Gwen and Grey - A fantasy

 Gwen And Grey

Gwen, supported by her children. 
Art by Alicia Smith (c)2024

A work-in-progress fantasy

Gwen looked at the knight, and shook her head. "Really? Do I look like like I need rescuing? Do I look like I want rescuing?"
"Let me guess. My hand in marriage?"
The knight nodded uncertainly.
"OK, here's the deal. You can leave now, and tell Father to take his offer and shove it where the sun does not shine, or you can stay, and see what my spouse has to say."
"Your spouse?"
"Yes, the other parent of my children here."
The young knight (Gwen figured he was really barely a squire, what was her father thinking?) looked at the serpents coiling around the beautiful woman, swallowed,  and ran.  
"Don't forget the message for Father!" she called out.

A little while later, the sky went dark as a pair of wings blotted out the sun, and Gwen suddenly found herself sitting on the ground.
One of the half dragons turned back, and briefly rubbed around her before following the others. Gwen just shook her head.
The huge dark grey dragon landed and was immediately swarmed by the young. There was a deep rumbling and the serpents got off.
Gwen stood up and walked over. The huge head came down and ever so gently pushed against her, and she reached up to rub the ridge running between the golden eyes.
There was a blurring, and she found herself holding a far more human-sized figure.
"Welcome home, Grey. I see who the favourite around here is" she said with a smile.
"It has been a whole three hours" came the laughing reply, "and they are only a few weeks old."
"I know. I'm now worried about what they'll be like when they are adolescents"
"Like all teenagers, hungry, grumpy, and angsty. Remember what you were like?"
"All too well. Ugh. The poetry I murdered."
Grey looked back down the mountain. "Another one?"
"We are going to have to do something about your father, you know."
"I know. I just hope none of the fallout hits Allen. I know he's not technically heir, but if Father gets stubborn..."
"And I imagine Allen's lover would not be too happy with someone trying to marry him off."
"No, and being not actually alive, she could cause a lot of trouble."
"How did he end up with that ghost as a lover anyway?"
"Not my story to tell. You can ask him yourself."
'So we are going to go to the castle?"
"We have to. It is the only way we are going to get Father to leave us be."
"And the children?"
"They will have to come with us. He's going to have to get used to the grandkids."
"That is going to be interesting."
"As always dear, you have the finest talent for understatement."

Even when you are a half-decent mage, and your partner is a shape-shifting dragon there are some things that take time. Especially when you live three quarters of the way up a mountain.

Things like acquiring transportation.

"Gwen, why do we need a cart and a mule?"
"We can't expect the children to slither the whole way, and we can't carry them. And we are not putting this off so long that they get whatever shifting abilities they do get."
Grey hung their head. "I didn't think of that. I should have."
Gwen smiled "That's what you've got me for, dearest. Remember the market place?"
"Oh, please don't remind me! Wait! Why a mule?"
"They are pretty much unflappable. The kids won't bother it, and if you have to shift, it won't bolt like a horse would."

It took a few weeks of searching to find a farmer willing to part with one - even for gold. A good cart and a reliable mule is frequently worth more than mere money, it seemed!

But get one they did, and they finally got under way for the trip back to Gwen's original home.

And her father.

A few days travel saw them in sight of Bannock Castle. Gwen brought the cart to a stop.

"Why are we stopping?", Grey asked.
"So we can get ready. Someone will have carried news of our approach by now. Father will have to send someone out to meet us. He will think he's obliged to. If we are lucky, he'll send Allen. If we are very lucky Allen will have worked out how to get Emily to come with him."
"And if we are not lucky?"
"He'll send my cousin Emil. And as much as he is pond scum, I'd rather you did not have to roast him before we reach the castle."
Grey laughed "But after is alright?"
Gwen shoved Grey's shoulder slightly "No, you bloodthirsty monster."
"But I'm your blood thirsty monster."
"Damn right. And I'm your wicked sorceress." Gwen found she could not hold back a giggle after that. Pretty soon they were both laughing.

