“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
As she muttered the last words, a rapping came from just outside the cave. She looked up, startled. “What is that? I have no door – only a bear skin to keep the cold winds out.” Puzzled, she rose and shuffled across the cave floor to lift the skin and peer out. As she did, a harsh voice finished the verse:
“‘Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more." It ended on a chuckle.
Looking up at the tree beside the cave, she saw a large black raven sitting on a branch, cocking its head from side to side, looking at her with bright, beady, black eyes. Those eyes were filled with mischief.
“Puck!” she exclaimed in exasperation. “Thou merry wanderer of the night, what doest thou? Get thee down, thou trickster.
The bird shape wavered, elongated, and the feathers disappeared. In place of the bird, there now sat a man with a round, merry face, all of two feet tall, dressed in Robin Hood style in green and brown. Laughing heartily, he leapt down from the tree, landed, knees bent, rolled forward, and popped up in front of her.
“Hail, good Gwyneth, I come at the ‘hest of Magus Nemausus. He hath need of your wisdom, for there is a trouble brewing, yet he knows not what.”
“Hie thee back to him, and tell him this. I have seen a golden swan carrying a star on its back, swimming in air, toward the west. Let him make of that what he may. Now away! I have need of my rest. If Nemausus wants more of me, let him come tomorrow, and we will converse.” She turned and went back into the cave, letting the bear skin drop. Puck stood for a moment, staring, then with another wild laugh, disappeared with a loud bang.
Inside, Gwyneth started, then muttered “fool of an elf!” She stood for a moment, looking at the books on the table, but turned to the fire. Poking up the embers, she added small sticks and waited for them to catch. Soon she had a good blaze going, and puttered around preparing a meal, all the while muttering about the spell she had been seeking. “I know it’s there, in one of those books, if only I could recall which one.” Sighing, she shook her head, and carefully removed the pot from the hook, setting it on the table. She turned to the fire and took the pot of boiling water, dropped dried leaves in, and set it aside to steep. Finally, she settled down to the first food of the day, her mind still on the elusive spell.
Puck appeared with a bang in Magus Nemausesus’s small cottage, causing the wizard to jump. “Puck, thou thoughtless trickster! Thou’rt like to make mine heart to cease its beating, popping in with so great a noise.”
Puck looked at the Magus, a tall, slender old man with long white hair and beard, and dark blue, deep-set, knowing eyes, and backed a step away. “I apologize, Magus, but I have just returned from Gwyneth. She gave me a message for you. ‘I have seen a golden swan carrying a star on its back, swimming in air, toward the west. Let him make of it what he may. If wants more of me, let him come tomorrow, and we will converse.’ Funny, she was overset by my appearance, too. And I didn’t pop in, I appeared as a raven and knocked on a tree. Humans are very odd!” The last was in a mutter Nemausus didn’t hear.
Magus Nemausus only heard the message, and started to his feet. “The Prince!” he cried. “Something is going to happen to the Prince! Out, away with you, to the King as fast as thou may’st. But remember thine manners, and pop not into his very presence. Warn him of the danger, though I know not what it may be. Tell him Gwyneth and I are seeking to learn what we may. Now, off, away!” Puck popped out with another bang, and Nemausus lifted his cloak and swung it over his shoulders, lifting the hood over his head, snatched up his bag and staff and disappeared with an even louder bang.
In seconds, he was in front of Gwyneth’s cave. “Gwyneth, it is I, Nemausus. May I enter?”
“Come, though I did not expect thee till the morrow .”
He lifted the bearskin and entered the cave. “Hail, my friend. We must combine our thoughts, for I believe your vision is a warning that the Prince’s life is in danger.”
“Aye, certs, I too have ta’en that from it. And in my pondering on’t, I found a thought that had been eluding me. The Prince is not just the heir to the human throne, but to the elven one, as well, through his Lady mother. This fair reeks of elven magic, and not from the good elves.”
They stood for a moment staring at one another, fear and worry in their eyes. If the Prince should die, his cousin could heir the human throne, and all would be well. But the only one who could heir on the elven side, was the fierce, cruel Lorcan. Should he become king of the elves, there would be no peace between elves and humans. And the humans would suffer untold pain and torture, illnesses and starvation. Their trance was broken by a bang outside, and Puck’s voice calling for entrance. Startled, the both turned.
“Enter,” Gwyneth called.
Puck pushed past the skin, and rushed up to them. “Magus, Gwyneth, I bear bad news. The Prince has disappeared, ta’en from his room in the small hours last night. None saw aught, no intruders, but one minute he was there, the next, gone.” He stared, big eyed, as worried as they.
Magus turned to Gwyneth “Now thou must seek with thy mind, Gwyneth. See canst thou find him.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated, letting her mind stretch, far out across the land, seeking the familiar mind of the young prince. For several minutes she stood thus, then opened her eyes, shaking her head. “I can get only the very faintest feeling of him. He is either very far away, or unconscious. What now must we do?”