Dog And Dragon – Snippet 05
“My name is Meb,” she said, clinging to a part of her youth.
“Mab?” It was said with a narrowing of the eyes. The sword came up a fraction and Meb wondered if the jump might be more pleasant. She had no idea if her untrained magical skill would work here.
It sounded as if “Mab” wasn’t too popular. “No. Meb. E not A. My real name is Anghared. But I like Meb more.” Really, she preferred Scrap.
This had some rather unexpected effects. The oddest was from the man who had tried to kill her — who was now pinned down by three burly men-at-arms: he started to laugh. Several of the soldiers knelt. The sword tip threatening her dropped. “I suppose you can prove that?” said the once-sleep-addled man facing her.
“What proof does she need, Medraut? She is a summonser, able to work in cursed Dun Tagoll itself!” shouted the man on the floor.
If looks were poison, the prisoner would have been dead instantly. “Take him away,” said the man called Medraut. “I ask you again, stranger. Who are you, dressed like that, in my outer chamber? How did you get here?”
Meb shrugged. The bleakness of despair was settling over her again. She’d assumed the magic would send her back to the place where she’d been drawn to Tasmarin from. She’d assumed that it would be a place she somehow recognized as home. In truth she hadn’t cared. She’d simply known it would mean banishment from all she knew and loved. However, innate caution instilled by dragonkind’s hatred of human magic stopped her going too far with explaining. It might be different here. But it might not. “I don’t know. I was in Arcady and then I was here. But I’ll go away if you don’t want me to be here. I think I just stopped you from being murdered in your sleep.” She gestured toward the prisoner being dragged from the room.
“It is almost as if she was sent to save you, Prince Medraut,” said one of the guards, wonderingly. “The door wardens are dead, the door unlocked…and had this stranger not given the alarm, Earl Alois would have killed you. Alois nearly killed her.”
Prince Medraut blinked. “You…you are the Defender?” and part of the tone said: Why me? But there was hope there too.
Meb wasn’t sure who “the Defender” was. But she was pretty sure that it wasn’t her, anyway.
“I don’t think so,” she said, exhaustion, doubt and misery warring in her breast. “I am just someone who is hungry and tired, and going to jump out of this window, if you try anything with that sword.”
The prince suddenly realized that he was holding a naked sword…and that she was on a window sill. He looked faintly embarrassed. “Your pardon, lady.”
How did he know she was a woman? With a cropped head, boy’s clothes and tight breastband, she’d passed for a boy for months and months. Well, said her inner voice — the sensible pragmatic voice that overrode village thought, and overrode daydreams too: maybe the name Anghared is a clue. That and the fact that, somehow, her hair seemed to have grown to waist length in the transition here. The clothes remained, of course.
The prince put the sword down, on the floor, as that was the only surface available to him. “We will have chambers and food prepared for you immediately. We are deeply honored by your presence and pray we have not caused you any offense.”
She’d trusted him more when he’d been pointing a sword at her. It must have showed in her face. But the soldiers sheathed their swords, and they at least appeared to believe him. “I swear by the House of Lyon that we mean you no harm, lady.”
Reluctantly Meb came down from the stone sill. She hadn’t liked falling last time, and it looked as if the rocks would get her before a merrow could. Besides, she might as well die well fed. What worse could happen to her than certain death?
She knew some answers to that one, too. But she allowed the guards to respectfully escort her away to a small withdrawing room, where a generous fire burned in the grate and the hangings were rich and old. There was a riven-oak table that must have weighed as much as ten stacks of stockfish, painstakingly smoothed and polished. It was set with two branches of good beeswax candles, with a chair that was more like a throne than the three-legged stool she’d have considered luxury a twelvemonth ago. The guards bowed. “The old queen would dine here, Lady Anghared. They will bring you food and wine, very soon,” said a grizzled captain, very respectfully.
If there was one thing that was really intimidating, Meb thought, it was all this respect. But she was hungry, as well as miserable and a little confused. Just where exactly was she? Somewhere called Dun Tagoll? A castle hanging above the sea. The place where she had come from as a baby, presumably, before being magically snatched away to Tasmarin, to a world that had become her own, that she’d loved and had given all to Finn and Díleas. So this must be her world. But, if she’d ever thought about it, she’d expected to return to a fishing village.
She’d never thought of herself as a castle kind of person. That was the place of alvar, after all.
It would seem that was not true here. These castle people were all human. She closed her eyes, and sat back in the chair, remembering. Remembering walking behind Finn in his ridiculous “notice me” lilac and canary-yellow silks and satins, juggling tasseled balls in the palace of the alvar at Alba, with its high arched roof, alv-lights and the butterflylike flitting of the courtiers, as she pretended to be dumb and tossed the balls.
Something landed in her hand. Instinctively she caught it. And the second, third and fourth. The sight of the balls, summoned out of nowhere was enough to prick her eyes with tears. Someone cleared their throat. There was an elderly man, in neat clothing, but plainly a servant by his mein, with a silver salver, a stemmed goblet, and a chased jug. He was staring, rather wide-eyed, at the juggling balls. At her. He suddenly realized she was looking at him. “Er. I have brought the wine, lady. May I pour for you?”
Meb set the balls down, carefully. They were as precious as…no, more precious than the rubies of the Prince of Alba. She’d helped Finn to salt the sea and the river with those. She smiled at the thought. The servitor thought she was smiling at him and smiled back tremulously. “We’re so glad to see you, lady. People were praying for your coming.”
It only got more complicated.
He poured wine, looked around quickly. “Don’t trust him, m’lady. The old king hated Medraut even when he was a little boy. And I changed the wine Aberinn poured in the cellar,” he said quietly.
Prince Medraut had dressed himself hastily, not waiting for his manservant to return from calling Cardun. There were few others he could trust in this place, but the chatelaine would lose her place and probably her life if he lost his position here.
The woman arrived, as he was attempting to dress his hair. “Pellas told me the story,” she said, taking over. “I think it is a trick, Medraut.” In public of course she gave him the honorifics he was due. In private…she was still his aunt. “One can’t be sure, yet, of course. But this is similar to the way Aberinn got rid of Regent Degen. The false feint and the death thrust, if you like.”
“It’s hard to see just what sort of death thrust a young woman could manage, Aunt. And the sea-window is restored.”
“There could be several ways a competent practitioner could arrange that,” said Cardun, who was far better at the theory of magic, even if her practice was feeble, for one of the house of Lyon. “The stones have the memory. Aberinn could set it up very easily. So could several others, but with the spells set to suppress magework within the castle, Aberinn is your principal suspect. And you know as well as I do that it is really his voice that stands behind the silence of lords. He is the reason the nobles’ houses do not call for you to become the king.”
Medraut sighed. His aunt was driven by that ambition. It had its attractions, but being the regent was quite adequate in this dying, riven kingdom. He just wanted to stay that, because the alternative was to lose his head to a successor regent. “I was there. If it was trickery, Cardun, she must be the greatest actress in the world. She might be this Defender, and in some ways that might a relief. And now, I’d better go. Some fool will have called Aberinn, and I’d rather be there when they meet.”