Title: Brinksmanship
Fandom: The Dark Is Rising
Rating: U
Summary: When Will, Bran, and the Drews first meet up with John and Blodwen Rowlands in Tywyn, there's one small matter that needs to be settled before they go their separate ways. A missing scene, set during Silver on the Tree.
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: I have had this missing scene in mind for several years now, though it has gone through several iterations in that time. Incorporates story text and spoilers for all of Silver on the Tree. (Also on AO3.)


Brinksmanship

'Enjoying your stay?' Mrs Rowlands said.

'Very much, thank you.'

'Happy Valley and the Bearded Lake tomorrow, then, is it?'

Jane looked at Will. There was a fraction of a second's hesitation --

-- and then Will spoke two words, sharp-edged and full of impatience, and the whole world stopped.

To be perfectly accurate, it wasn't the world that had stopped. Old Ones had any number of methods of manipulating their position in Time, and the spell that Will had chosen was crafted to allow him to step out of the flow of Time for as long as he needed to, without affecting anyone else. But from his perspective, it seemed as if everything and everyone he could see -- including Bran, the three Drews, and John Rowlands -- had been frozen in place. And with the stillness came a sudden, total silence, an absence of noise that made Will's ears ring with the strain of listening for sounds that were no longer there. The rumble of traffic, the voices of people within the nearby train station, the whistle of the west wind coming in off the sea...all of it had vanished.

Then, with a click that sounded as loud as a gunshot, the passenger-side door of the Land Rover opened.

Blodwen Rowlands eased out of her seat and closed the car door, and walked round to the front of the car to stand facing Will. In her sensible shoes and neatly pressed summer dress, she looked every inch the pleasant Welsh farmwife, out for an afternoon in town with her husband. But her eyes held none of the kind warmth that had charmed Jane only a few moments before, and her previously gentle smile now had a mocking twist to it, as if she was amused by this unexpected turn of events.

In the midst of the frozen tableau, the youngest of the Old Ones and the White Rider of the Dark regarded each other with near-identical expressions of barely concealed loathing.

Will was the first to break the silence. 'You make it very difficult to keep up the pretence, Rider,' he said, through clenched teeth.

'Why, surely not so difficult for one such as you?' Mrs Rowlands' voice was light and lilting, almost musical, if one could hear any music in a voice that fell upon the ear like a harp being played deliberately out of tune. 'You have done very well so far, in your little time here -- but, then again, I have no doubt that you learned much more about pretence from your master than you truly realise.'

'I know quite well what I have learned.' There was certainly something of Merriman's stone-faced composure in Will's reply. 'And I know that you would not be nearly so reckless in your approach if you had more confidence in your position.'

'Reckless, you say?' One of her hands fluttered up to rest just below her throat, as if the harshness of Will's words had wounded her. 'And would you not call your own approach here reckless, then?'

'No,' Will said quietly. 'If I were reckless, you would be speaking to Bran Davies as well.'

For the first time, Blodwen Rowlands' smile faltered. It slid back into place in an instant, but there was less mockery in it now, and more open contempt. 'Oh, indeed?'

Will did not allow himself to show even a hint of satisfaction at her loss of composure. 'And I expect that he would have quite a few things to say to you. You might say that I am doing you a favour, this way.'

Anger flashed across Blodwen Rowlands' face, too fast for her to keep in check. 'I need no favours from you, Sign-Seeker,' she snapped. 'Say what you will say, and be quick about it.'

'And I will take no orders from you, Rider,' Will snapped back. 'You have what you wanted to know about our intentions. If you wish to confront us again, do it in your true form. Let us be done with games here.'

'If you think this to be a game, cariad, then you are very much mistaken.' Her intent blue eyes, which had never left Will's for a moment, now turned to the group of children clustered nearby. Her gaze skimmed dismissively over Simon and Barney, lingered on Jane for a sharp, calculating moment, and flickered past Bran before returning to Will. 'And a dreadful mistake it will be, for you and your kind.'

'The welfare of my kind should be the least of your concerns,' Will said, with a slight shake of his head. 'But if that is your warning, then here is mine: if you seek to interfere with us, we will not hesitate to strike back at you. Our time grows short, as does our patience. And there are some who have even less reason than I do to keep their anger in check.'

This time, he knew that she was making a deliberate effort to not look over at Bran. Instead, she seemed to gather herself up, collecting her offended dignity about her -- and then she let the tight lines of her face relax into their familiar, genial expression, as if she were nothing more than an ordinary woman with an indulgent fondness for children, especially for the friends of a dear motherless boy she had known and cared for from his infancy.

'Cwm Maethlon and Llyn Barfog, you said? Such a nice walk to take with your new friends. Plenty of time for your games there.' She smiled at Will, very sweetly, and added in her most motherly voice, 'Now, shall we be going? You have kept poor John and I waiting long enough as it stands -- you mustn't keep your uncle and aunt waiting as well.'

Part of Will's conscious mind was seething, utterly furious that she would dare to bring his Aunt Jen and Uncle David into this confrontation -- and in the same breath as she had mentioned her husband, at whom she had not so much as glanced even once this whole time. To think that he, the Sign-Seeker, had not known her for what she was from the start, right from the very moment he had first set foot in Wales...but whatever power had helped her or hindered him then was of no importance now. The deeper part of his mind, the part that had weighed the risk of stepping outside Time just long enough to uncover the White Rider's motivations, was warning him now that to continue the conversation any longer would be both futile and unsafe. He had to put his real plan into action.

