Check out a small snippet of chapter one below.
There are times when life sucks.
It’s amazing to meet someone, fall in love, and plan to spend the rest of your life with them, but what happens when they are ripped away from you and it feels as though your soul has been shredded. Too many times I had seen Thomas fight for me, risk his life… for me. But he was the one constant I never thought I’d lose. Dad was never around — of course, I knew now that was because of the curse that trapped him in the land of the Tylwyth Teg — Nana died when I was so very young, and Mam all but left me at the same time. And now, just as she’s becoming whole again, I’m broken. Thomas was my forever.
Is my forever, I reminded myself.
Then there was Gwen. The only person in my life who had truly been with me forever. As Nana’s best friend, she’d been there from the moment I was born. A constant visitor to the cottage, a voice on the end of the phone. I’d taken her presence for granted.
As I sat on the edge of the bed and held her impossibly fragile hand, I wondered at her courage. Not many people would take on the burden of a death curse to save others. But Gwen was family. She wasn’t just Nana’s best friend, she wasn’t simply the little old lady who owned the magic shop, she was a part of us. There wasn’t a memory I had that didn’t have Gwen on the fringes of it.
Mam had given her a week at best, but as I looked at her head resting on a pillow that matched the whiteness of her hair and heightened the paleness of her skin, I wondered how true that was. I’d sat next to her for at least twenty minutes, and if it wasn’t for the laboured rise of her chest, I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to imagine her already gone.
I sighed. What do we know? Mam had asked. Not a lot, was the honest answer. But one thing was certain, we needed to move fast.
A surge of anger flared within me and I resisted the need to pace for fear of disturbing Gwen.
Dureth. God damn, Dureth! How could I have been so stupid, so wrong? I clenched my fists as I pictured his face and how much I wanted to punch it. I’d been too focused on what the curse could do to me, I hadn’t stopped to think what it would do to everyone else.
I’d been such a fool.
Dureth had sent Thomas and Dad to the ‘the land of my people,’ wherever the hell that was. I could only hope to find a way to break the curse once and for all before he also sent Gwen to heaven.
I sucked in a breath as realisation struck.
Heaven. Annwfn. The Otherworld.
“You are a superstar,” I said to Gwen. “I will break the curse, but you have to keep fighting. The one thing I still need you to give me is time.”
I lay a gentle kiss on her forehead and ran downstairs to see Mam and Trystan.
“The way I see it,” I said as I burst through the kitchen door. “It’s no longer about what we know, but rather what we must do, and that’s find Thomas and Dad, save Gwen, and destroy Dureth. To do all of that, I need to go to Annwfn.”
Myth and legend placed the fair folk as living by rivers, in woodland, and caves. Dureth had lived in a manor house bespelled to cast it outside of human reality, but the true land of the Tylwyth Teg was Annwfn, the province of their king.
Trystan smiled and walked over to the window. He stared out at the surrounding forest. “We need to go,” he said without turning to look at me.
“This isn’t your fight.” A surge of blame churned my stomach and brought a bad taste to my mouth. Too many people had been hurt on my behalf. I wouldn’t risk another.
“Yes, it is.” Trystan walked back to the table and sat in one of the surrounding chairs.
“No buts. This is not open for discussion.”
I stared into his eyes and saw his resolve, then turned to Mam for back-up, but she just shrugged her shoulders. We both knew he wouldn’t be swayed. Despite having met him a short time ago, and despite our initial meeting being somewhat strained, he’d become part of our close-knit group. He’d been steadfast in his desire to help Rhys, and given how close Trystan and Thomas had gotten, I’d be fighting a losing battle to try and stop him from coming with me to rescue him.
“Fine, but I’m in charge,” I almost growled.
The dragon-man had to be one of the most bull-headed men I’d ever met, and trust me, I’d met quite a few who could fit into that category. I suppressed the lump forming in my throat, knowing Thomas would interject and point out that I might be a little bull-headed myself, and stomped over to the kitchen table, where I plonked in the chair next to Mam’s. The delicious scent of beef stew hung in the air and I held my stomach tightly lest it undermine my overdramatic gesture with a rumble. I almost felt a little ashamed at acting like a petulant child, but if you can’t act like that in front of your Mam and a two-thousand-year-old being, who probably considers everyone immature, then who can you?
“We need to stop wasting time,” I added.
“Agreed. Before Thomas was taken, I contacted him to say that I had found something that may be able to help,” Trystan said.
The well of hope slowly building inside me along with my resolve hit a new spring. With everything that had happened, I’d forgotten that while Thomas and I worked to rescue Rhys, Trystan had been seeking the aid of creatures who could help us break the curse.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he continued.
“It never is.” I stood and started pacing.
“No, it’s not, and it will be even harder if you don’t sit down. I can’t think with your constant movement.”
I bristled but stilled.
Trystan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Much better,” he said when he opened them again.
Mam chortled. “She was always the same. Even as a child, she couldn’t sit still for more than two minutes.”
I took a deep breath myself and held my tongue. The quicker Trystan told me how to get to Thomas, the quicker I’d be on my way. We’d be on our way.
“Well?” I prompted him to continue.
“My visit to Sdwd yr Eira,” he said, referring to the waterfall on the Hepste river in the Brecon Beacons, “was not productive in the way I’d hoped, but the Ceffyl Dŵr were able to provide me with information that can help.”
My heart sank. The Ceffyl Dŵr were notorious tricksters. The winged steeds with translucent wings that shimmered and sparkled like the water they inhabited held no malice at their core, but they loved nothing more than to see the fun in things, even if there was no fun to be had by others. Tales of them offering rides to weary travellers, only to fly them way beyond their intended destination before evaporating into mist and dropping them to the ground had spread throughout Wales for centuries.
Sensing my despair, Mam reached over and grabbed my hand. “What makes you think you can trust them?” she asked Trystan. “They’re not exactly known to be helpful.”
“Nonsense,” Trystan said. “You just have to know how to handle them. They confirmed the only way to break the curse was to travel to Annwfn.”
“Can they take us?”
“The gates to the Otherworld are open wide in winter time. If we needed to go then, they could take us. But as our journey has a more pressing timeframe, they taught me an invocation we can use to appeal for safe passage.”
“Do you really think it will work?” I asked.
“I think it’s worth trying.”
“It’ll work,” Mam said before smiling and squeezing my hand. “I know it.”
Despite myself, I smiled at her optimism. “It’ll work,” I echoed, and decided to leave that it had to unsaid.
Trystan ran through the invocation while we all enjoyed a bowl of steaming stew. It involved appealing to Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of the Tylwyth Teg. When we reached the Otherworld, we could travel to the castles of the fair folk. None of us doubted that we would find Thomas and Dylan there.
The main problem was whether Gwyn would grant us entry. When I’d visited the devilish coraniaid at Raglan Castle, I’d told them that breaking the curse would see the power of Gwyn ap Nudd diminished. Of course, I’d been exaggerating and gambling on their desire for revenge to tip their judgment in my favour, but even so, I couldn’t see the king of the fair folk helping me in any way.
I swallowed a carrot slice and peered into the depths of my bowl. I couldn’t allow myself to dwell on such thoughts. Whether he would aid me or not was yet to be seen. The only way to find out for certain would be to try.
Only a snippet, but I hope you like it nonetheless 🙂
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