Come then, both of you. A pledge before the gods at high summer. This is but a simple thing you have to say, as we link you together." She laughs, but the deeper tone of the matron mingles with her voice, and it may be impossibly hard to distinguish if they are following some memorized reel or simply know when to substitute by another signal. The matron takes the ends of the cord and starts working them into an elaborate pattern that knots Elrick to Eirian, albeit by a coursing rivulets of cream and blood. It's a pretty piece of knotwork, allowing for movement, but not overly much.

"I pledge to you:
Yours will be the name I speak in the night,
And the eyes into which I smile in the morn.
I pledge to you the first bite of meat,
And the first drink of my cup.

I pledge to you my living and my dying, each in your care,
I shall be a shield for your back, a blade for your honour.
I shall not slander you, nor diminish you.
I shall honour you above all others.

You are my Blodeuwedd, as I am your Gwyn.
I am your Gwyn, as you are my Blodeuwedd.

As we are one, no evil shall befall us,
On hill nor bank,
In field or valley, on mountain or in wood,
Neither above, nor below,
Shall we be parted."

Naturally there are pauses to make reciting that even possible.

Now that the hour is at hand, Elrick no longer feels anxious or rushed as the acolyte presents the cords and asks the two to hold hands, which he does so with a warm smile to Eirian. A firm grip as his fingers slips through hers, only when the three priestesses take over does the Laverstock turn his gaze onto them. When the words that are to be repeated begin, his gaze returns to that of his beloved, the one he is being joined to. With each pause, he repeats with accuracy, his mind sharp and focused as not to make any errors during the ceremony, even if the only audience are the holy women and the gods. Words that when he hears them, he is able to understand as he recites, to give meaning to, as they are vowed both literally and in their deeper meaning.

“Neither above, nor below… shall we be parted.” Those final words spoken, Elrick now looks from Eirian to the three priestesses, as if wondering what comes next. The link of his hand to hers remain firm.

A dragon's smoky coils wind around them, capturing them within a rising helix while the priestess knots and twists the white and red cords until their beginning and end are effectively indistinguishable. She pulls their arms apart, showing only a narrow gap before those knots bite in to flesh, but still have a suppleness to allow the pair to act and move in concert. A little leeway assists them, though they are forced to integrate their actions without being yanked in opposite directions.

Eirian's fingers curl around and through his. The Crone brushes the leaves over their heads, and then puts down the fragrant broom to pick up a bowl. She's assisted by the Maiden, who brings over another filled by clay and crushed herbs, then they paint Elrick's brow with their fingers. An arc of a moon already rests on hers, its like marked on him by the laughing maiden. The Crone gives her the star of winter, branching out towards her hairline. Dots will be added to the corners of their eyes all the way to their temples, and another series of dabbed twining lines lavished at his temples. The Crone is so short she has to ask Elrick, "Lean forward, son."

The damp concoction will dry easily enough, a replacement for the woad tattoos and ink used in abundance out among the other revelers. Three priestesses raise their linked arms when it's done, and say, "Be one before the gods. Fertile fields warmed by sun, and road rise to meet your feet!" Kisses lavished between the three on painted cheeks send the couple on their way, on to the next, as a waiting acolyte -slightly older than the other one- hands them water, a pouch of seeds, and a carved spindle.

"Bury one well, and finger the other lightly, and happy will be your home!" He is already guffawing in good spirits as the sun breaks finally below the heel stone in a wash of bright gold light. The collective cries become a gasp, a laugh, a cheer. Summertide has come.

The binding of the cord between their arms has Elrick looking at the knots, wondering how they will be able to move about efficiently, especially when they need to ride back home. But those thoughts are quickly brushed away by the leafy broom, his brows wrinkling slightly in reaction to the light sweeps. However, when the painting begins, he looks surprised but submits in silence. When asked to lower his head, he does so in obedience and without delay.
As the impromptu ceremony is completed and they are ushered forward to the waiting acolyte, looking at the items offered to them. Then he looks towards Eirian with a questioning gaze, before accepting some of the items, leaving the others for her to take and then moving on to not crowd the acolyte in case others are waiting behind. The instructions are committed to memory, as if it was also a vital part of their vows, a touch worried that he will have to do everything as instructed, in some sort of proper manner.