Eventually they calmed back down. Gwen, after one last giggle, managed to get out "But we do have to get ready." And she opened a case. One she had not opened since reaching the mountain.
"Oh my goodness! It is full of clothes!", exclaimed Grey.
"What were you expecting? Stars?"
"I was rather hoping gold."
Gwen rolled her eyes, and extracted two outfits.
"You want me to wear one of those?"
Gwen nodded.
Gwen nodded again.
Grey sighed dramatically. "Alright. I guess. I would have preferred breeches and a shirt."
"We can't turn up with you looking like some ragamuffin. We are going to have to make an impression."
"I thought you did not like this sort of thing."
"I don't. But that does not mean I am not good at it."

They had just finished getting tidied up when Grey said "I can hear horses."
"Game face on lover. Kids? This is serious. Stay down until I say it is alright."

A squad of soldiers came around the bend, headed up by a figure in ornate field armour. The knight held up a hand and the squad came to a stop.

A muffled voice said something. Grey looked puzzled. They looked at each other. "Pardon?" "What?" they said together.

More noises. Gwen was pretty sure that was swearing. A glance at Grey's face confirmed it.

The armoured figure gestured to one of the soldiers, who came over and removed the helmet, revealing ... nothing. Wait, no, there was something. A faint wisp of a figure.


"Hi Gwen! They were going to send Emil, so Allen distracted him, and enchanted the amour so I could haunt it."

"Grey, please meet my brother's partner in crime, the late Lady Emily Grace. Emily, this is Grey, my spouse."

"A pleasure, Great Dragon."

Grey stared. And stared. 

Gwen nudged Grey. "Sorry, pleased to meet you. I have not seen one of your kind so ..."

"Coherent? Stable? Non-kill-crazy? Blame Allen, the sweetheart. He could not bear the thought of me wandering the halls aimless and lost, so he hunted down a spell long lost, and brought my mind back to my spirit."

"That seems, err, I mean" Grey fumbled.

"What my love is trying to say is that that is an incredibly dedicated act on Allen's part, and they wish you the best in your relationship." 

Emily laughed "Oh Gwen, you have not changed a scrap. Grey, he started looking when he was seven, and only found the book with Gwen's help. I'll tell you all about it on the way back. Men? We are escorting Lady Gwen and her family back to the castle."

With that the squad of soldiers formed a guard, and they started moving again, with Emily cheerfully relating how two children had dug into the past of Bannock Castle, and eventually uncovered the sorcerer's workshop. 

"That is how Gwen learned magic. Of course I mostly have this from everyone else, my own memories of that time are fragmented at best. It was not until after Allen's nineteenth birthday that he finally found the spell. That was four years ago."

"About a month before we eloped, dearest" Gwen supplied. "Emily did not waste any time after she got her mind back. Allen wasn't seen for two days. Almost everyone thought that the castle's ghost was devouring him with the sounds that were coming from his suite" she added, grinning.

"Like you were any better! I heard the stories coming down the mountain! Oops! We are here. Some decorum is called for, I suppose." 

Bannock Castle rose above them. Centuries old, it had been rebuilt at least three times, but the keep at the core of it remained intact - although it had been re-roofed many times. The gates were iron-bound and many inches thick, with an iron portcullis beyond. Five walls enclosed the keep, a deep well, stables, and storehouses, along with several dwellings. The keep itself rose nearly a hundred feet into the sky, with huge buttresses supporting the structure. 

They passed through the gatehouse, with murder holes above them, and arrow slits to either side, and emerged into the courtyard. 
As they emerged, Emily leaned close to Gwen and whispered "We need to talk privately later."

The cart and the soldiers came to a stop. Suddenly the suit of armour collapsed, startling the horse it had been riding. There were a few tense minutes before the horse was under control again.
It did not escape Gwen's attention that Emil's armour was distinctly worse for wear afterwards.  
She saw that Emily had reformed next to her brother, who had one arm around her ghostly form. On the other side of her brother was cousin Emil, who looked absolutely livid. Probably doubly so because there was no one he could actually direct his displeasure at. After all what could he do? Challenge a ghost to a duel? 

And then, last of all was her father. The Baron of Bannock Castle. Who also looked like he was going to explode. Time to take steps.

