Dog And Dragon – Snippet 22
Meb knew that from Finn’s talk of other planes. She supposed that was what was meant. “Yes.”
“Well, back in the time of King Diarmid, the magic of Lyonesse grew much weaker. Magic flows in across the Ways. The king and his mages built a device, a magical device, that moves Lyonesse around the Ways. When we move, our magework is refreshed. It takes a great deal of power, and so the device was harnessed to the tide in caves beneath Dun Tagoll. It stores power from every tide, but it takes a full tide, usually the equinoctial tide to do the change.”
“These enemies outside…are they from these other places?” asked Meb, a light beginning to dawn.
“Of course,” said Vivien. “Yes…I suppose you wouldn’t know. They come storming in across the Ways to attack and ravage. It wasn’t always like that, of course. When we had a king…and then it took a while for them to realize we were unprotected. The mage says the sorceress of Shadow Hall has turned them against us. But it could as easily have been the raiding.”
Meb did not need that explained to her. And to be honest she could understand and sympathize with the army out there. Lyonesse had come and drained out their magical energy…and Lyonesse’s raiders had gone out, and come running back to a land that the victims could not attack to punish. No wonder Lyonesse had no friends. She said as much.
Lady Vivien nodded. “King Geoph forbade the raids, but there were always some. But this land was also a refuge. Defeated tribes, persecuted people. They knew they could find shelter and safety here. The other lands hate us for that too. Then when the invasions began…well, Prince Medraut began counterraids. We needed the food. They burned the fields and ran off our kine and sheep.”
And now they were left with a situation where everyone hated their guts, wanted to kill them, and they still could not farm, and had to eat ensorcelled scraps or rob their neighbors, thought Meb. And I promised to help them. I thought taking on the dragon Zuamar was crazy. This is worse. And they don’t even seem to see it will just gets worse, every time.
There was another shudder, and a hollow boom, as a trebuchet-flung rock struck the castle…and a spectacular flash of violet light through the high window, and distant boom. It didn’t rattle the walls but she felt that it should have. All the women took cover, diving down next to Meb’s bed.
“What was that?” asked Vivien.
Meb managed not to say “how should I know?” but instead, “Maybe we need to find out?”
“Could we leave the axe?” asked Vivien, beginning to recover her calm. “I think we’d hear the call to arms if they’d breached the walls.”
So the axe was placed under the bed again, and they went out. It seemed a fair number of others were doing the same thing. There were definitely no vast crowds of fighting men, or even the sounds of battle.
They went up a flight of stairs to be met by a bemused guard. “The stone,” he said. “It flew back.”
“What do you mean?” asked Vivien.
“They threw a stone at us with that big trebuchet of theirs. And it flew back from the castle with a big purple flash. Go and have a look.”
Peering over the battlements, Meb could see the enemy encampment on the headland short of the narrow causeway to the castle on its peninsula. The camp had probably been set up in good order. Right now it was in chaos, with that chaos centered around the huge, smashed wooden structure of the trebuchet and the plowed-up remains of tents beyond.
There were three other large trebuchets…but no one was near them. They were all — along with half the camp — plainly damaged by flying shards. The foe’s engineers were busy seeing just how far from the camp they could get, and the soldiery looked to be, in part, joining them and, in part, under their knights’ orders, trying to stop them.
Somewhere on the wall of Dun Tagoll, a cheer started.
Meb was walking back, deep in thought, when she came, abruptly, on Mage Aberinn. He stared narrow-eyed at her. “A word, young woman.” He looked at the other two women. “Here in the courtyard. So you do not need a chaperone.”
Meb didn’t know how to avoid this so she walked a little way with the mage. “Did you interfere in some way with my working?” he asked abruptly.
“I wouldn’t know how. I didn’t even know you were doing anything. What am I supposed to have done?” asked Meb, alarmed by the ferocity of his tone.
He seemed mollified by hers. “I had built a device to mirror back the energy of their projectiles. To return them.”
“But it worked, didn’t it?” said Meb, puzzled.
“Yes, it worked. It worked far too well, with far more power than such a working could harness. Not since King Diarmid has such a thing been reported.”
“Well, it had nothing to do with me! Ask the others. We hid behind the bed when it happened.”
He sucked his teeth. “I do not like or trust this. Or you.” And he turned on his heel and walked off without another word.
In the Shadow Hall, the queen stared at the viewing bowl. Where had Aberinn acquired such power? Lyonesse had been crumbling, slowly. Onslaught after onslaught it had lost more men, lost more ground. Once it had taken troops months to fight their way anywhere near Dun Tagoll. Now the borders were unguarded. West Lyonesse had become, effectively, a few fortresses along the seaboard, hated by its neighbors, with even the peasantry turning from their Lyon overlords.
Even if magically he had barely remained able to hold her out of the castle itself, it was failing.
Nothing was simple or quick. She’d learned that. And now to add to her irritation, the muryans had brought her hall too far while she had slept. So many years of working her magic on them, and they’d never been less than precise before, and right now she was not in the deep ravines of Ys, but somewhere near a noisome town in the lowlands.
She had her cauldron-men to send out. With the colors of Lyonesse flying at their head they’d go raiding and pillaging and burning for her. But was there any point in doing it here? The great Changer would not open these Ways this time. She knew its pattern. Aberinn had never guessed that.
Meb knew her curiosity about the Changer would have to wait. She’d done some subtle questioning and the answer to what it was and how it worked was simply that the women of Dun Tagoll did not know. Her attempts at being a good lady were being met with very mixed success, and she’d been getting the feeling that leaving the castle might still be the easiest way to help. Or at least, easier for her. They accepted that she could embroider. Her skills at the rest of the womanly arts Meb knew that they considered as far below the salt.
Maybe this Changer would bring other changes? It was inside the mage’s tower she was told. It had always been, from long before Mage Aberinn. Yes, it was a device of some sort, which he worked with. And no, when they changed, nothing was really that different within Lyonesse…except that the attacking army could not return to its own country. Nor could they get supplies from their home. Their supply chain was cut, the country was picked bare, too bare to live off, and chances were good, any other invader would attack them too. And back in their own country, the people would know: attack Lyonesse and you are lost, forever.
Once that had been enough.
Now it wasn’t.
When the change came it was silent and sudden.
Meb knew it had happened.
She could feel it. It was a little like some strange scents carried on the night air. Scents of faraway things, and of spices she knew the smell and taste of…but did not have a name for.
The association was not a pleasant one though; it somehow also smelled of cold, salt, decay, and other nasty things.