Dog And Dragon – Snippet 25
“The kitchen workers have it that we’re going to have a bit of a rest. Gather fresh food. Ys is slow to arm and their Eorls are too busy fighting and robbing each other to send much of an army,” said Neve, “and Queen Dahut does not care.”
“And what of the army at our gate?”
Neve shrugged. “They go or are killed.”
It was outside her knowledge, obviously. So Meb asked Vivien. She had, with her contact with her sons, and her dead husband’s position, a far better grasp of the military.
“Some of them fled after the rock thrower was destroyed. But most of them are trapped here. Obviously their mages thought they had at least another month before we could accumulate enough power to change. It can take up to six months sometimes. I know Prince Medraut was surprised. He expected it to be another month or three. Anyway, the ones that are left…the prince will offer them terms in a week or two. These days they always refuse them. It’s a pity. The Angevins make good soldiers, my husband said. The army used to recruit most of its men like that. My Cormac’s father was a gallóglaigh himself, trapped here with the armies of King Olain.”
Meb shivered. Trapped, far from home, with no way out but to accept service in the army of your enemy. She felt a little bit like that herself. “It’s cold this morning. Is it always this cold here?”
“No. In summer it is often too hot!” said Vivien with a smile. “It is only the start of spring. We still have bitter nights and occasional cold snaps if we have a cloud front come in from the ocean. You can usually see the warmer weather coming from the outer parapets, with the blue patches forming across the sea. Take your cloak and we will walk up there and have a look. You are looking a little confined.”
“It’ll be even colder up there,” said Neve. “There is a fire in the bower.”
Meb shuddered. “I’d rather freeze than face the bower right now,” she said.
So they walked across the courtyard to the outer parapet on the western side. Here there was no cliff, but a steep green slope down to the foam-laced edge of the dark ocean. That was deep water. “You could get a line out to some big fish from there,” said Meb expertly. She’d caught fish, along with all the Cliff Cove children at the foot of Cliff Cove’s crags. She’d missed fish, she suddenly realized. She’d never thought she would.
Neve laughed. “They’d never lower themselves to fishing here.”
Looking out to sea there was no sign of blue-sky patches in the slate grey. Instead there was a wall of cloud, right down to the water, stretching across the horizon. “That doesn’t look good. If I saw that back home, in Tasmarin, I’d expect a sea mist for days. Cold and clammy and useless for fishing,” said Meb. “The fishermen would stay home, drink too much and get morose.”
Lady Vivien gave a little snort of laughter. “I thought you said you had no experience that would help you to live in a castle. It sounds like winter. We get freezing fogs in the winters. But I have never seen anything like that before.”
It was apparent that not many of the castle people had, as others had come up to look at the cloud wall. Someone had even called the prince.
And the mage was called too.
His face became as bleak as a winter storm as he looked at it. He sent a soldier running along the battlement.
To fetch both her and Prince Medraut.
He turned to the women accompanying her. “You are not needed. Go.” Before Aberinn had made some pretense of abiding by the conventions. Now he was plainly simply too angry. “Prince. I do not know what meddling you are attempting but you have led us to the very brink of disaster.”
Medraut first looked guilty — which Meb had decided was his normal look –and then puzzled and worried. “What are you talking about, High Mage?”
Aberinn waved a hand at the western horizon. “That!” he snarled. “The Changer was set to take us to Ys. This is your doing somehow, Medraut. Ever since you brought this woman here, nothing has worked as it should.”
“My doing? MY DOING?!” Prince Medraut snarled, roused to fury like a cornered rat. “I nearly got murdered in my bed, Aberinn. The assassin escapes, and we still do not know how he got in the first place, although I’ve put the suspects to torture. You are supposed to guard me. To guard Lyonesse. Your precious prophecy says I need you. You brought this woman here, not me. Admit it. She could not lie to us without your magic supporting her.”
“You fool!” shouted Aberinn right back, inches from his face. “There are records, ancient records of all the places the Ways link Lyonesse to, even the non-human places. This Tasmarin creation was a mistake. There is no such place. I do not know which of the Lyon have allied their magic to this prop of yours, but I will find out. I have means denied to you…”
Meb looked at the two madmen…and walked away.
“Where are you going?” demanded Aberinn.
Meb shrugged. “Away. Away from that,” she pointed at the horizon, “and away from you two. Even that army out there has to make more sense than either of you.”
“The gates are closed,” said Medraut, tersely.
Meb shrugged again. “Then I’ll go as far as I can. You’re killing this place, both of you. And neither of you care, except about yourselves.”
Aberinn snorted. “Well, you’ll be glad to know that you have brought about its final destruction, you and this prince of plots. The Ways are not open to Ys. They are open to the Fomoire. And they come.”
It looked like a wall of cloud to Meb, but it was enough to make Medraut’s blood-suffused face go from red to white. “It cannot be. After the last time the Changer was set so that it could not link us to Fomoire lands.”
“So see what your meddling has brought us to!” yelled Aberinn.
Meb did not stay to listen to them. She kept walking away.
Vivien and Neve hurried to her. “What is it? What do they say?”
“They say those are the Fomoire. They both accuse each other and somehow it is my fault too. I don’t even know who the Fomoire are.”
Vivien stopped dead. “In King Gradlon’s time, when Lyonesse was near the peak of her strength, the Fomoire came. They nearly destroyed us.”
“Who or what are they? It just looks like a cloud to me.”
“The sea people. They come from under the sea and have much magic.”
“Under the sea…the merrows?” Meb felt a shred of hope. She knew and got on with merrows. She knew she had to watch them, but she could trust them, deal with them. She’d liked them, for all their tricky ways.
“No…not water-creatures. They live in a land beneath the waves, and the waters are magically held at bay. They’re human…well, giants, but deformed.” Vivien shuddered. “And they are powerful and evil. They built great bridges of ice and came with their war chariots and mages. They don’t have ships, so they must freeze the sea into a bridge to attack us.”
“Um. What do they do when they get here?”
“It was said they brought disease and bitter cold, but I suppose that could just have been the ice. Their chieftain had the evil eye. He only had one eye, but if he looked at a man…he turned them to stone. Not that that is possible.”
It was. Meb knew that. She’d done it once. But that had taken touch, on her part. The news was obviously spreading around the castle by the frightened looks on many faces.
And a cold, stinking wind was blowing from their ice bridge. It reeked of staleness and of old smoke. Meb wondered for the first time if she could bring some kind of magical power to bear on these attackers. This was not her home and these were not her people. But they were so afraid.