Dog And Dragon – Snippet 06
Few guards were courageous enough to go and disturb the mage in his tower, no matter what had happened. And thus the guard sought his peculiar out, telling her the story.
Vivien was just as afraid of Mage Aberinn. And she had even more reason to be afraid, for with Aberinn, that which she knew, was worse than the guards’ imaginings. Part of her hoped, though, that what the man-at-arms said was true.
She went to the tower. Knocked on the heavy door.
It opened by itself. He liked those sorts of small displays of power. He was sitting at his workbench…but he had been waiting, she was sure. “So Prince Medraut is dead. And they sent you to tell me. There are no secrets in Dun Tagoll,” he said, smiling his humorless smile.
“No. Prince Medraut is alive. The Defender has come! The first part of the prophecy…”
“What?” He stood up, disturbing the model he had been at work on. “The royal chamber…”
“The sea-window is back. And a young woman calling herself Anghared has saved Prince Medraut.”
“Anghared! Who would dare use a name like that? Don’t tell me — our all too clever manipulative regent. The commons will assume that the royal names are worn by the royal house,” he walked to the door, shooing her out in front of him, like a hen. “What has happened to her?”
“They’ve taken her to the old queen’s withdrawing room. They fetch her food and drink. She said she was hungry.”
“I’d better see this convenient miracle,” said the mage. “A neat ploy by Medraut. I wonder if she has any real skills? You are to watch and befriend her.”
“But the queen’s window…” protested Vivien.
“A trick that could easily enough be done…once. She could even merely spring the spell, without any skill herself.”
There was a sound from the doorway and the servitor straightened up, bowed, as Prince Medraut entered with another man in once-white robes and a beard that he should have washed after eating egg, and of course the obligatory couple of guards. Meb sipped the wine. If this was good wine…she’d had worse in her travels with Finn. But not much worse.
More servants came in, carrying platters. It did look something of a feast.
Medraut bowed his head politely. “Ah, Lady Anghared. May I introduce myself more formally. I am Prince Medraut ap Corrin, Earl of Telas, and Prince Regent of Greater Lyonesse. And this is our court magician, Aberinn. I trust you are enjoying your wine?”
Meb had always been a poor hand at lying. So she stuck to a nod and a smile.
“Allow me to cut you a piece of this bird,” he said, slicing into what appeared to be a plump roasted pheasant and placing it on the trencher that another servant had set before her. Meb knew it was a high honor to be served with choice portions cut by the lord of the hall, with his own dagger. And besides she wasn’t sure she still had one to eat with. Mostly a rough hand-carved wooden spoon would have done for the pottage of most inns and a fingers and knife for the meat they might have grilled on the way. Here…there were platters and silver salts.
They were watching her rather carefully. She picked up the slice of breast and ate…
It wasn’t pheasant. It wasn’t even bird. It was bread. And stale, at that. Fortunately, she eaten a fair amount of that in her time. The pickings as a gleeman’s apprentice had often been slim, but they were still better than they’d been growing up in Cliff Cove. There was always enough fish, of course. But bread was quite a luxury at times, and a girl-child often got the stale crusts. She washed it down with some wine.
The magician and prince relaxed visibly.
“If we might ask, lady, where did you come from?” said the magician.
There seemed no harm in telling him. “A place called Tasmarin.”
They looked blank at the name.
“Ah. A far off realm, no doubt?” said the prince.
Meb was tired. The stale bread was better than nothing, as was the sour wine. But her stomach, and temper, were set up for more. “How would I know? I don’t even really know where I am now.”
“You are in the Kingdom of Lyonesse, in the great fortress of Dun Tagoll, the crowning-place of the Kings of the West,” intoned the magician as if reciting a poem.
“Never heard of it, I am afraid,” said Meb with a yawn.
“Er. Perhaps more wine. Some of these little cakes?” asked Prince Medraut, into the awkward silence.
She had no doubt now, that those too would turn into stale bread. “No, thank you,” she said curtly. “Why are you doing all this?”
The two looked at each other. “Because it was foretold that the return of the sea-window would come with the guardian against the sons of the Dragon,” said Prince Medraut.
Meb decided not to tell them that Tasmarin was a place ruled by dragons, or just how she felt about a specific dragon. “What do you mean ‘the return of the sea-window’?”
The magician shrugged. “There has not been a window in the antechamber since Queen Gwenhwyfach leapt from it with her baby son. She was the greatest of the summonsers, a powerful mage and much loved. The king was heartbroken, and had the window walled up. The masons closed it off, and then, when that was not enough for the king, they knocked out part of the wall, tore out the lintel and the sill, and built it again so there was no trace of the window.”
“Oh.” It seemed a very inadequate response. But Meb couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she sipped her wine, and thought about it instead. She didn’t want to tell them that their prophecy was wildly inaccurate and the window, she now realized, had been something she needed to escape through, and that the magic of the dvergar artifact on her neck obviously still amplified her own magical skills, even here, far from Tasmarin. She didn’t want it! A hand went to her throat. And then Finn’s words about the dragon necklace with its wood-opal eyes came back to her. It wouldn’t stay lost, not even if she buried it or threw it into the sea. And would it be better used by the likes of either of these two men? She already trusted neither.
Someone knocked on the door. It was a warrior, in a dripping cloak. “Prince Medraut. The enemy have been sighted from Dun Argol. They look a great host, burning and plundering as they come.”
The prince tugged his hair. Sighed. “M’lady. We will talk further, later. I must consult with my war leaders and wizards. The women will come to escort you to your chamber. You have not come at a time of peace, I am afraid.”
It looked more like she’d come at a time of murder, war and conspiracy. She sipped the wine. Looked at the “feast” she had largely ignored. Out of the corner of her eye she realized the far items looked like hunks of bread. So she turned her head. Yes…on the periphery of vision it was all various shaped lumps of coarse bread. She had to wonder why, and about the wine.
Was this what they had? Was it just for her? She hoped it was the latter, if they were facing war and probably siege. So…this was where she’d come from as a baby, was it?
It made Cliff Cove seem quite attractive.
A stiff-looking matron came in, her washed-out blonde hair done up in tight coiled braids and disapproval written on every line of her plump face. She had plenty to write the disapproval onto, but the application of powder and paint plastered over some of it. She looked Meb up and down as if examining a side of stockfish from a not-very-reputable dealer. “You are the Lady Anghared?” she said in a chilly voice. “Lady” was definitely questionable. “I am the Lady Cardun, the Chatelaine of Dun Tagoll. I was told that you would require a bedchamber and water and suitable attire.”
Given the matron’s attitude, it was clear she felt Meb should be sleeping in the attic on a straw pallet with three others and a lot more fleas, and given a kitchen trull’s castoffs. Meb had already begun to think she might be better off leaving, even via the window that had once been blocked off, no matter the sharp rocks below. Maybe her face showed it, because one of the two women in the chatelaine’s wake, the one with the spare, lined face smiled sympathetically at her, and said in a quiet, much kinder voice. “Oh, Lady Cardun, she looks about to fall over. And so young too. Come, child. We’ll see you safely bestowed.”
Obediently Meb stood up. Tears pricked at her eyes. She hadn’t had much female sympathy, or company, since the raiders had destroyed her home. And even there…she’d been an outsider. “Thank you,” she said gruffly. “I am very tired. It’s been a long and awful day.”
“With Prince Medraut and Mage Aberinn at the end of it,” said the sympathetic one.