Dog And Dragon – Snippet 04
“Ah. It’s a sharp master too. A wonder you don’t cut yourself, gleeman. Nikos, come and give the Beng-creature a good poke with that black iron spear of yours.”
Someone knew — or had known — a great deal about demondim and the few creatures that survived just what they had made of their worlds, thought Fionn, looking at the spear in the next swarthy man’s grasp.
It wasn’t iron-edged and had a fair weight of magework about it. Antimony might not be the ideal metal for edging anything, but it was deadly toxic to the silicate sulphur of the Silago.
Soon Fionn and Díleas were able to pass the two traveler men cutting at the dead Silago. The dog on the seat of the lead cart growled and bristled. “Hear now, Mitzi. That’s no way to greet a dog with smart red boots,” said the lead cartman. Díleas was studiously ignoring her. The cart driver got down, and tapped some water out of a small keg into a bowl. Held it out to Fionn. “Here, gleeman. Best if your dog drinks a little way from Mitzi. It’s her bowl.”
Fionn gave a little bow. “Thank you, goodman. This place was hotter than we expected. Dustier too.”
“Ah well, you’ve a fair distance to travel in it. Best to be prepared. My name is Arvan, gleeman. I only look like a good man.”
“Call me Finn. Most do,” said Fionn, taking the water and setting it on the ground. He noticed the watchfulness of the lead cart driver. The watchfulness of the dogs on the seats of the other eleven carts. The fact that they had at least two other men hidden in them, and they weren’t watching him or Díleas. The water smelled all right, wasn’t bespelled…Díleas sniffed it too, and then drank with a great deal of tongue splashing. He had needed that. Well, he was wearing a good thick coat of black and white fur.
“And now, Finn, if you’d tell me a bit about this Tasmarin place, I could offer you a mug of beer,” said Arvan. Fionn knew the name was a small part of the traveler’s true name, which suggested that the travelers knew of the importance of those too. Well, they did accumulate knowledge or fail to survive.
“It’s an hour’s walk from here. See the double smoking peak? Bear just left of that. You’ll find this symbol scratched on the rock here and there.” Fionn scratched it with his toe in the dust. “There is a narrow white bridge that you will have to cross. Not much room for a cart on it. And the dragons on the other side are fond of gold, so I’d take care to appear poor.”
“Oh, we are,” said Arvan, tapping Fionn a small flagon of beer. It was good beer.
“They can smell gold at twenty paces,” said Fionn, who could smell theirs, above the beer. It was under the front end of the cart. Probably a hidden panel or something.
“Ah. There haven’t been many around for a while. People wondered where they’d got to. Some of us wanted to know.”
“There, that’s where,” said Fionn.
The jaw cutters had finished their work by now, and they carried them back to the causeway and roped them onto the back of the cart, still dripping black ichor. The little caravan set off again, Fionn and Díleas walking alongside the lead cart. It was, it appeared by Díleas’s behavior, the direction they needed to go.
A mile or so later the causeway was interrupted by what might have been called a river, if rivers boiled, and did not run with anything anyone could have called water, although scalding water diluted it. It ran through a fresh fracture in the dolerite, and the steam reeked of brimstone and the almond smell of cyanides. Arvan scratched his head. “That’s a new one.”
Fionn tried to work out the least obtrusive way of changing the situation. Energy and fire magic abounded here. There was even an ancient water pattern. The place had been verdant once. A tweak here and there…But it would all take time, and by the way that fool-of-a-very-clever sheepdog was pacing back and forth and bunching his muscles, he would try jumping soon.
The beautiful crone-enchantress, the queen of Shadow Hall, stared vengefully at her seeing-basin. Dun Tagoll — dark stone towers silhouetted against the moonlit sea — seemed to stare back at her. He’d protected it as well as he was able, and she could see no further into the castle on the cliff top. She had stared at it, the same way, for over fifty years now. Eventually, she would win. A few hours earlier she’d felt a surge of magical energy, and wondered if he’d finally died. But no, the tower still resisted her vision — it would not if he was dead, she was sure. So, the fight must continue. She was busy mustering her forces, yet again. She worked with her unwitting allies’ fears, and she had the Cauldron of Gwalar. It brewed and bubbled now. Soon she would cast pieces of yet another dead hero in the seethe of it. They had to be boiled apart, or at least finely diced, before she could reassemble them and reanimate them. And then dispatch them…to whichever of the nineteen worlds Lyonesse would try to leech off this time.
She stared at the image in the seeing-basin. The tallest tower and its highest window. There was a light there. He would be working away, creating falsehoods and illusions. Working on his simulacra and devices. Bah. Machinery. She had been fascinated by it once, the cogs and springs and the mechanisms for harnessing the tides themselves. The smell of oil, and magic…
He was not a summonser, but one who worked inanimate things and the laws of contagion and sympathy. She used that, but drew on higher powers too. The powers of life…and death. She learned as much of his craft as she could, of course. In those days Dun Tagoll had been the place to learn and to practice magecraft. He’d stopped that. He didn’t like competition.
To think she’d loved him once. Trusted him with their secret. Sworn eternal faith to each other and their secret. Dreamed that some day…She spat into seeing-basin, shattering the image.
Death would take him one day.
And it could not be a day too soon for her.
In the meanwhile she had to finish the warrior in her cauldron. And then get onto making more muryans. Shadow Hall would have to walk again, to follow Lyonesse, to raise war and chaos and foes against it. She followed Lyonesse’s progression across myriad leagues and subplanes in her palace of shadows.
Her hall moved. It did so on tiny ant feet. Many, many ant feet.