The Battle Ends, The War Begins
Ileuad pulled her mud stained cloak tighter around herself, trying not to wake Ewen. She shuddered in the cold, and cast a glance over to the other side of the cave. There Adaon lay, never to rise again. He was shrouded in his dark cloak in the very farthest corner of the cave.
She turned away, shivering, and focused on trying to keep the meager fire from dying out. Ewen lay next to her, finally asleep. The mud on his clothes and cloak was already dry, and he smelled like mildew. She wrinkled her nose a bit, neither of them had bathed since they left Caer Andras. They were starting to smell as bad as Conwy. She hoped the poor man-child was safe, along with Berwyn and Cefin. They had been separated as the Olkagai chased them through the dense forest. There, only a few hours ago, Adaon had been wounded, having taken the hit meant for Ewen.
Ileuad choked back a sob as memories of Adaon’s last few hours were spent on this earth. Ewen had been trying to stop the bleeding, forgetting, or indeed ignoring the fact that the blades of the Olkagai were made of black magic, and any wound caused by such a blade was fatal. Ileuad herself had been trying to make any and every potion and healing remedy she had been taught. She had been so busy and distracted, she had not even offered the dying man a drink.
Adaon had called her over to him, and stopped Ewen in his endeavor to stop the bleeding. He had taken their hands in his, and in a soft, choked voice, told them his final wishes. He had asked them to give his father the comfort that he had died protecting the true king’s son, and to think of him fondly. To tell his love, Aelwen, that he died painlessly, with her name on his lips, and that his last thoughts were of her, and their son. He groaned in pain, the poison of the blade starting to overcome him. He slid the ring Pobl Andras off his finger, and gave it to Ewen. He told him to take to the witch Mashwyn, and give it to her in return for safe passage. She would lead them to safety. Then he turned to give Ileuad one last smile, and she leant down to kiss his forehead. He wheezed, “My time is ending. But your battles, have only begun. Have, courage..” With that, he closed his pale, green eyes, and drew his last ragged breath. Dear, sweet, gentle Adaon, was dead.
Ileuad sobbed. The kind young man, who had always been patient with her, taught her to heal the sick, and to wield a sword, was gone. Nothing she had done had saved him, she couldn’t help the man she thought of as a brother. She brushed his hair off his face, and choked on a sob, not bothering to hide her tears from Ewen.
Lifting her tear stained face, Ileuad saw something she had never seen before. She blinked her stormy blue eyes, not trusting them at first. But it was true. Across from her, clinging to Adaons hand, sat a crying Ewen. Ileuad had seen many people cry before; wise Old Andras, Lord Berwyn and even grumpy old Cefin. But not in all the years she had known him, had she ever seen Ewen cry. Not when the Olkagai came, and Old Andras went into hiding, not when he had burned his arms in the forge, not even when he watched the only home he’d ever known go up in smoke. But now, in the damp cave, he cried over the loss of his dear friend. He clutched at Adaon’s lifeless hand, murmuring the prayers of safe passage to the house of the gods. As he finished, he cast a look at Ileuad, but quickly looked away, trying to conceal his tears. But she wouldn’t let him hide.
She slowly stood, legs trembling from exhaustion and grief, and reached a hand out to Ewen. He sat there, looking at her out reached hand, unsure if he should take it. After a few moments, he laid Adaon’s hand on the his still chest, and shrouded his placid face. Only then he took her offered hand.
She managed to help him stand, taking in the mud, and tears that streaked the young man’s face. Using her thumb, she brushed away the tears that still spilled from his eyes.
Ewen shuddered, the rain and wind picking up outside. He stumbled back from Ileuad, and went to tend to the dying fire. He sat heavily, staring into the small flames. She fell next to him, trying to grasp the warmth of the meager fire. Ewen reached for her and brought her into his arms. Her thin arms wrapped around his torso and she buried her face in his tunic. He adjusted their cloaks, to fight the chill of the storm, both outside and in. They sat like that for hours, keeping away the cold and helping one another grieve, sleep eluding the both of them.
Now, hours after Ewen had finally drifted off, Ileuad lay awake, pondering Adaon’s final words. They had been ominous, almost frightening. But they were brave, and they had one another. Whatever battles lay ahead, Ileuad swore she would always have courage, for the sake of sweet Adaon. Determined, she turned to face Ewen once more, shifting closer to him for warmth. As she watched his face in the poor lighting, she made an oath to keep the true king’s son safe, to keep her betrothed, safe. Not long after, she fell into a restless slumber.