Dog And Dragon – Snippet 11
She stood up, and Neve held the mirror. She wasn’t sure she recognized the stranger in it. “Well. That will just have to do. What do we have for footwear, because I don’t think my water diviner’s boots will do, will they? They’re the best boots I’ve ever owned.”
Neve looked at them, critically. “They’re good boots. But, well, they look like, well…men’s wear. Lady Vivien — she sent the clothes and the combs with me, sent some lachet boots for you. They’re good boots.”
Meb tried them. “They’ll do. But they’re too narrow. I have wide feet. Finn said it was from going barefoot. He had to get the cordwainer to change his lasts to make them for me.”
Neve looked impressed. “Specially made just for you? This Finn, he was your father?”
“My master,” said Meb quietly. “I love him very much. But…”
Neve nodded understandingly, although Meb was absolutely sure she did not even start to understand. But Meb wasn’t going to try to explain. Instead she walked to the door. “Do you think I get to break my fast before going to see the mage? Or does he feed me on the bones of dead men?”
Neve shuddered. “I don’t know, m’lady. No one goes to his tower. I told you. I don’t know what is in there.”
Meb took a deep breath. “Time to find out, I suppose. Can you show me where I have to go?”
“Well, there’s an inner door, but it’s locked. I’ll have to take you into the courtyard.”
Meb let Neve lead her down the flagged passages and up the stone stairwell, onto the battlements and up the stair to the door of the mage’s tower. It faced the narrow causeway of land that linked the almost island of Dun Tagoll to the rest of the lands beyond. Meb looked out at those, across fields and forests toward the distant high fells tinged purple with blooming heather.
The door swung open abruptly, before she’d even gathered herself to knock. Neve squeaked and retreated behind Meb as Mage Aberinn loomed out at them. His beard, in daylight, was longer and less clean than she’d realized the night before. “I didn’t know I had sent for two of you,” he said curtly.
Meb knew she ought to be afraid, but instead, his manner just made her angry. “My mother told me not to go alone into strange towers with men I did not know,” she said coolly. Actually, Hallgerd had not ever quite said that, but variants of the same usually involving bushes, huts or fishing boats. And she hadn’t been too concerned about whether Meb knew the men or not. But it would do.
Aberinn raised his eyebrows. “Your mother. And who was your mother? Do you remember her?” he seemed to find that very important.
Meb remembered what Neve had said about not being able to lie to him. She thought…well, she should try it. “I ought to. I lived with her for seventeen years,” she said.
It seemed to take the wind out the mage’s sails a little. “Ah. Well, I suppose your reputation should be considered. Yes, bring her along.”
Neve looked as if she might faint in pure terror. “Me? I was just showing m’lady the way.” she squeaked.
“Just think what stories you’ll have to tell the others,” said Meb, smiling an unspoken “please” at her.
“Of course, she’ll do as she’s told,” said the mage, an edge coming back to his voice.
The fisherman’s daughter took a deep breath. “For you, m’lady.”
The first interior room of the tower, reached after climbing a short stair was rather a disappointment after all that. It was a large and comfortable room, with a fireplace, and a number of tables, and book- and equipment-filled shelves lining the walls. It was, unlike the magician’s beard, very tidy and ordered. No spider webs, no dust, no disorder. The tables were full of various items being worked on, but even the tools were set out in very precise neat rows, and components tended to be set out in what almost seemed geometric patterns. There were no dead men’s bones. In fact Meb couldn’t even see a thing made of anything that was not metal, let alone human remains. The nearest to “human” anything was a model — a very precise and carefully made model — of part of the castle. It was opened so she could see into the rooms, with every item in them exact. It looked like a child’s — a very rich child’s — dream dollhouse.
That was not to say that the room looked like anything but a magician’s workshop, because it did. The objects being worked on were strange. Some glowed with their own inner light. Odd clicking noises came from somewhere. And some things looked as if they might almost be alive. There was a bird in a gilded cage. A crow. Only it too was gilded, and appeared to be made entirely of metal.
Meb had seen dvergar artifice, and that was finer. But the magician was better than most humans at mechanical contrivance. She identified the source of least some of the clicking — a device with a series of globes suspended from thin brass rods. As it clicked, the globes moved. “What is it?”
“An orrery. It allows me to predict the positioning of certain celestial forces for my work,” said Aberinn. “It is essential for the Changer. Unfortunately I have found certain inaccuracies in the movement. There may be factors outside of my knowledge operating on the spheres.”
“How…how does it move?” Part of her was impelled by the peasant fisherman fear of the unknown, to not want to know, to fear the worst, to believe it demonic and evil. The other part of her mind was already imagining small imps on treadmills, or perhaps magical recitations of spells that would command it to move…
“Springs, counterweights, and various cogwheels. My magic is confined to working on things of a higher order,” he said, as if reading her mind. “But I asked you to come here to establish some of your own history.”
Which, thought Meb, I don’t think is a good idea to tell you too much about. But she smiled. “I will be glad to answer the questions of the High Mage of Lyonesse.” She wondered how much of alvar life in Tasmarin she could get him to swallow. Finn, gleemen and fishing villages seemed good subjects to avoid.
Oddly, she didn’t need to. His questions seemed designed to catch her out. To betray a knowledge of Dun Tagoll or the people and politics of Lyonesse. He asked about the view from home and the plants there. Meb was happy to describe the cliffs of Cliff Cove in loving detail. He asked about the rulers of Tasmarin. Meb didn’t think it necessary to point out that the dead Lord Zuamar and Prince Gywndar were a dragon and an alvar princeling. Or even that they were both now dead. And then someone came knocking on the door. In obvious irritation Aberinn went to open it. “What is it?” he asked the wide-eyed page.
“A message from Prince Medraut, high mage. The prisoner…Earl Alois, has escaped. Magic, the prince believes. And the woman has vanished from her chambers!”
Aberinn sighed. Shook his head. “The young lady — and her maid — are right here. And it was obvious Alois must have had some accomplices to get so close. This is not magic. It is treachery.” He sighed again. “Tell the prince I am coming. Send messages to the other Duns. He won’t get far on foot.”