“Bend your knees,” she instructed him, “a little further down. Look up at the stars…they seem very clear and low tonight, yes? They are awaiting us. You can be assured that this time, you will not break your wrist. Spread your arms now.”
For some ludicrous reason, he thought of Herdir, who was afraid of heights however much he tried to deny it. Gaergath and the others had often made fun of him about it.
And now he was feeling a trifle apprehensive. He hoped it did not show. He spread his arms as directed, bending his knees lower.
“Spring,” Celirwen said. And he sprang.
For a moment he expected to fall back to the ground, to find she was playing a colossal joke on him. Instead, he found himself rising, rather slowly at first, but then a mighty wind began filling the cloak, although strange to say he did not feel it on his face and hair. But the cloak fluttered madly, and a moment later he found himself hurtling forward, as though a horse had taken fright and began galloping erratically with him frantically holding on. He wondered with a feeling of terror what would happen if the cloak should come undone and fall off. He could see the garden from up here, but it was all he could see; it was too dark for anything else, so he kept his eyes lifted upward, looking to the stars, wishing Celirwen had come up with him, however much he hated her.
And then he heard a fluttering roar behind him, and there she was. She reached out for his hand and took it.
“It’s cold up here,” he shouted to her. She laughed.
“Think of warmth,” she said, “and the cloak will warm you.”
He concentrated on being warm, and soon was so.
“That is better,” he had to admit.
“How do you like flying?” she asked him.
“Now that it is warmer,” he said, “I think I like it very much.”
After a while, however, he began wishing there was more to see. It was too dark. And strange to say, the stars did not get any bigger the higher he flew. They stayed the same. He wondered how long it would take him to fly up high enough to pick himself one. And if the Star-Kindler would even let him.
Well, come daylight, he would fly to many different places, see all the lands there were to see, and perhaps fly across the seas. Who needed a ship? The world was his. He did not even think of his yellow-haired lass. He could not even remember her name at the moment.
“I must feed more,” Celirwen said after a while. “You had better come with me, for you do not know the way back, and will be lost if allowed to go your own way.”
He suppressed the next thought, since she was rather close by, and it seemed she could read his thoughts at times.
And he was truly curious now, to see her feed. This cloak was indeed a thing of wonders, driving back his inhibitions, rather like the liquor Thorodon had gotten hold of once and passed around on one of their hunting expeditions. Gaergath did not even want to think of the things he might have told of, under its influence. Nor did he like to remember the way it had made him feel in the following morning.
He wondered what Thorodon was doing now. And if he would ever see him again.
He followed Celirwen it seemed a great distance, until finally she said, “Now” and dove downward like a hawk toward the ground. He plummeted immediately after, not wishing to lose sight of her, with a terrified feeling that he would crash, not knowing how he would make a landing, and absurdly hoping there was a tree he could grasp. But they were heading toward an open space, as he could see by the light she gave off. It looked to be a village, although not the one where he lived. He could see rooftops and lighted windows, an outdoor fire or two, and a few people walking about, along with a few stray beasts. Nay, it was more than a village…it was a small city, yes…such as he had never seen before. Now he could see lighted torches, a river flowing, reflecting the torchlight, a large fire burning in an open space, and he could hear music of a merry sort, to which some folks were dancing. Some stood about talking and laughing, and some held flasks or cups from which they drank. He could see stacks of hay bales and pumpkins, sheaves of wheat, baskets full of vegetables, and concluded that the folk were celebrating the harvest, just as in his village.
“Not too close,” Celirwen warned him, as she noticed him looking down with acute interest. “It will alarm them if they see you. Keep out of their sight, and stay back in the shadows. Follow me. I will find us a landing place.”
He did as instructed, and was rather relieved to find himself with his feet on the ground once more, holding his cloak about him tightly. She led him into an alley, unlighted and bad-smelling, and he could hear dogs growling somewhere. Was she going to feed on dog’s blood?
“Wait,” she whispered. “Sooner or later, someone will come by. Someone who has had too much to drink, or is intent upon robbery, or trying to slip about with a wench he does not want his wife to find out about. Then might I make my move.”
“What city is this?” he asked. But she did not seem to hear him. He saw she was looking paler. If someone did not come along soon…
She might well be forced to make a meal off him.
“Come this way,” she said, and they turned onto a street that bypassed the merrymakers, then paused at a corner, where she put back her cloak and hood, and he gasped. His mother’s dress? He could have sworn she was wearing it when they left. But the one she wore now bore no resemblance to it. It was purplish-red and silky in the torchlight, with gold embroidery on the bodice and sleeves, and it displayed all her white shoulders and a glimpse of her bosom, and the sleeves were long in back but split in front to show all her arms, on which gold bracelets were visible.
