This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Dog And Dragon – Snippet 27
The ice was black with them, and their chariots. They were drawn up under various banners — here a severed head, there a blood-dripping axe, and in the center, a large eye.
The floe cracked. It sounded like a whip crack, but right in her ear.
The Fomoire broke ranks and retreated with as much speed as possible.
It still wasn’t quick enough for some of them. The floe calved off the tongue and deposited half a dozen huge, black-cloaked warriors into the ocean with much bellowing and yelling.
And much cheering from the wall of Dun Tagoll.
That worked for the morning. But by the late afternoon, the chanting had returned, and the good work of the morning was being undone. Now the archers had begun firing at them. Only those capable of the longest of shots, true, but the Fomoire archers, bigger than the defenders of Dun Tagoll, had drawn mighty bows and were launching their heavy black-fletched arrows back at the defenders.
And the ice-making did not stop for darkness either. The chanting went on all night. By early morning, Meb could stand it no longer. She’d barely slept. She went out to see how close they were.
There were plenty of other women up already. In fact Meb wondered why she’d been left, until she was told that Neve was in the infirmary. “She’ll have been overlooked by the eye, lady,” said one of the other servants, fatefully. “By tonight we’ll all be dead of it, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Meb made her way across to the infirmary. Already the women were carrying wooden buckets, and ewers, and bowls and anything else that would hold water from the central well to higher points. The buildings within the outer wall were almost all thatched, and plainly fire was a threat. So they labored up from the well with water. Meb wondered why they didn’t take water from the worn rock-bowl next to the outer wall. That was still full and trickling its water into a clay pipe. But perhaps it was for some other purpose. It was a very scruffy spot in the otherwise tidy courtyard. There must be some reason it was ignored. The water was probably brackish or something. It would still put out fires, surely?
Neve was looking pale and wan, and had apparently been carried in from the battlements about midnight. “We’re going to die, m’lady. I shouldn’t have done it. But she told me I’d lose my p-place.” Tears streamed down her little face and Meb could get precious little sense out of her, or little comfort to her. Somehow she must use her magical skill to get rid of these attackers. She knew she still had the power that she’d wielded on Tasmarin, only…only most of the time there it had gone wrong. She’d had Finn to fix it for her. She actually really had no idea what she could do, or what she should do. She knew she was a summonser. She could call things to her. What would turn the Fomoire back? A dragon? A troop of centaurs? It sounded like everyone had reason to hate Lyonesse. She wouldn’t bet that that would not be true of anyone she summoned too.
So she went up to join the bucket teams. Like the men-at-arms, they were trying to stay out of direct sight of the Fomoire, but judging by the chanting, the ice bridge was not there yet. But the sky was slate-grey, and the sunlight through Aberinn’s devices would not help today. Meb bit her lip. Well, there was no point in hiding the axe under the bed at this stage. And she could summons it…but best to save that. She went and fetched it instead. It remained the most deadly sharp looking thing she’d ever seen. She imagined she might cut a hair, by dropping it on that blade.
No one questioned her taking it with her to where a row of women huddled below the stone and mortar on the inner bailey with their buckets.
After a little while Meb’s curiosity penetrated even her fear. The chanting seemed to have gotten far louder. She’d have to risk a peep soon. And then the idea stuck her: she had a perfect alvar-silver mirror in her hands. She held it up.
No wonder the chanting was louder. The Fomoire host was nearly at the least-steep edge of Dun Tagoll’s peninsula. The monstrous, shaggy warriors had their big ovoid shields up to protect their chanting mages from the arrows being fired from behind the battlements without looking over — with their errant aim, quite a few were landing in the water. And lined up on the chariots just behind them and under the huge eye banner was a row of gigantic, misshapen men…all with only one eye…staring at the walls, from behind their shields. Meb changed the angle of the alv axe a little more to get a better view of them. Saw one stagger and fall sideways off his chariot.
And then someone knocked the axe down. “What are you doing, woman?” demanded the man-at-arms.
“Using my axe as a mirror.”
“The evil eye will overlook you just as well in a mirror! Do you think it hasn’t been tried?”
“It’s as bad reflected as direct?” she asked.
“Yes, of course. Everyone knows that.”
It was like a candle in a great darkness. A bright spark, in dry idea-tinder.
Meb picked up the axe. The blade was bigger than her face…she held it in front of her face, and stuck her head up above the parapet. She couldn’t see anything. But she’d bet some Fomoire’s baleful eye was hurting. And she was rewarded by a reverberating groan from outside the walls. She was aware that the women — a mixture from both the bower and the kitchen just here — were staring at her. “Every one of you! Quick. Go fetch a looking glass. Any looking glass. Anything that reflects. We’ll give them their own back. Let them enjoy it.”
Women looked, gawped, and then began scrambling away to run down the stairs.
Within fifty heartbeats, mirrors — everything from ladies’ hand mirrors, with gold foil behind the glass, to polished pieces of copper sheet, to a shiny piece of plate — were being held up above the battlements. And even the chanting outside the walls had stopped.
Meb had to risk a peek. By the cheering from the walls of Dun Tagoll she wasn’t the only one. The chariots which had held their one-eyed starers were being hastily driven back, pushing through the mobs. The eye banner had fallen. There was chaos in the Fomoire ranks, and quite a number of their men were down, and now archers on the walls of Dun Tagoll began aiming their shots at the rest.
Meb saw Aberinn come out on the lower battlements. She could recognize him by the robe, but his head was encased in a glassy, spiked helmet of some kind. He took in what was happening. Took in the mirrors. Spoke to some people.
Soon he was up on the inner battlement himself. “This was your idea?” he asked Meb, with no pretense of ceremony or politeness.
“Yes. Someone said the evil eye affected you even if reflected…so I thought we’d give them their own back. It seems to have worked.”
“You are either cleverer, or more powerful, than I had realized.” He turned on his heel. “Sergeant. Get me four men-at-arms and carry that lens down to the tower. We’ll give them a mirror to avoid. I’ll tin one of the lenses.”
Even Meb’s dealing with the baleful eye did not stop the Fomoire mages. They were back by late that night. And by morning the Fomoire warriors were assaulting the walls. But now it was just warriors against walls. And gigantic though the Fomoire were, they were as scared of hot pitch, and as easily killed by a dropped rock, as the Angevins had been.
What wasn’t better was the sheer volume of warriors they had to fling at the task. Fomoire would climb dead Fomoire to get up those walls. If the sun shone in the mornings the mage’s lenses poured heat at the ice bridge. The Fomoire mages tried to build the ice bridges, and when the sun did not shine from the east, turned the cold of chanting onto the castle itself.
It was bitter. So was the siege. The part that Meb really didn’t understand was how it affected her. It seemed to have merely deepened the infighting among the women.
And Neve wasn’t dying. She just wasn’t getting much better either.