Ianto leant against the rough bark of the gnarled old tree, enjoying the feeling of the warm sunshine of Lyonesse playing over his face. As was always the case, the Fir Cruthen people were faced with insurmountable odds, unsolvable problems and unbeatable enemies: he couldn’t remember a time when this were not true. Nevertheless, at this particular moment, the Taniaste was content to enjoy a moment of reflection.
At present, he was experiencing an odd mix of nostalgia, excitement and apprehension; this was entirely down to the revelation that he might just have found a new source of nip. One of the most intensely isolating experiences was the way in which the people of the Fir Cruthen saw Ianto as a wise, powerful fae, while he only saw that which had been lost. That could soon change…
He had the memory of a hundred bodies and a thousand memories of sacrifice and bereavement. Worse still were the memories that stubbornly sat just out of reach, refusing to show themselves. But perhaps now there was a chance to unlock some of those memories and tap into the old power.
It was a delicious thought. With that said, however, Ianto would need to put some checks in place. He couldn’t very well be trusted to act in a rational, sensible manner when so much of who he was, so much of what he loved sat waiting to be unlocked with a pinch. No. Someone would need to help him keep his judgement unclouded.
Ianto stretched luxuriously in the sunlight. All this business with the nip had put him in a reflective sort of a mood and his thoughts drifted back to a recent, different self. He looked down and saw himself as Dim Tan, the roguish Taniaste loved by so many. And there to his right was the king: not the current Umrada, with his unnerving ability to switch between jovial and deathly serious in a heartbeat. No: this was high king Morgan, a tall, inscrutable man of quiet intelligence who had started the Fir Cruthen towards the path of glory they currently trod. And so Dim and King Morgan strode into battle, beset on all sides by formorii…
The memory shifted. The Taniaste looked more closely and saw the face of her husband, many years ago. Sir Calidore looked exactly the same: that stern look of chivalry and honour would never change. The Taniaste basked in the glow of love: her love and his, intertwined like the branches of the great tree under which they said their vows to different gods. A single tear rolled slowly down her cheek. It was the joy of the memory and the wrenching loss of what no longer existed.
And then it changed again. There was a tall man and a beautiful woman from a land that would one day become Albion. This Taniaste hadn’t lasted very long at all, but before he was injured scrumping apples from the king of Bernicia’s royal orchard, he had approved of the work the tall man and the beautiful woman had started. He’d also stolen one of the King’s prize giant hogs to use for his escape, but that wilful beast had been too loyal and delivered its outraged cargo straight into the hands of an angry mob of villagers.
The sound of battle filled the Taniaste’s ears and he half expected to see a memory of the war against the Greenskin Empire, but in fact he awoke in the present, surrounded by painted warriors and angry forest spirits. He realised he was lying on top of one of the largest warriors and was delighted to realise that even in his reverie, he’d had the presence of mind to start healing the injured man.
Blood poured from the chest of the fallen warrior, but Ianto had seem far worse. In fact, given that the chest was still attached to all the other usual parts, he found it barely a challenge at all. As he drew forth energy from the pole of corporeal magic and let it bind the wound like the roots of a tree, his own heart caught in his throat. The World Tree still burned, and its pain grew from a terrible ache to an all-consuming agony that lived in him.
But there was work to be done, and so many warriors threw themself at his feet, bleeding from deep wounds until it seemed that all there had ever been was fighting. Ianto tended to his people with kindness and love, sending them on their way with a joke and a smile. It was what they needed. And soon, as was always the case, the attack was over. The forest spirits had been driven away and the people of the Fir Cruthen were safe again, for now.
The horror of the World Tree stuck in Ianto’s throat. He wanted to scream it out, to purge the horror and urge everyone near to action. It was a sobbing, choking sensation that begged for release. Instead, Ianto picked up the crown of wildflowers he had been working on and offered it to the nearest warrior with an overexaggerated bow. Laughter rippled across the glade.
“I don’t know about you lot, but all this saving lives makes me thirsty. Who’s for a drink?”
The Taniaste skipped merrily towards the camp and not a soul there saw the sadness he shouldered for them all.