Dog And Dragon – Snippet 03
“Go on, Díleas. We might as well see just who they are and what they’re up to and cadge you a drink, panting dog,” said Fionn, prodding him with a toe.
Díleas dropped his head and looked warily…not at the advancing carts but at the trail in front of them. He gave a soft growl. So Fionn looked closer. It was a well concealed little trap, the clinker plates hiding the thing’s lair. The Silago wasn’t a particularly intelligent predator, but it didn’t need to be. All it did was to make a bit of a trail and lie in wait. Eventually something — if there was anything — would choose the easiest trail and walk into its maw, just as he nearly had. Half-rock, half-animal, it didn’t need to eat more than once every few years anyway. Fionn found a piece of glassy rock and tossed it at the clinker plates. They collapsed inwards and a segmented creature with long snapping jaws reared out, lashing about, looking for prey.
Fionn stepped back, Díleas had already neatly moved up against his side. And then the tossing Silago head sprouted an arrow shaft. And a second. Fionn paused, wondering if he should take refuge behind a rock spike. Any bow that could push an arrow hard enough to penetrate a Silago might even get an arrow into him.
The dark-skinned, white-haired man on the lead cart — with his recurved composite bow in hand, arrow on the string, and perky-eared dog growling from the seat beside him — was smiling though. A suspicious smile, but better than fear or anger, while he held that bow. And there were plainly others, because of that second arrow. “You ain’t one of the Beng,” he said, “because they don’t like dogs and they don’t walk on the ground. And they don’t like our bells or garlic. The question is who or what are you, stranger?”
Finn touched his hat. “Finn. I’m a gleeman. A traveling singer and jester. I juggle a bit too.”
The man didn’t put the bow down. “Not many inns or villages around here. Where are you from, gleeman? Abalach? Annvn? Carmarthen? Vanaheim? The Blessed Isles or…Lyonesse?”
Fionn was an expert on tone. Lyonesse was probably not a good place to be from. He’d been there. He’d been everywhere, once upon a time.
In front of him the Silago still thrashed about. “None of those, recently,” he said cheerfully. “A place called Tasmarin. Back there.”
“Didn’t know there were any Ways over there,” said the traveler.
“It’s rather new, and I don’t think it’s going to see much traffic, judging by this charming countryside,” said Fionn waving at the ash lands. “And anyway, Tasmarin is quite full of dragons. They’re not overly friendly.” The Silago was threshing rather more weakly now. Fionn could simply have jumped over it, but not if he wished them to believe he was human. He slowly, calmly, reached into his pouch, took out three balls and began to juggle one handed. He’d found it very good for distraction and misleading before. And those little balls were made of osmium, both a lot harder and heavier than observers might guess. Fionn could throw them fast enough to knock an armored knight out of the saddle. “To tell the truth I am a little lost. And my dog could use a drink.”
The cartman smiled again. “I think we could probably sell you some water. And the road should see you to Annvn, if you stick to it. You’ll have to wait until the Beng-child is dead, though. They usually put themselves in the middle of the only safe path. It’s surprising you got this far.” His tone said that alone was reason for not putting aside his bow, just yet.
Fionn shrugged, not stopping his juggling. It was good for hypnosis too. “The dog is good at finding safe ways.”
“I like his footwear,” said the cartman.
“Worn by all the best dogs in the capitals of many great lands. It also keeps his feet from being cut up. Purely as a secondary thing, you understand,” said Fionn. He pointed to the Silago. “It’s dying, whatever it is.” There was no point in admitting to knowing too much.
“Give it a little more time, gleeman. Even half-dead, the Beng-child will have your arm off, and might scratch the dog’s boots. When it’s dead we’ll have the jaws off it. They’ll fetch a good price where we’re headed.”
Fionn nodded patiently, which was more than Díleas was showing signs of. “Where did you say you are bound for?”
“Annvn. Well, if it’s there. You never know these days.”
Fionn raised an eyebrow. “And where else might it be?” He was a planomancer. There was a logical consistency to where the various planes of existence interlocked. It was not variable. The multidimensionality and subplanes of it all meant it was more complex than a mere three-dimensional ring would be. It was possible that points of departure and arrival could be geographically close. But until Tasmarin had opened up a way to multiple planes, one link point did not lead you elsewhere. Had Tasmarin changed it all?
“Last time we took the giant’s road we found ourselves in Lyonesse. If that happens we’ll head back,” he said, putting the bow aside, and getting down from the cart. He pulled a long metal stake and a hammer from the cart. Looked for a crack, found one and hammered it in. “How far to this Tasmarin place?” he said casually, in an I-am-not-fishing-for-information tone.
Fionn was amused, and used to human ways. “Not far. I could tell you in some detail…in exchange for a drink for my dog.”
“Ah, you’re a sharp one,” said the cartman, grinning. “Worth a trading venture?”
“Probably,” said Fionn. “What are you selling?”
“Things which are exotic in one place and cheap in another. Peacock feathers and pepper, bottles of mermaids’ tears, amber, narwhal ivory, and carved walrus tusks this trip.”
“I’d say pepper would sell.” It was a game, and Fionn played it well.
“Ah. One of those places,” said the traveler. “Magic, and the creatures of it are more common than pepper. Hey, Nikos, Dravko. The Beng-child is ready for you to butcher the jaws out of. You might as well come across, stranger.”
Fionn could see things they could not. The Silago was not dead. He patted Díleas. “The dog thinks it is faking, mister. And he’s a sharp dog.” He caught all the juggling balls in one hand, and picked up another rock and flung it at the open jaws, which snapped closed viciously and sent splinters of rock flying.
The white-haired man looked very thoughtful indeed. “Sharp dog he is. And earned himself a drink, I’d say, gleeman. Maybe worth asking you about the way across to this place.”
“I made marks.” He had. With a talon. They were not intended as trail markers but they could work as that without undoing his purpose. Energies needed to flow, and the travelers could be vehicles for that. Travelers tended to be a cunning lot though. Over the years he’d known and journeyed with a fair number of these sort of folk, too many to believe them to be easily fooled or used without them knowing.