Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 24
Lyr was at one with the grove of aspens on the slopes above the alvar city. She’d come in response to message from her worshipers that the human they sought was in the slum outside the city, that they were just trying to locate her precisely. This sort of thing was why her kind had made an alliance with the flame-creatures. The sprite-gestalt did not deal well with humans or their values. She understood theft. Just not how to make humans to do it. She tended toward a different style of attack — but it was a large, fortified city.
When the earth shook, it uprooted some trees. Shook her from her bed. The sprites were more attuned to growing things than the rock, but she felt the wave of force that reverberated along the white road.
She had not expected Haborym’s gang of renegades to strike yet. But surely only moving the treasure of the water-people could cause such a thing? Haborym had suspected the treasure to be hedged in enchantments. Well, they knew that the alvar had protected against the fire-beings. But the alvar always had an arrangement with the sprites. They believed they had a special bond.
If they wished to believe that, the tree-people would not gainsay them.
She watched with cool green eyes. She disliked the fire they kindled, but it did look as if the merrow treasure had been successfully stolen, if not successfully replaced. Well, the latter didn’t matter to her. Haborym was far better at sneaking and deception in his shallow sort of way. The sprites were not fooled. But now she could hand the hunt for the female human magic-conduit over to him.
She would check first, of course. Her kind were thorough.
At first light the patrols of alvar were pouring out of the white city like ants. Some — it would appear — had been dispatched last night to blockade the roads. Now more were marching or riding post haste in various directions. The theft had certainly disturbed them . . . well, that and the earthquake that it must have been the cause of. She hoped the thieves had got away with it. It would be much more difficult to do it twice, she thought.
She made her way down from the aspens to the checkpoint on the shattered road below. A part of the ridge had fallen across it, and a few travelers were being turned back already. The alvar were allowing foot-patrols to pick their way across the landslip. Horsemen were looking for another route. That was the problem with good roads, the sprite reflected. They’d become reliant on them. She could go wherever the trees grew. Her natural affinity was to the tall, slim birches or aspens. Others had different affinities. But not here. The others were lost and far away.
The alvar were all so susceptible. She smiled in the way that she knew would have the guards mesmerized. “And what has happened here?” she asked.
The alv guard bowed respectfully. “Lady of the forests, there has been a robbery. A terrible theft. It appears that the thieves took advantage of this disaster to loot the noble Prince Gywndar’s treasure. That’s humans for you. Always take advantage of someone else’s misfortunes.”
“It is to be hoped that you can catch them,” she said turning away.
“Oh, we will. If we have to scour every inch of Yenfar . . . The prince has sent word to the Dragon Zuamar too,” said the guard. “I hope you’re happy for winter here, Lady. The road is not going to be passable for months, and once the snow comes . . .”
The dragon was as unwelcome news as the other had been good. Dragons were very sensitive to fire-beings, and not susceptible to the beauty of sprites. Actually, they had been known to set them alight.
Was nothing ever straightforward? That was why the sprites liked to avoid dealing with the other species. The disorganized creatures had their own desires which ran counter to the only right way. She sent word to her sisters. The news would pass from tree to tree all the way to the coast. There a Lyr would be obliged to take to a boat. The sisterhood disliked that. Firstly, boats were made of killed wood. And secondly the motion made sprites feel unwell. It was one of the reasons the sprites disliked the salt-sea. But Haborym would get the news and come to Yenfar, and capture the human. And the sprites could have their reward.
She did not think the fire-being understood what they were asking for as the price of their help. That was a good thing. Of course the creatures of smokeless flame were trying to deceive and cheat too. But that was expected of them.
Lyr was not worried by the damage to the road. She could, and would prefer to move through the forests, and to be away before the snows fell, if she was not too late already.
Zuamar turned across the great bay, making the first of a series of turns that would take him back to his eyrie. In his fury at the loss of some of his gold, he had been forced off his mountain, away from his hoard and the contemplation of the beauty of it, and out onto the wing. Into conflict and conquest. It had, overall, been a good thing, he decided. Yes, there was talk of the end of the world. There always was, and always had been. He’d paid that little black wyrm no particular attention then, and had no intention of changing that. But the situation had become stratified, stuck in the pattern and balance they’d all assumed in the early days when there had been a need for that stability.
By the very nature of the places that Tasmarin had taken to be a part of itself, it was a world principally of seas and islands. The places at which the planes of existence had linked had often been either mountains, or wild coastlines. It had been something to do with the energy configuration of those places, he believed. There were islands beyond counting. In his flights he had become aware that while the Dragons had taken roost on the great islands, with the size of the island being more or less proportionate to the size of the dragon, there were many islands out there. The alvar and the humans had generally clustered for protection under their dragon (to protect them from others), since anything without a protector was fair game. Yet . . . there were still a lot more islands out there. And as time had passed and dragons had done less raiding, more and more of the kine were living on those smaller islands . . . with no overlords. Yes, younger dragons had carved out holdings for themselves on some of them. The islands were technically subject to the nearest dragon-lord. They were relatively small and poor, these places. Yet, there were many of them. There was a profit there. And a danger. It was time they were thinned out. He had enjoyed starting that work.
Zuamar was somewhat surprised to see an alvar and his horse at his lower gate. He was of course, instinctively suspicious as to why anyone would come this close. But the alvar was waiting in the open, a respectful distance from the cave. He had kindled a small fire . . . less respectful perhaps, but an indication that he’d been there a while. There was a doorbell of sorts, there. A messenger. Perhaps they’d caught some of the miscreants. That would be pleasing.
The alvar bowed low. “Lord Zuamar. My prince sends word that he has need of your aid.”
That was not what he wanted to hear.
The alvar messenger continued. “The royal treasury of our great city has been robbed. Much treasure was taken, including a magical relic we had custody of. We are searching for raiders.”
Zuamar’s eyes narrowed. There was a pattern here. He just had to see what it was. Robbery and raiding were still commonplace things. But thieves did not raid the rich and powerful. They did not attack the tax halls of dragons. They avoided the treasure halls of princes. The weak and defenseless were the target . . . although to gain greater wealth the richer were more lucrative.
He was one of greatest of dragons. Yenfar one of the largest and most wealth-generating of islands, only rivaled, really, by the smaller fertile islands around the great sunken Caldera to the South — but those had never been popular with the alvar. They loved the high mountains. Thus Prince Gywndar was one of the most powerful of princes among the alvar.
Only a very avaricious, brave thief . . . or possibly, a powerful foe would dare to raid here.
Or was someone tweaking their beards on purpose?