Dog And Dragon – Snippet 24

Dog And Dragon – Snippet 24

The dog sat down. Yawned. And Fionn threw the sword as if it were a knife, to peg in the nearest tree. The branches swung lower over them. “Dragon fire is next,” said Fionn grimly, hauling Díleas to his feet by the leash. “Onwards.”

The sleepiness lifted as they moved on. Fionn searched out the patterns of the working. It was a deep and old enchantment, that the trees had merely enhanced. But it had been intended as place of rest, not a final resting place. A place to comfort and allow the wounded in heart and spirit who fell into this place to recover.

Kindly meant. Not predatory.

The sprite-trees who had moved in had found it a good way of obtaining fresh nitrates. That irritated Fionn. Well, the tree-people irritated him quite easily. The First had created vegetative intelligence, but wood had shaped it. Fionn wondered if he should burn the place. But there was real beauty all around, so he settled for collecting together a small mound of skulls that could be seen from the entrance, and scratching a little symbol on each. The sleep spell did not work on insect life, but merely on vertebrates. And now it would still be a wonderful place to sleep…if not for the mosquitos that would infest it henceforth, and make it impossible. Fionn chuckled quietly to himself as they walked on. He saw Díleas stop and scratch furiously and attempt to bite at the base of his tail.

He looked anything but asleep. “Ah. Fleas too. They are an irritation, but at least you can get rid of them with a bath, Díleas. Those blackhearted old trees there wanted all of your blood, not just a few drops.”

Díleas scratched and wrinkled his nose at Fionn. “You’ll live through a bath. You would not live through that place. Let’s move on.”

A half a mile further and they merely had the fleas and not the tiredness. Fionn knew that that was a good bargain, even if the trees would not have thought so.

Díleas rolled and rubbed his back, and Fionn kept a lookout for fleabane plants. Dragon hide was hard for a flea to get through, but these ones were hungry and determined. It was a pity they didn’t eat Sprite. A little later Fionn and Díleas came on a stand of silver birch — with a sprite. There was something familiar about them. It was Lyr. All the tree-sprites on Tasmarin had been Lyr, part of the one tree that was Lyr.

The beautiful tree-woman bowed. “Fionn. We bear fruit.”

“Ah. So he is still fertile, is he?” Plainly the sprites who had been trapped in Tasmarin were either leaving there or merely spreading back to other sprite places. His Scrap had given them back their male sapling, and brought the long-dead stick back to life. Male sprites had no intelligence, but plenty of sprite-pollen.

There was a joyousness in the “Yes.”

“Good. He is growing well?” asked Fionn, out of politeness. They made bad enemies, the sprites. The sisterhoods — and there were various forms, each associated with its own tree type, and some were more talkative and friendly than others, although all of them poorly understood animal life, and did not tolerate it very well. Lyr had been one of the worst…until his little Scrap had given them what they needed.

The sprite nodded her gracious head. They were beautiful. Humans, and alvar, found them almost irresistibly so. Dragons, and it appeared dogs, could take them or leave them. “The human chose well. The soil there is rich.”

“I think she made it like that for him,” said Fionn. “She had powers over earth, and she’s, well, kind by nature. It’s not something you sprites understand, but it is something humans possess from time to time.”

“We had not understood humans. We need to cultivate more such. Where is she who gave us back our mate?”

“We’re looking for her ourselves. She is no longer on Tasmarin.”

“Lyr has not seen her. She has not been near living wood since the day the towers became bridges and some of us could return to sprite lands.”

That was worrying. The sprites weren’t everywhere of course. But they did have ties to forests, and all trees communicated. Mostly they did not say anything very interesting, except to other trees.

“Well. The dog is getting impatient, Lyr. It seems to know where it is going, and I am hoping it is to her. But if you find her…well, a bit of dragon gratitude would be good for the trees.”

“If we find her, you will be told. We understand your role too in saving our beloved. We have learned the value of that.”

“The tree-women learn gratitude and wisdom,” said Fionn. “Well, you’ll have mine, if you help me find her and keep her safe.”

“Word will go out.”