“Go you now,” said she, “to the revelers, find a man among them who appears to be alone, and ask him if he wants a woman. Be sure he is not too drunken. Point me out to him. I will do the rest.”
He stared at her, stunned at her beauty and her brazenness. Was he dreaming?
“Go,” she said a trifle impatiently.
He nodded, and went, although it occurred to him that had he not been wearing the cloak, he would have told her to go hang herself before he’d do such a thing. Yet now his own blood tingled; he had embarked on an exciting adventure.
As he mingled with the crowd, he wondered if he should just lose himself among the merry-makers and let her go hang, or find her own victim. Maybe she would die then, and he would have his revenge. And he would have his cloak, and could go where he would with it…
Then he saw a comely girl smiling at him. She appeared about eighteen or nineteen, ample in the bosoms, with abundant brown hair that showed gold glints in the firelight. He grinned back at her, then remembered Celirwen and glanced up in her direction…and saw two men moving toward her. So she would have plenty now, she didn’t need him…
“Hullo. Do you dance?” the buxom maiden was asking him. “My name is—”
Suddenly a burly young man appeared behind her, grabbing her arm. She gave a squeal of pain.
“What do you think you’re doing, Mavis?” he growled. “I turn my back for one moment and you’re already flirting with youngsters? You--” he looked to Gaergath-- “go your way, young pup. This one’s mine, and needs a lesson or two.”
Gaergath stood speechless for a moment. He had seen such altercations before, but they had never involved him as yet. Mavis looked at him expectantly, and the young man squeezed her arm once more, and she slapped at his hand.
“Ow!” she exclaimed. “Finion, that hurts!”
“’Tis meant to hurt, you trollop,” Finion said between clenched teeth as he dug his nails into her flesh. “You want to make me look a fool, you won’t get off so easy.”
Gaergath felt the warmth of the cloak once more, and it imparted more boldness than he knew he was capable of feeling, and he stepped forward.
“Let go of her, Finion,” he said, “and go jump in a pile of horse turds…or better yet, I know of one who’s far more willing. And the two of you well deserve each other.”
Finion shoved Mavis aside, and stepped up to Gaergath, staggering a bit, but keeping his ground.
“What did you say to me, you fuzzy little wart on a pig’s arse?” he said, leaning forward until his nose nearly touched Gaergath’s. His breath stank of what Gaergath vaguely recognized as dark ale.
“Are you sure you would have a match with the son of Sauron?” he said, fairly glowing all over. Mavis’ pretty mouth dropped wide open. Others were looking on now. The musicians had stopped playing.
Finion snorted. “You’ve obviously had too much to drink, maggot,” he said, then belched, himself. Mavis giggled, then quickly stifled it as he turned to glare at her. “You had better get your pimply little bum back home and let your mummy spank it for you, then pour you into bed before you get into more trouble than you can handle. If you were my size, I’d ram your head so far in, you’d have to drop your drawers for to speak.”
“You would, would you?” Gaergath snickered, then took a deep breath, bent his knees, and sprang high up in the air. There he stayed suspended with his feet on a level with Finion’s head, while the crowd gasped, and Mavis and some other girls screamed. “There. Am I big enough for you now, fat boy?”
And before Finion could react, Gaergath descended and gave him a powerful kick in both shoulders with both feet simultaneously. The young man went tumbling backward…right into the fire.
More screams, some of them coming from Finion himself, and Gaergath swooped down and extricated him from the fire by the hair of his head, then flung him onto the ground while the crowd went nearly hysterical all around. Some were running away, others standing about screaming, but none going to the aid of Finion, who lay whimpering on his side, so that Gaergath could see that his clothing was well scorched in back. He looked about for Mavis, but she was nowhere in sight.
He looked in Celirwen’s direction, but did not see her either. He hoped she had seen what had passed, but likely she had other concerns.
Then he saw a young girl on the ground, sobbing, and he went to pick her up, saying, “There, there, little one. Are you hurt?”
She screamed and jerked her arm away. She was not but about twelve, he could see. Then a woman came running toward her and grabbed her, glaring at Gaergath as she hustled her daughter away from him. He had to laugh then.
But where was Celirwen? He could not lose her just yet. Without her, he would not be able to find his way back to the house. And after what had just passed, it was highly unlikely he could bide in this town.
Grabbing the snuffling Finion by the back of his collar, he said, “Hurt, are you? Come along with me. I know of someone who can kiss it and make it all better.”
But Finion broke away and began to run. Gaergath shrugged. Well, it looked as though she had found sustenance already. He went to her. She was glowing like a star, no need for torchlight now.
“Well now, my lad,” she said, “you had yourself a bit of fun, did you?”
“The most I’ve had in a very long time,” he said with a cocky jerk of his head. “So. What now?”