It took all Celirwen's diminished strength to get the horses calmed, but somehow she managed. Need and the Hunger drove her, and so by using the glamouring power of her eyes she was able to feed. Yet when she entered the cottage once more, she knew she would have to get rid of the smell before she could go searching for Gaergath. She opened wide all the shutters, then found a burlap bag in the kitchen in which to conceal the body, which she took and buried far out in the woods, laying large stones on the grave to keep the wild animals from digging up the bones. She made sure there was no trace, picking up the pendant with a poker and dropping it down into the hole with the bones. Then she swept the floors thoroughly, checking her gown from time to time to make sure no blood had spattered on it.
And she wondered how she would explain to her son why she could no longer go into the light. Would he believe her? What if he did not?
He could easily destroy her, she realized.
It had been years since she had felt this vulnerable. She had nearly forgotten what a terrible feeling it was. Yet her need had been far beyond reason.
It was a little past midnight, she divined, at last. Time to go out and look for her son.
“We can’t stay here all night,” Gaergath said. “I have an idea: let’s go out to the cave. It’s across the stream, which is fast moving, so if we wade it, perhaps she’ll lose our scent.”
“What about the turkey?” Norui asked. “It’s not done yet. And I’m still hungry.”
“We’ll take it with us,” Gaergath said. “Douse the fire, then you take one end of the spit, and Herdir, you take the other. I’ll lead, and Thorodon, you bring up the rear. We’ll carry torches, you and I. Túruan, you can walk behind your brother, or behind me if you’d rather. Just keep up, all right?”
“Why can’t I lead?” Thorodon said. “I’m the oldest.”
“Because I know the way,” Gaergath said a trifle impatiently.
“We all know the way,” Thorodon pointed out.
“I know it best,” Gaergath said. “I live closest to it. I’ve gone out there a billion times, and could find it with my eyes closed. And it was my idea. Are we going to sit and argue all night over who gets to lead, or are we going to go?”
“What if she still finds us?” Herdir said with a shiver, as the five boys made their way single-file through the eerie silence of the forest, Gaergath and Thorodon carrying lighted sticks.
“If she does,” Gaergath patted himself on the belly, “we’re protected. See my belt buckle? ‘Tis silver. She doesn’t like silver, can’t even go near it. It burns her when she touches it, my mum said. She had the buckle made for me, and she makes me put it on every time I go out hunting.”
“How does she know so much about it?” Norui asked.
“She just does,” Gaergath shrugged without looking at any of the others.
“’Tis better we don’t talk so much,” Thorodon said just above a whisper. Gaergath nodded.
And on they went.
A quarter of an hour later, they had reached the cave, which was not really a cave, but rather an overhang beneath a bluff that stood over the bank of a shallow stream. Here the boys swam and fished in warm weather, and sometimes camped out if it happened to rain. The echoing sound the running water made against its slick walls was comforting to the lads. It was a sound, at least.
Gaergath and Thorodon stuck their torches in the soft sand so they could see to spread out their bedrolls. They talked very softly, eating the turkey which was not all the way cooked, but it was food nevertheless. Some made attempts at jokes, which did not come off well. The boys slept side by side, rather than spread out as usual, after agreeing to go home in the morning. Túruan was the first to fall asleep, strange to say, even though Gaergath threatened to bury the first one who fell asleep in the sand.
And he lay on his back, clutching his blanket to his chin, and looking up at the sky through the vines dangling from the bluff. It seemed he could not close his eyes, and he wondered if his mother were awake now.
He remembered what she had told him about his “Aunt Celirwen”. They would have to come up with a story for the others, she said. Villagers would gossip; it was their nature, and the truth would only frighten them, and fear could make people do terrible things. And so she came up with a story that she had a twin sister who was a trifle mad, and so was kept hidden during the daytime. Sometimes she would escape and roam about at night, and yes, it was true she had dabbled in witchcraft, and likely that was what had driven her mad. Still, the wild tales of her being a messenger of Sauron and a Blood Drinker were likely a lot of stuff and nonsense.
Cúronel hated to have to lie to anyone, and she liked even less to encourage her son to do so, but sometimes it was necessary, she said, in order to protect oneself and others. And it was the only justification for lying, she said. She'd told him he might tell people his father had died before he was born. Any more information about him than that was no one else's business.
Gaergath thought of his “aunt” now, wondering if she were really out there, and what it was like to go about drinking blood, and what sort of powers it gave her. Could she fly? Had she really met Melkor? Did she sleep in the daytime, and where? Was Sauron truly Gaergath’s father?
At last he felt his eyelids grow heavy as he pondered these things, and somewhere he heard the howl of a wolf, far off in the distance. Then silence once more.
He had no idea it was to be the last night of his childhood.