She handed the reins to one of the escorting soldiers, and stood. "Hello Father! Sorry I have not written, I have been rather busy. May I introduce my spouse, Grey. Grey, this is my father, Baron Bannock, my cousin Emil, and my brother Allen." She jumped down, and offered a hand to Grey, who  stepped down.
"Daughter, you will" the Baron started to shout.
"Oh, do lose the shout, Father, and the rage. You'll scare your grandchildren."
The Baron stopped, mouth open. It closed. Opened again, and closed again.
Allen took advantage of the unexpected break "I'm an uncle?" he asked excitedly.
"Yes, Allen, you are an uncle. Five times."
"Five times?"
"All born on the same day."
'How old?"
"Only a few weeks. But they are very precocious. Children, this is your uncle Allen and Aunt Emily." Five serpentine heads rose from the cart. 
"They will gain their legs and wings in a year or so. And be able to take human form in another three or four" Grey supplied. 
"Those snakes are my grandchildren?"
The heads turned to look at the Baron.
"Careful, Father, they cannot speak yet, but they can understand you perfectly well. Children, this is your grandfather. "

Before the Baron could say anything else, Allen and Emily rushed over to the cart. "Oh, they are adorable!" Allen exclaimed, while Emily let out a small squeal of delight. The five serpentine forms slithered up to him and suddenly stopped. There was a confused knot, as each tried to hide behind the others. 
"Oh, they've come over all shy," said Emily. 
Gwen came around, "Come on kids, say hello to your uncle and aunty." 
"Aunty?" Emily looked at Gwen in surprise.
"Well, you might as well be. Anyway we were going to ask you to be Godmother. And yes, Allen, we'd like you to be Godfather."

Meanwhile the Baron looked on, lost for words. Emil leaned in saying "Sir, we can dispatch this prob-urk" he looked down to see a dagger pressed to his ribs.
"Emil, I might not like this situation, but they are my grandchildren, and have been publicly declared as such. If you touch a single hair, I mean you understand?"
"Yes Sir," came the shaky reply.
"Wise choice" the words came from behind him. He turned his head to see Grey standing there, one hand sprouting long claws instead of fingers.

The Baron looked over Emil's shoulder at Grey. "Understand me, I don't think you are good enough for my daughter. And this is going to be a nightmare to explain to the King when he gets here in three days. But, for all of that, she looks happy. Keep her that way."
Grey froze. And then looked closely at the Baron. They nodded, "For the rest of our lives."
"And watch her closely. I have heard what took my wife can run in families."
Grey smiled, "You need not worry about that fate for her. She will live as long as I do now. Now why don't you come and meet your grandchildren properly?" 

The young drakes were apprehensive about the severe old man who came over to the wagon, even after being properly introduced. Gwen just said "Give them time, they are very young, and you were looking like you were about to get quite shouty at first." 

With that, Gwen took her family up to her rooms, and got the children settled. 

"Hmmm?" came the distracted reply, as the dragon gently stroked the heads of their young. 
"I need to pop out for a bit  - Emily wants a private word with me. Can you take care of things here?"
"Of course. She seems nice. Your brother is very lucky."

Gwen found Emily in the main hall. "Hello Gwen. Come with me, please."
As they walked Emily talked about what she and Allen had been doing for the last several years. None of it seemed to require a private discussion, though. Gwen started to wonder what was going on.

Presently, though, they arrived at the family cemetery. Emily left them over to a very old, but recently maintained grave. 
"Is this?" Gwen started to ask.
"Yes, this is mine," the ghost knelt down, and motioned for Gwen to join her. Gwen got down on her knees, and looked at where Emily was pointing. "Can you make out the dates?"
"I think so. You were only twenty two when you died?" 
"Yes. And I have a very bad feeling."
"What about?"
"About how long I have."
Gwen felt a chill run over her. "What do you mean?"
"Allen's spell has a life. And I fear it is mine. I haven't told him." 
"I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"I've only got as long as I was alive. Another seventeen years, and I will fade away completely." Gwen's eyes went large, and she stared at her. "I want you to make sure he does not try to follow me."
Gwen suddenly sat back on the ground. 
"You want what?"
"I want you to make sure that Allen stays alive after I pass. Make sure he lives his full life."
"Emily, you have to tell him. Now. I will help you stop him blaming himself, which I know he will, but you must tell him. "
Emily looked at Gwen with ghostly tears "Can't you?"
"No, you have to. I'll be with you." With that, Gwen stood up "Come on. Let's do this now."