However, that worry is quickly washed away when the sun begins to crest the horizon, announcing the arrival of a new day on the turn of the seasons. The warmth that fills the atmosphere from the jubilation of the crowd is like a fresh breeze and Elrick turns to his beloved, betrothed, wife? Even now he does not care what term will be used to describe them, only that they are now bound to each other, with sacred words and under the eyes of their gods. Leaning in without a word, he kisses her while the rays of the new summer sun shines upon them.

Eirian stands on the cusp of the clearing, buried inside the outer ring of Stonehenge, with a man she pledged to and fulfilled that pledge with. Her parted lips and mild expression painted in shades of wonder, exaltation, and outright exhilaration give her a youth that will be forever crystallized to the seers given to peering into the mists of history. She reaches out first with her favoured hand, moving Elrick’s arm in the process, until she remembers the ropes ribboned around the circumference of their limbs. A laugh echoes and then she favours the left side, reaching a tad awkwardly to take the spindle and somehow squish the seed pouch between them. “I believe this is yours. I am not the type to plow a field.“

Even that sounds a bit wrong, though it won’t matter in a few seconds.

Not when his mouth settles upon hers and stills the querying note registered in a gilded C. The laughter dies in a reverb on the tongue, the questions smoldering in the frank surrender on the spot. Fingers twine around his and coil for support, arm pinned to her side and the other holding the gifts. It won't matter when the golden radiance overtakes them for an instant of eternity, flames of summer leaping up to meet them.

The festivities take on their feverish pitch from there as children dance around in circles, adults laughing and throwing their arms out to give thanks to the sun’s return. And on it goes.

Her words almost bring a blush to Elrick, which would be a rare thing indeed after everything they have been through together. With the vows completed, it is as if he is looking at the world anew, an unknown weight that had slowly pressed on the Laverstock’s shoulders suddenly lifted. Free. Even though there may be consequences he will face at home, it does not matter, because the deed is done. They are now together and that will not be changed, by anyone, as long as he breathes.

How long the kiss they share as a newly joined couple is unknown, lost in the intimate exchange for what could feel like an eternity or over in a blink of an eye. Finally, slowly, he pulls back from her soft lips, eyes opening to gaze upon his wife. The words out of his mouth though, is not exactly romantic in nature, one can even call it clumsy. “So… how do we get back home with our arms and hands tied like this?” A question asked almost with an innocence of a child.

Innocence is a lark when it comes to a situation such as this. Eirian’s eyes widen, pools of shimmering winter light cast in a strange shade of cornflower. She rubs her nose against his, still not willing to surrender herself to standing apart; that forfeiture is more than she can bear right now, while the dance of life breaks into spontaneous acts of martial and physical prowess. Revelers dance in the sunshine, jostling for position to see the sun cresting higher. Skirling pipes add to the pitch, drummers picking up the notes in low, resonant rumbles banged off hide and skin. The harp and other stringed instruments are a ways off while the drumming sets a primordial rhythm through the blood, a thunder in the blood, a lightning crackle on the quicksilver slip of the veins.

“Cooperatively,” she says after a moment, stifling laughter only with effort. “You cannot drag me all the way home, that much is certain. We are supposed to remove it when you cross the threshold of the house, I think? But that may be impossible. I can imagine a few ways you come free of it.” She kisses the tip of his nose, jostled while on her toes, and bouncing back down onto her heels. “Maybe convince your gentle brother bandits set upon us and tied us together, and only his kind ministrations will free you of the despair and humiliation chasing in the wake of your horse walking ahead of you into town?” For thus, she is being rather obtuse, and she knows it. The pause follows, and she stands a little taller.

“The threshold. Home. That’s what typically happens.“ He wanted to know. Slay all lies and ignorance in her presence, no?

Poor Elrick, when it comes to matters of religion, she sorely outclasses him in knowledge and experience. Thus he falls prey to her words which he was focused on while putting a protective arm around her to keep a stray reveler from bumping into them too hard and causing them to fall to the ground, together. Her first word hooked him as he had assumed it will take cooperation, but when she informs him that it can only be removed when they return home, to his house, there is a look of panic finally. No, it is not an army of Saxons or Picts that causes this knight to show fear, but the thought of returning home with a blatant sign that something has occurred while he was away from home, something his siblings and cousins will no doubt prey upon like pack of hungry wolves upon a stray, lost lamb. Oh poor lamb.

