by Just Ruth
(gift for arliss)
[Come! Come! Come!]
The Wren, he thought wearily,</i>has the loudest call of any bird.</i>
The dawn had barely touched the edge of the eastern sky, but the wren was swinging on a branch in front of his tower, calling. It flitted to the window sill, called again and then back to the branch, still calling.
The wren is sacred to the Aen, say the old books. They were used for divination and thought to be messengers of the gods.
"All right, all right," he grumbled aloud. "I'm coming." He covered himself in his long robe, pulling the hood over his face against the cold. The Wizard of the Lath stones, they called him, the Alchemist of Caer Thrag. The Idiot - but to be fair, his uncle called him that after he blew up the gate house experimenting with black powder. He checked the angle of the stones' shadows. It was almost dawn of the shortest day.
Come! Come! Come! insisted the bird. He lit a lantern. It might be dawn, but the icy trail needed more light than the sky.
The wren called him down the mountain. Down to a stone house with a door of wood. Warm light was kindled within and the year circle in greens hung above it. He knew it. It was one of uncle's hunting lodges. Why would anyone be here at this time of year?
A dog barked within and he heard children's voices. A woman called them to order. Solstice breakfast must be within - raisin cakes and bacon, candied fruits and flowers. His mouth watered, remembering.
The wren stood on a small cairn of stones before him. It cocked it's head Well?
He hesitated, then knocked on the door