Emily was uncommonly quiet on their way back to the castle proper. As they approached, a horse and rider sped out of the gate, and down the road. 
"Was that?" Gwen half asked.
"Emil, yes, I think it was." Emily replied, "You know, I think I actually hate that man. I wonder what sort of trouble he's going to try to stir up now. And the worst of it, is that he has my name!" she finished, regaining some solidity with her anger.

Gwen rubbed her temples, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "We can deal with him later. Come on, let's see Allen."
"Emil will keep."
"Alright," Emily faded almost as much as her voice did on that word.

A quick inquiry told them that Allen was with Grey and the children, so they made their way back to Gwen's suite. Opening the door revealed a scene of complete chaos. The furniture of the day room had been pushed to the walls, and the young serpents were chasing sparkling balls that bounced and skittered around the room. At the centre of it all stood Allen, a faint glow coming from his hands, with Grey sitting on the floor next to him, laughing.

The serpents noticed the open door, with Gwen standing there, and abandoned their chase to rush over to her. 

Grey, spoke through their laughter "I guess we know who their favourite parent is now!" And then noticed the expression on the two ladies faces "Do I need to bite Emil's head off?" they asked.

Gwen sighed "Not this time, dearest. Maybe later, but we have other more important things to talk about."
"Should I leave you..." started Allen.
"No, you are a part of this 'Len. Let's all sit. Kids? Snuggle up." She grabbed Allen's hand before he could move, and pulled him to the centre of the room, and sat on the rug. With a nod, Emily glided over, and with another, more insistent nod from Gwen, sat next to Allen. Grey, seeing all this settled next to Gwen. The serpents sensing the seriousness, slithered up onto the laps of the living. The smallest then wound itself around where Emily was manifesting. 

Allen looked at his sister saying, "We've not done this since the day you said you were going up the mountain."
Gwen gave him a small smile in return; "Emily? It is time."

"Um. Ah. Allen, I will never be able to thank you enough for returning my soul to me. To let me live, even though I am a ghost. To let me think, and to love."
Allen opened his mouth, but Gwen hushed him with a finger to his lips before he could make a sound. Emily slid forward so she could face him. The young serpent followed. She took his hands.
"Allen, I love you. With all of my being. But all magic has a price. I did not know how to tell you before now. Gwen gave me the courage, but I still don't know how to say it," she looked at Gwen helplessly.
"Allen, how old was Emily when she died?" Gwen asked.
He started at the question "Uh, twenty-two, why?"
"Dearest, what is the oldest law of magic and of the land?"
He thought for a moment. Grey's face grew grim. "A life for a life. I'm going to die in seventeen years?"
"I don't think so. I think I will be forced to move on then. I will have lived the life I had."
"There must... Oh, Emily forgive me!"
"'Len, stop. Emily has just said that she cannot thank you enough."
"Gwen is right, dearest. You have given me a whole second life! And I don't even have to spend a quarter of it an infant, and half of it a child! I get to spend all of it with you!" 
"But, you are going to die - again!"
"Yes, but you will too eventually. And I pray it will be 'eventually'. I do not want you to follow me back to my grave! I want you to live for me! I spent over a hundred years lost in between - but you brought me back. Do not waste the rest of your life."
Grey cleared their throat. "Allen, you have worked a great wonder here, but do not forget that even the greatest healer cannot heal everything."
"What about you and Gwen? I heard what you said to Father. That she will live as long as you. What was the price there?"
"The price, 'Len, is that I am not really human any more. I cannot shift shape like Grey can, and like our children will, but my blood is dragon blood. The truth is that Gwen Alice Greenmanse does not really exist any more, at least not in the flesh. My mind and soul are the same, but my body has been reformed as a dragon."
Emily looked at Gwen in horror "Did it hurt?"
She got a twisted smile in return "Unless you are an egg, like these ones", she gestured at the serpents, "being born always does. But yes, 'Len, I am still your sister in my heart, even if the heart itself is a little different now. And as the big sister..."
"Nope! You're the little sister now. You got born a second time. And after me, that makes you the little sister!"


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