Greetings, fellow bloggers! My apologies for keeping you all waiting, though I doubt anyone had to resort to rabid nail-biting or other nervous tics after being left off on a cliff-hanger. ;-D
Olwen stood before the Chief of the gnomes with her mouth agape, momentarily dumbfounded. With effort, she gathered her composure. “How do you know my name?” she demanded.
The Chief smiled knowingly. His weathered face did not appear unkind, Olwen observed. “You are one of the last keepers of the sacred stones,” he began, then stroked his beard with a gnarled hand, pondering his next words. “Your coming has been foretold.”
Olwen frowned. “Foretold by whom?”
The Chief’s smile broadened and he spread his arms wide, gesturing to the space around them. “This ancient willow, within which I have built my hall, is my people’s Ancestor Tree. We call her Great Grandmother, for she is the memory of the land and of our folk, and we look to her for her wisdom,” the old gnome explained. “I received a vision of your coming in a dream, which the Seer confirmed. You, Lady Olwen, have long been expected. On behalf of my people, I welcome you and offer my sincerest condolences for the loss of your family.” He propped his chin on his clasped hands, as he studied the young elf.
“Thank you,” Olwen muttered.
“But we have not been properly introduced,” said the Chief. “I am Chief Cledwyn, and it is indeed a pleasure to meet you.” He offered Olwen a warm smile, which she struggled to return. “I understand young Deri, here, has extended an offer of hospitality, which was most courteous of him, but that will not do.” Deri’s face fell upon hearing that the elf was not to be his guest, after all. ” I have already made other, more suitable arrangements. You will stay with the Seer, Terrwyn. He will be charged with your care and to oversee your education,” Chief Cledwyn concluded. He motioned to one of the guards at the door, who immediately exited the hall.
Olwen exchanged a curious look with Deri, then Cledwyn invited them to be seated at a table to one side of the hall. A servant entered, carrying silver platters and proceeded to place an assortment of dishes on the table. When she offered to serve the Chief, Cledwyn waved her away.
Olwen peered into the tiny, silver pots which had been placed before her, their contents unfamiliar. Deri grinned. “Try this one,” he said, eagerly, and slid a pot towards her. She opened the lid and spooned a small portion onto her plate. It appeared to be a thick, creamy stew of a dark green colour. The scent of pungent spices wafted into the air, and Olwen’s stomach growled. Using the wooden, three-pronged fork she had been given, Olwen scooped up a small amount and tasted the stew.
“What do you think?” asked Deri, still grinning.
The stew was hearty and rich, and tasted of dandelion leaves, rabbit, and cumin, and other unfamiliar spices and herbs. Olwen smiled. “It’s delicious!” she answered.
Olwen and Deri had just started shoveling various dishes onto their plates, when the doors opened and in walked a stooped, elderly gnome using a twisted wooden staff for support. His mossy-brown eyes swept the hall and came to rest on the elf. Olwen met his gaze, but the gnome turned his attention to Chief Cledwyn and bowed low.
“Thank you for coming, Terrwyn,” said the Chief. “As you can see, the vision proved true, for the elven witch has come.” Chief Cledwyn and Terrwyn both turned to Olwen.
Bewildered, Olwen set down her fork and looked from one gnome to the other. “Why do you call me a witch?” she asked.
“Aren’t you?” asked Cledwyn, smiling.
“No!” exclaimed Olwen. “I mean, it’s not that I have anything against witches, but I’m just a girl. My studies have only just begun,” she added.
“So it is,” chimed in Terrwyn. The unexpected sound of his deep, gruff voice almost startled Olwen. Even Deri looked up from his meal to give his full attention to the old gnome. “But a witch with much to learn is no less a witch,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Before Olwen could open her mouth to protest, Chief Cledwyn cleared his throat. “Lady Olwen, allow me to introduce Terrwyn, our most revered Seer and bard,” he said. “He will be your guardian until you come of age.”
Olwen studied the gnome carefully. His long beard was pure white, to match the thinning hair on his head; He wore faded brown robes, belted around his waist, but despite his advanced age, Terrwyn had sharp, keen eyes, that gave an impression of intelligence.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Olwen said with a note of uncertainty in her tone.
Terrwyn smiled. “The pleasure is all mine, Lady Olwen.”
“When you have finished your supper, Terrwyn will escort you to his home, where a room has been specially prepared for you,” said Chief Cledwyn.
At a loss for words, Olwen only nodded. After they finished eating, she and Deri were bid a good evening by the Chief and shown from the hall.
“Good evening, Deri,” said Terrwyn, pointedly, once they were outside in the the cool, evening air.
Deri nodded, and glanced up at Olwen, his expression sheepish. “Well, Lady, this is where I leave you,” he said sadly. “I hope we shall see more of one another.”
“So do I, Deri,” replied Olwen. “Thank you for your help today.”
Deri watched as Olwen turned away to follow Terrwyn along the narrow, cobbled lane. Then with a sigh, he headed home.
…to be continued.