“Threshold of the house? We… may have to ride through Sarum to get to Laverstock, and then when we get there.” There is a pause and then a sign, one of resignation which is then replaced with determination. “No, I will not try to convince my brother and sister otherwise. We are wed, Eirian, and I will proudly proclaim it to them. Let them show envy that the first Laverstock to wed is not them, but me.” A bold plan, though whether it is false courage or not, he doesn’t show.

Only when she reveals her trickery does Elrick look at her with a flat stare, as if accusing her in silence. “Really? Well… I do like my bed back home at Laverstock. It will be a longer ride since we are bound like this.” Two can play this game and he intends salvage his wounded pride after being so easily duped, though her intentions were no doubt good.

“We have to return to our horses,“ Eirian murmurs, the scent of roses around her limited considering the heavier smoke of the fires and the collision of so many bodies in such a confined space. Thousands of humans do tend to smell like thousands of humans. “We could ride double, but I believe the threshold could satisfy if no one were about. Though I shall not have the first night of my wedding spent in an inn; bad enough I gave you my favour in a field?” If only she sounded remotely put out by the latter fact, which of course, she is not. Elrick would have to be made of unfired clay to break on that note, surely.

“We would normally, I think, be put into… a room, a bed, something of that sort. Then we figure out how to remove it. A terrible habit, and certainly one the Romans used. My grandmother told me awful stories about how wretched it was.” The girl chuckles somewhat grimly. “I think she was out to scare Roz and I, that we would keep to the old ways. Ah, well, I haven’t even a veil or orange dress so there is no comparison. Now, love, the point is we walk or ride together and figure out how to cooperate and manage when we are both bound, yes?” Her smile ignites with all the aureate fury of the rising globe of the sun. “I suppose I can endure until Laverstock.”

“No. No inn, especially not here.” Elrick says with a scowl, recalling just how much the innkeeper gouged their coin purse just for a few hours of sleep. A bump here and a gentle shove there reminds him that this is not the best place to remain if they aren’t joining in on the festivities and jubilant celebration, and with them bound so, joining would not be prudent.
The thought of riding double is pleasing at first but with the way their arms are bound, they would have to ride awkwardly, facing each other, unless they take great care while mounting Havoc, looping an arm over her head in front. Which could be possible. The story about her grandmother does bring forth an amused smirk, causing Elrick to shake his head. At the mention of her not being properly attired as she may have hoped, he can’t help but look a bit apologetic, since it was his idea to rush to Amesbury, “Sorry Eirian, maybe we should’ve returned home first for your veil, which I am sure would have been beautiful.” A pause before he continues, “An orange dress though…” There his voice trails off, hiding more amusement.
But walking sounds like a grand idea, especially with the area becoming more crowded, so with a gentle tug of their bound arms, he pulls her a little closer and begins to push through the crowd in front of her, using his superior size to make way for them. “To Laverstock it is then.” Whether he is calling her bluff or not, only time will tell.

Eirian’s laughter peals against the drumbeats filtered through the dancers thronging against the stones. It takes some effort to make it through, compounded because their hands are in a tied clasp. “To Laverstock!” she calls out like some war-cry and the plea of a sailor eager to return after a 10-year odyssey. Odysseus might have been so glad to find the wilds of Ithaka after his long departure, if the warm notes radiant through her voice is anything to go by.

“The orange dress is a vestige of old Roman traditions and nothing serious. I am perfectly content as I am, though if we must wear fine outfits and stand before Custennin de Falt’s priest to satisfy conventions, I will do that,” she adds while they walk, pushing in the thin countercurrent moving from west to east around the site. Following them is effortless. If she and Elrick stood still, they might be carried without lifting a leg or bending a knee. Pressure keeps them aiming forward until the flow of humanity splits south and east, following the general compass direction towards Amesbury. Their route eventually returns to the stable, after a similar ramble in the early morning sunshine. Skylarks and starlings swirl overhead, their songs an admonishment to anyone not of good cheer.

A new morning. A new life.

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