Word reached the population that their Arglwydd lay ill, unconscious from whatever malady that made his body frail and threatened his dreams so that he thrashed weakly in his deep slumber. The refuge was on the verge of panic; so much so that an entire wing of the Rhuddwyr was needed in order to keep the citizenry at bay as to not overwhelmed the Cadwiaid to defend the Arglwydd.
It all rested on Iorweth’s shoulders, at least for now. And he sat on the porch of his temporary home, his lover sleeping quietly in their bed. He had brought out a small box with him -- something he had not partaken since his uncle’s murder… a pipe and some smoking herbs. He had tried to quit, substituted the addiction with chewing a small bundle of hay when he felt the need rising, but now the stress was weighing him down.
He lit a match after packing the pipe, letting it slowly light while he gently sucked in for the herbs to catch the flame. Once they did, he smelled the sweet smoke that came off it. He put his feet up on the railing and watched the night. His thoughts were lost -- on what he should do, on what was to come, on the things that needed to be done. He was the heir to all of his people, all the subjects of the Arglwydd. He, no greater than a knight before all of this, had risen to Steward and Hand.
All of his doubts seemed to darken the night before his very eyes. That was, at least, how he perceived the oncoming shadows. Everything was overtaken in a matter of seconds. He looked around, panic coming to set his mind ablaze… but a part of him kept it at bay. The words and wounds of the inquisition coming as he held the spark of light within his pipe.
A voice came gentle upon the shadows. Faintly, Iorweth could barely hear it. But after a few moments of concentration, it suddenly boomed. “Iorweth,” it said, taunting Iorweth to respond. Fear drove a lump into his throat, but his mind was clear. It took but a few seconds for him to recover.
“Begone, shadows of the abyss. You’ll not find a subject within me,” he threw back, though in his confident, calm tone. His way overtook him, steeling his heart for what came.
The shadows gripped his feet. “...I come not to make you my subject, but to tell educate.” It paused for what merely seemed like a breath before it continued. “Your House is built upon a foundation of lies. You know this, for Caerwyn could not best fifty men in single combat without help from the divine… or perhaps of lesser demons,” it said; Iorweth knew whatever creature spoke to him was grinning, that tone was just filled with entertainment and raw pleasure at the reveal.
“It was I who helped him -- though lesser demons or the divine I am not. I am the sleeper who shall awaken; he made a pact with me. What power I could give him and he would see all those who had wronged him defeated and his place in this world elevated.” The voice paused. “The price was my freedom from this eternal slumber… but Caerwyn did not give me what I wished.”
Iorweth’s armed were consumed by the shadow -- he tried to move but could not. “I know the tale. The Gwaeddon resurged after two centuries of laying low,” he said, keeping his mind clear of dark thoughts, his heart beating slowly to keep panic at bay, “...I assume you had a hand in that.”
“Indeed. It was punishment for not holding up his end of the bargain. And thus, it was the bane of your House for all those that took my offer but spurned me in the end. Dewydd was pure, but Carwyn forged the blade... Owain was greedy and I saw his coffers fill… both died to the Gwaeddon by my guidance.” The creature laughed, a pair of sickly yellow eyes peering through the darkness. They were all the Iorweth could see in it -- all his surrounding blackened… those eyes and the end of his pipe, yet holding that spark.
Iorweth could hardly respond, thus the creature continued to speak. “Gruffudd proved incorruptible, but his brother? Aneiran desired his brother’s plate and more. When he could not have it, he betrayed his pure brothers with a dagger in the back. But Gruffudd’s son… he barely needed a nudge.”
Resistance; Iorweth flexed all his muscles against the shadows in vain. “Lies. Llewellan is among the most pure of us, the greatest of us all. His strength immeasurable, his soul a beacon. All that is before me is a monster who has no power but his deception.” He fell back onto the chair, his chest heaving from breaths taken.
The creature laughed for minutes on end, mocking Iorweth’s naivety. It finally slowed as it spoke. “Your cousin wanted to live. Your dragon druids attempted all to save the life of the little princeling, but all in vain. His life but hung by a thread until I intervened and lent him the strength to press on. The resolve he bore during his campaigns? The luck he had upon the field on numerous occasions as he boldly charged the lines?” The creature let out another chortle. “All because of my small amount of power that lay beneath the Mountain. But like the rest of your ill-begotten House, he stumbled in his purpose. He felt my wrath first during your civil war when he fell to Mwynen’s Wardens, and now again.”
Iorweth ground his teeth in defiance. “Monster. You would curse the man yet to see you freed.”
“I BUT REMIND HIM OF HIS DUTY!” The creature roared. It took a few seconds before it continued, gathering itself. “But now I come to you with the same history as all your forebears… and an offer. I give you power with but a single stroke and make you Prince Iorweth. You rise above all others to take back the Vale… and set me free.” The creature’s voice turned sweet and kind… something a snake might mesmerize before the deep bite. He filled Iorweth’s head with charming magics, eliciting response as it fired neurons caked in pleasure and greed.
But Iorweth was trained well.
He focused on the spark in his pipe as he fought away the attempt at the mind magic, just as the inquisitors trained him. Three inquisitions he survived, three times he was tested and never found wanting. Every thought that intrigued him -- Power, all mine for the taking -- swiftly combatted and swept aside.
“...But power is not what you crave; dutiful men only seek to further their masters. But perhaps if Eirianwen could bear children again…?”
The sweet spot; applying pressure upon a weakened nerve that Iorweth knew existed. If I could but fulfill what she wants… what Drystan could have given her… Iorweth relented his defenses, if for but a moment to consider all. Power. Children. His people free and living again in their homes. Security for them, their enemies running from the stomp of his boots.
All he had to do was give his permission… and it would all be his.
Iorweth awoke; his eyes fluttering into a panic as he felt the hot sting of the embers of his pipe on his clothing. He stood, the chair crashing away from him. He brushed himself off quickly and found himself staring into the night. For several moments he kept his gaze north, to the Mountain and what lie beneath it, yet ever slumbering.
He made the right decision, of that he was certain. There would some who would question him if he ever found out and would definitely question the validity of his House should it ever come to pass…
The first rays of dawn arrived not minutes later, threatening to overtake the darkness. He looked and steeled himself to a future that he knew not would come to pass due to the decision he made.
For now, to bed; tomorrow, ink and quill… for the greatest change the Mynydd have ever faced is yet coming. Tearful news… and words that might yet lift.