Elisius grinned at the dark girl and tried to sort out her own unruly hair. "I'm getting better," she commented, winding one curl round her finger.
"You certainly are," Replied the red-haired girl, sweeping her hand idly through the water and back again. "I was beginning to think you'd drowned."
"Oh, you have no faith in me, Morgawys. If I was drowning, I would make sure you knew of it. I won't go down without a fight."
"You never do," remarked the dark girl, letting her hair hang over her arm in a glossy cascade and watching the water slowly run out of it. "We will always know when you are in mortal peril, because we shall be able to hear your voice shouting insults from the other side of this land."
"Betsan, if you don't want to be in mortal peril yourself, you will save your mockery for somebody more deserving of it" smiled Elisius. The blonde girl was swimming over now, but as she neared them and opened her mouth to speak a cry reached their ears from halfway up the hill, where Sioned was almost tumbling down the path in her hurry to reach the girls in the lake.
"Elisius! Betsan! Elisius!" She panted when she was within earshot of them "Your father returns! Rhisiart is climbing the other side of the hill with all his men as I speak!"
"How far up the hill?" Asked Elisius, beginning to swim to the bank.
"Half-way by now- You must hurry!"
The four girls all made for the shingled bank, Elisius in the lead, running to the spot where she had left her clothes. She dressed and, not even waiting for the others, started to climb the hill.
They ran into the village just as the horses were coming into view. The crowd parted to let Elisius through, and she stood and stared at the rider of the huge black horse that rode slightly ahead of the others. He was not the tallest of men, but had huge shoulders, black hair and a short dark beard; he was every bit as muscular as the horse he rode on. His men jumped off and ran to greet their families, but he remained on his horse and scrutinised his only child for a moment. Elisius stood dutifully and looked him full in the face, waiting for some remark or statement; she recieved none. Rhisiart simply got off his horse and walked towards the house.
* * *
Rhisiart ate quietly, gazing moodily into the fire. Elisius sat opposite him, apparrently seeing no need to break the silence.