***

Fionn and Díleas walked on. And on. As far as Fionn could establish, the dog walked as straight as it was possible to walk in the forest. That night they slept in a pile of dry leaves under the trees. It was warm enough for sheepdogs and dragons, anyway. Both of them would have preferred a comfortable bed, and a meal that consisted of something other than the remains of the food from Sir Bertran’s feast. There was no other animal life, and Fionn had not seen any fruit. Like Díleas he thought fruit was all very well for herbivores and omnivores. Not for dragons, unless it was a slice of melon wrapped in salty ham.

Drink was supplied by a stream. Díleas eyed it very suspiciously, and looked at Fionn a couple of times, before coming to drink thirstily. He was a very intelligent dog, to have learned the danger of afancs (and other water creatures he hadn’t met) but he seemed to prefer walking in the stream and drinking downstream of himself. Perhaps he liked the flavor of the mud. Fionn wondered if they would be reduced to eating that before they got out of this Sylvan world.

The next day was more of the same. Fionn found flows of unbalanced energy to put right. There was a newness about them. He wondered if they’d come about as a result of Tasmarin rejoining the great ring. That had to have had an effect. Magic would grow a little stronger in places. Much had been tied up just in keeping Tasmarin isolated. That magic would flow now.

It should change a great many dynamics. It might well even change the way magical forces worked.

Most mages performed their arts by rote. They’d find this interesting, thought Fionn with a nasty laugh, imagining the consequences. Undoubtably, what he’d just done was going to make their lives difficult.

It was a full hungry day and a night later, that they came to what Díleas had plainly been aiming for. As a way out of a Sylvan world, it was appropriate.

It was a row of trees…well, it had been a noble double column of lance-straight firs, standing in what could only be a planted line to the top of a round hillock. A mound, Fionn guessed. An ancient one, that trees had long since covered. Díleas walked up, until he got to the last pair of trees…which were different. They had been the same, but now they were just blackened stumps. That would put off the sprites, Fionn thought. They feared fire. Didn’t even like its old sign. Just as the people of Brocéliande would superstitiously avoid triliths…

There was a pattern here.

Mysteries like this teased Fionn. He’d get to the bottom of it, just as he’d eventually work out how the dog knew where they were.

The other mystery was that, having got there, Díleas just sat down. He’d been eager to go through the gates to other places before. But now he was just sitting. Looking intently ahead. In a way that was worrying. The Sylvan worlds were slow-time worlds, not as much as the alvar ones, but still, a month might pass in human worlds while a day slipped by in the tranquil Sylvan forest.

Fionn tried walking past him. Díleas growled at him. A real growl. A “don’t do that even if you are a dragon” growl. So Fionn sat down, and waited. He stared into the energy patterns around him. Most of the time he confined his vision to the ordinary spectra and a few others. Otherwise it simply became too much for his brain to process. Now he looked deep, trying to learn more. Trying to learn how to find these gates to other planes. They were magical workings, and yet…and yet showed little sign of their presence. The trees were centuries old at least. Had this been here when he’d soared over this forest looking for things to put right? The planes he patrolled were huge. He went to areas where the balance was disturbed. They often seemed to be the same places. That too was unsurprising.

Díleas suddenly got up, turned and barked at Fionn, and walked forward. The dog vanished from view as he stepped past a certain point. And there was quite a vortex of energy between the trees, right now. It hadn’t been present, earlier.

Fionn followed…

…And was not surprised to find that they were elsewhere. And, pleasingly enough, in an elsewhere where he might find food for the two of them. That was undoubtably peat smoke on the air. Of course hearth fires had their own down sides, but it was better than hunting worms and bugs in Sylvan.

***

The problems the First had with the bauble of energy that hung from the dog’s neck were twofold. For a start it gave a limited view of the world that the dog experienced. It was not impossible to track the dog and dragon by their energies, but it was harder. It had been many eons since the First had exerted themselves, and the time dilations and contractions were confusing and very rapid. Logically they lived where time passed slowly. Very, very slowly. Some of the movements of the tiny gobbets of energy seemed absolutely microscopic, to the First.

But this was better than the Sylvan worlds. Annvn was a slower world, and they could move plenty of pawns here. They were easier to move than trees.

 

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