Dog And Dragon – Snippet 21

“Dun Tagoll is safe enough, Lady Anghared. It’s those poor people outside who need defending. Where did you get it? I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks very sharp and dangerous.”

Meb decided it was better not to answer that question, and began washing. She thought it looked just about sharp enough to slice stone, let alone armor. It wasn’t a subject so easily avoided when Lady Vivien came in a little later.

“How did it get here?” she asked, warily, looking at the axe. “It has the look of a Finvarra spatha-axe…what are you doing with such a thing, Anghared. It’s no weapon of the men of Lyonesse. Where did it come from?”

“Oh, um. The alvar guards use them back in my homeland. I was afraid in the night and wanted something to defend myself with.”

“But you couldn’t have had it with you. You…you had barely the clothes you were wearing, when you came here, Anghared,” said Vivien, troubled. “I was there. I helped to put you to bed.”

“Sometimes, when I am really scared or just dreaming…imagining things deeply, they come to me. Fragments of things…”

“Fragments…aha! Summonsing magic. Here, in Dun Tagoll? You can’t,” said Vivien.

“I didn’t mean to. I just heard the screaming. I was scared.”

“No…I mean it is not possible. The Mage Aberinn, by his craft, protects the castle. But while we’re guarded, it affects us too. Only those of the greatest of power can manage the smallest working. That…that is a vast object for a summonser. It would take preparation and skill…”

“I don’t know what I am doing or how I do it,” said Meb, knowing this to be slightly less than the truth. The dragon-shaped dvergar device around her neck, the thing that carried some of the magic of all the species of Tasmarin, the device that would help her be what she wanted to be…tricky little dvergar! That would affect things. But…well, she summonsed far larger things, wanting to, needing or just…wishing to. A black dragon, once. And she’d needed him. She still did. She just hadn’t known it, then. “I do summons big things sometimes. I summonsed a dragon once.”

“Gods above and below. Well, I hope you don’t do that again!”

“I can’t,” said Meb flatly. “Never ever again, although I want nothing more. It would kill him.”

But that seemed to have washed right over Vivien. “You are the Defender, Anghared. Oh thank all the Gods. I must tell…”

“No. Please, no,” Meb grabbed the fluttering, excited hands. “Please. I want to help. But…well, Prince Medraut. Aberinn. Do you think they’d like it much?”

“The prince has honored you and respected you so far. And the mage called you to his tower. I should have known when we heard about the sea-window. I thought it must be stone memory. The embroidery…that was a small thing, and I was amazed. But, but summonsing magics. And so powerful. I’m Lyon, on my mother’s side, and I can call things from across the room. Small things. A brooch like this one.” She pointed to the thumbnail-sized one at her breast.

Meb sighed. “Vivien. I don’t trust Prince Medraut, or the mage. I don’t know how to make magic happen every time. And, and it goes wrong. My master said…he’d teach me. But now, I just feel it would be a very wrong thing to do. I am going to help. I promise. I swear. I swear by the black dragon.”

“That…binds you?” asked Vivien.

“It binds me more than anything else ever could,” said Meb. “And I think I’d better hide that axe before anyone else asks awkward questions.”

“I could wrap it up in something, and take it to the armory,” said Neve coloring slightly. “There’s, there’s a man-at-arms who might do me a favor. If I asked.”

It made Meb smile a little, determined to find out just who this armsman was, and let him know that someone would make his life very unpleasant if he was anything less than good to little Neve. She could do that. Finn had taught her quite enough for that. “I think I want it a little closer. Lady Cardun might decide to do my hair. Stop laughing, both of you. It would make a wonderful mirror. We can slide it under the bed.”

“They’re very full of your embroidery in the bower by the way. Even Lady Cardun was saying she didn’t know how you worked so fast and set such precise and tiny stitches. Of course she said it showed a lack of discipline not to stick to the pattern, and you were a flighty, moody young girl; that the regent’s guidance would be needed for many years, even if you were the Defender, which she didn’t for a moment believe.”

“I need to ask some questions about this regency,” said Meb, who didn’t see why it was up to her, but would not have left shifty Prince Medraut to look after a tub of jellied eels, let alone a kingdom. “Who is the prince the regent for?”

They both looked at her as if she’d suddenly started dribbling and gone simple on them. “The true king of Lyonesse, of course,” said Vivien.

“Oh. And who is he?” asked Meb.

“He is the king anointed with holy water from the ancient font of kings. He alone can bind to the land and draw its strength to himself to destroy our enemies,” explained Vivien.

“But who is he?” Meb pursued. “Does he have to be found or something?”

“No. It is the ancient font that must be found. It vanished just after Queen Gwenhwyfach and her babe plunged from the sea-window. It is believed that the enchantress of Shadow Hall summonsed it, somehow.”

“So…do I get this right…the prince is not the regent for someone specific. It could be anyone that finds this font, and gets dunked in water from it?”

Vivien nodded. “Prince Medraut is regent for the Land, because the Land is the King and the King is the Land. Of course the king would have to be of the blood of the House of Lyon, because they have the magic. Normally the old king would take his son or chosen heir to the font and hand on the power. But the old king died before it was found. That is why the Shadow Hall has been able to raise everyone against us. That is why the Land will not destroy the invaders.”

“So where do the women fit into all of this?” asked Meb.

The other two looked at her, faintly puzzled. “They say men make kings. Women make babies. We carry the bloodline. Some Lyon women are powerful magic workers too. Queen Gwenhwyfach was.”

“They were wondering down in the kitchens if you were going to marry Prince Medraut,” said Neve.

Meb snorted. “I’d rather marry a midden. I’m not…”

“But they were saying he was considering speaking for you. And he’s a prince of the blood.” By the tone, that was obviously all that was required. Well, it wasn’t going to happen. She’d take the axe to him first. And the little logical part of her mind said, well, it happened to women here. And Fionn…she’d never see Fionn again. She should accept that and move on.

There was an enormous thud and the walls shook.

“What was that?” asked Meb, fearful.

“They’ve set up trebuchets and have started flinging rocks from the headland. Be easy, Dun Tagoll can withstand anything they can fling at it. And besides, Mage Aberinn has said he had something planned for them. Don’t worry, Anghared. It wants but three days to the full moon.”

And what did that have to do with it?

They seemed to assume she’d know. She hated showing her ignorance, but she needed to know. “So what happens at full moon?”

“The full tides power the Changer. Lyonesse moves.”

“You mean…an earthquake?”

Vivien stared at her. “I forget, Lady Anghared, that you are not from here. You know that the land is linked to other places? Places which are not our world? We call them the Ways.”