Without a villain, it’s very hard to have an epic fantasy. Talidd is definitely the villain of The Willow Branch.
He’s a mysterious character who lives out in a swamp in the present timeline. His residence is by choice. It attracts less attention if he seems to be marginalized. A master of fell magicks, his physical isolation presents no bar to his power as he reaches out across the aethyr to influence events and uses his journeymen and apprentices as pieces in a chess match that only he knows the purpose of. He’s cruel and punishing to his enemies and acolytes alike, but he feels a certain unhealthy affection for the very talented among his students.
In the end, however, Talidd has been at this game of kingdom destroying and king-making for a very long time. In fact, he is the only Celdryan to appear in both time lines. You get to figure out how and why. He will sacrifice whomever he needs to sacrifice in order to bring the True King to his bidding before those who oppose him can influence the unnamed king.
Talidd is extremely powerful, which is made clear by the end of The Willow Branch, but of course good overcomes evil in epic fantasy — right?
Tamys of Mulyn is a young soldier Padraig encounters in his travels and becomes curious about. He’s hard to pin down. We learn he’s from Mulyn and that he’s been dishonored — turned out of the warband with his clothes, a horse, his sword and … well, usually it’s two coppers, but in Tamys’ case, he seems to have some coin.
Is he noble-born? And what about his curious ability to guess at dice? Or to sense trouble coming a mile away … literally? He can read, he knows some Celdryan history …. Yes, Tamys is a mystery that requires solving.
The biggest question might be … could he be the One’s True King?
I don’t really have a main character in The Willow Branch. It is an ensemble cast of which Padraig is a central member.
A part-elven healer, Padraig has lived among the Kin, but was raised a Celdryan. This makes him uniquely qualified to seek the One’s True King — a mythic figure who is meant to mend the fractured kingdom of Celdrya and make an alliance with the Kin before an impending invasion destroys both peoples.
Padraig is attractive, well-mannered, trained in arms, educated, and has family connections among the nobility, but he himself is an herbman, a respected member of the peasantry. In other words, he has no power in the nobility. So if he can find the True King, he won’t have the ability to put him on the throne … or will he?
Padraig’s lack of personal ambition makes him the perfect candidate to be a kingmaker. He has no desire to rule himself, not even as a puppet master. He simply wants to do the One’s will and mend the kingdom.
Although an extremely compassionate and loving man, he is by no means perfect, and both his Kin sensitivities and noble upbringing sometimes cause him to judge his father’s people harshly.
Because the past and the present are connected in ways the book’s characters have forgotten, there’s a mystery involving Padraig that is not highlighted in the book. Readers who like mysteries are welcome to solve it and could win a copy of Mirklin Wood or a later book in the series if they do.
How are Donyl and Padraig connected?