A fantasy-romance restaging of the Tristan and Iseult standard: the spotlight here is on the magical excursions and earthy passions of Branwen, maid and confidante of the lusty queen. The Irish Queen Mairenn's pretty daughter Esseilte has a servant almost from birth--dark Branwen, the illegitimate daughter of Mairenn's heroic brother, the Morholt. Esseilte, who has a teen. ager's crush on her uncle, falls into a funk when the Morholt is killed in a battle with a strange knight. But when a severely wounded harpist is mysteriously washed ashore, Esseilte puts aside her gloom to play nurse. The harpist is, of course, Drustan, killer of the beloved Morholt. When he asks for Esseilte's hand, on behalf of King Marc'h of Kernow, her father accepts the offer but Esseilte leaves home with her new betrothed with revenge on her mind. Thinking she's poisoning Drustan and herself, she serves up a cocktail that's actually a love potion. Esseilte and Drustan jump each other, and Esseilte, no longer a virgin, convinces Branwen to fill in for her on her wedding night. Branwen's mystic powers connect with King Marc'h's--she is physically smitten and also crowned queen of the ancient powers of the land. As Drustan and Esseilte's story winds on to its well-known conclusion, Branwen is torn between her deep loyalty to silly Esseilte and her growing sense of her own destiny. Paxson is best when offering almost anthropological renditions of ancient Celtic ceremonies. But there's too much going on between Drustan and Esseilte's scheming, Marc'h's endless and vaguely explained military maneuvers, and Branwen's communion with other worldly spirits to sustain real dramatic tension. Readable but unexceptional.