Dog And Dragon – Snippet 10
“Him? No, m’lady. He’s scarcely noble enough to raise a magefire on his blade. Without Aberinn the wizard, Dun Tagoll would have nothing magical. You’d barely think the prince was of the old blood, but he’s good at turning troubles to his advantage, as they say.”
“Why?” asked Meb. “I mean why would you say you’d barely think he was of the old blood?”
The girl looked puzzled. “Because he has the magic, m’lady. Only the House of Lyon has that. That is why they rule.”
Men ruled. Meb shook her head. It was just so different to Tasmarin. And then the fact that magical ability marked the noble house. On Tasmarin the use of magic by a human would have got one killed. Here…It turned out that even the court magician was a royal by-blow. A very ancient and much feared by-blow.
“He’s awful, m’lady. Been here through three regents. They say he keeps dead men’s bones in that tower of his. It stinks enough, and no mortal ever gets in there to clean, unless it’s the prince himself sweeping the floor. You be very careful of him, m’lady. You can’t lie to him. He pounces on you the minute you offer him falsehood. He has the power. It’s his great engines that keep Lyonesse free.”
Meb avoided saying she didn’t think much of the freedom. “Engines of war? Great catapults?”
“Oh no. Magical engines. They defend us from the magics and the enchantress of Shadow Hall and her dead creatures. And it’s there the great engine of change is, m’lady. We hear it clanking, but it’s few who have seen it.”
That all left Meb none the wiser. Dead creatures and sorceresses were something they accepted as sort of normal here. So was magic by humans. Dragons were not. “So what’s this bit about the sons of the dragon? This prophecy?”
The girl looked at her, openmouthed. And then recited:
Till from the dark past, Defender comes,
and forests walk, the rocks talk,
till the mountain bows to the sea,
Till the window returns to the sea-wall of great Dun Tagoll,
beware, prince, beware, Mage Aberinn, mage need.
For only she can hold the sons of Dragon,
Or Lyonesse will be shredded and broken and burned.
Only she can banish the shades,
and find the bowl of kings.
Mage need, mage need.
“Er. So who are the sons of the Dragon?” asked Meb.
Neve shrugged. “It could be the Vanar — that’s who I think it is — in their dragon ships, or the Saxons under the white dragon banner or there are princes of the middle kingdoms who call themselves the sons of the dragons, whose banner is a red wyrm. No one knows. Not even Aberinn. They say he fitted and foamed at the mouth when he spoke the words.”
“I wish I could have seen that. I didn’t like him much. He had egg in his beard.”
Neve snickered. “My father says men with beards should only eat boiled eggs. Or have a wife to watch them.”
Someone knocked on the door. A sort of perfunctory knock…and pushed it. And then knocked harder. “Lady Anghared. Lady Anghared, are you within?” By the look of terror on Neve’s face it could only be the chatelaine. What was her name? Cardun. She was nearly enough to frighten Meb, and best on the far side of the door.
“Who is it?” said Meb, grabbing Neve’s arm as the girl wanted to run to the door.
“It is I. Lady Cardun,” said a chilly, haughty voice from outside.
“I am busy with my ablutions,” said Meb, very proud of that word. She’d heard it on their journeying, and had to ask Finn what it meant. And then she realized…it wasn’t the same word by shape or sound, coming out of her mouth. It was not the language she had spoken all her life. Neither was the rest of what she’d said. And in this language, Díleas actually meant “faithful.” How…how had she learned another language? Learned it as if she had spoken it all her life.
There was a moment’s silence from outside the door. “Do you need any assistance? A message has come that we are to take you to Mage Aberinn’s tower.”
Meb looked at the window. It was far too narrow. She touched her throat, and the hidden dragon that hung there, and courage came to her. “Thank you. But no. I have my tirewoman to attend to me. I shall be out, when I am finished,” she said, doing her best to sound like a spoiled alvar princess.
It must have worked. Cardun sounded slightly chastened. “The girl is new. Is she satisfactory? I could send some of my women…”
“She is exactly what I want, thank you. A perfect choice. I would like her to continue to attend to me,” said Meb trying not to laugh at Neve’s expression. “And now, I will need to finish washing and robing, if you do not mind.”
“Oh. Yes, my apologies,” said Cardun from outside the door, sounding as if the words would choke her.
It was a good thick door. Meb was at it, listening. No footsteps. Huh. She motioned Neve — who looked like she might just burst — to silence. She tiptoed back to the bed and poured water from the ewer into the basin. “Next time,” she said loudly, with a wink to Neve, “see the water is hotter.”
“Yes, m’lady,” said Neve. “Do you want me to fetch more?”
“No. Just remember in future,” said Meb, in what she hoped was a suitably long-suffering manner for a noblewoman, putting up with inferior service.
Meb washed, and went to see what clothes she had. And then she was truly glad of Neve, because she had absolutely no idea of how to put the garment on. The woolen cloth was fine-woven, and while, as far as she was concerned, gleeman colors were her colors, not this pale blue, and breeches were more practical than skirts, and anything was more practical than this dangly robe thing. It was still rather nice to have fine new cloth against her skin, though.
Neve brushed her hair. “How would you like it put up, m’lady?” she asked, nervously.
Meb had absolutely no idea. She had a feeling her fisherfolk plait and pin would not do. Anyway, she’d lost the wooden pin to the sea, before the merrow took her hair. And she was willing to bet Neve was not much of a hand at it either. She needed something like that combination of comb and hair clip the alvar women had used at the Alba soiree she and Finn had walked through disguised as elegant alvar butterflies. It was something that could look beautiful and keep the hair out of your eyes. She’d truly envied one. She recreated the filigree curlicues of it in her mind, thinking of the details.
It would appear she could summons small items to her; she marveled, looking at the intricate, ornate piece of silver in her hand. She hoped the alvar that had owned it would forgive her. She also hoped she wasn’t unbalancing things too much, as Finn said her magic did. She’d never understood that aspect of the black dragon’s work. She handed the pin-comb to the startled Neve. “It’s worn at an angle.” She shook her combed hair forward. “Slide it from the front, to pull the hair away from my face, and then slide the pin in, once the back corner is past my ear.”
Neve did. “Oh, it’s beautiful, m’lady,” she said, holding a mirror so that Meb could see. “But…but it’s not how it is done here.”
Meb looked closely at the reflection. Of course she’d remembered it perfectly, capturing the details in her mind’s eye. But she’d not really realized that it was filigree dragons — very Tasmarin alvar. The silver of them showed bright against her dark hair. Looking at Neve’s tight braids, here at least she was no longer the wavy-haired brunette among the straight yellow thatch heads of the fisherfolk of Cliff Cove or Tarport. “I am not from here. I don’t think I could pretend to be.”