During dinner the next day, Merlin rode into the village in a cart, accompanied by Grainne and her two boys. They entered the tavern and asked for some food. Grainne insisted that there be no meat in her stew and the landlord was happy to oblige. Usually he received the opposite request. The boys sat with Gwilym’s other sons.
Merlin approached Gwilym with a heavy box that Gwilym knew contained the river jade he needed to finish the tower. Gwilym thanked him. “Do you have enough for the next tower as well?”
“Do I seem like a man who doesn’t plan for the future?”
Gwilym smiled. “No you don’t, sir. Will I get the next set right before Beltane again?”
Merlin’s eyes twinkled. “I understand you had a nice conversation with Grainne yesterday. Did you enjoy meeting your boys?”
“I did sir,” Gwilym replied, uncertain of any irony in Merlin’s voice about the ‘conversation’.
“And what are your intentions with her?”
Gwilym was confused now. Should he approach Merlin with his wish to marry Grainne? Was he being warned away from her by an emissary of Avalon? Or was he Grainne’s protector? He looked at Grainne for assistance but she was busy with the landlord.
He realized that it didn’t matter. His answer would be the same no matter what Merlin’s role in Grainne’s life was. “I intend to ask her to marry me, sir.”
Merlin’s tangled bird’s nests of eyebrows shot up and his grey-blue eyes bored into Gwilym’s. “Do you indeed?” he asked.
When he broke off contact with Merlin’s eyes, he noticed Grainne was watching him. She looked delicious in a light green frock. Her feet were bare and her hair was held back with a string of thin leather. She lit up the room with a broad smile and turned back to the landlord.
“What will you do with her as your wife, assuming she even agrees?”
“Live with her, travel from place to place for work, raise our children together. The same thing any man does with a wife.”
“Grainne is a priestess of Avalon. The Lady of the
Lake has plans for her. Marriage is not one of them. How
will you overcome her objections?”
“From what I’ve seen of Grainne, she follows her own will.”
“Then I suggest you ask her and see what she has to say. But, for what it’s worth, you have my blessing.”
“Are you her guardian?”
“Male guardians mean little to a girl raised on Avalon.”
“Well I thank you anyway, Merlin.”
Grainne joined them with a bowl of stew for each. “Try this, Gwilym. You might like something without meat in it for a change.” She watched him as he ate spoonful after spoonful.
After he had finished the bowl, he said to the landlord, “Excellent, sir. But I like your Thursday vegetable stew better than this Wednesday one.”
Merlin and Grainne exchanged a glance. She asked Gwilym, “Are you not a carnivore?”
He replied, “I eat meat on special occasions and Sundays. I have no preference. Anything else you’d like to know about me?”
She nodded to the boys, laughing while playing some game with their fingers on the board. “They seem to get along well. You’ve raised three fine sons.”
“Thank you, Grainne. You’ve done well by yours also.”
Her eyes shone then clouded over as she glanced at Merlin. “Gwilym…” she began but then stopped.
“What?” he inquired.
She wet her lips, started to speak several times but seemed to be incapable of forming the words. She sighed and said, “Never mind.”
They had all finished their stew. “Will you walk with me, Grainne?” asked Gwilym.
She got up and they walked through the marsh to the beach.
“I was thrilled to see you in that clearing two days ago, Grainne. I had been thinking about you a lot.”
She smiled at him and glanced down at his crotch. “I could tell that right away.”
“No, Grainne. I mean that I was thinking about my feelings towards you and what future we might have together. I think I might…love you.”
She stopped and looked hard at him. “That’s a strong word to use with a woman you’ve seen half a dozen times in your whole life. A woman you’ve had two complete conversations with. Are you sure you don’t just want to couple with me more often?”
He looked down at his feet, then back into her eyes. “I’m not sure how I feel about you. There is that. But I want to know you more and I want to help you with our children. If they must leave Avalon, perhaps you could come with them and live with me. Our boys could all be together, I could see all five of my sons, you would have a protector and we could be man and wife. There are a lot of advantages.”
“Advantages for you, maybe. But what’s the incentive for me? Waking up next to a boar like you every morning? Losing my place at Avalon? Following you around from shitty village to stinky town as you ply your trade? That’s not a life for me.”
“Will you foster out Madoc? Is that why he came with you this time?”
She bit her lips until they showed as two thin lines. “What I do with my son is no concern of yours.”
She smoothed out her dress and said, “I’ll see you on top of the tower tonight. We have work to do.” Then she left.Gwilym sat for another five minutes, and then walked back to the tavern. He picked up the box of jade and his hammer and wedges and walked up to the tower.