An excerpt from Chapter Eight:
The afternoon was early, clear and bright, and the chase had not lasted long when Dylan came to a place where the does’ tracks ended. In fact, he had hardly split from the company when he found it. In the distance he could still hear his men crashing through the wood after the stag. He slowed his own mount’s pace to a slow trot in order to better study the spoor.
The earth beneath his steed’s hooves was strewn with amber and scarlet leaves, and the does’ hoof prints were clear and legible as ogham scribed on tablets of yew in the soft soil. With no difficulty he followed the trail they left behind. The way was so clear it disturbed him. It seemed they wanted him to follow. Cautiously, he pursued them through the forest.
Then he came to a place where the prints of hooves ended. And what he saw at that place sent shivers up and down his spine as no horrid battle ever had, and he had seen many. For continuing from the very place the tracks ended were the small imprints of slippered feet, having the narrow, light step of damsels. He dismounted and knelt to the earth, touching the tracks lightly with his hands, feeling for the imprint of deer tracks within the human tracks. But they were not overlapped. Where one instant there had been five does, now there were five damsels, and they had continued to proceed into the forest. And they did not run. The steps were closely spaced. The damsels had walked, confident, or perhaps exhausted. Instinct warned him turn back, but he was well versed at suppressing instinctive fear. He had learned that trick in countless wars. Instead, he drew an arrow from his quiver and knocked it, followed the light tracks. “Aval, follow,” he whispered, and his steed went with him, stepping lightly behind him despite the warhorse’s great size.
He continued silently into the wood. As he went, he could hear the growing voice of a babbling stream. The tracks led down now, into the midst of a small vale. He passed through a thicket of blackthorn and emerged from it to find a massive stand of birches and willows growing thick beside the stream banks. And beneath the shade of the graceful trees was a gazebo of stone. It was built in circular fashion with eight round pillars of smooth white stone standing round the perimeter of a floor of smooth, brook-polished stone. White branches of birch laid precariously over the pillars served to support a roof of ivy that grew thick over the top of it, shading the structure in cool, green shadow. The build of the whole thing was unearthly, for it was held together by no mortar or notches. No tool had ever touched it, not to carve the stone nor trim the ivy. Indeed, the whole structure seemed fragile, as if it had tumbled together, as if a breeze might collapse it. Yet it also bore the appearance of great age, the stones seeming to have settled comfortably into place over eons. And if that were not wonder enough, five damsels reclined beneath the interlaced ivy. They were dressed in cloth so thin and fine it must be woven of spider’s web. The cloth was dyed in autumnal colors of gold and scarlet. It shimmered translucently so the ladies’ willowy forms could be seen as lithe shadows beneath. They were tired, as if they had only just ended a long run.