'Then I suggest a compromise,' he said. 'Seeing as how we will have to be civil to one another for at least the rest of the evening, I propose that we both...take a step back.'

Blodwen Rowlands tilted her head, studying him with bird-like inquisitiveness. 'And how, pray tell, do you propose to do so?'

'For the next twenty-four hours, we agree to treat each other as we would in mortal life.' Will lifted his chin; this next part would be the most crucial of all. 'And to ensure that we will keep to our agreement, I will appeal to the High Magic to place a barrier of recognition between us.'

'A barrier of recognition?' Blodwen Rowlands stared at him, briefly incredulous, before she gave a ripple of scornful laughter. 'You expect me to agree to this?'

'You expect me to get into that car with you again without agreeing to this?' He gave her a look that was very little Old One and all teenage boy, thoroughly exasperated by the idiocy of adults. 'I will not tie the spell to anyone else, if that is what you fear. No one but ourselves will be affected when the barrier falls. And if nothing else, you must admit that it will save us both the trouble of pretending to enjoy each other's company.'

It was a risky proposition. They would both have to agree to the conditions for it to work, and even if it did work it would only postpone the inevitable confrontation. But he had seen such a barrier in place before, in a torch-lit hall deep beneath the ancient stone of Bird Rock, and he remembered how the Dark had taken advantage of its protections then as well. It would not be long before Bran was fully capable of wielding his true power -- and the White Rider, Will felt sure, would not want to face the Pendragon's wrath until Midsummer was well and truly upon them, when there would be no more time for games of any sort.

His guess was correct enough, for Blodwen Rowlands took no more than a moment to make her decision. 'Very well,' she declared, with lofty arrogance. 'I will be bound by the High Magic in this for a night and a day, and not a hair's breadth longer.'

Will smiled at her, coldly polite, and inclined his head in a small bow. 'Thank you...Mrs Rowlands.'

Her eyes narrowed at his use of her name. 'Make your appeal and be done with it, then. And as you do so, know that it will be among the last you ever make, for no cry to the High Magic will save you or your precious companions when our victory is sealed at the Midsummer Tree.' With that, she turned on her heel and strode back to the car, preparing to return to her place in the passenger's seat.

Will squared his shoulders, standing straight and tall in defiance of her words. But he quickly let go of his anger, and focused on emptying his mind of all thought of Blodwen Rowlands, and her mocking words, and the danger of the Dark before him. An appeal to the High Magic would take all of his concentration, and he could not let the White Rider's threats distract him from his task.

He turned his mind towards the memories of that night beneath of Bird Rock, and of the three robed lords who had been shielded from recognition by the High Magic's power. He knew now what spell that had been, and what would be required of him to cast it. As he traced the shape of that magic in his mind, he moved his lips in a soundless plea, calling upon to High Magic to hear his appeal for the promised night and a day. And as he felt the weight of his words settle around him, binding them both to his request, he let go of the spell that he had cast on himself, and he was falling backwards, back into Time --

-- and then he said heartily, 'Yes, that's right. Real tourist stuff. But I've never seen them either.'

'Lovely up there,' Mrs Rowlands said warmly. 'John had better drop you in the Square, you can all meet by the chapel.'


Notes

Upon re-reading Silver on the Tree a few years ago, I was struck by the thought that the scene in Tywyn with John and Blodwen Rowlands is told in very close perspective from Jane's point of view, and we as the audience don't have a clear idea of what prompts Will's hesitation. Certainly, as Jane seems to presume, he might have hesitated out of natural reluctance to give too many details to someone not involved in the upcoming battle between Light and Dark. But read in a different context -- one that is fully aware of what Blodwen Rowlands really is -- that hesitation takes on a much more sinister dimension. And from that point, this story turned into my attempt to work out the subsequent question: how on earth did Will Stanton and Blodwen Rowlands manage to go home in the same car together afterwards, as if nothing in the world was wrong?

Many thanks go to [personal profile] silveraspen for reading the draft of this story and offering thoughtful editorial remarks and suggestions...and for all of the fine brinksmanship with which she has challenged me over the years!

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genarti: Old book, with text "I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spie; old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I." ([tdir] i am fire-fretted)

From: [personal profile] genarti


:D :D :D :D

You write cold controlled layered confrontation so well, and this is excellent as ever. I always just assumed they were both pretending for all they were worth as part of the ongoing LA LA COVER IDENTITY AREN'T WE NORMAL HUMANS waiting game, but this idea of a barrier from the High Magic is very interesting indeed. Lets everybody marshal their strength without expending it on not visibly grinding their teeth the whole way home!
gramarye1971: a lone figure in silhouette against a blaze of white light (Fire on the Mountain)

From: [personal profile] gramarye1971


Ee, thank you! I suspect that they could have kept up the cover identities if they'd both set their minds to it. For all Jane knows, Will might just as easily have let the whole thing slide in the interests of not causing a scene, but with such a deliberate taunt it seemed highly possible that Will would not have wanted to let it go. (Considering how he flipped out when the Black Rider showed up and made a few vaguely threatening comments on Christmas morning, there's at least some precedent for it, even if Will had a bit more experience on his side this time.) So I'm glad it works out as a plausible confrontation scene...and the layers certainly made it that much more fun to write!
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