Fog sashes the waists of trees in the dark valley—massive, primeval trees with thick interlocking boughs through which moonlight splashes. A small company of riders moves hurriedly in the diffuse light, clinging to the slender necks of their ponies. Leaf litter of a thousand summers muffles their nimble hoof-falls, and they flow along wide avenues between the trees in fleet, watery shadows.
At their lead, Ygrane, the thirteen-year-old queen of the Celts, streams white veils behind her, a wraith flying through the moony air. Her bare-chested male companions, swords strapped across their shoulders, follow vigilantly, the wind of their flight brushing back long hair and thick mustaches. They wear leather footgear, buckskin trousers, and the gold throat bands that identify them as the queen’s guard, the fiana.
Their destination is close by, a tarn where dragon-heat percolates and where, at the full of the moon, a branch of the Great Tree touches earth. The queen intends to climb the Tree.
But the priests-with-sight cannot see into the Tree, and what they cannot see, they cannot control. The Druids—both seers and politicians—will not relinquish control of their queen and her fanatic followers. The power has belonged to the ruling class of Druids for centuries, and they are not about to squander it on an unpredictable child-sorceress.
So they have forbidden her to climb—and they have found for her a husband to keep her carefully bound to earth, a Roman, or at least what has passed for Roman out here in the farthest-flung outpost of the fallen empire. She will not climb into the netherlands beyond the sight. The patriarchal Druids are determined. And, if her defiance persists, the question of her authority will be answered by Kyner’s blade
Death cannot daunt this queen. She herself has the sight—and more. She knows the mysteries of talismanic magic. She remembers them from her former life. If her assault on heaven fails this time, if Kyner’s sword cuts her lifeknot, she will return. She will try again..
[From The Dragon and the Unicorn]